By Editorial Board
Three cheers for the House of Representatives -- and for the Democratic leadership.
The House took two major steps today that started to dispel the fog of fear and inertia that has surrounded the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill when it comes to challenging President Bush and their Republican colleagues.
First, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, did exactly the right thing when she decided to let the House go on a weeklong break without voting on an awful bill sent over from the Senate that would expand the president's ability to spy on Americans without bothering to get a warrant. It would also help the White House cover up President Bush's unlawful spying program after 9/11 by giving blanket immunity to any company that turned over data on Americans' telephone calls and emails without a court order.
This means some technical modifications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will expire over the weekend and the president has already started sputtering about how failing to vote will cripple intelligence gathering. That's pure nonsense. The president has all the power he needs to authorize wiretaps and email intercepts. Programs started under the expiring FISA modifications don't even have to stop. It's scare politics, pure and simple.
Second, the House voted, 223-32, to hold Joshua Bolten, the presidential chief of staff, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, in contempt for thumbing their noses at congressional subpoenas. (The Republicans embarassed themselves, their constituents and their country by staging a walkout when the vote was called. On a straighforward measure that pitted the rule of law and the balance of powers against blind partisan loyalty, these members put themselves on the side of partisanship.)
The House has asked Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers to testify about the firing of nine
Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers made baseless claims of executive privilege -- and then simply ignored the subpoenas.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, got it right: if it failed to enforce these subpoenas, the House would 'be giving its tacit consent to the dangerous idea of an imperial presidency, above the law and beyond the reach of checks and balances.'
There's still a lot more to be done. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who is looking more and more like a White House puppet, has strongly suggested he will not go to court to enforce congressional contempt citations. If he refuses to stand up for the rule of law, Congress should go to court itself.
The politicization of the Justice Department has been disgraceful, and Congress has a duty to get to the bottom of it. It also has to stand up for its institutional role. If witnesses can ignore congressional subpoenas with impunity, the power of Congress will be greatly diminished.
Now, the House needs to keep pushing on this issue until Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers show up to testify and tell Congress and the American people what they know.
If the White House did not politicize the Justice Department and everyone operated within the law, as the administration has long claimed, Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers should have nothing to worry about.