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Please begin with an informative title:

If you are as angry as I am about the rumors that the House is ready to fall in line and give the President what he has "demanded;"

If, like me, you think that contacting Blue Dems and letting them know that there are an awful lot of people out here in the real world who care about the constitution is a good start, but you recognize that it might not be enough;

If, like me, you're not prepared to fall meekly back in line after such a sell-out occurs, and say "oh, well, it's really the REPUBLICANS' fault, not the DEMOCRATS' -- I guess we need to just work that much harder to get more people on Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi's team elected this fall;"

If, like me, you refuse to regard capitulation on telecom amnesty as a fait accompli;

If, in short, you're not ready to play nice,

then please read on, and please strongly consider recommending.

(more below)


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

Update from my Monday Diary, plus Contact Information
This is a followup to my diary from Monday evening, laying the groundwork for a strategy to focus our pressure on telecom immunity on a key member of the House of Representatives who literally has the power to singlehandedly impede the House Leadership's mad rush to capitulate on telecom amnesty and further trash the constitution -- a Member who not only HAS that power, but who I believe might actually, with sufficient rapid grassroots pressure (which is where you come in), be persuaded to exercise it: because (as I said the other night) she is a strong and committed progressive with a lifetime of doing the right thing and a long track record of standing up and speaking out on behalf of women's rights, labor, the environment, and a sane foreign policy.  

Representative Louise Slaughter happens to be not merely a reliable member of the House Democratic Caucus -- she is also the Chair of the House Rules Committee, easily the most powerful Congressional Committee that hardly anyone knows anything about.  Oh, and she's also a fellow Kossack!

After my Monday diary, I emailed Representative Slaughter and several key members of her personal staff as well as the Rules Committee Staff, asking for any comment on what I had posted, and inviting them to either reply directly to me by email, or to hop over here and log in under Representative Slaughter's account to reply in the comments to the diary.  Over 24 hours later, this is the response I have received:

Perhaps all of you can do better than I can; here's my list of contacts
Name Position email phone
Louise Slaughter Congresswoman louise@mail.house.gov
C R Wooters Chief of Staff CR.Wooters@mail.house.gov 202-225-3615
Steve Sidorek Legislative Assistant steve.sidorek@mail.house.gov 202-225-3615
Cari Simon Legislative Assistant cari.simon@mail.house.gov 202-225-3615
Greg Regan Legislative Assistant greg.regan@mail.house.gov 202-225-3615
Frank Benenati Press Secretary Frank.Benenati@mail.house.gov 202-225-3615
Daniel Turton Majority Staff Director, Rules Cmte Dan.Turton@mail.house.gov 202-225-9091
Sampak Garg Majority Counsel, Rules Cmte Sampak.Garg@mail.house.gov 202-225-9091
Muftiah McCartin Senior Adviser, Rules Cmte Muftiah.McCartin@mail.house.gov 202-225-9091
Katherine Sophie Hayford Majority Counsel, Rules Cmte Sophie.Hayford@mail.house.gov 202-225-9091

"Special Rules" in the House

In this diary from January of last year, Kagro X highlighted the unique way the House considers legislation, making frequent use of "special rules" which render it procedurally "in order" to debate and vote on a bill.

The standing rules are, in both Houses, the baseline rules of day-to-day operation. In the Senate, debate on every bill that comes to the floor is governed by those rules, and any agreements reached by unanimous consent of the Senators.

In the House, though, most bills are debated under what are called "special rules." Given that they govern the debate of most substantive legislation considered in the House, they're not particularly "special," though. They're quite routine.

These rules are actually resolutions, devised in the House Rules Committee, which propose the ground rules for debate specific to a particular bill. How long debate will be, who controls the time, and what amendments, if any, are permitted to be offered.

So the Rules Committee seems pretty important then, eh, Kagro?
The Rules Committee, as you can see, has considerable control over how any given issue will be addressed by the House. And as you might expect, that makes it an essential part of the majority leadership's mechanism for getting things done. Because the majority doesn't like surprises, it almost always assures itself of the control it's entitled to by stacking the deck on the committee, usually on the order of about 2-1.

The real reason for stacking the deck, of course, is that control of the rules is an enormous power. In fact, these special rules can even waive standing House Rules if the majority decides it wants to pass a bill that would otherwise violate them.

