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An amendment to a Congressional appropriations bill is signed into law. The amendment, sponsored by Representative Henry Hyde (D-IL), prohibits the use of certain federal funds to fund abortions, and primarily affects Medicaid payments. It will quickly become known as the Hyde Amendment and will be renewed every year thereafter. The amendment is a response to the 1973 legalization of abortion by the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision (see January 22, 1973), and represents the first major victory by anti-abortion forces to restrict the availability of abortions in the US. Many abortion advocates say the amendment unfairly targets low-income women, effectively denying them access to abortions, and restricts abortions to women who can pay for them. A 2000 study will show that up to 35 percent of women eligible for Medicaid would have had abortions had public funding been available to them; instead, they carried their pregnancies to term against their own wishes. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will call the amendment “discriminatory.” In 1993, the wording of the Hyde Amendment will be modified to read, “None of the funds appropriated under this Act shall be expended for any abortion except when it is made known to the federal entity or official to which funds are appropriated under this Act that such procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother or that the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.” The wording will remain the same for the next 17 years. As the amendment covers only federal spending, some states, including Hawaii and New York, cover abortions. Court challenges will result in the forcible coverage of abortions in other states. (American Civil Liberties Union 7/21/2004; National Abortion Federation 2006; National Committee for a Human Life Amendment 3/2008 )
Both the House and Senate name special committees to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
Avoiding Impeachment - The two investigations will quickly merge into one joint, unwieldy committee. Neither Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) nor Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) have any intention of allowing the investigations to become impeachment hearings against President Reagan (see December 19, 1986). They decide to combine the House and Senate investigations in the hopes that the investigation will move more quickly and limit the damage to the presidency. They envision a bipartisan committee made up of wise, sober lawmakers able to prevent the investigation from becoming a witch hunt. Wright will remember telling the Republican minority leadership, “You appoint and we appoint and we can maintain some control.”
Choosing Chairmen, Members - Byrd chooses Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), a decorated World War II veteran who had served on the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 7, 1973) and the Senate Intelligence Committee. In turn, Inouye names Warren Rudman (R-NH), a former federal prosecutor, as his vice chairman, promising to share all the powers and responsibilities of the chairmanship with him. According to authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Rudman “would overshadow” the self-effacing Inouye. For the House side, Wright names conservative Lee Hamilton (D-IN) to chair that portion of the committee. Both Hamilton and Inouye have a deep conviction that to accomplish anything of lasting import, decisions must be arrived at in a bipartisan fashion. Wright names several powerful Democratic committee chairmen to the House committee; their responsibilities as committee chairmen will interfere with their ability to devote the proper time and effort to the investigation. House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IN) chooses his members with a very different agenda in mind. Michel, himself a relatively moderate Republican, chooses Dick Cheney (R-WY) as the ranking member of the House investigation. Cheney is well-informed about intelligence and foreign affairs, and, in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, “ruthlessly partisan.” In addition, Cheney will function as the White House “mole” on the committee, alerting White House officials as to the thrust and direction of the investigation and allowing them time to prepare accordingly. Michel salts the House committee with right-wing ideologues, including Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Bill McCollum (R-FL). Few of Michel’s House committee members have any intention of pursuing the facts behind Iran-Contra; instead, they are bent on undermining the Democrats on the committee and ensuring that the committee achieves few, if any, of its goals.
Loss of Leverage - From the outset, Wright and Byrd’s opposition to any consideration of presidential impeachment, no matter what evidence is unearthed, loses them their biggest advantage in the proceedings. Not only will committee Republicans feel more confident in pulling the investigation away from sensitive and potentially embarrassing matters, the committee will ignore important evidence of Reagan’s own involvement in the Iran-Contra decision-making process, including recordings of telephone conversations showing Reagan discussing financing the Contras with foreign leaders. Hamilton in particular will be an easy mark for the ideologues in the Republican group of committee members; his biggest worry is whether Reagan “would be able to govern” after the investigation, and his relentless bipartisanship makes him easy for the committee Republicans to manipulate and sway. As for the Republicans, even fellow GOP committee member Rudman will become disgusted with their naked partisanship and their refusal to pursue the facts. “It was obvious that Dick Cheney and others were more interested in protecting the president than in finding out what had happened,” Rudman will later recall. Dubose and Bernstein add that Cheney has another agenda as well: preserving the powers of the presidency against Congressional encroachment.
