Tags: Ron Barber

The Rice Withdrawal: The Best News for the GOP Since November


Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw from consideration as secretary of state is the best news for Republicans since Election Day.

First, a quick reminder of why the Rice nomination mattered to Republicans: Opposition to Rice would have been garden-variety if not for Benghazi, which strikes many Republicans (and too few Americans as a whole) as a major scandal and a series of egregious, deadly misjudgments. Three major questions remain: why the requests for additional security were rejected in the weeks before the attack; precisely what actions were taken that night to rescue our staff in Benghazi; and why the explanations in the first days after the attack were erroneous.

The defense from Rice — I was only saying what I had been told by the intelligence community — doesn’t fly because the “error” aligned all too perfectly with the Obama campaign’s need at that moment: to dissuade the public from the notion that we had witnessed a major terror attack on September 11, and to assert that it was all the fault of some filmmaker who is now imprisoned by U.S. authorities on a probation violation.

Rice may have only been a minor player in the effort to insist that the events in Benghazi were not terrorism, but her role was sufficient to make any promotion to secretary of state an outrage. Her confirmation would be a brazen declaration that a U.S. official can lie to the public about life-and-death issues without consequence.

Now, indisputably, Benghazi has had a consequence for the administration. Not the consequence many on the right wanted, but at least the post-attack spin derailed the career ambitions of at least one participant.

An unexpected side effect of this decision is how much this turn of events is infuriating Obama’s allies. Both last night and today on Morning Joe, NBC News Andrea Mitchell reported, “A lot of Democrats are saying that the president did not show enough loyalty. A lot of women in the administration are very angry tonight, and I’m saying this at a very high level. Angry because they feel that she was not treated with respect, she was not given the support she needed and she was left to twist in the wind.”

Ruth Marcus, this morning (I’m quoting the print version; the online version is slightly different):

But, really, Mr. President, either nominate her or pick someone else — like, two weeks ago. Don’t leave her out there, fending for herself.

Thursday’s humiliating denouement fooled no one who has been around Washington for more than a minute and a half. If the president wanted Rice, her withdrawal never would have been accepted.

It never should have been allowed to come to this. On that score, Mr. President, I’ve got a problem with you.

Obama’s allies made two assumptions in recent weeks: First, that his victory in November would mean he would get what he wants in most ways in the coming years; second, that what they want is what he wants. Both of those assumptions were always destined to be disproven, but for liberals and fans of Rice, it’s like awakening to a bucket of cold water to see them disproven so soon.

There’s an argument that Republicans should be careful what they wish for, contending that Rice had a more hawkish outlook on foreign policy than John Kerry did. But the philosophical distance between the two figures is not that decisive, and in the end, the foreign policy will ultimately reflect the decision-making of President Obama — and he’ll make a lot of decisions Republicans will oppose and some they will support. (Of course, this discussion presumes there is still such a thing as a Republican foreign-policy consensus.)

Tags: Democratic National Convention , Barack Obama , GOP , John Kerry , Ron Barber

Susan Rice’s Greatest Hits, Going Well Beyond Benghazi


If, indeed, President Obama’s choice to be the next secretary of state is the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, perhaps it is worth looking beyond her record on Benghazi. Just about four years ago, I laid out some of these greatest hits . . .

From April 1994:

At an interagency teleconference in late April, Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?” Lieutenant Colonel Tony Marley remembers the incredulity of his colleagues at the State Department. “We could believe that people would wonder that,” he says, “but not that they would actually voice it.” Rice does not recall the incident but concedes, “If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.”

A smear piece, Obama’s defenders will likely claim. A biased correspondent.

The author of that piece? Samantha Power, a former foreign-policy adviser to the Obama campaign, whom the president then appointed to the National Security Council staff, and served as a special assistant to the president on human rights. (I wonder if Power and Rice had some awkward meetings in recent years . . .)

On February 28, 2008, Rice insisted “there had been no contact” between Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee and representatives of the Canadian government. There in fact had been a meeting.

On March 6, 2008, Rice said of Obama and Hillary Clinton, “they’re both not ready to have that 3 am phone call.”

On May 12, 2008, she told the New York Times that Obama had not pledged to meet unconditionally with Iran or any other “rogue” state, despite what he had just said at the YouTube debate.

On July 1, 2008, she insisted that Obama’s pledge to get all combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months was not a deadline.

