Josh linked to a useful Roy Blunt backgrounder yesterday. But there's one specific episode worth considering as a case study in how Blunt operates (which, truth be told, is not all that different from how Tom DeLay operates). Flash back to November 2002, with Blunt newly installed as House Republican Whip. At the time, the House was gearing up to vote on the mammoth bill creating the new Department of Homeland Security. To some, it was a crucial public-policy moment. To Blunt, evidently, it was an opportunity. According to some fine reporting by The Washington Post, Blunt "surprised his fellow top Republicans by trying to quietly insert a provision benefiting Philip Morris USA into the 475-page bill." Here's some more detail from the Post:
The new majority whip, who has close personal and political ties to the company, instructed congressional aides to add the tobacco provision to the bill -- then within hours of a final House vote -- even though no one else in leadership supported it or knew he was trying to squeeze it in.
Once alerted to the provision, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, quickly had it pulled out, said a senior GOP leader who requested anonymity. Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) also opposed what Blunt (Mo.) was trying to do, the member said, and "worked against it" when he learned of it.
The provision would have made it harder to sell tobacco products over the Internet and would have cracked down on the sale of contraband cigarettes, two practices that cut into Philip Morris's profits. Blunt has received large campaign donations from Philip Morris, his son works for the company in Missouri and the House member has a close personal relationship with a Washington lobbyist for the firm.
It is highly unusual for a House Republican to insert a last-minute contentious provision that has never gone through a committee, never faced a House vote and never been approved by the speaker or majority leader. Blunt's attempt became known only to a small circle of House and White House officials. They kept it quiet, preferring no publicity on a matter involving favors for the nation's biggest tobacco company and possible claims of conflicts of interest.
Several in that circle say they were struck by Blunt's willingness to go out on a limb for a company to which he has ties. What's more, he did it within hours of climbing to the House leadership's third-highest rung, a notable achievement for a man who came to Washington less than six years ago.
A senior Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity said some GOP members worried at the time that it would be "embarrassing" to the party and its new whip if details of the effort were made public. Another Republican said Blunt's effort angered some leaders because there was "so little support for" a pro-tobacco provision likely to generate controversy.
Notice the reference to Blunt's <$Ad$>"close personal relationship" to a Phillip Morris lobbyist. That would be one Abigail Perlman, to whom Blunt is now married. (Say what you will about Tom DeLay and his seamless relationship with K Street lobbyists, he never actually shared a bed
with one!) And let's not forget that Blunt's son, Andrew, is also a lobbyist for the tobacco maker back in Missouri.
This episode doesn't just illustrate the nexis between leading House Republicans and corporate lobbyists. It's also an example of the increasingly undemocratic way the House operates under the current GOP leadership. The average American might be shocked at the notion that Blunt could slip a small provision that had never been debated or voted upon into a 475-page bill hours before its passage and almost get away with it. But folks would be thoroughly aghast to know how often even more egregious provisions actually sneak through. (Blunt has defended his provision on the grounds that cigarette smuggling is a source of revenue for suspected terrorists, which is true. But if this bit of lawmaking was so truly noble, why not publicly debate it for all to see?)
At the time, I recall, some folks speculated that Blunt had been ratted out by a certain House GOP rival -- hint: he's in a little hot water down in Travis County at the moment -- wary of Blunt's rising profile. Given the way Blunt muscled himself into the Majority Leader slot
yesterday, maybe his rival was right to be worried.