Beginning of the End of the 109th Congress
GOP Leadership Holds the Course.
Improved Election Performance Promised.
In an expected move, the GOP leadership of the House and Senate will be largely unchanged, being staffed with moderates such as Leader John Boehner and Whip Roy Blunt. Leadership choices in the Senate are only slightly uncertain, as most observers expect the Leader position to be filled by Mitch McConnell, with the Whip being either Trent Lott or Lamar Alexander.
In related news, leadership of the Republican Party is poised to make Kay Bailey Hutchison the Chair of the Republican Policy Committee (RPC). The RPC suggests, but does not drive, the Republican agenda for the Senate. Ms. Hutchison would replace border-hawk Jon Kyl.
Senator Mel Martinez has accepted an offer by the White House to become the new chairman of the Republican National Committee. His past votes on immigration and border protection measures indicate that Senator Martinez is a strong supporter of White House comprehensive immigration and expansive citizenship policies.
Republican leadership is confident that "staying the political course" will result in the Republican party being returned to power in the 2008 election. The leaders have said that they hear the public outcry for comprehensive immigration reform, and for adopting mainstream-moderate positions on other issues. "We know that the public prefers bipartisan solutions over disagreement."
Republican leaders also plan a soft and gentle offensive against hyper-critical pundits such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter. "It is obvious to any pragmatic person that the Republican program is better than the Democrats," said an anonymous Republican source, "We secretly hope the Democrats cause total failure in Iraq and the US economy, which will prove that our approach to election success has been the right one all along."
Drat. I missed Frist and Reid's opening shots, except to the extent that I heard Reid mention Iraq, education, and other stuff. I assume that the two openings illuminated some parallel and divergent measures for the 109th Congress.
Senator Salazar notes that one of his high points, in memory, is the Gang of 14 deal that facilitated the cessation of filibusters on judicial nominees. He's sad that Chafee and DeWine were defeated. I must say, the Republican leadership agrees with Senator Salazar, and feels the same pain. No doubt it will strive to find replacement candidates that are -more- bipartisan and agreeable than those that were lost.
UPDATE @ 15:15
Senator Hutchison brings up one of the easier appropriations bills, H.R.5385 - for military quality of life functions of the Department of Defense, military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and related agencies. This one was stalled in the Senate since July 20.
UPDATE @ 18:05
Senate is in adjournment until 2:15 PM, Tuesday Nov. 14
Order of business is HR 5385, which will be completed Tuesday afternoon
The other items that Senator Frist noted as coming up were the Vietnam Trade legislation and the India civilian nuclear power agreement.
UPDATE @ November 14
Looking at two parts of the Congressional Record from yesterday,
2.RECENT ELECTIONS AND LOOKING AHEAD
Senator Frist indicates a small number of items on the agenda for this week and the lame duck session of the 109th Congress. He did NOT mention taking up of Bolton, judicial nominations, or the NSA terrorist surveillance / FISA overhaul legislation.
This week the Senate agenda will focus, as we mentioned earlier, on completing the remaining appropriations bills, and in the days and in the weeks ahead, we will consider the nomination of Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense and, as we just stated, the Vietnam trade legislation and the U.S.-India civilian nuclear technology bill.
The fact that Bolton, NSA, and contentious judicial nominees weren't mentioned doesn't mean that those matters won't come up - it just means that they are not perceived as viable priorities.
Senator Reid's 1.MOVING FORWARD is a must read as well, as it lays out the counterpoint to Republican-pushed direction. I found the following particularly interesting:
I believe it is time for our President to call for a regional conference that he participants in. I spoke to the King of Jordan today. He thought it was a good idea to have the President call for a meeting of the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan--even Syria. It is a regional problem. Let's talk about this regionally. It is more their problem than our problem. They have more to lose or win than we do. So I think a regional conference would be very important to regionalize our strategy.
We must revitalize the failed construction efforts. It was stunning to see in the weekend news how much less oil is being produced there in Iraq than before the war. It was stunning to see how little potable water is being produced there than before the war. And to see that the electricity in Baghdad--as an example, prior to the war it was 16 hours a day, and now it is down to less than 4 hours a day. We have to revitalize our failed reconstruction efforts.
