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a.k.a. Teddy Kennedy
“There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud.” [Washington Post, 9/16/2003]
In the aftermath of World War II, Japanese officer Yukio Asano is charged by a US war crimes tribunal for torturing a US civilian. Asano had used the technique of “waterboarding” on the prisoner (see 1800 and After). The civilian was strapped to a stretcher with his feet in the air and head towards the floor, and water was poured over his face, causing him to gasp for air until he agreed to talk. Asano is convicted and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Other Japanese officers and soldiers are also tried and convicted of war crimes that include waterboarding US prisoners. “All of these trials elicited compelling descriptions of water torture from its victims, and resulted in severe punishment for its perpetrators,” reporter Evan Wallach will later write. In 2006, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), discussing allegations of US waterboarding of terror suspects, will say in regards to the Asano case, “We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II.” (Pincus 10/5/2006; Weiner 11/3/2007)
President Nixon learns of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA)‘s involvement in the death by drowning of campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne at Massachusett’s Chappaquiddick Island. “He was obviously drunk and let her drown,” Nixon says of Kennedy, who is considered the Democrats’ leading presidential candidate for 1972. “He ran. There’s a fatal flaw in his character.” Nixon aide John Ehrlichman sends his “on-staff detective,” Jack Caulfield (see April 2, 1969) to the site to pose as a reporter and glean information. Caulfield takes along another former New York police detective, Tony Ulasewicz, who is being paid $22,000 a year out of a secret Nixon political fund handled by Nixon’s personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach. (Reeves 2001, pp. 100-101)
President Nixon targets the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Lawrence O’Brien, for surveillance. Nixon worries about O’Brien, a canny political operative, and especially O’Brien’s ties to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), whom he believes to be by far the biggest threat to his re-election, even after Kennedy’s involvement in the Chappaquiddick tragedy (see July 18, 1969). Nixon orders his Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, to have veteran campaign operative Murray Chotiner (see 1950) put together an “Operation O’Brien” to discredit the chairman. “Start with his income tax returns,” Nixon orders. (Reeves 2001, pp. 174-175)
One of the Nixon campaign’s “agents provocateur,” California lawyer Donald Segretti, attempts to recruit three former colleagues to work with him in disrupting and interfering with Democratic campaign events. Segretti met the three, Alex Shipley, Roger Lee Nixt, and Kenneth Griffiths, while all three served as captains in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps during the Vietnam War. Shipley, now an assistant attorney general in Tennessee, later recalls (see October 7, 1972) that according to Segretti, “Money would be no problem, but the people we would be working for wanted results for the cash that would be spent.” Segretti tells the three that they will need false identification papers and fake names, asks Shipley to recruit five more people for the job, and says their primary task will be to disrupt the campaign schedules of Democratic candidates and obtain information from their campaign organizations. Shipley will recall that Segretti tells him not to reveal the names of the five operatives he recruits, not even to Segretti; in return, Segretti can never tell Shipley where the money to fund the operations is coming from. According to Shipley: “I said, ‘How in hell are we going to be taken care of if no one knows what we’re doing?’ and Segretti said: ‘Nixon knows that something is being done. It’s a typical deal.’ Segretti said, ‘Don’t-tell-me-anything-and-I-won’t-know.’”
Working for Nixon, Pretending to Work for Democrats - Segretti gives Shipley an example of what he might do as a campaign operative: “He [Segretti] said: ‘For instance, we’ll go to a [Democratic presidential candidate Edward] Kennedy rally and find an ardent Kennedy worker. Then you say that you’re a Kennedy man too but you’re working behind the scenes; you get them to help you. You send them to work for [Democratic presidential candidate Edmund] Muskie, stuffing envelopes or whatever, and you get them to pass you the information. They’ll think that they are helping Kennedy against Muskie. But actually you’re using the information for something else.’ It was very strange.… I said, ‘Well, who will we be working for?’ He said, ‘Nixon’ and I was really taken aback, because all the actions he had talked about would have taken place in the Democratic primaries. He said the main purpose was that the Democrats have an ability to get back together after a knockdown, drag-out campaign. What we want to do is wreak enough havoc so they can’t.”
Turned Down - Shipley, Nixt and Griffiths all turn Segretti down; a fourth ex-JAG lawyer, Peter Dixon, will later confirm that he, too, turned down Segretti, but before Segretti could reveal any details to him. Shipley is so concerned that he asks a friend who worked for Senator Albert Gore (D-TN) what to do, and the friend advises him to “string [Segretti] along to see what he’s up to.” At a subsequent meeting, Segretti tells Shipley that he is recruiting lawyers because he doesn’t want to break any laws, and says that the emphasis of the operations is to “have fun” as opposed to committing blatant criminal acts. (Bernstein and Woodward 10/10/1972) Some of the “fun” activities include waving signs at rallies such as “If you like Hitler, you’ll love Wallace. Vote Muskie!” Perhaps the most well-known trick is the airplane hired to fly over the Democratic National Convention in Miami (see July 13, 1972) trailing the banner, “Peace Pot Promiscuity—Vote McGovern.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 531) Segretti’s last attempt to recruit Shipley is October 23, 1971.
Segretti Always 'Well-Financed' and at Centers of Campaign Activity - Shipley will recall that “the one important thing that struck me was that he seemed to be well-financed. He was always flying across the country. When he came to Washington in June he said he had an appointment at the Treasury Department and that the Treasury Department was picking up the tab on this—his plane and hotel bill.” Segretti later tells Shipley that “it wasn’t the Treasury Department that had paid the bill, it was the Nixon people. [Segretti] said, ‘Don’t ask me any names.’” According to travel documents, Segretti flies to, among other places, Miami; Houston; Manchester, New Hampshire; Knoxville; Los Angeles; New York City; Washington; Salt Lake City; Chicago; Portland, Oregon; Albuquerque; Tucson; San Francisco; and several other California cities. FBI investigations will find that the most concentrated areas of Nixon campaign undercover activity are in Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, California, Texas, Florida, and Washington, DC. (Bernstein and Woodward 10/10/1972)
White House counsel John Dean orders the opening of a safe belonging to Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Dean orders that the contents be turned over (six days later, after Dean and other White House officials have had a chance to peruse them) to the FBI. The documents will soon be given to FBI acting director L. Patrick Gray, who keeps them for six months before burning them (see Late December 1972). Gray will later admit to the incident in his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 28-29, 1973). (Time 4/2/1973) Dean finds in the safe, among other things, a loaded .25 caliber pistol; the attache case of burglar James McCord, loaded with electronic surveillance equipment and a tear gas canister; CIA psychological profiles of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971); pages from the Pentagon Papers; memos to and from Nixon aide Charles Colson; two falsified diplomatic cables implicating former President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Diem Dinh; and a dossier on the personal life of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Nixon aide John Ehrlichman advises Dean to throw the contents of the safe into the Potomac River. (Reeves 2001, pp. 501-502) Shortly thereafter, Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, in discussions with a young assistant in White House aide Charles Colson’s office, learns that Hunt has been investigating Kennedy’s checkered past, particularly the Chappaquiddick tragedy of 1969, in which an apparently inebriated Kennedy drove his car into a lake, drowning his companion of the evening, Mary Jo Kopechne. Hunt was apparently looking for political ammunition against Kennedy in preparation for a possible presidential run. According to a former Nixon administration official, Colson and fellow Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman were “absolutely paranoid” about a Kennedy campaign run. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 30-31)
Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton withdraws from the campaign. A week before, anonymous (actually Nixon campaign) sources leaked information to the press about Eagleton’s history of “nervous exhaustion” and “depression.” Between 1960 and 1966, Eagleton had been hospitalized three times, and had twice undergone electroshock therapy. Eagleton acknowledges that he lied to McGovern aides about his medical history when they asked him about any potential skeletons in his closet. Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern says that although he knew nothing about Eagleton’s medical history, he would have chosen Eagleton as his running mate regardless. (“They nominated a crazy man!” former Treasury Secretary John Connally exclaims upon hearing the news.) After several leading Democrats turn down the position, McGovern finally lands a replacement running mate in former Peace Corps chief Sargent Shriver, the brother-in-law of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). (Reeves 2001, pp. 518-519)
Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray burns key documents in the Watergate case. He has had the documents, originally kept in the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, in his possession for about five months. The two Nixon aides who gave him the documents, John Ehrlichman and John Dean, warned Gray that they were “political dynamite” and should never see the light of day. Gray dithers over what to do with the documents for that entire time period before finally burning them with his Christmas trash. The documents include falsified diplomatic cables that implicated former President John F. Kennedy in the assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, and a dossier on Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy’s troubled personal life. Gray will later tell investigators that he destroyed the papers because they had no relation to Watergate, and in 2005 will admit that he destroyed them on direct orders from White House officials. He will say that he had no idea “that these guys are trying to sandbag me,” and will add, “I know it’s hard for people to think somebody could be so stupid, but I believed them.” (Purdom 7/7/2005) Gray will reveal his destruction of evidence during the Watergate investigation (see April 27-30, 1973).
The US Senate votes 77-0 to create the Select Committee on Presidential Activities, which comes to be known as the Senate Watergate Committee. The chairman is Sam Ervin (D-NC), whose carefully cultivated image as a folksy “country lawyer” camouflages a keen legal mind. Ervin’s deputy is Howard Baker (R-TN). (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) Senate Republicans attempt to dilute the effectiveness of the investigative committee with resolutions demanding probes into the 1964 and 1968 elections as well—Hugh Scott (R-PA) says there is “wholesale evidence of wiretapping against the Republicans” in the 1968 campaign, yet refuses to present any evidence—but those resolutions fail in floor votes. After the vote, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that the resolutions were drafted by White House lawyers. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 250-251) Ervin, already chosen to head the committee, told fellow senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who held his own ineffective senatorial investigation, that he knew little more about the Watergate conspiracy than what he read in the papers, but “I know the people around [President] Nixon, and that’s enough. They’re thugs.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 247) Ervin has already contacted Woodward and asked him to help him compile information. Ervin implies that he wants Woodward to convince his unnamed sources to come forward and testify. Woodward demurs, but he and colleague Carl Bernstein write a story reporting Ervin’s intention to call President Nixon’s top aides, including H. R. Haldeman, to testify. (Woodward 2005, pp. 93-94) Woodward does suggest that Ervin should take a hard look at the secret campaign “slush fund” (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972), and that everything he and Bernstein have found points to a massive undercover operation led by Haldeman. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 247-249)
Former White House counsel John Dean, continuing his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), provides a sheaf of documents to the committee. Among those is the “Opponents List and Political Enemies Project,” informally called President Nixon’s “enemies list.” The list is actually a set of documents “several inches thick” of names and information about Nixon’s political enemies. It was compiled by a number of administration officials, including Dean, White House aides Charles Colson, Gordon Strachan, and Lyn Nofziger, beginning in 1971. One of the documents from August 16, 1971, has Dean suggesting ways in which “we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” Methods proposed included administration manipulation of “grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.” The Dean memo was given to then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and top White House aide John Ehrlichman for approval. Though Dean testifies that he does not know if the plan was set into motion, subsequent documents submitted to the committee indicate that it was indeed implemented. A condensed list of 20 “White House enemies” was produced by Colson’s office; a larger list included ten Democratic senators, all 12 black House members, over 50 news and television reporters, prominent businessmen, labor leaders, and entertainers, and contributors to the 1972 presidential campaign of Democratic senator Edmund Muskie. The condensed list includes, in priority order:
“1. Arnold M. Picker, United Artists Corp., NY. Top Muskie fund raiser. Success here could be both debilitating and very embarrassing to the Muskie machine. If effort looks promising, both Ruth and David Picker should be programmed and then a follow through with United Artists.”
“2. Alexander E. Barkan, national director of AFL-CIO’s committee on Political Education, Washington D.C.: Without a doubt the most powerful political force programmed against us in 1968 ($10 million, 4.6 million votes, 115 million pamphlets, 176,000 workers—all programmed by Barkan’s COPE—so says Teddy White in The Making of the President 1968). We can expect the same effort this time.”
“3. Ed Guthman, managing editor, Los Angeles Times: Guthman, former Kennedy aide, was a highly sophisticated hatchetman against us in ‘68. It is obvious he is the prime mover behind the current Key Biscayne effort. It is time to give him the message.”
“4. Maxwell Dane, Doyle, Dane and Bernbach, NY: The top Democratic advertising firm—they destroyed Goldwater in ‘64. They should be hit hard starting with Dane.”
“5. Charles Dyson, Dyson-Kissner Corp., NY: Dyson and [Democratic National Committee chairman] Larry O’Brien were close business associates after ‘68. Dyson has huge business holdings and is presently deeply involved in the Businessmen’s Educational Fund which bankrolls a national radio network of five-minute programs—anti-Nixon in character.”
“6. Howard Stein, Dreyfus Corp., NY: Heaviest contributor to [Democratic presidential candidate Eugene] McCarthy in ‘68. If McCarthy goes, will do the same in ‘72. If not, Lindsay or McGovern will receive the funds.”
“7. [US Representative] Allard Lowenstein, Long Island, NY: Guiding force behind the 18-year-old ‘Dump Nixon’ vote campaign.”
“8. Morton Halperin, leading executive at Common Cause: A scandal would be most helpful here.”
“9. Leonard Woodcock, UAW, Detroit, Mich.: No comments necessary.”
“10. S. Sterling Munro Jr., Sen. [Henry Jackson’s aide, Silver Spring, Md: We should give him a try. Positive results would stick a pin in Jackson’s white hat.”
“11. Bernard T. Feld, president, Council for a Livable World: Heavy far left funding. They will program an ‘all court press’ against us in ‘72.”
“12. Sidney Davidoff, New York City, [New York City Mayor John V.] Lindsay’s top personal aide: a first class SOB, wheeler-dealer and suspected bagman. Positive results would really shake the Lindsay camp and Lindsay’s plans to capture youth vote. Davidoff in charge.”
“13. John Conyers, congressman, Detroit: Coming on fast. Emerging as a leading black anti-Nixon spokesman. Has known weakness for white females.”
“14. Samuel M. Lambert, president, National Education Association: Has taken us on vis-a-vis federal aid to parochial schools—a ‘72 issue.” (Facts on File 6/2003) Committee chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) is clearly outraged by the list, and particularly by Lambert’s inclusion. He says, “Here is a man listed among the opponents whose only offense is that he believed in the First Amendment and shared Thomas Jefferson’s conviction, as expressed in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, that to compel a man to make contributions of money for the dissemination of religious opinions he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical. Isn’t that true?” Dean replies, “I cannot disagree with the chairman at all.” (Time 7/9/1973)
“15. Stewart Rawlings Mott, Mott Associates, NY: Nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates.”
“16. Ronald Dellums, congressman, Calif: Had extensive [Edward M. Kennedy] EMK-Tunney support in his election bid. Success might help in California next year.”
