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Player of the Week: John Conyers

House Democrats left town Thursday for the President's Day recess having fired two controversial salvos at the Bush administration -- approving contempt of Congress citations against White House officials while refusing to renew a terrorism surveillance law. House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) was at the fulcrum of both moves, making him Capitol Briefing's Player of the Week.

John Conyers
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has helped his party battle the Bush administration.

The decision to resist Bush and the GOP rather than bring the Senate's version of the surveillance bill to the House floor was one made in Democratic leadership offices. Ultimately, it was Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) call, with help from her point man on the issue, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) echoed his support from across the Capitol.

But Conyers has been a key actor in the discussions, and he and House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) will be at the forefront of House-Senate negotiations during the recess week, as Democrats face the task of cobbling together a compromise surveillance measure that can get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.

More so than on the surveillance bill, Conyers really was the central player in Thursday's move to push contempt citations against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.

Last July, Conyers' Judiciary panel approved the two contempt citations along party lines, after Bolten and Miers chose not to obey subpoenas from the committee seeking their testimony on the controversial firings of U.S. attorneys. Since then, Conyers has spent the last six months lobbying his leadership to bring the citations to the floor.

With the help of a few other members -- particularly Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) -- Conyers has also been working to round up the support of enough Democratic lawmakers to convince leaders that the votes were there to approve the citations. His efforts bore fruit Thursday, as 220 of 221 Democrats present voted in favor of the measure. (Most Republicans were absent for the vote, having walked out of the chamber to protest the lack of action on the surveillance bill.)

While the fight over the surveillance measure will play out over the next few weeks in the court of public opinion, the contempt battle will likely take place in the federal judiciary. Assuming that the Justice Department does not enforce the citations, the House general counsel will soon file a civil suit in federal court seeking to compel testimony from Bolten and Miers. That suit would be the first step in what could be a lengthy and consequential legal battle over the limits of executive privilege, and Conyers has been at the forefront of Democratic critics throughout the Bush administration who have charged that the White House regularly oversteps the bounds of executive branch power.

But Conyers has shown some restraint on at least one front. He has repeatedly declined to hold impeachment hearings against Vice President Cheney despite pressure from the liberal grassroots to do so. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), a media-friendly member of the Judiciary panel, sent Conyers a letter last month signed by 18 fellow lawmakers calling for hearings on Cheney. Reportedly, Conyers' office was barraged with phone calls on the subject this week.

Whether Democrats will win either of these unfolding battles on surveillance and the contempt citations remains to be seen, but Conyers helped his party throw the first punch in both fights.

By Ben Pershing  |  February 15, 2008; 2:40 PM ET
Categories:  Branch vs. Branch , Dem. Leaders , House , Player of the Week  
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Next: The Other FISA Debate

Comments

I would have added Reyes to a joint "Player" award. He's been a fairly pliable Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, but that letter to Bush was bold and surprising.

One thing I question though, is your inclusion of Hoyer and Pelosi in the boldness of the Dems defiant response. C-span yesterday announced that Pelosi 'ordered' Conyers into conference?
-It was Hoyers and Pelosi who initially teamed up with Rockefeller and Reid against the other Judiciary version.

I suspect Pelosi and Hoyer smelled the Edwards victory in Maryland -and went screaming to Conyers side to save their a**es in Nov.
UH OH, The Prez and Co. just gave their responses, seriously:

"BREAKING"

THE TELECOM INDUSTRY WON'T STOP TERRORISTS -FOR FEAR OF BEING SUED" ....says the Prez.

"DEMOCRATS WANT TERRORISTS IN COURT RATHER THAN DEAD" ...says Mitch McConnell.

Sounds to me like the President and the Republicans are more afraid of attorneys than terrorists...??

VIVA ATTORNEYS!!


Posted by: Anonymous | February 15, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

The comtempt citation, if it leads to a civil suit, will begin a legal wrangle over executive privilege that will last well beyond the date President Bush leaves office.

This will pose some interesting problems for whoever succeeds him. It's fair to say that the real reason the White House has refused to let Bolten and Miers testify about the US Attorney firings is because their testimony could be severely embarrassing to the President and Vice President. As such, the claim of privilege is being abused in this case.

But not all administrations have been, or are going to be, like this one, and not all privilege claims will be made in the future for such self-interested reasons. The results of a civil suit, if they did lead to Bolten and Miers doing what the White House should have directed them to do in the first place, could well establish legal precedents that could make internal White House discussions now, and legitimately, protected by executive privilege highly problematic.