Heh, the Senator is doing foreign affairs. At any rate, at least as interesting as the "regionalization" aspect (which actually is something that President Bush has touted as the primary upside to reforming Iraq into a democratically-operated government - with Iraq being a model for other Islamic countries to admire and emulate), Reid tosses out some infrastructure performance statistics that if true, show slow and troubled physical rebuilding.
The following bills were placed on the calendar:
S. 3994. A bill to extend the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996.
S. 4041. A bill to protect children and their parents from being coerced into administering a controlled substance in order to attend school, and for other purposes.
A bill (S. 4047) to prohibit the issuance of transportation security cards to individuals who have been convicted of certain crimes.
The President did not submit, and the Senate did not receive any new nominations for Federal District or Circuit Court judges.
Washington Prowler - GATES OPEN
According to Capitol Hill sources, Democrat leadership in the Senate indicated to the President that they had no objections to the nomination of Robert Gates to replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Look for a vote by the full Senate to take place perhaps as early as the second week of December. Hearings on Gates are slated to begin the first week of December.
"I wouldn't say it's a done deal, but it's pretty close," says a Democrat leadership staffer. "There seems to be consensus to move the nomination through the process and get it done."
UPDATE @ 15:45
Bit of a battle regarding a Conrad amendment 5144 (Emergency Farm Relief Act of 2006) relating to 4 billion dollars in disaster relief assistance for ranchers and farmers. Conrad insists on a vote on his amendment, and threatens that if he does not get a vote, he will stop the "wheels of progress" in the Senate by every manipulation of Senate Rules that are available to him.
The counterpoint is Santorum, who is threatening to have Conrad's amendment be rejected as being non-germane (Senate Rule XVI), with that ruling coming from the chair, and easily coming if any Senator makes the point of order and asks for the ruling.
I'm wondering if this amendment is similar to the one Ben Nelson was seeking as relief for "Drought David." Nelson's was for 6.5 billion, Conrad's is for 4.1 billion. A pittance - when the alternative is stopping the good work of the Senate. Just reject the damn amendment on a vote and get on with business. Sheesh. A majority of GOP Senators can't just vote this bloody thing down? Oh yeah, "compassionate conservatism," the amendment would pass.
UPDATE @ 17:03
Senator Specter introduces S.4051 - legislation to revise FISA. This being a modification of a proposal advanced by Feinstein and Specter. The legislation is a reaction to exposure of the NSA terrorist surveillance program. Senator Specter indicates that a referral to the FISA Court, to judge on the legality of the program, is now a moot proposal in light of cases winding their way through the federal court system.
The Specter proposal calls for warrants for all calls that originate in the United States, but not for those that originate overseas. It also calls for review (of what?) by the Supreme Court. I wonder how this bill compares with the House-passed legislation, and then how the two would be reconciled in conference.
Feinstein says that Specter is omitting a part that recites "exclusive authority of FISA" for surveillance, which is a reflection of the rock-bottom dispute regarding balance of powers between Congress and the President, as which will be the superior pre-determiner of "reasonableness" of a given surveillance activity.
Feinstein wonders if all calls coming in from overseas are exempt from a warrant requirement, and Specter says these calls are covered by the existing FISA regime - and the question between the President's interpretation (executive's Article II authority is superior) and Feinstein's interpretation (Congress' FISA-granted power is the limit of executive authority) being the "correct" one is a question that only the Courts can answer.
Feinstein says she assumes the introduction of the bill is meant as a marker, not to be taken up in the 109th Congress. Senator Specter says that he intends for this bill to be debated and voted in the 109th session, and that he believes the bill comports with Feinstein's sense of what a bill should and can say. A link to the Congressional Record ....
