On the April 3 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, guest host Suzanne Malveaux repeatedly asserted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had no “standing” and was not acting in an “official capacity” when she traveled to Syria to meet with President Bashar Assad and others, even though Democratic strategist Paul Begala told Malveaux that “Pelosi has standing. She's the speaker of the House,” and Malveaux herself noted that Pelosi “will be the highest level U.S. official ever to meet with Assad.” Additionally, Malveaux asked her guests if Pelosi's trip was anything more than “political theater” or a “political stunt,” and characterized the trip as a response to President Bush's “wishes,” which follows CNN's pattern of portraying Democratic action as a reaction to the president.
On the 4 p.m. hour of The Situation Room, Malveaux told Begala that Pelosi “has no standing officially to do any negotiations here. She is on her own.” Begala responded “she has standing. She's the speaker of the House of Representatives. She runs an equal branch of government. ... this notion that somehow it's Mr. Bush who runs our government, and Speaker Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader Reid are somehow thumbing their nose at him [is] not correct.” Later, during the 5 p.m. hour of The Situation Room, Malveaux noted Pelosi's status: “Pelosi will be the highest level U.S. official ever to meet with Assad, who is accused by the U.S. of sponsoring terrorism.” But Malveaux later told 2008 presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), “Speaker Pelosi is in Syria. She is not traveling in any official capacity. She has no negotiating power.”
Malveaux asked Begala why Pelosi's trip is “any more than political theater?” and later told Edwards, “Some people look at this as simply political theater, a stunt.” According to a Media Matters Nexis search,* no one on CNN's Situation Room has ever called a trip by a congressional Republican “political theater” or a “political stunt.” On the April 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Malveaux asked how a bill co-sponsored by Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Russell Feingold (D-WI) to begin phased redeployment from Iraq is “any more than a political stunt.”
Malveaux also said that Pelosi was “defying [Bush's] wishes” and “flying in the face of the White House” by taking her trip. Malveaux's assertion that Pelosi's actions were a response to Bush echoes other recent claims on The Situation Room that Democratic members of Congress are “defying” Bush -- despite Congress and the president representing co-equal branches of government. As Media Matters has previously noted:
- On the March 29 edition of The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer claimed, “The Senate defied the president, passing a war spending bill with a timeline for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.” The accompanying on-screen text read: “Senate Defies Pres. Bush, War Bill OK'd Despite Veto Threat.” On the same program, congressional correspondent Ed Henry also described the Senate as “defying” Bush, saying, “Wolf, this president obviously under siege on two fronts -- the full Senate defying him on Iraq policy, as well as this Senate panel hearing testimony -- explosive testimony in that U.S. attorney flap.”
- On the March 21 edition of CNN Newsroom, congressional correspondent Dana Bash asserted that the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law was going to “pretty much defy the president point blank” by voting to authorize subpoenas for White House senior adviser Karl Rove and other current and former administration officials.
- On the March 21 edition of The Situation Room, Bash reported that Democrats had “defied” President Bush by authorizing subpoenas.
* Search terms “Situation Room and (political stunt or political theater or political theatre)”
From the 4 p.m. hour of the April 3 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
MALVEAUX: Let's take a quick listen. I want to move on here to, obviously, Speaker -- Pelosi, rather, is in Syria. Let's take a quick listen to the president, his ideas about the fact that she's there, defying their wishes.
BUSH [video clip]: The best way to meet with a leader like Assad or people from Syria is in the larger context of trying to get the global community to help change his behavior. But sending delegations hasn't worked. It's just simply been counterproductive.
MALVEAUX: Now, Paul, she -- she has no standing officially to do any negotiations here. She is on her own. I mean, if -- if Syria was serious about peace, they would be reaching out to Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice or the president. Why isn't this any more than political theater? What can she accomplish?
BEGALA: First off, she has standing. She's the speaker of the House of Representatives. She runs an equal branch of government. And, throughout this conversation --
MALVEAUX: But --
BEGALA: -- there's been this notion that somehow it's Mr. Bush who runs our government, and Speaker Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader [Harry] Reid are somehow thumbing their nose at him. That's not correct. There's a partisan element to Mr. Bush's criticism, which shows me that he's not on the level about this. Frank Wolf, a leading Republican on foreign policy, a Republican congressman from Virginia, met with President Assad in Syria a few days ago. The White House did not attack him.
MALVEAUX: [Republican strategist] Ed [Rogers], in all fairness, Republicans have been over there. The Iraq Study Group has called for discussions with Syria. Obviously, if this is some way that she can break through, back channel, perhaps she can do some good.
ROGERS: I'm a little off message here. It's fine for us to be against it, but we should do so quietly. Who knows? Maybe her going there, we'll learn something new.
From the 5 p.m. hour of the April 3 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
MALVEAUX: President Bush is accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of sending mixed messages with her mission to Syria. But she is flying in the face of the White House, arriving in Damascus and now just hours way from her very controversial meeting with President Bashar al-Assad. Pelosi will be the highest level U.S. official ever to meet with Assad, who is accused by the U.S. of sponsoring terrorism.
MALVEAUX: I want to go to Syria here. As you know, Speaker Pelosi is in Syria. She is not traveling in any official capacity. She has no negotiating power. Some people look at this as simply political theater, a stunt. Do you think that's right?
EDWARDS: I think that what America should be doing on the issue of Iraq is dealing directly with both the Syrians and the Iranians, and I don't know precisely what Speaker Pelosi is going to do in Syria, but we as a nation should -- should be engaged with both the Iranians and the Syrians directly in helping stabilize Iraq.
Both countries have an interest in a stable Iraq. They don't want refugees coming across their border, they don't want economic instability, and they don't want to see a broader Middle East conflict. And I think it makes sense to not -- on some ideological basis -- not deal with them, but to engage with both of them directly.