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May 23, 2006
White House Wins The Staredown

For those who thought the Bush administration had run out of steam, they may want to check the gauges again. Despite an outcry over his involvement in two controversial NSA surveillance and analysis programs, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved General Michael Hayden's appointment as Director of the CIA. In the end, only three Democrats opposed the appointment, a stunning victory for the White House after being accused of doubling down on the NSA programs by nominating the man who ran them:

Gen. Michael Hayden moved a step closer Tuesday to becoming the nation's 20th CIA chief, where he will take over a spy agency looking for a leader to steer it through troubles ranging from al-Qaida to Washington politics.

The Senate Intelligence Committee recommended confirmation, 12-3, with three of the panel's seven Democrats voting against him. If the Senate approves him before Memorial Day, as expected, Hayden could be sworn in by the end of the week. ...

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., joined Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Evan Bayh of Indiana to vote against Hayden. "General Hayden directed an illegal program that put Americans on American soil under surveillance without the legally required approval of a judge," Feingold said in a statement.

Unfortunately for Feingold, he turned out to be a minority even in his own party, a development that does not bode well for his expected presidential run in 2008. He had promised a tough fight when Bush nominated him, but his fellow Democrats on the committee failed to share his enthusiasm. Dianne Feinstein went on national television the day of his official nomination and sang his praises to Fox News, making a split in the ranks obvious. When someone at the NSA leaked the story about the phone-call database, it looked like the dire predictions of most people would come true and create a nightmarish scenario where Hayden would be forced to answer a lot of tough questions about both programs.

That never transpired. Surprisingly, the Democrats never mounted any kind of coordinated attack on Hayden like they did with Samuel Alito or John Bolton. After fueling the outrage of their base by painting Hayden as a yes-man for Donald Rumsfeld -- an absurd characterization and a complete misreading of the dynamic in play with Hayden's nomination -- the hearing itself turned out to be a complete fizzle.

Why? As the White House predicted, the Democrats eventually realized that they would lose a national debate about using the NSA to protect the United States. A large majority of people already supported the NSA's terrorist surveillance program, and polling showed that two-thirds of Americans supported the datamining efforts on phone transactions once they learned that the actuals calls went unrecorded and unheard. The Democrats once again faced the daunting task of playing hardball over a program that has helped keep the country safe from attack since 9/11, this time with a highly-regarded and articulate military commander as their foil.

The Democrats wisely retreated, except of course for Feingold. He will win the lunatic Left as his power base -- and will wind up doing as well as Howard Dean did when the primaries roll around in less than twenty months. In the meantime, the Bush administration has sent its own message about playing hardball and still having enough juice left to win.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 23, 2006 9:06 PM

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