A godless city? Please. President Obama’s former religious adviser on the surprising number of believers in D.C.’s corridors of power.
In 1993, Pat Robertson, the Christian broadcaster and stalwart of the religious right, sat down with legendary columnist Molly Ivins and gave a doozy of an interview. “It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-biased media, and the homosexuals who want to destroy all Christians,” Robertson declared. He also said that Washington was inflicting on Christians “wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history.”
Now, Pat Robertson is not necessarily known for his rhetorical moderation. This is, after all, the guy who blamed the Haitian earthquake on voodoo, said the “feminist agenda” encourages women to practice witchcraft, and claimed that Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians have the “spirit of the anti-Christ.” Even most conservative evangelicals cringe whenever he speaks.
But in that interview, Robertson gave voice to a perception that’s still widely shared across the country: most of America thinks Washington is a pretty godless place.
From ribbing CNN for its recent batch of mistakes to his rap riffs, the president got the best lines—as usual—at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Lloyd Grove on Washington’s biggest night of the year.
Tom Brokaw is probably right that the annual White House Correspondents Association Dinner, now in its 99th year, has evolved into “just a group of narcissists who are mostly interested in elevating our own profiles,” as the former NBC News anchor complained recently.
Barack Obama listens during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 27, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
But, hey, if you’re a profile-elevating narcissist—and, with the exception of no-show Brokaw, who wasn’t one last night at the Washington Hilton?—it’s among the most gratifying evenings to be had in the nation’s capital. That said, a dinnertime screening of a satirical video that featured House of Cards star Kevin Spacey and a bunch of media types and politicians—including John McCain, Mike Bloomberg, Charlie Rose, and White House Correspondents’ Association President Ed Henry of Fox News, supposedly cutting deals over seating arrangements—probably made Brokaw’s point.
As in previous years, 2013’s official rite of spring for Washington featured celebrities, politicians, and media types basking in one another’s reflected power and glory—Barbra Streisand, Nicole Kidman, and Gerard Butler mingling with the likes of Eric Cantor, Ray LaHood, and Chuck Todd—and confirming everyone’s importance, charm, and beauty.
So what if Mark Sanford is debating a cardboard cutout of her and polls show she’s the least liked Capitol Hill leader? She’s the best House speaker we’ve ever known—and deserves a 2014 comeback.
Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, maybe the dumbest political adulterer in memory, never took that hike on the Appalachian Trail, but it turns out he did sneak into his ex-wife’s house in defiance of a court order. Presumably he thought he wouldn’t get caught—again—as he campaigned in a special election for Congress against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. He was caught—and was almost instantly abandoned by his own party’s national congressional campaign committee and the right-wing Club For Growth. Even Busch’s brother, the master of political satire Stephen Colbert, couldn’t have made this up.
Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford debates with a cardboard cutout of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi during a campaign event, April 24, 2023, in South Carolina. (Richard Ellis/Getty)
With Sanford trying to dig his way out of a nine-point hole in the latest poll in the deeply red district he represented until 2002, he suddenly decided to debate a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi. It was the pathetic stunt of the desperate candidate who soon will have plenty of free time to spend down in Argentina. It was also a rote Republican reflex that reflects the latest Gallup ratings showing Pelosi as the “least liked Hill leader”—with a 48 percent unfavorable and a 31 percent favorable.
Pelosi is undaunted by these numbers as she relentlessly pursues the unprecedented prospect of recapturing the house in a midterm election during the sixth year of the president of her own party. In a Fox News survey, and that network knows its Republicans, they dislike her as thoroughly as they detest Obama. And she can wear that as a badge of honor: Pelosi, arguably the most effective House speaker of our time or all time, played a critical, often decisive role in passing the most sweeping range of progressive change since the New Deal and the Great Society.
The Daily Beast is at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and of course at our own pre-dinner cocktail party. Watch this page for our latest tweets from the scene.
The conspiracy theories percolating up to local party leaders and even the halls of Congress should be a warning sign for the GOP, writes John Avlon.
A few days after the Boston bombings, Stella Tremblay went to Glenn Beck’s Facebook page to express her conviction that the terror attack was, in fact, orchestrated by the U.S. government.
As Jonathan Swift famously put it, “You cannot reason someone out of something they were not reasoned into.” (Rob Kim/Getty, Corbis)
“The Boston Marathon was a Black Ops ‘terrorist’ attack,” she wrote. “One suspect killed, the other one will be too before they even have a chance to speak. Drones and now ‘terrorist’ attacks by our own Government. Sad day, but a ‘wake up’ to all of us.”
She then linked to a video at Infowars.com called Proof! Boston Marathon Bombing Is Staged Terror Attack.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told investigators that he and his brother were influenced by the Internet sermons of the notorious preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, Daniel Klaidman reports. Plus: the feds now know who “Misha” is.
