Information grabbed from the Contacting the Congress page. Let ‘em know who you are. You may download the HTML for this table over here. Feel free to copy and paste anywhere you’d like. Alphabetically by state:
Our President seems to believe not in oversight but in “accountability moments” every four years when the population gives a strict up-or-down judgment on his performance. A thumbs up means a mandate for the entire platform. In some cases like Social Security and immigration the changes are shot down by a growing popular revolt, but essentially the whole package is considered affirmed. At that point Congress passes laws as directed by the President to properly implement the platform, and each policy is a black box to be blessed in the broadest possible terms with no debate or review involved. If Congress doesn’t like that setup it is free to use the power of the purse to shut off funding and force voters to pick sides; the loser gets run into a ditch.
The results of such an audacious concept have been especially clear this week. First up is Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster article in the New Yorker describing how the administration has bypassed Congress in its efforts to begin a war with Iran. Basically, Congress authorized money for covert operations to destabilize the Iranian government. Covert ops go through the CIA, but the CIA is required to report to Congress and is also the intelligence agency with the least enthusiasm for helping the White House invent convenient stories. Probably either of these is unacceptable and together are intolerable. So the activities were funnelled through the military, and suddenly no one on Capitol Hill needed to be told anything. Hersh’s sources sound almost comically naïve: “Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House’s.” The administration has continuously demonstrated its “different understanding” of its need to submit to oversight since it took office. Your concerns are only beginning to dawn now?
Next, consider the news that the House Oversight Committee issued subpoenas for the President and Vice President’s interview records from Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. It was issued because we still don’t know all the relevant details over the compromising of a CIA operative. Since such an action has real (as opposed to fictional) national security implications it is important to know exactly what happened. Of course, finding out exactly what happened would put the administration somewhere on the political spectrum between Approval Rating Below The Mendoza Line and Would You Rather Resign Or Be Impeached? Perhaps unsurprisingly the DOJ flat out said it would not comply.
Here is where we get to the crux of the matter. I hate to put it in such stark and extreme terms, but the question Congress must now answer is, are you with the Constitution or with the President? The two have become irreconcilably opposed. I have basically accepted that Congress has by its actions declared itself in favor of all of the President’s major policies. It approves of continuing in Iraq to the indefinite future, of torture, of warrantless wiretaps and “basket” warrants that make a mockery of the 4th Amendment, and so on. But right now its very relevance as a body is being challenged. I am all but certain that even a rump GOP would be able to effectively sound the alarms and shriek at the imperial (get used to that word) actions of a President Obama who makes obvious and logical use of powers currently being established. That would not mean our system of checks and balances was being upheld, however. It would just mean that Republicans are still able to shape the Washington narrative even as a nearly crippled minority.
Upholding the system requires action now, and it needs to be more than issuing paper to a contemptuous executive. If Congress really wants to defend its role and re-establish its relevance then the only options left are direct confrontation: Slap handcuffs on Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten and let them sit in the House jail. Have the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on a contempt citation for Karl Rove, give him a deadline and tell him he will join his erstwhile companions if he does not show up. And yes, begin suggesting that the Attorney General may end up there as well if he continues to defy them. Let the right turn any of them into a cause célèbre if they want; let GOP leaders in Congress rush to their defense if so moved. Let the White House be the ones appealing to judges for relief for a change. There is too much at stake for Congress to continue its weak protestations. If nothing changes it will be responsible for a terrible precedent: That a President can, with enough arrogance, bullying and defiance, ignore Congress with impunity.
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Kagro X gives a fantastic overview of Senate procedure in “So what’s up with ‘holds’ in the Senate, anyway?” Kagro clearly has spent some time in D.C. and wouldn’t it be loverly if everyone who did so was as willing to give those of us in the hinterlands a look inside our government’s machinery?
The Senate is of particular concern because the FISA vote is set for July 8th. Tell your reps and Democratic leaders to strip telecom amnesty from it. Emails are fine, phone calls are better, faxes better still because they take up space in Congressional offices, and money is best of all because, well, it’s money. FaxZero allows you to send two free faxes per day, and Senator Obama’s fax number is (202) 228-4260. Feel free to send requests for a belated birthday present to America.
Spencer Ackerman has a nice review of Addington and Yoo’s testimony. It is hard to overstate the damage these men have done to our Constitution, our government and most importantly our values. They are key players in our descent into state sponsored torture. We still are largely ignorant of the worst abuses; if that changes get ready for the ultimate test of the “nobody could have known” rationalization.
The Justice Department is turning into a playground for party hacks with third rate minds.
Finally (deep breath) I’m going to go a little out of my depth and make a gender-based observation. I’ve probably internalized the belief of women as the more tender-hearted and sensitive gender as well as anyone, so off the top of my head I would have expected to see a nearly unanimous endorsement by them defending anything aimed (even just ostensibly) at protecting children. For issues as emotionally charged as pornography and rape I expected an almost reflexive defense of such laws and procedures, but in three separate cases this week I saw just the opposite. Avedon, digby and Ruth each separated claims from facts and refused to get carried away. All three took a clear eyed (and in Avedon’s case searingly honest) look at what was being done and what the likely impact would be. It could be that I’m just reading left leaning sources and seeing the usual talking points repeated. On the other hand I saw a number of liberals (for example) take positions on Heller that were decidedly not “typical” liberal positions. I think there’s more at play here. I may just need to stop dragging my knuckles, but I was very surprised by what I learned this week.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Thinking back, it is hard to believe Ross Perot nearly upturned the two party system in 1992. He received almost 19% of the vote, which was more than an independent had received since 1912 - when a former President ran. Perot had a staggering array of disadvantages: The absence of even a bare bones third party infrastructure, no political experience whatsoever, an untelegenic face and somewhat high pitched (and grating) voice, a running mate who seemed simultaneously authentic and buffoonish, and a continually prickly reaction to the prying and publicity that comes with any serious bid for the White House. And then of course there was the epic freakout. Ahead in the polls, he abruptly dropped out of the race, then dropped back in several weeks later and accused the Republicans of trying to sabotage his daughter’s wedding. He seemed, literally, to be having a nervous breakdown in full public view. And after all that he still captured nearly a fifth of the electorate!
