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Profiles in Political Cowardice (or Expedience)

The House Democrats who voted for the SAFE Act put their own safety over principle
by Lou Dubose


Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division; Harris and Ewing Collection

Forty-seven Democrats turning their backs on principle—and on their president—in Thursday’s House vote on an “Arab Exclusion Act” reminded me of a conversation I had with the late Maury Maverick Jr.

Maverick was a San Antonio civil rights lawyer, son of New Deal Congressman Maury Maverick (who was red-baited out of office) and great-grandson of Samuel Maverick, a lawyer-rancher who refused to brand his cattle so that he could claim any unbranded stray calf as, you got it, a Maverick.

Maury Jr. served in the Texas House in the 1950s, when right-wing politics were as white-hot hysterical as they are today and legislators were rooting out communist sympathizers on the University of Texas faculty.

As the House prepared to vote on a resolution to investigate an economics professor who wasn’t entirely on board with capitalism, Maury slipped into the men’s restroom and hid in a stall. When his father called the following day to ask why Maury Jr.’s name was nowhere to be found in newspaper accounts of the vote, Maury told him he had been hiding in the restroom.

“You’re a goddamn shithouse liberal,” the senior Maverick said. “I don’t want any shithouse liberal in my family.”

“Maury Sr. never forgave me for being a shithouse liberal,” Maverick told me.

The bill that 47 Democrats helped pass yesterday is made to sound reasonable. The Security Against Foreign Enemies Act (SAFE, as it turns out) is anything but reasonable.

Consider this: all that’s required for a Syrian or Iraqi refugee to get into the United States is for the director of the FBI, the director of national intelligence, and the secretary of homeland security to certify that the refugee is not a national security threat.

In short, as FBI Director James Comey said yesterday, no one gets in.

“Nobody’s asked you to do anything,” minority leader Nancy Pelosi said she told Democratic House members before the vote. “Do whatever works for you, for your district.”

“Whatever works for your district” can be interpreted as “whatever you need to do to save your seats.” I looked at the 2014 election results. It’s evident that roughly 40 of the 47 members (who provide House Speaker Paul Ryan with enough votes to override an expected presidential veto) won their last elections by narrow margins, and are vulnerable to challengers running  “soft-on-Islamic-terrorism” campaigns against them in 2016.

So maybe they voted to do whatever works for their districts.

Others’ votes are harder to figure.

Los Angeles Representative Janice Hahn (whose father was the only elected official in Los Angeles to publicly meet Martin Luther King when he arrived in the city in 1961) won her last election with 87.6 percent of the vote.

Houston Representative Gene Green, who has held his seat since 1994, squeaked by his opponent in the last election with 90 percent of the vote.

Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur, a reliable liberal voice who has held office since 1984, got 67.7 percent of the vote in 2014.

Georgia Representative David Scott has held office since 2004 and was unopposed in 2014.

Alabama Representative Terri Sewell, a House Deputy Whip who was counting votes on the SAFE bill while voting against her party, faced a write-in opponent who managed to shave off 1.6 of the vote in 2014.

Texan Mark Veasey, first elected in 2012, got 83 percent of the popular vote in 2014.

Dependable liberal Lloyd Doggett of Austin, who has served in the House since 1994 (despite persistent and egregious reconfiguring of his district by Texas Republicans), defeated his Republican challenger 62-33 percent in 2014.

Maury told me the “shithouse liberal” story more than once, in fact more than four or five times, because he loved a good tale.

But I also think he told and retold it as an act of public atonement for a vote that violated his (and his father’s) principles and countenanced the same fear-mongering, hysterical, right-wing politics that today would deny shelter to foreigners whose lives were destroyed in part by U.S. foreign policy.

The House Democrats who voted for the SAFE Act that passed the House Thursday can’t be called shithouse liberals. They stood on the House floor and cast their votes. But what kind of liberals are they?

Maybe they considered it a SAFE vote because President Obama, on principle, will veto it.


Democratic lawmakers who voted for SAFE:

Pete Aguilar (CA)
Brad Ashford (NE)
Ami Bera (CA)
Sanford Bishop (GA)
Julia Brownley (CA)
Cheri Bustos (IL)
John Carney (DE)
Gerry Connolly (VA)
Jim Cooper (TN)
Jim Costa (CA)
Joe Courtney (CT)
Henry Cuellar (TX)
John Delaney (MD)
Lloyd Doggett (TX)
Tulsi Gabbard (HI)
John Garamendi (CA)
Gwen Graham (FL)
Gene Green (TX)
Janice Hahn (CA)
Jim Himes (CT)
Steve Israel (NY)
Marcy Kaptur (OH)
Bill Keating (MA)
Ron Kind (WI)
Annie Kuster (NH)
Jim Langevin (RI)
Dan Lipinski (IL)
Dave Loebsack (IA)
Stephen Lynch (MA)
Sean Maloney (NY)
Patrick Murphy (FL)
Rick Nolan (MN)
Donald Norcross (NJ)
Scott Peters (CA)
Collin Peterson (MN)
Jared Polis (CO)
Kathleen Rice (NY)
Raul Ruiz (CA)
Tim Ryan (OH)
Kurt Schrader (OR)
David Scott (GA)
Terri Sewell (AL)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ)
Louise Slaughter (NY)
Marc Veasey (TX)
Filemon Vela (TX)
Tim Walz (MN)

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  1. Disgusting!! Are they all Cheney fans? Might as well take the statue of liberty & drop it offshore to make a reef, because she is meaningless now.

  2. Absurd! These politicians are actually enabling terrorism by such a response.

    “Terrorism” as the word itself implies, aims to generate fear or terror to achieve its goals. *Promoting fear* after a violent act, amplifies the original act of violence, contributing to its “success.” When politicians respond by repression, or by promoting hatred and fear among constituents they are acting to enable terrorism.

    Terrorism feeds on fear! It is time to switch gears, and to refrain from dramatizing terrorism and fueling terrorism by inflammatory words and actions. We also need to reconsider our responses.

    Previous violent attempts in responding to the violence of ever-changing groups with violence have increased the problem, like fighting Hydra, the many-headed monster who grew two heads each time one head was cut off.

    Attempts to stop violence through violence have consistently failed. It is long past time to explore different methods: Why not work to end the disenfranchisement and despair that lead some to see terrorism as the only way out?

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