A shitstorm just happened today in the U.S. House of Representatives.
(I'll start with a quick summary, and then go into detail for those who want more info.)
A congressman died not long ago, and the service was held this morning at the House. But Republicans interrupted it midstream with political talk, which got Democrats riled up. Then democrats refused to vote on FISA, which got Republicans all riled up, too. So every time anything happened afterward, the republicans retaliated by using the House rules to annoy Democrats as much as possible. Then Democrats retaliate by deciding to authorize a deputizion of a civil force to potentially arrest White House officals, and Republicans are so pissed that they boycott the vote and stampede out.
This all really happened today in the House of Representatives. CSPAN was never this good before.
Okay, so for the 10% of you who want to know more, here's the rundown.
First, on Congressman Tom Lantos' service interruption, the details I have are still sketchy. I'll update this later once I get more info.
Second, on FISA: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act expires this weekend. Once it expires, if a new category of target needs to be surveilled, the surveillance of thoe targets has to wait until a new FISA bill is passed. This is not as bad as Bush and other republicans are making it out to be; it's not like current terrorists will cease to be surveilled, nor is it true that new terrorists will not be able to be surveilled, so long as they are a part of a group we are already aware of--at least for the next year. It really isn't that big a deal at all, but hearing Bush speak, you'd never realize that. He is saying that because of the House not passing a bill on this, they are putting Americans at risk.
Anyway, the reason the House is not passing the bill is very easy to understand: they don't want to give the Telecom industry retroactive immunity from the violations of privacy law they perpetrated after 9/11. Bush's argument is that if they don't get immunity, then in the future, the Telecoms won't actively help us out in surveilling terrorists. This is true enough. But it leaves out the fact that if we know of a terrorist that needs to be surveilled, we can always get a court order to force the telecoms to help. Their voluntary help is not necessary, and I for one feel much better living in a world where the telecoms are scared to just volunteer information that they think might interest the gov't. And no, that doesn't make me a terrorist.
The second reason the House isn't passing the bill is because as currently written, the Senate bill cedes authority to the Executive branch that allows them to have surveillance powers beyond what is regulated in FISA. In effect, this would give a blank check (albeit to an account with limited funds) to Bush to trample over even more civil liberties. The House would prefer a FISA bill that has exclusive control over foreign surveillance.
In addition, I should mention that it is not like they just up and said they're not going to pass FISA. They offered a limited short term extension to the current FISA so they can debate more and come to a consensus later on. The republicans passed on this, trying to force the democrats to pass their version of FISA instead. It would've worked, too, since it appears that there are enough votes in the House to actually pass the republican's version. But democrats siderailed a vote by instead voting on other things.
This whole time, the republicans were doing everything they could to annoy democrats during the proceedings. Someone would say: "I'd like to call for an early adjournment", and then another republican would second. This forced Pelosi to call a vote on the issue: she would ask all who wanted adjournment to say 'aye', and those opposed to say 'nay'. Nearly everyone would say 'nay', of course, since they were in the middle of doing their work for the day--even Republicans didn't really want to adjourn, since they were trying to get the democrats to hold the FISA vote. So Pelosi would proclaim that the nays have it, and another republican would dispute this obviously correct assessment, and another rep. would second it. Which means that they'd have to take a written vote, one by one, which, by the way, takes at least fifteen minutes in the House. Then after it was clear that the nays were in the majority, they'd go on to the next item on the agenda, and another republican would then call for an early adjournment again, and the whole ordeal would repeat itself. This happened ALL DAY LONG.
Democrats were so angry over this that they then passed a bill that takes the rather extreme step of stipulating that they will deputize a civil force to arrest Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers on the charge of contempt of Congress. (You might recall that during the former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales fiasco a while back, Bolten and Miers cited executive privilege and flatly refused to even show up when the House summoned them to appear.) They did this because the current Attorney General Michael Mukasey announced that he would not prosecute against White House officials who refused to testify in this manner, since they likely did so based on the advice of the former Atty. General.
I should mention that the wording they used described this mechanism as a civil lawsuit which, if the judge ruled in the House's favor, would allow the judge to compel Bolten and Miers to testify or go to jail. That's right, you heard correctly: a civil lawsuit that allows jailtime. If this happened, and the Atty. General refused to enforce it, this would require the deputization of a civil force to enforce the judge's ruling.
The whole idea of this pissed off the republicans so much that instead of voting on it, they all boycotted the vote en masse and just left the House floor. It passed overwhelmingly, of course.
This is why I love living in DC. I live for this kind of thing. Anyway, I'll update the above with links as I get access to them later in the day. The first draft of this article comes straight from listening to CSPAN radio as the events took place in real time.
And since the writer's strike is over, I'm expecting big things tonight with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I'll be very displeased if they don't cover this story as well as I envision them being able to do.