Twenty-four hours after the House passed a resolution condemning “the ongoing violence” in Iran and did so by a vote of 405 to 1,the White House seems to be toughening its rhetoric more along that of resolution sponsor Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and less than President Obama or his top spokesman only days ago.
On Saturday (June 20) afternoon, the President issued his toughest statement yet on the repression of demonstrators by the Islamic regime in Tehran. In a press release from the White House, Mr. Obama declared that “[t]he Iranian government must understand that the world is watching” and called on the “Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.”
Admonishing the Iranian government to “respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent [and] not coercion,” the President quoted Dr. Martin Luther King’s words: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” He added,“I believe that. The international community believes that,” and, “we will continue to bear witness.”
Powerful words, all right, but still very far removed from those uttered by House GOP Conference Chairman Pence and other Republican sponsors of the Iran resolution (H.R. 560) a day before. At the time, Pence told reporters: “Some critics say America should stay silent [over Iran], but I say from my heart, the American cause is freedom, and in this cause, its people will never be silent.”
Pence’s words were echoed by six other GOP lawmakers who were vigorous backers of the resolution, which also condemned the “suppression of independent elections” as well as interference with communications. Among them was House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), who declared: “Whenever America hears the call for freedom, we ought to answer. [Americans have] a moral responsibility to speak out on behalf of the Iranian people.”
Cantor also weighed in strong against the regime of the ayatollahs in Tehran, noting that the ruling council “turns on and off the spigot of democracy. We’ve seen the brutality of that regime on the streets.” (California Rep. Darrell Issa went further, denouncing the Tehran government as “one run by theocrats.”).
Obama and Gibbs, Pre-Resolution
Pence’s most telling point may be the one that pushed Obama to act. He said, “When Ronald Reagan went before the Brandenburg Gate, he did not say ‘Mr. [Mikhail] Gorbachev, that wall is none of our business.’”
In a televised interview earlier this week, “caution” was President Obama’s bottom line. It would not be productive, he said, “given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling.”
At the Thursday (June 18) White House press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs voiced the administration’s line that “the United States wasn’t in the position of picking candidates for President. And, I think the President has spoken to, in many ways, the causes and concerns of many that are marching in Iran by demonstrating.” Pressed as to whether there was a debate within the administration over those who favor the President’s “hands-off approach” to Iran and those who desire stronger language from him, Gibbs shot back: “There is no debate. . . Everybody is on the same page.”
Queried about the resolution shortly after its passage on June 19, Gibbs said, “[O]bviously we welcome the resolution and we believe. . .it echoes the words of President Obama throughout the week.”
Why Ron Paul Was A Minority of One
Any time one Member of Congress casts a dissenting vote, there is a natural curiosity to seek him or her out and find out why. So it was — and has been several times — that I tried to reach Rep. Ron Paul (R.-Tex.) on Friday (June 19) to learn why the twelve-term congressman and ’08 presidential hopeful was the lone vote in the House against the resolution condemning actions against the Iranian demonstrators.
“Unfortunately, he’s not giving interviews on this vote,” his spokeswoman told me, explaining that the Texas lawmaker was in the process of making a flight home to his district for the weekend. She referred me and other reporters to the statement that Paul put on his website.
In noting that he obviously did not favor the suppression of the dissidents by the Tehran regime, Paul asked, “[W]hen is the last time we condemned Saudi Arabia or Egypt or the many countries where, unlike in Iran, there is no opportunity to exercise any substantive vote on political leadership? It seems our criticism is selective and applied when there are political points to be made.”
Paul had been a supporter of the “cautious” (pre-June 19) approach of the Obama administration. On numerous occasions, including conversations with me and an early Republican presidential debate last year, he has also voiced his belief in the theory of “blowback” — that the CIA-backed overthrow of the regime of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadigh in 1953 and restoration of the Shah to power was directly related to the Islamic revolution of 1979 and resulting Iranian hostility to the U.S.
Paul’s “no” vote on June 19, then, was consistent with his long-standing views on Iran.
However, it is also just the latest example of why Ron Paul, who can excite so many conservatives by holding firm on rolling back the federal government and advancing individual freedom, disappoints so many others on the right with votes his supporters have to explain over and over again. Earlier last week, the Texan voted against a move by Rep. Rob Bishop (R.-UT) for a House investigation of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Paul also voted against banning Justice Department funds for closing the detention center at Guantanamo.
Knowing a little something about Paul’s district and how he regularly wins re-election with ease, I feel fairly safe in saying that controversial votes such as this are not likely to defeat him at the polls. But, to say the least, they continue to make it harder for admirers on the right to keep defending him.