Commentary Magazine


Topic: John McCain

Will Senate GOP Help Clinton Escape Accountability Once Again?

As Alana mentioned, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense may hinge not on policy or his qualifications, but something more important to the Senate club: how much the others senators like him. John Kerry, the president’s choice for secretary of state, will almost certainly breeze through his own confirmation hearings for the same reason. But the best contrast to the story about whether the cool kids will let Hagel eat lunch with them is Politico’s story on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming testimony on Benghazi.

In the wake of the attack, which left our ambassador and three others dead, I wrote that the fact that Clinton’s State Department denied requests for more security for our diplomatic team there made two things clear. First, that declining the security requests was irresponsible given the danger of the posting, and second, that the request itself was evidence that Clinton was negligent in the attention she was paying to the Benghazi team even though the folly of this approach was becoming more obvious by the day. A subsequent accountability review report came to the same conclusions, and painted a picture of a poorly administrated, chaotic, and inattentive State Department. So what is her appearance before a Senate panel expected to be like? From Politico:

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As Alana mentioned, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense may hinge not on policy or his qualifications, but something more important to the Senate club: how much the others senators like him. John Kerry, the president’s choice for secretary of state, will almost certainly breeze through his own confirmation hearings for the same reason. But the best contrast to the story about whether the cool kids will let Hagel eat lunch with them is Politico’s story on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming testimony on Benghazi.

In the wake of the attack, which left our ambassador and three others dead, I wrote that the fact that Clinton’s State Department denied requests for more security for our diplomatic team there made two things clear. First, that declining the security requests was irresponsible given the danger of the posting, and second, that the request itself was evidence that Clinton was negligent in the attention she was paying to the Benghazi team even though the folly of this approach was becoming more obvious by the day. A subsequent accountability review report came to the same conclusions, and painted a picture of a poorly administrated, chaotic, and inattentive State Department. So what is her appearance before a Senate panel expected to be like? From Politico:

GOP members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee promise that Clinton will face a “tough but respectful” grilling when she testifies about the Obama administration’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya that killed four Americans.

After all, the outgoing secretary is still on the mend from a concussion and subsequent blood clot she suffered after a bad fall over the holidays. She served in the Senate with many of those she will appear before. And she has close friendships with Republicans like Sen. John McCain, perhaps the most vocal critic of the administration’s response to Benghazi.

In other words, don’t be surprised if the hearing is simply a ruse to throw Clinton a surprise going-away party. We were already made aware that Clinton’s friendship with McCain was enabling her to avoid accountability for Benghazi’s failures. Clinton should have lost her job immediately. Barring that, GOP foreign policy voices should have been raised over her management at State during the debacle. Instead, they targeted Susan Rice, eventually leading to the spiking of her possible nomination to succeed Clinton. (Though no one played a more important role in sidelining Rice’s nomination than Clinton herself.)

The article suggests that Clinton’s recent illness and concussion will earn her sympathy, which of course they should–except she already had the sympathy before her illness. That is, there is no change in the Senate GOP’s posture toward Clinton: they went easy on her months ago, and they’ll continue to do so.

When I wrote about the accountability review report, I mentioned former (Bill) Clinton advisor Aaron David Miller’s theory that the perception that Clinton will run for president in 2016–a perception Clinton has relentlessly fed–has won her fear, not love. That may be. Politico is also running with a story on Public Policy Polling’s recent survey on a hypothetical matchup between Clinton and Chris Christie, and the Clinton-watchers at the Washington Post are scouring her words for a hint that she’ll pursue that course:

“And then retirement?” a reporter asked.

“I don’t know that that’s the word I would use,” she said, “but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while.”

No one seems particularly concerned that the upcoming hearing on Benghazi will harm Clinton’s legacy, least of all Clinton. And it could do the opposite: Republicans who try criticizing Clinton on the issue in a future election will surely be asked–and rightfully so–why they exonerated her the first time around.

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Obama and the “Moral High Ground”

In April 2008, during the Democratic primary season, Barack Obama criticized John McCain for seeming to favor economic policies of the Bush administration that McCain had once opposed. “Well, they may have stopped offending John McCain’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, but George Bush’s economic policies still offend my conscience, and they still offend yours,” Obama said.

The Bush tax cuts offended his conscience, and so did the Bush deficits. Well, they may have stopped offending Barack Obama’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, you might say, considering the fiscal cliff deal the Obama White House has agreed to. The reason conservatives enjoy pointing things like this out is not to play “gotcha” so much as to remind people why Obama was always so off-putting to non-liberals. To Obama, those who disagreed with him were cast as immoral. They weren’t simply political opponents of Obama’s; they were, to the current president, opponents of all that is good and righteous.

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In April 2008, during the Democratic primary season, Barack Obama criticized John McCain for seeming to favor economic policies of the Bush administration that McCain had once opposed. “Well, they may have stopped offending John McCain’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, but George Bush’s economic policies still offend my conscience, and they still offend yours,” Obama said.

The Bush tax cuts offended his conscience, and so did the Bush deficits. Well, they may have stopped offending Barack Obama’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, you might say, considering the fiscal cliff deal the Obama White House has agreed to. The reason conservatives enjoy pointing things like this out is not to play “gotcha” so much as to remind people why Obama was always so off-putting to non-liberals. To Obama, those who disagreed with him were cast as immoral. They weren’t simply political opponents of Obama’s; they were, to the current president, opponents of all that is good and righteous.

Obama’s “fiscal cliff” deal to extend the Bush tax cuts comes, ironically, the same week he quietly signed an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act–another source of controversy during the Bush administration. Bush’s national security policies did not escape Obama’s moral judgment. In a 2007 speech, Obama said Bush “decided to take the low road” in its response to military threats: “We did not reaffirm our basic values, or secure our homeland. Instead, we got a color-coded politics of fear.”

The fight over FISA was a minor one in the grand scheme of things, but also a symbolic one. Obama staunchly opposed immunity to telecoms that had cooperated with the government–one Bush-era provision of the law. “I am proud to stand with Senator Dodd, Senator Feingold and a grassroots movement of Americans who are refusing to let President Bush put protections for special interests ahead of our security and our liberty. There is no reason why telephone companies should be given blanket immunity to cover violations of the rights of the American people,” Obama had said.

Pretty clear, right? That promise didn’t even make it through to the election.

Immediately upon taking office in 2009, Obama outlined exactly how he would take us from “the low road” to the “moral high ground,” and that included shuttering secret CIA prisons around the globe and ending long-term secret detentions. Upon signing that executive order, the moral preening was rewarded with applause. A new day had dawned. Yet as the Washington Post reported yesterday, Obama has relied on long-term secret detentions “without legal oversight” throughout his first term in office:

Defense attorneys and others familiar with the case, however, said the men were arrested in Djibouti, a close ally of Washington. The tiny African country hosts a major U.S. military base, Camp Lemonnier, that serves as a combat hub for drone flights and counterterrorism operations. Djibouti also has a decade-long history of cooperating with the United States on renditions….

The sequence described by the lawyers matches a pattern from other rendition cases in which U.S. intelligence agents have secretly interrogated suspects for months without legal oversight before handing over the prisoners to the FBI for prosecution.

Perhaps Obama just thinks the “moral high ground” is overrated. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he has only the best interests of the country in mind, and that he is not the morally bankrupt, power-hungry, fear-mongering political opportunist he would accuse others of being if they were to follow his path.

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Can Immigration Be a Winning Issue for Lindsey Graham?

Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

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Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

One underreported aspect of Graham’s relationship with the conservative base is the changing politics of immigration for the GOP. Mitt Romney’s lopsided loss among Hispanics (and immigrant groups in general) in the November election gave new momentum, as well as popular support and political cover, to the GOP’s immigration moderates. Though South Carolina voters are not Florida voters, it would be a strange sight indeed for conservative voters to primary Graham over the issue of immigration but not, say, Marco Rubio–a conservative senator often associated with the Tea Party movement and a beneficiary of the right’s “primarying” strategy himself–who was planning to introduce his own version of the DREAM Act this past year.

John McCain, Graham’s fellow immigration reformer and close friend in the Senate, was also vulnerable on the issue in 2010 and seemed to run to his right on immigration to fend off a primary challenge. Graham may not have to adjust his position on immigration to fend off a primary challenge–indeed, Graham’s enthusiasm for immigration reform is looking to be more like the party’s future than its past. If that shift really takes place, it should take the issue off the table for primary challengers and may make Graham’s moderation seem wise and ahead of its time. That would be a remarkable turnaround for the party and the issue of immigration, yet it is a quite plausible scenario.

There are, of course, other reasons Graham is stronger than he seemed all along. Aside from the Benghazi episode, Graham has the fundraising and party network advantages of incumbency. He has also been one of the party’s leaders on foreign policy, where his views have been closer to his conservative base than on the issue of immigration.

He’s not out of the woods yet. The so-called fiscal cliff debate looks headed for a compromise involving raising taxes, and Graham has suggested the right be open to raising tax rates. Yet if the party caves on taxes as part of a final deal, it may absolve Graham of some of the blame. If conservatives in the GOP end up supporting some tax increases, Graham won’t be an outlier–even among conservatives. That might take the issue off the table, or at least dull its impact, the way immigration went from being evidence of Graham’s apostasy to a GOP mainstream policy position just in time for Graham’s reelection.

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How Washington Rejected Susan Rice

I wrote yesterday that Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next secretary of state was as much the result of a steady campaign against her from the left as it was a result of John McCain and the GOP’s campaign against her from the right. I wrote that the GOP side hadn’t been really driving this campaign for a while now. The Atlantic Wire offers a timeline that backs this up.

The timeline shows McCain shifting his criticism as early as November 20. But as I noted, by that time Democrats had latched on to the fight and the bipartisan effort doomed Rice. But events also make a convincing case for what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in defense of Rice: this was D.C. insider politics on a grand scale. Rice didn’t just lose to McCain or Hillary Clinton; she lost to Washington. It’s worth recalling, then, just how the elements of the capital worked against her.

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I wrote yesterday that Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next secretary of state was as much the result of a steady campaign against her from the left as it was a result of John McCain and the GOP’s campaign against her from the right. I wrote that the GOP side hadn’t been really driving this campaign for a while now. The Atlantic Wire offers a timeline that backs this up.

The timeline shows McCain shifting his criticism as early as November 20. But as I noted, by that time Democrats had latched on to the fight and the bipartisan effort doomed Rice. But events also make a convincing case for what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in defense of Rice: this was D.C. insider politics on a grand scale. Rice didn’t just lose to McCain or Hillary Clinton; she lost to Washington. It’s worth recalling, then, just how the elements of the capital worked against her.

Barack Obama. We should start with the president, since some have been suggesting that Rice’s withdrawal proves Obama’s weakness. It just isn’t so. If Obama wanted Rice to be his secretary of state, that’s what he’d get. But the president got quite chummy with Bill Clinton just as the former president agreed to try and save Obama’s reelection hopes by giving a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention and then campaigning in swing states for Obama. After the attack in Benghazi, Hillary Clinton had some serious explaining to do. After all, it was her State Department that messed up by not providing enough security to the ambassador’s team and then denying requests for additional security.

Yet Clinton was conveniently enabled to avoid the press, the cameras, and in general the spotlight. Susan Rice’s mistakes after Benghazi pale in comparison to Clinton’s mistakes before Benghazi. Susan Rice took Clinton’s place on the Sunday shows, got herself in some trouble, and Obama decided he didn’t want to spend the political capital to protect her the way he protected Hillary.

Hillary Clinton. Clinton made her opposition to Rice known as soon as the latter landed in hot water over the Benghazi controversy. Clinton told her allies on the Hill and in the press that she preferred John Kerry for the job. Message received.

Liberal opinion journalists. Maureen Dowd and Dana Milbank happily obliged, making the fight against Rice obnoxiously personal. Dowd said Rice “rented” her soul. Milbank said Rice was pushy and rude. Lloyd Grove said Rice had a personality disorder. The vicious attacks from the leftists in political media changed the dynamic of the controversy.

Senate GOP. The role of Republicans in the Senate is obvious, but it’s worth drawing attention to one element of it in particular. President Obama wasn’t the only one protecting Hilary Clinton from the glare of the Benghazi fallout; so was John McCain. McCain and Clinton are friends and were fellow senators before Clinton took the job at Foggy Bottom. McCain protected his friend, and was helping another longtime senator as well: John Kerry, who was expected to be the president’s second choice after Rice for secretary of state. McCain wasn’t the only one. “I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues,” Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins not-so-subtly said last month after meeting with Rice. “I’d rather have John Kerry,” retiring Senator Jon Kyl had said.

Senate Democrats. John Kerry stayed quiet throughout the debate, and wisely so. He had his fellow Democrats in Washington to critique Rice and complement Kerry. “Sen. Kerry is under consideration for a high position because he’s talented, has tremendous integrity and respect — he also happens to be a senator,” said Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin. “Part of your responsibility in the administration is your relationship with the Senate and House, and obviously Sen. Kerry has an incredible relationship. I think colleagues on both sides of the aisle will tell you that.” Translation: if the White House wants full cooperation from the Democratic-run Senate, Kerry would be a wise choice.

Additionally, Kerry’s nomination would open up a Senate seat in Massachusetts, and Governor Deval Patrick has apparently already reached out to Vicki Kennedy–Ted Kennedy’s widow–to consider taking that seat.

In the end Rice had few allies on either side of the aisle in Washington, and the opposite was true of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. A culture of clubbiness that borders on tribal loyalty was just far too much for Rice to overcome.

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McCain Could Be Key for Old Friend Hagel

It looks like Senator John McCain’s strong opposition to Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination set off a chain of events that could end up leading to Chuck Hagel’s nomination for the top role at the Pentagon.

You can’t exactly blame Republican critics of Rice; they had legitimate concerns about her role in Benghazi. But some have speculated McCain’s long-time friendship with John Kerry–now the most likely candidate for secretary of state–may have also played a role.

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It looks like Senator John McCain’s strong opposition to Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination set off a chain of events that could end up leading to Chuck Hagel’s nomination for the top role at the Pentagon.

You can’t exactly blame Republican critics of Rice; they had legitimate concerns about her role in Benghazi. But some have speculated McCain’s long-time friendship with John Kerry–now the most likely candidate for secretary of state–may have also played a role.

McCain has also been very close with fellow Vietnam veteran Hagel, though it’s not clear how much that relationship was strained by the 2008 election, when Hagel became a vocal critic of McCain’s foreign policy.

Now that McCain has decided to stay on the Armed Services Committee, he will obviously play a role in the next secretary of defense confirmation hearings. As a hawk on Iran and a supporter of U.S. intervention in Syria, McCain could provide crucial cover for Hagel, who is considered soft on Iran and opposed to foreign intervention. Or McCain could do to Hagel what Hagel did to him in 2008. He repeatedly whacked McCain on foreign policy during the election, and promptly joined Obama’s national security advisory board once it was over.

“In good conscience, I could not enthusiastically—honestly—go out and endorse [McCain],” Hagel told the New Yorker in 2008. “when we so fundamentally disagree on the future course of our foreign policy and our role in the world.”

Hagel better hope his old friend doesn’t feel the same way.

