How to Lead: Chris Dodd Edition

While Hillary and Obama were leaving the work of legislating to others, Chris Dodd stepped up to lay out the stakes for the FISA debate.

Senators are not entitled to see their amendments pass. But they are entitled to this: a good-faith debate, honest criticism, and, ultimately, a vote.

Last night, they didn’t get it. Our Republican colleagues, assuming that they would lose those votes, effectively shut down the work of the Senate. They’ve taken their ball and run home.

They won’t debate us on the merits. On the merits, they conceded, Republicans have lost.

And I don’t think I’m far off base, Mr. President, in seeing in this egregious shutdown a parallel to retroactive immunity itself. Both attitudes privilege power over deliberation, over consensus, over honest argument.

Like immunity, pulling these amendments shows a contempt for honest debate and a willingness to settle issues in the dark, in back rooms—rather than in the open, where the law lives, where the American people can see it.

President Bush wants to shut down courts whose rulings he doesn’t like; last night, Senate Republicans showed that when they don’t like the outcome of a debate, they’ll shut that down, too.

It’s one thing for a president to express that kind of contempt for the process of legislation. It’s another for the members legislative branch to express it themselves.

Mr. President, I’ve spoken repeatedly about the rule of law. The rule of law isn’t some abstract idea. It’s here with us—it’s what makes this body run.

It means we hear each other out, we do it in the open, and while the minority gets its voice, gets its right to strenuously object, the majority ultimately rules.

And standing for the rule of law anywhere means standing for it everywhere: in our courts, and in our Senate. The circumstances are different, of course; but the heart of the matter is the same. Last night, I believe, the Republican party forfeited its claim to good faith on this issue. They’re left to stake their case on fear. Whether that will be enough, the next few days will tell. [my emphasis]

Well, thank god someone’s in DC standing up for the rule of law.

37 replies
  1. radiofreewill says:

    People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. . . The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads, and the boss drives.

    ~ Theodore Roosevelt

    Give me more Leaders like Dodd and Emptywheel!

  2. greenharper says:

    Tnanks, EW. I’d missed this. Glad I kicked in to help retire Dodd’s presidential campaign debt. He deserves it.

    Have told the campaign offices of both Clinton and Obama that they belong on the floor of the Senate next week, filibustering any retroactive telecom immunity. It would even help their respective campaigns.

  3. klynn says:

    Goodness EW, if the kids were not sick, I’d lead a group to gather outside the Capital building on Monday in support of Dodd.

  4. pdaly says:

    How refreshing. Hope he can get airtime before and after the SOTU to do a repeat performance.

    Bush: Do You like my Act?
    Dodd: No, I do not.

    GO Dodd GO!

  5. MadDog says:

    What’s that smell?


    The Repugs con the Democrats, again!

    Some have tossed out the SOTU as a central reason the Repugs are sabotaging the FISA debate in the Senate. I’ve yet to see this storyline fully developed anywhere, so I’ll try to flesh it out here myself.

    It ain’t about (just) the SOTU! Instead, this is the first barrage of “the Democrats are soft on terrorism!…the Democrats support terrorism!” Repug rally-around-the flag for campaign 2008.

    First, the Repugs think they are in a “can’t lose” position on the FISA legislation. And here’s why:

    1. If the Democrats rollover and allow the un-amended SSCI version of the FISA Update to pass, the Repugs get everything they want including the Telco immunity shield that more importantly, prevents the Courts from finding the Administration itself broke the laws, nevermind the Telcos.

    2. If the Democrats get 41+ votes to stop Cloture on Monday, the Repugs get what they really, really want and that is a “wedge issue for the 2008 elections. That “wedge” issue is of course based on the good ol’ Rove-Repug tried and true fearmongering: “The Democrats are soft on terrorism!…The Democrats support terrorism!”

    The real Repug strategists (no, not those buffoons like Rush Limpdick and Billy “The Kid” Kristol that get all the MSM attention. That’s for the boob-tube-watching rubes), those folks who operate totally in the black, never for attribution, never ever publicly for doG’s sake, know full well what a desparate situation the Repug party faces in 2008.

    And they also know full well that their only remaining card to play is the old, reliable standby of “fear”.

    Another thing that far too many folks don’t undertand wrt to the FISA debate is that the Repugs actually couldn’t care less if any FISA Update legislation passes.

