Saturday, December 15, 2007

My destiny calls and I go


For reasons that barely make sense, Harry Reid seems to be capitulating on the terribly flawed FISA bill and telecom immunity. And Chris Dodd, who can't get much major media traction, is the sole Don Quixote tilting at this crappy windmill.

Digby says:
Dodd is way out on a limb on this. He's been abandoned by his party leadership and he's being forced to leave his Iowa campaign in the middle of the battle to come back to DC and do an old fashioned filibuster of this bill.

Senators Clinton, Biden and Obama said they would support a filibuster. Edwards said he supported one too. If they would agree to come back to the Senate and help Dodd talk all night, it would bring much need attention to the issue and show the Democratic base that these candidates value them. Imagine if they all (including Edwards) agreed to suspend their campaigns and come back to Washington to stand with Dodd. It would be electrifying --- and it would show the country that the Democrats are prepared to fight. (It would also give them a bunch of free TV time.)

Will any of them (all of them?) do the right thing or will they blow it off?

Go here and ask them.

Damn straight. Reid's calculus seems to be that caving on this issue will somehow, magically, leave the Dems in better position to win the Presidency in '08. Kagro X at Kos analyzes:
The House passed a relatively solid FISA reform bill, in the form of the RESTORE Act, and sent it on to the Senate. But rather than consider that bill, the Senate has considered its own (as is their wont), and now embroiled itself in the difficulties that referring that bill to both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees has created. And in the middle of those difficulties, observers have noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had, under the rules at least, several options open to him, including having the Senate consider the House bill directly. It's a relatively rare thing, but not unheard of. He opted not to do so.

In fact, though, picking up the House bill is hardly unknown. Not to long ago, in fact, we were assured that this was brilliant strategy, and it was even given a catchy nickname: "ping ponging."
But today, that strategy doesn't appear to exist among the options.

Why not? Because the House bill would be vetoed, and Bush would just pull the same trick he pulled in August: send me the bill I want, or I'll veto what you send and force you to stay in session to deal with this "emergency." And that will end in capitulation anyway, so why not just save everyone the time and capitulate now?

A principled refusal to capitulate, though, forces the Congress to face an excruciating possibility: that the president is abusing his powers under the Constitution to dictate the terms of legislation to the Congress, and that that's created a serious imbalance in the separation of powers, and revealed the underlying truth that a Congress unwilling (or just unable) to impeach a president that abuses his powers and usurps theirs is completely neutered.

On the other hand, if they opt not to have this fight (or the fight over subpoenas and contempt of Congress, or signing statements, or any of several others that boil down to this same problem), in all likelihood no one of any importance or influence will ever figure exactly how neutered they've become. People may call them spineless and weak, but they won't necessarily notice that they've surrendered the legislative prerogative. That's too much of an abstraction, and even if it wasn't, it'd be too frightening a prospect for most people to contemplate, so they just won't do it.

Now, there's an argument to be made that FISA just isn't the ground on which to make this stand, and that there's some better, clearer turf. And there probably is. But if we're not going to have that fight, either, then the extent to which this gets offered as an excuse, it'll be worth keeping in mind that there's no game plan or strategy for having the fight on any other turf either, so it's ultimately a bullshit excuse.

On the upside, though, civics classes will be easier to teach in the future.

And while many of us yearn for a Mr. Smith Goes To Washington moment with Chris Dodd filibustering until his voice gives out, K-Drum thinks it isn't going to be easy:
One of the favorite tenets of the liberal blogosphere is that Harry Reid should quit playing by gentlemen's rules and call the GOP's obstructionist bluff. If Republicans want to filibuster everything short of Mother's Day resolutions, make 'em do it the old-fashioned Mr.-Smith-Goes-To-Washington way, talking until their tonsils give out. A while back I spent some time trying to find out if this was actually practical, but the Senate rules turned out to be complex enough that I just couldn't figure it out.

But now I don't feel so bad. Time's Karen Tumulty decided to consult some experts, and it turns out they don't know either:

Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution calls this idea impractical. Given the fact that Republicans could muster 41 people on most things to hold the floor, a real filibuster could go on interminably....But Norm Ornstein at the American Enterprise Insitute thinks Reid should call the Republicans' bluff, starting with holding the Senate in session five long days a week. "You have a different Senate now. Frankly, they're soft," says Ornstein. "If they had the backbone and the discipline to do it, it would work."
I don't care one damn bit about the impracticality of the idea, I care about flawed legislation that institutionalizes stupid ideas, and unconstitutional behavior. The telecoms are nothing more than profit centers whose campaign contributions render them untouchable, like the oil companies. Make them hurt, make them bleed, make them suffer.

Here's what 3 other Presidential candidates said about Dodd's proposed filibuster:
Joe Biden
San Francisco: "Will you join Sen. Chris Dodd's hold and proposed filibuster on any FISA bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecoms?"

Sen. Joe Biden: "Yes."
-Washington Post web chat

Barack Obama
"To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies."
-TPM Election Central

Hillary Clinton
"I am troubled by the concerns that have been raised by the recent legislation reported out of the Intelligence Committee...As matters stand now, I could not support it and I would support a filibuster absent additional information coming forward that would convince me differently."
-TPM Election Central

Do they have what it takes to stand up with him now? I'm not holding my breath.



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