“17. Daniel Schorr, Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington: A real media enemy.”
“18. S. Harrison Dogole, Philadelphia, Pa: President of Globe Security Systems—fourth largest private detective agency in US. Heavy Humphrey [former presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey] contributor. Could program his agency against us.”
“19. [Actor] Paul Newman, Calif: Radic-lib causes. Heavy McCarthy involvement ‘68. Used effectively in nation wide TV commercials. ‘72 involvement certain.”
“20. Mary McGrory, Washington columnist: Daily hate Nixon articles.”
Another “master list” of political enemies prepared by Colson’s office includes Democratic senators Birch Bayh, J. W. Fulbright, Fred R. Harris, Harold Hughes, Edward M. Kennedy, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Edmund Muskie, Gaylord Nelson, and William Proxmire; House representatives Bella Abzug, William R. Anderson, John Brademas, Father Robert F. Drinan, Robert Kastenmeier, Wright Patman; African-American representatives Shirley Chisholm, William Clay, George Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Robert N.C. Nix, Parren Mitchell, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes; and several other politicians, including Lindsay, McCarthy, and George Wallace, the governor of Alabama (see May 15, 1972). The list also includes an array of liberal, civil rights and antiwar organizations, including the Black Panthers, the Brookings Institution, Common Cause, the Farmers Union, the National Economic Council, the National Education Association, the National Welfare Rights Organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Convention; a variety of labor organizations; many reporters, columnists, and other news figures; a short list of celebrities including Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, Steve McQueen, Joe Namath, Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, and Barbra Streisand; and a huge list of businessmen and academics. The documents provide suggestions for avenues of attack against individual listees, including using “income tax discrepancies,” allegations of Communist connections, and other information. (Facts on File 6/2003) In 1999, Schorr will joke that being on Nixon’s enemies list “changed my life a great deal. It increased my lecture fee, got me invited to lots of very nice dinners. It was so wonderful that one of my colleagues that I will not mention, but a very important man at CBS, said, ‘Why you, Schorr? Why couldn’t it have been me on the enemies list?’” (CNN 3/27/1999) Schorr does not mention that he was the subject of an FBI investigation because of his listing. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
Campaigning on behalf of conservative Republican candidates in an attempt to have the GOP retain control of the Senate, Ronald Reagan goes on a campaign tour of the South, where he alludes to Republicans’ plans for exerting control of the nation’s court system. Typical of Reagan’s stump speech is the following one he delivers on behalf of embattled Republican incumbent James Broyhill: “Since I’ve been appointing federal judges to be approved by people like Jim Broyhill in the Republican Senate, the federal judiciary has become tougher, much tougher, on criminals. Criminals are going to jail more often and receiving longer sentences. Over and over the Democratic leadership has tried in the Senate to torpedo our choices for judges. And that’s where Jim Broyhill can make all the difference. Without him and the Republican majority in the Senate, we’ll find liberals like Joe Biden and a certain fellow from Massachusetts deciding who our judges are. And I’ll bet you’ll agree; I’d rather have a Judiciary Committee headed by Strom Thurmond than one run by Joe Biden or Ted Kennedy.” Broyhill will be defeated, and Democrats will regain control of the Senate in spite of Reagan’s efforts, in large part because of Southern blacks offended by such speeches. The new Democratic leadership, responding to the voters, will help block the racially questionable Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court (see July 1-October 23, 1987). (Dean 2007, pp. 140)
The controversial nomination of conservative judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court is defeated in the US Senate. Bork is denied a seat on the Court in a 58-42 vote, because his views are thought to be extremist and even some Republicans vote against him.
'Right-Wing Zealot' - Bork, nominated by President Reagan as one of the sitting judges who most completely reflects Reagan’s judiciary philosophy (see 1985-1986), is characterized even by administration officials as a “right-wing zealot.” Reagan also wants a nominee to placate the hard right over their disaffection caused by the brewing Iran-Contra scandal. However, to make him more palatable for the majority of Americans, Reagan officials attempt to repackage Bork as a moderate conservative. Senate Judiciary Committee member Edward Kennedy (D-MA) attacks Bork’s political philosophy, saying before the committee hearings: “[In Bork’s America] women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is the—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.… No justice would be better than this injustice.” Kennedy’s words provoke complaint, but the characterization of Bork is based on his lengthy record of court verdicts and his large body of judicial writings.
Racial Equality Issues - Although there is no evidence to suggest that Bork is himself a racist, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that “his positions on civil rights were an anathema to all who cared about equality in America.” Constitutional law professor Herman Schwartz will write in 2004, “Bork condemned the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause decisions outlawing the poll tax (to him it was just ‘a very small tax’), the decision establishing the one-person, one-vote principle, abolishing school segregation in the District of Columbia, barring courts from enforcing racially restrictive housing covenants, preventing a state from sterilizing certain criminals or interfering with the right to travel, and prohibiting discrimination against out-of-wedlock children…. Bork’s hostility to governmental action on behalf of minorities did not stop with his critique of court action. In 1963 he criticized a section of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1964 that required white businesses to serve blacks as resting on a principle of ‘unsurpassed ugliness.’”
Ready to Fight - The Reagan administration understands that Bork’s nomination is opposed; on July 1, the day of his announced nomination, the media reports that Reagan will try to ensure Bork’s confirmation by waging an “active campaign.” Even Senate-savvy James Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff, is uncertain about Bork’s chances at being confirmed, and further worries that even if Bork wins the fight, the cost to Reagan’s political capital will be too high.
His Own Worst Enemy - Conservatives Justice Department official Terry Eastland will later say Senate Democrats sabotage Bork’s chances at faring well in the confirmation hearings, even positioning his table to ensure the least favorable angles for Bork on television. However, the public’s opinion of Bork is unfavorable, and Dean will write: “[I]t was not the position of his chair in the hearing room that made Bork look bad, but rather his arrogance, his hubris, and his occasional cold-bloodedness, not to mention his equivocations and occasional ‘confirmation conversions,’ where he did what no one else could do. He made himself a terrible witness who did not appear to be truthful.” The confirmation conversions even surprise some of his supporters, as Bork abandons his previous stances that the First Amendment only applies to political speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause does not apply to women. The Senate Judiciary Committee passes Bork’s nomination along to the full Senate, where Bork is defeated 58-42.
The Verb 'To Bork' - In 2007, Dean will write, “Bork’s defeat made him both a martyr and a verb,” and quotes conservative pundit William Safire as writing that “to bork” someone means to viciously attack a political figure, particularly by misrepresenting that figure in the media. (Dean 2007, pp. 137-143)
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney testifies to the Senate on the upcoming invasion of Iraq (see August 2, 1990). Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) asks Cheney bluntly, “Now, barring an act of provocation, do you agree that the president must obtain the approval of Congress in advance before the United States attacks Iraq?” Cheney replies that he “does not believe the president requires any additional authorization from the Congress before committing US forces to achieve our objectives in the Gulf.” Cheney cites “more than two hundred” earlier instances where presidents have committed US forces into conflicts, “and on only five of those occasions was their a prior declaration of war. And so I am not one who would argue… that the president’s hands are tied, or that he is unable, given his constitutional responsibilities as commander in chief, to carry out his responsibilities.” Author John Dean will note in 2007, “Cheney had announced to Congress, in essence, that he did not need their authority to go to war.” Kennedy says of Cheney’s statement after the hearings, “We’ve not seen such arrogance in a president since Watergate.” (Dean 2007, pp. 90)
Laura Bush, the president’s wife, learns of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center while she is leaving the White House, on her way to a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill, but thinks the crash was an accident. (Burleigh 10/15/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 197-198) Bush is set to appear before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, to plead for more federal funding of early childhood education. (McCaleb 9/12/2001; Andersen 2002, pp. 2) She is scheduled to arrive at the Russell Senate Office Building, located just north of the Capitol building, at 9:15 a.m. and to appear at the hearing there at 10:00 a.m. (McQuillan 9/10/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 197)
Secret Service Agent Tells First Lady of Crash - Members of the White House press corps who will be going to Capitol Hill with the first lady have been watching coverage of the crash in New York on television. However, when she is escorted out of the White House by Gary Walters, the chief usher, Bush is unaware of what has happened. But then, as she is getting into her limousine, Ron Sprinkle, the head of her Secret Service detail, leans over and whispers in her ear that he has just been informed that a plane has hit the WTC. (National Journal 8/31/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 197)
First Lady Thinks Crash Is an Accident - Bush speculates about what could have happened with Andi Ball, her chief of staff, and Margaret Spellings, the White House domestic policy adviser, who are with her at this time. (Kessler 2006, pp. 135; Bush 2010, pp. 197-198) Bush does not think the crash was due to terrorism. “Of course, at that time we thought it was just some weird freak accident,” she will later recall. (Burleigh 10/15/2001; Gerhart 2004, pp. 162)
Motorcade Subsequently Heads for Capitol Hill - The exact time when Sprinkle informs Bush of the crash is unclear. According to Walters, it happens “at 8:55.” (National Journal 8/31/2002) Us Weekly magazine will place the incident at “[j]ust before 9 a.m.” (Burleigh 10/15/2001) But Bush will write that she is told of the crash “a few minutes after 9:00 a.m.” (Bush 2010, pp. 197) Bush’s limousine and motorcade will leave the White House at 9:07 a.m., several minutes after the second plane hits the WTC, according to Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary (see (9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (National Journal 8/31/2002) Bush will learn of the second crash, and realize this is a terrorist attack, shortly before arriving at the Russell Office Building (see (9:14 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2002; Gerhart 2004, pp. 162; Bush 2010, pp. 198)
First Lady's Testimony before Congress Expected to Be 'Big News' - Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, invited Bush to appear before his committee today. (McQuillan 9/10/2001; Gerhart 2004, pp. 160) Bush is set to become only the fourth first lady to testify before Congress. (McQuillan 9/6/2001; Burleigh 10/15/2001) Rodriguez will recall that before receiving the news of the crash in New York, with Bush’s planned appearance at the hearing ahead, “We expected it to be a big news day for us.” Kennedy will say, “There was a lot of anticipation about [Bush’s] presence, a lot of the excitement.” (CNN 9/11/2002) The hearing will be canceled as a result of the attacks in New York. (McCaleb 9/12/2001)
Laura Bush, the president’s wife, spends time in the office of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) after arriving at the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, where she was originally scheduled to testify before the Senate education committee. (Bush 2010, pp. 197-199) Bush was set to appear before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which Kennedy chairs, at 10:00 a.m., to talk about early childhood education. (McQuillan 9/10/2001; McCaleb 9/12/2001; CNN 9/11/2002)
First Lady Arrives at Senate Building - She arrives at the Russell Senate Office Building at 9:16 a.m. (National Journal 8/31/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 198) Her Secret Service agents informed her of the first crash at the World Trade Center as she was getting into her limousine for the drive from the White House to Capitol Hill (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and told her about the second crash a couple of minutes before she arrives at the Russell Office Building (see (9:14 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 197-198) Kennedy, who has been informed of the attacks in New York, goes to greet Bush when she arrives. (CNN 9/11/2002; Kennedy 2009, pp. 492)
First Lady and Kennedy Discuss 'Mundane Things' - After Kennedy meets Bush, the two agree immediately to postpone the Senate hearing. (Burleigh 10/15/2001; Andersen 2002, pp. 4) Instead of going to the hearing room, they go to Kennedy’s office, accompanied by members of Bush’s staff. (National Journal 8/31/2002; Kessler 2006, pp. 135) A television is on in the corner of the room, showing the coverage of the burning WTC towers. However, rather than focusing on the attacks in New York, Kennedy takes Bush on a tour of his office, pointing out various pictures, furniture, and pieces of memorabilia. He also presents her with a print of a painting he has done. (Bush 2010, pp. 198) Bush will later recall that she and Kennedy talk about “mundane things,” such as the Capitol and the offices there. (CNN 9/11/2002; Gerhart 2004, pp. 162)
Senator Gregg Joins First Lady and Kennedy - After a time, they are joined by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), who is on the education committee and is a Bush family friend. While Gregg and Bush sit on couches in the office, Bush will recall, Kennedy continues “chatting about anything other than the horrific images unfolding on the tiny screen across the room.” Gregg will say: “I think Senator Kennedy was trying to distract everybody, keep us thinking about other things, maybe. But we were talking about some other items [besides the terrorist attacks], actually.” However, Bush keeps glancing at the television to see the coverage of the attacks. (CNN 9/11/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 198-199)
Secret Service Agents 'Frantically' Seek Details of Attacks - While the first lady is in Kennedy’s office, her Secret Service agents and senior staff “frantically worked their earpieces and cell phones to get a handle on the unfolding attacks,” according to Us Weekly magazine. Although those in the room aren’t catching everything about the attacks that is being shown on television, Bush will recall that they “knew what was happening because people kept coming in.” (Burleigh 10/15/2001) However, members of Bush’s staff have difficulty contacting others. Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary, will say, “Nobody could get a cell [phone call] to get through, and we took turns using the office phone.” (National Journal 8/31/2002)
First Lady Works on Public Statement - The first lady and those with her watch President Bush delivering a short statement to the nation from the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at 9:30 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) on a small television on the desk of Kennedy’s receptionist. (White House 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 199) Although Jim Manley, Kennedy’s spokesman, initially tells reporters that the senators and the first lady will not be making any statements to the press, Kennedy subsequently decides they should. (Gerhart 2004, pp. 161) Therefore, after watching the president’s statement, the first lady goes to a private room with Rodriguez and they start writing down what she will say. (National Journal 8/31/2002) Kennedy, Gregg, and Bush will appear before the press at around 9:41 a.m. (see 9:41 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 199)
First Lady Laura Bush, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) appear before reporters and television cameras to announce that a planned Senate education committee hearing has been postponed, and to comment on the terrorist attacks in New York. (Associated Press 9/11/2001; CNN 9/11/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 199) Bush was scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which Kennedy chairs, at 10:00 a.m. (McQuillan 9/10/2001; McCaleb 9/12/2001) She now goes with Kennedy and Gregg to the Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building, to tell reporters there that the hearing has been called off. (Carlson 12/31/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 199) The beginning of their appearance is shown live on CNN.
