Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Day's Events

Well. Now that Blogger has gotten over its little "maintenance issues", a few words on some of the day’s political events:

- Bolton Nomination. As I wrote earlier, the tide really does seem to be turning on this issue. And not in a good way for John Bolton. On the same day President Bush came out and urged the Senate to "put aside politics" and confirm Bolton, who he called "the right man at the right time for this important assignment," new allegations and important refutations of Bolton’s testimony also came to light.

CBS News reports this evening that former US Ambassador to South Korea Tom Hubbard has come forward to dispute a statement Bolton made during his hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations committee last week. Referring to a hard-line speech that Bolton made in 2003, Bolton told the committee: "I can tell you what our ambassador to South Korea, Tom Hubbard, said after the speech. He said, 'Thanks a lot for that speech, John. It'll help us a lot out here.'" One problem: Hubbard says he didn’t say that. According to the CBS report, Hubbard says that "he specifically objected to the tone of the speech and actually found it unhelpful in dealing with North Korea." "I told the committee that if you're basing your vote on his (Bolton's) assertion that I approved his speech, that is not true," Hubbard told CBS.

Even more importantly, the Washington Post is set to reveal in Friday editions that Bolton’s former superior, ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, has finally broken his silence on the Bolton-question. Margaret Cifrino, Powell’s spokesperson, told Jim VandeHei and Robin Wright of the Post "General Powell has returned calls from senators who wanted to discuss specific questions that have been raised," and that he considered the conversations private. Clearly he has forgotten what the Washington-definition of 'private' is, since of course the details of those phone calls are already leaking. Republican sources report that Powell "did not advise the senators to oppose Bolton, but offered a frank assessment of the nominee as a man who was challenging to work with on personnel and policy matters."

Douglas Jehl at the New York Times also notes Powell's emergence as a player in the nomination fight, quoting "associates" of Powell who say that in private telephone conversations, Powell has "made clear his concerns with Mr. Bolton on several fronts, including his harsh treatment of subordinates." Powell also has praised Bolton "on some matters during his tenure as undersecretary of state, but [his associates] also said that Mr. Powell had stopped well short of the endorsements" provided by Bush and Rice.

The Times story also reports that Foreign Relations committee staff are working on an agreement as to how further investigations of the numerous and varied allegations against Bolton will proceed.

Clearly there is much more to come on this: the White House seems to be sticking with their candidate, at least for the time being, and the allegations, as Senator Lugar said on Tuesday, "keep coming out." As I've said before, Powell's silence on this issue has been deafening, and his voice is definitely a welcome addition to the debate.

- Nuclear Option. Just hours after news that Senator Santorum has been privately expressing concerns about implementing the nuclear option on the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee opened the door for Frist & Co. to carry out their attack on Senate traditions. Voting along strict party lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent two of Bush's controversial judicial nominees to the full Senate for confirmation. Democrats say that they will once again carry out filibusters against both nominees, Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown: Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) called Owen "an ends-oriented activist judge" whose opinions have "favored the interests of big business over ordinary people" and called Brown's nomination "extreme" and "ideologically driven."

Regardless of my opinions on the judges in question and whether they deserve confirmation or not (or even an up-or-down vote), I cannot fathom how Republican leaders think they can possibly fare well politically (either short- or long-term) from undertaking the nuclear option. An Associated Press report out tonight confirms the suggestion from the Santorum story earlier in the day that internal GOP polling shows scant support for this outrageous maneuver. Citing "officials," the AP piece says that recent Republican polling shows just 37% of Americans support the nuclear option, with 51% in opposition. Only 20% say they believe that Bush is the first president to have a judicial nominee filibustered (good to hear, since it's not true, see the 1968 Republican filibuster of Abe Fortas).

More of the judicial nominees in question will be approved as early as next week. The question is, will this new data convince enough of the swing Republicans to end this arms race before it's too late?

- Negroponte Confirmed. Former Ambassador to the UN and Iraq John Negroponte was confirmed by the Senate today as the nation's first "National Intelligence Director." The vote was 98-2, with only Senators Tom Harkin and Ron Wyden voting no. Senators Roberts and Rockefeller, the chair and ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, urged Negroponte to act quickly to consolidate power, and in effect wished him luck in the mother of all turf battles he's about to engage in if he is to gain the control over America's intelligence that Congress intends him to have. President Bush swore Negroponte in just 45 minutes after the vote, expressing strong support for his new DNI.

This is an important example of an instance where most Democrats united behind a conservative Republican nominee - proving that a reasonable choice for UN Ambassador would probably meet with very similar treatment from Democrats and Republicans alike. President Bush should take this important lesson from Negroponte's successful and smooth confirmation process - but it might be too late for that now.

- Energy Bill Passes House. As I noted last night in my discussion on the ANWR and CAFE amendments to the energy bill, the House planned to pass the underlying legislation today [my vote analyses of those amendments are forthcoming; they are looking to be rather more interesting than I thought they would be]. The bill did pass today, by a final vote of 249-183. Like the ANWR and CAFE votes, this one is interesting, highlighting the very weird way in which energy politics cuts across party and regional lines.

The final bill includes $12 billion in tax breaks and subsidies, mainly for oil, gas, and coal companies. It also includes the provision that will open ANWR to oil and gas exploration and drilling, shields makers of the nasty gasoline additive MTBE from lawsuits (and doesn't ban MTBE use until 2014), and provides incentives to boost production of ethanol (an incredibly inefficient corn-based pseudo-fuel). Another provision extends daylight savings time by two months (I have already made my feelings known about legislators playing with the clocks, but if they're going to do it, I guess we might as well save more energy).

This bill will have to eventually be reconciled with a Senate version; that chamber's energy policy legislation is expected to be fully drafted sometime in May. Senate Democrats have threatened to filibuster any energy bill which contains provisions to open ANWR for drilling (an effort the RINO will support unequivocally).

- Miscellaneous: The Senate voted 99-0 to approve an $81 billion spending bill for costs associated with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the total cost of the wars and reconstructions to more than $300 billion. This bill is expected to be reconciled quickly with a House version and enacted into law.

Senator Mark Pryor told Arkansas reporters that he is "very disappointed" in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for agreeing to take part in the extreme "Justice Sunday" event this Sunday, sponsored by radical evangelicals who argue that Democratic judicial filibusters are "in opposition to people of faith." Saying that the organizers of this event threaten "to make the followers of Jesus Christ just another special-interest group," he called it "presumptuous of them to think that they represent all Christians in America, even to say they represent all evangelical Christians." Pryor says he considers himself an evangelical Christian. Like other reasonable senators, Pryor went on to say that he still hopes the Senate can reach a satisfactory conclusion on the judges question without resorting to nuclear war.

Arlen Specter, the moderate Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin's Disease, announced legislation today that would expand federal funding for stem cell research. Joined by Senators Hatch and Feinstein, Specter said that the bill will allow for so-called "therapeutic cloning," "for the purpose of obtaining stem cells to be used in treating disease." Opponents of such cloning methods say its destroys viable human life. The chances of passage of Specter's bill in this session are relatively slim.

Needless to say, it was quite a day on the political stage. More on the energy bill tomorrow, in honor of Earth Day (sadly I can't say that my analysis is very positive). And of course, some satire.


Post a Comment

<< Home