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Hillary turns tables on Republicans

There must be something in the water Republicans drink that makes them say the ridiculous things they say. There is a definite proclivity to “foot-in-mouth” disease and making themselves look incompetent. From the statements on rape from their Senate candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, to the House candidate in Illinois who said that that Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) shouldn’t talk about her service because she really isn’t a hero, despite losing her legs fighting in Iraq. Then Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) went on “Meet the Press” and said he still believes that the recent election was a status quo one. Laughably he suggested all would be OK if President Obama simply compromised as conservatives are supposedly doing.

I don’t claim Democrats never say silly things but these days the most absurd and offensive comments come from Republicans. Last week’s congressional hearings were a case in point. At Hillary Clinton’s hearing on Benghazi and at Sen. John Kerry’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was particularly abrasive and made a fool of himself. How could the voters of Wisconsin elect him and then turn around and elect someone as great as Sen. Tammy Baldwin?

Clinton took Johnson to task for carrying on about what Susan Rice said on TV. She said, “I personally was not focused on talking points, I was focused on keeping our people safe and doing what needed to be done in the follow-up to Benghazi.” Then when Johnson continued on the issue of the talking points Hillary finally exploded, “With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided they would kill some Americans. What difference does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator.”

She sparred with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who tried to skewer her over the attack. Paul said, “Had I been president at the time and I found you had not read the cables from Benghazi . . . I would have relieved you from your post,” at which point everyone gasped and I was surprised that Clinton contained herself and didn’t laugh out loud at the ludicrous thought of Paul as president. Paul continued, “I think it’s inexcusable you did not know about this.” Clinton replied, “I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. I believe in transparency, I believe in taking responsibility, and I have done so.” She reminded the Republicans that all cables are addressed to the secretary and there are millions, and Congress has consistently cut the president’s request for higher security budgets.

During Kerry’s confirmation hearing, Johnson again showed why Republicans should be wary of letting him speak. Kerry called him out for missing a classified briefing on the deadly attacks in Benghazi when Johnson pressed Kerry to commit to finding out what, exactly, happened on Sept. 11, 2012 at the U.S. consulate there. When he went on to ask Kerry about an answer he had wanted from Secretary Clinton, Kerry responded, “Senator, if you’re trying to get some daylight between me and Secretary Clinton, that’s not going to happen here today on that score. I think you’re talking past each other. I don’t think that was the question. I think that, if your question is, ‘Should the American people get the truth and does it matter?’ Hillary Clinton would say yes, and I say yes. But that’s not what I think she was referring to.” Clinton was referring to the sequence and timing of the events, and when the intelligence information came to light, Kerry said. He went on to say that in the briefing Johnson didn’t attend, “… there was a briefing with tapes, which we all saw, those of us who went to it, which made it crystal clear,” Kerry said. “We sat for several hours with our intel folks, who described to us precisely what we were seeing. We saw the events unfold. We had a very complete and detailed description.”

Kerry will be easily confirmed and with regard to the Benghazi hearings Hillary appeared the professor telling her miscreant students how the world works. She talked rings around them because she had the facts and they didn’t even want them. She gave them a master class in how a witness can conduct herself at a congressional hearing. Instead of embarrassing her or the administration, Republicans once again embarrassed themselves. Maybe it really is in their water.


ALERT: Defense budget may include anti-gay provision

House Republicans are aggressively pushing for an anti-gay provision in a defense bill proposed by Rep. W. Todd Akin. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Some House Republicans are pushing for inclusion of a “conscience protection” clause in the final version of Pentagon budget legislation that could enable discrimination against gay service members, according to LGBT advocates familiar with conference committee negotiations.

The measure could be made final as soon as today.

Two LGBT advocates, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said House Republican conferees working on the final version of the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill are pushing for language along the lines of the “conscience protections” in the House version of the legislation under Section 536. One source said this language is “very much in play” for being in the final version of the bill and is one of the final issues yet to be resolved as conferees wrap up the legislation.

