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Profile: Chris Cillizza

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Pie chart showing the focus of New York State’s stem cell research.Pie chart showing the focus of New York State’s stem cell research. [Source: New York State Stem Cell Science]President Obama lifts restrictions on federal funding for research on new stem cell lines. Promising to “vigorously support” new research, Obama’s decision reverses the Bush administration’s policy of blocking government spending for researching human embroynic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001. “When it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced into what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values,” Obama says during the signing ceremony. “In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering.” Obama says the decision authorizes the change “so many scientists and researchers and doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for and fought for these past eight years.” Scientists say the new research will lead to a variety of medical breakthroughs, and polls show most Americans support the research. Some religious and social conservative groups oppose the research, as does the Vatican. Obama promises that the government will never fund research into human cloning or other such controversial areas of study. Using discarded embryos for stem cell research is routine in private clinics, but illegal under Bush’s 2001 executive order. Analysts say that the policy change is part of Obama’s pledge to make clear that his administration wants scientific research to be free from political interference. [BBC, 3/9/2009; Guardian, 3/10/2009]
Praise for Decision - The co-director of Harvard University’s stem cell research institute, Doug Melton, says: “It is a relief to know that we can now collaborate openly and freely with other scientists in our own university and elsewhere, without restrictions on what equipment, data, or ideas can be shared.… Science thrives when there is an open and collaborative exchange, not when there are artificial barriers, silos, constructed by the government.” Harvard spokesman B. D. Colen says that the practical effects of the Obama reversal will be dramatic: “This will mean the end of the quite onerous bookkeeping and segregation of supplies, equipment, and people that were necessary under the Bush executive order,” he says. “Literally, you could not pick up a pencil off a bench if you were working with embryonic stem cells.” [Guardian, 3/10/2009] Peter Wilderotter, president of the Christopher and Dana Foundation, praises Obama for “removing politics from science” and freeing researchers. Wilderotter leads a foundation created by actor Christopher Reeve, whose fall from a horse paralyzed him and led him to die at a relatively early age. Reeve believed that stem cell research could find a treatment for his condition. Obama says that Reeve dreamed of being able to walk again, and adds: “Christopher did not get that chance. But if we pursue this research, maybe one day—maybe not in our lifetime, or even in our children’s lifetime—but maybe one day, others like him might.” [BBC, 3/9/2009; Guardian, 3/10/2009]
Republican Criticism - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) decries the decision, and accuses Obama of undermining “protections for innocent life, further dividing our nation at a time when we need greater unity to tackle the challenges before us.” Political correspondent and pundit Chris Cillizza writes: “The stem cell signing—like the economic stimulus bill—is an example of the two different tracks that Obama and Republicans are currently on. Obama, with his base solidly on his side, is making policy with broad support among independents. Republicans, on the other hand, remain in the wilderness and are looking to rebuild from core principles.” [BBC, 3/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Chris Cillizza, Barack Obama, Peter Wilderotter, B.D. Colen, John Boehner, Obama administration, Doug Melton

