Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Oh, Fred, Fred, Fred ... It starts with getting those calls returned from Dan Quayle's office and it leads to this.

Fred Barnes has a new piece out in the most recent Weekly Standard on the dust-up down in Texas. (I can't link because it's subscribers only.) He tells readers that Democrats have no legitimate complaint since: "There's a word for what Republicans want to do--gerrymandering. But of course that is quite normal. When Democrats controlled Texas, they regularly gerrymandered ..." The rest of Barnes' article is devoted to pushing the argument that Democrats -- shrieking in a wilderness of public disapprobation -- are devoted to "extreme measures that break sharply with the routine course of politics and governing ... order of the day."

Now there is one detail in this saga that Barnes somehow forgot to mention: mid-decade redistricting -- absent a voting rights lawsuit -- has been virtually unprecedented for the last century and entirely unprecedented since the mid-1950s, in Texas and every other state in the union. You might even call the bar on such gerrymanderly double-dipping part of the "routine course of politics and governing."

Fred, let's not give tendentiousness a bad name, okay?

Advisory sent out to GOP Party-Line-Agitprop-Central: California Republicans pulled the quorum walkout stunt back in 1994. This from today's Orange County Register ...

The Republicans sensed doom, and to block the Assembly from having a quorum to do business, they scurried across L Street to the Hyatt, and hunkered down. Reporters stalked the hotel corridors, looking for lawmakers.

"Is there a session? Gee, I hadn't heard. First chance I get, I'll check on it," then-Assemblyman Ross Johnson, R-Irvine, told The California Journal.

Brown also sent the Assembly's sergeants at arms to hunt down the Republicans, but they never found them.

After less then a day, the Republicans left town, leaving only Democrats when the Assembly convened on Dec. 8, 1994. The speakership was left unresolved until January.

Back to the drawing board.

It now seems clear, from all that we know, that the Department of Homeland Security was probably guilty of nothing more than being duped into getting involved in Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick's effort to track down and arrest the Democrats in the Texas House. Homeland Security's refusal to release the transcript of the call from the Texas state trooper which got Homeland into the act doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence. Nor does the fact that they're holding back the transcript so that the matter can be investigated by, to quote the Times, the "agency's acting inspector general, Clark Kent Ervin, a Houston Republican who is well known among some of the same state lawmakers in Texas who wanted the plane tracked down." (Tom DeLay's district is in the Houston suburbs.)

But let's drive down to the real issue here.

What the Speaker of the Texas state House of Representatives does is a matter for Texans to deal with. But what the House Majority Leader of the federal Congress does is a matter of national concern. And it seems quite clear that Tom DeLay had some role -- probably the leading role, but certainly some role -- in pushing for federal law enforcement officials to get involved in the manhunt. (In a run-down of the incident on CNN, Bill Schneider said "that Texas authorities had followed up on DeLay's suggestion and asked the feds to help round up lawmakers on the lam.") For a slew of different reasons, that should be investigated -- not least of which is that the fact that this stunt raises real questions about the man's balance, sense of propriety and, frankly, respect for constitutional government.

Who did he talk to at the Justice Department? DeLay's spokesman said DeLay spoke to someone at Justice. Who? What did he ask them? And what did they say? What role did he have in getting the leadership of the Texas state House to bring in the Feds in the first place?

Many of those who are defending -- professionally or otherwise -- the DeLay power-grab are arguing that courts simply should not be involved in drawing congressional maps, period. This raises a practical question since legislatures often get deadlocked and can't come up with a map -- and the election cycle won't wait. But, more to the point, it's beside the point. We could make any number of innovations in our political system: strike courts from redistricting, outlaw gerrymandering, gerrymander every two years, whatever. The point is that we have an established system and DeLay & Co are changing it in the interest of immediate partisan, even personal advantage. And in any case, the courts-out-of-elections mantle hangs rather heavy on a crew whose president owes his office to a judicial ruling.

Noted for future reference and discussion ...

"The new men of the villages, who feel they have already lost so much, find their path blocked at every turn. Money, development, education have awakened them only to the knowledge that the world is not like their village, that the world is not their own. Their rage --- the rage of pastoral people with limited skills, limited money, and a limited grasp of the world --- is comprehensive. Now they have a weapon: Islam. It is their way of getting even with the world. It serves their grief, their feeling of inadequacy, their social rage and racial hate."
-- V.S. Naipaul
Among the Believers, p. 227.
More soon ...

"We got a problem, and I hope you can help me out. We had a plane that was supposed to be going from Ardmore, Oklahoma, to Georgetown, Texas. It had state representatives in it, and we cannot find this plane ..."

Those are the words of a Texas state trooper calling a division of the Department of Homeland Security to help locate a missing plane with government officials on board, according to a partial transcript of the conversation released yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security and excerpted here in Friday's Dallas Morning News.

