Fire-Breathing Liberal: How I Learned to Survive (and Thrive) in the Contact Sport of Congress

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9780312561741: Fire-Breathing Liberal: How I Learned to Survive (and Thrive) in the Contact Sport of Congress
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There's a reason The Nation, America's leading progressive magazine, named Robert Wexler the country's "Most Valuable Congressman." It's the same reason right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh refers to him as "disgusting." It's because for the last twelve years Wexler has been Congress's most outspoken liberal -- taking on George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Alberto Gonzales, General David Petraeus, and, when necessary, even his own party.

In Fire-Breathing Liberal, Wexler brings readers onto the floor of the House and puts them at the center of some of the last decade's biggest controversies. He passionately describes how he defended Bill Clinton from impeachment and how he stood up against the Bush brothers when the "butterfly" ballots in his Florida district wrongly decided the 2000 presidential election. He also offers an honest and brutal assessment of the Iraq war and explains why he has become a leader in the movement to impeach Vice President Cheney. And, with warmth and wit, Wexler shares some of the funniest stories from the corridors of Congress, including how he became The Colbert Report's most talked-about guest.

This is a remarkably candid first-person account of recent political history that shows government as it has rarely been seen -- by a Democrat in the middle of the storms.

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About the Author:

Robert Wexler is a six-term Democratic congressman representing Florida's 19th district. A member of the House Judiciary, Foreign Affairs, and Financial Services committees, he was named "Most Valuable Congressman" by The Nation in 2007 and one of "The 50 Most Effective Legislators in Congress" by Congressional Quarterly. He and his wife, Laurie, have three children.

David Fisher is an author and journalist who has co-written fifteen New York Times bestsellers. He most recently co-authored William Shatner's memoir, Up Till Now.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction: It’s Time to Be Mad As Hell

On November 17, 2005, Congressman Jack Murtha (D-PA) stood before the House of Representatives and startled the nation by saying out loud what many of us had been thinking: It was time to bring our troops home from Iraq. “The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily,” he said. “It is time to bring them home... It’s a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. It’s time for a change of direction. My plan calls for immediate redeployment of U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces. The American public is way ahead of the members of Congress.”

Today this statement wouldn’t be news at all. Almost all Democrats and many Republicans consider the war a catastrophe. But when Murtha stood up and made this statement, that was not the case. It was not at all politically correct for a politician to proclaim that our troops should come home from Iraq, and it was all the more astonishing and courageous coming from Jack Murtha. Murtha had served in the Marines for thirty-seven years and in 2005 was the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees military spending. Jack was the most consistent and staunch supporter of the military in Congress -- and now he had decided that President Bush’s Iraq policy had failed and it was time to start withdrawing our troops.

The Republicans were irate. Almost universally they had supported the Bush war policy. Several Republican members immediately issued statements denouncing Murtha, calling him a coward. Freshman Ohio conservative Jean Schmidt, then just two months into her first term, said smugly on the floor, “Cowards cut and run. Marines never do.” Democrats responded with boos and later she was forced to apologize.

In my office, Murtha’s statement generated quite a stir. I’m Robert Wexler and I’m a proud liberal Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives. I’ve represented Florida’s 19th Congressional district on the southeast coast for six terms. Like Murtha and most of my colleagues, I’d voted to give President Bush the power he needed to launch an attack on Iraq. It was the worst vote of my career. Within months I’d realized that the nation had been manipulated by faulty intelligence and selective briefings, and it was a vote I had come to regret tremendously. But I’d voted that way. Since that time I’d been strongly critical of how the war was being waged. And now Jack Murtha, a highly respected and hawkish Member serving his sixteenth term, had challenged the rest of us to end it.

Murtha’s statement initiated an intense debate in my office. Initially, my chief of staff, Eric Johnson, felt that having voted for the war, we had a special obligation to see it through and said flatly, “We’re not supporting the withdrawal in six months.”

My office is loosely run, so much so that when we recently hired a new employee and he asked about the office rules, the others all looked at one another, waiting for someone else to tell him there were none. And no member of my staff is shy about disagreeing with me- - or with anyone else. I’m extremely fortunate: I have a very intelligent, dedicated and committed staff. In fact, the documentarian Ivy Meeropol produced and directed a six-part series titled The Hill for the Sundance Channel focusing on my staff and the way Congress works. One reviewer commented that in dealing with my staff I resembled “a beleaguered camp counselor.”