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Rice: Confirmation Process Would Have Been “Disruptive”

NBC News has the exclusive:

Embattled U.N. envoy Susan Rice is dropping out of the running to be the next secretary of state after months of criticism over her Benghazi comments, she told NBC News on Thursday.

“If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly – to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities,” Rice wrote in a letter to President Obama, saying she’s saddened by the partisan politics surrounding her prospects.

“That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country…Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time,” she wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News.

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NBC News has the exclusive:

Embattled U.N. envoy Susan Rice is dropping out of the running to be the next secretary of state after months of criticism over her Benghazi comments, she told NBC News on Thursday.

“If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly – to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities,” Rice wrote in a letter to President Obama, saying she’s saddened by the partisan politics surrounding her prospects.

“That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country…Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time,” she wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News.

John McCain’s decision to join the Foreign Relations Committee may have been the final push. Even if Rice was able to get through the Senate, the confirmation hearings would have been highly contentious and Benghazi-focused, which the White House has good reason to want to avoid.

And now the ballooning speculation that Chuck Hagel is at the top of the list for secretary of defense makes more sense. If Rice was nominated to lead State, Kerry would probably have been the top contender for Defense. Now Kerry is the most likely choice for secretary of state.

I still think Hagel would have problems getting confirmed because of his anti-Israel history and opposition to foreign intervention. The fact that he’s a former senator works in his favor, but conservative hawks and AIPAC would certainly object. While Hagel still considers himself a Republican, there is sure to be some bad blood between him and the party after his vocal support of Obama and recent endorsement of a Democratic Senate candidate.

Either way, Scott Brown may want to start prepping for another Senate bid, because it sounds like there’s going to be a vacant seat in Massachusetts soon.

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McCain to Join Senate Foreign Relations Committee

The most vocal opponent of Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination, John McCain, is joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just in time for the confirmation hearings. Josh Rogin reports

MANAMA – The committee that will soon vet the next secretary of state will have a new Republican heavyweight next year: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the man leading the charge against potential nominee U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.

McCain told The Cable he will join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and also remain on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in an interview on the sidelines of the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue. …

It’s unclear whether the five or six Senate Republicans who have come out against Rice’s potential nomination would succeed in their effort to thwart her nomination, if it materializes. McCain said the Senate should use the confirmation process to properly examine the president’s choice, and he pointed to her SFRC hearing as the place for the final showdown.

“I’ll wait and see if she’s nominated and we’ll move on from there. She has the right to have hearings. We’ll see what happens in the hearings,” he said.

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The most vocal opponent of Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination, John McCain, is joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just in time for the confirmation hearings. Josh Rogin reports

MANAMA – The committee that will soon vet the next secretary of state will have a new Republican heavyweight next year: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the man leading the charge against potential nominee U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.

McCain told The Cable he will join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and also remain on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in an interview on the sidelines of the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue. …

It’s unclear whether the five or six Senate Republicans who have come out against Rice’s potential nomination would succeed in their effort to thwart her nomination, if it materializes. McCain said the Senate should use the confirmation process to properly examine the president’s choice, and he pointed to her SFRC hearing as the place for the final showdown.

“I’ll wait and see if she’s nominated and we’ll move on from there. She has the right to have hearings. We’ll see what happens in the hearings,” he said.

In other words, Obama will have another headache to deal with if Susan Rice gets the nod. Having John Kerry (Rice’s most likely competitor for secretary of state) and Bob Corker (a critic of Rice) as the top Democrat and Republican, respectively, on the committee would be bad enough on its own. But McCain had been leading the charge against her, and having him on the committee will mean a lot more scrutiny into the administration’s Benghazi response.

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Washington Insiders Focus on Rice to Protect Their Own

Two weeks ago, I asked a question about the administration’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack and its aftermath to which we have yet to get a response: Why does Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still have her job? The CIA made mistakes in Benghazi too, and the agency’s director has since resigned (mostly over an affair, but the point is that he’s no longer in charge of the CIA). President Obama’s evasions and misdirections after the attack were brought up in the second presidential debate and were even briefly a campaign issue. And now Susan Rice, who became the public face of the administration’s false talking points, is fighting for her reputation and her political future, which she hopes will involve running Foggy Bottom.

Yet we still hear nothing about Clinton, who should own the lion’s share of the blame. That our ambassador had to even request adequate security (requests that were denied) in a war zone testifies to Clinton’s incompetence on the issue. And so while it’s absolutely appropriate to seek answers from Rice–who volunteered to be the administration’s point person on this–there is something unseemly about the focus on Rice and the threats to hold up her possible nomination at State.

It’s not, as the Washington Post’s thoroughly reprehensible editorial suggested, about Rice’s race. (Republicans have been far more inclined than Democrats to nominate African Americans for secretary of state.) It’s not about gender either, of course. It’s about a certain chummy Washington insider mentality. Here’s Politico yesterday:

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Two weeks ago, I asked a question about the administration’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack and its aftermath to which we have yet to get a response: Why does Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still have her job? The CIA made mistakes in Benghazi too, and the agency’s director has since resigned (mostly over an affair, but the point is that he’s no longer in charge of the CIA). President Obama’s evasions and misdirections after the attack were brought up in the second presidential debate and were even briefly a campaign issue. And now Susan Rice, who became the public face of the administration’s false talking points, is fighting for her reputation and her political future, which she hopes will involve running Foggy Bottom.

Yet we still hear nothing about Clinton, who should own the lion’s share of the blame. That our ambassador had to even request adequate security (requests that were denied) in a war zone testifies to Clinton’s incompetence on the issue. And so while it’s absolutely appropriate to seek answers from Rice–who volunteered to be the administration’s point person on this–there is something unseemly about the focus on Rice and the threats to hold up her possible nomination at State.

It’s not, as the Washington Post’s thoroughly reprehensible editorial suggested, about Rice’s race. (Republicans have been far more inclined than Democrats to nominate African Americans for secretary of state.) It’s not about gender either, of course. It’s about a certain chummy Washington insider mentality. Here’s Politico yesterday:

As she wraps up her tenure at Foggy Bottom and mulls over a possible 2016 White House bid, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decade-old bipartisan friendship with McCain appears to have helped shield her from GOP fire — even as her agency finds itself in the thick of a partisan battle over Benghazi.

Their deep bond and mutual respect was born out of eight years serving in the Senate together, their shared admiration for the military, numerous trips around the world to war zones, security conferences in Germany — they once even took in a sunset in the Arctic Circle.

Far be it from me to let something like national security get in the way of a good Arctic sunset, but this seems patently irresponsible. When Republican candidates run as “outsiders,” this is exactly the sort of thing they don’t want to be associated with. And when they question the Beltway’s obsession with bipartisanship, this is the kind of thing they’re questioning.

I’m not going to tell McCain and Clinton that they should follow Harry Truman’s advice and get a dog if they want a friend in Washington. Comity and cooperation have their benefits. And it’s true that liberal columnists who clearly side with Hillary Clinton in her feud with Susan Rice have used this occasion to stick up for their friend–but they are opinion writers at liberal newspapers, not high-ranking senators and leaders on American national security and foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the other politician who would gain from Rice’s downfall is, as Jonathan wrote today, John Kerry–another member of the Senate foreign relations old guard.

Clinton should be held accountable for her failure, and instead her bipartisan friends will protect her. Clinton will skate on to her expected 2016 presidential run unscathed by her egregious incompetence that resulted in the death of our ambassador and three others. And the “dear friend” of Bashar al-Assad–I’m quoting John Kerry himself here, so take it up with him–hopes to advance his career as well by climbing up the rubble of Rice’s.

By all means, get answers from Rice on Benghazi. But letting colleagues and friends escape accountability because of that friendship is its own brand of negligence.

