CNN's Wolf Blitzer failed to challenge Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman's false attacks on Democrats over the Iraq war and immigration policy.
On the June 20 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, anchor Wolf Blitzer allowed Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman to falsely attack Democrats on the Iraq war and immigration policy.
On Iraq, Mehlman claimed that Democrats, such as Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA), support a "cut-and-run" option, a "cut-and-jog" option, or a "cut-and-walk" option -- referring to Democratic calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. According to Mehlman: "The fact is if you did any of these things, the enemy would see it as surrender, and it would make Americans less safe." Mehlman later went on to claim: "People may disagree about how we got there, they may disagree about some of the specifics, but they recognize that a strategy that the terrorists would see as surrender is the wrong strategy." But polling -- including that of Blitzer's own network -- contradicts Mehlman's suggestion about the public's view of withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. According to the CNN poll, conducted June 14-15, 53 percent of respondents favored setting "a timetable for withdrawal by announcing that it will remove all of its troops from Iraq by a certain date." A June 9-12 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 57 percent of respondents favored reducing U.S. troop levels "now that Iraq has adopted a constitution." A June 9-11 Gallup/USA Today poll (subscription required) found that 49 percent of respondents favored withdrawing U.S. forces right away or within one year. Nonetheless, Blitzer did not challenge Mehlman's statement.
On immigration, Mehlman repeated the highly misleading GOP talking point that "House Democrats overwhelmingly voted in order to make illegal immigrants felons," while Republicans "were concerned with actually making sure that we passed a law that secured all Americans from all backgrounds and all walks of life." Mehlman was referring to the House vote on an amendment proposed by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) to the controversial House immigration bill -- which Sensenbrenner sponsored -- reducing the bill's classification of unlawful U.S. presence from a felony to a misdemeanor. Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the amendment. But as Media Matters for America has documented, Sensenbrenner introduced the amendment not to "soften" the legislation, as many falsely claimed, but to facilitate the prosecution of illegal immigrants. Sensenbrenner said on the House floor on December 16, 2005:
SENSENBRENNER: The administration subsequently requested the penalty for these crimes be lowered to 6 months. Making the first offense a felony, as the base bill would do, would require a grand jury indictment, a trial before a district court judge and a jury trial.
Also because it is a felony, the defendant would be able to get a lawyer at public expense if the defendant could not afford the lawyer. These requirements would mean that the government would seldom if ever actually use the new penalties. By leaving these offenses as misdemeanors, more prosecutions are likely to be brought against those aliens whose cases merit criminal prosecution.
For this reason, the amendment returns the sentence for illegal entry to its current 6 months and sets the penalty for unlawful presence at the same level.
Moreover, as Media Matters pointed out, many Democrats made clear at the time that their rejection of the Sensenbrenner amendment was consistent with their opposition to subjecting illegal immigrants to any criminal penalties at all, including those that would have been imposed under Sensenbrenner's amended bill.
But rather than confronting Mehlman, Blitzer bade Mehlman goodbye and hoped he would "come back to The Situation Room."
From the June 20 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: Our CNN poll -- recent poll -- said: "How are things going for the U.S. in Iraq?" Fourty-one percent said they're going well, 55 percent said they're going badly. This even after the president's visit there, the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the formation of a new Iraqi government. You have your work cut out for yourself.
MEHLMAN: Absolutely. But listen, what we want to do is exactly what [Democratic National Committee] chairman [Howard] Dean said, which is we want to listen to the military. And there's a debate going on within the Democratic Party. Some are saying we need to cut and run. Others are saying we need to cut and jog. And still others are saying we need to cut and walk.
BLITZER: Now, who's saying cut and run?
MEHLMAN: Well, I think if you look at what Mr. Murtha suggested, which would have been out last November, that's a cut-and-run approach. If we had followed his advice, we wouldn't have gotten Zarqawi; we wouldn't have had 40,000 Iraqi troops who would have been trained; the cooperation that exists that helped us get Zarqawi, between the Jordanians and the Iraqis, and others, that wouldn't necessarily be there. It would be the exact --
BLITZER: Because the -- because the Senate Democrats, even those who want the U.S. out by a year from now, July 1st of 2007, they're saying that's plenty of time -- three years-plus already, another year for this new Iraqi government to get its act together, to form a cohesive military and political unit, and bring the U.S. troops home.
MEHLMAN: We might want to call that one the cut-and-walk option. The fact is if you did any of these things, the enemy would see it as surrender, and it would make Americans less safe. It was very revealing, I thought, that when Jack Murtha was on Meet the Press, the two analogies he gave of what we should do were Somalia, one, and Beirut, two. There was an Osama bin Laden interview with ABC News where he said one of the reasons they continued to escalate the attacks on America was because of what they learned in Somalia, and what they learned in Beirut, by Americans pulling out after the attacks. If you think --
BLITZER: Well, you could make the argument, too, that the U.S. should've never gotten involved in Beirut, should have never gotten involved in Mogadishu.
MEHLMAN: But the notion that we're being attacked because we're in that neighborhood is entirely wrong and has been disproven again and again. The reason we were attacked is because, for a generation, we did what Jack Murtha suggested, which is when they hit us, we would back down, as opposed to recognizing that the way we win this "war on terror," the way we won World War II, the way we won the Cold War is by being on the offense, not the defense.
BLITZER: You're trying to hold on to the majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives. In our -- in the CBS News poll, excuse me, the approval of the way Congress is handling its job, and this is a Republican-led House and Senate, only 26 percent say they approve of the way the Congress is handling its job, 60 percent disapprove. And if you ask registered voters in our poll: Who do you prefer? Generically, 45 percent go for the Democrats, 38 percent go for the Republicans. It looks like the Democrats, if they get their act together, they have a shot at taking the majority in the Senate and the House.
MEHLMAN: Well, Wolf, I don't think that they will. I think it's going to be -- all politics is local, race versus race. You saw what happened in the California-50 [congressional] seat, when they preferred the Republican [Brian Bilbray]. And one of the reasons I think our candidates are going to win is this debate on Iraq. People may disagree about how we got there, they may disagree about some of the specifics, but they recognize that a strategy that the terrorists would see as surrender is the wrong strategy.
BLITZER: How worried are you that this will anger Latino voters? Because you, as chairman of the RNC, you've made a major push to bring in the Latino voters, and this, at least a lot of people think, is going to alienate a lot of those people.
MEHLMAN: I don't think it's going to anger Latino voters because Latino-Americans, like Anglo-Americans, like all Americans, recognize that when you're at war, if your border's not secure, then no one is safe. I will tell you this, Wolf, though. We're seeing politics played on the other side. You may remember when the House Democrats overwhelmingly voted in order to make illegal immigrants felons, House Republicans voted against that. The Democrats thought they could win an issue, we were concerned with actually making sure that we passed a law that secured all Americans from all backgrounds and all walks of life.
BLITZER: Ken Mehlman is the chairman of the Republican Party. We hope you'll come back to The Situation Room.
MEHLMAN: I look forward to it.