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Iraq: Stand and Filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced yesterday that the Senate will stay up all night tonight and force lawmakers to stand and debate a bill that provides a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.

July 17, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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IRAQ

Stand and Filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced yesterday that the Senate will stay up all night tonight and force lawmakers to stand and debate a bill that provides a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops. If conservatives refuse to allow a majority vote on Iraq redeployment legislation, “we will work straight through the night on Tuesday,” Reid said. Last week, Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced a measure to begin redeployment from Iraq within 120 days of its passage, with a target end date of April 30, 2008. Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (AZ) yesterday “formally registered” an objection to having a simple majority vote on the bill’s passage, forcing the Senate majority to overcome a 60-vote hurdle in order to beat back a potential filibuster. Three Republicans — Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Gordon Smith (R-OR), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) — have indicated their public support for the Levin/Reed bill. Many of their colleagues on the right, while voicing support for withdrawal, have refused to turn their rhetoric into voting action. Reid said conservatives “are using a filibuster to block us from even voting on an amendment that could bring the war to a responsible end. They are protecting the President rather than protecting our troops. They are denying us an up or down — yes or no — vote on the most important issue our country faces.”

HOW A FILIBUSTER WORKS: U.S. Senate rules provide an opportunity for lawmakers to engage in unlimited debate. “The term filibuster — from a Dutch word meaning ‘pirate’ — became popular in the 1850s, when it was applied to efforts to hold the Senate floor in order to prevent a vote on a bill.” To end debate, a Senator can file a cloture petition. “Cloture refers to the only procedure by which the Senate can place a time limit on debate, thus overcoming a threatened filibuster, and get to clarity. Cloture can only be achieved if three-fifths of the members of the Senate, normally 60 of them, vote for it.” The late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), “armed with throat lozenges and malted milk tablets,” held the Senate floor for more than 24 consecutive hours in an attempt to stop the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. John Nichols writes in The Nation, “Like the southern senators who filibustered against civil rights legislation in the 1950s,” those who choose to “rant on and on about how Congress cannot block the president’s war making will expose themselves…to the harsh light of day — and potentially to the harsh response of the voters in 2008″ if they filibuster the Levin/Reed bill. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said, “I believe on critical issues like the war, it’s time to make the Republicans stand on their feet and go through a traditional filibuster, so that the rest of the nation will understand…what they’re doing, who is obfuscating, who is creating impediment to changing the course of the war.”

SOME RECENT TACTICS: Appearing on the Young Turks radio show last week, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) explained that a Republican senator had recently told him the conservative leadership had adopted a strategy designed to “prevent any accomplishment” by the Democratic-held Congress. In the 109th Congress, conservatives used the filibuster to block the passage of a minimum wage increase, ethics reforms, comprehensive immigration reform, funding for renewable energy, and funding for the intelligence community, among a host of other popular legislative priorities. Many of these measures enjoy strong majority support. Last week, for instance, conservatives held up a measure offered by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) that would have required members of the Armed Forces deployed overseas to be given more rest at home. Webb’s amendment received a strong 56 votes, but not enough to kill the minority’s stranglehold on the bill’s passage. When asked if the majority should start forcing the minority to stand and physically filibuster these bills, Conrad responded, “Yeah, I think there’s a growing consensus that we ought to do that.”

CONSERVATIVE HYPOCRISY: Conservatives who are now fully embracing the filibuster as a tool to thwart passage of Iraq redeployment bills are the very same lawmakers who were calling for the “nuclear option” in 2005. At the time, Republicans held 55 seats in the Senate and were constantly voicing anger over the “obstructionism” of Democrats, who objected to the confirmation of a few right-wing judicial nominees. In 2005, the majority called for upending the practice of filibustering judicial appointments. Now, those same senators — who are currently in the minority — have been constantly deploying the threat of a filibuster. Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) previously said the filibuster was “bad for the institution. It’s 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. No problem.” Now, Lott, along with Kyl, are using the filibuster to provide political cover for President Bush and prevent passage of legislation that retains the majority support of Americans. 

UNDER THE RADAR

INTELLIGENCE — NEW NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE CONCLUDES AL QAEDA WILL ‘LEVERAGE’ CONTACTS IN IRAQ: This morning, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which is “the most authoritative written judgments of the 16 spy agencies across the breadth of the U.S. government,” is scheduled to be released. Even though the Director of National Intelligence, a presidential appointee, authored the NIE, the Bush administration has brushed off its recommendations in the past. Today’s NIE will focus on the threat of al Qaeda in Iraq, which is repeatedly brought up by the Bush administration to drum up support for the war. The report concludes: “Of note, we assess that al-Qaida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the homeland,” reinforcing the fact that international terrorism has increased since invading Iraq. Furthermore, “analysts also found that al-Qaida’s association with its Iraqi affiliate helps the group to energize the broader Sunni Muslim extremist community, raise resources and recruit and indoctrinate operatives – ‘including for homeland attacks.'” While the report states that international counterterrorism efforts have constrained al Qaeda, it qualifies this conclusion by adding that “this level of international cooperation may wane as 9/11 becomes a more distant memory and perceptions of the threat diverge.” Al Qaeda did not have a presence in Iraq until 2004, when the terrorist network began to see Iraq as both “a battleground and a rallying cause.” Regardless, Bush has used the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq as reason to stay involved in the war and has already attempted to deny his administration’s own intelligence reporting. 

