I fear the vermin that shall undermine
Senate and citadel and school and shrine—
The Worm of Greed, the fatted Worm of Ease,
And all the crawling progeny of these—
The vermin that shall honeycomb the towers
And walls of State in unsuspecting hours.
- Edwin Markham, “I Fear for Thee, My Country,” quoted
by Sen. Robert Byrd in Losing America
In a development that came as no surprise to Washington insiders, Congressional leaders announced this morning that they would not be returning to the capital after the holiday recess.
Standing on the White House lawn and flanked by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert said, “It has become obvious over the past few years that three branches of government are at least one too many. The executive branch, led by this President, has proven itself willing and perfectly able to operate without input from the Congress.” His next line drew good-natured laughs from reporters and White House staffers. “You have to know when it’s time to go,” he said. “Personally, I’d rather play a few rubbers of bridge than serve as a rubber stamp.”
Speaking off the record, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) made the same point, though in blunter terms. “We give the thumbs up to whatever Bush and Rove want anyway, so what’s the point of attending all these committee meetings, hearings, and sessions? I’d rather be watching NASCAR.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who earlier had said that he was not qualified to make a technical judgment as to whether disbanding Congress was “the appropriate step to take,” said only that he was concerned whether needy members of Congress would still be able to draw a government check if they were no longer performing any work. He suggested that there might well be a legal distinction between simply not doing anything useful and officially shutting down a branch of government.
Senate leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn), noting that the President has taken upon himself the power to attack other nations at his will; the authority to ignore the Geneva Conventions; the ability to detain citizens without charge or legal representation for as long as he chooses; the right to spy on any American citizen he designates despite specific federal legislation forbidding it, and without seeking permission from the courts; and the power to torture at his discretion despite a Congressional prohibition of such acts, urged the federal judiciary to abolish itself as well.
“When you stop and think about it,” said Frist, “it’s inefficient to have nine Supreme Court justices arguing over issues when the President can handle them alone.” Frist added that “Getting rid of the Court would eliminate many long, frustrating delays. The President really doesn’t need the courts to tell him what’s constitutional. He already decides those matters on his own, or asks his Attorney General to devise justifications for any action he chooses.”
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) called on the judiciary to follow the lead of Congress immediately, saying “We came into office on a platform of reducing the size of government, and eliminating two of its three main branches would be a huge step in fulfilling that pledge.”
Asked if these changes would require amendments to various portions of the Constitution, Sen. Rockefeller said that, although he lacked the training to offer a competent legal opinion on the matter, it was his feeling that the President’s habit of simply ignoring those portions of the Constitution which he finds irksome probably renders the matter moot. “After all,” he said, “the Constitution isn’t self-enforcing. If the President chooses to override provisions of the Constitution, who’s going to make him stop? I can’t find it in my job description.”
The morning’s festivities were capped when the President read a message he described as a “belated Christmas gift”—a blanket pardon to all members of Congress, as well as their current and former staffers, for any and all crimes they might have committed while in office. White House press secretary Scott McClellan later insisted that there was no “quid pro quo” linking the two announcements.
Mr. Bush said he spoke for a grateful nation in thanking members of Congress for their many years in Washington. “You have made your mark,” he declared, “leaving the country dramatically different from the one you inherited when you came into office.”
The celebratory mood of the occasion was marred only briefly when a pale and shaken Sen. Robert Byrd (also D-WV) attempted to grab the microphone, and was removed from the grounds by Secret Service agents. Byrd’s wife and friends are reportedly unable to locate the elderly solon, but rumors have him en route to a vacation of indeterminate length in an undisclosed country of the former eastern bloc—possibly Poland or Rumania.
© Tony Russell, 2006