Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Backseat Joe

As has been noted here and elsewhere (and noted with particular asperity in New Orleans), restoration of the oversight function at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (the “HSGA Committee”) got off to a rocky start when the new chairperson, our own Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Independent-CT), quietly rescinded his previous demands that the White House release documents related to its criminally negligent response to the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe.

Now Bush’s Dec. 20, 2006 “signing statement” reserving the right to open our mail without a warrant again thrusts the normally sleepy HSGA Committee into the news. Time for the new chairperson to start flexing those oversight muscles, right?

Not so fast. Despite broad bipartisan opposition on the HSGA Committee to Bush’s signing statement, Lieberman didn’t seem to have much to say. On January 10, 2007, the day following the first meeting of the HSGA Committee in the 110th Congress, Sen. Collins (now the ranking minority member) issued a press release announcing that she had proposed a resolution “reaffirming constitutional protections of sealed mail.” Collins’ press release very clearly rejected Bush’s power grab, stating:

“I want to be perfectly clear: Nothing in the Postal Reform Act, nor the President’s signing statement alters the privacy and civil liberties protections provided to a person who sends or receives sealed mail. Mail sealed against inspection is entitled to the strongest possible protections against physical searches. With only very limited exceptions, the government needs a court-issued warrant before it can search mail.”

The press release announced that the resolution was co-sponsored by Democratic Senators Carper and Akaka, as well as Republican Senator Coleman. Very conspicuous in his absence as a co-sponsor was Chairperson Lieberman.

Whoa, Rubber Stamp Sue is leading the charge on a resolution harshly critical of Bush’s mail-snooping signing statement? The Chairman of the Committee, the self-proclaimed Prince of bi-Partisanship, is not among the democrats co-sponsoring the resolution?

Well, we can wait and see if Chairman Lieberman does anything about the building scandal of DHS maladministration, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. If Lieberman’s free passes for the Bush administration on Katrina document disclosure and Bush’s mail-snooping signing statement are any indication, oversight will be overlooked again on the HSGA Committee under Chairman Lieberman.

UPDATE: Apparently Lieberman was not wholly oblivious to the political implications of his failure to co-sponsor Collins’ resolution. By the time the text of the resolution was printed in the Congressional Record Lieberman had been belatedly added as a co-sponsor. Apparently Backseat Joe is willing to let Collins drive when it comes to protecting our privacy against BushCheney.


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