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New Sheriff Time: Obama Shakes Up The Senate

Leon PanettaIt may not have been intentional.  Obama was still in his first term when he hit the campaign trail, so it was only natural that he would forge most of his close connections to DC insiders within the Senate.  But as he filled out his administration with one Senator after another, he precipitated a desperately needed shakeup in that musty, ancient, bloviating and self-important entity that considers itself "the most exclusive club in the world."

The musical chairs began when Democratic leadership decided the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is in charge of disbursing more than $1 trillion a year in federal spending, was too important to be chaired by the 91 year-old Robert Byrd (who was sending his aides to the meetings he didn’t sleep through).  But they observed those august rules of Senate seniority and replaced him with the largely ineffectual Daniel Inouye, 84, so that hardly signaled radical change.

Inouye’s decision to take over Appropriations meant he had to give up  Commerce.  Then Biden’s departure from Foreign Relations triggered a mad scramble for powerful committee chairmanships that ended with Kerry taking over after he failed to receive a cabinet appointment.  Mary Landrieu took over Kerry’s chair of small business.  Rockefeller gave up Intelligence and took Inouye’s seat at Commerce, and Diane Feinstein assumed the Intelligence helm. 

And that was that.  The Senators decided amongst themselves how power would be distributed — they swatted away the pesky gnats who questioned their right to decide what goes on in their club and handed a gavel back to Joe Lieberman, and everyone set out to assert their new authority and exercise control of their new turf.

We are not amused howled Feinstein when Obama had the temerity to offer Leon Panetta the helm of the CIA without consulting her.  Jay Rockefeller and Evan Bayh were sighing about how this is very disconcerting indeed, and they are hailing Feinstein’s decision to do something she never did to George Bush — put forward her own candidate, Stephen Kappes.  They are flashing the ever fashionable fuscha terror alert button and wagging their fingers about Panetta’s lack of intelligence background, but the message was clear — this challenge to their authority was not acceptable.    

They all sound like Sally Quinn.

There is insufficient space here on this blog to recount all the things that the Intelligence Committee has screwed up in recent years, but suffice to say that Feinstein enabled most of it.  She has been a key Bush ally who cast critical votes in support of his most extremist assertions of power.  Her default position is consistently to protect establishment power, and she never batted an eyelash about casting votes that were worth billions in defense contracts to firms owned by her husband.  There are few people in public office more territorial and consumed by a sense of entitlement than Diane Feinstein.

Bush neutralized meaningful opposition to his worst, most extra-legal and noxious actions from Congressional Democrats by bringing them into the fold, flattering them and playing to their own sense of self-importance as he explained to them the things he hid from the public.  Chief among those were Jay Rockefeller, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and  Jane Harmon (who was evidently a Feinstein favorite for the CIA post). 

If someone truly were to come in from the outside and try to find out what happened at the CIA with regard to torture and illegal spying, the complicity and ensuing silence of this entitled crew risks exposure.  They’ve already demonstrated they’ll do just about anything to keep that from happening — that’s how we got retroactive telecom immunity in the first place.

It’s notable that Ron Wyden, who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, was consulted about Panetta and approved of his choice. 

I have no idea if Panetta would make a good CIA chief or not.  But if there is a better place for someone to come in and start shaking up Washington DC, I can’t think of a better place for Obama to start than the club currently in high caterwaul about his appointment.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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