Blumenthal Runs Away From Obama

Melissa Bailey PhotoBarack Obama shouldn’t expect an invitation from fellow Democrat Dick Blumenthal anytime soon: Blumenthal said in a New Haven stop that the president “may not want to come here” to stump for his U.S. Senate campaign, given how independent he claimed he’ll be if elected.

That turnabout in partisan loyalty emerged Monday night as Blumenthal continued tacking away from his liberal roots —including through newly expanded support for military tribunals for domestic terror suspects.

Blumenthal made the remarks following a 40-minute appearance before the Yale College Democrats. After serving as the state’s attorney general for 20 years, Connecticut’s most-visible politician is going after the seat held by departing U.S. Sen Chris Dodd—who pressed Obama and his top aides to practically move into Connecticut on his behalf while he was still trying to save his seat.

That was before Massachusetts.

Blumenthal spoke before a crowd of over 60 people in a common room of Yale’s Branford College, which is becoming a regular stop on the campaign trail for candidates seeking statewide office.

During opening remarks, the Senate hopeful appeared to take a page out of newly elected Republican Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s campaign notebook as he sought to distance himself from President Barack Obama. Blumenthal stressed his “record of independence” in fighting pharmaceutical giants, health insurance companies and Microsoft.

“Washington is broken,” he said more than once. “We need more people who are independent” and “willing to fight.”

Asked after his speech if he wants Obama to campaign for him, Blumenthal first ducked the question. Then he gave an answer that distanced himself from the embattled commander-in-chief. His remarks signaled the devaluation of Obama’s currency among campaigning Democrats. They may start distancing themselves from Obama or his aides in attempt to establish independence from a rock star campaigner turned problematic pol who failed to sway key elections when stumping in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts over the past year.

“Would you like President Obama to come to Connecticut to campaign on your behalf?” the Independent asked Blumenthal after his talk.

“I, you know, haven’t reached that point in making a decision one way or the other. I haven’t presumed to ask, I don’t know whether he would, and I don’t know whether we would ask. At this point it’s an open question.”

Would Obama’s presence be a plus or minus for your campaign at this point?

“I can’t comment at this point,” said Blumenthal, who’s rarely at a loss for words.

Then he quickly elaborated.

“The president of the United States is someone whom I deeply respect and admire,” Blumenthal said. “I have differences with him, and if elected, if I’m fortunate enough to be elected, I would take stands on the merits, but the main priority is fighting for the people of Connecticut.”

Blumenthal closed with a kicker that ramped up his claims of independence from the president.

“I will fight for Connecticut whether or not I agree or disagree with the president,” he said. “If I agree, I will side with him. If I disagree, I will oppose him. And he may not want to come to Connecticut if I take that view.”

Blumenthal is far more popular than President Obama in Connecticut, noted Doug Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, in a separate interview.

At the latest Q Poll on Jan. 14, Obama had a 55 percent approval rating in Connecticut. Blumenthal soared above him, with 84 percent approving of his job—the highest approval rating of any politician in the Q Poll’s history, except for former President George Bush after 9/11, according to Schwartz.

Schwartz called Blumenthal’s approval rating “incredible.”

“He really doesn’t need President Obama’s help,” Schwartz said. An anti-incumbent movement that has eroded the popularity of senators like Dodd does not appear have hurt attorneys general, Schwartz said.

“He hasn’t been tarred by the anti-incumbent feeling that there is towards Washington,” Schwartz said, because Blumenthal can’t be blamed for the bailout of large banks, for example, and he doesn’t set taxes or budgets.

Still, Blumenthal has been taking a distinctly anti-Washington tone, notably following the failure of Democrat Martha Coakley to gain election to former Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat. Coakley’s defeat to Brown sparked a fear that the Tea Party movement of right-wing, anti-big government activists may be powerful at the polls in other states, too.

Will Tea Party activists make a difference in Connecticut? Will they surface among the unaffiliated voters, who make up a whopping 43 percent of the state’s voters?

Schwartz said he hasn’t analyzed who makes up Connecticut’s bloc of independent voters. A recent CBS Poll found that most “Tea Party” sympathizers considered themselves Republican, not independent. 

The Q Poll shows Blumenthal to be “in a very strong position” at this point, Schwartz said.

The Jan. 14 Q Poll indicated Blumenthal would “body slam” Republican candidates Linda McMahon and Rob Simmons, according to Schwartz. Blumenthal performed remarkably well among independent voters, taking at least 60 percent of the independent vote against either.

“For a Democrat, he’s also very popular among Republicans,” Schwartz added.