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Rice v. Kerry is Foreign Policy Trivia

Yesterday’s meeting between United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and leading Republican members of the U.S. Senate did nothing to defuse the controversy over her misleading statements about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Senators Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and John McCain were not pleased with Rice’s explanations and appear poised to lead a spirited opposition to Rice should, as many expect, she be tapped by President Obama to be the next secretary of state. Along with other members of the administration, Rice has much to answer for when it comes to Benghazi, and Democrats should not be under the impression that the GOP will knuckle under to the president’s attempt to intimidate them or patently false charges of racism. But conservatives need to think carefully about what the key issue at State is before they decide to go all in on an attempt to stop Rice’s appointment.

As tempting a target as Rice is, there are far more important issues at stake in determining the future of American foreign policy than whether Foggy Bottom is run by her or Senator John Kerry, the other leading candidate for the job who is obviously favored by his Senate colleagues. The impending confirmation battle needs to be about something more than just an attempt to take down a vulnerable friend of the president. It is an opportunity for Republicans to initiate a debate about the direction taken by the administration in the Middle East. On Secretary Clinton’s watch the administration has done more than merely pretend that al-Qaeda was as dead as Osama bin Laden when its affiliates are alive and well and killing Americans. It has made nice with Islamists in the region, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and allowed a crucial nation to slip from the hands of a friendly authoritarian to an Islamist dictator linked to Hamas. It is on these big-picture issues that the Senate ought to take its stand and not just on what Rice said in September about Benghazi.

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Yesterday’s meeting between United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and leading Republican members of the U.S. Senate did nothing to defuse the controversy over her misleading statements about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Senators Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and John McCain were not pleased with Rice’s explanations and appear poised to lead a spirited opposition to Rice should, as many expect, she be tapped by President Obama to be the next secretary of state. Along with other members of the administration, Rice has much to answer for when it comes to Benghazi, and Democrats should not be under the impression that the GOP will knuckle under to the president’s attempt to intimidate them or patently false charges of racism. But conservatives need to think carefully about what the key issue at State is before they decide to go all in on an attempt to stop Rice’s appointment.

As tempting a target as Rice is, there are far more important issues at stake in determining the future of American foreign policy than whether Foggy Bottom is run by her or Senator John Kerry, the other leading candidate for the job who is obviously favored by his Senate colleagues. The impending confirmation battle needs to be about something more than just an attempt to take down a vulnerable friend of the president. It is an opportunity for Republicans to initiate a debate about the direction taken by the administration in the Middle East. On Secretary Clinton’s watch the administration has done more than merely pretend that al-Qaeda was as dead as Osama bin Laden when its affiliates are alive and well and killing Americans. It has made nice with Islamists in the region, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and allowed a crucial nation to slip from the hands of a friendly authoritarian to an Islamist dictator linked to Hamas. It is on these big-picture issues that the Senate ought to take its stand and not just on what Rice said in September about Benghazi.

The real issue at the State Department is not whether Rice lied about Benghazi. Everyone in the administration lied about it from the top down and that is something that Congress should thoroughly explore. Senator Graham was right when he said that there ought to be a hold put on the promotion of anyone involved in Benghazi until there is a complete investigation of a scandal that can’t be buried by Democrats eager to move on now that the president has been re-elected. But Rice’s confirmation hearing, assuming that the president does nominate her, can’t substitute for the sort of special committee probe that is needed on that issue.

The administration’s eagerness to portray the terror attack on our diplomats in Benghazi as a spontaneous protest stemmed from an agenda which required that nothing be allowed to disrupt the president’s politically-motivated narrative that bin Laden’s death meant the end of the threat of Islamist terrorism. However, the willingness of this administration to acquiesce to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and even to go on sending billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Morsi regime should not be passed over in the zeal to nail Rice on Benghazi.

Allowing Rice to be rewarded for her deceptions rightly rankles Republicans, but no one should be under the impression that substituting Kerry for her will improve American foreign policy. In fact, her willingness to throw her weight around at the UN during her tenure there may mean she will be a tougher exponent of American interests than a weak figure like Kerry who was well known as Bashar Assad’s best friend in Washington. Derailing Rice to help Kerry may make sense to John McCain, but it’s not clear why other Republicans should care. There needs to be accountability for all of the administration’s errors, including the shocking tilt toward the Brotherhood, and not just Benghazi.

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Ayotte, Graham Say They’ll Hold Rice’s Nomination

Susan Rice’s meeting with Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte yesterday might have set back her potential secretary of state bid even more than initially thought. Now Graham and Ayotte are promising to place a “hold” on her possible nomination, until Rice provides more answers:

If President Barack Obama selects United Nations envoy Susan Rice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he’ll face determined opposition from at least three Republican senators: John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Ayotte and Graham would each place a “hold” on Rice’s nomination if she were nominated, their aides told NBC News Tuesday. McCain’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Susan Rice’s meeting with Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte yesterday might have set back her potential secretary of state bid even more than initially thought. Now Graham and Ayotte are promising to place a “hold” on her possible nomination, until Rice provides more answers:

If President Barack Obama selects United Nations envoy Susan Rice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he’ll face determined opposition from at least three Republican senators: John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Ayotte and Graham would each place a “hold” on Rice’s nomination if she were nominated, their aides told NBC News Tuesday. McCain’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

With the fiscal cliff debate heating up, a nomination filibuster probably isn’t something the Republican leadership wants to sink much political capital into. But this is an important fight for a few reasons. First, if reports from yesterday’s meeting are accurate, then the administration cherry-picked intelligence to support a narrative that, at best, they suspected might be inaccurate and, at worst, they knew was misleading. If that’s the case, McCain, Graham and Ayotte aren’t aiming for Rice, they’re aiming above her. If she’s nominated, it will give them a way to both keep the Benghazi controversy in the news and uncover more information about it.

Rice is attending another meeting with Senators Collins and Corker today. Their impressions after could help decide how far Republicans take this issue.

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Report: Rice Was Aware of AQ Links Before Sunday Show Blitz

Susan Rice was supposed to be meeting with Republican senators this morning to dispel concerns about her likely secretary of state nomination, but it sounds like she only made matters worse. In a press conference after the meeting, Sen. John McCain said he was “significantly troubled” by many of the answers Rice gave:

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence leading up to the attack on our consulate, the tragic deaths of four brave Americans, and whether Ambassador Rice was prepared or informed sufficiently in order to give the American people a correct depiction of the events that took place. It is clear that the information that she gave the American people was incorrect when she said it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video. It was not, and there was compelling evidence at the time that that was certainly not the case, including statements by Libyans as well as other Americans who are fully aware that people don’t bring mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to spontaneous demonstrations.” 

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Susan Rice was supposed to be meeting with Republican senators this morning to dispel concerns about her likely secretary of state nomination, but it sounds like she only made matters worse. In a press conference after the meeting, Sen. John McCain said he was “significantly troubled” by many of the answers Rice gave:

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence leading up to the attack on our consulate, the tragic deaths of four brave Americans, and whether Ambassador Rice was prepared or informed sufficiently in order to give the American people a correct depiction of the events that took place. It is clear that the information that she gave the American people was incorrect when she said it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video. It was not, and there was compelling evidence at the time that that was certainly not the case, including statements by Libyans as well as other Americans who are fully aware that people don’t bring mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to spontaneous demonstrations.” 

Sources told CNN’s Dana Bash that Rice told the senators she was aware of classified information suggesting al-Qaeda involvement before her controversial Sunday show appearances. Bash also reports that Rice said she regrets using the CIA talking points.