As reports in various Friday morning papers make clear, the Texas Department of Public Safety, tricked the folks at Homeland into thinking that they were looking for a missing aircraft that might either have crashed or fallen victim to a terrorist attack when in fact they were just trying to track down those Democrats who refused to make a quorum call. "From all indications, this request from the Texas DPS was an urgent plea for assistance from a law enforcement agency trying to locate a missing, lost or possibly crashed aircraft," said Dean Boyd, spokesman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Now, House Speaker Tom Craddick -- the guy who ordered the troopers to track the Dems down -- made great efforts yesterday to distance himself from the whole fiasco, telling reporters he'd instructed troopers to find the fugitive Dems but had not involved himself in any way in how they did it.

The Dallas Morning News, however, was able to find out who the trooper in question was, identifying him as Lt. Will Crais, a "veteran fugitive-hunter" assigned to the DPS's Special Crimes Division. Now, the interesting detail is that Crais "was working on the hunt for the missing lawmakers, an effort that was run out of a conference room next to Mr. Craddick's office [emphasis added]."

If this was all going in a conference room adjoining Speaker Craddick's office, that makes it a bit less credible that he didn't know anything about what they were doing.

And what about Tom DeLay? The Dallas Morning News article quotes DeLay aids saying that there was "no contact between his office and the Homeland Security Department or the FBI." But a DeLay aide told the Washington Post that the Majority Leader "did pass along to the Justice Department Craddick's inquiry on whether federal law enforcement could assist in the manhunt."

So DeLay had "no contact" with Homeland or FBI but he did "pass along to the Justice Department" a request from his man in Austin, Tom Craddick, asking the Feds to "assist in the manhunt." (Presumably, the reason to involve the Feds would be to bring them back across state lines.) Frankly, I don't think you've got to be too big a DeLay-o-phobe to think that, pretty much by his own admission, DeLay was involved in trying to get federal law enforcement involved in arresting those state Democratic legislators and hauling them back to Austin. In this context, the difference between 'passing along a request' and making a request really doesn't pass the laugh test.

Just draw back for a moment and ask the question: what on earth is a House Majority Leader doing passing on requests from a state House Speaker to the Justice Department, asking for federal officers to arrest members of his own legislature? Add to that the fact that none of the stories match up. Craddick says he made no effort to pull in the Feds. But DeLay says he passed along Craddick's request to pull in the Feds. All of which lends tremendous credence to the notion that Lt. Will Crais, shall we say, acted alone.

The new States-Rights?

White House spokesman Scott McClellan refused to say whether he believes it would be appropriate for Homeland Security to be used to round up Texas Democrats.

"This is a matter that is being addressed in the state of Texas," McClellan said.

Courtesy of the Associated Press.

Some pretty ugly stuff and some pretty unconvincing non-denial-denials.

Let's go to the tape, or rather, to Christopher Lee's very clarifying piece in Friday's Washington Post.

It seems state law enforcement officials, working under orders from Texas state House Speaker Tom Craddick, went to a branch of the new Department of Homeland Security to try to track down a plane owned by one Texas state legislator. An odd use of the new Department of Homeland Security, especially since they seem to have put in the request for help at exactly the same time the new al qaida attack was going down in Saudi Arabia (Monday afternoon/evening).

Here, according to Lee, is what happened ...

On Monday, Craddick and other Republicans dispatched state troopers to round up the legislative fugitives and bring them back to the Texas Capitol.

State police officials, in turn, called in federal help as they pursued a rumor that Rep. James E. "Pete" Laney, a former Texas House speaker, had ferried fellow Democrats out of state aboard his Piper turboprop airplane. A state investigator called the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center in Riverside, Calif., part of the Homeland Security Department, to ask officials there to use their nationwide radar network to help locate the plane.

The call from the unnamed investigator came as an "urgent plea," describing a plane with state officials aboard that was overdue, according to a statement issued yesterday by the Homeland Security Department's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"We got a problem, and I hope you can help me out," the statement quoted the officer as saying. "We had a plane that was supposed to be going from Ardmore, Okla., to Georgetown, Tex. It had state representatives on it, and we cannot find this plane."

Believing they had an emergency on their hands, agency officials called the Federal Aviation Administration in Fort Worth, and airport officials in two other Texas cities, but were unable to find the plane.

(The Post piece implies the investigator was unidentified; but the Austin American-Statesman says he identified himself by name and rank.)

In any case, if Homeland Security's statement is to be believed, they got tricked into tracking down Laney's plane on the false pretense that they were investigating either a plane crash or a terrorist incident. Now, who ordered it? Craddick? Not so, says his flack:

"He called them [state police] in and let them do their job," said Bob Richter, the spokesman. "There was an effort made to find out if they could get some federal help in that. It was either turned down, or they found out they couldn't do it. By the end of the day Monday, it was a dead issue [because the lawmakers were found]. . . . I think Craddick is getting credit for a lot of things other people did. He may have said, 'Let's do what we can to find them.'"
What do Richter say exactly? I'm not sure either. 'There was an effort made ...' Passive voice is never a good sign in false denials. (Also, see this follow-up in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about Craddick's story.)

And DeLay?

DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said DeLay did not seek federal help in forcing the Democrats back to Austin. DeLay did pass along Craddick's inquiry to the Justice Department on whether federal law enforcement could assist in the manhunt, Grella said.
So DeLay never sought federal help, except when he did seek federal help.

Gives a whole new meaning to constituent service ...