Dodd Away From the Stump, But Still Talking
By Paul Kane
UPDATE: Dodd declares victory Monday evening after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pulls FISA measure from the floor and says it won't be revisited before January. "Today we have scored a victory for American civil liberties and sent a message to President Bush that we will not tolerate his abuse of power and veil of secrecy," said Dodd....
Back from his "home" in Iowa, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) is trying to give his long-shot presidential campaign bid a jolt this week by returning to the Senate chamber to lead an old-fashioned filibuster of a foreign intelligence surveillance bill.
Dodd, who moved his entire family to Des Moines two months ago and enrolled his 6-year-old daughter in a school there this fall, returned to the Senate today to first offer an amendment to the FISA reauthorization bill that strips immunity given to the telecom industry for its yielding to intelligence agencies earlier this decade and providing information about individuals that U.S. security officials believed might be connected to terrorists. The industry has sought immunity from any lawsuits accusing it of infringing on individual privacy rights, a move that is opposed by Dodd and a significant portion of the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party.
However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) does not have the votes to strip the immunity provision from the bill, so after Dodd's amendment fails the Connecticut senator expects to take to the floor -- possibly later this afternoon -- and hold an old-fashioned filibuster, talking for hours and hours, according to campaign aides who conducted a background conference call this afternoon with reporters.
Once he takes the floor Dodd, 63, will not be able to sit down without surrendering his speaking privileges. By rule, he can only yield to other colleagues who ask him questions. He cannot take any breaks -- not even to relieve himself in the men's room that sits just a few feet off the chamber floor.
Aides said Dodd is trying to round up some support from senators who are also opposed to the immunity provision, including Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), who is co-sponsoring the amendment with Dodd. Feingold and others are likely to spell Dodd from speaking forever by asking very long-winded questions, but even during those lengthy questions Dodd will have to stay in the chamber, standing throughout.
How long will Dodd go? An aide said the senator will "speak for as long as he can," though he won't turn the filibuster into a stump speech. Senate rules forbid him from using the floor to advocate for his candidacy. (Other Senate Democratic aides not working for Dodd are predicting he'll be back on a plane headed for Iowa later tonight.)
For history buffs, Dodd will be attempting the first old-fashioned filibuster in more than four years. In November 2003, when Republicans wanted to hold an around-the-clock debate about Democratic filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominations, Reid, then minority whip, seized the floor and spoke for nearly 9 hours. Running out of material, Reid pulled out a copy of his own biography, "Searchlight: The Camp That Didn't Fail", and just read several chapters.
The longest filibusters mostly come from the civil rights era. In 1957, for instance, the late Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), led the longest filibuster ever, 24 hours and 18 minutes, fighting civil rights legislation. However, Thurmond had help from other southern senators opposed to the legislation. The longest one senator has ever spoken by himself, without yielding for questions, is Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), who in 1964 held the floor for more than 14 hours in an effort to block that year's landmark civil rights legislation.
After that era, northern reformers changed Senate rules to allow a supermajority of 60 votes or more to shut off debate on bills and move to final passage. While that reform, taking place in the mid-1970s, has weakened the ability of Dodd-style filibusters, it has had the unintended consequence of strengthening the power of the minority party so long as they have 41 or more votes. So long as they hold 41 votes, the minority can block legislation and is not required in any fashion to debate a bill to death, needing just one senator on the floor to object to any unanimous consent requests to approve legislation.
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