Saturday, April 30, 2005

Laura Steals the Show!

The White House Correspondents Association dinner is tonight in Washington, and I've been watching on C-SPAN for a bit. Normally the president makes some brief comments (and they're typically the usual Bush jokes), but tonight, right in the middle of his "cattle guard" spiel (if you don't know, don't ask), Laura stepped up to the podium and interrupted him. I think most people thought it was just a momentary thing (she said "George please, not that old joke again"), but she ended up taking over and he went back to his seat.

And I have to say, she was pretty darn funny. She poked a good bit of fun at her husband from the outset, noting "He'd normally be in bed by now. I'm not kidding." A typical 9 p.m. for her, she said, was "George is in bed, and I'm watching 'Desperate Housewives.'" She continued by saying "I am a Desperate Housewife," and recounted a trip to Chippendales with Lynne Cheney and Karen Hughes with the result that "Lynne's Secret Service code name is now 'Dollar Bill.'" Sleeping habits aren't the only thing that separates her and George, the First Lady said: "I can pronounce nuclear."

The Bush clan wasn't spared. Of Kennebunkport vacations with the president's family, Laura said, "Let me put it this way. First prize, a three-day vacation with the Bush family. Second prize, ten days." The president's mother is no "Aunt Bea" type ... "more like Don Corleone," said her daughter-in-law.

And the ranch? At first George wasn't good at the whole ranching thing, quipped the First Lady: "You see, Yale and Andover don't have a real strong ranching program." "Things have improved since the first year though," she said. "That was when George tried to milk the horse. ... Even worse, it was a male horse." The president's "answer for any problem on the ranch is to cut it down with a chainsaw," Laura remarked. "I think that's why he and Cheney and Rumsfeld get along so well."

Maybe she should be in charge of Social Security reform ...

[Update: The Associated Press has stolen my headline. Oh well, I suppose it was sort of an obvious one. -- 10:53 p.m.]

[Further Update: Trey Jackson has posted a video of the First Lady's comments here. -- 5/1/05, 10:24 a.m.]

Another Route to Energy Conservation

On Saturday, the New York Times editorial board discussed the Bush Administration's "energy plan," joining the RINO in suggesting that increase fuel efficiency standards would go further in reducing energy consumption than would drilling in ANWR. In Sunday's edition, the Times is set to cover yet another option that would go a long way. This article, by Jad Mouawad and Simon Romero, suggests that a return to a 55 miles-per-hour speed limit would be a simple way to reduce gasoline use and bring down gas prices in the near term.

"It has been done before," Mouawad and Simon write. "Along with record oil and gasoline prices, improvements in fuel efficiency and a lasting economic recession, speed limits helped curb fuel consumption for the first time in American postwar history between 1974 and 1984." Following the return of cheap gas during the mid-1980s, when "the economy expanded and Americans became complacent and unwilling to make more sacrifices," the speed limit was relaxed again and planned incremental increases in fuel economy were stalled.

Since 1973, the Times reports, oil use in the U.S. has jumped 38% - in most other industrialized nations demand has either decreased or stabilized since the energy crises of the 1970s. Rather than focusing on ways to bring demand back down, however, Bush & Co. have instead pushed to increase the supply of oil and gas (a vital part of which, they say, is drilling in ANWR). Mouawad and Simon quote Steven Nadel of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy as saying "We are in a boxing match, and the president keeps one hand tied to his back. We're punching with supplies and not using demand. We're at a disadvantage."

Aside from a gas tax (useful in many European countries to decrease fuel consumption, but which would be political suicide here - not a bad idea, but political suicide), decreases in demand could come through increased fuel efficiency standards, increased use of diesel fuel (offering more than 60% better fuel economy than standard gasoline), or dropping the speed limit back down to 55 miles per gallon, Mouawad and Simon note. Speed limits are an important piece in the energy puzzle: driving at ten miles above the current 65-mph limit increases your fuel consumption by 15%.

Any solution that would decrease demand is a good one, even if it does take drivers a few more minutes to get to the office.

On the Sunday Talk Shows offers up the rosters for tomorrow's political talk shows:

- Meet the Press (NBC) will host White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card (he'll be making the rounds tomorrow), along with Foreign Relations Committee Senators George Allen (R-VA) and Chris Dodd (D-CT).

- Fox News Sunday's guests are Card and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Card will almost certainly be playing up the president's Social Security plan, while Leahy will continue to oppose the nuclear option.

- This Week (ABC) features House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, "Justice Sunday" patron saint Pat Robertson, and Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots (to discuss steroid use in professional football, I presume, not the nuclear option).

- Face the Nation (CBS) will have the guest to watch most carefully of any tomorrow, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. I'll be listening intently for clues from him on Bolton, the nuclear option, and 2008. Other guests are Judiciary Committee Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

- Late Edition (CNN) gets Card in his third interview of the day (very little news expected from this one, even if he's made some in two prior, which is unlikely); Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, Saudi PR guru Adel Al-Jubeir; Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich and former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes. Reich was on "The Daily Show" last week and did quite well - this is definitely an interview to catch.

Saturday Commentary

The Washington Post's editorial board takes up the issue of congressional trips paid for by corporations or nonprofit organizations, following allegations of improper trip-taking by Tom DeLay and other House members. "What's clear," says the Post in "Rules for the Road", "is that it is once again time for lawmakers to take a serious look at the travel rules and to strengthen them significantly." Calling the cuts to Medicaide and other entitlement programs contained in Thursday's budget resolution "arbitrary," the Post reminds us that "The mere announcement of funding cuts does not amount to Medicaid 'reform'", and suggests that Congress should listen to the advisory panel that will be formed to study Medicaid reform "and propose solutions rather than plucking arbitrary budget numbers out of the sky." Finally, the Post calls Wednesday's rollback of partisan House ethics rules "a happy lesson," noting that even though this may be seen as a short-term victory for Democrats, Republicans should remember that "in the end, their party, the institution in which they serve and the people they represent will be better off for it." Exactly.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Republican Tim Talent join forces for an op/ed column in the Post to "applaud" a voluntary move by four major pharmacies to move drugs containing pseudoephedrine off the open shelves and behind pharmacy counters. Pseudoephedrine is used in the making of methamphetamines, and until recently, the senators write:

"Those seeking to make it have up to this point been free to purchase all the pseudoephedrine they need, easily and without scrutiny. One of our staff members recently went to a local grocery store to purchase a large quantity of cold medicine for use in a news conference. He bought 27 boxes of cold medicine, and no one batted an eye."

Feinstein and Talent are planning to introduce legislation that will force retailers to sell all drugs containing pseudoephedrine from pharmacies, and will "limit the amount one person can buy to 9 grams a month -- that's the equivalent of 300 30-milligram pills." The senators clearly mean well, and I agree with their intent. But personally I'd rather they continued to encourage voluntary compliance or left the matter up to the states rather than increased the federal government's role.

The New York Times editorial board echoes the RINO's thoughts on the Bush Administration's "energy plan." Speaking of a Bush speech to the Small Business Administration on Wednesday, the Times says, "as always, he completely ignored the surest way to reduce demand and thus oil dependency, which is to improve the fuel efficiency of America's cars and trucks. Indeed, everything Mr. Bush said seemed designed to divert attention from this simple and technologically feasible idea, which nevertheless seems to terrify both him and the Congress." They challenge Sen. Pete Domenici, who will be largely responsible for drafting the Senate version of the energy bill, to "[have] the political courage to push for the stricter fuel economy standards that are essential to any serious effort to lower consumption." I couldn't agree more, and hope that Domenici and other Republicans will see the light on fuel efficiency before it's too late.

