Arizona Senator John McCain is one of American politics’ most complex political figures After becoming a political and cultural hero in the late 1990s into 2000 due to the story of his incredible bravery while in the military, in recent years as he ran for President in an ill-fated campaign and faced a potentially tough challenger for re-election to the Senate he seemingly good-bye to his former constituency of moderates who admired him for being somewhat unpredictable in politics — as someone who could transcend partisanship. But yesterday he returned to old form, channeling the late Joseph Welch, the head counsel for the United States Army while it was under investigation by Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for Communist activities.
The issue: Republican Tea Party icon Rep. Michele Bachmann’s McCarthy-like phoney charges against a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, who happens to be a Muslim. And in doing so several things happened:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) came to an unexpected and impassioned defense of Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying that “sinister accusations” by congressional conservatives about her alleged connection to the Muslim Brotherhood must end.
The attacks have been led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the chairwoman of the tea party caucus in the House, and four other lawmakers, who have asked federal officials to investigate whether Abedin, a Muslim American who is deputy chief of staff at the State Department, is influencing U.S. policy in ways beneficial to the pan-Arab Islamic group.
Abedin is one of Clinton’s closest aides, and former President Clinton presided at her wedding. The lawmakers cite an online report that alleges Abedin’s relatives, including her deceased father, have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit. And they need to stop now,” said McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and its top voice on defense policy. “I have every confidence in Huma’s loyalty to our country, and everyone else should as well. All Americans owe Huma a debt of gratitude for her many years of superior public service. I hope these ugly and unfortunate attacks on her can be immediately brought to an end and put behind us before any further damage is done to a woman, an American, of genuine patriotism and love of country.”
McCain acknowledged the unusual nature of his decision to come to the Senate floor to speak about a particular individual. But he said he was compelled to do so to protect her character and reputation in the face of attacks being made “without concern for fact or fairness.”
“Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully,” said McCain, who said he had seen Abedin in action overseas, at Clinton’s side. “I am proud to know Huma, and to call her my friend.”
Bachmann and the other lawmakers singled out various individuals for scrutiny in a series of letters late last week to the inspectors general at several departments, including State, Defense and Homeland Security. They are seeking investigations into the alleged ties of these individuals, who work for or advise the agencies, to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Here’s the video of his comments in full:
From Wikipedia, this account of Welch finally saying for all to hear who McCarthy really was:
Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentle man but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.
When McCarthy tried to renew his attack, Welch interrupted him:
Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
McCarthy tried to ask Welch another question about Fisher, and Welch cut him off:
Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me and could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have seen fit to bring it out. And if there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further.
The gallery erupted in applause.
Part of the commentary by Bachmann’s former consultant Ed Rollins on the Fox News website, titled: Bachmann’s former campaign chief — shame on you, Michele. (Rollins’ reaction proves “great minds think alike”):
I have been a practitioner of tough politics for many decades. There is little that amazes me and even less that shocks me. I have to say that Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s outrageous and false charges against a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin reaches that threshold.
Her unsubstantiated charge against Abedin, a widely respected top aide to Secretary Hillary Clinton, accusing her of some sort of far-fetched connection to the Muslim brotherhood, is extreme and dishonest.
Having worked for Congressman Bachman’s campaign for president, I am fully aware that she sometimes has difficulty with her facts, but this is downright vicious and reaches the late Senator Joe McCarthy level. (Joe McCarthy falsely made claims that there were large numbers of Communists and Soviet spies inside the State Department in the early 1950’s. On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted to “condemn” McCarthy on two counts.)
Senator John McCain, an American hero, stood on the floor of the Senate Wednesday and condemned Mrs. Bachmann, if not by name then by her actions:
In that sentence, Rollins removed any political figleaf Bachmann or her supporters on the political moon had that McCain really wasn’t talking about here. Rollins recounts McCain’s speech, then ends:
The Republican Party, which John McCain led as our nominee in 2008, is going to become irrelevant if we become the party of intolerance and hate. The party founded by Abraham Lincoln was a party that fought slavery and intolerance at every level.
I can assure Mrs. Bachmann, that Ms. Abedin has been thru every top clearance available and would never have been given her position with any questions of her loyalty to this country.
As a member of Congress, with a seat on the House Intelligence Committee, Mrs. Bachmann you know better. Shame on you, Michele! You should stand on the floor of the House and apologize to Huma Abedin and to Secretary Clinton and to the millions of hard working,loyal, Muslim Americans for your wild and unsubstantiated charges. As a devoted Christian, you need to ask forgiveness for this grievous lack of judgment and reckless behavior.
And Bachmann’s response? She refuses to back down. Here’s part of the CBS News account, which includes their putting it into a larger context.:
But Bachmann and the others wrote, “Huma Abedin has three family members — her late father, her mother and her brother — connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations.”
Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, the nation’s first Muslim congressman, says, “Our country has gone through a McCarthy period. We cannot allow America to go back to another one.”
He said the letters reminded him of the 1950s-era witch hunt for Communists in the government, and called Bachmann’s evidence misleading and fake.
“It’s like a bizarre game of six degrees of separation. She mentions that her father, who has been dead for two decades, knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who was connected to the Muslim brotherhood in some unspecified way!” Ellison said.
Abedin is a 37-year-old new mother who has graced the pages of Vogue. She is married to former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who is Jewish and a fierce defender of Israel.
Weiner resigned in disgrace last year after his provocative texts to female supporters were made public.
In this week’s People magazine, the two said they have worked hard to repair their marriage. “I’m proud to be married to him,” Abedin said.
This isn’t the first time that Bachmann has let her suspicions outpace the facts.
Last year, she suggested, falsely, that HPV vaccines might cause mental retardation.
And in 2009, she urged the media to look into the loyalties of her congressional colleagues. “Are they pro-America or anti-America?” she asked. “I think the American people would love to see an expose like that.”
CBS News asked all five House members for an interview about the letters they sent, but none agreed.
In a statement, Bachmann did not back down, saying she would “not be silent as this administration appeases our enemies” and saying she wants a full investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood.
Bachmann triggers memories of this song:
And McCain triggers memories of this other patriot, who also defended the “real” America: