Harry Reid -- compare and contrast

The Senate majority leader extends extraordinary powers to the most right-wing GOP senators while denying those same powers to his own caucus.


Glenn Greenwald
December 17, 2007 7:31PM (UTC)

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV

***** Update V: Reid pulls bill until next year)

Russ Feingold, today, on the effects of Harry Reid's pro-administration dirty work:

This morning, the Senate starts debating legislation to expand the government's surveillance powers.

Unfortunately, the bill we are going to be considering is the one reported out by the Senate Intelligence Committee in October, S. 2248. It did not have to be this way. Thirteen Senators joined me last week in asking the Majority Leader to instead bring up a bill that includes the changes approved by the Judiciary Committee last month. . . .

By choosing the Intelligence Committee bill over the Judiciary product, Senator Reid has made things much tougher for those of us who think the courts -- not Congress -- should decide whether the companies deserve immunity. He's also made it an uphill struggle of those of us who want more court oversight of the broad new surveillance powers included in the bill. . . .

We have a big fight on our hands, and unfortunately, the deck is now stacked against us.

All of this stems from Reid's refusal to honor the "hold" placed on that bill by Chris Dodd, who has been in the Senate for 24 years. In fairness, though, there are some Senators whose "holds" are treated with great reverence by Reid (h/t Atrios):

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Metro board members from Virginia and the District are skeptical of Maryland's move, while officials in Annapolis insist that the state's commitment is ironclad. But those jitters are overshadowed by graver doubts about the federal half of the funding formula, which at the moment is being held up by a single senator -- Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) -- despite its apparent overwhelming support in Congress.

And (h/t Digby):

Senate Republicans blocked a bill Friday that would restrict the interrogation methods the CIA can use against terrorism suspects. . . .

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., placed a hold on the intelligence bill, preventing the Senate from voting on it while the challenge goes forward.

Until Harry Reid met Chris Dodd's efforts to stop telecom amnesty and Bush's warrantless surveillance powers, this is how Senators understood the effects of "holds":

Any senator who lodges one can do it anonymously, effectively becoming the secret assassin of a bill or nomination. . . .

[Sen. Trent] Lott noted that technically, a hold is only a request from a senator to the party leader to be notified when a particular bill comes up. In real terms, "that's the same as shooting it in the head with a bullet," Lott said.

Thus, one read this from earlier this year about Harry Reid's Senate:

When Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., asked for a vote on their proposal to post Senate campaign finance reports on the Internet the same day they are submitted, an anonymous senator put a secret hold on it. No vote can be held as long as the secret hold remains in place.

Here's what Charles Grassley said back in 2002 when he, along with Sen. Ron Wyden, introduced a bill to mandate that any holds be out in the open:

Essentially, a hold is a notice by a Senator to his or her party leader of an intention to object to bringing a bill or nomination to the floor for consideration.

This effectively prevents the Senate leadership from attempting to bring the matter before the Senate.

And here's what Wyden said about the super-hero-like power of the "hold":

It is one of the most powerful weapons that any Senator can wield in this body. And it is even more potent when it is invisible. The procedure is popularly known as the "hold."

Isn't it just amazing? Reid is using every power he has, including some which run directly contrary to how the Senate has traditionally operated (and how it still operates when it comes to GOP prerogatives), to ensure that one of the most glaring scandals involving Bush lawbreaking -- warrantless surveillance on U.S. citizens -- is never investigated and there is never any accountability for it. And the methods he is using to accomplish that are as corrupt as the results themselves.

We'll use this thread for ongoing commentary on today's events in the Senate involving the FISA "debate" and the Dodd filibuster, including whether there are any sightings of (or comments from) the Leadership-endowed (and thus far rather mute) presidential candidates on any of these matters.

UPDATE: It seems that anyone -- other than a Democratic Senator attempting to bring about accountability for the Bush administration -- is free to use "holds" in Harry Reid's Senate. From the AP, last week:

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Michael Sullivan of Abington faces stiff opposition from Idaho's senators in his bid to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Republican Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo have placed separate holds on Sullivan's nomination, saying the agency has become overly aggressive in enforcing gun laws. . . .

