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Leading With The Left
November 7, 2003 PERMALINK
For most Dems -- regardless of which prez candidate they support, or are considering -- the top criteria in their decision-making process is electability.
Most of the arguments people make rely on what their candidates are like on paper.
But sometimes electability is best gauged watching candidates in the thick of battle.
In 1992, the media hailed Bill Clintonās ability to take a punch after the Gennifer Flowers and draft-dodging allegations knocked him off his frontrunner perch in NH.
He didn't regain it, but he successfully spun himself as the ćComeback Kidä after placing second.
Now, Dean has faced the first major negative media frenzy in the campaign. How well did he handle it? Can he take a punch?
So far, the signs look very good.
Not only was Dean in the lead in both, his numbers moved up in both.
-- Not only did the flap fail to shake loose Dean's expected endorsement by the powerful, racially diverse union SEIU, itās been reported that he will also win the nod from SEIUās quasi-rival, AFSCME.
(And perhaps get the unions to patch up their differences at the same time.)
-- Deanās two main attackers on the issue, Sen. John Edwards and Rev. Al Sharpton, have essentially (if grudgingly) accepted Deanās apology, as did the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, saving Dean from further fallout.
-- No prominent African-American leader, outside of Sharpton, has attacked Dean before or after the apology, also helping Dean move on.
(Deanās reaching out to Rev. Jesse Jackson and NAACP Prez Kweisi Mfume probably played a large role.)
Of course, itās only been a couple of days. Definitive assessments canāt be made.
Any negative chatter working its way through the system may not have been captured yet in polls.
And other candidates, constantly looking for openings to take Dean down, will surely be emboldened, and may get traction. (Sen. John Kerry is already looking to take advantage.)
But the early poll numbers, union nods, and lack of attacks from black leaders, all prevented the media from piling on negative stories that could have sent Dean into a meltdown mode.
Plus, his scheduled Saturday announcement of the vote on how to finance his campaign will give Dean another headline that isnāt about the confederate flag, furthering the moving on process.
You can call that serendipity of timing, but it also speaks to Deanās ability to regularly make positive news for himself.
This is not to say that there isnāt a significant amount of Dems who fret about Deanās potential for self-inflicted gaffes on the trail (which was never Clintonās problem.)
But we all know that whoever faces Karl Rove next year will need to have the political skills to withstand vicious attacks.
Dean appears to be on his way to passing that test.
*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***
November 6, 2003 PERMALINK
Letās not worry about what it means for Dean or his rivals. Instead, letās focus on what it means for the party.
First, keep in mind that Dems actually do not need to win a single Southern state to reclaim the Oval Office.
Recall that in 2000, Al Gore was in striking distance in New Hampshire, Ohio, Missouri and West Virginia.
Any one of those states would have done the job, without Florida.
But to write off the South hurts the party in other ways, particularly in Congress, where the laws get made.
To do better in the South means doing better with Southern whites, period.
But wait. The Dems have another potential long-term problem.
Some black voters are feeling taken for granted, that the party doesnāt stand up for their interests.
And if support in the black community isnāt enthusiastic, or if the GOP is able to pick some of it up, that hurts Dems just as much as failing to win Southern white support.
Thatās why Deanās initial approach on race was so promising.
He was taking liberal principles and framing them in new ways to reach out to both communities simultaneously, without saying different things to different groups.
Now, while the strategy may live, the tactic is sunk, thanks to Deanās mishandling and his opponentsā polarizing of a delicate matter.
While the other candidates pat themselves on the back for knocking Dean down a peg, they should all be asked:
Whatās your plan to get both blacks and Southern whites behind the Democratic Party?
Dean had one. It was novel, daring and risky, but rooted in something basic: hate the sin, love the sinner.
Signal to these white voters that you are not going to personally attack them over differences on cultural issues.
Then, make the economic case for voting Democratic.
And just maybe, if that common ground can be found between blacks and whites on economics, then over time, the hot-button divisions can be defused, for the good of the party and the nation.
Furthermore, Dean chose not to attack black leaders to win white support.
He chose a more inclusive (some might say, too inclusive) to reach out to some who have insensitive and/or racist views.
