Moulton stirs the pot — again

AS A MARINE platoon leader in Iraq, Seth Moulton understood the discipline of the military chain of command as well as anyone. As a congressman with a healthy mix of ambition and an independent streak as wide as an eight-lane highway, he has become a master of disruption, exercising with abandon the free rein that comes with civilian life in elected office. 

Moulton had the temerity to challenge a fellow Democrat on his way to winning a hard-fought primary, and he then bucked the code of party loyalty and respect for seniority by saying Nancy Pelosi wasn’t the right one to lead House Democrats. 

Now the latest Moulton moment: A secret trip on Tuesday that the Salem pol took to Afghanistan with Republican congressman — and fellow Iraq war veteran — Peter Meijer of Michigan. The congressmen, who were on the ground at the Kabul airport for less than 24 hours, say they wanted to see first-hand the effort to get American citizens and Afghans who worked with the American military out of the country now that it has fallen to the Taliban. 

Moulton has been sharply critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the Afghanistan pull-out. “To say that today is anything short of a disaster would be dishonest,” Moulton said in a statement released August 15, the day Kabul fell. “Worse, it was avoidable.” When President Biden said some of the chaos was caused by Afghan citizens who had not wanted to leave earlier, Moulton called the explanation “utter BS.” 

The congressmen’s quick visit was not approved as part of standard congressional fact-finding travel, the Washington Post reported, and it prompted scathing rebukes from Pentagon and administration officials. 

“It’s as moronic as it is selfish,” an unnamed administration official told the Post

“It’s one of the most irresponsible things I’ve heard a lawmaker do,” a diplomat not authorized to speak publicly about the trip told the paper. 

Despite the suggestion that the lawmakers might have taken seats away from those desperately trying to leave the country, a spokesman for Moulton said the congressmen had vowed to only leave Kabul on a plane with empty seats and wound up sitting in empty seats reserved for crew members. 

Pelosi sent a letter on Tuesday to House members that did not explicitly mention the congressmen’s trip. “I write to reiterate that the Departments of Defense and State have requested that Members not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger,” she wrote.

On Monday, Globe columnist Joan Vennochi said that Moulton has been raising questions for months about US plans for getting citizens and Afghan allies out of the country and has rightly called out the intelligence failures that have now come into full view. 

“Moulton started talking about that truth right away. Painful as it is, more Democrats need to join in the conversation,” she wrote

“As Members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch,” Moulton and Meijer said in a joint statement about their trip. “We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand.”

The statement sought to counter a charge that has been leveled at Moulton by detractors ever since his winning campaign in 2014. 

“Moulton will have to navigate the thin line between courage and opportunism,” Vennochi wrote four years ago, framing the challenge that seems to continue to define his public profile. 

MICHAEL JONAS

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

 

Mask mandate approved: The state board of education voted 9-1 to approve a statewide school mask mandate for all staff and students in K-12 schools this fall. State Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said he hoped the mandate would end at the start of October, but he made no promises.

— The vote was expected, but there was some concern at the meeting about the Baker administration’s flip-flop on the mask mandate. Gov. Charlie Baker had insisted he wanted to leave masking decisions to local officials, but he then changed his mind last week. Education board member Paymon Rouhanifard, the lone dissenting vote on the order, said COVID case counts are up but only from a low base level. He also said hospitalizations remain low. “I’m honestly genuinely surprised that this is being endorsed by our governor as an incentive for vaccination because I consider our governor and his administration to be really smart about technocratic policy solutions,” he said. Read more.

Another vaccine mandate: Senate President Karen Spilka said all senators and staffers would need to provide proof of vaccination by October 15. The only exceptions are for those with medical disabilities or sincere religious beliefs. The Senate plan mirrors the one laid out by Gov. Charlie Baker for executive branch employees. Read more.

#111 bus getting attention: Long neglected and plagued by delays, the heavily used 111 bus running from Everett to Revere to Chelsea to Boston now has the most bus-only lanes of any route in the MBTA system. The bus priority lanes in Chelsea, on the Tobin Bridge, and now running between Causeway Street and Haymarket Station in Boston allow the 111 to move quickly through traffic. Read more.

OPINION

Pay raise sought: Ellen Attaliades, Lydia Conley, Tammy Mello, and Michael Weekes say human service workers came through for Massachusetts during the height of the pandemic and now the Legislature needs to come through for them, approving an increase in pay. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

No cellphone tower for Westport Point, after the Board of Appeals rejected a proposal for a 150-foot AT&T “monopole” near the historic spot in the South Coast town. (Herald News

In Lenox, meanwhile, the Board of Health hears testimony that a cellphone antenna atop an apartment building would cause “significant radiation” inside the building and across the street in Town Hall. (Berkshire Eagle)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

CVS, which has administered 30 million doses of COVID vaccine, will require all employees who deal with patients as well as its corporate staff to be vaccinated by October 31. CVS was just one of several public and private employers that mandated vaccinations for their workers after the FDA gave full approval to Pfizer’s vaccine. (Associated Press)

Meanwhile, nearly 7,000 doses of controlled substances went missing last year at CVS stores in Massachusetts. (GBH)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed against a housing agency in Seattle by an investment firm that is locked in a struggle with the agency over tax credits for affordable housing. The case was being closely watched in Massachusetts. (WBUR)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Moderna, propelled by its COVID vaccine, is now the third largest Massachusetts-based biotech employer. (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

A local artist has created an installation titled “There is No Beauty Without Color,” a tribute to area residents who have died from COVID and to the diversity of the community, which is on display at a Brockton beer garden. (The Enterprise

Quincy opens a visitors center to promote tourism and launch a self-guided 10-stop president’s tour of the city. (Patriot Ledger)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Watertown father and sons are indicted for tax fraud and money laundering in an alleged scheme involving winning lottery tickets. (WBUR)

The trial of Bennett Walsh and Dr. David Clinton, two former high-ranking officials charged in connection with the deaths of 76 individuals at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, gets underway, with attorneys for the two defendants arguing the case should be dismissed on a number of legal grounds, (Associated Press)