As investigators sift through the lives of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trying to understand their radicalization and descent into violence, one clue almost seemed expected. Two U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that, during his hospital room interrogation, Dzhokhar told FBI agents that he and his brother were influenced by the Internet sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born preacher who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. The charismatic cleric was seen by the Obama administration as a uniquely dangerous terrorist because of his sermons (delivered in fluent, American-inflected English), his intuitive grasp of U.S. culture, and a burning desire to strike his birth nation.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told investigators that he and his brother viewed the Internet sermons of the notorious preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. (AP)
It is unclear the extent to which—if at all—Awlaki’s preachings inspired the brothers to commit terrorism. Indeed, whatever his role, it is likely only a small piece of a complicated, multilayered puzzle. In recent days, there has been speculation that another piece of that puzzle could be a man known simply as “Misha,” whom relatives of the brothers have said held sway over Tamerlan. “This person just took his brain,” Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, told CNN. “He just brainwashed him completely.” Now, The Daily Beast has learned that federal law enforcement officials have identified Misha—although one source suggested it might be a less important part of the case than previously thought.
As for Awlaki, while we don’t know the extent of his influence on the brothers, we do know that there is a long trail of hardened terrorists who have acknowledged coming under his sway. Among them are Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American who attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, and Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army officer who killed 13 people in a shooting spree at Fort Hood in 2009. Hasan, it turned out, had been in extensive email contact with Awlaki in the months before the shooting, but no evidence ever emerged that Awlaki knew about his deadly intentions.
Even if the Supreme Court overturns the Defense of Marriage Act and all 50 states legalize same-sex marriage, it will still be perfectly legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation. Winnie Stachelberg on why it’s time to pass the Employee Non-Discrimination Act.
Just two months before President Clinton would be reelected, the U.S. Senate held a vote on the anti-gay and discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. Less than an hour later, the Senate voted on a bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, that would finally prohibit employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their sexual orientation. As we know, the Senate voted to pass DOMA, and just hours later, ENDA failed to pass the Senate—by a single vote.
Members of GetEQUAL, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organization, stage a protest on Capitol Hill, May 20, 2010, in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty)
It was a double defeat that left our community disappointed, disaffected, and disheartened. I should know. I was there.
As the political director the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization, I fiercely lobbied senators from both political parties that September to vote for ENDA, a commonsense bill that would make it illegal to fire someone from their job simply because they were gay.
A new Senate bill calls for background checks on explosives sales. That might prevent another terrorist bombing, but what about the millions of Americans who blow stuff up legally? Caitlin Dickson reports.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a bill on behalf of Sen. Frank Lautenberg that would require background checks on purchases of explosive materials and a permit to build homemade explosives. This bill illuminates the fact that, as of now, explosive powders, such those that were used in the Boston Marathon bombing, can be purchased easily and in large quantities (up to 50 pounds, to be exact) without a background check. If that sounds crazy to some, there are many others who say they depend on explosives for their (entirely legal) livelihoods. They include:
Flames leap and car parts fly as a pipe bomb is detonated inside it Tuesday, May 6, 1997, in Rosemount, Minn. (Jim Mone/AP)
The Farmers Who Grow Your Vegetables
One of the biggest markets for explosives and the materials used to make them is the farming community. Dynamite and other explosives are used to demolish beaver dams that can flood farms and kill off other rodents, while ammonium nitrate—which is currently being investigated as the cause of the West, Texas, explosion that killed 14 people earlier this month—is inexpensive and commonly used as fertilizer. Farmers may also use explosives to loosen soil or break up boulders and tree stumps that get in the way of sowing crops.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was on the list, but so are 700,000 other names. Daniel Klaidman on what the terror list can and can’t do.
It was meant as a post-9/11 reform. The TIDE terror list was established to be the federal government’s central repository for information about suspected or actual terrorists who could pose a threat to the United States. TIDE, an acronym for the clumsily named Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, was part of a government overhaul to end the kind of bureaucratic stovepiping and communications failures that became evident after the attacks. At the time, there were as many as a dozen separate watch lists strewn across the government, many of which were not accessible to the very federal agencies charged with defending the country against terrorism. Consolidating the data into a master list, officials argued, would minimize the chances that potential terrorists could slip through the cracks.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, center, and Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, second from left, are show at the site of the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, approximately 10-20 minutes before the blast. (Bob Leonard/AP)
But the Boston Marathon case illustrates the limitations of terror watch lists in a democracy where keeping tabs on potential terrorists must be balanced against the civil liberties of citizens. Moreover, in some ways the establishment of the massive, unwieldy list has created other problems that work at cross purposes with its original objective.
