Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Senators Strongly Criticize Uzbek Government

Until Sunday, American officials had downplayed events in Uzbekistan earlier this month in which government troops cracked down on protesting civilians in the town of Andjian and surrounding areas. Meeting in Tashkent with members of four Uzbek opposition parties and the American ambassador, Republican senators John McCain, John Sununu and Lindsey Graham "called for an international investigation into the violence. They also issued a stern rebuke to Uzbekistan's authoritarian government," reports C.J. Chivers in the New York Times.

The Ukrainian government of Islam Karimov has admitted that some 173 people were killed in the uprising of May 13, but human rights groups and others aver that "several hundred" civilians were killed.

McCain: "History shows that continued repression of human rights leads to tragedies such as the one that just took place. ... When governments repress or oppress their people, sooner or later, if they have no avenue of expressing their desire for freedom, violence takes place." The Times reports that, unlike prior statements from the Bush Administration, the senators "did not characterize the gunmen or escaped prisoners who initiated the revolt as militants or terrorists," as the Uzbek government has been doing.

The senators called for an independent investigation into the crackdown by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; as the Times notes, the EU, NATO, UN and several governments have also called for reviews, which Karimov has thus far rejected. At his press conference today, President Bush said he's called for an investigation by the International Red Cross, noting "we want to know fully what took place there in Uzbekistan."

Neither Karimov nor government representatives would meet with the American senators, a step Sununu called "counterproductive."

I haven't yet found the full text of the senators' statement, but if I do I'll post it. McCain, Sununu and Graham ought to be applauded for their strong words ... we could only wish that Bush's statement matched theirs in its candor.

A Great Editorial

It's hard to read every newspaper every day. In fact, it's impossible. When I sift through the news in the morning I tend to look at the majors: New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, LA Times, Washington Times, and Christian Science Monitor. Sometimes I breeze through the Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and a few others. Thanks to the wonderful thing that is Google News, however, if a story I'm interested in has been covered by another paper, or in a particularly interesting way, I at least have the potential to discover it, even if it's a few hours after the fact.

Case in point: this editorial, from today's Albuquerque Tribune, "Senate finally found its (common) senses." I include the entire editorial here, since it's more than worth reading in full:

"Compromise, the hallmark of democracy, is alive and well, thanks to the U.S. Senate and its handling of the Bush administration's nominees to the federal judiciary.

After witnessing 4 years of vicious partisan, ideological warfare, it was refreshing to see the Senate find a way to put the public's, rather than a party's, interests first.

In a compromise engineered last week by 14 moderates - seven Republicans and seven Democrats, led by Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia - the Senate backed away from the so-called "nuclear option," in which the Republican majority threatened to end filibustering on judicial nominations and Democrats vowed to stop all Senate business with parliamentary traffic jams.

First, these senators showed that, in spite of the national partisan rancor, political compromise is still viable in the American republic.

Second, they preserved the honored and time-tested Senate provision allowing minority filibusters, based solely on the discretion of a senator.

Third, they showed that even some of President Bush's judicial nominees considered by Democrats to be so extreme and out of touch with the Constitution can get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. Indeed, the very next day, the Senate split along party lines to approve Bush's nominee, Priscilla Owen, as an appellate court judge.

That this deal outraged both the far right and far left probably is strong evidence it was a reasonable, fair and worthy compromise. The compromise should be embraced by the vast majority of Americans, who recognize that presidents are entitled to nominate whom they want and that senators should be able to object and even filibuster in extreme circumstances. Over time and changes in administrations, the American federal judiciary typically ends up well-balanced politically and usually well-focused on the law, not politics.

The compromise then was the essence of political courage, leadership and statesmanship. The only thing that could have made it better would have been the involvement of both of New Mexico's senators - who, to be fair, have been busy trying to hammer out their own compromise on a national energy policy and plan.

Senators, representatives - even the president - seem to have forgotten that once elected they represent all the people, not just those who agree with them or voted for them."

I could not agree more.

