Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman has a tough re-election fight in 2008 and his Democratic opponent could be obnoxious left-wing comedian Al Franken. But Coleman, who chaired important hearings in 2005 into the United Nations oil-for-food scandal, is starting to make conservatives nervous. He skipped two important hearings on ratification of the controversial United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) but found enough time for a photo-op with rock star Bono.
It is a tendency of many Republicans to move left when they are in tough re-election fights. They end up losing, rather than gaining, voters. They don't get the liberal votes they're seeking and they lose conservative voters, who decide to stay home in protest. In Coleman's case, he could alienate many conservatives by casting the deciding Senate vote for UNCLOS.
A member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Coleman could have given us some indication of how he feels about the treaty during the committee's two recent hearings on the pact. But Coleman didn't show up for either one. Instead, on October 4-one day before the second and final hearing-Coleman was at a photo-op with rock star Bono and other senators on Capitol Hill. Bono has made it his cause to promote foreign aid, especially from the "rich" countries like the U.S.
Roll Call, which covers Capitol Hill, carried the photo of Coleman and other Senators meeting with Bono. What was fascinating was that several members of the committee meeting with Bono on October 4 didn't have time to attend the committee's hearing on the U.N.'s Law of the Sea Treaty the following day, October 5. Doesn't this demonstrate the strange priorities of members of the Senate? They were quick to show up for a photo-op with a rock star, but unable to muster the time or energy necessary to consider the consequences of ratifying a treaty that could subvert U.S. sovereignty on the high seas and require payment of "fees" from U.S. companies wanting access to oil, gas and minerals in "international waters."
The senators who, in addition to Coleman, found enough time to be photographed with Bono but were too busy to attend either the September 27 or October 4 hearings of the committee on UNCLOS were John Sununu, R-N.H., Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Biden, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, didn't have time to attend either hearing and was replaced during the first one by Senator Jim Webb and during the second by Senator Robert Menendez. They filled in as the acting chairman.
What goes into the calculation that says a senator should jump at the chance to be photographed with Bono but that he can safely miss the hearings on a global treaty that some say becomes the Supreme Law of the Land when ratified? Clearly, the photo has a lot to do with it. And I am grateful to Roll Call for publishing that photo of Bono and his Senate admirers. Senators Biden, Coleman, Sununu and Nelson must have figured that there is no harm in missing the Senate hearings on UNCLOS because either no one will notice or no one will care. That's undoubtedly the case with most of the major media.
One senator in the photo with Bono who showed up at both hearings on UNCLOS was Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana. Lugar is a globalist who has been pushing UNCLOS for many years. He not only believes in more foreign aid; he favors getting the U.S. entangled in more international treaties.
Coleman and Sununu may not be running for president but they are up for re-election to the Senate in 2008. So they had to calculate that being seen with Bono was a vote-getter. And they must have figured that they could safely miss the hearings on UNCLOS and that voters wouldn't care. This may be a serious miscalculation. Sununu is considered a treaty supporter but voting for such a measure, which includes a global tax mechanism, may not go down well in anti-tax New Hampshire. A vote for UNCLOS could prompt many conservatives to abandon Sununu next November.
In Coleman's case, his decision to skip the October 4 UNCLOS hearing in particular was mystifying because he showed up that same day at the Heritage Foundation, a couple blocks from the Foreign Relations Committee hearing room, so he could give a speech denouncing the Fairness Doctrine. That was at 11:00 a.m. The UNCLOS hearing had begun about 9:30 a.m. and featured two critics, Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy and Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. These were the only critics to appear during the two days of hearings. That meant that the critics were outnumbered by supporting witnesses by a margin of 9-2. This is one reason why Louisiana's Republican Senator David Vitter, who showed up at both hearings and grilled the witnesses with sharp questions, urged the holding of an additional hearing with more treaty opponents.
Opposing the Fairness Doctrine is very important, and Coleman has played a leadership role in promoting the Broadcaster Freedom Act, in order to prevent the Fairness Doctrine from being resurrected by a Democratic president and a majority on the Federal Communications Commission. But this issue will be around for months. Frankly, the Republicans are not yet at a point where they can even get the Broadcaster Freedom Act up for a vote in either house. By contrast, a vote on UNCLOS could take place in the Foreign Relations Committee in less than two weeks. This issue is immediate and Coleman can play a decisive role in the outcome. It will mean, however, that he has to take on his President, who was maneuvered by the State Department into backing the pact.
If Coleman and Sununu don't believe that conservatives care about the fate of the U.N.'s Law of the Sea Treaty, they have another think coming. I have been doing about four radio shows a day about this treaty and have found the conservative hosts and callers outraged over the attempt by the Senate Democrats, in cahoots with the Bush Administration, to ram it through without adequate public input or debate. They are starting to make their views known in calls and emails to the Capitol.
Coleman and Sununu should immediately join with Senator Vitter and others in calling for an additional Foreign Relations Committee hearing into UNCLOS featuring critics of the pact. And this time, Coleman and Sununu should show up.