Among the members of my staff was Halie Soifer, my legislative assistant. Halie is idealistic and passionate, and especially knowledgeable about foreign policy. And like all members of my staff she isn’t afraid to speak up. She was quick to disagree with Eric’s assessment. “Maybe we should,” she said. “It’s sound policy.”

I appreciate the views of my staff, but I hadn’t reached a conclusion. And in the end it is my decision. While I desperately wanted to end the war and get our troops out of Iraq, I wasn’t certain that an immediate withdrawal was practical, possible, or desirable. Going into Iraq had turned out to be a colossal mistake, but I didn’t want to compound this error with anything but the most thoughtful withdrawal plan. Obviously it takes considerable time to safely and responsibly redeploy or withdraw 150,000 troops. I wondered aloud, “I guess my reaction to it is, Do you dislike George Bush so much that you jeopardize the stability of the entire region?”

Halie responded, “The question is, Is our being there doing anything to ensure the stability of the region? Murtha is actually saying our leaving will empower the Iraqi soldiers to step up to the plate.”

Eric Johnson has been at my side for eleven years. We’d met almost two decades earlier, when I was twenty-eight years old and running for the Florida Senate while nineteen-year-old Eric was running for the school board. Eric still looks like he’s nineteen years old -- even though he and his partner, James, now own a house and have an adorable adopted son. Eventually Eric became my chief of staff, which means he is essentially my alter ego. He is in charge of every task from running the office to helping shape policy. And as is often the case, Eric was disgusted. “The administration didn’t have a good plan going into the war; they don’t have a plan to get out of the war. To impose one means we have a half-assed exit, too.”

“People are dying,” Halie said.

“People can die on the way out, too, if it’s sloppy or screwed up,” Eric responded.

I wanted the troops out as rapidly as possible, but I also wanted to consider all the consequences. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s say you withdraw, let’s say you avoid massive American casualties on the way out, but let’s say you destabilize Egypt, you break up Iraq into three parts, you almost guarantee the instability of the region by withdrawing. What about the credibility of America?”

Halie scored the final points -- and stopped us all in our tracks. “Where is our credibility now?” she asked.

Where indeed? Every month we were losing more than 100 soldiers, in addition to the many hundreds more suffering life-altering injuries, and we were spending almost $5.5 billion. There was no long range-plan, and no end in sight. Worse, our reputation and credibility in the world were in tatters. It was obvious to me that a dramatic change was needed. But was Murtha’s approach the right change?

We spent most of the afternoon discussing how to respond to Murtha’s statement. We considered issuing a press release in which I would announce my support for Murtha’s call for withdrawal, but also my belief that it should be completed in phases. And then I would denounce the disgusting Republican attacks on Murtha.

This did not appear to be an issue on which I would have to vote. With Republicans in control of the House, it didn’t seem possible Murtha’s proposal was ever going to be brought to the floor. At least that’s the way it appeared until the Republicans decided to use the war for political gain.

Republicans saw this as an opportunity to brand Democrats as traitors. California conservative Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, introduced a Resolution urging “that the deployment of the United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.” The Republican leadership intended to bring that Resolution to the floor and force Democrats to vote on it.

Hunter told reporters, “I hope the message th

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Book Description GRIFFIN, United States, 2009. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. There s a reason The Nation, America s leading progressive magazine, named Robert Wexler the country s Most Valuable Congressman. It s the same reason right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh refers to him as disgusting. It s because for the last twelve years Wexler has been Congress s most outspoken liberal -- taking on George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Alberto Gonzales, General David Petraeus, and, when necessary, even his own party. In Fire-Breathing Liberal, Wexler brings readers onto the floor of the House and puts them at the center of some of the last decade s biggest controversies. He passionately describes how he defended Bill Clinton from impeachment and how he stood up against the Bush brothers when the butterfly ballots in his Florida district wrongly decided the 2000 presidential election. He also offers an honest and brutal assessment of the Iraq war and explains why he has become a leader in the movement to impeach Vice President Cheney. And, with warmth and wit, Wexler shares some of the funniest stories from the corridors of Congress, including how he became The Colbert Report s most talked-about guest. This is a remarkably candid first-person account of recent political history that shows government as it has rarely been seen -- by a Democrat in the middle of the storms. Seller Inventory # AAV9780312561741

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