The Washington Times editorializes on Bush's Social Security proposal as outlined on Thursday: "Given Social Security's huge and ever-rising unfunded liabilities, the president has exerted solid leadership as the Senate Finance Committee begins writing reform legislation. Mr. Bush has offered a sensible proposal that addresses about 70 percent of the 75-year solvency problem, and he continues to invite Democrats to the table, where he welcomes discussion and negotiation of all options, except raising the payroll-tax rate. Solving nearly three-fourths of Social Security's long-term financing problems, while still allowing real initial benefit levels to continue to rise for the overwhelming majority of workers, represents a major, positive step forward." I'll agree that it's a step forward, but I'm not yet convinced that it's positive. But it's something to work from, and that's a start. John Tierney in the New York Times also writes approvingly of the Bush plan, sentiments which have drawn much fire from bloggers this morning. From the Boston Globe, caution on Bush's plan: "he did not discuss the hidden effect of his proposal: limiting the stake the middle class now holds in the system. Democrats should oppose any compromise based on the erosion of the key principle of social insurance."

In the New York Times, a word on this week's announcement of a wonderful find in Arkansas. And from the Boston Globe, a heartfelt welcome back to the Ivory-bill, with this: " Thank you, magnificent creature of the swamp. This time we'll be careful. Promise."

Today's Papers

The big story this morning is Social Security, which is probably just the way President Bush wanted it after his Thursday evening press conference. The Washington Post headlines "Bush Plan Greeted With Caution," noting that the House Way & Means Committee is preparing to begin drawing up a bill based on Bush's means-testing proposal first floated this week. This article, by Jonathan Weisman, outlines how the Bush plan would impact wage earners at all levels, and features quotes from Republicans expressing a wide range of support or lack thereof for the idea. Richard Stevenson in the New York Times calls Thursday's announcement Bush's "big Social Security gamble", but manages to fish out a few more positive quotes about the idea, or at least the idea that something concrete is now on the table as a discussion item. The Washington Times plays up Bill Thomas' comments that he'll "have a bill by June." Another piece in the Post, by Peter Whoriskey, covers Bush's last stop on his sixty-day Social Security crisis tour. Dana Milbank's "Washington Sketch" today takes a look at the "mixed messages" being sent by Bush and the Democrats in the Social Security debate. The Times profiles Robert Pozen, the Democrat behind Bush's new "progressive indexing" plan. On the west coast, the LA Times analyzes the Bush plan as "aids poor, squeezes the rest."

On the Bolton front Saturday, the ever-watchful Douglas Jehl at the New York Times reports that "a fourth senior member of Colin L. Powell's team at the State Department expressed strong reservations on Friday about the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations." A. Elizabeth Jones, who was assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia until February, said "I don't know if he's incapable of negotiation, but he's unwilling." The most worrisome issue, Jones told Jehl, is "a reluctance on [Bolton's] part to make the kinds of minor, symbolic concessions necessary to build consensus among other governments and maintain the American position." Other top officials from the Powell team who have expressed concerns include Larry Wilkerson, Carl Ford, John R. Wolf, and Powell himself. Mr. Bolton, please do the country a favor and withdraw your name from consideration before this goes any further.

This must-read article in the Washington Post, by Dan Morgan and Marc Kaufman, outlines a striking example of over-the-line congressional interference in the federal regulatory process on behalf of drug company Bayer. The pharmaceutical giant, appealing a ban on its drug Baytril by the FDA (because the antibiotic drug, used in chickens, was found to be "reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics vital to human health") sought assistance from its allies in Congress. Twenty-six members of the House (eighteen Republicans, eight Democrats) signed a letter to the acting FDA Director urging him to reverse the ban; the director, Lester Crawford, says the letter was "improper", as it came during part of a "formal, trial-type proceeding." But isn't it nice to know that our representatives care about Bayer getting its way more than they do about the effectiveness of antibiotics in humans?

Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports in the New York Times that backers of drilling in ANWR are rejoicing after Thursday's budget victories, calling the opening of the refuge a "near fact." But at least one procedural hurdle remains, a reconciliation bill that must be passed by both houses of Congress (it cannot be filibustered). With a 51-49 vote in the Senate over ANWR most recently, there is still hope, opponents of drilling argue, that the refuge can be preserved.

Also from the New York Times, word that political watchdog groups have called on Rep. Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania, the House Ethics Committee member charged with heading up any investigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, should step aside. Hart has received more than $15,000 from DeLay's leadership PAC in the past, and recently held a campaign fundraiser for herself at a D.C. restaurant owned by Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who paid for several of DeLay's questionable trips abroad and who is "now the subject of a federal grand jury investigation." Melanie Sloan, the executive director of the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Friday of Hart "Her conclusions are automatically suspect because she has her own potential ethics issues come into play." Also Friday, says the Times, an editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concluded that Hart's "dogged party loyalty could cloud the independence she needs to follow the facts. She also needs to overcome the reality that she accepted $15,000 from one of Mr. DeLay's political action committees." I agree. The ethics process against Tom DeLay must be unclouded by personal, political, or financial ties, and while Melissa Hart may be able to judge DeLay fairly those ties notwithstanding, that shouldn't be a risk the House is willing to take. For her own good and to preserve the fairness of an investigation, Ms. Hart should step aside.

Lynndie England, probably best known as "the girl with the leash" from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos, will plead guilty on Monday to two counts of conspiracy, four counts of maltreating prisoners, and one count of dereliction of duty stemming from her role in the horrific and thus-far-unresolved scandal. Under the plea agreement, England faces a maximum of 11 years in prison. The 22-year old England is "the seventh enlisted soldier to face criminal penalties in the Abu Ghraib case. No commissioned officers at the prison, and no senior officer in the chain of command, has been charged," says the Washington Post today. England's defense team argues that she was following orders from higher-ranking officers and CIA agents at the prison when she posed for photographs in which abuse of Iraqi prisoners is depicted. Wouldn't it be nice to know if she's telling the truth? The NY Times also covers the plea agreement here.

More on the op/ed sections of the papers later on, this post is too long.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Walking the Walk in Virginia

It hasn't gotten much media attention yet, but there's something happening in the Old Dominion. As one of only two states with a gubernatorial election this fall, it has become a focal point for both Republicans and Democrats looking for a bellwether going into next year's midterm congressional elections. But if State Senator Russ Potts has his way, this fall's campaign could prove to be a bellwether of a much different sort.

Potts, a four-term state senator and currently chairman of the Senate's Education and Health Committee, is a moderate Republican who supports womens' right to choose and has long decried what he calls the GOP's "drift to the right." In various newspaper articles he has been described as "irascible," a "prickly populist," "candid," "colorful and cantakerous" ... and he's running for governor.

Dissatisfied with the presumed GOP frontrunner, Jerry Kilgore, and Democrat Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, Potts announced on February 25 that he would enter the campaign as an "Independent Republican." His announcement speech, available here, is a wonderful expression of a truly centrist agenda that transcends party lines in the name of good government and common sense policy. A few excerpts:

"I'm an American first, a Virginian second, and a Republican third. Let there be no question about where my priorities lie. America and Virginia come first."

We face a political process that emphasizes electioneering and not governing, and the constant concern about political ramifications instead of what is the right decision ... That is wrong. Dead wrong. It is time to stand up for common sense and fight for the little guy. And it is time we fight for our future, and not relics of the past."

"I'm running so that the next generation will not and shall not shy away from their civic duty of public service and to run for elected office. There will be the many faint-hearted who say this is an impossible dream. I'm here to tell you nothing is impossible in America, and nothing is impossible in Virginia."

Some Virginia Republicans were predictably, um, annoyed (we'll say) at Potts, and attempted to strip him of his committee assignments in the state senate. That attempt failed. Other Republicans have been more welcoming, including Virginia's senior US Senator, John Warner. Asked his thoughts on the Potts candidacy in March, Warner said that Potts' run
"will strengthen the party and show how we have people of different persuasions within this party."

More recently, Russ Potts has received the support of one of the GOP's leading centrists. In an earlier post, I criticized Christie Whitman for not "walking the walk" and acting on her advice to moderates to become more vocal and active within the GOP. Somehow, she got the message. In a press conference in Virginia on Thursday, Whitman said "Do I think you can run as an independent and still be a Republican? Yes, I think that's possible." Whitman continued, saying "As a party, though, you want to keep your party members together. If people think that's the only way to send a message, that's one way to send the message, and in this country we have history of allowing people to send messages in different ways."

