The premiere activity in my US Congress class was several day simulation of a Congress session. Rather than just running through Congress and letting us play ourselves, we were each assigned a sitting Congressperson; this meant the decisions actually played out something like they would have for real and actually had to deal with the party system for real instead of just as a game piece. A big part of our grade for this activity was determined by our writeup on how we made decisions on each vote.
For the 2008 Congressional Simulation, I played the role of Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and participated on the Foreign Relations Committee. This challenged me for many reasons, but I emulated an “ideal” Corker (espousing his beliefs without practicing his apparent legislative apathy) as closely as possible. Senator Corker has maintained a very low profile since his election, so obtaining true positions and serious issues for him was difficult. Searching CQ Library, Corker’s name appears in only 6 articles since the 110th Congress began, and only one of those articles contains a quote from Corker — the others include his name incidental to another person or topic. Searching out sponsored and cosponsored bills was equally fruitless: Corker has sponsored two bills since assuming office, neither particularly relevant to foreign relations, neither exiting committee.
Therefore, I decided to rely primarily on OnTheIssues.org to determine Corker’s positions, to fulfill those positions as best I could based on his biography and the needs of the simulation and party, and to use whatever means I felt would be most effective in obtaining my goals.
My involvement in the simulation prior to opening night was minimal but engaged. The Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee held a few meetings in the week leading up to the State of the Union, and I attended all of these. I also carefully selected several Republican bills which I thought Corker would strongly support and cosponsored them. The “Path Toward an Energy Independent Future Act of 2008” instructed the executive branch to study construction of pipelines for biofuels, opened up certain domestic areas for oil drilling, and encouraged certain alternative energy policies. As Corker’s campaign chair works for a biofuel company and Corker expresses desires for energy independence, I thought it appropriate to cosponsor this bill. The “Honoring Exemplary Resolve in Overseas Extended Service (HEROES) Act of 2008” set aside a small amount of money (totaling roughly $50 million) to provide healthcare for soldiers in our military; Corker strongly supports President Bush’s Iraq strategies and everybody wants to claim credit for this kind of bill so I cosponsored it. Similarly, everybody opposes terrorism, so I cosponsored the “Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2008.” The “Tenaciously Reviewing Useless Spending Tables (TRUST) Act of 2008” establishes a commission to inspect government bureaucracies and recommend those which should be eliminated or merged to decrease cost, and Corker supports both decreasing the debt by increasing efficiency and allocating money based on program effectiveness, so I cosponsored it.
Once the simulation began, I became much more involved in the process. On the first day, the Foreign Relations Committee considered two different bills. One of these bills was introduced by the Democrats to establish an international nuclear bank and provide funds to refurbish the IAEA’s principal analysis laboratory. This was actually a good bill, but I thought that we weren’t providing enough money to the IAEA lab to do a proper job. After discussion, I suggested an amendment that would halve the amount of money we gave, but created a matching fund so that if other countries provided money to the lab we would match those funds; the maximum sum I ended up with as available was about twice as much as the original. I thought that this would be a good amendment to introduce because it reduced our automatic commitment to an international organization and made it dependent on others contributing as well; it encouraged other nations to take ownership. During a brief recess I was told by both the chair and ranking member that I shouldn’t cut the amount of money we guaranteed, and so I didn’t. I doubt that Senator Corker would have cared enough about this issue to introduce an amendment on it, but I feel the original amendment to be consistent with his views. The final amendment simply offering up more money was probably not consistent with his views, but I wanted my amendment to go through and in a similar situation a freshman senator would have reacted the same way. The amendment passed unanimously and the Nuclear Bank bill passed out of committee unanimously. Republicans introduced the second bill discussed on Monday night to grant a fast-track citizenship application status to immigrants serving in the military. I voted for it and some Democratic amendments widening its applicability to family members and former servicemembers — how could anybody vote against the troops?