Hearing Has Been Postponed, Not Canceled - Kennedy starts by emphasizing that today’s hearing has been postponed, rather than canceled, and then says, “We are not going to see the business of America deferred because of terrorism, whether it’s in education or another area of public policy.” (Associated Press 9/11/2001; CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/11/2001)
First Lady Becomes 'Comforter in Chief' - After Kennedy asks her if she would like to say anything, Bush says to the reporters: “Our hearts and our prayers go out to the victims of this act of terrorism and… our support goes to the rescue workers. And all of our prayers are with everyone there right now.” Then, as she and the senators turn to leave, Laurence McQuillan of USA Today says to her: “Children are kind of struck by all this. Is there a message you could tell to the nation’s…” Before he can finish the sentence, Bush replies, “Parents need to reassure their children everywhere in our country that they’re safe.” (CNN 9/11/2002; Gerhart 2004, pp. 163; Bush 2010, pp. 199) With these words, journalist and author Ronald Kessler will later write, Bush “became the comforter in chief, calmly reassuring the nation and dispensing advice on how parents should deal with the tragedy.” (Kessler 2006, pp. 136) Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary, will later comment that Bush’s response to McQuillan is “what people remember her for that day.” (National Journal 8/31/2002) As Bush, Kennedy, and Gregg are leaving the room, Bush’s advance man will receive a call informing him of the attack at the Pentagon (see (9:45 a.m.-9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 200)
First Lady Laura Bush and those accompanying her head toward the office of Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) after they learn of the attack on the Pentagon and Bush’s Secret Service agents instruct them to go to the basement of the building they are in. (CNN 9/11/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 200) Bush has just appeared before reporters in the Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building, on Capitol Hill, alongside Gregg and Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) (see 9:41 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Advance Man Told of Pentagon Attack - As Bush and the senators are walking out of the Caucus Room, John Meyers, the first lady’s advance man, receives a call on his cell phone. The caller, a friend of his, says that “CNN was reporting that an airplane had crashed into the Pentagon,” Bush will later write. (Carlson 12/31/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 199-200)
Secret Service Says First Lady and Staff Cannot Leave Yet - Before going to the Caucus Room, Bush spent time in Kennedy’s office (see 9:16 a.m.-9:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). (National Journal 8/31/2002; CNN 9/11/2002) She now goes back there. Then, she will recall, she begins “moving quickly toward the stairs, to reach my car to return to the White House.” But suddenly, Ron Sprinkle, Bush’s lead Secret Service agent, turns toward the first lady and her staff and tells them they need to head immediately to the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building, Bush will recall. (Bush 2010, pp. 200) Andi Ball, the first lady’s chief of staff, who is with Bush at this time, will give a slightly different account. She will say that as Bush and her staff are walking down the corridor, on their way to the cars that will take them to the White House, Bush’s Secret Service agents tell them, “[W]e can’t go right now.” The agents say they all “need to go back and wait a few minutes.” Ball will add: “Our agents thought another plane was coming toward Washington. The Capitol was being evacuated.” (Kessler 2006, pp. 136) (The Russell Senate Office Building and the nearby Capitol building are evacuated at 9:48 a.m., apparently due to concerns that a plane is heading toward Capitol Hill (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 9/11/2001; Associated Press 8/21/2002; CNN 9/11/2006) )
First Lady and Entourage Go to Senator's Office - The group then takes off “at a run,” according to Bush. Gregg suggests they all go to his office, which is on a lower floor and is an interior room. Bush’s Secret Service agents then tell Meyers that they are waiting for the emergency response team to arrive. They say the team will take the first lady away but leave her staff behind. Overhearing this conversation, Bush turns back and says, “No, everyone is coming.” Bush and her entourage then reach Gregg’s office, where they will remain until the Secret Service takes them away to a “secure location” at around 10:10 a.m. (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (Shortly After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (National Journal 8/31/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 200)
After the Capitol building in Washington is evacuated (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001), those located around it—including members of Congress—experience serious problems communicating by phone and other means. CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley will describe: “Nobody knew anything.… Nobody had any way to communicate.… The cell phones went down. Eventually… the personal BlackBerrys that bring your e-mail to you, they went down. And inside the Capitol, remember [there are] still switchboard operators there. Inside the Capitol, the phones worked only on and off.” According to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), there is “no communication whatsoever going on.” (CNN 9/11/2002) Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) will recall: “People were punching their cell phones to no avail. The lines were jammed.” (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 110) Consequently, for more than an hour Daschle’s own staff is unable to establish where he is. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was experiencing communications problems even before he was evacuated from the Capitol, while trying to contact Vice President Dick Cheney by phone (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Hastert 2004, pp. 6; Hayes 2007, pp. 336) Whether others at the Capitol also experienced similar difficulties prior to the evacuation is unclear. What causes these problems is uncertain. However, numerous other people in the Washington area, including senior government officials, also experience serious communications problems throughout the day (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Laura Bush, the president’s wife, and her entourage stay in the office of Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) as they wait for the Secret Service emergency response team to arrive and take them away from Capitol Hill. Bush and those with her in the Russell Senate Office Building headed to Gregg’s office after they learned of the attack on the Pentagon and Bush’s Secret Service agents told them to go to the basement (see (9:45 a.m.-9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gregg’s office is on a lower floor of the building, though whether it is in the basement is unclear.)
First Lady Unable to Contact Daughters - From Gregg’s office, Bush tries calling her daughters, Barbara and Jenna, who are both at university. (Bush 2010, pp. 200) She is unable to reach them at this time. According to journalist and author Christopher Andersen, she is told that “they had both already been hustled off to what the Secret Service called ‘secure locations.’” (Fineman and Brant 12/3/2001; Andersen 2002, pp. 6)
First Lady and Senator Talk about Families - The first lady then sits with Gregg, who is a longtime Bush family friend, and, she will later recall, they talk “quietly about our families and our worries for them, and the overwhelming shock we both felt.” (Bumiller 10/4/2004; Bush 2010, pp. 200) Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who is also in Gregg’s office at this time, will recall, “We kept the television set off and simply talked for a while.” (Kennedy 2009, pp. 492)
Reporters Cannot Travel with First Lady - Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary, is worried about the pool reporters who are with them. She will describe, “We put them all in a room,” but Bush’s Secret Service agents tell her, “We have to leave here and we can’t take [the pool reporters] with us.” Laurence McQuillan, of USA Today, reassures Rodriguez, telling her, “Don’t worry about us.” (National Journal 8/31/2002) Bush remains in Gregg’s office until members of the Secret Service, including the emergency response team, collect her from there (see (Shortly After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 200) She and her staff leave the Russell Senate Office Building at around 10:10 a.m., and are then driven to a “secure location” (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (National Journal 8/31/2002)
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, just hours before the testimony of FBI agent Coleen Rowley, whose accusations of FBI malfeasance before the 9/11 attacks have sparked Congressional interest (see June 6, 2002). Mueller promises the committee that Rowley will not be punished for speaking out, and admits that Rowley is correct in some of her assessments, including her insistence that the bureau change to meet the threats posed by loosely organized terrorist groups. “When we looked back, we saw things that we should have done better and things that we should have done differently, but we also saw things that were done well and things that we should do more,” Mueller tells the assembled lawmakers. (CNN 6/6/2002) Some senators take Mueller’s assessments even farther. Herbert Kohl (D-WI) says, “Had the FBI been totally alert and had the FBI used its current capabilities to the best of its ability, there was at least a very good chance that the terrorist plot could have been uncovered.” (Lichtblau 6/7/2002)
Refuses to Answer Questions about Presidential Discussions - Committee member Joe Biden (D-DE) repeatedly asks Mueller whether President Bush consulted with him before the 2001 reorganization of the nation’s domestic security apparatus under the Homeland Security rubric (see September 20, 2001). Mueller refuses to discuss his conversations with Bush. “There is no executive privilege here,” Biden says. “I’m asking you whether you were consulted. I think this is ridiculous.” Law enforcement officials later confirm that both Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft were consulted as part of planning for the reorganization.
'Antiquated' Computer System - Democratic senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) questions Mueller about the antiquated computer system used by the FBI (Rowley herself will testify that her agents could not search FBI files for information pertaining to their inquiry into so-called “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui—see August 21, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001). Mueller confirms that Rowley and agents working with her could not search for terms such as “flight school,” but instead were limited to single-word searches such as “flight” or “school,” which produced masses of irrelevant results. Schumer calls the FBI system “almost laughable,” and adds, “It just makes my jaw drop to think that on 9/11 or on 9/10 the kind of technology that is available to most school kids, and certainly every small business in this country, wasn’t available to the FBI.” Mueller says it will take two or three years to upgrade the FBI’s computers. “I think we are way behind the curve,” he says.
Criticism of Civil Liberties Reductions - Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) criticizes Mueller for his decision, in conjunction with Attorney General John Ashcroft, to loosen restrictions on the FBI that limit the bureau’s ability to investigate and monitor citizen dissidents and organizations. “In particular, I’m troubled by the visa-holder-registration policy announced yesterday,” he says, referring to a Justice Department plan to require that about 100,000 foreigners in the United States be fingerprinted by the government. “Your agency is expending valuable time and resources to recruit these US citizens in our Arab and Muslim communities. And at the same time, the Justice Department is photographing, fingerprinting and registering their law-abiding siblings, cousins, visiting the United States.” (Johnston and Lewis 6/7/2002) “What impact do you think these policies will have on the Arab and Muslim communities in the US if you’re holding job fairs in the morning and fingerprinting them in the afternoon?” Kennedy asks. Mueller responds that the FBI will be careful not to step on anyone’s constitutional rights: “I still believe that we have to protect the freedoms that we have in this country that are guaranteed by the Constitution, or all the work we do to protect it will be at naught.” (Lichtblau 6/7/2002)
Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) delivers an impassioned speech at Johns Hopkins University raising questions about the upcoming war with Iraq: “I have come here today to express my view that America should not go to war against Iraq unless and until other reasonable alternatives are exhausted,” he says. Kennedy questions the rationale behind the administration’s claims of Iraqi perfidy: “I have heard no persuasive evidence that Saddam is on the threshold of acquiring the nuclear weapons he has sought for more than 20 years. And the administration has offered no persuasive evidence that Saddam would transfer chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda.” Kennedy warns of the possible calamitous aftereffects of a US invasion: “War with Iraq before a genuine attempt at inspection and disarmament, without genuine international support, could swell the ranks of al-Qaeda with sympathizers and trigger an escalation in terrorist acts.” Kennedy’s speech is virtually ignored by the mainstream media. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert later says, “[The] Washington Post gave that speech one sentence. Thirty-six words. I calculated in 2002, the Washington Post probably published 1,000 articles and columns about Iraq. Probably one million words, in excess of one million words. And one of the most famous Democrats in the country raised questions about the war, the Washington Post set aside 36 words.” (CNN 9/27/2002; CommonDreams 9/30/2002; Moyers 4/25/2007)
Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter says on Fox News that Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who has criticized the administration’s attempts to push the country towards war (see September 27, 2002), is a member of something she calls the “treason lobby.” (Unger 2007, pp. 256)
A new advertising and poster campaign attacking pro-choice Catholic senators harks back to the dangerous “Deadly Dozen” campaign of 1995 (see 1995 and After), according to pro-choice advocates. The 1995 advertising and poster campaign targeted over a dozen health care and abortion providers, usually listing their names, addresses, and telephone numbers. The new campaign is by the American Life League (ALL—see 1979), an anti-abortion organization centered in Stafford, Virginia. Both the 1995 and the current campaigns feature “Old West” themed posters. ALL’s posters provide photographs of a dozen pro-choice US senators under the announcement, “Wanted For Fradulently Claiming Catholic Faith”; like the earlier campaign, the senators are branded as “The Deadly Dozen.” The senators pictured include Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Tom Daschle (D-SD), John Kerry (D-MA), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The campaign calls for bishops to refuse communion to the senators. Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation says she is appalled by ALL’s choice of slogans. “This type of language is associated with violence,” she says. “Seven people lost their lives as a result of this type of verbiage. What is the American Life League thinking?” The new ad campaign is running in selected newspapers, including the Washington Times and The Wanderer, a weekly Catholic newspaper in Massachusetts. A new round of posters is planned, targeting, among others, Governor Gray Davis (D-CA) of California and other California pro-choice lawmakers, according to ALL official Joseph Giganti. Giganti says ALL is opposed to violence and calls comparisons between his organization’s campaign and the 1995 campaign “reckless and careless.… Our ads don’t refer to being wanted dead or alive; it is referencing the fact abortion kills. We are simply saying, if you are in fact Catholic, how can you continue to support abortion?” Giganti blames pro-choice groups for “purposely… misinterpret[ing]” the campaign and using it “as a stepping stone to voice their own opinions.” At least 11 Catholic diocesan newspapers have turned down the ads. “The kind of advertising they are doing is inflammatory,” says Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice. “It could incite someone, set someone off. But the more dominant issue is that they will disgust people. This ad will only reinforce pro-choice. People who have mixed feelings about abortion, people who are moderates will be turned off by the advertisements.” A spokesman for one targeted senator, Christopher Dodd (D-CT), says of the campaign: “There is no place in America for personal attacks on those with whom one disagrees. Ultimately, Senator Dodd’s religious views are a personal matter between him and God.” (Life 1/22/2003; Smith 4/21/2003)
Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee claims that the Army has ordered as many “up-armored” vehicles as its contractors can produce, but says that they will not be ready until mid-2005. But Brian T. Hart, whose 20-year-old son was killed in a soft-skinned Humvee (see October 2003), investigates the secretary’s claim and learns that the armor manufacturers are not at full production. He takes this information to Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) who then helps him pressure the Army to speed up production and move the date that they will be available up to January. (Kerber 3/8/2004)
Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a longtime critic of the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq, delivers a blistering rebuke from the floor of the US Senate to President Bush and the White House over what he calls “lie after lie after lie” it has given to the American people to justify the Iraq invasion. Kennedy calls the war “unnecessary… based on unreliable and inaccurate intelligence,” and notes that the US occupation of Iraq “has not brought an end to danger. Instead, it has brought new dangers, imposed new costs, and taken more and more American lives each week.” Iraq “was not a breeding ground for terrorism,” Kennedy asserts. “Our invasion has made it one.”
'Trumped-Up' 'Double Talk' - He accuses the administration of taking the nation to war on the basis of “trumped-up reasons” and “double-talk,” saying: “The American people were told Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons. He was not. We were told he had stockpiles of other weapons of mass destruction. He did not. We were told he was involved in 9/11. He was not. We were told Iraq was attracting terrorists from al-Qaeda. It was not. We were told our soldiers would be viewed as liberators. They are not. We were told Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction. It cannot. We were told the war would make America safer. It has not. Before the war, week after week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie after lie.”
Getting out of Iraq - But, Kennedy notes, now that the US is in Iraq, it cannot just withdraw and leave the country “to chaos or civil war [and risk it] becoming a danger to us far greater than it did before. The misguided policy of the past is no excuse for a misguided policy for the future. We need a realistic and specific plan to bring stability to Iraq, to bring genuine self-government to Iraq, to bring our soldiers home with dignity and honor.” Kennedy says he will vote against the administration’s $87 billion “emergency funding” bill for the occupation, and will continue to vote against future bills until the administration outlines a plan for withdrawing from Iraq. “A no vote is not a vote against supporting our troops,” he says. “It is a vote to send the administration back to the drawing board. It is a vote for a new policy—a policy worthy of the sacrifice our soldiers are making, a policy that restores America as a respected member of the family of nations, a policy that will make it easier, not far more difficult, to win the war against terrorism.”
