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“Exposed Their Own Ignorance Of Basic Government”: Benghazi Hearing; While Republicans Barked And Snarled, Hillary Smiled

To watch Hillary Clinton’s Republican antagonists during Thursday’s public hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi was to wonder how they could possibly behave the way they did. As representatives of the American people, they not only failed miserably to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them, but exposed their own blithering ignorance of basic aspects of government.

Determined as they were to encourage doubt about Clinton’s presidential candidacy, they instead elevated her and raised hard questions about their own knowledge, character, temperament, and intellectual capacity to serve in Congress. After months of “investigating” Clinton, the Republican committee members have developed only a dim understanding of simple phenomena — like the many and varied sources of information, beyond emails, that are available to the Secretary of State. Only someone very dense, very poorly informed, or both, would believe, for instance, that she had received “most of her intelligence about Libya,” or any other subject, in unclassified email traffic.

Often the sheer mindlessness of their inquiries was stunning: Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) asked Clinton whether she had been alone “all night” at home on Sept. 11, 2012, while the tragic events in Benghazi occurred. Rep. Mike Pompeo inquired whether the late Ambassador Chris Stevens had ever visited Clinton’s home or possessed her “fax number.” Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) demanded that Clinton admit that as Secretary of State she had overseen American policy toward Libya. Several of the Republicans interrupted her rudely, upbraided her for looking at notes, even while they read from their own notes, and demanded that she give “Yes or No” answers to their queries, as if they were prosecutors grilling a perp.

The lines of inquiry that the Republicans pursued were muddled, directionless, and confusing, seemingly even to them. As the Democrats repeatedly pointed out, after all the tumult over Clinton’s emails, the proceedings of this committee so far — following several legislative and administrative investigations — revealed nothing new about the terrorist attack on the US compound in Benghazi, its prelude, or its aftermath.

So what might American taxpayers have gleaned from those 11 hours of hearings, the culmination of an expenditure of 17 months and $4.8 million? They learned that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the committee chair, is obsessed with someone named Sidney Blumenthal, a friend of Clinton who sent her emails about Libya and other topics. He’s not just weirdly preoccupied, as anyone could see, but truly obsessed to the point of choking rage.

Those who have followed Gowdy’s conduct during the months leading up to this moment will find this Blumenthal business all too familiar. Having discovered that Blumenthal sent some emails to Clinton about Libya, largely incorporating information he had gathered from retired intelligence personnel, the chairman and his colleagues sought to fabricate a conspiracy theory of the Benghazi attack that somehow involved him.

Actually, “conspiracy theory” is too coherent a description of their aimless maundering on the topic of Sidney (who also happens to be my friend).

Gowdy appeared to believe – or perhaps pretended to believe – that if only the Secretary of State had ignored Blumenthal’s emails, the Benghazi attack might somehow have been prevented. According to this theory, she was paying too much attention to him, and not enough to Stevens.

In fact, as Clinton patiently attempted to explain over and over, she naturally delegated decisions about the safety of the Benghazi compound and personnel — and all perilous diplomatic posts — to the State Department’s security staff. Moreover, her communications with Blumenthal were, and are, entirely irrelevant to the matters that Gowdy purports to be investigating. Should Gowdy ever really wish to know why it is difficult to protect our embassies, consulates, and foreign service officers abroad, he might investigate himself and all the other Republicans who – as Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) acknowledged on Thursday – voted repeatedly to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s security budget.

As I noted in Politico months ago, back when Gowdy first embarked on the Blumenthal trail, this isn’t the first time that the former Washington Post and New Yorker journalist has driven Republican politicians to manic distraction. Like Clinton herself, he is a demonized figure in certain circles – but every time they go after him, they risk humiliation or worse.

Among the many low points of the Clinton hearing was the moment when Gowdy first refused a committee vote on releasing Blumenthal’s deposition before the committee, and then whipped a party-line vote to keep it under seal. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member who led his fellow Democrats in eloquently protesting the committee’s many abuses, asked Gowdy what he is hiding.

But of course Cummings already knows the answer: In that closed deposition last June, Gowdy and company asked Blumenthal dozens of questions about wholly irrelevant but highly political matters, such as his employment by the Clinton Foundation, Media Matters, and Correct the Record – even though Gowdy has publicly claimed that he had no interest in those subjects. To release Blumenthal’s testimony would risk exposing the committee chairman’s bad faith and clumsy deceptions.

By the time Rep. Trey Gowdy finally gaveled the hearing to a close, there was little doubt that Hillary Clinton’s composed, dignified demeanor – and the contrast between her and the Republicans — had notched another political victory for her. She had movingly recounted the events of that awful night in Benghazi, explained her actions in detail, firmly defended the honor of Accountability Review Board chairs Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, and pleaded for a return to statesmanship. Her strong performance rallied skeptical liberals to her side, while furious conservatives whined in despair.

