'Subpoenafest': Democratic Tigers and Republican Guerrillas

Rep. Tom Davis, center, with Rep. Henry Waxman, right, practiced his delaying technique. (By Dennis Cook -- Associated Press)
By Dana Milbank
Thursday, April 26, 2007

The animal spirits were stirring on Capitol Hill yesterday.

"What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) announced at a hearing of the House oversight committee.

"I feel like we're straining out gnats and swallowing camels," Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) preached.

Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) told Republicans that they were trying to "beat a dead horse."

Davis informed the chairman that he was "like a highbred horse without a bridle."


The inspiration for these bestial bromides: the legislative subpoena, which after years of captivity under a Republican Congress is again roaming free under Democrats. The House oversight committee authorized subpoenas yesterday for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and for the Republican National Committee and its chairman, Mike Duncan. In the hearing room next door in the Rayburn building, the House Judiciary Committee approved one for former Justice Department official Monica Goodling.

Across the Capitol, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted for one for Sara Taylor, a deputy to Karl Rove in the White House. And that was restrained: The oversight committee shelved plans to authorize subpoenas for former White House chief of staff Andy Card and for White House contracting documents.

Republicans dubbed it "Subpoenafest," but it was nothing compared with the raise-the-roof subpoena bashes the Republicans threw during the Clinton administration. Waxman pointed out that the oversight committee issued 1,052 subpoenas to Democratic targets between 1997 and 2002, all without a debate or vote. During a 100-day period in 1997, Waxman said, then-Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) issued subpoenas at the clip of two per day.

Still, the multiple-subpoena moment gave both parties a chance to reverse the roles they played in the '90s. While Democrats spoke piously about the need for the facts, Republicans shouted "fishing expedition" -- eight times in two hours in the oversight committee. It was much the same next door at the Judiciary Committee. "If we are to continue this investigation," argued Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), "it cannot be an endless piscatorial expedition."

This sent Chris Cannon (R-Utah) to the dictionary. "Piscatorial means fishing," he reported to the committee.

That may have been the most educational moment of a debate that can be summarized as follows:

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