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.

GOP Angered by Closed Senate Session — Meeting Reopened After Two Hours (WaPo, A1)

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 Force Senate Into Closed Session Over Iraq Data (NYT/IHT)

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 — and utterly hapless — 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.”

    Michelle Malkin has a good link roundup, including a Rule 21 backgrounder by KJL.

    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.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Intelligence, Iraq War, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    Look, gang, let’s call this what it is… a juvinile temper tantrum.

    Denied the indictment of Rove on something/anything, they’ve decided to latch onto the Indictment of Libby as indicative of a cover-up on the War in Iraq. They’re not going to get what they want, and now they know it, so they’re doing anything they can to disrupt the adults.

    What this is, is nothing more, and nothing less than a desperate meltdown on the part of Democrats. They’re loosing it.

    We’ve all been witness at one time or another, to a five year old going into a temper fed snit, and totally losing control of themselves, when told by an adult they can’t have a bit of candy, or a bright shiny toy.

    Now, we’ve been witness to it’s happening on the
    floor of the Senate.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Yes, but when a child throws a temper tantrum and is then given the candy he was after. . . .

  3. McGehee says:

    James, you expected better from Senate Republicans? After all these years?

  4. Robin says:

    Judging from the various reactions, it wasn’t the Democrats throwing the hissy fits. I think we need this investigation, over 2,000 dead and no end in sight. Please take off your blinders.

  5. LJD says:

    …and can you tell me what impact you expect the investigation to have on the current situation in Iraq? A positive influence?

    No, just more Dumb-O-crat mudslinging; avoidance of their responsibility for the war; avoidance of accountability for their votes.

    For the sake of those deployed overseas, our elected representatives ought to try avoiding hindsight politics…

  6. Bithead says:

    “One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line.” – President Bill Clinton, February 4, 1998

    “If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.” – President Bill Clinton, February 17, 1998

    “We must stop Saddam from ever again jeopardizing the stability and security of his neighbors with weapons of mass destruction.” – Madeline Albright, February 1, 1998

    “He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983.” – Sandy Berger, Clinton National Security Adviser, February 18, 1998

    “[W]e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.” Letter to President Clinton. – (D) Senators Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, others, October 9, 1998

    “Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.” – Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), December 16, 1998

    “Hussein has … chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction and palaces for his cronies.” – Madeline Albright, Clinton’s Secretary of State, November 10, 1999

    (mumble) 1998… 1999. Which party had the White House then? Oh, yeah. I remember.(/mumble)

    Yes, By all means, Senator Reid… let’s close down the Senate and demand an investigation of the intel leading up to the war in Iraq. I begin to think the investigation will prove interesting, indeed.

  7. (nine times out of ten, my own opinion is the one the cat in the first column/second row position is giving.)

  8. Bithead says:

    JAmes; I understand your copncern about the Republican reactions… on the surface your take is correct. HOwever, look deeper. Look at the quotes I posted.

    the best thing we could do is to give Reid the rope to hang himself and the rest of the Democrats with… Reid is clearly hoping the investigation will begin at 9/11, and ignore the situation before that.

    I submit we do best tgo give the man more than he wants…. give him a really complete investigation. Hold up the mirror, and show him who the true problem in all this has been.

  9. Bithead says:

    damn laptop keyboards….

  10. Anderson says:

    You know, I am having to look twice at Harry Reid. First the Miers trick, which if he really knew what he was doing was downright brilliant. And now this “motion to compel” on the Senate report.

    I just hope no one at OTB complains again about any need for Congressional oversight of the White House, because the reaction to this news strongly suggests y’all are happy leaving every stone unturned.

  11. Reporter for Doody says:

    Why is it we are not hearing leaks of the MWD investigation?

    Could they have found a 911 Commision cover-up? – Able danger? – Bergers stolen classified documents?

  12. odograph says:

    BitHead – sure, investigate all those people, and see which ones “expressed concern” and which ones “puffed up” (or in the words of the British, “sexed up”) the facts.

