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Congressional leaders are evacuated from Washington and flown to Mount Weather, a secret and secure bunker in Virginia, where they remain until late in the afternoon. (Chen and Schrader 9/12/2001; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; ABC News 9/15/2002) The Capitol building was evacuated shortly after the Pentagon was hit (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). Most of the leadership teams of both parties subsequently assemble at the Capitol Police building. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 112) Around late morning or early afternoon, orders are given to take them to a secure location outside Washington. The Congressional leaders return to outside the Capitol building, and from there are flown by military helicopter to Mount Weather. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Each is allowed to bring one staff member with them. (Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 114) The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, is located 48 miles—about 20 minutes journey by air—from Washington. (Schwartz 11/2001; ABC News 9/15/2002) It was originally built to serve as the new seat of government if there was a nuclear war. (Yang 9/11/2001) The underground complex contains about 600,000 square feet of floor space, and can accommodate several thousand people. (Schwartz 11/2001) It has extensive communication systems linking it to the nationwide network of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bunkers, relocation sites, and the White House Situation Room. (Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter 3/2002) Members of Congress taken to the facility include House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI), Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), Assistant Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK). (Hastert 2004, pp. 10) Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was taken there earlier on (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bamford 2004, pp. 80-81) The Congressional leaders will remain at Mount Weather until later in the afternoon, and then return to the Capitol around 6:00 p.m. (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/15/2002; Daschle and D'Orso 2003, pp. 116; Hastert 2004, pp. 10) The decision to send them outside Washington on this day has its roots in a top secret program dating back to the cold war, which serves to ensure the “Continuity of Government” (COG) in the event of an attack on the US (see 1981-1992). (United Press International 9/11/2001; CNN 9/11/2002; Mann 2004, pp. 138-139) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activated the COG plan shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 8)
Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet give a classified briefing to some members of Congress in an attempt to persuade them of the immediate need to invade Iraq (see September 19, 2002 and September 24, 2002). After the briefing, several Democrats say they are unconvinced that Saddam Hussein poses an imminent threat to the US; some intimate that the White House is trying to “politicize” the debate on the resolution in order to impact the elections. Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I know of no information that the threat is so imminent from Iraq” that Congress cannot wait until January to vote on a resolution. “I did not hear anything today that was different about [Saddam Hussein’s] capabilities,” save a few “embellishments.” She is joined by Tom Lantos (D-CA), a hawkish Democrat who supports the overthrow of the current Iraq regime, but who wants a special session of Congress after the November 5 elections to debate a war resolution. “I do not believe the decision should be made in the frenzy of an election year,” he says. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) agrees: “It would be a severe mistake for us to vote on Iraq with as little information as we have. This would be a rash and hasty decision” because the administration has provided “no groundbreaking news” on Iraq’s ability to strike the United States or other enemies with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Durbin’s fellow senator, Evan Bayh (D-IN) adds that while he agrees Iraq is a valid threat, the White House must do more to convince lawmakers and the American people of that threat before asking Congress to approve military action. “If the president wants to have a vote before the election, he needs to give the military threat, or he risks looking political. With that timing, he will run the risk of looking brazenly political,” Bayh says. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) agrees with Pelosi and Durbin, saying, “What was described as new is not new. It was not compelling enough” to justify war. “Did I see a clear and present danger to the United States? No.” Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV) favors delaying the vote as well, but Daschle says he will likely allow the Senate to vote on the resolution if Bush meets several criteria, including obtaining more international support for a military campaign and providing senators a more detailed explanation of how the war would be conducted and how Iraq would be rebuilt. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is one of the very few Republicans to oppose the resolution coming up for a vote before the elections. Most Republicans agree with Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), who wants the White House to submit a specific war resolution by September 23 so it can be voted on before the October adjournment. But an unnamed House Republican leader also seems to believe the case Tenet and Rice presented is weak: he says, “Daschle will want to delay this and he can make a credible case for delay.” (VandeHei and Eilperin 9/10/2002; Snow and Barrett 9/10/2002; Bash 9/11/2002)
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is accused of racism following remarks he makes about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on NBC’s Meet the Press. Asked by moderator Tim Russert if he could support conservative Justice Antonin Scalia as chief justice, Reid says Scalia’s ethics problems are troubling and that he disagrees with most of his positions, but adds that Scalia “is one smart guy.” Asked if he could support Thomas, Reid says: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don’t—I just don’t think that he’s done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.” (NBC News 12/5/2004) Conservative pundits are quick to accuse Reid of racism, though he never makes any mention of Thomas’s race. On December 6, Charles Krauthammer tells a Fox News audience: “In the end, you’ve got to ask yourself, why Scalia, good, Thomas, bad in the eyes of a man like Reid. I say it’s the liberal plantation mentality, in which if you’re a man on the right and white, it’s OK. If you are the man on the right and you’re African-American, it’s not.” The same day, Clifford May tells a CNN audience: “Look, Justice Thomas is African-American and he’s conservative. Some people [like Reid] will never forgive that and think that’s an open opportunity to insult him.” During his daytime radio broadcast, talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience: “[I]t’s not a new page in the playbook but it’s certainly not as old as the playbook itself. But it’s been around awhile. That is conservative blacks are inept, a la Clarence Thomas.… You notice how easy it is for these people to be critical of blacks.” Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto writes that since Reid did not provide examples of Thomas’s “poorly written” opinions, “[i]n the absence of such examples, one can’t help but suspect that the new Senate Democratic leader is simply stereotyping Thomas as unintelligent because he is black.” That evening, Sean Hannity, co-host of Fox’s Hannity and Colmes, tells his listeners that Democrats routinely attack minority conservatives such as Thomas, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and federal judge nominee Miguel Estrada, and adds: “What I see is Democrats oppose African-Americans that are conservative, but yet they claim to support minority rights. And what I’m saying here is, why, if you’re for the advancement of minorities, why do you oppose every conservative African-American or Hispanic American? Why is this pattern emerging?” On December 7, African-American conservative Armstrong Williams says on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes: “Did you hear those racist remarks from Senator Harry Reid about Justice Thomas?… Harry Reid’s the one—he said Thomas was an embarrassment. He said he cannot write. That is racism.… That is racism, only because of the hue of his skin.… Read his [Reid’s] words. He was a racist.” On December 8, Taranto writes in another Wall Street Journal column, “To try to make Republican judges seem menacing, the Dems could call them ‘extremist’ or ‘out of the mainstream’ (and if the judges happen to be black, add that their opinions are ‘poorly written’).” (Pierce 12/6/2004; Media Matters 12/8/2004) Conservative columnist Ann Coulter will include Reid in her much wider attacks against what she calls “liberal racism” (see December 8, 2004).
Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, in her daily syndicated column, accuses Democrats and liberals of “racism” for criticizing African-American conservatives. Coulter’s column is partly in response to recent remarks by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that other conservatives have characterized as racist (see December 5-8, 2004). Coulter expands her criticism well beyond Reid, to accuse African-American columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times of being a “black liberal” whose criticism of black conservatives is, in her view, racially motivated, and accuses white Times media critic Caryn James of “launching racist attacks on black conservatives” (Coulter mistakenly identifies James as African-American). Coulter begins by referring to comments by the recently deceased Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, who called Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “a brillant and compelling extremist” and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) “Scalia’s puppet.” According to Coulter, McGrory’s statement “is the kind of rhetoric liberals are reduced to when they just can’t bring themselves to use the N-word.” Referring to Reid’s characterization of Thomas as the author of “poorly written” Court opinions, Coulter writes, “You’d think Thomas’ opinions were written in ebonics.” She concludes by calling Herbert and James “Uncle Toms.” The same evening, Coulter continues her attacks on Fox News, appearing as a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s broadcast. According to Coulter, liberals “feel like they have blacks on the plantation, they can say whatever they like. And, interestingly, you don’t even hear Hispanic conservatives attacked in the same way that people like Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas are, and—and, I mean, just look at it. Look at what the Democrats’ minority leader in the Senate said this weekend. He praises Scalia as ‘Oh, he’s one smart guy, and his opinions, can’t dispute the logic, though I disagree with them,’ and then he says of Clarence Thomas ‘He’s an embarrassment. His opinions—they’re just poorly written.’” O’Reilly agrees, saying that Democrats who try to “demean people with whom [they] disagree with politically” are “loathsome.” Coulter says that Democrats are “enraged” about the 2004 elections, and in response “they’re lashing out at the blacks.” (Ann Coulter 12/8/2009; Media Matters 12/10/2009)
A reporter calling himself Jeff Gannon asks a question of President Bush during a White House press conference: “Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the US economy,” Gannon says. “[Minority Leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work—you said you’re going to reach out to these people—how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” (Reid never mentioned soup lines; that reference comes from a satire of Reid by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.) In earlier conferences, Gannon attempted to link Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to actress Jane Fonda, a favorite target of the right, and questioned why anyone would dispute Bush’s National Guard service record. (Savage and Wirzbicki 2/2/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 332-333)
Works for Fake News Site - The Internet media watchdog site Media Matters, intrigued by Gannon’s highly partisan questions, soon learns that he works for an obscure news Web site called Talon News, itself a front for the extremist Internet organization GOPUSA (see January 28, 2005). New York Times media critic Frank Rich will call Talon News a fake news site staffed by Republican activists and filled with regurgitated press releases from the White House and the Republican National Committee. Rich will go on to note that Talon News is owned by a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican presidential convention, and took part in an effort to falsely smear Kerry with allegations of infidelity. The Boston Globe soon reports of Gannon, “The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his Web site.” (Gannon will call his practice of passing off quotes from the White House as objective news reports “the ultimate in journalistic honesty.”) Examination of press conference transcripts shows that White House press secretary Scott McClellan often calls on Gannon when other reporters begin asking difficult questions; Gannon is a reliable source of “softball” questions that allow McClellan to get back on track and resume issuing White House talking points.
Reporter Actually Male Prostitute - After Gannon becomes a figure of interest to media observers and Internet bloggers, they soon learn that he is really James Guckert, a male prostitute who posts nude pictures of himself on gay escort sites such as “hotmilitarystud.com” and numerous others, and charges $200 an hour (or $1,200 a weekend) for his services. (Savage and Wirzbicki 2/2/2005; Boehlert 2/15/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 172-173; Unger 2007, pp. 332-333) Though McClellan will deny that the White House press staff knew anything of Gannon/Guckert’s false identity until just before the story broke in early February 2005, former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett will say that “if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover.” Further investigation will show that Gannon/Guckert has been posing as a reporter for two years. (Rich 2006, pp. 172-173)
Regular Visits to White House on Days with No Briefings - According to White House logs, Gannon/Guckert has regularly visited the White House on days when no press conferences are being held, and on at least 12 occasions was checked in but not checked out. Gannon/Guckert’s visits raise speculation that he might have visited the White House for licentious purposes, though he will deny ever spending the night there for any reason. The Gannon/Guckert story highlights the existence of the so-called “Lavender Bund,” the cadre of closeted Republican gays who help the religious right and the GOP advance their openly anti-gay agendas. (Byrne 4/24/2005; Leupp 5/21/2005)
Accusations of Plagiarism - Gannon/Guckert will also be accused of plagiarizing other journalists’ work, further calling into question his journalistic credentials. (Byrne 3/31/2005)
Rush Limbaugh’s monthly e-mail newsletter, the “Limbaugh Letter,” includes the charge that “mainstream Democrats” endorse calls to assassinate President Bush and for the suicide of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
'Kill Bush' T-Shirts, Wishes that Bush Had Been Aborted - Limbaugh tells his readers, “Dingy Harry Reid [D-NV, the Senate Minority Leader] and those absolute wimps have nothing positive to offer anybody in this country. They’re doing nothing but trying to instill fear and loathing, forming coalitions (i.e. their new bosom buddies MoveOn.org) built on seething hatred and rage. That is why it was no real surprise when CafePress.com began selling a yellow T-shirt with a red gash and the slogan, in big words, “Kill Bush.” The whole message was, “For Gods [sic] Sake, Kill Bush, Save the United States and the Rest of the World.” This was the same website that earlier posted a T-shirt for sale with the message, “Dear Tom DeLay, Please Commit Suicide. Sincerely, Everyone.” The same left-wing inhumanity was on display last year when [Democratic Senator] Hillary Clinton spoke at the pro-abortion ‘March for Women’s Lives.‘… [P]lacards held by the marchers read: ‘If Only Barbara Bush Had Choice;’ ‘Barbara Bush Chose Poorly;’ and ‘The Pope’s Mother Had No Choice.’ As I said, no shocker. This is the mainstream of the Democratic Party and their wacko voters and supporters.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 177-178) (CafePress removed the “Kill Bush” shirt after receiving numerous complaints; after removing it, the online store noted that CafePress “is an automated service” and “[h]ate related materials are a violation of its terms of service…” (WorldNetDaily 4/13/2005) Washington, DC, artist Christopher Goodwin created the Tom DeLay shirt and marketed it on CafePress. He removed the listing after a week, during which he was the only one to buy a shirt and he received numerous complaints about the shirt being in poor taste. But before removing the listing, his shirt was the subject of an article on the conservative Drudge Report, after which he received a torrent of angry e-mails—and six more shirt sales. (Horowitz 4/15/2005) )
Exaggerating Differences, Drawing Extreme Conclusions - Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later observe, “This is an in-group rhetoric seeking to reinforce the views of a like-minded audience eager to draw extreme conclusions about Democrats. The strategy capitalizes on tendencies scholars of in- and out-groups have repeatedly observed: that members of a group exaggerate their differences with out-groups, believing out-group members to be rather homogeneous and in-group members less so, and believing members of out-groups to be less human than those in the in-group. Studies also show that people in one group think that the attitudes of an opposed group are more extreme than they actually are…” Jamieson and Cappella argue that Limbaugh’s “in-group” of listeners and readers, often agitated by what the authors call “visceral” language and emotion, has less trouble believing that the “out-group,” Democrats, would solidly back such extremist calls for presidential assassinations and coerced suicides, than would a more disparate group of political observers. “Flooded by the evocative cascade,” they will write, “the reader is likely to grant the implications in the ambiguously referenced (Is Senator Clinton the object of the same left-wing inhumanity or the sentiments expressed in the placards at the rally?) bridging inference (“the same left-wing inhumanity”) and conclude that Hillary Clinton abetted, if she did not outright endorse, the notion that the incumbent president and the pope should have been aborted and the incumbent president killed. At the same time, the audience is unlikely to challenge the conclusion that the T-shirt statements reflect the Democratic mainstream… If these are the sentiments of the Democratic mainstream, then, of course, the Democratic Party is the home of ‘wacko voters and supporters.’” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 177-178)
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls upon the White House to strip political adviser Karl Rove of his security clearance, referring to Rove’s involvement in leaking the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 10, 2005). Reid says that the administration should have done so long ago, but instead has refused to discuss Rove’s involvement and attacked its critics. “This is what is known as a cover-up,” Reid says. “This is an abuse of power.” In response, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) accuses Democrats of resorting to “partisan war chants.” (Solomon 7/15/2005) Shortly after Reid’s statement, the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Rove has, apparently, violated the strictures of the federal government’s Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement (Standard Form 312), and that those strictures call for the removal of Rove’s security clearance. The organization goes on to note that with few exceptions, the mainstream media has repeated Democratic calls for Rove to lose his clearance without mentioning Rove’s violation of the Nondisclosure Agreement. According to the Agreement, “dissemination” or “confirmation” of classified information constitutes an “unauthorized disclosure,” even after that information has been published in a “public source.” (Media Matters 7/19/2005) In October, Rove will admit to having leaked Plame Wilson’s name to two reporters (see October 14, 2005).