Posted by: Zathras | February 15, 2008 3:31 PM | Report abuse

"I suspect Pelosi and Hoyer smelled the Edwards victory in Maryland -and went screaming to Conyers side to save their a**es in Nov."

I hope you're right. I hope it's a trend. And I hope Pelosi and Hoyer and the rest of the "Yellow Dogs" are given pink slips in the fall. Who needs their ilk?

Posted by: ed | February 15, 2008 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Yahoo! This law should have died in the Senate. We need to get rid of the weak democrats first in the Senate. Starting with Jay Rockefeller. I noticed he sent me an email saying he was running for reelection. As if!....

Posted by: Narnia | February 16, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

It's about time Congress developed a backbone.

Posted by: sisuntas | February 17, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Yeah... good for Congress for not giving immunity to those awful telecom companies who helped the Bush Administration listen in on our phone calls just for kicks. They were trying to infringe on our civil liberties, not help prevent terrorism..they're all in it together ..yeah, that's right, it's a conspiracy to listen in on our phone conversations...I'm sure that's big fun for them...those bad phone companies must get something out of it right?...hmmm.. wonder what.. OH YEAH>>THAT's RIGHT.. NOTHING>> You've become so cynical as to believe that a private company at the request of the US government during one of the most trying times in our country's history when thousands of innocent people were slaughtered, is only in it to betray your civil liberities? Has the world gone mad. If they had NOT cooperated and heaven forbid, another attack could not have been prevented and had killed more innocent Americans, would you then have applauded them because they protected your civil liberties...whoohooo..people are dead but who cares, because no one listened in on our phone conversations and risked violating our civil liberties. That's genius!!
There is a way to conduct intelligence and protect people's rights but there was a problem with the law, it was old and outdated at the time of 9/11..that has been fixed. Telecoms should be given immunity ONCE for what they did. Going forward...they will need to have warrants but I'm sure after this experience of being pilloried, threatened with lawsuits and treated like they're the enemy...THEY DAMN WELL WILL.

Posted by: Wren | February 18, 2008 3:56 PM | Report abuse

The corruption of secret intelligence agencies is predictable in that they inevitably evolve a culture placing them above the law and contemptuous of democratic institutions. The complicity of the Bush regime in the abuse , manipulation and perversion of intelligence has had the effect of creating a metastizing cancer on the American body politic

Posted by: RDReid | February 20, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

This comment is a little off the subject, but please please, what must i do to get the media to come up with something original, instead of using boxing terminology to describe potlics. I heard Jim Lampley use a primary election comment to describe a fight last week and it didnt fit,and boxing doesnt fit in politics.

Posted by: john p hackett | February 20, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Any telecom company that helped the feds. collect vital information, needs to be given immunity, because without them, we will not collect the next threat, and if it comes, i hope All the major democrats in congress are in a group and they are the first ones to go. If this doesn't wake them up, then we should vote all of the leadership out in nov. and put some people in there that have some sense. I cannot believe they would nominate Conyers for the man of the week. All he does is stop or interrupt every piece of legislation that is good, because he didn't think of it first. He is without a doubt, the sorriest representative that michigan could keep sending to the house. People of Michigan wake up. Don't you know when to change oil.!!!!!

Posted by: elmerck | February 20, 2008 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Letter by a Florida teacher................ A teacher speaks

This is a subject close to my heart. Do you know that we have adult students at the school where I teach who are not US citizens and who get the PELL grant, which is a federal grant (no pay back required) plus other federal grants to go to school?

One student fr om the D om inican Republic told me that she didn't want me to find a job for her after she finished my program, because she was getting housing fr om our housing department and she was getting PELL grant which paid for her total tuition and books, plus money left over.

She was looking into WAIT which gives students a CREDIT CARD for gas to c om e to school, and into CARIBE which is a special program (check it out - I did) for immigrants and it pays for child care and all sorts of needs while they go to school or training. The one student I just mentioned told me she was not going to be a US Citizen because she plans to return to the D om inican Republic s om eday and that she 'loves HER country.'

I asked her if she felt guilty taking what the US is giving her and then not even bothering to bec om e a citizen and she told me that it doesn't bother her, because that is what the money is there for!

