Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House of Representatives was reported to have been ‘white hot’ with President Bush on Air Force One coming back from a Chicago meeting.
The War in Iraq and its 2,600 dead doesn’t have the Speaker even mildly perturbed. A couple trillion in additional national debt hardly ruffles the Great Man’s brow. The defenestration of the Constitution and immigration policy have his attention, but he’s yet to break a sweat.
A hard man to ruffle, this leader of the leadership, but every thing and every man has a limit and six years into this administration, Dennis Hastert’s limit has finally been exceeded.
The FBI raided Rep. William J. Jefferson’s congressional office. White hot, old Dennis faced his president at 35,000 feet, (soft) drink in hand and he was white hot.
On the basis of my theory that ‘it’s never about what it’s about,’ you can bet the farm that Hastert doesn’t give a rat’s ass what happens to Louisiana’s Bill Jefferson. The man can go to prison (and probably will) and the Speaker is unlikely to see him off or send him a card on his birthday. Not only that, Jefferson’s a Democrat and Hastert would dearly love to see more of them indicted before November.
What it is about, is the Congress of the United States feeling what they believe to be more than their share of the wrath of the American public, particularly the voting public. Representatives and Senators have never (in my recollection, anyway) been so far down in the public esteem as to be looking up at lawyers and used car salesmen.
They’ve done a lousy job.
Republican and Democrat alike, they’ve let their nation down and they know it. It’s idiomatic that if a kid thinks he or she let their parent(s) down, they’ll strike out, get white hot when that parent criticizes the way they mowed the lawn. Congress is no different.
The FBI raid was just one more straw in a year of straws, in large part kicked off by Jack Abramoff and his never-ending shadow over never-knowing legislators. Everyone in Congress has their shoe a little bit muddied by K-Street and, like all the kids in school cheating a little bit on their tests, that knowledge, that wondering who might next be pulled into the principal’s office, makes for defensive attitudes.
Enough time living and working under the axe and white hot comes easily.
If the Justice Department and the FBI had just come galloping into Jefferson’s office without cause, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert would be justified in their screech that the inviolable separation of the three branches of government had been violated. But Justice and the Bureau got a warrant from a federal judge as they are required to do. Further, they raided on a Saturday night, when (like the other six days) Congress is mostly asleep and the raiding party’s comings and goings would be mostly unseen.
Senator Charles Schumer made a valid point in a letter to Hastert that the Republican controlled Congress pretty much looked the other way as citizens raised issues about phone records, warrantless raids on citizens and even the government’s treatment of non-citizen prisoners, adding that “as soon as someone in Congress was targeted, the whole story changed."
As Randy Cunningham so deliciously proved, being in Congress is no protection from the law. Dick Nixon solved the dilemma from the executive branch and, although we have yet to raid a Supreme Court justice, there are many who would love to see it happen. Hastert, Pelosi and Frist are wrong. Government, including its separated branches, is not ever above the law.
What all the white hot rhetoric is about, boils down to
- Senators and Representatives close to indictment
- The current high water mark of Congressional greed
- Extreme itchiness over who might be next
- Republican estrangement from a Republican administration
- Frenzied majority concern over November’s mid-term elections
Personally, I think George Bush has become so heavy-handed with his majority in Congress because Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, both refugees from the discredited Nixon administration, have led him there. Each of them have their own discredited histories in that Nixon failure. Each of them feels that the presidency (and by association, their particular offices) never recovered from the Nixon resignation.
9-11 was their chance to rewind the tape and rewrite presidential power.
George Bush may have come late to the party, but all else has come from that rewriting. The emasculation of the Congress derives from the perceived emasculation of the presidency itself. There are many collisions in government, it’s part of what politics is all about, but this may be the first time in American history that an administration came so quickly to butt heads with its own majority.