Coleman: I Didn’t Trust The Government, Either

One of the questions heading into today’s cloture vote on immigration was how Senator Norm Coleman would vote. Coleman had voted in favor of bringing the bill back to the floor, perplexing the bill’s opponents and putting Coleman squarely in the middle of the drama today.
Coleman voted against cloture today, joining seventeen other Senators in sending the bill back to the grave, this time apparenly for good. What changed? Coleman explains in his statement today that the process itself convinced him that the bill would never improve enough to support:

Today I voted against moving the immigration bill forward. It became increasingly clear that there were still too many problems with this bill and not enough time to correct them. Throughout this debate, the American people did not trust that the Congress or the President had the resolve to secure the border. In the end, their suspicions rang true, as we were unable vote on amendments to strengthen the border and workplace enforcement mechanisms, as well as ending the practice of so called “sanctuary cities”.
From the beginning, this bill was hastily put together; it skipped the committee process, and was rushed to a conclusion on the floor. In the end, we must find a way to bring the more than 12 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows. However, we must do so in a way that determines who is living inside our country, secures our borders, and restores the rule of law to our immigration policies and enforcement. I remain hopeful that we can successfully address this issue sometime in the future, because we must.

Congress lost the trust of the people and of a significant number of its own members through its failure to act, and its failure to properly develop the bill in such a way that Senators could fix its fatal flaws. Coleman had had enough, as had most everyone else.
Bush has announced that he will not return to this bill, instead focusing on the upcoming budget debates. Congress still needs to address border security and visa reform, however, and they had better do so soon. If Congress and the White House want some credibility in the future to pursue normalization, they have a chance now to start building it with real action and above-board legislation.

Two House Votes For GOP

Two House votes in the last few minutes offer some insight into the workings of the lower chamber. The first, on an amendment by Rahm Emanual, would strip funding for the office of the Vice President, a snarky swipe at the assertion by Dick Cheney’s counsel that the Vice President isn’t part of the executive branch. That motion failed, but only by seven votes, 217-210 — and produced a round of catcalls at the end.
The second is the Pence amendment to forbid the FCC from re-enacting the Fairness Doctrine. I live-blogged the debate on this amendment earlier today, and the voice vote at the time was said to carry Pence to victory. He wanted a recorded vote and got it. The final result: an overwhelming rejection of the Fairness Doctrine, 309-115, with 1 vote present. The Democrats split almost exactly, while all voting Republicans voted for the amendment.
Not a bad day’s work for the GOP today. The immigration bill got killed, for the moment at least, and the Fairness Doctrine got stopped before the Democrats could get it started.

The White House Gets Tough With Congress, And Vice Versa

For only the second time in six years, the Bush administration invoked executive privilege after Congress issued subpoenas for documents and testimony in the case of the fired prosecutors. This sets up a showdown in the courts for the two branches to determine the limits of oversight the legislature has over the executive branch — and an escalation of bitterness just in time to fuel the presidential primaries:

For only the second time since taking office, President Bush has exercised executive privilege and refused to hand over documents to Congress. The first time Bush invoked privilege was in December 2001, when Congress asked for documents from the administration of his predecessor, Bill Clinton. …
Congress’s subpoenas also directed former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor to testify, which the administration has made clear they will not do. Asked whether the earlier offer for closed-door interviews with White House players—but without the transcript that Congress insists is necessary—still stands, [Tony] Snow replied: “All the offers are off the table. If the subpoenas come off the table, the offers go back on the table.”
Snow went on to take a shot at Congress, which had a popularity rating lower than the presidency in a recent Gallup poll. He said that since members of Congress “have been unsuccessful in passing key legislation,” they are trying “to do what they can to make life difficult for the White House.

This still strikes me as a scandal in search of any real wrongdoing. Despite having chewed on this for months, Congress has found only incompetence. No one thinks that the President or the Attorney General can’t dismiss prosecutors, regardless of how badly they did it. Critics of the administration want to find nefarious plots to cover up the administration’s supposed crimes, but even the terminated attorneys don’t claim that. One, David Yglesias, alleges that Pete Domenici (R-NM) got him fired for not aggressively pursuing corruption charges against two Democrats, which might be more properly pursued in the Senate Ethics Committee.
So far, though, incompetence and cronyism is all they’ve found, and they have no probable cause to pursue executive-branch materials or testimony. That won’t stop them from trying to get it, and the case law isn’t crystal-clear in this regard. Most of the relevant court decisions regarding executive privilege date back to Watergate, and the precedent seems a bit daunting for the White House. Executive privilege has been upheld, but so also has Congress’ check on executive power, and this may be close enough to the mark to lose a challenge.
And in the second set of subpoenas, their case may be even worse. Personnel issues in the DoJ clearly fall within presidential power, but the NSA warrantless surveillance program touches on potential violations of law — and the bypassing of the judiciary. A court challenge to those subpoenas may find even less sympathy from the Supreme Court, which is where both cases will eventually wind up. The response from the White House on those subpoenas has been more measured, and I suspect they may be worried about trying to make an executive-privilege claim there.
The Bush administration could run out the clock with some court challenges — but that would play very poorly in the next campaign cycle. The Democrats certainly understand this. Snow is right that it will distract people from the lack of accomplishment in this Congress, but that won’t matter in the long run. The Democrats want to see a bloody Constitutional fight between Congress and the White House, and most of all they want to hang it on every GOP candidate for national office over the next sixteen months.
It will probably work, at least for a while. However, if they get their wish and find nothing at all, they’d better be prepared for a significant backlash.

