The latest scandal of scandals is that politicians talk to each other.
Moments before a conference call with reporters was scheduled to get underway on Tuesday morning, apparently unaware that many of the reporters were already on the line, Charles Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, began to instruct fellow senators on how to talk to reporters about the contentious budget process.
After thanking his colleagues — Barbara Boxer of California, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Tom Carper of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — for doing the budget bidding for the Senate Democrats, who are facing off against the House Republicans over how spending for the rest of the fiscal year, Mr. Schumer told them to portray John Boehner of Ohio, the Speaker of the House, as painted into a box by the Tea Party, and to decry the spending cuts that he wants as extreme. “I always use the word extreme,” Mr. Schumer said, “That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week.”
A minute or two into the talking-points tutorial, though, someone apparently figured out that reporters were listening, and silence fell.
I was on this call, though I came on late and actually didn’t hear this bit. But the most I can say about it is that the Senate Democrats’ conference call services are pretty miserable. This kind of slip-up happens much more than anyone would expect. I’ve heard Barbara Boxer and Mary Landrieu candidly discuss vote-counting strategy on one of these calls without knowing their views were being broadcast. There’s no way to mute the line globally, you have to have each individual reporter mute their own phone. If you’ve ever been on a freeconferencecall.com session, that’s slightly above the level of the Senate Democrats.
So, change your phone system, Senate Democrats. But let’s not have this conceit that politicians don’t coordinate messages. It’s all they do! We have an entire political party based on saying the same ten words in public every day for 30 years. Frankly, the fact that Democrats are even trying to set up their messaging at all should come as a shock to people who’ve heard them in public. A little discipline wouldn’t hurt.
Moreover, I wasn’t even going to write about the call, because Boxer, Carper, Cardin and Blumenthal said nothing all that interesting, and certainly nothing different than what Schumer said very publicly on the Senate floor today:
A Tea Party rebellion may hurt the House Republican leadership politically, but a government shutdown will hurt all Americans much more.
It is time for House Republican leaders to rip the band-aid off. Mr. Speaker, it’s time to forget the Tea Party and take the deal. There are only 10 days left before the current CR expires, and there is no new stopgap being prepared by the House Republicans. It seems like the only viable proposal is the one the Speaker walked away from.
So the Speaker faces a choice: return to the deal he was prepared to accept before the Tea Party rebelled last week, or risk a shutdown on April 8. I think we know what the right answer is.
We’re in a position of dueling recriminations and blame-storming, without any real substantive debate on the policy itself. So people are surprised that public comments are being coached, given all this? If Senate Democrats made a mistake, it’s in not retiring the worst phone system currently being used today. Nothing else.