    Of course concern about Iraq was warranted. That is why arms inspectors were there. The question is whether the escalation from “concern” to “war” was justified by the facts, or only by the “sexed up” intellegence.

  13. bithead says:


    The arms inspectors?
    Try again. Look up, and you may note a passage where even the Democrats admit the arms inspectors were being thwarted.

    Face it Odo… your party’s positions are seriously short on legs.

  14. bithead says:

    And, Odo… the questions about WMD were not the sole reson for going to war. I know that’s what the DNC talking points are telling you, but it ain’t the case, Bucko.

  15. odograph says:

    Try again. Look up, and you may note a passage where even the Democrats admit the arms inspectors were being thwarted.

    We knew they were being opposed, and that was a serious concern. On the other hand, the justification for war was that they were “thwared” and that there really were WMDs.

    Turns out there were not, we were only deceived into worrying that there were.

    Face it Odo… your party’s positions are seriously short on legs.

    Ah Bit, that might be true … I’m a Republican 😉

    And, Odo… the questions about WMD were not the sole reson for going to war. I know that’s what the DNC talking points are telling you, but it ain’t the case, Bucko.

    If there was a better, honest, case for war … they should have made it.

  16. odograph says:

    Come on guys, even if you are a Republican (like me) you should be able to admit that you were sold a different war than the one you got … in many ways.

  17. Wayne says:

    The reason we went to war with Iraq was because they were a great danger to us. Saddam was taking pot shots at us and was becoming bolder about it everyday. Terrorist, which he supported in part, were another threat to us. It was only a matter of time before the cooperation between the two increased. Saddam had use WMD before. He still had them. MSM don’t ever mention all the WMD that were under UN seal. If he wanted to use them, he just had to tear the seal off. These sealed WMD were no longer being monitor because Saddam impediment of the inspectors. He also had ongoing programs. Once you have the technologies, it’s not that hard to start mass producing. If Saddam was allowed to become even bolder and he started giving the terrorist these WMD, it could have been disastrous. Then people were scream like they did after 911 that we should have done something to prevent it beforehand. Also there is the underlying problem of the Middle East being a swamp full of terrorist. Sometimes particular county would help, turn a blind eye or simply unable to control their populist. The swamp needs to be drain. What better country than Iraq, which we were already in conflict with. A small note, there has been a great deal more terrorist crackdown throughout most of the world since we have gone into Iraq. American public are just to impatient and spineless.

  18. bithead says:

    I’m a Republican

    Lemme guess. A McCain supporter, huh?

  19. bithead says:

    Come on guys, even if you are a Republican (like me) you should be able to admit that you were sold a different war than the one you got … in many ways.

    THe rest of us, apparently, were paying attention as regards the remainder of the amazingly long list of reasons for war. We weren’t stuck on just the one.

    You, apparently, were.

    Short attention span, possibly?

  20. odograph says:

    What, the other lie? The supposed Al-Queda connection?

    Tell you what, why don’t you build a case, from fact, that would have convinced the bulk of the American people (and not just hawks) that war was necessary.

  21. odograph says:

    The bottom line is still that the administration did not have confidence that THEY could build such a fact-based case, and so they lied.

  22. RA says:

    Let the spoiled bratts have some fun. Obstruct, obstruct and obstruct. Then when everyone is fed up with their tantrums, changes the rules to outlaw the tantrums.

    Democrats are becoming more irrelivant every day.

  23. Bithead says:

    Wrong Odo.
    The fact is they used all available info of which the WMD was only part. And if you look up, you may note the number of Democrats who were operating on the same information.

    Iraq was and remains the right thing to do for a miriad of reasons.

  24. odograph says:

    Not much of a “case.”

  25. odograph says:

    BTW, seaking of William F. Buckley Jr. (in the other thread), he has said that if he known in 2002 what he knows now, he never would have supported the war in Iraq in the first place.

    I think that kind of demonstrates that this is not a “thinking conservative’s” war.

  26. Bithead says:

    So, NOW suddenly WFB is credible to you?
    YOu hadda wait 80 years for him to get senile enough to utter something you agree with?

  27. odograph says:

    Don’t be a child.