Friday Talking Points [Vol. 12]

[ Posted Friday, December 14th, 2007 – 17:48 UTC ]

It's been a busy week, so forgive me if I don't get to everything today. Part of the reason is the absolute congressional snowstorm of bills moving on the Hill both this week and next, as Congress prepares to scarper off on yet another extended vacation.

I'll do a better tally of all these last-minute efforts when the dust settles next week, I promise. But for now, I'd like to pause for a minute to reflect on the past year of Democratic majority rule in Congress. Putting aside legislative issues, and even putting aside the war for the moment, one thing many partisan Democrats were hoping for this year was some scalps nailed to the wall.

After all, with Democrats in charge of oversight, it was supposed to be open season on White House malfeasance and corruption. So what have we achieved after hundreds and hundreds of hours of investigation? Unfortunately, only a few things spring to mind. Scooter Libby ended his career, but neither Democrats nor Congress was a part of that. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld fled immediately after the elections, so I guess we can count that one, even though Congress didn't actually get the chance to rake Rummy over the coals. Alberto Gonzales finally saw the light and resigned as Attorney General. That's pretty impressive, actually. It takes a lot to bring down an AG, so this should indeed be seen as a victory.

But that's about it, unless I've forgotten any minor ones. We've now got contempt of Congress citations voted out of committee in both houses, but no guarantee that either of them will ever see a floor vote -- and even if they do make it out of Congress, the Justice Department has already indicated that it will just flat-out ignore them.

All this and more points in only one direction -- a unified Democratic voice speaking out loudly, over and over again, calling for a Special Counsel to investigate both the White House and the Justice Department. If these calls are not heeded, then both houses need to start working exclusively and immediately on reauthorizing an Independent Counsel law.

The history: this law became necessary when Richard Nixon abused the Justice Department to keep it from investigating anything the Executive Branch had done. Sound familiar? The law was allowed to expire in 1999, but now it is becoming painfully obvious to anyone with a brain that Bush's Justice Department just is not going to investigate itself, or anything else Bush's administration does. The Attorney General just this week snubbed requests by Congress in the CIA tapes affair, pretty clearly indicating that even with a new Attorney General, nothing is going to change. This means the Independent Counsel is the only avenue which remains. It needs to be passed before President Bush's State of the Union address next month. There is simply no excuse at this point for not doing so.

One other bit of disturbing news this week was a story about investigations within the office of the Inspector General for Iraq. Now, Stuart Bowen, Jr. has been just about the only person Bush ever appointed who is actually holding some people to account for the almost daily stories of corruption in Iraq (current scandal-du-jour: spending $32 million tax dollars on a base that wasn't built). He's doing such a good job of uncovering embarrassing things to Bush that last year Republicans in Congress tried to just remove his entire budget (that'll make the bad news stop!). So any scandal gossip should be taken with a grain of salt for now, until there are some actual public facts revealed and not just "unnamed sources" about "ongoing investigations" without any proof. And I wish I were making this up, but I'm not -- the stories in the mainstream media will probably be easy to spot by their use of the term "witch hunt," since the other target of the investigation (other than Bowen himself) is a Wiccan accused of "hexing" people in her office.


OK, enough of that, let's get on to the awards and then the talking points.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

There were actually quite a few Democrats on the list this week for MIDOTW, hopefully a good sign for the future. Representative Robert Wexler strongly makes his case for impeaching at least Vice President Cheney on the Huffington Post. And Governor (and presidential candidate) Bill Richardson also wrote a no-nonsense article for Huffington Post this week promising that, if he's elected, he will not shirk from getting to the bottom of the depths of the Bush administration, and will prosecute to the fullest. Refreshing words from a candidate in the race, to be sure.

But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to... it's a tie!... Joe Biden and Patrick Leahy. Senator (and presidential candidate) Joe Biden wins for being first out of the box last week to use the words "Special Counsel" (which last week's column heavily advised doing). Interviewed on ABC last Sunday, Biden called for a Special Counsel to be appointed to look into the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes. He was the first presidential candidate to do so, and to date only one other (Edwards) is in the news for agreeing with Biden. This is the difference between leadership and poll-testing popular stances. Clinton and Obama are also sitting Senators, and there's nothing stopping them from making bold moves such as this, but they always seem to come from Joe Biden. For those of you counting MIDOTW awards, out of a total of seven awards given so far, Biden is now tied with Chris Dodd (2 each), while the entire rest of the Democratic field has exactly zero among them. So join me in saying: "Way to go, Joe!"

Splitting the award with Biden is Pat Leahy. Leahy (while taking much too long to get to this point) has finally managed to get the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote on contempt citations for Bush minions who are defying Congress by not testifying. The vote was 12-7, meaning that even two Republicans (Arlen Specter and Charles Grassley) on the committee voted for the contempt citations. This means that now committees in both houses of Congress have moved contempt citations to the floor... but neither one has been voted on yet. This needs to change, and it needs to change immediately. OK, January, by the latest. Seriously, Senator Leahy, we all appreciate your efforts as Judiciary Committee Chairman, but you've got to move a little faster on these things in the future, OK? But for now enjoy your first-ever MIDOTW award.