Tuesday night, we moved on to somewhat more contentious territory. The Presidential Initiative for Global Peace (at that point called the Test Ban Treaty) was basically the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in the form of an executive-legislative agreement. My character, along with nearly all the Republicans, had to strongly oppose this bill on national security grounds, so I did. Almost as important as our issue with the test ban, however, was Section 10. We felt that this section, along with other sections giving the President power to negotiate terms with other countries without bringing them back for a vote in the Senate, implicitly and explicitly ceded enormous power to the executive branch that Congress had traditionally guarded as its own. However, our leadership decided that we should not bring this issue up during committee in the hopes of using it to defeat the bill on the floor. After testimony and the predictable debate on moral authority versus national security, the bill passed in a party line vote. During this period I whipped out some prior knowledge of nuclear weapons and systems that appeared to make some impression, but failed to impact the vote.
The second bill we discussed that night was Senator McCain’s “League of Democracies Act.” The bill established numerous new offices and responsibilities within the State Department to directly promote democracy around the world and created a new Office of the League of Democracy Promotion. We initially thought this would be a bipartisan bill. We were wrong. After a long stalemate, the committee adjourned and a compromise was agreed to by committee leadership and those members who could stay. These amendments were introduced as friendly amendments when the committee resumed on Wednesday evening and we expected to vote, but Senator Obama immediately offered an amendment to change the language from the compromise language to that desired by the Democrats. We had been given no warning of this and felt betrayed, but after some quick debate and dealmaking the amendment failed and we voted on the bill. It passed, but several senior Democrats voted “present” and Senator Obama left the room during the vote. I sensed trouble coming on the floor, although when I brought this up our leadership seemed dismissive of the problem.
During our remaining time on Wednesday, we discussed a number of other bills. The bipartisan HEROES bill sailed through without difficulty, although some of the more anti-Iraq war members put on a show while taking testimony from General Petraeus. The “Protection against United Nations Taxation Act” failed to pass on a largely party-line vote, though I felt that I had to support it as a symbolic gesture for conservatives, proclaiming that the United Nations could not tax US citizens. We also discussed the President’s HIV/AIDS & Malaria bill. This bill established a large pool of money and was effectively designed to achieve its goals. Senator Corker credits his church mission trips abroad with sparking his interest in government, and I thought that he would vote for a bill like this. I resolved to vote for it. The Democrats liked the bill, but were determined to excise clauses requiring certain portions of the funding to go to morality programs. Given Senator Corker’s religious and moral beliefs I spoke strongly in support of keeping those morality clauses in the bill and made several arguments about their appropriateness, effectiveness, and actual impact. Nonetheless, the language was stripped. The bill remained a good bill, so I spoke in favor even of the amended version, and it passed with broad support.
The final night arrived and I was feeling unhappy with the Democrats. They jerked us around more and more as the week went on and persistent rumors said they would be doing so even more during the floor session — even that the Democratic leadership had been telling the Pomona students to ignore their roles and vote the party line. I thought it appropriate that somebody introduce conservative-friendly amendments, even though I knew they would be voted down by the Democratic majority. I introduced one amendment to the HIV/AIDS bill that would bring back some of the morality clauses in a much softer form. I thought that it might pass if any of the Democrats were playing their character. Based on Corker’s support for energy independence, but disbelief in global warming, I also introduced an amendment to the Climate and Energy Protection Act (CEPA, from EPW) that stripped all the global warming sections but maintained the alternative energy subsidies. I also reviewed all the bills I had access to in order to determine how I’d be voting on the floor. I made sure to match all the votes I could to Corker’s views; however, there were many bills which I never got to see the text of, and we never received the final agenda so I just followed the party line on those votes (Corker votes the Republican line almost 90% of the time). Indeed, as the night wore on there were a lot of times when most of the class didn’t even know what bill we were voting on, much less what the bill meant. More communication from the leadership and much, much more clarity from the presiding officer would have been helpful at this point.