If Rice had said she was speaking based on the intelligence she had at the time, Republicans would probably have let her off the hook. That was the standard line the State Department and other Obama administration officials have given when asked about Rice’s Sunday show comments. But few people will have sympathy for her if she admitted she knew the talking points were potentially inaccurate and misleading before she used them. I actually wonder if she planned to tell the senators that when she initiated the meeting, or if they somehow pulled the information out of her. It certainly doesn’t help her case for the secretary of state nomination, which was supposedly the entire point of the meeting.

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The President’s Benghazi Problem

During his press conference yesterday, President Obama was asked about the statements by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who said if Susan Rice is nominated to be secretary of state, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination, and they simply don’t trust Ambassador Rice after her misleading accounts about the lethal attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11.

In response, the president, after lavishly praising Ms. Rice, said this:

As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.  If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.  And I’m happy to have that discussion with them.  But for them to go after the U.N. Ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous… When they go after the U.N. Ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. 

I’ll get to the president’s answer in a moment. For now, it’s important to recall that five days after the Benghazi massacre, Ambassador Rice went on five Sunday talk shows insisting that (a) we had “substantial security presence” at the consulate before the attack; (b) the attacks were spontaneous, not a pre-planned terrorist attack, and the result of “a small handful of heavily armed mobsters;” and (c) “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rice said, “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

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During his press conference yesterday, President Obama was asked about the statements by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who said if Susan Rice is nominated to be secretary of state, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination, and they simply don’t trust Ambassador Rice after her misleading accounts about the lethal attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11.

In response, the president, after lavishly praising Ms. Rice, said this:

As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.  If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.  And I’m happy to have that discussion with them.  But for them to go after the U.N. Ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous… When they go after the U.N. Ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. 

I’ll get to the president’s answer in a moment. For now, it’s important to recall that five days after the Benghazi massacre, Ambassador Rice went on five Sunday talk shows insisting that (a) we had “substantial security presence” at the consulate before the attack; (b) the attacks were spontaneous, not a pre-planned terrorist attack, and the result of “a small handful of heavily armed mobsters;” and (c) “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rice said, “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

Ambassador Rice was wrong on every particular. The security for the American consulate was nearly non-existent; the attacks were premeditated; they were carried out by Islamic terrorists; there was no mob protest; the video had nothing to do with the attacks; and we did have information that the attacks were pre-planned.

Ambassador Rice’s claims came despite the fact that, according to congressional testimony, the State Department had surveillance feeds and they were able to monitor the attacks in “almost real-time” and that according to media reports, an unarmed Predator drone was performing surveillance missions over Libya when the attack on the consulate in Benghazi began; within 24 hours of the deadly attack, the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington that there were eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants; and e-mails show that officials at the White House and State Department were advised two hours after attackers assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that an Islamic militant group (Ansar al-Sharia) had claimed credit for the attack.

In addition, Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says that within 24 hours of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi he had information from intelligence agencies that what happened were terrorist attacks, not spontaneous attacks inspired by the anti-Islamic video. Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that accounts of the attack and the firepower employed “indicate something more than a spontaneous protest.”

There’s more.

The Washington Post was reporting on the day after the attack that “the early indications were that the assault had been planned” by “heavily-armed militias.” Journalist Eli Lake reported, “Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indications al Qaeda–affiliated operatives were behind the attack, and had even pinpointed the location of one of those attackers.” And in a story in early October, the Associated Press reported, “The State Department now says it never believed the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a film protest gone awry.”

I have recounted this record in detail simply to highlight how ludicrous is President Obama’s claim that Senators McCain and Graham want to “besmirch [Rice’s] reputation” and that they are going after her “because they think she’s an easy target.”

Ambassador Rice’s credibility has been massively damaged because she misled the public (probably unknowingly) long after there was evidence that her claims were at least questionable and probably wrong. To the degree that she’s an “easy target,” it’s because the case against her and the administration is overwhelming. And the gallant Obama need not worry. The concerns about the negligence and misconduct of his administration don’t stop with Ms. Rice. Those concerns go right to the top.

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Lindsey Graham: Obama “Failed as Commander in Chief”

Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain didn’t waste any time responding to President Obama’s claim that they are “going after” Susan Rice because “they think she’s an easy target.”

In a statement, Graham blasted both Obama and Rice, saying she’s “up to [her] eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle”:

“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi.  I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.

“We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”

On Greta Van Susteren last night, McCain pushed back on the president’s comments, calling them  “juvenile”:

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Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain didn’t waste any time responding to President Obama’s claim that they are “going after” Susan Rice because “they think she’s an easy target.”

In a statement, Graham blasted both Obama and Rice, saying she’s “up to [her] eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle”:

“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi.  I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.

“We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”

On Greta Van Susteren last night, McCain pushed back on the president’s comments, calling them  “juvenile”:

MCCAIN: You know, it’s interesting for the president to say something that juvenile. I’m not picking on anyone. Again, as we just said, four Americans died! Is that picking on anybody when you want to place responsibility and find out what happened so that we can make sure it doesn’t happen again?

And you know, it’s not a bad life being ambassador to the U.N. You have a nice suite in the Waldorf-Astoria and look pretty good. An so this — why they used her as their spokesperson on all the major networks that Sunday is still beyond me, but they did. And she…

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, the president said today that…

MCCAIN: And she used talking points from the White House. So we’re not picking on her. But we are holding her to some degree responsible. But have no doubt, we are holding the President of the United States responsible. And he is responsible and he has not — he has given contrasting versions of events to the American people.

Could I just remind you real quick — September 21, in the Rose Garden, he said it was, quote, “acts of terror.” That same night, he said to Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes,” it’s too early to know exactly how this came about. On September 20th, we’re still doing an investigation. September 24th, on “The View,” we’re still doing an investigation. And then before the United Nations on September 25th, “a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.”

Now, he said that on September 25th. In the second debate, with Mitt Romney, he said, I called it an act of terror in the Rose Garden. He didn’t. He condemned acts of terror in the Rose Garden. And if he did, how come he told the United Nations a couple of weeks later that it was a senseless video that sparked a demonstration, when he knew full well there was no spontaneous demonstration?

So my response to the President of the United States is we’re not picking on anybody. We want answers, and the buck does stop at your desk, Mr. President. 

Assuming Rice is the nominee, this will all play out during the confirmation fight. Obama may be hoping he can keep Senate Democrats in line by framing GOP criticism of Rice as an unfair partisan attack. And it’s possible he can pick off some moderate Republicans with this strategy, too, who might be worried about clashing with a newly-reelected president over a “politicized” issue. 

But it’s still notable that Obama would be so intent on appointing Rice, given all of her Benghazi baggage. It’s true she’s one of his longest-serving advisors, and he seems to have a much warmer relationship with her than he has with Hillary Clinton (or John Kerry, for that matter). But you’d think it would save him a lot of grief to just choose another option.

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Where Did the Voters Go? Nowhere.

As the national vote total began to solidify last night, one question on the minds of Republicans was: Where are the missing voters? Last night it looked like Mitt Romney had received something like 10 to 15 percent fewer votes than John McCain had in 2008, even though his percentage of the overall vote was at least two points higher. What did this mean? Where did the voters go? They didn’t go to Barack Obama, because exit polls suggested he had basically turned out the same demographic support he had four years ago. So where are they? Did this suggest a significant element of the GOP base had stayed home? Perhaps evangelical voters quietly refusing to cast a ballot for a Mormon? Populist voters disgusted by the 47 percent tape?

As I write, Mitt Romney has 57.4 million votes. John McCain ended up with 59.9 million. It’s a little noticed fact that in two weeks following every presidential election, votes continue to be reported…by the millions. As I recall, Barack Obama got something like four million more votes in the weeks after election day, while John McCain got two or three million. It’s likely that by Thanksgiving, the final vote tally will show Romney very close to or even slightly exceeding McCain’s total.

