November 02, 2005

Democrats Force Attention Back to Iraq Intelligence

Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took the rare step of closing the Senate to non-Senators.  By doing so, he forced the Republican majority to issue a timeline for a long-delayed investigation into the Bush Administration's use of intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq. 

But why did closing the Senate make the Republicans finally act? Reid threatened to keep the Senate closed until the Republicans agreed to proceed with the investigation. Coming after the indictment of the Vice-President's chief of staff "Scooter" Libby, the longer the Senate was closed, the more the media would have focused on the showdown and the stalled intelligence report.  In short, it was a parliamentary maneuver that successfully got the news media's attention. The Republicans gave in within hours.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post explains the maneuver in detail, and also reveals why the hapless majority leader Bill Frist was so mad:

The Senate follows a strict script, written by the majority leader himself, who decides what legislation will be debated and who will speak when. But yesterday, using the arcane provisions of Standing Rule 21 for the first time in 25 years, the minority party seized the agenda and forced the chamber to close its doors until Republicans agreed to a probe of how the administration handled prewar Iraq intelligence.

Democrats did not deny it was a stunt: a brazen effort to change the subject from the Supreme Court confirmation of Sam Alito, which Republicans prefer, to war deaths and Scooter Libby's indictment. "Alito had his day," a Democratic leadership aide said as the chamber dissolved into confusion. "We're going back to our story."

It was a cheap trick -- and it worked brilliantly. Reporters dropped their stories about Alito and covered the melee in the Senate. CNN titled the episode "Congress in Crisis." MSNBC displayed a live shot of a mostly empty hallway outside the Senate chamber and a clock showing elapsed time since the Senate went into closed session.

Republicans knew they were licked. They agreed to set a schedule for the long-delayed intelligence committee investigation Democrats demanded. "Today, the American people had a victory," Reid declared.

By Will Friedman in Politics | Permalink  | 

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