< Congressional Contempt


Friday, February 15, 2008

And, I'm Bob Garfield.
This has been a day of political drama and brinkmanship over legislation giving the government broad powers to eavesdrop on suspected –

House Republicans walked off the floor and out of the Capitol today.
They left the House chamber to protest the Democrats’ refusal to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Law.
On Thursday, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives staged quite the media moment, a dramatic walkout from the floor of the House in protest of an impending vote to hold two White House officials in contempt of Congress.

To Republican Minority Leader John Boehner, this was no more than a stunt, cheap theatrics, two-bit political grandstanding – not the walkout, mind you, in which the GOP caucus stalked out like the frat boys in Animal House, but the contempt resolution itself. Here’s Boehner.
Now, before an Intelligence Surveillance Act were to expire, Americans will be at risk. Americans want us to protect them. They want us to go after the terrorists. But we have to give our intelligence officials the tools to be able to do it.
America at risk - well, that’s for sure, not only from bearded Islamists cowering in caves but also by white men in red neckties who, in the name of national security, for six and a half years, have eroded the civil liberties at the heart of our Constitution. In that way, Thursday’s walkout was a paradox within a photo-op within a civics lesson.

The pretext was the Democratic leadership’s refusal to vote on the extension of broad eavesdropping authority temporarily given the administration a year ago. That authority expired Friday, although the government retains the ability to monitor al Qaeda and other established threats and also to seek new wiretaps via court order as necessary.

The Senate had voted Tuesday to extend the law and to immunize U.S. phone companies from any lawsuit challenging their cooperation with the government. But some House Democrats smelled in that immunity deal a cover-up of previous administration excesses, to say nothing of giving the government spying tools worthy of a police state. And so the law was poised to lapse at week’s end.

This led to charges that the irresponsible Democrats were lowering the drawbridge for enemies who hate our freedom.

At this moment, somewhere in the world, terrorists are planning new attacks on our country. Their goal is to bring destruction to our shores that will make September 11th pale by comparison. To carry out their plans, they must communicate with each other. They must recruit operatives and they must share information. The lives of countless Americans depend on our ability to monitor these communications.
Of course, the President never mentions the freedoms already stolen, like the freedom not to be spied on and the Constitutional freedom to hold the government accountable for its conduct.

And thus, the irony of Thursday’s walkout. Had Boehner and company hung around, they'd have gotten to witness the Constitution in action – checks, balances and all.

The House voted to hold President Bush’s Chief of Staff Josh Bolton and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers in contempt for refusing to testify as to whether Justice Department officials conspired with the White House to illegally fire politically suspect U.S. attorneys. The administration claims executive privilege and refuses to provide subpoenaed evidence or sworn testimony to Congress.

Could it be that the GOP walkout had nothing to do with spying authority at all? Maybe it was, in media parlance, just a bit of counter-programming – or, in other words, changing the subject.