In response to a letter concerning the Bush administration’s constitutional abuses, I received a letter from Claire McCaskill that cautiously acknowledged some of the damage our current president has done.  However, she also indicated that to pursue accountability would, in her view, derail a Democratic agenda that should take precedence:

Like many Americans, I’m disappointed with the direction that the Bush Administration has taken our country. This Administration has repeatedly misled Congress and the American public on issues critical to the safety and prosperity of our nation, such as using false intelligence to lead us into war in Iraq. This Administration has also demonstrated its willingness to test the limits of its Constitutional power. At the same time, Congress over the last 6 years has failed to uphold its Constitutional duty to provide proper oversight of the Executive Branch.

We now have much important work that must be done and impeachment or censure proceedings would consume most of the time, resources, and energy of Congress with little likelihood of success.

Well fine and good, I thought.  I can understand making hard choices in order to further important goals.  I thought, however, that I would take a look at what important work that McCaskill has been busy with during her first year in congress, so I took a look at her voting record on Project Vote Smart where I found that she has indeed been been active.  

When McCaskill ran for the Senate last year, I made phone calls for her, put up signs and did whatever I could, given my limited abilities, to help her win the election because I thought she would be be a real improvement on Jim Talent.   And I was right; based on her voting record, she is just that. She has voted to defend reproductive choice, in favor of expanded SCHIP, anti-poverty programs, against the Peru trade agreemnet to name just a few issues where she has been on the side of the angels (to my mind at least).

ALthough not all the votes McCaskill cast in the Senate have been as progressive in nature, I am willing to cut her some slack.  She represents constituents in a red (or at least purple) state afterall, and some of her votes will necessarily reflect that fact–though even here, I think she improves on what Talent would have given us.  For instance, she voted for an agriculture bill loaded with goodies for the corporate farmers, but she did, in contrast to Senator Bond, vote for some caps on those subsidies, albeit absurdly high caps. Admittedly, some of what she has done–voting against removing troops from Iraq, and to defend General Petraeus from all the naughty critics, for instance–stick in one’s craw.

However, in my opinion, the difference between viewing her freshman year as a success or a failure depends on one upcoming vote which will at last take care of unfinished 2007 business.  In August, McCaskill voted with the majority to amend the 1978 FISA bill.  This amendment represented a total capitulation to the  extra-constitutional demands of the Bush/Cheney combine; she excused it at the time on the grounds that it was a stop-gap measure and that permanent legislation would be taken up later. However, I am sure that the falsifications and fear-mongering that the administration was resorting to at the time severely tested the mettle of many of our weak-spined Democrats, Claire among them.

McCaskill assured us that she would make amends when the legislation was rewritten, and this particular IOU is coming due this week or next.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is hell-bent on passing an horrendous FISA bill that extends immunity to the Telecom companies that enabled illegal spying on American citizens.  In the next few days, we will find out whether or not McCaskill will live up to her promises or if she will continue to overlook criminal activity on the part of the President and his enablers. We need to let her know that there is little or nothing in the Democratic agenda she is so dedicated to that could justify a supine response to this issue.  In the last analysis it is not enough to just be better than Jim Talent (a pretty small achievement, come to think of it), she must be the very best she can be and this vote will let us finally learn just how good that is.

UPDATE.  The FISA debate is taking place right now (1/24) and if anyone is inclined to phone McCaskill and ask that she support Senator Dodd’s efforts to oppose this odious legislaiton, now would be the time to do it.