CQ Radio: The Politico’s Mike Allen

UPDATE: Mike and I had a great conversation about Fred Thompson and immigration — be sure to listen to the podcast! Just a couple of Cerritos boys talking shop …
blog radio
Today on CQ Radio (2 pm CT), Mike Allen of The Politico joins me to talk about Fred Thompson’s statement from yesterday, today’s rejection of the immigration compromise and what it means in Washington, and the effect it may have on the GOP’s chances next November, and more.
Call 646-652-4889 to join the conversation! Also, you can subscribe to CQ Radio through iTunes now by clicking this link:
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The live player will start automatically if you click on the link to the extended entry. You can also listen from the player on the sidebar.
Also, Silvio Canto will have National Review’s Mario Loyola on his show today, so be sure to catch that live on

Continue reading “CQ Radio: The Politico’s Mike Allen”

Pence Amendment On Fairness Doctrine: Live Blog

I have heard from Rep. Mike Pence’s office that debate on his amendment to bar the FCC from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine will begin shortly, perhaps around 1:30 ET. It should last 40 minutes, and I’ll live-blog it. This is an important amendment, and I suspect it will not survive — but we need to keep the heat on Congress to keep them from making the federal government the arbiter of the content of political speech.
Keep checking back!
Democrats say they will accept the amendment. Read below.
12:56 CT – Well, the House has debated a number of issues so far, but none of them Pence’s amendment. I’ll have to start show prep soon, but I’m hoping that the debate will start shortly. We’ll see …
1:00 – Pence is coming to the podium on his amendment now. 40 minutes of debate …
1:02 – Pence notes that the Fairness Doctrine had a chilling effect on public debate. Broadcasters simply wouldn’t risk their licenses in order to air public debate, because of the onerous burdens it placed on second-to-second management of content.
1:04 – Pence says that people claim that his amendment is unnecessary, but that within the last 48 hours, three senior Democrats have talked about reinstating the FD: Durbin, Kerry, Feinstein. Good, short speech.
1:07 – David Obey completely ignores the statements from three Democratic Senators and says no one in Congress has talked about resurrecting the FD. He then confuses broadcast media with the rest of the mainstream media. However, this seems a moot point, since the Democrats apparently will concede the amendment; even Obey shrugged it off.
1:10 – Jeff Flake rebukes Obey, in a friendly manner, by reading Durbin’s quote.
1:10 – Dennis Kucinich now says that it’s a non-issue — even though he himself called for a return of the FD! He then talks about how the FCC “controls the airwaves”.
1:14 – Kucinich darkly referred to future administrations resurrecting the FD — and Pence sys that’s precisely the point of the amendment. Diane Watson mischaracterizes everyone’s argument, and then says only six corporations have control over public debate. Huh? We have the most open public debate in American history — and part of that came from the removal of the federal government as arbiter of the content of broadcasts.
1:19 – Roy Blunt says market forces should prevail in public debate, rather than top-down government management of political content.
1:21 – Shorter Jose Serrano (D-NY): Trust us, the government will just put moderates on the air! He wants to know why the GOP wants to fix what’s not broken, and the obvious answer is that we don’t want the FCC and the Democrats to break it.
1:26 – Greg Walden: “It’s not my fault that Air America couldn’t find an audience!” He also reminded Congress that the courts have warned in the past that the FD was likely unconstitutional.
1:33 – A number of Republicans have made the point that the FD came from an era when the US had few broadcast stations, and few options for informing the public. Even if one accepted that the FD didn’t violate free speech, today’s society hardly requires the government to force broadcasters to carry speech for balance.
1:40 – It looks like the Democrats mostly gave up arguing about the amendment. It looks like they have yielded most of their time to the Republicans.
1:42 – I spoke too soon. David Obey quotes Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to scold “yap-yap TV” and talk radio for not demanding a Fairness Doctrine — so we can get a balanced media. Is Obey ill? Does he not understand that the FD didn’t apply to newspapers?
1:46 – Obey says, “I want to let Rush be Rush!” He says Rush is discredited and he wants to keep it that way. I think he’s making this up as he’s going along.
1:50 – The ayes had it, but the roll-call vote will be postponed. It looks like Pence wins.