Cheney's Influence - Cheney has always succeeded in lulling his opposition with his unruffled demeanor. He is able to do the same thing on the investigative committee. “We totally misread the guy,” a Democratic staffer later recalls. “We thought he was more philosophical than political.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 68-69)
The congressional Iran-Contra committee has finally produced a final report, which committee Democrats thought would be unanimous. But committee Republicans fought successfully to water down the report, including the exclusion of evidence proving President Reagan’s involvement in the policy decisions (see August 3, 1987 and After), and then at the last minute broke away and announced their intention to issue a minority report—which was their intention all along. “From the get-go they wanted a minority report,” Republican staffer Bruce Fein will later recall. The official majority report is due to come out on November 17, but a printing error forces it to be delayed a day (see November 18, 1987). The committee Republicans, headed by Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) and Senator Henry Hyde (R-IL) leak their minority report to the New York Times on November 16, thus stealing a march on the majority. On November 17, all of the committee Republicans save three—Senators Warren Rudman (R-NH), Paul Trible (R-VA), and William Cohen (R-ME)—hold a press conference in which they accuse the majority of staging a “witch hunt” against the president and the administration. The minority report asserts: “There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for the ‘rule of law,’ no grand conspiracy, and no administration-wide dishonesty or cover-up.… In our view the administration did proceed legally in pursuing both its Contra policy and the Iran arms initiative.” Rudman calls the minority report “pathetic,” and says his Republican colleagues have “separated the wheat from the chaff and sowed the chaff.” The press focuses on the conflict between the two reports. The Democrats largely ignore the minority report: “This was ‘87,” one Democratic staff member will recall. “We had a substantial majority and the Republicans were trained to be what we thought was a permanent minority party. When they would yap and yell, we would let them yap. It just didn’t matter.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 80-81)
Attorney General Janet Reno names former Senator John Danforth (R-MO) as a special counsel to investigate the events of the April 1993 tragedy outside of Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), and specifically to determine whether actions by the FBI led to the fire that destroyed the Branch Davidian compound and killed almost 80 Davidians. Reno opens the investigation after learning that the FBI concealed evidence of the use of incendiary gas cartridges during the assault on the Davidian compound, actions that some believe may have started some of the fires (see August 10, 1999 and After, August 25, 1999 and After, and August 26, 1999). Danforth is a former US attorney general and an Episcopal priest. According to an Associated Press report, “both admirers and detractors have noted his emphasis on morals as well as his stubborn independence.” Former Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO), who served in the Senate with Danforth for 10 years, says: “He calls them like he sees them. Members of the Senate or House will have full faith in his finding.” (Associated Press 9/7/1999; Yost 9/9/1999; Fort Worth Star-Telegram 7/21/2000) Republicans in Congress have called on Reno to resign, while Democrats defend her tenure and say her actions during and after the Waco assault have been “commendable.” House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) says that he will hold off on attempting to launch a five-member commission to probe the Waco debacle. He will allow the Danforth investigation to proceed unimpeded, unless he feels the Justice Department is not cooperating with the probe. “Should events prove otherwise, we will reconsider this decision,” Hyde says. (Yost 9/9/1999) Danforth’s investigation will clear the FBI and the federal government of any wrongdoing (see July 21, 2000).