Bonus! Here are two fun letters to read from both our winners this week on the subject of the CIA videotapes: from Biden (who gets a gold star for calling Cheney "fatuous"); and from Leahy.

[Congratulate Joe Biden on his Senate contact page and Patrick Leahy via his email: to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

There were (sadly) also quite a few entries for MDDOTW as well.

Leading off was Senator John Kerry, who apparently participated in a phone interview with some bloggers (I guess my invitation got lost in the internets or something...), and defended the practice of not forcing Republicans to actually filibuster rather than the overly-polite cloture votes that are the norm (for now). More on this later, but while Kerry isn't exactly in the running for a profile in courage, he did narrowly miss a MDDOTW award for his thoughts. Hint for Senator Kerry: continuing resolutions do exist, you know. You can force filibusters -- but not cave on legislation or shut down the government -- by passing very short continuing resolutions. It's not the either/or situation Kerry would have us believe.

But this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award goes to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for his stunning display of why Congress' approval ratings are below President Bush's. Reid would get an award with a much stronger word than "disappointing" if we had them in stock.

What Reid did to deserve this ignominy was to move the FISA bill from Jay Rockefeller's committee forward, as opposed to the one from Patrick Leahy's committee. The difference? Rockefeller's bill has retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies over illegal wiretapping of Americans' phone lines. Leahy's bill had no such immunity.

To twist the knife further, Reid has already indicated that he's just going to ignore the "hold" put on this bill by his own fellow Democrat Chris Dodd, breaking a Senate rule at will, in order to give Bush what he wants on this bill. Dodd is reportedly flying back to Washington to actually filibuster the bill if it proves necessary. Reid's total disregard of Senate rules and traditions (he regularly honors holds put on bills by Republicans, for comparison) earns him all the disgust he's going to reap by this move, and it also earns him the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact Harry Reid on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his actions. Oh, heck, why not give his office a call, too? (202) 224-3542 ]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 12 (12/14/07)


I should preface this by admitting that Democrats are getting lots of bad press these days. It's "making sausages" season in Washington, when the bills actually get passed, so some of it is to be expected. A good example of a mix of heavy snark and good advice on the eternal subject of "why Democrats can't get their act together" is E.J. Dionne's recent column in the Washington Post.

But I did want to point out for those who missed it a pretty good interview on PBS' News Hour last night by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. It's actually a better interview to read than to watch or listen to. Gwen Ifill poses the questions in a soft-spoken and respectful voice, and Pelosi seems to be trying to outdo Ifill with her own soft-spoken replies. Her voice drops to the whispering level at times, and her delivery is one of those monotones which college statistics professors try so hard to achieve. It's almost hard not to nod off when listening to the interview, in other words.

Which is a shame, because she's hitting some extremely good points. With one exception -- her use of "high watermark" to attempt to spin Democrats backing down on certain legislation just didn't do it for me. Maybe if she explained the concept a little better, and maybe it's just my personal preference, but I would send "high watermark" back to the drawing board for more work.

But while I'm not taking the whole of this week's list from this interview, I will be addressing several of her talking points here, in order to help define them and sharpen them for Democrats everywhere to use. Because, as I said, Pelosi's content was actually pretty good. Her delivery needs work, but then it's been a hard week for her, so maybe she was just tired. In any case, let's get on with it....


Up-or-down vote

Americans, as a rule, don't understand the Senate. The word "filibuster" glazes the average eyes over, and "cloture" is so wonky it's not even funny. Democrats need to paint the GOP as the party of obstruction clearly, succinctly, and forcefully -- in a way average Americans can relate to, and understand easily. Luckily, the Republicans have already solved this problem. Put it in terms of fairness that any American can immediately "get."

"All we're asking for on [insert name of bill here] is an up-or-down vote in the Senate. That's all we ask -- let's vote on it and see whether a majority votes for it or against it. Why won't Senate Republicans let us hold a simple up-or-down vote?"


Roadblock Republicans

Also luckily, there's even a cool term to use now. Democrats need to point out every chance they get that Republicans are the ones responsible for "not getting things done" in Congress. Drive the point home with a sledgehammer -- in one year Republicans have demanded a 60-vote majority on more bills than any other Senate in history has done in their full two-year term. Like I said, luckily there's a cool term that even has its own website (which may be Senator Kerry's doing, there's a suspicious John Kerry link prominently displayed). So come on, Democrats -- these catchy phrases don't become media shorthand on their own -- you've got to get out there and promote the term!

"Stop the Roadblock Republicans. Let us get the nation's business done in Congress."


Independent Counsel

This one's a holdover from last week. Start with "Special Counsel" and move quickly to "Independent Counsel Law."

"If the Attorney General doesn't appoint a Special Counsel immediately, Congress will be forced to suspend all work to complete an Independent Counsel Law. The abuse of the Justice Department by the Bush administration must end now."