Who's going to wield that rather significant power on behalf of House Democrats? It may provide you some relief to learn that it's a good friend of our Daily Kos community, Rep. Louise Slaughter.

Well, that's a relief.  So I guess we can really count on her to hang tough when necessary to, say, prevent the House Leadership from caving on President 19%'s demand that they trash the constituion, right?

(I note, as an aside, that there are other ways to get the House to consider and vote on a piece of legislation, but generally they're either only going to apply only to noncontroversial matters, or they're going to be extremely cumbersome, requiring extraordinary commitment and several weeks' delay to work -- if you're interested, see this page on Representative Slaughter's committee website, describing mechanisms such as unanimous consent, the "suspension calendar" (for bills which can pass with at least 2/3 support) and discharge petitions.)

The important thing to focus on here is this:

The House can not pass telecom immunity in the next two weeks without first agreeing to a special rule.

It's important enough to say it again:

The House can not pass telecom immunity in the next two weeks without first agreeing to a special rule.

Remember this, as you read increasingly depressing news accounts about how the Democratic Leadership is "optimistic" that they'll work out a "compromise" this week and vote on it either this week or next, before leaving town for 2 weeks on March 14:

The House can not pass telecom immunity in the next two weeks without first agreeing to a special rule.

Remember that, and also this: a special rule can not get to the floor for approval without the blessing of the Rules Committee -- of which Representative Louise Slaughter is the chair.

Background -- Procedural Votes Matter: the May, 2007, Iraq Suppemental

As Kagro's explanation suggests, it is as true in the House as in the Senate that procedural rules matter, and that a "mere procedural vote" can and frequently is the whole ball-game.  The details can be difficult to untangle even for those paying close attention, often to the advantage of cynical pandering politicians: witness the Senator who votes for cloture on a controversial Supreme Court nominee, but votes against confirmation, and claims that the vote against confirmation is the only one that matters since cloture is "just a procedural vote."

Similarly in the House, procedural votes matter.  Let's travel back in time to last May 24, one of several occasions when House Democrats caved on supplemental funding for the Iraq war.  In response to many angry comments about the Democratic capitulation (much of which was fueled by this hit-and-run diary by David Sirota, criticizing (in a not entirely coherent way) the special rule which allowed passage of the funding), Representative Slaughter came here and posted a diary that responded thoughtfully to this anger -- which is not to say that I agree with her reasoning (I didn't at the time, and it hardly looks any better with the benefit of hindsight, 8 months and countless casualties later and no closer to an end in sight):

There are two issues here. The first deals with the process by which the bill is being handled, and the second deals with the content of the legislation itself.

Let's talk about process first, seeing as that has been receiving a great deal of attention. I've read that "we are watching the rise of the Dick Cheney Democrats" who "endorse governing in secret and hiding the public's business from the public itself."

Considering that today's vote on the rule was entirely public, I don’t see any way in which our work can be remotely compared to a man who prides himself on rejecting the people's right to know where he is or who he is meeting with.  

But I don’t actually think that those who have made the comparison believe it at that level. They are angry at the content of our rule itself. So let's take a look at it.

After summarizing the details of the special rule, she got to the heart of the issue and made an observation with which I wholeheartedly agree:
Now, the point of contention as I see it, and why Democrats are being accused of dishonesty here, is that by approving the rule, we allowed the funding bill to be debated - and because virtually all Republicans will vote for it (along with some Democrats), it will pass. People are therefore saying that it doesn't matter if we vote against the supplemental spending amendment (which many of us will). All that matters is that we allowed it to be considered to begin with.

What people wanted was for us to kill that amendment entirely. Specifically, they wanted the Rules Committee, which I chair, to shut it out.

So now, we are getting back to the real matter here - whether the Democrats should allow the House to consider legislation that funds the war without timelines and without mandatory benchmarks.

I give her credit for her honesty and forthrightness here (and knowing what I know about her, I would have expected nothing less): she did not attempt a cheap and dishonest "this is only a procedural vote" dodge -- rather, she owns up to the truth that as Chair of the Rules Committee, she had the power to draft the special rule in such a way as to kill war funding provision, but she chose not to.  And she provides a thoughtful explanation for that choice:
Considering that 90% of the Out of Iraq Caucus was with us in this decision, there must have been at least some reason for it. In fact, there are two in my opinion. With this White House, and with this Republican minority, it is safe to say that a standoff with the Administration would have meant that our troops would be left in harm's way, only now with even less funding to back them up. I don’t think that would have been right to do - to make them do even more with even less. The President doesn't seem to care how much our troops suffer. All evidence indicates that he will make them fight if they have needed funding or not.