Deep Throat Comes Clean

Via PoliticalWire comes news that W. Mark Felt, the number two man at the FBI during the Watergate era, has admitted to being "Deep Throat," the long-anonymous source quoted by Woodward and Bernstein in their Washington Post reporting. John O'Connor at Vanity Fair has an exclusive interview with Felt in that magazine's July issue [PDF available here].

More to come, undoubtedly!

[Update: MSNBC has this story on the Deep Throat news, noting that Carl Bernstein "issued a statement neither denying nor confirming Felt's claim. Bernstein stated he and Woodward would be keeping their pledge to reveal the source only once that person dies." -- 12:04 p.m.]

[Update: Some more stories on the news, from ABC, AP. -- 1:10 p.m.]

[Update: The Washington Post's Bob Woodward has confirmed that W. Mark Felt was in fact Deep Throat. CNN has just shown footage of Felt's daughter and grandson providing additional confirmation of the anonymous source's identity. -- 5:40 p.m.]

Stem Cells & Bill Frist

Newsweek's Howard Fineman and Tamara Lipper team up to highlight the trouble Bill Frist might soon have in attempting to deal with the stem cell issue in the Senate (basic message: "If you thought last week was bad! ...). As Joe Gandelman and others have done, Fineman and Lipper declare Senators Specter and McCain "the ones to watch" in the Republican caucus. Specter is a co-sponsor of S. 471, the companion bill to the stem cell measure passed by the House last week, and McCain also supports the measure and has spoken out strongly in its favor.

The article notes that McCain has changed his position on stem cell research since 2000, citing the "advocacy of Nancy Reagan, and because he now better understands the possible medical benefits." Similarly, McCain has since the 2000 campaign embraced legislation to combat global warming, after saying during that contest that he wasn't sure of the seriousness of the issue and that he wanted to learn more. I have no problem with a politician changing positions on an issue after they've become more aware or educated about it; what bothers me about Frist's apparent about-face on stem cells is that it appears to fly in the face of medical advances and everything we've learned since his statements in 2001. Quite simply, it doesn't make any sense.

Fineman and Lipper conclude their piece by saying "As leader, Frist has a large measure of control over which bills are brought up for debate. What will he do? Four years ago, he supported Bush's original judgment call, which was that the Feds could fund study only of existing stem-cell lines. But Frist said at the time that he would be willing to revisit the question as scientific advances warrant. Does he think that time has come? Frist left town late last week without saying. He had a race to start."

Four years ago, Frist's "Principles" on stem cell research went significantly farther than the President's announced policy. Yes, he agreed with Bush once the policy was announced, but prior to that, he supported additional steps, including "Allow federal funding for research using only those embryonic stem cells derived from blastocysts that are left over after in vitro fertilization (IVF) and would otherwise be discarded" [screen grab from Frist's site of the press release]. My question is, what's changed? Research done since 2001 has only bolstered the case that additional stem cell lines could be immensely useful in medical research - I have seen no evidence that indicates otherwise. If Senator Frist has some, I think the country would be most interested in seeing it.

Bean-Counting on Bolton

Steve Clemons reports on Dick Cheney's "Larry King Live" appearance last night (transcript here), in which the VP continued to express confidence that John Bolton will be confirmed by the Senate after Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess. Clemons notes, I think correctly, that unless the Administration provides the information Democrats have requested for examination, the likelihood of achieving cloture on Bolton right away is in fact rather slim.

Cheney called the Democrats' requests for more information on the NSA intercepts and Syria intelligence debates "just an excuse," to which Clemons responds: "There may be nothing there. There may be a great deal. It is not up to the Vice President of the United States or the White House spokesman to determine whether there is something there or not. The Senate investigators are the ones who can best connect dots between Bolton's objectives and behavior in one arena - and his interest in U.S. officials' names in NSA intercepts in other arenas."

