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Monday, December 17, 2007

"What the Hell" Harry

Harry Reid's PAC runs a blog, called Give 'Em Hell Harry in an obvious homage to Harry Truman. There's no post up about today's drama though. It's not surprising really, that Harry Reid wouldn't want to highlight the fight about FISA and retroactive immunity.

Let me preface my Reid-bashing with my own disappointment. I was a pretty big fan of Reid's when he took over as majority leader when Daschle lost his reelection in 2004.

Reid took the reins at a particular low point for our party. We had just managed to lose a presidential election to one of the worst presidents in American history (who has spent the last three years earning that title), we lost four seats in the senate to stay in the minority, and we lost a few in the house, giving the republicans a 29 seat majority. On top of that, our (admittedly pretty ineffective) minority leader had actually been defeated in his reelection.

In this depressing environment, Reid's ascension to the leadership coincided with the precipitous downfall of the republican party. In early 2005, with help from the Drexel Democrats, Reid managed to keep the ENTIRE senate Democratic body in line. If even a single Democrat defected, Bush and the press would start hailing the "bipartisan" push for privatization. Reid held the line, and we had our first major victory over Bush and his media enablers. It was a watershed moment.

The following months, of course, saw the Schaivo circus, which Reid had the good sense to stay out of, and hurricane Katrina, which helped bring the Bush empire down. Yes, Reid was particularly ineffective (unwilling would be more appropriate) in leading opposition to Bush's two SCOTUS nominees, but at the time I gave him credit for the fact that Bush hadn't just re-nominated Robert Bork. Over 2006 we saw the Democratic minorty increasingly flex its muscles and start asking the touigh questions, and in November 2006 we regained control of the senate and the house for the first time in well over a decade. The Democratic leadership was to be congratulated, and I was happy to say "Give 'em hell, Harry!"

I think many of us have been disappointed with this first year of Democratic majority, though. I had no illusions that the war in Iraq would end right away, but I didn't imagine that the Democrats would roll over and play dead on war funding. I didn't think that Reid would keep playing chicken with the president if Reid planned on caving every time.

I didn't think that Reid would allow the Republican majority to filibuster any bill they wanted, without actually making them filibuster. I didn't think that Republican holds on bills would be respected if Democratic holds on bills were not. I could go on, but Chris Bowers says what I wanted to better:
Ah, the Democratic controlled Congress. Republican Senate holds are respected, Democratic Senate holds are not. Republicans need 50 votes to pass legislation in the Senate, while Democrats need 60. Only one Democrat is needed to pass a renewable energy bill, and that Democrat is in serious danger of defeat in her next election? Forget applying pressure on her, just roll over and gut the bill. Bush threatens to veto Iraq war funding? Just roll over and give him a blank check. Challenge the Bush Dogs who vote with Republicans? Nah, they will just withhold funds from the DCCC if anyone dare to even suggest they face primary challenges, while other Democrats continue to just pour money into their campaign coffers. Use more aggressive tactics to challenge this situation? Nah, those would just hurt Democrats at the voting booth (and we are doing great in special elections as a result of this timidity). Can't end the war or change its direction? Well, at least we can condemn opponents of the war, and make others apologize. And so, we end up in a situation where Democrats and Independents, the same people who voted for new leadership in Congress, approve of the Democratic-controlled Congress as much as Republicans do.
With that, I wanted to let you guys know what went on today.

The background is this: For the last six years the Bush administration has been collaborating with telecom companies to wiretap American citizens without the warrents from the FISA court required by law. Not all telecom companies cooperated, because they have legal departments who said "No, we can't do this, it's illegal." The full scope and operation of the program isn't known (but that hasn't stopped wise-man Joe Klien from bravely stepping up to trust Bush and tell the Democrats to shut up), so we don't know exactly how illegal it was.

Now that some of the participating telecom companies are being sued for illegally releasing customer data, the Bush administration and it's allies in congress (persuaded by that sweet, sweet, lobbyist money) are pushing for an amendment to the new FISA bill that would provide retroactive immunity to these companies that helped the Bush administration break the law. The Bush administration is implicityl admitting it broke the law, but if retroactive immunity is granted, the courts will never be able to examine what was doen, and declare it illegal.

That is what is at stake; the respect for the rule of law. So Sen. Chris Dodd, a member of the judiciary committee, came out a long time ago and said he would stop retroactive immunity. The judiciary committee put forth a version of the FISA bill that did not include retroactive immunity, but the intelligence committee put forward a bill that did. So Dodd placed a hold on the intelligence committee bill. So Reid disregarded the hold and brought forth the intelligence committee version.

He tried to make it look like he was respecting the hold, but Booman explained last week that Reid was setting us up.
Why does this matter?

The key here is to give us the advantage. If we do this right, we can introduce a bill without immunity and it will be a choice of voting for that bill or getting nothing. If we do it wrong, we will introduce a bill with immunity and have to filibuster it to prevent passage.

If the base bill has no immunity, it will require sixty votes to introduce immunity. If the base bill has immunity, it will require 41 votes (because of the filibuster rules) to keep it from passing. Depending on how Reid introduces the bill, we can prevail with 41 votes, or fail because we cannot get 60.

The reason Reid is doing this in a way that requires 60 is because he wants to pass something. And the only way he can pass something is to pass exactly what the president wants...which includes immunity. So, he has decided to choose a path that will deceive us about whether or not he is honoring Senator Dodd's hold, and deceive us about whether he made a good faith effort to prevent immunity.

I am not happy to come to these conclusions, and the reality probably is that Harry Reid doesn't have the support within the caucus that he would need pursue a strategy of not passing a new FISA bill. The law will sunset in February and too many within the caucus are afraid to let the law sunset.

Nevertheless, we are being set up to not recognize this capitulation for what it is. And I am not happy about it.
Today Chris Dodd showed Obama and Clinton what real leadership looks like, and left Iowa to filibuster the bill in Washington.

Dodd won, successfully filibustering the bill, which will now be readdressed in January, when hopefully more Democratic senators will stand up for the constitution.

This latest episode of Reid's "leadership" has finally gotten me to stop apologizing for him. I was a pretty big apologist, too. I always gave the leadership the benfit of the doubt. I assumed that they were more politically savy than me, and that they may be proceedingly cautiously, but that Reid would pull it out in the end.

But caving to the worst president ever on Iraq, and enabling assaults on the constitution to go unheeded. Now, when I see Reid on the TV, I don't think "Give 'em hell, Harry." All I can say is "What the hell, Harry."

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