There is a group that exerts a great deal of power right now in the party. I call them social fundamentalists to distinguish them from true conservatives. A true conservative in the Republican Party would be constantly looking for ways to ensure that government wasn't ever overreaching and coming into your life. There's a group now that can't find enough ways to get the federal government into your life," said Whitman. The AP report says that Potts nodded in agreement.

It's going to be an uphill battle for Russ Potts. He's expected to clear the first hurdle, gathering 10,000 signatures on petitions to claim a spot on the ballot. But he'll still have to overcome a deep fundraising gap. And after that, he'll have to compete with the two national political parties and all their associated special interest groups. But boy, if he can pull this off, it might be the start of something great: a true moderate movement by people who can overcome the zero-sum party politics of today, in support of the pragmatic policies needed to fuel a better tomorrow.

For further reading:
- Russ Potts' campaign website, "Vision for Virginia." It includes a biography, newsroom, contact info for the campaign, photo and video galleries, and a volunteer signup page as well as excerpts from the announcement speech and a link that allows you to contribute online.
- A profile of Adam Piper, who at 21 serves as the Potts campaign's political director. In the interest of full disclosure, I know Adam from my days in the McCain effort back in 2000; Russ Potts made a wise choice in bringing him on board.
- The Virginia Augusta Free Press' "Election 2005" coverage page.
- Political State Report's Virginia section.

Wrong Budget Priorities

Just a word on the budget deal that passed the House and Senate very late last night. By very narrow margins in both chambers, the budget plan for the next five years calls for $2.56 trillion in federal spending for fiscal year 2006, opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration and drilling, cuts Medicaid by $10 billion over five years, and offers $106 billion in tax cuts through 2010.

Couldn't we have gotten away with $96 billion in tax cuts and kept Medicaid intact? If Bush & Co. are really interested in paying down the federal deficit (which, they argue, this budget will decrease from $412 billion in 2005 to $383 billion next year and $211 billion by 2010), why keep passing more tax cuts? I'm not asking for tax increases, but are more cuts necessary right now? I don't disagree with a spending freeze in principle, but when it's coupled with $106 billion in tax cuts, I'm not sure it's necessarily the right option.

Increases in homeland security spending and defense are clearly a necessary priority - it's unfortunate, but it's true. But the cuts in other domestic spending and entitlement programs didn't need to be slashed in order to fund more tax cuts. The most objectionable portion of the budget for me, of course, is that provision allowing the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which I feel is yet another misguided priority. If we've got $106 billion (or even $96 billion, if you take out that for Medicaid) to play with, let's use it to fund research and development of fuel efficient cars and trucks, so that we really can decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

This budget resolution is nonbinding, but it "provides an economic blueprint that lawmakers can use to pass specific tax and spending legislation later in the year," says the New York Times.

In the House, the budget passed 214-211. No Democrats voted for the plan, while fifteen Republicans (Charlie Bass, Sherwood Boehlert, Mike Castle, Virgil Goode, Mark Green, Gil Gutknecht, Nancy Johnson, Tim Johnson, Walter Jones, Jim Leach, Frank LoBiondo, Jim Ramstad, Jim Saxton, Chris Shays, and Rob Simmons) voted with the minority. Interestingly, seven Democrats weren't present for the vote (making it at least theoretically possible that the budget might have failed had they been there).

The prospects for passage in the Senate were much dimmer for much of the day, apparently - Republican Gordon Smith of Oregon along with several other moderates were holding out and trying to remove the Medicaid cuts from the budget (the House's original version of the budget featured even higher slashes, while the Senate's preserved the program at its current level). These moderates only signed onto the bill after HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt "promised to establish a federal advisory panel that would deliver recommended changes to the Medicaid system by September, before Congress enacts legislation to codify the budget savings," reports the Washington Post. In the end, as in the House, no Democrats supported the budget; Republicans DeWine, Voinovich and Chafee opposed it.

As always, it's a question of priorities. I'm hopeful that perhaps over the course of the rest of the budget process, the moderates will continue to push to restore some of the cuts to Medicaid and other domestic programs by removing a few of the tax cuts (they haven't happened yet, so no that does not mean a tax increase). There is still time, and we must all make the most of it.

A Bolton Update

I went a whole day with hardly a mention of John Bolton, but there are a few new pieces of information this morning to pass along. The Washington Post reports that former assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation and special envoy to the Middle East John Wolf met yesterday for 75 minutes with Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff. Not only did Bolton target Rexon Ryu, an analyst he "mistakenly accused of concealing a cable," Wolf told the committee, but he also "demanded disciplinary actions against other career officials who offered views that differed from his own."

Also interviewed yesterday was Alan Foley, who formerly headed up the CIA's weapons of mass destruction office. The Post reports that Foley confirmed previous testimony "by Stuart Cohen, the former acting director of the National Intelligence Council, that Bolton had tried to fire the national intelligence officer for Latin America who disagreed with Bolton's assertions about an alleged bioweapons programs in Cuba. 'Foley told us that Bolton's chief of staff, Fred Fleitz, called him up and said that Bolton wanted the analyst fired,' one committee investigator said."

The New York Times' Douglas Jehl offers yet another allegation this morning. Robert Hutchings, a former head of the National Intelligence Council, told the Times that he "directed his staff in 2003 to strongly resist assertions that John R. Bolton sought to make about Syria's weapons programs in Congressional testimony," says Jehl. Hutchings has not yet been interviewed by Foreign Relations Committee staff.

The Times confirms the Post account of Wolf's testimony, noting that he did not provide the names of the analysts in question. Jehl also quotes former Reagan deputy secretary of state John Whitehead, as saying:

"I think good Republicans, which I like to feel I am, don't like to disagree with the president publicly, and so have been reluctant to speak out against him. But there are other people, in addition to those who have come forth, who would like to see a change made. I don't like to see the president suffer a loss, and I've been hoping that Mr. Bolton would withdraw, having seen the opposition out there."

An excellent idea. And a bit of good news from the Voinovich front: the Post story reports that in response to a question at a luncheon yesterday, the Ohioan continued to express doubts about Bolton's "interpersonal skills" and said that he has not yet decided how he'll vote on May 12.

Friday Satire

Some of the best political satire from around the web (or at least, what I could find):

The Bolton nomination pushes forward as the most satirized story of the week, although it's close to being eclipsed by the Tom DeLay/ethics brouhaha. Scrappleface reported earlier that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was forced to keep the nomination stalled while they "investigate claims by Jose Canseco that the former Major League Baseball slugger had injected Mr. Bolton with steroids on several occasions." This would explain his "oft-reported bouts of rage," and would also "provide Congress with another welcome opportunity to engage in America's national legislative pastime, which is probing steroid abuse."

In other Bolton-related news, looks like he'll soon he getting a post-office box in Ohio, after he "stunned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today by withdrawing from consideration for the UN post in order to challenge Ohio Republican George Voinovich for his Senate seat in 2006." Scrappleface quotes White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan: "While President Bush regrets losing a qualified UN Ambassador, he looks forward to campaigning for Mr. Bolton for Senate, and only wishes he could run in Rhode Island as well."

Scrappleface (are you sensing a pattern) also features this great note on the redefinition of 'majority.' I can't wait to see what they do with 'compromise'! Andy Borowitz chimes in here with news that "The separation of church and state, long considered a hallmark of American democracy, vanished early Sunday morning, replaced by a new institution called sturch."

Following Bush's hand-holding moment with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah this week, Andy Borowitz reports that the Houses of Bush and Saud will be united in something other than monetary matrimony, "in a stunning development that could alter both the politics of oil in the Middle East and the politics of gay marriage in the United States."

