For months, if not years, congressional Democrats had craved the chance to pounce on Doug Feith, the former No. 3 at the Pentagon and the brains behind the Iraq WMD claims, torture policy and other great adventures.
Yesterday, House Democrats finally had their quarry, wearing a tie almost as orange as a detainee's jumpsuit, compelled by subpoena to appear before the Judiciary Committee. And then -- an ambush! Republicans on the committee created a diversion, and Feith escaped unscathed.
Mere seconds after the subcommittee chairman, Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), gaveled the start of the hearing with the usual words -- "without objection, the chair is authorized to declare a recess" -- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) raised his voice.
"Objection! Objection, Mr. Chairman," the backbencher called out.
Nadler was puzzled. "The gentleman wants us to sit here through votes?
"I object to granting unanimous consent to the chair," King maintained.
Nadler was forced to order a voice vote, then a roll-call vote. By the time Feith had spoken his first words, the hearing was nearly an hour old. King and his colleagues went on to declare dozens of objections, parliamentary inquires and points of order, raising concerns about a T-shirt worn by an audience member, a sign spotted in the crowd, and the need for bathroom and lunch breaks for witnesses. Three and a half hours later, Feith had become but an asterisk at what was supposed to be his hanging.
Republicans are chafing in their minority status in both chambers of Congress. Their presidential and congressional candidates lag in the polls, and their president posted a career-low 28 percent approval rating in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll. About the only weapon left in the Republican arsenal is the dilatory maneuver.
Yesterday's opening statements were done, and Nadler turned to the witnesses. "I now want to welcome our -- "
"Mr. Chairman!" King called out. "Mr. Chairman! Is there time for an opening statement?" King, having thus seized the floor, encouraged everybody "to roll our minds back to that terrible day of September 11th, 2001. . . . The day that all of us looked at that blazing inferno tumbling down in New York."
Nadler tried to return to business, but Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who had been whispering and giggling with King like a schoolboy, interrupted anew. "A point of parliamentary inquiry!" he said. He raised three questions, the last of which was a request to "summon" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
By the time Issa finished, King had reloaded. He gave another speech masquerading as a "clarification."