And reaching out is not race-baiting. If you can get a racist to support you without hiding or compromising your liberal views on race, that moves us forward, not backward.
Contrast that with what Bill Clinton did in 1992, the famous Sister Souljah moment.
Clinton wanted to signal to white voters that he wouldnāt be hostage to African-American special interests.
So he accepted an invitation to speak at a Rainbow Coalition event hosted by Rev. Jesse Jackson, and proceeded to attack participant Sister Souljah, by distorting her comments about the Rodney King riots.
·the Washington Post had run a piece about a split within the Clinton camp over whether the candidate should praise Jesse Jackson or bury him.
Word of the argument was clearly leaked by the bury-him camp, which wanted to alert the press to the idea that Clinton·would not coddle the mischief-making preacher as had Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis.
Sure enough·Clinton lit into his famous reproval of Sister Souljah·whose participation·at the Rainbow convention gave Clinton license to lecture Jackson on abetting the purveyors of hatred.
It's hard to imagine it now, but back then, the Washington Establishment loved Clinton, was sick of Jackson, and was thrilled to see Bill give Jesse what-for.
That certainly seems to have helped Clinton. He won Southern states, and he managed to retain strong black support over his career.
But it didnāt help the party. Dems still lost ground in the South, and black resentment of the party appears to have grown.
Deanās tactic has now been deemed, at minimum, "clumsy," and so is no longer a plausible option. And Clintonās shouldnāt be replicated.
If those are off of the table, Dem candidates, if Dean was out of line, and if electability is the name of the game.
Then whatās your plan to build the needed black-white coalition?
How can you appeal to both constituencies without alienating one or the other? And whatās the evidence that you can pull it off?
Just like anything else, if youāre going to attack someone elseās plan, you have the obligation to say what you would do differently.
And for the partyās sake, we need a good answer.
*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***
November 5, 2003 PERMALINK
Less than 24 hours after LiberalOasis said Howard Dean was ćbarely scrapedä by the confederate flag flap, he got pummeled by it.
And itās pretty much his own fault.
As you may already have read, early in the CNN-Rock The Vote Dem forum, an African-American in the audience asked Dean:
I recently read a comment that you made where you said that you wanted to be the candidate for guys with confederate flags on their pickup trucks.
When I read that comment, I was extremely offended.
Could you explain to me how you plan on being sensitive to needs and issues regarding slavery and African-Americans, after making a comment of that nature?
This is what is known in the biz as a softball disguised as a hardball.
It was an expected question, and the response should have been cake.
Assure that you had no intention to offend people of color.
Then say that to build a winning coalition that brings the nation together, you want to reach out to Southern whites, using the argument that he has already used:
I want people with Confederate flags on their trucks to put down those flags and vote Democratic, because the need for quality health care, jobs and good education knows no racial boundaries.
But Dean did not do that.
Hereās his full response:
Martin Luther King said that it was his dream that the sons of slave holders and the sons of slaves sit down around a table and make common good.
There are 102,000 kids in South Carolina right now with no health insurance. Most of those kids are white.
The legislature cut $70 million out of the school system. Most of the kids in the public school system are white.
We have had white southern working people voting Republican for 30 years, and they've got nothing to show for it.
They vote for a president who cut 1 percent of this country's taxpayers' taxes by $26,000, which is more than they make.
And I think we need to talk to white southern workers about how they vote.
Because when white people and black people and brown people vote together in this country, that's the only time that we make social progress, and they need to come back to the Democratic Party.
There are a whole lot of things wrong with that response, but the biggest is this:
He was asked about what he would do for blacks and he responded with what he wanted to do for working-class whites.
It was a major tin ear moment, emphasized by the lack of a crowd reaction.
Host Anderson Cooper, clearly realizing what would make for good TV, turned to Rev. Al Sharpton for his thoughts.
Sharpton hit the opening, nailing Dean for not answering the question, and demanded an apology for being ćinsensitive.ä Big applause.
Then Sen. John Edwards jumped on:
·the last thing we need in the South is somebody like you coming down and telling us what we need to do.
However, Carol Moseley Braun, who had criticized Deanās remark prior to the forum, helped Dean by easing the tension:
·this is an important conversation. But it has to be done in a way that does not play into the hands of the real racists and the real right wing.
