constitutional law attorney and the political and legal blogger for Salon.com. He is the author of three books. His most recent is Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics.
The Obama administration is holding a bipartisan summit amid renewed criticism over its refusal to push for a "public option" under healthcare reform. We speak to Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional law attorney and the political and legal blogger for Salon.com. Greenwald says Democrats are disingenuously hiding behind the cover of the filibuster to justify their political inaction on the public option, when they could approve it through budget reconciliation. He also discusses the response to last week’s IRS plane attack, the Justice Department’s clearing of Bush-era torture memo authors John Yoo and Jay Bybee, and new scrutiny of the private military firm Blackwater. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama is holding a bipartisan summit on healthcare today as he tries to keep his overhaul effort alive. The talks are expected to stretch on for six hours and will be televised on C-SPAN. The White House has invited twenty-two high-ranking lawmakers to the meeting at Blair House, across the street from the White House. The four topics on the agenda are revamping insurance, cost containment, expanding coverage, and the impact of healthcare legislation on deficit reduction.
The Obama administration is holding the summit amid renewed criticism over its refusal to push for a public option under healthcare reform. President Obama omitted the public option from a healthcare proposal unveiled this week.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said "there isn’t enough political support" to pass a public option through Congress.
ROBERT GIBBS: We have seen, obviously, and I talked about this some yesterday, that though there are some that are supportive of this, there isn’t enough political support in a majority to get this through. The President wanted to find — took the Senate bill as the base and looks forward to discussing consensus ideas on Thursday.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Twenty-three Democratic senators have publicly signed on to supporting a public option, and the White House has been criticized for not attempting to secure the fifty votes needed for simple-majority approval through budget reconciliation.
Meanwhile, Republicans are criticizing Democrats for looking to pass the bill through reconciliation to bypass their efforts to filibuster. Speaking on Fox News, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said it marked the end of minority rights.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: At the end of the day, I want healthcare reform, but I want a Senate that works and slows down bad ideas and sometimes, unfortunately, good ideas. This will be the end of the minority rights in the Senate as we know it, and the casualty of this whole debate would be the loss of the United States Senate as a real viable institution. It will become the House. And no bill is worth that.
AMY GOODMAN: For more on the healthcare debate in Washington, DC, we’re joined right here in our New York studio by Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com, author of three books. His most recent, Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Glenn.
GLENN GREENWALD: Great to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond first to Senator Lindsey Graham?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, the idea that reconciliation is some sort of unique or exotic instrument in the Senate is just so blatantly false, and it’s not really hard to see why that’s so. Reconciliation is nothing more than a longstanding Senate rule that allows for certain measures to pass with fifty-one votes and can bypass the filibuster.
The Republicans have used reconciliation repeatedly when they were in the majority. In fact, Judd Gregg, in 2005, went to the floor of the Senate and gave a vigorous speech attacking Democrats for the suggestion that there was something inappropriate about it. He said it was just a standard rule of the Senate, it’s nothing more than majority rule.
Many healthcare provisions in the past have been enacted through reconciliation, including COBRA and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
So the idea that there’s something anti-democratic about passing a bill with the support of fifty-one elected senators is extraordinarily Orwellian, and the case of the Republicans’ criticism is incredibly hypocritical.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But the argument that obviously the healthcare legislation is such a huge piece of legislation and involves such a fundamental change in the way that the government provides services to the people, what about that argument that reconciliation should not be used?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I think there have been other examples in the past. As I said, COBRA was an extraordinarily significant change to the way in which we provide healthcare coverage, requiring employers to allow continuing coverage after employees leave or are fired. Certainly, the Children’s Health Insurance Program drastically expanded healthcare coverage in the United States. There have been enormous tax cuts for the wealthy under the Bush administration that didn’t have sixty votes, but had fifty votes, and were done through reconciliation, an extraordinary transfer of wealth in this country.
So there’s no magnitude test or any other size requirement, invented now by the Republicans, and by some Democrats, to justify avoiding reconciliation in order to bring real reform.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about President Obama and the public option.