Terror Trials

Meanwhile, on Yale’s campus, Blumenthal ran further away from Obama. The topic was terror trials.

His comments came in response to a student who asked how he’d be different from Sen. Dodd, who decided not to seek reelection amid plummeting popularity.

Blumenthal brought up the trials of domestic terrorism suspects.

Two weeks ago, Blumenthal came out against the Obama administration, and in chorus with his Republican opponents, in calling for self-described 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to be tried in a military tribunal, instead of in a criminal court.  Click here to read the Independent‘s story .

The next day, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intention to try not just Mohammed, but alleged Christmas Day bomber Umar Abdulmutallab, as a criminal defendant in civilian court, too.

Monday, Blumenthal expanded his opposition to the president on the topic.

“My position is very different from the [Obama] administration’s,” he declared.

He said he believes the alleged Christmas Day bomber should be tried in a military tribunal, too. His comments came as the Obama administration stepped up an effort to fight Republican criticism on the issue.

Blumenthal served as U.S. Attorney for Connecticut in the late 1970s under then-President Jimmy Carter. He was asked after the speech if his support for a military tribunal extended to the alleged Christmas Day bomber, too. The conversation led to a debate with a young Democrat in the hallway.

Here’s the attorney general’s full answer:

“I have taken the position that there should be case-by-case review of each prosecuted terrorist to determine where a conviction can be best obtained after a fair trial, and punishment most severe. In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that that case should be before a military tribunal because there, the defendant was a foreign national directed and trained by a foreign terrorist who was supported by a foreign government, and essentially an enemy combatant.

“I think the same argument could be applied to the Christmas bomber, although we know less there about the circumstances because some of the key facts may still be undisclosed.

“But, what I know now leads me to think that individual should be tried in a military tribunal as well,” Blumenthal concluded.

“But these are crimes committed on American soil,” interjected Yale sophomore Jeff Kaiser (glimpsed at far left in photo), who was listening nearby in the hallway. “Doesn’t the Constitution say that they should be tried in the American federal court system?”

“No,” replied Blumenthal. “Jurisdiction is one issue. The Constitution doesn’t require that an enemy combatant who attacks the whole country ... the question is, what is the nature of the attack? I think we need to know more about the Christmas bomber, but I know as a prosecutor that issues of jurisdiction can be important, but they’re often two places where jurisdiction can be proper.

“If it’s proper in both places,” then it becomes a “policy decision.”

Blumenthal said he is referring to a military tribunal established under the most recent legislation.

“But originally it was to try members of the military,” Kaiser said, “not to try enemy combatants.”

“Well, it can be adapted,” Blumenthal said.

Kaiser asked if Blumenthal knows Eugene Fidell, a professor at the Yale Law School who has publicly backed the Obama administration’s plan to use a federal court for the KSM trial.

“You know, as a prosecutor, I tried people who are pretty dangerous, so I have the utmost respect for civilian courts, and some of those terrorists should be tried in civilian courts,” Blumenthal responded. “By the way, civilian courts have convicted terrorists.”

“Is it that you don’t trust that the federal court system could adequately prosecute someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?” asked Kaiser. “What’s the fear?”

“I believe that he is an enemy combatant who should be tried in a military commission or tribunal with a fair trial, but one that will impose punishment swiftly without many of the costs of a civilian court,” Blumenthal replied.

“And you don’t think that sets a bad precedent?” Kaiser asked.

“No, because each one would be judged on its own,” said the attorney general.

“But precedent is so important in these situations,” Kaiser contended.

“So are facts,” said Blumenthal, ending the debate. “Facts are important.”

In a later interview, Kaiser said he didn’t know much about Blumenthal as a candidate, but when he heard Blumenthal’s stance on the terror trial during his remarks before the Yale Democrats, he had to disagree.

“There is no proof that military tribunals are harder on terror suspects,” Kaiser contended, citing a recent New Yorker article that convinced him of Attorney General Holder’s case for trying the 9/11 mastermind in federal court. Another point from the article by Jane Mayer that persuaded him: “The makeshift military-commission system set up by Bush to handle terrorism cases has never tried a murder case, let alone one as complex, or notorious, as that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who will face the death penalty for the murder of nearly three thousand people.”

Civilian courts have a proven track record of handling terror trials, Kaiser reasoned. U.S. civilian courts have convicted 190 terrorists, Obama has said—including one former navy sailor in New Haven.

Despite their differences on the terror trial issue, Kaiser said he still supports Blumenthal. “I think he’s the only viable candidate to keep this seat where we’d like to keep it”—in Democrats’ hands, he said.

