It isn't surprising U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has some harsh words for fellow Sen. Jay Rockefeller who serves as vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
It isn't any secret that Rockefeller bristles and finds it difficult and perhaps embarrassing that Roberts, who chairs the committee, captures most of the soundbites and interviews regarding Senate intelligence matters. Rockefeller is a world-famous name, and it is frustrating that a hayseed from Kansas captures the spotlight and leaves Rockefeller cooling his heels.
Earlier this week, Rockefeller said he harbored deep concerns about the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program when he was briefed on the matter. The West Virginia senator said he sent a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003, after a committee hearing, in which he expressed concerns about Bush's domestic surveillance program. In a 2003 letter, Rockefeller said the program raised "profound oversight issues" and that he regretted the high security of the program prevented him from seeking advice on the matter. Rockefeller added, "the real question is whether the administration lived up to its statutory requirements to fully inform Congress and allow for adequate oversight and debate. The simple answer," he said, "is no."
Roberts, who usually is able to maintain a controlled manner, didn't hesitate to share his feelings about Rockefeller's statements.
He disputed his fellow committee member's assessment of the situation. He noted that Rockefeller, in his 2003 letter to Cheney claimed he had "lingering concerns" about the program designed to protect the American people from another attack, but was prohibited from doing anything about it. Roberts responded, "A United States senator has significant tools with which to wield power and influence over the executive branch." The usually soft-spoken, but no-nonsense, Roberts then delivered a zinger by adding, "Feigning helplessness is not one of those tools."
The Kansan didn't stop with this but added that if Rockefeller had these concerns, he could have raised them with Roberts or other members of Congress who had been briefed about the program. "I have no recollection of Senator Rockefeller objecting to the program at the many briefings he and I attended together," Roberts said, "In fact, it is my recollection that, on many occasions, Senator Rockefeller expressed to the vice president his vocal support for the program, most recently, two weeks ago."
Roberts accused Rockefeller of "political opportunism."
"Now, when it appears to be politically advantageous, Senator Rockefeller has chosen to release his 2 1/2-year-old letter," Roberts said.
To make his feelings as clear as possible, Roberts added, "Forgive me if I find this to be : a bit disingenuous."
Of course, U.S. senators seem to thoroughly enjoy attacking one another, always being careful to preface their remarks by identifying the senator they are about to skewer as "my distinguished colleague" or "my distinguished friend."
Whether or not Roberts and Rockefeller will be "good friends" or on speaking terms in a few days or weeks remains to be seen. However, Roberts will not back down.
Since becoming chairman of this important committee, he has tried his best to keep what goes on at the committee hearings confidential. He has protected various members by not identifying which senators appear to be speaking out of both sides of their mouths on sensitive national issues.
Unfortunately, politics plays far too great a role when many senators are posturing for public or political support.
Roberts can and will play the Senate congeniality game as well as anyone, but he will not stand for double talk when his integrity is questioned or when senators are playing raw politics rather than doing what is in the best interests of this nation and its citizens.