Chinese and US authorities continue to mediate the dispute over the crash of a US spy plane in Chinese territory (see March 31, 2001 and April 4-5, 2001). John Warner (R-VA), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says the two sides are working on a written agreement on what happened, which would be approved by the leaders of both countries. Bush officials have been careful to call the detained US crew members “detainees”, but Senator Henry Hyde (R-IL) denounces the detention of the crew, calling them “hostages.” (CNN 4/2001) Secretary of State Colin Powell is careful not to call the crew “hostages,” instead calling them “detainees[dq] who are being held [dq]incommunicado under circumstances which I don’t find acceptable.” (CNN 4/4/2001) The pilot of the spy plane, Lieutenant Shane Osborn, later describes the interrogation tactics of the Chinese, which include verbal abuse and sleep deprivation. (PBS Frontline 10/18/2001) Hyde is joined by outraged neoconservatives such as Robert Tracinski, who writes on April 9, “Meanwhile, [the Chinese] are ‘holding’ the airplane’s crew; ‘holding’ is the term we use to avoid calling our airmen ‘prisoners’ or ‘hostages.’” Tracinski echoes the sentiments of other neoconservatives when he accuses the US of pandering to the Chinese over the incident, and ignoring the plight of jailed Chinese dissidents. (Tracinski 4/9/2001) On April 7, some details of the written agreement are revealed, with the US expressing further regrets over the death of the pilot of the Chinese fighter jet involved in the collision, but without the formal apology demanded by China. (CNN 4/2001; Tracinski 4/9/2001)
Four prominent Republican officials make alarming comments about terrorism and especially the use of WMDs against the US:
Attorney General John Ashcroft says on CNN: “We believe there are substantial risks of terrorism still in the United States of America. As we as a nation respond to what has happened to us, those risks may in fact go up.”
White House chief of staff Andrew Card says on Fox News, “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but we know that these terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, run by Osama bin Laden and others, have probably found the means to use biological or chemical warfare.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says on NBC’s Meet the Press, “There’s always been terrorism, but there’s never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists.” He suggests several countries supporting terrorists either have WMDs or are trying to get them. “It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to expect that at some point those nations will work with those terrorist networks and assist them in achieving and obtaining those kinds of capabilities.” He does not name these countries, but the New York Times notes the next day that the US military had recently identified the WMD programs in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan as cause for concern.
Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also says on Meet the Press that biological weapons “scare” him more than nuclear weapons because they can be brought into the country “rather easily.”
The New York Times reports that there is no new intelligence behind these alarming comments. By contrast, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says it is unlikely terrorists are capable of making extremely deadly biological weapons. He says that terrorists might have access to weapons that use anthrax or smallpox, but while “There are those serious things… we can deal with them.” (Dao 10/1/2001) Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe: “Even the Cheney-driven White House effort to provide all Americans with the smallpox vaccine that was being pushed publicly in the latter weeks of 2002 played into the environment of fear about the Iraq WMD threat. It seems to me a little cynical to suggest that its timing was calculated, but it did not hurt the broader campaign to sell the war.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 138)
The House International Relations Committee drafts House Joint Resolution 75, which states that if Iraq refuses to allow UN inspectors to investigate freely in Iraq, the refusal will constitute an “act of aggression against the United States.” The bill is sponsored by Representatives Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Porter Goss (R-FL), and Henry Hyde (R-IL). A different version of this resolution is passed by the House on December 20 (see December 20, 2001). (Dougherty 12/11/2001; Library of Congress 1/15/2006)
US Congressmen write a letter to President Bush urging him to take military action against Iraq. Among those who sign the letter are Jesse Helms (R-NC), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Henry Hyde (R-IL), and Trent Lott (R-MS). The letter states, “As we work to clean up Afghanistan, it is imperative that we plan to eliminate the threat from Iraq. This December will mark three years since United Nations inspectors last visited Iraq. There is no doubt that since that time, Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs.… Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War levels. We believe we must directly confront Saddam, sooner rather than later.” (Kristol 12/6/2001; Jensen 12/15/2001)
House Joint Resolution 75 is passed by the House and sent to the Senate where it is referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. It is not as strongly worded as the initial draft (see December 4, 2001), which included a provision stating that the refusal to admit inspectors would constitute an “act of aggression against the United States.” The final version instead reads: “Iraq’s refusal to allow United Nations weapons inspectors immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access to facilities and documents covered by United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 and other relevant resolutions presents a mounting threat to the United States, its friends and allies, and international peace and security.” The bill is sponsored by Representatives Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Porter Goss (R-FL) and Henry Hyde (R-IL). (Library of Congress 1/15/2006) This bill will die in the Senate. The congressional bill that conditionally authorizes Bush to take military action against Iraq is not passed until October 11, 2002 (see October 8 and 11, 2002).
