Good News, Pat Roberts is Retiring! Bad News, Kris Kobach or Ajit Pai Could Replace Him!

Roberts Report Iraq
Sen. Pat Roberts holding a Senate report that concluded the justification for going to war with Iraq was based on inaccurate intelligence and overstated judgements. Roberts fought tirelessly to prevent the release of the report and undermine faith in its findings for years.

News out of the Wichita Eagle that Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) won’t be seeking reelection in 2020. By the time he retires, Roberts will be the state’s longest-serving member of Congress, with 39 years under his belt in the House and Senate (Bob Dole served only 35 years). Beltway insiders love to talk about Roberts as a centrist institutionalist who was adept at bringing home ag subsidies and working during holidays and shutdowns. But I will always remember him for his tireless efforts as Chair of the Senate Committee on Intelligence to protect George W. Bush from investigation during the Iraq War:

Roberts has made clear both his support for Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program and his contempt for those who question the program’s legality. On March 7, his committee once again abdicated its oversight responsibilities and “voted against an investigation of the president’s warrantless domestic spying program.” Roberts instead made a deal with the White House to “allow wiretapping without warrants for up to 45 days.” Ranking Member Jay Rockefeller called the move “proof that the White House controls the Intelligence Committee.”

. . . .

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released Phase I of its Iraq prewar intelligence report on July 9, 2004. The report found numerous failures in the intelligence-gathering and analysis process in the lead-up to the Iraq war. Roberts politicized the report by attacking Ambassador Joseph Wilson and by falsely asserting the report absolved the White House from charges of misusing prewar intelligence. After months of stonewalling, Nov. 14, 2005, was the negotiated deadline for the Senate Intelligence Committee to report on Phase IIof its investigation into the administration’s use of prewar intelligence. More than three months later, the public still has not received a report. Roberts has impeded progress on the report and reneged on his pledge to complete Phase II.

. . . .

Roberts Attempted To Absolve White House From Prewar Intelligence Blame In Phase I Report. Roberts defended Tenet and the President on Meet the Press: “Well, we have a situation where the DCI, George Tenet — and it’s very easy to go back and pick out a certain statement. Of course, his most famous one is ‘slam dunk.’ There isn’t any slam dunk in intelligence. You don’t bat, you know, 1,000 percent. I mean, you’re lucky if you bat, you know, 500 percent. The information that was provided to the president and to the Congress that led to the same kind of assertive comments that the same critics are now blaming the president for was flawed. What he said is what he got, and what he got was wrong, and I think he was right to challenge it at the time.” [Meet the Press, 7/11/04]

Ah, the glory days . . .

Moving forward, it seems unlikely that Democrats will be able to flip this seat, although Laura Kelly’s gubernatorial win suggests the party can still win statewide elections.  I lived in Kansas from 2016 to 2018, and I’m not confident about our chances. Regardless, the 2020 Senate map just got a little friendlier for Team Not-Fascists. Tara Golshan at Vox writes of Democratic prospects:

For the past decade, Kansas has been a failed experiment in conservatism; the state’s former Gov. Sam Brownback passed extreme tax cuts he said would jolt the state’s economy. Instead, they devastated revenues, plummeted the state’s bond rating, and forced the state legislature to make such severe cuts to social programs, public schools and state infrastructure that the state Supreme Court mandated they boost funding for schools.

To be sure, Kansas is still a conservative state. Since 1940, the state has only once voted for a Democratic president (it was in the 1964 election between Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater). The last time the state voted for a Democrat in a Senate race was in 1932.

But as Vox’s Ella Nilsen explained, the state has more progressive roots than it gets credit for. Nilsen writes:

The rural, western part of Kansas is far more conservative and Trump-friendly. But the state gets more purple around major metropolitan areas and in eastern areas like the Third District, which includes parts of Kansas City.

In 2018, the state clearly reflected the national blue wave. Democrat Kelly beat out Kobach for governor, campaigning against the hardline anti-immigration rhetoric espoused by her opponent, as well as promising to invest in infrastructure, focus on public education and expand Medicaid. And in the House Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids, an attorney and former MMA fighter, unseated Republican Kevin Yoder in the Third Congressional District, running on a more progressive platform.

Democrats, currently in the Senate minority with 47 seats, have a much more favorable Senate map in 2020 than they did in 2018. Republicans will be defending 22 seats while Democrats will be protecting 12 — and in a presidential election year, when voter turnout is typically higher.

Roberts’s retirement gives Democrats a better opportunity to bring the blue wave back to Kansas.

The list of Kansas Republicans interested in succeeding Roberts in 2020 features the predicable rogues gallery of terrible politicians—Mike Pompeo, Kris Kobach, Derek Schmidt, Roger Marshall, and Kevin Yoder. If those men aren’t bad enough for you, Matt Schlapp (chairman of the American Conservative Union) and Ajit Motherfucking Pai (chairman of the Federal Communications Commission) have also been mentioned as potential replacements. Gag.

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