Tuesday, January 17

Leahy's Word

On November 9, 2005, Senators Specter and Leahy, respectively the ranking Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee held a press conference at which they described the agreement they had come to about the schedule for the Alito hearings and the committee vote.

Yesterday, Senator Leahy and his Democrat colleagues on the committee went back on their word, though the Washington Post doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal. The Post appears to buy the shameless explanation from Senator Leahy’s office that the deal didn’t mean anything because it wasn’t in writing. What a sad comment on the state of Washington politics that a Senator’s word, publicly given, can be broken without raising an eyebrow.

The Post notes in passing only that “GOP leaders grumbled that Democrats had reneged on an earlier agreement about when the Alito vote would take place -- an agreement that Democrats denied ever existed.” Apparently it isn’t even worth investigating the allegation that a Senator’s word is something less than his bond.

Fortunately, the Washington Times cared to dig a little deeper. They describe the original deal in detail.

After negotiations that included the Senate leaders of both parties, Mr. Specter said then that the hearings would begin "on the 9th, with the good-faith understanding that our intent would be to go to an executive committee meeting on the 17th, the day after Martin Luther King holiday."

The agreement was not put in writing, Mr. Specter said at the time, "but Pat Leahy and Arlen Specter have had no problems, nor have anybody on the committee, of not fulfilling what we have said we'd do as a matter of good faith, which will put the executive sessions on the 17th."

As Mr. Specter spoke to the roomful of reporters, Mr. Leahy stood three feet away and never objected.

After Mr. Specter finished explaining the schedule, Mr. Leahy began by saying, "First, I agree with the chairman."

When the two men finished, a reporter asked whether the agreement still permitted Democrats to "hold over" the nominee in committee for one week.

"The answer is that, after conferring with all of our colleagues, Senator Leahy and I have proposed what we call good faith intention to have the executive committee meet on the 17th with the vote on that day," Mr. Specter responded.

Then Mr. Leahy spoke . . . "As you recall, Arlen, we had the same thing with the Roberts case," he said. "We dealt not with some kind of unanimous consent, but with two senior members of the Senate having commitments. And I think my side, we'd expect that. Obviously, this leaves room if something extraordinary comes up that neither Senator Specter nor I anticipate or expect."

Has anything come up that would justify Senator Leahy reneging on the deal? He hasn’t offered much. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman did, however, say that “The State of the Union ‘is the 800-pound gorilla lurking over the debate . . . That's part of the strategic calculation.’" So, the broken deal appears to come down to political jockeying. Not exactly “something extraordinary” in Washington.

In retaliation for Leahy’s perfidy, the Post reports that “[Senator Majority Leader] Frist announced that, unless the final vote takes place this week, he would cancel a week-long Senate vacation next week -- a step that he took yesterday, according to his chief of staff.”

Fair enough, but isn’t there another story here? The Senate has a week-long holiday just after the Martin Luther King, Jr. day long weekend and only three weeks after the Christmas/New Year’s holiday?