November 20, 2015

Oh, politics. You can be so ugly. Like, for example, the excuse-making, led by the likes of Steve Israel over Dems' weak-kneed capitulation to Republican xenophobia yesterday with their vote on the so-called SAFE act.

In several meetings, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) presented fellow Democrats with polling data showing that lawmakers who didn't support tighter restrictions would be in the sharp minority. As former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Israel is often called on to give on electoral matters. And while he didn't explicitly encourage members to vote for the SAFE Act, the implication was clear: you will be vulnerable if you don't support the only piece of refugee-related legislation that has gotten a vote after the Paris attacks.

Oh, lookie there! It's Steve Israel, one of the original Democratic opponents to the Iran deal, telling his colleagues to be very, very afraid if they don't vote for Republican scaredy-catness.

The video up top is President Obama, chiding Republicans for being such cowards and reminding everyone that we're better than that. Evidently Mr. Israel didn't get the memo or the message, so now he and his other unnamed colleagues are blaming the White House for bad messaging.

A top House Democratic aide cautioned that the universe of lawmakers whom Israel tried to persuade was limited. Far more consequential, aides say, was the failure of the Obama administration to make the case that the SAFE Act was either excessive or unnecessary.

Israel said as much himself after leaving a Democratic caucus briefing on Thursday with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

"I've seen better presentations in my time here," Israel told reporters. "They may have strong arguments on their side, but they're not expressing those strong arguments sufficiently."

Bullshit. That's an excuse, particularly when the President has made many public statements over the past week, and particularly when he warned that he would veto any bill that landed on his desk with provisions that made it impossible to accept refugees. But look at the excuse-makers whine.

An aide in the meeting with Johnson and McDonough said the administration’s presentation was “too complicated” and was “not going over well.” Another aide said they didn't answer basic questions presented by lawmakers, such as why it was not practical or doable to add another level of certification on top of the current vetting process.

One House Democrat, who requested anonymity, said he went into the meeting with administration officials opposed to the bill but left in support of it.

"If the White House hadn't royally fucked this up they'd have lost maybe 20 Democrats," said the lawmaker. (He ultimately voted against the bill.)

More bullshit. And I don't care who said it or voted against it anyway. This wasn't difficult; the message was clear. Senators don't seem to have had a problem understanding it (see Harry Reid's speech, for example), so is it just that those House Democrats are stupid?

There was only one message here and House Democrats had one job. Choose strength over fear and stand up for the persecuted.

So no, they don't get to blame the White House now. They just don't. They knew what President Obama said and they knew what he meant. They're just weaseling out of their crappy vote and trying to blame it on the guy who doesn't have to worry about getting re-elected ever again.

HOWEVER. This isn't just their failure. It's ours, too. Were we on the phones telling them to oppose that bill? Were we speaking up ahead of the vote? I didn't see much of it. The media is useless. They're invested in more war, more fear, more votes for Republicans. But in the grassroots, did you call your Representative?

I did call mine. But I was a very, very, very small minority of those who did. If we cannot mobilize and put pressure on these lawmakers to do right, we own it too.

Postscript: Lest you think this criticism is limited to corporate Democrats and so make the argument that we need more progressives, I urge you to go read Murshed Zaheed's heartbroken post about progressive lawmaker Louise Slaughter's vote for the bill.

Murshed was an immigrant once. Now he's a citizen and fighter for progressive causes.

What Congresswoman Slaughter did was deeply hurtful. I wonder if she realizes how much pain and anguish she and her 46 Democratic colleagues inflicted, not only on refugees who have been desperately trying to escape bloodshed and carnage, but also on hundreds of thousands of innocent patriotic Americans who are being scapegoated for the actions of bloodthirsty, vile terrorists. How much of a punch to the gut it is that she is now ok with treating someone like me or members of my family as less than an American — actually less than a human.

What were they thinking?

(This post has been edited to remove private information and clarify that Murshed was an immigrant, not a refugee.)

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