Tom DeLay has a guest op/ed column in The Onion. And the Bull Moose plugs the Abramoff Express Card on DeLay's behalf.

Yesterday's rediscovery of the Ivory-billed woodpecker has even prompted some satirical commentary. Now maybe if they just find one in ANWR!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Frist's "Compromise" on Judges

Senator Frist this afternoon offered what some in the media are calling a "compromise" [something of a stretch, in my opinion] to Democrats over the judges dilemma. Frist said that Democrats could have up to 100 hours of debate on each of the disputed judges prior to an up-or-down vote on each of them, and would "prohibit senators from bottling up judicial nominees in committee, a tactic he acknowledged both parties have used over the years."

Minority Leader Reid called the Frist "compromise" a "big wet kiss to the far right," saying "there's no way we're going to give up our right to extended debate." McCain, who told the Washington Post that he's been speaking daily with Reid, Frist and others trying to broker a compromise on this issue, said of Frist's proposal "I think it's movement."

It may be movement, but once again, it isn't compromise. Let's get votes on four or five of these disputed nominees, ask Bush to withdraw the other two, keep the filibuster intact, and call it a day. Nobody will be completely satisfied, but hey, that's compromise.

Not Much "There" There

Well the press conference has ended, and correspondents are already saying "what really struck me was how little news came out" of the hour-long 'event'. The president repeated his signature lines about energy, Iraq, polls, Bolton, Putin, No Child Left Behind, North Korea and the economy, making literally zero news on any of those issues.

On Social Security, Bush was expected to offer "specifics" of his reform proposal, but the only real specific he mentioned was that he would consider allowing benefits for lower-income workers to grow faster than for those who "are better off" (although he later backed off this, saying it was simply "part of the negotiations"). But this will undoubtedly be the 'line of the night.'

I suppose the most important thing to come out of this press conference was the questions that weren't asked. We heard nothing about the ballooning federal deficits - nothing about holding those responsible for Abu Ghraib to account - nothing about Darfur - and not much new at all.

No wonder the networks didn't want it cutting into their sweeps.

[Update: One quick thing that also seems to be getting some play on the cable networks, and that I forgot above, a moment when I agreed strongly with what Bush was saying. Asked if he believed those who are opposing his judicial nominees are "against people of faith," as the "Justice Sunday" crowd has said, Bush commented that he "didn't agree with" that conclusion. "I think people oppose my nominees because of judicial philosophy," Bush said. An excellent statement, and I'm glad to hear he feels that way.

A full transcript of the presser is available here. -- 9:31 p.m.]

Amazing Discovery

Although this doesn't really fall under my typical portfolio of subjects to cover, I must comment just briefly on some exciting news that broke just today. After being lost and presumed extinct for more than sixty years, several sightings of a very rare Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) have been confirmed in the journal Science. The full article in PDF form is available here. A video of one of the sightings is also available here, in Quicktime format.

The first sighting was reported on Febuary 11, 2004 in a bayou in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe County, Arkansas. Fifteen visual and audio sightings of the birds were made, including one as recently as this month. "This is huge. Just huge," said a senior ornithologist with the National Audubon Society, according to a Reuters report from this afternoon. Cornell's John Fitzpatrick commented "This is the most spectacular creature we could ever imagine rediscovering. For three generations this bird has been a symbol of the great old forests of the southern United States. It is a flagship of the blunders of excess of overharvesting. Nothing could be more hoped for than this Holy Grail."

After word of the viewings began leaking out recently, an official announcement was made today, with the "Departments of Agriculture and Interior announc[ing] a $10 million initiative to lease, buy and encourage the conservation of more land in the region." The exact location of the sightings have been kept from the public for the time being, in order to allow stabilization efforts to continue so that no further damage is done to its current habitat in the area. Thankfully, some of the area at least is already under federal protected status, and with new funds it is my great hope that more of the region can be purchased and preserved.

To their great credit, Administration officials have responded quickly and effectively to this tremendously important re-discovery of one of America's most impressive avian species. Said Interior Secretary Gale Norton today: "This is a rare second chance to preserve through cooperative conservation what was once thought lost forever. Decisive conservation action and continued progress through partnerships are now required. I will appoint the best talent in the US Fish and Wildlife Service and local citizens to develop a ... conservation plan to save the ivory-billed woodpecker." More than $10 million in federal funds, Norton said, will be used "for research or monitoring, recovery planning and public education. In addition, the funds will be used to enhance law enforcement and conserve habitat through conservation easements, safe-harbot agreements and conservations reserves."

Matching funds from private sector groups and citizens will be expected to exceed the $10 million offered by the federal government, Norton said, especially as word spreads of this discovery.

As an amateur birder myself, I just have to say, this finding is a tremendous one for so very many reasons, the "second chance" of it all being not least among them. Once a species comes as close to the brink as the ivory-bill has, a sudden reappearance is nothing short of miraculous. Now we all - every one of us - have a duty to do all we can to see that this species is protected from the ravages of industry and that what is left of its fragile deep-woods swamp habitat remains intact and viable. I certainly will continue to do my part, on-blog and off, to make sure that today's Americans and tomorrow's will someday be able to catch a glimpse of the bird "that has been called the Lord God bird, apparently because when people saw it they would be so impressed they would utter an involuntary 'Lord God!'" [from the New York Times article on the subject this afternoon].

Not to mention the fact that this is a true testament to the importance of our national parks and wildlife refuges system! Thank you T.R. (and listen up, G.W.)

For further reading/viewing/listening:
- National Audubon Society press release.
- Nature Conservancy's Ivory-billed site.
- Cornell University's "Rediscovering the Ivory-billed Woodpecker" site.
- NPR on the rediscovery from this morning.

Bush Prime-Time Presser Tonight

If you haven't heard yet, President Bush is set to hold his fourth prime-time press conference since taking office in 2001 tonight at 8:30 EDT. Apparently he will speak for approximately 10-12 minutes on Social Security and energy proposals, before taking questions from reporters. The television networks have been asked to carry the press conference live, but with May sweeps and big shows set for tonight, how stations will handle the conflict remains somewhat unclear.

[Update: I have just learned that the press conference has been moved to 8 p.m. EDT, undoubtedly under heavy pressure from the "Apprentice" and "CSI" crowds. -- 5:01 p.m.]

Response to Today's Coulter-Rant

I don't want to even write this post, but I was quite appalled at Ann Coulter's latest shrill diatribe, so I'm going to take a few moments and respond to just a couple of the most outrageous statements.

Coulter: "Democrats want to terrify people by claiming Bush's judicial nominees are nutcase extremists hell-bent on shredding the Constitution - as opposed to liberals' preferred method of simply rewriting it on a daily basis - but they're terrified that someone might ask them what they mean by 'extremist.' So let's ask!"

Janice Rogers Brown believes that the Supreme Court should roll the clock back to pre-1937 jurisprudence, when courts invalidated laws protecting workers on the grounds that the rights of businesses were infringed upon. This is not only an extreme position, this is an activist position, something that conservatives say constantly that they cannot stand. Rogers Brown has called the New Deal "the triumph of our socialist revolution," and has often opposed anti-discrimination laws and just about every environmental regulation she's been charged with adjudicating. Additionally, I agree with Senator Leahy's assessment of her suitability for the court to which she's been nominated, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals:

"She is being considered for a position on the premier administrative law court in the nation -- a court that is responsible for overseeing the actions of federal agencies that are responsible for worker protections, environmental protections, consumer safeguards, and civil rights protections. I am concerned about her ability to be a fair arbitrator on this court. Justice Brown has made no secret of her disdain for government. She has said, '(w)here government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates, and our ability to control our own destiny atrophies.' How can someone who believes it is not the 'job of government to take care of' the American people be entrusted to make fair and neutral decisions when faced with the responsibility of interpreting the powers of the federal government and the breadth of regulatory statutes?"

This is just one example; one of the seven judges that Bush seems intent on putting on the federal bench. Extreme? I happen to believe it is.

