MSNBC: Murtha Is 'Personal Attack' Victim, As Murtha Insults Rove's 'Fat Backside'
On MSNBC's Countdown show on Friday, substitute host Brian Unger featured a softball interview with Democratic Congressman John Murtha during which Unger queued up Murtha to attack the Bush administration's Iraq policy and Republican critics. The Countdown host bolstered Murtha's credibility by referring to his war record and labelling him a "traditional hawk" while he discredited White House advisor Karl Rove by negatively labelling him as a "partisan attacker trying to squash discussion about Iraq," and proclaimed "the Swift-Boating of the 2006 election has begun." Unger also saw no irony in fretting about "personal attacks" on Murtha even as Murtha referred to Rove "sitting on his fat backside in an air-conditioned office." (Transcript follows)
Unger teased the show promising that Murtha would appear with a response to the "political tactics of the GOP and Karl Rove." MSNBC then played a clip of Murtha's attack on Rove: "Here's a guy sitting on his fat backside in an air-conditioned office talking about the troops. He doesn't have a clue what's going on in Iraq."
The Countdown host opened the show recounting the House vote to reject a timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq, contending that rather than debate the Iraq policy, what was "really under debate was the patriotism of the Democrats." After relaying that Cheney was "turning his war rhetoric up to 11," Unger introduced his pre-taped Murtha interview by building up the Pennsylvania Democrat and vocal war critic. Referring to Cheney's claim that the Iraq war had helped prevent terrorist attacks in America, Unger continued: "It is not surprising that a Democrat might disagree with that. But when that Democrat is a Marine Corps veteran who has spent most of his 32 years in Congress as a traditional hawk, well, it's time to sit up and take notice."
After giving Murtha time to complain that his Republican critics use "rhetoric" instead of debating him on "substance," the discussion turned for a moment to the topic of amnesty for Iraqi insurgents. Despite denials by the Iraqi prime minister, the Countdown host claimed that insurgents who killed American troops would be offered amnesty as he then quoted a statement by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander regarding amnesty and gave Murtha time to attack Alexander for condoning amnesty. Unger: "Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, for one, likening the granting of amnesty to insurgents to efforts that earned Nelson Mandela a Nobel prize. Is letting insurgents who've killed American troops go free the next step toward a functioning democracy in Iraq?"
The Countdown host later turned his attention to "personal attacks" on Murtha from Rove and other Republican critics. After a commercial break, he introduced the second part of his Murtha interview complaining about such attacks on Murtha as he proclaimed "the Swift-Boating of the 2006 election has begun." Unger: "Using personal attacks to make ideological points won't win you any friends, but it will win you elections. Just ask Karl Rove. Our fourth story on the Countdown, the Swift-Boating of the 2006 election has begun. Getting personal far more important, it seems, than getting the facts right. Congressman Jack Murtha, no stranger to vicious personal attacks since he started speaking out against the war in Iraq. He also isn't shy about confronting his critics. Earlier I asked Congressman Murtha about Mr. Rove's tactics and how he chooses to fight back in part two of our interview."
Before showing an exchange between Murtha and Repubilican Congressman Louis Gohmert from the House floor, Unger gushed: "Congressman, I've been waiting for about 12 hours to ask you this question. In yesterday's floor debate, Congressman Louis Gohmert of Texas attacked you personally, personally for your position on the war in Iraq."
Unger played a clip of Gohmert who, while complimenting Murtha's compassion for the troops, also made a substantive point through rhetoric comparing tough times in Iraq to tough times in World War II. Gohmert: "Thank God for his ministering to grieving families, but thank God he was not here and prevailed after the bloodbaths at Normandy and in the Pacific or we would be here speaking Japanese or German."
Unger sympathetically asked: "Does that infuriate you, does that bother you when someone says to you that this whole country would be talking, speaking in the language of Japanese if we had listened to folks like you?"