5,000 versus 23,000,000

This one is from Nancy Pelosi's interview, on the subject of reforming the Alternative Minimum Tax and making hedge fund managers pay for it. But the easy formula should be used on every piece of tax legislation in the near future, because it is such an excellent way to frame the issue in normal people's minds. "XXX people pay for YYY million people to get tax relief." From the Pelosi interview:

"... what we passed on the floor last night -- for the second time -- was an alternative minimum tax relief for middle-income families. Twenty-three million families will benefit from this. The difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that they would rather give tax breaks to 5,000 people in our country. Imagine this: 5,000 people, the wealthiest people in America, who are sheltering their income offshore to the tune of billions of dollars, they would rather keep that intact for them than to pay for tax relief for 23 million families. 5,000... 23 million."

Her next paragraph wasn't as good, she started tripping over her own figures, so my advice is to keep it simple and direct, as she did when she introduced the subject.


Bush's 10-year war

Again, from Pelosi's interview. This is a good, snappy phrase, so once again to all Democrats out there -- beat it to death by repetition. You can stop doing this when the media themselves start using the term on their own.

"But there's no question, ending the [Iraq] war was a -- is a high priority for us and a big disappointment to many people that we weren't able to do it. I assumed incorrectly that the Republicans would respond to the wishes of the American people, showing a new direction in Iraq. But they have stuck with the president with his 10-year war... war without end... trillions of dollars."


King George

And the last of the trio from the Pelosi interview. This one needs heavy repetition too, as we come down to the wire on all the legislation in Congress next week.

GWEN IFILL: "The president has said that the House is wasting, Congress is wasting its time by sending him bills which he has said upfront he's going to veto."

NANCY PELOSI: "Well, I don't know whether he thought he was King George, that we would just be here to enact the will of the president of the United States. This is called the legislative process."


Obama? Cocaine? So how old was Bush when he stopped?

I don't usually provide campaigns with talking points, since they pay people good money to come up with this stuff and so they should be able to get by without my help. But the whole Obama flap over cocaine (fueled by the Clinton camp) is truly absurd, and needs to get shot down right away, before any Republicans consider using it to attack Obama. And it's so pathetically easy to shoot this one down.

"You're bringing up Obama using drugs in high school and then maturely getting over them in college and becoming a success in life, when it took George Bush until he was how old to stop doing the same things?!? Please explain how, exactly, this disqualifies Obama from taking George Bush's job."


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


3 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [Vol. 12]”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    You make some good points. There is so much going on and so much spin that important issues get lost in the crossfire. The democrats need to make the legislative process as clear and transparent as possible so that it becomes obvious how much the republicans and the president are obstructing congress.

    Again it is all about getting your message out to the press and the public.


  2. [2] 
    gailcorbin wrote:

    Hi. This comment is on the Polygamy post you wrote in May. I thought it was really well written and I learned something as well! (about the history of polygamy in the Old Testament)

    I had a blog a while ago because I feel that polygamy should be legalized. I think if people loved more they would be a lot happier and the country would run more smoothly. I do support polygamy for myself and significant other(s). I currently have one husband, one boyfriend, and one baby on the way. (One estranged husband, to be fair)

    Comments are closed on your polygamy post, but I'd like to discuss it now if people have opinions. Thanks! Gail

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    gailcorbin -

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I can go back and open up that comment thread, but it would likely be just you commenting unless you invite others to do so as well. I mostly close the comments just for convenience (to stop comment spam) but it's not a hard and fast rule or anything.

    It's a shame (I just checked) that this article on Huffington Post:

    seems to have lost all its comments. HuffPost upgraded their comment system a few months' back, so I guess they lost the old ones or something.

    I say its a shame because you would have enjoyed reading the comment thread that appeared when this article first ran. There were many who commented that they hadn't considered the similarities between gay marriage rights and polygamy rights, but what was even more interesting was the personal stories from people who had had experience with polygamy. There was no consensus, there were children from polygamist relationships who had grown up with it, there were people who had been in a polygamist relationship themselves, and there were those (like yourself) who hadn't been in a formal polygamy, but more what they termed "polyamory" -- a looser definition. Like I said, opinions were all over the map, some thought it was fine, some thought it was a disaster, and the only thing everyone agree with was that polygamy didn't automatically equate to "marrying 14 year old girls," but that when it did cross the line to pedophilia that it was obviously wrong and a bad thing.

    For such a contentious subject, it was a surprisingly civilized debate. I was astonished myself because I never expected or even considered that people from polygamous relationships would ever comment about them like that in public. But it was indeed an interesting and informative debate.

    I realize that I'm disappointing you by saying all this and then not being able to point you to a place to read this debate, and I'm sorry about that but it's beyond my control. And I hope you caught my article on Smoot this week, as it dealt with the church and state question as well, just from a different direction.

    In any case, you're right there are polygamy rights web sites out there (some of which I ran into while researching, some after commenters pointed it out), so maybe you can find a similar type of debate there. I'm sorry that's the best I can offer you at this point, but I invite you to stick around and see what other subjects come up here that you might also want to comment on.

    Anyway, thanks for writing.


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