WH efforts to calm Congress with classified briefing flops
The White House pulled out all the stops to convince Congress that the Bergdahl swap was necessary and a good deal last night by offering members a classified briefing on the situation.
The Hill reports that the meeting went over like a lead balloon:
The officials, led by Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken and Jim Dobbins, the special representative for Afghanistan, showed senators a video of Bergdahl in apparent poor health while in Taliban custody.
But lawmakers say it did not justify the rushed swap and the failure to notify Congress in advance.
“His health was not the critical factor… in that one video you can tell he had been drugged and he was in a different state five months ago,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
Centrist Democrats said after the meeting they still had concerns about the deal and Republicans emerged from the Senate’s sensitive compartmented information facility newly emboldened in their criticisms of Obama.
Lawmakers have voiced anger and frustration this week that the administration failed to alert them in advance of the deal despite a requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act specifying thirty days notice.
The decision to share the video appeared intended to convince lawmakers that Bergdahl's health was so frail that the president had no choice but to act quickly.
But even Democrats were unconvinced.
“That did not sell me at all,” Manchin said of the video of Bergdahl, which he said was shot five months ago. “At that time he was impaired.
“That is not the person that was released here. He was not in that type of dire situation when he was released,” he added.
The Taliban shared the video to U.S. officials to prove Bergdahl was still alive while they negotiated over the militants at Guantanamo.
Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat in the midst of a difficult reelection race in Arkansas, said the briefing did not alleviate his concerns.
“I still have concerns,” he said, declining to comment about the specifics of the briefing.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), another vulnerable incumbent, still had questions about the aftermath of the release but said the bottom line for him is the United States needs to rescue its prisoners of war.
“There are still some questions but a lot of them are answered,” he said. “We don’t leave any of our military personnel behind.
He and other lawmakers voiced fears about the released militants plotting future attacks against Americans.
That classified video is at the center of the administration's case that they not only had to bring Bergdahl home, but that they had to do it so quickly that there was no time to inform Congress. If Senator Manchin is unconvinced about Bergdahl's health issues - as are most other Democrats - this leaves the administration in a world of hurt.
The most pathetic element of this tragicomedy is the administration's childish belief that the American people would be overjoyed at Bergdahl's release. That didn't happen and the politicians are getting it. There are few politicians who have their ear closer to the ground than those elected to serve on Capitol Hill. Most of them wouldn't stake out a position without first ascertaining how their constituents feel about it. We are likely to start getting more polling data in the next few days on the Bergdahl release. So far, Rasmussen and Fox News polls shows a near even split on the deal. This certainly reflects the notion advanced by the administration that we don't leave anyone behind. But if Bergdahl is eventually charged with desertion - or worse - you would expect those numbers to tilt heavily toward the negative.
A cautionary note: Republicans should take care not to go too far out on a limb. There's a chance the military may decide not to prosecute Bergdahl, which would embarass some Republicans who have already assumed he's a deserter. No doubt the White House will inappropriately put pressure on the military not to charge him. So perhaps GOP politicians should dial it back a bit and await the unfolding of events.