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Joe Wilson attempting to shout down President Obama.Joe Wilson attempting to shout down President Obama. [Source: Politics Daily]President Obama gives a speech touting his administration’s health care reform efforts to a joint session of Congress. The speech, at times forceful and other times attempting to reach across party lines for a bipartisan reform effort, is primarly designed to unify Democrats against a near-unified Republican opposition. Obama denounces some of the most egregious misrepresentations about the health care reform effort, including the so-called “death panel” claim (see August 7, 2009, August 15, 2009, and August 23-24, 2009), in which he calls the people who spread the tale “liars.” He warns Republicans that he will brook no more gamesmanship from them in the effort to craft a reform bill. “What we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government,” he says. “Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned. Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.” Democrats roundly cheer Obama’s words; Republicans generally do not. [Politico, 9/9/2009; Washington Post, 9/9/2009; Salon, 9/9/2009] The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza later notes that the speech is stronger on rhetoric than it is on specifics. [Washington Post, 9/9/2009] Salon’s Joan Walsh, an avowed progressive, calls the speech “great” and writes: “What was most important about Obama’s address was his declaration that he won’t tolerate any more ‘lies’ or ‘bogus claims’ from the GOP. Yes, he used those terms.… My only real criticism is I wish he’d found a way to do this two months ago. Obama has never before been so lucid in explaining why reform is crucial.” [Salon, 9/9/2009]
Health Care an Economic Issue - Obama insists that reforming health care is critical to managing America’s continuing economic crisis, and key to shrinking the huge deficit. He says: “Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.” However, as Walsh writes: “I was not crazy about his firm promise, ‘I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficit.’ I’m not sure he can keep that promise, for one thing, and it’s not a pledge he makes when asking for more money for Afghanistan, or for the not terribly stimulative tax cut he included in the stimulus bill.” [Salon, 9/9/2009; Salon, 9/9/2009]
No Commitment to the Public Option - While Obama’s rhetoric is at times tough, he does not directly embrace the idea of a “public option,” the proposed government-run, non-profit alternative to private health insurance. Many Democrats, particularly those in the progressive wing of the party, are strongly in favor of such a measure. “It is only one part of my plan,” Obama says of the option. “To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end—and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.” [Politico, 9/9/2009; Salon, 9/9/2009] He notes that he has no interest in punishing the health care insurance industry, saying, “I don’t want to put insurance companies out of business, I just want to hold them accountable.” [Salon, 9/9/2009]
Evoking Senator Kennedy - Near the end of the speech, Obama evokes the memory of former Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who died recently of brain cancer. Kennedy characterized health care reform as the centerpiece of his political agenda, and fought for it throughout his lengthy stay in the Senate. Obama reveals that Kennedy sent the White House a letter in his last days (see May 12, 2009), asking Obama and his fellow members of Congress to keep fighting for health care reform for the betterment of all Americans. Referring to Kennedy’s message, Obama closes with the line: “We did not come here to fear the future. We came here to shape it.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2009] Walsh says of the letter, “It let Obama return to his theme that health care in this wealthy nation is a moral issue and a matter of social justice.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2009]
'You Lie!' - During the speech, when Obama says that the health care legislation being crafted by Congressional Democrats does not offer free health care to illegal immigrants, Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouts, “You lie!” Many lawmakers gasp at Wilson’s outburst, but Obama merely points an admonishing finger in the direction of the shout and continues his address. (It takes some time to identify Wilson as the shouter, as he quickly sinks back into his seat among his fellow Republican House members.) The Associated Press writes, “The nastiness of August reached from the nation’s town halls” in Wilson’s outburst; Politico’s Glenn Thrush later calls Wilson’s shout “boorish,” and notes that his outburst “enraged audience members on both sides of the aisle.” Wilson’s disruptive behavior is only one of a number of displays of disagreement from Republicans during the address; many spend time during the speech texting on their Blackberries or waving copies of GOP reform proposals. After the speech, Wilson is chastised by, among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and he offers an apology to Obama through the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel (see September 9-10, 2009). [Politico, 9/9/2009; Associated Press, 9/9/2009] Cillizza later writes that the image of Republicans shouting at the president or showing their contempt for his message by texting during the speech gives a poor impression of them. “The more Republicans look like they are opposing the Democratic plan for partisan reasons, the more danger they are in politically,” he writes. [Washington Post, 9/9/2009]
Responses - Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), considered a possible opponent to many reform provisions, says he came away from the speech impressed. “I think it was a bit of a game-changer,” he says. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says, “The speech galvanized support along the Democratic Caucus across the political spectrum, from the progressive caucus to the Blue Dogs, and everybody left determined to get something done this year.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has a different response, ignoring the behavior of his own party members to accuse Obama of behaving in an undignified manner. “I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of his speech,” he says. “At times, I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office. I fear his speech tonight has made it more difficult—not less—to find common ground. He appeared to be angry at his critics and disappointed the American people were not buying the proposals he has been selling.… If the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats go down this path and push a bill on the American people they do not want, it could be the beginning of the end of the Obama presidency.” Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is running for the Illinois Senate seat once occupied by Obama, says: “He talked at us. He didn’t listen to us.… It was a missed opportunity.” However, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), one of the Obama administration’s most consistent critics, calls the speech “good,” and says: “I’m willing to compromise to get things fixed. But I’m not willing to put the government in charge because we don’t have a good track record.” [Politico, 9/9/2009] Political scientist Morris Fiorina calls Wilson’s outburst “a new low for the contemporary era,” and adds, “Some politicians seem to be adopting radio talk show hosts and cable TV commentators as their role models.” [USA Today, 9/10/2009]
Armed Man Attempted to Get to Capitol before Speech - Shortly before Obama’s speech, Capitol Police arrested a man trying to enter the Capitol grounds with a shotgun and a rifle (see September 9, 2009).

