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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Smearing Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin Senate Race

A false and vicious TV ad attacks Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin for voting against “honoring the victims of 9/11.” The fact is, she voted to award three Congressional Gold Medals to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

So what’s the ad talking about? It cites her 2006 vote against a ceremonial resolution on the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 — which Baldwin opposed because she said the GOP-drafted resolution “politicized” the anniversary by praising controversial legislation, such as the USA Patriot Act.

‘Slap in the Face?’

The ad, called “Dangerous Path,” is yet another attempt to cast Baldwin as an extremist in Wisconsin’s close Senate race. (We recently wrote about another TV ad sponsored by a pro-Israel group.) This ad — sponsored by her Republican opponent, former Gov. Tommy Thompson — says her “far left approach leaves this country in jeopardy.”

Thompson’s ad features military veterans and shows an image of the hulking ruins of the World Trade Center in New York. One of the veterans says Baldwin “had the opportunity to vote to honor the victims of 9/11 and she voted against it.” Another says, “It’s a slap in the face to every one of their families and anyone who has ever served in the United States military.”

But this is a case of cherry-picking a vote to distort the facts. Baldwin did honor the victims of the terrorist attacks.

On Dec. 14, 2011, the House voted 416-0 to award three Congressional Gold Medals in honor of the victims killed in three locations: the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Virginia, and a Pennsylvania farm. Baldwin voted for the bill.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor bestowed by Congress on a civilian. Past recipients have included Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks and the Apollo 11 astronauts who were the first to set foot on the moon.

Ignoring that high honor, Thompson’s ad instead focuses on Baldwin’s 2006 vote on a ceremonial House resolution.

Baldwin was one of only 22 House members to vote against a resolution that marked the fifth anniversary of 9/11. The ad displays a headline — “Baldwin rejects 9/11 tribute” — from a Sept. 14, 2006, edition of The Capital Times.

The ad does not show the newspaper’s subhead — “Saying it insults victims, families, she casts one of just 22 ‘no’ votes” — or explain her vote.

Capital Times, Sept. 14, 2006: Baldwin and other Democratic critics said the resolution drafted by Republicans praised controversial legislation like the USA Patriot Act and a border security bill.

Baldwin contended the GOP “disgracefully politicized what should have been a solemn and sincere resolution.”

“Instead they converted the resolution into an endorsement of the Patriot Act, punitive immigration bills, and other highly controversial measures, which many of my constituents oppose,” she said in a statement explaining her vote.

She added it was disrespectful to the Sept. 11 victims and families to be “playing election year politics” with the anniversary.

The resolution did make reference to the Patriot Act, and the parties squabbled over it. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, then the Democratic leader, called the resolution “self-congratulatory.” The sponsor, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York, called the criticism “cheap demagoguery.”

Here’s the section of the resolution that mentioned the Patriot Act and other steps taken by President George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress.

H.Res.994: Whereas Congress passed, and the President signed, numerous laws to assist victims, combat the forces of terrorism, protect the Homeland and support the members of the Armed Forces who defend American interests at home and abroad, including the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and its 2006 reauthorization, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 …

The resolution was taken up by the House two days after the 9/11 anniversary and two months before the hotly contested 2006 midterm congressional elections, which ended with the Democrats taking control of the House and Pelosi becoming speaker.

— Eugene Kiely