Your Harry Reid-led Senate in action

The Democratic majority leader finally takes a bold, aggressive stance -- against members of his own caucus -- to ensure that the president's demands are met in full.


Glenn Greenwald
January 23, 2008 11:09PM (UTC)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

Harry Reid -- who has (a) done more than any other individual to ensure that Bush's demands for telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping powers will be met in full and (b) allowed the Republicans all year to block virtually every bill without having to bother to actually filibuster -- went to the Senate floor yesterday and, with the scripted assistance of Mitch McConnell and Pat Leahy, warned Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold and others that they would be selfishly wreaking havoc on the schedules of their fellow Senators (making them work over the weekend, ruining their planned "retreat," and even preventing them from going to Davos!) if they bothered everyone with their annoying, pointless little filibuster.

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To do so, Reid announced that, unlike for the multiple filibusters from Republican colleagues, he would actually force Dodd and company to engage in a real filibuster. This is what Reid said:

[I]f people think they are going to talk this to death, we are going to be in here all night. This is not something we are going to have a silent filibuster on. If someone wants to filibuster this bill, they are going to do it in the openness of the Senate.

That is what Democrats have been urging Reid to do to the filibustering Republicans all year -- in order to dramatize their obstructionism -- but he has refused to make them actually filibuster anything, generously agreeing instead that every bill requires 60 votes. Instead, he reserves such punishment only for the members of his own caucus trying to take a stand for the rule of law and the Constitution, those who are trying finally to bring some accountability to this administration.

As I noted in my post yesterday, Reid had the audacity to send his spokesman, Jim Manley, to falsely claim to the New York Times that "Senator Reid intends to do everything he can to strip immunity from the bill" -- even though the exact opposite is true. Reid is engaged in at least as much maneuvering to ensure that Bush and Cheney get what they want here as McConnell would be willing to do if he were the Majority Leader.

Here's the obviously scripted dialogue Reid had yesterday with McConnell and Leahy on the Senate floor, all in a transparent attempt to shame Dodd, Feingold and others out of filibustering or otherwise trying to prevent the Senate from complying in full -- and without delay -- with the latest orders handed down to them by the Commander-in-Chief. This is the real character of Harry Reid and the Democratic Senate leadership on full display (h/t Pow wow):

Mr. REID. Mr. President, I am glad we have a large number of Senators here today. I want to go over the schedule for this week.

First of all, I am going to ask unanimous consent, and I will do that now, that the Senate proceed to the consideration of S. 2541, which is a 30-day extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act we are going to be dealing with; that the bill be read three times, passed, the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table [etc.]...

The reason I ask consent on this legislation is that this bill expires on February 1. The House has not acted on this bill yet, so when we pass this bill, the House has to pass their bill, and there has to be a conference. I hope we could have this extension. I need not belabor the point. I asked this consent before we left; I ask it again.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection? The Republican leader.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, and I will be objecting, let me say, my good friend, the majority leader, and I have discussed this issue. There is a significant amount of time left this month to pass this bill in the Senate. A conference may or may not be necessary. Back in August, when we did an extension of the FISA bill, the House simply took up the Senate-passed bill and passed it, and it went down to the President for signature. So I think the discussion of extension, particularly when, hopefully, we will turn to this bill in the very near future in the Senate, is not timely and, therefore, I object.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard. The majority leader.

Mr. REID. Mr. President, for all Members here, we are on the Indian health bill now. I hope we can complete that bill tomorrow. The Republicans are having a retreat. They are having theirs tomorrow; we are going to have ours in 10 days or so. There will be activities on the Senate floor tomorrow, but there will be no votes. If there are any votes tomorrow, it will be after they finish their retreat, after 6 o'clock tomorrow night.

So we hope some work can be done on this bill tomorrow. We know the Republicans will be absent, so that makes it very difficult.

We have to finish FISA this week. Everyone should be aware of that point. We have to finish it this week. I know there are important trips people want to take. We have the very important economic conference in Davos that Democrats and Republicans alike would like to go to.

I say, unless we finish the bill Thursday -- and we will not be able to get to it until tomorrow night-- unless we finish the bill on Thursday, then we are going to have to continue working this week until we finish this bill. We have to finish this bill. It is not fair to the House to jam them so that they have 1 day to act on this legislation.

