This is how the sausage is made:
After last weekend’s terrorist attack in Orlando, the people’s representatives in Washington scrambled to counter the growing threat to national security … from vegetarianism.
A 14-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats to force action on keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists produced little: They’ll get a vote, but the measure is likely to be defeated by Republicans on Monday.
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House GOP leadership, meanwhile, killed a Democratic effort to extend non-discrimination protections for gay people – the demographic targeted in the Orlando shooting.
But the House on Thursday did pass a plan to block the spreading menace to the U.S. military posed by Meatless Mondays.
“I rise to ensure that our men and women in uniform have options on their menu when they seek nutrition in the cafeteria,” Rep. Adrian Smith, a Nebraska Republican, proclaimed. “Ideologically motivated activists are working to take meat off the menu in institutions across the country.”
But Rep. Peter Visclosky, an Indiana Democrat, had a beef with that argument. “I appreciate the gentleman’s concern about ideological activists attacking the menus at the Department of Defense, but I do trust they will have the intestinal fortitude to resist those particular attacks,” he said. He assured his cattle-state opponent that “there is no policy under consideration to eliminate meat from the nutritional programs for our military services.”
Indeed, a Pentagon spokesman investigating the matter had found no evidence of an anti-meat campaign by Thursday night. But Smith was bullheaded in his advocacy. “Meat contains vitamins and nutrients not readily available in a plant-based diet,” he argued. “In fact, creatine, which supplies energy to muscle cells and aids in recovery, is only found in animal products.”
The Democrat would not be branded anti-carnivore. “I did have meat at lunch yesterday. I ate meat last night,” he said. But he objected to Republicans, who like to complain about regulatory overreach, attempting to legislate menus.
“Should we start considering whether we should be using diced tomatoes in our various food service areas, or should we do whole tomatoes?” he asked. “Should we, when we serve tuna-fish, have chunk white or solid white?”
Thus was the response to the Orlando atrocity. Lawmakers declined to keep guns and explosives out of suspected terrorists’ hands. They refused to extend equal protection to gay Americans. But they bravely repelled an imaginary threat to hamburgers.
Never mind that the Pentagon is attacking neither red meat nor fish nor fowl. The pro-meat forces prevailed in a voice vote.
And this was part of a profoundly depressing reaction to one of the worst mass killings the country has seen. Donald Trump implied that President Barack Obama was in cahoots with the Islamic State and then tweeted an article from a right-wing publication saying the administration “actively supported” the terrorist group.
Even Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Obama was “directly responsible” for the attack in Orlando, before clarifying that Obama wasn’t “personally responsible.”
In the House, Republicans aped Trump’s anti-immigration histrionics by allowing votes on measures to block the “dreamers” – immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children – from serving in the military. The attempt failed by the thinnest of margins.
GOP leaders refused to vote on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would protect LGBT employees of federal contractors from discrimination. But they allowed an amendment to the same bill that would protect service members from the invented scourge of Meatless Mondays.
On the floor, Smith noted an “agenda to remove meat” by the U.S. Coast Guard, which has cut meat consumption by cadets at its academy. The Coast Guard wasn’t covered under the defense bill, but Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, still went hog wild. “Our military – we’d starve them for meat? We need them to be aggressive,” he said. He held up a photo of Norwegian troops who, he says, have Meatless Mondays and therefore can’t eat their beloved reindeer meat that day. “Let’s have a strong military,” King said. “Let them have a lot of protein.”
The House vote by itself did not protect the troops from the fanciful threat of creeping vegetarianism. The Senate, in its version of the defense bill, refused to take up a similar amendment by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who spoke of castrating hogs in her famous campaign ad. Ernst said, “the push for Meatless Mondays in our military is misguided.”
But this “push” is bull. The dangers our leaders won’t address – terrorists getting guns, and legal discrimination against gay people – are real.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.