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06/12/2005 Archived Entry: ""

Thanks to Lee K. for his analysis of the Sensenbrenner temper tantrum, which has widely reported in Democrat and liberal blogs, for example Dem Bloggers. Lee first wrote, Rep. Sensenbrenner, the sponsor of the RealID Act (de facto national ID card) and HR 1528, which would imprison people who don't snitch on their friends and family for drugs, had a tantrum. Then he wrote again to correct the first email, I watched the Sensenbrenner episode myself (all 2 hours of it), and I think the democratic blogs took it out of context. Yes, Sensenbrenner is hostile towards the minority Democrats in his committee, and is hostile towards civil liberties (with his sponsoring of the RealID Act and HR1528), but in the context of chairing this particular hearing, he was not way out of line. It was just another congressional dogfight. I include my comments below....

[Excerpted from e-correspondence Lee had with someone else who closely followed the Sensenbrenner incident.]

Correspondent: I blogged the incident too, prompted by the NYT report, but then tempered by actually looking up the video recording on C-SPAN. (I've linked to their stream, at the start of his summary closing.) Maybe if I'd watched the whole 2 hour hearing I'd come up with a different reaction, but it seemed to me that the guy might have a legitimate point.

Lee: I watched the entire hearing. Judging from it, I think Sensenbrenner has a fair point, although he allowed himself to become partisan, and was very bitter. Most chairmen do not act this way.

Why did Conyers use the opening remarks to give a long political rant?

Why did it sound more like a closing remark than an opening one? As much as I hate the war crimes of the administration, Conyers was testing my patience too, with his opening remarks.

It seems like this hearing might all just be a way of getting around House rules in order to have a platform from which to speak and be made a part of the official record. Conyers is using his senior position in the House Judiciary Committee to bring up issues which should be debated on the House floor, perhaps because he and other Democrats were being shut out from doing it there. And he is using the committee as a platform not just for judiciary issues, but for all issues Democrats have, and he has called this meeting with a preset political agenda. He has appointed himself judge and jury. He has already reached a verdict before calling his first witness.

The opening speeches by the "witnesses" seemed very rehearsed.

In the C-SPAN video I did not see Sensenbrenner's leaving as being overly melodramatic. He simply declared it adjourned, and left. There is unfortunately little that the Democrats can do in such a situation.

House and Senate rules are not a part of the U.S. Constitution, which is a large hole inviting majoritarian tyranny. The Democratic members seemed to be trying to fan the flames with thechairman. Rep. Mel Watt started by saying:

Rep. Mel Watt: Let me thank the chairman for convening the hearing,
even though he's doing it according to the rules, and started out
kind of testy. I also thank the chairman for not interrupting the
witnesses, and applying a overly technical view of this hearing. I
think it would have served a very negative purpose to do that, and I
want to applaud him publicly for not doing that during the testimony
of these witnesses."

Sensenbrenner cuts off Watt's witness when Watt's time expires, and asserts the Chairman's perogative to do so under the rules.

Dr. Zogby and other witnesses bring up the torture issue, and every Republican rejects the comparison of the U.S. to gulags, and denies widespread torture has taken place. At one point, there was this exchange:

Rep. Trent Franks: Dr. Zogby, I think to suggest that deliberate,
routine torture is the committee policy, or the deliberate policy
of the United States, defies any sort of credibility.

Dr. James Zogby: Sir, I didn't write the memos. The memos are
there. There's a paper trail about what we have done. And I think
that to the degree that we continue to deny that we've done it,
we do not look good in the eyes of the world, nor should we feel
good about ourselves as we face the American people. We have an
issue which must be addressed. And it will be addressed by us, or
by future generations.

This is incredibly naive:

Rep. Howard Coble: Dr. Zogby, I think you mentioned about 9/11,
a day that will indeed live in infamy. We were minding our
business, and then we were attacked, and over 3000 people killed...

No, we were not simply "minding our business". We were supporting dictators in foreign countries.

Shelia Jackson Lee raises a point of order, but then tries to make a speech. She was the most confrontational with Sensenbrenner, of the Democrats besides Conyers. For around 15 seconds there's a verbal exchange
between her and Sensenbrenner, and he gavels her. She eventually yields.

The only Republican (besides Sensenbrenner) who made any meaningful comments was Mike Pence of Indiana. He came off as more intellectual than all the other Republicans, as if he were a college professor or historian. He asked a good question about gulags respectfully, and without becoming emotional over the comparison, but his time ran out before any of the witnesses was able to answer. There was whispering laughter about this timing misfortune. Then there were points of order, and a "point of decency" made, until Sesenbrenner finally allowed the Chip Pitts to respond to Pence's questions.

Some of the hearing's discussion had nothing to do with the Patriot Act, but with the torture allegation, Abu Ghraib, and our foreign policy in general. Sensenbrenner was right to try to keep things on-topic, but his open hostility towards Democratic members made him look bad. Democrats were also hostile towards Sensenbrenner, and clearly had gone into the hearing with an agenda.

I think this episode indicates how divided we are as a country. Hopefully the next midterm election will turn either the House or Senate majority Democrats, so that things which are not open for debate according to the rules in one house, get a fair hearing in the other house.


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