Coulter: "There's a whole array of groups opposed to Brown: People for the American Way, the National Women's Law Center, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Feminist Majority, and the Aryan Nation and so on. But their actual objections to Brown are somewhat opaque. The Web page of 'People for a Small Slice of the Upper West Side Way' contains a lengthy diatribe on Brown's nightmarish extremism while managing never, ever to give one specific example. In fact, if you take out 'Janice Rogers Brown' and replace it with 'Tom DeLay,' it makes just as much sense when you read it."

That's funny. When I took a look at the website of People for the American Way, I almost immediately found this page, "Janice Rogers Brown: In Her Own Words." It doesn't get much more specific than that! Agree or disagree with PFAW, Ms. Coulter - that's fine. But if you're going to make statements, you should at least have something to back them up. Yes it's true, many arguments against Rogers Brown and the other judges have been made using general statements and without enough specifics to justify them, but PFAW's provided those specifics, as have some of the other opponents of the seven disputed judges, including Senator Leahy, whose statements against Rogers Brown and other judges include lengthy quotations from the judges themselves and are filled with specific examples. "Opaque"? Sometimes yes, but not always.

Speaking of opaque. Coulter: "Democrats oppose Janice Rogers Brown because she's black."

That's all. Where's the proof? Where are the specifics? If there is a case to be made that those who oppose Janice Rogers Brown's nomination are racially motivated, I would certainly like to hear it. Coulter provides not a single shred of evidence for this baseless allegation.

Coulter: "In one sentence Republicans should state that the so-called 'nuclear option' means: 'Majority vote wins.' (This is as opposed to the Democrats' mantra, which is 'Our side always wins.')."

Sorry Ann, you've got it backwards. May I remind you, it was Senator Reid and the Democrats who offered a compromise that would have defused the nuclear option by offering votes on several of the disputed judges, and Senator Frist who redefined compromise as nothing short of the exact position he started at. The Democrats offered to give a little, and Frist shot them down.

Support or oppose the confirmation of the seven disputed judges. Support or oppose the nuclear option and changing the Senate's rules of operation to push them through. But Ms. Coulter, if you have something to say, please back it up, and please don't reverse the truth. Too many people read what you write and believe it.

Time to Investigate Abu Ghraib

We're now a year out from the shocking revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, a year in which more allegations of abuse have continued to emanate from our detention camps in Iraq and at Guantanamo. These scandals, at Abu Ghraib and since, have done immense damage to our already-fragile image in the rest of the world, and have served to inflame the insurgency in Iraq and only provided more fodder for the rantings of radical clerics and terrorist leaders.

The fact that these abuses happened at all is a horrifying stain on the record of the brave men and women of our armed forces, whose service and heroism I hold in the highest regard. The fact that a year has passed without a comprehensive independent or Congressional investigation into the abuses is an embarrassment. Sure, a few of the guards directly responsible for the most grievous (and photographed) incidents have been court-martialed and sentenced to prison; sure, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski was relieved of command and "reprimanded in writing." But where is the accountability for those who gave the orders?

As the New York Times reported earlier this week, an internal investigation conducted by the Army has "cleared four of the five top Army officers overseeing prison policies and operations in Iraq of responsibility for the abuse of detainees there." Karpinski is the fifth officer. Those cleared include top Iraq commander Ricardo Sanchez, even after "an independent panel led by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger concluded last August that General Sanchez had failed to make sure that his staff was dealing with Abu Ghraib's problems," and another Army investigation "found that at one point General Sanchez approved the use of severe interrogation practices that led indirectly to some of the abuses."

Another of the cleared officers, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, "failed to act quickly enough to make urgent requests to higher levels for more troops at the understaffed prison," according to the earlier investigation. Allegations against the third and fourth officers, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast and Col. Marc Warren, Abu Ghraib's top intelligence and legal officers, were determined "unsubstantiated." The earlier report had concluded "Colonel Warren had failed to report prisoner abuses witnessed by the Red Cross to his boss for more than a month, and that General Fast had failed to advise General Sanchez properly about the management of interrogations at the prison."

Senator John Warner, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has "signaled he would call a hearing on senior officer accountability in the detainee abuse scandal." He's previously said that he will hold more hearings "until he is satisfied that the proper people are held accountable," according to a Washington Post article.

I today join my allies over at The Yellow Line in calling for a full, fair and bipartisan Congressional investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib and at other detention centers around the world. There is no excuse for abuses like this, and there can be no excuses made for not uncovering the full truth and holding to account those who are responsible. It is the right thing to do.

For further reading:
- New York Times reports this morning that the Army will soon issue a new "interrogations manual" "that expressly bars the harsh techniques disclosed in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, and incorporates safeguards devised to prevent such misconduct at military prison camps in the future."

- Also in the Times, Bob Herbert opines on this topic, also calling for an independent investigation into the abuses: "If the president made it clear that men and women up and down the chain of command would be held responsible for the abuses that occur on their watch, the abuses would plummet. Instead, the message the administration has sent is that its demands for accountability will be limited to a few hapless, ill-trained grunts. The big shots who presided over behavior that has shamed America in the eyes of the world can count on this president's embrace." I hope that he's not proven correct.

- This USA Today piece has several good graphics on the prison scandals and their impact.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A Victory!

It may be a minor victory, but we'll take whatever we can get. After a meeting of the House Republican caucus this morning, Speaker Hastert announced that he would call for a vote on a rollback of the ethics rules pushed through in January sometime this evening or tomorrow. The moment arrived this evening, and, as the AP is reporting, "Republicans backed the resolution grudgingly."

The debate, AP says, was "bitterly partisan," with Republicans complaining that Democrats were holding up organization of the Ethics Committee and Democrats charging that the Republicans had changed the rules to protect DeLay from investigation. But when the vote was called, most Republicans followed Hastert's lead and voted to reinstate the bipartisan ethics panel - the final result was 406-20 (all twenty no votes came from conservative Republicans). Said Chris Shays, an outspoken critic of the January rules changes and the only Republican House member who has called for DeLay to resign as Majority Leader: "I think it was a mistake to amend the rules, and I'm grateful we will restore them to the way they were."

It's unfortunate that the leaders of my party had to be dragged kicking and whining to this eventuality through intense Democratic criticism and newspaper editorials, but I'm glad it happened just the same. I agree with Nancy Pelosi, who said tonight that the rollback is "a victory for the American people. Americans understood what was at stake - the integrity of the House - and in one voice demanded that the House return to a credible, viable and nonpartisan ethics process."

McCain, Straight-Talking Away

If you haven't had your John McCain fix in a while, you should definitely read this Dana Milbank sketch of the senator's appearance at the Naval Academy last week as part of MTV's guest lecturer program, mtvU. During the hour-long talk, Milbank notes, McCain managed to:
- announce details of a piece of legislation he's sponsoring with Ted Kennedy to deal with illegal immigration.
- tell the audience that Bush would be the commencement speaker at the Naval Academy's graduation before that was supposed to be public knowledge.
- call for a blanket ban on steroids for all professional sports.

The Arizonan also suggested that President Bush "needs to start vetoing some bills" and (music to this RINO's ears) said that Republicans "are abandoning one of the pillars of our Republican Party" by abandoning fiscal responsibility in the name of tax breaks and ballooning federal spending.

"Much of the session," Milbank writes, "was vintage McCain: protesting 'outrageous' congressional pet projects such as studying bear DNA and cow flatulence. Asked how to deal with pork-barreling lawmakers, McCain deadpanned: 'Kill them.'"

All these things, and so much more: why this RINO, just like the Bull Moose, would still "crawl across a field of broken glass for John McCain."

House Ethics Vote Could Come Today

As I reported here and here, the House Republican leadership is backing away from partisan ethics rules passed in January, and the AP reports this afternoon that a vote on the rollback could come as early as this evening. Following a Republican caucus meeting this morning, Hastert told reporters he would be sending a letter to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "signaling his willingness to repeal the controversial rules changes" and said "I hope so" when asked if a vote on the rules changes would be held sometime today.

