Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Prepare for battle

A House subcommittee today authorized Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers to subpoena five senior administration officials in the fired prosecutors case: Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, former Gonzales aide Kyle Sampson, deputy White House counsel William Kelley and J. Scott Jennings, a special assistant to the president.

Tomorrow the Senate is expected to give similar authority to Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In response, the White House said the offer it made Tuesday -- private interviews, no transcripts and not under oath -- was final. "If they issue subpoenas, the offer is withdrawn," said press secretary Tony Snow.

One interesting aspect is the behavior of Congressional Republicans:

Congressional Republicans do not want to surrender what they see as the institutional rights of Congress to seek testimony even though they are allied with the White House.

In addition, many are unhappy with the way Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and his staff handled the dismissals and the resulting furor.

“The reason Republicans are not coming over the hill like the cavalry is the best defense you can give is it was poorly handled,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “That is as good as it gets."

And, of course, there's this:

Some Congressional Republicans said privately that the administration’s proposal might be a tough sell because many Americans would question why the officials were unwilling to talk under oath.

Ya think?

To flog a military metaphor, I get the feeling that the Republican infantry would like to support Lieutenant Bush, but get tired of him choosing poor defensive terrain, failing to position the machine guns to provide good lanes of fire and sending out Sleepy the Dwarf for picket duty. They're loyal, but not suicidal.

There's danger for the Democrats, too. If they overplay their hand they could be seen as going after Bush for purely partisan reasons, and doing so while all but ignoring the situation in Iraq.

Given all the potential pitfalls, a lot of observers still think a compromise will be reached, and that the bluster on both sides are standard negotiating tactics. Could be; that's what rational actors would do. But as economists have discovered to the detriment of their more orderly economic models, people don't always act rationally. Bush is notably stubborn, the Democrats may think they've got a real scandal here, and both sides may think they'll win a legal battle if it comes to that. I still expect Bush to be the one to cave, going simply on the strength of his legal case. But I'm not betting money on it.

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