With Virginia congressman Jim Moran’s recent complaints that Jews are pushing America into war with Iraq, House Democrats appear to have found their replacement for their previous King of Controversy, Jim Traficant (who is currently serving an eight-year prison term for bribery, racketeering, and income-tax evasion).
At an antiwar forum in Reston, Va., Moran contended that the U.S. would not be considering military action against Iraq “if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war… The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should.”
Moran quickly apologized, although — as Ramesh Ponnuru has pointed out — whether the congressman has bias in his heart is less important than the fact that in his worldview, Jewish Americans alone can determine America’s choice between war and peace.
“I made some insensitive remarks that I deeply regret,” Moran said. “I should not have singled out the Jewish community and regret giving any impression that its members are somehow responsible for the course of action being pursued by the administration, or are somehow behind an impending war.”
Moran has been criticized for his remarks, but he isn’t facing a tsunami of public outrage the way Trent Lott did when he made comments last year that suggested he supported segregation. The early indication is that voters in his district — which includes the Pentagon — are bothered, but not yet up in arms.
Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher, a frequent critic of Moran, wrote in his Tuesday column that the congressman is “not fit for public office.” Fisher said in an interview that the column had generated many more reader responses than usual. According to Fisher, about 30 callers left messages saying they were furious with the congressman, and about 80 callers said that Moran is right and that “Jews control the country.”
Moran’s comments are only the latest in a legislative career that has been increasingly marked by physical threats, lost tempers, odd comments, and ethically questionable deals.
— In May 2001, Lloyd Grove, “Reliable Source” columnist for the Washington Post, reported that Moran’s house was the site of “a ruckus that a witness described as ‘something out of a Jerry Springer episode.’” According to Grove’s account, two female friends of Moran visited the recently divorced congressman and were surprised to find the other, and after screaming and door slamming, Moran had one of the women “by the arm, trying to get her out of the house.” Moran’s chief of staff, Paul Reagan, explained: “It was just two very good friends who came to give him birthday presents and were surprised that the other one was there.”
— In June 2000, Moran’s wife, Mary, called police to their home claiming the congressman pushed her. Moran told police he pushed her in self-defense when she came toward him, but Mrs. Moran disputed that. There was no evidence of assault, and charges weren’t filed. They divorced shortly after the incident.
— In April 2000, Moran said he was threatened by an eight-year-old boy who tried to take the congressman’s car keys by pretending he had a gun. In front of witnesses, Moran angrily carried the boy from a parking lot to a recreation center, where police interviewed both. No charges were filed against the boy or Moran.
— In 1998, amidst revelations about the president’s infidelities, Moran reportedly told the First Lady that if he were her brother, he would have punched President Clinton in the nose.
— In 1995, Moran had to apologize after shoving Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican, out of the House floor into a cloakroom.
— According to the Washington Post, Moran took an unsecured $25,000 loan from a friend who was a lobbyist for Schering-Plough in 1999, just a few weeks after Moran co-sponsored a bill to help the drug giant protect its monopoly on the allergy drug Claritin. Moran also took a $50,000 loan from James Kimsey, cofounder of America Online, a huge local employer, and he became a leading backer of bankruptcy-reform legislation four days after he took a $447,000 loan with unusually generous terms from MBNA, the credit company that was pushing the reform bill. Moran denied that any of the deals constituted a “quid pro quo.”
And yet, even with this latest controversy, the chances of Moran ever getting voted out of office are slim. Scott Tate waged a feisty GOP campaign against Moran in 2002, but Moran received 60 percent of the vote to 37 percent for Tate and 3 percent for independent Ronald Crickenberger.
“I’ve definitely heard from people who would love to have the option of voting against Moran,” Fisher says, but he quickly adds that potential competitors have run afoul of a “gentlemen’s agreement” between the state parties. “There’s this cozy deal that’s been made where incumbents are pretty much left to themselves.”
Whom can Virginia voters thank for the gerrymandered district lines that have created these intractable incumbents? Republican state legislators in Richmond. In Virginia’s eleven congressional districts, this year’s midterm elections were decided long before the votes were cast. Seven districts are overwhelmingly Republican, an eighth that gave a GOP incumbent an advantage, and the three others are safe Democratic seats.
“If Jim Moran ever faces a political crisis, it’ll be in the Democratic primary,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “If he’s challenged in the primary by another liberal Democrat, a state senator, state delegate local official, then obviously these problems, comments, and controversies could make it a competitive race. But unless he is challenged in the Democratic primary he doesn’t have much to worry about.”
Fisher says he’s heard “increasing rumblings” that Democrats like Alexandria Mayor Kerry Donnelly and State Senator Janet Howell of Reston are considering a challenge of Moran.
There are some indications that the leaders of Moran’s party in Congress are tiring of his controversies. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says Moran’s comments had “no place in the Democratic party,” while Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle predicts there will be “great debate in his district over what is to be done.”
Among Democratic presidential contenders, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts tells NRO through a spokesman that he “believes that Congressman Moran’s comments were unwise, inappropriate and offensive.” Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut says that “The comments made by Jim Moran recently were deeply offensive and morally wrong. Such sentiments are inconsistent with the ideals of tolerance and diversity upon which our nation was founded. Comments like these have no place in our public discourse.”
But Virginia Democrats so far do not appear to be in any rush to get Moran out of office. Lawrence Framme III, chairman of the Virginia Democratic party, told the Washington Times that he was “surprised” by Moran’s comments but was satisfied with the apology. A spokesman for Gov. Mark Warner said he was “pleased” to hear Moran had apologized for “offensive” comments.
“Moran, by his nature, keeps getting in trouble but he’s also very likeable and has a lot of support in that district,” Sabato tells NRO. “He seems to be relatively solid within his party and that’s all that matters in Eighth District.”
— Jim Geraghty, a reporter with States News Service and NRO contributor, covers Washington for several newspapers.