Friday, February 17, 2006

Yes, Another G.D. Game Plan: Battle Shifts to the House, But Don't Forget the Senate

We weren't beaten Thursday in the Senate Intelligence Committee -- the other team locked the doors to keep us from taking the field. I don't consider that a defeat, but a hopeful indication that they are very - very - nervous, and rightfully so. The fight is far from over: there are three other Congressional committees that may investigate the NSA scandal, and the good news today is that one of them, House Intelligence, WILL hold hearings. The debate there is over what form those hearings will take -- and where there's debate, there's a pressure point for us to mobilize against.

The New York Times reports:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 — Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said Thursday that they had agreed to open a Congressional inquiry prompted by the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. But a dispute immediately broke out among committee Republicans over the scope of the inquiry.

Representative Heather A. Wilson, the New Mexico Republican and committee member who called last week for the investigation, said the review "will have multiple avenues, because we want to completely understand the program and move forward."

But an aide to Representative Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who leads the committee, said the inquiry would be much more limited in scope, focusing on whether federal surveillance laws needed to be changed and not on the eavesdropping program itself.

The agreement to conduct an inquiry came as the Senate Intelligence Committee put off a vote on conducting its own investigation after the White House, reversing course, agreed to open discussions about changing federal surveillance law. Senate Democrats accused Republicans of bowing to White House pressure.

And lower down:

Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Mr. Hoekstra, said: "This is not an inquiry into the program. It's a comprehensive review of the FISA statute." ... But aides in two other Congressional offices, speaking only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said their understanding of the agreement was that the inquiry would focus in large part on operational details of the surveillance program.

Several points:

1. As I've suggested, the White House has two battle lines: first, to try and prevent hearings altogether; second, if there are hearings, to focus them on amending FISA to make the illegal NSA program legal, taking the emphasis off the broader questions of criminal conduct under current law, the unconstitutionality of warrantless surveillance under any statutes, the invasion of Americans' civil rights, and impeachment. In the Senate Intelligence Committee, the White House won outright: no hearings. Apparently, in the House, it's had to fall back to the second line of defense. So I'm going to ask you to start fighting that battle, too.

2. Heather Wilson continues to puzzle me. First she was on the side of the angels. Then she issued a statement veering back to the "amending FISA only" camp. Now she's back to seeking broader hearings. All I can guess is what I guessed before: she's in a close reelection race, and is trying to appear -- or even be -- moderate enough to retain her seat; and, who knows, she also may be one of those rare creatures, the sincere Republican right-wing, war-hawk, Bible-AND-Constitution-loving, social AND political-philosophical hawk. I don't care why, I'm just glad she seems to have realized that Bush has no coattails this year, is taking her reelection into her own hands, and is resisting Rove et al.

3. The battle in the Senate isn't over. The Senate Judiciary Committee is still in play; they've held one hearing already and at last check, still planned on holding two more. And the deal in the Senate Intelligence Committee is contingent on the White House negotiating in good faith. Another whistleblower coming forward and contradicting the White House's representations could be enough to blow the deal, especially if we and others keep the pressure on that committee's members and let them know they're still under scrutiny.

(In that last regard, I love this line from the NYT: in the Senate, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, said the White House had agreed in principle to negotiate on legislation that would give Congress authority to oversee the eavesdropping. I remember that at some point in the 1980s, when the Raiders were in Los Angeles, Oakland gave money to their owner, Al Davis, as part of "an agreement in principle" with Davis to move the team back. I remember scoffing at that quote and saying to someone, "Al Davis never kept an 'agreement in principle,' because he has no principles." Sure enough, Davis broke that deal. The Republicans remind me of Al Davis: they can be relied upon to break their promises, and eventually it will catch up to them.)

So what's the Game Plan? Same thing as always, Pinky: try to take over the world, by making our voices heard in the right places at the right time, which right now means letting the Senate Intelligence Committee know how we feel about what they did yesterday, and letting the House Intelligence Committee know we want BROAD hearings, not narrow ones, and PUBLIC hearings to the extent that's possible, not ones that are completely behind closed doors.

The Senate Intel Committee game plan, with talking points and contact info, can be found HERE. Make a few calls, because in the long run the post-game feedback, in my game book, is as important as the pregame lobbying.

Then start calling House Intel Committee members, in DC AND AT THEIR HOME OFFICES, to say, again: we want BROAD hearings, not narrow ones, and PUBLIC hearings to the extent that's possible, not ones that are completely behind closed doors.

House Intel Committee contact info follows. Keep the faith!



WHERE TO FIND OUT WHO YOUR CONGRESSPERSON IS: It never hurts to tell your own Congressperson what you think, even if they're not on the Intelligence Committee.

HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI: Give her the message, too!
S.F. District Office: (415) 556-4862
D.C. Office Direct: (202) 225-4965

Committee Contact Info

Republican members:

Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) (Chair)

Ray LaHood (R-IL-18)

Terry Everett (R-AL-2)

Heather Wilson (R-NM-21) (already tipping our way, believe it or not -- be nice!)

Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24)

Jo Ann Davis (R-VA-01)

Mac Thornberry (R-TX-13)

John McHugh (R-NY-23)

Todd Tiahrt (R-KS-04)

Mike Rogers (R-MI-08)

Rick Renzi (R-AZ-1)

Democratic members:

Jane Harman (D-CA-36) (Ranking Member)

Alcee Hastings (D-FL-23)

Silvestre Reyes (D-TX-16)

Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3)

Bud Cramer (D-AL-5)

Anna Eshoo (D-CA-14)

Rush D. Holt (D-NJ-12)

Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD-2)

John Tierney (D-MA-6)

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