Now What?

The immigration bill is dead, yet again, after the Senate rejected cloture by fourteen votes. In the end, the compromise could not even gain a majority in support of what conceptually may have been a passable compromise, but in reality was a poorly constructed, poorly processed mass of contradictions and gaps. Many of us who may have supported a comprehensive approach to immigration found ourselves amazed and repulsed by both the product and the process of this attempt to solve the immigration problem.
So what should happen now? The problems of immigration did not disappear with the failure of the cloture vote a few moments ago. Congress needs to act to resolve them — but they need to do so in a manner that respects the processes of representative democracy, and in a manner that builds the confidence of Americans rather than fuel their cynicism.
They need to address border security and visa-program problems immediately. Congress has left these problems simmering for over 21 years. Their failure to address the issue over two decades has demonstrated that Washington does not consider those issues a very high priority, and the Senate’s insistence on tying them to normalization underscores that. Poll after poll shows that Americans don’t believe Congress when it says it will do something — and so Congress needs to demonstrate their competence first before we take a flyer on creating another vast bureaucratic nightmare.
Secure the borders. Fix the visa program. Do those tasks by using the proper legislative processes in both chambers, allowing for real debate, honest and open amendment opportunities, and quit using clay pigeons and other parliamentary tricks to hide the bill and railroad it through Congress.
In other words, act responsibly, instead of trying to pull a fast one on the American public.
UPDATE: Some people argue that the failures of enforcement come from the executive branch, not the legislative. Certainly the executive branch shares the failure, but Congress has never allocated the resources for proper border enforcement, nor have they funded the visa overhaul. They have also created new bureaucracies (DHS) that actively impeded progress on these issues. The issue starts in Congress, and they need to act to provide the proper resources for these priorities.

Cloture Call: Live Blog

I’ll be watching and reporting on the cloture process this morning, and the opponents of the immigration bill seem to be off to a good start. John Ensign, the chair of the NRSC, has announced that he will vote against cloture to kill the bill. That puts them at six conversions from Tuesday, either announced or heavily leaning, which should be enough to reject cloture.
9:27 CT – Lots of bloviating at the moment. Dick Durbin is talking about a “nation of immigrants” and “how many more can we take?” Well, that’s true as far as it goes, but that’s not the issue at hand today. What we’re talking about (everyone but Tom Tancredo) is illegal immigration, not legal immigration. Almost no one has a problem with legal immigration, but we want the borders secured. It’s not about diversity, it’s about security and confidence in the system’s ability to control immigration rationally.
9:31 – Well, no one bloviates like Ted Kennedy. It’s more of what Durbin said, but just louder. However, I had to laugh when Kennedy said, “Year after year, we’ve had the broken borders.” Yes! Exactly! Let’s fix that before we start worrying about normalization! “This bill is strong; it’s fair and practical.” It’s also about 20 hours old, and most of us haven’t had the opportunity to review it properly — including most of Kennedy’s colleagues.
9:38 – It looks like the cloture vote itself will come at 9:50 am CT, or about 12 minutes from now …
9:41 – Arlen Specter believes that people who call and e-mail Senators do not represent America. Not coincidentally, only 14% of American people think Congress represents America.
9:44 – “We have a foolproof method of determining whether an employee is illegal.” We do? When did that arrive, and why hasn’t it been implemented yet?
9:48 – Chutzpah alert! Specter is complaining about “cynicism” and machinations on the Baucus amendment on a bill where leadership has maneuvered to kill real debate and amendment. You have to be kidding me. For cynicism, nothing tops a clay pigeon.
9:53 – Harry Reid, victim of hatred and obloquy. He complained that he got a hate letter from his hometown over the immigration bill, and that talk radio has had a “field day” with its “simplicity”. Reid also evokes the Senate’s reputation as the world’s greatest deliberative body at the end of a process in which he blocked true deliberation.
10:04 – Cloture vote begins. Does Reid have a couple of Democrats ready to switch from Nay to Yea? He’ll need them.
10:11 – Webb votes against cloture, and I count 22 so far overall against, with 20 for.
10:15 – Landrieu votes no, another Democrat against, although that’s not a switch. Rockefeller stayed as a no, as well.
10:19 – Bernie Sanders and Tom Harkin voted against cloture, as did Nelson of Nebraska. Robert Byrd stayed a No, while Olympia Snowe stayed an Aye. Mark Pryor voted against cloture. Sam Brownback switched to No — very interesting.
10:20 – Norm Coleman voted against cloture. Wow.
10:26 – A majority, 53 Senators, have rejected cloture. It’s dead … again.
Continuing ..

