Republicans Gone Wild
During a break in the proceedings at yesterday's House Homeland Security Committee hearing, George Foresman, the Bush administration official in charge of disaster preparedness, put down the "Read Ahead Book" his staff had prepared for him and began to wring his hands.
For good reason: He was the guest of honor at a ritual sacrifice, Washington-style. His Department of Homeland Security has slashed counterterrorism funding for New York City and the Washington area by 40 percent, and Foresman, though armed with many excuses, lacked an explanation that passed what Rep. Rob Simmons (Conn.) called "the common-sense test."
"It was indefensible, it was disgraceful, and to me it raises very, very real questions about the competency of this department in determining how it's going to protect America," said Chairman Peter King (N.Y.).
"How could a rational process produce such a dysfunctional conclusion?" demanded Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, calling the situation "a sad joke."
"Something's wrong with the formula," said Rep. Jim Gibbons (Nev.).
And these were all Republicans .
Maybe it's the early summer heat, but something has caused House Republicans to boil with rage this week -- and to direct much of it at President Bush and his administration. They snubbed Bush by announcing that they were putting off immigration legislation at least for the summer -- and perhaps for the year. In another show of defiance toward the administration, they decided not to take up renewal of the Voting Rights Act. And King said he will confer today with his Senate counterpart, Susan Collins (R-Maine), about forcing the administration to restore counterterrorism funding to New York and Washington.
Yesterday started off badly for the administration. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a Democratic proposal to demand administration documents related to the National Security Agency's telephone surveillance program. And, to the delight of Democrats, Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) called for its adoption.
"I hope this committee will report this resolution favorably to send the administration and the Justice Department a message," the jowled chairman growled. "The Justice Department has once again failed to respond fully to questions," he said in an exasperated, singsong voice, and it is "imperative that this committee be provided the information it needs to provide appropriate oversight to ensure the constitutionality of this program." The committee obliged.
But that was just a warm-up for the homeland security hearing in the Cannon building, where spectators stood three deep along the walls to see the carnage.
King, with his thick New York accent and a lapel pin of the World Trade Center, did not disappoint. "I have said then, I say now: This was a stab in the back to the city of New York," he said in his leadoff statement, on a gold-draped pulpit that gave King a monarchal presence. He stacked the first panel with critics of the Bush policy -- Bloomberg and the NYPD's Raymond Kelly, and Washington's Mayor Anthony Williams (D) and Police Chief Charles Ramsey -- then joined other committee members in lobbing leading questions.
Even the laconic Williams, in his trademark technospeak, got off some zingers. "The department determined that we face less risk than 75 percent of the nation's states and territories?" he wondered, calling the conclusion "astounding."