UPDATE @ 17:53
The Senate is on its way to passing, unanimously, on a roll call vote!, a motion to instruct the Sergeant at Arms to compel the attendance of Senators. I wonder what the ramifications of voting this DOWN would be ;-). At any rate, this is simply a formal way to get all the Senators in chambers in preparation for getting on with voting on pending amendments and the underlying appropriations bill. A "time filler" if you will. The last three Senators called? Obama and Clinton, then Reid.
The Motion to Instruct the Sergeant at Arms to Compel Attendance was
PASSED (on November 14, 2006) on a 95 - 01 vote.
Senator Allen cast a NAY vote. Now I don't care what you think, that's funny.
On a completely separate subject ...
Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
Ranking Member, Judiciary Committee
On the Nomination of Thomas M. Hardiman
November 14, 2006
The Committee returns during the lame duck session of Congress for a hearing today on the nomination of Judge Thomas M. Hardiman to an important seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. This lame duck session comes on the heels of national elections in which Americans overwhelmingly cast their ballots for change. For too long, the White House has undermined our bipartisan process for selecting judicial nominees by refusing to work with us on consensus nominees.
In the days following the election, the President spoke about becoming a uniter and working with Congress in a bipartisan way. Regrettably, it appears he will not be keeping that promise. I understand the President intends to renominate a number of controversial nominees. That unfortunate decision evidences that he intends to stay the partisan course when it comes to judicial nominations.
UPDATE @ 18:37
Sounds as though farmer rancher relief, the Conrad "need," has been agreed to move over to H.R.5384 - Appropriations for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and related agencies, where it won't be subjected to a point of order for being non-germane. I assume that it also won't be objected to as being a budget buster, because even if a budget point of order is raised, it can be waived on 60 votes.
UPDATE @ 18:45
Senator Hutchison reports two amendments, then final passage, where negotiations are aimed at adjusting the two amendments to permit adoption on a voice vote. She will know by 7:00 PM whether or not the Reid and Allen amendments have been settled, or if one or the other or both will require roll call votes. The order of procedure:
- Reid amendment
- Allen Amendment
- Final Passage (will be done on a voice vote)
UPDATE @ 19:07
The Reid and Allen amendments passed on voice votes. Senator Hutchison is requesting a voice vote for final passage, which is granted as of 19:07.
UPDATE @ 19:50
Frist closes up shop. Senate opens at 2:15 PM tomorrow.
Tomorrow will be Ag appropriations. Looking for agreement with DEMs on taking up the US/India Civilian Nuclear Agreement.
The White House sent some nominations, none of them judicial, with the only "in your eye" repeat being that of Richard Stickler, of West Virginia, to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health.
UPDATE @ November 15
Trent Lott has won the position of Minority Whip. How energizing! Well, compared with Lamar Alexander, he is ;-)
I wonder who the House Republicans will choose for leaders. Boehner/Pence?
Mitch McConnell = Minority Leader
Trent Lott = Assistant Minority Leader (Whip)
Jon Kyl = Republican Conference Chairman
Kay Baily Hutchison = Republican Policy Committee Chairman
John Cornyn = Republican Conference Vice Chairman
John Ensign = National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman
UPDATE @ 14:20
Morning business, working on time agreement for US-India Civilian Nuclear Power bill and Agriculture appropriations bill. Need to get to the Continuing Resolution passed by the House as well. Some votes will occur this afternoon.
UPDATE @ 14:27
The Senate has reached a time agreement for handling the US-India Civilian Nuclear Power bills (S.3709 and H.R.5682) eventually resulting in passage of a version that differs from the House-passed one, meaning a conference will be required.
Quite a few amendments will be taken up. I noted only a few: Ensign - inspection (closed session); Reed; Levin; Obama ...
Senator Frist noted that this bill would be voted on by the end of the week, and that the Senate would then stand in recess until December 4th. Senator Reid noted that a number of the amendments to the US-India Civilian Nuclear Power bill would require debate, but that the DEMs would work with the GOP in order to have a vote by Friday.
