What a Day Last Week

Posted: Jul 03, 2007 12:01 AM

This has been an extraordinary week. The people have spoken twice - both against the leadership. In the United States Senate, the leadership of both parties by and large was on one side. The people, as reflected by the Senators who cast votes on that final cloture roll call, were with the people. In the House of Representatives all the leaders of the Majority Party voted against the wishes of the people. ALL of the leaders of the Minority Party were with the people. The people prevailed. Over 100 Members of the Majority Party joined every member of the Minority Party to prevail in lopsided fashion. In my more than four decades in our Nation's Capital I never remember a day such as we had last week.

The establishment clearly wanted this comprehensive immigration bill. In the final vote, the Senatorial Leadership of both parties, except Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voted yes. Eighteen Senators who had voted to proceed with the bill earlier in the week switched their votes from yes to no. What an embarrassment to Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (R-NV); Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy (D-CA), a Committee Chairman; Richard E. (Dick) Durban (D-IL), the Majority Whip; Trent Lott (R-MS), the Minority Whip; Mel Martinez (R-FL), the National Party Chairman; Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Minority Policy Chairman; and so on. McConnell had hinted that he might not be able to support the bill, even though his President was militantly for the measure. He had voted to proceed with the bill. That lopsided vote was 64 - 35, Tim Johnson (D-SD) not voting due to illness. The final cloture vote was 46 - 53, 60 votes required. Proponents could not get a majority.

Everyone conceded that the bill was dead. Not until 2009, with a new President and a new Congress, could this bill see the light of day again. Everyone conceded except Senator Reid. He said he would bring up the immigration bill again. Why? With this kind of humiliation how could he possibly speak of resurrecting this bill again in this Congress? First, he knows that the establishment overplayed their hand. Most of the real amendments which the Minority sought to vote on were forbidden. So if he permitted some of those votes, perhaps he could eek out a 60-plus majority to proceed again. And just maybe if some of these amendments were permitted a vote, he might be able to proceed to final passage. But I believe that the real reason Reid wants to bring up that wretched bill again was articulated by James Boulet, Jr. of the English First organization. On that highly emotional issue the Minority Party is bitterly split. That makes perfect sense. If he tries to proceed with that bill closer to the election, perhaps right after Labor Day in 2008, then it can be clear that is his purpose. Meanwhile, Senators can be sounded out by the White House as to what it would take to get their vote. This is where some Senators, especially those not up for re-election, might not mind trading their vote for a huge defense contract which would mean thousands of jobs for their state, or something akin to the Bridge to Nowhere, which so disgraced the last Congress.

Just watch. Reid may not be able to bring this monstrosity back to life, but he, as Majority Leader, can certainly manage to highlight the division in the Minority Party, the closer to the election the better.

It was said that talk radio was responsible for this outcome. As one of the heroes of the effort to kill the bill, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), pointed out, the people who called were unusually informed and articulate and the vast majority of them were from the state of the Senator whose office they called. Talk radio merely explained what was in the bill. Talk radio even provided constituents with actual paragraphs of the bill. Talk radio didn't force anyone to call. What happened last week was reflective of what the ordinary voter, many of them Democrats, really thought. Talk radio was merely a facilitator.

In that regard, there is an effort to shut down talk radio by reinstating the so-called Fairness Doctrine. Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN), who, like yours truly, used to be a talk-show host, offered an amendment to an appropriations bill providing that no funds could be used to implement the Fairness Doctrine. Despite the full Majority Party Leadership's opposing the amendment, it passed with 309 votes. Over 100 Democrats voted with Pence. That was highly unusual in and of itself. But to have that many Democrats crossing the leadership of their own party is truly remarkable. The Pence victory is only good for a year, however. But Pence has a legislative bill which permanently would shut down the Fairness Doctrine. In a single day, he acquired more than 100 cosponsors. While that is encouraging, it should be noted that every Republican who voted supported the Pence Amendment, including every member of the GOP Leadership.

Hopefully Representative Pence can get some of the hundred Democrats who voted for the one-year bill to cosponsor. Thanks to an initiative by then Congressman James R. (Jim) Inhofe, Members who sign discharge petitions must do so out in the open. If the leadership tries to bottle up his bill in committee (unless he has a sufficient number of Democrats to vote out the bill) he can force the issue through a discharge petition which requires that a bill be scheduled for a vote once there are 218 signatures on the petition. He begins, most likely, with 202 Republicans. He has more than 100 Democrats to try to get the next 16 votes. That should be interesting.

Once again, the people spoke. If it were up to the leadership of the party in charge the Pence Amendment would have been deep-sixed. The sentiment was so strong that it overrode the leadership. That almost never happens.

Fortunately, in the Senate Minority Leader McConnell has issued an unusually strong statement against the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine.

And my old friend Trent Lott clarified what he meant by his previous statement - namely, that talk-radio is running the country and something has to be done about that. That just didn't sound like the Trent Lott I have known for close to 40 years. I need not worry. Lott says he is absolutely against reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. So if Senator Reid tries to attach that bill, supported by so many Democrats, in the middle of the night, he will encounter both McConnell and Lott. McConnell is really pro-freedom. He was a leading force in arguing that McCain/Feingold was unconstitutional when it attempted to regulate political speech.

Then there are the pernicious recommendations of the Progressive Policy Institute which are even worse than the Fairness Doctrine. But that is the topic for another day. That, says Pence, is the Fairness Doctrine by another means. Wow! What a day last week.