Conservative radio host and former Secretary of Education William Bennett is castigated by both liberals and conservatives for his statement that aborting all black children would lower the US crime rate (see September 28-October 1, 2005). President Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, tells reporters that Bush “believes the comments were not appropriate,” though he does not actually condemn Bennett’s words, as requested by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says: “What could possibly have possessed Secretary Bennett to say those words, especially at this time? What could he possibly have been thinking? This is what is so alarming about his words.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he is “appalled” by Bennett’s remarks. “The Republican Party has recently taken great pains to reach out to the African-American community, and I hope that they will be swift in condemning Mr. Bennett’s comments as nothing short of callous and ignorant,” he adds. Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL), an African-American, says, “This is precisely the kind of insensitive, hurtful, and ignorant rhetoric that Americans have grown tired of.” Rush asks “my friends, the responsible Republicans” to pass a House resolution condemning Bennett’s remarks as “outrageous racism of the most bigoted and ignorant kind.” He asks: “Where is the indignation from the GOP, as one of their prominent members talk about aborting an entire race of Americans as a way of ridding this country of crime? How ridiculous! How asinine! How insane can one be?” Instead, Rush calls for the “aborting” of Republican policies, “which have hurt the disadvantaged, the poor average Americans for the benefit of large corporations.” Bruce Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), says Bennett and his employer, the Salem Radio Network, owe the nation an apology. “In 2005, there is no place for the kind of racist statement made by Bennett,” he says in a statement. “While the entire nation is trying to help survivors, black and white, to recover from the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it is unconscionable for Bennett to make such ignorant and insensitive comments.” (CNN 9/30/2005)
Ignorance, Stereotyping Blacks as Born Criminals - In a press release, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), says: “Are these the values of the Republican Party and its conservative allies? If not, President Bush, Ken Mehlman [Dean’s Republican counterpart], and the Republican Leadership should denounce them immediately as hateful, divisive, and worthy only of scorn. This kind of statement is hardly compassionate conservatism; rather, Bennett’s comments demonstrate a reprehensible racial insensitivity and ignorance. Bill Bennett’s hateful, inflammatory remarks regarding African Americans are simply inexcusable. They are particularly unacceptable from a leader in the conservative movement and former secretary of education, once charged with the well-being of every American school child. He should apologize immediately. As Americans, we should focus on the virtues that bring us together, not hatred that tears us apart and unjustly scapegoats fellow Americans.” (Democratic National Committee 9/29/2005) Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), says: “I’m not even going to comment on something that disgusting. Really, I’m thinking of my black grandchild and I’m going to hold [off].” (Tapper 9/29/2005) The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a former Democratic presidential candidate and former associate of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, says: “Republicans, Democrats, and all Americans of goodwill should denounce this statement, should distance themselves from Mr. Bennett. And the private sector should not support Mr. Bennett’s radio show or his comments on the air.” (Glaister 10/1/2005)
Civil Rights Leader: Bennett's Show Should be Canceled - Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, says an apology is insufficient; Bennett’s radio program should be canceled. Referring to inaccurate news reports that blacks were responsible for a “crime wave” in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Henderson says, “I think African-Americans are certainly tired of being stereotyped as being responsible for the majority of crime in American society when the facts simply don’t bear that assumption out.” (CBS News 9/30/2005)
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)
Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson says that a recent stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is divine punishment for “dividing God’s land.” (Associated Press 1/5/2006) Sharon is in a deep coma after suffering what doctors say is a severe stroke. Sharon, in critical condition, is assumed to be unable to return to public life. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, is named acting prime minister. (Erlanger 1/5/2006) On his television program, The 700 Club, Robertson says: “God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible and he says ‘This is my land,’ and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, ‘No, this is mine.’” Sharon ordered Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Robertson adds that Sharon is “a very tender-hearted man and a good friend” and he is saddened to know that Sharon is so debilitated. However, he says the Bible “makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who ‘divide my land.’” Sharon “was dividing God’s land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU (European Union), the United Nations, or the United States of America.” Robertson implies that God also struck down former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated after working to give land to the Palestinian people (see November 4, 1995). “It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless he was dead,” Robertson says. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, issues a statement urging Christian leaders to distance themselves from the remarks. “It is outrageous and shocking, but not surprising, that Pat Robertson once again has suggested that God will punish Israel’s leaders for any decision to give up land to the Palestinians,” says ADL director Abraham Foxman. “His remarks are un-Christian and a perversion of religion. Unlike Robertson, we don’t see God as cruel and vengeful.” Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State says a religious leader “should not be making callous political points while a man is struggling for his life. Pat Robertson has a political agenda for the entire world, and he seems to think God is ready to take out any world leader who stands in the way of that agenda.” (Associated Press 1/5/2006) “Those comments are wholly inappropriate and offensive and really don’t have a place in this or any other debate,” says White House spokesman Trent Duffy. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls Robertson’s statement “completely outrageous, insulting, and inappropriate.” Sharon “is fighting for his life,” Reid says. “He and his family deserve our thoughts and prayers, and I hope Mr. Robertson will offer them after he apologizes.” (MSNBC 1/6/2006)
A memo from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) finds that President Bush appears to be in violation of the National Security Act of 1947 in his practice of briefing only select members of Congress on the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. Bush has provided only limited briefings to the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the four Congressional leaders and the four ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. But the 1947 law requires the US intelligence community to brief the full membership of both committees on the program. The memo is the result of a request by Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), who wrote Bush a letter saying that she believes he is required under the Act to brief both committees, and not just the Gang of Eight (see January 4, 2006). The White House claims that it has briefed Congressional leaders about the program over a dozen times, but refuses to provide details; the Congressional members so briefed are forbidden by law to discuss the content or nature of those classified briefings, even with their own staff members. “We believe that Congress was appropriately briefed,” says White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. The CRS agrees with Harman that the single exception to such full briefings under the law, covert actions taken under extraordinary threats to national security, is not applicable in this instance. Unless the White House contends the program is a covert action, the memo says, “limiting congressional notification of the NSA program to the Gang of Eight…would appear to be inconsistent with the law.” (US House of Representatives 1/4/2006; Congressional Research Service 1/18/2006 ; Eggen 1/19/2006) The day after the CRS memo is released, Senate Democrats John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) and Harry Reid (D-NV), along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Harman, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, write to Vice President Dick Cheney demanding that the full committees be briefed on such intelligence matters in the future. (Leonnig 1/20/2006) On February 9, Bush will allow Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former NSA chief Michael Hayden to brief the full House Intelligence Committee on the program (see February 8-17, 2006).
Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) tells reporters that he intends to push through legislation that would censure President Bush because of his domestic surveillance program (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, Early 2002, September 2002, Late 2003-Early 2004, April 19-20, 2004, June 9, 2005, June 9, 2005, December 15, 2005, December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 24, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 23, 2006, and January 30, 2006). “What the president did by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping has to be answered,” Feingold tells an interviewer. “Proper accountability is a censuring of the president, saying, ‘Mr. President, acknowledge that you broke the law, return to the law, return to our system of government.‘… The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable.… Congress has to reassert our system of government, and the cleanest and the most efficient way to do that is to censure the president. And, hopefully, he will acknowledge that he did something wrong.” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) calls Feingold’s proposal “a crazy political move.” The Senate Intelligence Committee, following the Bush administration’s lead, has rejected some Democrats’ call for a full investigation of the surveillance program (see February 1-6, 2006). Instead, the committee has adopted a Republican plan for a seven-member subcommittee to conduct oversight. Feingold says his censure motion is not “a harsh approach, and it’s one that I think should lead to bipartisan support.” Frist, however, says: “I think it, in part, is a political move because here we are, the Republican Party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the president of the United States as commander in chief who is out there fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn—have sworn—to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us.… The signal that it sends that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that we know is making our homeland safer is wrong. And it sends a perception around the world.” Only once in history has a president been censured by Congress: Andrew Jackson in 1834. In the House, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is exploring the idea of introducing impeachment legislation against Bush. (Files 3/12/2006; Associated Press 3/12/2006) Feingold says on the Senate floor: “The president has violated the law and Congress must respond. A formal censure by Congress is an appropriate and responsible first step to assure the public that when the president thinks he can violate the law without consequences, Congress has the will to hold him accountable.” Most Congressional Democrats want nothing to do with either Feingold’s or Conyers’s legislative ideas, and some Republicans seem to be daring Democrats to vote for the proposal. Vice President Dick Cheney tells a Republican audience in Feingold’s home state of Wisconsin, “Some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy.” Democratic leaders in the Senate thwart an immediate vote as requested by Frist, and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says he is not sure the proposal will ever come to a vote. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he does not support it and has not read it. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) makes a similar assertion. In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refuses to support such a proposal, saying in a statement that she “understands Senator Feingold’s frustration that the facts about the NSA domestic surveillance program have not been disclosed appropriately to Congress. Both the House and the Senate must fully investigate the program and assign responsibility for any laws that may have been broken.” (Kellman 3/14/2006) Former Nixon aide John Dean testifies in support of Feingold’s censure motion (see March 31, 2006). However, the censure motion, lacking support from Democratic leaders and being used by Republicans as a means to attack Democrats’ patriotism, never comes to a vote. (Klein 2009, pp. 84)
Senate Democrats Joseph Biden (D-DE), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Harry Reid (D-NV) issue a demand for the Bush administration to “provide policy direction for negotiations with North Korea relating to nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other security matters,” and to “provide leadership for United States participation in Six Party Talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” (see September 19-20, 2005). The White House ignores the demand. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 245)
The US House of Representatives overcomes challenges by conservative Republicans and votes overwhelmingly in favor of renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Congressional Republicans originally voiced strong support for renewing the landmark voting rights legislation (see October 4, 2005) but some 80 House Republicans have worked for weeks to block renewal of the bill over objections to providing bilingual ballots in some areas, and over continued oversight by the Justice Department in areas with a history of racial disenfranchisement and discrimination at the voting booth (see June 22, 2006). The renewal bill, officially entitled the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act” after a number of prominent civil rights figures, passes the House on a 390-33 vote. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), an African-American veteran who was beaten by white police officers during the civil rights struggle, gives an impassioned speech on the House floor before the vote is cast. Lewis reminds the House that “I gave blood” to ensure that blacks and other minorities had the right to vote without discrimination. “Some of my colleagues gave their very lives. Yes, we’ve made some progress; we have come a distance. The sad truth is, discrimination still exists. That’s why we still need the Voting Rights Act, and we must not go back to the dark past.” Lewis and other supporters took part in over a dozen House hearings where, according to Lewis, proof of voter discrimination was highlighted. Some conservative lawmakers have argued that such discrimination is a thing of the past, and therefore the VRA is obsolete and need not be renewed. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) is one of those making that argument, telling the House: “A lot has changed in 40-plus years. We should have a law that fits the world in 2006.” Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) agrees: “Congress is declaring from on high that states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven. That Georgians must eternally wear the scarlet letter because of the actions of their grandparents and great-grandparents.… We have repented and we have reformed.” Westmoreland says many people are “prejudiced” against Southern states. David Scott (D-GA) accuses House Republicans such as Gingrey and Westmoreland of working “to kill the Voting Rights Act” both through opposition and through the attempted addition of a number of unpalatable amendments that would strongly water down the law, such as an amendment by Steve King (R-IA) that would have removed the provision for bilingual ballots and forced naturalized citizens to prove their fluency in English before being allowed to vote. The bill moves to the Senate, where Democrats are urging quick passage and accusing House Republicans of unjustly delaying the bill’s passage. “For two months, we have wasted precious time as the Republican leadership played to its conservative base,” says Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). “There are only 21 legislative days left in this Congress, and the time to act is now.” (Hernandez 7/13/2006; Kellman 7/14/2006)
