Senate GOP reverses course, will approve subpoena power in BP probe

SENATE GOP REVERSES COURSE, WILL APPROVE SUBPOENA POWER IN BP PROBE…. We talked earlier about a bizarre move by Senate Republicans yesterday, blocking subpoena power for the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. This afternoon, the GOP reversed course.

To briefly review, the House last week voted 420 to 1 to give the commission investigating the disaster subpoena power, so panelists could get answers from BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and various government agencies. Given the bipartisan support, the relevant precedent, and the practical needs, Senate Democrats considered this a no-brainer that could be approved through unanimous consent.

But yesterday, Senate Republicans — it’s not clear which ones — objected. Asked for an explanation, the GOP didn’t have one.

Today, Republicans, perhaps afraid of giving the appearance of protecting oil companies again, reversed course.

The Senate GOP leadership has decided they have no objections to legislation giving subpoena power to the White House commission probing the oil spill, and will not block the bill from moving forward, aides tell me. The move will cheer liberals and Dems who were hoping to move this towards passage quickly. […]

According to [an aide to Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina], he happened to be on the floor when a Democratic Senator introduced the bill for a unanimous consent vote. DeMint was told by GOP leadership aides to hold up the bill because leadership hadn’t had a chance to read it, the DeMint aide says.

But now that the leadership has read the bill and decided it has no objections, it will move forward if a Dem asks again for it to be passed by unanimous consent.

Good. Approval will have to wait, of course, until the Senate returns to session the week after next, but it’s encouraging to know it’ll happen. Yes, I’m setting the bar pretty low at what constitutes “encouraging” when it comes to the Senate.

Of all the various things to argue over, this one just didn’t make any sense. The commission can’t get answers without subpoena power, and Congress has routinely extended subpoena power to related commissions — including panels investigating the JFK assassination, the Three Mile Island disaster, and the 9/11 attacks. Senate Republicans’ move yesterday was bizarre, and I’m glad they’re backing off.