Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) don’t have much in common. About the only time they vote in unison occurs when House sentiment is of the unanimous sort. Throughout most of the Clinton impeachment process Sensenbrenner and Jackson Lee were about as far apart as possible.
But what a difference a foe makes. His name is Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), and his Senate Governmental Affairs Committee is sitting on a piece of legislation that the House passed 420-0 last October. The “No Fear” bill changes the way federal agencies are sanctioned for civil-rights violations by requiring the offending agency to pay damages from its accounts rather than drawing from a Department of Justice set-aside fund.
Sensenbrenner’s interest in the issue was piqued when, as chairman of the House Science Committee, he ran across the case of Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, a civil servant at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While Coleman-Adebayo won her civil-rights case against the EPA, she has not stopped lobbying Congress to enact “the first new civil-rights law of the 21st century.”
For Sensenbrenner, the issue is a basic one: “This legislation sends a simple but strong message that discrimination and retaliation will not be tolerated at federal agencies. If a government agency — using public tax dollars — does discriminate, that agency will pay out of its own pocket.” With unanimous support from his House colleagues, the bill was expected to receive swift treatment in the Senate.
Which brings the bill to Lieberman’s powerful committee, which hasn’t held any hearings on it and appears to be taking its “sweet senatorial time.”
A spokesman for Lieberman claims that the senator has every intention to approve a similar bill. That may be the case, but Lieberman feels entitled to tinker with the measure, even if that means tacking on amendments that further will slow its progress.
Coleman-Adebayo is flummoxed as to why Lieberman hasn’t been more enthusiastic about such a noncontroversial bill, especially given the opportunity for racial pandering. “Our community placed him at the top of our list of priorities, and he’s thanked us by placing us at the bottom of his,” she tells news alert!
Since Lieberman isn’t responding to Coleman-Adebayo’s requests to discuss the bill with her, she is organizing “freedom rides” in early March, hiring buses to transport supporters from a rally at Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington to Lieberman’s Senate office building suite. Riding in the bus together will be Sensenbrenner and Jackson Lee. Politics makes strange bus-fellows.
HANS S. NICHOLS AND SAM MACDONALD ARE REPORTERS FOR Insight.