On July 21, 2008, she said Obama “bows to nobody in his understanding of this world.” (A particularly ironic word choice, considering how Obama has greeted foreign monarchs during his presidency.)

After Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, she declared that the “aggressive,” “belligerent” actor in the situation was . . . John McCain.

A recent Dana Milbank column laid out other . . . ignoble moments:

Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses. Colleagues talk of shouting matches and insults.

And clearly someone in the Obama administration isn’t a fan of Rice, otherwise you wouldn’t see comments like this one to Maureen Dowd:

“She saw this as a great opportunity to go out and close the stature gap,” said one administration official. “She was focused on the performance, not the content. People said, ‘It’s sad because it was one of her best performances.’ But it’s not a movie, it’s the news. Everyone in politics thinks, you just get your good talking points and learn them and reiterate them on camera. But what if they’re not good talking points? What if what you’re saying isn’t true, even if you’re saying it well?””

The touting of Rice often comes to her record as ambassador to the United Nations, citing the sanctions on Iran and the ability to get China and Russia on board. Of course, this little detail is overlooked:

Still, the resolution fell short of the “crippling sanctions” that she had pledged to impose on Iran a year ago, and the Obama administration was unable to secure a unanimous vote at the Security Council, as the Bush administration did on other sanctions resolutions on Iran.

The administration did succeed in preserving support from China and Russia, although only after assuring them that the measures would not impair their ability to continue trading with Tehran.

Make enough exceptions, and any sanctions policy will eventually be acceptable.

The strongest argument for Susan Rice is that the president ought to be able to appoint his preferred people to executive-branch positions. And there’s a certain perverse logic to Rice; having proven, repeatedly, that she will lie for the president, her appointment will assure the world that the secretary of state indeed speaks for the president.

Tags: Barack Obama , Libya , Ron Barber

White House Told of Benghazi Militants Within Two Hours


Ever since the first question of the final debate, Republicans have wondered why Mitt Romney was so subdued in discussing the attack on our consulate in Benghazi and the administration’s shifting story. One theory is that discussion of the Benghazi attack, the ignored warnings, and the lingering erroneous explanation was hurting Obama as is — it’s one of the few stories where the mainstream media has asked hard questions and broadcasted hard-hitting pieces — and that Romney discussing it actually makes the story less damaging to Obama, as some voters may dismiss it as the usual partisan back-and-forth.

That unexpected approach may now look vindicated, with this eye-popping scoop from Reuters this morning.

Officials at the White House and State Department were advised two hours after attackers assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 that an Islamic militant group had claimed credit for the attack, official emails show.

The emails, obtained by Reuters from government sources not connected with U.S. spy agencies or the State Department and who requested anonymity, specifically mention that the Libyan group called Ansar al-Sharia had asserted responsibility for the attacks.

The brief emails also show how U.S. diplomats described the attack, even as it was still under way, to Washington.

The article reports, “A third email, also marked SBU [Sensitive But Unclassified] and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: ‘Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack.’” For perspective, this was right around the time the attackers removed Ambassador Stevens from the consulate. Thus, the White House was being told about an al-Qaeda affiliated group taking credit for the attack before Stevens died.

Here is what Susan Rice said, five days later, on ABC News’ “This Week“:

Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous — not a premeditated — response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.

We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to — or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in — in the wake of the revolution in Libya are — are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.

… and on NBC News’ “Meet the Press”:

But putting together the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of– of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.  What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding.

… and on CBS News’ “Face the Nation”:

based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy.

and on “Fox News Sunday“:

Well, first of all, Chris, we are obviously investigating this very closely. The FBI has a lead in this investigation. The information, the best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack. That what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent and those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya and that then spun out of control.

But we don’t see at this point signs this was a coordinated plan, premeditated attack. Obviously, we will wait for the results of the investigation and we don’t want to jump to conclusions before then. But I do think it’s important for the American people to know our best current assessment.

By October 9, the assessment was completely different: “Prior to the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi late in the evening on Sept. 11, there was no protest outside the compound, a senior State Department official confirmed today, contradicting initial administration statements suggesting that the attack was an opportunistic reaction to unrest caused by an anti-Islam video.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Libya , Ron Barber

One Last Look at Arizona’s Special House Election


Tuesday night, Democrat Ron Barber beat Republican Jesse Kelly in a special U.S. House election in Arizona.

