Senate Closed Session Stunt: Aftermath
The longer term impact of yesterday’s invocation of Rule 21, sending the Senate into closed session over the issue of Iraq War intelligence, remains to be seen. In the short term, the GOP leadership’s inept handling of the matter appears to have handed the Democrats a victory.
Democrats forced the Senate into a rare closed-door session yesterday, infuriating Republicans but extracting from them a promise to speed up an inquiry into the Bush administration’s handling of intelligence about Iraq’s weapons in the run-up to the war. With no warning in the mid-afternoon, the Senate’s top Democrat invoked the little-used Rule 21, which forced aides to turn off the chamber’s cameras and close its massive doors after evicting all visitors, reporters and most staffers. Plans to bring in electronic-bug-sniffing dogs were dropped when it became clear that senators would trade barbs but discuss no classified information.
Republicans condemned the Democrats’ maneuver, which marked the first time in more than 25 years that one party had insisted on a closed session without consulting the other party. But within two hours, Republicans appointed a bipartisan panel to report on the progress of a Senate intelligence committee report on prewar intelligence, which Democrats say has been delayed for nearly a year. “Finally, after months and months and months of begging, cajoling, writing letters, we’re finally going to be able to have phase two of the investigation regarding how the intelligence was used to lead us into the intractable war in Iraq,” Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters, claiming a rare victory for Democrats in the GOP-controlled Congress.
The usually unflappable majority leader, Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), was searching for words to express his outrage to reporters a few minutes later. The Senate “has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership,” he said. “They have no convictions, they have no principles, they have no ideas.” Never before had he been “slapped in the face with such an affront,” he said, adding: “For the next year and a half, I can’t trust Senator Reid.”
Frist seemed much calmer when the closed session ended. He agreed to a six-senator bipartisan task force that will report by Nov. 14 on “the intelligence committee’s progress of the phase two review of the prewar intelligence and its schedule for completion.”
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said the report was nearing completion anyway, but Democrats disputed that. Committee Vice Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) began inquiring about the evidence against Iraq one week before U.S. troops invaded in March 2003. His interest was sparked by revelations that the Bush administration gave forged documents to U.N. weapons inspectors to support allegations that Iraq had sought to buy a key ingredient for nuclear weapons from the West African nation of Niger.
Democrats invoked a rarely used rule today that sent the Senate into a two-hour closed session, infuriating Republicans but producing an agreement for a bipartisan look at whether the Republican leadership was dragging its feet on a promised inquiry into the Bush administration’s use of prewar intelligence on Iraq. The Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, caught Republicans by surprise when, with only minutes’ warning, he invoked Rule 21 – a move that Republicans said had not been taken in more than 20 years.
After the session, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, emerged to announce that he and Mr. Reid would each appoint three senators to investigate the Senate Intelligence Committee’s schedule for completing its investigation. The panel is to report back by Nov. 14. It was not immediately clear what use would be made of the report.
Senator Reid said that while the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, had promised a thorough inquiry into prewar intelligence, including the way the White House had used or misused it, he had not followed through. “I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren’t being conducted,” Senator Reid said from the Senate floor before the session, “and in accordance with Rule 21, I now move that the Senate go into closed session.”
Senator Frist appeared furious over the maneuver, which took place against a backdrop of rising political acrimony here. “The resort to this, this, this stunt – this political stunt – this scare tactic, is really deeply disappointing,” he told reporters . But “if they want to get in the gutter, I guess that’s what they’ll do.”
So, Frist and his caucus issued stern statements but, in the end, capitulated to the minority in only two hours. Perhaps Frist should abandon his ill-fated bid for the White House and set his sites on the United Nations. He would be a natural.
Joe Gandleman: “[S]eldom has any political leader looked as genuinely outraged Ã¢€” and utterly hapless Ã¢€” as Majority Leader Bill Frist, who may be a few hairs away from facing a rebellion in GOP ranks over his less-than-iron-fisted Senate leadership”
Lorie Byrd thinks the GOP should ask some questions of their own.
Steve Bainbridge: “[A]s a fan of limited government, I suspect the world would be a better place if the Senate was routinely tied up in knots.”
Paul Mirengoff: “That the Dems see throwing a temper tantrum as a way to regain momentum, rather than as reminder to the public that they are unfit to govern, speaks volumes.”
Ace is “angry at the stupid $*&#ing GOP for not doing its $*&#ing job and ridiculing these people the way they should be ridiculed.”
Laurence Simon doesn’t care, preferring to focus on his cats.