Monday, June 13, 2005

How Criminally Arrogant Have The Republicans Become?

This may not make it through the weekend news cycle – especially if some real news breaks today like a Michael Jackson verdict or the Runaway Bride setting another wedding date – but Washington, D.C. on Friday was the scene of yet another sign of how arrogant and power mad the Republicans have become.

C-SPAN junkies saw it live on Friday morning as Representative James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, abruptly ended a meeting on Patriot Act abuses after repeated Democratic criticism of the Bush administration and when he simply did not like the tone of what some witnesses were saying.

With testimony and witnesses left to be heard, Sensenbrenner gaveled the meeting to an end and walked out, followed by other Republicans.

This was the Democrats' first chance to call witnesses in congressional hearings on retaining key components of the Patriot Act, that are set to expire in September. The House Judiciary Committee has held meetings on the issue over the last couple of weeks but had not allowed Democrats to call a single witness.

Sensenbrenner's actions were outrageous in terms of both congressional etiquette – suddenly calling the meeting to an end before witnesses, who had flown to Washington, could testify – and in terms of House rules. Committee meetings requested by the minority party can only be closed by "unanimous consent" or by a vote after a formal adjournment motion has been made. Neither of those occurred before Sensenbrenner stomped out and had all microphones turned off.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., protested, raising his voice as microphones went off, came back on, and went off again, shutting down opinions to be heard from Amnesty International USA and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Commenting on the meeting, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FL, said
"The chairman ran it as if we were in a dictatorship. He would not recognize Democratic members who were trying to call points of order. It was the most autocratic, worst display of Democracy I have ever seen in my entire 14 years in a legislative body."

At one point, Representative Mike Pence, R-Ind., took his entire five minutes – the maximum allocated to each House member for each witness – to go on a diatribe against Amnesty International. Citing the expiration of the five-minute time limit, Sensenbrenner refused to allow Amnesty representative, Chip Pitts, to respond until Nadler raised a "point of decency."

The House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, called Sensenbrenner's actions a "shameful attempt today to silence Democrats at a hearing on the impact of the Patriot Act."

Which leads one to wonder: Is Representative Sensenbrenner getting his marching orders from a White House unhappy with the prospect of testimony that may hurt the survival prospects of the Patriot Act? Or were these simply the actions of a man so drunk with his party's power that he doesn't believe he needs to follow the most basic rules of Congress any longer?

Let's see what happens today and, of course, remember all of this when you consider extending your hand across the political aisle.