'Huge' Spending Outlay - Kennedy gives examples of what the $87 billion is not being spent on:
“It is 87 times what the federal government spends annually on after-school programs.”
“It is seven times what President Bush proposed to spend on education for low-income schools in 2004.”
“It is nine times what the federal government spends on special education each year.”
The World's Next 'Failed Empire?' - Kennedy warns that for the US to continue to be “an occupier of other lands,” to “have to re-learn the lesson that every colonial power in history has learned,” risks making the US “the next failed empire in the world.” The Bush administration ignores the lessons of history, Kennedy says: “The most basic of those lessons is that we cannot rely primarily on military means as a solution to politically-inspired violence. In those circumstances, the tide of history rises squarely against military occupation. The British learned that lesson in Northern Ireland. The French learned it in Algeria. The Russians learned it in Afghanistan and are re-learning it every day in Chechnya. America learned it in Vietnam, and we must not re-learn it in Iraq.”
Protecting the US Military - The Bush administration is sacrificing the lives, the health, and the safety of the US soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere to its dreams of empire, Kennedy says. “Even with the best forces in the history of the world, our military cannot succeed if the mission is not achievable, if they are viewed as occupiers, and if we do not have a clearly defined and realistic strategy.… I am profoundly moved by the price they pay to serve our country, and profoundly impressed by their professionalism and commitment.… They tell me that far too many in Iraq believe we are there to take their oil, and that we will stay forever. They have no clear sense about their post-war mission. Some see it as winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Some believe it is security. Some feel it is to obtain intelligence about opposition forces and weapons caches. Others think it is to prevent sabotage of the oil pipelines and other vital infrastructure. Still others say it is to build sidewalks and soccer fields and schools and hospitals, and other local facilities. Not one of the soldiers told me their mission was to achieve Iraq’s transition to democracy.”
Supporting the Contractors at the Expense of Supporting the Iraqi People - The administration is far more interested in supporting large private contractors such as Halliburton and KBR, Kennedy says, than it is in actively helping the Iraqi people. “The administration’s policy of rushing to put large multibillion-dollar contracts in the hands of American firms ignores not only the lesson of history but also the lesson of human nature—the Iraqi people need to be the real partners in the reconstruction effort.” While private firms make enormous profits from government contracts, the most basic functions in Iraq remain unrestored. “Why not scale back the lavish resources being provided to US contractors and consultants and provide larger sums directly to the Iraqi people?” he asks.
Ignoring Iraq's History of Conflict and Dissension - The administration has flatly ignored a century of history in Iraq, Kennedy says, a century of division and dissension between warring religious, cultural, and ethnic groups. Since the British carved Iraq from the remnants of the collapsing Ottoman Empire after World War I, Kennedy says, the nation has been embroiled in conflict. “Iraq had no history of unity. In the words of one tribal chieftain, ‘History did not die; the tribes and notables who emerged in 1920 and created our modern state in 1921 are here to stay with all the others who came into being thereafter.’ Instead of learning from this painful history, we condemned ourselves to repeat it. Instead of anticipating the obviously similar and predictable divisions and demands when Saddam’s regime fell, the Bush administration believed that a few favored Iraqi exile leaders, many of them in exile for years, could return to Iraq, rally the population, and lead the new government. That was another failure. The Iraqi people rejected them from the start and resisted their domination.”
Working with the United Nations - The Bush administration seems unwilling to work with the United Nations to help bring peace and stability to Iraq, Kennedy says—in his view, a critical error. In January 2000, before becoming Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice wrote of the importance of the UN in the US’s foreign relations. Kennedy says: “Condi Rice’s words indict the administration’s own policy now. It is essential to involve the international community as an active and equal partner in the political transition of Iraq. We need to give the UN a central role.… No one doubts that the United States should remain in charge of the military operation. But internationalizing the reconstruction is not a luxury; it is an imperative.”
Conclusion - Kennedy concludes by quoting from a book by former President George Herbert Walker Bush and his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, reflecting on their experiences with Iraq and the 1991 Gulf War (see September 1998). Overthrow and occupation was the wrong goal in 1991, Bush and Scowcroft wrote, and, Kennedy says, was the wrong goal in 2003. “It is time for this administration to admit that it was wrong, and turn in a new direction.… We need to actively engage the Iraqi people in governing and rebuilding their country. Our soldiers now risking their lives in Iraq deserve no less. Here at home, all Americans are being asked to bear the burden too—and they deserve more than a phony summons to support our troops by pursuing policies that will only condemn them to greater and greater danger. Yes, we must stay the course—but not the wrong course.” (Kennedy 10/16/2003)
Secretary of State Colin Powell is asked by CBS anchor Bob Schieffer whether Senator Edward Kennedy’s assessment that “the American people were told lie after lie after lie in the buildup before the war and in those days after” is accurate (see October 16, 2003). Powell responds: “I have to disagree strongly with Senator Kennedy. The American people were not told lie after lie after lie. The American people were told that we have a dangerous situation in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was ignoring 12 years of UN resolutions, that he had and was developing weapons of mass destruction.” Powell insists that Iraq may well have had “programs for the development of weapons of mass destruction” even if the actual weapons did not exist, “but let there be no doubt about what Saddam Hussein’s intentions always were. He had weapons of mass destruction, he has used weapons of mass destruction, and the president determined that it was not a risk the world should have to face any longer.” The question is essentially moot now, Powell adds, because Hussein has been overthrown. (US Department of State 10/19/2003)
New York Times reporter Robert Pear discovers that the Bush administration has employed two fake “reporters,” Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia, who have appeared in administration-produced television “news” segments—“video news releases,” or VNRs—designed to promote the administration’s new Medicare prescription-drug policies. (Garcia primarily appeared in Spanish-language Medicare VNRs.) HHS had budgeted $124 million for the fake news segments, more than most real news organizations can provide. The segments are under investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO) for possible violation of government statutes prohibiting the use of federal money to produce propaganda or partisan presentations. The Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS), Tommy Thompson, appears in one of the segments, saying, “This is going to be the same Medicare system only with new benefits, more choices, more opportunities for enhanced benefits.” Several others show a crowd giving President Bush a standing ovation as he signs the new Medicare bill into law. Another segment shows a pharmacist talking to an elderly customer. The pharmacist says the new law “helps you better afford your medications,” and the customer says, “It sounds like a good idea.” The pharmacist agrees, “A very good idea.” The segments, professionally produced and ending with tag lines such as “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting,” were regularly aired by at least 50 local television news broadcasts in 40 cities around the country. The government also provides scripts that can be used by local news anchors to introduce, or “walk up,” the VNRs. One script suggested that anchors read the following: “In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare. Since then, there have been a lot of questions about how the law will help older Americans and people with disabilities. Reporter Karen Ryan helps sort through the details.” A VNR is then broadcast explaining how the new law benefits Medicare recipients.
'Infoganda' - Ryan is a freelance journalist, the administration claims, and using her for such fake news segments is perfectly acceptable. But cursory investigation reveals that she was once a freelance reporter, but has for years worked as a public relations consultant. Her most recent assignments include appearing in marketing videos and “infomercials” promoting a variety of pharmaceutical products, including the popular drugs FloMist and Excedrin. Perhaps the most telling reaction is from Comedy Central’s comedy-news program The Daily Show, where host Jon Stewart can’t seem to decide whether to be outraged or flattered by what Rich calls “government propaganda imitating his satiric art.” (Daily Show member Rob Corddry calls the HHS videos “infoganda.”) Administration officials also insist that the VNRs are real, objective news releases, but the company that produced the segments, Home Front Communications, confirms that it had hired Ryan to read a script prepared by government officials. The VNRs give a toll-free phone number for beneficiaries to call. To obtain recorded information about prescription drug benefits, the caller must speak the words, “Medicare improvement.” The Columbia Journalism Review writes, “The ‘reports’ were nothing more than a free advertisement for the legislation, posing as news.”
Legal? - GAO lawyers say that their initial investigations found that other fliers and advertisements disseminated by HHS to promote the new Medicare policies are legal, though they display “notable omissions and other weaknesses.” Administration officials claim the VNRs are also a legal, effective way to educate Medicare beneficiaries. The GAO is still investigating the VNRs. GAO investigators believe that they might violate the law in at least one aspect: misleading viewers by concealing their government origins. Federal law expressly forbids the use of federal money for “publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress. Earlier investigations have found government-disseminated editorials and newspaper articles illegal if they did not identify themselves as coming from government officials. The GAO will find that the VNRs break two federal laws forbidding the use of federal money to produce propaganda (see May 19, 2004).
'Common Practice' - HHS spokesman Kevin Keane says the VNRs are well within legal guidelines; their only purpose, he says, is to inform citizens about changes in Medicare. “The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector,” he says. “Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools.” Congressional Democrats disagree with Keane. “These materials are even more disturbing than the Medicare flier and advertisements,” says Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press.” Lautenberg, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and seven other members of Congress requested the GAO investigation. Keane is correct in one aspect: businesses have distributed VNRs to news stations as well as internally for years, and the pharmaceutical industry has been particularly successful in getting marketing videos that appear as “medical news” or “medical features” aired on local and even national news broadcasts. And government agencies have for years released informational films and videos on subjects such as teenage smoking and the dangers of using steroids. Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, says HHS’s VNRs have gone far beyond what the government has previously provided. “Those to me are just the next thing to fraud,” he says. “It’s running a paid advertisement in the heart of a news program.” (Pear 3/15/2004; McDermott 3/15/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 164)
Media Responsibility - The Columbia Journalism Review’s Bill McDermott writes: “[F]or our money, the villains here aren’t the clever flacks at HHS—they’re supposed to be masters of deception. Nope, the dunce hats go to the local TV station editors willing to slap onto the air any video that drops in over the transom.” (McDermott 3/15/2004) Ryan is relatively insouciant about the controversy. “Stations are lazy,” she says. “If these things didn’t work, then the companies would stop putting them out.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3/20/2004)
General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admits that interrogation techniques used by US guards and interrogators in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison violated the Geneva Conventions. Pace says he is not sure who approved those techniques. Pace, who a week before had blamed lower-ranking soldiers for carrying out the abuses (see May 5, 2004), contradicts Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has insisted that the techniques used on prisoners at Abu Ghraib meet international standards for humane treatment. In a hearing conducted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed (D-RI) asks Pace what he would think if he saw a US Marine in enemy custody, bound, naked, and forced into a painful position with a hood over his head. Would it violate the Geneva standards? Reed asks. “I would describe it as a violation, sir,” Pace replies. Reed notes that just that sort of treatment had previously been authorized by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of US ground forces in Iraq. Pace says he knows of no military guidelines that would allow prisoners to be put in so-called “stress positions,” denied sleep, threatened with dogs, or kept in isolation for weeks on end. Committee Democrats contend with the committee chairman, John Warner (R-VA), who initially attempts to stop discussion of the Abu Ghraib torture allegations and focus only on the issue of the Bush administration’s new request for $25 million in funding for the military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Warner eventually gives way to the Democrats after Ted Kennedy (D-MA) says: “I’ve been in the Senate 42 years, and I have never been denied the opportunity to question any person that’s come before a committee, on what I wanted to ask for it. And I resent it and reject it on a matter of national importance.” The New York Times notes, “Outrage over the prison abuse has been near-universal, but in recent days Republicans have been quicker than Democrats to try to change the subject or insist on limiting release of the new prison photos.” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) says that “[s]ome people are overreacting” to the prison photos and surrounding revelations of abuse. “The people who are against the war are using this to their political ends.” (Knowlton 5/13/2004)
The General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the Bush administration broke two federal laws as part of its publicity campaign to promote its new Medicare prescription drug policies. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) illegally spent federal monies on what amounts to covert propaganda in producing and distributing “video news releases,” or VNRs, to local television news broadcasters around the country that were designed to look like objective news reports (see March 15, 2004). The GAO findings do not carry legal weight, because the GAO acts as an adviser to Congress. The viewers in the more than 40 cities who saw the reports did not know they were watching government-produced videos anchored by public relations “flacks” paid by HHS who were not real reporters. The VNRs have only fueled criticism of the Medicare prescription drug coverage program, which gives private health care firms and prescription drug companies a much larger role in providing and setting prices for Medicare recipients’ prescriptions. Democrats have long insisted that the law cripples Medicare beneficiaries’ ability to receive low-cost prescriptions in favor of funneling Medicare dollars into the pharmaceutical companies’ coffers; with the GAO findings, Democrats now say that the government used illegal propaganda tactics to “sell” the citizenry on the new program. The administration has already admitted that the program will cost hundreds of billions of dollars more than originally claimed. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) calls the videos “another example of how this White House has misrepresented its Medicare plan.” Kerry’s Senate colleague, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), says: “The new GAO opinion is yet another indictment of the deception and dishonesty that has become business as usual for the Bush administration. It was bad enough to conceal the cost of the Medicare drug bill from the Congress and the American people. It is worse to use Medicare funds for illegal propaganda to try to turn this lemon of a bill into lemonade for the Bush campaign.” The Bush administration continues to insist that the VNR program is legal. “GAO opinions are not binding on the executive branch. That’s an opinion of the GAO. We don’t agree,” says HHS spokesman Bill Pierce, who justifies the VNR usage by pointing to their ubiquitous usage in corporate settings. Asked if he understands that a viewer might be angry at being led to believe that the VNRs were real news stories, Pierce replies, “If I’m a viewer, I’d be angry at my television station.” (Goldstein 5/20/2004; Kemper 5/20/2004)
Critics in the Senate argue that the Bush administration created an atmosphere of legal permissiveness that led to the abusive treatment of detainees. Senator Edward Kennedy says he believes that the April 2003 Pentagon memo laid the foundations for abuse. “We know when we have these kinds of orders what happens,” he says, “we get the stress test, we get the use of dogs, we get the forced nakedness that we’ve all seen and we get the hooding.” (Goldenberg 6/9/2004) Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democrat member of the Senate subcommittee on foreign operations, says, the “cruel and degrading treatment” in Afghanistan “were part of a wider pattern stemming from a White House attitude that ‘anything goes’ in the war against terrorism, even if it crosses the line of illegality.” (Campbell and Goldenberg 6/23/2004)
Attorney general nominee Alberto R. Gonzales, currently serving as chief White House counsel, tells the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings that there had been some discussion within the administration about trying to rewrite the Geneva Conventions. While he is committed to “ensuring that the United States government complies with all of its legal obligations as it fights the war on terror, whether those obligations arise from domestic or international law,” he says, “these obligations include, of course, honoring the Geneva Conventions wherever they apply.” However, he adds: “We are fighting a new type of enemy and a new type of war. Geneva was ratified in 1949… and I think it is appropriate to revisit whether or not Geneva should be revisited. Now I’m not suggesting that the principles of Geneva regarding basic treatment—basic decent treatment of human beings—should be revisited.… That should always be the basis on which we look at this. But I am aware there’s been some very preliminary discussion as to whether or not—is this something that we ought to look at.” (Wallsten 1/7/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 209)
Questioned about Involvement in Torture - During the hearing, Gonzales is grilled on his involvement in the administration’s decision to allow aggressive interrogations of terrorism detainees. Critics believe the interrogation policy developed by Gonzales and his colleagues created the conditions that allowed abuses, such as those at Abu Ghraib, to occur. Senator Edward Kennedy tells Gonzales, “It appears that legal positions that you have supported have been used by the administration, the military, and the CIA to justify torture and Geneva Convention violations by military and civilian personnel.” (Sherman 1/6/2006) Retired Admiral John Hutson, a former Navy judge advocate general (JAG) who testifies as a witness at the hearing, says, “I believe that the prisoners’ abuses that we’ve seen… found their genesis in the decision to get cute with the Geneva convention.” (Ferraro and Charles 1/7/2005)
