What Do Senators Make of the Torture Report? Depends What Party They're In

John McCain aside, every Republican condemns the torture report.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) addresses the audience at the Colorado Energy Forum presented by the Consumer Energy Alliance on October 14, 2014 in Westminster, Colorado.

Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

As Tuesday ended in the Senate, and as members of the upper house reached the floor for a few votes on Tennessee Valley Authority appointees, the release of a summary of the 6000-odd page CIA interrogation report was captivating the press. From the morning through the afternoon, senators had taken the floor to discuss the report, but no one's speech was discussed as widely as Arizona Senator John McCain's.

"Our enemies act without conscience," said McCain. "We must not. This executive summary of the Committee’s report makes clear that acting without conscience isn’t necessary, it isn’t even helpful, in winning this strange and long war we’re fighting. We should be grateful to have that truth affirmed."

Maine's independent Senator Angus King took the floor to praise McCain. "I can't match his eloquence," he said. "It was one of the most powerful messages I have heard in this body or anywhere else."

And it had no competition from Republicans. McCain was alone among 45 current Republican senators in praising the release of the report. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who is frequently cheek to jowl with McCain, admitted that the history discussed in the report was a "net loser for the country," but went on to defend the actors whose behavior, in America's name, was being splashed across front pages by disgusted editors and reporters.

"Put yourself in the shoes of the people responsible for defending the country after 9/11," said Graham. "We'd been hit. We'd been hit hard. Everybody thought something else was coming. Who knew what, when? I don't know. All I can tell you is that the people involved thought they were defending the country."

Throughout the day, Democratic and Democrat-aligned senators stood behind their desks, as gaggles of tourists watched from the galleries. In addition to California Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose efforts brought the summary out after months of delays, there was Maine's Senator King, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, New Mexico Senator Martin Henrich, Vermont Senator Pat Leahy, Michigan Senator Carl Levin, and Colorado Sen. Mark Udall—the last of whom had mulled using "any and all options" to declassify the report on his way out the door. 

There were no Republicans so moved. Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss took the floor to promise that the report's release "will endanger CIA personnel, sources and other intelligence operations." Incoming Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said basically the same to reporters, but Chambliss went so far as to release an alternative report that exonerated the CIA. In December 2014, whether to be outraged by the "torture report" was a clean, partisan question.

"It doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know," said incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at a mid-day press conference. (This was a surprising observation to the reporters writing fresh stories from the report's revelations. "It really endangers Americans around the world."

After 6 p.m., the members of the Senate cast their votes then trekked to the Mansfield Room, a few feet from the floor, to welcome the mostly-Republican new Senate class. They'd catch up with Arkansas Senator-elect Tom Cotton, whose political career effectively began with a viral letter to the New York Times, condemning its reporting on Bush-era anti-terror programs. Meanwhile, Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat, took the floor to praise John McCain's speech.