What on earth has come over U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts?
The Republican from Kansas returned from a clandestine five-day trip to Iraq and Kuwait this week in a bouyant mood. American troops and their allies are making “real and tangible progress,” against Islamic State militants, he told reporters in a press call. He’s “very impressed” with Iraq’s new leader, Haider al Abadi. He is much more confident about President Barack Obama’s long-term strategy regarding Iraq.
Wait, what? I mean, great. But what a difference an election and a few weeks have made.
Is this the same Pat Roberts who stalked around Kansas in his successful-but-joyless re-election bid, muttering darkly about Obama and Senate President Harry Reid at every crossroads?
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In September, as Lindsay Wise from the McClatchy Washington Bureau reports, Roberts issued a statement expressing doubts about the administration’s strategy to turn back the murderous Islamic State group, which has captured large chunks of territory in Iraq.
“I am deeply concerned that the president’s plan is focused on the long-term solution and fails to address the immediate need to stop ISIS in its tracks and turn back its cancerous spread throughout the region,” he said then.
And now? “Right now,” Roberts said, “the strategy is working.”
The senator did tell reporters the president needs to do a better job of communicating his strategy to the public. “I know the commanders in the field know it and believe it, but we don’t hear much from the White House,” he said.
He’s right about that. The president needs to communicate his message more effectively and Congress needs to affirm it more often.
But still, it’s just plain strange hearing Roberts say anything halfway positive about the administration. And there’s more. While he was quick to criticize Obama for acting unilaterally in restoring some diplomatic relations with Cuba, Roberts also says he’s be willing to work with the White House to lift the trade embargo through Congressional action.
Let’s let that sink in for a moment: Pat Roberts working with Barack Obama’s White House.
I see three possibilities for this startling turn of events:
1) Roberts finds travel invigorating. He’s the first senator to show up in Iraq in 18 months, by the way.
2) Liberation is drawing near! Just the thought of being freed from the oppressive yoke of Majority Leader Reid and Democratic Senate control has made a new man of Roberts.
3) Roberts is more of a moderate and consensus builder than he let on during his campaign.
Maybe some of all of the above. But if I had to pick one, it would be Possibility No. 2. The expectation of being back in the majority has put a bounce in Roberts’ step.