April 20, 2005

Political theater and the dance of faces

First things first. If you haven't yet, please read my previous post since this post concerns it. I'll wait.

Okay? Okay.

Really. I'm serious.

Wow. That was fairly awesome. I'm going to assume you've watched the C-SPAN video, RealPlayer craptastic though it is. There is some fascinating stuff going on in there, and I don't even follow these guys much. For it to be that evident means some severe armtwisting and the like has been happening. Where to start?

Let's start with the tone of the room. The Dems are looking fairly feisty. This is to be expected; this week has seen some of the worst polling numbers for Bush and Co. so far, if not the worst, in terms of popularity. The Social Security overhaul is meeting severe resistance not only from Democrats but from Republicans as well, to the point where the normally secretive Karl Rove has been seen giving television interviews about it. Polling on Terry Schiavo indicates that the American public thinks the GOP rushed in too fast in many cases, and many of the weaker congressional Republicans are feeling the pinch. Perhaps due to all these indicators, despite their two-vote gap in the committee, the Dems are here to play. Joe Biden looks at ease, if fired up; he is passionate in tone and manner but his speech and mannerisms don't look forced. Kerry is much much better than he was during the campaign. When he's not forced to stick to issue lists and talking points, his speeches don't stagger around, and he's a much more linear speaker in both tone, pattern and physical affect. Sarbanes is (perhaps actively) exemplifying the confused grandfatherly meme - 'just explain this to me, please?'

In general, they appear to be well prepared, with a game plan. They are handing off to each other, they aren't stepping on each others' issues or hotbutton points, and they're well staffed up.

Lugar, in contrast, looks awful. He's sitting straight up, with absolute minimal body motion. There's a quarter-smile pasted on his face, and he's sweating. I'm not sure what is going on with him. The remainder of the GOP are hard to read, because with the exception of Chafee, Hegel and Allen they appear to have their backs to the primary C-SPAN camera. They're not talking much. The Dems are getting fired up about Bolton.

The initial attempt, by Biden, to get the hearings closed, fails. There is a deal of speechifying by Dems including Kerry eloquently defending the need to protect both the nominee and those presenting 'allegations'. They are rebutted by Sen. Allen (R-Va?) who speaks quickly about open government. Lugar moves to vote immediately on Sen. Biden's motion to close the hearings, prompting mutterings of disbelief from the Dems as the Reps all vote in line to keep the hearings open. Sen. Biden defuses further acrimony by pointing out the Committee rule which requires closed hearings in the event those hearings might 'damage the professional standing' of anyone involved...but he's smiling! So is Kerry!

My take: that was a setup. The Dems absolutely want all information on Bolton in the public domain. They want every opportunity to read every allegation and reiterate every negative piece of testimony on open camera - so there is no political reason they'd want the hearings closed. The GOP reacted reflexively and instantly to their proposal, with Lugar moving so quickly that no-one even had time to protest before he called the vote. He was even prepared with a precedent (from 18 years in the past!) where the chairman had stifled discussion on a closed-session motion; he apparently expected discussion on a closed-session motion and wanted to stifle it to try to hurry the main vote along. It looks like the Dems trapped him on that one, using his desire to hurry the procedure to guarantee open hearings.

There is much presenting of allegation and charges by the Dems in an attempt (apparently) to appeal to those Reps who are not voting on pure partisan lines to consider the nominee's character. They know they only have to flip one, and they're working hard. Lugar tries several times to call for an immediate vote, at one point stating flatly that he has ten Senators who 'are going to vote for the nomination to move to the floor.' Sarbanes shuts him down at least twice, noting that the Senate recessed until 5pm specifically for this debate, and since it's only 10 of 4, what's the point of having the vote? Why not have the debate? Lugar is looking even more uncomfortable; he's got both hands flat on the table in front of him, and he's not turning his head. He's looking around only with his eyes, and he's sweating. This is really interesting. Biden is leaning forward, back, around; Kerry is pensive, then interested, etc. The reps are mostly looking dutifully bored. One (Chafee?) looks somewhat worried, actually

At around 20 after 4, there's a bombshell. Sen. Voinovich (R-Ohio) apologizes for not being in prior sessions with John Bolton present (excuse?) and then states that he's heard enough in today's information alone to feel very uncomfortable voting for John Bolton; at the least, he won't vote to move the nomination to the floor. Boom. The room behind the table gets much more animated. Lugar starts to stutter more. At the same time, however, something very interesting happens - he suddenly relaxes. His hands leave the table. He begins to smile openly, and grin occasionally. His neck begins to work, and he begins using his hands and arms demonstratively. In short, he starts actually emoting - it looks either like he'd been waiting for this or like a gigantic weight has been removed.

This is pure inference, but it reminds me of my own behavior when a deadline is finally irrevocably past; the sort of flip 'ah well, no matter' attitude. Spinning it into a scenario, it looks like to me he has just realized that he has failed to Do His Job, i.e. get the nomination out onto the floor by 5pm today. It's not going to happen. Voinovich has seen to that, and it's not Lugar's fault, really; Voinovich defected (must figure out how/why). So at this point, it's back to business as usual. They start negotiating when to resume hearings and how long to delay the vote.

Barack Obama, in his first statement, acknowledges his junior status and while asking for education on procedure from Lugar manages to get in a zing re: 'what happens if we deadlock, Mr. Chairman?' Nicely done. He's very urbane and smooth, looks relaxed and fresh, and Lugar is still sweaty, rumpled and stuttering, comparatively.

Aha. DailyKos has it. Voinovich is only 2 years into a 6-year term; he's going to outlast Bush no matter what, and he won sixty-something percent of the vote, with Democrats crossing to support him. In other words, he's more popular in Ohio than Bush is.

Conspiracy theory from the same source: maybe he knows something about the Ohio election. Hahahahaha!

Wow. This has been a fun day of observatory parliamentary procedure.

Posted by jbz at April 20, 2005 4:21 AM | TrackBack

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