Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) flexed their muscles, shook their rattles, and told President-elect Barack Obama not to tread upon them.
“I don’t believe in the executive power trumping everything,” Reid, the Senate’s majority leader, told the political newspaper, The Hill. He said he believed “in our Constitution, three separate but equal branches of government.” For emphasis, he warned, “If Obama steps over the bounds, I will tell him. … I do not work for Barack Obama, I work with him.”
Feinstein, incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence committee, whined that Obama didn’t consult her before nominating Leon Panetta, former Clinton chief of staff, to be CIA director. She then tagged her complaint with an unveiled attack upon Panetta. “My position has consistently been that I believe the Agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time,” said Feinstein.
Both concerns by Reid and Feinstein might be commendable–had Reid and Feinstein been as tough on George W. Bush before his popularity sank lower than a Texan wearing Hush Puppies at a line dance.
Reid and Feinstein voted for the PATRIOT Act not once but twice. Feinstein was even one of the co-sponsors to renew the Act. By the time Congress voted to renew the PATRIOT Act, the federal courts had already ruled several parts to be either unconstitutional or constitutionally questionable.
Reid eventually opposed the President’s illegal wiretapping of citizens. However, Feinstein supported continued wiretaps without court authority. She later joined a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republican senators to support a reduction in proposed civil liberties protection in the modified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and to extend the power of the executive branch.
Both Reid and Feinstein willingly approved the invasion of Iraq. They eventually changed their position more than four years later, at a time when Americans, who once said anti-war protestors were traitors and un-American, had finally realized that they had been lied to as to reasons for the invasion.
One reason Obama may not have consulted with Feinstein about Panetta’s nomination, although he later apologized for the “oversight,” may be because Feinstein supported CIA activities under the BushCheney Administration. Panetta’s nomination was partially because Obama wanted a strong administrator at the CIA and partially because he was sending a clear message that unquestioned execution of BushCheney policies that led to rendition and torture would not be tolerated under an Obama Administration. Feinstein supported Bush’s nomination of Porter Goss as CIA director. Although once a CIA agent, Goss had spent three decades as a career politician who had viciously attacked those whose political beliefs didn’t agree with his; as director of Central Intelligence he allowed his agency to massage data to the Administration’s wishes.
Although Reid did call Bush a “loser” and a “liar,” he later apologized for the comments and showed little rage against the bullying tactics of the Republican-controlled Congress during Bush’s first term. During Bush’s last term, Reid became more aggressive against the Administration’s incursion upon civil liberties, and did lead his Democratic colleagues to oppose numerous BushCheney power plays. However, as minority leader in December 2005, he acknowledged in an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News that Congress “has done very very little oversight” of the President’s actions.
Barack Obama is the most popular president-elect in almost four decades. He received 52 percent of the popular vote, a higher percentage than Bush received in his second election, and for which the second term president said he had a mandate from the people. At the end of 2008, a CNN/Opinion Research poll revealed that two-thirds of all Americans said they admired Obama, about three-fourths said Obama was a strong and decisive leader, and four-fifths said they believe Obama inspires confidence.
Reid and Feinstein’s challenges to the hugely-popular incoming president, one who unlike Cheney and Bush believes in following constitutional and international law, as well as transparency of government, were unusual and defensive. More important, they weren’t necessary two weeks before inauguration.