Kaiser doesn’t plan to vote for Blumenthal, however. He’s registered to vote in Pennsylvania.

Lesson Learned From Mass.

The evening visit to Yale also highlighted a difference views on the Scott Brown election.

Blumenthal referenced the election as he wrapped up a 20-minute stump speech.

“One of the lessons of Massachusetts,” he said, “is that people are angry and frustrated, and rightly so, because they fell that Washington is broken,” he said. “I agree with them.”

Yale junior Brian Bills begged to differ.

“The lessons of Massachusetts are that people are looking for real leadership,” Bills contended.

He got up and asked Blumenthal how he’d be a “bold, progressive leader” in Congress, in a climate where Senators appear afraid to go out on a limb alone. Blumenthal pointed to bold stances he’s taken in suing the federal government on the No Child Left Behind Act, and in pushing the federal government to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

Bills said he agrees with Blumenthal on those issues, but “I would have loved to have heard something more specific about how he’s going to stand out from the pack.” He said he was hoping to hear something that would mark Blumenthal as “left of the Democratic consensus.”

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posted by: lance on February 16, 2010  10:20am

It’s not an anti-incumbent movement, it’s an anti-obama movement.  I can’t believe Blumenthal ever sided with obama in the first place.

And I find it amusing that the liberals argue “The makeshift military-commission system set up by Bush to handle terrorism cases has never tried a murder case, let alone one as complex, or notorious, as that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed”, yet they were okay with electing a rookie senator with a sketchy background and no executive experience to run this country.  And run it he has.  Right into the ground.

But these young Yalie leftists should look at the bright side.  Onced they get trounced in November, they can always call Bill Ayers.  I’m sure he still has a few bomb recipes hanging around the house.

posted by: Steve on February 16, 2010  11:25am

It doesn’t matter how independent a Dem is; as long as there is a D after their name, Harry and Nancy get to count them to retain power.

posted by: Zak on February 16, 2010  11:31am

KEEP RUNNING DON’T STOP! Where does this put Blumenthal with John D. and Susan V. both Obama fans?? again New Haven on the losing side.

posted by: John Calomiris on February 16, 2010  12:41pm

The interview demonstrates once again the slippry character of the DP`s candidates.They will hold out making a decision till the last moment,then cave in to the Party.A recent example,Bayh from Indiana.He was against to Obama nannycare programs until it came time for a vote.Then he capitulated and voted for it

posted by: DavidK on February 16, 2010  12:45pm

Now he’s pandering to the Tea Party people. How disgusting!

posted by: Davio on February 16, 2010  1:04pm

You can’t create jobs and fix the economy when you are in bed with unions/ big labor.  ...

posted by: IND on February 16, 2010  1:12pm

Lance, Obama has been in office ONE YEAR, after inheriting a tanking economy (that was not only bad, but trending downward), two wars, a huge deficit, the banking system on the verge of collapse, and anti American sentiment even from our allies.  Yet you say in one year, Obama has driven the country into the ground? Get real. Economies are cyclical, recessions take time to work themselves out.. Gov’t has limited tools, they can make stimulus packages, change interests rates, etc, but in the end it is mostly natural economic forces that will turn the economy around, just as boom periods dont last forever. I would encourage you to support the president and give it some time, rather than throwing him under the bus after one year considering the conditions when he came into office.

One of the biggest problems with our country right now is bipartisanship, we are so divided.  Many people on the right or on the left, when faced with the prospect of not having their way, would rather have the country fail so that they can say, “look, you see, we did it their way and it failed”, than have it succeed. Then they hope they can get their side back in office at the next election, at which point the other side does the same thing.  We need to break this cycle.

posted by: sara wilson on February 16, 2010  1:37pm

Uhm….. falling in line with the Tea Party and Republicans…using Terrorist as a political “pawn”.  Disgusting!

posted by: gary on February 16, 2010  1:59pm

If you don’t support the party GET OUT.  ...

posted by: evan on February 16, 2010  2:08pm

if you don’t want to be a democrat you should not run as a democrat. barack obama is the elected leader of the country and the representative of the democratic platform; if you simply want to be a “lieberman” then run as one.

posted by: Jacqui on February 16, 2010  2:58pm

I liked Blumenthal, he had my vote right out the box, but if he is not going to suport the President, who else is on the ballot, he just lost my vote….

posted by: Darcy on February 16, 2010  2:59pm

“...And he may not want to come to Connecticut if I take that view.”

