March 2, 2005

It just keeps getting deeper...

Captain Ed over at Captain's Quarters points out that Senator "white nigger" Byrd has tried to paint the Bush administration as Nazis, because they want to change the Senate committee rule on cloture.

What's that? Simple. The minority party can block, indefinitely, a committee approval or disapproval of a presidential candidate by keeping that nominee approval in committee. How? By talking. And talking. And more talking. And, by not sending the nominee for an approval vote to the full Senate. In other words, they can shove the nomination in a hole, and ignore it, unless 60 out of 100 senators approve a move to a full vote on the nominee. That's a cloture. And how many times has one party (or the other) had that kind of super-majority in the Senate? And that's the problem...

The Democrats have been dancing around this for a couple of years, now, and the bottom line is that the minority party is keeping certain Bush nominees from getting a simple, for-the-record, up or down vote.

Why? Because the nominees are too conservative. They're not "bad" or "incompetent" judges, nor have they been accused (much less convicted) of any crime. Heck, the worst accusation against some of them is that they're "too religious." -Um, hold on a sec, while I go warn George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and FDR...-

The Dems have been piously reassuing everyone that they're just making sure that only the best of the best will become federal judges, but that's dishonest. If any given senator has a problem with any given nominee, then they may vote "no" on that nomination. That's not the problem. The problem is that the Democrats in the Senate are trying to avoid the vote completely.

My guess is that they hope Bush will become tired of pushing for the people he really wants, and nominate people acceptable to the Democrats. AKA the people who have lost the last three general elections in this country, and are now (quite officially) a minority party. Which is the real problem These people want influence that they haven't earned at the ballot box.

The Republians have the Senate; they have the House, and they have the White House. That gives them the right to nominate judges, and (reasonably) expect them to be approved. Now if one of the nominees turned out to be genuinely unacceptable (say, for joining the KKK, or cheating on his wife; but I digress...), then the Democrats have an obligation to turn said nominee down. No worries there. But if there is no real reason to reject a given candidate, they should say so, then turn the vote over to the full Senate.

That's the really dishonest part of Byrd's speech. Not the part where he compares the Bush administration to Nazis, (and where have we heard that before?) No, the dishonest part is where Byrd won't admit that his part is, in fact, blocking the proper function of the United States government.

You see, the controversy about cloture votes isn't in any definable, or citable book of rules or laws. I can promise you it isn't the Constitution.

No, it's a custom; a guideline, rather than a law. That's where the current controversy of the "nuclear option" (i.e. changing House rules) comes in. And -to the chagrin of the Democrats- some of us remember what the Honorable Thomas B. Reed accomplished a century ago.

...Who is Thomas B. Reed, you ask? Why, only the most influential Republican between Lincoln and Reagan, I have to say. You have heard of Reed, indirectly. One of his colleagues in the House once pretentiously quoted Henry Clay to the effect that he "would rather be right than president." Reed retorted “the gentleman will never be either.”

Another Reed saying is that "All the wisdom in the world consists in shouting with the majority," while his "A statesman is a politician who is dead," is a modern classic.

In any case, back in 1890 one of the traditions of the House was the silent (or disappearing) quorum. To quote Barbara Tuchman, from her excellent The Proud Tower:

The system Speaker Reed had decided to challenge was know as the silent -or disappearing- quorum. It was a practice whereby the minority party could prevent any legislation obnoxious to it by refusing a quorum, that is, by demanding a roll call and then remaining silent when their names were called. Since the rules prescribes that a member's presence was established only by a viva voce reply to the roll, and since it required a majority of the whole to constitue a quorum, the silent filibuster could effectively stop the House from doing business.

As you can see, this could be a very effective tool to prevent the House from doing any business at all. How did House Speaker Reed deal with this conundrum?

Very simply: by counting those present, as present, whether or not they acknowledged the roll call. Democrat "ex-Speaker Carlisle let it be known that any legislation enacted by a quorum which had not been established by a 'recorded vote' would be taken to be court as unconstitutional."

Does any of this ring a bell, yet?

In 1890 the Committe on Elections awarded a contested seat in West Virginia to the Republicans. The Democrats immediately asked for a quorum, and proceeded to their time-tested method of refusing to answer the roll call, in order to obstruct business. 163 men responded as "present" for the call; 166 were needed for a quorum. Their plan -to not conduct business as usual- would succeed.

Or would it? Instead of calling the roll again, Speaker Reed announced "The Chair directs the Clerk to record the names of the following members present and refusing to vote," followed by the names of those representatives who remained silent.

In one of the few appropriate times to invoke this adjective, pandemonium broke loose. Republicans loudly cheered and applauded, while Democrats screamed their objections. Representative McCreary (D - KY) exclaimed: "I deny your right. Mr. Speaker, to count me as present, and I desire to read from the parliamentary law on the subject."

Reed quietly gazed at McCreary, and asked "The Chair is making a statement of the fact that the gentleman from Kentucky is present. Does he deny it?"

Um. Ouch.

For the next four days, Democrats would employ every tactic they could think of, to no avail. And every time they tried to invoke the silent quorum, Reed would serenely list those present and not responding, then declare that a quorum existed to do business.

Finally, well, I'll let Ms. Tuchman describe it:

Now the Democrats, changing their strategy, decided to absent themselves in actuality, counting on the inability of the Republicans to round up a quorum of themselves alone. As one by one the Democrats slipped out, Reed, divining their intention, ordered the doors locked. At once there followed a mad scramble to get out before the next vote. Losing "all sense of personal or official dignity," Democrats hid under desks and behind screens. Representative Kilgore of Texas, kicking open a locked door to make his escape, made "Kilgore's Kick" the delight of cartoonists.


Five years later Theodore Roosevelt wrote that in destroying the silent filibuster, Reed's reform was of "far greater permanent importance" than any piece of legislation it brought to enactment at the time.

Food for thought, the next time a Democrat objects to "unconstitutional" rule changes...

Radioblogger has a concisely excellent summary of some of the constitutional points of interest on this...

Posted by Casey at March 2, 2005 1:21 AM | TrackBack

Sen. Byrd apparently suffers from Biden Syndrome, which causes one person to appropriate the words of another without attributing them to the source.

Byrd: "Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal."


we find:

Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal.

Source: Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, rev. ed. (New York: Bantam Books, 1961), pp. 213, 217, 225. Original edition: 1953.

Reckon the MSM will call him on it?

Posted by: Roofer at March 2, 2005 9:13 AM

He's just pissed that the Nazis has prettier uniforms than the KKK and is obsessing...methinks he should just concentrate on doing what he does best-being the pork king of the U.S., and maybe getting a better tailor for "his boys in the hood" for when they work the nightshift.

Posted by: bsp at March 2, 2005 9:28 AM