    The simple reason for this lack of concern is the real, deep, dark secret about Junya’s Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP):

    It didn’t feckin’ work!

    Here was the most secretive of secret US intelligence agencies, the NSA, chompin’ at the bit to show off their billions and billions of dollars worth of computer hardware and software. And here also was mountains and mountains of teradata (or Terror-data as I’m sure they called it) sitting untouched in the hands of compliant corporate communications toadies that could be mined for Al-Qaeda nuggets. “Just imagine all the terrorists we can catch!”

    Except there weren’t any terrorists in the American public’s personal data. Why? ‘Cause Al-Qaeda don’t live here, that’s why!

    Junya and the NSA’s TSP was in fact, just about the most expensive, and the most useless government boondoggle to come down the pike since Ronald “Zap” Reagan’s Star Wars.

    How does one come to that conclusion you ask? Tis pretty simple. If Junya’s Administration had in fact found real, actual Al-Qaeda terrorists here in America, Junya and crew would have been shouting their success from every rooftop. Instead, we got (((crickets)))!

    No, there ain’t no Al-Qaeda been found here in the good ol’ US of A, but as Junya is fond of saying: “Heck of a job, Mikey!”, and Mikey McConnell, formerly head of NSA when the TSP broke new legal ground (or broke the friggin’ law as normal people would define it), good ol’ Mikey gets promoted to be the head of the CIA. “Heck of a job, Mikey!”,

    So all us chilluns should take a deep breath, shake the cobwebs out, and wake up to the real facts in this Kabuki theater for the slow-on-the-uptake:

    The Repugs are not sabotaging the FISA debate for security reasons, but are instead sabotaging it for their own craven, political benefit.

    ‘Cause again, as the Repugs see it, they can’t lose!

    And given the Democrats’ past history of swallowing every hook, line and sinker the Repugs throw at ‘em, why would this tale of woe turn out any differently this time?

    • klynn says:

      And what terrorists may be here are Bush’s fault. He rolled out the Patriot Act putting the cart before the horse. Opening the flood gates on information gathering without developing protection of private information. Identity theft went through the roof (three times higher after the Patriot Act. Check with AARP, they have lobbied on this issue with the EFF like crazy). Terrorists buy or steal identities to move around the world. My identity was stolen and sold to a foreign terrorist. You see, my info was stolen from my health care insurance provider. Did GW care? No. Thanks for all the help with regard to my identity being stolen GW. Some security…

      He has failed to secure our ports and borders but seems to have no problem spending our tax dollars in the ME. I could go on but EW might not appreciate my rant.

      The point: as an average citizen, I could rip a hole in ANY Repug’s fear argument and the “make us safer” argument.

      It cannot work again.

  6. pdaly says:

    Maddog, I agree that Bush Co have played the fear and terror card any chance they can get, but it seems the Clinton administration was convinced as it was turning over the keys of the White House to Bush, that Al Qaeda was real. Are you implying Clinton’s group were hoodwinking Bush and us?

    I also am amazed how Bush’s failure to lead (9/11) became his wild card with which he has waved himself into numerous illegal Constitutional territory.

    • MadDog says:

      Maddog, I agree that Bush Co have played the fear and terror card any chance they can get, but it seems the Clinton administration was convinced as it was turning over the keys of the White House to Bush, that Al Qaeda was real. Are you implying Clinton’s group were hoodwinking Bush and us?

      No, Al Qaeda is real. It just doesn’t live here.

      On foreign-to-foreign communications surveillance, there is no argument wrt to FISA.

      Of the communications that the TSP sifts through, 99.999999% of the domestic content is just everyday, normal American personal data.

      I’m guessing the FBI is finding in the sifted TSP data some domestic criminals dealing drugs, washing money, stuff like that, but I’d bet money Junya and crew ain’t finding Al Qaeda living here in the US.

  7. sysprog says:

    NYTimes editorial board calls out Reid as a liar for claiming that he’s against telecom immunity, and calls Jay Rockefeller “misguided”

    The editor of “Human Events” warned on Friday that, if the NYTimes editorial board told Harry Reid to do so, then Harry Reid would betray our troops in the field and give aid and comfort to the enemy by stopping Cheney’s noble patriotic FISA bill, thus allowing FISA (sic) to expire. (Of course, Cheney and Addington would love exactly that — if FISA, not PAA, were the law that were about to expire — but “Human Events”, even by right-wing standards, has always been extremely fact-phobic.)