If we finish it this week, I have spoken to the Speaker today and they will work to complete this matter next week. It would be to everyone's advantage if we had more time to do this.

I respect what the Republican leader has said, but everyone here should understand all weekend activities have to be put on hold until we finish this bill. Now, it is possible we could finish it fairly quickly. We are going to work from the Intelligence bill, and if amendments are offered that people don't like, I would suggest they move to table those amendments. Because if people think they are going to talk this to death, we are going to be in here all night. This is not something we are going to have a silent filibuster on. If someone wants to filibuster this bill, they are going to do it in the openness of the Senate.

We are not going to say, well, we can't get 60 votes on this. We are going to work toward completing this bill as quickly as we can. I would rather we didn't have to do this. And maybe if we get to it on Thursday, we can finish it Thursday. If not, hopefully on Friday. But I know of no alternative. This work period is very short. We have, after this week, only 3 weeks. . . .

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, on the issue of FISA, let me second the observation of the majority leader . . . . I agree with his decision. . . .

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, we have a number of Members who are supposed to go to the Davos economic summit tomorrow night, and I would note I have talked with Senator Bennett of Utah, who is the senior Republican on that trip, and the trip that is set to leave tomorrow night will not. We will put it on hold until Thursday, to determine whether we can leave on Thursday.

If I could have the attention of the majority leader for a moment. I appreciate the majority leader has been very clear. I happen to concur with him that this is important and we should finish it. All we want to do is to know how it will go. There is a Judiciary Committee amendment to the bill. I would not anticipate taking a great deal of time on that, but I think the distinguished majority leader is doing the absolute right thing.

I appreciate the distinguished leader spending a lot of time on the phone over the weekend and again today and I appreciate his consideration.

The idea "that this must be done immediately" is a Bush talking point that is absurd. There is no possible way that the Senate and House will agree to a bill and get it to the President before the Protect America Act expires. An extension is inevitable, and Reid knows that.

But he wants to spout this Bush claim that the Senate must comply with the President's orders immediately because he wants to pressure and shame Dodd, Feingold and any others who might support them out of filibustering telecom immunity and new warrantless eavesdropping powers. Dodd is ruining your weekend, preventing your fun retreat, not letting you go to Davos -- all because he wants to grandstand with "talking this to death." The President said he wants this done and we must give him what he wants and now, and I am acting with my good friend Mitch McConnell -- who is explicitly hoping to bully the House into passing the same bill in one day that the Senate passes, just like happened back in August -- to make sure this all happens with as little disruption and debate as possible.

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If and when telecom immunity is passed (thereby forever extinguishing any hope of investigating and obtaining accountability for the President's illegal spying programs), and the Bush administration (and subsequent presidents) are vested permanently with vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers to spy on Americans, it will be because Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership conspired to ensure that it happened. They aren't just standing by meekly, failing to oppose it. They are actively enabling it with as aggressive a posture as the Republicans could possibly have employed had they still been in control of the Congress.

UPDATE: For an excellent summary of just how radical and invasive these new warrantless eavesdropping powers are that Senate Democrats are about to enact, see this comment here, complete with citations.

And that's separate and apart from the fact that telecom immunity will, in effect, end any prospect of accountability for Bush officials and telecoms who deliberately violated our laws for years in how they spied on us, and, by squelching these lawsuits, will block off the sole remaining avenue even for finding out what they actually did. It will take years, probably decades, for us to learn the real story -- once there's some Church-type Commission again or the relevant documents are declassified. Thank God those awful, Bush-enabling Republicans were defeated in 2006.

UPDATE II: For what it's worth (not all that much), both Obama and Clinton have told Markos Moulitsas, in response to being asked, that they oppose telecom immunity and support Dodd's filibuster. Far more active efforts than that would be necessary to have an effect.

On a separate note, Christy Hardin Smith has the contact information for the 14 Senators who seemed prepared to support Dodd's filibuster back in December. It's probably worth calling as many of them as possible -- including Dodd -- to encourage them to do so again.

UPDATE III: John Edwards will be on Keith Olbermann tonight. I believe it will be worth watching.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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