Massa has media groping for answers
By Ben Pershing
Has the apocalypse arrived? On CNN's "American Morning" Wednesday, John Roberts intoned, "Our top story: It was 'tickling,' not 'groping.'" Everyone in Washington feels a bit dirtier -- insert your House gym shower joke here -- the morning after Eric Massa took to the airwaves to defend/bury himself following a bizarre scandal that ended his congressional career.
First, the basic facts, courtesy of the Associated Press: "Former Rep. Eric Massa, who resigned from Congress amid sexual harassment allegations, offered contradictory explanations for his behavior Tuesday, acknowledging he groped a male staffer in a non-sexual way but later denying any groping. In a pair of TV interviews, the New York Democrat discussed wrestling with male staffers at his 50th birthday party and tickling one of them." The New York Times -- which plays the story relatively small compared to other national outlets -- headlines its tale, "Ex-Congressman Describes Tickle Fights With Aides," reporting that Massa "vehemently denied any wrongdoing during a television appearance on Tuesday, even as he described having tickle fights with staff members in a house they shared." USA Today notes, "On CNN, King asked Massa whether he is gay. 'I'm not going to answer that,' Massa said, saying the question insults gays. 'Why would anyone even ask that question in this day and age?'"The New York Post goes with, "Pol now in tickle pickle," while Drudge banners, "SLIME TIME!" under a picture of Rahm Emanuel.
What's Massa accused of doing? The Washington Post reports: "Not long after Eric Massa joined Congress in January 2009, several male staff members began to feel uncomfortable with the sexually loaded language their boss routinely used, according to accounts relayed to the House ethics committee. As the months passed, rumors began to circulate in the office that the married New York Democrat had sexually propositioned young male staffers and interns -- allegations, according to two sources with knowledge of the inquiry, that included Massa groping at least two aides." Politico says "The House ethics committee was apprised last month of allegations that Massa had groped at least three men who worked for him and had inappropriate physical contact with at least one intern, according to sources familiar with the matter. Massa has lived with as many as five aides in a Capitol Hill townhouse. ... It is not clear whether any of the alleged incidents may have occurred at the townhouse or with staffers who shared quarters with their boss. A source familiar with the matter said one incident is alleged to have occurred when Massa and an aide traveled to San Francisco together for a political fundraiser."
As for Massa's charge that he was pushed out by a White House conspiracy, The Hill writes that he "savaged [Democratic leaders] and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on his way out the door, saying House leaders pushed him out because he was opposed to their healthcare bill and describing Emanuel as the 'son of the devil's spawn.'" AP provides this fact-check: "THE CLAIM: Massa says he was targeted by Democrats who will 'stop at nothing' to advance their health care overhaul. On a New York radio station Sunday, Massa blamed Democrats for his downfall, saying, 'I was set up for this from the very, very beginning.' THE FACTS: Massa was the one who decided to leave the House, and when. He has given four different reasons over the past week for resigning his seat, including health worries and the ethics probe." TalkingPointsMemo notes that on Beck's show, Massa "bluntly admitted that his resignation, over allegations of sexual harassment, was his own fault. 'I wasn't forced out. I forced myself out. I failed,' said Massa."
Dana Milbank writes that things went "very wrong" minutes into the Beck interview and that "The Beck-Massa affair was a case of two political extremists who have gone so far in opposite directions that these strange bedfellows have wound up on the same mattress: They are both avowed foes of the Obama administration and its efforts to enact health-care reform." Michael Scherer observes that "Massa had come on Fox to out-Beck Glenn Beck. Armed with the very same weapons -- a deep sense of victimhood, outrage at the powers that be and remarkable personal candor -- the representative delivered a dizzying confessional. ... But in Massa, Beck found a sort of liberal doppelgänger, a mesmerizing train wreck of a man who was impossible to undercut in the classic fashion." Michelle Malkin, who chided her fellow conservative Beck before the show for giving Massa a platform, writes: "FAIL. Beck apologizes for wasting America's time. It was a painful object lesson, but in the end, I think, a useful one nonetheless." Jake Tapper Tweets: "Just got back from vacation. Someone exploded a nonsense bomb while I was away," and "the entire DC press corps has descended into a giant tickle fight."
Is anything, you know, important going on in Washington? Oh right, health care reform! One-sixth of the economy, 30 million uninsured and all that. Much of Wednesday's coverage centers on divisions -- between the House and Senate, liberals and moderates, Congress and the White House.
As CNN reports, Steny Hoyer made clear that the House did not feel constrained by the March 18 deadline for action suggested by Robert Gibbs last week. The Hill says "Gibbs didn't back down Tuesday afternoon, saying there 'seems to be a disconnect' between Congress and the White House before stopping himself to add, 'This was information I was given based on conversations that people had in this building with Capitol Hill.'" The Washington Post writes that Republicans "are scrambling to exploit divisions between Democrats in the House and the Senate. ... Mitch McConnell warned House Democrats that they would be taking a colossal risk if they approved the Senate's version of health-care legislation before the Senate had acted to remove some of the bill's most contentious provisions. Now that Democrats have lost their supermajority in the Senate, some variation of this delicate two-step process is the only way a health-care reform bill can become law." the New York Times reports that "The White House and Democratic Congressional leaders said Tuesday that they were bracing for a key procedural ruling that could complicate their effort to approve major health care legislation, by requiring President Obama to sign the bill into law before Congress could revise it through an expedited budget process. ... Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, said the reconciliation instructions in last year's budget resolution seemed to require that Mr. Obama sign the Senate bill into law before it could be changed."
On today's schedule, "President Barack Obama has chosen a suburban St. Louis high school to make his closing argument for a health care overhaul, pushing a new anti-fraud plan as he cranks up the pressure on skittish Democratic lawmakers to act fast," AP writes. Politico says "Lindsey Graham wants to revive the bipartisan Gang of 14 -- this time for health care reform, not judicial nominees. But most of his moderate Democratic colleagues aren't rushing to R.S.V.P." On abortion, Roll Call says "House Democratic leaders are wrestling with what appear to be three routes for moving forward -- and none is particularly easy." Democrats could stick with the Senate language and hope they find the votes in the House; they could keep the Senate language now but offer votes in future years, when the insurance exchanges come into being; or they could try to get tougher abortion language through the Senate this year. After a lull, the reform fight is returning to the airwaves: "Some of the largest U.S. business groups announced a multimillion-dollar television advertising campaign aimed at defeating the Democrats' pending health-care legislation, as both backers and opponents of the initiative sought to target wavering lawmakers in what is expected to be the final phase of the legislative process," the Wall Street Journal reports.
ABC News offers a primer on why health-care costs keep rising. On that subject, David Leonhardt thinks "health reform plan is a terribly mixed bag. It does so much less than the ideal plan would do. It would not come close to eliminating Medicare's long-term budget deficit. It would reduce that deficit only if a future Congress did not tinker with the various taxes and spending cuts scheduled to be phased in over the next decade. On the other hand, the plan would make progress in all sorts of areas. Insurance exchanges would create more competition. A Medicare oversight board would gain authority over reimbursement rates. Hospitals that committed certain medical errors -- harmful, costly errors -- would face financial penalties." Ezra Klein adds, "Cutting health-care costs is hard. And it needs to be distinguished from simply capping spending. When liberals say that single-payer will save a bazillion dollars, or conservatives point to Paul Ryan's plan and say that will save a bazillion dollars, they're talking about capping spending. Liberals do it on the provider side, saying that government will only pay so much for medical services people need, and the system will just have to adjust. Conservatives do it on the consumer side, saying that government will only give individuals so much for the coverage they need, and if that proves insufficient, then tough. But voters haven't evinced much appetite for either proposal."
Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen look at health-care polls and ask: "Why can't the president move the numbers? One reason may be that he keeps talking about details of the proposal while voters are looking at the issue in a broader context. Polling conducted earlier this week shows that 57% of voters believe that passage of the legislation would hurt the economy, while only 25% believe it would help. That makes sense in a nation where most voters believe that increases in government spending are bad for the economy." Mark Mellman says Obama's poor numbers are mostly about the economy, just as they were early in Ronald Reagan's term: "It all comes down to a concept we have discussed before: fundamental attribution error -- the natural tendency to weight the personal more highly than the situational in attributing causality. The objective situation Obama and Reagan faced did vastly more to dictate public attitudes than any personal or strategic failings. For Reagan, the situation changed dramatically before he faced voters again. President Obama is likely to follow a similar trajectory -- and today's laments will turn to paeans of praise."
March 10, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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