That’s how Rep. Barney Frank (D – Mass.) described the role played in Congress by Rep. Brad Sherman (D – Sherman Oaks) on a conference call with reporters on Aug. 7, organized by Rep. Howard Berman’s (D – Van Nuys) reelection campaign.
Frank described himself as an admirer of Berman’s, and referred to the 29-year incumbent as a “very responsible, very constructive, thoughtful member” of Congress. But this call was not about building up Berman’s bona fides as much as it was an opportunity for an well-known Democratic leader to tear into Sherman.
“One of the things that makes [Sherman] not a very good legislator, in my mind, is the total lack of understanding that in a legislative body you work with other people,” Frank said.
Frank, who has announced that he will retire at the end of his current term, endorsed Berman shortly after the district lines were redrawn last year, setting up this battle between Democratic incumbents, but only recently decided to take a stronger position for Berman and against Sherman.
Frank said he was inspired to do so by a pair of comments by Sherman that he called “appallingly off the mark.”
First, Frank, who is a former chair and ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Financial Services, of which Sherman is also a member, rejected Sherman’s assertion that he “had more to do with [the financial reform law] Dodd-Frank than anyone except Dodd and Frank.”
This, Frank said, was an instance of Sherman denigrating his colleagues in an effort to build up his own reputation.
“There were a number of members who had more to do with it than he did,” Frank said.
Frank also questioned a second comment made by Sherman, in May, when he told reporters that his efforts to stall the passage of the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) bill forced a change in the program that “saved this country over $400 billion.”
It’s an assertion that Sherman has made frequently on the trail; his campaign circulated a mailer last May touting Sherman’s opposition to TARP, and that mailer also included the $400 billion number.
Frank dismissed the claim that Sherman’s opposition impacted the shape of the TARP program as “wholly a figment of his [Sherman’s] imagination.”
“The notion that his opposition led to the change from buying assets to capital infusion is wholly and completely fantasy in the first place,” said Frank.
As Frank described it, the decision to pursue a strategy of capital infusion instead of buying troubled or toxic assets was made not as a result of the urging by Sherman and other TARP opponents, but by then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson.
Sherman, in a statement circulated by his campaign after Frank’s conference call, proudly restated his opposition to the TARP program.
“Everyone in the San Fernando Valley knows I opposed the $700 million [sic] Wall Street bailout,” Sherman said. “I know I made Barney Frank extremely angry because he says I was anti-bailout and Berman was pro-bailout, and now he’s doing everything he can do to bailout Berman.”
Frank did label Sherman as anti-bailout on the call, noting that even on the second round of voting on the bill in the House, Sherman voted against the TARP program.
“He [Sherman] was every bit opposed to the capital infusion as he was opposed to the toxic assets,” Frank said, adding that had TARP not passed, the auto industry would not be in the shape it is in today and the country would have experienced “a much deeper and much more prolonged downturn.”
So why did Sherman vote against the TARP bill on its second reading?
According to Sherman campaign spokesman John Schwada, Sherman voted no the second time because the bill’s language “still left open the possibility the purchase of toxic assets. That was enough to kill it for Brad.”
But doesn’t that mean that Sherman is claiming credit for the way TARP was administered even though he voted against the bill that authorized it – twice? And that he’s simultaneously using Berman’s votes to approve that same bill as a way to attack Berman as having supported the “TARP bailout of Wall Street—twice”?
It would seem so. As Schwada explained it, Sherman, who called his opponent “Bailout Berman” in an interview with Politico, is opposed to “bailouts,” but not to “recovery plans.”
“Brad voted against [TARP] twice and he was thankful that the outcome that eventually came about—- that the treasury department bought preferred stock instead of toxic assets – was far preferable to the original idea. And Sherman applauds that outcome and feels that he had some responsibility for it.”
Because TARP, as ultimately carried out, wasn’t a bailout, per se.
“[Congressman Sherman] didn’t consider it a bailout because it didn’t’ give away the store,” Schwada said. “It was a recovery plan that made sense.”
If it seems to you like Sherman is splitting hairs here, you’re not alone.
For the Berman campaign, the TARP comment was another instance of Sherman exaggerating his contributions to the legislative process. In a release issued by the campaign after the call ended, the Berman campaign likened Frank’s comments to those of former Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Jim Oberstar who rejected Sherman’s assertions that he deserved credit for the federal funding for the I-405 freeway widening project.
And once again, this back and forth clarifies the fact that when Sherman makes an impact, it’s not through the legislative process. And what’s in dispute is whether he made an impact. The Washington Post seemed to think that Sherman had some impact on the shape of the TARP program in 2008, but today, Frank rejected that assessment.
“He [Sherman] did not have anything like the role he described,” Frank said. “If anything, I thought he was neutral.”