Commentary Magazine


Topic: David Vitter

Vitter an Unwitting Ally of Obama on Iran

David Vitter may not have made as much of a splash in terms of publicity as Ted Cruz, but in his own way he has been as much of a thorn in the side of President Obama and Senate Democrats as any other conservative Republican. Vitter is best known to many in the country for his role in a prostitution scandal that he survived thanks to the loose morals that have always prevailed in Louisiana politics. But in recent months his crusade against allowing members of Congress to be exempt from ObamaCare has endeared him to the GOP core and driven Democrats straight up the wall. Vitter has so far been largely frustrated in his efforts, but he is undeterred and is still seeking a vote on an amendment seeking to expose whether members are putting their staffs on the ObamaCare exchanges. But Vitter’s insistence on getting that vote and his willingness to use his power to withhold consent on another unrelated bill may be doing a huge favor for the president.

As Politico reports, unless Vitter gives in on these two points, the delays caused by his holds will mean that the Defense Authorization bill won’t be voted on until sometime in December. That helps the administration since a delay on that vote would mean there will be no toughened sanctions on Iran passed until after the next meeting of the P5+1 group where Secretary of State John Kerry will try again to strike a deal with Tehran that will loosen the restrictions on doing business with the Islamist state. As such, the embattled Kerry is hoping Vitter will hang tough and give him the room he needs—and which many senators would rightly wish to deny him—to pursue engagement with the ayatollahs.

Read More

David Vitter may not have made as much of a splash in terms of publicity as Ted Cruz, but in his own way he has been as much of a thorn in the side of President Obama and Senate Democrats as any other conservative Republican. Vitter is best known to many in the country for his role in a prostitution scandal that he survived thanks to the loose morals that have always prevailed in Louisiana politics. But in recent months his crusade against allowing members of Congress to be exempt from ObamaCare has endeared him to the GOP core and driven Democrats straight up the wall. Vitter has so far been largely frustrated in his efforts, but he is undeterred and is still seeking a vote on an amendment seeking to expose whether members are putting their staffs on the ObamaCare exchanges. But Vitter’s insistence on getting that vote and his willingness to use his power to withhold consent on another unrelated bill may be doing a huge favor for the president.

As Politico reports, unless Vitter gives in on these two points, the delays caused by his holds will mean that the Defense Authorization bill won’t be voted on until sometime in December. That helps the administration since a delay on that vote would mean there will be no toughened sanctions on Iran passed until after the next meeting of the P5+1 group where Secretary of State John Kerry will try again to strike a deal with Tehran that will loosen the restrictions on doing business with the Islamist state. As such, the embattled Kerry is hoping Vitter will hang tough and give him the room he needs—and which many senators would rightly wish to deny him—to pursue engagement with the ayatollahs.

Momentum is building for more sanctions as Democrats like Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey are joining with Republicans on the Banking Committee to push for more sanctions. Yet Vitter’s holds, though he has stuck to them for a good cause, will ensure that Kerry gets the delay on more action against Iran that he has been calling for. Kerry alienated senators with remarks in which he vented his spleen against Israel and urged them to ignore Israeli concerns and intelligence about how his deal would do nothing to stop Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. With bipartisan disgust about the administration’s rush to engage again with Iran, it’s growing increasingly likely that any vote on sanctions would be positive. But if Vitter does not relent, the Iranians will be spared further inconvenience until after they get an all-too-eager Kerry back at the negotiating table.

Vitter, who is as stalwart a supporter of Israel as he is a foe of ObamaCare, should get his vote on congressional hypocrisy. But either way he should do whatever he can to make sure Congress puts Kerry on notice that he is not free to pursue his policy of appeasement with impunity.

Read Less

Vitter’s Lesson on Public Morals

He’s generally flown beneath the radar in a political environment that thrives on scandal but it looks like David Vitter may finally pay for his past sins. The Louisiana senator and advocate for abstinence education was disgraced in 2007 when his phone number was found on a list of patrons of the infamous “DC Madam” and her Washington prostitution ring. Vitter apologized for his “very serious sin” but unlike many other politicians who bowed to pressure from the public or outraged colleagues to resign, he refused to budge. Not only did his wife stand by him but also thanks to the ethically challenged culture of Louisiana that has long tolerated all sorts of misbehavior from its political class, he was even re-elected in 2010. But not everyone has forgotten about his sordid past.

Vitter has been a thorn in the side of Senate Democrats lately since he is working hard to embarrass them into agreeing to drop the federal subsidies that underwrite the health care costs of members of Congress and their staffs. To get even with the Louisianan, Politico reports Democrats are planning on resurrecting the prostitution episode in an effort to force Vitter to cease and desist his guerilla warfare on the issue that has brought the Senate to a virtual standstill in the last week. Their plan is to introduce their own amendment that would deny a subsidy to any lawmaker for whom there is “probable cause” to believe they solicited prostitutes.

This raises an interesting question about ethics. Though there is an argument to be made in favor of requiring officials to respect public morals (a point I made yesterday in discussing the failure of two scandal-plagued pols to win redemption from the public), is it ethical or even permissible to use the failings of politicians not merely to defeat them at the polls but to blackmail them to abandon political principles that are inconveniencing their opponents? If it is, then it appears to me that we have gone far beyond merely the scrapping of the old rules of the gentlemanly Senate “club.” Are Senate Democrats really prepared to answer arguments that point up the hypocrisy of politicians who want to impose substandard health insurance on the people while personally enjoying a far more generous federal benefits package by drafting legislation whose only purpose is to humiliate a senator for his past misconduct? If so, then we have replaced the old ways with something that isn’t merely hyper-partisan but representative of the kind of gutter politics that should make even the likes of Majority Leader Harry Reid blush.

Read More

He’s generally flown beneath the radar in a political environment that thrives on scandal but it looks like David Vitter may finally pay for his past sins. The Louisiana senator and advocate for abstinence education was disgraced in 2007 when his phone number was found on a list of patrons of the infamous “DC Madam” and her Washington prostitution ring. Vitter apologized for his “very serious sin” but unlike many other politicians who bowed to pressure from the public or outraged colleagues to resign, he refused to budge. Not only did his wife stand by him but also thanks to the ethically challenged culture of Louisiana that has long tolerated all sorts of misbehavior from its political class, he was even re-elected in 2010. But not everyone has forgotten about his sordid past.

Vitter has been a thorn in the side of Senate Democrats lately since he is working hard to embarrass them into agreeing to drop the federal subsidies that underwrite the health care costs of members of Congress and their staffs. To get even with the Louisianan, Politico reports Democrats are planning on resurrecting the prostitution episode in an effort to force Vitter to cease and desist his guerilla warfare on the issue that has brought the Senate to a virtual standstill in the last week. Their plan is to introduce their own amendment that would deny a subsidy to any lawmaker for whom there is “probable cause” to believe they solicited prostitutes.

This raises an interesting question about ethics. Though there is an argument to be made in favor of requiring officials to respect public morals (a point I made yesterday in discussing the failure of two scandal-plagued pols to win redemption from the public), is it ethical or even permissible to use the failings of politicians not merely to defeat them at the polls but to blackmail them to abandon political principles that are inconveniencing their opponents? If it is, then it appears to me that we have gone far beyond merely the scrapping of the old rules of the gentlemanly Senate “club.” Are Senate Democrats really prepared to answer arguments that point up the hypocrisy of politicians who want to impose substandard health insurance on the people while personally enjoying a far more generous federal benefits package by drafting legislation whose only purpose is to humiliate a senator for his past misconduct? If so, then we have replaced the old ways with something that isn’t merely hyper-partisan but representative of the kind of gutter politics that should make even the likes of Majority Leader Harry Reid blush.

Those who are prepared to argue that Vitter is a hypocrite and has not been held accountable for misconduct that occurred while he was a member of Congress will get no argument from me. We are entitled to believe the good people of Louisiana are daft to think Vitter’s services are indispensible. But there is a difference between a justified moral outrage at a lawmaker and advocate for family values behaving in such a manner and using his past in order to advance a political agenda that is every bit as cynical as anything he has done.

Unethical behavior comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Whatever we may think of Vitter’s transgressions and the brazen manner in which he has ignored those who have rightly called him out, Senate Democrats (many of whom backed President Clinton when he was caught lying under oath about sexual misconduct and his carrying on with a White House intern in the Oval Office) are in no position to claim the moral high ground. Indeed, using this episode in order to silence Vitter can be seen as far worse than his conduct. Blackmail is not unknown in politics but it rare that it is practiced as openly as this.

Vitter’s willingness to use the rules to jam up Reid’s efforts to run the Senate is annoying his foes. But the issue he is championing is one that would require Congress to live by the same rules as everyone else, especially when they have passed a bill that will subject the country to a health care regime that will raise costs for countless Americans and cost others their jobs. In this context, bringing up the DC Madam charge in order to shut the GOP senator up isn’t advocacy for public morals; it’s shameless behavior that lowers the tone of public life far below anything that bad boys like Vitter, Anthony Weiner or Eliot Spitzer have done.

Nor will it work since if Vitter had the chutzpah to stay in the Senate with prostitution charges hanging over his head, he will not be deterred by the Democratic amendment. In fact, Reid may have done something that many thought impossible: made Vitter look sympathetic.

Though his presence in the Senate does his state no credit, ironically Vitter may be teaching the country a lesson in morality that a better man might not have been able to do. By illustrating the utter lack of an ethical compass on the part of the Senate’s Democratic leadership, he has made a case that there really are worse things than having a sexual transgressor in high office. In this case, it may be better to be a chastened sinner than a ruthless, unethical and hypocritical Majority Leader.

