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June 13, 2011 8:00 AM RNC chair struggles to defend double standard

By Steve Benen

NBC’s “Meet the Press” hosted a discussion between the two major party chairs — the DNC’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the RNC’s Reince Priebus — and right off the bat, host David Gregory wanted to talk at length about Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). Priebus stuck to fairly predictable talking points, complaining that House Democratic leaders did exactly what the RNC wanted them to do, but didn’t do it fast enough to make Priebus happy. “This is a question of leadership,” he said.

Wasserman Schultz responded by bringing up the one subject the RNC really doesn’t want to talk about.

“What Reince is saying doesn’t pass the straight face test, from a chair of a party who — none of whose leaders called for Senator Vitter, who actually broke the law, to resign, who is still serving in office. Hired prostitutes and evaded the truth. Chairman Priebus was chairman when Senator Ensign was also embroiled in unethical, unacceptable and probably illegal conduct, and he did not call for Senator Ensign’s resignation.”

Priebus noted that Ensign resigned, prompting DWS to remind him, “But you never called for his resignation, so it’s a double standard and it’s unacceptable.”

When the RNC chairman insisted, for some reason, “It’s not a double standard,” the host noted that “nobody” called on Vitter to resign and asked where the line is. Priebus argued:

“Well, listen. I mean, Senator Vitter, that’s a, that’s a five-year-old story. Chris Lee, how long did he last? About 30 seconds. How long — Senator Ensign resigned within six weeks of me becoming chairman.”

He then changed the subject.

This is the most detailed response Priebus has given to date, so let’s look at the angles one at a time. First, Vitter is a “five-year-old story.” That’s true. It’s also irrelevant. In five years, the Anthony Weiner matter will be a five-year-old story, too.

Vitter ran as a right-wing family-values conservative then hired prostitutes, even arranging a rendezvous with a hooker from the floor of the House. No one called for his resignation, no one called on his allies to return money he’d given them. Priebus argued yesterday the Weiner controversy is a test of Democratic “leadership.” So, where’s the Republican leadership on Vitter? His misdeeds don’t look any better with the passage of time.

Next, Chris Lee did resign, but it’s not because Republicans showed great “leadership”; it’s because there was evidence that Lee was into transsexuals and cross-dressers, and quit before the additional information could come out.

And finally, Ensign resigned two years after his scandal broke, not because of pressure from the party, but because the Republican saw quitting as a way to avoid testifying under oath. Like Vitter, Republicans never called for Ensign’s ouster, and never argued that other Republicans should return donations Ensign made to them.

As Wasserman Schultz demonstrated, Dems see this as something of a trump card — if Weiner has to go, then Republicans who engaged in even more serious scandals should be held to an identical standard. Until GOP officials can come up with a coherent response to this, the argument will remain atop the list of Democratic talking points.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • c u n d gulag on June 13, 2011 8:10 AM:

    Vitter, if I remember right, made the call from the Senate floor.

    That was also where he was APPLAUDED by his Republican colleages when he returned to the Senate - AFTER admitting his diapered dalliances with highly-paid dollies - who were, of course, not his Mrs.

    And Ensign was allowed to slink out of town quietly, where the only people to hear his farewell in the Senate were a few security guards, and a C-SPAN II camera crew.

    THANK YOU, DWS!!!

  • j on June 13, 2011 8:14 AM:

    How about Coburn who was the negotiator trying to keep Ensign's scandal secret and pay off the mistress, he was not ethical either. Let's not forget that Santorum while a Fox news person kept the repubs up on when the husband was going to spill the beans on Fox.
    I hate when I have to stand on my head to read captcha

  • jpeckjr on June 13, 2011 8:23 AM:

    The double standard on these matters is genuine. The Ensign case is more pertinent than the Vitter case because it involved bribery, payoffs, and inappropriate relationships with staff. In Mr. Vitter's case, the voters of Louisiana re-elected him knowing of his behavior. If that's what the voters want in a Senator, a basically ineffective hypocrite, they can have it.

    In Mr. Weiner's case, his effectiveness has been undermined and diminished because his behavior, while not illegal or hypocritical, suggests poor judgment and recklessness. I do not think he should resign. I think he should run for re-election in 2012. If the voters want to keep him, the case is closed.

  • DAY on June 13, 2011 8:36 AM:

    I like that Debbie smacked the RNC chairman upside the head. Maybe she has been taking lessons from Howard Dean.

    Simple, declarative sentences always trump talking points. Some people call it "dumbing down", I call it speaking the language of the "attention challenged public". Please, ma'am, can we have some more?

  • kevo on June 13, 2011 8:37 AM:

    Yeah, and we take mucho text and air space "reporting" on these men-in-power-dalliances while the entire financial sector is preparing for the big cliff diving that will take place in early August as our loved ones in the Republican party are playing fire with our paper money!

    Go figure!

    The real stories that impact the larger population are being ignored as the MSM is trying to get to the bottom of whomever's pants it can, to expose what? Another wiener?

    In the meantime, the historic default is on Event Horizon, and the MSM is AWOL! -Kevo

  • Danp on June 13, 2011 8:44 AM:

    This would have been a great opportunity for DWS to bring up Tom Coburn's role in the Ensign affair. Not only did Reps not call on Ensign to resign, Coburn actually facilitated the cover-up. Dems have to do a better job of educating the public. The media won't.

  • Chris on June 13, 2011 8:47 AM:

    The double-standard among Republicans is disappointing, but expected. The double-standard among the "liberal" media is inexcusable.

  • FRP on June 13, 2011 8:54 AM:

    The game is to play for time . Weiner appears to be acting in accord with this . Deflecting attention is the first proud column of it's okayism .
    The beauty of Weiner is that overexposure of fundamental principles of this sort may call attention to that man behind the curtain . A man we can only be reminded of so many times before the crankies set in , even for the mildest among us .
    For the stir crazy , cabined fevered , a ray of less dark brings dreams of least dark , formerly known as light . Less dark , a gauzy (a provenance of dismissible DFH meanderings) wish to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast , or not in time .
    Put in its coming out party best foot forward admirableness , the loud the proud , I forget .

  • Daniel Kim on June 13, 2011 8:55 AM:

    You know, that's why you don't see too many Democrats on Meet the Press. They're way too contentious with their 'gotcha' tactics and insistence on pointing out hypocrisy.

  • jTh on June 13, 2011 8:57 AM:

    Coherent response? How about "Do as we say, not as we do"?

  • AK Liberal on June 13, 2011 9:12 AM:

    Wasserman Schultz responded by bringing up the one subject the RNC really doesn’t want to talk about.

    I'm already liking the cut of her jib.

  • pol on June 13, 2011 9:15 AM:

    I love this woman. Go DWS!

  • Zorro on June 13, 2011 9:17 AM:

    Amen, Day + AK Liberal. It's good to see a DNC chair in the Dean mold.

    -Z

  • Schtick on June 13, 2011 9:19 AM:

    I like Weiner. He speaks up and calls out the repubs. They hate him for it. If he wanted all this to slide under the table like repubs do it, he should just say he found Jesus. I mean, the repubs find him in restrooms, diapers, along the appalachians, South America, etc., etc. And I loved Rangle's response.

    Please fire whomever wanted the captcha. I couldn't even read it no matter what I did. sheesh. Twice.

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on June 13, 2011 9:19 AM:

    The look on Vitter's wife's face at that press conference just haunts me, every time I see it I imagine what she must have been feeling through the fog of whatever medication she was taking. What kind of man does what he did and then drags his wife onstage so her humiliation can be witnessed by the entire world?

    Every time I see that video I want to go to DC and punch his lights out. Really.

  • John R AKA Mr. Serf Man on June 13, 2011 9:39 AM:

    Roger the Cabin Boy I was thinking the same thing every time I saw it on a loop. Insensitive misogynist KochSucker.
    What manner of person does that?

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on June 13, 2011 9:41 AM:

    The kind of person who needs his teeth knocked down his throat. Doesn't his wife have a brother?

  • taritac on June 13, 2011 9:51 AM:

    I'm glad that news organizations and blogs are calling out the Vitter hypocrisy, how come none of them mention the fact that this guy has a diaper fetish? HE GETS EXCITED WEARING DIAPERS DURING SEX, PEOPLE!! How is sending sexy pictures *more* salacious than that? Not mentioning the diaper fetish makes the Vitter scandal seem like some run-of-the-mill hooker solicitation.

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on June 13, 2011 10:01 AM:

    Wonder if he liked to have them changed too.

  • wah on June 13, 2011 10:43 AM:

    Weiner needs to hang out with some cowboys for a week or two and get back to work.

  • zeitgeist on June 13, 2011 11:30 AM:

    DWS was on fire yesterday morning. Even better (and ultimately more important) than the Weiner issue was he take down of Romney. She very effectively rattled off a series of short, sharp points on his 47th out of 50 job creation record in Massachusetts and said he has no credibiity on job creation issues. It was tough, smart, and concise.

  • JohnR on June 13, 2011 1:15 PM:

    "Until GOP officials can come up with a coherent response to this, the argument will remain atop the list of Democratic talking points."

    No, it won't. By the end of this week (Hell, by the _middle_ of this week), it will have been dropped by all but the most shrill and hateful of the shrill and hateful liberals in government. In two weeks, all mention of Republican "lapses" will have vanished from discussion, while Edwards, Clinton and Weiner will still be getting prominent play as representatives of the decadent and morality-free liberal world. And that will just be in the liberal 'lamestream' media. The overtly GOP-friendly press outlets will be throwing in JFK, Gary Hart, that NY guy who made the mistake of going after the bankers (Spitzer, was it?), and anybody else they can find or invent things about.
    IOKIYAAR is the way it works in the world of the Important People. Actually, turn that first I into an A (for "Anything's"). Meanwhile, for the Democrats, self-flagellation is a continuing fact of life. I think every time a Democrat appears on TV, the little Monty Python/Holy Grail clip of the flagellants should play first ("Ie Jesu Domine" *thwack*..)

  • J.D. Rhoades on June 13, 2011 2:01 PM:

    I like Weiner. He speaks up and calls out the repubs. They hate him for it.

    Unfortunately, so does the Dem establishment.

  • exlibra on June 13, 2011 3:02 PM:

    Debbie is super. Head and shoulders above the Timid Timmy Kaine. Who plays very nice harmonica but has little else to recommend him. It's gonna be hard getting enthusiasm out to push him into the Senate next year.

    "and rodeffec". Well, yes, Debbie does have a rod-like spine among other, equally admirable, attributes. *And* she rode that fecking Priebus into the ground, too :)

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