Jay Rockefeller: Some Obama foes think he’s the ‘wrong color’
By: Kathryn A. Wolfe
May 6, 2014 02:47 PM EDT
Sen. Jay Rockefeller unloaded on lawmakers Tuesday, accusing some of blocking efforts to solve urgent problems during Barack Obama’s presidency “because he’s the wrong color.”
Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who will retire at the end of the year, made his comments during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on transportation funding, saying he’s confounded by the “lack of will to keep ourselves from dropping into rivers and rolling over bridges that are no longer there.”
“It’s an American characteristic that you don’t do anything which displeases the voters, because you always have to get reelected here,” he added. “I understand part of it. It has to do with — for some, it’s just we don’t want anything good to happen under this president, because he’s the wrong color.”
Rockefeller’s tirade was sparked by the long-running dilemma over funding the trust fund that covers most of America’s federal transportation spending. Many lawmakers have ruled out a hike to its primary funding mechanism: the tax on gasoline.
That tax has not been raised since the 1990s and its buying power for infrastructure investments has eroded significantly, but raising it is considered a political nonstarter in Congress and for the administration.
The five-term senator said ideological barriers and lawmakers’ own narrow self-interests were preventing them making tough political decisions.
“For some it’s the tea party. For some it’s just a fear of their own reelection prospects,” said Rockefeller.
And he added there’s “nothing sadder to me” than a politician, from either party, “who doesn’t dare do something or vote for something that he or she believes in.”
Rockefeller blamed himself, too, saying his own previous silence on difficult issues that could have drawn the wrath of voters “infuriates me at myself.”
“Why haven’t I been more up front about this in previous sessions? We’ve all seen this coming,” Rockefeller said, adding that the country’s eroding ability to fund infrastructure is a “slow-motion spiral downwards on something so basic.”
He acknowledged his own relative freedom to speak his mind now, saying he has “the ease of the fact that I’m not running again.”
“I was just telling [Sen. Ron Wyden] that it makes me even madder at myself that I wasn’t screaming earlier.”
And he harkened back to some tough political calls he made, such as raising the tax on cigarette sales “to the point where there were no more cigarettes to buy in West Virginia,” forcing people to purchase them in neighboring states.
“And that was okay with me, because we got a lot of money out of that, and they couldn’t decide to kill themselves on our behalf,” Rockefeller said. “So I’m sort of militant about this subject.”