Read Less

Another Approach to Iran

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the ”Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the ”possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the ”Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the ”possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

Read Less

Re: This Would Certainly Be Hope ‘N Change

It is becoming the week for bipartisan foreign policy. We saw a group of Democratic and Republican senators call for the Christmas Day bomber to be treated as an enemy combatant. We saw the 9/11 commission chiefs call for a reexamination of our handling of terrorists. Now a large bipartsian group is demanding those “crippling sanctions” on Iran. Senators Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Chuck Schumer (D-New York), John McCain (R-Arizona), Robert Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), and David Vitter (R-Louisiana) sent a letter to the president calling for him to abide by his own one-year deadline on diplomacy and impose real pressure on the Iranian regime. The letter reads in part:

We believe that it is extremely important for the world to know that the United States means what it says, and that we in fact do what we say we are going to do. As you rightly stated in your Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, “If we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price.”

We understand that your Administration is likely to pursue a fifth sanctions resolution at the United Nations Security Council. We strongly support your Administration’s painstaking diplomacy in support of this goal and hope that it succeeds in securing measures that stand a reasonable chance of changing the behavior of Iran’s government for the better. However, based on previous experience, we are acutely aware of the limits of Security Council action, in particular given the likely resistance to meaningful sanctions by the People’s Republic of China. We note with dismay the recent statement of China’s ambassador to the United Nations that, “This is not the right time or right moment for sanctions, because the diplomatic efforts are still going on.”

The senators urge Obama to “pursue parallel and complementary measures, outside the Security Council, to increase the pressure on the Iranian government.” They note that the president already has authority to do so under existing law, and that the senators ”are also committed to quickly passing new comprehensive sanctions legislation in Congress that will provide you with additional authorities to pressure Iran, and urge you to make full use of them.”

Once again, it seems Obama is trailing, not leading. There is a bipartisan consensus to at least extract ourselves from the morass of engagement. One wonders what alternative course of action Obama really believes there is. Do pin-prick sanctions focused supposedly on only certain elements within the Iranian regime offer any realistic hope of success? Or is Obama edging closer to a containment strategy, in which meaningful sanctions and military action are ruled out, leaving only the option of living with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state? We will find out soon enough whether Obama intends to go down in history as the American president who allowed such a regime to go nuclear. In the meantime, these lawmakers would do well to keep up the drumbeat. I suspect it will have to get very loud before the administration acts.

It is becoming the week for bipartisan foreign policy. We saw a group of Democratic and Republican senators call for the Christmas Day bomber to be treated as an enemy combatant. We saw the 9/11 commission chiefs call for a reexamination of our handling of terrorists. Now a large bipartsian group is demanding those “crippling sanctions” on Iran. Senators Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Chuck Schumer (D-New York), John McCain (R-Arizona), Robert Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), and David Vitter (R-Louisiana) sent a letter to the president calling for him to abide by his own one-year deadline on diplomacy and impose real pressure on the Iranian regime. The letter reads in part:

We believe that it is extremely important for the world to know that the United States means what it says, and that we in fact do what we say we are going to do. As you rightly stated in your Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, “If we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price.”

We understand that your Administration is likely to pursue a fifth sanctions resolution at the United Nations Security Council. We strongly support your Administration’s painstaking diplomacy in support of this goal and hope that it succeeds in securing measures that stand a reasonable chance of changing the behavior of Iran’s government for the better. However, based on previous experience, we are acutely aware of the limits of Security Council action, in particular given the likely resistance to meaningful sanctions by the People’s Republic of China. We note with dismay the recent statement of China’s ambassador to the United Nations that, “This is not the right time or right moment for sanctions, because the diplomatic efforts are still going on.”

The senators urge Obama to “pursue parallel and complementary measures, outside the Security Council, to increase the pressure on the Iranian government.” They note that the president already has authority to do so under existing law, and that the senators ”are also committed to quickly passing new comprehensive sanctions legislation in Congress that will provide you with additional authorities to pressure Iran, and urge you to make full use of them.”

Once again, it seems Obama is trailing, not leading. There is a bipartisan consensus to at least extract ourselves from the morass of engagement. One wonders what alternative course of action Obama really believes there is. Do pin-prick sanctions focused supposedly on only certain elements within the Iranian regime offer any realistic hope of success? Or is Obama edging closer to a containment strategy, in which meaningful sanctions and military action are ruled out, leaving only the option of living with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state? We will find out soon enough whether Obama intends to go down in history as the American president who allowed such a regime to go nuclear. In the meantime, these lawmakers would do well to keep up the drumbeat. I suspect it will have to get very loud before the administration acts.

Read Less