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Freshmen 42: Joe Sestak 'Meets' the National Spotlight

House freshmen don't usually get invited by Tim Russert to appear on "Meet the Press". But yesterday, barely two months on the job, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) went toe-to-toe with Russert and a trio of other guests -- including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who repeatedly needled Sestak -- debating the next steps of the Iraq war.

"A date certain, then, gives the leverage, the catalyst for [Iraqis] to understand they must step up to the plate, don't have a culture of dependency," Sestak, a former admiral who led a carrier battle group, said of his bill to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq war by the end of the year.

It was a watershed moment for the Freshmen 42, that group of Democratic lawmakers that handed Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) the speaker's gavel. Until Sestak, no members of the House Democratic class of 2006 had appeared on the venerable "Meet", the gold-standard of Sunday talk shows.

[According to Roll Call's "Face Time" analysis of those shows, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) was the only other freshman to appear on a Sunday show, earlier this year on FOX News Sunday. Click here to view yesterday's "Meet the Press."

A 31-year veteran of the Navy, Sestak has emerged as an early favorite of his party's leadership to speak on military matters. Hoping to focus more on domestic issues, Sestak told Capitol Briefing last month that he had to be coaxed onto the House Armed Services Committee. But he's also someone Democratic leaders are trying to bolster for re-election in a district that had previously been represented for 20 years by Republican Curt Weldon.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was in the Philadelphia area Friday to help raise money for Sestak as well as his legislative neighbor, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.). And during the recess week in February, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, went into Sestak's district for an education summit he hosted with local principals and teachers' unions.

While getting favorable attention nationally over the weekend, Sestak spent some time last week defending himself in the local media over his decision to speak at a banquet April 7 for a local chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations and hiring a former CAIR staffer to work in his district office. A former prosecutor is organizing rabbis in Delaware County against the event, citing alleged ties to terrorist organizations.

So far, he hasn't backed down, telling the Delaware County Daily Times: "It even says in the Torah, understand the other side before you make a judgment. Once you make your judgment, you should speak the truth. And the truth here -- and I looked into CAIR during the campaign -- is that they do some good."

Whether the CAIR incident is a minor flare-up or the early signs of a political novice mishandling message issues remains to be seen. His first bill calls for an end to combat in Iraq by Dec. 31, 2007, an approach more aggressive than the current Democratic leadership proposals in the House and Senate.

"There will be no more funds by the end of 2007. Without a date certain we have no leverage over the Iraqis," Sestak told Capitol Briefing last month in a brief interview during the debate on the non-binding resolution opposing President Bush's troop surge.

Sestak, 54, has a more mature presence than some of the younger members of the Democratic freshmen class, particularly Murphy, 33, a former JAG officer who served with the 82nd Airborne in Baghdad whose floor debate performances are more passionate and, sometimes, uneven.

Sestak is analytical, and not much of a political bomb thrower. He broke down his race against Weldon like a football coach analyzing a tight game that broke open late in the 4th quarter. Sestak was slightly ahead of Weldon in the polls in early October -- about 4 percent, he said -- and then the FBI raided Weldon's daughter's home as well as the offices of his top political ally.

The raids were part of an investigation into whether Weldon had done favors for his daughter, Karen Weldon, allowing Sestak to coast to a 56-44 win. His early opposition to the Iraq war made him a favorite of the liberal netroots crowd, helping him raise $3.3 million last year in his first campaign ever.

Tim Pulte, scion of the Pulte Homes realty dynasty, has been met with House Republican strategists about the race, and if he enters, Sestak may need even more money next time around.

Still, the freshman lawmaker expects Iraq to be key to his own political future, judging from the reception he has received at events he's attended back in his district so far. "No matter what event I was at, Iraq came up," he said.

By Paul Kane  |  March 19, 2007; 5:40 PM ET
 
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Comments

"Whether the CAIR incident is a minor flare-up or the early signs of a political novice mishandling message issues remains to be seen."

Or maybe it's just a man who means what he says and stands his ground in the race of politically correct bigotry?

Of course, if John McCain did the same lil' Paul here would be wetting himself with admiration. But, since we're talking about a Democrat, it's a "minor flare up."

As it happens, I live in Sestak's district. All I know is that for the first time in my life I'm actually proud of the guy who's representing me in Washington. And I know a lot of people in my neck of the woods who feel the same way.

Posted by: Peter Principle | March 19, 2007 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Sestak should be in trouble by sticking to his descision to speak for the Terrorist Enablers at CAIR.

What's next? A luncheon with the KKK?

A dinner with the neo-nazi's?

He's a fool.

