Ten Best Members of Congress

[Editor’s Note: We realize this is a highly subjective list and invite you to nominate your own best (and worst) members of Congress to recognize excellence or misdeeds.]

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) puts the lie to the National Journal’s claim that Barack Obama is anywhere near the Senate’s most liberal member. Sanders is a democratic socialist who hit his stride during the debate over the Wall Street bailout with his call for re-regulation of the financial system and a 10% surcharge on the wealthy to pay for the bailout.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), as chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has been a consistent voice for holding the Bush administration’s excesses accountable.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) got a farm bill through Congress over Bush’s veto. It cut subsidies to wealthy farmers but increased money for nutrition programs like food stamps, food banks and school lunches and snacks. It also put more money into conservation programs, rural development and renewable energy programs.

Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), Obama’s classmate at Harvard Law School, has put together an urban-rural coalition in his west central Alabama district with a populist philosophy that the federal government should lift people out of poverty. He’s on the leadership track with seats on Ways & Means, Judiciary and the Democratic Steering Committee, but he also talks about running for senator or governor in 2010.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) is known for his co-sponsorship of the Campaign Reform Act (a.k.a. “McCain-Feingold”). He is a libertarian, the only senator who voted against the USA PATRIOT Act and one of 23 who voted against the Iraq invasion. He was mocked for pushing a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq right up to the time that the Bush administration accepted Iraq’s demand for a schedule for leaving. He introduced a resolution to censure President Bush that got two other votes.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has pursued a progressive agenda in five terms representing Chicago’s North Side as a consumer advocate and defender of free expression. In case a Senate seat should open up in January, she’d be a fine candidate for a promotion.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is a farmer and an honest conservative populist who occasionally riles his Republican colleagues. He is a critic of government agencies, particularly the FBI, IRS, FDA and the Pentagon and he’s a stalwart defender of whistleblowers. He has led recent investigations of televangelists profiting from donations and payments to physicians by pharmaceutical companies. He also supported the investigation into the firing of eight US attorneys who alleged political reasons.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) has been criticized for being the longest-serving rep without a gavel after 13 terms, but Appropriations and Budget seat help her look out for her district, which stretches from Toledo to the Cleveland suburbs, and she has been a steadfast supporter of organized labor and a consistent opponent of “free trade” deals as well as the Iraq debacle and the Wall Street bailout.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) didn’t pass much legislation while he was waging his quixotic presidential race, but he raised populist issues that perhaps will advance progressive legislation next year.

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) missed much of the last year with a brain tumor, but the liberal lion still had a hand in major bills and reportedly is working on health care reform.

Rising stars: Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

Ten Worst Members of Congress

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.): When he lost the Democratic primary for re-election, Lieberman won re-election anyway as an indy with the support of several Dem senators (including Barack Obama). Since then he has betrayed his former party as well as Obama, siding with the GOP not only on many key issues but also in supporting John McCain.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was a polarizing figure even before she said on MSNBC’s Hardball on 10/17 that Obama “may have anti-American views,” as she called on reporters to investigate which members of Congress are secretly against America. In the next three days, her Dem opponent, Elwyn Tinklenberg, raised $800,000.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is a reliable ally of George W. Bush and Big Oil who scored zero on the League of Conservation Voters’ environmental scorecard. During the debate surrounding the Federal Marriage Amendment, Cornyn expressed concern that relaxing the traditional definition of marriage might put the “union of man and box turtle ... on the same legal footing as man and wife.” Among his zanier initiatives, he is a cosponsor of the Fair Tax Act, which would replace the income tax with a 30% national sales tax.

Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who was accused of selling his influence to promote African trade deals, was sent back to Congress despite the FBI famously finding $90,000 in marked bills in his freezer and documents in his Capitol Hill office. Investigators had to return the documents after Congress objected to the intrusion. His New Orleans constituents have a high tolerance for mischief.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) “is a senator today by sole virtue of the fact that in 2002 he attacked incumbent Max Cleland—who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam and earned Silver and Bronze stars—as soft on defense and lacking in patriotism,” Esquire magazine noted. “Where was ol’ Saxby during the war? Home, of course, claiming a ‘football injury.’ How you get elected reflects your character, and Chambliss should never be allowed to live down the shame of what he did in 2002.” We agree.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) argues that Barack Obama’s election would aid Islamic terrorists. King also bashes immigrants who comprise much of the workforce in a district that probably will be merged with fellow GOP Rep Tom Latham’s district after the next census because white people are dying or moving out of rural western Iowa.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), has larded on the federal pork for the nation’s coldest state while extolling its rugged individualistic character. Now he’s facing trial for having a politically-connected businessman do $250,000 in remodeling to Stevens’ home.

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) ran a brief, unsuccessful race for president on an immigrant-bashing platform. He dropped out of the race last December, but not before he announced that he will not seek re-election to the House. We didn’t want to miss a chance to kick him on the way out.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as Senate Minority Leader is architect of the filibuster strategy that has stopped most progressive initiatives. He also has been a staunch opponent of campaign finance regulation.

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) got off to a bad start in the House in 2005 when she referred to Rep. John Murtha (R-Pa.), a Marine who happens to be a decorated war hero, as a “coward” for his criticism of Bush’s military adventures. She apparently has learned to control her tongue but she is still a right winger on social and economic issues.

DEMS HOPE FOR BIG SENATE GAINS. In the US Senate, Democrats hope to expand their 51-49 majority which depends on two independents. Dems expect to pick up at least four seats on Nov. 4, but they hope for a net gain of nine or 10 to reach the 60-vote threshold so they can stop the Republican abuse of the filibuster. Dems narrowly lead in four more races and they are narrowly behind in four others.

Dems favored to win open seats include US Rep. Mark Udall (D) in Colorado, cousin Rep. Tom Udall (D) in New Mexico and popular former Gov. Mark Warner (D) in Virginia. In New Hampshire, popular former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) is favored to unseat Sen. John Sununu (R) in a rematch.

Dems narrowly leading at press time include Al Franken (D) seeking to unseat Sen. Norm Coleman (R) in Minnesota; state House Speaker Jeff Merkley seeking to unseat Sen. Gordon Smith (R) in Oregon; state Sen. Kay Hagan (D) hoping Obama’s turnout helps her challenge incumbent Elizabeth Dole (R) in North Carolina; and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) challenging scandal-plagued Sen. Ted Stevens (R) in Alaska.

Other close races include Georgia, where Dems hope the African-American turnout for Obama will carry Jim Martin (D) over Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R); Kentucky, where Bruce Lunsford (D) has narrowed the gap on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Mississippi, where former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) is challenging interim Sen. Roger Wicker (R); and Texas, where state Rep. Rick Noriega (D) was closing the gap with John Cornyn (R).

Long shots include Tom Allen (D) challenging Sen. Susan Collins (R), a moderate in Maine who nonetheless supports the Republican leadership on key issues. As polls close in the central zone, see if Jim Slattery (D) makes up ground against Pat Roberts (R) in Kansas; see if rancher Scott Kleeb (D) overtakes former Gov. Mike Johanns (R) for the open seat Chuck Hagel is giving up in Nebraska; and see if Andrew Rice (D) can catch climate-change-denying Sen. James Inhofe (R) in Oklahoma.

While Idaho has an open seat, it will take an historic landslide to sweep in former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D) against former Gov. Jim Risch.

HIGH HOPES FOR HOUSE. Democrats also hope to expand their 235-199 majority in the House (with one vacancy after the August death of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio). The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted 63 races and most observers expect a gain of 20-30 seats.

Congressional races to watch, according to Mike Lux at OpenLeft.com and other sources, include:

1. Darcy Burner (WA-8), a progressive Dem and critic of “free trade” deals seeking to unseat Dave Reichert;

2. Betsy Markey (CO-4), a progressive Dem taking on right-wing Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R);

3. Judy Feder (VA-10) would be a major leader for health care reform in Congress;

4. Nick Liebham (CA-50): Running against immigrant-bashing Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) in a conservative district, nobody gave Liebham much of a chance, but he was in a statistical dead heat two weeks out;

5. Tom Perriello (VA-5), strong progressive, figures to get help from Obama’s turnout against right-wing Rep. Virgil Goode (R);

6. Elwyn Tinklenberg (MN-6) hopes Michele Bachmann’s anti-American remarks embarrass a conservative district;

7. Sam Bennett (PA-15) hopes Obama’s GOTV operation will help her overtake 2-term Rep. Charlie Dent (R) in a district that went for Kerry in 2004;

8. Kathy Dahlkemper (PA-3) also hopes Obama’s GOTV operation will help her overtake 7-term Rep. Phil English in a district that leans Dem;

9./10. Walt Minnick (ID-1)/Gary Trauner (WY-AL) are two up-and-comers challenging horrible Republican in extremely Republican states but in a region trending toward the Democrats.

11. Jim Esch (NE-2) pushed 5-term Rep. Lee Terry (R), who reneged on his promise to quit after 3 terms, in 2006. This year the Obama campaign is working this district because Nebraska divides its electoral votes by congressional districts.

12./13. Joe Garcia/Raul Martinez are two surprising challengers in South Florida with a chance to knock off old-guard right-wing Cuban Republicans.

14. Dina Titus (NV-3) has spent most of her campaign trailing Rep. Jon Porter (R), and she trails badly in the money race. But Obama’s GOTV operation may carry a rising Titus to victory.

“If we end up winning a majority of these races, it almost certainly pushes us past the 30+ seat pickup margin,” Lux wrote. “And 10 of these are also in states that Obama is targeting, making support of them a nice twofer.”

We’ll add two Iowa races: Becky Greenwald is a longshot to beat Rep. Tom Latham in IA-4. Rob Hubler is a longer shot to beat Rep. Steve King, the xenophobic right winger, in IA-5.

R’S PROTEST EARLY VOTERS. Obama supporters who went to vote after a rally in Fayetteville, N.C., (10/19) were heckled and mocked by protesters, many of whom had McCain/Palin stickers and “nearly all were white,” Christina Bellantoni reported at the Washington Times (10/20). One McCain supporter accused Obama supporters lined up to vote, nearly all of whom were black, of cheating by voting early, although he said he had voted the day before.

“Stop and think about that for a second,” Steve Benen wrote at WashingtonMonthly.com (10/20). “In the United States, in the 21st century, we have Republican activists protesting a presidential election. McCain/Palin supporters have taken to heckling, mocking and shouting at people who want to participate in the democratic process. Literally. And when they’re not trying to intimate voters at polling places, Republican activists are slashing voters’ tires [at least 30 vehicles parked at the same rally], kicking a journalist to the ground [at a Palin rally in Greensboro, N.C.], attacking a middle-aged woman going door to door on Obama’s behalf [in Caledeonia, Wis.], and vandalizing ACORN offices [in Boston and Seattle]. And, of course, the unabashed racism is common.”

STRAIGHT TALK ON ACORN ‘THREAT.’ The McCain-Palin campaign accused ACORN, a community activist group that operates nationwide, of perpetrating “massive voter fraud” and claims Obama has “long and deep” ties to the group. Nonpartisan FactCheck.org found both claims to be exaggerated. (It also found Obama has understated the extent of his work with the group. But McCain also has understated ties with ACORN.) Neither ACORN nor its employees have been charged with casting fraudulent votes, FactCheck.org noted. What McCain claims is “voter fraud” is actually voter registration fraud. Several ACORN canvassers have been found guilty of faking registration forms and others are being investigated. But the evidence that has surfaced so far shows they faked forms to get paid for work they didn’t do, not to stuff ballot boxes. And ACORN itself has not been charged with any fraud.

On 10/16, the Associated Press quoted two “senior law enforcement” officials as saying that the FBI is investigating ACORN seeking “any evidence of a coordinated national scam.” The following day the Obama campaign’s lawyer, Robert Bauer, sent a seven-page letter to the attorney general claiming that federal law enforcement officials were being improperly used to help McCain by suppressing the vote through “unsupported, spurious allegations of vote fraud.” He asked that the investigation be transferred to the special prosecutor investigating the US attorney firing scandal. The McCain campaign issued a statement in which spokesman Ben Porritt called Bauer’s letter “outrageous” and “absurd” and a “heavy handed tactic of attempting to criminalize political discourse.”

Dan Satterberg, the Republican prosecutor in King County, Wash., where the largest ACORN case to date was prosecuted, said that indicted ACORN employees were shirking responsibility, not plotting election fraud. “The defendants simply realized that making up names was easier than actually canvassing the streets looking for unregistered voters,” he said.

But Republicans were unwilling to let go of the idea that there was some conspiracy to commit voter fraud. On 10/17, New Mexico GOP officials claimed 28 people voted fraudulently in Albuquerque in the June Democratic primary. On 10/20, the Republican National Committee set up a 3 p.m. conference call with reporters “on the recent developments in New Mexico regarding ACORN.” But at 11 a.m., Zachary Roth noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (10/20), ACORN held its own conference call, asserting that the 28 people in question, mostly low-income Latinos, were valid voters.

ACTUAL VOTER REGISTRATION FRAUD. The owner of a firm that has registered tens of thousands of voters for the California Republican Party was arrested in Ontario, Calif., on suspicion of voter registration fraud. State and local investigators allege that Mark Jacoby fraudulently registered himself to vote at a childhood California address where he no longer lives so he would appear to meet the legal requirement that signature gatherers be eligible to vote in California, the Los Angeles Times reported (10/20). Jacoby’s arrest came after dozens of voters said they were duped into registering as Republicans by his firm, Young Political Majors (YPM), which tricked them by saying they were signing a petition to toughen penalties against child molesters. The Times randomly interviewed 46 of the hundreds of voters who were recently re-registered as Republicans by YPM, and 37 of them—more than 80%—said that they were misled into making the change or that it was done without their knowledge.

YPM operates in many states and has been accused of using similar tactics across the country. Beverly Hill, former election supervisor in Florida’s Alachua County, told the Times that about 200 voters—mostly college students—were unwittingly registered as Republicans there in 2004 by YPM staffers using the same tactic.

SOUNDS LIKE A DUCK. On John McCain’s protests that Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was savagely beaten by white supremacist police officers in Selma, Ala., in 1965, unfairly compared McCain with the late Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Charles Pierce wrote at mediamatters.org/altercation (10/17), “One of the most remarkable events of the primary season was the debate in [New Hampshire] in which John McCain said that, in his opinion, which was considerable, torture was ineffective. At which point, most thinking human beings would have decided that, well, McCain knows more about that than I do, so let’s just move along. Instead, Mitt Romney and Rudy (!) argued with him. I was reminded of that this week. To me, if John Lewis says that your rallies are sounding like Wallace rallies, well, your rallies are probably sounding like Wallace rallies.”

MICH. GOP BACKS OFF VOTER SUPPRESSION. Michigan Republicans agreed not to use mortgage foreclosure lists to deny foreclosure victims their right to vote as they settled a lawsuit brought by plaintiffs including the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee to ensure that Michigan residents do not lose their right to vote when they lose their homes, Emptywheel noted at Firedoglake.com (11/20).

The lawsuit was filed in federal court after the online Michigan Messenger reported that Macomb County Republican Chairman James Carabelli said “we will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses.” Carabelli denied he ever made that statement to the Michigan Messenger and filed a defamation lawsuit against the publication in Michigan state court. *Michigan Messenger* officials stand by their story.

Republicans disputed that they ever planned to challenge foreclosed voters, but the *Indianapolis Star* quoted (10/3) a GOP official who said foreclosure opens the door to a residency challenge. “We might end up challenging on that,” Marion County GOP Chairman Tom John said. “It’s entirely possible. I think it would be a solid basis for asking someone to vote provisionally.”

MONTANA VOTER CHALLENGES BACKFIRE. The executive director of the Montana Republican Party, Jake Easton, resigned after a failed attempt to challenge registration of 6,000 voters in seven heavily Democratic counties, the Helena Independent Record reported. Republicans raised concerns with registered voters who live at addresses that differed from the addresses listed on their voter registration information. The party asked that county election officials ask voters to prove their current addresses. US District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula didn’t rule in the case, but issued a strongly worded order calling the timing of the challenges “so transparent that it defies common sense to believe the purpose is anything but political chicanery.”

CHANGE SHE CAN BELIEVE IN. Ann Nixon Cooper, at 106 years of age, remembers a time not long ago when he was barred from voting because of her race. But 10/20 the Atlanta resident voted for Barack Obama and she hopes to see the day that Obama is elected as the nation’s first black president. “I ain’t got time to die,” she said with a smile, according to CNN.

ALASKA GAS GOES TO JAPAN. On the campaign trail, Sarah Palin says repeatedly that America must tap its own natural gas and oil reserves to become energy-independent. But the Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate has pushed the federal government to allow a liquefied natural gas plant to continue exporting to Asia—the only such plant in the US that sends the product overseas, the Associated Press reported (10/21). This summer, the Energy Department extended an export license for the Kenai Liquefied Natural Gas facility to continue shipping its products to Asia through 2011. The plant began shipping its product exclusively to Japan in 1969, renewing federal export permits every few years. As energy prices have soared in recent years, and with supplies dwindling, there has been increased opposition to allowing the plant to export. “If America is really so short of energy that we need to drill in national wildlife refuges and other sensitive areas, why should energy supplies, sitting in US terminals, be sent back out of the country simply because these energy companies can get a higher price from a foreign buyer?” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked.

FACTS MUDDLE M’CAIN. Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos.com noted that the McCain campaign criticized the Obama campaign for accepting “secret contributions.” But OpenSecrets.org has noted that 92.4% of Obama’s contributions are fully disclosed (that is, includes the full name, occupation and employer), 2.2% are incomplete (that is, they offer only a vague description of occupation) and 5.5% have no disclosure (that is, no information about the donors employer or occupation), while only 86.8% of McCain’s contributions are fully disclosed, 3.1% are incomplete and 10.1% have no disclosure. Most members of Congress fully ID 90% or more of their donors.

POPULARITY GAP. Barack Obama drew an estimated 100,000 supporters in St. Louis and 75,000 in Kansas City (10/19). “All I can say is, wow,” Obama said as he took the stage under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The next day, in a battleground state where polls were within the margin of error, John McCain spoke to 3,000 supporters at an ampitheater in suburban St. Charles, near St. Louis (10/20) in the morning, before he travelled on to Columbia, where he was greeted by 15 people at the airport and made a noontime stop at a local barbecue, according to the *Columbian*. He travelled on to Belton, Mo., where he told a crowd of 6,000 at a local football field “we’re a few points down,” but added, “I will never concede defeat, my friends,” the Kansas City Star reported.

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2008

Home Page

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2008 The Progressive Populist.