CBS Proclaims 'War in Wisconsin;' Did Gov. Walker 'Trick' Democrats With 'Surprise Vote'?

At the top of Thursday's CBS Early Show, co-host Chris Wragge declared: "War in Wisconsin. Democrats cry foul as Republicans break a three-week deadlock over the budget battle with a surprise late-night vote." Minutes later, he remarked that the "long standoff over a plan to roll back union rights for state workers is suddenly just about over."  

In the report that followed, correspondent Cynthia Bowers described the Republican legislative move as drastic: "In an audacious tactic that will likely be debated for years in Wisconsin, Republican senators yesterday, in a matter of 30 minutes, managed to ram through controversial legislation." She continued to push the idea that it was a shock: "After nearly three weeks of intense protest that sparked a nationwide debate, last night the Wisconsin Senate rushed in to a surprise vote to cut nearly all collective bargaining power from public workers."

Every sound bite Bowers used in her report was of an opponent of the measure. A clip was played of Democratic Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca shouting at his GOP colleague: "Mr. Chairman, this is a violation of law! This is not just a rule. It is the law!" In another clip, union protestor Ayesha Emon vowed: "This is illegal what they tried to do today. And we're going – we're going to stay in this building for as long as it takes." The final sound bite was of Democratic State Representative Kelda Roys ranting: "They've [Republicans] now started violating the laws. And I certainly hope that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for this violation."

Wragge followed up the report from Bowers by interviewing Democratic Assistant Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader David Hansen, wondering: "Did you see this move coming?" Hansen claimed: "No, we did not. We didn't believe that the Republican senators would stay with the Governor and rubber-stamp his plan." The headline on screen read: "Surprise Vote; Outraged Dems Respond to GOP Budget Maneuver."

Wragge challenged the Democrats' strategy of fleeing the state to block the proposal: "Well now that this has happened, in hindsight, do you think leaving the state for three weeks was a good idea?" Hansen argued: "Absolutely....What we have done, I think, is started a movement. Not only in Wisconsin, but throughout this country. People standing up for workers' rights, and backing away from just protecting the rich and the wealthy, and I think we did the right thing."

After asking if Democrats would "take legal action" to stop the measure, Wragge wondered: "It sounds as though you question the Governor's motives just a little bit. There was talk this past weekend of a potential compromise. Was there any legitimacy to that or was it a bit of a trick?" Hansen asserted: "I think he [Governor Scott Walker] was tricking us, he was lying....he was out there for one thing and that is to destroy the working men and women and basically the middle class. And it's a sad day for our state."

Wragge countered: "You call the Governor a liar. I mean those are some pretty strong words." Hansen replied: " It's true....We're dealing with one person rule. And I think that's a sad day."

In his final question to Hansen, Wragge wondered about the next course of action for Democrats and the public unions: "What is going to be the reaction of the public workers today when they see and read exactly what happened last night? Would you encourage a massive statewide strike?"

CBS was not alone in its slanted coverage. Like the Early Show, NBC's Today described the GOP action as an "outrage" and a "surprise" vote. On ABC's Good Morning America, correspondent Chris Bury described how protestors were "angry at Senate Republicans for ramming through a measure stripping most union rights from public workers." He later added: "...the Republicans pulled off a political end-run, passing the bill without any Democrats, in only five minutes."


Here is a full transcript of the March 10 Early Show segment:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

CHRIS WRAGGE: War in Wisconsin. Democrats cry foul as Republicans break a three-week deadlock over the budget battle with a surprise late-night vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [WISCONSIN DEMOCRAT]: This is a violation of law!

WRAGGE: We'll talk with a Democratic leader about what's next after the GOP's successful maneuver.

7:04AM ET SEGMENT:

WRAGGE: This morning, Wisconsin's long standoff over a plan to roll back union rights for state workers is suddenly just about over. Senate Republicans found a way to pass that bill without bringing home boycotting Democrats. And this morning, outraged union forces are planning new protests. CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers is in Madison, Wisconsin with the very latest this morning. Cynthia, good morning.

CYNTHIA BOWERS: Good morning, Chris. In an audacious tactic that will likely be debated for years in Wisconsin, Republican senators yesterday, in a matter of 30 minutes, managed to ram through controversial legislation that had sent Democratic senators on the run three weeks ago, bringing government here to a virtual standstill.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Surprise Vote; GOP Outmaneuvers Dems in Budget Battle]

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Excuse me, you were not given two hours notice-

BOWERS: After nearly three weeks of intense protest that sparked a nationwide debate, last night the Wisconsin Senate rushed in to a surprise vote to cut nearly all collective bargaining power from public workers.

PETER BARCA [WISCONSIN ASSEMBLY MINORITY LEADER (D)]: Mr. Chairman, this is a violation of law! This is not just a rule. It is the law!