So there are probably no missing voters. The idea offers a certain degree of cold comfort for conservatives and Republicans, because it would suggest the problem was with Romney’s candidacy in particular and not with the movement or the party. But it’s false, and they will not be spared the reckoning about the party’s future.

As the national vote total began to solidify last night, one question on the minds of Republicans was: Where are the missing voters? Last night it looked like Mitt Romney had received something like 10 to 15 percent fewer votes than John McCain had in 2008, even though his percentage of the overall vote was at least two points higher. What did this mean? Where did the voters go? They didn’t go to Barack Obama, because exit polls suggested he had basically turned out the same demographic support he had four years ago. So where are they? Did this suggest a significant element of the GOP base had stayed home? Perhaps evangelical voters quietly refusing to cast a ballot for a Mormon? Populist voters disgusted by the 47 percent tape?

As I write, Mitt Romney has 57.4 million votes. John McCain ended up with 59.9 million. It’s a little noticed fact that in two weeks following every presidential election, votes continue to be reported…by the millions. As I recall, Barack Obama got something like four million more votes in the weeks after election day, while John McCain got two or three million. It’s likely that by Thanksgiving, the final vote tally will show Romney very close to or even slightly exceeding McCain’s total.

So there are probably no missing voters. The idea offers a certain degree of cold comfort for conservatives and Republicans, because it would suggest the problem was with Romney’s candidacy in particular and not with the movement or the party. But it’s false, and they will not be spared the reckoning about the party’s future.

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Six Pitfalls in Town Hall Style Debate

Because tomorrow’s debate will be in a town hall format with audience interaction, it’s going to pose different challenges for the candidates than the last podium debate. Here are six pitfalls President Obama and Mitt Romney might run into:

1.  Getting too personal:

President Obama’s campaign has said he’ll be more aggressive in this debate, leading some to wonder whether that will play negatively in a town hall format. But an aggressive back-and-forth over policy can actually be a good thing; President Bush and Senator John Kerry had some engaging but heated exchanges at their town hall in 2004 over national security. The problem is when the attacks are perceived as bitter or personal, like Senator John McCain’s reference to Obama as “that one” in 2008. Obama comes in with a disadvantage tomorrow, since his supporters expect him to aggressively criticize Romney to make up for his lackluster performance last time. Unless he keeps the attacks funny and light, they could backfire on him.

2. Rambling too much:

Keeping answers focused and succinct is a good idea in any debate, but it’s particularly important during town hall debates because the faces of audience members are visible and the feedback is more obvious. Speakers often feed off the energy level of an audience, and a room full of bored people isn’t going to encourage a lively debate. Plus, high definition means that viewers at home are going to pick up on every yawn, glazed eye or baffled expressions in the audience. SNL mocked some of McCain and Obama’s rambling answers after their town hall debate in 2008.

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Because tomorrow’s debate will be in a town hall format with audience interaction, it’s going to pose different challenges for the candidates than the last podium debate. Here are six pitfalls President Obama and Mitt Romney might run into:

1.  Getting too personal:

President Obama’s campaign has said he’ll be more aggressive in this debate, leading some to wonder whether that will play negatively in a town hall format. But an aggressive back-and-forth over policy can actually be a good thing; President Bush and Senator John Kerry had some engaging but heated exchanges at their town hall in 2004 over national security. The problem is when the attacks are perceived as bitter or personal, like Senator John McCain’s reference to Obama as “that one” in 2008. Obama comes in with a disadvantage tomorrow, since his supporters expect him to aggressively criticize Romney to make up for his lackluster performance last time. Unless he keeps the attacks funny and light, they could backfire on him.

2. Rambling too much:

Keeping answers focused and succinct is a good idea in any debate, but it’s particularly important during town hall debates because the faces of audience members are visible and the feedback is more obvious. Speakers often feed off the energy level of an audience, and a room full of bored people isn’t going to encourage a lively debate. Plus, high definition means that viewers at home are going to pick up on every yawn, glazed eye or baffled expressions in the audience. SNL mocked some of McCain and Obama’s rambling answers after their town hall debate in 2008.

3. Failing to connect with the audience:

Town hall debates allow the candidates to personally appeal to the audience, and Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” ad lib at the first televised town hall debate in 1992 is the quintessential example. Neither Romney nor Obama really excel in this area, and in 2008, Obama was much cooler toward the audience than John McCain. That’s going to be a challenge for both Obama and Romney tomorrow.

4. Physical appearances are more obvious:

The age difference between Obama and McCain was never more obvious than at their town hall debate, because there’s no podium to hide behind and the candidates had to walk around and respond directly to audience members. Physical appearance probably won’t be as much of an issue tomorrow, since age hasn’t been a factor in this election and Romney and Obama are around the same height. But certain body language, and the way the candidates carry themselves, may be more noticeable.

5. Getting rattled:

Obama and Romney have pretty calm demeanors, but they’ve also both gotten rattled under tough questioning. Romney blew up after Rick Perry accused him of hiring illegal immigrants at one of the GOP primary debates last year, and Obama has been known to snap at aggressive reporters. The president also had difficulty hiding his personal animosity for Romney at the last debate, which could make him more likely to get flustered or annoyed tomorrow. Tensions also run higher in the less-formal format. Last week, long-time Democratic incumbent congressmen Brad Sherman and Howard Berman — who are locked in a competitive run-off — nearly got into a physical altercation at a town hall-style debate.

6. Not staying for the aftershow:

Reporters often interview audience members after the debate, so the candidates want to try to leave them with a good impression. In 2008, McCain was criticized for leaving shortly after the debate ended, while Obama stuck around posing for photos and answering questions. It’s a small thing, but it could make a difference in the post-coverage.

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Graham, McCain: No Compensation for WARN Act Violations

Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain are pushing back against the Obama administration’s promise to compensate contractors for legal fallout from WARN Act violations, a law requiring large companies to provide 60-day minimum notice of potential layoffs. As I wrote yesterday, the administration has urged contractors in advance of the Jan. 2 sequestration not to issue WARN notices, which would otherwise be sent just days before the presidential election. After contractors expressed concern about potential lawsuits, the OMB released a directive offering to pay for resulting legal penalties in certain situations.

Graham vowed that congress would block any attempt to reimburse contractors for WARN Act legal fallout in an interview with NRO’s Charles C.W. Cooke today:

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Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain are pushing back against the Obama administration’s promise to compensate contractors for legal fallout from WARN Act violations, a law requiring large companies to provide 60-day minimum notice of potential layoffs. As I wrote yesterday, the administration has urged contractors in advance of the Jan. 2 sequestration not to issue WARN notices, which would otherwise be sent just days before the presidential election. After contractors expressed concern about potential lawsuits, the OMB released a directive offering to pay for resulting legal penalties in certain situations.

Graham vowed that congress would block any attempt to reimburse contractors for WARN Act legal fallout in an interview with NRO’s Charles C.W. Cooke today:

What we have here, I suggested, is the government instructing people to violate the law, and offering to mitigate the consequences. “Yes,” Graham agreed. “It’s crazy legal analysis. We are in danger of being no longer a rule of law nation. It’s a mini-coup.” I asked how this compared to June’s unilateral imposition of the DREAM Act? “This takes the DREAM Act instinct to a new level,” the senator told me. “That was a bastardization of the law — interpreting the law outside of its intent — but this is more dangerous as it ignores what the statute actually says.”

So, what can be done? “Lockheed Martin will give into the administration and ignore the law at their peril,” Graham warned. I asked what happens if the president attempts to reimburse them? “If he tries to go through Congress, well, that’ll never happen.” And if he tries to reallocate funds? “We would shut that down. The Constitution has a balance of powers for a reason. Congressional law cannot be unilaterally discarded by the executive branch.”

Sen. McCain took a similar position, saying that he “intends to deny” any effort to compensate contractors for lawsuits.

