Posted by Generalissimo
Much has been said in the mainstream media about how the Bush presidency is essentially over, a lame duck mired in controversy. Thursday, however, George W. Bush demonstrated that when he does wish to use the bully pulpit, especially with powerful allies like Mitch McConnell in the United States Senate, he very much can move legislation through in a very timely fashion.
Throughout this week in both houses of Congress, there has been consideration and negotiation on a piece of legislation submitted by Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, the National Director of Intelligence, who very clearly spelled out in Congressional testimony that there are gaping holes in the FISA laws that prevent our intelligence community from acquiring information that would help them detect and prevent another attack on U.S. soil. Without this legislation, Admiral McConnell forcefully stated in his testimony, our country remains extremely vulnerable, and unnecessarily so, to acts of terror. Naturally, both chambers this week played politics with the issue. But as the week headed quickly towards the August recess, a key sequence of events took place.
On Friday, President Bush, surrounded by his national security team, gave a short speech calling out Congress to stop the bickering, end the stalling, and pass this legislation. After explaining the urgency of fixing the hole in the FISA law, he stated that he was calling on Congress to remain in session and work through their August recess until they get him a bill he could sign. He went on to say that whatever legislation ended up on his desk would have to meet with the approval of the Admiral, or he would veto it. And Friday afternoon, President Bush got some help in the Senate by Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who threatened to keep the Senate from adjourning until they act. And Friday night, act they did.
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Simply put, there were two bills that were voted on late Friday night in the Senate that both addressed the fixing of the FISA law. One was offered by Mitch McConnell and Missouri Senator Kit Bond, written largely to meet the requests of the Director of National Intelligence. The other was offered by West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, and was deemed to not give what Admiral McConnell called the bare minimum of what would be required for him and his people to do their job.
The vote commenced on the McConnell-Bond measure shortly after 9PM, to be followed by the vote on the Rockefeller version. For either bill to pass on to the House, it required a 60 vote margin. What made this vote dramatic was that there were several Senators from both sides of the aisle who had already left town for previous commitments, making it even that much harder to achieve the 60 vote hurdle. Due to a lot of successful lobbying going on the floor while the vote was taking place, seventeen Democrats joined the remaining Republicans to pass the measure, 60-28. What won’t get reported very widely is that during the waning moments of the vote, McConnell, Bond and Republican leadership were franticly doing the math, realizing they only had 58 ayes, and somehow convinced Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye that they really didn’t want to have to hang around until Monday and still be required to vote on this all over again. Both changed their vote giving McConnell, Bush, and the country the 60 votes they needed to close the loophole in the FISA law.
One notable Democrat who did not join the bipartisan bill was New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who apparently is not concerned that we can’t, because of outdated law, do everything in our power to prevent another terrorist act in the United States. And remember, she is running to be the Protector-In-Chief next November.
Next up was the Rockefeller bill, which fell much more along party lines, failing 43-45 While a close vote, this fell far short of the 60 required for passage. With that, the Senate adjourned for the August recess, throwing the political hot potato squarely into the lap of Nancy Pelosi.
Earlier in the week, the Republican Caucus in the House showed that when push comes to shove, the Republican Party is still the serious party when it comes to national security by signing a letter to Speaker Pelosi demanding similar language be passed in the House. The GOP hasn’t been able to show that much unanimity lately on what time it is, let alone something as serious as this legislation. But even with a monolithic opposition demanding action in the House, Pelosi, as of this writing, had decided to fiddle.
While a third of the Senate Democrats recognized the magnitude of the political fallout they’d face if a terrorist act was committed on U.S. soil, especially an event that could have been detected or prevented were it not for partisan games, Pelosi and the Democrats in the House were busy Thursday night and Friday playing Houdini with votes, magically changing tallies, then making votes disappear completely from the record when challenged. In fact, there was a Florida 2000 flashback earlier Friday when the voting machines in the House suddenly stopped working. But Nancy Pelosi has much more now than dimpled chads to worry about in the House.
Speaker Pelosi is in a very untenable position. She now bears entirely the weight of improving the national security of the United States. She will try to spin it differently, but every moment she waits, trying to find a political way out of the predicament she finds herself in, she is vulnerable to being held responsible if something really bad happens here. If the McConnell-Bond bill were to pass the House, it would be signed immediately by the President, and become law that second. There is no implementation delay. As soon as the ink is dry, Admiral Mike McConnell can start changing procedures he deems vital for the protection of the country at once.
So what are Pelosi’s options? She could bring up the bill as is, with no amendments, and call for a vote. Considering the number of Democrats in the Senate who helped it pass, it’s almost certain to pass the House. But if Pelosi plays games with this, or if one comma is changed in the House version, the bill would have to go to a conference committee, which can’t now happen anytime soon because the Senate has recessed. They’ve done their job. Pelosi has to pass the bill as is. We hope she sees this and does what’s better for the country than satisfying her ACLU base.
Here’s her conundrum, however. If Pelosi does push this bill through, which she almost certainly has to, she will send her members home after the vote for their August recess to face a base that will be just as angry, just as ramped up as the Republican base by and large was during the recent immigration debate. Will she have the courage to stand up to her kook fringe and do what’s right? Will she be able to regain control of the reins of the House of Representatives after she so badly mismanaged it this week? Or is she so beholden to powerful lobbies within the Democratic base that she will turn her back on the national security of the country to placate the left wing fringe? We’ll stay tuned and report.
In the meantime, kudos go out to the President, McConnell, especially yeoman’s work by Kit Bond, and the 17 Senate Democrats who, for whatever motivation, still put the interests of the country ahead of party.