As I've been saying all along, even if there isn't anything earth-shattering in the information that has been requested, it is worth allowing the leadership of the Foreign Relations Committee to look at. I agree with Senator McCain's assessment, and hope that he's able to persuade the Administration to turn over the requested materials so that we can finally resolve this nomination once and for all. If the State Department continues to refuse the requests for more information, I cannot help but voice support for continued delays.

'Give Them an Inch' Alert II

I noted a CSM article on May 16 which discussed how oil and gas companies are clamoring to get access to two protected areas in Alaska (beyond ANWR); today the LA Times reports that an obscure amendment in the recently-passed "emergency" military spending bill allows exploration and drilling for natural gas and oil in five Mississippi sites under the Gulf Islands National Seashore, "a thin necklace of barrier islands that drapes the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico."

The amendment, sponsored by Mississippi senator Thad Cochran, allows for seismic testing prior to drilling for oil or natural gas; this type of testing involves "detonating sound-wave explosions to locate oil and gas deposits in the park." The Times notes that "[t]wo of the five Mississippi islands are wilderness areas, and the environs are home to federally protected fish and birds, a large array of sea turtles and the gulf's largest concentration of bottlenose dolphins."

According to the Times, "[t]he legislation marks the first time the federal government has sanctioned seismic exploration on national park property designated as wilderness - which carries with it the highest level of protection." The article adds that "Mississippi officials and the Department of the Interior have not agreed on the extent of energy exploration in the park. And there are still unresolved conflicts, the most pressing of which is how setting seismic charges on wilderness islands is compatible with the constraints of the federal Wilderness Act, which prohibits ground disturbance and almost any type of development or construction."

Much more background information and many quotes in the full article.

Kristof Continues Counting the Silence

It has been 141 days now, Nichols Kristof writes in today's New York Times, since President Bush mentioned the ongoing genocide in Darfur. In his column, Kristof profiles Magboula, a Darfurian woman whose husband was murdered by janjaweed raiders. Magboula herself was repeatedly raped, beaten, and mutilated ... and then had to travel across the desert with her five children to a refugee camp.

But the camp is full, as Kristof reports: "the Sudanese government is blocking new arrivals like her from getting registered, which means they can't get food and tents. So Magboula is getting no rations and is living with her children under a straw mat on a few sticks." She and her four children (the baby recently died) are living on handouts from other refugees.

Kristof notes, correctly, that every time "Sudan has been subjected to strong moral pressure, it has backed off somewhat - but lately the attention has subsided, and Mr. Bush even killed the Senate-passed Darfur Accountability Act, which would have condemned the genocide." The continued complacency of the world is literally killing people. How can we live with ourselves if we keep doing nothing?

For more Darfur news, as always as the Coalition for Darfur website, and also visit Sudan: Passion of the Present, another good blog for Darfur-related news and commentary.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Brownstein on GOP Paradigms

Ron Brownstein's column in today's LA Times offers what I think is a reasonably plausible explanation for why the right is so much more incensed about the Gang of 14's compromise than the left (although extremists on neither side are happy about it, as I've noted before). Brownstein suggests that the "ruling political paradigm" for Bush since 2001 has been "energizing the conservative base, even at the price of straining relations with more centrist voters," but that the seven GOP members of the Gang of 14, as well as the 50 Republicans in the House who voted for the Castle-DeGette stem cell bill "signaled their uneasiness with a course that places so little weight on moderate swing opinion."

Brownstein ends his piece by noting "Conservatives are guaranteed the dominant voice in the GOP for the foreseeable future. But after last week, they no longer appear to be the only voice. No wonder so many of them are howling." I quite agree. The events of last week prove what I and other centrist bloggers have been saying for months: when moderates stand up and be counted, we make a difference. When we don't back down in the face of overwhelming odds and opposition, we get things done. I hope now that our centrist senators and representatives have tasted victory they will not surrender its sweetness for the rotten taste of defeat.

