Interviewing Senators

Updated to include more details of interview: Wednesday night, just before John Edwards spoke, a group of bloggers were invited to interview Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL). We jumped at the chance since we think Durbin has introduced some of the best legislation in the past year and opposed some of the worst.

He has been a strong critic of the Patriot Act. He introduced an anti-torture amendmant. He co-sponsored the Civil Liberties Restoration Act. He fought for (and lost) proposed amendments to Sen. Feinstein and Hatch's terrible Anti-Gang bill.

Durbin has been in the forefront of the fight to protect our civil liberties. The interview took place at the press office in the Fleet Center. He had ten minutes and there were 8 of us, so we each took turns asking a question.

Here were the questions I wanted to ask him:

1. How will a Kerry Administration be better than a bush administration on civil liberties?

2. On the detainees--are you satisfied with the Bush Administration's proposals for military tribunals? Can the detainees get a fair trial?

3. What qualities will a Kerry Attorney General have that John Ashcroft lacks?

4. Diane Feinstein spoke tonight--she was a co-sponsor of the recently passed anti-gang bill--your amendments to the bill which would have shifted the burden of proof to prosecutors to move a juvenile into adult court failed. How do you respond to a colleague who is so far to the right of the party?

With 8 bloggers and ten minutes, we each got one question. I led off, first commenting on how much I appreciated his legislative efforts, and asked him if he thought John Kerry would be a strong defender of our rights and liberties, and how John Kerry would differ from Bush in this area. His answer was that the biggest difference between John Kerry and George Bush would be in their judicial selections. Judges are lifetime appointees. Their impact can last 40 years or more. Kerry will preserve the independence of the judiciary and appoint highly qualified judges. We must take back our courts.

Needless to say, this was music to my ears. Senator Durbin's expressed these views very forcefully. He sits on the Judiciary Committee. It's a view TalkLeft shares, and has expressed many times. See, for example, here .

Byron of Burnt Orange Report asked Durbin about Obama. Durbin had nothing but praise for him. He said that he has maintained his humility. Four years ago he was an obscure state senator. Now he is a national spokesman for the party. He has his head screwed on right.

Ezra of Pandagon noted that Durbin had served on the Judiciary Committee with John Edwards, and asked him what he thought of Edwards' work on the Committee. Durbin said Edwards was great on the Committee because he had such a direct and insightful way of asking questions and getting to the heart of the matter very quickly, probably a skill he developed in his trial practice. He commended Edwards work on the Clinton impeachment trial and said he played a major role. American Amnesia asked a question about foreign policy. Natasha of Pacific Views asked a question about farmers and big agricultural companies.

As to war, Durbin said that it's a vote that keeps you awake at night, it's a vote of conscience. If he had only known at the time of the vote that there were no weapons of mass destruction or "that Chalabi was a fraud," he might have voted differently. He's been to Walter Reed on numerous occasions and has been saddened and angry about the soldiers who have lost their limbs.

On the detainees at Guantanamo, Durbin said there will be a new day. A day when those arrested have the right to counsel, to prepare a defense to the charges, and to be charged or released. We can't hold people indefinitely.

Durbins' answers to all questions were excellent. But what really stood out to me was the caliber and sophistication of the questions the other bloggers asked. One after another, these young 20-somethings showed their political astuteness and acumen. Every day this week these kids have impressed me with their intelligence and their knowledge. And there's not a geek among them.

As to Harkin, I asked him about the Patriot Act. He said portions need to be revised. I asked him which--was it the "sneak and peek" search warrants? He said yes, but his main concern was with the search of business records--and library records--section 215. That has to go.

The others again asked great questions, I'll link to their reports on the interview as they write them.

Back later.

PS. I also asked Durbin if he had seen Fahrenheit 911 and what he thought of it. He said he saw it and liked it a lot.

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