Thursday, February 14, 2008

The U.S. House issues contempt citations;

and the House Republicans have a meltdown and abandon the Constitution and their posts.

And they moved to adjourn the House during the memorial service for Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA).

After a rather brief debate (an hour), the House passed H. Res. 982, "Providing for the adoption of the resolution (H. Res. 979) recommending that the House of Representatives find Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten, Chief of Staff, White House, in contempt of Congress for refusal to comply with subpoenas duly issued by the Committee on the Judiciary and for the adoption of the resolution (H. Res. 980) authorizing the Committee on the Judiciary to initiate or intervene in judicial proceedings to enforce certain subpoenas."

The motions arise from the White House's assertion of executive privilege in denying Congressional investigators access to documents relevant to the U.S. Attorney firings scandal.

The Republican side of the debate was marked both by protests that the rule under consideration (HRes982) meant that there would be limited debate on the actual contempt motions (HRes979 and HRes980) and by protests that the House was considering this before passage of a FISA update bill (S. 2248).

The Reps claimed that a failure to rush through passage of S2248 (with its retroactive immunity for telecommunications providers) would result in the expiration of the FISA act, leaving America open to terrorist attack.

They lied.

What would expire is nothing more than the Protect America Act that was passed last August (coverage here, here, and here) with its provisions that allow for warrantless electronic surveillance of foreign terror suspects and Americans suspected of being associated with them.

FISA wouldn't be affected (it'll still be in force) and any active investigations engaged in under the August law can continue for a year, even if the law that enabled such investigations does expire.

Anyway, back to the main topic and the reason for the title of this post, after minority leader John Boehner (R-OH) spoke his piece, calling the day's events political grandstanding (among other things), he called on all Republicans in the House to walk out in protest.

In case one thinks that the move was nothing more than an impulsive move borne of frustration with not getting their way, House Republicans walked off the floor, straight into...

...a well-planned press conference on the steps of the Capitol, where they were able to repeat their tale of impending disaster without interference from little things like time limits or opposition.

Perhaps they hope that their flamboyant outrage over the lack of immediate consideration of S2248 would mask the real story of what happened today.

For the first time during the 110th Congress, the House Democrats showed a little spine.

The Republicans' near-total absence from the House floor didn't change the final outcome - the motion passed 223 - 32, with AZ Democratic Reps Giffords, Grijalva, Mitchell, and Pastor voting 'aye' and AZ Republican Reps Flake, Franks, Renzi, and Shadegg not voting.

The highlight of the debate (such as it was) was when the Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), chair of the House Rules Committee, quoted a statement from the Congressional Record, dated May 21, 1998 -
Mr. Speaker, the American people have entrusted the President of the United States with many exclusive privileges not available to the average person. Because of the travel demands that he bears as the leader of the free world, he has got the privilege of traveling across the world on Air Force One; because of his need for constant security as the leader of our government, he has the privilege of round-the-clock protection from the Secret Service, even after he leaves office; and because of the need for national security, he is entrusted with a special privilege, probably more sacred than any of these, and that is executive privilege.

Let us be perfectly clear, Mr. Speaker. The President has the right to claim executive privilege in matters of national security. But no one has the privilege of being above the law; not Members of this House, not Members of the other body, not even the Chief Executive of the United States of America. But it seems that this important privilege is being used to block the people's right to know on a much broader range of issues.

Mr. Speaker, I think there is a pattern developing in the Executive Branch. While reassuring the public that they are anxious to get to the truth, certain officials have consistently stood in the way of legitimate legal inquiries into activities of our government at the White House.

Just yesterday, in fact, a White House spokesman bluntly claimed that the administration has fully cooperated with Congressional questions about these very troubling technology transfers to China. It was a reassuring thing to hear, but it just was not true.

Congressional leaders from the Committee on National Security and from the Committee on International Relations have written the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State and the Director of the U.S. Arms Control Agency, and the chairman of the Committee on Intelligence wrote to the Secretary of Defense as well. Our Committee on Science, both Democrats and Republicans, have raised the issue of China with NASA. Even a letter sent to the President by the Speaker and the Majority Leader of the Senate has fallen on defense ears. To date, all of these requests have been met with either silence or reassurance. But all requests for information have been denied.

Mr. Speaker, it is time for the stonewall tactics to end and the cooperating to begin. Whether it is stalling on basic requests for information or invoking executive privilege, the result is the same; the American people are denied the right to know what is going on inside their White House. In the end, Mr. Speaker, this is what this fight is about, the American people's right to know what happens in their government.

This government does not belong to politicians in Washington D.C. This government belongs to the American people, and they have a right to know what happens in Washington, D.C. They have a right to know what is going on in their White House.

I think the stonewalling should end, and the cooperating and the truth needs to be discovered.
The Congresscritter who proclaimed such reverence for open government, the rule of law, and the Constitution and its checks and balances?

The aforementioned John Boehner. :))

AP coverage here.

The Hill's coverage here.

Edit to add the one AZ flavor of the day:

Almost forgot - later in the afternoon, after all votes had been taken and legislative business had been completed, a number of Republicans, including Louis Gohmert, Ted Poe and Tom Price, strode to the well of the House and gave short speeches excoriating the Democrats for failing to pass an extension of the Protect America Act. They were followed immediately by AZ2's own Trent Franks, who spent his time bemoaning


Suggested campaign slogan for Rep. Franks - "Trent Franks - Your One Trick Pony".

End edit...

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