Left Turn: A modest experiment, part 3

We continue with our exclusive preview of Tim Groseclose’s Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, published this past Tuesday. Professor Groseclose is a distinguished scholar — he is the Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics at UCLA, holding a joint appointment in the departments of political science and economics — and this is an important book.

We have previously posted the preface, the introduction, chapter 8 part 1, and chapter 8 part 2. This is the third of four parts making up chapter 8 — An “Alien” Conservative Injected into a Liberal Newsroom and the Topics She Might Cover — featuring our friend Katherine Kersten in her work as a metro columnist at the Minneapolis Star Tribune (footnotes omitted):

Impact of the Story

Days after Kersten’s article appeared, Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican from New Mexico, wrote legislation to shield the John Does from the imams’ lawsuit. On the House floor he described his motivation:

Sadly, a lawsuit has been filed in Minnesota which named as defendants the Americans who were simply trying to protect themselves and their country.…

If we are serious about fighting terrorism, if we are serious about protecting Americans and asking them to help protect each other, then we must pass this motion.

If I leave my colleagues with one message about this motion, it is simply, no American should be sued for trying to stop terrorism.

On March 27, 2007, Pearce offered his measure as an amendment to the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007. The Democrat-dominated Rules Committee, however, responded with a procedural motion that disallowed Pearce’s measure to be considered. This is a tactic that the majority party often executes when it fears that its wavering party members might succumb to constituent pressure and pass a measure it opposes.

However, House Republicans responded with a countertactic. The official jargon for their countertactic was “opposing the motion to order the previous question on the resolution to consider the bill.” As you can see, it’s difficult even to pronounce the counter-tactic. It is even more difficult to explain to constituents what the motion really meant—that it was the key to shielding the innocent witnesses from the imams’ lawsuit.

The roll call vote on the Republican’s countertactic is important because it reveals how House members felt in their heart for Pearce’s motion—that is, how they would vote when they knew that constituents would not understand the implications of their vote. On this roll call vote, all Republicans and two Democrats voted with Pearce. The remaining Democrats, which comprised a majority, voted against Pearce.

In a speech on the House floor Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi and the Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, explained why many Democrats opposed Pearce’s measure. His speech, I believe, also explains why many liberal journalists did not pursue the story.

For the sake of discussion, Madame Speaker, all of us in this body don’t look alike, and it is clear that people could be profiled because of their religion or their race.

I think the record is clear in this country that some people are profiled, and I am wondering if people are profiled illegally, not charged with a criminal act, they absolutely should have the ability to seek redress in a court of law.

The Democrats’ procedural motion succeeded, and the Republicans’ countertactic failed. It appeared that Pearce’s measure was dead. But moments before the vote on final passage of the Rail Act, Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York, attempted an arcane parliamentary maneuver. “Madame Speaker, I offer a motion to recommit,” he said.

In plain English, his “motion to recommit” would direct the Homeland
Security Committee to have an instantaneous meeting on the House floor. The members would not discuss anything. They would simply follow the instructions that King gave the clerk of the House. These instructions were physically to attach Pearce’s amendment to the Rail Act, and then return the amended version of the act to the House clerk.

Motions to recommit are often attempted, but they rarely are successful. The reason is that they thwart the power of the majority party. As a consequence, the majority party fiercely pressures its members to vote against such motions. Further, it is generally easy for the members to vote against such a motion. Even if they worry that their constituents favor such a motion, they can always claim, “Oh that was just a procedural motion. Trust me, I voted your interests. ”

This time was different, however. The reason was that Kersten and other journalists had brought so much attention to the issue. Even more important was the threat that they would bring more attention to the issue. Wavering Democrats realized that if they did not vote as their constituents desired, they could be exposed by such journalists.

King’s motion passed overwhelmingly, 304-121. All Republicans and almost half the Democrats supported it.

Before it passed, though, it had to survive a final obstacle, one that further revealed the influence of Kersten and other members of the media. Moments before the 304-121 recorded vote, the Speaker Pro Tempore, Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) asked for a voice vote. Most remarkable, if you watch the C-SPAN video, you see that the “noes” on the voice vote were much louder and more numerous than the “ayes.” Solis proclaimed, “In the opinion of the chair, the ‘noes’ have it.” This is strange given that approximately three-quarters of the House voted “aye” on the recorded vote. It means that a significant fraction of the House acted schizophrenically—voting “no”, when the media and constituents could not discern their (voice) vote, yet voting “aye” when the media could discern their (recorded) vote.

King appealed the voice vote, and the recorded became official. The Senate agreed to the Act, and by late summer of 2007, President Bush signed it into law. It included Pearce’s provision to protect the John Does.

Shortly after Bush signed the Act, the imams dropped their lawsuit against the John Does.

From Left Turn by Tim Groseclose, PhD. Copyright © 2011 by the author and reprinted by the kind permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC. All rights reserved.