"I'm willing to step back," Hastert said. "[We] need to move forward. We need to put this behind us." The LA Times says that the conference meeting was "tense," with some members arguing that the leadership should not back away from the rules, while others pointed out the usefulness of the retreat.

It is the RINO's hope that this arrangement will be acceptable to the Democrats and that the return to a bipartisan ethics process can now be carried out smoothly and efficiently.

Coalition for Darfur Weekly Update

The Coalition for Darfur has released a new weekly update, profiling one of the true heroes of the campaign to bring the Darfur genocide to the attention of the world. Eric Reeves, a literature professor at Smith College, has been active in speaking out about Darfur and the atrocities there for more than two years, all the while battling leukemia.

I highly recommend not only the Coalition's post on the subject, but also the Boston Globe profile of Reeves linked there, as well as Reeves' own site.

"Reservoir of Common Sense"

Yesterday on the Senate floor, North Dakota's Byron Dorgan made what I think is one of the most reasonable and worth-reading statements I've heard come out of the Senate in a long time. I include segments here.

"... The reason a 60-vote requirement - that is, a filibuster - is useful to the workings of democracy is because it requires compromise. It requires Members to reach a threshold of 60 votes in the Senate, which requires you to reach across the aisle and talk to people of the other party. That is a good thing, not a bad thing. Compromise is a good thing. Bipartisanship is a good thing, not a bad thing. We have people now who look at it as something that is awful. We want to take a partisan group that has 51 votes and is muscle-bound - it is politics on steroids - and ram it through the Congress and violate the rules in order to change the rules. It is not what this country should expect from the Congress.

Here is today's paper: 'Filibuster Rule Change Opposed.' It is interesting that there is a broad center of common sense. There always has been. Over two centuries, this country's political system moves one direction and then the other direction. But there is a strong magnetic pull back to the center. That magnetic pull comes from a reservoir of common sense all across this country of people who basically know what is the right thing. They know from their school days, from their civic organizations, they know from their everyday lives you do not violate the rules to change rules. We have certain rules. You do not violate rules to change rules. People know that inherently, and they also know the consequences of one-party rule that says it is our way and that is the only way and we refuse to compromise on anything.

For that reason, it is quite clear that two-thirds of the American people have that reservoir of common sense and are expressing it. I hope the majority party will listen. I especially hope Mr. Rove and the White House, who says there will be no compromise, will understand that compromise is what makes this Senate work." [emphases added]

Well said, Senator.

GOP to Restore Ethics Rules

By way of followup to my post from last night, some updates on the ethics rules debate going on over on the House side of the Capitol. Mike Allen reports in today's Washington Post that GOP leaders have in fact decided to "rescind" the partisan ethics rules implemented in January. A vote on returning to the previous rules will take place later this week, Allen quotes officials involved as saying. An advisor to Hastert noted "there will be a [political] cost to this, but if he had not done this, the cost would continue to increase." Well on that he's certainly correct.

As I noted last night via the AP, new Ethics Committee chair Doc Hastings will support the rollback of the January rule changes, "because he believes it is the only practical way to get the committee functioning, sources said." An investigation into Tom DeLay's convoluted trip-taking and fund-raising "irregularities" will undoubtedly be opened as soon as the rules debate is settled [although this USA Today report really does plant a bit of doubt as to how effective that might be].

The LA Times begins its "rules change rollback" story this way: "Sometime this week, the most powerful man in the House of Representatives is expected to take the rare and politically painful step of acknowledging he made a mistake." Recognizing when a blunder has been made is an important aspect of political leadership (even if it's only recognized because your opponents are using it effectively against you), and having the intestinal fortitude to correct your course is vital as well. So Hastert and Hastings will deserve some credit - at least a little bit - if they actually carry out this rollback and allow a full, fair and bipartisan investigation of Tom DeLay to go forward.

The House of Representatives, the GOP, and the country will be the better for it.

Bolton Inquiry Expands, White House Strikes Back

Douglas Jehl's latest installment in the ongoing Bolton nomination saga appears in the New York Times this morning. Jehl reports that Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff will formally interview "as many as two dozen people" in the next week and a half, including former deputy CIA director John E. McLaughlin, former assistant secretary of state John Wolf, and former Ambassador to South Korea Tom Hubbard. The list of those interviewed has apparently been agreed to by both Republicans and Democrats on the committee, and the interviews will be carried out by members of the majority and minority staffs together.

Senators Lugar and Biden have reached agreement that the interview process will be completed by May 6, "allowing time for senators to review interview transcripts and other findings before the scheduled vote" on May 12. Says Jehl, "The new interviews are intended to gather more information about allegations that Mr. Bolton intimidated intelligence analysts, bullied subordinates inside and outside government, and sought to inflate assessments of efforts by Cuba, Syria and other nations to acquire dangerous weapons." Jehl's sources said that it was unclear yet whether Bolton himself would come before the committee again, but that the committee "would allow him a second opportunity to testify if he requested it."

Bolton did make an appearance on Capitol Hill Tuesday, but who he met with is unclear, says Jehl. Aides to Senators Hagel, Chafee, and Murkowski said those senators had not met with Bolton, but a Voinovich aide "would not say whether Mr. Voinovich had taken part in such a meeting." Also on Tuesday, VP Cheney reportedly "made some calls" to several Republican sentors to express the White House's strong support for Bolton's confirmation.

Also in the Times, Elizabeth Bumiller writes the somewhat expected piece beginning "Republicans close to the West Wing acknowledged that a rejection of Mr. Bolton would be politically damaging for President Bush." Bumiller reports that Cheney and Karl Rove are "playing a central and aggressive role in trying to salvage Mr. Bolton's prospects," both making phone calls and having meetings with various actors in the Bolton melodrama.

Typical for Bush & Co., who as you'll recall are incapable of error:

"Republicans close to the administration also said that a powerful motive for the White House was simply showing strength and an unwillingness to back down, particularly after Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state who often warred with the hawks, expressed private doubts to Republican senators last week about Mr. Bolton. 'It would mean that Colin Powell had influence to block someone,' said a Republican close to the White House. 'It's a troubling sign if the president can't get him confirmed.'" [emphasis added]

Over in the Washington Post, Jim VandeHei and Charles Babington add to the discussion that White House and Senate leadership are considering forcing a floor vote on Bolton even if the Foreign Relations Committee reports the nomination unfavorably or not at all.

This expanded inquiry is an excellent and fair way to proceed on this nomination. I also have no objection to Tom Friedman's solution to the question of who should represents us in New York as outlined on the op/ed page of the Times this morning:

"My biggest problem with nominating John Bolton as U.N. ambassador boils down to one simple fact: he's not the best person for the job - not even close. If President George W. Bush wants a die-hard Republican at the UN, one who has a conservative pedigree he can trust, who is close to the president, who can really build coalitions, who knows the UN building and bureaucracy inside out, who can work well with the State Department and who has the respect of America's friends and foes alike, the choice is obvious, and it's not John Bolton."

Who's he suggest? George Herbert Walker Bush, President 41.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hastings Backs Off Partisan Ethics Rules

The Associated Press is reporting this evening that Doc Hastings, recently-installed chairman of the House Ethics Committee, "has conceded that his Republican colleagues must reverse partisan changes to investigative rules if they hope to break a deadlock that has virtually shut the panel down," according to "a senior GOP aide." The report offers no on-the-record confirmation of this turn of events, which would certainly be music to the RINO's ears.

According to the report, "The aide would not discuss advice that Hastings gave Speaker Dennis Hastert but said he was under the impression that the speaker agreed the House must be willing to somehow change its January decision to get the ethics panel functioning." The matter will apparently come under discussion tomorrow at the weekly closed-door Republican caucus meeting, and, the aide said, "until the speaker and Hastings gauge the sentiment at the meeting, it is not clear whether the party will allow a reversal that would amount to a full retreat."