Obama is not one to shy away from opposing views, he meets the challenges and overcomes them.

posted by: Ana on February 16, 2010  3:57pm

You are a coward….why don’t you try and run as an independent like you friend Joe.

posted by: NT on February 16, 2010  3:59pm

Why have any trials at all?  Why not just shoot all of them?  It will be less expensive, faster, and exactly what the Tea Baggers would like.  Could even get a “firing squad” movement for the handling of all terror suspects.  Throw in a bullet in one of those tea bags. Hey, if they weren’t guilty, why would they be “suspects”?  100% conviction rate!  And we could empty GitMo in a busy afternoon.  Since we’re suspending the Constitution and the Geneva accords, Kill ‘em all.  OK, we could throw in a little torture for the entertainment value for Dick Cheney and the conservative Christians out there. Tidy, simple, and effective. Let Allah sort them out.  And if he’s busy, outsource it to God.

posted by: Levittown on February 16, 2010  3:59pm

I love the independent who can stay on course. Wish-washy dose not cut it. If he is against the insurance people today will he be the same after taking office ? Maybe if he plans to run for the White House down the road will he back off the BIG BOYS ?. The temptations to sway when the money breezes blow is always there.

posted by: Benjacomin Bozart on February 16, 2010  4:38pm

CT is a Red State. Big insurance and Wall Street types with Democrats voting with Republicans for people like Lieberman. Better a real Republican who we know will be a fascist Constitution hating thief dedicated to pushing the dead Republic and Empire into a final dictatorship with one party rule than a faux Democrat who will do the same thing through ineptitude and cowardice, the hallmarks of Democrats these days. The Republican ideal is now Red China. The Democrats are whinging liberal Republicans good for nothing but contempt.

posted by: Bob Sacomano on February 16, 2010  4:45pm

I love how Obama and the Democrats were given exactly one year to turn back 8 years of disaster. This “Socialist” schtick is a bunch of BS and Republicans know it, they’re counting on the uneducated FOX bots to parrot their talking points all the way to November and the sheep are all too eager to comply - regardless of country or logic.

They don’t even know what a real Socialist is - and it’s nothing even close to the Obama administration policies. Keep up the propaganda Righties, there are still plenty of gullible rubes out there.

posted by: Alexandra on February 16, 2010  4:47pm

Well, it is unfortunate that a State as fine as Connecticut is burdened with such a plethora of waffling-wonders. First, Joe Lieberman, and now Blumenthal.  His new found desperation to posture himself as a “maverick” does, however, sound sadly Palinesque. We’ll see how that “rouge-y, rebel-y stuff works out for ya, Dick.”

posted by: Henry Berry on February 16, 2010  4:57pm

“Blumenthal is going to have no easy out. We are seeing in his campaign—which is only in its beginning steps—the sorts of ploys he is going to have to resort to try to make himself relevant to today’s major politics concerns and worries and to try to keep the spotlight off his ethical failures.

As I commented regarding an online news article about Blumenthal’s popularity, he surely is popular—among criminals and corrupt individuals in law-enforcement at the state level and criminal corporate attorneys. With Blumenthal as CT Attorney General, they’ve had a free run—and continue to. As Attorney General, Blumenthal has done nothing but encourage, widen, and strengthen lawlessness. Now he’s trying to play catch-up with fundamental issues he should have been dealing with in the years he was CT Attorney General. Maybe he’ll get away with it. I’m going to do my utmost to try to prevent him in this.”

posted by: CV on February 16, 2010  5:33pm

““So are facts,” said Blumenthal, ending the debate. “Facts are important.” “
That’s where he lost my vote. That’s a weaselly way to shut off debate after being caught out.
And as Evan already said if you want to run as a Lie berman….
Really, we need someone to honestly represent Connecticut, we already sponsor one senator from Tel Aviv.
For what else could continuing to insist on this NeoCon, War on Trrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr frame? The Bushies made up that Enemy Combatant designation as fancy footwork to confuse US, same with the Military Tribunals, same with GITMO.
People who perpetrate acts of violence fall into two groups, criminals and soldiers, If they are soldiers, they are covered under Geneva, if they are civilians, they are covered under civilian criminal law. If they are enemies and they were fighting US, they are enemy soldiers and there is a prescription for how they are treated, tried et cetera. And as soldiers their trials would legitimately be held in military settings. But then they’d have to be treated as such under the Conventions, which Bush and Cheney had no intentions of doing. They went so far as to keep them in GITMO because it was not US Territory because they’d be protected by our Constitution if they were on our soil. Except that GITMO IS our soil. Our flag flies over it, our military occupies it, Cuba has no control over it, it is as much our territory as the Navy Base in Panama that John McShame was born on.
The Obama administration is trying to do the right thing, to clean up this Constitutional Crisis point and the handling of the Underpants bomber was exactly correct. A dimwitted thug failed to murder a planeload of people, he was caught and arrested, properly treated as a common criminal and he will be tried in a public courtroom, with defense lawyers and there will be no question if the evidence was tainted by torture or if his confession was coerced.
The fact that Blumenthal comes down on the wrong side of this is very disurbing, Hes a prosecutor for doGs sake, of all people he should be incensed that the rule of law has been so usurped, that the Justice System in this country has such a low reputation that it would be bypassed with impunity, even contempt.
I don’t believe that’s the kind of person I’d like to see replace Chris Dood.

