The Philip Burton Federal Building is imposing -- a bit imperial I think.
This afternoon I joined a constituent delegation organized by Peace Action West that met with Dan Bernal, director of Rep. Nancy Pelosi's district office, and Melanie Nutter, deputy director, in the San Francisco office.
Not surprisingly, we wanted to know where the Democrats left their spines when they gave Bush his Iraq supplemental funding.
As we expected, we were politely stonewalled. It is amazing the degree of weakness Democrats in power are willing to embrace. This guy clung to their sad inability to deliver like a limpet. It sounded something like this: "Really, we did our best but the mean Republicans wouldn't go along -- yet." (To be fair, that's my paraphrase, not his words.) The first part is for grown-ups like the media; the "yet" was for us, slightly irritating constituent peace activists.
Still the meeting was not completely uninteresting...
Given the number of times Bernal said "we have to push for accountability" and "Bush wants a blank check" a lot must have been invested in the focus groups that came up with that language. Also, we should understand the Democratic leadership has a "plan," there's "a process." In September Congress will vote again on the Defense Department appropriation and then on the funding itself. Those will be votes on Iraq too. Maybe if people like peace activists would go off and jack up enough Republicans, the Dems will be able to begin to stop the war.
Sure cedes a lot of power to the Republicans, doesn't it?
Interestingly to me, because I have not noted this elsewhere, (except as Hillary Clinton's Iraq fig leaf) he also suggested that Congress would vote on rescinding the resolution authorizing use of force in Iraq in the fall -- but he didn't expect the Dems to have the votes to win on this.
Bernal made clear that Pelosi's definition of "having the votes" is winning a veto proof majority -- something that would take all the Dems and about 70 Republicans. That is, they are either smoking strong stuff or they don't expect to be able to end the war during Bush's tenure.
To push on the guy, I asked why they don't simply announce "no more funding after a date certain" and take the fight to the people. Or why they don't give Bush the funds in two month chunks with new restrictions each time. He said neither option was on the table.
Then I got a little bit more pushy: "Are those means off the table because the Democratic leadership thinks they'd lose enough Democrats to a discharge petition so the House would pass a Republican bill?" A discharge petition is a parliamentary maneuver that would let a bill come to the floor even if Pelosi and Co. wouldn't bring it up. Bernal said "yes." He said such a thing would be a terrible blow to the leadership. Sure as shooting it would be! I draw the conclusion that the leadership is caving to Bush because some large fraction of their own Democratic members refuse to seriously oppose the war.
If we want to end the war, the first target for progressives has to be these useless Democrats. As long as they provide an excuse, the Democratic leadership will cave.
Other tidbits: Some sort of a vote to point out to Bush that he shouldn't attack Iran without Congressional approval is "in the pipeline." Pelosi has committed to let this happen. Hope it emerges before Bush just attacks. Glad to hear that Congress has some concern for its Constitutional prerogatives.
Restoration of habeas corpus and repudiation of the Military Commissions (torture enabling) Act are not on Pelosi's office's radar screen. I imagine Dems have the same problem with these measures as with Iraq -- they are scared shitless of being accused of being soft on terrorism and want that veto-proof majority to give them cover.
Of course, as long as Democrats are too scared of being called weak to stand for what their constituents want, they'll be bullied by the right and scorned by many of their own. Such behavior merely shows the right wingers that Democrats are weak. It also makes even a sympathetic electorate wonder whether the bellicose Reps don't have the simpering Dems number.
Some reflections: I went on this little exercise because I've been known to urge peace movement folks to pester our Democratic congresscritters even when they claim to be on our side. So when Peace Action West offered me a chance to go, I figured I'd better do what I urge others to do.
Besides, having watched Nancy Pelosi fight her way into leadership, I don't think she is spineless. We could easily do worse. But it never hurts to remind her what those pesky constituents expect of her.
On the way in, we ran into a group of religious activists who'd just been in to Pelosi's office to pitch their case for getting on with peace. (Several of them had been arrested at the Federal Building in this protest and were carrying on.) So we knew it was "peace day" upstairs.
Peace Action's organizer recruited her delegation members from an open email invitation to members she didn't know. We turned out to be three who had some sophistication about local and national politics and one who just wanted answers. I'm not certain that more of the latter sort, the simply honestly outraged, might not have been more effective than having three of us who could play a little bit of "inside baseball." When you bear an unwelcome message, insider talk can function as a happy distraction from the point of the meeting. We didn't let that happen, but the temptation is always there.
Pelosi's aide did his best to talk with the organizer over the heads of the mere citizen delegates -- an impossibility in this crew, not that our Peace Action leader would have put up with it. Naturally, they'd rather talk with people who "understand" their problems. As activist citizens, we really don't care about the problems they have -- they work for us. And we have to keep reminding our Democratic leaders that we elected them to reign in our rogue President.
On the way out, we passed through a display of AFSC's Eyes Wide Open: 360 pairs of empty military boots lining the street in front of the building to commemorate the 360 Californians killed in the Iraq war. A friend of mine was passing out explanatory leaflets, wearing a "Vets for Peace" t-shirt. I told him what we'd been up to. He nodded: "It's like water. You know, drip, drip, drip..."