The Corner

An Unfair Attack Against Tom Cotton Gets New Life

This tweet, directed at Tom Cotton, is rocketing around the Internet, with more than 18,000 retweets as of 4:00 p.m. (huge by political Twitter standards). Writer Brian Murphy responded to Senator Tom Cotton’s complaints about delays in confirming Mike Pompeo with this:

https://twitter.com/Burrite/status/823342015589085184

What would a normal person think after reading this tweet? That Tom Cotton intentionally hurt a dying woman just to cause Obama pain? If that’s true, then that’s unquestionably a terrible thing to do, and it is far, far worse than a short delay in Pompeo’s confirmation.

So, what are the facts? It’s actually a pretty normal Washington story with a tragic twist. Murphy is apparently referring to Cassandra Butts, Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to the Bahamas. According to the New York Times’ Frank Bruni (no fan of Cotton’s) Cotton held up Butts’s nomination — along with nominations to the ambassadorships to Sweden and Norway — because of what Bruni called a “legitimate gripe.” Cotton was “trying to pressure” Obama to take action against the Secret Service after it leaked personal information about a congressional colleague.

Eventually, Cotton released his hold on the other two ambassadors. He kept the hold on Butts. Butts was a law-school classmate of Obama’s, and she said that Cotton told her that he kept the hold on her to inflict “special pain” on Obama. Cotton’s spokesperson denied he ever said any such thing and said that the senator was releasing his holds as the Secret Service investigation progressed.

Tragically, however, Butts died suddenly while she was still on hold. Bruni reported that she had acute leukemia and “didn’t know it and hadn’t felt ill until just beforehand.”

Delayed confirmations are nothing new in Washington. A delayed nomination designed to inflict maximum personal pain while a person slowly dies of cancer would be new — and dreadful. Instead, a qualified nominee was caught up in a fight not of her making and died suddenly before the fight was resolved. It’s a sad story, and yes it’s a story of the “dysfunctional pettiness” that sometimes dominates Washington, but it’s not, however, a story of hate or malice, and that’s an important distinction to make.

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