Putting safety behind protecting lawsuits

Debra Burlingame pens another spot-on piece about Democrats and their national security priorities (or lack thereof):

Various members of the House majority had just spent 30 minutes in self-praise over the $7.3 billion transportation-security bill, calling it long-overdue relief for millions of Americans. Then Rep. Peter King (R-L.I.) rose to propose an amendment directed at a dangerous new threat to national security.

His motion was a response to the “John Doe” lawsuit filed by six “Flying Imams.” Last November, the six were ejected from a US Airways flight after their fellow passengers reported what they saw as strange and disturbing behavior. The imams claim that they were victims of “intentional” and “malicious” discrimination and are seeking compensation, including punitive damages – from the airlines, and also from the passengers and crew, who are identified in the suit as “John Does” to be served with legal papers once a court order reveals their actual identities.

That lawsuit is a dangerous threat aimed at a vital component of public-transit security – the public itself.

King explained as much, speaking on behalf of his amendment, which would protect anyone who makes a reasonable, good-faith report of suspicious activity from being the target of a lawsuit. “We have an enemy which is constantly adapting,” King said Wednesday. “We have to think outside the box.”

That enemy, of course is al Qaeda – which is obsessed with slaughtering innocents using public transportation. There was Madrid’s “3/11” – 10 bombs detonated on four trains at the height of the morning rush hour, killing 191 and injuring 2,050. And London’s “7/7” – four suicide bombers in the Underground and on a double-decker bus, resulting in 52 dead and 700 injured.

In New York City alone, 7 million people use mass transit every day. With 400 subway stations with 1,500 entrances, the trains are a “soft” target – one the NYPD can’t adequately protect without help from the public.

Every New York City rail and transit rider has seen the signs: “If you see something, say something.” The principle is obvious – in an age of terror, we should all have our eyes open. If the imams’ lawsuit prospers, how many people won’t say something – for fear of being sued?

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), who’d offered an earlier bill to protect good Samaritans who alert officials, rose to speak after King. “If we allow these suits to go forward,” he warned the House, “it will have a chilling effect on the future of American security . . . If we are serious about fighting terrorism, if we are serious about protecting Americans and asking them to help protect each other, then we must pass this motion.”

This is the kind of no-brainer legislation that every member of Congress should vigorously support. Yet House Democrats reacted to King’s proposal as if he’d thrown a bomb into the House chamber itself.

According to witnesses in the gallery and on the floor, Speaker Nancy Pelosi displayed a classic deer-in-the headlights look as the Democratic leadership went into a huddle – plainly eager, not to embrace this common-sense measure, but to sidetrack it.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, took the floor to oppose King’s motion – and to defend the lawsuit against John Does. “We should be tolerant,” he argued; people shouldn’t be singled out because they “look different.”

In fact, the flying imams triggered concerns by a variety of unusual actions, as well as words that roused the concern of another Arabic-speaking passenger. Witnesses say that House members started booing Thompson.

Finally, a member of the leadership realized how this would look to Americans watching on C-SPAN: Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) was seen staring at Thompson and repeatedly drawing his hand across his throat – an urgent signal to get off the floor.

With Democrats realizing they couldn’t argue against King’s measure, it went to a vote, and passed, 304 to 121

Every one of those 121 votes aimed at defeating protection for “John Does” was a Democrat – indeed, more than half of all Democrats present voted “nay.”

And, with the exception of Rep. Anthony Weiner (Brooklyn), Democrats from the New York-New Jersey metro area led the way in voting against it.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes Ground Zero, voted no. So did Rep. Carolyn Maloney, whose district includes Midtown, and Rep. Nita Lowey, who lost dozens of Westchester neighbors on 9/11.

Rep. Bill Pascrelle hails from New Jersey, the home of 700 9/11 victims. Earlier that night, he had praised the bill’s provision protecting government whistleblowers from retaliation. But he voted against such protection for John Does who don’t have government jobs.

The story isn’t over yet. To become law, this measure must also pass the Senate – and survive House-Senate conference, where the leadership might try to quietly excise King’s reform.

Email your Senator and let them know they need to pass this bill – in its entirety.

Oh, and speaking of Congress, Rep. Charlie “draft-pushing” Rangel admitted on Meet The Press this weekend that House Democrats had to buy the votes they needed in order to get their cut and run war supplemental to pass.

And in the Senate, seems like rock star Senator Obama’s position on the continued funding for our troops is at odds with the position of Senators Feingold and Reid. Via the AP:

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) – If President Bush vetoes an Iraq war spending bill as promised, Congress quickly will provide the money without the withdrawal timeline the White House objects to because no lawmaker “wants to play chicken with our troops,” Sen. Barack Obama said Sunday.

“My expectation is that we will continue to try to ratchet up the pressure on the president to change course,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I don’t think that we will see a majority of the Senate vote to cut off funding at this stage.”

Ummmm ….

Oh, and about this “playing chicken with our troops” – correct me if I’m wrong, but it wasn’t Republicans who pushed for the timeline for withdrawal in the House or Senate war supplementals … that’s “playing chicken”, Senator Obama. By being chicken.

Read more via Brian at Iowa Voice.

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