Not so very long ago, just about everyone in Washington agreed that the outing of a CIA agent was serious business worthy of serious investigation and serious consequences. Times have changed. Karl Rove laughed off a question from reporters Thursday morning, and the U.S. Senate made a joke of itself Thursday night.
Hoping to rub Republican faces a little deeper in Rove's mess, Senate Democrats Thursday afternoon introduced an amendment to a Homeland Security spending bill that would have denied security clearances to any federal official who has revealed the identity of an undercover CIA agent. The amendment read: "No federal employee who discloses or has disclosed classified information, including the identity of a covert agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, to a person not authorized to receive such information shall be entitled to hold a security clearance for access to such information."
If it weren't for the timing, there wouldn't be anything particularly objectionable about such an amendment -- if a person has shown himself incapable of keeping classified information secret, that person shouldn't have access to classified information, right?
But as Democrats were fully aware, Republicans can't be seen as getting on board anything that looks like a concession about or criticism of Karl Rove. So they opposed the amendment, of course, and proposed one of their own: "Any federal officeholder who makes reference to a classified Federal Bureau of Investigation report on the floor of the United States Senate, or any federal officeholder that makes a statement based on a FBI agent's comments which is used as propaganda by terrorist organizations thereby putting our servicemen and women at risk, shall not be permitted access to such information or to hold a security clearance for access to such information."
Wonder what that means? Part one -- about mentioning a classified FBI report on the floor of the U.S. Senate -- would seem to be a reference to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who infuriated Republicans a few months ago when he suggested that one of George W. Bush's judicial nominees, Henry Saad, was being held up because of a "problem" in his "confidential FBI report." And part two is plainly a reference to Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who ultimately apologized on the floor of the Senate for saying that an FBI agent's report on abuses at Guantánamo Bay sounded like a report on the actions of Nazis or "some other mad regime."
The Democrats' amendment went down on a 53-44 party-line vote. The Republicans' amendment lost 64-33, with about 20 Republicans joining the Democrats in voting against it. "We should not be doing this,'' Republican Sen. Susan Collins said, delivering a scolding to her colleagues from both parties. "This is exactly why the American public holds Congress in such low esteem right now.''