Thursday, July 14, 2005

Playground Tactics

It's now official: There is no limit to the pettiness of the current Republican congressional leadership.

Two months ago it was Republican staffers rewriting House Judiciary Committee reports to make it look like Democrats had offered amendments for the explicit purpose of aiding "sexual predators". Challenged, Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-2nd Grade) defended the practice:

You don't like what we wrote about your amendments, and we don't like what you said about our bill.
Today, it's Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist offering his own amendment to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill for fiscal 2006, H.R. 2360, purportedly "To protect classified information and to protect our servicemen and women." The goals sound noble, but the text of the amendment (courtesy of Josh Marshall) reveals a different agenda:

Any federal officeholder who makes reference to a classified Federal Bureau of Investigation report on the floor of the United States Senate, or any federal officeholder that makes a statement based on a FBI agent's comments which is used as propaganda by terrorist organizations thereby putting our servicemen and women at risk, shall not be permitted access to such information or to hold a security clearance for access to such information.

It doesn't take much analysis to recognize the Senate's top two Democrats in this sentence.

  • Harry Reid, the Minority Leader, made reference to a confidential FBI report during the debate on the nomination of Henry Saad to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. (He revealed nothing about its contents except to mention that it showed "a problem" with Judge Saad—information that had long been public.)
  • Dick Durbin, the Minority Whip, read from FBI e-mails to denounce the mistreatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. (The risk to American troops is purely conjectural; in any event, the material Durbin used was made public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.)
Frist offered his amendment in response to an attempt by Reid to amend H.R. 2360 "To prohibit Federal employees who disclose classified information to persons not authorized to receive such information from holding a security clearance." This, just as clearly, was targeted at Karl Rove, and there's certainly an argument to be made that it was untimely (and should wait until the special prosecutor completes his investigation), unseemly (as a partisan attempt to "stir the pot", in the words of the Associated Press), or both.

The amendments are not parallel, however, in at least two respects. First of all, if interpreted broadly, Reid's amendment makes perfect sense: people with security clearances who reveal classified information should probably have their clearances revoked. Second, if (as it appears) Rove really did reveal Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent to the press, then he did real harm. As fellow CIA officer Larry Johnson comments, "When Novak outed Valerie he also compromised her company and every individual overseas who had been in contact with that company and with her." (This is, of course, the reason such disclosure is prohibited in the first place.)

If Rove is somehow found not to have leaked Plame's identity, then the Reid amendment wouldn't apply to him. Otherwise, regardless of whether or not Rove knew that Plame was covert, his behavior deserves censure: it was either criminal or flagrantly irresponsible.

So, to sum up,

  • Democrats offer amendments to a bill enforcing abortion notification;
  • Republicans portray them in official documents as advocates for "sexual predators".
  • Democrats offer legislation to deal with real misbehavior;
  • Republicans strike back with a tu quoque amendment that would punish the discussion of public information.
Sounds about right.

P.S. The Reid amendment failed on a straight party-line vote; the Frist amendment fared worse at 33-64. Atrios says that quite a few Republicans were set to vote Yea until they saw which way the wind was blowing. Maybe they just needed some time to reflect on what they were about to do.