The Republican majority pushed through rules changes in January at the start of this session of Congress that made it harder to begin and continue investigations of House members, and have been widely perceived as being intended to protect the embattled Tom DeLay. Additionally, the former chairman of the Ethics Committee and several other Republican members were replaced with other representatives, who have in the past donated to Tom DeLay's legal defense fund. To backtrack on the January rules changes would be a significant retreat for the House leadership, but is, in the RINO's opinion, completely necessary and proper.

Good News for Lebanon

I haven't blogged all that much about international affairs here since so much has been going on with politics in this country, but I wanted to make a brief comment on today's affairs in Lebanon. After a 29-year military presence, Syrian troops and intelligence agents completed their pullout from their smaller neighbor. This is a major victory for the people of Lebanon, who demosntrated in massive numbers against Syria following the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri on February 14. Syria is widely believed to have been involved in that attack, which is now the subject of a UN-backed investigation.

This is not only good news for the Lebanese people (for obvious reasons), but also has the potential to be very good news for the people of Syria. If the Lebanese can function out from under the thumb of Bashar Assad's military, some analysts suggest, the Syrians may begin to push for democratic reforms at home as well.

This says it all: in an ABC report on the Syrian withdrawal, a resident of the Lebanese town of Anjer is quoted as saying of the Syrians "We are very happy to see them go. They might be our brothers, but they have been treading on our hearts for too long."

All Deals Off?

Jesse Holland of the Associated Press reports that Majority Leader Bill Frist has said today that he will not accept any compromise on the nuclear option unless it involves up or down votes on all disputed judicial nominees. This after a NY Times article this morning suggesting that a deal was in the works under which the Dems would accept votes on several of the controversial nominees in exchange for the Republicans' taking the nuclear option off the table. Said Minority Leader Harry Reid, "There is a way to avoid the nuclear shutdown, and I'm working with my colleagues to put that plan in place."

In the face of mounting public reluctance, uncertain vote counts, and contrary to any sort of long-term rational strategic thought except his own presidential ambitions and the promise of suckered evangelical votes, Frist today said "no deal" to anything but total victory for the "Justice Sunday" crowd. Senator Frist has all along said that he favors 'compromise,' but apparently he doesn't want to understand that compromise involves give on both sides.

This is very unfortunate, and I continue to hope that cooler heads will prevail. Rumors have been circulating today of various possible compromises (various reports have McCain working on one, Lott and the Benator working on another, etc.) and the RINO hopes that one of those efforts will prove fruitful.

Dionne & Cook Weigh In

Just a month after Slate wrote an obituary to moderate Republicans in the Senate and the Bull Moose joined in tolling their death knell, the conventional wisdom seems to be tacking strongly toward a Lazarus-esque revival for the persecuted RINOs. Between Ron Brownstein's recent pronouncements, the intense interest that I've been getting here and other moderate bloggers are attracting as well, and then two new pieces just out this morning, I'm beginning to think there might actually be light at the end of this tunnel. It's a tiny flicker still, but it's there, way off in the distance.

In his "Off to the Races" column today, Charlie Cook writes:

"The difficulties that the president's Social Security proposal and his nominee to the United Nations have encountered underscore the argument that, given the choice between Bush and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., last Nov. 2, more people liked, agreed with or trusted Bush than Kerry. This was a very specific choice between two specific people, and the election did not mean that the American people were so supportive of Bush that they decided to award him a platinum Carte Blanche card to do whatever he wanted to do and however he wanted to do it.

The Bush campaign's strategy of putting a premium on appealing to the Republican Party's conservative base, of organically growing the party, rather than reaching out to the ideological and partisan middle ground, may well have worked brilliantly in last year's campaign. But it might not work so well with a Congress as closely divided as this one, or specifically with as many moderates and free agents as the Senate has. The danger is that the more legislative and nomination battles Bush loses, the less deference lawmakers will give the president, and the less he will accomplish. There is a real price to over-reaching, and Bush and his aides might soon have to pay it." [emphases added]

E.J. Dionne echoes Cook's sentiments in his Washington Post column this morning, "Revolt of the Middle." Apparently having seen the excellent interview with centrist author John Avlon on "The Daily Show" recently [available for viewing online here], Dionne writes:

"If you were to prepare a list of the top 10 stories you will never, ever read in a newspaper, one of them would surely include a sentence beginning: 'Thousands of angry, screaming moderates took to the streets yesterday demanding . . .'

You can finish that sentence however you would like. The accepted view in politics is that moderates don't get angry, don't scream and don't demonstrate. Politics these days is said to be dominated by ideological enthusiasts. Moderates are thought of as people who sit on the sidelines and decide which batch of true believers they can most easily live with."

Sad, but it's been too true for too long. Dionne:

"But something important has happened since President Bush's inauguration. America's moderates may not be screaming, but they're in revolt. Many who reluctantly supported the president and the Republicans in 2004 are turning away. The party's agenda on Social Security, judges and the Terri Schiavo case is out of touch with where moderate voters stand. Worse for Bush and his party, most moderates have a practical, problem-solving view of government and think these issues are far less important than shoring up a shaky economy and improving living standards." [all emphases added]

Dionne goes on to note, as I and others have been for weeks now, that the GOP's leadership, by rallying around Tom DeLay and John Bolton and threatening to change the Senate's rules for ten measly judges is focusing on what moderates see as distractions from the real issues. "All this, in turn, explains why Republican charges that Democrats are 'obstructionist' have not worked," Dionne says. "As long as moderate voters believe that Democrats are blocking measures that are immoderate, middle-of-the-roaders will welcome, or at least tolerate, a fair bit of obstruction."

Dionne neglects to mention the important point made in many places lately that it certainly helps the Dems to a) be united and b) have some moderate Republican support on these issues as well, but nonetheless, this is an excellent piece and highly recommended.

Is this an opportunity for the Democrats? Just plain old bad news for the GOP? Does it open the door to exactly what Brownstein discussed yesterday? Too early to know for sure how this will all play out, of course, since it's literally taking place as we speak. But it certainly will keep this RINO charging forward in the name of the things that really matter, because more and more each day, I know I'm not alone.

Lame-Duck-Itis? Or Something More?

Ron Brownstein's at it again this morning, with yet another analysis of moderate politics [see here and here for previous posts on the subject]. In today's LA Times, Brownstein reports/opines that "conflicts are multiplying between congressional Republican moderates and the White House as President Bush pursues his aggresively conservative second-term agenda." Brownstein cites the recent holdup of John Bolton's confirmation as "the latest, and potentially most intense, clash," but adds that "battles over Social Security, Bush's budget proposal and ending the filibuster for judicial nominations also are raising tensions inside the party."

Brownstein says that so far in this Congress, Republican moderates seem "more willing to challenge the administration than during Bush's first term, which was characterized by historic levels of party unity." "During the president's first term," Brownstein says, "the moderates often seemed to speak loudly and carry a small stick, voting for key administration proposals, such as tax cuts, after raising early objections."

I respectfully dissent from Brownstein's assessment of the moderates' role in the first term, at least when it comes to the Senate. Moderate Republicans there even in just the last year and a half or so were responsible for including "pay-as-you-go" provisions in the budget bill [forcing the leadership to make an end run around the budget process so they could continue spending like drunken sailors], keeping ANWR closed to oil drilling, and reaching a compromise that resulted in passage of the 9/11 Commission's reform package.

On what Brownstein calls "key administration proposals" (by which he apparently means the tax cuts) he is correct about their passage, but wrong on the GOP moderates: the 2003 tax cut package for $350 billion passed in the Senate with Dick Cheney casting the tiebreaking vote, and it was only because several Democrats supported the measure that it was a tie at all (Republicans McCain, Snowe and Chafee voted against it). On an earlier tax cut package, Brownstein is correct: the 2001 plan passed 58-33 with only McCain and Chafee voting no on the Republican side (but again, without Democratic support that legislation wouldn't have passed either).

