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November 28, 2003

AN OFFER YOU CAN'T REFUSE?....With the Medicare bill headed for defeat in the House last Saturday, Republican House leaders kept voting open for an unprecedented three hours beyond the normal 15-minute time limit in order to give themselves time to twist a few additional arms and put them over the top. This has become an increasingly common practice in the last couple of years, despite the fact that it caused a near revolt among Republicans when Jim Wright did this once for about 20 minutes back in 1987.

However, as Republican ur-gossip columnist Robert Novak tells us, it's even worse than that:

[Michigan congressman Nick] Smith, self term-limited, is leaving Congress. His lawyer son Brad is one of five Republicans seeking to replace him from a GOP district in Michigan's southern tier. On the House floor, Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat.

Nice kid you've got there, Nick. Be a shame if anything happened to him....

Posted by Kevin Drum at November 28, 2003 09:58 AM | TrackBack


It's an ugly enough story, but if Young Mr. Smith has any political brains at all, it will become the centerpiece of his campaign. If he could possibly obtain video footage of other Republicans taunting his father as he voted against the bill despite the pressure from the Bush/DeLay faction of the Republican caucus, imagine how that would go over!

Posted by: Demetrios at November 28, 2003 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Whether agreeing with him or not, I'm glad to see that Smith stuck to his convictions and didn't buckle under to threats. I don't know the man's voting record, or his stand on things in general, but that act gets points with me regardless.

Posted by: Stephen at November 28, 2003 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Fun and profit.

It is fun pointing out Republican hypocrisies such as this:

This has become an increasingly common practice in the last couple of years, despite the fact that it caused a near revolt among Republicans when Jim Wright did this once for about 20 minutes back in 1987.

Indeed I chortle at their bare-ass inconsistencies.

But I've come to belive there is little profit to it.

We need to get this straight: republicans don't care if they get exposed with their pants down.

They are like those eyelid-less sharks that roll their eyes upwards when they take a big bite.

Sharks do not care if they are illogical. Sharks only care about redistricting the ocean so they can't possible go hungry.

They only care about winning. No matter what.

Posted by: -pea- at November 28, 2003 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Guess it's not only in Iraq that Republicans don't believe in free elections...

Posted by: Jesurgislac at November 28, 2003 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

Not only did Jim Wright only do this once, he did it under circumstances that made it considerably more justifiable than these. A member who had been voting aye took offense at something, changed his vote to nay and left, intending it to be a symbolic gesture; he apparently hadn't realized that this would change the outcome of the vote. So Wright held the vote for an extra fifteen minutes asking if anyone on the republican side would pair his vote with the first guy by voting aye. He found someone, and the budget got passed without the one guy's fit of pique having screwed things up. It actually showed real civility, I'd say. In contrast to the medicare farce.

Posted by: Evan at November 28, 2003 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Kudos to Smith for sticking to his guns, but what about he others who switched? Hardly a democratic process. Is there no recourse against this type of ugly coercion? Politics as usual?

Posted by: poputonian at November 28, 2003 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Slightly OT, but appropos nonetheless: is there anyone who believes that a group of thugs willing to hold a son's career hostage to sway his father's vote would not ransack the computer files of their own rank-and-file members?

The GOP leadership doesn't want the Hackergate inquiry expanded because they know -- or have reason to believe -- it will show how far they've already gone to crush dissent within the Republican Party, as well as to gain an edge on the Democrats.

Posted by: Californian at November 28, 2003 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

I could use some help here.

I was talking to a Republican about the GOP decision to hold open the voting well past the traditional 15-minute limit. I started off pretty angry, but he replied, so what? - and I had a hard time explaining what was wrong with what they did.

If the Repubs had been better at counting the votes, and got their dirty work done before going to the floor, would that have been any better? Or, if it's arm-twisting we object to, how do we feel about LBJ, and the way he used to get legislation passed?

Maybe we're just pissed because we lost, and the procedure hasn't got much to do with it at all.

To sum up: why is this repellent in a way that sets it apart from ordinary legislative dealing?

Posted by: TedL at November 28, 2003 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Looks like the Repug party's morphing into the Mafia.

Can we expect them soon to start whacking (for real) people who get in their way?

Posted by: skybluewater at November 28, 2003 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

For me, the gall is from the hypocrisy, not the arm-twisting. 20 minutes outrageous unless we're losing, in which case we should wait for 3 hours? That's a pretty biased position.

But jockeying and cajoling and threatening others to vote certain ways? That's part and parcel of a democratic process. It's not so much different than when we say "If you vote for him, your hard earned money will be taxed away" or "If you vote for her, your kids will get their primary school funding stripped away." They are all threats of violence against our vested interests.

Posted by: TOTL at November 28, 2003 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Good question, TedL, & I think this is the answer:
All legislatures have complex rules and codes which allow an orderly conduct of business. Like all rules, those procedures were developed because, before, when they didn't exist, serious problems arose.

When you break an unwritten rule, you naturally capture some of the momentary benefits of winning, but making effective decisions about what business the legislature will attend to becomes unfeasible. The process of governing becomes a raw power struggle which isn't even disrupted when the legislators break actual laws (because members of the majority party will retain parliamentary immunity). At the risk of getting histrionic (but this has actually happened in several Latin American countries) the entire legislative process loses its moral authority and the institution falls into disrepute.

The fact that it's a party with a near-monopoly on political power which is doing this is especially appalling.

No, bending the rules to a spectacular degree is all that has happened here but it's still quite alarming. After extending it by a factor of 9, two legislators change their vote and that instant Hastert bangs down the gavel. It's not very collegiate behavior at all.

Posted by: James R MacLean at November 28, 2003 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

TOTL, and that is why we have secret ballots...
A lack of secret ballots in Legislature is in part to have accountability and some modicum of party control?