I'm not going to take a back seat to anybody in terms of fighting bigotry·I am the only person here that ever signed a bill that outlawed discrimination against gays and lesbians ö
·We have to reach out to every single American·We don't have to embrace the Confederate flag, and I never suggested that we did. But we have to reach out to all disenfranchised people·
I understand that the Confederate flag is a loathsome symbol, just as I understood that all the anti-gay slurs that I had to put up with in Vermont after I signed that bill were loathsome symbols.
If we don't reach out to every single American, we can't win.
And a little extra small solace for Dean fans: he kept his composure the whole time, no flaring temper.
At the end of it all, nobody answered the original manās question.
Nobody offered what they would do to help African-Americans prosper in America.
Everyone (but Braun) was more interested in scoring points off of Dean.
And, perhaps more importantly, points were scored, at least in the short-term. Todayās headlines certainly depict Dean on the defensive.
But does it have long-term impact? Thatās a little hard to say at the moment.
If Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who has already stuck his neck out for Dean once, continues to stand by him and helps him build more African-American support, Dean can probably shrug it all off.
Scoring that endorsement from SEIU, the powerful, racially diverse union, would also help considerably.
On the flip side, losing support from either would be a big blow.
The media loves a twist and turn. An event like that would easily be marked as a turning point, and the storyline would shift to ćDean in Trouble.ä
So what should Dean do to fix his mishandling of the issue?
Solicit advice from Jackson Jr., and top SEIU officials.
And do whatever the hell they say.
(UPDATE Nov. 5 11:30 AM ET -- This may not be definitive, but a report from ABC's The Note indicates that Dean's SEIU suport is still in good shape:
As for the question of whether the flag focus will affect the SEIU's endorsement decision, a union official tells ABC News' Gayle Tzemach:
"I don't think SEIU members will question Howard Dean's commitment to civil rights and equality for all. He himself has said that the confederate flag is a loathsome symbol. But his point is that ALL of us who are struggling to make ends meet, get our kids a good education, and have quality health care our families can afford ÷ whether we are black, white, brown, or purple ÷ need to come together, instead of being divided by the politics of race, as the Republicans have tried to do."
Nevertheless, Dean should still reach out privately to these folks and take nothing for granted.)
*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***
November 4, 2003 PERMALINK
This weekend is a prime example why the answer is probably, ćno.ä
In theory, Dean could go down because he makes more controversial, impolitic statements than your average successful politician.
All of his competitors are clearly aware of this, and realize they need to amplify such instances if they are to knock Dean off his frontrunner perch.
So on Saturday, when the Des Moines Register reported that Dean defended his right-of-center views on guns by saying:
I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.
His rivals smelled blood. Hereās Dean sounding like David Duke of all things.
To nail him on racial insensitivity is a chance to undercut his support from the left, maybe even take away his endorsement from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., or stop the racially diverse union SEIU from endorsing him (as is expected).
So they all pounced without hesitation.
That was Sunday. By Monday, the story appears to have petered out. Why?
For a story to have legs, something else needs to happen. Someone new has to pile on.
(UPDATE Nov. 4 12:30 PM ET -- There were some second-day stories, evenhanded ones, in papers from early primary states, Des Moines Register, The State (SC), and Post & Courier (SC). Still no signs of further piling on. Links via The Note.)
But Jackson quickly gave Dean cover with a statement praising Dean for an agenda that brings whites and blacks together.
Plus, even though Sen. John Kerry responded that heād rather be the candidate of the NAACP than the NRA, the NAACPās silence (assuming it remains) is in effect signaling that, in its view, Deanās not out of line.
(It may well be that Jacksonās statement signaled to the NAACP that there was no need to criticize.)
And Deanās campaign was able to spin back, noting that Dean made similar remarks in Feb. at a high-profile DNC meeting in front of a multiracial audience, prompting a standing O (and he had the video to prove it).
Add to that all the Iraq news filling up the news cycle, and the story fades, with Dean barely scraped.
One example: even though CNNās Inside Politics expanded to an hour yesterday, there was no mention of it (not even by Kerry in his interview with Judy Woodruff).
Of course, the quote still lives. And surely, his opponents will be using it against him, probably in direct mail pieces and radio ads.
