Wash. Post article on Senate Intelligence Committee "infighting" ignored Frist's threat to change committee rules

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

A Washington Post article on the "partisan infighting" on the Senate Intelligence Committee failed to report that, in response to calls for an investigation into President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) threatened to restructure the committee "so that it is organized and operated like most Senate committees." The Senate Intelligence Committee's rules currently grant the minority party more power than on other Senate committees.

A March 12 Washington Post article on the "partisan infighting" on the Senate Intelligence Committee failed to report that, in response to calls from Democrats and some Republicans for an investigation into President Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) threatened to restructure the committee "so that it is organized and operated like most Senate committees." As presently constituted, the Senate Intelligence Committee's rules grant the minority party more power than on other Senate committees; for example, the ranking minority member holds the position of "vice chairman," has the power to issue subpoenas, and assumes control of the committee in the chairman's absence. A restructuring such as Frist has threatened would likely eliminate those powers; as the Los Angeles Times noted, a restructuring would also grant the majority party an additional seat on the committee and "end any pretense of nonpartisan cooperation."

As Boston Globe Washington bureau chief Nina Easton explained on the March 6 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Frist "is concerned enough, or bothered enough" by a potential investigation into the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program that he is "threatening to remove that kind of power status for the minority" on the committee.

In his March 12 article, Post staff writer Charles Babington acknowledged the uniqueness of the Intelligence Committee's structure and rules, and noted that Frist previously interrupted committee business for partisan reasons:

Some in the intelligence community find the warring especially disappointing because the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was fashioned 30 years ago to be less partisan than the typical congressional panel. Reacting to domestic spying abuses uncovered by the so-called Church Commission, lawmakers designed the committee to have an 8-to-7 majority-minority makeup, no matter how many senators each party has. Most of its staffers have no clear connection to either party. The committee's top minority member serves as the vice chairman -- and takes the gavel in the chairman's absence -- in contrast with the typical committee's "ranking minority member" who has little real authority.

[...]

The Iraq war has accelerated the fracturing, with Democrats and some outside groups saying Republicans seemed more eager to control GOP political damage than to conduct independent oversight. In November 2003, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) abruptly canceled the committee's hearing into prewar intelligence on Iraq because of GOP anger over a leaked memo -- written by a Democratic aide -- that suggested a strategy for extending the probe more deeply into the executive branch.

A March 10 Los Angeles Times article also examined the increased infighting on the Senate Intelligence Committee; unlike the Post, it noted Frist's threat:

This month, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) issued a letter that blamed Democrats for undermining the committee with "stifling partisanship," and threatened to restructure the panel, which would give Republicans another seat, let each side hire its own staff and end any pretense of nonpartisan cooperation.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) quickly responded with a letter of his own, complaining that Republicans had repeatedly blocked investigations that might embarrass the administration, and suggesting that the panel had "become an extension of the White House public relations operation."

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