Article

Congress: Filibuster Frenzy

This week, a bipartisan majority of the Senate voted to restore the right of habeas corpus to detainees, grant the District of Columbia full voting representation in Congress, and mandate that U.S. troops receive at least as much time at home as they are deployed.

SEPTEMBER 21, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
Contact Us | Tell-a-Friend | Archives | Permalink

CONGRESS

Filibuster Frenzy

This week, a bipartisan majority of the Senate voted to restore the right of habeas corpus to detainees, grant the District of Columbia full voting representation in Congress, and mandate that U.S. troops receive at least as much time at home as they are deployed. But facing strong opposition from the White House, the measures narrowly fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Republican leadership’s filibusters and will not move forward. Instead, conservatives spent the week defending the Bush administration and condemning a New York Times ad. The media largely billed the defeats as Senate “rejections” of the measures, failing to highlight the conservative obstruction.

‘STAY THE COURSE, PART 2’: Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA) and Chuck Hagel’s (R-NE) amendment to the Defense Authorization Act would have mandated “that home leaves for troops last as long as their deployments.” The White House promised to veto the measure — viewed as one of the “best opportunities” for war critics “to change policy” in Iraq — and exerted heavy pressure on Sen. John Warner (R-VA) to switch his July vote for the bill and vote against it. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 56-44 for the measure, falling short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Republican leadership’s filibuster. After the vote, Hagel decried his colleagues’ weakness in failing to confront the Bush administration, stating, “It’s stay the course, Part 2.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) promised to “not yield” to the Republican leadership by “cutting short the war debate,” and yesterday brought forward his proposal, co-sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), which would have cut off funds for combat in Iraq by June 2008. While this legislation failed, the Senate today plans to revisit the Levin-Reed amendment, which “would set a timetable for withdrawing troops.” “Compromise,” said Reid, does not mean giving up “our principles. Our principle is that we need to change the course of the war in Iraq, not have an amendment that we say could pass [with] bipartisan [support].” In July, the Levin-Reed amendment received 52 votes, but also failed to overcome the Republican filibuster.

SUPPRESSING THE MAJORITY: Other legislation with bipartisan support met similar opposition from the White House and the Republican leadership this week. The Habeas Corpus Restoration Act, which would have restored the right of habeas corpus to detainees charged as “enemy combatants,” received a 56-43 vote. A bill that would have given the District of Columbia full voting representation in Congress for the first time in its 206-year history fell just three votes short of invoking cloture, with a 57-42 vote. “For the first time in 30 years, we secured the vote of a strong majority of Senators in favor of DC voting rights,” said Ilir Zherka of DC Vote. “We are outraged that a minority of Senators, led by Senators Mitch McConnell and Trent Lott, prevented the majority from voting on our bill.”

‘A COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME’: To appear as if it were doing something to address the war in Iraq this week, conservatives — led by Warner and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — introduced a toothless, watered-down version the Webb dwell-time amendment. Warner and McCain put together a “sense of the Senate” amendment to express “very clearly that we all want all our troops home and we understand the stress and strain that’s been inflicted on the men and women in the military and the guard and reserves.” But their real intentions were to kill the Webb amendment. As Webb responded, the troops need the “will of Congress,” not the “sense of Congress.” Similarly, the Senate spent over an hour yesterday on Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-TX) bill criticizing MoveOn.org’s Gen. David Petraeus ad in the New York Times. The “sense of the Senate” resolution “strongly” condemned the “personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus.” But Cornyn’s resolution has no bearing on the course in Iraq. Ironically, the conservative senators who yesterday voted for Cornyn’s resolution earlier chastised the Senate for debating such bills. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), for example, blasted an all-night Iraq debate as “a colossal waste of time.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the vote of no confidence on Alberto Gonzales “a meaningless resolution giving the president advice about who the attorney general ought to be.”

FILIBUSTER HYPOCRISY: Approximately “1 in 6 roll-call votes in the Senate this year have been cloture votes,” noted a July McClatchy report. “If this pace of blocking legislation continues, this 110th Congress will be on track to roughly triple the previous record number of cloture votes — 58 each in the two Congresses from 1999-2002.” McConnell has vigorously defended holding up legislation, stating, “The suggestion that it’s somehow unusual in the Senate to have controversial matters decided by 60 votes is absurd on its face.” Yet this same Republican leadership decried the use of the filibuster during the confirmation of Bush’s judicial nominees, threatening to employ the drastic parliamentary maneuver known as the “nuclear option,” which would have prohibited filibusters. In 2003, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) threatened, “[Filibustering] is wrong. It’s not supportable under the Constitution. And if they insist on persisting with these filibusters, I’m perfectly prepared to blow the place up.”

UNDER THE RADAR

CIVIL RIGHTS — ‘MORE THAN 10,000’ RALLY FOR EQUAL JUSTICE IN JENA, LA: Yesterday, “in a slow-moving march that filled streets, spilled onto sidewalks and stretched for miles, more than 10,000 demonstrators” poured into the small town of Jena, LA, to protest the treatment of six black teenagers arrested and charged with attempted murder for beating a white student. “The beating was preceded by racially charged incidents at the high school, including nooses hanging from an oak tree that some students felt was just for white students.” No white students were charged with a crime. One journalist covering the story yesterday said the incident revealed “the profound difference in perceptions” between some blacks and whites. “Basically, the whites here did not think that the noose incident was any big deal. They all think it was a prank and a joke.” “[T]his is resonating with African Americans and other people of goodwill…because people increasingly are aware of the way the criminal justice system is chewing up black men and black boys, in particular,” NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Theodore Shaw said. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) announced that he would hold hearings to investigate the Jena Six case, including accusations of prosecutorial misconduct surrounding the decision to try one of the students as an adult, even though he is 17 years old. Support the Jena Six here.