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, to me, the way in which the Democrats have conducted themselves concerning the public option is really quite amazing, not because of what they’ve done, but because of how blatant they’re being about it.
The public option, of course, all along was already a compromise from what most progressives wanted, who wanted single payer and were told by most Democratic politicians for a long time that single payer was the optimal course. The public option was already a means of doing nothing other than at least providing some competition to the private health insurance industry. And all year long, Democratic senators and the White House pretended that they were in favor of the public option. They kept insisting, “We’re behind the public option. We want the public option,” even though there was all sorts of evidence that the White House was secretly negotiating with the health insurance industry to make sure that it would be excluded from the final bill.
AMY GOODMAN: What kind of evidence?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, they’re the fact that senators ended up saying that in private meetings with the White House, it was made clear to them that the public option was not something that was a priority for the White House and that they would end up happy to see it gone. Health insurance lobbyists were coming in and out of the White House. And the reason they didn’t end up vigorously opposing healthcare reform was because there would be no competition for the private health insurance industry in the form of the public option. And, of course, the final bill didn’t have a public option, and the White House did nothing to support it.
But what’s most incredible was that the excuse that they gave to progressives was that the reason that we couldn’t have a public option was because there were fifty Democratic senators, or fifty-one Democratic senators, who supported it, but there weren’t sixty, and because of the filibuster rule, sadly, the public option just couldn’t get into the bill, and there was just nothing the White House could do, as much as the President wanted that to happen.
Well, now you have a situation where everybody is talking about doing healthcare reform through reconciliation, where only fifty votes, not sixty votes, are required. And what does the President do? He immediately, when he finally unveils his first bill, excludes the public option from the bill, even as he says we’re going to use a process that will only require fifty votes. And you even saw Senator Jay Rockefeller, who spent the year pretending to be so devoted to the public option that he said he will not relent in ensuring that it gets passed, that there is no healthcare reform without a public option, now that it can actually pass and become a reality, he turns around and says, “I’m not inclined to vote for it in reconciliation.”
This is what Democrats do. They use the filibuster rule as an excuse to their supporters to justify their inaction. They’ve been doing this for years. And now that the sham is exposed, because they’re really going to pass healthcare reform with fifty votes, they just turn around and so blatantly say, “Well, actually, we’ve been telling you all year we have fifty votes for a public option. Even now that we only need fifty votes, we’re still not going to do it.” It’s really quite extraordinary.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to ask you about single payer, but first we’re going to break. Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and blogger at Salon.com. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and blogger for Salon.com.
As we talk about the healthcare debate and other issues, I want to read you a quote from Quentin Young, the national coordinator of the National Health — Physicians for a National Health Program. He was talking about the fact that PNHP was not invited to this bipartisan healthcare summit. He said in this quote, "Similarly, requests from Reps. Dennis Kucinich [of Ohio,] Anthony Weiner of New York and Peter Welch of Vermont that single-payer advocates be included in the meeting have apparently gone unanswered."
There is a lot of hoopla over this being bipartisan. That isn’t to be confused with representing different options.
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, first of all, one of the things that’s most amazing is that single payer and the public option both poll infinitely better than the healthcare bill itself, than the Senate healthcare bill that the President is advocating. And despite that, what you see all the time when they talk about bipartisanship is shifting the terms of the debate onto, essentially, the right-wing playing field to accommodate Republican views, which basically means there should be no healthcare reform, and excluding views that are to the left of anything that is essentially a conservative idea.
And so, Anthony Weiner and Dennis Kucinich have both been the leading — two of the leading participants in the healthcare debate from the very start, but because they want to move the healthcare debate into the area that’s actually popular, which is providing either single payer or at least a robust public option, they’re excluded from the start. And this is the Democratic White House excluding anything to the left of conservative ideas in defining what the scope of the debate is. And, of course, that’s something that happens in issue after issue.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Glenn, I wanted to ask you about the so-called Obama bill, because it’s really not a bill. I mean, anyone who knows in Congress, the devil is in the details of the actual legislation. And what it is is basically a set of proposals or concepts of how the Senate and the House bill could be reconciled, but it’s not actually a bill that people can pore over and say, “OK, this is really what you stand for.”