Posted by: TruthBeTold | March 19, 2007 8:11 PM | Report abuse

First of all, no one who is a "political novice" becomes an Admiral in the Navy. That statement reveals an unfortunate ignorance of the internal politics of the US armed forces.
As for the CAIR "incident", do I understand correctly that the "controversy" is that a United States Congressman is going to speak to members of his constituency? Since the only obvious source for this being controversial is the fact that these are Americans who are Islamic, are we to conclude that treating Muslims like citizens of the United States is no longer allowed?
I realize that Capital Briefing is just reporting that others have taken issue with this, but I find it incredible that the best explanation this blog could come up with for Sestak's actions are that he is allegedly a political novice. Its as if it never occurred to Capital Briefing that the fact that these are US citizens getting a visit from their Congressional Representative means that Sestak is just doing the same thing every member of Congress is expected to do when they are elected - represent their constituents. An indication of a novice would be if Sestak was in any way influenced by a few Rabbis who endeavor to prevent Muslims from participating in a democracy. I don't actually have any idea what peter's "politically correct bigotry" is, but I sure do know bigotry when I see it. Our democracy belongs just as much to Muslim-Americans as it does to Americans of every other faith, or no faith at all. So the real controversy here is that there is any controversy at all.

Posted by: Patrick Huss | March 19, 2007 8:51 PM | Report abuse

"Flare up" What's wrong with a congressman speaking to members of his community. Sestak should be applauded for being inclusive and standing up for what's right. The only people upset here are the hardliners and those who hate Muslims, like the former prosecutor from Delaware county and Jewish community members who are willing to give in to bigotry.

I'm sure in the 1930s it would have been controversial for an official to speak to a group of Jews like the ADL or blacks like the NAACP.

We're in 2007 , stop the hate

Posted by: Bob White | March 19, 2007 9:26 PM | Report abuse

If Sestak was appearing with simple muslim members of America, that would be fine.

But he's not, he's appearing at the pleasure of the Islamic Supremacists of CAIR, a proven fascist organization Founded by Terrorists (Marzook) Run by their supporters (Awad, Hooper, Ahmad),Funded by terrorist supporters from foreign nations, with a self professed desire to overturn the constitution for sharia law. (CAIR's own words).

Again, Sestak is a bonafide Fool.

Posted by: TruthBeTold | March 19, 2007 10:30 PM | Report abuse

If Sestak was appearing with simple muslim members of America, that would be fine.

But he's not, he's appearing at the pleasure of the Islamic Supremacists of CAIR, a proven fascist organization Founded by Terrorists (Marzook) Run by their supporters (Awad, Hooper, Ahmad),Funded by terrorist supporters from foreign nations, with a self professed desire to overturn the constitution for sharia law. (CAIR's own words).

Again, Sestak is a bonafide Fool.

Posted by: 411 | March 19, 2007 10:31 PM | Report abuse

I suppose this Congressman is unaware that CAIR wishes to disregard the Constitution and impose Sharia law throughout the nation? Does this silly ass really share the misogynistic views of this primitive, tribal, religion? I think we have a right to know. If we have a Congressman living in a 7th Century male fantasy he should seek mental therapy.

Posted by: Pat | March 19, 2007 10:44 PM | Report abuse

guess he should have met Ghadafi and declared Moon the savior of the world--that would be alright. maybe he should broker an arms deal with nicaragua or help foreign nationals and corporations of questionable background get visas and federal contracts through his daughter and political godfathers company? Look, at least he's trying to build a bridge to people who have been ignored by the prior representative. Does it hurt to listen to voters? maybe if these folks were spoken to and made to feel part of the process we would all understand them better. I am not a blind sestak believer--but i'm not a hater either. we can only hope that most of our representatives would try to communicate with all their constituents.

Posted by: whynotus | March 19, 2007 11:47 PM | Report abuse

CAIR is founded by Hamas terrorists.

Their members all know this by now, so if they stick with CAIR, they deserve NOTHING.

Sestak is a coddling Fool.

Posted by: 411 | March 20, 2007 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Has anyone else noticed the complete lack of evidence, facts, or proof provided by those who oppose Sestak's visit. In this era, when every level of law enforcement is itching to arrest and defeat anyone with even a peripheral connection to terrorism, how could it be possible that all of these people are aware of this group's "terrorist support", but no one in law enforcement or national security is able to do anything about it? If any of posters have any evidence that what they claim is true, then go to DHS or the FBI. If you don't have proof, then stop pretending your prejudice is fact. The rest of the world is not obligated to act according to your own bitter, ancient bigotry. While your busy claiming CAIR are fascists, you folks appear oblivious to a fundamental tenet of American Law - that we are innocent until PROVEN guilty. Prove that CAIR is a terrorist organization, or accept that it has a right to exist and be represented.