But just moment later, as Murtha responded to a question about Rove accusing Democrats of wanting to "cut and run," Unger saw no personal attack as Murtha referred to Karl Rove's sitting on his "fat backside." Murtha: "Well, it's just, it's a slogan. That's all. Here's a guy sitting on his fat backside in an air-conditioned office talking about the troops. He doesn't have a clue what's going on in Iraq."
Below is a complete transcript of the Murtha interview from the Friday June 16 Countdown show with critical portions, including all of Unger's questions, in bold:
Brian Unger, in opening teaser: "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? The war in Iraq: The House votes to reject a timetable for pulling out troops while some Iraqi officials apparently want a timetable. And the Vice President says fighting the war there has prevented terrorist attacks here. Congressman Jack Murtha joins us to talk about Iraq and responds to the political tactics of the GOP and Karl Rove."
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA): "Here's a guy sitting on his fat backside in an air conditioned office talking about the troops. He doesn't have a clue what's going on in Iraq."
Unger, opening the show: "And good evening. I'm Brian Unger, in for Keith Olbermann. While Congress passed an essentially symbolic resolution reaffirming the support of the troops, equating the war in Iraq with the war on terror, and rejecting an arbitrary deadline for withdrawal of American forces, came word of a new tape from al-Qaeda in Iraq, mourning the loss of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, more promising that his death will make the organization, quote, 'fiercer and stronger.' Our fifth story on the Countdown, possible evidence of the insurgents' renewed determination, and this new development: Two U.S. soldiers are missing after an attack on their checkpoint near an al-Qaeda stronghold. It happened in Yusufiyah Friday night. Insurgents attacked a traffic checkpoint, killing one soldier. When a rapid reaction force was deployed to the scene, they couldn't find the other two soldiers, raising concerns that they may have been kidnapped. On Capitol Hill, it may have looked like lawmakers were debating the policy that put 138,000 American troops in Iraq in the first place, but what really seemed to be under debate was the patriotism of the Democrats, now threatening to take back the House in the November elections. The Republican resolution urging the U.S. to stay the course in Iraq passing easily by a vote of 256-153. Never mind that the Iraqi government itself has indicated it is now time for American troops to start heading home. The Associated Press reporting that Iraq's vice president personally asked President Bush to set a timetable for redeployment when he met with him on Tuesday. Funny how Mr. Bush did not seem to mention that at his press conference when he got back. Meanwhile, just one heartbeat away, our own Vice President, Dick Cheney, turning his war rhetoric up to 11 claiming that the conflict in Iraq has actually prevented further terrorist attacks here in the U.S. It is not surprising that a Democrat might disagree with that. But when that Democrat is a Marine Corps veteran who has spent most of his 32 years in Congress as a traditional hawk, well, it's time to sit up and take notice. Earlier I had a chance to ask Congressman Jack Murtha about the state of the war in Iraq, beginning with Mr. Cheney's claim that the conflict has actually prevented new attacks on American soil."
Murtha: "The thing that's discouraged me so much and one of the reasons I spoke out is so much rhetoric and mischaracterization of what's going on. I never know what the truth is. They continually say how well things are going, and then I state statistics that show it's not going that well. So I just have no idea the way to measure whether there would have been any attacks or not. I don't know of any attacks that have been stopped because of our going into Iraq. There was no terrorism in Iraq at all before we went in, and now it's the heart bed of terrorism. As a matter of fact, the attacks have increased substantially on our troops and on the Iraqi people. So, you know, I, when they say something like that, I have never seen any backup that would prove that what he's saying is true."
Unger: "So it's more rhetorical than something that's actually provable?"
Murtha: "Well, that's the thing that's so frustrating. It's a mischaracterization, a misrepresentation about what's going on. And then you go back, and I say to the staff when they say something like that, give me some proof of something like this. And they can never give me the proof, and so as frustrating as it can be when you hear those kind of comments just thrown out. I heard this all day yesterday and all day today, these kind of things, not that particular comment, but things like that."
Unger: "Congressman, after initially supporting the war, you now advocate redeployment the sooner the better."
