Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann has set off a firestorm with comments about Huma Abedin, a top State Department aide. But will her accusations force House colleagues to rebuke her publicly?
Top Republican leaders have already slammed Representative Bachmann, who ran for president in the 2012 primary campaign. GOP House Speaker John Boehner called Bachmann’s clams “dangerous” and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain said they were “sinister.”
Bachmann and four other House members wrote a series of letters in June to U.S. officials asking for an investigation of various government employees for alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist group with long ties to Egypt.
It was the one letter, with allegations related to Abedin, that made Bachmann's claims a national issue.
Link: Read The Letter
“Her position affords her routine access to the Secretary and to policy making,” the letter signed by Bachmann claims.
Abedin, 37, is the long-time aide to Hillary Clinton. She was born in Michigan and grew up in Saudi Arabia until returning to the U.S. for college. Her parents have degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. Her father was born in India, while her mother was born in Pakistan.
The letter cites statements from the Center for Security Policy, a group run by a former government official, Frank Gaffney, that Abedin’s late father, her mother, and her brother are part of the Muslim Brotherhood.
On his site, Gaffney claims Huma Abedin is an "Islamist sympathizer" and he also says anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist helped the Muslim Brotherhood to achieve "information dominance" within the Bush administration.
Republican leaders have scoffed at the claims about Abedin. Others pointed out that Abedin, who is Muslim, is married to former congressman Anthony Weiner, who is Jewish. That would make her a less-than-ideal Muslim Brotherhood agent.
The stigma of McCarthyism
Bachmann hasn’t backed down from her claims, despite public outrage and searing criticism from both sides of Congress.
On Thursday, Bachmann went on Glenn Beck’s show and accused Keith Ellison, a representative from Minnesota, of also being tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. Ellison is a Muslim and serves in a district near Bachmann’s.
She then denied accusations that her campaign smacked of McCarthyism from the 1950s.
Senator Joe McCarthy was censured in Congress in 1954 for his relentless attacks on “Communist” government officials, which were often presented without evidence. The censure ended McCarthy’s political career.
“What’s happened is the attack machine has been turned on myself and the other members of Congress who have been asking the questions, that somehow we’re the Muslim haters, we’re the witch‑hunters, we’re the new Joe McCarthyites because we’re asking these questions,” she told Beck.
She also told Beck that the letter didn’t specifically claim Abedin was part of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We did not infer that she is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or that she’s working on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Bachmann said, although she did repeat claims that Abedin’s father, mother and brother were linked to the movement.
What will the House do?
The biggest critics of Bachmann’s claims happen to be the most powerful leaders in her own party.
Politico says House intelligence committee chair Representative Mike Rogers is “incredibly angry” about Bachmann’s attacks. Bachmann is currently serving on Rogers' committee.
Boehner, Scott Brown, and Marco Rubio have also criticized Bachmann. Mitt Romney hasn’t commented on the issue.
Most Democrats have yet to talk about the Abedin issue.
House censure or reprimand would be an unlikely option at this point, but if Bachmann broadens her claims, the stigma of McCarthyism would lurk as an issue over the fall general election.
A censure vote isn’t specified in the Constitution, but the ability for Congress to police its own membership is specified in Article I, Section 5, including the power to expel a member of Congress.
Charles Rangel was the last House member to face censure. He was able to remain in the House, but he would have lost his chairmanship positions if the Democrats retained control of the House after 2010.
In McCarthy’s case, he was ignored in all congressional matters by his fellow senators until his death in 1957.
A reprimand is another House action of disapproval less severe than censure. In 2009, GOP Representative Joe Wilson was reprimanded by a Democratic-control House for insulting President Barack Obama during a State of the Union speech.
Even though a GOP-controlled House would have to approve a censure or reprimand motion, some conservatives might not oppose such a move.
The Bachmann-Abedin issue might not go away for awhile. It made it on to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Bachmann was also criticized on TV by an unlikely source, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.
"I have been very upset about a McCarthy-like attempt to smear one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's closest aides, Huma Abedin, someone I have known for years," Blitzer said.
"Yes, she is a Muslim. But the last time I checked, there was nothing illegal about being a Muslim in America. There are millions and millions of patriotic Muslim Americans."
Buzzfeed says that Clinton's widespread support within Washington by Democrats and Republicans is driving some of the political outrage.
"The allegations may have been extreme and unfounded enough to cause Republicans to turn against one another, but this wasn't the first outrageous charge Bachmann ever made," the site says.
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