No, Nancy Pelosi’s Trip to Syria Was Nothing Like “Tehran Tom’s” Iran Letter

Media Matters for America yesterday demolished Republican attempts to compare Tom Cotton’s Iran letter to Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Syria in 2007.

Somehow, we are supposed to believe, Nancy Pelosi visiting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with full knowledge of the White House and State Department, is the same thing as attacking the president’s foreign policy by trying to undermine it with radicals in the other government, are the same thing.

Tuesday, for example, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) tweeted:

Media Matters’ Eric Hananoki has compiled the list of further examples from various right wing sources, including Dana Perino, White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush from September 14, 2007 to January 20, 2009, who certainly knows better. Pelosi met with Assad on April 4, 2007:

  •’s Ben Shapiro cited Pelosi’s visit as one of the “times Democrats advised America’s enemies to oppose the president.”
  • The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein wrote that Pelosi’s visit was one of the “times Democrats undermined Republican presidents with foreign governments.”
  • Sean Hannity said on the March 10 edition of his Fox News program (via Nexis): “You know, it’s very interesting because when John Kerry met with Commandant Ortega of the Sandinistas no liberal was upset, or in 2007 when Nancy Pelosi met with President Assad of Syria against the Bush administration’s wishes, nobody got upset. But now this is the greatest sin of all times and they’re being called traitors in the New York Daily News on their cover.”
  • Dana Perino said on the March 10 edition of Fox News’ The Five (via Nexis): “In 2007 Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House, went to Syria against the wishes of the Bush administration. This is what Hillary Clinton — Senator, at the time said, ‘I have long advocated engagement with countries in the region including Iran and Syria, and I applaud Speaker Pelosi and her delegation for going to the region.’ I bring that up, Greg, because I think it shows the hypocrisy on all this point that people are focused on the politics of it and not the substance of actually what`s in the deal.”
  • Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol said on the March 11 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “Nancy Pelosi went to see Bashar Assad in 2007. I think that was questionable, but I didn’t criticize her patriotism.”
  • Fox News contributor Richard Grenell responded to Vice President Joe Biden’s criticism of the letter by tweeting: “Hypocrite! He supported Pelosi going to meet with Assad when Bush was POTUS.”
  • CNN political commentator Tara Setmayer said on the March 12 edition of CNN Newsroom that “most recently you had Nancy Pelosi, who went over to Syria and sat down with” Assad.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in response the other day, “The comparison between the Republican Senator letter to Iran and Leader’s Pelosi bipartisan delegation to the Middle East in 2007 does not stand up to any level of scrutiny.”

And it does not.

According to MSNBC’s Steve Benen the “the parallels to this new scandal are tenuous, at best.” Media Matters points out that “Pelosi was also accompanied on the trip by Ohio Republican Rep. David Hobson, along with Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Tom Lantos (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Nick Rahall (D-WV), and Keith Ellison (D-MN).” And according to The Washington Post, Hobson has said, “Before we left, we met with the State Department people and nobody told us not to go.”

Oh dear. You can be certain, if the 47 Republicans had tried to clear their letter with the White House and State Department, they would have been told not to send it. Of course, they didn’t even try to clear it with Obama or Kerry or anyone in the administration.

But there is more. Benen explained:

For one thing, Pelosi notified both the White House and the State Department in advance of her trip. She also received policy briefing from Bush administration officials about developments in Syria, and Pelosi was told that the staff at the U.S. embassy in Damascus would be available if needed.

In other words, Pelosi honored U.S. protocols and worked with the executive branch instead of trying to circumvent it. Let’s also not forget that the Bush administration was not actively involved in delicate negotiations with Syria at the time.

* Update: I spoke to Pelosi’s office, and a top aide reminded me that officials from the Bush State Department literally sat in on the meeting between the then-Speaker and Assad. To see this as comparable to the sabotage letter is plainly at odds with the facts.

Of course, to listen to Fox News and right-wing pundits and media, none of these details matter. For them, it’s just Nancy Pelosi going to Syria. But facts do matter. Details matter. And the context matters.

As Media Matters reminds us,

The Washington Post reported at the time that “Foreign policy experts generally agree that Pelosi’s dealings with Middle East leaders have not strayed far, if at all, from those typical for a congressional trip.”

Probably the biggest problem for Republicans trying to compare Pelosi to Cotton is this little nugget, saved for last by Media Matters:

The Bush White House strongly criticized Pelosi’s trip since they were trying to isolate Syria at the time. Still, prior to her visit, three Republican congressmen — Robert Aderholt (AL), Joe Pitts (PA), and Frank Wolf (VA) — met with Assad. Following Pelosi’s visit, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) met with President Assad and reportedly criticized the Bush administration after the meeting. The New York Times wrote on April 6, 2007, that there wasn’t “much carping from” the Bush White House about the Republican visits. Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey also held talks in the country prior to Pelosi’s visit.

And never mind how irate Dick Cheney was at the time over Pelosi’s visit, but he has so far had no objection to Cotton’s Iran letter.

The simple fact of the matter is that the two have nothing in common, and the facts speak for themselves. Which is why the Republican critics of Nancy Pelosi are so very careful to exclude any actual facts from the conversation. Nuance is never helpful to firing up the engines of fear and hate.

The Republicans were wrong, as even some Republicans have admitted, including, at least indirectly, John McCain, whose excuse for committing treason was that he was “in hurry.” Rand Paul felt the need to field a new excuse as well, one even more outrageous (if possible) than McCain’s, that he committed treason to “strengthen the president’s hand.”

Oh, well that’s all right then, guys. You get a pass.

The Republican leadership has done many repulsive and dishonorable things since 2009, but Cotton’s Iran letter has exposed more ugliness and lack of character and integrity than we have ever seen before.

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