GLENN GREENWALD: No, that’s true. I mean, a real healthcare reform would be a stack of papers this high, and all of the proposals thus far have been, in order to reform the healthcare system in the United States. You actually need a bill that had many pages. The Obama proposal, which is really more accurate, as you suggest, is eleven pages long.
Really what it’s designed to do is to signal to the Republicans and to the media that the White House is receptive to doing healthcare reform along the lines of what the Republicans, or at least some Republicans, want, in order to create the appearance of bipartisanship. But you’re right. It’s still not an effort on the part of the White House to play any active role in deciding or helping to determine what the healthcare bill ought to be.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to one of the pieces you’ve written about recently, and it has to do with the man Joe Stack, the man who drove a plane into the Austin IRS building, and how he has been described by the media.
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, if you look at the initial reaction of the media — and I mean not just initial in the couple of hours after, but for the several days after — there was an overt reluctance to call him a terrorist. In fact, there were discussions about whether or not he ought to be called a terrorist, and the media essentially said that this doesn’t seem like terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what happened.
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, essentially, he wrote a manifesto that was not — that was anti-government. It wasn’t purely right-wing or left-wing. He talked about how the pharmaceutical industry and the health insurance industry, for example, are gouging the middle class and below. He talked about how the government is stealing from the middle class and the lower middle class in order to pilfer profits and money and transfer money to their cronies on Wall Street. And he also talked a lot about the unfairness of the tax code and how it was written by and for the benefit of corporations.
AMY GOODMAN: But he flew a plane into a building.
GLENN GREENWALD: Exactly. He burned his house down and then took a plane and flew it into the building, essentially modeling the —-
AMY GOODMAN: For a political purpose.
GLENN GREENWALD: For a political purpose, essentially modeling his act, of course, after what al-Qaeda did on September 11th. And he even said in his manifesto that he was doing it in order to put fear in the government and to inspire others to engage in violence in order to advance these ideas. It was the classic case of terrorism. If you look at any definition, it’s exactly what every definition of terrorism describes.
And yet, the media was overtly reluctant to call it “terrorism” because -— and they were actually amazingly upfront about this — they talk about the fact that he was American, that he seemed like the guy next door, that you could identify with some of his grievances, and that terrorism is really something that, as several of them said, is done by Muslims in caves who hate the United States.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And amazingly, I recall, in the first hours of that attack, when in the Daily News on our website we published the story, the overwhelming number of reader responses that were coming into the news were supportive of him, and they say this is — I remember I was stunned. I’m saying, how are people coming out and supporting this attack because it was aimed at the IRS, supposedly by an American?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, that’s right, and I think — you know, I think that we’ve seen this a long time. I mean, there has been a lot of violence carried out by domestic groups within the United States going back to the 1990s, of course, against abortion clinics. Timothy McVeigh was the ultimate one, the formation of militias. And you’ve seen all kinds of escalation in the rhetoric and violence of right-wing groups, who believe that the US government is illegitimate and a justifiable target. Classic terrorism. And yet, we’re very reluctant to call it that.
And yet, at the same time, if you look at acts that clearly fall outside of the scope of terrorism, such as the attack on Fort Hood, which was an attack on a military base — unjustifiable and heinous as it was, it was an attack on a military base deploying soldiers into a war zone — that was immediately branded terrorism, because the perpetrator was Muslim and he said “Allahu Akbar” in the act. And we even have people in Afghanistan, in their own country, who, when they throw grenades or engage in other forms of warfare against the invading American army, are declared terrorists and put in Guantánamo. The word “terrorist” has really come to mean Muslims who dislike the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: The internal Newsweek discussion?