posted by: DumpBlumy on February 16, 2010  5:40pm

The same group who “DUMPED DODD” is after Blumy.

posted by: MalleusMaleficarum on February 16, 2010  5:53pm

Blumenthal has differences with Obama - he is running to Obama’s right on scores of issues.  Most especially, Blumenthal is opposed to Obama’s peace initiative in the Middle East.  We do not need Democrats like Blumenthal in the Senate - we have enough already including Joe Lieberman.

posted by: Brian Tang on February 16, 2010  6:05pm

Ha! The middle photo is classic! I’m glad you cropped me out of it.

posted by: martin canniff on February 16, 2010  6:13pm

Health care for every American? Yes we can.
Jobs bill? Yes we can.
Restore civility in the political process? Yes we can.
I voted for HOPE and CHANGE and I still stand behind Obama in pursuing it.

If you are liberal, moderate, make sure your voice is heard. The extremes are making a mockery of our great country.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 16, 2010  6:25pm

This is why we must get out of this two party system.

I will vote nader and if he doesn’t run,Then I will write in the TeleTubs.

posted by: yvonne on February 16, 2010  6:43pm

By trying these people in Military Tribunals it just elevates their status with their counterparts back home,it makes them look important! By trying them in a civilians court it makes them look just like the common criminals that they are!Remember in one case where the judge told the guy,I’m not going to elevate you at all, because you are nothing but a common criminal.This country needs to quit being such scaredy cats,every little thing is an issue,where was everyone when GW nearly destroyed this country? Now people act all bad-ass,where were your voices for the last 8 yrs? This President is supposed to make everything all better in what? “a year”.It will be you who suffer in the end with your impatience.

posted by: H. Gensler on February 16, 2010  8:06pm

Shame on you Mr. Blumenthal, for becoming one of those politicians who will say anything in order to get re-elected.  I have heard you say nothing that would convince me to vote for you.  As far as being an independent - doing what worked in Massachusetts and coming out against our President in order to gain Republican approval does not make you a winner.  It simply makes you another Republican!!! ...

posted by: ErikW65 on February 16, 2010  8:49pm

Blumenthal did NOT run away from Obama on the question of whether or not to use Military Tribunals for terrorism suspects’ trials.

Both Blumenthal and the Obama Admin. are for a case-by-case decision making process.  USAG Eric Holder said on 11.13.09 that the US Cole bombers would be tried in in MT’s, for instance.

“It is important that we be able to use every forum possible to hold terrorists accountable for their actions. Just as a sustained campaign against terrorism requires a combination of intelligence, law enforcement and military operations, so must our legal efforts to bring terrorists to justice involve both federal courts and reformed military commissions…”

posted by: Dominik on February 16, 2010  11:20pm

I guess those Yalie Elites who live in the state for four to five years have the most say in CT Politics.

posted by: AdmC on February 17, 2010  7:13am

we do not need another LIEberman type in the senate

we need to support Merrick Alpert

posted by: Lloyd on February 17, 2010  11:41am

I will suggest to Mr. Blumenthal that he not fall into the trap of Obama bashing!! We need someone in Washington who will represent the State of Connecticut and not test which way the wind is blowing, but stand up to our core belief…No more politicians!!

I will vote for you only if I see that you deserve my vote…no more bogus politicians!

posted by: DavidK on February 17, 2010  1:27pm

Dems are finally figuring Blumy out. He has been pandering to liberals over the last 20 years. When he now panders to centrists in order to get elected he is now a traitor. If pandering was a crime he and Cuomo would both be in jail, not Ag’s.

posted by: eastrivertype on February 19, 2010  7:45pm

Is anyone surprised that Dick Blumenthal did an about face about Obama doing anything to help his campaign?  He can say anything with a straight face.  when you look in the dictionary under weasily lawyer, it says Dick Blumenthal.  It is about time he took clear stands on issues and stopped pandering.