Congress grabbed the headlines yesterday — “Dodd’s Filibuster Threat Stalls Wiretap Bill.” The Huffington Post has perhaps one of the best write-ups. To quote:
A smile on his reddened face, Dodd was at once gracious and joyful by the turn of events. He had been arguing his case for approximately eight hours.
“I want to thank the leader [Sen. Reid],” he said. “This is an awkward time. We want to get the bill done. My longstanding concerns were over retroactive immunity. Look forward to coming back in January. And hopefully between then and January a suggestion can be made to compromise without granting full immunity…I appreciate the fact that we will not have to pursue this further.”
Wikipedia’s definition makes the parliamentary maneuver seem nearly impossible to accomplish.
As a form of obstructionism in a legislature or other decision making body, a filibuster is an attempt to extend debate upon a proposal in order to delay or completely prevent a vote on its passage. The term first came into use in the United States Senate, where Senate rules permit a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless a super majority of three-fifths of the Senate (60 Senators, if all 100 seats are filled) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture.
Just the threat of a filibuster, a set of speeches Monday on the floor of the U.S. Senate, by Senator Chris Dodd was enough to catch the attention of the Senate leadership. I began my writing day today with a cross-post at The Reaction, of “Like an oasis in the desert,” a reflection about Senator Dodd’s blocking action. It was not technically a filibuster, because he relinquished the floor to other senators. But he stayed engaged on the floor the entire day, except for a brief period to speak to the press. The Day.com (in Connecticut) chronicled the episode rather well. I quote from Ted Mann’s post:
As his opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination stayed in Iowa, scrambling for victory in the January primaries, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut came back to Washington and eked out a win on the Senate floor.
With Dodd threatening a filibuster, Senate Democratic leaders pulled a proposed reform of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act Monday night, agreeing to reassess a provision that would have granted retroactive legal immunity to the telecommunications companies that participated in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.
The withdrawal of the bill came after Dodd had been on the Senate floor — making speeches, threatening amendments, answering questions — for roughly eight hours.
. . . His aides said he was prepared for a much longer fight, including the relatively rare step of a Senate filibuster. Under Senate rules, Dodd would have been able to hold off a vote on the FISA bill only if he remained on his feet and continued to speak, yielding only for purposes of questions from his colleagues.
Why does it really matter? “We are All Targets—more reasons to stand with Sen. Dodd and against immunity” is one of the best background pieces I have read recently. It was written by just prior to yesterday’s session by RedWind, and his core argument is worth quoting:
All of this—the lies about when and why the surveillance began, the likely misuse of the surveillance infrastructure, the legal gymnastics used by the Bush Administration to cast the broadest of dragnets, and the cozy relationship between the government and the telco industry that it should regulate—all of this merits, indeed, requires the greatest degree of scrutiny from the Congress and the courts. That so many in Congress would choose not only to abdicate their rights to oversight, but now seek to strip that power from the people is either the height of ignorance or insolence. Either way, it should not be tolerated.
View my current slide show about the Bush years, “Millennium,” at the bottom of this column.
(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)
My “creativity and dreaming” post today at Making Good Mondays is about scrapbooking.