Sherrod Brown
Nick Wass  /  AP file
Democratic Senate candidate in Ohio, Rep. Sherrod Brown, a fierce critic of President Bush, voted for the administration-supported bill on detainees.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 9/28/2006 10:55:44 PM ET 2006-09-29T02:55:44

When the House voted Wednesday to pass the Bush administration-supported bill on treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Naval Base, the biggest surprise— at first blush — was that Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown , a fierce opponent of the Iraq war and of President Bush, voted for the bill.

Brown, the Democrats’ Senate candidate in Ohio against Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, led all House Democrats in 2005 in the percentage of votes in which he opposed the president: 93.5 percent, according to Congressional Quarterly.

Brown is now appealing to voters beyond his own strongly Democratic district and needs to win over all Ohio voters since he’s in a tight race with DeWine.

Brown explained his vote this way in an interview with Thursday: "Unlike Mike DeWine , I'm willing to stand up to my party when they're wrong."

Why Brown voted 'yes'
He said the detainees "are not soldiers, not combatants representing a government, these are terrorists."

He added, "I supported a compromise because I think John McCain, a former prisoner of war, understands what we need to do to ensure our soldiers are safe."

He added, "Some people just don't want me to agree with George Bush on anything."

Brown’s vote for the detainee bill made sense. In one move, Brown snatched away an issue that the Republicans might have used to tar him.

The House vote Wednesday means that there are few Democrats who offer targets to the GOP on this issue.

All but one of the House Democrats whom the Cook Political Report rates as being in close races (the “Lean Democrat” category) voted for the bill. The only Democrat in that category who voted ‘no’ was Rep. Allan Mollohan of West Virginia.

Senate passes bill, 65-34
The Senate followed suit Thursday evening with a 65-34 vote to pass the detainee measure. The bill will create military tribunals to prosecute terrorism suspects.  

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Before the final vote, the Senate rejected a number of amendments, including one that would have put a five-year limit on the tribunals and would have required the president to seek re-authorization from Congress at the end of the five years.

Of the 12 Democratic senators who voted "yes," five must face voters this November.

Those five Democrats included Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who's locked in a tight race with GOP candidate Tom Kean Jr., and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who lost the Democratic primary to anti-Iraq war challenger Ned Lamont. Lieberman is now running as an independent.

On the Senate floor during the roll call, Lieberman pondered for several minutes and was one of the last senators to cast his vote. Before doing so, he had what appeared to be intense conversations with four of his Democratic colleagues who also voted for the bill, including Menendez.

Asked what persuaded him to vote for the bill, Menendez said, "In view of the fact that the (Supreme) Court has ruled the existing process unconstitutional, it leaves us without anything. It seems to me while it is not the bill I wanted — as evidenced by the way I voted on the amendments — I think there has to be a process in place. I wouldn't want those who have committed acts of terrorism to ultimately find the ability to be free by virtue of a lack of a (tribunal) process."

Only one Republican, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who is in a tough re-election battle against Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, voted against the bill.

A few hours before the Senate voted to approve the bill, Sen. Charles Schumer, D- N.Y., the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said “no one is going to be intimidated” by GOP attacks on the detainee issue.

He told reporters, “We’ve polled this extensively” and he argued that detainees and tribunals “are secondary issues to most people.”

The bill would allow for the creation of military tribunals to try suspected terrorists.

Schumer said polling indicated that the war in Iraq is the top concern for most voters. He also said that, “on the merits (of the detainee issue) people agree with us (Democrats). You poll them; they agree with our position,” not the Republicans’.

Schumer had predicted that a majority of Senate Democrats would vote against the bill, which some Democrats think offers an amnesty to those who abused or tortured detainees, but “a significant minority” of Senate Democrats would vote for it.

Meanwhile, some in Ohio were upset with Brown’s support of the detainee bill.

An Ohioan who writes a blog called “Fundamental Truths” wrote, “I am shocked and dismayed that even in an election year, Sherrod Brown voted to legalize Bush's Crimes.” He called Brown’s vote for the bill “unbelievable and unforgivable.”

Clash with Feingold position
Ironically Brown’s vote came just a few hours after the political action committee (PAC) of Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., an outspoken critic of the detainee bill, announced that Brown had just won its online poll of Feingold supporters. Feingold’s Progressive Patriot PAC will now send a fundraising email to its entire e-mail list, urging Feingold supporters to back Brown’s candidacy.

“I am happy to continue to support a great candidate for Senate, Sherrod Brown,” Feingold said in his statement. “We’ve contributed to his campaign, sent him a field staffer through our Patriot Corps program and are glad to continue to do all we can to help Sherrod win on November 7th. I look forward to serving with him in the United States Senate.”

But Feingold said Thursday the detainee bill for which Brown voted would “deny detainees the ability to challenge their detention in court.  Among its many flaws, this is the most troubling—that the legislation seeks to suspend the Great Writ of habeas corpus.”

The House passed the bill by a vote of 253 to 168, with 34 Democrats voting for it and 160 voting against it. Seven Republicans also voted against it.

A whiff of the rhetoric that might have been aimed at Brown in campaign ads if he had voted “no” came from House Speaker Dennis Hastert after Wednesday’s vote.

Democrats, Hastert said, "continue to support rights for terrorists. In fact, Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of MORE rights for terrorists. So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled, if we followed the Democrat plan.”

Pelosi calls Hastert 'desperate'
Pelosi said Thursday, “The Speaker is a desperate man…. I feel sad for the Speaker that he would have to stoop to that level.”

She said. “I’m sure Republicans will try to exploit” the vote, but argued that Democrats had compelling reasons to vote against the bill.

Democratic leaders such as Schumer seem confident this issue won’t work for Republicans and apparently confident that it won’t alienate the liberal Daily Kos/ side of the party.

And there is some evidence that it won’t.

On the Daily Kos web site, a poster with the pseudonym Mehitabel9 wrote, “I'm really unwilling at this point to post anything on a site that has as many readers as this one that could even indirectly encourage people to vote against otherwise solid Democratic candidates,” such as Brown and Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., who also voted for the detainee bill.

Ford is in too-close-to-call Senate race against Republican Bob Corker.

“Mehitabel9” urged Democrats to “hold your noses and vote for them anyway.”

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