The Morning Line: King Hearings Spark Vocal Debate

BY David Chalian  March 10, 2011 at 9:18 AM EDT

The Morning Line

Thursday’s House Homeland Security hearing on “the extent of radicalization in the American Muslim community” has sparked a national debate about more than just the threat of homegrown terrorism. When the meeting gets underway at 9:30 a.m. ET in the Cannon House office building on Capitol Hill, Republican committee chairman Peter King will find his leadership under fierce scrutiny.

Critics have likened King’s approach to the McCarthyism of the 1950s, accusing him of singling out a particular religious group based on false allegations and generalizations.

For his part, King has not wavered on holding the hearings since announcing them late last year. He has called them “absolutely essential” to examining the threat of homegrown radicalization.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” earlier this week, King said: “I don’t ever want it on my conscience that if another attack comes, I wake up the next morning and say, ‘I backed down to political correctness, I backed down to The Washington Post, or the left-wing New York Times, because I was afraid of political retribution.’ I’m going to do what I have to do, and I’m going to do it.”

King appears to have public opinion on his side. A majority of Americans — 52 percent — say it is appropriate for the House to hold hearings that focus just on U.S. Muslims, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday. The survey found that 69 percent of Republicans, 51 percent of independents and 40 percent of Democrats support the hearings.

The witness list for Thursday’s hearing looks like this:

Panel 1

  • Hon. Keith Ellison, A Representative in Congress from the 5th District of Minnesota

Panel 2

  • Hon. Frank Wolf, A Representative in Congress from the 10th District of Virginia

Panel 3

  • Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, President and Founder, American Islamic Forum for Democracy
  • Mr. Abdirizak Bihi, Director, Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center
  • Mr. Melvin Bledsoe, Private Citizen
  • Sheriff Leroy Baca, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

Ellison became the first Muslim elected to Congress in 2006 and has expressed strong reservations about the hearings.

Bledsoe will testify about how his son, Carlos, converted to Islam, became radicalized and now stands accused of killing an Army private at a recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark., according to prepared remarks obtained by the AP.

Chris Good over at the Atlantic has an aptly-named “What to Expect from Peter King’s Muslim Radicalization Hearing” previewing Thursday’s event.

David Fahrenthold and Michelle Boorstein at The Washington Post, meanwhile, look at whether King and others will be able to elevate the hearings beyond political theater to a broader discussion about Muslims’ place in American society.

Be sure to tune in to Thursday’s NewsHour for a full recap of all the day’s events in and outside the hearing room.

WALKER’S WIN

After three weeks of total stalemate, Republicans in the Wisconsin state senate devised a way to pass Gov. Scott Walker’s bill stripping most public workers of collective bargaining rights without the 14 Democrats, who remain in Illinois, present in the chamber.

PBS NewsHour National Affairs Editor Murrey Jacobson has all the details on Wednesday night’s surprise vote.

The Senate Democrats who have been staying across the border in Illinois in hopes of blocking any GOP legislative action on the matter plan to stay out of state today as they determine what their next move will be.

The Republican controlled Assembly, which has already passed similar legislation, is expected to vote on the Senate bill at 12:00 p.m. ET.

Protests erupted in the state capitol immediately following the Senate vote Wednesday night. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the latest from inside the building.

“The Senate Democrats have had three weeks to debate this bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come home, which they refused,” Walker said in a statement. “In order to move the state forward, I applaud the Legislature’s action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government.”

National labor leaders pounced.

“Tonight, Scott Walker made it crystal clear to the people of Wisconsin — and the entire nation– the extent he will go to in order to pay back billionaires such as the Koch Brothers and bad actor corporations that want to destroy the middle class,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. “This legislative gimmick proves Walker’s attack on the middle class was never about balancing the budget; it was always about stripping workers of a voice and rewarding the cronies who helped finance his campaign.”

Having lost legislatively, but scored significant political points against Gov. Walker in the last three weeks, Democrats appear focused on taking their fight to the ballot box in potential recalls or regularly scheduled elections.

Gov. Walker emerges a national Republican figure, albeit a polarizing one, with the strong support of conservatives who urged him to not back away from the principles he put forth in his bill.

This battle will continue to play out in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and other states in the weeks to come.

OBAMA’S OPPONENT

President Obama has a far more threatening opponent next year than anyone named Romney, Barbour, Pawlenty, or Palin.

The one poll number the Obama White House watches more closely than most these days is the right track/wrong direction number. In that number, Team Obama can see if the American people are buying the president’s message that having rescued the economy from total collapse, his leadership has put the country on a better course forward.

The White House clearly has more work to do in breaking through with that message.

From Bloomberg News’ latest numbers:

“Only 1 American in 7 has faith a lasting economic recovery has taken hold and a plurality say they are personally worse off than they were two years ago.”

“Almost half of the respondents in a Bloomberg National Poll conducted March 4-7 believe the U.S. is in a “fragile” rebound and could fall back into recession. More than a third of the country believes the U.S. never emerged from recession.”

“Sixty-three percent of Americans say the nation is on the wrong track, compared with 66 percent who said so in December, which was the lowest in the national mood in the one and a half years the Bloomberg poll has been conducted.”

Of course, there is a pretty thick silver lining for the president. “When asked who has a better vision for the years ahead, 45 percent of poll respondents chose Obama and 33 percent picked the Republicans,” writes Bloomberg’s John McCormick.

For more coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.