Under Senate rules, a single senator can put a hold on legislative action for months.

Amazing, really. This was the headline on the AP article: "Idaho senators stall Sullivan selection." One wonders if that was an intentional play on words.

UPDATE II: Time's Karen Tumulty details the sacrifices Dodd is making to lead this filibuster, and though she seems slightly bewildered as to why he would do it ("it's not exactly the best timing from a conventional political perspective. Dodd, after all, moved his family to Iowa in October . . . As for the campaign, it has already cancelled two days of events, and could have to cancel more"), she quotes a Dodd aide who explains exactly what his motives are:

He understands that he should probably be in Iowa campaigning, but the Constituion and the rule of law are Dodd's passion. He has a deep history with it and fundamentally believes that we decrease our standing in the world when we don't live up to our values. And when that happens we weaken our national security.

That's the sort of earnestness and passion which national journalists not only fail to understand, but typically mock and scorn. I'm not saying that Tumulty is doing that here, but that's clearly the mindset of most of her colleagues. Dodd is speaking now on the Senate floor and you can watch all proceedings on C-SPAN here.

UPDATE III: Both Dodd and Feingold delivered truly superb speeches this morning. Portions of Dodd's speech can be viewed here. The full text of Feingold's speech (which I really recommending reading) is here, and I will post links to the video (which really captures the passion with which it was delivered) once it's available.

Watching those speeches is, in one sense, invigorating, but it's also, in another sense, quite depressing, as it highlights so vividly what is missing almost completely from our political system. Speaking of which, the first vote on cloture passed by the vote of 76-10 [voting against: Boxer (California), Brown (Ohio), Cantwell (Washington), Cardin (Maryland), Dodd (Connecticut), Feingold (Wisconsin), Harkin (Iowa), Kerry (Massachusetts), Menendez (New Jersey), Wyden (Oregon)]. Missing Senators included Clinton, Obama, Biden, Sanders, and Lautenberg.

Obama -- who is campaigning for himself in Iowa and thus decided not to make it -- had his campaign issue this statement:

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Senator Obama unequivocally opposes giving retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies and has cosponsored Senator Dodd's efforts to remove that provision from the FISA bill. Granting such immunity undermines the constitutional protections Americans trust the Congress to protect. Senator Obama supports a filibuster of this bill, and strongly urges others to do the same. It's not clear whether he can return for the vote, but under the Senate rules, the side trying to end a filibuster must produce 60 votes to cut off debate. Whether he is present for the vote for not, Senator Obama will not be among those voting to end the filibuster.

That all makes logical sense, but the notion of "leadership" is about actually leading on important issues, not just recording one's correct and meaningless vote in the form of a statement and then cursorily "urging" one's colleagues to vote the right way, too. I'm sympathetic to the fact that presidential candidates have to miss votes, including important votes, but these issues have been pending for weeks and Obama (and Clinton) have been all but mute, just as they have been on most other issues this year which they perceive don't directly benefit their candidacy. That may (or may not) be shrewd, but it certainly doesn't evince the "leadership" about which they relentlessly boast.

The cloture vote above isn't necessarily indicative of how many Democrats will end up opposing amnesty. Presumably, many of them will. This was really just a vote on whether to endorse Harry Reid's decree as to how things will proceed. But they're well on their way to endorsing a bill (the Rockefeller/Cheney Intelligence Committee bill) which, as Feingold correctly said, "simply gives the Administration everything it was demanding, no questions asked."

Two other points: (1) As Bamage noted in comments, the revelations from The New York Times yesterday about just how vast and illegal is telecom domestic spying has not even been mentioned. It has no impact. It doesn't matter what these Senators learn or don't learn. They are determined to give Bush what he wants and remove all of these issues from their universe, and not even brand new facts of obvious relevance will give them the slightest pause.

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(2) Using a new petition program FDL has, I have prepared, along with Jane Hamsher, a petition to send to Harry Reid. As you will see, its principal purpose isn't to request any specific action but more to express one's sentiments about the actions Reid has taken thus far. Feel free to add your own comments to your individual petition. We will ensure that they are all delivered.