Under the language, the U.S. military would have to “accommodate the conscience and sincerely held moral principles and religious beliefs of the members of the Armed Forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality” and may not use these beliefs as the basis of any adverse personnel action or discrimination. Additionally, it would prohibit the U.S. military from taking action against military chaplains who decline to serve a particular service member based on religious beliefs.

This language has been understood to mean service members could actively harass their fellow comrades for their perceived or actual sexual orientation without fear of reprisal. Additionally, it has been understood to mean that chaplains would have free rein to discriminate against service members on any basis — including religion, gender, sexual orientation, race or any other characteristic — simply by saying serving them is contrary to their beliefs.

The provision was added during the House Armed Services Committee markup of the legislation in May by outgoing Rep. W. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), an anti-gay lawmaker who became notorious during his bid as a U.S. Senate candidate for suggesting a woman can resist becoming pregnant after a “legitimate rape.” One of the LGBT advocates said the final language may not be exactly like Akin’s language in the House bill, but something along similar lines.

Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), affirmed that House Republican conferees are actively trying to include some type of exemption modeled after the “conscience protections” in the House bill.

“Leader Pelosi strongly opposes the inclusion of a ‘conscience provision’ in the final NDAA conference report,” Hammill said. “This language is a completely unnecessary attempt to address a phantom problem. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is in the dustbin of history where it belongs and Republicans need to stop trying to alter the tide of progress for gay and lesbian servicemembers.”

According to one source, House Republicans are pushing for the provision in exchange for giving up on the other anti-gay provision in the House defense authorization bill, Section 537, which would prohibit the use of Defense Department property for same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The Republican-controlled House approved a defense authorization bill with both these provisions as part of its $642 billion package in May, but the Senate left out this language in its $631 billion legislation passed last week.

The sense that this language is in play for the final version of the bill isn’t universal. A Senate Democratic aide familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he’s heard no discussion about the language and would be “very surprised” if it wound up in the final bill.

“I have not heard of it being in play and when that issue has come up — it came up last year and came up in mark up this year — it has always been outright rejected,” the aide said. “I know that there are House Republicans that want this, but I would be very surprised if it were enough of a group of House Republicans to be able to really play ball on this.”

Conferees may produce a final version of the legislation as soon as today, but likely not until next week. A floor vote is expected on the final version of the bill shortly thereafter. The aide said an informal meeting of conferees took place on Wednesday.

Asked if Democrats are putting up a fight, one source said he thinks Democrats would be happy if the anti-gay provisions were left out, but they may be talking about a compromise that would allow something along the lines of “conscience provisions” to appear in the bill. But the Democratic aide said Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin has strong objections to the provisions and would have raised them.

The debate over the language has been somewhat under the radar because controversial provisions included in one chamber’s version of legislation, but not the other, are usually dropped when conferees meet to hammer a final bill. Spokespersons for the House and Senate armed services committees say they wouldn’t have a comment until a final conference report is produced.

One source said it’s unclear which of the House Republican conferees are actively pushing for the language and he doesn’t believe House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) was taking the lead in the effort. But notable anti-gay lawmakers are members of the conference, including Reps. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and House Armed Services personnel subcommittee chair Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

It also should be noted that despite concerns about the language, questions linger about whether it will be enforceable even if it becomes the law on the grounds of unit cohesion and morale. The Senate Democratic aide said military chaplains are already free to decline ministration to any service member on the basis of religious beliefs even if the provision weren’t in law. Additionally, the first part of the provision says nothing in the language precludes disciplinary action for conduct proscribed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice — although sexual orientation isn’t a protected class in military law.

The White House said in May the Obama administration “strongly objects” to the conscience provision in the House version of the defense authorization bill along with a provision prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying on military bases as part of its Statement of Administration Policy.

Still, the statement doesn’t go as far as issuing a veto threat if the final version of the bill includes these provisions. A White House spokesperson didn’t respond immediately on short notice to a request for comment.

NOTE: This article has been updated to include a comment from Drew Hammill.