Senate Justice on FISA

by: Tim Tagaris

Tue Jan 15, 2008 at 16:25

( - promoted by Chris Bowers)

Let me start by noting that I no longer work for Senator Chris Dodd, and I write here at the behest of absolutely no one other than myself -- Tim

Organizing online against retroactive immunity taught me a lot about the way the Senate works, it's norms and customs, and how fallout happens.

For example, I learned that the weapon of choice for those who wished to enable the passage of retroactive immunity was not to make a forceful case on its behalf ... but abusing and using parliamentary procedure.  We saw staffers participate in disinformation campaigns about parliamentary procedure to keep bloggers confused and silent about the process (bloggers, the only ones really covering the debate).  And we saw that retroactive immunity was only stalled because Senator Dodd objected to and then used all the parliamentary tactics at his disposal to prolong the debate to a point it would have threatened the Christmas recess.

And today, we learn that Senate justice for rocking the boat is meted out by anonymous aides on the pages of "Roll Call" (subscription)

Democrats said the FISA fight - which could come in the first week or two of the new session - may be an early test of whether Dodd's presidential campaign has caused any significant strains in his relationships with colleagues.

One senior Democratic aide said that while some Democrats could have been irked in the heat of the moment, most understand it is the nature of presidential campaigning for candidates to tackle hot-button issues and to rely heavily on veteran staff for day-to-day work in the Senate.

"I think it's too early to say" whether there are any hard feelings, the Democratic aide said. "But I think you could term it as a key few months for him" in terms of his reintegration into the Caucus. "It will be interesting to watch when he returns," the aide said.

Get back in line, Chris Dodd, and you can be my distinguished colleague from Connecticut again.

Tim Tagaris :: Senate Justice on FISA
During the campaign I saw a lot of talk about "Chris Dodd for Majority Leader."  But while his leadership may have inspired that kind of talk, it's the very reason such a promotion would be a real long shot should he ever happen to seek the post again.

Many of his colleagues in the Democratic caucus do not like what he is doing, they don't want him to continue, and as evidenced by the article linked above, they are pressuring him to stop.

This, friends, is our caucus.

And it's also why I don't place the blame for inaction solely at the feet of Harry Reid, who could have used parliamentary procedure to make it more difficult to pass a bad FISA bill. 

Harry Reid did a fine job in round one of the FISA fight.  Maybe even a perfect job, if you consider that his job as Majority Leader is to make his "constituents" happy -- in this case, those constituents are a weak-kneed caucus afraid to protect the Constitution for fear they will see their vote in a 30 second advertisement.

To officially turn this post into a full-on ramble, this is why primary campaigns are so important.  So we can disabuse ourself of the notion that protecting the Constitution and voting to end the war is something to fear in an election, rather than something that will enable us to elect a greater majority.

Darcy Burner put it best, the kind of nonsense evidenced throughout the FISA debate and furthered in the above Roll Call piece ends when we elect "more and better Democrats."

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As I was writing this ... (4.00 / 5)
... especially the first two paragraphs, I kept thinking how thankful I was that we have someone like Kagro X posting so prominently.


Tim, some questions (4.00 / 1)
First of all, thanks for your work on Sen. Dodd's behalf regarding this issue and adhering to our constitutional obligations in general. It's too bad Senator Dodd could never gain any traction in the primaries -- he's the only candidate I donated (or plan on donating) my meager contributions to.

I was wondering if you had any info on some questions related to this debate:

1) Did Senator Dodd ever receive ANY kind of answer from Sen. Reid as to why his hold was being simply disregarded or ignored, when other holds by Republicans on anti-torture legislation were being honored? My mind continues to boggle at this point.

2) Have we reached a point where it would be impossible to start from the far superior SJC markup instead of the awful SSCI version?

3) You mention how Sen. Dodd is essentially fighting a weak-kneed caucus that is more than willing to sell us and the constitution down the river. Just the act of objecting to unanimous consent during this debate was essentially the maneuver that prevented this atrocity from being acted upon before the winter recess. My question is, do you know if there is any consideration being given by Senator Dodd to force Senator Reid to force Republicans to actually filibuster to prevent cloture votes on provisions such as removing retroactive immunity provisions if the SSCI version remains the base bill going forward? I cannot fathom how a majority Senator with such seniority is forced to threaten a filibuster on a majority bill while the obstructionist minority is allowed a quick and easy way to prevent cloture votes on provisions such as retroactive immunity that would put them on the record as selling out the Constitution, especially in an election year. This dynamic is the most telling thing, to me, about Senator Reid's heart in all this, his comments notwithstanding.