Unger: "Now, we have learned that the Iraqi vice president asked President Bush to set an actual timetable for a withdrawal. What's your reaction to that?"
Murtha: "Brian, I stated on the floor that I read that article, and not only the vice president but the president of Iraq confirmed that he agreed with the vice president. Eighty percent of the Iraqis in the latest poll we have, which is a couple of months old, want us out of there. Forty-seven percent of the Iraqis say it's all right to kill Americans. And then I heard a disconcerting story that some of the Iraqis, they're going to give amnesty to people that killed Americans. Now, they said they fired the guy, but it shows you how important it is to change direction in Iraq. Reagan changed direction in Beirut. Clinton changed direction in Somalia. We need to change direction. And they can't seem to get it. And our troops are caught in a civil war. That's the thing that's so distressing to me. I go to the hospitals almost every week, and I see the results of the explosive devices that they're using. And it's just frustrating to me that they say we're fighting it. We're not fighting it. The troops are fighting it. They're wearing 70 pounds of armor, and they're inside armored vehicles not air-conditioned. They're out there every day looking for IEDs. Forty-two percent of them don't even know what their mission is. So this is frustrating, this mischaracterization of what's going on. We're not doing the fighting. They're doing the fighting. We're proud of them, and every time I go to the hospital I'm inspired by them, but that's not the point. The point is it's not going well, and they won't admit it."
Unger: "Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, for one, likening the granting of amnesty to insurgents to efforts that earned Nelson Mandela a Nobel prize. Is letting insurgents who've killed American troops go free the next step toward a functioning democracy in Iraq?"
Murtha: "Brian, I cannot imagine any American endorsing the fact that there would be amnesty. We don't want to give amnesty to illegal aliens, or illegal immigrants, let alone to people who killed Americans. And this is the thing I've been talking about: 42 percent of the Iraqis think it's all right to kill Americans, and yet they're going to give them amnesty? And so when they say amnesty, that's absolutely outrageous. I cannot imagine a Senator making that kind of a statement."
Unger: "Congressman, let's talk about some of the debate we've been listening to over the past couple of days. The House, of course, as you already know today, rejecting a timetable for redeployment after a very partisan debate that didn't seem really to actually debate the administration's policy in Iraq, merely painting Democrats as weaklings."
Murtha: "Yeah, I think that apparently was the reason they introduced this resolution, to try to show that anybody that voted against the resolution which supported the President's policy, which is an open-ended policy. There's no policy. It's stay there and pay and pay a heavy price in personnel and people and families and, of course, $450 billion a year we've spent there, $300 million a day we're spending in Iraq, so we're staying, we're paying. What I'm saying is redeploy and be prepared to go back into the country. Be ready, redeploy and be ready is what I've been saying. And I'm convinced that we can do everything from outside the country. I think we have become the enemy. We're the occupiers. At one time, we were welcome as liberators."
Unger: "This has been an incredibly sad week, having passed the milestone of 2500 Americans in uniform killed. Sir, on Thursday, the White House said that while painful, 2500 is a number, that was the quote, 2500, it's a number, suggesting that these are sort of benchmarks that are set by the media to sort of perhaps fan the political flames. What is your opinion about that when the White House says it's a number?"
Murtha: "I'll tell you, that breaks my heart. I go to visit the hospital almost every week, and I see these young folks who've been blown apart. I've had 13 people killed from my congressional district, and I've talked to the wives of two of them who their husbands were killed early on. Every one is an individual death. Every one is precious to that family. It's not getting better, and our troops have become the target, and the incidents have increased substantially. The number of insurgents have gone from a couple hundred up to 20,000. And so we've been over there all that time. So how can you say it's getting better? And that's the thing that's been frustrating and the thing that I've been talking about."
Unger: "Sir, it is inarguable that there is a value to having been in combat, and many in this administration simply have not been in combat. I mean, do you think that this has affected the prosecution of this war?"
