Roll Call reported GOP attacks on Clyburn, but not his actual remarks or any response from him to the attacks
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In an August 2 Roll Call article, staff writer Susan Davis reported that Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) said "a positive report by [Gen. David] Petraeus [commander of U.S. forces in Iraq] could be politically difficult for Democrats." The article then reported Rep. Adam Putnam's (R-FL) description of Clyburn's comments as "unconscionable" and noted that the "remarks have prompted lengthy responses on conservative blogs and talk radio." But Roll Call did not quote Clyburn directly, nor did Davis give any indication in the article that she attempted to contact Clyburn regarding Putnam's attacks. What Clyburn, in fact, said is that a report by Petraeus that the military effort in Iraq "is working very, very well at this point; we would be foolish to back away from it" would cause "those 47 Blue Dogs ... to want to stay the course, and if the Republicans were to remain united, as they have been, then it would be a problem for us." In other words, Clyburn did not say that good news from Iraq is bad news for Democrats, as Davis suggested through her paraphrase, but, rather, that a recommendation from Petraeus against withdrawal would impede Democrats' efforts to garner support in Congress for legislation to begin withdrawal. Indeed, Clyburn added: "None of us want to see a bad result in Iraq. If we are going to get in position to yield a good result, I think Democrats want to see that."
Clyburn's comments came during a "PostTalk" interview with Washington Post reporters Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza (video available on the Post's website). Following is the exchange regarding Petraeus' report:
BALZ: What do Democrats do if General Petraeus comes in in September and says, "This is working very, very well at this point; we would be foolish to back away from it"?
CLYBURN: Well, that would be a real big problem for us, no question about that, simply because of those 47 Blue Dogs. I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course, and if the Republicans were to remain united, as they have been, then it would be a problem for us.
So I think we, by and large, would do wise -- be wise to wait on the report. None of us want to see a bad result in Iraq. If we are going to get in position to yield a good result, I think Democrats want to see that. We love this country. We're as patriotic as anybody else about this. And we have loved ones involved in this issue just like everybody else. I've got family and friends involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so I certainly want to see a good result. But I'm certainly not going to just roll over because the president said. It is only because we get good intelligence from those people like General Petraeus who can be trusted to give us good information.
From Davis' Roll Call article:
Republican leadership offices have orchestrated a coordinated effort this week to highlight positive comments by freshman Democrats who recently returned from Iraq, and to attack comments reported by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) that a positive report by Petraeus could be politically difficult for Democrats.
Putnam called the comments "unconscionable," and Clyburn's remarks have prompted lengthy responses on conservative blogs and talk radio.
Additionally, though Roll Call reported Putnam's claim that Clyburn's comments were "unconscionable," Davis gave no indication that she made any effort to contact Clyburn for a response to Putnam's attack. Nor did the article anywhere note that immediately following his assertion about the potential effect of a recommendation against withdrawal, Clyburn asserted, "None of us want to see a bad result in Iraq. If we are going to get in position to yield a good result, I think Democrats want to see that." Balz and Cillizza's July 30 Post article on the interview similarly failed to note those comments by Clyburn, though it did offer more context for Clyburn's remarks:
Clyburn noted that Petraeus carries significant weight among the 47 members of the Blue Dog caucus in the House, a group of moderate to conservative Democrats. Without their support, he said, Democratic leaders would find it virtually impossible to pass legislation setting a timetable for withdrawal.
"I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course and if the Republicans were to stay united as they have been, then it would be a problem for us," Clyburn said. "We, by and large, would be wise to wait on the report."
Many Democrats have anticipated that, at best, Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker would present a mixed analysis of the success of the current troop surge strategy, given continued violence in Baghdad. But of late there have been signs that the commander of U.S. forces might be preparing something more generally positive. Clyburn said that would be "a real big problem for us."