Friday, November 19, 2004

A change of pace -- and rules -- in Congress

A change of pace -- and rules -- in Congress

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- This White House doesn't fool around. Now the strengthened Republican majority in Congress is saying, "Neither do we."

The Political Play of the Week: If the rules get in the way, rewrite them.

First there was this irritating little problem of a House Republican rule requiring any leader indicted for a crime to step down.

With Majority Leader Tom DeLay facing possible indictment in Texas for campaign finance violations, House Republicans found a solution -- change the rule. Shield their leader from, in the words of Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, "Any partisan crackpot district attorney who might want to indict a member of our leadership."

On the Senate side, newly re-elected Sen. Arlen Specter alarmed conservatives the day after the election by saying, "When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe vs. Wade, I think that is unlikely."

The party immediately demanded that the Pennsylvania senator do penance if he wanted to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee. So Specter went through all the "Stations of the Cross."

"He presented his views to the leadership," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said. "He went before the Judiciary Committee ... he answered every question to the satisfaction of each of the members."

The party welcomed the errant sinner back to the fold.

Specter immediately endorsed a controversial rules change that would stop Democrats from filibustering President Bush's judicial nominations. "If a rule change is necessary to avoid filibusters, there are relevant recent precedents to secure rule changes with 51 votes," Specter said.

In yet another rules change, Senate Republicans voted narrowly to give Frist broad new power to hand out powerful committee assignments without regard to seniority -- power he can use to discipline moderates and keep conservatives in control.

"I hope you'll see huge changes in how the United States Senate is run," Frist said.

We probably will -- what with new rules, a tighter ship and the political Play of the Week.

The idea is to run the Senate more like the House, where the majority rules and the minority is ruthlessly suppressed.

That doesn't sit too well with minority Democrats, or with the minority of moderate Republicans.

Bill Schneider is CNN's senior political analyst.