Murtha: "I don't know if it's affected the prosecution, but it certainly affects the way they look at it. When they say it's just numbers, that leads me to believe that it has. The combat situation makes your buddies or your family, you learn to live with them the whole time that you're there. And when you're out in the field for a period of time, you get to depend on them, and you feel every time one of them is hurt. So I think there is something to be said about knowing what goes on on the ground, knowing the pain, knowing the boredom, knowing the intensity. And this is one of the most intense experiences I think I've ever known about, as much as I've read the history of World War I and the Civil War and World War II, they go out every day and they don't know whether they're going to lose an arm, they lose their legs, their friend's going to be killed, or they're going to be killed by an explosive device. And so the stress gets to be tremendous on these young people. I had a young sergeant that called me -- when I say young, he was retiring after 24 years in the Special Forces -- he said, 'We stand around the television and watch you because you're speaking for us. These guys sitting on their fat back sides in Washington,' he didn't say that, he said, 'These guys sitting in Washington in air-conditioned offices are not speaking for us. You're speaking for us.' Now, that's only one sergeant, but he felt very strongly that I understood what was going on out there, and I would hope that I'm portraying it accurately."
Unger: "Let me ask you about that. You're always speaking to soldiers, and I want to know: Is that anecdotal? Or do, how many soldiers or how many in the Pentagon speak to you regularly, daily, and say, 'Congressman, you're speaking for us, thank you'? Is it just a, how would you quantify it?"
Murtha: "Well, I don't know how you'd quantify it, but I talk to them all the time. The general officers obviously are very careful about what they say. But, as I've said, General Pace said we can't win this militarily. All the general officers know that. You cannot win a guerrilla war militarily. It has to be won diplomatically. The Iraqis are the only ones who can win this war. And I'm convinced that until we redeploy we're going to be the enemy, and we're the occupiers. And we're actually recruiting terrorists into Iraq. The only people that want us in Iraq is al-Qaeda and North Korea, Iran, Russia and China, because we're depleting our financial resources and our human resources. So there's no question in my mind in the end, and I predict before the end of this year you'll see substantial redeployments because the Iraqis, if they've already said it, and you remember the prime minister came here, the interim prime minister, and he said we want you out of here, and they covered up, they said, oh, his words, he didn't mean this, you know, that kind of stuff. So I'm convinced by the end of the year, you'll see a redeployment, before the end of the year, before the election you'll see a redeployment."
Unger: "Speaking of the elections, Jack Murtha weighs in on Karl Rove's tactics in framing the debate on the war on Iraq and responds to the latest round of personal attacks leveled against him. That's next. ..."
Unger, during commercial break: "The politics behind the war debate. Jack Murtha unleashes his thoughts about Karl Rove and the other partisan attackers trying to squash the discussion about Iraq. And Murtha weighs in on his own political future. That's next. This is Countdown.
Unger: "Using personal attacks to make ideological points won't win you any friends, but it will win you elections. Just ask Karl Rove. Our fourth story on the Countdown, the Swift-Boating of the 2006 election has begun. Getting personal far more important, it seems, than getting the facts right. Congressman Jack Murtha, no stranger to vicious personal attacks since he started speaking out against the war in Iraq, he also isn't shy about confronting his critics. Earlier I asked Congressman Murtha about Mr. Rove's tactics and how he chooses to fight back in part two of our interview."
Unger: "Congressman, I've been waiting for about 12 hours to ask you this question. In yesterday's floor debate, Congressman Louis Gohmert of Texas attacked you personally, personally for your position on the war in Iraq."
Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX): "Thank God for his ministering to grieving families, but thank God he was not here and prevailed after the bloodbaths at Normandy and in the Pacific or we would be here speaking Japanese or German. Thank you."
Murtha: "I ask the Speaker: Was the gentleman in any of those locations? Was the gentleman at either at Normandy or any of those locations?"
Gohmert: "The gentleman yields. You want to know which locations?"
Gohmert: "Normandy was a horrible bloodbath-"
Murtha: "I said, 'Were you there?'"