Enjoy your Memorial Day, whether you are vacationing, working, or going to school. Take a moment to remember what it's all about, and honor all those who have made the supreme sacrifice in the service of America.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sunday Papers

Some of the more interesting reads from today's papers. As always, not a comprehensive list:

Washington Post: Charles Babington offers "Senate Setbacks Test Frist's Influence." Dana Milbank looks at how Orthodox Jews, usually reliable allies of the Administration on "moral values" issues, differ from the president's position when it comes to stem cell research. Howard Kurtz discusses the impact of the nuclear compromise in the blogosphere.

Washington Times: Ralph Hallow writes that last week's filibuster showdown "give[s] a boost to the presidential prospects of Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican," at least among conservative primary voters.

New York Times: David Kirkpatrick reports "Judicial Compromise Under GOP Pressure." Conservative pressure groups are turning up the heat on Gang of 14 members Mike DeWine and Lindsey Graham, Kirkpatrick notes (a Graham home-state rival called him "the third senator from New York"). Sheryl Gay Stolberg asks "What Happened to Compromise?" She concludes, citing historians, that "the biggest obstacle to compromise in modern politics ... is the absence of a [Congressional] leader with the gift for compromise and the determination to make it happen."

Doesn't seem to be all that much good political coverage today; a function of the long weekend, I presume.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

More on the Frist-Flop

A diarist on dKos has posted this entry on Bill Frist's stem cells switch, and he notes the conundrum Frist finds himself in. If he allows the Senate to vote on the expansion of federal funding for stem cell research, he ticks off the right wing of the GOP. If he allows the vote and opposes the measure, he risks being tagged a as a flip-flopper (if it was enough to disqualify Kerry ...); if he supports the bill, he takes a very public stance in opposition to the president, who's said he'll veto the measure.

This is going to be a very tough call for the Majority Leader.

Pataki Political-Money Proposal

On Thursday, New York governor George Pataki offered a new plan for reforming the Empire State's miserably outdated and loophole-ridden campaign finance laws. Under his two-bill proposal, limits on contributions to candidates for statewide office would decrease from $30,700 to $5,000, while contributions to candidates for the state senate and assembly would be capped at $2,500 and $1,000 respectively, and contributions to state party committees would be limited at $50,000 rather than the current $76,500.

Soft money would also be eliminated from state elections, and "issue ads" shown within six months of an election that "clearly support or oppose a particular candidate or party or that mention a particular candidate or party by name" would be made subject to contribution limits and disclosure requirements. All good elements of the plan, but this one is my personal favorite: "statewide elected officials and state legislators would be prohibited from fund-raising within 25 miles of the State Capitol" while the legislature is in session.

Pataki's second bill would increase the efficiency and effectiveness of donation disclosure requirements, and also toughens penalties for violations of state campaign finance laws. Fines for violations would be increased from $500 to $5,000, and willful violations would be made a felony crime rather than a misdemeanor. An independent "campaign finance commissioner" would be appointed to investigate charges of campaign finance abuse.

This is an excellent campaign finance reform package. If the governor gets serious and can twist arms in the state senate to push this plan through (and can obtain support from the Democrat-controlled assembly), it certainly has a chance at passage. I hope Pataki will be serious about it and use what clout he's got to make a positive impact on the state's political process.

Can McCain Broker a Deal on Bolton?

Carl Hulse and Douglas Jehl, the New York Times nuclear option and John Bolton beat-reporters respectively, team up today to suggest that Gang of 14 member John McCain is attempting to cook up another compromise, this time between the White House and Senate Democrats. McCain, a strong supporter of Bolton's nomination [he can't be right on everything], said Friday in an interview on FOXNews that he saw some merit in the Democrats' request for more information from the State Department (as Senator Lugar and others have also done). McCain added "I think that we can resolve this over the recess and get this thing done and get John Bolton to work. I'm sorry there is going to be a delay."

Democrats held up a final vote on Bolton's confirmation Thursday evening by withholding their support for a cloture motion. They have pledged to cease delaying as soon as they receive information from the Administration relating to "his conduct in two areas, involving an intelligence dispute over Syria and the handling of intelligence reports from the National Security Agency," as Hulse and Jehl write.

