Thursday, January 26, 2006

Lee Terry Makes His Move

by Kyle Michaelis
It looks like Nebraska's Second District Congressman Lee Terry wants to raise his profile, breaking years of generally unflinching silence on Republican misdeeds...perhaps in hopes of establishing himself as Sen. Chuck Hagel's successor should Hagel forego seeking a third term in 2008 to instead run for president.

Here's what the newly semi-critical Terry had to say to the Lincoln Journal-Star:

President George W. Bush should have gone to the secret intelligence court to authorize his administration’s domestic surveillance activities, Rep. Lee Terry said.

“I think the president could have accomplished the same thing by going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, and I feel he should have,” the Omaha Republican said in a Lincoln interview. “The mechanisms are in place to do it constitutionally.”

Under terms of the 1978 act, he said, the administration could have acted immediately to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mails involving suspected terrorists or their associates while seeking warrants within 72 hours authorizing those activities.

Once the administration responded swiftly to emergency surveillance opportunities, Terry said, he believes it should have gone to court. “I certainly understand wanting to tap phones right away,” he said, “but not going back to get a warrant after the fact baffles me"....

At the same time, the 2nd District congressman said, he believes the White House may “sincerely feel it has a constitutional right” to do what it did. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., plans to hold hearings on the constitutionality of the administration’s domestic surveillance tactics.

On other matters, Terry said he believes House Republicans should hold new elections on all leadership positions other than Speaker of the House so they can “get rid of all the DeLay folks.”

While Republicans are poised to elect a new majority leader to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, who resigned his leadership position under a cloud of ethics charges and alleged campaign finance law violations, Terry believes four other positions also should be open to change.

“We need to get rid of the DeLay group and elect new blood that was not caught up in the DeLay style and is open to reform,” he said. “I think we need a clear break from the old regime.

Terry has signed a petition designed to force elections for every leadership post except that held by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert....

The House needs to approve “a very harsh, tough ethics reform bill,” Terry said, and get its moribund ethics committee “up and running again.”

Charges of congressional corruption are hurting Republicans, he said. “But people (in my district) say to me they think this is not just a Republican thing, but a congressional thing.”

That sure reads like even Terry thinks Bush's domestic spying program is unconstitutional, not only as a matter of protecting personal freedoms but also for violating the law of the land according to the U.S. Congress. With even Sen. Specter admitting such offenses may justify impeachment, this is a radical break from five years of near-complete Congressional acquiescence to highly questionable and dangerous extensions of presidential authority post-9/11.

Of course, it's Terry's criticism of the Republican culture of corruption and its standard-bearer, former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, that demonstrates the most significant shift in Terry's pubic persona. He's clearly doing everything in his power to separate himself from the very leadership he has supported and received support from throughout his tenure.

He wants to get rid of "all the DeLay folks"? That's funny since, by almost any standard imaginable, he's one of them. Terry has taken their money, voted their interests instead of the people of Nebraska's, and even joined in Republican efforts to weaken Congressional Ethics Rules so DeLay could hold on to power as the House of Corruption over which he's presided started showing its first cracks.

Still, better late than never to feign a political conscience and actual expectations of integrity from one's own party. To bring Terry to this point, you almost have to assume that he knows the worst is yet to come for Congressional Republicans as the full extent of DeLay and company's dirty dealings comes to light. In a situation like that, it's hard blame the guy for doing what he can to steal some political cover - at least, if he cares about his job.

So, what of the Hagel factor? Immediate political considerations aside, can Terry possibly break free from his record of toeing the party line enough to make it feasible that he could possibly stand on at least one of his own two feet?

The Journal-Star might think so, going so far in an editorial as to thank Terry for bravely "risking the wrath and disdain of the Bush administration." Well, gee golly, good for him, but let's not make too much of Terry's ability to recognize which way the wind is blowing and adjust his positions accordingly. Smart? Yes. Gutsy? Not so much.

And, Senate material? Is that even a question worth asking? I'm not so sure.


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