March 16, 2006

A Challenge to Senator Russell Feingold

Carroll Andrew Morse

At least part of the criticism of Senator Russell Feingold's propsed resolution to censure the President because of the NSA wiretap program concerns the Senator's decision to pursue a symbolic gesture when there are real policy matters to be considered. Here is a policy issue, currently before the US Senate, where Senator Feingold could help lead a more meaningful deliberation about the relationship between executive and legislative authority than he is currently doing.

According to the Washington Post, (h/t Kathryn Jean Lopez from NRO’s Corner) the United Nations is about to create a new body to replace its discredited Commission on Human Rights

The Bush administration indicated Tuesday that it is prepared to help fund and possibly try to join a U.N. Human Rights Council despite deep reservations about the value of the new rights body.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns assured U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and General Assembly President Jan Eliasson by telephone that the United States will formally oppose the creation of the council in a General Assembly session Wednesday but supports its overall mission, U.S. and U.N. officials said…

The United States backed a proposal by Annan to set higher standards for membership in the rights body, including a requirement that members get support from two-thirds of the General Assembly to be elected.

But the United States balked at a compromise offered by Eliasson that did not include several of its amendments -- including a proposal to bar countries facing U.N. sanctions from joining -- and that would have required new members be elected by an absolute majority -- at least 96 countries. A final U.S. push to persuade Eliasson to make several changes to the text or to reopen negotiations failed.

There is a conflict brewing here. Any proposal allowing countries facing United Nations sanctions to join human-rights bodies runs counter to two different pieces of legislation currently before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (of which Senator Feingold is a member).

This is from Section 201(b) of Senate Bill 1394, which has already been passed by the United States House of Representatives…

(2) A Member State shall be ineligible for membership on any United Nations human rights body if such Member State is (A) subject to sanctions by the Security Council or (B) under a Security Council-mandated investigation for human rights abuses.
A competing bill, Senate Bill 1383, imposes the same requirement in its section 9(b)...
It is the sense of Congress that the United States should use its voice and vote at the United Nations to pursue meaningful reform of international human rights institutions that includes actions by the United Nations…to make ineligible for membership on any United Nations human rights body a Member State that is (A) subject to sanctions by the Security Council or (B) under a Security Council-mandated investigation for human rights abuses.
How is this at all related to the Feingold censure resolution, you ask? The difference between the two bills is that the first bill mandates automatic cuts in UN funding if the UN refuses to implement human rights commission reform (as well as other reforms). The second bill is more of a suggestion than a requirement. It leaves decisions about witholding funding entirely to the discretition of the President

Senator Feingold's Democratic colleagues in the House overwhelmingly supported the second approach, leaving enforcement of UN reform in the hands of the President -- the same President that Senator Feingold wants to censure, because he doesn't trust his judgement on matters of national security. House Republicans overwhelmingly supported the first bill, where UN funding cuts become automatic if reforms are not implemented, no Presidential intervention required.

Will Senator Feingold, supposedly concerned about too much unchecked Presidential authority, lead a Democratic effort to pass the version of UN reform that does not involve Presidential discretion? Or will Senator Feingold's interest in Presidential authority suddenly vanish in a case where Congress would be taking a stronger stand than the executive branch on inhibiting the actions of dictators, terrorists, and other assorted human rights abusers?