The story adds more background on Thursday's failed cloture motion, and also notes that Democrat Mark Pryor, who supported cloture on Thursday, said Friday that he will oppose Bolton's nomination on the floor when it comes to an up-or-down vote.

Bolton's nomination, for the umpteenth time, is on the rocks. His possible Democratic support now hovers around one (Ben Nelson of Nebraska), and his Republican support is eroding: George Voinovich and John Thune both have said they'll vote no. It won't take many more defections (four or five, depending on Nelson) to scuttle the confirmation completely. Bolton is far beyond "damaged goods" now - he will be the laughingstock of the United Nations, and completely ineffective in what the Administration says he's being sent there to do. His name ought to be pulled, and Bush should nominate in his place a strong conservative who will be able to get the necessary points across without the baggage now carried by Mr. Bolton.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Another No on Bolton

Tip to Stygius for the news that Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu announced today that although she supported cloture on John Bolton's nomination yesterday, she will vote against his nomination when it comes up for an up-or-down vote. Steve Clemons has her full statement.

Yet more good news.

Frist Press Release Mysteriously Missing

Quick followup to this post from last night. I noticed on the Tennessee Right to Life page where they take issue with Bill Frist's July 18, 2001 Senate floor speech in support of stem cell research that they include the text of a "Frist Press Release" of that date, which begins "U.S. Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) made the following statement today after he announced his intention to support federal funding, with strict conditions, for stem cell research" - one of those strict conditions, as I noted, was "Allow federal funding for research using only those embryonic stem cells derived from blastocysts that are left over after in vitro fertilization (IVF) and would otherwise be discarded."

So then I got thinking - well, the press release should be somewhere on the Senator's web page, since they usually archive such things. And sure enough, Frist does, with his press releases, speeches and other statements viewable by month and year. But most interestingly, that July 18, 2001 press release cited by Tennessee Right to Life (and others) does not appear: as you can see here, the release dates go directly from July 15 to July 19. Also interesting is the July 15 press release "Frist Announces Support for Stem Cell Research", dated three days prior (and on a Sunday) to Frist's testimony before a congressional committee at which he announced his support for federal funding (as covered in this Chicago Tribune article as well as this CNN story). In fact, a July 15 Washington Post article [linked here] notes that as of that date, "Frist's spokeswoman said the senator was not ready to discuss his views."

A misdated press release, half of which is missing. Worth some checking out. I'm going to dig around a little on this story today, so stay tuned, there may be more to come.

[Update: Another article covering Frist's former position on stem cells, this from USA Today. And this National Review story from July 20, 2001, which covers Frist's announced "principles" on embryonic stem cell research from two days prior, asks at its end "Who is the real Bill Frist?" That's exactly what I'd like to know. -- 8:21 a.m.]

[Update: Here's a screen grab of Senator Frist's homepage from August 16, 2001. If you click on the July 18 headline under Recent News "Frist Announces Support for Stem Cell Research," you get this, the original press release (note the date) and a link to this page, the "strict new standards" proposed by Frist. -- 9:21 a.m.]

[Update: Just spoke with three different staffers at Senator Frist's D.C. office. None of them could tell me whether Frist has taken a position on S. 471, although the third (apparently a health legislative aide) said she thought he had not yet taken a position. I asked if he had changed his mind since 2001, and she said she'd have to take my information and get back to me. Bets on whether she does? -- 9:32 a.m.]

[Update: Shockingly, no response from Frist's office all afternoon today. Anybody surprised? -- 4:30 p.m.]

[Update: Another update here. -- 31 May, 9:10 a.m.]