    So anyway, right on schedule, here’s what the NYT editorial board (Dorothy Samuels?) writes in Saturday’s lead editorial, which seems to get most of its facts right:

    The FISA Follies, Redux
    Published: January 26, 2008

    The Senate (reportedly still under Democratic control) seems determined to help President Bush violate Americans’ civil liberties and undermine the constitutional separation of powers. Majority Leader Harry Reid is supporting White House-backed legislation that would expand the administration’s ability to spy on Americans without court supervision and ensure that the country never learns the full extent of Mr. Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.

    […] The House has passed a reasonable new bill — fixing FISA without further endangering civil liberties. But Mr. Bush wants to weaken FISA as much as he can. And the Senate leadership has been only too happy to oblige.

    With the help of Republican senators and the misguided chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, the White House got a bill that, once again, reduces court supervision of wiretapping. It also adds immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the illegal spying.

    Mr. Bush says without amnesty, the government won’t get cooperation in the future. We don’t buy it. The real aim is to make sure the full story of the illegal wiretapping never comes out in court.

    Mr. Reid — who is still falling for the White House’s soft-on-terrorism bullying — set up deliberations in a way that ensured that a better Judiciary Committee version of the bill would die a procedural death and that the Intelligence Committee bill would pass.

    […] It is now up to the House to protect Americans’ rights.

    […] The House should vote to extend last summer’s flawed rules for at least 30 days and go on recess, forcing the Senate to do the same thing […]

    – – New York Times, Saturday 01/26/2008

    This isn’t the first time that I’ve thought, gee, I wish this editorial in the thin — and thinly circulated — Saturday paper were in the fat — and widely circulated — Sunday paper, where the important stuff always goes. Or, much better, in this case, LAST Sunday’s paper, when an NYTimes editorial would have had some impact, just before the issue went to the Senate floor. After all, the facts about Reid’s maneuvering with the SSCI version and SJC version were well known, a week ago. Andrew Rosenthal is as slippery as Harry Reid. But wouldn’t it be great if Harry Reid actually tries and succeeds to defeat cloture on Monday, and the crackpots at “Human Events” got a chance to pat themselves on the back for their prescience?

    • CasualObserver says:

      Sysprog, imo, the editorial itself itself rather thin. But it is definately welcome, none the less.

      I don’t know if the GOP manuever came from the WH or McConnell, but it was well played I think. You have to admire the moves, even if they are evil and toxic.

      Fundamentally, I don’t see this little hiccup as changing anything. The Dems are still just as weak as they can possibly be through their choice to embrace a strategy based on bottomless fear, and the WH and McConnell simply wait for another crack at them, only this time even closer to the general election.

  8. PetePierce says:

    Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI):

    “The conduct of Senate Republicans yesterday was shameless. After weeks of insisting that it is absolutely critical to finish the FISA legislation by February 1, even going so far as to object to a one-month extension of the Protect America Act, they obstructed all efforts to actually work on the bill. Now they want to simply ram the deeply flawed Intelligence Committee bill through the Senate.

    “They refused to allow amendments to be offered or voted on, including my straight-forward amendment to require that the government provide copies of FISA Court orders and pleadings for review in a classified setting, so that Members of Congress can understand how FISA has been interpreted and is being applied.

    If the Republicans succeed in cutting off debate on Monday, the Senate won’t even get to vote on the amendment Senator Dodd and I want to offer to deny retroactive immunity to telecom companies that allegedly cooperated with the administration’s illegal wiretapping program.
    “Democrats should not allow the Republicans to ram this bill through the Senate without amendments. Monday’s cloture vote will be a test of whether the majority is willing to stand up to the administration and stand up for our rights.”

  9. TheraP says:

    And standing for the rule of law anywhere means standing for it everywhere:

    That is exactly the reason why EW is correct to reject clinton’s call to throw out the agreement all the candidates made re FLA and MI.

    I know it’s off topic for this thread. But it’s such a burning issue. If a candidate cannot follow rules now, then they can’t be trusted to follow them later. And by god we need to restore the Rule of Law. Anywhere and Everywhere.

  10. wcsally says:

    Let us stop all this caterwauling and make the compromises that will come to a vote.

    That is what our Government is all about. Not to be a forum for a few disgruntled Senators.

    • phred says:

      Let us stop all this caterwauling and make the compromises that will come to a vote.

      That is what our Government is all about.

      This is why I caterwaul about the dire and immediate need to teach Civics in our public schools. The utter lack of comprehension of our form of government among certain members of the public is truly astonishing.

      Our form of goverment is predicated on the notion of open debate. It is also predicated on the notion that our elected representatives are accountable to the public. You seem to have acquired the erroneous idea that debate is undesirable, that railroading ill-considered and ill-advised legislation through at the last moment is an acceptable approach to governance. I reject that foolishness out of hand.

      We are where we are because of the incessant state of panic that Congress operates under. It is a false panic, a tempest in a teapot. This mindset of “we must pass something!” has produced one bad piece of legislation after another. This mindset is created for the express purpose of whipping members of Congress and the public into a frenzy specifically designed to make it possible for provisions that are detrimental to the public interest to slip through unchallenged.

      As TheraP noted above this all ties in with the mess in FL and MI. SusanS (I think) pointed out in the thread below, that the primary date in FL was tied to restoring the use of paper ballots. How often have we heard this refrain from legislators, that their hands were tied and there was nothing to be done? Utter nonsense.

      If Congress actually functioned in a properly deliberative fashion, each piece of legislation could be carefully thought through. Instead we are endlessly told how our representatives did their best, there was nothing they could do, but you must vote for us anyway, because the alternatives are just oh so much worse.

      wcsally, I understand that you are scared to death, but please keep your nail-biting panic to yourself. I have had enough of this foolishness. I demand legislators do a much much better job. I demand that they READ legislation BEFORE they pass it. I demand that the staffs of the legislators actually WRITE the legislation. I demand that lobbyists lose their seat at the writing table. And I demand that our representatives REPRESENT the BEST INTEREST of the PUBLIC.

      I am well aware that my demands fall on deaf ears. Or at least ears where all sound is drowned out but for the sweet whispers of big dollar campaign donors and lobbyists. But I will keep making my demands nonetheless. It is still my country, my representative democracy, and I will keep raising my voice in patriotic defense of all I hold dear. To paraphrase the NRA, you can have my Constitution when you pry it out of my cold dead hands.

      • TheraP says:


        I add my voice to rfw’s. I am moved by your words. We must raise our voices in dissent and continue to seek redress – through the rule of lawfor the Rule of Law.

        Any other course subverts what we seek.

      • bmaz says:

        Phred, I share the sentiments of others; well done. I am glad I live in your country along with you and so many of the others here.

        Has anybody else noticed that our trolletariat is multiplying like mushrooms in a cowpie field? Apparently the cowpile goes straight to their heads too, because they do not appear to exactly be critical thinkers.

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          Yes, and it’s fascinating. Particularly as they tend now to more often pose as ‘friendly commenters’ before zinging out a toxic line.
          Interesting, eh?

      • fgator says:

        I especially like your last paragraph, phred.

        But, let me speak again about “caterwauling.” Please note that I added “on both sides” below the first post. i.e., posts 15 and 16.

        I am not referring to any one side. The security idea has become hostage to a bunch of (and excuse the term, but I like it) Drama Queens! These play to their own audience of cheering supporters who abandon reason (on both sides) for the sake of making extreme political statements.
        Some claim that their plan will save mankind, while their opponents argue that mankind will die, unless their own plan is adopted…

        Both sides have to ease up some to be effective.

        Government is about compromise, and going back to phred’s comment again , that doesn’t always mean what the lobbyists want.

        • phred says:

          Well, that’s interesting, are you fgator or are you wcsally or do you use two names? Perhaps bmaz was wrong, we don’t have more trolls, just a troll with more names. JodiDog is awfully fond of bold, too. Perhaps you were tired of being ignored in the threads?

          There can be no compromise without open debate. During the Bush years debate has been silenced time and time again. I agree that in principle a functioning democracy requires compromise. However, through the use of lies, name-calling, signing statements, executive orders, magically vanishing exectuive orders, misuse of classification, parliamentary maneuvering, and cries of state secrets in the courts, debate has been suppressed to the point of extinction. There can be no real compromise without the inclusion of all points of view.

          The Rethugs in power (and I do distinguish them from honest Republicans, those who value our democracy and are willing to engage in honest debate and compromise) have shown time and time again — most recently this past Thursday — that they abhor debate. They will not work honestly with those who hold differing views. They will stamp their feet and throw a fit, “our way or no way”.