A group of 14 Democratic lawmakers, led by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, sends a letter to the inspector generals of both the Commerce Department and NASA requesting formal investigations into allegations that Bush administration political appointees suppressed evidence linking global warming to increased hurricane intensity (see 2005, October 16, 2005, October 19, 2005, and November 29, 2005- December 2005). (Office of Senator Frank Lautenberg 9/29/2006; Heilprin 11/2/2006)
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)
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggests that President Bush will defy any Congressional legislation to mandate troop withdrawals from Iraq, and urges the Democratically-controlled Congress not to interfere with the conduct of the war. Rice calls proposals drafted by Senate Democrats to limit the war “the worst of micromanagement of military affairs,” saying that instead more troops need to be sent as part of Bush’s “surge.” Rice adds, “I can’t imagine a circumstance in which it’s a good thing that their flexibility is constrained by people sitting here in Washington, sitting in the Congress.” Asked whether Bush will feel bound by legislation seeking to withdraw combat troops within 120 days, she replies, “The president is going to, as commander in chief, need to do what the country needs done.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says lawmakers will step up efforts to force Bush to change course. “The president needs a check and a balance,” he says. The Senate Democrats’ legislation would try to limit the mission of US troops in Iraq by revoking Congress’ 2002 vote authorizing Bush’s use of force against Saddam Hussein; one draft version supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would pull out combat forces by March of next year and restrict US troops to fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, training the Iraqi security forces, and maintaining Iraq’s borders. “This is not a surge so much as it is a plunge into Baghdad and into the middle of a civil war,” says Levin. “We’re trying to change the policy, and if someone wants to call that tying the hands instead of changing the policy, yeah the president needs a check and a balance.” (Associated Press 2/25/2007)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) welcomes the jury’s verdict in the Lewis Libby trial (see March 6, 2007), and calls on President Bush not to pardon Libby. “It’s about time someone in the Bush administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics,” Reid says. The White House refuses to comment on Reid’s statement. (Apuzzo and Sniffen 3/6/2007)
Vice President Dick Cheney says that Congressional Democrats’ efforts to bring the Iraqi war to a close do nothing except undermine the troops and "embolden" Islamic terrorists. He tells American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), "When members speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines and other arbitrary measures, they are telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out. When members of Congress pursue an anti-war strategy that’s been called ‘slow bleed,’ they are not supporting the troops, they are undermining them." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responds that Cheney’s remarks prove "the administration’s answer to continuing violence in Iraq is more troops and more treasure from the American people." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) adds that America is less safe today because of the war. Bush "must change course, and it’s time for the Senate to demand he do it," he says. Both Pelosi and Reid are crafting legislation that will continue to fund the troops in Iraq, but will set a deadline for those troops to begin withdrawing. Meanwhile, Cheney says he wants Congress to begin discussing how to win in Iraq. As he has done many times before, he predicts "disaster" and "chaos" in the Middle East, with either al-Qaeda or Iran emerging dominant from a bloody sectarian battle and compromising regional security, if US troops withdrew from Iraq. Former Democratic senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland responds tartly to Dick Cheney’s veiled accusations that Democrats who want a timetable for ending the Iraq occupation are traitors. Cleland rhetorically asks Cheney, "Where the hell were you in the Vietnam War? If you had gone to Vietnam like the rest of us, maybe you would have learned something about war. You can’t keep troops on the ground forever. You gotta have a mission. You gotta have a purpose. You can’t keep sending ‘em back and back and back with no mission and no purpose. As a matter of fact, the real enemy is al-Qaeda, it’s al-Qaeda, stupid, it’s not in Iraq." (Associated Press 3/12/2007)
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Vice President Cheney demanding an explanation for his decision not to comply with executive orders (see 2003). Cheney’s office, like other executive branch entities, is required to annually report on the amount of documents it is classifying, and how those documents are being kept secure. The annual requests are made in pursuance of an executive order, last updated by President Bush in 2003. The order states that it applies to any “entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.” Cheney has justified the decision by saying that because the Vice President is also the president of the Senate, the vice president’s office is not strictly a part of the executive branch, and therefore is not subject to the president’s executive orders; he cites as evidence his Constitutional role as a tie breaker in the Senate. Waxman writes, “Your decision to exempt your office from the President’s order is problematic because it could place national security secrets at risk. It is also hard to understand given the history of security breaches involving officials in your office.” Waxman’s point is that, if Cheney’s office is not part of the executive branch, then it is not authorized to view many of the classified documents it routinely receives; therefore the viewing of these documents by Cheney and his officials constitutes a breach of security. Waxman writes, “I question both the legality and the wisdom of your actions. In May 2006, an official in your office [Leandro Aragoncillo] pled guilty to passing classified information to individuals in the Philippines [as part of a plot to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo… Aragoncillo reportedly disclosed numerous secret and top secret documents to Philippine officials over several years while working in your office.… In March 2007, your former chief of staff, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and false statements for denying his role in disclosing the identity of a covert CIA agent (see November 20, 2007). In July 2003, you reportedly instructed Mr. Libby to disclose information from a National lntelligence Estimate to Judith Miller, a former New York Times reporter. This record does not inspire confidence in how your office handles the nation’s most sensitive security information. Indeed, it would appear particularly irresponsible to give an office with your history of security breaches an exemption from the safeguards that apply to all other executive branch officials.… Your office may have the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding classified information.” Waxman notes that Cheney’s office is notorious for declassifying information for purely political reasons, as in the Libby case. Waxman concludes, “Given this record, serious questions can be raised about both the legality and the advisability of exempting your office from the rules that apply to all other executive branch officials.” (Congress Committee On Oversight And Government Reform 6/21/2007; Shane 6/22/2007) The next day, when asked what he believes about Cheney’s position, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will quip, “I always thought that he was president of this administration.” (Malone 6/22/2007) Five days later, Waxman will say, “I know the vice president wants to operate with unprecedented secrecy, but this is absurd. This order is designed to keep classified information safe. His argument is really that he’s not part of the executive branch, so he doesn’t have to comply.… He doesn’t have classified information because of his legislative function. It’s because of his executive function.” (Shane 6/22/2007)
Reactions to President Bush’s commutation of Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see July 2, 2007) are mixed, and split largely along partisan divides.
Democrats: Commutation 'Disgraceful,' 'Tramples' on Principle of Equal Justice - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the decision “disgraceful” and says history will judge Bush “harshly” for it. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a 2008 presidential contender, says, “This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people’s faith in a government that puts the country’s progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), another presidential candidate, says Bush’s decision shows that “cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.” Former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), another presidential contender, says, “Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today.” Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), another presidential hopeful, states, “I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says: “As Independence Day nears, we’re reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under the law. This commutation completely tramples on that principle.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush has “abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice.… The president’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.” House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says that “until now, it appeared that the president merely turned a blind eye to a high ranking administration official leaking classified information. The president’s action today makes it clear that he condones such activity.”
Republicans: Commutation 'the Right Thing' but Political Damage May Be Severe - While most Republican lawmakers do not issue public comments, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) says: “President Bush did the right thing today in commuting the prison term for Scooter Libby. The prison sentence was overly harsh, and the punishment did not fit the crime.” Former Senator Fred Thompson, also a 2008 presidential hopeful and a long-time supporter of Libby’s (see After October 28, 2005 and March 7, 2007), says Bush should issue a full pardon for Libby, adding, “This will allow a good American who has done a lot for his country to resume his life.” Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani calls the commutation a “reasonable” and “correct” decision. (Allen 7/2/2007; CNN 7/2/2007; Goldstein 7/3/2007) But other Republicans are not so sanguine. “The dirty little secret is that in his own way, Bush has shown as much contempt for the law as [former President Bill] Clinton did,” says Curt Smith, a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. An unidentified Washington Republican says, “We have now witnessed the evisceration of the Bush presidency by its own hand.” A senior Republican operative observes: “Thirty months in jail was absolutely excessive, but zero is offensive to the average American. Commuting to 60 days in jail would have made this a lot more palatable to the average person.” (DeFrank 7/8/2007)
Wilson: Libby a 'Traitor' Who 'Endangered ... Country's National Security' - Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador and vehement war critic whose wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was exposed as a covert CIA agent by Libby, says both he and his wife are “deeply disappointed” by Bush’s decision. “The president’s actions send the message that leaking classified information for political purposes is acceptable,” Wilson says. “Mr. Libby not only endangered Valerie and our family, but also our country’s national security.” Asked if he has anything to say to Libby, Wilson says with apparent anger: “I have nothing to say to Scooter Libby. I don’t owe this administration. They owe my wife and my family an apology for having betrayed her. Scooter Libby is a traitor.”
Law Professor Calls Commutation 'Hypocritical and Appalling' - Law professor Douglas Berman says the commutation is “hypocritical and appalling from a president whose Justice Department is always fighting” attempts by judges and lawmakers to lower the punishment called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Berman says Bush’s message amounted to “My friend Scooter shouldn’t have to serve 30 months in prison because I don’t want him to.” Most polls show overwhelming public support for Libby’s jailing. (Allen 7/2/2007; CNN 7/2/2007; Goldstein 7/3/2007)
Four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee request that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales be investigated for perjury in light of his contradictory testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). “It has become apparent that the attorney general has provided at a minimum half-truths and misleading statements,” the four senators—Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—write in a letter to Solicitor General Paul Clement calling for a special counsel to investigate. “We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside the Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress.” (Senate Judiciary Committee 7/26/2007) (The letter is sent to Clement because he would be the one to decide whether to appoint a special counsel. Gonzales and outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty have recused themselves from any such investigation due to their own involvement in the incidents. The next person in line at the Justice Department, acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, lacks the authority to make such a decision.) (CBS News 7/26/2007) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who did not sign the letter but supports the request for a special counsel, says, “I’m convinced that he’s not telling the truth.” The call for a special counsel follows earlier testimony by FBI director Robert Mueller that flatly contradicted Gonzales’s testimony (see July 26, 2007), though White House spokespersons denied that Mueller contradicted Gonzales.
White House Denies Perjury Allegation - White House press secretary Tony Snow says the apparent contradictions stem from Gonzales’s and Mueller’s restrictions in testifying in public about the classified program. “The FBI director didn’t contradict the testimony,” Snow says. “It is inappropriate and unfair to ask people to testify in public settings about highly classified programs. The president, meanwhile, maintains full confidence in the attorney general.” And Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse insists that Gonzales was referring during his testimony to a separate intelligence operation that has not yet been revealed, though numerous other sources have contradicted that position (see July 25, 2007). “The disagreement that occurred in March 2004 concerned the legal basis for intelligence activities that have not been publicly disclosed and that remain highly classified,” Roehrkasse says.
