- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Yesterday, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, the president’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), received a Texas-style lesson in the Democrats’ new tactic of denying democracy to their opponents. We hope Senate Republicans received the same wake-up call from the empty chairs of their esteemed colleagues on the other side of the aisle in the Environment and Public Works Committee chamber.

Their chairs were empty because all of the Democrats on the committee boycotted what should have been a hearing to send Mr. Leavitt’s nomination to the floor of the Senate for a final confirmation vote. The committee’s rules specify that a quorum can only be met when three members from the minority party are present and so, by their absence, Democrats shut down the constitutional process. Senate historians were unable to recall a similar event.

While several of the Republican senators at the hearing said they were disappointed by their opponents’ unprecedented boycott, they should not have been surprised. After all, Democrats in the Texas state house hid in New Mexico for six weeks to deny the Republican majority passage of a redistricting plan, and Democrats on the Judicial Committee filibustered Miguel Estrada’s nomination for six months.

As in the case of Mr. Estrada, Democrats on the EPW committee are complaining that Mr. Leavitt has not given satisfactory answers to their questions. That is arrent nonsense. Mr. Leavitt answered the 400-plus questions they asked him in the same style as have other nominees for that position, such as Carol Browner.

It would be easy to call the boycott mere presidential preening, and many of the Republicans at the hearing did so. After all, three of the Democrats on the committee have such aspirations (Sens. Bob Graham, Joseph Lieberman and Hillary Clinton). However, there is far more to it than simple electioneering.

The boycott of Mr. Leavitt was an exemplar of the pure politics of power, a demonstration of the determination of Democrats to deny the democratic process to their opponents wherever and whenever they can. As Sen. James Jeffords, the only representative of the opposition who appeared at the hearing, said in response to a question from Committee Chairman Sen. James Inhofe, “This is the only time we have the leverage, and we intend to use it.”

Mr. Jeffords said he was speaking only of compelling Mr. Leavitt to provide answers, but the larger context is unmistakable. As Mr. Inhofe noted at the close of the hearing, “What happened here could happen in any committee.” It undoubtedly will. While compromise and consensus-building are critical tools in good governance, the boycott of Mr. Leavitt is another reminder that in some political fights, Democrats’ gloves have always been off.

Denying a Senate committee its ability to send a nomination to the floor is a highly subversive stunt that could bring all committee activity to a halt on the whim of the minority. First, there were filibusters on the floor of the Senate. Now, we have the minority vetoing the entire function of a Senate committee. Step by step, the constitutional process is being weakened. Another thread in the tapestry of the democratic process has been pulled upon.

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