Reuters has reported that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers implicated in last week’s bombings, had been listed in the TIDE system as far back as 2011. Initially, Russian authorities asked the FBI to look into him. They suspected he’d become a radicalized Islamist and feared he might turn to violence in Russia. But an FBI investigation, including interviews with Tamerlan and some of his relatives, turned up nothing to support the Russians’ claim. On multiple occasions after that, the FBI sought additional information from the Russians but never heard back. Absent more evidence, officials say, agents were barred from using more intrusive investigative techniques like wiretaps or undercover informants. Then, in August 2011, the FSB, Russia’s state security service, made a nearly identical request of the CIA, which ran its traps on Tamerlan but also came up empty. The brief episode prompted the agency to “nominate” Tamerlan for inclusion on the TIDE list. His inclusion in the database, which is overseen by the National Counter-Terrorism Center, is prompting questions about whether he should have been more prominent on the FBI’s radar screen—especially after returning from a six-month trip to his native Russia in 2012.
Two weeks after Boston, Barack Obama will have to walk a line between heartfelt and funny at this weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. For Clinton speechwriter Mark Katz, that’s an eerily familiar challenge.
Around noon on Friday, April 28, 1995, I was the first to arrive outside the Oval Office. The president’s longtime secretary Betty Currie greeted me with what was in the process of becoming a ritual: “Hey, Funny Man!,” she exclaimed, whereupon I snapped my head around to see if a funny person was indeed standing behind me. A moment later, the president popped his head out of the door to hand something off to her and saw me standing there, a clutch of papers in hand.
Barbara Kinney/The White House
“Hey Mark, do you have a funny speech for me there?”
“Yes I do, sir!” I said enthusiastically. Despite the fact that I was the president’s designated humor speechwriter, I wasn’t quick enough to say anything funnier than that.
The Oklahoma City Federal Building tragedy kept this hilarious Mark Katz classic from being delivered.
(Undelivered) Remarks of President Bill Clinton
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner
April 29, 1995
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I especially want to welcome those viewers watching this speech live on C-SPAN.
Welcome. Welcome. Welcome. There, I think that’s everybody.
I know that calling the White House press corps together in one room in these days of an ambitious Republican Congress raises the relevant question: is the President funny? You bet I am. The Constitution makes me funny. The power of the presidency makes me funny. And if that weren’t enough, Warren Christopher and Janet Reno spent the afternoon punching up my material.
Most of you also know that Mike McCurry and his wife Debra just gave birth to their third child, Christopher, last Friday. So it won’t be long before young Chris is old enough to work in the press office.
Mike has served me well and I trust he’s done the same for you. I particularly liked his new policy, instructing the press office staff to send him a note each day chronicling a good deed they’ve done for the press corps—or kick in a dollar to a pizza fund.
This of course was an expansion of my idea, where each day everyone at the White House kicks in a dollar and we just order pizzas.
By and large, Mike’s plan has really had some great results. I’d like to share with you tonight some of the notes the press staff has sent to Mike in the past few months:
• To Mike from Ginny: I told Wolf that—Ito or no Ito—he’s still got the best looking beard on CNN.
• To Mike from George: I snubbed Eleanor Clift in public, just like she asked me to.
• To Mike from Rica: I told Brian Williams that when the Klieg lights hit him in a certain way, he looks just like Tom Brokaw.
• To Mike from Rahm: I held the door open for Elizabeth Drew............She still wouldn’t leave my office.
However, because not every person was able to meet Mike’s challenge every day, there was about twenty bucks in the pizza fund. The First Lady offered to manage the fund. She has invested it wisely and I’m pleased to announce we’ll be serving surf and turf instead.
Bipartisan buddies John McCain and Chuck Schumer say their immigration bill—pathway to citizenship included—will pass, despite doubts after the Boston bombing. Eleanor Clift reports.
The two senior senators leading the effort for immigration reform, New York’s Chuck Schumer and Arizona’s John McCain, said Thursday that immigration questions raised in the aftermath of the Boston bombing will not deter their effort, and that they think they can get 70 votes in the Senate for a bill that includes a path to citizenship for 11 million people who are now in the country illegally.
Senators Chuck Schumer and John McCain speak in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 2013. (Michael Bonfigli/Christian Science Monitor, via Getty)
Schumer did the math: He counts 50-plus Democrats plus six to eight Republicans who would get them to the 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster, but that’s not his goal.
“We’re looking not to get 60 votes–that’s the minimum,” Schumer, a Democrat, said as he raised the stakes, adding, “It would be wonderful if we could get a majority on both sides.”
Eric Nordstrom, who worked at the Benghazi consulate on the day it was attacked, choked up during Wednesday's hearings. 'It matters,' he said, that the committee investigate what happened before, during, and after the siege.
Corry Booker’s the hero mayor of Newark, and, yes, he’s running for Senate. By Lloyd Grove
The president’s push for $9 an hour has the GOP on the defensive. Eleanor Clift on the strategy behind the move. But this push could take the politics out of the perennial argument.
Meet the new Treasury secretary, same as the old Treasury secretary. Lloyd Green on nominee Jack Lew.
For John Kael Weston and other men on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan drone strikes raise many uncomfortable questions. He writes on why we need clearer policy and guidelines for these silent killers.