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Pelosi's Iron Fist On Iraq Resolution Debate

My respect for Nancy Pelosi just continues to grow. She threw down a big, clanking iron gauntlet this weekend -- one that is going to send the right-wing blogosphere into apoplexy when they realize it.
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My respect for Nancy Pelosi just continues to grow. She threw down a big, clanking iron gauntlet this weekend -- one that is going to send the rightwing blogosphere into apoplexy when they realize it (which will probably start later today). And, it should be noted, it has absolutely nothing to do with the plane she flies in.

Pelosi sent her lieutenant (Democratic House Majority Leader) Steny Hoyer to this Sunday's Meet The Press to toss this challenge at the feet of Minority Leader John Boehner (please resist the urge to pronounce his name BONE-er, it's actually pronounced BAY-ner... ahem): Democrats are not going to allow any Republican-worded resolutions to come to the House floor for debate this week. There will be ONE resolution (the Democratic one), and that's all House members will have the chance to vote on.

Early on in the show, Hoyer tossed out this bombshell (see the full transcript for the entire interview):

[MR. RUSSERT:] Now, on Thursday, you said this: "The Republicans will be given either a substitute or a motion to recommit so that they can propose whatever substantive alternative that they choose. That will also be debated." Is that still your plan?

[REP. HOYER:] Not necessarily our plan, at this point in time, and let me tell you why. As we discussed this, we saw the problems that the Senate was confronted with, where the whereas clauses and the therefore clauses confused the issue. We believe the American public want a straightforward answer to the question: Do you agree with the president's proposal. Republican president has made a proposal, we're going to respond to that. We want to respond to it with great clarity, so that the Congress of the United States, every member, will have an opportunity to speak, every member will have an opportunity to vote: Do you support the escalation of troops in Iraq? And we're going to make that pretty straightforward, and we don't think that it ought to be confused by any other issues that might be raised. Those issues will have an opportunity to be raised, of course, in, in the very near term, as we consider the supplemental appropriation bill, the appropriation bill and the defense authorization bill.

[MR. RUSSERT:] But on this particular resolution, you are backing off your commitment to allow the Republicans to have an alternative?

[REP. HOYER:] We want a very straightforward, clear answer to the question: Do you support the president's escalation?

Boehner tried to rally, a bit further on in the interview, and press Hoyer to allow Republicans their red-herring "we'll never cut off any funding, never ever ever" resolution to be allowed an up-or-down vote. Hoyer, obviously well-prepared, skewered Boehner with his own vote against President Clinton's use of troops in Bosnia. Boehner came off as rather whiny in the entire exchange:

[REP. BOEHNER:] Steny, if you're not going to cut off troops -- cut off the funding for the troops in harm's way then why not allow Republicans to bring a resolution to the floor and let the House vote up or down on that resolution?

[REP. HOYER:] That's a good question, and you're going to have that opportunity. But initially...

[REP. BOEHNER:] When? When? When?

[REP. HOYER:] ...initially, the first thing we're going to do...

[REP. BOEHNER:] When? When?

[REP. HOYER:] Within the next 30, 45 days...

[REP. BOEHNER:] Well, see, that's the point -- that's the point, Steny.

[REP. HOYER:] ...John. You got to have -- well, John, you asked me a question.

[REP. BOEHNER:] You told your members...

[REP. HOYER:] Let me answer it. Let me answer it.

[REP. BOEHNER:] You told your members the other day...

[REP. HOYER:] John, let me answer the question.

[REP. BOEHNER:] ...this is the first step -- this is the first step.

[REP. HOYER:] OK. I'm saying...

[REP. BOEHNER:] That's how you got them all together.

[REP. HOYER:] ...that we do not agree with the president's surge. The military doesn't agree, Maliki doesn't agree, the American people don't agree. And we're going to allow members with full debate, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to let their -- give their opinion and then to vote: Do you agree with the president's proposal? Republican president has made a proposal. The Congress is now going to be able to say...

[REP. BOEHNER:] On a nonbinding resolution.

[REP. HOYER:] ...we agree...

[REP. BOEHNER:] Let's have a real resolution on the floor. It's a bill that says, "We will not cut the funding for our troops in harms' way."

[REP. HOYER:] John, do you...

[REP. BOEHNER:] Let's have the -- let's have that vote on the floor this week.