And when it was over she rose from the witness chair, smiling and greeting friends, while Gowdy stalked out, stone-faced and perspiring, as if he had seen his own demise.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, October 23, 2015

 

October 24, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s A Trap”: The GOP’s New Outreach To Women Is A Slick Attempt To Give Employers More Power

House Republicans are launching their first concerted effort to win back female voters on Tuesday with the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, a bill that’s being packaged as a lifeline to working moms across the country.

Unfortunately, the legislation is a particularly cruel hoax—a slick attempt to give employers more power, and hourly workers much less.

At first blush, the idea sounds good. The bill would allow hourly workers to convert overtime pay into time off: in other words, instead of getting paid for extra hours, they could stockpile additional vacation time. The pitch here is that working parents could have more flexibility in their schedule and an enhanced ability to balance work and family. “This week, we’ll pass [Representative] Martha Roby’s bill to help working moms and dads better balance their lives between work and their responsibilities as parents,” House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday.

The GOP is specifically invested in convincing women this bill is for them. The GOP spent $20,000 last week on a digital ad campaign focusing on so-called “mommy blogs,” like Ikeafans.com and MarthaStewart.com, and geo-targeting Democrats in swing districts. “Will Rep. Collin Peterson stand up for working moms?” one iteration of the ad asked.

A fawning National Review profile of Roby, the bill’s sponsor, explains how she wasn’t sure she could handle a run for Congress in 2009 because of concerns about taking care of her children while running for a House seat and potentially becoming a member of Congress—and how those concerns have now inspired her to push this important legislation.

But it’s not too hard to see how pernicious this legislation truly is. “Flexibility” is a word that should make hourly workers check for their wallets—employers hold most of the power in the relationship with hourly workers, which is all the more true if they are not unionized. So “flexibility” to decide if you want to get paid for overtime work, instead of getting fewer hours later on, can quickly become a way for employers to withhold payment for overtime work while also cutting your hours down the road.

Over 160 labor unions and women’s groups sent a letter to members of Congress on Monday, protesting that the Working Families Flexibility Act is “a smoke-and-mirrors bill that offers a pay cut for workers without any guaranteed flexibility or time off to care for their families or themselves.”

Republicans say this isn’t true, and that there are safeguards in the bill that would prevent employers from muscling their employees into surrendering overtime pay. “It is illegal for them to do that. There are enforcement mechanisms in the bill,” Eric Cantor said in February.

But this is where they’re being really tricky—the bill does give workers the right to sue over such intimidation, but denies them the right to use much quicker, and cheaper, administrative remedies through the Department of Labor. It also gives the Department of Labor no additional funds to investigate nor enforce provisions of the act.

So if hourly workers get intimidated into giving up overtime pay in exchange for working even fewer hours down the road, they’re more than welcome to hire a lawyer and sue—a rather improbable outcome given how expensive that might be. Otherwise, tough luck.

There also isn’t quite as much flexibility in the act as it seems. As the National Partnership for Women and Families points out, while the bill does allow hourly workers to turn overtime pay into as much as 160 hours of comp time, it gives them no right to decide when they can use that time—even if there’s a family emergency. That’s still entirely up to employers.

Further hampering workers’ flexibility is that once they bank more than eighty hours in comp time, employers can unilaterally decide to cash out any additional hours. Also, workers who decide later that they need to cash out the comp time they’ve earned can do so—but employers have thirty days to cut the check, which could certainly be a problem for hourly workers on a tight budget.

Moreover, this isn’t even a new idea. Republicans proposed this same bill ten years ago, prompting the late Molly Ivins to remark “the slick marketing and smoke on this one are a wonder to behold.”

The legislation, simply, is a straightforward boon to big employers. “It pretends to offer time off but actually asks [employees] to work overtime hours without being paid,” Judy Lichtman of the NPWF told reporters on a conference call Monday. She added that it’s simply a “no-cost, no-interest loan to the employer.”

House Democrats will be nearly, if not entirely, unified in opposition. “The Working Families Flexibility Act sounds good, but it is a sham and we are going to call it out for what it is. It would cause more harm than good and we are going to reject it,” Representative Rose DeLauro said yesterday during the same conference call.

Due to the Republican majority in the House, the bill is likely to pass on Tuesday, but Senate passage seems dubious at best, and the White House has already issued a veto threat.

Of course, if Republicans are indeed interested in providing extra flexibility to help hourly workers balance family concerns with their jobs, they could pass paid family leave legislation. Only 11 percent of all private industry workers have access to paid family leave, and the United States is the only high-income country in the world not to mandate it. Unlike the Working Families Flexibility Act, paid family leave is generally something the employee has the unilateral ability to exercise.