Lack of Understanding of International Law - At certain points during the hearing, Gonzales demonstrates an apparent lack of understanding about US and international law. When he is asked if he thinks other world leaders can legitimately torture US citizens, he answers, “I don’t know what laws other world leaders would be bound by.” On another occasion he is asked whether “US personnel [can] legally engage in torture under any circumstances,” to which he answers, “I don’t believe so, but I’d want to get back to you on that.” He is also asked whether he agrees with John Ashcroft’s judgment that torture should not be used because it produces nothing of value. Gonzales responds, “I don’t have a way of reaching a conclusion on that.” (Washington Post 1/7/2005)
President Bush, stung by the opposition from both left and right that derailed his nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court (see October 3-27, 2005), nominates appeals court judge Samuel Alito to the Court to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor. (Dean 2007, pp. 155-157)
Staunch Advocate of Expanding Presidential Power - Alito has impeccable credentials, especially in contrast to the widely derided Miers. He is a graduate of Yale Law School, a long-time member of the conservative Federalist Society, and has years of decisions behind him as an appellate court judge. He is a product of the Reagan-era Justice Department. Bush calls him “one of the most accomplished and respected judges in America.” He is a powerful anti-abortion advocate, and a staunch supporter of granting ever more power to the executive branch, especially at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. During his time in the Reagan Justice Department, he worked on a project to “increase the power of the executive to shape the law.” In 2000 he called the “unitary executive theory” (see April 30, 1986) the “gospel according to the OLC,” the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, where he worked for four years, and said he was firmly committed to advancing that theory. (Savage 2007, pp. 267-271)
Bland Facade at Hearings - Alito receives a unanimous “well qualified” assessment from the American Bar Association, and the Bush administration expects that his nomination will sail through the Senate confirmation hearings as quickly and painlessly as did Bush’s previous choice for the Court, John Roberts (see September 29, 2005). The hearings are more contentious than Bush would like, and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will say in 2007 that Alito’s performance before the Judiciary Committee “only served to confirm that the entire process has become little more than a great charade.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), one of the longest-serving members of the committee, observes that the Bush administration believes—correctly—that it can nominate radical right-wing extremists to the Court virtually at will, “as long as their views were not well known,” and adds, “[T]he current White House [has] turned the effort to hide nominees’ views into an art form.” Like Roberts, Alito presents a bland, non-confrontational facade to the committee (see January 9-13, 2006), refusing to take a personal stance on any issue and giving the impression that, as Kennedy will say after Alito and Roberts begin their service on the Court, he would be “as neutral as a baseball umpire.… The men who promised to be neutral umpires look more and more like loyal members of the president’s team.” (Dean 2007, pp. 155-157)
Party-Line Confirmation - After an attempt by Senators Kennedy and John Kerry (D-MA) to filibuster Alito’s confirmation fails, the Senate confirms Alito’s ascension to the Court by a near-party line 58-42 vote, the closest such vote since Clarence Thomas’s (see October 13, 1991). Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) condemns what he calls the “very bitter partisanship” over Alito’s nomination, and accuses Democrats of playing politics: “When you have a man who has the decency, the legal ability and the capacities that Judge Alito has treated this way, I think it’s despicable.” Alito, whose hardline conservative beliefs are sufficiently masked during the hearings, replaces the far more moderate O’Connor, who before her retirement made up the “moderate center” of the Court with Justices Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. Now Alito joins Thomas, Roberts, and Antonin Scalia to form a hard-right conservative bloc on the Court which, when joined by center-right conservative Kennedy, forms a nearly unshakable conservative majority. (CNN 2/1/2006)
Overturning Roe? - Many believe that Alito gives the Court the fifth vote it needs to finally overturn the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade (see January 22, 1973), a longtime goal of social conservatives that would go far to make abortions illegal in the US. (Bazelon 10/31/2005)
Representative John Murtha (D-PA), one of the most conservative and hawkish Democrats in the House of Representatives and a longtime supporter of the military, stuns opponents and fellow Democrats alike by calling for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Fighting back tears, Murtha, a former US Marine and a decorated Vietnam veteran, says the troops in Iraq suffer from poor equipment and low morale. Moreover, the troops’ presence there now serves as an impediment to Iraqi progress towards stability and self-governance. The war is “a flawed policy wrapped in illusion,” he says, and adds, “Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency.” Islamic insurgents “are united against US forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence.… I resent the fact, on Veterans Day, [Bush] criticized Democrats for criticizing them. This is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public knows it. And lashing out at critics doesn’t help a bit. You’ve got to change the policy.… It’s time to bring [the soldiers] home.” Murtha submits a bill to compel the withdrawal of troops as soon as feasible (see November 17, 2005). Congressional Republicans counter with accusations of cowardice (see November 18-21, 2005) and even siding with terrorists over their country. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) says: “Murtha and Democratic leaders have adopted a policy of cut and run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans.”
Democratic Leaders Cautious - Democratic leaders such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and campaign chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) react cautiously to Murtha’s call for withdrawal. Pelosi has privately said that she will call for a complete withdrawal of troops in 2006, but does not yet join Murtha in his call for withdrawal, merely saying that he deserves to have “his day.” Emanuel is even more cautious, saying, “Jack Murtha went out and spoke for Jack Murtha.” As for Iraq policy, Emanuel says, “At the right time, we will have a position.”
Mishandling of Intelligence - Murtha joins with other Democrats in accusing the administration of deliberately misrepresenting intelligence about Iraq’s WMD and its connections to al-Qaeda. Vice President Cheney has called such accusations “dishonest and reprehensible.” President Bush responds: “I expect there to be criticism. But when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that’s irresponsible. They looked at the same intelligence I did, and they voted—many of them voted—to support the decision I made.… So I agree with the vice president.” Asked about the comments, Murtha retorts, “I like guys who got five deferments and [have] never been there and send people to war, and then don’t like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.” Cheney received five deferments during the Vietnam War which allowed him to sit out the war; Bush was a Texas Air National Guardsman who did not leave the country during that war. Other Democrats say that they were themselves misled about the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD.
Angry Rhetoric from Both Sides - The White House issues a statement in response to Murtha’s call for a pullout, declaring that Murtha is “endorsing the policy positions of [liberal filmmaker] Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) responds that Bush and Cheney “have begun a new campaign of distortion and manipulation. Because of the polls showing that Americans have lost trust in the president and believe he manipulated intelligence before the war, the president and vice president have abandoned any pretense of leading this country and have gone back on the campaign trail.” They could not find weapons of mass destruction, Kennedy says, and “they can’t find the truth, either.” Kennedy’s Senate colleague Ted Stevens (R-AK) responds by accusing Kennedy and other Democrats of attempting to “undermine the people standing abroad by repeatedly calling [Bush] a liar.” House Republican Geoff Davis says Murtha’s statements are “shameful.” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) says that if the US does not prevail in Iraq, it will invite another 9/11-type attack: “Four years have expired without a second attack on our homeland because we’ve aggressively projected America’s fighting forces in the theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) counters that the White House has “shamelessly decided to play politics” over Iraq. “We need a commander in chief, not a campaigner in chief,” Reid says. “We need leadership from the White House, not more whitewashing of the very serious issues confronting us in Iraq.” (Babington 11/18/2005; Schmitt 11/18/2005; Gerstein 11/18/2005)
The Washington Post learns that the Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965) cases, a drastic change from the earlier policy, which was designed to insulate such decision from political considerations. The decision comes amid what the Post calls “growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas (see December 12, 2003, December 2, 2005, and December 5, 2005) and Georgia (see 2005, November 25, 2005, and September 19, 2006) that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.” In the Georgia redistricting case, a staff memo advised rejecting the Georgia plan because it required voters to show photo ID at the polls, a policy that the memo said would disenfranchise some African-American voters. Under the new policy, that recommendation was removed from the memo and was not forwarded to higher officials in the civil rights division (CRD). The DOJ has claimed the August 25 memo was “an early draft,” even though the DOJ gave “preclearance” for the Georgia plan to be adopted on August 26. A federal judge blocked the law’s implementation, calling it a return to Jim Crow-era policies. The policy was adopted by John Tanner, the head of the CRD’s voting rights section (VRS). DOJ spokesperson Eric Holland says, “The opinions and expertise of the career lawyers are valued and respected and continue to be an integral part of the internal deliberation process upon which the department heavily relies when making litigation decisions.” Tanner has recently lambasted the quality of work by the VRS staff, some of whom have been in the section for decades. Some of the staff members boycotted the staff Christmas party because they were too angry to attend, sources within the section say. Experts like Jon Greenbaum, a VRS veteran who now directs the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says that stopping staff members from making such recommendations is a significant departure and runs the risk of making the process appear more political. “It’s an attempt by the political hierarchy to insulate themselves from any accountability by essentially leaving it up to a chief, who’s there at their whim,” he says. “To me, it shows a fear of dealing with the legal issues in these cases.” Congressional Democrats are critical of the new policy and are joined by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), who is considering holding hearings on the Texas redistricting case. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says, “America deserves better than a civil rights division that puts the political agenda of those in power over the interests of the people its serves.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other DOJ officials have disagreed with the criticism, and asserted that politics play no role in civil rights decisions. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella has recently written to Specter, criticizing the Post’s coverage and claiming that the department is aggressively enforcing a range of civil rights laws. “From fair housing opportunities, equal access to the ballot box, and criminal civil rights prosecutions to desegregation in America’s schools and protection of the rights of the disabled, the division continues its noble mission with vigor,” he wrote. (Eggen 12/10/2005)
Vice President Dick Cheney, formerly the chief of staff for President Gerald Ford (see November 4, 1975 and After), says, “Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the ‘70s served, I think, to erode the authority… the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area.” Cheney says that he and George W. Bush have restored some of “the legitimate authority of the presidency” that was taken away in the aftermath of Watergate. “I think the vice president ought to reread the Constitution,” retorts Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean comments that Bush and Cheney’s behavior “reminds Americans of the abuse of power during the dark days of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.” (Harper 12/21/2005; Werth 2006, pp. 348)
During the Senate hearings to confirm conservative jurist Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, the questioning turns to Alito’s views on the “unitary executive” theory (January 1, 1992). The theory seems to have originated in the Reagan administration’s Justice Department (see April 30, 1986), where Alito worked in the Office of Legal Counsel.
Lawyer Testifies to Unitary Executive - Former Clinton White House counsel Beth Nolan testifies about the theory and its potential for dramatically revamping the power of the presidency: “‘Unitary executive’ is a small phrase with almost limitless import. At the very least, it embodies the concept of presidential control over all executive functions, including those that have traditionally been executed by ‘independent’ agencies and other actors not subject to the president’s direct control.… The phrase is also used to embrace expansive interpretations of the president’s substantive powers, and strong limits on the legislative and judicial branches.” Nolan cites a November 2000 speech by Alito to the Federalist Society, where Alito said in part, “the president is largely impervious to statutory law in the areas of foreign affairs, national security, and Congress is effectively powerless to act as a constraint against presidential aggrandizement in these areas.” (Dean 2007, pp. 100-106) During the questioning session, Alito denies ever discussing the idea of inherent presidential powers during that speech.
Evasive Answers in Hearings - Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says in his opening statement that he intends to press Alito on his support for what Durbin calls “a marginal theory at best… yet one you’ve said you believe.” Durbin notes that the Bush administration has repeatedly cited the theory to justify its most controversial policies and decisions, particularly in conducting its war on terror. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) adds: “The president is not a king, free to take any action he chooses without limitation, by law.… In the area of executive power, Judge Alito, you have embraced and endorsed the theory of the unitary executive. Your deferential and absolutist view of separation of powers raises questions. Under this view, in times of war the president would, for instance, seem to have inherent authority to wiretap American citizens without a warrant, to ignore Congressional acts at will, or to take any other action he saw fit under his inherent powers. We need to know, when a president goes too far, will you be a check on his power or will you issue him a blank check to exercise whatever power alone he thinks appropriate?” (Savage 2007, pp. 271-272) However, Alito refuses to address the issue in the hearings, giving what one journalist calls “either confused or less than candid” answers to questions concerning the subject.
Failure to Recall - During questioning, Alito turns aside inquiries about his avowed support for the unitary executive theory, saying he was merely talking about the idea that a president should have control over lesser executive branch officials, and was not referring to the usurpation of Congressional power by the executive. Further questions elicit nothing but a dry definition of the term. Asked about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s stinging dissent in the 2004 Hamdi v. Rumsfeld case (see June 28, 2004), where Thomas wrote that the authors of the Constitution believed a unitary executive was essential to the implementation of US foreign policies, Alito says he does not recall Thomas’s mention of the phrase. Asked about Bush’s signing statement that attempted to invalidate the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005), Alito merely recites the definition of a signing statement, and refuses to actually state his position on the issue (see February 6, 1986 and After). Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), disturbed by Alito’s refusal to address the subject, says he will vote against him in part because of Alito’s embrace of “the gospel of the unitary executive.” Kennedy cites one of the authors of the theory, law professor Steven Calabresi, one of the founders of the Federalist Society, who, Kennedy says, “acknowledged that, if the concept is implemented, it would produce a radical change in how the government operates.” (Dean 2007, pp. 100-106; Savage 2007, pp. 271-274)
ACLU Opposes Alito - The ACLU, for only the third time in its history, formally opposes Alito’s nomination, in part because of Alito’s embrace of the unitary executive theory of the presidency, citing Alito’s “expansive view of executive authority and a limited view of the judicial role in curbing abuses of that authority.” In its 86-year history, the ACLU has only opposed two other Court nominees: William Rehnquist and former Solicitor General Robert Bork. (American Civil Liberties Union 1/9/2006)
Opposition Fails - However, none of this is effective. Alito is sworn in less than a month later, after Democrats in the Senate fail to successfully mount a filibuster against his confirmation. (CNN 2/1/2006)
In a letter to Lewis Libby’s defense lawyers, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald says that Libby passed classified information from the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002) to reporters. According to Fitzgerald, Libby did so at the behest of his then-boss, Vice President Dick Cheney. Fitzgerald says the information comes from secret grand jury testimony given by Libby (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). He says Libby testified that he caused at least one other government official to discuss an intelligence estimate with reporters in July 2003. “We also note that it is our understanding that Mr. Libby testified that he was authorized to disclose information about the NIE to the press by his superiors,” Fitzgerald writes. Libby’s lawyer William Jeffress says that regardless of what evidence Fitzgerald may or may not have, his client has no intention of blaming Cheney or other senior White House officials for his actions. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says Cheney should take responsibility if he indeed authorized Libby to share classified information with reporters. “These charges, if true, represent a new low in the already sordid case of partisan interests being placed above national security,” Kennedy says. “The vice president’s vindictiveness in defending the misguided war in Iraq is obvious. If he used classified information to defend it, he should be prepared to take full responsibility.” Fitzgerald says he intends to use Libby’s grand jury testimony to support evidence pertaining to Libby’s meeting with then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). (Office of Special Counsel 1/23/2006 ; Associated Press 2/10/2006) The press learns of Libby’s testimony days later (see February 2, 2006).