Gohmert: "Oh, no, I wasn't."
Murtha: "Were you at Vietnam?"
Gohmert: "No, sir, I wasn't."
Murtha: "Were you in Iraq?"
Gohmert: "No, oh, I've been over there. I haven't been fighting. And I do admire the gentleman's compassion-"
Murtha: "Well, I appreciate that."
Gohmert: "-and I do appreciate all that he has done for our wounded. He has done a great service, and that would be you, Mr. Murtha."
Murtha: "I appreciate that."
Gohmert: "Thank you for your work."
Murtha, back to the interview: "Yeah, this happens every once in a while. They get carried away over there."
Unger: "But does that, let me ask you something: Does that have a place in a debate on something at this point, at this stage in the war?"
Murtha: "You know, what I say is that I'm debating the policy. You know, it's nothing personal, it's not that I don't like George Bush. As a matter of fact, I consider Cheney a friend who I worked with when he was Secretary of Defense and I was chairman of the Defense Subcommittee of Appropriations. But these guys have a tendency, rather than answer my suggestions substantively, they answer them rhetorically, and they give these kind of answers that make no sense at all."
Unger: "Does that infuriate you, does that bother you when someone says to you that this whole country would be talking, speaking in the language of Japanese if we had listened to folks like you?"
Murtha: "Yeah, I do get upset, and I told him in no uncertain terms. One of them said something about Normandy, he said that if you had my position, we wouldn't have gone into Normandy. That's ridiculous. My dad and three of his brothers served in World War II. Three of my brothers were in the Marine Corps. I mean, we know something about this stuff. If you disagree with the policy, Theodore Roosevelt said you have an obligation, I have an obligation as a member of Congress. When I disagree, it would be treasonous not to say something, Theodore Roosevelt said. And I say the same thing. It's my obligation to speak out when I disagree with the policy. Somebody to get up and say something like that, they're reading something somebody gave them."
Unger: "Congressman, the charges repeated again this week by Karl Rove, many are scratching their heads, some are looking at their history books, but it's about the charge that Democrats are cutting and running. Who cut and ran? Who is, you know, is actually is advocating the strategy to cut and run? That's the question no one seems to be able to really answer. Who's cutting and running?"
Murtha: "Well, it's just, it's a slogan. That's all. Here's a guy sitting on his fat backside in an air conditioned office talking about the troops. He doesn't have a clue what's going on in Iraq. He doesn't have a clue that they have 70 pounds of armor that they're inside 130-degree temperature inside an armored vehicle. And every day they go out, every convoy is hit by explosive devices, and their mission is to find these explosive devices so they can protect the convoys against them. I mean, that's just a slogan, 'Stay the Course' is a slogan. There's no plan. I'm saying give us a plan. Somebody's got to make some sense out of this thing and redeploy our troops, I'm convinced, as quickly as practicable and let the Iraqis fight this out among themselves."
Unger: "Congressman, I want to talk about you for a moment. I understand that you've held off on your bid to become majority leader if the Democratic party wins the House in November. What drove your decision? Was it that you feel that it may have been just a little premature to start thinking about that?"
Murtha: "Well, it was premature to start thinking about it. I had to put a place holder in place, but I think it was premature to start campaigning. It distracted some of the members. They said every time they talk to the press, instead of talking about what they considered really important issues, they'd ask who are they going to vote for. So I decided that wasn't the best thing. I sent them all a letter today saying look, folks, I'm still in the race and I'm serious about this, and I want you to know that I hope I'll get your support, but if I hadn't gotten in this early, you know how it is in a race, people say, well, I didn't know you were in it, so the other guy came to me and I felt it was absolutely essential that I put my name out there early. And now that I've stirred it up, I don't hesitate to wait until the election's over. First of all, we've got to win the majority obviously."
Unger: "But you're in?"
Murtha: "I'm in."
Unger: "My conversation with Congressman Jack Murtha earlier today on his political future and the politics surrounding the war debate, or the lack of it, on Iraq."