I asked the CARIBE administration about their program and if you ARE a US Citizen, you don't qualify for their program. And all the while, I am working a full day, my son-in-law works more than 60 hours a week, and everyone in my family works and pays for our education.

S om ething is wrong here. I am sorry but after hearing they want to sing the National Anthem in Spanish - enough is enough.

Nowhere did they sing it in Italian, Polish, Irish (Celtic), German or any other language because of immigration. It was written by Francis Scott Key and should be sung word for word the way it was written. The news broadcasts even gave the translation -- not even close.Sorry if this offends anyone but this is MY COUNTRY

IF IT IS YOUR COUNTRY SPEAK UP -- please pass this along.

I am not against immigration -- just c om e through like everyone else. Get a sponsor; have a place to lay your head; have a job; pay YOUR taxes, live by the rules AND LEARN THE LANGUAGE as all other immigrants have in the past -- and GOD BLESS AMERICA !

PART OF THE PROBLEM

Think about this: If you don't want to forward this for fear of offending someone -- YOU'RE PART OF THE PROBLEM!

It is Time for America to Speak up If you agree -- pass this along, if you don't agree --delete it!








Posted by: elmerck | February 20, 2008 12:26 PM | Report abuse

To elmerck :
What (if anything) has your long rant to do with the FISA law? Or our Constitutional civil rights to privacy , for that matter?

Abso-blooming-ly NOTHING. Go rag on somebody else's dime.

Posted by: Luise Perenne | February 20, 2008 6:33 PM | Report abuse

What a load of crap, or should I say "hasbarah"? This fellow "Wren", all this blather:

"yeah, that's right, it's a conspiracy to listen in on our phone conversations...I'm sure that's big fun for them...those bad phone companies must get something out of it right?...hmmm.. wonder what.. OH YEAH>>THAT's RIGHT.. NOTHING>> You've become so cynical as to believe that a private company at the request of the US government during one of the most trying times in our country's history when thousands of innocent people were slaughtered, is only in it to betray your civil liberities?"

If there's another attack, we know who's behind it. The same criminals that sold us a war of choice in Iraq and blithely killed a million innocents, FOR OIL (not to get more, but to get LESS -- they shut it off, to quintuple the price and crimp China).

This tweety bird ought to read a little history: the telecoms got fat contracts (except for Joseph Nacchio, the former chief executive of Qwest Communications, who was charged with 42 counts of insider trading -- wouldn't play ball: now he's the ball) for letting Cheney snoop on his enemies (political, not international) and whistleblowers trying to report on his crimes. FISA was written because John Edgar Hoover was spying on Nixon's political enemies and his own, especially Dr. Martin Luther King, peace activists, and whistle blowers like Daniel Ellsberg.

STFU you fat Miami cigar chomper!

Posted by: ProudPrimate | February 21, 2008 6:07 PM | Report abuse

NO, NO... that is Not What Happened.

Wexler delivered a letter WITH Over 220,000 Voter Signatures Asking For Public Impeachment Hearings NOW, in order to Clear The Air and Protect the Constitution and Separation of Powers
( not just 18 signatures)!!!!!

"But Conyers has... repeatedly declined to hold impeachment hearings against Vice President Cheney despite pressure from the liberal grassroots to do so. Rep. Wexler (D-Fla.), a media-friendly member of the Judiciary panel, sent Conyers a letter last month signed by 18 fellow lawmakers calling for hearings on Cheney. Reportedly, Conyers' office was barraged with phone calls on the subject this week."

His office is still being inundated with calls, faxes and email but he continues to ignore them. I wonder how this will play at re-election time?

I used to have a great deal of respect for Conyers but my respect for him is on the wane as he cowers under pressure from Pelosi to ignore the will of the voters
and suppress hearings.

The Conyers I used to know and love is no more.

..

Posted by: John H Kennedy Denver CO | February 22, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Subpoenas not complied with did in Nixon.

Start the impeachment process immediately. The vast majority of people want an open, honest government with checks and balances and the impeachment process need not take a long time. Do not believe otherwise.

Do we want Obama, Clinton, McCain or anyone else to have the power the current president has given himself?
That is what we are facing if impeachment is kept off the table, no matter how honorable the next President might be.

The Constitution is not a G-D piece of paper despite President Bush's declaration.
We're angry as hell and we aren't going to take it anymore. Hey representatives, Represent US!
Sign Robert Wexler's letter and the rest of us can sign the petition at WexlerWantsHearings.com.

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