Questioning the Politics of the FISA Deal

Many people have been critical of how the Democratic leadership handled the recent FISA deal.  Blogger Glenn Greenwald notes some of the reactions. There have even been quotes that the administration got “a better deal than they hoped to get.”  I commented on the radio (KPFA, 19 minutes in) that this was not a “compromise” but a give-away.

Given all of that, it was interesting to find this piece in the Politico — How Hoyer got the deal done:

In a tense moment during negotiations over the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, Sen. Kit Bond — the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee — said that his side of the aisle could never accept one of the proposals the Democrats were pushing.

According to Democratic insiders, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer abruptly stopped the meeting and said that, if a deal was made, no one would get more grief than he would.


According to several Democratic insiders, Hoyer was able to keep the talks going by pointing out that he, more than anyone else in the room, was taking a huge political risk by trying to reach a deal.

Hoyer is the majority leader — is there a chance he’ll lose that position? He also seems safely in his seat — he soundly defeated his last primary challenger.

James Patrick Cusick, Sr. Steny H. Hoyer(Won)
19,067 (17.4%) 90,513 (82.6%)

Hoyer also soundly won the general election — the Republicans did not enter a candidate and Hoyer defeated the Green Party candidate getting 84% of the vote.

So my question is: What is the “huge political risk” Hoyer was facing?  It actually looks like he had a lot of leeway here. He had a strong position to negotiate from, and true he gave that up, but I don’t think he’s in a position to pay a price for it.

Finally, I do not get this reaction from Politico:

Hoyer knew it was coming, and he persevered anyway. That he did so speaks volumes about who he is: a master of cloakroom politics who can use his friendships across the aisle to strike deals, even if others demand that his party hew closer to the positions that put it in power in 2006.

It does not take “master[y] of cloakroom politics” to be in a safe position and then give in to the other side. I have never engaged in “cloakroom” anything, but sounds like a rookie mistake, rather than “mastery.” Politico goes on:

Hoyer said that if House Democratic leaders failed to reach a FISA deal with the White House and GOP leaders, as many as “30 Blue Dogs and another 20 to 30 members” could have signed onto a Republican discharge petition calling for a floor vote on the Senate version of the FISA bill, which was even more anathema to House Democrats than what eventually passed.

It would take a “master of cloakroom politics” to have kept that from happening. But that is not what Hoyer did.

Posted: June 24, 2008 in: