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Mr. Wolf then challenged Mr. Norquist’s advocacy on behalf of moving Guantanamo Bay prisoners to the United States, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In 2009, Norquist was part of a group aiming to undermine Republican opposition to the Obama administration’s intention to close Gitmo and move terrorist inmates to a prison facility in Thompson, Illinois. A joint statement prepared by the Constitution Project, David Keene (founder of the American Conservative Union), former representative and presidential candidate Bob Barr and Norquist, urged Congress to “preserve national security without resorting to sweeping and radical departures from an American constitutional tradition that has served us effectively for over two centuries,” adding that “[C]ivilian federal courts are the proper forum for terrorism cases.” The statement went on to say that the “federal prison system has proven itself fully capable of safely holding literally hundreds of convicted terrorists with no threat or danger to the surrounding community,” and that the “scaremongering about these issues should stop.” The efforts were for naught. In a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress voted overwhelmingly to keep Gitmo open, and the Obama administration abandoned its plans to try terrorists in civilian courts.
Mr. Wolf also noted several other questionable activities by Mr. Norquist, including his use of ATR to drum up support for the controversial mosque near Ground Zero; his donor lists, which included a $4.3 million contribution from Richard ‘Dickie’ Scruggs, a Democratic Mississippi trial lawyer sentenced to five years in prison in 2008 for attempted bribery of a judge; and his gratuitous insults of Republicans, including two former presidents, Bush 41 and 43, as well as presidential candidate and war hero Bob Dole.
“I believe many people were unaware of these troubling connections that I have spoken about,” Wolf continued. “I was surprised when this information came to my attention. I also understand that some may not agree with what I have said in this speech. But as William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian and abolitionist, famously told his colleagues, ‘Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.’”
Wolf then cited an editorial written by Barbara Shelly for the Kansas City Star on July 11, 2011:
“Washington, we know, is a planet unto itself. But here in the heartland, it’s surreal to watch an unelected guy with a broken ethical compass bring the capital to a standstill and thwart the spirit of compromise that the majority of Americans say they want. Who elected Grover Norquist? He did, that’s who. And Washington’s political class has not the shame, nor the spine, to send him packing.”
Frank Wolf is apparently attempting to do just that. But it remains to be seen if this speech will have the desired effect. Norquist responded by calling Wolf’s comments “silly and dishonest” further claiming the Congressman is “frustrated.”
Yet Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who has publicly battled with Norquist this year over what constitutes a tax increase, largely concurred with Wolf’s assessment. “Rep. Wolf’s comments overstated Norquist’s influence but accurately reflect the views of the vast majority of free-market conservatives on tax policy,” Coburn spokesman John Hart said in response to a request for comment. “Fortunately, the vast majority of tax-reform advocates already share Dr. Coburn’s view that tax earmarks for Hollywood movie producers and ethanol blenders are spending programs masquerading as tax breaks.”
The bigger political picture? “The Republicans need maneuvering room on taxes,” said James Thurber, the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington. “This is a nuclear bomb on the guy who is forcing everybody to not compromise. It’s likely the House leadership knew about this ahead of time,” he added.
In Washington, D.C., a city where nothing seems to happen “by accident,” this may be the Republicans’ initial gambit with respect to the debt reduction talks, in which a compromise must be reached by Thanksgiving to avoid automatic triggers.
Rep. Wolf alluded to that reality. “The problem in the country is not with the people. The problem in the country is Washington. The system is broken because we have fallen prey to ideologues that have put us in a straight jacket and threaten our futures. I believe we can and will break free because the seriousness of the times demands it,” he contended. “I am one who believes America’s greatest days are still ahead. All we have to do is recover that sense of virtue and duty, and be bold and brave enough to stand up and speak the truth and be true to our conscience.”
In the minds of most Americans, the words “conscience” and “Congress” have become mutually exclusive. Frank Wolf seems to understand that. It remains to be seen how many of his colleagues on either side of the aisle reach a similar conclusion.
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