ETHICS — FBI SECRETLY RECORDED STEVENS CALLS AS PART OF BRIBERY INVESTIGATION:
The FBI taped calls between Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Bill Allen, chairman of Alaska oil corporation VECO, as part of a “public corruption sting. The new revelation suggests that “the Justice Department was eyeing Stevens long before June, when the Republican senator first publicly acknowledged he was under scrutiny.” Allen “agreed to the taping last year after authorities confronted him with evidence he had bribed Alaska lawmakers.” The investigation focuses around “a lavish remodeling of Stevens’s house in Girdwood, an exclusive ski resort area 40 miles from Anchorage” that VECO executive oversaw. “Agents from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service raided the Alaska home” of Stevens in July as part of an investigation “that the FBI was looking into $170 million in contracts” that Stevens steered to VECO. Stevens’s son, former State Senator Ben Stevens, was also embroiled in the scandal when Allen admitted to bribing him in return for legislative favors for VECO. Sen. Stevens has, so far, refused to comment.

CONGRESS — GOP SENATOR PUTS SECRET HOLD ON BILL RESTORING PUBLIC ACCESS TO PRESIDENTIAL RECORDS:  In Nov. 2001, President Bush signed an “unprecedented” executive order that “would turn the 1978 Presidential Records Act on its head by allowing such materials to be kept secret ‘in perpetuity.'” In March, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), along with Reps. Russell Platts (R-PA), Lacy Clay (D-MO), and Dan Burton (R-IN), introduced a bill that would “nullify Bush’s 2001 order” and “restore public access to presidential records.” The bill passed the House with a 333-93 vote and the Senate Government Affairs Committee agreed in June to move its version to the floor for a vote, but the bill was stalled when an anonymous Republican senator put a hold on it. “Suspicion for the hold initially focused on three senators — Ted Stevens of Alaska, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and George Voinovich of Ohio.” But “aides to Sens. Stevens and Voinovich said Wednesday that their bosses are not blocking the bill. Coburn aides didn’t respond to inquires.” If Coburn is the Senator blocking the bill from coming to a vote, it wouldn’t be the only bill that he is currently blocking. Last month, Coburn placed a hold on a suicide prevention bill for military veterans that was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). 


THINK FAST

Republicans reacted angrily yesterday” to Bush’s pledge to veto increased funding for children’s health insurance. “I’m disappointed by the president’s comments,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). “I’m very, very disappointed,” echoed Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR).

89.6 million: The number of Americans under the age of 65 who “had no health insurance for some or all of 2006 and 2007, according to a study released Thursday by Families USA, an advocacy group for the uninsured. The number is “almost double the number of uninsured reported by the Census Bureau for 2006.”

The appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as a “distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution is drawing fierce protests from faculty members and students at Stanford University.” “Some 2,100 professors, staff members, students and alumni have signed” a petition protesting his appointment.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who recently said “there are too many mosques” in America, continues to advise former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign. Giuliani “chuckled” at the suggestion of dumping King. “I’ve known Pete for 41 years, so I’m not about to do that,” he said.

The United States “corroborated” Israeli intelligence that formed the basis for Israel’s decision to attack a site inside Syria on Sept. 6. While some reports indicate it was a suspected nuclear site, others report it was “missiles and/or weapons parts.” Bush refused to make any comment on the matter yesterday.

Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey assured Senators yesterday “that he would limit contacts between the Justice Department and the White House to halt any political meddling with ongoing investigations.” The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill, introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), which will limit communications between the Justice Department and the White House regarding ongoing investigations.

In the first comprehensive account of Sunday’s shootout in Baghdad involving Blackwater contractors, the Iraqi Interior Ministry concluded the guards fired “an unprovoked barrage” on Iraqis in their cars in midday traffic. The report recommends that “the dozens of foreign security companies” in Iraq “should be replaced by Iraqi companies, and that a law that has given the companies immunity for years be scrapped.”

And finally: The famous wax museum Madame Tussauds “flew its wax statue of Abraham Lincoln to D.C. on a Delta Shuttle flight on Thursday. Abe rode in the coach section with regular, non-presidential passengers.”

SIGN UP for the Progress Report

Read Our Blog: Think Progress

Features
Under the Radar
Think Fast

GOOD NEWS

“Government Accountability Office employees on Wednesday, for the first time in the agency’s history, voted to form a labor union.”

STATE WATCH

IOWA: Environmentalists claim that “Iowa’s environmental agency has failed to adequately protect the state’s residents and waterways for more than three decades.”

CALIFORNIA: State whistleblowers “have uncovered a raft of waste and misconduct in recent months” within government.

MINNESOTA: “Get ready for another marriage amendment push” from the right wing.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA): conservatives falsely hyped terror threat against U.S. Capitol to pass FISA expansion.

RISING HEGEMON: Conservatives complaining about criticism of Gen. David Petraeus today had no problem attacking generals in 2004.

CROOKS AND LIARS: In a special comment, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann slams the Senate vote yesterday condemning MoveOn.org.

THE CRYPT: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) call for congressional investigations into the Jena 6 case.

DAILY GRILL

“You know, you need to talk to economists. I think I got a ‘B’ in Econ 101.”
— President Bush, 9/20/07, on the possibility of an upcoming recession

VERSUS

“President Bush as an undergraduate at Yale did not in fact receive a grade of B in his economics course. Bush received a grade that would correspond with a C-.”
— The Huffington Post, 9/20/07