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The Weblog at The View from the Core - Sun. 03/28/04 08:18:47 PM

John Kerry: The Man in the Mirror

Kerry does in 2004 what he lambasted Congressmen for doing in 1971.

E. L. Core

Two weeks ago, a Miami Herald story showed Sen. John Kerry trying to pull a fast one: he claimed to have voted for legislation that he had, in fact, voted against.

The story also showed that Kerry does in 2004 what he had lambasted Congressmen for doing three decades earlier. In his 1971 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry launched a diatribe against any legislator who took advantage of the intricacies of legislative procedures to fool the public about his position on a given issue.

But, isn't that what Kerry himself was trying to do in Miami? This is what he said:

"I'm pretty tough on Castro, because I think he's running one of the last vestiges of a Stalinist secret police government in the world.... And I voted for the Helms-Burton legislation to be tough on companies that deal with him...."
There is only one problem: Kerry voted against it. Asked Friday to explain the discrepancy, Kerry aides said the senator cast one of the 22 nays that day in 1996 because he disagreed with some of the final technical aspects. But, said spokesman David Wade, Kerry supported the legislation in its purer form — and voted for it months earlier.

Notions of purity aside, here is what Kerry had done with the Helms-Burton Act (more formally known as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act). When the bill came up for a vote in the Senate, Kerry voted for it. But the Senate's version of the bill did not match the House's version; so, each body referred the bill to a conference committee whose job was to hammer out a new version to which both bodies could hopefully agree. When the conference version of the bill (the final version) came up for a vote, Kerry voted against it.

In Miami, though, he tried to pass off the earlier vote as if it had been the final vote. In 1971, Lt. John Kerry had decried that kind of behavior. In fact, he thought that voting different ways at different times — so one could later try to fool the public about one's voting record — meant the legislator was not "truly representing the people."

During a dialogue in his testimony, Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) asked Kerry whether he thought members of Congress are "representative of their constituents." Kerry replied as follows:

As someone who ran for office for 3Ĺ weeks, I am aware of many of the problems involved, and in many places, you can take certain districts in New York City, the structure is such that people canít really run and represent necessarily the people. People often donít care. The apathy is so great that they believe they are being represented when in fact they are not....
Senator, we also know prior to this past year the House used to meet in the Committee of the Whole and the Committee of the Whole would make the votes, and votes not of record and people would file through, and important legislation was decided then, and after the vote came out and after people made their hacks and cuts, and the porkbarrel came out, the vote was reported and gave them an easy out and they could say "Well, I voted against this." And actually they voted for it all the time in the committee.

To understand what Kerry was getting at, we must look briefly at one aspect of parliamentary procedure. An organization, like the House or Senate, may conduct much of its business through committees to which are assigned specific tasks, such as holding hearings or making voting recommendations to the whole body. Most committees comprise a small subset of the total membership of the organization. But one special committee — appropriately called the Committee of the Whole — comprises all the members of the entire organization who are present.

The committee of the whole, you might say, is the entire body "pretending" it's only a committee. Why do that? Perhaps to allow freer rules for debate and amendment during the early stages of consideration. Or, to gauge how a vote may go without actually holding the real vote: any vote taken in the committee of the whole is not the vote of the body, just as the vote taken in a small, permanent committee is not the vote of the whole body.

The rules of U.S. House of Representatives actually require that the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union (as it is formally styled) be the first step in the consideration of many types of legislation. The most important thing to remember is this: the actions of the Committee of the Whole are not the actions of the House of Representatives. The House must adopt a motion to make the Committee's actions its own, just as it would have to hold a vote on whether to accept any recommendation from a small, permanent committee.

Thus, a Congressman could cast many votes in the Committee of the Whole, to help to chisel a bill to his liking, but vote against the bill when it came to the floor of the House because it would not be to the liking of his constituency. He could report to them that he voted against the bill, in the end, though he had supported it, in fact, all the way until then. In 1971, Kerry said that such trickery — trying to pass off one kind of vote as another kind, to fool people about your position on an issue — was a way of making one's constituents "believe they are being represented when in fact they are not."

And that is what Kerry himself did in Miami this very month: he tried to pass off an earlier, preliminary vote as if it had been the final vote. Moreover, he did it again — quite baldly and very clumsily — in West Virginia a few days later:

Mr. Kerry added, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," referring to an amendment he supported that would have rescinded some tax cuts to finance the war.

According to the judgement of Lt. John Kerry in 1971, Sen. John Kerry's attempts at trickery in 2004 mean the senator is not acting as the representative of the people.

Lane Core Jr. CIW P — Sun. 03/28/04 08:18:47 PM
Categorized as John Kerry & Most Notable & Political.


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