Friday, May 13, 2005

"Intensifying Pressures"

- Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the New York Times writes that yesterday's events [analyzed here] concerning the Bolton nomination "exposed, in a very raw and public way, the extreme pressures facing Republican moderates in a Senate that is increasingly dominated by conservatives."

Senator Voinovich, Stolberg notes, was the subject of an intense lobbying effort, which included phone calls from President Bush, Karl Rove, Andy Card and others in recent days and weeks. And he's not the only one: "From the fight over Mr. Bolton to the looming blowup over the president's judicial nominees to the debate over the proposal to overhaul Social Security, Republican moderates are caught in the middle as never before."

Stolberg quotes Senator Chafee as saying "Bolton is a perfect example of putting the moderates in an impossible situation. It's a no-win. Either we don't support the president or we vote for a very unpopular pick to represent us at the United Nations." But it isn't just the Bolton battle that has the moderates between a rock and a hard place: the nuclear option is likely to come up for a showdown vote next week, and the Senate leadership and Bush Administration are all working hard to make sure the moderates toe the party line (repulsive and disgusting as it happens to be).

Senator Collins gets it right: "'It seems like it's issue after issue this year,' she said, adding that she often envies 'those senators for whom everything is black and white.'" I agree, simply because I sometimes feel a twinge of envy for those out there who only see black and white as well. For centrists, things are just about always a hazy shade of gray, and through the gray you can just barely make out the extremists on both sides, all ready to pounce the moment you take a step in the other direction.

I've said it before, you know you've done something right when you catch hell from both sides, and after watching George Voinovich yesterday, I'm fairly certain he felt the same way. Left- and right-wing bloggers and pundits alike were piling it onto Voinovich real good, and that really must signify something.

- In his companion piece on the Bolton hearings, Douglas Jehl notes that this is only the third time in 22 years that an executive nomination will move to the Senate floor with no recommendation from the oversight committee. He quotes Senator Frist's chief of staff as saying that the majority leader hopes to have a vote on the nomination prior to the Memorial Day recess, but after any vote on the nuclear option. That could get tricky, however: late Thursday, California's Barbara Boxer placed a "hold" on the nomination pending the release of State Department documents Democrats have been trying to get their hands on for weeks regarding Bolton's testimony on Syria's WMD programs.

- What will happen on the Senate floor could be very interesting. Voinovich has stated that he will oppose Bolton. Hagel and Murkowski say they have not decided; Chafee says he's likely to vote in favor of confirmation, and Susan Collins of Maine said the same yesterday. Other possible defections include Specter, Domenici (he's been very critical of Bolton in the past), and DeWine (and of course there might be some dark horses out there). Of course, there could be some Democrats who opt to support Bolton: the Benator says he's leaning that way, and Joe Lieberman and Mary Landrieu say they are undecided, according to today's Washington Post. So the answer right now is, it's too soon to tell what will happen on the floor.

- Dana Milbank weighs in on Voinovich's action today as well, noting how clear it was "that the GOP [majority on the Committee] was driven by deference to the president, not affection for the nominee." He describes well the reactions of other Republican committee members to Voinovich's eloquent words yesterday, and captures the tone of the hearing quite aptly. Don't miss this one this morning. Another don't-miss is today's Ron Brownstein analysis, which notes that the Bolton nomination has "energized conservatives, outraged Democrats and squeezed moderates in both parties."

"The vote demonstrated again Bush's willingness to live on the political edge - to accept achingly narrow margins in Congress and at the ballot box to pursue ambitious changes that sharply divide the country," Brownstein writes, providing another "slim win" for the White House but only at the cost of still more partisan animosity and railroading of moderates. "Sooner or later," Brownstein notes, "the extraordinary party loyalty that has fueled Bush's legislative success may break down, with efforts to ban the filibuster and restructure Social Security the most likely candidates for a rebellion among moderate Republicans."

- Ms. Snowe, meanwhile, had a message for fellow Republicans: "Frankly," she said, "the election of the president drew from Americans who describe themselves as moderates, which is about 45 percent of Americans today. That's something we overlook at our own peril."

Snowe is right, shocking as it will be for all of you to hear me say it. The GOP leadership continues to overlook the centrist majority of the country in favor of narrow victories for the far-right extremist fringe special interest groups, and they do it indeed, at their peril. Thursday's events were a small victory for reason (no recommendation is better than favorable recommendation) ... BUT ... now moderates are going to have to really search within themselves and answer a crucial question:

What's more important - party loyalty, or the long-term good of the country?

