Bennett: Obama outdoes LBJ in strong-arming tactics

President Barack Obama's treatment of lawmakers far exceeds the strong-armed tactics once employed by President Lyndon Johnson, a GOP senator argued Thursday.

Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) accused Obama of bullying lawmakers on healthcare reform, specifically the rumored threat to centrist Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) that an Air Force base would be closed unless Nelson agreed to vote for health reform.

"This would be one of the most outrageous demonstrations of presidential power I've ever seen," Bennett said on a conservative news radio syndicate.

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"I'm old enough to have been around the town in the days of Lyndon Johnson," Bennett added. "He was pretty imperial and he would beat up members of the Senate really quite brutally. I don't think even Lyndon Johnson would try anything like this."

Johnson, a former Senate majority leader before becoming vice president and then president, attained a reputation over time for using strong-armed tactics against lawmakers in order to win votes on critical pieces of legislation.

At issue is a rumor that the Obama administration threatened to close or rename Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, a rumor which Nelson rejected on Thursday, but into which Republican senators are demanding an investigation.

"Nobody's threatened me. As a matter of fact, in any discussion with the White House or the leadership or any of my colleagues, the question about the base or even the name of the base has never come up," Nelson said during an interview on KLIN radio in Nebraska. "Nobody has talked about anything of that kind."

Nelson said he knows the source of that rumor, suggesting that Republicans would be red-faced if details of the source of the rumor came out.

20 Republican senators wrote the top members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday to ask for an investigation into the alleged threat.

Bennett was skeptical, though, that the Obama administration would acknowledge having made the threat or follow through on it, given the newfound publicity toward the issue.

"We're going to press for answers. It might fade into the background, particularly if Ben Nelson decides he wants to stand firm and not vote for cloture," he said. "I don't see how, given the kind of publicity this thing's gotten, how the administration would dare do it now."