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Rule 21: The Senate showing some signs of life

Kudos to Harry Reid and Dick Durbin for invoking the rarely-used Rule 21 to take the Senate into closed session today. It's been so long since the Democrats showed any backbone that we've all forgotten what it's like:

The Senate's Democratic leader, Harry M. Reid of Nevada, initiated the closed session by invoking Rule 21, which was seconded by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the minority whip. In a floor speech, Reid declared that "a cloud hangs over this Republican-controlled Congress for its unwillingness to hold the administration accountable" on a variety of issues.

He was particularly incensed about what he said was the refusal of the Senate Intelligence Committee under Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) to follow up on an investigation of the intelligence that led to the war in Iraq. A report was issued in July last year, but a "phase two" inquiry into how the Bush administration used that intelligence has not been held. Reid accused Roberts of breaking a promise to conduct that investigation in an effort to "provide political cover for this administration," which he said had "consistently and repeatedly manipulated the facts" in making its case to invade Iraq in 2003.

"I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations are not being conducted," Reid said. He then demanded the closed session.

The reaction from Senator Frist was Ted Stevensesque:
Never before, said Mr. Frist, "have ever I been slapped in the face with such an affront to the leadership of this grand institution."
At least Frist wasn't foolish enough to threaten to resign if the Democrats used Rule 21 again -- Durbin said that the Democrats would invoke the rule daily until the Republicans follow through on their oversight responsibilities.

The threat might not be an idle one, because it's so easy to carry it out. Rule 21 requires one senator to move for a closed session, and one senator to second the motion. Moving the senate back into open session requires a majority vote according to Rule 31. This means that if Rule 21 motions become a daily thing, the closed sessions probably won't last for over two hours like they did today, but they'll still be a big pain in the ass.

And well worth it. Of the many problems with the Iraq war, perhaps the most damaging for our own democracy was that it was actively sold to us with misinformation and lies. The President could have chosen instead to tell us plainly that as the commander-in-chief, he judged it in our nation's interest to invade Iraq, despite the low probability that Iraq had WMDs and despite the tenuous connections between Iraq and al Qaeda. Of course, that would have required political courage, because it's likely most people would have disagreed with him about the intelligence and the case for war would have been nothing more than "trust me." But rather than take the political risks of such a bold move, the administration (and particularly Dick Cheney) actively peddled two stories that they had to have known were spurious: the WMD threat and the connections between Iraq and al Qaeda.

The Republicans insisted not too long ago that lying about a blue dress and a blow job was a high crime worthy of impeachment. Now, they're soft-peddling the investigation into this administration's lies about national security threats for the purpose of whipping up a frenzy in support of a war of choice. All this is old, tired news by now. The democrats' unwillingness to put up with it any longer most definitely isn't.

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Standing Rules of The Senate

RULE XXI

SESSION WITH CLOSED DOORS

1. On a motion made and seconded to close the doors of the Senate, on the discussion of any business which may, in the opinion of a Senator, require secrecy, the Presiding Officer shall direct the galleries to be cleared; and during the discussion of such motion the doors shall remain closed.

2. When the Senate meets in closed session, any applicable provisions of rules XXIX and XXXI, including the confidentiality of information shall apply to any information and to the conduct of any debate transacted.

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UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds seems to have forgotten that the intelligence committee report was bifurcated so that the report on the Bush administration's behavior would be released after the election.

Comments

it's a wonder they don't invoke 21 more often.

how's it going dude? i really miss seeing you and "the marque."

u.e.

The President could have chosen instead to tell us plainly that as the commander-in-chief, he judged it in our nation's interest to invade Iraq, despite the low probability that Iraq had WMDs and despite the tenuous connections between Iraq and al Qaeda. [...] the administration (and particularly Dick Cheney) actively peddled two stories that they had to have known were spurious: the WMD threat and the connections between Iraq and al Qaeda.

What makes me *crazy* are the people who say, "Well, some Democrats supported the war!" and "Clinton and Carter both thought Saddam probably had weapons!" Yes, because the Democrats, especially two retired presidents, have all the access to information that the Administration has, rather than (much like the rest of the American people) receiving only what the Administration chose to dole out. The Dems who voted for war who are now pushing for disclosure on all the intelligence -- along with a few of the more honest and less partisan Republicans -- are pissed off that they were fooled and underinformed. The Administration may have never told a knowing falsehood, but I don't think so many lies of omission ever have been told, even to my parents about my dating life.

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