A Good Week

As Congress leaves Washington for the Memorial Day recess, centrists and their allies in both houses have much to be proud of; it's been a very good week. On Monday, senators of both parties came together and agreed to avert the nuclear option. On Wednesday, fifty Republicans joined most Democrats in the House to pass practical, common-sense legislation that would allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on embryos that would otherwise be discarded. And Thursday, moderation and good sense prevailed again, bringing about another delay in the confirmation of John Bolton. It is not unreasonable of Democrats to request the information they're seeking from the Administration: even if it turns out that there's no "there" there, an examination of the materials is essential to evaluating allegations against Mr. Bolton - if the documents end up exonerating him of any wrongdoing, all the better: it would remove one of the dark clouds that's been hanging over this nomination for weeks.

We can't get cocky. We've got a very long way to go from this week. We don't know, not by a long shot, if the Gang of 14 deal will hold or for how long. We don't know if the Senate leadership will schedule debate and a vote in the Senate on stem cell legislation like that passed in the House, or if we'll have enough votes to override a promised (but misguided) presidential veto. We don't know (still) what will eventually happen with John Bolton. So we must temper our ebullience with caution. But, we had a good week, and those are rare. Take comfort in that, and enjoy the good feeling while it lasts.

Thune to Oppose Bolton

Freshman South Dakota senator John Thune became the second Republican in the Senate to say he will vote against confirmation of embattled UN ambassador nominee John Bolton, reports the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

Thune's opposition to Bolton is linked, he hinted, at Administration plans to close Ellsworth Air Force Base in his home state, telling reporters "I'm concerned about our diplomatic posture as a nation, and I'm concerned about our defensive posture. These issues are not unrelated." He added "Everyone has to come to their own decision about it, and that's the decision I have come to. John Bolton is not the best man for this job."

While I'm not sure opposition to Bolton is the best way to signal his displeasure with the Pentagon or the Bush Administration (it could be a rather unwise political move), I'm delighted to have him on our side in the ongoing nomination saga. Thune joins Ohio's George Voinovich, who until yesterday was the sole announced Republican opponent of Bolton.

Friday Satire

To lead off, if you haven't yet seen the wonderful parody of the Huffington Post at Huffington's Toast, check it out. One of the best of its type I've seen.

It appears McCain's deal-making days didn't end Monday, and that we'll soon be seeing a newly-shorn John Bolton at the UN ... oh yeah, and some more Democrats around Pennsylvania Avenue as well. [all four links are Scrappleface stories].

What do filibusters, taking out the trash, and baking-powder biscuits have in common? I have no idea.

Democracy in Iraq, theocracy here - neither are quick or easy, warns this report.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Frist Flip-Flops on Stem Cells

July 18, 2001: Senator Bill Frist, speaking on the Senate floor:

"There are basically 10 points I think we must consider, and I have proposed an answer. Again, I don't know the answer, and I struggle, like every person, on this particular issue to make sure we have the appropriate moral considerations. But I will outline what my 10 points are. ...

No. 5, provide funding for embryonic stem cell research only from blastocysts that would otherwise be discarded. We need to allow Federal funding for research using only those embryonic stem cells derived from blastocysts that are left over after in vitro fertilization and would otherwise be discarded."

Here are the PDFs of the two pages from the Congressional Record containing this speech [first, second]. The full text of the press release is available here, on the webpage run by Tennessee Right to Life, which was rather unhappy with the position Frist took. More here, on the page of the Republican National Coalition for Life, which headlines "Senator Frist Endorses Killing Human Embryos."

Senator Frist, I would suggest you read H.R. 810 and its Senate companion, S. 471 [PDF here]. It includes the qualification "Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded."

But now Majority Leader Frist is stalling on bringing S. 471 to the floor of the Senate.

What changed, Senator?

[Update: New information on this story here. -- 27 May, 7:40 a.m.]

[Update: If you're linking directly to this post, please make sure to check out the multiple updates I'm posting here. -- 27 May, 9:34 a.m.]

[Update: Well, Frist has decided not to flip, after all. Look at that. -- 29 July, 6:25 p.m.]