But as LO argued earlier, Deanās money advantage ćwill make it very hard for his rivals to get their attacks out, since Dean is positioned to, in effect, shout over them.ä
But is that right? Is it fair if Dean doesn't pay a price for this?
Deanās mistake here isn't necessarily the comment. It's forgetting that context matters.
Note that Dean said to the Des Moines Register, ćI still want to be candidate for guys with Confederate flags·ä (emphasis added).
It looks like Dean was dangerously assuming that the audience would know that line was an extension of what he said back in Feb.:
I thought that one of the most despicable moments of this president's administration was three weeks ago, when on national prime-time television, he used the word "quota'' seven times.
The University of Michigan does not now have quotas. It has never had quotas.
Quotas is a race-loaded word, designed to appeal to people's fears of losing their jobs.
I intend to talk about race in this election in the south because the Republicans have been talking about it since 1968 in order to divide us.
And I'm going to bring us together, because you know what?
White folks in the south who drive pickups trucks with confederate flags decals in the back ought to be voting with us and not them, because their kids don't have health insurance either and their kids need better schools too.
You donāt sound like David Duke when in the same breath you're defending affirmative action.
But should that give Dean a pass? Is he trying have it both ways, winking to white Southerners, GOP-style, that racism is OK?
Just the opposite.
While seeking common ground on jobs, health care and education with white Southerners, he doesnāt shy away from racial issues.
He discussed his approach in a C-Span interview on Oct. 26 (video clip here):
I talk about race in the South in a way that I think makes white voters nervous, because theyāre not accustomed to being direct about race in the South.
[But] what I say is to white voters in the South: youāve voted for Republicans for 30 years. Tell me what you have to show for it.
Thereās 130,000 children with no health insurance in South Carolina. Most of those kids are white.
·the legislature just cut 70 million dollars out of the public school system. Most of the kids that go to the public school system are white.
Have you lost your job? Has it gone overseas?·The answer is yes in a lot of places.
And if thatās the case, maybe you should think about voting Democratic again·
·The Democrats have to speak openly and frankly about racial matters in this county, otherwise weāre going to continue to go uphill in the South·
·the question is: can we be direct about an issue that we got to put aside, ultimately, in this country?
And if weāre not direct about it, I donāt think we ever address the issue properly and we never put it aside.
This is one of things about Deanās candidacy thatās so promising: the potential ability to take liberal principles, bring them to new audiences, and forge a winning coalition.
Itās disconcerting that other candidates want to polarize matters when Dean is showing some success at building bridges.
But if Dean can say what he said, weather an attack like this, and still cultivate diverse support, then maybe his political acumen is more Clintonesque than people realized.
*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***
November 3, 2003 PERMALINK
A pattern emerges.
After the hotel attack last Sunday that killed an American colonel, we heard this from Viceroy Paul Bremer on ABCās This Week:
We certainly had a bad day and as I have stressed all along weāre going to have good days and bad days.
Fortunately, the good days do outnumber the bad days. This was a particularly unfortunate one.
What it was is a bad day, a bad day, a tragic day for those people.
In a war, there are going to be days like that. And it is necessary that we recognize that.
While this is clearly a predetermined, White House approved message, you can bet there are other messages theyād rather be making on Sunday morning.
For example, you would have thought theyād want to spike the ball following the 7.2% GDP figure, and would have sent out the Treasury and Commerce secretaries to the shows.
Why push forward your biggest lightening rod instead of pushing the best political news youāve had for a while?
(Little trust in Treasuryās John Snow? Interest in showing support for the embattled Rummy?)
A moot point perhaps, because the Sunday attack pushed the economy off the news radar anyway.
And so, the ćyou got yer good days and yer bad daysä line returned for a second straight week.
As well as the all-too-familiar attempt to flog the positive in the face of so much violence.
In fact, while Rummy took pains to sound somber when the killings were discussed at the top of each of interview, he soon returned to his creepily glib self:
For example, from Fox:
Look, we're in a way, and it's tough, and it's dangerous, and no one is trying to put a smiley face on anything.
But, by golly, when you've got that many Iraqis -- 100,000 -- now providing for their own security.
Where you have a governing council and a bunch of ministers; and you have a Central Bank; and you have a new currency.
