THE BLOG
04/05/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Mark Kirk We Know

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) has been my Congressman since he was elected in 2000. Tonight, he won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. The other President from Illinois said "you can't fool all of the people all of the time." Kirk can't fool all the people, but he fooled enough of my district to narrowly win re-election in 2008. Let's hope the people of Illinois wise up and elect the Democratic candidate, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

Kirk is bright and articulate. He's a fascinating political study because he's manufactured a moderate image that belies his commitment to a right-wing Republican agenda and to leaders who support that agenda--an agenda sometimes at odds with Kirk's rhetoric and the positions that Kirk claims to support.

Kirk is particularly good at manipulating the emotions of pro-Israel voters. He spoke at my synagogue a couple of years ago, and even I almost applauded. But when both candidates have essentially the same position on Israel, we should vote based on where the candidates clearly differ. Both candidates support Israel. Both parties support Israel. Why? Because the American people support Israel and recognize the shared values that tie our countries together.

The fate of the U.S.- Israel relationship does not hinge on Mark Kirk, and it never has. We should not let anyone manipulate our legitimate concerns about Israel to win an election. The Senate is fine on Israel without Kirk, and it will continue to be fine on Israel whether Kirk wins or loses.

But Kirk's other stances are cause for concern. You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows--if you're Mark Kirk, all you need is a pollster. As Giannoulias has noted, "Like a weather vane, Mr. Kirk's votes on the issues can be predicted by the direction the political winds are blowing at this time":

Kirk reversed himself on reproductive rights. After narrowly winning re-election by misleading his constituents into believing he was pro-choice, Kirk stated on September 30, 2009 that "I strongly support the current U.S. law, sometimes called the 'Hyde Amendment,' which prohibits taxpayer funds from being used to subsidize abortions." On July 7, 2009, Kirk voted in favor of an amendment that would extend the prohibition on the use of federal funds for abortion so that it would apply to the District of Columbia. Fortunately, the amendment was rejected in committee.

Then on November 7, 2009 Kirk voted in favor of the Stupak Amendment to the Affordable Health Care for America Act. This amendment bars any insurance plan that is purchased with government subsidies from covering abortions, and with Kirk's help, it passed. As a result, NARAL Pro-Choice America now opposes his candidacy and Planned Parenthood has endorsed Alexi Giannoulias for U.S. Senate. Kirk will claim that he supports choice but he's just against federal funding. But the right to choose is meaningless without the means to choose, and denying health coverage to women who choose abortions--as opposed to other medical procedures--amounts to discrimination based upon religious beliefs, which is why NARAL and Planned Parenthood came down so hard on him.

Kirk reversed himself on gay rights. After leading people to believe that he supported gay rights, Kirk came out against gay marriage, in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, and in favor of the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy.

Kirk reversed himself on Cap and Trade. After voting for Cap and Trade because, according to Kirk, "national security" required it, Kirk announced that he was only voting "the narrow interests of my district" and that he'd vote against it the next time. Watch the granddaddy of all flip-flops.

Kirk reversed himself on Gitmo. After voting to allow the Obama administration to move foreign terrorist suspects from the Guantanamo Bay prison to the United States mainland, Kirk criticized a proposal to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States mainland (Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois). Kirk told President Obama that "If your administration brings al-Qaida terrorists to Illinois, our state and the Chicago metropolitan area will become ground zero for Jihadist terrorist plots, recruitment and radicalization." Kirk was criticized by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune for his inflammatory and inaccurate statements.

Kirk reversed himself on earmarks. Kirk criticized earmarks in recent spending bills after procuring millions of dollars of earmarks for his supporters.

Kirk reversed himself on Sarah Palin. After supporting the selection of Sarah Palin for Vice President, Kirk received letters from constituents objecting to Palin's extreme right-wing views. Kirk then said that he would not have picked her for Vice President. But in November 2009, Kirk sought Palin's support.

And where Kirk is consistent, he's consistently wrong. If you're an independent or a Democrat, you might want to consider the facts that his campaign doesn't tell you, facts that even some of his supporters seem unaware of:

Kirk toes the Republican line. Since being re-elected in November 2008, Kirk has supported the Republican position on key issues 100% of the time. Says who? Says Kirk for Senate. In the previous Congress, Kirk voted Republican "only" 8 of 10 times, but he voted with the Republicans on 24 of the 25 closest votes. In the Congress before that, Kirk voted Republican 9 of 10 times.

