|I'm trying to get more information, but here's the picture I have right now. Originally, Pelosi, Clyburn, and Hoyer tried to get a FISA bill passed in the House that was better than the one passed in the Senate, having cut a deal with Director of Intelligence Admiral Mike McConnell. There are some problems with the FISA program that need to be patched, and House Democrats pushed a bill to fix them. We'll call this the 'good bill'.
House leaders put the 'good bill' on the suspension calendar, which is a specific track for non-controversial legislation that requires a two thirds vote. Suspension calendar bills are often about things like naming post offices, and bills on this track do not go to the floor for amendments and debate. I asked a contact why this bill went on the suspension calendar, and she told me it's because there had been no hearings on the bill so it couldn't go to the floor (though she is going to get more information from a staffer who knows more about rules). McConnell, prodded by Bush, double-crossed the Democrats, and withdrew his support for the good bill, which then went down to defeat on the suspension calendar. Normally, the Senate's awful bill and the House's more reasonable one would be mashed together in conference, but in this case the Senate had already gone home. In other words, this was a procedural blunder. As a rule, you do not lose procedural fights like this in the House, as a friend told me it's like 'walking the pitcher'. The good bill should have been brought to the floor, but it was not. The whip operation, run by Clyburn, and the floor manager, Hoyer, failed to manage this properly.
Here's where the craven fear and blue dog betrayal comes in. After the 'good' bill had lost on suspension, House leaders could either pass the awful Senate version, or wait until the recess was over to pass a reasonable bill and fight it out with the Senate. Out of fear of criticism for doing nothing on FISA problems, House Democratic leaders scheduled a vote on the Senate version, and the Blue Dogs of course betrayed their liberal cohorts and passed it.
Liberal groups, as Caroline noted, were cut out of the process by liberal leaders and Blue Dogs alike. House and Senate leaders trusted Bush, who of course double-crossed them, and trusted Mike McConnell, who is appointed by Bush as a Colin Powell-type respectable military man. And then, to add insult to injury, they rushed a complicated bill through out of fear of criticism by George Bush, the man who lied to them and prevented a FISA fix.
All in all, this is an ugly loss of control of House procedure by Hoyer, Clyburn, Emanuel, and Pelosi, and a poor showing by Harry Reid and many Senate Democrats. We know that Republicans think of the Constitution as toilet paper, but it's frustrating when Democrats don't use every tool in our arsenal to defend it.
The upside is that organizing is beginning already around fixing the FISA legislation, and a campaign to destroy the brand of the Blue Dogs is not far away.