The fog surrounding what just happened regarding the TSA anti-groping bill is very thick. The truth is a mixture of good news and bad news, and must be carefully untangled.
We’ll start with the bad news.
The bad news is that our state leadership waited for the shot clock to be at about 9 seconds before allowing a play to be run on Simpson’s anti-groping bill. It still has several procedural steps in front of it. So, while it certainly can pass, the men who have to whip the horse to make it pass – David Dewhurst and Joe Straus – are the same men who wasted time getting anything done on it.
Now the good news. The good news is that the bill that passed is not gutted, as the media would have us believe. This “the bill is too watered down to matter” mythology is designed to serve two purposes: 1) depress supporters of the bill so they don’t hold anyone accountable if it fails due to time constraints 2) give the Obama Administration cover for walking away from their tough talk.
The Obama Administration wants no part of this fight. They’re in campaign mode already, digging out of a deep hole, and aren't about to be seen tyrannizing Texans by shutting down our flight pattern to protect TSA groping. “The anti-groping bill was gutted” is a coward’s bluff to give Obama cover to ignore a fight he acted ready to fight.
The bill has, in fact, not been watered down to irrelevancy. The “reasonable suspicion” standard for genital-touching just gives agents a defense in court – it doesn't keep them out of court. Who thinks TSA agents want to mount a legal defense and risk a rap sheet just to keep groping? Texans just have to go ahead and press charges when agents touch our junk and they’ll quit.
Besides that, the symbolic value of it is huge, a fact the media, lead by AP in this case, wants us to lose sight of. The Texas House just passed a bill that makes an Obama policy illegal. That is a very big deal.
Another piece of good news for conservatives is that Joe Straus got rolled over by this bill. Again, he wasted Friday with parliamentary tricks, so the bad guys may still run the clock out. But last Friday Straus wasn't just protecting the overall war against the TSA bill. He made a bold play to keep the anti-groping warriors from taking the hill he is in charge of - the House. He lost his hill in a rout.
David Simpson helped him save a little face by saying leadership helped perfect the bill over the weekend. It’s not particularly true, though.
The only things that changed in the bill – the standard for genital touching – was unsure Friday, and slated to be debated. The amendments incorporating the Attorney General's concerns were ready Friday, too. Straus team forces are trying to write revisionist history on those two facts, but Simpson marked it Friday with a press release.
Simpson definitely wanted probable cause, but would have still pushed forward with reasonable suspicion on Friday. The Straus team likely pulled opposition in return for settling for reasonable care - sure - but that’s not the play Straus made Friday.
Friday Straus lodged his most vigorous public support of the entire session for one side of an issue. He even got a junior team member, Linda Harper-Brown, to write a resolution against the groping practices to substitute for the bill.
See, resolutions are more Straus’s speed, because they make it look like you care about something without actually doing anything to the law. For example, Straus undoubtedly would have preferred resolutions declaring the goodness of defunding abortion providers, like the one he and his wife have a long and close relationship with, instead of the real defunding that was accomplished this session. That was another issue Straus had no power to control.
In the end, conservatives have a chance at a good anti groping bill if they push Dewhurst and Straus to get it done before Wednesday is over, and conservatives know who to blame if it fails. Additionally, conservatives flattened Joe Straus in getting the bill through the House. Finally, conservatives get a chance to see the Obama Administration backing away from tough talk. If the bill passes that will be even more obvious.
The TSA anti-groping saga is a mixture of good news and bad news obscured by fog, but there is plenty of reason to be encouraged.