Unfortunately, that’s something Congressional Republicans are deeply opposed to enacting. They blocked a proposal from President Obama in 2011 that would have created a $1.5 billion fund to push paid family and medical leave programs at the state level, and several similar efforts to enact such laws at the federal level.

In 1993, when Congress considered and ultimately passed the Family and Medical Leave Act—which mandates only twelve weeks of unpaid family time off—Republicans were apoplectic. One House member from North Carolina called it “nothing short of Europeanization—a polite term for socialism.” A young John Boehner, years from becoming House Speaker, said the legislation would “be the demise of some [businesses].

“And as that occurs,” he said, “the light of freedom will grow dimmer.”

Additional reporting by Nation DC intern Anna Simonton.

UPDATE: The final vote on the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 has been pushed back to Wednesday.

Also, it’s worth knocking down a particular Republican talking point on the bill, as expressed by Eric Cantor’s communications director to me over Twitter, among many other places. They argue that, since federal workers already enjoy the ability to trade overtime pay for extra time off, workers in the private sector should enjoy the same rights.

The problem with this argument is that the federal government is not a profit-driven employer likely to muscle workers into giving up overtime pay in return for reduced hours. If that did happen, federal workers are unionized and enjoy many employment protections that Walmart workers, for example, do not.

It’s important to note here that, during the mark-up for this bill last month, Representative Timothy Bishop, a Democrat from New York, offered an amendment that would make the Working Families Flexibility Act apply “only if the employer enters into an employment contract with the employee that provides employment protections substantially similar to those provided to Federal, State or local employees under civil services laws.”

Every Republican voted against it, and the measure was defeated.*

*A prior version of this story said four Democrats also voted against the Bishop amendment, but they were just not present for the vote.

 

By: George Zornick, The Nation, May 7, 2013

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Women | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Beware Of ‘Freedom’ Fighters”: GOP Pushes Bogus Workplace Bill From 1996

This week, House Republicans are rolling out a plan they hope will boost the party’s appeal among working families, by giving private sector workers the option of converting overtime pay to paid time off. Pushing the bill, which is expected to get a vote this week, is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who made it a key item in his big February speech pitching the GOP to working families. The speech was meant to kick off the GOP’s new, softer agenda, but if the party is looking for fresh ideas after their defeat in the 2012 election, this isn’t one.

Republicans introduced the same idea in 1996, 1997 and 2003, even making it one of the first 10 bills they moved in the Newt Gingrich-era. The talking points haven’t changed much. “To many working men and women, time with their family is just as valuable as extra money,” current House Speaker Boehner said in March of 1997. “In fact, many would prefer to have time rather than money,” then-Rep. Judy Biggert said in 2003. “Time is more precious to [a working father] than the cash payments,” Rep. Martha Roby told the National Review last month.

But that’s typical Washington, where old ideas get repackaged every year. What labor advocates are more concerned about is that the bill supposedly aimed at helping working families might actually hurt them by undermining the 40-hour work week and “increasing overtime hours for those who don’t want them and cutting pay for those who do,” as Center for Economic and Policy Research economist Eileen Appelbaum wrote. The National Partnership for Women and Families said the “mis-named Working Families Flexibility Act will mean a pay cut for workers without any guaranteed flexibility or time off.”

The bill didn’t pass Congress in previous years for this very reason. When GOP leaders were courting New York Rep. Peter King to vote for the measure in 1997, he asked if they had spoken with labor groups about the measure. “It was as if I had said, Have you met with somebody from Mars?’” King told the Newsday on March 25 of that year. He voted against the bill.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the business lobby of the country’s largest corporations, supports the bill.

In Cantor’s “Making Life Work” speech in February, he explained that, “In 1985, Congress passed a law that gave state and municipal employees this flexibility, but today still denies that same privilege to the entire private sector. That’s not right.” But that move was to cut costs for government, not provide workers with more freedom, Judith Lichtman of the National Partnership for Women And Families told the AP. And government employees generally have the protection of both a union and civil service laws.

And as Ezra Klein noted, if the problem is that working parents don’t have enough free time with their kids, then why not give them more by guaranteeing paid vacation days to employees? The U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t have a law ensuring all workers get vacations, thanks to fervent opposition from Republicans and corporate interests. “Instead, Cantor is saying that the way to solve the problem of working parents not having enough time with their kids is to give them an incentive to work more overtime,” Klein wrote.

Almost any bill can be touted as a freedom issue, but it’s telling when the people don’t want the freedom they’re supposedly getting.

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, May 6, 2013

May 8, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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