Further Instances of Misleading Testimony - Senate Democrats also assert that Gonzales has repeatedly given false and misleading testimony about the US attorney firings, has been part of a White House program to encourage White House aides to ignore Congressional subpoenas, has falsely claimed that he has never discussed the firings with other witnesses (including White House aide Monica Goodling, who recently testified that she discussed the firings with Gonzales), and other instances of deception. Schumer says, “There’s no wiggle room. Those are not misleading [statements]. Those are deceiving. Those are lying.” (Kellman and Jordan 7/26/2007) Schumer says at a press conference later in the day, “The attorney general took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead, he tells the half-truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth. And he does it not once, and not twice, but over and over and over again. His instinct is not to tell the truth but to dissemble and deceive.…I have not seen anything like it from a witness in the 27 years that I have been in Congress.” Feingold adds, “Based on what we know and the evidence about what happened in terms of the gang of eight and what he said in that sworn testimony in the committee, I believe it’s perjury.…Not just misleading—perjury.” (US Senate 7/26/2007) Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) does not sign the letter asking for the investigation, and has instead sent his own letter to Gonzales giving him a week to resolve the inconsistencies in his testimony. “The burden is on him to clear up the contradictions,” Leahy says. Leahy is joined by ranking Republican committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA), who says the call for a special counsel is premature. Specter accuses Schumer of “throwing down the gauntlet and making a story in tomorrow’s newspapers.” (Kellman and Jordan 7/26/2007) Specter has suggested that Gonzales resign instead of continuing as attorney general. (USA Today 7/26/2007)
'Linguistic Parsing' - Justice Department aides acknowledge that Gonzales’s self-contradictory testimonies have caused confusion because of his “linguistic parsing.” (Stout 7/26/2007)
Responses from outside the White House (see December 3, 2007) to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which states that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), are largely marked by relief that the US will now probably take a less aggressive position on Iran. Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki says he welcomes the US move to “correct” its previous assertions, adding: “It’s natural that we welcome it when those countries who in the past have questions and ambiguities about this case… now amend their views realistically. The condition of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities is becoming clear to the world.” However, a statement from the Israeli government says that Israel believes Iran is still working on developing nuclear weapons. (Tran and Jeffery 12/4/2007) Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that the NIE has removed much of the immediacy from the possibility of US military intervention in Iraq. “[I]f nothing else, the urgency that we have to attack Iran, or knock out facilities” is no longer there, says Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE). “I don’t think you can overstate the importance of this.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says that, in light of the new intelligence report, the White House should adjust its policy and pursue “a diplomatic surge” to engage with Iran. Reid suggests that the administration “[f]ollow the Ronald Reagan theory of diplomacy.… What did Ronald Reagan do? He started his diplomats working with the evil people in the Soviet people, as he referred to, to work something out. And he did. He met with the leaders of the Soviet Union he didn’t particularly like. And that’s what we should be doing with Iran. We should be having a surge of diplomacy with Iran. And based upon this, I think it would be a pretty good idea.” (Think Progress 12/3/2007; Tran and Jeffery 12/4/2007) Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says, “The key judgments show that the intelligence community has learned its lessons from the Iraq debacle. [The community] has issued judgments that break sharply with its own previous assessments, and they reflect a real difference from the views espoused by top administration officials.” (Linzer and Warrick 12/4/2007)
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)
President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. (CNN 5/15/2008)
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” (Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008)
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” (Begala 5/15/2008) The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” (Boston Globe 5/16/2008) Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” (Bunch 5/15/2008)
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. (Henry 5/16/2008)
President Bush signs the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), a revamping and expansion of the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). The legislation passed the House by a sweeping 293 to 129 votes, with most Democratic Congressional leaders supporting it over the opposition of the more liberal and civil liberties-minded Democrats. Republicans were almost unanimously supportive of the bill. Though Democratic Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) managed to delay the bill’s passage through the Senate, their attempt to modify the bill was thwarted by a 66-32 margin. (Dodd credits AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) as one of the very few people to make the public aware of the illegal NSA wiretapping program, which the FISA amendment would protect. Without Klein, Dodd states, “this story might have remained secret for years and years, causing further erosion of our rights.”) Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, gave his qualified support to the bill, stating: “Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program.” Obama had opposed an earlier Senate version that would have given “blanket immunity” to the telecommunications companies for their participation in the illegal NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who organized Democratic support for the bill in the House, said that she supported the bill primarily because it rejects Bush’s argument that a wartime chief executive has the “inherent authority” to conduct some surveillance activity he considers necessary to fight terrorism. It restores the legal notion that the FISA law is the exclusive rule on government spying, she said, and added: “This is a democracy. It is not a monarchy.” Feingold, however, said that the bill granted “retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that may have engaged in President Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.” The amendments restore many of the provisions of the expired Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) that drastically modify the original FISA legislation and grant the government broad new surveillance powers. Like the PAA, the FAA grants “third parties” such as telecommunications firms immunity from prosecution for engaging in illegal surveillance of American citizens if they did so in partnership with government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA). (Kane 6/20/2008; CNN 6/26/2008; US Senate 7/9/2008; White House 7/10/2008; Klein 2009, pp. 95-97) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) actually refused to honor a “hold” placed on the bill by Dodd, a highly unusual move. Klein will later note that Reid has in the past always honored holds placed on legislation by Republicans, even if Democrats were strongly supportive of the legislation being “held.” Klein will write that Pelosi crafted a “showpiece” FISA bill without the immunity provisions, garnering much praise for her from civil liberties organizations; however, Pelosi’s colleague House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) had secretly worked with the White House to craft a bill that preserved immunity for telecoms, and on June 10, Pelosi “rammed” that bill through the House. The final bill actually requires the judiciary to dismiss lawsuits brought against telecom firms if those firms can produce evidence that they had worked in collusion with the NSA. Feingold later observes that the final bill is not a “compromise, it is a capitulation.” (Klein 2009, pp. 101-103) Klein will write that Democrats and Republicans have worked together to “unw[ind] one of the main reforms of the post-Watergate era and accepted the outrageous criminal rationalizations of [President] Nixon himself.” Klein will quote Nixon as saying, “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal” (see April 6, 1977), and will say that is “the essence of the FISA ‘compromise’” and turned Congress into the White House’s “rubber stamp.… It is the twisted judicial logic of a dictatorship.” (Klein 2009, pp. 107)
US taxpayers express their lack of support of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP—see October 3, 2008) bailout bill to members of Congress, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and the Senate and House budget committee chairs—Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Barney Frank (D-NY), respectively—with phone calls, emails, and faxes, initially rallying the power and the numbers to defeat the bill that some call “a historic swindle.” (Grieder 9/19/2008) According to the Congressional Quarterly, “[Senator Lindsey] Graham (R-FL) said that the deluge of public e-mails and telephone calls was comparable to several of the most contentious issues of the last decade.” Graham adds: “It’s somewhere between impeachment and immigration.… This is intense, but I’ve seen worse.” (Schatz et al. 9/28/2008)
US Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) is confirmed as the winner of the Minnesota Senate race over incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) after over a month of vote recounting and legal maneuvering by both sides. Coleman was initially declared the winner, but Franken immediately requested a recount, as the vote margin was very close (see November 4-5, 2008). Franken is declared the winner by 225 votes out of 2.9 million cast. The final totals: Franken with 1,212,431 votes and Coleman with 1,212,206 votes. Third-party candidate Dean Barkley also garnered a significant number of votes. Coleman says he intends to file a lawsuit challenging the results, blocking Franken from being seated in the Senate. Coleman’s attorney Tony Trimble says: “This process isn’t at an end. It is now just at the beginning.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The race in Minnesota is not over.” Franken says, “After 62 days of careful and painstaking hand-inspection of nearly 3 million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by election officials and volunteers around the state, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota.” Both sides mounted an aggressive challenge to votes, with campaign officials challenging thousands of ballots during the recounts. Franken made headway when election officials opened and counted some 900 ballots that had erroneously been disqualified on Election Day. Coleman says some ballots were mishandled and others were wrongly excluded from the recount, thus denying him the victory. His loss was made certain when the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to change the totals of the recount (see December 24, 2008). The state Canvassing Board, the entity in charge of the recounts, votes unanimously to accept the totals as final. Franken’s lawyer Mark Elias says of Coleman’s promised court fight: “Former Senator Coleman has to make a decision. And it is a profound decision, one that he has to look into his heart to make: Whether or not he wants to be the roadblock to the state moving forward and play the role of a spoiler or sore loser or whether he wants to accept what was a very close election.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says, “The race in Minnesota is over,” and calls Republican efforts to continue challenging the result “only a little finger pointing.” However, a spokesperson for Reid says Franken will not be seated when Congress convenes later in the week. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) warns that any attempt to seat Franken would result in “chaos.” Trimble says that the recount was handled poorly, and there “can be no confidence” in the result. The seat will remain unfilled until Coleman’s legal challenge is settled. (Stern 1/5/2009; Bakst 1/6/2009; Diaz 1/6/2009) Republicans in the Minnesota legislature have speculated on the possibility of Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) appointing someone, presumably a Republican, to take the Senate seat on a temporary basis while the recount plays out, but Democrats, who hold the majority in the legislature, say they will block any such efforts. Legal experts say Pawlenty’s legal authority to make such an appointment is dubious at best. (Diaz 1/6/2009) Later press reports will state that Franken’s margin of victory was 312 votes, after a judicial panel reviews the recount totals. (Duchschere 4/22/2009) Coleman files a lawsuit to block Franken’s victory (see January 7, 2009).
Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), who was recently declared the loser in a hotly contested US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), rejects the findings of the Canvassing Board that reported his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), as the winner, and files a lawsuit challenging the results. “Not every valid vote has been counted and some have been counted twice,” Coleman says. “Let’s take the time right now in this contested race to get it right.” The suit is filed in the District Court of Ramsey County, where Coleman hopes to convince a three-judge panel that votes were improperly excluded and included in the recount. Franken’s attorney Marc Elias calls Coleman’s lawsuit “an uphill battle to overturn the will of the people” and adds, “It is essentially the same thin gruel, warmed-over leftovers… that they have been serving the last few weeks.” Elias says the Franken campaign has its own questions about uncounted ballots. The lawsuit blocks Franken from being seated in the US Senate until it is resolved. Former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson (R-MN) says Coleman should concede the election and bow out gracefully. “I don’t think it’s winnable,” Carlson says, and warns that Coleman risks damaging his reputation by pursuing such a lawsuit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says Coleman is “entitled to the opportunity to proceed however he sees fit. But for someone who’s been in the trenches on a number of these elections, graciously conceding… would be the right step. This can’t drag on forever.” Coleman says the issue is not about his winning or losing, but about fairness and accuracy in vote counting. Coleman’s suit will contend that the Canvassing Board did not apply consistent standards to challenged ballots, and both local election officials and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) counted ballots unfairly to the advantage of Franken. Coleman’s lawyer Fritz Knaak says the campaign’s lawyers are conducting their own “very real investigation” into the election, and promises that the campaign will present testimony about “double voting” in some precincts. (Doyle and Duchschere 1/7/2009)
Al Franken (D-MN), declared the winner of the disputed US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to order Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) to issue a signed certificate to allow him to take his seat in the Senate. Both Pawlenty and Ritchie have refused requests from Franken to issue the certificate, saying that Minnesota law requires them to wait until a lawsuit by Franken’s opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) is resolved (see January 7, 2009). Franken’s petition to the Minnesota high court contends that one part of Minnesota law requiring the issuance of a certificate holds sway over the portion of law Pawlenty and Ritchie have cited. Part of Franken’s argument cites a court precedence saying that the US Senate, and not an individual state, must choose whether to seat an elected official. (Lopez and Kaszub 1/12/2009; Steller 1/13/2009) The Coleman campaign issues the following statement regarding Franken’s request: “Al Franken knows he can’t win this election contest based on the major inconsistencies and discrepancies that were part of the recount, and his attempted power play today is evidence of that. He can’t and won’t be seated in a seat he didn’t win, so he is trying this underhanded attempt to blatantly ignore the will of Minnesotans and the laws of the state. The totals certified by the state Canvassing Board include double-counted votes, inconsistencies regarding rejected absentee ballots, and inconsistent handling of newly discovered and missing ballots. These are serious issues that both the canvassing board and the Minnesota Supreme Court directed be handled in an election contest, and that will go forward as required.” Coleman’s lead recount attorney, Fritz Knaak, adds to the heat generated by the Coleman campaign by calling the request an “incredible and rather astonishing” power play, “an unprecedented and futile charade,” an “arrogant move,” and “an insult to the process.” He continues: “Al Franken is not the winner. There is no winner, and there won’t be a winner until the process stipulated in Minnesota election law has been completed.” When the process is complete, Knaak says, “Norm Coleman will be back on top and back to the United States Senate. No one, not Al Franken, not [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, not the national Democrats can declare a winner in Minnesota before there’s an actual legal winner.… Today’s move by Al Franken signals his desperation.… Our voters and our laws matter too much to let politics try to influence the outcome of this election.” The Minnesota high court will refuse to issue the order. (Weiner 1/12/2009; Steller 1/13/2009)
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) accuses the Obama administration of colluding with Democrats to include a “high-speed rail system” from “Las Vegas [Nevada] to Disneyland” in the administration’s economic stimulus package. “Tell me how spending $8 billion in this bill to have a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is going to help the construction worker in my district,” he demands. (US House of Representatives 2/13/2009)
Claim at Odds with Facts - Boehner is joined in the claim by several of his House Republican colleagues, including Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), and Candice Miller (R-MI), as well as Republican Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jim DeMint (R-SC). Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) includes the claim in his response to President Obama’s address to Congress regarding the stimulus package. Many of these lawmakers add the accusation that the supposed rail line, which they call a “levitating train,” is an earmark inserted for Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-NV), whose state would benefit from the rail line. In reality, the stimulus bill does not set aside any money at all for a train of any kind between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The bill does provide $8 billion for unspecified high-speed rail projects, which includes “magnetic levitation,” or maglev, train systems. The money will be allocated by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, one of two Republican holdovers from the Bush administration in President Obama’s cabinet. A Department of Transportation spokesperson says it is “premature to speculate” about what exactly will be funded; the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense says there is “no way that this provision is an earmark for Senator Reid.” The governors of Nevada and California—both Republicans—have indicated they would support such a maglev line between those two cities. The nonpartisan site FactCheck.org writes: “We can’t predict the future, and it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the Republican who is Obama’s transportation secretary will decide to devote the entire $8 billion to a project that is nowhere near shovel-ready and that the Federal Railroad Administration says is not cost-effective—all for the benefit of the Democratic majority leader. But we wouldn’t bet on it.” (FactCheck (.org) 2/25/2009; Cooper 2/25/2009) The Center for American Progress notes that Republicans mock the idea of “levitating trains” because, apparently, “they [think] the term sounds funny.” FactCheck observes, “In truth, ‘levitating’ trains really do exist—but they are properly called maglev trains, and they are high-tech marvels” employed in Japan, among other places. (FactCheck (.org) 2/25/2009; Frick 3/2/2009)
Plans Include Ohio Lines - While there are no plans for a train line of any kind between California and Nevada in the stimulus package, there are at least two proposals for rail lines in and out of Ohio, Boehner’s state. The plans under consideration include a Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago line and a Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati-Indianapolis line. (Yglesias 2/13/2009)
Train to Las Vegas Brothel? - In March, a Republican House member will claim that the supposed “levitating train” will not just go to Las Vegas, but to a brothel. The claim is entirely false (see March 2, 2009).
Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) builds on the false claim that Democrats want to build a “levitating train” from Los Angeles to Las Vegas as a favor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV—see February 13, 2009 and After). Franks tells a credulous Fox News anchor that the train will not only go to Las Vegas, but to the door of Nevada’s most famous brothel, the Moonlight Bunny Ranch. Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, repeating Franks’s claim, says: “It’s a super railroad, of sorts—a line that will deliver customers straight from Disney, we kid you not, to the doorstep of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada. I say, to the Moonlight Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada. So should your tax dollars be paying for these kinds of projects?” Franks continues: “The majority leader of the US Senate, Harry Reid, has fought for this publicly and is committed to this project, even in the face of criticism.… If this is something that is truly the priority of the majority leader of the US senate, it’s pretty late in the day, Megyn.” No such earmark exists in either the stimulus package or Congress’s omnibus spending bill; when the Center for American Progress (CAP) asks Franks’s office to prove the claim, his staff refuses, and tells CAP to contact Reid’s office. There is a proposal to refurbish a historical rail line between Gold Hill, Nevada and Carson City, Nevada, a substantially different proposal than the “levitating brothel train” Franks claims is being proposed. (The Moonlight Bunny Ranch is actually in Carson City, which may explain the genesis of Franks’s claim.) Kelly asks Franks how politicians can be held accountable for such actions, and he responds, “Fortunately, people like yourself and Fox News are a tremendous help in that regard because they tell the people—you know, sunlight has a way of being an accountability all by itself” (see October 13, 2009). (Frick 3/2/2009)
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen calls Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) to press for Stanley McChrystal’s speedy confirmation as the new top commander in Afghanistan. Mullen stresses that it is a matter of urgency that McChrystal be able to depart for Afghanistan this very night. According to Reid, Admiral Mullen says that “McChrystal is literally waiting by an airplane” to leave. Later on the Senate floor during the confirmation proceedings, Reid will tell of the call from Mullen in an impassioned plea for McChrystal’s speedy confirmation (see June 10, 2009). (Shanker and Schmitt 6/10/2009)
The US Senate unanimously approves Stanley McChrystal’s appointment as the next commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan. The Senate also approves his promotion to four-star general. (Associated Press 6/10/2009) The New York Times reports that in order to prevent any delay in McChrystal’s confirmation, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) makes an impassioned plea for a swift yes vote on the Senate floor, telling of a phone call he received from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen in which Mullen told him that it was urgent that McChrystal be able to go to Afghanistan that very night (see Early June 10, 2009). McChrystal and senior members of his command team are reportedly scheduled to fly from Washington within hours of the Senate vote confirming his appointment, with two stops planned in Europe to confer with allies before landing in Kabul. (Shanker and Schmitt 6/10/2009)
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele gives a very direct answer when asked if President Obama’s health care proposal constitutes socialism. During a presentation at the National Press Club, Steele is asked, “Does President Obama’s health care plan represent socialism?” He replies: “Yes. Next question.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow notes that Steele is “very sure that reforming health care is socialism even if he’s not actually all that sure what health care policy is,” and plays a video clip of Steele saying at a recent press conference: “I don’t do policy. I’m not—I’m not a legislator.” Steele acknowledges that Republicans made similar assessments of Medicare when it was proposed in 1965, and says: “I think that there’s a legitimate debate there about the impact that Medicare and Medicaid are having on the overall fabric of our economy. I think, though, in this case, unlike 1965, the level of spending, the level of government control and intrusion is far greater and much more expansive than anything we’ve ever seen.… So I think that what we’re talking about here is something far beyond anything we’ve seen in 1965 or since 1965. This is unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector, period. And you can sweeten that any way you want, but it still tastes bitter. And I think the American people know that.” According to Steele, Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and other Democrats are part of a “cabal” that wants to implement government-run health care. “Obama-Pelosi want to start building a colossal, closed health care system where Washington decides. Republicans want and support an open health care system where patients and doctors make the decisions,” he says. Adding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) into his statement, Steele continues: “Many Democrats outside of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Waxman cabal know that voters won’t stand for these kinds of foolish prescriptions for our health care. We do too. That’s why Republicans will stop at nothing to remind voters about the risky experimentation going on in Washington.” Obama and Congressional Democrats are moving too fast to try to enact health care reform, Steele says. “So slow down, Mr. President. We can’t afford to get health care wrong. Your experiment proposes too much, too soon, too fast. Your experiment with our health care could change everything we like about our health care, and our economy as well.” When asked why Republicans are not advancing their own health care proposals, Steele responds: “Now, you know, the Republicans can get up tomorrow and introduce its own bill, but you and I know how Washington works. The bill that matters is the one that the leadership puts in place. The Democrats have the leadership.” (Davis 7/20/2009; Alonso-Zaldivar 7/20/2009; MSNBC 7/27/2009)
Fox News host Sean Hannity tells the conservative protesters engaging in orchestrated protests of health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009), “Now, so far at these town hall meetings, you’re doing terrific.” He adds: “This is what’s going to stop this. You are. You’re gonna make it happen.… You’re standing up to these bureaucrats. You’re standing up to their phony platitudes, talking points, and bumper stickers. The polls are now turning against [President] Obama, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid, so now they’re bringing out their own pollster to lie to you and find out a way how they can win the PR battle, and they’re telling them that they’ve got to attack the insurance companies.” (Media Matters 8/6/2009)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) lambasts the organizers of the raucous and sometimes-violent protests against the Democrats’ proposed reforms to health care (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009). The protesters are attempting to “sabotage” the democratic process, Reid tells reporters. Using a piece of artificial turf—Astroturf—as a prop (see April 14, 2009 and April 15, 2009), Reid accuses conservative and industry lobbying groups of fomenting fake grassroots outrage to further the health care industry’s goal to prevent reform. “These are nothing more than destructive efforts to interrupt a debate that we should have, and are having,” Reid says. “They are doing this because they don’t have any better ideas. They have no interest in letting the negotiators, even though few in number, negotiate. It’s really simple: they’re taking their cues from talk show hosts, Internet rumor-mongerers… and insurance rackets.” In turn, Republicans accuse Democrats of “ginning up this cynical shell game.” In recent days, President Obama’s top political adviser, David Axelrod, has given advice to Democratic lawmakers on how to handle the raucous protests. “It’s a challenge, no question about it, and you’ve got to get out there and make the case,” says Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT). “This is not the time for the faint-hearted.” (Alonso-Zaldivar 8/6/2009)
Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) holds a “town hall” forum to discuss the Democrats’ health care reform efforts in the North Georgia Technical College auditorium. The audience is primarily white, elderly, and supportive of Broun’s opposition to reform. He begins by displaying three white binders to the audience and declaring: “Folks, this is Obamacare. Let me start this by telling you what I think of this bill and Obamacare.” He then raises the binders over his head and slams them to the ground. “This is a stinking, rotten fish, and they don’t want you to smell it, and they want to shove it down your throat and make you eat it before you smell how rotten and stinky it is,” he says, and promises to vote against the reform bill no matter how it is changed. Broun has made headlines by claiming the health care reform proposal “is gonna kill people” (see July 10, 2009) and comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler. During the forum, he calls Latin American socialist leaders Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez Obama’s “good buddy” (sic).
Reform an Excuse for Martial Law - Going even farther, Broun claims that a “socialist elite” made up of Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) intends to use a pandemic disease or natural disaster as an excuse to declare martial law. “They’re trying to develop an environment where they can take over,” he says. “We’ve seen that historically.”
Killing Old People - Broun feeds into his elderly audience’s concerns over the debunked claims that the reform proposal would lead to the euthanization or untimely death of American seniors (see July 23, 2009 and July 23, 2009). Obama “is going to let the old folks die, and I don’t like that at all,” one audience member says. Broun agrees, telling the audience that younger citizens would get preferential treatment over elderly patients. “Eventually, mama will be lying in bed until she gets pneumonia and dies,” he says. Citing a study by the Lewin Group, which has not only been debunked but shown to have been propagated by health insurance company UnitedHealth (see July 27, 2009), Broun tells his audience that under the reform bill, 114 million Americans will be forced off their employers’ insurance plans and onto a competing government-run plan because small businesses will not be able to pay for the mandated insurance. The reform proposal will lead to a government-only “single payer” system, he asserts. “They want to take away your insurance and dictate what kind of health care you’re going to get,” he warns. Furthermore, the government will end Medicare and other federal health care programs.
Broun's Alternative: 'Letting the Market Work' - Broun says his Republicans have an alternative: allowing groups of citizens to form private insurer groups and thusly enjoy group rates and other cost reductions. His other ideas include expanding Medicare’s stable of private providers, strictly capping malpractice lawsuits, making health care expenses tax-deductible, and relaxing some state insurers’ restrictions on pre-existing conditions. “We can lower the cost of health care markedly by giving people more options and letting the market work,” he says.
Supportive Crowd - The crowd is almost uniformly made up of Broun supporters, but one woman attempts to ask a question about covering the uninsured while Broun is speaking. Uniformed deputies remove her from the auditorium for a time before allowing her to return. When she asks another question during the question-and-answer period, audience menbers demand that the facilitators “cut her mic.” Broun conducts two sessions, the first containing some 400 participants and the second 150. The auditorium seats 250. (Jilani 8/12/2009; Aued 8/12/2009)
Representative Charles Boustany (R-LA), a cardiac surgeon, gives the Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s speech on health care reform (see September 9, 2009). (Thrush 9/9/2009) Boustany tells his listeners that Americans “want health care reform,” but wanted to hear Obama “tell Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, Majority Leader [Harry] Reid and the rest of Congress that it’s time to start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality.” Boustany acknowledged in an interview that the Republicans had done almost nothing themselves to address the health care crisis, but says in his speech that the Democrats’ reform proposals are too big, too expensive, and too ineffective. (Weisman 9/9/2009)
Large Campaign Donations from Health Care Corporations - Boustany is an unusual choice for the response, as the Center for Responsive Politics notes that he has received $1,256,056 from health and health insurance interests in his five-year political career. Such donations make up over 20 percent of his total fundraising. David Donnelly of Public Campaign Actions Fund notes: “There is a conflict of interest when members of Congress stand before the public and recite the same talking points put forth by lobbyists and the heads of insurance and HMO giants opposing health care legislation. Rep. Boustany has taken more than $160,000 in campaign contributions from insurance and HMO interests alone. Do you think he’ll disclose that to his national audience tonight?” Boustany makes no such mention during his response. (US Newswire 10/9/2009)
Voted against Children's Health Care, Flu Vaccination Funding - The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) notes that Boustany voted against the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), did not support a supplemental appropriations bill that included an increase in flu vaccination funding, and voted against an expansion of COBRA funding, a government program designed to supplement working Americans’ health coverage. DCCC spokeswoman Jessica Santillo says: “Congressman Boustany’s no votes on issues ranging from providing health insurance for children, to fighting pandemic flu, to keeping the doors open at community health centers makes him a credible voice for special interests, but not for hardworking Louisianians who struggle with health insurance companies.” Boustany has explained that his vote against S-CHIP funding was to encourage a different way to expand the program: “I proudly support S-CHIP, so we must ensure our children are getting the quality health care they need. A massive increase of S-CHIP further neglects those children who already slipped through the cracks. These children need to see a doctor to receive care.” (Romm 9/9/2009)
Other Details of Boustany's Life and Career Brought Up - Politico notes that Boustany had three malpractice suits filed against him while he was a practicing doctor. Two of the cases were ruled against Boustany, and the third was settled out of court for an undisclosed monetary amount. (Thrush 9/9/2009) Boustany has previously indicated his doubts that Obama is actually an American citizen, aligning him with the “birther” movement (Daily Kingfish 9/9/2009) , a position he later recanted. (Linkins 9/9/2009) And several progressive blogs delight in recounting his 2004 attempt to purchase an English lordship from a British con artist. (Daily Kos 9/9/2009)
Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV), vying for the seat held by Harry Reid (D-NV), advocates armed insurrection to bring about conservative change in America, and implies that she is ready to use violence to defeat Reid in the race. Angle tells radio talk show host Lars Larson that she believes the US is ripe for an armed revolution, and if “this Congress keeps going the way it is,” Americans will implement “Second Amendment remedies.” The Second Amendment grants citizens the right to own firearms. Larson asks Angle where she stands on the Second Amendment, and she replies: “You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, ‘My goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?’ I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.” Larson later says that he believes Angle means exactly what she says, particularly about supporting armed insurrection against Congress. “If it continues to do the things it’s doing, I think she’s leaving open that possibility,” Larson will say. “And I think the founders believed that the public should be able to do that when the government becomes out of control. It just matters what you define as going too far.” (Sargent 6/15/2010) At least one other time during the primary, Angle publicly advocates that Reid be “take[n] out” with “Second Amendment remedies” (see June 16, 2010). After winning the Nevada Republican primary for the Senate, Angle will retract her remarks (see June 30, 2010).
