Will Hillary Show?

Matt Stoller at Open Left reports on a conversation he had with Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton yesterday in South Carolina on FISA. Stoller writes:

I talked to Bill first, and asked him for help on the FISA fight. He very lawyerly asked me if they need 60 votes for cloture, and I said ‘yes’. He knows that this means Clinton’s vote isn’t necessary, since it doesn’t matter if the vote total is 59-41 or 59-0.

Then I spoke with Hillary, and she said she has assured her colleagues she will go back to the Senate if they need her vote. She though that we have already lost, alluding to the Judiciary version of the bill which was voted down on Friday. I urged her to speak out publicly and she said she intends to say something on Sunday. [Emphasis added]

Bill Clinton is right to point out that blocking cloture on the Intelligence bill Monday doesn’t take Democrats finding 41 “nay” votes, but the Republicans finding 60 “yea” votes. And Hillary Clinton’s statement that she’ll speak out on this issue and vote if needed is a marginally positive note.

But let me say this: If Hillary Clinton does not show up to vote against cloture on the Intel bill, a vote that will take place while she is in Washington on Monday, it will tell us a great deal about Hillary Clinton’s priorities as a Senator and presidential candidate and an equally great deal about how Harry Reid is running the Democratic caucus. If Clinton doesn’t show up for this vote, according to this statement, it will be in large part because she was given a pass by Reid to miss it. Reid will have told her that her vote was not needed and Clinton will have taken that opportunity to continue campaigning.

I know that presidential candidates miss a great deal of votes while they’re campaigning. I lived with that reality while I was working on the Dodd campaign; as the campaign went on, his missed vote totals rose and it was an issue that we were always well aware of. A lot of the time it is hard both from a cost and a time standpoint to move a candidate from one side of the country to DC in time for a vote. Some campaigns have more money than others, but even when cost is no expense, nothing is a guarantee. I get that.

But Senator Clinton (and Senator Obama) will be in Washington on Monday. And DC isn’t that big of a city, yet neither have committed to be in attendance for the cloture vote. Taking the handful of minutes or even hours that will be needed to vote against cloture on a horrible piece of legislation which strikes against the rule of law should be requisite for every single Democratic Senator and whole lot of Republicans, too. It will be very hard for me to look at this cloture vote as anything other than a statement about how much these senators care about the US Constitution; missing it will tell me that they just don’t care about the Constitution.

The same goes for Majority Leader Reid. If he can’t crack the whip over his caucus and make sure that Senators Clinton and Obama aren’t there to make crystal clear that they stand with the American people in support of the US Constitution, I’ll read that as a statement about how much Reid cares for fully shutting down the Republican Party’s attack on the rule of law.

Our chances of winning the cloture vote on the Intel bill Monday may be good, but it takes more than one vote to stop the Republican Party’s assault on the Constitution. That makes the actions of the people that want to be our leaders in regard to this vote even more important. To jam Kia Franklin’s line yesterday about the best way for telecoms to avoid being liable for breaking the law, the best way for our presidential candidates to avoid criticism for failing up to stand up for the Constitution would be to stand up for the Constitution.

Cross posted at the CREDO Blog.

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