The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq says that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the 9/11 attacks. The NIE is compiled from information provided by the 16 American intelligence agencies, and written by the US government’s National Intelligence Council. The NIE is released internally in April 2006, but portions are made public on September 24, 2006. It is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began. (Mazzetti 9/24/2006) Robert Hutchings, the council’s former chairman, says, "The war in Iraq has exasperated the global war on terror." (Toronto Daily News 9/24/2006) The White House has issued its own reports touting its successes against Islamist terrorism and predicting that such activities will dwindle in the coming months. (Mazzetti 9/24/2006) The NIE report says, "[T]he Iraq war has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists…and is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives. …[T]he Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of al-Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks in the past three years from London to Kabul, and from Madrid to the Red Sea. Our study shows that the Iraq war has generated a stunning increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and civilian lives lost. Even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one third." Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of the British secret service (MI5), agrees. She will say in early 2007, "Young teenagers are being groomed to be suicide bombers. The threat is serious, is growing and will, I believe, be with us for a generation." (Independent 3/1/2007) Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says the report should "put the final nail in the coffin for President Bush’s phony argument about the Iraq war." (ABC News 9/25/2006)
In a major policy speech regarding Iraq, President Bush announces that he will order 21,500 more US combat troops to Iraq, in a troop escalation he calls a “surge.” The bulk of the troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad. In addition, 4,000 Marines will go to the violent al-Anbar province. In announcing the escalation, he concedes a point he has resisted for over three years, that there have not been enough US troops in Iraq to adequately provide security and create conditions favorable for an Iraqi democracy to take hold. He admits that his previous strategy was based on flawed assumptions about the unstable Iraqi government. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me,” he says. Bush says that to consider any withdrawals of American troops would be a grave mistake, and that by increasing the number of troops in Iraq now, conditions will improve to a point at which troops can be withdrawn. “To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government,” he says. “Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.” Bush also commits the Iraqi government to meeting a series of “benchmarks,” tangible indicators of progress being made, that include adding a further 8,000 Iraqi troops and police officers in Baghdad, passage of long-delayed legislation to share oil revenues among Iraq’s ethnic groups, and a $10 billion jobs and reconstruction program, to be financed by the Iraqis. Bush aides insist that the new strategy is largely the conception of the Iraqi government, with only limited input from US planners. If successful, he says, the results will be a “functioning democracy” that “fights terrorists instead of harboring them.” (Sanger 1/10/2007; Karl 1/10/2007; White House 1/10/2007) While no one is sure how much the new policies will cost, Bush is expected to demand “billions” from Congress to fund his new escalation in the weeks ahead. (Marketwatch 1/5/2005)
'New Way Forward' - The surge has a new marketing moniker, the “New Way Forward.” Some believe that the surge is more for political and public relations purposes than any real military effectiveness. “Clearly the deteriorating situation in Iraq is the overall background,” says political scientist Ole Holsti. The changes may indicate “they are looking for new bodies bringing fresh thinking…or you may have a kind of public-relations aspect,” to show Bush’s change in course is “more than just words.” (Wolfson 1/5/2007; USA Today 1/5/2007)
Surge Already Underway - Interestingly, while Bush announces the “new” strategy of escalating the US presence in Iraq tonight, the escalation is already well underway. 90 advance troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne are already in Baghdad, and another 800 from the same division are en route. The escalation will necessitate additional call-ups from the National Guard as well as additional reactivation of troops who have already toured Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the naval group spearheaded by the aircraft carrier USS Stennis will shortly be en route to the Persian Gulf. Whether the new plan will work is anyone’s guess, say military commanders in Iraq. The escalation will take several months to implement and longer to see tangible results. One military official says, “We don’t know if this will work, but we do know the old way was failing.”
Contradicting Previous Assertions - In announcing the surge, Bush contradicts the position he has asserted since the March 2003 invasion—that military commanders were determining the direction of the war effort. Bush has repeatedly spoken of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort, and has said that he won’t second-guess his commanders. “It’s important to trust the judgment of the military when they’re making military plans,” he said in December 2006. “I’m a strict adherer to the command structure.” However, Bush balked at following the advice of many top military officials and generals, who have recommended a gradual drawdown in troop strengths, and in recent weeks replaced several top military officials who expressed doubts about the need or efficacy of new troop deployments in Iraq (see January 5, 2007). Instead, Bush believes the escalation will alleviate the drastically deteriorating security situation in Iraq. According to Pentagon officials, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who oppose the surge, have agreed to support it only grudgingly, and only because Bush officials have promised a renewed diplomatic and political effort to go along with the escalation. Outgoing Central Command chief General John Abizaid said in November that further troop increases were not a viable answer to the Iraq situation, and in their November 30 meeting, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki did not ask Bush for more troops, instead indicating that he wanted Iraqi troops to take a higher profile. Viewpoints differ on Bush’s interaction with his commanders up to this point—some have seen him as too passive with the generals and military advisers, allowing them almost free rein in Iraq, while others see him as asserting himself by forcing the retirements or reassignments of generals who disagree with his policies.
Rebuffing the ISG - Many observers believe the surge is a backhanded rebuff to the Iraq Study Group (see January 10, 2007).
Surge Plan Concocted at Right-Wing Think Tank - Interestingly, the surge plan itself comes largely from neoconservative planners at the American Enterprise Institute (see January 2007).
Long-Term Ramifications - The Joint Chiefs worry that a troop escalation will set up the US military for an even larger failure, without having any backup options. The Iraqis will not deliver the troops necessary for their own security efforts, they believe, and worry that US troops will end up fighting in what amounts to a political vacuum unless Bush comes up with a plan for dramatic political and economic changes to go along with the military effort. A surge could lead to increased attacks by Iraqi al-Qaeda fighters, open the troops up to more attacks by Sunni insurgents, and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to battle US forces in Iraq. And the escalation’s short-term conception—to last no more than six to eight months—might well play into the plans of Iraq’s armed factions by allowing them to “game out” the new strategy. The JCS also wonder just where Bush will find the troops for the surge. Frederick Kagan, one of the architects of the surge plan, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain want far more than 20,000 troops, but the Joint Chiefs say that they can muster 20,000 at best, and not all at once. Rumsfeld’s replacement, Robert Gates, played a key role in convincing the Joint Chiefs to support the escalation. The biggest selling point of the escalation is the White House’s belief that it will portray the administration as visibly and dramatically taking action in Iraq, and will help create conditions that will eventually allow for a gradual withdrawal of US troops: Bush says, “[W]e have to go up before we go down.” (Abramowitz, Wright, and Ricks 1/10/2007)
Bishop Thomas Tobin, the head of Rhode Island’s Catholic diocese, informs US Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) that he is now denying him the sacrament of Communion over his support for abortion rights. Tobin will publicly confirm his action in November 2009. He will also say he advises Kennedy not to take Communion from any Catholic priest. According to his 2009 statement, Tobin tells Kennedy it would be “inappropriate” for him to continue receiving Communion, “and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so.” Kennedy is the son of US Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and a product of the most prominent Catholic family in American politics. He will reveal Tobin’s ban to a Rhode Island reporter, and say Tobin implemented the ban “because of the positions that I’ve taken as a public official”; Tobin will then issue a statement confirming his decision. Tobin will claim to be victimized by Kennedy’s revelation, and say that his discussion with Kennedy was “pastoral and confidential.” Tobin will say, “I am disappointed that the congressman would make public my request of nearly three years ago that sought to provide solely for his spiritual well-being.” He will conclude: “I have no desire to continue the discussion of Congressman Kennedy’s spiritual life in public. At the same time, I will absolutely respond publicly and strongly whenever he attacks the Catholic Church, misrepresents the teachings of the church, or issues inaccurate statements about my pastoral ministry.” In October 2009, Kennedy will criticize Catholic bishops for threatening to oppose health care reform legislation if it does not include restrictions, which will prompt Tobin to call Kennedy’s position “unacceptable to the church and scandalous to many of our members.” CNN will report that “most bishops and priests oppose using communion as a ‘political weapon.’” (CNN 11/23/2009)
In a 93-1 vote, the US Senate passes the Food and Drug Administration Improvement Act of 2007 (H.R.2273), which grants the FDA broad new authority to monitor the safety of drugs after they are approved. It was based in part on the recommendations of a 2001 report by the Institute of Medicine (see September 22, 2001). The institute had been asked by the FDA to examine drug safety after it was revealed that the FDA and drugmaker Merck had permitted the drug Vioxx to stay on the market despite numerous indications that it increased patients’ risk of a heart attack. But the bill that is passed is much weaker than the original version, and ignores some of the institute’s most critical recommendations. A USA Today investigation will find that industry-friendly changes made to the bill were instigated by senators “who raised millions of dollars in campaign donations from pharmaceutical interests.” For example, 49 senators successfully defeated an effort that would have allowed US consumers to import lower-cost drugs from Canada and other industrialized countries. The senators who opposed the provision “received about $5 million from industry executives and political action committees since 2001—nearly three quarters of the industry donations to current members of the Senate,” USA Today found. Another factor contributing to the amendment’s failure was that President Bush said he would veto the bill if it permitted the imports. Also excised from the bill was language that would have give the FDA the authority to ban advertising of high-risk drugs for two years. This was one of the Institute of Medicine’s key recommendations. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan) argued that the change would restrict free speech. Drug interests have given Roberts $18,000 so far this year, and $66,000 since 2001. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) was responsible for a change that reduced the agency’s power to require post-market safety studies. He insisted on limiting this authority so that the FDA could only target drugs when there’s evidence of harm. Gregg has received $168,500 from drug industry interests since 2001. The bill’s main sponsors—senators Edward Kennedy, (D-Mass) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo)—agreed to water down a proposal that would have required all clinical drug studies be made public after meeting with industry officials. The senators agreed to change the language so that only studies submitted to the FDA would be available. Enzi and Kennedy have received $174,000 and $78,000, respectively, from drug interests since 2001. Amendments aimed at reducing industry conflicts of interest on FDA expert advisory panels were also stripped from the bill. One of those amendments would have made it more difficult for scientists to advise the FDA on drug approval applications from a company the scientist had received money from. Another would have required that FDA panels consist of no more than one member with financial ties to the drug industry. The Senate also rejected an amendment to establish an independent FDA office to monitor the safety of drugs after they are released on the market. The office that currently has this authority is the same one that approves new drugs, an arrangement that lawmakers and at least one FDA scientist (see November 18, 2004) believe is a conflict of interest. (Zwillich 5/9/2007; US Congress 5/10/2007; Dilanian 5/14/2007)
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales comes under fire from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005. Testimony from the day before by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007) showed that White House and Justice Department officials were, and still are, deeply divided over the legality and efficacy of the program. But Gonzales has said repeatedly, both under oath before Congress and in other venues, that there is little debate over the NSA surveillance program, and almost all administration officials are unified in support of the program. In February 2006, he told the committee, “There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.” Gonzales’s veracity has come under question before, and many senators are disinclined to believe his new testimony. Committee Democrats point out that Comey’s testimony flatly contradicts Gonzales’s statements from that February session. A letter from Senators Russ Feingold, Charles Schumer, Edward Kennedy, and Richard Durbin asks Gonzales, “In light of Mr. Comey’s testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?” And some Senate Republicans are now joining Democrats in calling for Gonzales’s removal. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) says, “The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead.” White House press secretary Tony Snow says of Hagel’s statement, “We disagree, and the president supports the attorney general.” Hagel joins three other Republican senators, John Sununu, Tom Coburn, and presidential candidate John McCain, and House GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, in calling for Gonzales’s firing. Former Senate Intelligence Commitee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) says that Gonzales should consider resigning, a stance echoed by fellow Republican senators Arlen Specter and Gordon Smith. (Kellman 5/17/2007) Gonzales’s defenders say that his testimony to the committee, while legalistic and narrowly focused, is technically accurate, because the NSA program also involves “data mining” of huge electronic databases containing personal information on millions of US citizens, and that program is not exactly the same as the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” as the NSA’s wiretapping program is now called by White House officials (see Early 2004). But Feingold disagrees. “I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best.” (Shane and Johnston 7/29/2007)
Three top Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Russell Feingold (D-WI) send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw acting Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) head Steven Bradbury from consideration for the position. Since Bradbury’s ascension to the post on an acting basis over two years ago (see June 23, 2005), Democrats have blocked him from being given confirmation hearings and formally becoming the head of the office. The senators write that they are troubled by Bradbury’s support for the administration’s position on aggressive interrogation of terror suspects and the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. They note that Bradbury was involved in the denial of security clearances to members from the Office of Professional Responsibility who attempted to investigate the program (see Late April 2006). “With Alberto Gonzales’s resignation,” the letter reads, “there may be an opportunity to undo some of the damage done during his tenure. It is doubtful that progress will be possible without new leadership at OLC.” Durbin says in a press conference, “I think we need new leadership at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.… OLC is a small office, but it really has a lot of power, especially in this administration.” (Senate Judiciary Committee 10/16/2007 ; Think Progress 10/16/2007)
After two months of controversy, and a round of sporadically contentious Senate confirmation hearings, former judge Michael Mukasey narrowly wins the Senate’s approval to become the next attorney general, by an almost-party line 53-40 vote. Musakey replaces Alberto Gonzales, who resigned under fire in September 2007. Many Democrats vote against Mukasey because of his refusal to categorize the interrogation technique of waterboarding as torture, and his refusal to say that he would oppose President Bush’s insistence on eavesdropping on US citizens. Some Democrats took comfort in Mukasey’s characterization of waterboarding as “repugnant,” but others were not pleased by his refusal to say that the practice constitutes torture. Two key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) refused to block Mukasey from going to the Senate for a confirmation vote. Both indicated that they reluctantly supported Mukasey’s nomination because the Justice Department needs an immediate infusion of leadership—Schumer called the department “adrift and rudderless” and in need of “a strong and independent leader”—and they feared if Mukasey was not confirmed, President Bush would put someone worse in the position as an interim appointment. (CNN 11/8/2007) Schumer says he eventually decided to vote for Mukasey after the judge said “if Congress passed further legislation in this area, the president would have no legal authority to ignore it and Judge Mukasey would enforce it.” But Schumer’s colleague, Ted Kennedy (D-MA), is unimpressed. “Enforcing the law is the job of the attorney general,” Kennedy says. “It’s a prerequisite—not a virtue that enhances a nominee’s qualifications.” Ben Cardin (D-MD) wonders just how far, and how specifically, Congress will have to go to outlaw torture. He asks, “Are we going to have to outlaw the rack because there’s a question whether the rack is torture in this country?” (National Public Radio 11/7/2007) Arlen Specter (R-PA), the committee’s ranking Republican, calls Mukasey “ethical, honest [and] not an intimate of the president.” (CNN 11/8/2007) Mukasey is quietly sworn in only hours after winning the Senate vote. (National Public Radio 11/9/2007) All four Democratic senators running for president—Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Christopher Dodd (D-CT)—have said they oppose Mukasey’s nomination. Obama calls Mukasey’s refusal to label waterboarding as torture “appalling,” and notes that Mukasey’s belief that the president “enjoys an unwritten right to secretly ignore any law or abridge our constitutional freedoms simply by invoking national security” disqualify him for the position. The other candidates make similar statements. (Fox News 10/30/2007) However, none of them actually show up to cast their vote for or against Mukasey. John McCain (R-AZ), another senator running for president, also does not vote. (Kellman 11/8/2007) Three days after Mukasey’s confirmation, the New York Times writes a blistering editorial excoriating both the Bush administration and the compliant Senate Democrats for allowing Mukasey to become attorney general (see November 11, 2007).