Recently Left Hard-Right Independent American Party - Angle is a relatively recent convert to the Republican Party. For much of the 1990s, she belonged to the Independent American Party (IAP), a hard-right group that combines libertarianism—gun advocacy, tax repeal, and states’ rights—with Christian social conservatism and an avowed fear of what it calls the “North American Union,” a supposed union of Canada, Mexico, and the US. According to IAP members, Angle left the party in 1998 when she ran for the Nevada state assembly. IAP executive director Janine Hansen will tell a reporter: “It was because she wanted to run for office. And it was difficult for members of our party to get elected at that time. It was a strategic move on her part.” The IAP considers the Republican Party “corrupt and socialistic,” according to its Web site. IAP founder David Hansen drew national attention in 1992 by bringing a sign to a political rally that read, “If Guns Are Outlawed, How Can We Shoot the Liberals?” (Elliott 6/15/2010)
Supports Violent Militia - Angle is also a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right group that enjoins its members—which include many soldiers and police officers—to refuse to follow orders they consider unconstitutional, and warns that the government intends to turn American cities into “giant concentration camps” (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010). The organization has been cited by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a violent militia group that is actively recruiting members for an upcoming armed revolt. Angle’s husband Ted Angle will say in June 2010 that while he is not sure whether he or his wife are full-fledged members, both of them stand firmly behind its principles. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes will later say that because neither Angle nor her husband are members of a uniformed service, they can only be associate members, and he is not sure whether Sharron Angle is a member. Rhodes will also deny that Oath Keepers is a militia. “We are an education outfit,” he will say. (Elliott and McMorris-Santoro 6/9/2010)
The book Game Change, an “insider” account of the 2008 presidential campaign by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, features what appear to be racially questionable remarks made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) about Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. Reid, portrayed by the authors as more enthusiastic about Obama’s candidacy than he publicly admitted, said in private that he believed the country was ready to accept an African-American as president, particularly a “light-skinned” black man “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” (Ambinder 1/8/2010) The day after the press reveals Reid’s remarks, he publicly apologizes for making them. “I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words,” he says in a statement. “I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans for my improper comments. I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama’s legislative agenda. Moreover, throughout my career, from efforts to integrate the Las Vegas strip and the gaming industry to opposing radical judges and promoting diversity in the Senate, I have worked hard to advance issues important to the African-American community.” President Obama responds in a statement that he and Reid discussed the matter: “I accepted Harry’s apology without question because I’ve known him for years, I’ve seen the passionate leadership he’s shown on issues of social justice, and I know what’s in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed.” (Ambinder 1/9/2010; Cilizza 1/9/2010) Conservatives have accused Reid of racism before (see December 5-8, 2004).
On NBC’s Today show, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), widely expected to mount a presidential bid in 2012, tells an NBC audience that “tea party” leaders “understand that in the end their job is to help defeat Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.” Gingrich tells interviewer Matt Lauer that it would be a “disaster” if the “tea party” movement split the base of the Republican party in the November elections, and would “guarantee… the re-election of Nancy Pelosi as speaker.” Pelosi (D-CA) and Reid (D-NV) are the leaders of Democrats in the House and Senate, respectively. (Media Matters 4/6/2010) Gingrich has not hesitated to vilify Pelosi in the media (see May 15, 2009).
Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle (see January 2010 and June 30, 2010) “relaunches” her campaign Web site after winning the Nevada Republican primary. Before the June 8 victory, Angle’s Web site contained a great deal of information about her far-right views, including her intention to, as an elected senator, dismantle Social Security and the Department of Education, cut funds for child support organizations, further deregulate the mortgage and lending industries, repeal health care reform and deregulate the health care industry, relaunch the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, and advocate armed insurrection against the US Congress under Democratic leadership. After the primary victory, Angle’s campaign scrubbed the Web site of almost all its content. Now the site is far more moderate, containing little of the information it contained while Angle was working to secure the GOP nomination. The campaign of her opponent, Harry Reid (D-NV), will post the information from Angle’s “old” site on Reid’s campaign site, leading the Angle campaign to issue a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Reid remove the material. Reid’s campaign will do so, and the Nevada Democratic Party will launch its own Web site, “Sharron’s Underground Bunker,” featuring synopses of the material on Angle’s previous campaign site. Reid’s campaign spokesman Jon Summers says: “These are Sharron Angle’s positions in Sharron’s own words from Sharron’s own Web site. What was good enough for Nevada voters to read during the primary should be good enough for them now. Sharron has long believed in killing Social Security, eliminating the Departments of Education and Energy, and shipping nuclear waste to Nevada. We’ve always heard that Sharron Angle is an unapologetic conservative. It has to be embarrassing for her to have her handlers trying to hide who she really is.” Reid campaign deputy communications director Zac Petkanas says, “Sharron Angle is hiding her views from Nevada voters.” (Nevada Democratic Party 7/2010; Mitchell 7/2/2010; Kleefeld 7/5/2010)
Since winning the Nevada Republican nomination for Senate against incumbent Harry Reid (D-NV), far-right conservative candidate Sharron Angle has refused to comment on recent reports that she said she hoped someone would “take him out” (meaning Reid), and advocated launching an armed insurrection to overthrow Congress using “Second Amendment remedies” (see January 2010). Today, Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein posts an audio clip of an interview Angle gave radio host Bill Manders during the primary campaign which reiterated her recomendation of “Second Amendment remedies” to be used not only against Congress, but against Reid in particular. The undated audio clip has Angle saying: “I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This not for someone who’s in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical.… Well it’s to defend ourselves. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.” Angle also hinted that she may be carrying a concealed weapon—a .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29—during the interview. Manders said, “Whoa, you’re not carrying that today, are you, in here?” Angle replied: “Well, you know, as part of your test, they always say, ‘Don’t ever tell anybody if you’re carrying because the bad guys don’t need to know if you’re carrying.’ That’s what makes that [sic] concealed carries effective.” (Stein 6/16/2010)
Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle, running as a Republican against Democrat Harry Reid, retracts her statement that Reid should be “take[n] out” by “Second Amendment remedies”—i.e. through the use of firearms. Angle made the statement in January as part of a larger statement in favor of conservatives mounting an armed insurrection against Congress (see January 2010). After Angle won the June 8 primary, reporters began writing about her earlier statements. She now says her words about “tak[ing] out” Reid were “a little strong,” and says she no longer uses that phrase (see June 16, 2010). However, she refuses to apologize for her words. “I meant take him out of office, and taking him out of office is a little different,” Angle says. “I changed my rhetoric.” Angle routinely speaks with conservative radio hosts, but almost never with actual members of the press. In withdrawing her January statement, she gives a rare interview to Nevada’s KVBC. In the interview, she declares her intention as a senator to dismantle Social Security, repeal abortion in nearly all instances (including rape and incest), and claims that the Constitution has no provision for the separation of church and state (see September 17, 2010). Reid’s campaign has stated that Angle believes such church-state separation is unconstitutional, leading Angle spokesman Jerry Stacy to accuse Reid of finding “ways to twist a larger historical statement Angle was making about the origins of separation of church and state.” Stacy explains that Reid is “terrified of having a real discussion about jobs and the economy.” Reid campaign spokesman Jon Summers says Reid stands by his campaign’s position, and adds that he believes Angle meant exactly what she said when she recommended that Reid be “take[n] out” by force. “It wasn’t a gaffe, it is a philosophy,” he says. “She has repeated that language many times.” (Hansen and Richmond 6/8/2010; Associated Press 6/30/2010)
Senate Democrats are unable to break a filibuster by Senate Republicans that is blocking passage of the DISCLOSE Act.
Act Would Mandate Disclosure of Donors - The DISCLOSE Act—formally the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act—would overturn many elements of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities (see January 21, 2010). If passed, it would have created new campaign finance disclosure requirements and made public the names of “super PAC” contributors (see March 26, 2010). Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and tax-exempt charitable organizations would, under the act, report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) each time they spend $10,000 or more on campaign-related expenditures. Additionally, all outside groups, including “super PACs,” would have to report the names of donors. Moreover, the legislation would provide for so-called “Stand By Your Ad” requirements mandating that super PACs and other outside campaign groups producing political advertisements disclose the top funders in the ad. The CEO or highest-ranking official of an organization would, under the act, have to appear in the ad and officially “approve” the message. (Open Congress 6/29/2010; OMB Watch 7/24/2012)
Unbreakable Filibuster - Even public support from President Obama fails to sway enough Republican senators to vote against the filibuster, as did changes made to the bill by sponsor Charles Schumer (D-NY) designed to assuage some of Republicans’ concerns about the bill. The bill has already passed the House, shepherded through under Democratic leadership against Republican opposition. Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate also, but Senate rules allow the minority to mount filibusters that require 60 votes to overcome, and a number of Republicans would need to break from the Republican pack to vote down the filibuster. Additionally, some conservative senators such as Ben Nelson (D-NE) have not publicly stated their support for the bill. One Republican who had previously indicated she might vote for cloture (against the filibuster), Susan Collins (R-ME), dashed Democrats’ final hopes by saying she would not vote for cloture after all. “The bill would provide a clear and unfair advantage to unions while either shutting other organizations out of the election process or subjecting them to onerous reporting requirements that would not apply to unions,” says Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley. “Senator Collins believes that it is ironic that a bill aimed at curtailing special interests in the election process provides so many carve-outs and exemptions that favor some grass-roots organizations over others. This, too, is simply unfair.” Other so-called Republican moderates such as Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-MA) have previously indicated they would not vote for cloture. Ironically, one of the “carve-outs” in the bill Schumer added was on behalf of the far-right National Rifle Association (NRA), an addition that Schumer says was made to placate Republicans. Schumer says that even if the bill does not pass now, attempts to reintroduce it will be made. The DISCLOSE Act “is one of the most important for the future of our democracy, not just for the next six months but for the next six decades,” he says. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says: “I don’t know what the final vote will be tomorrow, but I know that you—if you had a sliver of Republicans that thought special-interest giving and corporate influence in elections was… part of the problem, then this bill would pass. Now we get to see who in the Senate thinks there’s too much corporate influence and too much special-interest money that dominate our elections and who doesn’t. I don’t know how it could be any clearer than that.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) retorts: “The DISCLOSE Act seeks to protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all-out attack on the First Amendment (see January 21, 2010). In the process, the authors of the bill have decided to trade our constitutional rights away in a backroom deal that makes the Cornhusker Kickback look like a model of legislative transparency.” (Shiner 7/26/2010) The “Cornhusker Kickback” McConnell is referencing is a deal struck in late 2009 by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to win Nelson’s support for the Democrats’ health care reform package, in which Nebraska, Nelson’s state, would receive 100 percent government financing for an expansion of Medicare. (Mascaro 12/20/2009)
US Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV) falsely claims that the Democratically backed DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would have imposed some disclosure regulations on corporate and union campaign financiers (see July 26-27, 2010), was passed into law. Angle is challenging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). The previous day, Angle posted on Twitter that the DISCLOSE Act’s defeat was “a great victory for the first amendment.” But today, Angle joins conservative talk radio host Heidi Harris to claim that the act is actually in effect and she opposes it. Asked about her position on campaign finance, Angle says: “Well I think that the Supreme Court has really made their decision on this, they found that we have a First Amendment right across the board that was violated by the McCain-Feingold act (see March 27, 2002 and January 21, 2010). And that’s what they threw out, was those violations. The McCain-Feingold Act is still in place. The DISCLOSE Act is still in place. It’s just that certain provisions within that they found to be definitely violating the First Amendment. If we didn’t have the DISCLOSE Act there would be a lot of different things that people wouldn’t be able to find out. And certainly you can go to FEC.gov and see where Harry Reid is getting most of his money from special interests.” (Ralston 7/28/2010; Kleefeld 7/28/2010)
Research from the media analysis firm Borrell Associates and other sources shows that spending for the 2010 midterm elections will outstrip the record-breaking spending of the 2008 elections, which centered around a presidential contest. The controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) has “opened the floodgates” for corporate money to be used in electioneering and advertising, much of that money going anonymously to political parties and operations. It is unprecedented for midterm elections to involve more spending than presidential-year elections. Kip Cassino, vice president of research at Borrell Associates, says the Citizens United decision is directly responsible for the massive upswing in spending. “Unlike a lot of industries in the United States right now, which are seeing some downturns, political spending is absolutely a growth industry,” Cassino says. Corporate money is behind the surge, accounting for what he says is at least a 10 percent jump in advertising. Evan Tracey, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, says: “The unwritten charter of these [anonymously funded political] groups is to really be disruptive and try to go in there and turn a race on its head—or put a candidate on the defense. And by that nature, most of those ads that they’re gonna run this fall are gonna be negative ads.” Labor unions account for some of the surge in spending, but most of it comes from corporate donors, from conservative organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce (see September 20, 2010, September 30, 2010, and October 2010), Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, November 2009, and July 3-4, 2010), and American Crossroads, a nonprofit political group headed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove (see September 20, 2010, February 21, 2012, Late March 2012, and Late May 2012). Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says, “While each of our campaigns has the resources they need to be competitive, we now face shadow groups putting their thumbs on the scale with undisclosed, unlimited, and unregulated donations.” However, national groups are not all of the important players in the spending surge. Tracey says: “We have a lot of little individual state-type groups that are starting to show up in some of the bigger races. And I think they’re going to play a much larger role in the fall.” One group cited in the research is a Nevada-based group called Americans for New Leadership, which has targeted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for defeat in a barrage of advertisements aired recently throughout the state. The group says it has spent $300,000 in ads attacking Reid and is prepared to spend more, but has not disclosed from whom that money comes. Senate and House races are seeing more involvement by heavily-funded groups placing ads in local markets for Republican candidates, or attacking Democrats, particularly from AFP, which has already spent some $1.5 million on House races. Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen says: “In 2004 and 2006, literally 100 percent of the groups were fully complying with the disclosure laws. Today, most groups do not disclose where they’re getting their money from.” The New York Times reports, “The situation raises the possibility that a relatively small cadre of deep-pocketed donors, unknown to the general public, is shaping the battle for Congress in the early going.” Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics observes: “Corporate interests are buying the elections? Oh no, it’s much worse than that. We don’t know who’s buying the election.” (Luo 9/13/2010; Overby 9/16/2010; Somanader 9/17/2010)
