Politics

Republicans Block Senate Committee Hearings, Including On National Security Matters, For Second Day In A Row

ThinkProgress yesterday reported that all of Tuesday’s Senate committee and subcommittee hearings had to stop after 2:00 p.m. because of Republican objections. There is a little-noticed Senate rule that says committees need permission to meet anytime after two hours after the Senate convenes. Without permission, even a committee already in session has to stop meeting. No committee meetings are allowed to occur after 2:00 p.m.

The Senate generally waives this rule by unanimous consent at the start of business each day. But to protest health care legislation, Republicans have refused to give their consent this week, bringing committee work in the Senate to a virtual standstill. Today, the Senate convened at 9:00 a.m., meaning that hearings after 11:00 a.m. were blocked. One hearing canceled today was a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee session on “Contracts for Afghan National Police Training.” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), chair of the subcommittee, went on the Senate floor and called out the GOP tactics:

McCASKILL: Mr. President, I’m just confused about why the hearing that we had scheduled this afternoon cannot go forward. The subject matter of this hearing is oversight of the contract that is engaged in police training in Afghanistan in the Contracting Oversight subcommittee. This is a hearing that is getting to the heart of the matter that we have a real problem with the mission part in Afghanistan on police training because of problems with these contracts, problems with oversight of the State Department.

We have now canceled the hearing because we can’t have it. The witness from the State Department has been canceled. The witness from the Defense Department has been canceled. The inspectors general that were coming to testify about a GAO report that just came out last week — that was damning in its criticism of the oversight of these contracts. … I don’t get it.

Also on the Senate floor, Carl Levin (D-MI) asked permission for the already-scheduled Senated Armed Services Committee to go forward — a request supported by ranking member Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Levin pointed out that a couple of the commanders had traveled long distances to attend today’s hearing, from as far away as Japan. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), speaking on behalf of Republicans, objected and blocked the request:

BURR: As a member of the committee — and I side myself with the chair and the ranking member — that I have no personal objection to continuing. There is objection on our side of the aisle. Therefore, I would have to object.

Watch the clips:

The Senate Judiciary Committee also had to cancel its hearing considering President Obama’s judicial nominations, which included Goodwin Liu for the Ninth Circuit. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) put out a statement today blasting Republicans for their petty partisanship:

Senate Republicans’ tactics of obstruction and delay know no limit. They have objected to reasonable timetables to consider President Obama’s qualified judicial nominees, and now they are objecting to allowing the Judiciary Committee to conduct hearings in connection with these nominations. Senate Republicans continue their ill-advised protest of meaningful health reform legislation by exploiting parliamentary tactics and Senate Rules, to the detriment of the American people and, in today’s instance, at the expense of American justice. I urge them to reconsider and allow this hearing to proceed as scheduled.

In response to the GOP maneuvers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) spokesman Jim Manley replied, “So let me get this straight: in retaliation for our efforts to have an up-or-down vote to improve health care reform, Republicans are blocking an Armed Services committee hearing to discuss critical national security issues among other committee meetings?”

Democratic sources on the Hill told ThinkProgress that they expect Republicans to continue this tactic all week. Republicans used this tactic as recently as June 2008, attempting to shut down at least two Judiciary Committee hearings on torture and how Supreme Court decisions had restricted protections of American workers and consumers.

Here is a full list of hearings the Senate was supposed to hold today. ThinkProgress learned that of those committees, Commerce and Agriculture were able to finish their hearings. Veterans and Environment and Public Works had to stop their hearings, and Small Business was postponed.

UPDATE

Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI), whose hearing was stopped abruptly at 11:00 a.m., replied, “The Senate should be a place for debate, but I cannot imagine how shutting down a hearing on helping homeless veterans has any part of the debate on the health insurance reform. I am deeply disappointed that my colleagues chose to hinder our common work to help end veteran homelessness.”

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UPDATE

,McCaskill addressed the issue again on the Senate floor this afternoon, shortly after 2:15, saying, “I don’t get what the purpose of saying ‘no’ is. I don’t get what we accomplish. We’re sent here to work. We’re paid by the people of this country to work.” Watch it:

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