In a statement released by CIA Director Michael Hayden, the CIA admits that it has destroyed videotapes of interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see Spring-Late 2002 and November 2005). (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) The statement is apparently released to preempt a New York Times article on the verge of publication that would have revealed the destruction. (Eggen and Warrick 12/7/2007) The fact that the CIA had videoed detainee interrogations was made public a few weeks previously (see November 13, 2007). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 10/25/2007 ) According to several former intelligence officials, there is concern that the tapes could have set off controversies about the legality of the interrogations and generated a backlash in the Middle East. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) Numerous political figures condemn the destruction in strong terms. For example, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says, “We haven’t seen anything like this since the 18½-minute gap in the tapes of President Richard Nixon,” and, “What would cause the CIA to take this action? The answer is obvious—coverup.” Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says, “What is at stake here goes to the heart of the rule of law and justice in America.” Human rights activists are also angry, and an Amnesty International spokesman says, “It falls into a pattern of measures that have been taken that obstruct accountability for human rights violations.” (CBS News 12/7/2007; Karl 12/7/2007) Both the Justice Department and the CIA’s Inspector General initiate preliminary inquiries. The House and Senate intelligence committees also start investigations. (Meyer 12/9/2007)
Some US lawmakers indicate they may support the appointment of a special counsel to look into the CIA’s destruction of videotapes (see December 6, 2007), in addition to various other inquiries that are launched at this time (see December 7, 2007 and Shortly After).
Initially, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicates he will support a special counsel if the Bush administration impedes a congressional probe and an investigation initiated by the Justice Department: “The CIA, the Justice Department, the Bush White House and every American should know that if these investigations encounter resistance or are unable to find the truth, I will not hesitate to add my voice to those calling for a special counsel.” (Marre 12/11/2007)
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, backs the call. (Marre 12/11/2007)
After some lawmakers begin to question whether the Justice Department will properly investigate the scandal (see December 14, 2007), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) expresses some support for a special counsel: “I am concerned whether we are going to get to the real facts… [Because the inquiry is] being very closely held, the question is whether the American people will have a sense that this investigation is on the level. Unless you bring the FBI in, and unless you bring in the possibility of a special prosecutor as they had in Watergate, I am not sure we’ll get to that point.” (Rowley 12/14/2007)
However, a special prosecutor is opposed by some, such as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). (Marre 12/11/2007) Attorney General Michael Mukasey calls such appointment “the most hypothetical of hypotheticals.” (Jordan 12/11/2007)
Admiral Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, admits during a radio interview that the main issue over the renewal of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007) is not the security and safety of the nation, but the need to extend liability immunity to the nation’s telecommunications firms. In recent days, President Bush has said that unnamed terrorists are planning attacks on the US that will make 9/11 “pale by comparison,” and the only way to stop those attacks is to renew the PAA with new provisions that will grant telecommunications firms such as BellSouth, Verizon, and AT&T retroactive immunity from prosecution. Those firms are accused of illegally aiding the government in electronically monitoring the telephone and e-mail conversations of US citizens (see February 5, 2006). The PAA expires on February 16, but the government can operate under its provisions for another year. McConnell tells a National Public Radio reporter that the biggest issue surrounding the legislation is liability protection for the telecom firms. “We can’t do this mission without their help,” he says. “Currently there is no retroactive liability protection for them. They’re being sued for billions of dollars.” They did not break the law, McConnell asserts, but the lawsuits are curtailing their willingness to cooperate with the government. “The Senate committee that passed the bill examined the activities of the telecom companies and concluded they were not violating the law,” he says. By not extending retroactive immunity, McConnell says, “we’d lose the capability to protect the country.” (National Public Radio 2/15/2008) Two days later, McConnell echoes his unusually frank admission. Interviewed on Fox News, he says: “Let me make one other point just—very important. The entire issue here is liability protection for the carriers. And so the old law and extended law are an expired law if we don’t have retroactive liability protection for the carriers. They are less inclined to help us, and so their support.… And therefore, we do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture [terrorists’] communications to thwart their planning.” He also implies that the argument against granting immunity—if the telecoms’ actions were legal in the first place then they wouldn’t need immunity—is valid. Interviewer Chris Wallace says: “Isn’t the central issue here that you’ve lost your power to compel telecommunications companies to cooperate with you and also your ability to offer them legal immunity? Again, the Democrats would say, ‘Look, if the cooperation is legal, they don’t need legal immunity.’” McConnell replies: “Exactly right. The issue now is there’s uncertainty because the law has expired and the law of August, the Protect America Act, allowed us to compel—compel—support from a private carrier. That’s now expired.… [T]he private sector, although willingly helped us [sic] in the past, are now saying, ‘You can’t protect me. Why should I help you?’” Interestingly, after all of the talk of imminent terror attacks, when Wallace asks, “Do you believe al-Qaeda is more of a threat now than any time since 9/11?” McConnell says flatly: “No. Following 9/11, al-Qaeda’s leadership and operatives were degraded probably two-thirds or three-quarters.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) responds that the administration’s attempt to tie the renewal of the PAA into the threat of future terrorist attacks is “wrong, divisive and nothing but fear-mongering.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) adds that McConnell’s “latest comments show yet again the shamelessness of the administration’s tactics.” (Fox News 2/17/2008)
The Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) expires today. Congress has refused to pass a reauthorization of the legislation that contains a provision to grant retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms to protect them from lawsuits arising from their previous cooperation with government eavesdroppers (see February 5, 2006). President Bush has warned for days that by refusing to reauthorize the bill, Congress is leaving the US “more in danger of attack.” The surveillance elements of the PAA will continue in force for another year after its passage even as the PAA itself expires, so the government’s capability to use electronic surveillance against suspected terrorists and citizens alike continues unabated through August 2008.
Republican Reaction - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warns, “This is a grave problem, and the Democrat leaders ought to be held accountable for their inaction.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The companies have been waiting for six months for retroactive liability” protection. “They are under pressure from their directors, pressure from their shareholders, and you’re jeopardizing the entire existence of the company by continuing to do this.”
Democratic Reaction - But House Democrats seem to be in no mood to give in to Bush’s rhetoric. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush is “misrepresenting the facts on our nation’s electronic-surveillance capabilities.” “There is no risk the program will go dark,” says Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats accuse the administration of putting the interests of telecom firms over national security—accusations that intensify after Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that the real issue behind the reauthorization is the immunity for telecoms (see February 15-17, 2008). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says that the entire argument is “nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration’s massive lawbreaking.” House member Tim Walz (D-MN) says, “Coming from a military background, I sure don’t downplay that there are threats out there, but the president’s demagoguery on this is the equivalent of the boy crying wolf.” And Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, says bluntly: “This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies.”
Previous Depiction - When the law was signed into effect August 5, 2007, it was portrayed by the White House as “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate needs of the intelligence community to protect the country.” Now it is being portrayed by Bush officials as the cornerstone of the nation’s terrorist-surveillance program. The issue is sure to resurface when Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. (Associated Press 2/14/2008; Weisman and Eggen 2/16/2008)
The US and Iraqi governments draft an agreement that will provide for an open-ended US military presence in Iraq. The agreement is marked “secret” and “sensitive”; it will be leaked to The Guardian in April. If ratified, the agreement will supplant the UN mandate currently governing the US presence in Iraq. It will give the US the power to “conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security” without time limits. The authorization is described as “temporary,” and says that the US “does not desire permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq.” However, there is no time limit or restrictions on occupation by US or other coalition forces. The agreement contains no limits on the numbers of US occupation forces, nor does it constrain their actions or bring them under Iraqi law. The agreement goes far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries such as South Korea. Opposition to the agreement from Iraqi Sunnis and some Shi’ites is expected to be fierce. A knowledgeable Iraqi Sunni says: “The feeling in Baghdad is that this agreement is going to be rejected in its current form.… The government is more or less happy with it as it is, but parliament is a different matter.” It will also face stiff opposition in Washington, with Congressional Democrats such as Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) accusing the Bush administration of attempting to tie the hands of the next president by pushing through such a commitment. The agreement goes so far beyond other such commitments that, according to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), it constitutes a treaty between Iraq and the US, and as such, would need to be ratified by Congress. But the White House has no intention of allowing Congress to ratify or deny the agreement (see April 8, 2008). (Milne 4/8/2008)
Democrats in Congress lambast the Bush administration over recent disclosures that senior White House officials specifically approved the use of extreme interrogation measures against suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) calls the news “yet another astonishing disclosure about the Bush administration and its use of torture.… Who would have thought that in the United States of America in the 21st century, the top officials of the executive branch would routinely gather in the White House to approve torture? Long after President Bush has left office, our country will continue to pay the price for his administration’s renegade repudiation of the rule of law and fundamental human rights.” (Jordan and Hess 4/10/2008) John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, calls the actions “a stain on our democracy.” Conyers says his committee is considering subpoenaing members of the Principals, and perhaps the author of the torture memo, John Yoo (see August 1, 2002), to testify about the discussions and approvals. (Conniff 4/14/2008)
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, find that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh excels at using what they call “insider language” for his listeners “that both embeds definitional assumptions hospitable to his conservative philosophy and makes it difficult for those who embrace the language to speak about Democrats and the presumed Democratic ideology without attacking them.” They cite three examples from Limbaugh’s June 2005 newsletter which contains the following statements:
“Democrats are the enemy.”
“When she first ran for her Senate seat, Hillary Rodham Clinton told citizens of the Empire State [New York] that she had been endorsed by environmental wacko-groups because… in her words, ‘I’ve stood for clean air.’”
After Harvard president Lawrence Summers commented on the intrinsic differences between the sexes, Limbaugh wrote, “Led by foaming-at-the-mouth feminists, the liberal elite experienced a mass politically correct tantrum.”
Jamieson and Cappella write: “Identifying terms such as ‘foaming-at-the-mouth feminists,’ ‘liberal elite,’ ‘enemy,’ and ‘environmental wacko-groups’ both create an insider language and distance those who adopt the labels from those labeled. One of the ways Limbaugh’s supporters telegraph their identification with him is by adopting his language.”
Identifying Nicknames - They cite the 1995 statement of freshman House Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY), who proudly proclaimed of her fellow female Republicans, “There’s not a femi-Nazi among us,” using one of Limbaugh’s favorite terms for feminists. “Listeners say ‘Ditto’ or ‘megadittoes’ to telegraph their enthusiasm for Limbaugh, his latest argument, or his show in general,” they write. Limbaugh refers to himself as “the MahaRushie” with “talent on loan from God.” Callers often refer to Limbaugh as “my hero.” Denigrating nicknames for Limbaugh’s targets of derision work to bring listeners into the fold: the new listener must labor to identify the people termed (and thusly become part of the Limbaugh community): “Clintonistas” (supporters of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton), “Sheets” (Senator Robert Byrd, D-WV), who in his youth wore ‘sheets’ as a Ku Klux Klan member), “the Swimmer” (Senator Edward Kennedy, D-MA, in reference to his involvement in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident), “Puffster” (former Senator Tom Daschle, D-SD), “the Breck Girl” (former Senator John Edwards, D-NC), and “Ashley Wilkes” (retired General Wesley Clark, in a reference to what Limbaugh called “the wimpy, pathetic Gone with the Wind character”). Some of the nicknames are physically derogatory: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) became “Senator Leaky, a.k.a. Senator Depends,” and former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) became “‘Little Dick’ Gephardt.” Such use of “insider” nicknames indicates an identification between the listener and Limbaugh, and an affiliation with the Limbaugh community of supporters.
Redefining and Relabeling - Limbaugh routinely redefines and relabels his political enemies in the most derogatory terms. Pro-choice supporters are termed “pro-aborts,” and Democrats are supported by “beggar-based constituencies.” As noted above, feminists are “femi-Nazis” (though Jamieson and Cappella note that Limbaugh has used the term less often since it became a topic of criticism in the mainstream media).
Gender Identification - One of Limbaugh’s strongest attacks is on gender roles. In Limbaugh’s continuum, Democratic women are, the authors write, “either sexualized manipulators or unattractive man haters.” A 1994 Clinton tribute to women’s accomplishments became, in Limbaugh’s words, “Biddies’ Night Out.” Other times, Democratic women become “babes,” as in “Congressbabe Jane Harman.” (On his Web site, Limbaugh often shows Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s head affixed to the body of a Miss America contender.) The authors note, “Neither label invites the audience to take these leaders seriously.” Women with whom he disagrees, such as liberal blogger Arianna Huffington, are “screeching,” and others are “broads,” “lesbians,” or “femi-Nazis.” The National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes, in Limbaugh’s vocabulary, the NAGS. Attacks and innuendo about women’s sexuality are frequently used by Limbaugh: during the Clinton administration, for example, Limbaugh often implied that Hillary Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno were closeted lesbians. On the other hand, Democratic men are routinely portrayed as “two-inchers,” derogatory references to their physical attributes and sexual capabilities (as with the Gephardt nickname above). Jamieson and Cappella note that “Limbaugh’s attempts at gender-based humor are of the locker room variety,” noting several references to California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a Democrat whose name translates into “large breasts,” and referring to pop singer Madonna’s 2004 endorsement of General Wesley Clark for president by saying she had “opened herself” to Clark. In 2004, he said that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, married to wealthy heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry, “does his fundraising every night when he goes to bed.” (The authors write, “Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audience is a question for which we have no ready answer.”)
