President Barack Obama called Alassane Ouattara, the democratically elected president of the west African nation Ivory Coast, on Tuesday to congratulate him on assuming his duties. According to a White House readout, Obama told Ouattara that the United States would be a strong partner as Ouattara “forms an inclusive government, promotes reunification and reconciliation, and responds to the current humanitarian situation.”
At about the same time, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) was on the floor of the Senate backing Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president who refused to step down from his office after losing an internationally certified election in November.
In a long 30-minute speech on the floor of the Senate late Tuesday afternoon, Inhofe said he believes massive vote fraud occurred in the monitored election, condemned “the use of so-called peacekeeping forces made up of the United Nations and French forces” which he said “have caused countless deaths,” while saying it wasn’t their role to step in on behalf of the democratically elected president.
“I’m going to show you something here that I hesitated doing,” Inhofe said as he displayed a portrait of Gbagbo. “But this is the happy face of President Gbagbo. This is the face I know. This is the president, he’s been president since 2000. And he’s gone through a lot of these same problems, but he stood up against the French and against Quattara up in the north.”
As Justin Elliott has been reporting, Gbagbo has long running ties with the Christian right in the United States, including with Inhofe. Gbagbo and his wife Simone are evangelical Christians and have attended the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event that is run by the secretive Christian group called the Family. Gbagbo has also gotten support from Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network — with one reporter on the network even comparing the situation in the Ivory Coast to the Bush-Gore showdown. Ouattara, for the record, is a Muslim.
In an interview with Mark Oppenheimer of the New York Times, Inhofe was asked about allegations that supporters of Gbagbo had committed atrocities.
“I don’t believe it,” Inhofe said. “If you learn and know these people, you draw your own conclusions.”
As Inhofe continues to throw his support behind Gbagbo, the United States is cementing a relationship with Ouattara. In their phone discussion on Tuesday, Obama and Ouattara “reiterated the importance of ensuring that alleged atrocities are investigated and that perpetrators - regardless of which side they supported - are held accountable for their actions, and committed to support the roles of the United Nations commission of inquiry and the International Criminal Court in investigating abuses,” according to a White House readout.
Late Update: Inhofe’s office posted his floor speech on YouTube: