Here’s the story from Politico. The accompanying youtube videos can be found at the bottom. What do you believe is happening, are Republicans holding Democrats accountable or are they simply attacking freshman Congressman?
Peril awaits any first-term lawmaker who ventures to the House floor unprepared for a duel, but Ohio Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy had a particularly rough go of it the other day.
Kilroy took the floor to support an amendment to a popular public-service bill — only to face an ambush from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who hit her hard for her vote on an unrelated American International Group measure.
It wasn’t an accident.
Foxx is part of a team of Republican members that House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has put together to create embarrassing, YouTube-worthy moments for vulnerable Democratic freshmen.
Cantor’s floor staff has created a photo album to help identify the 42 most vulnerable Democrats. The aides send daily e-mails to the members of the attack team and alert lawmakers when these targeted members are speaking on the floor. They even draft quick scripts to help focus the questioning.
The tactic seems to be working.
Democrats have begun pulling their vulnerable members from the floor as soon as the attacks begin. And even if the targeted Democrat doesn’t take the bait, video of the episode inevitably finds its way to the Web as evidence of either ineptitude or cowardice.
The Foxx-Kilroy smackdown was so rough that Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) tapped Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), a ferocious debater, to play the part of Foxx during a subsequent exercise with his freshmen on floor procedure.
Team Cantor says it’s just holding Democrats accountable.
“This is about accountability and being the party of honest opposition,” says Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring. “Members speaking on the floor have an obligation to talk straight with the American people, and if Democrats are going to run this place, they have a responsibility to know what it is they are talking about before they try to pass it.”
The floor can be a scary place for first-term lawmakers in both parties. Voices quiver as they read awkwardly from scripts drafted by their staff. Many are flustered by the rules, particularly those requiring lawmakers to avoid a direct dialogue with colleagues on the other side of the aisle by instead addressing whoever sits in the speaker’s chair.
Nervousness — and a lack of familiarity with the rules — make it tougher for new members to deflect political attacks when they find themselves in the cross hairs.
“The freshmen will all take some time getting their sea legs,” Kilroy told POLITICO last week.
Since January, Republicans have been trying to capitalize on that uncertainty.
The strategy took root during a briefing Cantor organized earlier this year with former Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa.), whose mastery of floor procedure frustrated Democrats again and again during the GOP’s last stint in the minority.
As it evolved, Cantor and his floor team recruited members, like Foxx, to request time to speak when vulnerable Democrats, like Kilroy, offer amendments or bills. The goal is to put these Democrats on the spot to answer tough political questions on sensitive topics. Under the rules of the House, the targeted members are forced to answer the questions or risk embarrassment in front of C-SPAN viewers and YouTube surfers.
The group of attackers includes members such as Foxx, freshman Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and talkative Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert — lawmakers who enjoy mixing it up in public.
Of course, these attacks don’t always work out. Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, a veteran of party politics, quickly turned a Chaffetz challenge against his attacker. The Utah freshman also appeared flustered when Kilroy left the floor recently as he launched another line of questioning about her AIG vote.
Democrats are now hip to the scam and rarely take the bait. A top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) quickly ushers most junior members out of the chamber whenever Republicans launch an attack — even if the member is controlling debate.
But the guerrilla tactics — which are just about all the Republicans have — are sure to continue as long as Democratic leaders, in a time-honored bid to help junior members look productive, keep encouraging them to offer amendments and bills.
To this point, the Foxx-Kilroy episode remains the textbook attack.
Foxx reserved time to question Kilroy as the Ohio Democrat was trumpeting her amendment to a recently approved public service bill. Foxx, whose mountain drawl belies her ferociousness as an inquisitor, asked the freshman “why she didn’t serve her constituents” by backing a GOP bill that would grant Treasury the authority to recoup millions in recently paid bonuses to top AIG executives.
The bill was a Republican alternative to legislation offered by Democrats during the AIG bonus scandal, and most freshman Democrats voted against it. But details like those don’t count for much during these made-for-C-SPAN encounters.
The attack caught Kilroy off guard. She stammered as she struggled to regain her rhetorical footing while Foxx kept pressing her into ever-more-awkward responses. Since Foxx controlled the time, she could cut Kilroy off any time she started to gain some momentum. Finally, time expired and Kilroy escaped the interrogation.
But the Columbus paper ran a story on the incident. And the next morning, Democratic leaders gave Kilroy a chance to insulate herself from the attack by offering a resolution to decry the AIG bonuses.
Hoyer backed that up by immediately scheduling a long-planned briefing for freshmen on floor tactics.
The majority leader plans to hold a follow-up briefing for freshmen shortly after members return from the two-week spring recess, a senior leadership aide said. The focus of this next meeting will be on teaching these freshmen to hit back when Republicans put them on the spot — citing Rep. Barney Frank, the sharp-tongued Massachusetts Democrat who regularly embarrasses any lawmaker who questions him on the floor.
“It’s not just getting them off the floor,” the aide said. “It’s teaching them to hammer back.”
Foxx said she’s surprised that her encounter with Kilroy has gotten so much attention.
“As just a country woman from western North Carolina, I’m surprised they’ve paid so much attention to me,” Foxx said.
“I just thought she should be held accountable for her vote,” Foxx said.
Asked if she felt this attack strategy was effective in any way, Kilroy said, “Does rudeness ever work?”
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