Bill Press: Courage in the Congress

Bill Press: Courage in the Congress
© Greg Nash

In 1957, then-Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy startled the political and publishing worlds with his book Profiles in Courage, featuring brief biographies of eight U.S. senators, Democrats and Republicans, who had shown great grit in standing up to pressure and casting tough votes. The book shot to the top of the best-seller list and snared the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

Sadly, the idea that any senator would demonstrate courage in the line of fire now seems almost quaint. 

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Today’s politicians are known, instead, for their lack of courage. Most often, they delay taking a stand on any issue and then end up taking no stand at all. When they dare cast a vote, it’s dictated not by their conscience but by what party leaders, or the latest public opinion poll, are telling them to do.

That’s why we see no action on immigration reform, tax reform, income inequality, climate change or any other pressing issues facing the nation. Nor has there been any vote to authorize a war that has already been underway for seven months. Congress can’t even come together on important matters like the transportation bill, the farm bill, raising the minimum wage or passing a budget — matters that used to be routinely authorized with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Ah, but hope springs eternal! Evidence of political backbone was nowhere to be found — until last week, when seven Republican senators defied their party leadership by refusing to sign a poorly conceived, hastily drafted, factually wrong, diplomatically tone-deaf and politically boneheaded letter drafted by freshman Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonCotton warns China: Crackdown on Hong Kong would be 'grave miscalculation' Congress must address gender gap in nominations to military service academies GOP senators press Google on reports it developed a smart speaker with Huawei MORE (R-Ark.) to the supreme leader of Iran. 

All together now, let us thereby award the 2015 Profiles in Courage Award to Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE of Tennessee, Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Senate braces for brawl over Trump's spy chief Congress kicks bipartisan energy innovation into higher gear MORE of Alaska, Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBiden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe Trump praises Thad Cochran: 'A real senator with incredible values' MORE of Mississippi, Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray Coats10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall 11 Essential reads you missed this week Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE of Indiana, Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeAnti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid Arpaio considering running for former sheriff job after Trump pardon Overnight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument MORE of Arizona and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins downplays 2020 threat: 'Confident' re-election would go well if she runs Cook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE of Maine, the only seven Republican senators who refused to sign Cotton’s treasonous letter, which has since been widely condemned by almost every editorial board in the country, including that of The Wall Street Journal

In truth, it wouldn’t take much to win a Profiles in Courage Award in this Congress. All the seven senators did before deciding to sign the letter was what we would expect any senator to do: take the time to read it; weigh the possible blowback; consider the proper role of the Congress and the president in conducting foreign policy; and think twice before going over the president’s head and appealing directly to the enemy. 

Nothing extraordinary. But that’s what passes for courage in the current Congress.

The true cowards are the 46 Republicans who did sign Cotton’s letter, including veteran Sens. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Hobbled NRA shows strength with Trump MORE (Ky.), John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (Texas), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (Utah), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Cindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week MORE (S.C.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Shaken Portman urges support for 'red flag' laws after Ohio shooting MORE (Ohio), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDOJ should take action against China's Twitter propaganda Lewandowski says he's 'happy' to testify before House panel The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE (Ala.). Collectively, they have hundreds of years’ experience in the Senate. Yet they hate President Obama so much, they gladly ignored their decades of experience to follow the lead of a man who’d only been in the Senate 63 days. 

Seven profiles in courage; 47 profiles in cowardice.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.