There were several interesting developments throughout the night. When the Presidential Initiative for Global Peace was up to vote, I spoke passionately against it based on the executive powers argument and pointed out that tactical nuclear weapons (prohibited by the treaty) had long been a priority of the Pentagon and a focus of President Bush since he entered office, yet he thought the bill had something in it worth abandoning these weapons. This speech may not have been in line with Corker’s true views; he seems to give the executive broad latitude in international affairs. However, I’m sure that the voting direction did match. Other Republicans spoke out, warning of the president potentially bombing Iran based on Section 10. Suddenly, the Democrats wanted to offer amendments to the bill modifying Section 10, which they had previously claimed wasn’t possible because it was a “legislative-executive agreement.” Luckily they weren’t able to offer amendments because none had been cleared in the unanimous consent agreement and we were able to maintain enough Republican Party discipline to avoid suspending the rules. I helped to convince several colleagues that voting to allow amendments would be equivalent to a vote for the test-ban treaty and helped maintain unity. Nonetheless, the bill passed (we felt that many Democrats had voted seriously out of character given the concerns raised) and we became seriously angry. I attended a discussion with the President and Senator McConell trying to make the Democrats pay for passing the bill. We considered the President announcing that he was preparing to bomb some random country based on Section 10, and plans began to move.
But the Democrats and Foreign Relations Committee Republicans came up with another idea. As predicted by me, the Democrats were fighting the League of Democracies, so the Foreign Relations Committee reconvened and made “friendly amendments” to the League of Democracies Bill that amended Section 10 with the understanding that the Democrats would now vote for the League. As soon as it passed I immediately went to the President’s chief of staff and informed him, pointing out that the President now had no reason to sign the Presidential Initiative for Global Peace— they had essentially been guilt-tripped by the Democrats into proposing the bill, and Section 10 had been their rationalization for the policy change. They agreed to veto.
Later on, the Democrats found out that CEPA was going to get vetoed by the President. They came around and started threatening not to pass the League of Democracies bill unless we agreed to override the veto; I immediately agreed to the vote trade with no intention of actually voting to override. I was tired of their antics and lies and felt perfectly willing to screw them in a deal. When the time came, they all voted for the League of Democracies — only to begin changing their votes after the President’s vetoes were delivered. Nonetheless, enough votes remained “aye” to pass the League of Democracies; I suspect this was a whipping error on the Democrats’ part but am thankful for it.
Overall, I learned a lot from this simulation. I introduced a few high-profile floor amendments and got a small one passed in committee. I directly helped the leadership achieve our goals in defeating the Presidential Initiative for Global Peace and CEPA and passing the League of Democracies bill. While the simulation was often inconsistent with real life (for instance, not knowing which bill was being voted on), the inconsistencies were strangely consistent with modern practices in which legislators often don’t see final bills in time to read them, and usually don’t read bills anyway. The importance of knowing (or just convincing people you know) parliamentary procedure hit home as the Democrats performed an about-face on legislative-executive agreements — and then failed because they’d forgotten they needed a two-thirds majority to suspend the rules in the unanimous consent agreement. The difficulties of whipping and backroom deals were evident in the maneuvers we pulled throughout the night, and the hostility described in Eilperin’s Fight Club Politics became easy to understand as roles broke down and each side struggled just to beat the other as time wore on through the week and the last night.
CQ Electronic Library http://library.cqpress.com/xsite/search.php?PHPSESSID=nh335d13lobjeh8mih4peocjv1&source=cqel&action=newsearch&fulltext=Corker&x=0&y=0
“GovTrack: Bob Corker” Govtrack.org http://www.govtrack.us/congress/person.xpd?id=412248
“Bob Corker On the Issues” OnTheIssues.Org http://www.ontheissues.org/Senate/Bob_Corker.htm
“Corker, Bob” CQ Electronic Library http://library.cqpress.com/congress/document.php?id=pia110-Corker-Bob