Some Senators Act Like Adults, But Leaders Are Kids
It's downright scary to contrast the antics of Senate leaders
on and around the floor Tuesday with a hearing the following day
in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
because the juvenile, angry, partisan and divisive behavior of
the leaders more likely represents the future of American governance
than the serious, adult and bipartisan civility of the committee.
notice, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) unleashed a
sneak attack on the GOP leadership Tuesday, calling the Senate
into a rare closed session and charging that the Bush administration
had "manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to
sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared
to challenge its actions."
Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) went into an immediate rage, denouncing
Reid's "stunt" and saying he couldn't trust him again.
that Frist calmed down after the two-hour closed session, but
later he wrote to supporters of his political action committee
that Democrats had staged "a temper tantrum ... a tactic
of the weak, the tactic of a party with no convictions, no principles,
morning, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)
conducted their latest hearing in the homeland security's investigation
of governmental responses to Hurricane Katrina, arguably the next-most
disputed political topic after Iraq and Supreme Court nominations.
in his Senate speech that Katrina is an example of the GOP-dominated
Senate's failure to exercise oversight over the executive branch.
That's just false.
the committee heard testimony from the Federal Emergency Management
Agency's lone official in New Orleans during the hurricane, who
described his frantic and futile efforts to get the attention
of his Bush administration superiors about deteriorating conditions
in the city. That's oversight.
the panel heard engineering experts say that the Army Corps of
Engineers - another arm of the executive branch - may not be repairing
levees in New Orleans well enough to withstand the next hurricane.
That's oversight, too.
Lieberman have both said that governments failed "at all
levels" during the Katrina disaster - the GOP-run federal
government and the Democratic state governments of Louisiana and
New Orleans. They are conducting their investigation not just
to assess blame, but to make sure such catastrophes don't happen
when Frist assigned the hot topic of intelligence reform to their
committee, chairwoman Collins and ranking member Lieberman made
a pact that they'd iron out potentially partisan disputes in private,
then present a common front to their caucuses and avoid party-line
votes. They succeeded.
It was possible
because the two Senators are grownups, and moderates. They value
getting the public's business done well rather than waging partisan
both are members of the "Gang of 14" Senators who are
(so far) blocking Democratic filibusters of Bush judicial nominees
and the GOP leadership's threatened exercise of the "nuclear
option" to change Senate rules by simple majority vote.
told me he would break from the 14 and join a filibuster if he
became convinced - which he is not now - that Supreme Court nominee
Samuel Alito was likely to vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade
decision. "It would mean a lack of respect for precedent,"
and Collins expressed appropriate dismay at the closed session.
Collins said the incident "highlights how partisan the atmosphere
has become in Washington. We need to address serious issues in
a serious atmosphere."
told me, "This place is polluted by partisanship. More than
that - it's incapacitated by partisanship."
that he believed Reid acted because the Senate Intelligence Committee
was "dragging its feet" in investigating the Bush White
House's use of intelligence prior to the Iraq war.
is disputed by Collins' moderate Maine colleague, Sen. Olympia
Snowe (R), a member of the Intelligence panel.
She told a Maine newspaper that "the committee has steadily
progressed with its investigation in a bipartisan manner, which
is in stark contrast to what the minority said" before the
committee staffers say they have conducted "more than dozens"
of interviews as part of the probe, and matched 500 official statements
with the intelligence sources on which they were based.
not to conclude that Reid called the secret session to keep media
attention focused on the indictment of former White House aide
Scooter Libby at a time when Bush is trying to change it to avian
flu and the Supreme Court.
had hoped that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald would indict
top Bush aide Karl Rove, too, and conduct a trial of the president's
war policy. That's not going to happen.
of intelligence deserves a thorough and fair investigation, but
it's not clear that partisan Democrats will be satisfied with
any conclusion other than that Bush knew no weapons of mass destruction
existed in Iraq and lied to the country about it.
unlikely that happened, since many Democrats examined U.S. intelligence
findings before the war and concluded, too, that Iraq had WMD.
But it's worth looking into, in a serious, adult way. The subject
is too important to be handled childishly.
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.