The new Democratic leadership of Congress rode into Washington last fall with a voter mandate for change.
Seven months later, many of those same voters want the Democrats tarred and feathered and rode out of town on a rail.
For seven months, the Democrats’ reign in the seat of power has been a study in frustration and a college course on failed expectations. Their razor-thin majority is not enough to override President George W. Bush’s veto pen and they have found themselves constantly beaten by a President with the lowest approval ratings in history.
Congress sent President Bush legislation Friday to intensify anti-terror efforts in the U.S., shifting money to high-risk states and cities and expanding screening of air and sea cargo to stave off future Sept. 11-style attacks.
The measure carries out major recommendations of the independent 9/11 Commission.
The bill, passed by the House on a 371-40 vote, ranks among the top accomplishments of the six-month-old Democratic Congress. The Senate approved the measure late Thursday by 85-8, and the White House said the president would sign the bill.
The House on Thursday voted to prevent the Justice Department from enforcing certain advertising restrictions in campaign finance law.
The vote came one month after the Supreme Court loosened some of the legal barriers that Congress had placed on corporate- and union-financed television ads.
The 215-205 vote would prevent criminal enforcement of any of the law’s advertising provisions. It would not affect any civil penalties imposed against violators by the Federal Election Commission. Most campaign finance infractions are handled by the FEC.
Beset by poor approval ratings and internal differences, congressional Democrats hope to give themselves a triumphant send-off when Congress departs on a monthlong summer vacation.
“They can’t possibly do all the things they want to do,” counters Rep. John Boehner, the House Republican leader.
But Democratic leaders, seven months in power, have set an ambitious agenda for themselves for the next 10 days, even momentarily dispatching their efforts to end the Iraq war to the background.
The House is expected to pass a homeland security bill and send it to President Bush as early as today. Last night, the Senate approved the package of security measures recommended by the 9/11 Commission, shifting more federal money to high-risk states and cities and requiring more stringent screening of air and sea cargo.
The measure passed by a 85-8 vote.
House passage would give Democrats a much-needed legislative victory just a week before Congress adjourns for its August recess.
The House Judiciary Committee approved a contempt of Congress citation Wednesday against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and one-time Counsel Harriet Miers, setting up a constitutional confrontation over the firings of federal prosecutors.
The Justice Department said it would block the citation from prosecution because information Congress is demanding is protected by executive privilege. Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House effort was important nonetheless.
The return of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to the Senate Judiciary Committee is in some ways the story of Democratic failure to drum up enough pressure to force President Bush’s hand.
Not so long ago, Republicans as well as Democrats thought they’d seen Gonzales sit before them for the last time as attorney general. There was no way Gonzales could survive the controversy over the prosecutor firings, nor the exposure of other missteps, they said. Certainly he could not resist the widespread calls for his resignation — one, from a Republican — to his face as the proceedings were broadcast live.
Senate Democrats vowed Sunday to press ahead with legislation on pulling US troops from Iraq, despite a major defeat last week in their efforts to pass a bill.
“After May 1 of next year, all American troops should be out of there except those dealing with counterterrorism, training Iraqis and protecting our assets,” top Senate Democrat Harry Reid told CBS television on Sunday.
“Academics and military people say Iraq is in chaos right now,” he continued.
Liberal Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold said Sunday he wants Congress to censure President Bush for his management of the Iraq war and his “assault” against the Constitution.
But Feingold’s own party leader in the Senate showed little interest in the idea. An attempt in 2006 by Feingold to censure Bush over the warrantless spying program attracted only three co-sponsors.
Feingold, a prominent war critic, said he soon plans to offer two censure resolutions — measures that would amount to a formal condemnation of the Republican president.
Senate Republicans are growing increasingly nervous defending the war in Iraq, and Democrats more confident in their attempts to end it.
More than a year before the 2008 elections, it is a political role reversal that bodes ill for President Bush’s war strategy, not to mention his recent statement that Congress’ role should merely be “funding the troops.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, made that clear Friday when he dismissed any suggestion that it could be November before a verdict is possible on the effects of the administration’s current troop increase.
“September is the month we’re looking at,” he said unequivocally.