Lockheed Martin announced earlier this week that it won’t issue the 60-day notices, and it sounds like that’s what has Graham seething in the interview. What I don’t understand is why a contractor would want to get on Graham’s (or McCain’s) bad side on this very issue. These are two of the people leading the fight to save the defense industry.

Saving defense is what the whole WARN Act debate comes down to. Of course, there are legitimate concerns that employees could be laid off without proper notice if sequestration kicks in — but the possibility of that happening is small. Obama knows Republicans will do anything in their power to protect national defense, and he knows if he wins reelection he’ll be able to use that as leverage to crack the GOP on tax hikes. Hence, the Republican focus on the WARN Act. They view it as the only leverage they have to force a fair deal out of the Democrats before the election. The Obama administration appears to have neutralized that problem by offering taxpayer-funded reimbursement to contractors in the event of lawsuits. So unless companies like Lockheed Martin reconsider, Republicans have lost a major bargaining chip to achieve a pre-election deal.

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The Sad Reality of Harry Reid’s Senate

Yesterday afternoon, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and offered the words that will—or at least should—define his tenure in the Senate. “The amendment days are over,” Reid somberly declared. He was referring to a specific bill—Rand Paul’s legislation that would remove foreign aid from Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan—but Reid could say those words at any time, because that sentiment hangs over the Senate day after day.

The basic backstory is this: Paul has wanted a vote on this bill for quite some time, but since Republicans aren’t permitted to offer legislation or amendments in Reid’s Senate, he has been ignored. Paul decided he was going to hold up Senate business so he could get his floor vote. Liberals call this obstruction, but they are either uninformed or disingenuous; it’s actually a response to obstruction, which begins with Reid’s methodical deconstruction of basic Senate procedures. John McCain wanted to have a debate on the subject–something that is now foreign to Reid’s Senate as well–and to offer amendments to the bill. No, said Reid. Here is how the Hill framed it:

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Yesterday afternoon, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and offered the words that will—or at least should—define his tenure in the Senate. “The amendment days are over,” Reid somberly declared. He was referring to a specific bill—Rand Paul’s legislation that would remove foreign aid from Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan—but Reid could say those words at any time, because that sentiment hangs over the Senate day after day.

The basic backstory is this: Paul has wanted a vote on this bill for quite some time, but since Republicans aren’t permitted to offer legislation or amendments in Reid’s Senate, he has been ignored. Paul decided he was going to hold up Senate business so he could get his floor vote. Liberals call this obstruction, but they are either uninformed or disingenuous; it’s actually a response to obstruction, which begins with Reid’s methodical deconstruction of basic Senate procedures. John McCain wanted to have a debate on the subject–something that is now foreign to Reid’s Senate as well–and to offer amendments to the bill. No, said Reid. Here is how the Hill framed it:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) caved on Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) demand for a vote on his bill to end aid to some Middle Eastern countries.

It now constitutes “caving” for Reid to allow a vote in the Senate–and without amendments or debate. The amendment process is key to understanding why liberal commentators get it so wrong when they complain about the GOP’s insistence on being permitted to take part in the democratic process. Reid has perfected the art of “filling the amendment tree,” which is a device he employs to use up all allowable amendment space on a bill with his own so the GOP is unable to offer theirs.

The best demonstration of how far from reality the GOP’s critics are, and the best refutation of it as well, actually came in Senator Marco Rubio’s full interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show in June. Stewart asked Rubio about GOP obstruction, and what he sees as a one-sided refusal to engage in bipartisanship. He asked Rubio: “can you explain to me why my reality is wrong?” Rubio was happy to. He explained to Stewart that in order to protect Democrats from having to take any votes—even votes they’ll win—Reid won’t let the GOP offer amendments or get votes on their legislation.

Later on, Rubio gave a few examples of Reid’s obstruction. Rubio said he put forth a bill called the AGREE Act, because it was essentially a piece of legislation that incorporated the positions that Democrats and Republicans both agreed on. He said he offered a Jobs 2.0 bill that was bipartisan as well. He couldn’t get a vote on either one, he said.

Though Rubio didn’t mention it, it’s worth here pointing out what exactly Reid was doing instead of passing bipartisan legislation. While the Senate still hasn’t passed a budget in three years, Reid was wasting Senate floor time on stunts like leveling unfounded accusations against Mitt Romney and possibly flouting ethics rules to campaign for Obama on the Senate floor–all instead of a jobs bill or a budget. Then Reid has the audacity to say that the time for amendments is over, because they have to get moving on temporary bills to fund the government, which shouldn’t be necessary in the first place if Reid were doing his job.

The Stewart-Rubio debate on Senate procedure wrapped up with this exchange:

Stewart: “There is an accountability issue within the Republican conference that I think is not a fantasy of mine, or has been made up. And in any conversation of it, it’s been ‘well those guys are mean too, and we’re not’.”

Rubio: “But you’re talking about the filibuster. The filibuster basically is requiring 60 votes on a bill. That’s what the filibuster is. I’m saying we can’t even get the vote on the ideas that we’ve offered. And so when you don’t allow the minority party to get votes on legitimate ideas, the only tool the minority party has, the only leverage you have as the minority party in the Senate is the 60-vote threshold. That’s the counterreaction to it. And that’s what I’m trying to tell you.”

Stewart: “So you don’t feel that you’ve overused your filibuster, it’s you’ve overprotected yourselves from the viciousness of the lack of voting you’re allowed?”

Rubio: “No. I’m saying the Senate isn’t working the way it’s supposed to work. The Senate is supposed to be a place where any senator can offer amendments on any bill, you have a vote on it, [and] if they don’t like it you vote against it and we move on.”

And with that, the conversation moved on as well, with Stewart duly educated and pronouncing the debate—which he was losing, badly—too technical for the show. I’ve written before about the various Senate traditions and procedures that Reid has destroyed in his ongoing quest for a debate-free, vote-free, budget-free Senate. The amendment process is a major one, however, and those mourning the end of the Senate we once knew can either continue their partisan venting by attacking Republicans or they can be honest and go right to the source. They can talk to Harry Reid.

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Short Shrift for Foreign Policy

What’s been missing from the Republican National Convention? On Tuesday, nine hours worth of speechifying brought hardly a mention of the primary responsibility of any president: foreign policy. That was corrected on Wednesday night with a brief bout of isolationist sentiment from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul who gave a skim milk version of his father Ron’s extremist philosophy. That was quickly followed by an address by 2008 GOP nominee John McCain who gave an impassioned defense of the importance of American leadership in the world. That McCain spoke for the overwhelming majority of Republicans was not in doubt but other than a brief film after that which highlighted Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel (which had to drive the Israel-hating Paulbots present crazy), that was it for foreign policy. The next speakers returned to familiar themes bashing ObamaCare and we heard no more about defense spending or the president’s abandonment of America’s freedom agenda and our allies. No doubt, Condoleezza Rice will say more about it later but the low priority accorded the topic is not in question.

There’s no doubt that fiscal issues will decide the 2012 election. Given the dismal state of the economy that’s understandable. But no matter what they say before they are elected, all presidents soon learn that their ability to deal with domestic issues largely depends on their ability to manage Congress. Foreign policy is the president’s prime responsibility. And despite the claims of some of his apologists, it is a topic on which the incumbent has done very poorly. Other than killing Osama bin Laden, President Obama has presided over a record of failure abroad in which he has alienated our allies like Israel and unsuccessful sought to appease foes like Russia and Iran.

The Republicans may be just following the polls in ignoring foreign policy, but the nation will be ill served by a campaign where this crucial category is pushed to the margins.

