News Live from DC: Cantwell Votes No on Military Tribunals Bill, Inslee Busts Nickels, and I Visit My Hero’s Office.
posted by September 29 at 9:21 AMon
I posted this yesterday evening, but I wanted to get it in today’s mix. It’s about yesterday’s detainee vote and a few other things that happenened on my visit to Washington, D.C.
I’m on Capitol Hill, the one in Washington, D.C., which isn’t such a great neighborhood for wi-fi—and so, I haven’t been able to Slog much. Which is a drag because there’s a lot to report. (I’m here on assignment for the paper, writing about Sen. Maria Cantwell. You’d think the office of our high tech Senator would have wi-fi, but no such luck.) And I certainly thought the Senate press gallery—where I’ve been hunkered down for the past few days with an awesome temporary press pass—would come equipped with wi-fi. But again, no such luck. (I guess the Stranger needs to pay for a connection.)
Although, bonus: the cool press pass lets me walk around like a big shot and go anywhere I want—including on the legendary private subway that connects the Capitol to the Senate offices. It looks very 1960s…as in, 2001 the movie.
Anyway, I was here for today’s ugly, historic vote: 51-48 against an amendment to Bush’s Military Tribunals bill. The smart amendment (proposed by Arlen Specter) would have restored the fundamental right of habeas corpus… a fancy term that means people have the right to challenge their arrest and detainment. Cantwell voted for the amendment.
Fortuitously, last week, I scheduled a sit-down interview with Cantwell for today, and so, I got to talk with her at length just minutes after her vote. “We have to stand up for the rule of law,” she said. “That’s what’s important in the United States. The fact that people could be detained and not have access to counsel to know why they were detained? I’ve been to Guantanamo Bay and saw the circumstances there. Certainly there are people who have been there for several years without being charged. Now to offer these rewards for people turning in other individuals…you can imagine, you know, ‘Oh, my neighbor is a terrorist’ and the next thing you know, you’re in Guantanemo Bay. You need to have a process and habeas corpus to say, ‘Hey, why am I being detained?’”
Given her strong objections to the bill (and her nightmares about a dystopian future), I asked Cantwell how she would vote on the bill itself later in the day. She wouldn’t say, which made me a little nervous. (Remember the whole filibuster on the Patriot act, but then her vote for the Patriot Act?) But late in the day—after she voted for three other failed amendments (one that would have required quarterly reports from the CIA on detainee interrogations; one that mandated a five year sunset for the law; and one that would have specifically forbidden the US from using torture methods that are outlawed by the Geneva Conventions (the bill leaves that up to Bush’s interpretation)—Cantwell voted nay.
The bill passed 65-34. …which heightens the cool factor of Cantwell’s dissent. The losing amendments had netted votes in the high forties…meaning they pretty much split along party lines. But in the final passage, a lot of Democrats were obvioulsy peeled off. Not Cantwell.
I’ll have a lot more to report on
Cantwell in next week’s Stranger, but I do want to report on two unrelated things from my visit to Capitol Hill. One is this: Late in the day on Wednesday, I was sitting on the steps of one of the House office buildings, and who should walk by but the coolest member of Washington’s house delegation, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-1). I flagged him down, and he told me about his plans for next session, when, in his not so humble opinion, it’s a foregone conclusion that the Democrats are going to take over.
He also bitched me (the media) out for not reporting that the majority of his Democratic colleagues in the House, including him, voted against the war four years ago. “Everyone thinks the Democrats rolled over on that,” he said. “And that’s just not true. We voted against it.” Anyway, he ended up talking about his Apollo Initiative—a green bill to promote alternative energy, tighten environmental standards and reduce green house gas emissions. This gave me an opening to do a little lobbying while I was on Capitol Hill. I asked him what he thought about Mayor Greg Nickels’s tunnel option—you know, the freeway thru downtown that will cost $5 billion plus now to accommodate our addiction to cars. And to my surprise, Inslee had heard all about the People’s Waterfront Coalition streets and transit option. (He didn’t outright endorse it…) but he sure seemed interested in it. He chastised Nickels for “missing an opportunity” to make a major break with our old way of thinking and said Nickels needed to think more seriously about the surface option—especially since, Inslee surmised, the mayor would be coming to people like Inslee for federal money.
The other thing I want to report about is this! … my visit to Rep. John Lewis’s office. Lewis is the Rep. from Altanta. He’s also my hero. Lewis was the 23-year-old star of the Civil Rights movement in the early ’60s. On Wednesday afternoon, I went over to his office.
“Can I help you?” the woman behind the desk asked.
“Yes. I’m a reporter in town from Seattle working on a story about the Senator from Washington state, but I wanted to stop in here and see…well, you probably get this about once every few months or so, but you know, you guys work for a living legend… and, well, he’s my hero anyway, and….”
The woman broke into a beautiful, friendly smile. “Unfortunately, the Representative is out of town this week…”
I’m sure I looked crestfallen because she got up from her desk and said… “Come on, follow me.” Next thing I know, I’m in Lewis’s office and she’s showing me all this amazing memorobilia. Basically, Lewis has a civil rights era musuem in his office—including rare and stunning photos from the early ’60s of Lewis and other civil rights kids making history.
I was in a grand mood.
Alas. Civil rights, shmivel rights. The next day, I hung out in the Senate and watched them shelve habeas corpus.