Impact - Far from merely giving a laundry list of Limbaugh’s derogatory and offensive characterizations, Jamieson and Cappella note how Limbaugh and the conservative media “wrap their audiences in a conversation built on words and phrases that embody conservatism’s ideological assumptions,” using “naming and ridicule to marginalize those named as part of an out-group,” and using “coherent, emotion-evoking, dismissive language” to denigrate and dismiss the liberals he routinely attacks. “Because language does our thinking for us,” they write, “this process constructs not only a vocabulary but also a knowledge base for the audience. That language and the view of the world carried by it are presumed by loyal conservatives and alien to the nonconservative audience. These interpretations of people and events also reinforce Limbaugh’s defense of conservatism and its proponents.” (Merida 2/15/1995; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 184-190)
Congress sends the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act to President Obama, who will sign the act into law sometime in April. The bill passed both houses of Congress with large majorities. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who co-sponsored the Senate legislation, says the bill is “probably the most bipartisan bill we will see on the Senate floor this year.” House Republicans wrote in the House committee report: “[W]e applaud the inclusion of reforms that Committee Republicans have long championed to ensure that recipients of taxpayer funds are held accountable for results. We are pleased to join with the Majority in supporting bipartisan efforts to strengthen the national service laws and improve service delivery throughout the country.” The bill provides for the expansion of the AmeriCorps program from 75,000 to 250,000, creating new groups of volunteers focusing on health care, education, renewable energy, and veterans, and reauthorizing such AmeriCorps organizations as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and the National Civilian Community Corps. The Kennedy Act also calls for awarding college students who complete a full-time national service job an “educational award having a value equal to the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant.” AmeriCorps says this would increase the amount its members receive upon completion of service from $4,725 to $5,350, which they can use to pay for school or pay back student loans. First Lady Michelle Obama says the bill is of particular concern to her, as volunteerism is one of her priorities. The legislation was originally known as the “Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act,” but senators renamed it in honor of ailing Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who helped craft the bill. Kennedy says of its final passage in the House of Representatives: “Today’s House vote again demonstrates the high priority Congress gives to encouraging citizens of all ages in all communities across America to participate in public service. This legislation will enable many more Americans to do something for their country to meet the many challenges facing us. I look forward to the president signing this bill into law so that a welcome new era of national and community service can begin.” The bill also establishes September 11 as a national day of service. (Herszenhorn 3/31/2009; Annenberg Political Fact Check 3/31/2009)
'Re-Education Camps' - Some Republican lawmakers, along with a variety of conservative pundits and radio show hosts, have claimed that the bill is far more sinister than it seems. House Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) says the bill will allow the Obama administration to create what she calls “re-education camps for young people…” Bachmann tells a Minnesota radio audience: “It’s under the guise of—quote—volunteerism. But it’s not volunteers at all. It’s paying people to do work on behalf of government.… I believe that there is a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service. And the real concerns is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically correct forums. (Steller 4/6/2009) The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org receives numerous letters asking questions such as: “Is Congress creating a mandatory public service system? Are participants not allowed to go to church?” One writer tells FactCheck: “I have been getting all kinds of e-mails from people claiming that bill calls for mandatory service and in violation of our 13th amendment, and that I should call my congressman and tell them that this bill is modern day slavery. I have also received e-mails saying that service would still be voluntary and that the bill is just expanding current volunteer opportunities.… There is a lot of confusion out there right now regarding this very important legislation and was hoping you guys could shed some light.”
Debunking Claims - FactCheck reports, “The national service bill does not mandate that youth must participate nor does it forbid anyone who does participate from going to church.” It notes that many conservative pundits and bloggers have claimed that the bill “requires the government to draw up plans for a ‘mandatory service requirement for all able young people.’ Others say the bill forbids participants from attending church. These claims are false. Neither the House-passed bill nor the Senate-passed version says these things.”
'Mandatory Service Requirement?' - Bachmann and others have also claimed that the bill provides for a “mandatory service requirement for all able young people,” but that provision is not in any version of the bill. The original House bill did advance that as an idea worthy of study, and called for a “Congressional Commission on Civil Service” to “address and analyze” several topics, including “issues that deter volunteerism” and how they can be overcome, how expanding international public service might affect diplomacy and foreign relations, and “[w]hether a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed, and how such a requirement could be implemented in a manner that would strengthen the social fabric of the Nation.” The proposed commission would also investigate “[t]he need for a public service academy, a 4-year institution that offers a federally funded undergraduate education with a focus on training future public sector leaders.” However, that entire section was removed from the final bill. Hatch has confirmed that the bill contains no such provisions, saying on the floor of the Senate: “Consistent with our All-Volunteer Army and volunteer opportunities and individuals’ choice in communities, nothing in this legislation is mandatory. This bill simply provides more Americans more choices and opportunities to give back to their neighborhoods and their country all through the means which they freely choose.” The bill does provide for the inclusion of service-learning programs in public schools.
Church Attendance Prohibited? - Perhaps the most inflammatory claim is the one promulgated on conservative blogs and talk radio shows claiming that the bill would prohibit volunteers from attending church. FactCheck notes that such a provision “would be an incredibly draconian law—and a clear violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion, upon which this country was founded…” The claim seems to originate from the Jonas Clark Ministries, which has made Web postings and sent out mass e-mails claiming that the language of section 125 of the bill “prohibited activities and ineligible organizations,” and as such volunteers would be prohibited from attending church. The bill makes no such prohibition. It does, however, says that national service volunteers cannot attempt to “influence legislation,” organize “protests, petitions, boycotts or strikes,” promote “union organizing,” engage in “partisan political activities, or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office,” and engage in “religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization.” The language is virtually identical to what AmeriCorps and Senior Corps has told their volunteers for years. FactCheck writes: “In other words, public service activities can’t include anything overtly religious or political. And this is nothing new.” AmeriCorps spokesman Sandy Scott later tells FactCheck: “Both House- and Senate-passed bills codify long-standing regulatory restrictions on engaging in certain activities while ‘on-duty’ as an AmeriCorps member. They do not cover what individuals do on their own time at their own initiative.” (Annenberg Political Fact Check 3/31/2009)
Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who has just learned he has terminal and inoperable brain cancer, sends a letter to President Obama about his hope for health care reform. Obama will reveal some of the contents of the letter during a September address to Congress (see September 9, 2009). The letter reads in part: “I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the president who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. For me, this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. And in the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me—and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination. There will be struggles—there always have been—and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat—that you will stay with the cause until it is won. I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country. And so because of your vision and resolve, I came to believe that soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family’s health will never again depend on the amount of a family’s wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will—yes, we will—fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.” Senator Kennedy compares Obama with his brother, former President John F. Kennedy, “who inspired a generation and the world,” and says he has “great hope[s] that as I leave, another young president inspires another generation and once more on America’s behalf inspires the entire world.” (White House 5/12/2009; Koppelman 9/9/2009)
The Minnesota Supreme Court rejects Senate candidate Norm Coleman’s motion to reconsider the vote recount that found his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), the winner of the November 2008 Senate race (see January 5, 2009). Coleman, a Republican and the incumbent, concedes the election in a brief appearance after the ruling. Hours later, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) signs the election certificate for Franken, clearing the way for Franken to take his seat in the US Senate. “I can’t wait to get started,” Franken says. “I won by 312 votes, so I really have to earn the trust of the people who didn’t vote for me.” Coleman says he chose not to appeal to federal courts given the likelihood that the results would not have gone his way, and says he respects the high court’s decision. The court rejects Coleman’s contention that hundreds of absentee ballots ruled invalid should be counted, ruling that voters have the expectation of filling out the ballots properly and should understand that improperly completed ballots will be rejected. Franken’s seating gives Democrats a 60-vote majority in the Senate, theoretically giving them a “filibuster-proof majority” that would overcome Republican efforts to block legislation by refusing to allow cloture votes. However, Democrats rarely vote in unified “blocs” as Republicans often do, and two Senate Democrats, Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Robert Byrd (D-WV), are hospitalized and unable to cast votes. Franken will be seated after Congress’s July 4 recess. (Associated Press 6/30/2009; Commercial Appeal (Memphis) 7/1/2009) Politico describes the ruling as “remarkably decisive, picking apart and rejecting one Coleman legal claim after another.” Law professor Larry Jacobs says, “Norm Coleman has gotten shellacked in the court room—by judges who were appointed by Pawlenty.” The Minnesota Republican Party protests the ruling, claiming that it “wrongly disenfranchised thousands of Minnesotans who deserve to have their votes counted,” but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he accepts the decision, stating: “While I am very disappointed in the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision today, I respect Norm’s decision not to pursue his case any further. After having more votes on Election Day, he made a great personal sacrifice to pursue an accurate account of the vote for Minnesotans. For that, and his dedicated service on behalf of Minnesota, he should be commended.” (Raju and Kraushaar 6/30/2009)
Anti-health care reform protesters sound off at a health care forum in Hartford, Connecticut, featuring Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT). Many of the protesters identify themselves as either belonging to a “tea party” protest organization or a related group calling itself “Dump Dodd.” One protester seems to suggest that Dodd, who has been diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer, either commit suicide or be forced to die: “How come we don’t just give Chris Dodd painkillers? Like a handful of them at a time! He can wash it down with Ted Kennedy’s whiskey!” The protester is apparently referring to a claim by Rush Limbaugh that the reform proposal would deny senior citizens needed treatment, and would instead force them to rely on pain medications while waiting to die (see July 28, 2009). One reform advocate, who later posts his impressions of the event on the liberal blogs Daily Kos and My Left Nutmeg, writes that the “Dump Dodd” protesters rail about communism and socialism taking over American democracy, and notes, “Never mind that they were essentially calling Medicare, the VA, and the military’s Tricare communist and socialist.” (My Left Nutmeg 8/4/2009; Stephen Herron 8/5/2009; Rucker and Eggen 8/6/2009)
The US Senate confirms Judge Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) as Supreme Court Justice in a 68-31 vote. Nine Republicans and 59 Democrats vote for her confirmation (four of the Republicans who voted to confirm her are retiring from the Senate after the completion of their terms, and will not face questions about their vote during re-election battles). Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who supports Sotomayor, did not vote due to illness. Sotomayor will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on August 8. President Obama says he is “deeply gratified” by the Senate vote, and adds, “This is a wonderful day for Judge Sotomayor and her family, but I also think it’s a wonderful day for America.” Senator Patrick Leahy closed the final day of debate over Sotomayor’s confirmation by saying: “It is distinctively American to continually refine our union, moving us closer to our ideals. Our union is not yet perfected, but with this confirmation, we will be making progress.… Years from now, we will remember this time, when we crossed paths with the quintessentially American journey of Sonia Sotomayor, and when our nation took another step forward through this historic confirmation process.” At a watch party in the Washington Court Hotel, when the final tally is announced, supporters begin chanting, “Si, se puerde,” the Spanish translation of the 2008 Obama campaign slogan of “Yes, we can.” (CNN 8/6/2009; Phillips 8/6/2009)
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) says he regrets using Senator Edward Kennedy’s name in recent statements he made criticizing Democrats’ attempts to reform health care. Grassley had asserted, falsely, that Kennedy, who suffers from terminal brain cancer, would have been denied care under Great Britain’s national health care system (see August 5, 2009). “I regret using Sen. Kennedy’s name,” Grassley says. But he adds that he has no regrets about vilifying the British health care system, or about more recent remarks he made accusing Democrats of wanting to prematurely end the lives of senior citizens (see August 12, 2009). (Halloran 8/20/2009)
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. (Thrush 9/9/2009; Cilizza 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. (Cilizza 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.” (Walsh 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.” (Walsh 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.” (Thrush 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.” (Walsh 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.” (Cilizza 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.” (Cilizza 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). (Thrush 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. (Cilizza 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.” (Thrush 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.” (Kiely 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).
Republican Scott Brown (R-MA) narrowly wins a special election for the US Senate seat vacated by long-time Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, who passed away in August 2009. Brown defeats Democrat Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general. The victory is seen as a strong victory for the “tea party” movement, which backed Brown, a former Massachusetts state senator, even though he is considered something of a moderate Republican. Brown raised over a million dollars in less than 24 hours, in large part due to money from lobbying groups that back tea party organizations. Brown’s victory makes the Senate makeup 59 Democrats and 41 Republicans, enough to allow Senate Republicans to mount filibusters against Democratic proposals without fear of party-line “cloture votes” that would let Democrats pass legislation without Republican support. (American Conservative Daily 1/9/2010; Brooks 1/19/2010; The Week 4/15/2010) Brown went on Fox News a number of times in the days before the election to help raise his profile among conservative voters and donors alike. On January 11, Fox News analyst Dick Morris pleaded with Fox viewers to contribute money to the Brown campaign. (Media Matters 1/11/2010) Some observers speculated that Brown’s choice to pose nude for a magazine centerfold in 1982 might hurt him with conservative voters, but Newsweek columnist Katie Connolly wrote that because Brown is male, voters would not hold it against him as they would a female. (Connolly 9/15/2009) Newsweek will later compile a number of sometimes-contradictory explanations for why Coakley loses the race. One is that Coakley ran a poor campaign, an explanation advanced by a number of Democratic figures and liberal commentators. New York columnist Jason Zengerle will write of the singular “ineptitude” of Coakley and her campaign. Some liberal commentators will accuse Democrats of taking Coakley’s victory for granted, backing their explanation with, among other evidence, a memo from the Coakley campaign that noted “apathy” among national Democrats and a lack of money from national sources. Some conservatives will say that voters are alienated by the aggression of the Obama administration and other liberals, which energized conservatives. Some, including White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, will note the “infighting” among Democrats over Obama’s health care reform compromises, and say that such infighting weakened voter support for Democratic candidates. A few liberal commentators will say flatly that Democrats did not do enough to promote Coakley’s candidacy and energize the base. Lastly, a number of liberal commentators, along with Gibbs, will say that Brown rode a wave of anti-Democratic support into office. Blogger Chris Bowers will write that the current “political environment is terrible for Democrats, and they are going to lose seats in 2010.” (Graham 1/19/2010) Before the election, the Boston Herald noted that Brown had been “all but abandoned” by the Republican campaign committees, who apparently believed that he had little chance of winning and chose not to sink money into his campaign. (Chabot 12/29/2009)
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