2006 Midterm Elections and Other News

The 2006 midterm elections were as heated and contentious as elections can be. While the Republicans were desperately trying to hold on to both chambers of Congress in order to continue to endorse the Bush administration's agenda, the Democrats had hopes of regaining both houses of Congress, something they had not done since 1994.

When the votes were counted, the Democrats had taken back both the House of Representatives with a gain of twenty-nine seats and the Senate with a gain of six seats. The current Congress (January 2007) includes Representative Nancy Pelosi of California as the first woman ever as Speaker of the House and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada as Senate majority leader. In addition to congressional gains, the Democrats gained six governorships. The “lame duck” period — the period when those who were voted out are still in office to finish their terms — lasted until January 3, when the new 110th Congress convenes.

A day after a majority of American voters voiced their opposition to the war in Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld announced his resignation as secretary of defense. President Bush nominated Robert Gates, the former chief of the CIA, as his successor. In an overwhelming vote of 95 to 2, the Senate confirmed Robert Gates as the new secretary of defense on December 6, 2006.

National Security and Wiretapping Americans

In mid-December 2005, an article in the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration had been conducting wiretapping of United States citizens without court-issued warrants from the United States National Security Agency. This was confirmed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and was contrary to an earlier statement the president had made when he said that “the government did not wiretap without getting a court order.” On August 17, 2006, a federal court ruled that the wiretapping was a violation of the Fourth Amendment but allowed the practice to continue pending an appeal by the federal government. In addition, Congress has been working with a number of bills that would expand the president's power to conduct the surveillance with the authority of statute.

Physician-Assisted Suicide Upheld by Supreme Court

On January 17, 2006, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of Gonzales v. Oregon in which the justices decided that former attorney general John Ashcroft lacked the legal authority to declare that physicians who helped terminally ill patients commit suicide in compliance with the state's Death with Dignity Act would lose their federal licenses to prescribe drugs.

Patriot Act Renewed

Following much discussion and debate between the Congress and the executive branch, the Patriot Act was renewed on March 9, 2006. When the president signed the bill making it law, he used a “signing statement,” which is a comment about his interpretation of the law. Regarding the Patriot Act, his “statement” held that he did not agree with the amount of oversight Congress claimed over the executive branch.

Military Tribunals at Guatanamo

Military commissions used to try suspects at Guantanamo Bay Prison had been the subject of debate for some time when the Supreme Court decided on June 29, 2006, that the commissions were a violation of both the Geneva Conventions and the separation of powers within the federal government. Following the ruling, the Bush administration had to seek authorization through statute from Congress. During September 2006, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 allowing the president authority to use the military commissions.

Have military tribunals/commissions been used before in United States history?

Yes. The use of the military tribunal to bring enemy forces to trial have been used in our history by General George Washington during the American Revolution, President Lincoln during the Civil War, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II.

Conviction of Enron Executives

On May 25, 2006, a Houston jury found Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, former chief executives of Enron, guilty of fraud and conspiracy. Lay was convicted of six counts of fraud and conspiracy and four counts of bank fraud. Skilling was found guilty of eighteen counts of fraud and conspiracy and one count of insider trading. Kenneth Law died of heart failure on July 5, 2006, at the age of sixty-four. Ironically, Lay's death would probably result in his conviction being thrown out and would make it all but impossible for the government and investors to recover money from the Lay estate.

Senate Defeats Amendments

On June 7, 2006, the United States Senate defeated an amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage and on June 28 voted down an amendment that would have given Congress the power to stop flag desecration.

Minimum Wage Increase Fails Again

Although attempts were made in 2006 to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour, the Republican majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate voted it down once again. The minimum wage has not been increased since 1997. In that same time period, members of Congress have raised their own wages by approximately $31,600 a year.

North Korea Tests a Nuclear Missile

On October 9, 2006, North Korea tested a nuclear missile in defiance of the wishes of the world community. On October 14, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution punishing North Korea for its reported testing of a nuclear weapon.

United States Population Reaches 300 Million

Following milestones of 100 million (1915) and 200 million (1967), the United States population reached 300 million on October 17, 2006.

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