Friday, January 7, 2005


According to Tim Grieve at, yesterday was not a good day to be a Democrat in the Capitol.

Thursday was the first serious work day for the 109th Congress, and it was a day of humiliation and futility for the Democrats who still have jobs on Capitol Hill. Republicans picked up four Senate seats and three House seats in November, and signs of the Democrats’ increasing powerlessness were everywhere Thursday. In a hearing room in the Hart Senate Office Building, Biden and his Democratic colleagues went through the motions of questioning an attorney general nominee whose confirmation is a foregone conclusion. On the floor of the House of Representatives, a handful of Democrats launched a meaningless protest against the certification of Bush’s reelection.


The protest put a hold on the vote certification so that each house could retire to its respective chamber for debate and a vote on the issue. But Boxer — or anyone else who thought the protest would lead to serious discussion of election reform — must have been disappointed by the sorry spectacle that followed. There was no sense of history being made, no sense that anything was really happening at all. Although a few hundred people protested in the drizzle across the street from the Capitol, the visitor galleries in the Senate were mostly empty. Fewer than a dozen senators showed up for the debate, and only the ones who spoke — among them, Hillary Rodham Clinton and, in his first floor speech, Barack Obama — seemed to take it seriously. As Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin made an impassioned plea for a bipartisan effort to improve the electoral system, Dick Cheney and Sen. Rick Santorum sat slumped in a couple of chairs on the edge of the Senate floor, talking and laughing. They weren’t listening. With solid majorities in both houses, they didn’t have to.


The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee were every bit as ineffective in securing commitments from Alberto Gonzales. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer asked Gonzales whether he would agree to urge Bush to consult with Democrats about potential Supreme Court nominees. Gonzales’ response? He said he’d relay the request.

Gonzales’ exchange with Schumer was one of several in which the nominee was either unable to or uninterested in engaging with the questions before him. Schumer praised Gonzales for working with him on judicial appointments, saying that because of their cooperation, Bush had appointed federal judges for New York who were conservative but not outside the mainstream. When Schumer asked why the administration hadn’t been able to work cooperatively on nominations with Democrats elsewhere in the country, Gonzales said he’d wondered about that, too, then left it at that.


But even the most aggressive questioners were left looking a little pathetic. At one point Thursday afternoon, Ted Kennedy was reduced to begging Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter for all of 15 minutes to question Gonzales about issues like immigration and civil rights.

And after assuring Gonzales that his confirmation was in the bag, Joe Biden found himself groveling before the nominee, calling him the “real deal” — remember when they said that about John Kerry? — even as he pleaded with him to tell the truth about something. “We’re looking for candor, old buddy,” Biden told Gonzales Thursday morning. “We’re looking for you, when we ask you a question, to give us an answer, which you haven’t done yet. I love you, but you’re not being very candid so far.”

I can accept the fact that the Democrats are in the minority. I don’t like it, but I can accept it. I remember from Al-Anon meetings that acceptance is one of the first steps to making a change, and if we’re going to change this country, we have to accept what we’re up against. But watching clips from the hearings and the popcorn-fart attempts at rising to the opposition, the Democrats seemed as if they were embarrassed to even open their mouths. Why didn’t they just curl up into a ball and whimper in the corner, “Please don’t hurt me.”