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Capital Briefs: Dec. 18-22

No New Democrats:

After Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota underwent surgery to stop bleeding in his brain last week, some suggested that if Johnson were to leave the Senate, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, should name a Democrat to replace him—even though that would keep the narrowly divided Senate in Democratic control. The argument for this was that South Dakota voters chose the Democratic Party when they elected Johnson in 2002.

For a Republican governor to name a Democrat to the Senate would be ludicrous under any circumstances. But it would be particularly ludicrous when the seat in question is the one held by Johnson. In 2002, Johnson won by a mere 524 votes. His Republican opponent was John Thune, who went on to defeat then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle in the 2004 election. Although Thune declined to challenge the outcome of the 2002 election, some Republicans wanted him to do so. The 2006 Almanac of American Politics explained: “There was one more issue blazing in October [2002]: fraudulent voter registrations. The state Democratic Party set up offices on each of the state’s Indian reservations and paid bonuses to contractors who brought in signed voter registration cards. One such contractor was fired in October and charged with submitting scores of illegally filled-out registration cards, including one purportedly signed by a woman who had died two weeks before and many more with mismatched birth dates and nonexistent addresses.” It was Johnson’s large margin on the Indian reservations that put him over the top.

Small Businesses for Jefferson:

In May, the FBI released an affidavit claiming that it had discovered $90,000 in alleged bribe money in the freezer of Rep. William Jefferson (D.-La.). That didn’t bother voters in Jefferson’s New Orleans-based congressional district, who reelected him by a landslide in a run-off election last week.

After revelations about the FBI investigation, House Democrats stripped Jefferson of membership on the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the nation’s tax laws. After he was re-elected last week, Democrats declined to return him to Ways and Means, but placed him on the Small Business Committee instead. The Democrats did not explain why this is a better place for someone they refuse to put on Ways and Means. Jefferson, meanwhile, has denied all wrongdoing, and has not been charged with any crime.

McCain v. Rumsfeld:

On a visit to Baghdad last week, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) urged that up to 30,000 additional U.S. troops be sent to Iraq. “I believe there is still a compelling reason to have an increase in troops here in Baghdad and in Anbar province in order to bring the sectarian violence under control” and “to allow the political process to proceed,” said McCain.

Out-going Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saw things differently in an interview with columnist Cal Thomas. “People who argue for more troops are often thinking World War II and the [Casper] Weinberger Doctrine, which is valid in a conflict between armies, navies and air forces,” said Rumsfeld. “The problem with it, in the context of a struggle against extremists, is that the greater your presence, the more it plays into extremist lies that you’re there to take their oil, to occupy their nation, stay and not leave; that you’re against Islam, as opposed to being against violent extremists. People who argue for more, more, more, as I would in a conventional conflict, fail to recognize that it can have exactly the opposite effect. It can increase recruiting for extremists. It can increase financing for extremists.” Rumsfeld also said: “The more people you put in, the more you’re going to get killed.”

Ahmadinejad’s Man:

On December 4, President Bush met with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite fundamentalist group founded in Iran that is the largest party in Iraq’s parliament. Bush’s reported agenda was to push Hakim to support Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and help him form a political base independent from warlord Moqtada Sadr. Six days later, Hakim appeared on CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer”—and declined to express any reservation with the outrageous anti-Semitic and anti-American views that have been expressed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Blitzer asked: “But do you believe, Your Eminence, that Israel has a right to exist?” Hakim answered: “Currently, I’m not thinking about anything except Iraq.” Blitzer asked: “I ask the question because of your close relationship with the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said a year ago, ‘Israel must be wiped off the map of the world, and God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionists.’ Do you agree with him or disagree with him?” Hakim responded: “There are many present politicians who’ve said many things and talked about many things. But currently, we are concentrating on Iraq and the Iraqi issue.” Finally, Blitzer asked him: “Do you believe that there was a Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were killed?” Unbelievably, Hakim said: “I am currently thinking about the Iraqi issues.”

Assad’s Man:

Defying the wishes of the White House, and the sense of the U.S. Constitution, which places responsibility for diplomacy in the Executive, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida met last week with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Nelson emerged from the meeting claiming he had a “cordial” conversation with the dictator.

Nelson can be thankful he didn’t get the same treatment Assad once gave a prominent Lebanese legislator, who came to meet him. On Aug. 26, 2004, according a report published by the UN’s Mehlis Commission, then-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri traveled from Beirut to Damascus to meet with Assad to discuss Assad’s insistence that Hariri support the extra-constitutional extension of Lebanese President Emile Lahood’s term of office. Assad told Hariri, according to the report, that he would “break Lebanon over your head” if he did not bend to Assad’s will. On Feb. 14, 2005, Hariri was assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut.

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