NY Times distorted Democratic position on Homeland Security legislation

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

A New York Times article about the renewal of the USA Patriot Act misleadingly characterized the Democratic position about the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), stating only that Democrats held up passage of the bill because of a dispute over labor rights. But it failed to note that Democrats were among the original and leading proponents of a cabinet-level DHS and that Republican opposition to the idea delayed the creation of the department for nearly twice as long as the Democrats' delay.

A December 19 New York Times article on the December 16 filibuster of the renewal of the USA Patriot Act presented a misleading characterization of the Democratic position on 2002 legislation calling for the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security (DHS). According the Times, "Democrats held up passage of the Homeland Security bill because of a dispute over labor rights for federal employees." While the Times accurately noted that Democrats delayed final passage of the bill due to its exemption of DHS employees from civil service protection and its empowerment of the president to remove employees from unions, the article failed to note that Democrats were among the original and leading proponents of a cabinet-level DHS, and that Republican opposition to the idea delayed the creation of the department for 225 days -- nearly twice as long as the Democratic delay.

If not renewed, 16 provisions of the USA Patriot Act will expire on December 31. Four Republicans* joined 42 Democratic senators in voting down a motion to invoke cloture and force a vote on renewing the provisions.

From the December 19 New York Times article by reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg:

Republicans say Democratic candidates will suffer in the 2006 mid-term elections if the act lapses, just as they did in 2002 when Democrats rejected legislation to create a new Department of Homeland Security.

"Here we go again," said Dick Wadhams, a Republican strategist who is now chief of staff to Senator George Allen of Virginia.

One Republican, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, went so far as to warn colleagues that they would be held responsible for another attack. "God help us if there's some kind of terrorist attack when we are not protected by the Patriot Act," he said, adding, "We will have to answer for that."

At the same time, strategists of both parties say the Homeland Security debate and the Patriot Act debate are difficult to compare. As Mr. Wadhams noted, the Homeland Security fight took place one month before the 2002 elections, while the 2006 elections are still a year off.

Democrats held up passage of the Homeland Security bill because of a dispute over labor rights for federal employees, but the new debate focuses on the question of how to balance keeping Americans safe with protecting their civil liberties.

As Media Matters for America previously noted, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) proposed the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security in legislation introduced in the Senate on October 11, 2001. The White House initially opposed a cabinet-level DHS. Then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said in an October 24, 2001, press briefing: "[T]he president has suggested to members of Congress that ... it does not need to be a cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security." Lieberman, Specter, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), and former Sens. Bob Graham (D-FL) and Max Cleland (D-GA) introduced new legislation on April 11, 2002, calling for a cabinet-level DHS and a White House office on combating terrorism.

The White House reversed its position on DHS June 6, 2002, when Bush urged "Congress to join me in creating a single, permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission: securing the homeland of America and protecting the American people." A total of 225 days passed between Fleischer's initial statement opposing a cabinet-level DHS and Bush's reversal. Then-House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX) introduced in the House of Representatives H.R.5005, a bill setting up DHS, which passed on June 26, 2002. Democratic opposition to the bill over labor rights delayed its passage in the Senate until November 19, 2002 -- a total of 116 days, almost half the length of the Republican delay.

*The final tally was 52-47, with 60 votes needed to invoke cloture. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) initially voted "yes," but, according to a December 17 Washington Post article, "switched his vote from yes to no at the last minute, a parliamentary move allowing him to seek another roll call later."

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
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