The Republican Party, as you may have heard, has taken control of the Senate, after fumbling chances to do so in 2010 and 2012. With President Obama's veto power safe for another two years, this means little for any positive Republican agenda, which barely exists in any case. But it does have enormous repercussions for one crucial area: civil liberties.
The defeat of Colorado's Mark Udall, in particular, is a disaster. He is possibly the most prominent and committed civil libertarian in Congress, which means President Obama will no longer have to deal with a high-profile opponent of due process–free assassination of American citizens. The NSA can say goodbye to an enemy of dragnet surveillance, while the CIA no longer has to worry about Udall pushing for the release of a long-awaited report on the torture the agency inflicted on terrorism suspects during the Bush years.
This was likely exactly what the CIA was hoping for. Remember that back in March, Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, gave a dramatic speech detailing how the CIA has been attempting to sandbag the committee's 6,000-page report on the agency's illegal, pointless torture program, even accusing the CIA of attempting to intimidate her staff. Since then, the CIA has been stalling furiously by dragging its feet on the redaction process, and trying to censor the report into meaninglessness.
Now, with Republican control of the Senate, CIA lapdog Richard Burr will be the next chair of SSCI. He'll likely bury all the important parts of the report given half a chance. If the CIA can manage to run out the clock until the next congressional term begins, then we'll likely never see the torture report. And with that, we'll lose one of the few remaining chances to salvage some scraps of accountability for Bush-era war crimes.
Udall's victorious opponent, Cory Gardner, insists that he is a supporter of civil liberties. But there is plenty of reason to doubt him. He ran a slippery campaign shamelessly running away from his previous positions, and Republicans have traditionally given presidents a free hand when it comes to the use of force. And even if Gardner turns out to be a genuine critic of security state abuses, it would matter little in the end. He probably won't get a seat on SSCI, and even if he did he would have little, if any, influence over the more senior Burr.
About the last remaining hope at this point is what I suggested a few months ago: reading the report into the congressional record. Senators have privileges that would protect them if they choose to take that route. Back then, I thought that Feinstein should do it, on account of Udall's tough election. But now that he's lost, he might as well be the one. For one of the handful of principled, decent, honorable people in Congress, it would be a fitting note on which to leave the chamber.