So I guess that little 'president can't force Hastert's hand' charade didn't work out, did it? The Speaker has now agreed
to allow an extension of two months for the 9/11 Commission to complete its work.
A few of my Republican friends on the Hill claim that there's more to it than I think, that perhaps there's some reason Hastert has, separate from the White House, to oppose the extension.
I don't buy that for two reasons.
First, I think it's pretty close to objectively true that the White House has more political vulnerability on this than Republican members of the House. So I really don't see why Hastert would hold on even after the White House relented or what his other reason for holding on would be. (I'd like to now dispute his nominal reason for opposing an extension. But he's candid enough to admit that this is
his reason -- politics. They didn't even take the time to think up a fig leaf rationale.) Using Ockham's Razor
, you get pretty quickly to the conclusion that Hastert was doing this to help the White House, acting either on explicit instructions or a tacit understanding.
Second, even if we posit some unknown and close to inexplicable reason why Hastert would have been holding out on this, I just don't think anyone believes that Hastert (a fairly pliable Speaker, by historical standards) would buck an explicit demand or request from a president of his own party on such a charged and politically consequential issue.
As much as you try to nuance it, tease it apart, chew on it, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt, the whole episode comes up the same way: it was a charade.
See this morning's gaggle
to see the discussion with Scott McClellan.
Now let's get to why the president can only spend one hour with the two co-chairs of the commission.
In this morning's back-and-forth, Scott McClellan advanced the argument that there is a separation of powers issue at stake here, since the commission was created by Congress.
That's sounds questionable to me on several counts.
But even if you grant that argument, can there really be a separation of powers issue at stake in restricting the questioning to one hour rather than, say, five or six hours? Similarly, is there a separation of powers issue in play in allowing only the chairs to be present rather than all the members of the commission? That sounds like an awfully hard argument to make.