Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), less than two years in office, quickly made a national mark by shining a bright light on the deeply troubling case of Operation Fast and Furious, the gun-running scandal that led to the murder of Border Agent Brian Terry in Arizona in December 2009.
The lawyer from Eagle, Idaho, who has called for the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, has a message for the moderators at the Feb. 22 debate: Address the scandal and start a national discussion about the issue. “I would ask [the presidential candidates] what would they do to remedy the damage of ‘Fast and Furious’ and regain the confidence of the American people,” Labrador said in an interview with HUMAN EVENTS.
Labrador, who has tweeted before all recent debates for the networks to address ‘Fast and Furious’, wants the issue to be discussed nationally. Of the 18 presidential debates to date, Operation Fast and Furious was discussed only once.
He blames media coddling of President Barack Obama. “The mass media don’t want there to be any scandals in the Obama administration,” Labrador said. “If this were a Republican administration, this would be on the top of the news every single night until there were answers or until … heads rolled.” Labrador said that the Obama administration should never have participated in Operation Fast and Furious, but the apparent cover-up may be a greater scandal than the actual operation.
Labrador confronts Holder
Labrador was on the receiving end of Holder’s ire at a much-publicized Feb. 6 congressional hearing on Operation Fast and Furious where Holder was grilled by Labrador and others for several hours about the operation. Holder’s flippant comments about Labrador could have been interpreted as disrespectful, at best, and grossly insensitive, at worst.
His remarks were widely reported: “That was among the worst things I think I’ve ever seen in Congress,” a frustrated Holder told Labrador, who had again called for Holder to resign because of Holder’s inconsistent testimony. “And maybe this is the way you do things in Idaho or wherever you’re from.”
No one would have blamed Labrador, who came to the United States from Puerto Rico as a teenager and was one of the first in Congress who formally called last fall for Holder’s resignation, if he had been offended and seized on Holder’s “wherever you’re from” comments to gin up outrage and get maximum political mileage out of the incident. Politicians, especially when they feel as if they are personally slighted, crave such opportunities to grab headlines and star in the Washington outrage industry, fed by a 24-hour news cycle and the proliferation of social media outlets.
Consistent with how he has operated since the day he arrived from Idaho, Labrador showed, when asked about the incident, that he is not the typical Washington politician. “I am giving him a pass on this,” Labrador told HUMAN EVENTS. “I am not going to play the same game the mainstream media and the Democrats play, which is race-baiting on every issue.”
Labrador noted that had he been a Democrat and Holder a Republican, the mainstream media would “have been all over” the exchange. Labrador said that though he “clearly got under [Holder’s] skin” and “annoyed” him, Holder had been testifying for four hours that day, which may have contributed to Holder’s undignified retort. “I’m going to let the American people judge his response,” Labrador said. Besides, Labrador feels Holder has much bigger problems to deal with than an angry retort at a hearing.
“When he was so reckless and careless in his testimony, I didn’t think he was fit to be attorney general of the United States,” Labrador said, noting that he had called for Holder to resign in the aftermath of Holder’s testimony at a previous hearing when he said he knew about Fast and Furious only three weeks prior to that hearing and then subsequent documentary evidence revealed after his testimony indicated that Holder may have known about it for at least several months.
Fast and Furious investigation
Labrador said he did not know what the House Oversight Committee investigation would reveal, but he noted that it was interesting that “every single Democrat who opened his or her mouth talked about gun legislation” at the hearing and said “it will be interesting and more telling when we get all the information in our hands.”
In his re-election kickoff event last week, Labrador said that while many politicians come to Washington to change it and get changed by Washington, he has not been.
One example would be when he arrived in Washington, just as another gun-related incident in Arizona rocked the national conscience and also exposed a set of mainstream media biases—even if completely opposite those related to Operation Fast and Furious.
After Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot in the head on Jan. 9, 2011, Labrador went on NBC’s “Meet The Press” the next day. Despite any evidence, the mainstream media reporting immediately implicated the Tea Party movement, connecting what they saw as inflammatory rhetoric that in their eyes could have precipitated the shooter’s actions. The shooting came just after the bruising mid-term elections, in which Republicans regained the majority in the House in 2010. The other popular target was Arizona’s “lenient” gun laws.
While many Republicans played it carefully and timidly, Labrador stated plainly that it was preposterous to try to assign blame to the Tea Party’s rhetoric and Arizona gun laws without knowing anything about the shooter. “We have to be careful of this debate a little bit,” Labrador said then on “Meet The Press.” “Washington, D.C., last week had seven murders, and they have some of the … strictest gun laws in the United States. I don’t know that it’s the gun laws that are going to make the difference. It’s the responsibility that each individual has to carry guns safely.
“And … there’s still a question about law enforcement. This man was known to be deranged, and he was also known to have already said some things about certain officials in town. So where was law enforcement? And we need to ask those questions.”
Those questions were asked in the coming days and months, and Labrador was proven right.
In the following months, Labrador continued to impress conservative viewers when he appeared on the Sunday talk shows and held his own with or, more often, got the better of questioners such as David Gregory, Tom Brokaw, Christiane Amanpour and Cokie Roberts. He showed he can think on his feet and argue like the successful trial lawyer he had been, on behalf of conservatives while speaking in a vernacular of the common person.
“What I hate is listening to a politician or a lawyer who is speaking in a way that nobody can understand,” Labrador said. “People get bored, people stop listening, and it doesn’t make any sense. I have always tried to speak in plain English, in a way that is easy to understand.”
‘I don’t owe anyone but the people of Idaho for my election’
Part of the reason Labrador can be his own man is because he, on paper, was never supposed to be in Washington. When he ran for his seat, conservative superstar Sarah Palin endorsed his opponent in the primary. When Labrador won the primary, the Republican establishment and the mainstream media promptly discounted his chances against the incumbent Democrat. And he won again.
“The fact that I don’t owe anyone but the people of Idaho for my election makes me very independent,” Labrador said. “The mainstream media were not supportive of me and even the Republican Party didn’t think I could win even [after I won the primary].”
Labrador said that all he did was go “straight to the people of Idaho and explain why I would be a better congressman” than the incumbent, and that is why he always goes back to the district because “I always remember the only reason I am a congressman is that the people of Idaho selected me, and I don’t want to let them down.”
Should the father of five children win a second term, Labrador would like to focus more on tax reform and changing a Washington system that he says is frustratingly slow for even the simplest reforms that are agreed upon by nearly everyone, because people are too concerned “about the next election instead of policies that will benefit the next generation.”
Labrador, an Eagle Scout, is an example of what can happen when preparation meets opportunity on the national stage, and a greater role for him may be as an ambassador to the public for conservatism that Republicans sorely need, which would be fitting because the last two such figures—Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp—directly influenced Labrador. Reagan won over Labrador’s mother, a Democrat, and Labrador was influenced by Kemp’s ability to articulate a conservative message that brought more people into the Republican coalition.
“You should never, ever, ever give up on your beliefs and compromise on your principles,” Labrador said. “But you should find a way to speak in a way that appeals to moderates and independents.”
In a party that has been looking for heirs to wear the Reagan-Kemp mantle, Labrador is one to watch.