February 15, 2008

Obstruction of FISA and Judges

House Democrats’ startling decision yesterday to leave town without allowing a vote on the intelligence bill passed overwhelmingly by the Senate – thus allowing the Protect America Act (PAA) to expire at midnight tonight – reminds us of Senate Democrats’ handling of the President’s judicial nominees for several reasons.

In both cases, a key role is played by special interest groups: trial lawyers eager to sue telecommunications companies that cooperate in the surveillance of foreign terrorists, and ultra-liberal groups whose raison d'etre is the savaging of conservative judicial nominees. The problem is not that these groups succeed in convincing a majority of senators or House members to vote against a sorely needed bill or an exceptionally qualified nominee. Quite the opposite. In both cases, it is precisely because a clear majority of members support the President’s judicial nominees and the Protect America Act that they are never allowed to come to a vote.

In both cases, the Democratic leadership appears to be so beholden to special interests – and probably so blinded by their hatred of the President – that it’s willing to hand a winning issue to the GOP. In 2004, the last time judicial nominees were an election issue in Senate races, the issue cost Senate Democrats and their leader, Tom Daschle, dearly. Yet Senate Democrats persist in obstructing judicial nominees at risk of making it a big issue this November.

At the same time, the House leadership’s decision to let the Protect America Act expire plays right into the hands of John McCain. In the best case, House Democrats are elevating the visibility of War on Terror issues – McCain’s strong suit – while demonstrating that they are incapable of the bipartisanship that characterized the Senate’s overwhelming passage of the same bill. In the worst case, Nancy Pelosi and company are increasing the risk of a pre-election terrorist attack that would virtually guarantee the election of John McCain, especially if it can be blamed on their failure to renew the PAA.

Finally, our view on passage of the Protect America Act is the same as our philosophy on the confirmation of judicial nominees. If senators and House members are sincere in their belief that the PAA is a threat to civil liberties or that the President’s judicial nominees threaten civil rights – they can and should vote against passage or confirmation on the floor. What they should not do is thwart the will of the majority by preventing a fair up-or-down vote.

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