Sgt. Bergdahl's release, Eric Cantor's defeat sound alarms

The House has continued its work on passing the appropriations bills. That’s a good thing, and we’ve got more coming up next week.

One thing I did want to touch on - As I alluded to last week, Defense Secretary Hagel showed up as scheduled to testify before the Armed Services Committee about the prisoner swap. I promise you, he’d have preferred to be at the dentist’s office.

The mysteries of Bergdahl's release

Not surprisingly, much of the questioning (from both sides of the aisle) focused on why the White House felt it was justified in ignoring the law and failing to inform Congress of their plans. Democrats and Republicans both feel some genuine anger about the President’s decision and their excuses haven’t helped.

The Administration has tried out a few different versions since the story broke. First, it was because they were concerned about Sgt. Bergdahl’s health – because of a video that was released six months earlier. Then, it was because they were worried his captors were getting ready to kill him – which would’ve been inexplicable after five years of keeping him.

Then, they changed their minds again, and said that they were concerned that Congress would leak the information, and that would put the soldiers who were going to retrieve him in jeopardy. Then, it was because the Qatari government told them that if there was a leak, the deal would be off. Then, it was because they only knew the day before the transfer that the deal was going to happen.

We’ll start with this latest one first.

To be clear – the United States government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Qatari government on May 12 – weeks before the actual transfer took place. This didn’t come up the day before the swap. They could have notified Congress then, so that excuse is just plain bogus.

We’ll just go ahead and skip the, “we only follow the law if the Qatari government says it’s ok” bit.

That’s just nonsense. So what about the “our troops going to fetch Bergdahl would be in jeopardy if we informed Congress”? Well, the administration gave advance warning to Congress about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, and that wasn’t exactly a low-risk mission. And if the Secretary was so concerned about leaks, then why are we hearing reports that nearly 100 people across the Administration know about the deal? They even went so far as to inform the Department of Justice so they could request a letter of opinion saying that the President didn’t need to follow the law.

All of these excuses are bogus, and the Administration knows it. I think the most encouraging thing to me about this situation is that Congress, as an institution, finally started pushing back against the Executive Branch – not as hard as I’d like – but pushing back, nonetheless. We’ll see what that leads to …

Eric Cantor's defeat

The other big news of the week was the surprise defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

As you might expect, there have been a lot of discussions going on in the press and within the halls of Congress as to why he lost. Some people attribute the defeat to the positions he’s taken on a variety of issues. There is undoubtedly truth to that.

But as I’ve pointed out to a number of my colleagues who asked me about my thoughts on it, issues alone wouldn’t explain why he lost so badly - and so many other members with similar positions ended up winning handily.

My take on it is this, and it’s pretty simple: There are two kinds of representatives in Washington – those who make sure they are on the first flight back home every week, and those who think DC is a nice place to stay for the weekend.

If you don’t genuinely enjoy spending time at home listening to people, if you don’t thoughtfully respond to their questions, if you don’t take their views into account, then at some point, they will find somebody to replace you with.

It’s that simple.

Being in the leadership is not an easy job and he spent a great deal of time travelling around to help fellow members. That’s part of the job, and I get that. But it doesn’t absolve you of being accountable to the people who send you to Washington in the first place.

The job title is “representative,” and I think some people in Washington would do well to reflect on that from time to time. Our Founding Fathers set up our system of government the way they did for a reason. And that system has served us pretty well over the years.

Good representatives, as they envisioned it, work hard to make sure they are always available to the people back home. It’s why, for instance, I make sure that, when people request a meeting, we move heaven and earth to accommodate conflicting schedules. It’s why I respond to every letter I get, even if I can’t do it right away.

It’s why, even when we’re in Washington, we set aside time to do our tele-town halls. With all of this communication technology we have today. There is no excuse, none, not to be available to people.

All of this is to say, as I’ve said a thousand times before, if you ever need to reach me, just know that you can. If you want to participate in the tele-town halls, just make sure we’ve got your phone number. If you ever want to sit down and talk, we’ll be sure to make it happen.

And last but not least, if you should ever feel like your question wasn’t answered or your concern wasn’t heard, please be sure to let me know. It is a real and genuine honor to serve you all. Even though we may not agree on every issue, each and every citizen of this great country has a right to be heard.

And as we saw this week, I know all too well that the American people won’t hesitate to show somebody the door if they feel like that basic responsibility isn’t being met. So, thank you, as always, for your time and please let me know if there is anything I can do to be of service to you.

Richard Nugent,
Member of Congress, 11th Congressional District