Frankly, Senator Dodd is a hero in this, and all of you that work(ed) for him deserve much praise and credit. If things are that messed up in the Senate, I would rather see you guys cause a ruckus and name names of those willing to piss on the Constitution than let the cowardly status quo continue.

Thanks for reading, hope you get a chance to respond.

[ Parent ]
Dem Congressional Staffers - Open Source Project (4.00 / 2)
Question:  Has anyone complied a list of senior congressional aides to determine who are our friends and who are wholly owned subsidiaries of the establishment elite? 

Tim's post really brings the issue of the invistible power behind many of the congress-critters to the fore and it seems vitally important to get a bead on who these people.  Further, since these staffers - like the other Villagers - stew in the cloistered world of Versailles it may be a good idea to do a bit of outreach to them in order to help them broaden their horizons so to speak.


great idea (0.00 / 0)
Not really sure how to go about it, but it's the kind of thing I'd be interested in.

[ Parent ]
30 Second Ads (4.00 / 1)
Tim, when you wrote:
Harry Reid did a fine job in round one of the FISA fight.  Maybe even a perfect job, if you consider that his job as Majority Leader is to make his "constituents" happy -- in this case, those constituents are a weak-kneed caucus afraid to protect the Constitution for fear they will see their vote in a 30 second advertisement.

It made me think of this passage from Paul Wellstone's The Conscience of a Liberal:
In the Senate, we come to "the well" to call out our votes, "yea" or "nay." I could write another book about the conversations that take place in the well. One frequent topic is television attack ads. Senators are acutely aware that communications technology has become the main weapon in electoral conflict. A typical refrain is "Can you imagine what the attack ad would look like on this vote?" Quite often, this is another way of saying, "I hate voting this way, but I have no choice if I don't want to lose my next election." [pg. 132]

One of the things that I hope the Dodd campaign, particularly our efforts on FISA and using the Congressional power of the purse to end the war in Iraq, impressed upon people is that leadership means not worrying what the other side will say about how our Senators vote. The Republicans will always attack Democrats. They will always call us weak on defense and allies to terrorists. They will always question our patriotism. There is no way around it.

For Democrats to worry about the next election's attack ads is to surrender their principles now. It is to fail to do their job.

We may not have succeeded in getting Chris Dodd elected President, Tim, but I think he helped show our Party what leadership looks like - doing your job and standing up for one's progressive principles.

Disclosure: While I was proud to work for Chris Dodd's presidential campaign, I currently have no ties to Senator Dodd

Making some noise (0.00 / 0)
I post at Pruning Shears and plan to resume on this issue in the next few days. 

What's To Lose (0.00 / 0)
As a citizen of CT, I really honor Senator Dodd's service and devotion to the United States Constitution.  The tenure of this commentary would indicate that Senator Dodd has no chance of becoming Majority Leader.  Frankly, that would be the first major mistake his opponents in the Senate will have made, if they wish him to abandon his effort to squelch the immunity provisions of the FISA legislation.  They have unwittingly provided him the clarity he needs on how to proceed.

What does Senator Dodd have to lose by not filibustering this odious legislation?  He now knows that he will not advance in the Senate, so pursuing the filibuster does not harm his prospects.  What threat can be held against him?  Hell, they can't even really threaten to strip of his chairmanship after the election, because he could counter-threaten to resign, thereby allowing Jodi Rell to appoint a Republican.  Two parties can apply a burnt earth strategy after all.

On the other hand, should Senator Dodd be successful in blocking these FISA provisions, his name will be inscribed in the pantheon of American legislators who fought to preserve, if not extend, our liberties.  That way is the path to immortality, far more certain than being a "go along to get along" back-bencher.  And, who knows, maybe it just might shake the scales from the eyes of the other Democratic Senators to actually make him Majority Leader.

Throw the "Hail Mary" pass.  What does he have to lose?


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