I'm borrowing the title from Steve Soto, who has put forth an idea that I find myself in general agreement with. I'm told this is the largest online podium in the country, so what better place to promote it?
- Democrats should convene early hearings at Ike Skelton’s House Armed Services Committee and Carl Levin’s Senate Armed Services Committee in mid-January to pin down the Joint Chiefs on what they told the White House about an escalation;
- Then use those hearings to force the escalation votes as a way to kneecap him prior to the speech and undercut his influence for the remainder of the Congress.
I've taken just a key excerpt for the sake of brevity, but reading Soto's full post gives you a much better flavor for the political atmospherics he sees in this. My temptation was to take the whole thing, but really, it's just a wee little click, people.
Now, it may very well be that active military brass will not feel at liberty to answer the questions they way they'd like to. (Here it's probably wise to consider the trial practitioner's rule of thumb for cross-examination: never ask a question you don't already know the answer to.) And it's almost certainly true that the "administration" would (perhaps properly) regard any votes we took as a result to be of no effect as against the "inherent powers" of the presidency, especially with regard to war fighting.
Also worth noting: any votes resulting from such hearings will almost assuredly not be on the repeal of the AUMF -- at least not by the early date suggested (quite shrewdly, I'd say) by Soto. And now's as good a time as any to remind ourselves that certain voices inside the "administration" never bought into either the need for authorizing the first Gulf War or the more recent AUMF to begin with, so repealing it certainly wouldn't change their minds, even if it were possible to accomplish (say, over a veto).
So what sorts of votes could grow out of such early hearings? Probably not much more than an opening salvo of "Sense of" resolutions, i.e., non-binding declarations of, well, what the "sense" of the House, Senate or both concurrently, actually is on the subject at hand -- in this case, the escalation Bush proposes in the face of near-universal opposition.
But imagine the impact -- not on Bush, of course, since nothing pierces the bubble with him -- but on the public, when they see Bush plodding on about the need to escalate, right in the faces of the Congress that they know just rebuffed him, and the Joint Chiefs, right there in the front rows?
The State of the Union address is usually a pretty boring event -- one that I stopped watching a long time ago. But inside the House, it can sometimes be a pretty lively affair, with real and readable dynamics like cold silence from half the chamber while the other half gives a standing ovation, the rare but delicious opportunity for ironic applause, and even occasional hoots, hisses, boos or outright dismissive laughter. These days, even faithful observers of the State of the Union address (most notably our media literati) watch it less for the content than for the impression that both the speech and the post-game spin give to the public.
With that in mind, I think this, being the first SOTU Bush has had to deliver on "away" turf, is an extraordinary opportunity to deliver an unmistakable message to the purveyors of elite opinion in DC, and not to be squandered.