GLENN GREENWALD: There was a discussion that Newsweek published — it was originally intended to be private, and they ended up publishing it, I think, because they thought it was so enlightening that the public would benefit from it — about why there was an aversion, on their part and generally, to calling Joe Stack a terrorist.
And many of them — a couple of them said, “Look, this is a domestic terrorist, and we should call him that.” But many of them — the managing editor was the first to answer. What she said is, “My rule of thumb is, if it’s a domestic person or group, if it’s a right-wing group, they’re a ‘separatist’ or a ‘protester’ or a ‘bomber’; if it’s a left-wing group, it’s a ‘radical left-wing protester.’ But it’s a ‘terrorist’ only if it’s a foreign group engaging in violence protesting the United States.” So, in other words, in her mind — and many of them said similar things — that in order to be a terrorist, you have to be a foreigner — Americans could never possibly commit acts of terrorism, by definition — who is protesting the United States, meaning a terrorist is somebody who dislikes or objects to something the US government is doing. This is a journalist. These are journalists who are essentially propagandizing the public.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, the Justice Department report on John Yoo and Jay Bybee.
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, it was a complete sham and a whitewash, because the people who are charged with evaluating these issues spent years assessing it and came to the extraordinary conclusion that Yoo and Bybee violated their ethical rules. But even the career prosecutor who overturned it said that the opinions, on which our entire torture regime were based, were false and sloppy and legally reasoned in a way that was clearly wrong and that the only thing that saved John Yoo and Jay Bybee was that they were so warped and radical that they probably believed what they were saying, which means it wasn’t an ethical rule violation.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me get your response to yesterday’s Senate Armed Forces Committee dealing with the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater. On the eve of the hearing, the committee released findings showing Blackwater seized hundreds of US-supplied weapons intended for the Afghan army. It also came to light during the hearing that Blackwater has created many shell companies to make it easier to win contracts. This is Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri questioning Fred Roitz, the executive vice president of contracts for the company now known as Xe. That’s X-E.
SEN. CLAIRE McCASKILL: Are there other cover corporations besides Paravant out there that are — where you’re putting a name on something so that people like the previous witness that was looking at these contracts — I mean, he said in the hearing today that he had no idea that Paravant was Blackwater, but yet the people that were working for you in the theater said, “Well, yeah, we worked for Blackwater. Everybody knew we worked for Blackwater. Our paycheck came from Blackwater. We were Blackwater. Blackwater, Blackwater, Blackwater.” Paravant just appears to be a classic example of a cover corporation in order for the people who were doing the contract not to know who they were really contracting with.
FRED ROITZ: Senator, that’s a very good question. And I think that there’s — as you discussed earlier, I believe, there was multiple layers of Raytheon and then the government. Raytheon, my understanding, requested that a company name be other than Blackwater. It was at Raytheon’s request.
SEN. CLAIRE McCASKILL: OK. So now we’re getting to the meat of the matter. You’re saying on the record that Raytheon requested that Blackwater make up a name for a company so they could enter into a contract with Raytheon?
FRED ROITZ: I’m saying, Senator, that my understanding is that request for a company other than Blackwater did come from Raytheon.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Fred Roitz, the executive vice president of contracts for the company now known as Xe, X-E. Your response, Glenn Greenwald?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I find it interesting that it’s Senator McCaskill who’s leading the questioning, because she was one of the leaders of the Senate demanding that contracts with ACORN be banned forever over a completely fabricated and petty scandal. And yet, here you have a defense contractor industry, not just Blackwater, which is — had one after the next of these kind of lawless revelations, but the entire defense industry awash with all kinds of illegalities and corruption, and yet the Senate and the House would never, ever take any step, other than theatrical ones like the ones we just witnessed, to deter or punish them in any way. So I’m glad that these revelations are emerging. I’m sure there’s a lot more. We’ve heard worse ones. But the prospects that the Congress would ever act against an industry that powerful seems, to me, very negligible, and that’s the real problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, we want to thank you very much for being with us, a blogger at Salon.com. His most recent book, Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics.