A remarkable thing happened in the United States Senate earlier this evening, and it occurred over a rather unremarkable piece of legislation that was being debated. Conservatives, frustrated at the lack of a genuine leader of their party, may have finally found one in Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell.
After Democratic leader Harry Reid’s MoveOn.org all-night session Tuesday night, a move that resulted only in helping unify the weak-kneed Republicans who were peeling away from continued support of the Petraeus surge in Iraq, McConnell, the Republican leader, served notice to anyone watching C-SPAN that he now runs the Senate.
The Senate spent much of the day discussing the merits, or demerits, of HR 2669, the Student Loans and Grants Act. Maybe it was the culmination of a long week already, or maybe it was the upper chamber being lulled off guard by the increasingly senile senior Senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd, who spent 25 minutes decrying the plight of the helpless fight dog in response to the weird Michael Vick story in the news, but tonight, McConnell and the Republicans decided to take control of the Senate. The Republicans offered amendment after amendment to the bill, catching the Democrats flat-footed. In case you want to hear about the plight of the fight dog, here’s Robert Byrd’s Senate floor address.
After a couple of Republican amendments failed, Mitch McConnell took to the floor and offered his own amendment, which was a Sense of the Senate that Guantanamo detainees not be allowed released or moved to U.S. soil. To conservatives, this obviously makes sense. To liberals, especially California’s Dianne Feinstein, one of the chief proponents of the effort to close the detention center at Gitmo and relocate these detainees into the American justice system, especially when tagged onto a student loan and grant bill, you’d think this measure would go down in flames. Except a funny thing happened. The bill was titled in a way that you had to vote yes to vote no, and no to vote yes. The final vote was 94-3, officially putting the Senate on record as saying terrorist detainees shouldn’t be moved to the U.S. Before the Democrats, who clearly hadn’t read the amendment, realized they screwed up, the vote was recorded.
Jim DeMint of South Carolina was the author of the next amendment in line, had just gotten the consent of Bernie Sanders, the presiding officer, to order the yeas and nays. Up stepped Massachusetts senior Senator Ted Kennedy, now obviously aware that he and his colleagues just got bamboozled, and went on a full-throated rant, with reckless disregard to obvious hypocrisy, and blasted DeMint and the Republicans for slowing down the works in the Senate. The rant is worth hearing, so here it is.
Once the rant was over, Kennedy threw the Senate into a quorum call so that the Democrats could regroup. The session progressed well into the night, and McConnell could easily have rested on his laurels, but he wasn’t finished. Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar offered his own irrelevant amendment, asking for a sense of the Senate that President Bush not pardon Scooter Libby. McConnell, with that wry smile he offers when he’s up to something, countered with a secondary amendment to Salazar’s, saying that if it’s fair to bring up the Senate’s view of potential future inappropriate pardons, maybe we should also have a sense of the Senate of past inappropriate pardons, and proceeded to maneuver the Senate clerk into reading off the laundry list of Clinton administration pardons, including those of Marc Rich and others, which again set the Democrats off in a tailspin. After throwing the Senate back into a quorum call for half an hour, the beleaguered Harry Reid came out and pulled the Salazar amendment off the floor. He’d been Mitchslapped twice in one night.
Once again, the senior Senator from Massachusetts took to the floor, this time directing his venom at McConnell. Here’s the audio and text.
What in the world does the Republican leader have against this legislation? The legislation that we have here before the United States Senate passed 17-3. The authorizing provision that changes policy was virtually unanimous. Young people all over the country are looking in here in the United States Senate. This is about the future of this next generation. Their hopes and their dreams. It’s about our country and being able to compete in the world. It’s about the quality of our armed forces, about getting well-trained, well-educated young people. It’s about our institution, whether they’re going to be functioning and working. Why can’t we go ahead and vote on this legislation? We were here for two days, waiting for different amendments on education. And few of them came. Why in the world are you holding up this legislation that means so much to the future of our young people. We’re prepared to vote. We didn’t have amendments over here on our side. We want to get this legislation going ahead. We’re looking forward to the reauthorization debate for next week, and we’re looking forward to getting something worthy of this institution. We, in the 45 years I’ve been in the United States Senate, under the leadership of Stafford of Vermont, of Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, of the members that we have had here, we have had true...
The Senator’s time is expired.
Kennedy: Why are we disrupting…
Senator’s time is expired.
If anyone really believes Senator Kennedy hasn’t seen obstruction like this in his 45 years, then they haven’t met Judges Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, William Myers, William Pryor, Henry Saad, Richard Griffin, David McKeague, Miguel Estrada, Peter Keisler, Charles Pickering, or Leslie Southwick. While some of these judges eventually got onto the bench as part of the Gang of 14 deal, there are many who were scuttled as part of the deal, and Keisler and Southwick continue to languish at the hands of the Pat Leahy controlled Judiciary Committee, of which Kennedy is a member. Kennedy is no stranger to preventing votes from being taken.
Senator Kennedy isn’t angry at Republicans tonight anyway. Any conservative who watched the debate in the evening recognizes the frustration in him. It’s the same frustration conservatives had between 2005 and the beginning of this year when Bill Frist, the affable but ineffective Republican majority leader, consistently mismanaged the Senate. Ted Kennedy is angry at Harry Reid, because in seven short months, Mitch McConnell has run rings around him on issues from Iraq to immigration, and tonight, he just flat-out schooled Reid on how the Senate works, as if to say to Reid you messed with us two nights ago on a PR stunt for your fringe base, here’s how things like that can be answered.
And considering the fact that McConnell, Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl and other GOP Senators have been vocal about the growing frustration that the Democrats are not processing judicial nominees in good faith, and the coming slowdown showdown that really could grind things to a halt as a consequence of continued Democratic inaction on these nominees, if I were Kennedy, I’d be real nervous about who my leader was.
The political landscape in Washington, D.C. would be completely different if McConnell would have been running the Senate the last two years rather than Senator Frist. While Dr. Frist was and remains a good conservative, ideologically speaking, he simply could not deliver the fight in the Senate that the conservative base by and large wanted to see happen while they had the numbers in the majority they did.
Over the next 16 months, there are going to be many issues the Senate should be taking up but won’t, and many other issues it has no business debating but will. Obviously, nobody is pleased with the performance of the Republicans in the Senate overall in the last few years. Members who have strayed off the reservation on core conservative issues have been too numerous to count. But the fact of the matter is there was one amendment by Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman that failed on almost a purely party line vote that should make all conservatives pause before they wash their hands of the party November next. Senator Coleman tried to require as an amendment to this bill that the FCC not be allowed to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, and was defeated 49-48. All Republicans present voted yes, all Democrats present, including Hillary Clinton but excluding Indiana’s Evan Bayh, voted no.
Make no mistake about it, if the Democrats gain the White House next November, and Republicans get so lost in which Senator voted what way on this or that, causing the Democrats to pick up additional seats, the Fairness Doctrine might very well be in play, and could take years before the Court could rule it unconstitutional. Goodbye talk radio.
The Senate surely has made the base nervous at best and disgusted at worst in the seven months of the McConnell tenure. But if you look at the stats, when all is said and done, when the base needed him, he’s been there. He successfully kept the Republicans in line on multiple time certain withdrawal resolutions in the Senate, skillfully allowed the immigration bill to die while at least giving it a chance to be debated, and tonight showed the ability that he has no reservations about going toe to toe with Harry Reid and beating him repeatedly. It’s time conservatives use the old Reagan adage, trust but verify, and continue to support and encourage Mitch McConnell, and work to add to his numbers in the Senate next November.