Senator Harry Reid, in a motion seconded by Senator Richard Durbin, just called for a very rare closed door executive session of the Senate. This motion is called “Rule 21” so that Senators can discuss “secret matters.”
I’m impressed. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is currently on C-Span lambasting Reid and his leadership for this move, which Frist is calling sneaky and underhanded.
Frist actually just said that he will be “unable to trust Senator Reid for the next year and half of this Congressional session.” Frist said that the Democrats have gone into the gutter to fight.
I think it was bold and a very constructive move by Reid.
The reason that Reid and Durbin have maneuvered the Senate into executive session is that Senator Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has failed to move forward on “Phase Two” of a report on the use and abuse of Iraq WMD intelligence before the war. While the first phase focused on the CIA and intelligence bureaucracy’s missteps on WMD intel, the second phase is supposed to focus more specifically on those in the White House and close to the President in the executive branch and how Iraq-related WMD intelligence may have been misused.
Senator Roberts has delayed and delayed and delayed. And Reid said no more.
But the other stroke of political genius here is that while Senator Frist is spitting on Reid and the Democrats, Reid has just successfully focused the spotlight BACK on Iraq, back on intelligence abuses, back on Patrick Fitzgerald and the Libby indictment.
Reid was ticked off after having had no consultation with the President regarding the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
Harry Reid, giving NO NOTICE to Senator Frist, has just kicked the Republican leadership and the White House in the rear — and has done the nation a great service by making sure that our public attention is still focused on the mismanagement and serious abuses of the national security circumstances of the United States.
In sending the U.S. Senate into executive session, Senator Reid read from former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson’s talk at the New America Foundation as Wilkerson recounted the secretive process that took America into war against Iraq. Reid is arguing that Congress must play an oversight role over the Executive — and that Congress is demonstrating no oversight responsibilities at all, particularly as regards the war.
Fascinating stuff unfolding — and very important.
— Steve Clemons
Ed. Note: Thanks to 007 for this quick intel today.
Read Senator Jay Rockefeller’s Statement below. Rockefeller, of course, is Ranking Member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:
“At its core, this is about accountability — Congressional accountability and White House accountability.
“Congress has a fundamental, constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight — that’s what checks and balances are all about Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and we have utterly failed.
“My colleagues and I have tried for two years to do our oversight work, and for two years we have been undermined, avoided, put off, and vilified by the other side. Any line of questioning that has brought us too close to the White House has been thwarted.
“At some point the majority needs to understand that we are willing to bring the Senate to a halt until they will join us in conducting the kind of investigation this situation demands.
“The American people still want to know — now more than ever — why the United States went to war, whether they were misled, and whether our intelligence was misused.
“Whether these actions amount to crimes is not the litmus test for congressional oversight. Mr. Fitzgerald is investigating possible criminal activity by senior White House officials, and we won’t and shouldn’t get in the way of his work.
“But the American people deserve to know not just whether this Administration committed crimes, but whether this Administration told the truth — the full truth, the straight story.
“And if they didn’t — if they misled about the war and if they misused intelligence, then the American people need to know that the Congress will do everything in its power the make sure that it never happens again.”
Reid, Durbin, Rockefeller — I salute all three. It’s time to spend some political capital on this battle with the White House over the Iraq War and how we got into it.
— Steve Clemons
Here is some background on Rule 21 Senate “Closed Door” Sessions:
KEY FACTS ON SECRET SESSIONS OF THE SENATE
~ Since 1929, the Senate has held 53 secret sessions, generally for reasons of national security.
i. For example, in 1997 the Senate held a secret session to consider the Chemical Weapons Convention (treaty).
ii. In 1992, the Senate met in secret session to consider Ã¢â‚¬Å“most favored nationÃ¢â‚¬Â trade status for China.
iii. In 1988, a session was held to consider the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and in 1983 a session was held on Nicaragua.
iv. In 1942, a secret session was held on navy plans to build battleships and aircraft carriers, and in 1943 a secret session was held on reports from the war fronts.
~ Six of the most recent secret sessions, however, were held during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.
SENATE RULES ON SECRET SESSIONS
~ During a secret session, the doors of the chamber are closed, and the chamber and its galleries are cleared of all individuals except Members and those officers and employees specified in the rules or essential to the session.
~ Standing Senate Rules 21, 29, and 31 cover secret sessions for legislative and executive business. Rule 21 calls for the Senate to close its doors once a motion is made and seconded. The motion is not debatable, and its disposition is made behind closed doors.
— Steve Clemons
Here is a link to watch Senator Harry Reid’s Rule 21 invoked floor speech. Quite impressive.
— Steve Clemons