What’s been missing from the Republican National Convention? On Tuesday, nine hours worth of speechifying brought hardly a mention of the primary responsibility of any president: foreign policy. That was corrected on Wednesday night with a brief bout of isolationist sentiment from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul who gave a skim milk version of his father Ron’s extremist philosophy. That was quickly followed by an address by 2008 GOP nominee John McCain who gave an impassioned defense of the importance of American leadership in the world. That McCain spoke for the overwhelming majority of Republicans was not in doubt but other than a brief film after that which highlighted Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel (which had to drive the Israel-hating Paulbots present crazy), that was it for foreign policy. The next speakers returned to familiar themes bashing ObamaCare and we heard no more about defense spending or the president’s abandonment of America’s freedom agenda and our allies. No doubt, Condoleezza Rice will say more about it later but the low priority accorded the topic is not in question.

There’s no doubt that fiscal issues will decide the 2012 election. Given the dismal state of the economy that’s understandable. But no matter what they say before they are elected, all presidents soon learn that their ability to deal with domestic issues largely depends on their ability to manage Congress. Foreign policy is the president’s prime responsibility. And despite the claims of some of his apologists, it is a topic on which the incumbent has done very poorly. Other than killing Osama bin Laden, President Obama has presided over a record of failure abroad in which he has alienated our allies like Israel and unsuccessful sought to appease foes like Russia and Iran.

The Republicans may be just following the polls in ignoring foreign policy, but the nation will be ill served by a campaign where this crucial category is pushed to the margins.

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Obama’s Silent Support for Steelworker Ad

We’re several days into the controversy about the Priorities USA steelworker ad, and the Obama campaign has repeatedly declined to condemn it. Campaign staffers have said they don’t know enough about Joe Soptic’s story to comment (even though they organized a conference call for Soptic to share the same story with reporters in May). They’ve also argued that the ad is being run by a super PAC that’s unconnected to the campaign, and therefore Obama has no responsibility for it.

Would the Obama campaign have bought the same excuse from its opponents? Of course not — in fact, the campaign has previously demanded that its opponents denounce sleazy attacks from outside supporting groups.

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We’re several days into the controversy about the Priorities USA steelworker ad, and the Obama campaign has repeatedly declined to condemn it. Campaign staffers have said they don’t know enough about Joe Soptic’s story to comment (even though they organized a conference call for Soptic to share the same story with reporters in May). They’ve also argued that the ad is being run by a super PAC that’s unconnected to the campaign, and therefore Obama has no responsibility for it.

Would the Obama campaign have bought the same excuse from its opponents? Of course not — in fact, the campaign has previously demanded that its opponents denounce sleazy attacks from outside supporting groups.

Remember the outrage after the New York Times report that a conservative super PAC was considering an ad proposal that revived the Reverend Wright controversy? Here was the response from the Obama campaign:

“Stunning! Will Mitt stand up, as John McCain did? Or allow the purveyors of slime to operate on his behalf?” David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser to Mr. Obama, wrote on Twitter early Thursday morning. …

“This morning’s story revealed the appalling lengths to which Republican operatives and Super PACs apparently are willing to go to tear down the president and elect Mitt Romney,” Mr. Messina wrote.

He added: “It also reflects how far the party has drifted in four short years since John McCain rejected these very tactics. Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party.”

The Wright ad was never even in the works, it was simply one proposal out of many. And unlike Priorities USA, the super PAC in question wasn’t run by a former Romney staffer.

Unlike Priorities USA, the super PAC in question wasn’t run by a former Romney staffer. And yet the Obama campaign held Romney responsible for an ad campaign that never even made it past the proposal stage. Even when Romney quickly condemned the ad proposal, the Obama campaign blasted his response as too tepid and jeered that he wasn’t even willing to stand up to his conservative supporters.

Note also that Obama actually sat in Rev. Wright’s church for 20 years, so that ad would have been far more fair and accurate than the Priorities USA commercial.

At Fox News, Chris Stirewalt also flags a 2007 quote from Obama, calling on John Edwards to ask a supporting outside group to stop running an attack ad:

“If [then-Obama communications director] Robert Gibbs started running a [independent political expenditure group] and I called Robert Gibbs and said, ‘Stop running ads on my behalf,’ are you suggesting I would have no influence over Robert Gibbs?”

– Then Sen. Barack Obama, as quoted by Politico, in West Des Moines, Iowa in December of 2007 attacking opponent John Edwards for negative ads being run by an outside group run by a former Edwards aide.

Judging from past comments from both the president and his campaign, if Obama remains silent on the Priorities USA ad, it should be assumed  he approves of it.

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Who Will Be the Next April Glaspie?

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The Iraqi invasion followed months of escalating rhetoric, much of which American diplomats downplayed in the belief that Arab dictators didn’t mean what they said.  Meeting with Saddam Hussein eight days before the invasion, Ambassador April Glaspie told the Iraqi dictator, “We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait.” Iraqi officials subsequently claimed that Saddam interpreted Glaspie’s remarks as a pledge of non-interference and perhaps even a green light.  The press made Glaspie into a scapegoat, but she was only the product of a larger diplomatic culture.

The invasion of Kuwait unleashed a cascade of events which culminated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The question both politicians and historians should ask is whether they might have headed off the invasion months or years ahead of time as the true nature of Saddam Hussein became clear.

Rather than suppress reports of Saddam’s chemical weapons use against Kurdish civilians, the Reagan administration should have cut Saddam off right then and there. But sophisticated diplomats hoped to rehabilitate Saddam, both as a means of containing Iran and also to peel Saddam away from Soviet influence.

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Today marks the 22nd anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The Iraqi invasion followed months of escalating rhetoric, much of which American diplomats downplayed in the belief that Arab dictators didn’t mean what they said.  Meeting with Saddam Hussein eight days before the invasion, Ambassador April Glaspie told the Iraqi dictator, “We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait.” Iraqi officials subsequently claimed that Saddam interpreted Glaspie’s remarks as a pledge of non-interference and perhaps even a green light.  The press made Glaspie into a scapegoat, but she was only the product of a larger diplomatic culture.

The invasion of Kuwait unleashed a cascade of events which culminated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The question both politicians and historians should ask is whether they might have headed off the invasion months or years ahead of time as the true nature of Saddam Hussein became clear.

Rather than suppress reports of Saddam’s chemical weapons use against Kurdish civilians, the Reagan administration should have cut Saddam off right then and there. But sophisticated diplomats hoped to rehabilitate Saddam, both as a means of containing Iran and also to peel Saddam away from Soviet influence.

Against a steady stream of reports suggesting Saddam’s cruelty and aggressive intent, Sen. John McCain pushed for military sanctions on Iraq. Sen. Arlen Specter decided to travel to Baghdad to talk with the Iraqi dictator. Like his senate colleagues John Kerry, Joseph Biden, and Dick Lugar, as well as Nancy Pelosi in the House, Specter believed that he had a unique ability to talk dictators back from the brink: He could engage successfully, where all others had failed. Specter met Saddam on January 12, 1990. He believed Saddam’s talk of peace, and effectively became Saddam’s useful idiot. Over the next few months, he persistently undercut McCain’s proposals to extend military sanctions on Iraq.

Saddam may today be gone, but history seems to be repeating with regard to Iran. Iranian leaders issue a steady stream of genocidal rhetoric against Israel, support repression in Syria, and question the sovereignty of Bahrain. Yet, diplomats and many academics dismiss Iranian rhetoric. While senators have largely embraced sanctions against Iran, just as Specter did almost 23 years ago, President Obama and senior administration officials still suggest that there is enough time for diplomacy to work, even as Khamenei, like Saddam before him, pushes full steam ahead with plans to fulfill his regional ambition.

As history repeats itself, the only questions are who will be the next Glaspie and how much ruin will the Obama team’s blind belief in diplomacy bring.

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