UPDATE @ 14:52
Senator Bill Nelson, two items to be brought up in this session:
- Tax Extenders
- With Vitter, on appropriation bill for FDA, an amendment to allow Americans to purchase low-cost prescription drugs from Canada, by prohibiting US Customs from detaining shipments of FDA-approved drugs
UPDATE @ 15:09
Conrad - Recalls that he withdrew his amendment based on a promise from Frist that the Senate would go to the Agriculture appropriations bill today. Now he sees that the Ag appropriations bill is not the order of business today. Therefore, he (Conrad) is in a position to object to business of the Senate until his farmer/rancher amendment is given an opportunity for a hearing and a vote.
It will be interesting if he uses this as justification to stand in the way of the US-India Civilian Nuclear Power bill. Dorgan agrees with the summary of the GOP promise, and reiterates that the federal relief sought has been passed twice by the Senate.
Mr. CONRAD. ... that I would have a chance to offer the amendment at that time and other Senators' rights would be reserved, and that I would withdraw my amendment from this bill with the understanding that we would go to the Agriculture Appropriations bill tomorrow. That is what we had tentatively agreed to. I think we just have to have the leader indicate publicly that that is his understanding as well. Then we can break the gridlock here and proceed to finish Military Construction. ...
Mr. President, I notice the majority leader has returned to the floor. I tried to recount for our colleagues the status of our discussion, and the understanding that we had reached, that I would withdraw my amendment from this bill with the understanding that we would go to the Agriculture Appropriations bill tomorrow and have a chance to offer it there. All Senators' rights would be reserved. That is the status of it. I just ask if that is the majority leader's understanding. If it is, I will then be willing to withdraw my amendment from the Military Construction bill and we can conclude that.
Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, in the last hour or so we have had numerous discussions on the floor, as our colleagues have observed, and many participated in the discussion. My understanding and the general agreement that we have is to go to the Agriculture Appropriations bill tomorrow. That does facilitate the progress we need to make on the current bill that is on the floor, which I hope and expect to be able to finish tonight. If that is the case, we plan on going to the Agriculture bill tomorrow. All rights will be reserved for all Senators, of course. We don't have an agreement, but that is the intention. The disaster ag relief bill is very important and has been talked about by Republicans and Democrats and we expect to debate it tomorrow. It is a more appropriate place for this amendment. So I think this is a good understanding. ...
Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, today we did complete our work on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill. Tomorrow afternoon, we hope to begin the Agriculture appropriations bill. We are also continuing our efforts to reach an agreement for the consideration of the U.S.-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act.
Lesson - don't accept intentions or good understandings. The man said "we don't have an agreement," that is pretty clear.
I also wonder whether Reid is working behind the scenes with Conrad, to throw a wrench in the works. It seems to me that the Ag appropriations bill has to come up at some point before the end of the 109th Congress - although in Conrad's defense, Ag appropriations could easily be swept into an omnibus spending bill with little opportunity for amendment.
UPDATE @ 15:45
Lautenberg rendered a forgettable speech relating to US policy in Iraq.
Senator Conrad rises to say that he is open to accommodation -- in other words, he is softening his bellicose threat to stall Senate business. I'm not sure if he has the power to object to taking up the US-India Civilian Nuclear Power bill, or if the UC agreement recited by Frist earlier includes crossing the "motion to take up" barrier. If I recall correctly, the UC agreement began "at a time to be agreed upon by the majority and minority leaders."
Given the small number of hours left in the 109th, it is fascinating that the Senate is slow to get past Morning Business.
Senator Conrad moves to have the Ag appropriations bill taken up, and is faced with objection. He asserts that he then will object to other matters being taken up. He again asks for UC to move to the Ag appropriations bill, and is again rebuffed.
Dorgan makes the same point I alluded to, "If the Senate is doing nothing (as it is), why not do something? (that is, Ag appropriations)." Fair question - but I doubt it will be answered.
UPDATE @ 16:15
Conrad rises as routine UC is sought for four Committees to meet, and he objects. He says he regrets having to object, and explains that he does so because the deal made yesterday (to bring up Ag appropriations today) was not kept.
UPDATE @ 17:51
Senator Conrad says that leadership indicates an intention to adjourn for the evening, and he says that his understanding is that adjournment will preserve status quo (morning business).