Do you agree with George Voinovich that John Bolton is not the best we can do? Then vote against him.

Do you agree that the nuclear option is not in the best interests of the Senate, the GOP, or the country? Then vote against it.

I fully understand and appreciate the pressure the Senate's centrists are under. But they must understand too, those of us out here in the country are depending on them to stand up and be strong, like George Voinovich did yesterday. Sometimes issues are more important than party loyalty, and the more centrist senators that realize that, the better off we'll be. We need centrist strength, and we need it now more than ever.

For further reading:
- Steve Clemons on Brownstein's column.
- Rick Heller at Centerfield.

[Update: Alan Stewart Carl at The Yellow Line reminds us that there are some centrists on the Democratic side of the aisle as well. He also points out this commentary by Mort Kondracke, which is excellent. -- 10:07 a.m.]


At 1:50 PM, Blogger Jami said...

I don't the think the extremists on either side can hold out much longer. Thank goodness for the rest of us!

At 6:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Government is not reason, and it is not eloquence; it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master: never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action." George Washington

"Free government is founded in jealousy, not confidence. It is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind those we are obliged to trust with power.... In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." -- Thomas Jefferson, 1799

"Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty." Thomas Jefferson, September 23, 1800

"One man with courage makes a majority." -- Andrew Jackson, 1832

At 6:47 PM, Blogger Heiuan said...

Senator Chaffee has an election fight looming in RI; however, he'll siphon off a lot of anger from the Centrist Dems who have supported him in the past if he votes NO to the Nuc Option and NO on Bolton.

He's not a sure thing as many, many Liberal Democrats are gearing up for a harsh fight, but he can yank some of the partisan ground out from under their feet if he just stays true to his Centrist beliefs.

He doesn't agree with the Nuclear Option and he doesn't like Bolton.

Stand up for yourself, man! Vote your conscience; your constituency will like you better for it.

At 8:43 PM, Blogger JBD said...

jami - I hope you're right!

anon - great quotes; thank you for them. We must all be that "one man with courage" now, just as George Voinovich was this week.

heiuan - absolutely. No backing down now, and RI voters (help me out here cynicaliberal!) won't punish him for voting his heart ... they'd be much more likely to punish him for toeing the party line, in my opinion.

At 11:22 PM, Blogger Grampapinhead said...

Just found your blog, like your writing.
Put you in my links.
WSJ-opinion journal,tody, has an interesting take on Sen Voinovich,
and his background---

At 11:11 AM, Anonymous True Political Independence Is Hard To Find said...

It's great to stand up like Voinovich has so far but he's already said that he'll probably vote "yes" on Bolton. That's courage?

I'm one who likes to grade actions rather than words. Bush called himself the "great uniter" and called for more civility during the campaign of 2000. Making both a reality was easily within his power - who thinks he has accomplished either?

Look at the actions and not the words when judging Voinovich and others who talk about how harmful Bolton will be for the country.

Will party loyalty or conscience win? I think party loyalty will.

Down the line from 2000 'til today Republicans have given Bush what he wants - bigger government, more spending, tax breaks at the expense of the deficit, yada, yada, yada - at the expense of what many moderate Republicans want - smaller government, a balanced budget, less intrusion, yada, yada, yada.

No moderate Republican believes in most of what Bush has managed to offer yet they toed the line. There are very few backbones in the Senate and the House. A lot of good speakers who make many people believe they are people of conscience yet time after time after time they stand by the Party.

We can pat them on the back to give them encouragement but letting them off the hook when they continue to vote the party line makes us all of us who remain silent party line hacks.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger JBD said...

True polit: Senator Voinovich said Thursday that he will continue to oppose Bolton's nomination when it goes to the floor, and will try to persuade other Republicans to join him in opposition. If he doesn't do that, I'll certainly call him on it. But he's said he will, and I believe that's true. That's action, not just talk.

Absolutely too often the centrists talk and talk and object and object ... and then cave. That must end, and I hope Voinovich will start a trend.

At 11:33 AM, Anonymous True Independence Is Hard To Find said...

It's fun to speculate and for those of us with half a brain we can come off sounding like we know what we're talking about. Fortuanely, in some cases results follow quickly and conclusively for all to see. If Bolton is not confirmed I will have some small hope that maybe we've turned the corner and what's best for America is the goal rather than keeping the Republicans in power.


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