Pardon my quibbling, but I think it's important when looking at Brownstein's overall conclusion, that moderates are speaking up more in this session of Congress than last - it seems to me more that they're just speaking more publicly this session than in recent years. But, if we work with Brownstein's theory, he offers some reasons for what he sees as increased activity recently. Marshall Wittman, aka the Bull Moose, told Brownstein "A lot of the moderates were willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt prior to the election, but now that he's no longer going to be on the ballot, they are putting their own interest somewhat before the White House's." Brownstein also obtained a quote from "a senior White House official," who said "I wouldn't look at it as 'It's every man for himself' because the president has just been reelected. I just think it's a different issue environment and these are tougher issues. It's not hard for a Republican to support a tax cut. But we are getting into issues that are tougher."

I'm not sure it's just "lame-duck-itis," as Wittman put it, but I'm also not convinced it's only the "tougher issues" thing either. I think it's a little bit of both. The issues environment (nuclear option, Bolton, Social Security, etc.) is a much nastier one - foreign policy, tradition and social issues have long been more divisive issues within the GOP than fiscal policy (although that needs to change, and fast, lest we continue ignoring the mounting deficits) - but at the same time, reelection concerns are sure to be a factor for moderates like Chafee, and of course there are the potential presidential aspirations of McCain and Hagel to think about.

Again, though, much of it has to do with the fact that that these more recent challenges are taking place over more hotly-discussed issues than the tax bills were, combined with united Democratic opposition (which Brownstein notes) that was not present during Bush's first term. I suspect this more united front from the minority plays a larger role than Brownstein gives it credit for, even with a larger Republican majority now than during the last few years.

More often this time around I suspect we'll be seeing votes where the minority is united and joined by a few moderate Republicans than the kind of votes like the 2003 tax package, where some from each side split away. This model allows the moderates to function much more effectively and makes compromises likely on issues where the majority doesn't want to lose completely. [Look for this on the big questions of Social Security, hopefully judicial filibusters, and in other areas within the next six months or so, before we get into campaign mode again].

Much of the announced second-term Bush agenda is uncomfortable (to say the least) for the Republican moderates (and judging from the new WP/ABC poll, most of the country as well), and I think Brownstein is correct in his overall assertion that we're going to be hearing much more from them now and on into the future. And if that's the case, this RINO has zero doubt that we'll all end up the better for it.

Monday, April 25, 2005

America Opposes Nuclear Option

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll out today [full results here in PDF form] suggests that Americans are strongly opposed to the deployment of the nuclear option to change the rules of the Senate and confirm Bush judicial nominees. Sixty-six percent of 1,007 randomly selected adults interviewed by telephone April 21-24 said they oppose a change in Senate rules; 26% said they would support the nuclear option, and 8% had no opinion. The poll's margin of error is +/- 3%.

According to a WP article by Richard Morin and Dan Balz, nearly half of Republican respondents said they oppose the nuclear option (I knew we weren't alone!), along with eighty percent of Democrats and seventy percent of independents (wow). There is much more data on the nuclear option and other questions from the poll available in the PDF linked above.

Let's have a compromise, and end this madness.

Some "Justice Sunday" Video Links

In the interest of allowing people to see just who and what the Senate Majority Leader is associating himself with, I'm going to provide a few links to video segments of the "Justice Sunday" broadcast [all linked from Mike Dougney]

- Introduction by Highview Baptist Church pastor Kevin Ezell; Pledge of Allegiance led by Judge Charles Pickering; Remarks by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
- Speech by Charles Colson, Watergate goon and head of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
- Speech by James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family.
- Speech by Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
- Video Appearance by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
- Speech by Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church.
- Speech by Bill Donohue, head of Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights [rather ironic name, no?]
- Speech by Judge Charles Pickering.
- Closing Prayer.
- Program Ending.

[all are .mov files]

Clearly my posting these links is not by any means an endorsement of the opinions contained therein. In fact just the opposite is true. But I wanted to make them available. Doughney also has posted transcripts of the remarks by Dobson and Donohue.

The Brownstein Wave

Ron Brownstein's column in the LA Times today has set the moderate/centrist quadrant of the blogosphere aflame with happy thoughts. In the piece, Brownstein hypothesizes that in this era when political polarization is coinciding with increased influence from the Internet in political trends, there is a very real opportunity for an independent political movement to take root and flourish: "the two parties are pursuing strategies that create an opening in the center of the electorate, even as the Internet makes it easier for a new competitor to fill it."

Joe Trippi, the strategist behind Howard Dean's insurgent "outsider" campaign in 2003-4, who believes that the Democrats have a better chance of winning by moving to the left and stabilizing that base (as Bush did with the right in 2004), recognizes that such a strategy has disadvantages: "We are now moving toward a very dangerous place for both parties. It is becoming much more possible for an independent or third party to emerge because they are leaving so much space in the middle."

The money paragraphs from Brownstein:

"[I]f the two parties continue on their current trajectories, the backdrop for the 2008 election could be massive federal budget deficits, gridlock on problems like controlling healthcare costs, furious fights over ethics and poisonous clashes over social issues and Supreme Court appointments. A lackluster economy that's squeezing the middle-class seems a reasonable possibility too.

In such an environment, imagine the options available to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) if he doesn't win the 2008 Republican nomination, and former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, now that he's dropped his flirtation with running for mayor of New York. If the two Vietnam veterans joined for an all-maverick independent ticket, they might inspire a gold rush of online support - and make the two national parties the latest example of the Internet's ability to threaten seemingly impregnable institutions."

The Bull Moose weighed in amorously on Brownstein's column this morning, and The Yellow Line's Alan Stewart Carl says of McCain/Kerrey '08 "We can only hope." Over at The Moderate Republican, Dennis wonders if 2008 will be the time, when a party or movement comes along that will "promote a strong centrism, instead of the mushy middle approach."

This RINO wonders too, will 2008 be the tipping point? If things continue on their current trajectory, there are certainly going to be a whole lot of disaffected folks in the political center looking for somewhere to go over the next few years, looking for someone who can offer anything other than more of today's unproductive partisan-babble. We want solutions to the problems facing the country, not political nuclear winter, and there's certainly a niche out there to be filled.

So how 'bout it, Senators?

Centrist Coalition on Filibusters

The Centrist Coalition, of which the RINO is a proud member, has released an excellent position statement on the nuclear option. It is available in full form here.

More Flies With Honey

The Washington Post today has a short section by Brian Faler on some recent comments by the chairman of the Democratic National Committee: one Howard Dean, M.D. Normally I would leave the opposite party alone and let them sort out their own business, but I want to stick my nose in here just briefly (forgive me, Democrats).

Faler uses his space in the Post today to collect some of the more vituperative quotes that Dean has used in recent weeks to describe members of the RINO's own party. Now, as those of you who have been keeping up with my posts here know, I criticize the GOP on a regular basis (almost endlessly, in fact) - so I certainly would expect nothing less from Governor Dean [apparently he prefers "Governor" to "Chairman"]. However, I'm not sure I would go quite so far as to generalize Republicans as "evil", "corrupt", or "brain-dead". Nor would I "mimick a 'drug-snorting Rush Limbaugh'", as Dean did in Minneapolis last week.

It is not often that I agree with the spokesfolks at the Republican National Committee, but in this case I must: "It's odd that Howard Dean says he wants to earn the respect of those who live in the red states, but chooses to not only attack their views but attack them personally. Americans want to hear an agenda, rather than name calling," said Tracey Schmitt for the RNC. Odd indeed.

As I wrote in a reply to a comment on the DailyKos website over the weekend, "It's a whole lot easier to get people to accept your point of view when you're not shouting at them, impugning their motives or insulting their intelligence, I've discovered." Governor, if you're really interested in talking to Republicans of all stripes about why the Democrat Party is a better choice, let me suggest that you put away the vinegar and start offering solutions.