This is a peek into how a minority can "control" the Senate. If Conrad had 40 like-minded Senators behind him, the Senate would be forced to accede to his wishes, being unable to assert otherwise via cloture.
White House Resubmits 6 Court Nominees
By DEVLIN BARRETT - Associated Press Writer
The White House submitted six names Wednesday: Terrence Boyle of North Carolina and William James Haynes II of Virginia to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.; Michael Brunson Wallace of Mississippi to the 5th Circuit in New Orleans; Peter Keisler to the D.C. Circuit; and William Gerry Myers III and Norman Randy Smith, both of Idaho, for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco.
Well I'll be dipped. Maybe the President will insist on disposition by up or down vote.
UPDATE @ November 16
Bobby Chesney at the National Security Advisors blog has crafted an excellent summary of Specter's proposed NSA/FISA revisions.
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, tomorrow we will conduct a short period of morning business before turning to the United States-India nuclear bill. We were able to reach an agreement to limit amendments to the bill earlier today, and it is my hope that we will be able to expedite consideration and vote final passage tomorrow. We are also attempting to begin work on the Agriculture appropriations bill.
Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that at a time to be determined by the majority leader in consultation with the Democratic leader, the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of Calendar No. 527, S. 3709, the U.S.-India nuclear bill. I further ask that a manager's amendment to be agreed upon by Senators Lugar, Biden, and Frist be agreed to as original text for the purpose of further amendment, and that the only other amendments in order be: Ensign regarding inspection, to be considered in closed session; Reed, Levin, Obama, two Dorgan amendments, Feingold, Boxer, Feinstein, Harkin, up to seven Bingaman, Kennedy, and Dodd. I further ask that all amendments except Senator Feingold's be subject to relevant second degrees and that all be related to the subject matter of the bill.
The Senate did basically nothing yesterday, ground to a halt based on Senator Conrad's objections, based on his feeling stiffed by leadership which had promised to bring up the Ag appropriations bill, but moved instead to the US-India Civilian Nuclear Power bill. That same issue is in place this morning, and the depth of Conrad's resolve has not been revealed.
UPDATE @ 09:37
Senator Frist summarizes what is to be done today, tomorrow, and in the weeks of December. The only items he mentions specifically are:
- US-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement
- Appropriations bills (Ag first)
- Free trade agreements (Viet Nam and a couple of South American countries)
- Tax (relief) extenders
Understanding is to do US-India nuclear today, then start the ag appropriations bill.
Senator Reid says that it's important to pass the US-India nuclear agreement, signaling that he may be leaning on Conrad to drop his objection to the order of business.
Senator Frist says that an announcement as to order of business will be coming within the next 20 minutes.
UPDATE @ 09:59
A number of Senators engaged in a colloquy regarding their faith, and Senator Lincoln even referred to her Bible-based faith. Notice that this is not a matter of Congress making a law respecting the establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Conrad has apparently agreed to the order being US-India then ag appropriations, Senator Frist announced a unanimous consent agreement, with the intention being to complete BOTH bills today, so there is no need for any voting tomorrow.
UPDATE @ 10:12
Senator Conrad asks if the UC agreement provides that ag appropriations be brought up today, and further that he be given an opportunity to enter a first degree amendment. He reiterates his understanding that the ag appropriations bill will come up today, several times, and the chair says that is in fact true.
I think that is a risky promise, given the Senate's ability to drag out any given bill for an inordinate amount of time, and that includes the US-India Civilian Nuclear bill.
S.3709 US-India nuclear bill is now the pending business of the Senate. Senator Lugar is the floor manager.
UPDATE @ 20:18
Bingaman amendment (5174) on a 26-73 vote
Dorgan amendment (5178) on a 27-71 vote
Ensign amendment (5181) on a 27-71 vote
Feingold amendment (5183) on a 25-71 vote
Boxer amendment (5187) on a 38-59 vote ...
The Senate PASSED S.3709 - United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act on a 85 - 12 vote
The House version of the bill (H.R.5682) now goes to conference.