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida circulates a letter in Congress that expresses support for the Mujahedeen-e Khalq [MEK]. At the same time, however, Republican Congressmen, Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), outspoken critics of Iran’s government, circulate a dissident letter chastising Ros-Lehtinen for including partial and inaccurate information in her letter. “We are strong opponents of the current government of Iran but do not believe that it is necessary to use terrorism or make common cause… [with] Saddam Hussein to change Iran’s government,” they write. “Particularly in view of the fact that the MEK is based in Iraq, has taken part in operations against the Kurds and Shia, has been responsible for killing Americans in Iran, and has supported the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, we wanted you to have the full background on this organization as most recently reported by the Department of State, so that you may best decide whether to lend your name to this letter.” Ros-Lehtinen adds, “Some colleagues have signed similar letters in the past and then been embarrassed when confronted with accurate information about the MEK.” (Dealey 4/8/2003)
Representative Jean Schmidt (R-OH) accuses fellow Representative John Murtha (D-PA) of cowardice. Murtha, an ex-Marine, decorated Vietnam veteran, and longtime military supporter, has called for US troops to be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible (see November 17, 2005) and November 17, 2005). Schmidt says she is merely quoting the words of a constituent when she says on the floor of the House: “Yesterday I stood at Arlington National Cemetery attending the funeral of a young Marine in my district. He believed in what we were doing is the right thing and had the courage to lay his life on the line to do it. A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body—that we will see this through.” Democrats, appalled by Schmidt’s words, boo and shout her down; Democrat Harold Ford (D-TN) charges across the chamber’s center aisle and shouts that Schmidt’s attack is unwarranted. Democrat Martin Meehan (D-MA) shouts: “You guys are pathetic! Pathetic.” The conflict comes during a debate over a Republican “stunt resolution” that calls for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all troops from Iraq (see November 18, 2005).
Defending Murtha - Some House Republicans later defend Murtha’s patriotism: Henry Hyde (R-IL) says, “I give him an A-plus as a truly great American.” But Democrats are unforgiving. “This is a personal attack on one of the best members, one of the most respected members of this House, and it is outrageous,” says Jim McGovern (D-MA). In the Senate, John Kerry (D-MA) says, “I won’t stand for the swift-boating of Jack Murtha.” Kerry is referring to false accusations against him launched during the 2004 presidential election by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that challenged his Vietnam record. (Think Progress (.org) 11/18/2005; Schmitt 11/19/2005)
Schmidt Withdraws Statement - After the speaker pro tempore, Mike Simpson (R-IL) orders that her words be “taken down” (documented as possible violations of House rules), Schmidt attempts to backpedal: “Mr. Speaker, my remarks were not directed at any member of the House and I did not intend to suggest that they applied to any member. Most especially the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania. I therefore ask for unanimous consent that my words be withdrawn.” (Jesse Lee 11/18/2005)
Bubp: Never Discussed Murtha with Schmidt - Three days later, Bubp, the reserve Marine colonel and Ohio state representative Schmidt claims to be quoting, says that he never discussed Murtha with Schmidt and would never impugn a fellow Marine’s patriotism. “There was no discussion of him personally being a coward or about any person being a coward,” Bubp says. “The unfortunate thing about all of that is that her choice of words on the floor of the House—I don’t know, she’s a freshman, she had one minute. Unfortunately, they came out wrong.… My message to the folks in Washington, DC, and to all the Congress people up there, is to stay the course. We cannot leave Iraq or cut and run—any terminology that you want to use.… I don’t want to be interjected into this. I wish she never used my name.” (Rulon 11/22/2005)
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