It’s probably a safe bet that if House Republican Leader John Boehner backs away from a conservative, terrorism-related bill called “TEA,” the legislation both goes too far, and isn’t going anywhere.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) captured big headlines, and interesting supporters, when he proposed the Terrorist Expatriation Act, which would amend current law to allow the State Department to revoke the citizenship of Americans they deem to be members of foreign terrorist organizations. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) joined his push. So did House Democrat Jason Altmire, who hails from a competitive district in Pennsylvania.
But that’s about all she wrote.
Almost everybody else of consequence—including the conservative Boehner—has, at least, questioned the viability of the proposal, and, at most, blasted it as unconstitutional, and reminiscent of some of the uglier moments in U.S. history.
New York’s Chuck Schumer was the first to come out against it. The third-ranking Democrat in the Senate “believes it would be found unconstitutional in this context and would also be ineffective.” According to a statement his spokesman issued after it was inaccurately reported that Schumer would back Lieberman, Schumer believes “[t]here are much better ways of obtaining information from terrorists.”
“I have not heard anybody inside the administration that’s been supportive of that idea,” said White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs at his press conference yesterday.
And for perhaps the first time this Congress, the top Democrat and the top Republican in the House agreed: “TEA” is for neither party.
“If they are a U.S. citizen, until they are convicted of some crime, I don’t see how you would attempt to take their citizenship away,” Boehner said. “That would be pretty difficult under the U.S. Constitution.”
At her weekly press conference yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was careful not to impugn the motives of the legislation’s sponsors—and even suggested she might support expatriating terrorists after they were convicted in court. But she compared the proposal on offer to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“I think there is too much uncertainty there,” Pelosi said. “I think of the internment of Japanese. When you say ‘have a connection with a country in which we’re at war,’ they thought that Americans — the Americans living in our country had a connection just because of their ethnic background.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came closest to voicing support for TEA, particularly in the cases of naturalized citizens, but stopped short of endorsing the idea.
Of course, the politics of this are tricky, and the proposal—and peoples’ positions—could always change. But for the time being, despite all the hype, this is some pretty weak TEA from Joe Lieberman.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.