Senator, I know you've been inclined to let John Roberts slide without a political fight and take his seat on the Supreme Court, and I know why you've been so inclined. But surely no one knows better than you that
September 11thHurricane Katrina changed everything.
It's time to play rough, and I know you're ready. You've said as much, and you've been willing of late to call Bush on his bullshit, when necessary. Now it's time to use the biggest power you've got as a Senator, and leverage your unique position to take the fight to him where it counts, and get listened to this time.
Senator, if you have any hope of getting your state back on its feet, and rescuing the citizens of New Orleans, it should be plain as day by now that you're gonna have to take hostages.
That's a power they gave you as a United States Senator, and it's time for you to exercise it.
Up to now, perhaps you thought that you'd be listened to and your warnings heeded just by virtue of your position as a Senator. But the Bush administration has unwittingly imparted to you a lesson in the pure exercise of power -- they're only interested in the "power" of a Senator to the extent that she can use it to hurt or help them. They don't think they need your help with anything, and so far, you haven't been able to hurt them, even by trying to shame them before the world by exposing their cheap theatrics in the face of disaster.
It comes down to this: They've got what you want, and now you've got to prove you have what they want. That's how deals are made and things get done. You already know that. You wouldn't have gotten to where you are today without knowing. But I want to remind you of what you can do when you pull out all the stops, because while Bush has certainly put the screws to you in every way possible, you've been rather reserved in fighting back, despite the examples cited above. Let's put some muscle behind the threats.
Senator, you need to block the nomination of Judge John Roberts. You need to take advantage of the fact that he's essentially been renominated to a new post, and you need to put a hold on that nomination. And the next nomination. And all nominations. For everything.
I know that's not how you felt before Katrina, and it may not even be how you feel after, but it's going to hurt a lot more than your threats and outrage, and it's going to get noticed.
Why do it? At its simplest, because George Bush doesn't want you to. He wants the Roberts nomination (and every other nomination) to go forward and be approved. You want what he's not been willing to give so far -- real relief for Louisianans, and probably a serious investigation (i.e., not a whitewash) into what went wrong. News flash: You're not going to get it unless you grab 'em by the short hairs and pull.
Why block nominations to get it done? Because that's high profile and high priority to Bush. Because the president has demonstrated by his callous inaction that he's incapable of filling seats on the High Court responsibly. And most importantly, because this is something you're in a unique position to make work.
As you know, the "Senatorial hold" works, in theory, only to the extent that you're willing to back it up with a filibuster. And as we all know, you're loathe to resort to the filibuster in the case of judicial nominations. We know, and we understand. But things are different now.
You're one of the "Gang of 14" who came together to stave off the nuclear option back at the end of May, so we know you're already somewhat filibuster-averse. But we also know that when it counted, you stood ready to support your fellow Democrats in their principled opposition to Bush's judicial nominees. The nuclear option compromise wouldn't have been possible (or necessary) unless you and your seven Democratic colleagues were willing to sustain a filibuster if push came to shove. So we know it's in you.
But being a member of the "Gang of 14" also gives you a unique power, bestowed by the terms of your agreement. That is, you've agreed not to filibuster judicial nominees except under the now-infamous "extraordinary circumstances," a term left up to each signatory's discretion to define. Well, now's your chance to define it your way.
Surely there will be those, even among your group of 14, who will initially resist the notion that such a filibuster is proper. Judge Roberts, they'll say, has nothing to do with the response to Katrina. He's a good and fair judge, they'll say, and you may even agree. But your deal doesn't say anything about "extraordinary circumstances" having to relate directly to the nominee himself. Indeed, it doesn't say anything except that it's up to you to say what's extraordinary.
And I know you think the deaths of thousands of Louisianans is extraordinary. And I know you think the president's prerogative ends where it meets the life-and-death issues of your constituents.
Think about it. The President of the United States abdicating responsibility for the protection of millions of American citizens, because he's on vacation? Are you kidding me? That's not extraordinary enough?
I know you'll find support among your fellow Democrats, Senator. And to be perfectly blunt, I'd like to know which one of the seven Republicans in your gang would be the one to tell you that drowning New Orleans isn't "extraordinary" enough to put "business as usual" on hold. Who's going to do it? Senator Graham, whose own home state is a magnet for hurricanes? Senator DeWine, who has to cross his fingers every spring that the Ohio river doesn't crest its banks?
Nominations have been stalled for a lot less in the past. You've been around long enough to know that's true. Holds are used as leverage all the time, for issues a lot less critical than this one.
But remember, the extent to which a single Senator has power -- the extent to which the president, and particularly this president will heed your words -- is measured by her ability to bring things to a stop when necessary. George Bush proved to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that a Senator's power does not lie in her ability to get the president on the phone when something of importance pops up. There are no bonus points just for occupying the office. Nobody listens to you just because you're a Senator. They listen to you because you can make things happen, even when that means acting in the negative and preventing things from happening.
Nobody says you have to make this about ideology. Nobody says you have to block Roberts because of your view (or his) on civil rights, women's rights, executive power, or anything else. You call the shots, and you make it about what you want it to be about. About saving New Orleans. About respect for your people. About holding the president accountable. However you want to put it.
But the bottom line with these clowns is that you're not going to get your way as long as they think they're going to get theirs.
Give it some thought.