Thursday, April 06, 2006

Surreal Senate

The Republicans in the Senate and, in particular, William Frist and John McCain have achieved a level of theater of the absurd unimagined in Paris. Or maybe they are not absurd but rather surreal or situationist or something.

Currently Frist, the majority leader, finds himself in the minority on a possible vote on the McCain Kennedy immigration bill. Thus he and some other Republicans have decided that the bill requires 60 votes for cloture (ending debate).

Reid and other Democratic leaders hope to show they have 60 votes in support of that bill, written by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). That showdown should come this morning, and if they can break a possible filibuster, they could show no compromise is needed that would fundamentally change the McCain-Kennedy bill.



As far as I ever understood, that would mean some Republicans including Frist are threatening a filibuster using the senate rule which allows a determined minority to block the will of the majority. This would not be unusual and certainly would not be hypocritical. All senators love the filibuster which makes each of them very powerful. Frist has decided to claim that he believes that it is unconstitutional in the case of debates on judicial nominations, but hasn't claimed filibusters are always wrong.

However, Frist became incomprehensible, sounding almost psychotic, when he said
"I used to say this is another insufferable attempt of the other side to block, to obstruct, to postpone, to delay, but now I think it's beyond that,'" OK so who is willing to vote for cloture and who is determined not to vote against cloture but to prevent a vote on cloture ? At least Frist didn't talk about a minority blocking the will of the majority, since the focus on 60 votes implies that he is in the minority.
Voting for cloture is not blocking postponing or delaying.

The Republicans absurd parliamentary maneuvers and beyond absurd rhetoric is made still more dispicable by the fact that they won't even filibuster. That would be too open and honest. They want to block the bill with a possible filibuster without opensly resorting to abstructionism.

This comes after Frist insisted on presenting his own bill and allowed a bill approved by the judiciary committee only as an amendment (which passed). I'm sure there is a precedent for such an arrogant act by a majority leader and my failure to think of one just shows my ignorance. The amendment passed so a majority of senators have, at least, demonstrated to prefer the McCain Kennedy bill to the Frist bill.

Jonathan Weisman surpasses his previous efforts at Republican slant with a truly astounding effort in which he writes

A final breakthrough was held back yesterday by Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), who insisted that any substantive compromise wait until a showdown vote to cut off debate on a more lenient measure passed by the Judiciary Committee last week.


I ask why a breakthrough is needed if there is a bill on the floor with majority support ? Why is sticking with a bill that can be blocked only by a possible filibuster obstruction ? It is true that the Republicans had a lot of trouble reaching near agrement, but that does not mean that this accomplishment should so impress the Democrats that they accept a bill which they feel is too harsh on undocumented immigrants. Weisman manages to quote Frist, Cornyn, Lott, Reid and Reid's spokesman. Reid just wants a vote on cloture. He isn't demanding an up or down vote on the bill. Weisman presents him as being totally isolated by quoting Republicans who claim so without noting the absurdity of their claims or even quoting Democrats noting that utter absurdity.

Brad DeLong take notice.

I have lost focus. The issue is that Frist claims that demanding a vote on cloture is "to block, to obstruct, to postpone, to delay." He is well beyond parody.

However, another Senator has managed to surpass Frist because "McCain said he would not bow to the Democrats' tactics and vote to end debate." Yes you read that correctly and I at least did not distort meaning by removing context. Strait talking , non nonsense Senator John McCain said he would not vote for a vote on *his* bill. That he would support the effort to block his bill by a "possible filibuster," because, evidently, while he supports his own bill he is opposed, in principle, to the idea that a bill with majority support should pass. That's crazy.

The key is that each wants to be president.

Frist would like to be known for something other than making diagnoses based on an edited videotape and accusing Richard Clarke of perjury then saying he would have to check what Clarke said under oath. So he has decided to crack down on illegal immigration and destroy the last remaining vestige of the rules of the Senate. His astounding move to present his bill even though the judiciary committee had approved a bill shows that he is willing to disgrace the office of president pro tempore of the US senate in order to gain publicity. It also shows that he still hasn't learned a few hours of debate in the Senate which will be ignored by everyone who does not pay close attention to politics is not worth a furhter demonstration to everyone who does pay attention that he is an idiot who is extraordinarily vain and arrogant even by the standards of the Senate.

McCain has managed a political move which makes Frist look like a genius. Inebriated by the praise of his facade of bipartisanship, he allowed himself, in a moment of inattention, to forget to be partisan. Thus he finds himself having to choose between supporting a filibuster of his own bill and voting with the Democrats against the majority of Republicans. The second would end his chance of being President. The first just shows that he cares more about John McCain than about policy. He is probably counting on reporters like Weisman to continue to praise his alleged integrity after he has demonstrated that there is no such thing. His calculation is probably correct.

Give em hell Harry Reid, however, is a genius. In fact his focus on leading the minority in the Senate makes me wonder if there might, after all, be one Senator who cares about something other than becoming President. The fury of the Republican attacks on him show how effectively he has outsmarted them. He can and will demand a vote on cloture (obviously you can't filibuster a motion to end a filibuster). He will force McCain to vote with Democrats against Republicans or to vote to abstruct a vote on the McCain Kennedy bill. McCain will choose the second and show himself to be a partisan hypocrite. Reid has managed to reveal the ugly truth about the Republicans strongest candidate for 2008.

Damn that man should be President.

Update: A compromise reached just when I was gloating over McCains auto-immolation. The deal is that undocumented aliens who have been in the USA for 5 years can get in line to get in line to become citizens. Those in the USA for from two to five years have to go back to their home country for at least a minute to apply. They and the airlines owe this to Reid who managed to win 3 fifths of the battle with 45 % of the senators. I think Mark Kleiman is the one who noted that no one has ever seen Harry Reid and Sun Tsu together in public.

Of course the conference committee will destroy everything, but it was a famous victory.

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