Posted by: Chris at November 28, 2003 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Why is offering $100,000 for thier vote not illegal? It certainly sounds like quid pro quo. If I do this you do that is a bribe. Or is it legal to suggest it if the person being bribed does not do the crime? Anyway it is nice to see a politician with moral convictions.

Posted by: chef at November 28, 2003 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

TedL, what the Repubs did was demonstrate once more their disregard for the democratic norms of our government. No one who games the system the way the Repubs have been doing for years now --redistricting out of season, photographing voters at the polls, removing eligible voters from the rolls, funding bogus "grassroots recall" movements, the list goes on and on -- can be trusted to guard and secure this country's democratic intitutions from harm.

What the Repubs did by holding the vote open for extra hours was blatant vote manipulation. An act of conscience can take place in an instant. A legislator is under many pressures in making his/her choice, but the time limit offered some protection for a person casting a difficult vote. The Repub leadership took away that protection. It was akin to a judge refusing to allow a jury to leave until they deliver a verdict, and in this case only one verdict would be accepted.

What it boils down to is this: The Republican leadership does not care about majority rule, our most basic democratic concept. Neither do they care about fair play, which is a fundamental American ideal.

Posted by: Peanut at November 28, 2003 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

A bit like organized-syndicated crime isn’t it? Just the way that Al Capone like to run things (buy our insurance or something bad might happen to your store). Corporate anti-American businesses tell members of the GOP – “threaten them, do what you have to, get em on board or they are history". The GOP congressmen don’t represent the individual states anymore, only corporate American and hard money.

Goopers took out ads against any GOP congressman that didn’t want to vote for Bush’s last tax cut. AND this shows how Jeffords was a fairly moral Republican in a sea of unmoral Republicans.

More reason for two more "Indy" Republicans, that will to tell Americans exactly why they find it necessary to leave the party.

Posted by: Cheryl at November 28, 2003 01:19 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure I understand your point. Secret ballots are not a necessary condition for democracy, nor are they necessary or sufficient for protecting ourselves from violence against our interests. If you vote for X, secret or not, it will still ostensibly have effects on your interests.
In the case of the legislature here and TedL's question, the reason the behavior here was egregious (and thus an answer for TedL) was the lack of symmetry in behavior. The last point by J. Maclean illustrates this point clearly. If it had been a Democratic item, would Hastert hold off on the gavel until Pelosi had wrangled enough Republicans to the other side?

Posted by: TOTL at November 28, 2003 01:56 PM | PERMALINK

No legislative vote, no election is ever finished until my side wins is not a healthy principle for one of the two major political parties in a democracy to consistently operate by.

The thugishness of this Republican party is astonishing.

Posted by: Leah A at November 28, 2003 02:00 PM | PERMALINK

I keep waiting for some of the principaled legislators on the republican side (I still believe there are some) to speak up and denounce this thuggery. As long as Delay is in control I'll never vote for another Republican- I don't care how moderate he might seem.

And a $100,000 bribe? what's up with that? how appalling. I'd like to see those congressmen in leg irons for corruption.

Posted by: Lizette at November 28, 2003 03:22 PM | PERMALINK

Agree with the last couple of posts. Why isn't this a bribe? Where is the Justice Dept? You remember, those folks who kept trying to get Willie Brown in some sort of quid pro quo, who set up a sting based on a fake Louisiana shrimp farm? So where are they now? There are witnesses who could be subpoenaed here. No sneaky investigation needed.

Posted by: Mimikatz at November 28, 2003 04:00 PM | PERMALINK

TedL asked why is this repellent in a way that sets it apart from ordinary legislative dealing?

James McLean answered this above, and beautifully.

I'd only add that a specifically repellent way in which this session broke an unwritten rule of ordinary legislative dealing was the presence of a Cabinet member, Secy. of Health & Human Services Tommy Thompson, on the floor lobbying.

Posted by: Nell Lancaster at November 28, 2003 04:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Why isn't this a bribe?"

Art. 1 Sec. 6--"for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place."

It seems highly questionable to me that a congressperson could be criminally liable for somnething said on the floor of the house, in the course of the voting process.

Not that I wouldn't enjoy seeing Duke Cunningham, Exhibit A for the argument against war heros in politics, frogmarched out of the Congressional Office Building.

Posted by: rea at November 28, 2003 04:41 PM | PERMALINK

Leah A>"...The thugishness of this Republican party is astonishing."

well, just wait a while cause it`s gonna get a whole lot worse

"No place is so strongly fortified that money could not capture it." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Posted by: daCascadian at November 28, 2003 09:47 PM | PERMALINK

I think there's an important point hidden away in Kevin's post. Chickens come home to roost, in a big way. The Democrats start it, and the Republicans magnify it. The Democrats had Carvillle, the Republicans have Rove.

The one I'm worried about, is Corzine's election to the Senate. Until then the press railed against people who used their own fortune to get elected to major office, but Corzine was treated differently (e.g. by the NYT) because many liked his politics. The only problem is, that there are a lot more fat-cat conservatives than there are fat-cat liberals, and now that Corzine is through, expect the other side to return the favor ten-fold.

Posted by: Andrew Boucher at November 28, 2003 09:57 PM | PERMALINK

David Brooks remarks that the last congressional session involved "thuggery"...hmm, he must have dropped his RNC script. :)

Shields & Brooks

Medicare remarks start at 8 minutes.
"Thuggery" remark at 11 minutes.

Posted by: Dazir at November 28, 2003 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

Novak? Oh, the traitor. I see you're still reading his commentary, Kevin, and keeping him in business. He has a cute smile.

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The professor makes the syllabus, not you.

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