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [WISCONSIN ASSEMBLY MEMBER (R)]: We're adjourned!

BOWERS: Despite loud objections, Republican state senators voted 18 to 1 to pass a newly revised bill, while their Democratic opposition remained out of state in protest. The Republicans used a loophole that allowed them to vote without the Democrats, as long as all fiscal measures were removed from the new bill. Almost instantly, a crowd of a few hundred protesters inside the capitol grew to an estimated 7,000.

AYESHA EMON [PROTESTOR]: This is illegal what they tried to do today. And we're going – we're going to stay in this building for as long as it takes.

BOWERS: In a statement, the Governor applauded lawmakers for taking, quoting, 'A step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government.' The 14 Democratic senators who left the state are vowing to return to contest last night's outcome. Even threatening to stage recall votes to kick opposition senators out of office.

KELDA ROYS [STATE REP. D-WI]: At this point I really question whether recall is strong enough. They've now started violating the laws. And I certainly hope that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for this violation.

BOWERS: The original budget bill, intended to fill a $137 million shortfall, turned into a referendum on the nation's stand on union rights, and remains so. The legislation now goes to the Assembly this morning, where the Republican majority is expected to pass it. The Governor would then sign it into law as soon as today, but you can be sure, Chris, that the political wrangling and the legal maneuvering will continue for much longer.

WRAGGE: CBS's Cynthia Bowers in Madison, Wisconsin for us this morning. Cynthia, thank you. Well, joining us now from Grays Lake, Illinois, is Assistant Senate Minority Leader David Hansen, one of the Wisconsin Democrats who've been boycotting to try and stop Republicans from passing this bill. Senator, good morning.

DAVID HANSEN: Good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Surprise Vote; Outraged Dems Respond to GOP Budget Maneuver]

WRAGGE: Did you see this move coming?

HANSEN: No, we did not. We didn't believe that the Republican senators would stay with the Governor and rubber-stamp his plan, so we're disappointed that some of them wouldn't vote against this, because they've been strongly supporting workers' rights throughout their time in the legislature.

WRAGGE: Well now that this has happened, in hindsight, do you think leaving the state for three weeks was a good idea?

HANSEN: Absolutely. If the Governor would have got his way they would have passed it in about three days, nobody would have had their say. What we have done, I think, is started a movement. Not only in Wisconsin, but throughout this country. People standing up for workers' rights, and backing away from just protecting the rich and the wealthy, and I think we did the right thing. I think we have given a voice to a lot of people.

WRAGGE: Well you and your fellow senators, like I mentioned, have been out of the state for just about three weeks right now. The Governor had to do something. Now, you and your fellow Democrats say this is illegal. But, by all accounts, the Governor has acted within his rights and found a way to get his way. So, now, will you take legal action? And is that even possible?

HANSEN: That is possible. And really, what is unique here is that he talked about this being a Budget Repair Bill. However, what he did yesterday, with the State Senate, is take out the non-fiscal, which has no impact on the Budget Repair Bill. That could have been done separately. But his goal from the beginning – in Wisconsin and throughout this country – is destroy the rights of working men and women, not only in Wisconsin, but throughout this country.

WRAGGE: It sounds as though you question the Governor's motives just a little bit. There was talk this past weekend of a potential compromise. Was there any legitimacy to that or was it a bit of a trick?

HANSEN: I think he was tricking us, he was lying and I think that was brought out in his pseudo conversation with the person that was supposed to be David Koch that he was out there for one thing and that is to destroy the working men and women and basically the middle class. And it's a sad day for our state. But we're going to move forward. We're going to continue the fight.

WRAGGE: You call the Governor a liar. I mean those are some pretty strong words.

HANSEN: It's true. You know, he says one thing and he was more interested in doing press conferences than negotiate. He never personally negotiated ever. And he never really brought forth a proposal. It was always like, if you talk to the state senate leader, he'd have to check with the Governor. So right now we're in Wisconsin. We're dealing with one person rule. And I think that's a sad day. Each body should have their say.

WRAGGE: Let me ask you this, what is going to be the reaction of the public workers today when they see and read exactly what happened last night? Would you encourage a massive statewide strike?

HANSEN: No. I don't believe a strike is the way to go. The Governor's goal, I believe, is to privatize. And if you do leave your job, that might be what he's going to do. I think a safer bet and a better bet is to show up at the ballot box, and become involved in some of the recall election against some of these Republicans that have not listened to the hundreds of thousands of people that have come to Madison and thousands more throughout the state. They have backed away from their commitment to the working men and women of the state, and the middle class.

WRAGGE: State Senator David Hansen, thank you for taking the time and speaking with us this morning.

HANSEN: Thanks, Chris.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC