Follow-up on ACLU and FISA

by: Matt Stoller

Tue Aug 07, 2007 at 14:52


The back-and-forth between me and Carline Frederickson of the ACLU on the recent FISA bill is worth reading.  On balance, I would say my earlier criticism of the ACLU was unfounded (though Find Habeas is still awful).  There were multiple failures at work, but it seems like most of them come down to gross missteps by Harry Reid and the House leadership, as well as standard betrayals of the constitution by the Blue Dogs.
Matt Stoller :: Follow-up on ACLU and FISA
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. 


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Thanks for the clarification (0.00 / 0)
I suspect you were in something like the state of mind I was in when this abomination passed: ready to put a knife into the next person with any remote connection to it.

The real question becomes the usual question: why are the Dems still so afraid of Bush, and why do they even pretend to believe that he ever tells the truth about anything? I guess the answer is that they fear the 30 percent of idiots who still approve of Bush more than they fear the rest of us. That's what we need to change.


Percentage (0.00 / 0)
30%? Isn't in the 20's at this point?

Former Edwards Supporter, Obama Supporter since January 30, 2008

[ Parent ]
similarities to Iraq reauthorization, anyone? (0.00 / 0)
This smacks of exactly how we managed the Iraq funding reauthorization... scared that we'd be painted as anti-security over a congressional recess break, so we desperately ran to reauthorize it and caved on everything. I can't believe that we lose bills like this over freaking calendar management- both in terms of how bills are voted on, as well as when we take recess.

This sounds simplistic, but can't we delay recess by a week in these situations? Or force these votes earlier in the session? It's like someone dropped a memo on the leadership's desk "IMPORTANT- Don't forget to vote on FISA before Friday of next week" and everyone goes "oh, I forgot about that one."


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Thanks for responding (0.00 / 0)
With the countless posts that you write, you're bound to not always "hit the spot" all the time with everyone, as you probably know better than anyone else. Thank you for changing a misdirected attack on the ACLU into an opportunity to make valuable discussion.

Trusted Bush: The Dog Ate My Homework (0.00 / 0)
Who trusts a man who steals the presidency?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

The murk cleared a bit, but... (0.00 / 0)
The murkiest thing (I didn't follow it at all) is when and how the McConnell move for FISA amendments (as per the 'good bill') was first made.

If these amendments could be characterized as technical, improving the Act without extending its scope, why should the McConnell talks have come to a head in the last week before the August recess, when floor time is at a huge premium?

Surely Harry and Nancy should have smelt a rat, and at least prepared some kind of response?

Then there's the suspension thing: so far as I'm aware, there's no reason why Rules shouldn't have reported a super-closed rule for the 'good bill' (not even a motion to recommit), on which only a simple majority would have been needed to pass it. Rules can basically do what it likes; and it does what the Speaker tells it to do.

(My earlier speculations on this. FWIW.)

Pulling the rug on the McConnell/Dem 'deal', I'm still unclear about. Why would Nancy suppose that Boehner and his boys were on board if they weren't part of the discussions?

Why would she take the risk that that she would get a 2/3 maj, when she had the means at her command (via Rules) to take the bill under a closed rule?

Do Nancy and Harry really trust Bush - after, y'know, everything? Perhaps they wanted the result they got? (But that makes no sense - even if they were happy to give Bush his 'bad' bill, why should they do it in a way that makes them look chumps?)

Vastly more questions than answers, still, I'm afraid.


Work with the ACLU (4.00 / 2)
Your criticism was definitely unfounded and misdirected.  Ask around.  Of all the issue groups, the ACLU is one of the best informed, best organized and most effective grass-roots groups.  Unlike most issue groups, they actually are a member organization and have a network of state and regional affiliates and local chapters full of activists who actually make calls etc.  They are among the best informed, if not the best informed organization on issues of civil liberties, having been doing this work since 1920, and are very respected by many congressional staffs.  If civil liberties are important to the folks at Open Left, get yourself to be part of their network.  Get on their e-mail lists.  Work with them, don't snipe at them for the shortcomings of the Dem leadership and especially its conservative members.  Don't wait for them to call you when they have networks already set up that you could plug into.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

thank you for posting a reasonable explanation (4.00 / 1)
It was unclear what went wrong and you helped.  Now about that Blue Dog Away campaign

Great Update..... (4.00 / 1)
Thanks for clarifying this trainwreck.  I thought Hoyer was supposed to be our master tactician.  Now, we have the worst case scenario in two hemispheres.  The GOP can't keep a legislative body running in Iraq, and the Dems can't run a legislative body in DC.  Beautiful, just beautiful.

[ Parent ]
Just tell me how to defeat the blue dogs... (0.00 / 0)
..and I will do it. I swear. Those ***kers are 1 step past RINOs in my opinion, and they ought to be brought down. I'm in Baron Hill's district, and I have sent him a letter vowing to do everything I can to unseat him (even though I have voted for him thrice), and copied Pelosi on it. I'm dead sick of this crap. 

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