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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sen. Reid: The Specter bill will NOT be enacted. Period.

(updated below)

Sen. Harry Reid participated in a conference call with a dozen or so bloggers this afternoon. For the first question, I asked him about the Specter bill -- specifically, what the Democrats' strategy was for preventing its enactment (I wanted to wait until the second question but I couldn't contain myself).

Sen. Reid stated flatly and unequivocally -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that the Specter bill was not going anywhere, that it would not be enacted. I then asked him how he could be so certain about that -- specifically, I asked where the 51 votes against the Specter bill would come from in light of the support it enjoys from both the White House and at least some of the ostensibly "independent" Republicans, exacerbated by the fact that all 10 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of it yesterday (at least they voted in favor of sending it to the Senate floor).

In response, Sen. Reid explained that our system does not allow every bill to be enacted simply because a majority supports it, that Senate rules allow minority rights to be protected, clearly alluding to a filibuster. Indeed, as part of that vow, Sen. Reid specifically referenced the fact that in the Senate, one does not need 50%, but only 40%, to block the enactment of a bill. He explained that rule existed to protect minority rights. When I asked him expressly whether the Democrats are committed to filibustering the Specter bill if doing so is necessary to defeat it, he said he thought that would not be necessary, but repeated that they would make sure the Specter bill did not become law. He was unequivocal about that a second time.

There were numerous other questions on other topics, and Susie Madrak ended the call by underscoring the premise underlying most (if not all) of the questions posed to Sen. Reid, including mine -- namely, that the Democrats' greatest failing has been their failure to take real stands against the Bush administration and to convey to Americans that they are genuinely committed to fighting for their interests. She was appropriately insistent with that point, not allowing Sen. Reid to dismiss it away by claiming that he is sometimes accused of being too confrontational (it's probably true that he is, just like journalists are "sometimes" accused of being too hostile to the Bush administration, but they're both besides the point).

Sen. Reid is a former prosecutor who is one of those middle-of-the-road (politically), basically conservative (in the personality sense) Americans who has become truly alienated by the Bush administration. I have been on several calls with him and never once got the sense (as I have with many -- actually, most -- other Beltway Democrats) that he just spouts combative criticism of the administration because he thinks that's what angry, rambunctious bloggers want to hear. He really means it. He is disillusioned and angry about what has happened to our Government and to his country. I believe that is very genuine.

But that doesn't necessarily translate into Democratic Party resoluteness, although it has the potential to do so. And now, it should and must. Democrats can't just hope to run out the clock between now and November by sitting around passively hoping that Americans dislike Republicans enough to defeat them, or that Republicans don't manage to demonize Democrats sufficiently to stave off defeat. Democrats need to be viewed as presenting a clear alternative -- and the base of the party has to be energized -- both of which will come by obstructing the Bush administration's extremism and taking a stand.

If Sen. Reid's commitment that they will do what they have to do to prevent enactment of the Specter bill is a serious one -- and I believe it is -- that would be as potent an act as any.

* * * * * * *

As a reminder, I'll be on The Majority Report with Sam Seder tonight at 7:45 p.m. EDT (in about an hour) to discuss these matters. You can listen to the live audio feed at the link.

I should also add that before posting this, I asked two other bloggers who were on the call to review this post to ensure that they agreed that it accurately described what Sen. Reid said. They both did. One is so unaccustomed to hearing such a resolute commitment on an issue this important that it seemed prudent to be extra certain of its accuracy.

UPDATE: McJoan of Daily Kos, who was on the call, has a post up about Reid's comments. She argues that "given the already expressed bipartisan opposition to the Specter legislation in the Senate, it seems that a filibuster will be unnecessary."

That might be the case, and she makes a good argument (referring to the letter sent by 6 Senators, including 3 Republicans (Craig, Murkowski and Sununu), demanding that no vote be held on FISA until there are hearings on warrantless eavesdropping). But no GOP Senator has vowed to vote against the Specter bill if a vote is held (which, barring a filibuster, appears highly likely). But McJoan's broader argument is persuasive that there is clearly more Congressional resistance to the President's dictates.

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