UPDATE @ 20:38
Senator Frist propounds a unanimous consent request that the Ag appropriations bill be taken up at 2 PM on Tuesday, December 5th, with a vote at 5:00 or 5:15 PM. This is agreeable with Senator Conrad. I figure the Senate's business is basically done for the week and for the month.
What a productive week, eh? A simple military construction bill, elect leaders, and the US-India Civil Nuclear agreement. I suppose, in hindsight, it was more productive than "health week" and a few others.
UPDATE @ November 15
Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that when the Senate completes its business today, it stand in adjournment under the provisions of H. Con. Res. 496 until 10 a.m. on Monday, December 4. I further ask consent that following the prayer and pledge, the morning hour be deemed expired, the Journal of proceedings be approved to date, and the Senate then automatically adjourn over until 12 noon on Tuesday, December 5; provided further that following the prayer and pledge, the morning hour be deemed expired, the Journal of proceedings be approved to date, the time for the two leaders be reserved, and the Senate proceed to a period of morning business until 2 p.m., with Senator DeWine to speak for up to 2 hours.
We will return for business after the Thanksgiving holiday. The continuing resolution will expire at the end of that week, as of December 8, and therefore we will need to work toward a conclusion on the appropriations process. As I announced earlier, our next vote will occur on Tuesday, December 5, around 5 p.m. [on an amendment to the Ag appropriations bill]
The House Republicans have elected John Boehner to be minority leader, with 168 votes. Runnerup Pence obtained 27 votes.
Roy Blunt was elected minority whip with 137 votes, to John Shadegg's 57.
UPDATE @ 15:10
Joining Senator Leahy in proposing changes to the Military Commissions Act, Senator Dodd proposes amendments that would restore habeas corpus rights to military detainees.
Dodd's press release says, in part
The Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act:
- Restores Habeas Corpus protections to detainees
- Narrows the definition of unlawful enemy combatant to individuals who directly participate in hostilities against the United States who are not lawful combatants
- Bars information gained through coercion from being introduced as evidence in trials
- Empowers military judges to exclude hearsay evidence they deem to be unreliable
- Authorizes the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to review decisions by the Military commissions
- Limits the authority of the President to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions and makes that authority subject to congressional and judicial oversight
- Provides for expedited judicial review of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 to determine the constitutionally of its provisions
I'll be looking to see if Dodd's proposed amendment removes the references to 18 USC 2340(2), 18 USC 113, and by implication, 18 USC 1365.
The bill is S.4060 - Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act of 2006, and it's text is at Page 11060 of the 109th Senate's Congressional Record.
At a glance, it preserves President Bush's definition of torture, cruel and inhuman, and other war crimes - in such a way that waterboarding is not legally torture.
UPDATE @ November 22
So the GOP-lead 109th Senate will have a rather modest conclusion, taking on the Agricultural appropriations bill (with the farmer/rancher relief bill as an amendment), and crafting (and defending aginst howls of complaint) a continuing resolution for the rest of the approrpiations bills..
Monday the 4th is a "nothing day" (prayer, pledge, adjourn), and the Senate isn't planning to resume regular business until noon, Tuesday, the 5th. The first vote is expected to be on Conrad's farmer/rancher relief amendment, with that coming at 5 PM Tuesday. Senator Landrieu has proposed several amendments to H.R. 5384, and obtained time to speak.
1.--Ordered, That on Tuesday, December 5, 2006, at 2:00 p.m., the Senate proceed to the consideration of H.R. 5384, an act making appropriations for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2007, and for other purposes; provided that the Senator from North Dakota (Mr. Conrad) be recognized to offer a first degree amendment following the statements of the two managers; further, that following the remarks of the Senator from North Dakota (Mr. Conrad), the Senator from North Dakota (Mr. Dorgan) be recognized to speak, and that following those comments the Senator from Louisiana (Ms. Landrieu) be recognized to speak for up to 10 minutes.
I suspect she will be pursuing her Amendment No. 5189 that adjusts royalty payments by oil companies to the federal government, for minerals extracted from the outer continental shelf.