[REP. HOYER:] John, with all due respect, do you remember in 1995 when you voted for a nonbinding resolution not to send 20,000 troops to Bosnia?

[REP. BOEHNER:] That's correct. That's correct. That's before there were any troops sent, before any troops were in harm's way.

[REP. HOYER:] Well, it's a surge; they haven't been sent yet.

At the very end of the interview, Boehner tried to rally his forces, but came off as pleading, especially if you watch the video of him elbowing and grabbing Hoyer's arm. Hoyer finally reminded Boehner that this is how Democrats have been treated for 12 years, and to get used to the shoe being on the other foot for the foreseeable future.

[REP. HOYER:] Yeah, the American public voted for change. They're going to get change, and they are getting change. As I said, we've had 52 hearings on Iraq in the last five weeks. That's a change. That's opening up government. That's the transparency of which John spoke of a little earlier in a different context. We're going to continue to bring change, and we're going to give Republicans the opportunity to fully participate.

[REP. BOEHNER:] When?

[REP. HOYER:] John...

[REP. BOEHNER:] When?

[REP. HOYER:] John...

[REP. BOEHNER:] When? When? You've been saying that for, for, for a year.

[REP. HOYER:] John and...

[REP. BOEHNER:] We're, we're now six weeks into this.

[REP. HOYER:] John and his colleagues had the opportunity to come to all 52 hearings. Unlike us...

[REP. BOEHNER:] Not somebody on the floor.

[REP. HOYER:] ...that -- on the floor.

[REP. BOEHNER:] Why don't we have -- why don't you give us a vote this week?

[REP. HOYER:] Every Republican -- Tim...

[REP. BOEHNER:] Give us a vote this week on whether you're going to cut off funding for troops.

[REP. HOYER:] Every Republican is going to have an opportunity to speak this week on the floor of the House of Representatives. We didn't...

[REP. BOEHNER:] But we don't get to vote on what we want to vote on.

[REP. HOYER:] We didn't -- we didn't get that, John. You remember that, of course.

[REP. BOEHNER:] You got, we had the same...

[MR. RUSSERT:] All right. All right. To be continued.

Although it was a more entertaining Meet The Press than usual, the bigger picture is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows exactly what she is doing. And it's going to work.

Last week, of course, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell went toe-to-toe with Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Senate. The minority party has more rights in the Senate, of course, and McConnell was demanding that Reid allow a vote on at least one Republican Iraq proposal (conveniently forgetting that the "Democratic" one on the table actually came from Republican John Warner's office) that would have painted Democrats into a corner. Calling Reid's bluff (or so he thought), McConnell shut down the Warner resolution by promising his party faithful that by doing so, it would force Reid into allowing another resolution up for a vote on the Senate floor.

But much to McConnell's surprise, Reid didn't blink. He called McConnell's bluff, in essence, and said "Well, you shot down our Iraq vote, so we're not going to schedule any more votes on the subject," in essence, passing the issue to the House to act upon.

Seven nervous Republicans, led by Warner, signed a letter the next day saying they were going to start attaching their resolution to every bill up before the Senate, to either force a vote on the issue or shut the Senate down. But that won't stop the House from taking the issue up in the meantime.

As late as last Thursday, House Democrats were promising Republicans the chance to offer their own resolution on the floor for an up-or-down vote. Sometime between then and Sunday morning, Nancy Pelosi looked down at her cards (to continue the poker metaphor), and discovered she had a winning hand. The Senate had punted, and in the House the minority party has almost zero rights (unlike the Senate), so she can move whatever she wants to the floor for a vote. She can also block anything she wants, and the minority has to swallow it whether they like it or not.

It should be noted that this is exactly what the Republicans have done for twelve long years, freezing the Democrats out of all aspects of decision-making in the House, so it really is: "turn-about is fair play."

So you can expect a lot of teeth-gnashing, and rending of garments in frustration from the Republicans in the House floor debates this week. But take it all with a grain of salt. The right-wing blogosphere, as I mentioned, is going to reach new heights of high dudgeon, but in the end there will only be one vote. And only one bill will pass over to the Senate, giving Harry Reid the opening he needs to pressure Senate Republicans: the House has already passed a bill, if Republicans stop debate on the House measure, then you are the obstructionists, and we're going to make damn sure American voters are aware of that fact, all the way up to Election Day 2008.

Nicely done, Speaker Pelosi!

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