Entity Tags: Glenn Thrush, Tom Coburn, Barack Obama, Chris Van Hollen, Chris Cillizza, Rahm Emanuel, Ben Nelson, Mark Steven Kirk, Joan Walsh, Morris Fiorina, Joe Wilson, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, John McCain, Lindsey Graham

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Washington pundits are split as to whether billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump is serious about mounting a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. Recently, Trump has unleashed a barrage of criticism and allegations as to President Obama’s status as a US citizen (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, and April 7, 2011), and has encouraged the rumor that he intends to run. Current polls show Trump running a strong second behind former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA), tied with former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AK), and well ahead of other Republican luminaries such as Sarah Palin (R-AK) and Newt Gingrich (R-GA) in a hypothetical 2012 primary battle. Tea party supporters choose Trump as their top candidate, well ahead of Romney and Huckabee. Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza notes that as recently as 2007, Trump was openly contemptuous of many Republican policies, and touted then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as “the best.” After questioning a number of political strategists, Cillizza determines that Trump is doing well in preliminary polls because of his enormous name recognition, his combative style, and his apparent business acumen. Democratic strategist Peter Hart says that tea partiers have abandoned Palin in large part for Trump, whom he calls “their current flavor du jour.” A Republican strategist who refuses to allow his name to be used says voters “like the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach that Trump seems to take.” And Trump’s success at forging a billion-dollar financial empire gives some people “economic hope,” according to Republican consultant Carl Forti. “They want a job.… Trump’s a businessman, so in theory, he knows what he’s doing.” Republican strategist Alex Vogel predicts that Trump’s popularity will fizzle within days of actually entering the race, saying: “It is a huge mistake for people to confuse fame with electability or seriousness of candidacy. If fame was all it took, [American Idol creator] Simon Cowell could pick presidents and not just rock stars.” Cillizza says that Trump’s current popularity speaks more to the volatility of the Republican primary field than a real movement among Republicans to put Trump in the White House. [Washington Post, 4/7/2011] Progressive Washington pundit Steve Benen is less charitable than Cillizza, noting that “Trump has been running around to every media outlet he can find, spewing conspiracy theories and bizarre ideas that resonate with easily-fooled extremists. And wouldn’t you know it, polls suddenly show Republican voters gravitating to the guy.… When a clownish television personality plays to their worst instincts, these folks are inclined to like what they see.” Benen calls Trump’s potential nothing more than “an elaborate publicity stunt, closer to a practical joke than an actual campaign.” He concludes: “[W]hat matters here is what the latest polls tell us about the hysterical wing of the Republican Party. A reality-show personality has been whining incessantly about the president’s birth certificate, and a sizeable contingent of the GOP base has decided that’s enough to earn their support. Trump’s a sideshow. The real story here is the madness that’s overcome a few too many Republican voters.” [Washington Monthly, 4/7/2011]

Entity Tags: Mike Huckabee, Barack Obama, Alex Vogel, Carl Forti, Donald Trump, Peter Hart, Sarah Palin, Chris Cillizza, Newt Gingrich, Steve Benen, Willard Mitt Romney, Republican Party

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

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