Wednesday morning, one of my regular sources in Arizona wrote in, offering his assessment of what went wrong: “The district has a lot of independents, but the Pima County GOTV decided to ignore them and only target Republican voters, especially those who vote early.”

The Pima County Republican party really didn’t like that assessment, and wrote in, laying out that they did in fact target independents. Walt Stephenson, the Get-Out-the-Vote chairman for the Pima County Republican party, says:

We had three “consultants”, two from D.C. and one from the West Coast that came in to help us with the special election around the end of March. Additionally we received NRCC phones at our HQ office with Jesse Kelly’s office getting the Victory Solutions phone system. Up until that time we were targeting Republican voters growing our “PEVL” list (permanent early voter list). As you know the NRCC phone system and the universe it calls into is controlled by the folks in DC that are looking at special data. We, at the county level, have no control over what universe is being called with this phone system. We just supply the volunteers to make the phone calls and do the door knocking. Pima County does not have the money nor the data resources the special consultants have so to think we could or would refuse to act on their recommendation is absurd and since they programmed the phone system quite impossible. I personally made hundreds of phone calls from Pima County Republican HQ to Independents and voters identified as “soft Democrats” by our consulting team.

. . . In this special election we targeted all potential voters that we identified as supporting Jesse Kelly.

My guy in Arizona laid out what he had heard, which I would describe as initial conversations suggesting that independent voters would not be the priority, but it was far from a final, laid-out policy to “ignore” them. So I regret passing along an assertion from a source that was too sweeping in its assessment and did not represent the totality of the county party’s efforts.

Of course, a lot of factors go into any election result, and after that post, I also heard from other Campaign Spot readers in the district who were unimpressed with Jesse Kelly as a candidate. Kelly announced Thursday he has decided to not pursue the seat in the November election.

Finally, it’s worth noting that this was a race in which former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, now a figure of enormous, bipartisan public sympathy and admiration for her comeback from near-fatal injuries, campaigned pretty extensively for her former staffer, Barber. With such a heartstring-tugging emotional factor in this race, it may be that the independents were never really that much in play.

Tags: Arizona , Jesse Kelly , Ron Barber

Giffords Aide Wins Special House Election


After Wisconsin, you might think everything’s coming up roses for Republicans, but last night they didn’t win a special House election that had looked competitive:

More than a year after the nation’s attention was focused on critically injured then–U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and those killed and wounded alongside her, the spotlight returned Tuesday to southern Arizona as her former aide Ron Barber won the special election to serve out her remaining term.

With nearly 66 percent of the precincts reporting, Barber had nearly 53 percent of the vote, up 8 points over Republican opponent Jesse Kelly, with most early ballots counted, according to unofficial election results.

Kelly conceded the race a little before 9:45 p.m.

The district lines will shift in November and there will be a GOP primary before then. One of my Arizona guys wrote in late last night, “Yuck! Going to numb myself with a few glasses of sherry . . . I think the problem was with county GOP GOTV effort.”

UPDATE: My Arizona guy, active in GOP politics in his corner of the state, sends along this assessment:

It’s early morning in Tucson and it’s time to look the loss by Jesse Kelly in the congressional race straight in the face.

We should have won this.  In 2010 Kelly lost to Giffords, a better candidate by only 4,000 votes.  This year he lost to a weaker candidate by 13,000 votes and 7% in a district that has more Republicans than Democrats.

The problem this year was the Get Out the Vote program (GOTV).  The district has a lot of independents, but the Pima County GOTV decided to ignore them and only target Republican voters, especially those who vote early.  This was contrary to what the NRCC and the Arizona State party recommended.  The county party responded by saying its only responsibility was to deliver Republicans.

The result was that Kelly lost many independents.  Precincts that he won in 2010 because of the independents were lost this year.

The moral is that GOTV is critical.  Republicans must work to get their more independent minded neighbors out to the polls and vote Republican.  If we only rely on Republican voters, Obama will win again this year.

In November, Barber will face different district lines in a slightly Republican-leaning district; “as of July, the new 2nd Congressional District had slightly more registered Republicans, 131,000, than registered Democrats, 129,000. It also had 117,000 voters registered as independents or with third parties.” Under the new lines, Santa Cruz County will not be included.

The old lines:

The new lines:

UPDATE: The Pima County GOP strongly disagrees with the characterization of their efforts from my source, and lays out their efforts in this race here.

Tags: Jesse Kelly , Ron Barber

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