Bush’s ‘Inaccurate’ Statements Targeted

Posted October 20, 2003 at 6:03pm

Escalating his war of words on the White House, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) unsuccessfully attempted Monday night to use a parliamentary tactic to discredit President Bush’s Jan. 28 State of the Union address — a move that drew condemnations from Republicans and some head-scratching from historians.

“The president fed us these misrepresentations from the floor of the people’s House, and he used them to pave the path to war,” McDermott said in a written statement prior to the failure of his resolution on the House floor last night. “Now that we know the facts, I am asking the House to make a note in the record that these statements were inaccurate.”

Specifically, the Seattle Democrat challenged several statements Bush made in January with respect to purported uranium sales to Saddam Hussein and other intelligence matters. McDermott, who is a member of the House Progressive Caucus, asked his colleagues to approve a resolution calling for an asterisk to be placed next to those statements “that we now know to have been inaccurate.”

But McDermott’s long-shot maneuver failed Monday evening when the chair ruled his motion out of order and said that McDermott’s inquiry did “not give rise to a question of privileges of the House.”

White House spokesman Trent Duffy declined to comment on McDermott’s accusations, but one observer noted that McDermott’s notion that he was somehow protecting the integrity of the Congressional Record was flawed, arguing that “whatever McDermott says the integrity of the record is … its integrity is to reflect what was said on the floor of the Congress.”

“We have videotapes of the speech as it was given, the Congressional Record has been published, so that version of the president’s State of the Union address will always remain, so if there is a corrected one, what purpose does that serve other than politics?” the source, an expert on Congressional procedure, noted.

A spokesman for Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) questioned McDermott’s activities, referencing a controversial trip the lawmaker made to Baghdad along with several colleagues last fall.

“I think people recognize that it’s just part of a continuation of the points he was making when he was attacking the United States on foreign soil,” said Stuart Roy, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

During his three-day visit to Baghdad one year ago, McDermott challenged the notion of pre-emptive strikes and charged that the president would “mislead the American public” to rally support for using military force in Iraq.

He later backed away from those statements, telling the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he may have “perhaps overstated my case” when he charged the president would “mislead” Americans to garner support for the war — but as of late seems to have strengthened his resolve in attacking the administration’s policy on Iraq.

Former House Historian Ray Smock said that lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have been altering their own remarks in the Congressional Record for ages — though not through a question of privilege.

Other Congressional experts also confirmed that using a question of privilege to alter remarks contained in the Congressional Record is “not that common.”

“I haven’t followed this particular case,” Smock said, explaining “it is, of course, permissible for Members to correct the record … if they misspeak or sometimes there are errors in the record and they can ask for it to be corrected — so that’s been a longstanding practice.”

Sen. Daniel Webster (Whig-Mass.), for instance, was a frequent editor of his own words, Smock said, explaining that Webster would in fact often “sit down with the clerks afterwards and edit … things before they appeared in the Record.”

Besides editing their remarks on occasions, more than one Member of Congress has experiences having his “words taken down” as a form of discipline. When one’s words are taken down, they are read back by the clerk and if the chair considers them unsuitable, that Member is not allowed to speak again on the floor without House permission.

Smock noted, however, that the annals of Congressional history show that on occasion, the legislative bodies do rewrite history, or at least attempt to, through the Congressional Record.

In 1834, after then-President Andrew Jackson vetoed legislation extending the charter for the Bank of the United States, the Whig Party, which controlled the Senate, voted to censure him.

According to a recount of the historical event published in The Boston Globe, after Democrats gained control of the Senate in 1836, the Senate voted to expunge Jackson’s censure from the record.