Negotiating with ‘terrorists’

Vice President Biden spoke at some length yesterday with House Democrats, helping make the case for the debt-ceiling agreement reached on Sunday. There’s no transcript or recording of the behind-closed-doors discussion, but second-hand accounts are causing a bit of a stir.

Vice President Joe Biden joined House Democrats in lashing tea party Republicans Monday, accusing them of having “acted like terrorists” in the fight over raising the nation’s debt limit, according to several sources in the room.

Biden was agreeing with a line of argument made by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) at a two-hour, closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting.

“We have negotiated with terrorists,” an angry Doyle said, according to sources in the room. “This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.”

Biden, driven by his Democratic allies’ misgivings about the debt-limit deal, responded: “They have acted like terrorists.”

Biden later denied having used the word, and his office said in a statement that the V.P. “does not believe it’s an appropriate term in political discourse.”

Nevertheless, the Republican National Committee and a few GOP presidential hopefuls are throwing a fit, demanding Biden publicly apologize for a word he may not have used in private.

For the record, I think it’s best to avoid equating one’s political rivals with terrorists.

That said, it’s worth noting that Biden isn’t the first person to go down this road (if, in fact, the un-sourced, second-hand accounts are accurate).

Former Bush administration Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, for example, recently said, “The people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al Qaeda terrorists. Really…. They’re really putting our whole society at risk.”

Time‘s Joe Klein wrote last week of the GOP debt-ceiling strategy, “Osama bin Laden, if he were still alive, could not have come up with a more clever strategy for strangling our nation.” The New York Times‘s Nick Kristof wrote a week earlier, as part of the same discussion about Republican tactics, “[L]et’s remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda. Let’s also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots.”

Let’s also not forget the rhetoric from congressional Republicans themselves. Last year, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he could “empathize” with a terrorist who flew an airplane into a building on American soil. The year prior, shortly after President Obama’s inauguration, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said if the Democratic majority didn’t allow Republicans to influence policy debates, the GOP would have to emulate the “insurgency” tactics of “the Taliban.” Sessions, a member of the Republican leadership, added, “[W]e need to understand that insurgency may be required,” and that if Democrats resist, Republicans “will then become an insurgency.” The Taliban, he went on to say, offer the GOP a tactical “model.”

I’m not sure how far Biden pushed the rhetorical envelope if Republicans have compared themselves to terrorists. Was what Biden allegedly said that much worse than what Sessions said about his own party?

Tell you what, August is often a time for larger, meta-style public debates, so maybe there should be a national discussion about this. Would the RNC welcome the debate? Maybe the media should present the public with “both sides”: reasons why the Republicans’ hostage strategy and threats to hurt the country on purpose were similar to terrorist tactics, and reasons their efforts were dissimilar?