Wow... this is kind of weird.
What the hell does this portend? Arlen Specter may really be about to get off the reservation by pushing legislation that will allow Congress as a corporate entity to seek judicial review of the President's use of signing statements. [c.f. this article]
Apparently, Specter will have a bill ready for submission by the end of the week, he says.
I already know what the prevailing view will be from my fellow editors, especially s9 who will say something like "this is all just a put up job. The bill has no chance of passing, and he knows it, and even if it does, it will require a Congress to be all on the same page at the same time..." or some variation on a theme.
And I am not sure that I disagree. But there is a deeper political context here, and it starts with Specter reaching for something resembling plausible deniability. On Monday, the American Bar Association's working group on signing statements and separation of powers released a report that simply had the lawyers all reaffirming what we already knew:
[...] transparency is essential if the American people are to have confidence that the rule of law is being respected by both citizens and government leaders. ... Abuse of presidential signing statements poses a threat to the rule of law,"But it is also important to note this line from the report released on Monday:
That the American Bar Association urges Congress to enact legislation enabling the President, Congress, or other entities or individuals, to seek judicial review, to the extent constitutionally permissible, in any instance in which the President claims the authority, or states the intention, to disregard or decline to enforce all or part of a law he has signed, or interprets such a law in a manner inconsistent with the clear intent of Congress, and urges Congress and the President to support a judicial resolution of the President's claim or interpretation.Now not even I believe that Specter woke up Monday morning, cracked open The Post and thought to himself: "Hey... that's a hell of an idea, let me get my top legislative aids on the phone to start working up some language I can put in front of my colleagues by the end of the week." This was coordinated. The ABA doesn't issue many press releases, much less hold full blown press conferences that are then followed up 24 hours later by ranking senators on senior committees introducing legislation to pimp the bar's position, unless there is some coordination.
And Specter is not going to do something like this without some sort of behind the scenes support of some of his GOP colleagues. Whether the thing passes or not is irrelevant. It's mere existence is a sign that something has finally snapped in the Senate. I read this as a sign that internally, the GOP is looking at poll numbers and that they are scrambling to do something, that even if it fails, the people involved can go to the home district with a pyhrric victory.
The involvement of the ABA as a political force can not be counted out either. Remember, it was the ABA that was one of the first players in the beltway to be wished into the cornfield by Maximum Leader. But the ABA represents lawyers across a broad spectrum of the American legal scene. From devil-worshipping trial lawyers to corporate counsel, to district attorneys to public defenders to the guy who is taking care of Grandma's estate. And these people are among the biggest number of campaign contributors.
And, politically speaking, the ABA does not saddle-up lightly.
Now assuming that we have something resembling a fair and free election in November (and to my mind that is still a big assumption) there are key senators and members of the house who are looking at growing dissatisfaction with the President and are concerned that the folks back home will take it out on them. So the time for them to take action would be now.
I also think that Maximum Leader, or more likely Vice President Big Time, has had a bad habit of reneging on their deals with key Senators lately, either in terms of political cover, money or what have you. Now guys like Specter, are starting to think it's high time to break the cycle of abuse and co-dependence.
At last, Congress may be on the verge of forcing Maximum Leader to show his hand. At least we will all know where we all stand.
Update 1.0: For those of you who do not yet believe that Glenn Greenwald is yet another tool of the Democratic Party conspiracy to sell us all out to the man, he uncorks a pretty good ass-kicking on Specter for his noxious op-ed blow job on the President in yesterday's Fishwrap on the Potomac. Too much to go into here, just read it and marvel that Specter did not spontaneously combust under the power of Greenwald's outrageous contempt.