He had some advantages as well obviously. Sometimes in politics anti-charisma can be charisma. Washington has famously been described as Hollywood for ugly people; physical disadvantages can come across as genuine, the common touch, lack of affectation and so on. He was also in possession of a gigantic pile of money. A good chunk of it came via government contracts, but he still successfully played the “private sector hero” card. He also used his money exceptionally well - in addition to other spending he bought entire 30 minute blocks of time and used them to focus on the issue that catapulted him to popularity seemingly overnight: The budget deficit. Americans were terribly anxious over the unwillingness of our leaders to pay for their spending (seems quaint now doesn’t it?) and Perot focused on it to the exclusion of just about everything else. And people responded with wild enthusiasm. His disadvantages were substantially muted because he spoke directly and maturely to an issue of vital importance to many of his countrymen.
Now, there are plenty of dissimilarities in 2008. I don’t think Bob Barr is the second coming of Perot; at this point in the 1992 cycle the “Ross For Boss” rocket had already launched. Also, if anyone was going to catch lightning in a bottle this time I think it would have been Ron Paul, who no longer has an obvious route to the ballot. And while the GOP base is suspicious with a “waited his turn” nominee and a lot of Democrats are fired up about a charismatic newcomer, these parallels are mostly superficial.
What is real and very similar, though, is the restlessness of a good part of the electorate. Last week may have seen the start of a new alliance between civil libertarian-minded citizens on the right and the left with the creation of The Strange Bedfellows. It began largely in response to the FISA reform bill, and look at the events surrounding it: Steny Hoyer negotiated it behind closed doors, introduced it and less than 24 hours later engineered a vote (with the blessing of Nancy Pelosi), all in the face of outrage from the left. A site was created for contributions to oppose it and it raised six figures literally overnight. Democratic capitulation on the burgeoning surveillance state has created tension that seeks an outlet. The party’s continued rubber stamp of the President’s hugely unpopular Iraq policy is another source of tremendous frustration.
Democrats are playing a dangerous game. They apparently reason that Republicans will bear the brunt of dissatisfaction over Washington’s unpopular policies. That may well be true. The GOP faces a disaster this year because they gained control of all major parts of government and then engaged in an orgy of excess, alienating moderates and depressing their loyalists. Having achieved their electoral goal they spent all their credibility very quickly. Democrats seem to be in the process of a sellout of a different sort. They seized control of both houses of Congress but seem oblivious (or indifferent) to the public’s anger. Instead they seem to be playing a game of political jujitsu, using the overexertions of the right to give them leverage to flip them totally off the mat. It may be a brilliant tactical move but one with long term risks. First, urgent policy issues fester because no meaningful action can happen under such a strategy. That leads to the second problem, deep dissatisfaction with what comes to be seen as a lesser of two evils. By eschewing opposition the Democrats are creating a pool of thwarted activists. Such people are primed to create new realities or respond to the latest version of a quirky billionaire with homemade charts. I’ve written before about the Republicans’ implosion; the ground may be shifting underneath the Democrats as well.
Well, a very good week was followed by a very bad one. The capitulation on FISA tells me that a lot of representatives think they can disregard strenuous opposition from the left (when it comes from the right - see immigration - they comply). One of the few positive developments was the new alliance formed with civil libertarians on the right. If it endures and projects a more diverse spectrum of opposition to the erosion of our freedoms it could end up as more than just a silver lining. It also increases my sense that the ground is shifting under the politicians’ feet and they are largely ignorant of it.
Speaking of which, there’s a good deal of ignorance or worse in how the legislation is being characterized. Glenn has some details. He writes it is “vital to target and defeat selected Democrats in Congress who are enabling these unconstitutional and lawless assaults”, but I’d say anyone who voted for it should be targeted. No reason to single out one party, especially if we are trying to create a broad coalition. And let’s face it, if you really want to get Washington’s attention send a few GOP incumbents down to defeat in primaries over this issue.
This week the action is in the Senate and it doesn’t look good. There is a lot of debate on the left over how Obama stands on this and how much he can do. While the ideal situation would be for the entire bill to be defeated I don’t think most people are taking an all-or-nothing approach towards him. If telecom amnesty was stripped and the rest of it went through I think most would grudgingly accept it. He’s the leader of his party and even though it has a reputation for being undisciplined he could make a difference if he really wanted to. If the bill goes to the President’s desk in its current form he can be faulted for practicing politics as usual in Washington DC.
Side notes: Obama pledged to comply with Congressional subpoenas. Atrios notes that abuses Republicans are blind to at the moment will become outrages under a Democratic President, so look for subpoenas to become sacred. Those of us blogging from the left will face a test of our own: Will we be as vocal about them then as we are now? I hope so. The right loudly proclaimed principles of limited foreign intervention, fiscal responsibility, obedience to the law and so on during the 90’s and promptly trashed all that when it controlled all the levers of power. The past eight years have been an uninterrupted lesson in conservative hypocrisy, and one of the reasons I’m proud to be a liberal is that I think we are more likely to stand on principle even when it means being critical of our own. If November produces another Democratic wave we will probably be tested on that frequently.