Nevada Republican Sharron Angle, running for the US Senate against Harry Reid (D-NV), urges her supporters in Utah to “take out” Reid. In January, Angle told a conservative radio host that someone should “take him [Reid] out” by “Second Amendment remedies,” which most observers took to mean by the use of firearms (see January 2010). Angle later withdrew her statement and said she meant “take him out of office” (see June 30, 2010). She said she had “changed her rhetoric” and would not use the term again. Angle restates her comment to say she wants to “defeat” Reid in the November election: “In Nevada, we understand we have the opportunity to take out—to defeat,” she says, drawing laughter. “I really have had to find a whole new vocabulary since the primaries.… The first thing we need to do is to defeat Harry Reid. That defeat will send a shock wave through Congress. It will let them know that this train is coming. They can either get on board or get run over by it.” Angle’s speech is part of a larger conference called “Utah United” that draws some 400 conservatives from Utah and the surrounding area, many of whom are self-described “tea party” members. The conference is sponsored by, among others: the far-right extremist John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), the Eagle Forum, the National Center for Constitutional Studies, and the Utah Farm Bureau. Angle is one of several hard-right GOP candidates at the conference. She has the support of the national Tea Party Express, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, and the Club for Growth, a conservative group credited with aiding the ouster of incumbent US Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) in last spring’s GOP primary. (Last summer, Angle said that Bennett had “outlived his usefulness” to the Republican Party.) Reid campaign spokesman Jon Summers says that Angle is “trolling for support anywhere she can get it because she’s not getting it from Nevadans. While she’s seeking every out-of-state endorsement she can get, Senator Reid has the support of more than 200 Nevada Republican leaders as well as law enforcement and business leaders, just to name a few. Nevadans are rejecting Sharron Angle because of her extreme agenda to kill Social Security, privatize the Veterans Administration, and ship 77,000 tons of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, just outside of Las Vegas.” Of Angle’s urging that someone “take out” Reid, Angle campaign spokeswoman Lee Rech says the statement “was just a slip.” Angle meant that she hoped to “retire” Reid from the Senate. (Fahys 9/18/2010; Terkel 9/19/2010)
Impelled by polls showing that Democrats may not do as badly as predicted in the upcoming November midterm elections, Republican political organizations pour vast amounts of money into tight Senate and House races in the final days, according to a Reuters analysis of data provided by the Wesleyan Media Project and from Democratic organizers. The controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) has “opened the floodgates” for corporate money to be used in electioneering and advertising, much of that money going anonymously to political parties and operations (see September 13-16, 2010 and October 2010). Much of the money is targeting three Senate races in Colorado, Kentucky, and California. Republicans are confident that they will gain control of the House of Representatives, but must gain 10 seats to control the Senate, a prospect that is not as likely. Last-minute spending surges are common in elections, but experts say they have never seen so much spending in the last days of a race. Pollster Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center is not sure the last-minute surge of spending, almost all of which is going to advertising, will have a major effect. Most voters’ minds are made up by now, Kohut says. Data shows that organizations affiliated with Republicans have outspent their Democratic rivals by more than a 3-1 ratio. In Nevada, “independent” organizations are pouring money into attack ads against Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and in support of challenger Sharron Angle (R-NV). Late campaign spending is fairly equal, according to the data, and the polls for that race are very tight. In Colorado, “tea party” favorite Ken Buck (R-CO) is losing ground to incumbent Michael Bennet (D-CO), and in response, Republican groups have funneled money into ads supporting Buck and attacking Bennet to create a 2-1 spending ratio in favor of Buck. A similar instance exists in Kentucky, where another tea party favorite, Rand Paul (R-KY), is losing ground to Jack Conway (D-KY), and Republican spending on Paul’s behalf has made for a 2-1 spending ratio in favor of Paul. In California, where popular Democrat Barbara Boxer (D-CA) once had a 2-1 spending advantage over her opponent Carly Fiorina (R-CA), pro-Fiorina groups have recently outspent pro-Boxer groups 5-1. In Pennsylvania, pro-Republican groups are heavily outspending Democrats, largely to support Republican favorite Pat Toomey (R-PA) over Joe Sestak (D-PA). In Delaware, Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-DE), whose campaign has raised large amounts of money from out-of-state financiers, has not received the lavish funding that her Republican colleagues have gotten to defeat her opponent Chris Coons (D-DE). O’Donnell has received some $300,000 from right-wing and tea party groups. But Coons is receiving virtually no support from independent pro-Democratic groups, possibly because polls indicate he will win the election and does not need the last-minute funding support. The elections will be held on November 2. (Hosenball 10/27/2010) The results of the massive spending are mixed. The Republican winners include Paul and Toomey. The Republican losers include Angle, Buck, Fiorina and O’Donnell. (National Public Radio 11/3/2010)
House Republicans rush a bill to the floor for a vote to eliminate all public funding of the presidential election. The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama, would eliminate one of the few remaining public funding methodologies for federal elections, and, critics say, give wealthy corporate and individual donors even more influence over elections. Public financing of presidential elections was made law by the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) and upheld by the Supreme Court (see January 30, 1976). The bill comes to a vote almost exactly a year after the Supreme Court allowed corporations and labor unions to make unlimited donations to political organizations (see January 21, 2010). The bill, HR 359, was sponsored by Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) in June 2009 and cosponsored by 17 other House members, all Republicans. It would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund and the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account. The Republican House leadership did not hold hearings on the bill, nor allow it to be debated in committee. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) calls the bill “a sneak attack on the system,” and notes that the Republicans had pledged to observe “transparency and openness,” but instead are pushing through such a transformative bill without allowing debate. The bill passes the House on a 239-160 vote, with the Republican majority overriding the Democratic minority. Ten Democrats vote for the bill and one Republican votes against it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already introduced his version of the bill in the Senate, though Senate Democrats say the bill has no chance of passing; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says through a spokesperson that the bill will never be brought up for a vote. (Kroll 1/24/2011; Raw Story 1/25/2011; Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Repair or Eliminate? - Presidential candidates who accept public funding must agree not to accept private donations in the fall campaign. Every presidential candidate from 1976 to 2008 has accepted public funding. In 2000, George W. Bush (R-TX) did not take public financing for his primary campaign, and in subsequent years no presidential nominee has taken such funding. In 2008, Barack Obama (D-IL) declined to take public financing for his general election, the first presidential nominee to do so. Republicans claim the elimination of the public funding program would save the government between $520 and $617 million over the next 10 years. Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says the public financing system needs to be updated. It was created in 1976, she notes, and does not reflect the needs of 21st-century candidates. Lawmakers from both parties have attempted, without success to introduce legislation to update the system. McConnell says that Americans do not believe in the PECF, citing declining public participation. The program is funded by a $3 check-off on individual tax returns; in 1980, almost 29 percent of tax returns carried the check-off, while in 2007 only 8.3 percent of tax returns checked off the donation. “In a time of exploding deficits and record debt, the last thing the American people want right now is to provide what amounts to welfare for politicians,” McConnell says. House Democrats have introduced legislation that would modify and update the PECF instead of end it. One of that legislation’s sponsors, David Price (D-NC), says, “Dare we forget what Watergate was all about?” (Price is referring to the post-Watergate origins of the PECF.) “President Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, fueled by huge quantities of corporate cash, paid for criminal acts and otherwise subverted the American electoral system. Let’s not return to the darkest days of our democracy.” (Kroll 1/24/2011; Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Obama Administration Opposes Bill - The Obama administration strongly opposes the bill, saying that the public financing system should be improved rather than eliminated. In a statement, the White House says: “The presidential election public financing system was enacted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal to free the nation’s elections from the influence of corporations and other wealthy special interests. Rather than candidates having to rely on raising large sums of private money in order to run, the system provides qualifying presidential candidates with the option of accepting matching funds in the primary and a public grant in the general election.… H.R. 359 would kill the system, not strengthen it. Its effect would be to expand the power of corporations and special interests in the nation’s elections; to force many candidates into an endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters on the issues; and to place a premium on access to large donor or special interest support, narrowing the field of otherwise worthy candidates.” (Raw Story 1/25/2011)
Divided Response from Lawmakers - Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the bill passes that voting it into effect “should be a no-brainer.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Congress “should come together to ensure that the American people are heard, that they are heard and that they are not drowned out by special interest dollars.” Republicans such as Aaron Schock (R-IL) call Democrats and the Obama administration “hypocrites” because in 2008, Obama turned down public financing. Schock says, “It was President Obama who killed it and made a mockery of public financing of president campaigns with his arrogant pressing of self advantage.” David Price (D-NC) makes an angry rejoinder, saying: “Talk about having it both ways. [Schock] comes onto this floor to condemn President Obama for opting out of the system, and then he proposes to abolish the system so that everybody has to opt out.” Cole also condemns Obama for not taking public financing in 2008, and says he believes public financing of elections should be illegal, but goes on to say that he supports Republicans who take public financing because it is a legal option. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) says: “Special interest money is having a corrosive effect on our democracy, eating away at the people’s confidence in their government and their elected representatives. The one beacon of light in this system is the public financing of presidential campaigns. It is, I would remind everyone, a voluntary system.” “This is an attempt to finish the job that the Supreme Court started with the Citizens United decision,” says Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance legislation. “It would bust one of the last dams protecting our election system from an uncontrolled flood of special-interest money.” (Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Campaign Finance Reform Advocates Critical of Bill - David Arkush of the citizens advocacy group Public Citizen says in a statement, “A vote for HR 359 is a great way to tell the American people that you want to give corporations more power over our government rather than make democracy work for ordinary Americans.” Craig Holman of Public Citizen says of the bill: “Make no mistake about it: The Republican leadership’s legislation to eliminate public financing is an attack not just on the presidential public financing system, but also an attack on congressional public financing proposals. To ensure that the public’s voice can be heard against the corporate onslaught, we need to expand public financing of elections, not kill it.” Campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 calls the bill “a gross abuse of the legislative process.” (Kroll 1/24/2011; Raw Story 1/25/2011) The nonpartisan Public Finance Action Fund, which advocates for public financing of state and federal elections, says in a statement: “These efforts are not about saving taxpayer money, they are about giving corporate donors even more access than they enjoy today. We hope these measures don’t advance any further.” (Walsh 1/26/2011)
Bill Dies in Senate - The bill will, as expected, not pass the Senate, which is under Democratic control. A similar bill will be introduced in December 2011 (see December 1, 2011), again pass the House, and die in the Senate. (Abrams 12/1/2011)
Stung by the recent decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the US government’s credit rating (see August 5, 2011) and the economic turmoil triggered by that decision in response to Republican-backed debt ceiling legislation (see May 20, 2011), US Republicans begin blaming the Obama administration for the downgrade. After the legislation passed, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) boasted that he and his fellow Republicans had gotten “98 percent” of what they wanted from the legislation (see August 1, 2011). Boehner now says, “Democrats who run Washington remain unwilling to make the tough choices required to put America on solid ground.” He quotes the S&P report in making his criticisms of Washington Democrats, failing to note that the S&P report singled out Republicans as responsible for the legislative decisions that led to the downgrade. “This decision by S&P is the latest consequence of the out-of-control spending that has taken place in Washington for decades. The spending binge has resulted in job-destroying economic uncertainty and now threatens to send destructive ripple effects across our credit markets.” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) says the downgrade and subsequent stock market plummet “provide further evidence that President Obama’s agenda has been a disaster for our economy.” Mitt Romney (R-MA), the former governor of Massachusetts and a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, says the downgrade is “a deeply troubling indicator of our country’s decline under President Obama.” Longshot GOP candidate Jon Huntsman (R-UT) says the downgrade is due to the spreading of a “cancerous debt afflicting our nation” and calls for “new leadership in Washington” to address the ongoing crisis. Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) calls Obama “inept.” Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a House Republican who led the “tea party” fight to block the debt ceiling from being raised (and thereby triggering a government debt default—see April 30, 2011, June 26, 2011, July 13, 2011, and July 14, 2011), now blames the Obama administration and particularly US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for the debacle. Campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in Des Moines, Iowa, Bachmann says that President Obama should fire Geithner: “The president’s refusal to remove Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner shows the president has no plan to restore the AAA credit rating to the United States of America. The president is not listening to the people of this country, nor is he providing the leadership that is necessary to bring about economic recovery.… I once again, today, in Polk County, Iowa, call for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to resign immediately for the sake of our country and to return our economy to full status.” Bachmann accuses Obama of “destroying the foundations of the US economy one beam at a time.” In robocalls targeting House Democrats, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) pins the blame for the downgrade on House Democrats. One call targeting David Loebsack (D-IA) says: “… Loebsack continues to oppose a [Constitutional] Balanced Budget Amendment that would force Washington to live within its means. Loebsack and his fellow Democrats’ addiction to big government spending has led to a downgrade of America’s credit rating and a dramatic loss in the global markets that could force you to pay more for everyday expenses. While David Loebsack keeps standing in the way of real fiscal reform, middle-class families in Iowa could now see a loss in retirement savings while mortgage rates, car payments, and student loans could become even more expensive.” Democrats respond with criticisms of their own. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a Senate candidate, says that “the continuing resistance of Congressional Republicans to entertain the need for new revenue as part of a reasonable solution is a critical part of the downgrade decision.” Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) adds, “By refusing to negotiate in good faith, Republicans turned the debt-ceiling debate into a hostage crisis and last night we saw its first casualty.” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt says, “The Republican candidates would have put our economy at great risk by allowing the nation to default on its obligations.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls for a “balanced approach” to future economic decisions, which would include revenue increases such as tax hikes and the closing of tax loopholes for rich corporations as well as spending cuts. (Goldfarb 8/6/2011; Brandimarte and Bases 8/6/2011; National Journal 8/6/2011; Haberman 8/7/2011; Hohmann 8/9/2011)
The House of Representatives votes 235-190 to eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF), which provides for voluntary public funding of presidential candidates. The legislation would also shut down the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a national clearinghouse on the mechanics of voting. Public financing of campaigns has been a target of Republicans since the Citizens United decision allowed corporations and labor unions to give unlimited amounts to campaigns (see January 21, 2010 and June 27, 2011). House Republicans failed in a previous attempt to eliminate the PECF (see January 26, 2011 and After). Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) gives an impassioned defense of the PECF, saying that it is one of the few obstacles that remains to impede what she calls the takeover of the US political system by well-financed special interests. She asks her colleagues whether they believe the “99 percent of Americans that don’t have lobbyists” would benefit in any way by abolishing PECF. She then notes that the Republican National Committee (RNC) got 18 million dollars from this fund and suggests it give the money back, saying: “The level of spending by corporations and special interests since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United should give every American reason for concern. So do my Republican colleagues really believe that more corporate and special interest money in politics is going to benefit in any way the 99 percent of Americans who don’t have lobbyists? The current public financial [sic] system for the presidential elections has problems. Most notably, it has not kept pace with the cost of modern campaigns. So we should fix it instead of eliminating it. I would note that the Republican National Committee recently received 18 million dollars from this fund. If the Republicans think it’s such a bad idea, perhaps they should ask the RNC to return the money.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says the bill has no chance in the Senate, and is critical of House Republicans for advancing it, stating: “Instead of making it so it’s easier for people to vote, they want to do everything they can to make it harder for people to vote. I don’t understand this. They want to have as few people to vote as possible.” Representative Gregg Harper (R-MS), the sponsor of the bill, says the elimination of the PECF would help reduce the deficit. “If we do not eliminate some programs, then a $15 trillion debt will be our decline into a European-style financial crisis,” he says. (Carter 12/1/2011; Jilani 12/1/2011) The bill will not pass the Senate.
