This has been a strange and stressful weak for Obama supporters. Environmentalists are reeling over the selection of Sen. Salazar for Interior Secretary and liberals are denouncing the selection of Rev. Rick Warren for the inauguration prayer. In the meantime, Obama has assembled the most establishment cabinet of any recent president — picking the very same power figures who have run the government for years. However, nothing prepared Democrats for yesterday when Obama picked Rep. Ray LaHood, Republican of Illinois, to lead the Transportation department. I represented the democratic staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, Larry Hanauer, who was savagely and unjustly attacked by LaHood. LaHood’s attacks — found to be baseless — led to threats against Hanauer and his family.
Honestly, when I was first told yesterday that LaHood would be nominated, I thought it was a joke. For those who are disgusted with Washington, LaHood personifies the practices that have given Congress the lowest approval ratings in history.
While liberals are reluctant to admit it, Obama’s cabinet is far more of an insider and establishment group than Bush’s cabinet. Bush actually picked a number of people from outside Washington. Obama’s “change” appears to be switching out the red team for the blue team — giving power to the same party leaders who have been ridiculed by voters for years for their failure to confront Bush on issues like torture, unlawful surveillance, and are cited for the very same abuses of earmarks as Republicans.
Then there is LaHood. LaHood gleefully carried out the wishes of the Bush Administration on the House Intelligence Committee, which virtually shutdown any oversight of the unlawful programs. Even by congressional standards, he was a thuggish partisan who painted democrats and liberals as insufficiently patriotic or a danger to national security.
In the Hanauer matter, LaHood went to the media, which then leaked his name (without giving a source). However, LaHood is quoted as expressing mocking skepticism that it was a coincidence that Hanauer requested to see a National Intelligence Estimate that was given to the New York Times. The resulting story was embarrassing for Bush in showing that the Iraq war had caused an increase in terrorism recruitment and attacks. In a letter (also leaked to the media), LaHood says “This may, in fact, be only coincidence, and simply ‘look bad.’ But coincidence, in this town, is rare.”
It was an outrageous act because LaHood knew that Hanauer had merely retrieved the document at the request of a member — which was one of his jobs. The suspension of the staffer was done shortly before the election and used to flog the White House claim that democrats have endangered the nation. LaHood knew that the article referred to multiple executive branch and legislative branch sources, who had discussed the NIE. The timing of the article made clear that, by the time Hanauer was asked to bring a member the NIE, the New York Times already had the document and was interviewing people on its content.
None of this stopped LaHood who used the life and career of this staffer to score political points for the GOP. Despite my demands that the staffer’s suspension be lifted and that he be returned to work, LaHood kept flogging the accusations through the election. Indeed, he and Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., would not clear Hanauer until after the election despite the fact that all of the facts were established long before the election. In the meantime, Hanauer and his family were threatened by conservatives who believed LaHood’s baseless claims. LaHood’s role in the matter was, in my view, disgraceful.
While the Obama camp has called LaHood a “respected member,” he has also been denounced for years of earmark abuses. Some of these earmarks led to scandal, though he refused to answer questions on his conduct.
LaHood’s nomination is baffling and highly disturbing. This is someone who trashed an innocent democratic staff member for overtly political reasons. He was one of the key members who shutdown oversight of the Bush Intelligence abuses. He is a member who is accused of earmarks abuses. The only “change” in his nomination is to give him unexpected power in a Democratic administration.
What is particularly distressing is that someone who has been criticized for earmarks abuses in Congress and who has defended earmarks will now be in charge of the agency with the longest history of special dealing and earmark abuse.
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