Blackwater? Hey, look, it's MoveOn!

A Republican representative tries to change the subject.

Published October 2, 2007 2:42PM (EDT)

As Henry Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform opened its hearing this morning on the activities of Blackwater USA in Iraq, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa devoted his opening statement to ... MoveOn's Petraeus/"Betray Us" ad.

After several Democrats -- and even a couple of Republicans -- raised questions about Blackwater's actions, Issa held up a copy of the MoveOn ad and declared: "What we're hearing today is in fact a repeat of the MoveOn attack on Gen. Petraeus' patriotism ... What we're seeing is what they couldn't do to our men and women in uniform, they'll simply switch targets."

Issa said he wasn't at the hearing to "defend Blackwater," but rather to "defend Gen. Petraeus and the men and women who do their job" in Iraq.

Of course, neither Petraeus nor U.S. troops in Iraq are the focus of today's hearing. But Issa wasn't alone in coming to their unneeded defense. Rep. John Mica, a Republican from Florida, said that a decline in U.S. deaths in Iraq last month is "bad news for the other side" -- the "other side" being the Democrats --- and accused Waxman and his colleagues of holding the hearing to distract from that news. Mica then moved to adjourn the hearing before it could really begin, a motion that was voted down by other committee members.

Update: Showing -- for better or for worse -- that two can play the Republicans' game, Democratic Rep. Diane Watson opened her questioning of Blackwater CEO Erik Prince by discussing Rush Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" comment and telling Prince he should be "offended" by it. Issa asked Watson to yield the floor for a response. She refused.

When it was Issa's turn to talk again, he solicited testimony from Prince about his family's ties to the GOP, then complained that it was unfair to tar Blackwater as a "Republican company -- a charge that no other representative has made today, anyway. "The only one who's done it is you," Waxman told Issa when he was done. "Maybe that's why all the Republicans are defending the company."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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