The historic significance of the day was not lost on the congregation that packed St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Foggy Bottom two Sundays ago.
People from across the region gathered to celebrate the anniversary of a church founded 145 years ago.
They also had come to hear the morning’s prized speaker: the 82nd attorney general of the United States, and the first African American, Eric H. Holder Jr.
St. Mary’s, the church my wife, Gwen, and I attend, was the vision of 28 free African American men and women, many of whom had been slaves themselves. What a sweep of history: from bondage to the top suite in America’s Justice Department, in the space of a few lifetimes.
It was a time of celebration, a moment to reflect on how far the church, and the nation, had come since 1867.
No more separate pews in corners of the church for “people of color.” No more whites first, colored second when Holy Communion is served. No more separate Sunday school classes for white and black children. No more Washington as a bastion of segregation.
June 10, 2012, was the day to take stock of the church’s rich history, to come hear the attorney general speak of the critical role, as he told the congregation, “that houses of worship and faith-based organizations always have played in strengthening this nation — and bringing us closer to fulfilling America’s founding promise of liberty, opportunity and justice for all.”
It was a day to listen as Holder held up for praise the redeeming power of God’s grace and the values of tolerance, nonviolence, compassion, love and — above all — justice.
He used the occasion to call for a renewed faith in the power of those values “not only to heal fresh wounds and bridge long-standing divisions but also to fuel tomorrow’s progress.” “Seize the opportunity,” Holder said, “to look upon our nation as the founders of this church once did: seeing both its history — however imperfect — and its future of limitless promise; understanding both its weaknesses and its strengths, appreciating both the challenges we face and the infinite opportunities that lie ahead.”
It was a good day.
But then, as the elders like to say, “up popped the devil.”
In fact, 23 devils.
Actually, they aren’t devils. They are the 23-member Republican majority of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who like to do devilish things such as recommending that the attorney general be held in contempt of Congress simply because they have the power and lust to do so.
Their pack is led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a headline-chasing publicity hound who never met an accusation too loopy to hurl. Issa got the Republican members to believe — or at least to say they believe — that Holder is withholding critical information from the panel. The committee’s 17 Democrats believe otherwise and voted against the contempt citation, noting that Holder’s Justice Department has turned over 7,600 documents relating to the issue that’s got Issa in a faux snit.
The issue is called “Operation Fast and Furious,” a venture of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that allowed illegal gun buyers to take weapons to Mexico in the hopes that federal agents could track the weapons to a drug cartel.
Committee arithmetic being what it is, Issa got his way, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has promised a vote on the House floor next week if Holder doesn’t turn over all of the internal documents that Issa seeks. With the Obama administration citing executive privilege to withhold some documents, a nasty, partisan floor fight is likely.
Score one for cheap political opportunism.
Neither Fast and Furious nor Issa’s fake fury justifies the looming crisis between the House of Representatives and the Obama administration. This politically inspired dispute diverts attention from issues of real consequence. That’s the shame of it all.
Two weeks ago, the talk at St. Mary’s was about the urgent priority of fulfilling the promise of security, liberty, opportunity and justice for everyone in this country. It was all about progress and the ability to come together to realize the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. entrusted to us.
There was optimism in the congregation that Sunday morning. People in the pews seemed to share Holder’s view that the record of progress passed to them can be extended, and that, as he said, they should “keep faith — in the Divine, in one another, and in the great nation it is our honor to help lead — and our solemn responsibility to serve.”
It was all about shared purpose and common cause, collective efforts, individual actions and marching toward progress.
Alas, that was before this week, Darrell Issa and his devilish ways.
By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 22, 2012
All hail Grover Norquist!
Bow down, Lindsey Graham. The Republican senator from South Carolina dared to say he might consider supporting a tax increase — but then Norquist paid him a visit on Wednesday. “Every once in a while you have somebody with an impure thought like Lindsey Graham,” Norquist told me. But after their talk, Norquist could report that “Graham will never vote for a tax increase.”
Kneel before him, Tom Coburn. The Republican senator from Oklahoma had toyed with the idea of supporting a deficit-reduction deal that includes some tax increases, before Norquist conquered him. “He had a moment of weakness where he thought you had to raise taxes to get spending restraint,” Norquist said. “He now knows that’s not true.”
Prostrate yourselves, House Republicans. On Thursday, a day after Republican senators hosted Norquist on their side of the Capitol, GOP House members opened up the Ways and Means Committee room so that he could counsel them on The Pledge, an anti-tax edict written by Norquist and signed by all but four House Republicans, most Republican senators and Mitt Romney.
Lawmakers leaving their private audience with Norquist were agog at his majesty. “I agree with him tremendously,” reported Rep. John Fleming (R-La.).
But Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on Ways and Means, had a less favorable view of the spectacle as he stood in the hallway while Republicans in the committee room kissed Norquist’s ring.
“They’re in this committee room to hold royal court for the person who has asked people to take a pledge . . . not their constituents,” Levin complained. “Essentially, Norquist is here to hold feet to the fire when we need open minds.”
Norquist doesn’t dispute that. The tax-pledge effort he began a quarter-century ago is now the defining mantra of the party: no tax increases, no how, no way, no matter the consequences. With the possible exception of Newt Gingrich, Norquist has done more than anybody to bring about Washington’s political dysfunction.
Since he began, the federal debt has increased roughly eightfold. But Norquist still believes that as soon as next year victory will be his — all because of his pledge.
“Because almost all the Republicans took it, it became, actually, the branding of the party,” Norquist told me Thursday.
Although I think Norquist’s approach has been disastrous for the country, I am awed by his success with the pledge. Now Senate Democrats are trying to turn him into the GOP bogeyman of this election cycle.
“The leader of the Republican Party is up here today on the Hill. . . . You know who it is: It’s Grover Norquist,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at a news conference Thursday, a couple of days after charging, with some validity, that Norquist “has the entire Republican Party in the palm of his hand.”
Norquist didn’t quarrel with the charge, as Fox News’s Chad Pergram put it to him, that he’s giving Republicans “their marching orders.”
“The modern Republican Party works with the taxpayer movement,” he replied, satisfied that “post-pledge, post-tea party, they’re not going to raise taxes.”
That’s probably because Norquist has convinced them that the long-sought victory is just months away. He predicts that Republicans will keep control of the House, take over the Senate, elect Romney president and promptly enact the Ryan budget. “It would be nice if some Democrats join, but it’s not necessary,” he said, arguing that the plan crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) could clear the Senate with only 50 votes as part of the budget “reconciliation” process.
This seems unlikely. Even if they could use the procedure Norquist favors (anti-deficit rules make this difficult) Republicans would have to make their plan temporary, like the George W. Bush tax cuts. And the backlash is likely to make the Obamacare rebellion look tame. We’d quickly be back in the stalemate.
But Norquist’s loyalists in Congress are holding their ranks, dutifully coordinating talking points with him after their private tutorial Thursday on “how the pledge should be communicated.”
“We have a spending problem, and the taxpayer pledge helps us focus on the problem,” House conservative leader Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told reporters as he departed.
“The problem in Washington is spending,” echoed Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Finally, out came the 55-year-old Norquist, all of 5-foot-6 with a graying beard. He spoke expansively to reporters for more than half an hour, waving off the notion that he might be becoming a PR problem for the party.
“There are significantly more Republicans in Congress since they started taking the pledge,” he said. “The advocates of spending more and taxing more are losing.”
Losing? Or just locked in an unending blood feud?
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 22, 2012