Secondly, a standoff would have allowed the President to keep using our soldiers as pawns, accusing Democrats of abandoning them while it is really his war that has left them to fend for themselves.

There is one way to stop this war, and that is to force Republicans to stop ignoring their own constituents. 70 percent of the public wants a change of course in Iraq, but not enough voters in Republican districts are willing to force their Representatives and Senators to vote that way. If two-thirds of the American people want to bring this war to a close, then two-thirds of the Congress should too. Democrats need to work with the overwhelming majority of the American people to make that happen.

While many would (and did) disagree with her implicit acceptance of the Republican framing of the issue as "defunding = stabbing the troops in the back," it was, at least, a logically coherent position, and I believe that her explanation was genuine and in good faith.  She closed with the following:
I'm hoping that today's vote won't break that link between us and you - because we will only succeed if we work together.

I'm looking forward to your comments on this. I understand your frustration and anger at the situation we have all been placed in, and I promise you I share it.

Today, we did the only thing we felt that we could responsibly do. Tomorrow, with the help of this community, what isn't possible now will be well within our grasp.

So What Does This Have to Do with FISA?

Okay, remember what we said above?  That's right, the House can not pass a telecom immunity bill in the next two weeks without first agreeing to a special rule.  And also, a special rule can not get to the floor for approval without the blessing of the Rules Committee -- of which Representative Louise Slaughter is the chair.

Now, I appreciate that, if Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have decided that they want to cave on telecom immunity, it would be extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented for the Chair of the Rules Committee to attempt to stand in the way of that decision by refusing to report out a rule which would enable that result.  I also believe that honoring your oath to support and defend the Constitution is important enough to justify rocking the boat and violating inside-the-beltway decorum.

Two Scenarios

Now, if the Rules Committee approves a Rule sometime later this week or next week providing for a "bifurcated vote" on extending the "Protect America Act" as some have suggested, all but guaranteeing passage of telecom amnesty but allowing House "liberals" to go on the record with a meaningless and losing vote against it (even as sufficient Blue Dogs join the Rs to pass it), you can be damn sure that I'll be back here reminding everyone that this couldn't have happened without the active support and participation of the House Rules Committee.

And who knows, if that happens, maybe Representative Slaughter will grace us with our presence again to defend herself and tell us why we just don't understand the complexities of House procedure, and how the real reason the Bill passed because of the Republicans and those naughty Blue Dog Dems.  And sure, on some level she'll be right, in ths same way that if I hand a loaded shotgun to a Senior Government Official with anger management issues, I'm not the one directly responsible if a lobbyist gets shot in the face!  (First year law students learn to call this "proximate cause.")

But this time, we know that there's more to the story -- we'll know that she could have stopped it, but chose not to.  And by calling her now, we're putting her on notice that we know, that we're paying attention, that we're not as stupid as she's counting on.

And that's why, in the end, I think we can help to ensure that it doesn't play out that way: that by letting her know that we know she has the power to stop it, by letting her know that we're watching, perhaps we can help give her the courage to do what I think she knows is the right thing to do.


So, if I can be so bold as to speak on behalf of not only myself but also, I think, a solid majority of Kossacks who regard warrantless wiretapping as a defining issue, let us state unequivocally and categorically the following:

We want you to kill telecom immunity entirely.  Specifically, we want the Rules Committee, which you chair, to shut it out.
Representative Slaughter, you have the ability to stop telecom immunity.  You know it, and we know it, and now you know that we know it.  Moreover, there is no serious analogous argument that you or anyone else can make in good faith about how we need to choose the lesser of two evils and pass a PAA-extension with telecom immunity because the alternative of President Bush holding his breath and stomping his feet if you don't is unthinkable.
Doing nothing on PAA or FISA, for the next 11 months or so, is a perfectly acceptable option -- and, indeed, at this point in time, doing nothing appears to be the very best option.  And not only from a policy standpoint, but from the standpoint of cynical election-year politics: the fearmongering of the Republicans has become a joke to the American people.
Kill telecom immunity, and we've got your back.  Enable it, and you will be the one to have irrevocably severed the link between us.
Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to packerland progressive on Wed Mar 05, 2008 at 08:52 AM PST.

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