Kirk supported a man who accused Israel of apartheid for Republican leadership. Kirk is among the first to denounce the United Nations when it unfairly criticizes Israel, and this is to his credit. But Kirk voted to elect Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to Republican leadership even though Issa had previously accused Israel of apartheid . Why does Kirk hold Republicans to a lesser standard than that to which he holds the U.N.? Kirk voted for Issa for the post of Republican Policy Committee Chairman the week after Kirk was re-elected in 2006. This was a vote within the Republican party for a Republican leadership position. It was one Republican against another Republican, and only Republicans voted. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) defeated Issa by a 2-1 margin. Ironically, when Kirk did not follow the Republican majority, he voted wrong. Kirk was one of about 60 Republicans who saw nothing wrong with elevating a man who accused Israel of apartheid to leadership. Kirk has never explained why he voted for Issa. Imagine the outrage--the justifiable outrage--we'd hear if Obama appointed someone who had previously accused Israel of apartheid. Kirk owes us an explanation if he expects our vote. It's true that Issa previously contributed to one of Kirk's campaigns, but there's got to be more than that.

Kirk voted against equal pay for women. He voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. Republicans voted against equal pay for women 166-3. But Democrats voted 244-5 in favor, so it passed the House, and President Obama signed it into law.

Kirk voted for federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case. He voted for the Terri Schiavo Restoration Act, which required the federal government to forcibly insert a feeding tube into a woman who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years, against the wishes of her husband. Democrats said at the time that "Michael Schiavo is faced with a devastating decision, but having been through the proper legal process, the decision for his wife's care belongs to him and to God." But Republican leadership thought the decision belonged to the government, so Kirk jetted back to Washington to vote for federal intervention in this family decision--Republicans voted 156-5 in favor, and Kirk went along (of the Democrats who voted, most voted against).

Kirk voted against President Obama's Stimulus Plan (Republicans voted NO 177-0). United Jewish Communities supported the Stimulus Plan because it advanced their agenda. Apparently, Kirk's agenda is different.

Kirk voted against bringing the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (SCHIP) to the floor. Republicans voted against 175-0. Had Kirk and the Republicans prevailed, the bill would have been killed. But wait: Democrats voted 244-3 in favor of bringing it to a vote, and when it came to the floor, Kirk flip-flopped and voted in favor of the same bill he had just voted to kill. He can thus truthfully tell opponents of the program that he tried to stop it, and he can tell supporters of the program that he voted for it.

Kirk told the Chinese not to believe US budget numbers. Marketwatch.com Wall Street columnist David Weidner called Kirk's statement "a colossally stupid thing to say." More here and here.

Kirk's record on the environment is mixed. In the 2007-08 session of Congress, Kirk received a League of Conservation Voters score of 82%. But in 2005 his score was only 39%, and he's received scores in between in other years. He lost the endorsement of both the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club in 2006. But his scores tend to improve when he senses a tough re-election campaign.

Bottom line: The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have endorsed Alexi Giannoulias over Mark Kirk for U.S. Senate.

Kirk's office threatened to withhold funding from Tel Aviv University. In retaliation for a supporter of Tel Aviv University backing Kirk's opponent in 2006, a Kirk staffer paid at taxpayer expense threatened Tel Aviv University financially. Kirk took no action other than to "reprimand" the staffer.

Kirk refused to disapprove of Congressman Joe Wilson's (R-SC) shouting "you lie" during President Obama's address to Congress. At a time when most Americans yearn for civility in politics, Kirk voted against a resolution stating that "the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, during the joint session of Congress held on September 9, 2009." Some Republicans voted for the resolution. But not Mark Kirk.

Kirk's record is not a "moderate" voting record, at least not when it comes to the key votes--it's a right-wing Republican voting record that contrasts with the mostly moderate rhetoric Kirk employed when running for re-election in the Tenth District. If you're a pro-Israel Republican, then Kirk's your guy.

But if you're a pro-Israel independent or a Democrat, if you're glad the Bush/Cheney years are over, you might want to think again before voting for Mr. Kirk.