And you have all the universities and colleges open; and the hospitals are open; and there was not a humanitarian crisis --
Sitting around wringing your hands and saying, "It's horrible, it's horrible, everything is terrible" is nonsense.
It isn't all terrible. There's some darn good stuff happening.
Canāt let a bunch of dead soldiers get in the way of a good talking point.
Of course, that they need to say the ćgood stuffä over and over again is an indicator of how badly theyāve botched selling the war in the first place.
Americans do accept casualties in conflicts they understand to be necessary.
And during ćmajor combat operations,ä when most Americans thought the war was about WMD and removing the threat of Saddam, reports of casualties did not weaken support.
Now, there are no WMDs and Saddam is (seemingly) gone. The point of it all has become murkier to many Americans.
And the steady stream of death is affecting support.
The latest ABC-W. Post poll shows 51% disapprove of Bushās handling of Iraq, the first time that number was an outright majority.
Thatās because most people donāt care about the ćgood stuff," nearly as much as they care about US soldiers getting out of harmās way as soon as possible.
Thatās why the White House party-line isnāt working.
Thatās also why thereās insider chatter about troop pull-outs to save the election for Bush.
As Talking Points Memo reported, following a recent ćNew American Strategies for Security and Peaceä conference:
[Former Clinton aide Sandy] Berger said his greatest fear was that we would withdraw from Iraq prematurely.
I heard this anxiety expressed by a lot of people at the conference.
The concern is that the politicals at the White House will dictate a hasty and potentially disastrous withdrawal from Iraq --
[O]ne engineered not to create a long-term good outcome in the country, but to create a very specific short-term benefit, to eliminate or reduce the presidentās political vulnerability on the issue in the fall of 2004.
The neocons seem to share that anxiety in spades.
Probably not coincidentally, Rumsfeld was asked by everyone about a possible draw down yesterday (though not explicitly in the context of the election).
And each time he did exactly what he did when, according to Time, a group of Senators recently asked him the same:
His reply, according to a Republican Senator in the room, was a classic Rumsfeldian fugue÷complete with interesting hand gestures÷mentioning reductions and foreign troops and steady progress.
Or, as the G.O.P. Senator described it later, "it was a five-minute, total nonanswer, just unbelievably obtuse."
What could the Senator mean? See this Rumsfeld response to George Stephanopoulos:
The way to look at it is what will happen will depend on what the security situation in the country is.
And the total number of forces is what one must look at and that number is going up.
Because of the success we're having with Iraqi forces, we're going to go from 100,000 to 200,000·
·Now, how the security situation on the ground evolves will determine whether the Iraqi forces growth is sufficient, whether we get additional coalition forces, and how many more or less U.S. forces are needed.
And that's not knowable now, three, four, six months out.
While Rumsfeld was obfuscating, his fellow neocon Bill Kristol was shedding some light, while punditfying on Fox News:
I was briefed by someone who was privy to conversations that the President had [earlier this week] with Rumsfeld, Bremer, [Gen. John] Abizaid, Powell·
·after much pretty heated debate -- Rumsfeld and Abizaid really pushing the draw down of US forces, Bremer resisting that·
·At the end, apparently the President said extremely forcefully ö could have heard a pin drop, someone told me, in the room ö that:
ćForget the fact that next year is an election year. I donāt want anyone making any decisions on that basis.
ćWe will do what it takes to win in Iraq. Iām not going to draw down troops because 2004 is an election year.ä·
·And this person, who is a hawk, told me, ćThank God for President Bush.ä
·[So] no draw down, unless itās justified militarily·
·[But Bushās] problem is that he has a State Department that was never in favor of this war and a Defense Department, large parts of it, want to wind this down as quickly as possible·
·it will be a test of his leadership·
Leave aside the self-serving mythologizing of the tough and decisive Dubya
(In fact, the end of the spiel shows that Kristol worries that, as LiberalOasis has argued, Bush is not really in control of his own Administration.)
And focus on this: why would Rumsfeld go against his fellow neocons and push for a draw down?
A W. Post story from last month about such a plan (which reported that Rumsfeld had not signed off on it), said:
Military officials worry that if they do not begin cutting the size of the U.S. force, they could damage troop morale, leave the armed forces shorthanded if crises emerge in North Korea and elsewhere, and help create a long-term personnel shortage in the service.
That makes sense, especially since Rumsfeldās vision is all about relatively small troop deployments, on the theory that better technology can make the military more flexible and agile.
But what doesnāt make sense is Rumsfeld and Abizaid arguing for a draw down because of 2004.
Karl Rove or Dick Cheney, sure. But Rummy or Abizaid? Thatās not their focus.
Maybe there was someone else in the room pushing that line. Maybe the out-of-it, full-of-himself Dubya was knocking down an argument nobody had made.
(Maybe you could hear a pin drop because eye-rolling makes no noise.)
Not all the answers are evident yet on this draw down question and the dynamics driving it.
What is evident is that the Administration is still at war with itself, that the fault lines are shifting, and the fault lines are increasing.
*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***
"The Behinder We Get"
FROM: Donald Rumsfeld
SUBJECT: The Behinder We Get
Iām pretty upset about my last memo getting out to the press. Letās hope this one doesnāt do the same. Are you listening, Bob?
I was also less than overwhelmed with the meeting we had following that memo.
I had asked each of you specifically to come prepared to discuss the fact that despite all the hoo-hah Scottās spewing to the press, weāre getting bogged down in Iraq. Bogged in a slog, you could say.
None of you came up with any good solutions, although Paulās idea about invading France has got me thinking.
But specific to Iraq, Iām disappointed. None of you got where you are today on your looks or ability, so I was expecting youād at least have come up with something based on your guile, corporate connections or current medications.
But youāve let me down.
So, now itās up to me to come up with a way of getting our sorry asses out of Iraq while saving our necks in the media. Well unlike you hapless goons, Iām up to the job.
Hereās my plan. First, we need to regain the trust of the American people. And the best way to do that is to lie to them again.
I propose we blame the next California earthquake on the Arabs. Say they have a new subterranean nuclear exploitation device that exacerbates tectonic weaknesses. You know, some long-winded bullshit. Iāve got a thesaurus ready.
Second. A long time ago I was one of the leading proponents of modernizing the US military beyond the two-war scenario. Nowās the time to put this thinking to practical use.
Instead of the two-war scenario, I want to launch multiple attacks against all probable enemies.
I want to expand the notion of pre-emptive strikes. Iām thinking seventeen, maybe eighteen consecutive conflicts. Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Burkina Faso... you name it, theyāre up for grabs. I want a list of the top twenty countries to attack. Alphabetized by natural resources.
Third. I want giant lasers in orbit. Christ, Iāve been at that one most of my professional career. I feel like Dr. Evil surrounded by frickinā idiots. Give me the goddamn orbiting lasers already!
Fourth. Yes, I know this is going to bankrupt the government. For those of you not paying attention, this administration not only doesnāt care, but bankrupting the government is part of the plan.
I said this a long time ago when I was working on the National Economic Commission for Bush 41, and Iāll say it again: to break the bank you donāt use cap guns, you use H-bombs.
I challenge any Democrat to put together a single social program after weāre done fighting twenty consecutive wars while giving away billions of tax breaks. Thatās how you do welfare reform, fellas.
So, in summary, the new policy is going to be all wars, all the time. Wars on every continent, fought on the ground, fought on the sea, and fought with giant lasers from the sky.
Weāll have the benefit of the high numbers an administration gets when at active war, but theyāll be permanent.
No post-war malaise drops, no time for the lefties to stop and think about whatās going on and intellectualize their way into the op-eds.
The news boys will be so far up to their cakeholes in coverage, thereāll be no time for anti-American criticism. Itās a win-win-win scenario.
Whew. Iām tired. Weāll discuss this in greater detail next week at our meeting.
Since you hacks have already proven you canāt provide actual implementation plans, just bring your typical blank stares and blind affirmations. I want to see so many nodding heads, Iāll feel like Iām in a bobblehead factory.
PS: Paul, you still owe me 75 cents for the coffee machine. Bring it with you.
(s) Donald H. Rumsfeld
Mark Spittle is one half of the political satire duo Spittle & Ink. He is a former Washington lobbyist and congressional assistant.
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