This has received a fair amount play in the newspapers (NY Times, Wash Post, SF Chronicle), but the Sunday morning talk shows seem not to have mentioned it, or (worse, in my book) glossed it over. Enclosed pls find my letter to "Meet the Press", a program for which I normally have a lot of respect.
To whom it may concern,
I am surprised at Mr. Russert's query (7/20 show) regarding the fracas in
the House Ways and Means Committee on 7/18/03. The way Mr. Russert presented
it completely glossed over the apparent threat to democratic process, and the
apparent abuse of power by the Republican majority on the committee. Instead
it was presented as "police were called to break up a fight", as if neither
side had called the cops on the other, and both sides were equally to blame.
Reading the coverage in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle,
and the transcript of debate on HRes 324 in the full House on 7/18, there
was an apparent abuse of power by the Republican majority in the Committee,
which was glossed over by the Republican majority in the full House (the
resolution was tabled).
The sequence of events appears to have been:
1) HR 1776, on increasing contribution limits to IRAs and 401(k)s, had
been in debate for several months, and some points had been worked out.
2) Just before midnight on Thursday, 7/17, a substitute version of the
bill was introduced by the majority. The majority attempted to get the
bill introduced without reading (which is apparently normal procedure),
which requires unanimous consent.
3) The Democrats, not wanting to let the new version of the bill pass
without their input, refused the unanimous consent, and instead called
for a full reading of the 97-page substitute bill.
This reading was a delaying tactic, to allow time to caucus and stratgize.
4) The Committee Democrats then withdrew to the Committee's library,
leaving Rep. Stark to refuse unanimous consent should the Chair move
again to dispense with the reading of the bill.
5) The Chair moved to dispense with the reading of the bill, and immediately
slammed down his gavel, not allowing Rep. Stark to turn around and offer
his nay vote.
6) (and this is not yet clear) At some point, whether before or after the
call to dispense with the reading of the bill in (5), but certainly within
a very few minutes of the Democrats' leaving the committee rostrum, someone
claiming to be on the Chair's staff called the Capitol Police to remove the
Democrats from the library. There was a certain amount of back-and-forth
between the Congressmen and the police officers, running up the chain of
command, while the Congressmen refused to be dislodged from their own
committee's library. The matter was referred back to Congress for resolution.
7) On Friday, Minority Leader Pelosi introduced HR 324, and debate ensued
as to exactly what happened, and to what extent the majority's actions
were anti-democratic. The House voted to table the motion - no rebuke of
Rep. Thomas, the Committee Chair, is forthcoming.
and subsequent pages
(which may be the source of Mr. Russert's presentation; without
the other material, it is rather misleading)
The New York Times' coverage is similar:
* * *
Given that at least the news reports, if not the House transcripts,
were available as of Friday, it seems that Mr. Russert was either
misinformed as to, or intentionally glossed over, the potent issues
raised by this episode.
If the Republican majority in the House can quash House condemnation of
the actions of the Republican majority in the Committee, is that any
reason for the national news media (as opposed to local media) to similarly
abdicate its responsibility to present seriously-alleged abuses of power to
(I may not always get to see the program, but I generally read a