Posted by: patrick huss | March 20, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I am also a retired naval officer and I knew Joe Sestak slightly in the mid-1980's when we were both stationed in the same area. He is a brilliant guy. I contributed to his campaign.

While it is true that no one achieves flag rank in the armed forces without being politically adept, the nature of the politics is somewhat different. Admirals and generals are generally not subject to the incessant "gotcha" questioning by the media. Also the range of issues that a politician must be conversant with are different and somewhat broader than those dealt with by a senior officer. Witness the missteps made by several senior military officers upon entering politics. Wesley Clark, for example, served at the highest levels of the armed forces in highly political environments. He was very awkward dealing with the press in his brief presidential campaign in 2004.

Posted by: JimD in FL | March 20, 2007 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I saw Admiral Sestak for the first time this Sunday on "Meet the Press".
I found him to be the most eloquent, polite, logical, and forceful of all the guests.
His analysis of the situation in Iraq and what role we should implement in order to defuse the violence in the region was in the finest tradition of the American spirit. He is a welcome rising star on the political scene.

Posted by: Richard Gonzalez | March 20, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Caught him on Meet the Press and he was a welcome voice of sanity up against the continued misrepresentations and half-truths of Perle and DeLay.

Posted by: sloopiel | March 20, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I saw Sestak on Meet the Press, also, and he was candid and maintained his cool while Tom DeLay and Richard Perle tried to bait him with insinuations of disloyalty and cowardice. Most encouraging thing about that Meet the Press episode was that the two guests who were against the Iraq policy hold public office, while DeLay, shilling his new book, faces criminal charges, and Perle, trying to deliver pithy applause lines with an authoritative style similar to Dick Cheney's, could only stutter about being misquoted when he was accused of having said, back in 2003, that in short order the main thoroughfare in Baghdad would be renamed in honor of George W. Bush.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 20, 2007 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Joe showed his intelligence and thorough knowledge of the issues on Meet the Press. As a PA-07 voter, I am thrilled that he is representing me in Washington.

Joe is a man of principle - which is why he has refused to raise funds for CAIR, while also being unafraid to dialogue with his Muslim constituents.

Posted by: quadmom | March 20, 2007 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Joe Sestak was by far the most articulate participant in the Meet the Press roundtable discussion. He was calm and thoughtful in his presentation and put forward observations and points I had never heard before. Not your typical politician, he was all the more persuasive and effective because of that.

I too am a voter in the PA-07 and happy to be represented by Sestak.

By the way, why is MTP providing a platform for a criminal like Tom Delay???

Posted by: Karen | March 21, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

it's amazing how many comments sound like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck and Fox News.
Sickening!
I think they should get a brain and think for themselves.
Delaware Conty finally got someone who will represent it in the way it should be.
Curt Weldon only cared about himself and his Party, he never voted for anything unless it was put forth by his Party.
He was always a Partisan who complained constantly about Partisanship by the Democrats.
Joe Sestak will be a great Representtive.

Posted by: Marian Sackett | March 21, 2007 4:29 PM | Report abuse

What a breath of fresh air on Meet The Press Sunday that dominated DeLay and Perle's hot air. Admiral Sestak is a courageous soldier and gentleman.////Tom DeLay questioning him about military matters? Your ego knows no boundaries Tom. And pure, unprocessed ignorance spews from yours and Perle's mouths.
////Where did you two serve in Viet Nam? Dr. Jerry W. Reeves, Chaplain Retired

Posted by: skypilotreeves@yahoo.com | March 21, 2007 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Tim Russert and the producers of "Meet the Press" were well served to invite Joe Sestak to appear on last Sunday's program. Joe is highly intelligent both intellectually and pragmatically. He knows how Washington operates but rises above the partison politics and focuses on the real issues, seeking solutions to improve this great country for the benefit of all and not just the privilaged few.

Posted by: Donna L. Cassel | March 21, 2007 11:13 PM | Report abuse

I am a Muslim American. I have no other organization to enlist for help regarding discrimination other than CAIR. Anyone who believes that Muslim Americans are not getting mistreated and racially discriminated in this post 911 world is lying to themselves. Just the same, CAIR is not a terrorist organization just because some people affiliated with it had any questionable pasts. CAIR is a great civil rights organization that works with FBI, DHS, and other Homeland Security agancies to secure our country. Most of the people who have something against CAIR and Muslims are the same people who listen and agree with people like DOn Imus. Idiot, ignorant brainwashed rednecks.

Posted by: Ali | April 10, 2007 10:14 PM | Report abuse

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