IRAQ — REED: WHITE HOUSE BLOCKING PETRAEUS FROM PURSUING ‘NEW DIRECTION’ IN IRAQ:
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has repeatedly said that the United States must wait until September to assess the success of the President’s escalation policy in Iraq. Last month, Petraeus said it was “premature right now” to discuss the way forward in Iraq. But on Sunday on C-SPAN, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), who recently returned from a trip to Iraq, suggested that those comments aren’t Petraeus’s real views. Rather, he is shilling for the administration. “I got the impression from Gen. Petraeus that he wasn’t waiting” until September to reassess the Iraq policy. “Now he might be overruled by people in the White House and, you know, wait until September. But he seemed very eager to come forward as quickly as possible with a new direction and policy.” The Bush administration has consistently used Petraeus as a “political prop,” as Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has noted. Bush has mentioned Petraeus “at least 150 times this year in his speeches, interviews and news conferences.” In May, the White House used Petraeus as a PR flack to promote its war czar. The Washington Post has noted that some members of the military are worried that “the general is being set up by the Bush administration as a scapegoat if conditions in Iraq fail to improve. ‘The danger is that Petraeus will now be painted as failing to live up to expectations and become the fall guy for the administration,’ one retired four-star officer said.”

ETHICS — FORMER STATE ATTORNEY GENERALS PUSH FOR CONGRESSIONAL INQUIRY INTO EX-GOVERNOR’S PROSECUTION: On June 28, 2007, Don Siegelman, the former Democratic Governor of Alabama, was handed a sentence of 88 months in federal prison, 500 hours of community service, $50,000 in fines and $181,325 in restitution after being found guilty on bribery, mail fraud and conspiracy charges. Siegelman, in a federal prison while appealing his conviction, contends that his prosecution was politically motivated — a charge that has gained greater credence following a sworn affidavit from a Republican lawyer who claims to have heard Republican activists discuss Karl Rove’s orchestration of a Justice Department investigation of Siegelman. Yesterday, 44 former state attorney generals, “mostly Democrats but also some Republicans,” sent a signed petition to both House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen, requesting they “investigate the circumstances surrounding the investigation, prosecution, sentencing and detention of Don Siegelman.” “We urge you to incorporate the Siegelman case into your ongoing inquiry concerning potential inappropriate political interference in the offices of United States Attorneys,” the petition reads. The former state attorneys general contend that “there is reason to believe that the case brought against Governor Siegelman may have had sufficient irregularities as to call into question the basic fairness that is the linchpin of our system of justice.” Among the irregularities cited is that the campaign donor who Siegelman allegedly appointed to a seat on a state hospital licensing board as part of a quid pro quo deal had, in fact, previously served on the board. 

THINK FAST

War supporters responded yesterday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) call for an up-or-down vote on Iraq withdrawal legislation by threatening a permanent Iraq filibuster. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed “an automatic 60-vote threshold for all key Iraq amendments.”

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. “reached a tentative agreement for the purchase of Dow Jones & Co. at its original $5 billion offer price. The deal will be put to the full Dow Jones board this evening for its approval, said people familiar with the situation.”

“Former Republican congressman J.D. Hayworth said Monday that he has sent documents to the Justice Department in response to its investigation of disgraced fundraiser Jack Abramoff.”

20.5 million: Number of decisions to classify government secrets last year. But the Information Security Oversight Office said “more than 1 in 10 documents it reviewed lacked a basis for classification, ‘calling into question the propriety‘ of the decisions to place them off limits to public disclosure.”

“The Pentagon approves disputed costs on Iraq contracts at a much higher rate than on military contracts as a whole, Defense Department records show. Through last October, almost two-thirds of costs challenged by Pentagon auditors as inflated, erroneous or otherwise improper — more than $1 billion — were eventually approved by project managers.” 

Children in Iraq “are much worse off than they were a year ago, and they certainly are worse off than they were three years ago,” said a senior U.N. official yesterday. He added that “gains made shortly after the United States toppled Hussein’s government in 2003…had been lost.”

“The Senate health committee is scheduled on Wednesday to consider a bill that would for the first time allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate cigarettes.” Health advocates are predicting that, “after more than a decade of debate, this may be the year tobacco regulation is made law.”

Sixteen detainees were transferred out of the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to authorities in Saudi Arabia, Pentagon officials announced yesterday, amid discussions within the Bush administration about how to close the facility.”

And finally: “Anyone who has ever wanted to buy gold bullion, walk on heated sidewalks or watch a flock of seagulls will find plenty to love” in the $56 billion budget Republicans pushed through the Wisconsin state Assembly last week. Similarly, the Democratic plan that passed the state Senate included “$10 for pictures frames and furniture in the Pensaukee town hall.” The spokesman for Gov. Jim Doyle (D) called the budget priorities “sad.”

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