UPDATE IV: The video of Feingold's speech from earlier today is here.

As of 7:00 pm EST, here is the procedural update as to where things stand: Dodd's filibuster has not yet begun, notwithstanding how much time he has spent speaking on the floor thus far. Earlier today, Reid asked for unanimous consent to proceed in accordance with a rule requiring 60 votes to approve each amendment (the rule that Reid has been generously using to allow Republicans to filibuster without having to actually filibuster), and Dodd objected (as did at least a couple of other Senators). That has caused significant delay, as Reid and the Republicans are now attempting to figure out how they can proceed most smoothly in light of those objections.

Once that is done, the first amendment to be considered will be the Dodd/Feingold amendment to strip telecom immunity out of the Intelligence Committee bill. If that loses (and it may actually require a GOP filibuster, since Dodd objected to the agreement to require 60 votes for each amendment), then the Senate Intelligence Committee bill itself will be brought to the floor for debate and a vote. At that point, Dodd's filibuster will begin (he's seeking to filibuster the Intelligence Committee bill itself, which is not yet on the floor).

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There are multiple steps still to be taken in this process, and multiple opportunities to obstruct and try to derail. At the very least, Dodd's resistance to this whole spectacle has guaranteed that it will be protracted and difficult, much more turbulent than the quick and smooth approval for which Harry Reid was obviously hoping. It still remains to be seen how many votes there will be in favor of telecom amnesty, whether they will be able to get anything done this week, etc.

I should underscore that the idea for Dodd's hold originated with blogs and was prompted by blog readers urging Dodd to announce one (which he did within hours). That has had a genuine, direct impact on this process, and has been instrumental in ensuring that if the dirty deed is to be done, at least it won't be done quietly and easily.

UPDATE V: Under the circumstances, this is a significant victory. As a result of Dodd's maneuvering today (with vital assists from Feingold and others), and as a result of his obvious commitment to stay for as long as he needed to in order to engage in a real filibuster, lasting as long as he could possibly endure it physically, Harry Reid just announced that he was pulling the bill from the floor and it will not be considered until the Senate returns next year.

Obviously, that outcome is not as good as dooming the bill permanently. The administration and their Jay-Rockefeller-like allies will use the time to plot how to overcome these obstacles. But opponents of telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping expansions can use that time also. All things considered, it is a genuine, unexpected victory to force this bill to be significantly delayed even though it had the backing of the trans-partisan Beltway political and media establishment and where, thanks to Harry Reid, quick and seamless passage appeared to be certain.

Jane Hamsher says:

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Chris Dodd showed tremendous leadership. He stood by his principles and wouldn't back down, even in the face of opposition from members of his own party who were in the tank for the telecos and the Bush Administration.

Well played, Senator Dodd.

And Dodd's superb campaign blogger, Matt Browner-Hamlin, writes:

Without Senator Dodd's leadership today, it is safe to assume that retroactive immunity would have passed. . . .

For now, the FISA debate is over. It will come up again down the road, but for now everyone who supported Senator Dodd's leadership against retroactive immunity and supported his promise to filibuster should be proud of their work to defend the Constitution and the rule of law.

The Huffington Post has further details, including this:

A smile on his reddened face, Dodd was at once gracious and joyful by the turn of events. He had been arguing his case for approximately eight hours. . . .

"Everyone who spoke on the floor said they were grateful for Dodd taking a stand," said a staffer to the Senator who asked not to be named. "They said if it weren't for him they wouldn't be having this much-needed debate."

Dodd was the one Senator currently running for the White House who left the campaign trail to debate the Protect America Act, an absence he hinted at while on the Senate floor. . . .

Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joseph Biden did offer their rhetorical support for the filibuster. Dodd, according to aides, will rejoin the three on the campaign trail tomorrow.

Whatever else is true, Chris Dodd took a principled stand today, sacrificing his presidential campaign and alienating his long-time colleagues to do so, and he won. He demonstrated what "leadership" is in action, rather than "rhetoric." Acts of that kind on our national political stage are rare indeed.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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