Journalists' Frown Table: NPR Panel Wants 'Fast and Furious' Inquiry Declared DOA
All three journalists invited to the journalists' roundtable on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR Friday played down the Fast and Furious scandal as a loser for Republicans. Jeanne Cummings of Politico wanted Congress to drop it like a hot potato: "to create this big constitutional clash with the White House makes Congress, once again, look like it's just got its eye off the ball. This isn't what people want them to do... we're going nowhere here."
NPR reporter Ari Shapiro recalled how Bush attorney general Alberto Gonzales was dogged by a U.S. Attorney-firing scandal because Republicans were willing to harp on it. But the Democrats are united for Obama, so it somehow cannot be a scandal: "I think it's only when and if we see Democrats turning against Holder, which I don't expect we're going to see, that this will really enter a new phase." How convenient is that reasoning?
Doyle McManus was mildest, sticking to the line that anything that distracts from the economy is somehow a bad idea for Republicans to pursue (without anyone noticing the utter lack of pursuit by "objective" journalists):
McMANUS: It's not a great issue for the president or the White House. They are on the wrong side of this in that, you know, if you want to -- that, initially, when the Justice Department was asked about this program, about the gun -- what's called gun-walking into Mexico, they said, well it's not going on. We don't know anything about it. They've acknowledged that wrongdoing.
On the other hand, is this really what Republicans in the House want to be talking about and arguing about on television for months and months? Well, no, actually their agenda is -- of course, is supposed to be to talk about jobs, jobs, jobs. And so they run the risk of looking as if they're pursuing the administration on everything else but jobs.
Substitute host Terence Smith wondered where (if anywhere) this was going:
TERENCE SMITH: Jeanne Cummings, several reason attorneys general have had problems with Congress and been in tight spots with the executive refusing to turn over documents or whatever. What's the political impact to this? And look ahead to the election. Is anybody going to be talking about this?
CUMMINGS: No, they aren't going to be. And that's -- I mean, I agree with Doyle that it's not good for either side. But I think, on balance, this is -- Congress has just gotten itself, you know, in a patch where they should probably find their way out. I mean, if you look at any focus group with voters, all they care about is the economy. That's all they care about. And for -- to create this big constitutional clash with the White House makes Congress, once again, look like it's just got its eye off the ball. This isn't what people want them to do.
They are tired of the confrontations in Washington. They're frustrated by it. And they think that Washington doesn't understand their problems and isn't trying to help them. This just gives them one more reason to think that Washington is out of touch. And then, in the end, when you look at what would be the real impact of all of this, if they find them in contempt, that should be -- that contempt citation would be enforced by the U.S. attorney general who works for the Justice Department. So we're going nowhere here.
Then came the listeners with their (liberal) input:
SMITH; I have some emails here, including one rather sharply worded one from David on the subject of the contempt citation. He writes, "It appears that 85 percent of the country holds the Congress in contempt. Therefore, the hearings on Fast and Furious are an attempt to distract from the economic issues that the Congress is not able to handle. Isn't that the fact, Ari Shapiro? -- says David.
SHAPIRO: This is a point that Spokesman Jay Carney made at the White House yesterday in the briefing. He said, if Congress wonders why they are the most unpopular of any Congress in recent memory, maybe if they would spend their time working on the economy instead of what Carney called partisan fishing expeditions, they might see their numbers go up. You know what? As you mentioned, many attorneys general recently have been in this kind of trouble with Congress.
And I covered the Justice Department when Bush's Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was under fire for the U.S. attorney dismissals, which ultimately led him to leave the post of attorney general under a cloud. And one big difference between that controversy and this controversy is that when Gonzales was under fire in Congress, there were Republicans and Democrats calling for him to step down. Now, we've seen six Republican senators call for Eric Holder to step down, but the Democrats have been a united front. And I think it's only when and if we see Democrats turning against Holder, which I don't expect we're going to see, that this will really enter a new phase.