ERIC BOEHLERT/Media Matters for America
Once again, the press is turning a blind eye to the unprecedented obstructionism coming from the Republican Party.
In the wake of Ambassador Susan Rice's Capitol Hill meetings with Republican senators this week and the harsh assessment they quickly gave reporters, most new accounts stressed that if Rice were nominated to be secretary of state she would face stiff opposition. Reporters detailed how Republicans were raising objections to Rice's involvement in the controversy surrounding the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi after she was selected to appear on Sunday talk shows to relay the intelligence community's assessment of the attack. (An assessment that was later changed.)
Here's the key fact most press accounts omitted: The GOP continues to engage in unrivaled obstructionism. And its threat to vote down Rice as secretary of state before she's even named likely represents an unparalleled act of partisan defiance.
The extremist maneuver erases decades, if not centuries, of Capitol Hill protocol with regards to allowing a newly elected president to confirm the secretary of state of his choosing. The aggressive GOP attempt to derail Rice's rise also runs counter to how Democrats confirmed Condoleeza Rice as secretary of state, despite outstanding questions about her involvement in selling and planning the Iraq War.
Even more shocking with regards to Susan Rice was the threat this week from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) that she would try to block any secretary of state nominee, whether it's Rice or someone else, unless the White House provides more answers about Benghazi. (The White House has been providing Benghazi answers for 10 weeks now.)
Ayotte's stunning threat is, without question, the definition of (militant) obstructionism :
One who systematically blocks or interrupts a process, especially one who attempts to impede passage of legislation by the use of delaying tactics, such as a filibuster.
Ayotte's scorched-earth tactic was treated by the Beltway press as nothing more than routine political posturing. Virtually no information was provided cluing news consumers into just how radical and extraordinary a proposal the Republican was making, or just how remarkable it was for senators to mount a campaign to block a secretary of state nomination.
Note that in these news reports from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Washington Post, all of the crucial context was missing. And it's routinely missing from the ongoing Rice coverage.
The coordinated, partisan campaign to attack and derail Rice's possible nomination is highly, highly unusual regarding a secretary of state. But you would never know it from watching and reading the press coverage, which depicts the battle as simply more political jockeying and part of a long-running partisan feud where both sides are to blame.
It's not. And the press ought to say so.
Fact: For decades, secretaries of state were confirmed by the U.S. Senate unanimously, as senators acknowledged the president's prerogative in selecting one of the country's most important cabinet posts. There existed a longtime acknowledgement that partisanship was supposed to end "at the water's edge" and that the United States' envoy to the world should have the backing of both parties.
In 1981, when Al Haig was confirmed to be Ronald Reagan's secretary of state and received six no votes that was considered unusual and newsworthy. When Condoleeza Rice was confirmed in 2005 with 13 no votes, she collected the most dissenting votes for any secretary of state in 180 years.
At the time, Fox News' Charles Krauthhamer noted that historic fact [emphasis added]:
In this country, it is customary to allow the president to choose his own Cabinet so long as the nominee is minimally qualified....Indeed, secretaries of state are generally approved unanimously. This is the first nomination in a quarter-century to have earned even a single dissenting vote.
Note that in 2005, Krauthammer thought it was imprudent for any Democrat to vote against Rice's nomination. (Sean Hannity decried the Democrats' "shrillness" on the topic.) With Republicans now threatening to indefinitely block Susan Rice's possible nomination by placing a hold on her would-be bid, and with Fox News talkers (including Krauthammer) leading an endless barrage of attacks against Rice, placing her at the center of an alleged cover-up, the conservative script on secretaries of state has certainly flipped.
It's true that twelve Democrats and one Independent voted against Condoleeza Rice, based on her role in selling the public on the need for war with Iraq. (i.e. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.") But at no time was there a concerted campaign to actually block her nomination. Democrats made it clear early on in the process that Rice would be confirmed. And that's how the story was covered.
On Nov 17, 2004, when the Washington Post reported on President Bush's selection of Rice, the article didn't even bother quoting Democrats to gage the party's reaction. The premise of the article was straightforward: Rice will be the next secretary of state because the president wants her to be.
And that's how the process has mostly worked throughout American history. That's certainly how it's worked in modern American history.
Today though, in a radical bout of obstructionism, Republicans are vowing to vote down Rice and vowing to possibly block any secretary of state nomination put forward by President Obama.
And the press is giving Republicans a pass. Just as they've done throughout Obama's presidency, pundits and reporters are careful not to spell out the historic, extremist tactics being adopted by Obama's opponents; the same opponents who have voted en masse against his initiatives for four years in an unrivaled display of legislative partisanship.