October 2, 2009

Rachel Maddow talks to the Washington Note's Steve Clemons about Jim DeMint's attempts to travel to Honduras to deliver a political message contrary to the official position of the United States.

MADDOW: So, let‘s say there‘s a military coup somewhere in the world. In some country in the world, the military takes over and ousts the president. And our government, the government of the United States is not cool with it. We don‘t always side against military juntas, even though we like to think of ourselves as a country that does.

But in this case, we‘re really not OK with it. We refuse to recognize the new military government that ousted the president. We revoked the visas of members of this de facto government and its supporters. As one of the 47 nations of the U.N. Human Rights Council, we call for the president that was ousted by the military to be returned to office. Our government makes it really clear that we do not recognize this coup. We do not recognize the legitimacy of this military takeover of another country‘s government.

Now, consider that a United States senator has decided that he‘s on the side of the coup. He‘s on the side of this military that‘s overthrown its own government. And, in fact, as a United States senator, he‘s going to visit that country and his own country be damned. He‘s going to encourage the military government that ousted their government in that other country to resist us. To resist what our government—what his own government—is trying to do there.

What would you call that? Is it maybe a word that starts with T and rhymes with reason? I don‘t want to jump to conclusions here but I‘m just not sure what else to call this. Whatever it should be called, it‘s what Senator Jim DeMint has just tried to do. The South Carolina Republican today bragged—via Twitter of course—that he was headed out to Honduras tomorrow. Members of his staff also talked to “The New York Times” for a story in today‘s paper.

Quoting from “The Times”: “One of the de facto government‘s main supporter in Washington, Senator Jim DeMint has denounced plans to visit the capital of Honduras on Friday. Staff members said he intended to encourage the military leader of the coup and his supporters to resist.”

To resist the policies of the government of the United States of America? That‘s what he‘s advising a foreign country to do?

But at the last minute today, there was a dramatic development. The State Department, along with Senator John Kerry, chairman of the foreign relations committee on which Senator DeMint incredibly serves, presumably on the strength of his expertise as ad executive before being elected to the Senate—the State Department and John Kerry blocked Senator DeMint‘s trip. Senator DeMint then became furious that his personal mission to undermine the foreign policy of the government he supposedly serves has been this thwarted.

And then, there was an even more dramatic development. ABC News first reported tonight—and we now have confirmation from the Senator DeMint‘s office—that the trip is back on, because they‘ve done a run around. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got the trip authorized through the Defense Department instead of the State Department. And so, now, DeMint is planning on going once again.

Joining us now is Steve Clemons. He‘s a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He‘s a publisher of the Washington Note.

Steve, it‘s great to see you. Thanks for coming on the show.

STEVE CLEMONS, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: So, let me ask you first about the late-breaking part of this. Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, supposedly getting this trip that had been canceled by the State Department reauthorized somehow by the Defense Department.

Can you explain how that might work?

CLEMONS: Well, Senator McConnell did a—did a flip-flop, in a sense moved the question of this, rather than going from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee moved to the armed services committee where his good friend John McCain and also Democratic chairman Carl Levin run that committee and there are agreements on resources.

So, when a senator travels abroad, there are resources, planes and whatnot, and the agreement Mitch McConnell‘s own authority that went through the armed services committee and thus I‘m pretty sure, though not absolutely sure, that Senator Carl Levin gave his assent to this, let the trip go on.

What I find interesting in an untold part of the story is that I‘m fairly sure as well that Richard Lugar on the armed services committee didn‘t come to Jim DeMint‘s defense when Senator Kerry moved to block this. So, it‘s great theater in Washington. It reminds me of why this town is so much fun.

MADDOW: Well, tell me about the big picture of what DeMint is trying to do here though? I mean, you heard my introduction, I‘m no expert on these things, but it seems to me like he is going abroad, specifically to not only undermine the policy—the unified policy of the United States government, but to encourage foreign leaders to resist the U.S. government. It seems like sort of an outrageous thing for him to be doing.

CLEMONS: Yes. Ever since the coup against President Zelaya, Jim DeMint‘s been very transparent about his sympathies. He‘s been on the floor. He‘s on his Senate webpage and floor statements. He said that the real Democrats are those military and other leaders that basically knocked the incumbent president out of force.

The only problem is, that not only does the United States government not recognize the new government in Honduras, none of its neighbors do either. In fact, the ousted president is sleeping in his pajamas on a couch in the Brazilian embassy down there, gave a U.N. General Assembly speech the other day by cell phone.

And I think what Jim DeMint is now doing—because the State Department has just begun to move, revoked the visas of many of the businessmen who supported this coup, and some of the businessmen began to say, maybe they should have Zelaya come back and then come through some process of legally getting rid of him, though allowing him back into power.

DeMint went down and his staff said he was going to go down and commiserate with those folks and say, “Stand strong”—which technically is a violation of the law. There‘s a law that‘s not often enforced called the Logan Act that says you go confer with another government against your own government, they don‘t say treason but that‘s what they imply. But it‘s a big issue.

MADDOW: Is that the reason that Senator Kerry and the State Department would have blocked Senator DeMint from doing this? I asked because Senator Kerry‘s office today said that Senator Kerry was blocking the trip because Senator DeMint has been holding up some State Department nominations.


MADDOW: He didn‘t say you‘re acting like a foreign agent. You‘re violating the Logan Act to undermine your own government.

CLEMONS: Look, there are two key nominations. One, the current assistant secretary for Latin America, Tom Shannon is scheduled to go to Brazil as the ambassador. And there‘s a very, very good academic at Georgetown, Arturo Valenzuela, who is slated by President Obama to be the next assistant secretary.

And, you know, for Republicans who‘ve often talked about giving judges votes, they have engaged in blocking those two votes. In another committee, they blocked President Obama‘s undersecretary for international affairs and treasury and just not allowing them to proceed.

So, rather than saying you‘re a traitor and saying that you‘re violating the Logan Act and engage in other crimes, they said, “You‘re not allowing this committee to do its job. You‘re delinquent, Senator DeMint, in not allowing us to consider these two nominations,” with his ability to veto that, and by going down and using committee resources, committee planes and committee privileges to go down to Honduras, “You‘re violating, you know, your responsibilities to your constituents and to the government of the United States and so we‘re going to block you.” And that‘s—so Senator Kerry used a different means to block him which, of course, now they escalated to Mitch McConnell and looks like until there‘s another block, they‘re going to down to Honduras.

MADDOW: It‘s such a perfect illustration, too, of the different ways that Republicans and Democrats do these things. Imagine if this was a Democratic senator and the Republicans were in power, what they‘d be saying against him. But instead, Democrats say, “Oh, you violated protocol.” They never—they never bring out the big rhetorical gun.

CLEMONS: Well, I‘ll tell you one thing. I was with Senator McCain today over at a thing they were doing at the museum. And McCain was saying, “You know, we need to get beyond these ridiculous theatrics of people doing stupid things on each side of the aisle,” and returning—you know, John McCain was back to straight talk self. And I saw one of his former senior advisers I can‘t name and I said, “What do you think of what Senator DeMint‘s doing?” And I told him, he says, “You know, I really don‘t like that guy.”


MADDOW: That‘s—see, that‘s fairly clear.


MADDOW: Steve Clemons, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, publisher of the Washington Note, which is required reading—thanks very much for joining us.

CLEMONS: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: Appreciate it.

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