A journalist and activist sues to overturn provisions in a US defense spending bill that authorize indefinite military detention, including of US citizens, who are accused of being associated with groups engaged in hostilities with the United States (see December 15, 2011, December 31, 2011). The indefinite detention provisions in the NDAA caused considerable controversy from the time they were first proposed (see July 6, 2011 and after). Chris Hedges, formerly of the New York Times, and his attorneys, Carl J. Mayer and Bruce I. Afran, file the suit seeking an injunction barring enforcement of section 1021 (formerly known as 1031) of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), alleging it is unconstitutional because it infringes on Hedges’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and Fifth Amendment right to due process, and that it imposes military jurisdiction on civilians in violation of Article III and the Fifth Amendment. President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are named as defendants in the initial complaint, individually and in their official capacities. (Hedges 1/16/2012) Six other writers and activists will later join Hedges as plaintiffs in the lawsuit: Daniel Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, Noam Chomsky, Alexa O’Brien, “US Day of Rage,” Kai Wargalla, and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who is also a member of parliament in Iceland. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Harry Reid (D-NV), and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), John Boehner (R-OH), and Eric Cantor (R-VA), will be added as defendants, in their official capacities. (Final Complaint: Hedges v. Obama 2/23/2012 ) The plaintiffs, their attorneys, and two supporting organizations, RevolutionTruth and Demand Progress, will establish a Web site to provide news and information related to the case, including legal documents. (StopNDAA.org 2/10/2012) The Lawfare Blog will also post a number of court documents related to the case, including some not available at StopNDAA.org, such as the declarations of Wargalla, O’Brien, and Jónsdóttir. (Wakeman 4/4/2012) Journalist and activist Naomi Wolf will file an affidavit supporting the lawsuit. (Wolf 3/28/2012) The judge in the case, Katherine B. Forrest, will issue a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the contested section, finding it unconstitutional (see May 16, 2012).
US District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest (Southern Division, New York) finds a controversial section of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) unconstitutional and issues a preliminary injunction barring enforcement. Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA authorizes indefinite military detention without trial of any person “who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces” (see December 15, 2011). The law makes no exception for US persons. It has been under review by the court because seven individuals (journalists, activists, and politicians) sued, alleging this section is unconstitutional because it violates their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and Fifth Amendment right to due process, and that it imposes military jurisdiction on civilians in violation of Article III and the Fifth Amendment (see January 13, 2012). (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Finds NDAA Undermines Protected Speech and Association - The plaintiffs argued that, due to their association with and/or reporting on al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the course of their work as journalists and activists, they might be subject to detention under § 1021, and that, due to the vagueness of the law, there was no way to know if the law could be used against them. In testimony and briefs, the plaintiffs gave examples of how they had altered their speech and behavior out of fear they might be subject to detention. In her Opinion and Order, Forrest notes: “The Government was unable to define precisely what ‘direct’ or ‘substantial’ ‘support’ means.… Thus, an individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so.” And: “The Government was given a number of opportunities at the hearing and in its briefs to state unambiguously that the type of expressive and associational activities engaged in by plaintiffs—or others—are not within § 1021. It did not. This Court therefore must credit the chilling impact on First Amendment rights as reasonable—and real. Given our society’s strong commitment to protecting First Amendment rights, the equities must tip in favor of protecting those rights.” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Rejects All Three Arguments Made by the Government - Forrest summarizes the government’s position in this way: “[F]irst, that plaintiffs lack standing; second, that even if they have standing, they have failed to demonstrate an imminent threat requiring preliminary relief; and finally, through a series of arguments that counter plaintiffs’ substantive constitutional challenges, that Section 1021 of the NDAA is simply an ‘affirmation’ or ‘reaffirmation’ of the authority conferred by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.” Rejecting the first and second arguments, Forrest finds the plaintiffs do have standing because their fear of imminent indefinite detention without charge or trial is reasonable, due to the vagueness of § 1021 and the government’s failure to state that the plaintiff’s activities aren’t covered under section 1021, leaving the plaintiffs with no way of knowing if they might be subject to detention. Furthermore, Forrest finds the plaintiffs have suffered actual harm, evidenced by incurring expenses and making changes in speech and association due to fear of potential detention. Regarding the third argument, Forrest rejects the idea that § 1021 could simply be affirming the AUMF, because “[t]o so hold would be contrary to basic principles of legislative interpretation that require Congressional enactments to be given independent meaning”; otherwise § 1021 would be “redundant” and “meaningless.” Furthermore, Forrest finds § 1021 of the NDAA is substantively different than the AUMF; it is not specific in its scope and “lacks the critical component of requiring… that an alleged violator’s conduct must have been, in some fashion, ‘knowing.’” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
Judge Finds Lawsuit Will Likely Succeed on Merits, Justifying Injunction - Based on the information put forward by the seven plaintiffs and the government, Forrest concludes the lawsuit will likely succeed on its merits, thus it should be allowed to proceed, stating: “This Court is left then, with the following conundrum: plaintiffs have put forward evidence that § 1021 has in fact chilled their expressive and associational activities; the Government will not represent that such activities are not covered by § 1021; plaintiffs’ activities are constitutionally protected. Given that record and the protections afforded by the First Amendment, this Court finds that plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of a facial challenge to § 1021.” Forrest also notes that issuing a preliminary injunction barring enforcement is unusual, but called for given the evidence and circumstances, stating: “This Court is acutely aware that preliminarily enjoining an act of Congress must be done with great caution. However, it is the responsibility of our judicial system to protect the public from acts of Congress which infringe upon constitutional rights.” (OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021 5/16/2012)
President Obama’s Justice Department files a motion urging a federal judge to reconsider a ruling and order that blocked enforcement of a law authorizing indefinite military detention. The case is Hedges v. Obama and the law at issue is section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The filing calls Judge Katherine B. Forrest’s preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA (see May 16, 2012) “extraordinary” as it restricts the president’s authority during wartime. It also questions whether “an order restraining future military operations could ever be appropriate,” and disputes Forrest’s finding that the plaintiffs who had sued to overturn the law (see January 13, 2012) have standing to sue. In footnote 1, the government states that it is construing the order “as applying only as to the named plaintiffs in this suit.” Forrest will clarify in a subsequent Memorandum Opinion and Order that by blocking enforcement of § 1021(b)(2), the only remaining persons covered are those defined in § 1021(b)(1): “A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks” (see June 6, 2012). (Hedges v. Obama: Government's Memorandum of Law in Support of Its Motion for Reconsideration of the May 16, 2012, Opinion and Order 5/25/2012)
Background - The NDAA was passed by Congress on December 15, 2011 (see December 15, 2011) and signed into law by President Obama on December 31 (see December 31, 2011). The provision for indefinite military detention of any person accused of supporting groups hostile to the United States, without charge or trial, began to generate controversy soon after it was disclosed (see July 6, 2011 and after).
Senate Democrats try twice within a two-day period to bring the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance bill that would require the disclosure of the identities of political donors (see July 26-27, 2010), to the floor for a vote. If enacted, the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act would overturn many elements of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities (see January 21, 2010). If passed, it would create new campaign finance disclosure requirements and make public the names of “super PAC” contributors (see March 26, 2010). Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and tax-exempt charitable organizations would, under the act, report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) each time they spend $10,000 or more on campaign-related expenditures. The bill would also “prohibit foreign influence in federal elections [and] prohibit government contractors from making expenditures with respect to such elections.” Both Senate Democratic efforts are thwarted by a Republican filibuster. Democrats are unable to muster the 60 votes needed to grant “cloture,” which would break the filibuster and bring the bill to the floor to be voted up or down. The last vote supports cloture 53-45, not enough to invoke cloture; the first vote was 51-44 in favor. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is recovering from a seizure, and Richard Shelby (R-AL) do not vote. Democrats force an official recording of each senator’s vote, placing the names of senators voting for and against the bill in the public record. Democrats have tried since 2010 to pass the bill (see July 26-27, 2010). The bill, sponsored in its latest iteration by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would force unions, nonprofits, and corporate interest groups that spend $10,000 or more during an election cycle to disclose donors who give $10,000 or more. Whitehouse modified the original version of the bill to no longer require sponsors of “electioneering” ads to put a disclaimer at the end, and pushed the effective date of the bill to 2013, meaning it would not impact the 2012 presidential campaign. Whitehouse and 15 other senators take to the floor to press for its passage. “When somebody is spending the kind of money that is being spent, a single donor making, for instance, a $4 million anonymous contribution, they’re not doing that out of the goodness of their heart,” he tells the Senate. Democrats urge Republicans who have previously spoken out in favor of transparency and campaign finance reform to vote for the bill, targeting Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Scott Brown (R-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Susan Collins (R-ME). However, none of them break ranks with their fellow Republicans. McCain, who co-authored the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill of 2002 (see March 27, 2002) and has spoken out against the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows corporations and unions to anonymously spend unlimited amounts on “electioneering” activities (see January 21, 2010), refuses to join Democrats in supporting the bill. He tells the Senate before the final vote, “The American people will see it for what it is—political opportunism at its best, political demagoguery at its worst.” McCain asks Senate Democrats “to go back to the drawing board and bring back a bill that is truly fair, truly bipartisan, and requires true full disclosure for everyone.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the bill would “send a signal to unions that Democrats are just as eager to do their legislative bidding as ever,” and that it “amounts to nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation.” In his weekly press conference shortly before the floor votes, McConnell says of the bill: “This could best be described as a selective disclosure act. It has managed to generate opposition from everybody from the ACLU to [the] NRA. That’s quite an accomplishment.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says of the bill: “[I]n a post-Citizens United world, the least we should do is require groups spending millions on political attack ads to disclose their largest donors. We owe it to voters to let them judge for themselves the attacks—and the motivations behind them.” And Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation says that the Senate is “thumbing their noses at the very notion of democratic elections.” (Parti 7/14/2012; OMB Watch 7/24/2012) After the bill fails to pass, Reid says, “It is obvious Republicans’ priority is to protect a handful of anonymous billionaires—billionaires willing to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to change the outcome of a close presidential contest.” (Strauss 7/24/2012)
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