The Quiet Man

The immigration debate has brought a number of Republican Senators to the forefront, especially Jeff Sessions, Lindsey Graham, Jim DeMint, and James Inhofe. The man who some might have expected on the front lines, however, has taken an ever-lower profile during the fracas Mitch McConnell, the highly effective Minority Leader, has unexpectedly transformed into a wallflower:

With his caucus bitterly divided and the Senate descending into procedural warfare, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) stayed away from the Senate floor as the most sweeping overhaul of immigration laws in 21 years hung in the balance.
Facing the biggest challenge of his leadership tenure, McConnell has largely chosen to work behind the scenes and instead allow a bloc of conservatives to spar with Republican supporters of the bill. …
Since the bipartisan negotiators and the White House reached a deal on the bill last month, opposition on the right has been growing. That has put Republicans who are up for reelection, including McConnell, in an uncomfortable position as the White House has launched an all-out push to give President Bush a major victory in his final months in office.
McConnell’s absence from the fight highlighted his lukewarm feeling on the bill. He is neither an advocate nor a staunch critic of the bill, and has not said how he would vote on the underlying bill. The senator voted against efforts to shut down debate earlier this month, but voted Tuesday on a motion to proceed to debating the bill. Last year he voted for the measure that passed the Senate but failed to clear Congress.
Publicly, McConnell has tried to limit talking about the issue. Reporters who pepper him with questions about immigration legislation often are greeted with silence. And recently he cut short a news conference on energy issues once questions turned to the immigration bill.

The newfound stoicism has its merits, on at least two bases. McConnell has to run for re-election in conservative Kentucky next year, and as the song says, it doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. He wants to leave his options open, and he’s doing a good job of it by confounding anyone who wants to know where he actually stands on the bill.
On the political side, it’s almost certainly genius. He has worked with the White House, as his job requires, to assist them in getting their policy onto the Senate floor. That’s as fas as he’s going to go publicly for either George Bush or Harry Reid. The Majority Leader complained about getting the blame for the arrogant and unprecedented process being used for the immigration bill, telling people that McConnell agreed to it beforehand. That may be true, but it isn’t McConnell on the Senate floor trying to defend forcing a vote on a bill that hadn’t even been correctly published yet. McConnell has hung the process firmly around Reid’s neck.
Unfortunately for McConnell, he’s going to have to choose sides today. While one more procedural hurdle could trip the bill after this cloture vote, today’s opportunity holds the most promise for actually killing the bill. The Quiet Man will have to speak up and be counted.

Surprise! Bipartisan Consensus!

Pundits constantly remind us that American politics is more polarized than ever. The politicians of both parties increasingly resort to hard-line negotiating tactics rather than attempt to find common ground for agreement on behalf of the American people. Anger and bitterness, usually blamed on bloggers and talk radio, keep the two tribes of Washington politics from conducting positive work on public policy.
Poppycock, says I. Rubbish! Our boys and girls in Washington can come to bipartisan consensus … when it benefits themselves:

Despite low approval ratings and hard feelings from last year’s elections, Democrats and Republicans in the House are reaching out for an approximately $4,400 pay raise that would increase their salaries to almost $170,000.
The cost-of-living raise endorsed Wednesday evening gets lawmakers back on track for automatic pay raises after a fight between the parties last year and again in January killed the pay increase due this year. That was the first interruption of the annual congressional pay boost in seven years.
The blowup came after Democrats last year fulfilled a campaign promise to deny themselves more pay until Congress raised the minimum wage. Delays in the minimum wage bill cost every lawmaker about $3,100 this year.
On a 244-181 vote Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans alike killed a bid by Reps. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Lee Terry, R-Neb., to get a direct vote to block the COLA, which is automatically awarded unless lawmakers vote to block it. The Senate has not indicated when it will deal with a similar measure.

How about that for a bipartisan consensus? Congress managed to come together to ensure positive public policy for the American people — well, okay, 535 of them, but they’re still Americans, right?
They’re going to get their 2.6% cost-of-living adjusment. Coincidentally, that may also be their approval rating by the end of this session.

The Failure Of Super-Bureaucracies

The Washington Post reports that the Department of Homeland Security has spent millions of dollars on no-bid consultant contracts since its inception, far beyond their budget. Booz Allen benefited from an overreliance on their firm to win contract after contract, eventually billing for over $70 million in contracting services. Many of the jobs Booz Allen filled should never have gone outside the agency in the first place, according to the Post’s Robert O’Harrow.
At Heading Right, I explain that all of this could easily have been foreseen at the creation of the DHS — and, in fact, it was. The creation of superbureaucracies do not increase accountability but diminish it, and resource allocation suffers from institutionally-imposed incompetence. If Congress wants to unleash its venom, they should spare Booz Allen and the DHS, and instead target themselves.