          As Senator Kennedy so clearly elucidated in December for one and all to see, President Bush says the Protect America Act saves lives, but unless telecoms are given retroactive immunity for any potential illegal conduct (and remember, most of the Senate has no idea what has been done here) he will veto the bill. Therefore the President places more value on making sure his collaborators walk than on American lives. This is an indefensible policy. The President, and his party in Congress, cannot defend that which is indefensible. They cannot debate it openly and honestly, because they would lose. This is a subversion of democracy.

          • fgator says:

            God, but that was embarrassing!

            Like when I first tried an Eskimo roll to right a kayak.

            I realized almost immediately that I had goofed. (Never had done two identities before.)

            The thing phred is that JodiDog has been banned from the blog, “carded” so to say, probably by Neil or bmaz, the blog minders, and I was trying out some new names.

            Anyway, …

            • phred says:

              Oops. Guess if you’re going to adopt the split personality lifestyle you need to remember to log out and back in again. Still, I might not have realized it was you if it wasn’t for the bold. What is it with you and the bold business? You’ll never manage the incognito thing if you can’t learn to lay off your signature style. Anyway, I hadn’t realized JodiDog was banned. I just figured you were spending more time on your treadmill.

  11. Neil says:

    sorry wcsally. i don’t buy into your framing. A few disgruntled senators? Feingold, Whitehouse, Specter, Dodd, and Cardin. That’s funny. Once again, your argument is not on the merits of the debate ( in this case, about the FISA reauthorization bill and amendments.) Your caterwauling is tiresome.

  12. wcsally says:


    that shows a lot of zeal for your cause, but I venture a question as to effectiveness.

    Will the group you mentioned prevail?
    Could more be wrung out of a compromise, than will be gained by eventual defeat?

    • Neil says:

      that shows a lot of zeal for your cause, but I venture a question as to effectiveness.

      By characterizing the people who object to the bill in its current form as “caterwauling,” you are making an unsympathetic and dismissive characterization of their concern.

      Could more be wrung out of a compromise, than will be gained by eventual defeat?

      Aren’t you assuming McConnell has the least intention of compromising? The Republicans have the bill the want and have rejected amendment after amendment from further consideration.

  13. Becca says:

    One thing I’ve been trying to figure out is just how our inalienable human rights got to be so frickin’ and easily alienable.

    I’m an American citizen living abroad (in India). By Bush Administration standards, I have absolutely no legal or civil rights whatsoever. And for non-citizens, it goes downhill from there…

    • danps says:

      We lost our voice after 9/11. We’ve been so fearful that we haven’t been willing to forcefully question the erosion of those rights. I post about executive power regularly at Pruning Shears, and see here for more on this subject in particular.

      • Becca says:

        Oh, but I’ve been forcefully questioning that erosion, too, on my own little blog, and on all the other forums I frequent.

        Clearly, the root cause has been fear, as well as an inability to recognize that those who purport to “keep us safe” if only we give up more liberty, more freedom, more privacy, more rights — are cravenly stoking fear themselves.

  14. pdaly says:

    Agree with phred and supporters above.

    OT, I was struck by the dates of the auction of the US 700mHz broadband.
    Wondering if there is some way to connect it to telcom immunity and eavesdropping on Americans.

    from Wikipedia (my bold):

    “The United States 700 MHz FCC wireless spectrum auction is being conducted by the FCC and started on 24 January 2008 for the rights to operate the 700 MHz frequency band in the United States. The details of precisely how the auction will take place has been the subject for debate between several telecommunications companies, including Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and startup Frontline Wireless, as well as the internet giant Google. Much of the debate has swirled around the “open access” requirements set down by the Second Report and Order released by the FCC determining the process and rules for the auction. All bidding must be commenced by 28 January by law. The auction will be named Auction 73.”

  15. Neil says:

    OT Dodd, on topic leadership…

    CREW want Ralph Reed dumped as CNN election-night analyst

    “Reed’s disdain for Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, stems from Indian Affairs Committee hearings the senator spearheaded, exposing Reed’s work on behalf of [Washington lobbyist Jack] Abramoff’s tribal clients.”

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Who will be the first to publicly rebuke Grover Norquist, who laundered millions of Abramoff payola for Ralph Reed and the christian coalition?

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