Another Round, Another Win

It's difficult to believe, but once again today we won another round in the fight over John Bolton's nomination to be UN Ambassador. In a 6 p.m. vote Thursday evening, supporters failed to muster the 60 votes necessary to end debate on the nomination, meaning that it will be at least June 7 before another vote is held.

The vote on cloture was 56-42. Three Democrats (Landrieu, Pryor and the Benator) voted to end debate, while Republican Arlen Specter and Democrat Daniel Inouye did not vote. Frist voted no so that he can later make a motion to reconsider the vote in the future.

For more on the vote to delay the nomination further, see this from the New York Times, or this from the Washington Post, which notes that the roll call vote was held open for about fifty minutes while Bolton supporters tried to rustle up enough votes to achieve cloture today.

See Stygius for the live-blog on the Senate debate today (great job!); Steve Clemons and Laura Rosen for analysis and discussion.

Quite a victory for opponents of the Bolton nomination. More to come, clearly! This is a smart move on the Democrats' part: keep demanding this information, and sooner or later the White House will either give in or give up.

Bolton Debate Links

I haven't been able to follow the Bolton debate as much as I'd like to today, but wanted to point you to a couple places where you can watch/stay tuned. Dem Bloggers offers speedy links to video clips of the speeches, and you can pick up the C-SPAN2 feed here. Brian Hopkins has a dKos diary here on the debate. As always, check in with Steve Clemons and Laura Rosen for more. I'll be paying as much attention as possible, and will post updates as necessary. The AP has this story from earlier today.

[Update: More live-blogging at dKos, a new diary thread here. Sorry I can't be doing this myself today! -- 1:18 p.m.]

[Update: Stygius too is doing an excellent job of live-blogging today, here. -- 2:39 p.m.]

[Update: This is crappy timing, but I'm about to head out to Boston and will miss the end of the debate this evening. Stay tuned with Stygius and/or C-SPAN2. I'll post again as soon as I can. -- 4:00 p.m.]

Alan Simpson Interview on NPR

Tip to Stygius for pointing me to this excellent interview from NPR this morning between Juan Williams and former moderate Republican Alan Simpson. Hopefully it will be transcribed soon and I'll post excerpts. For now, listen if you have a chance.

Not Nauseous, Howie - Just Circumspect

Some of my comments from yesterday have showed up this morning in Howard Kurtz' "Media Notes" column, where he a) puts me "on the right" (ouch); and b) misinterprets my cautionary note about declaring victory too soon as panning McCain - which I'm decidedly not. My comments were targeting the overly-enthusiastic praise from the media, not the compromise itself.

Thursday Reads

Article of the Day: This Jim VandeHei analysis in the Washington Post is more than worth a read. There's not all that much in here that we didn't know already, but this is a fairly succinct piece on the topic. Perhaps a bit exaggerated (but not much), VandeHei argues that the move toward the nuclear option was just the latest in a string of actions, "the common theme [of which] is to consolidate influence in a small circle of Republicans and to marginalize dissenting voices that would try to impede a conservative agenda."

VandeHei cites the end of the seniority system in the House as the method for determining committee chairs, as well as a recent reins-tightening that "limited the independence and prerogatives" of those chairpeople. "The result is a chamber effectively run by a handful of GOP leaders." At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the president has "centraliz[ed] the most important decisions among a tight group of West Wing loyalists," and "moved to expand the amount of executive branch information that can be legally shielded from Congress, the courts and the public." Executive agents have become in effect "political arms of the White House.
And now, VandeHei says, this crowd sees the judiciary as due for its own bout of reins-tightening.

"Bush created a top-down system in the White House much like the one his colleagues have in Congress. He has constructed what many scholars said amounts to a virtual oligarchy with Cheney, Karl Rove, Andrew H. Card Jr., Joshua Bolton, himself and only a few others setting policy, while he looks to Congress and the agencies mostly to promote and institute his policies," VandeHei writes.

What a delightful thought.

Bolton: Charles Babington and Glenn Kessler have this in the WP; Douglas Jehl reports on how Dems may try to block the nomination temporarily as a way to get more information out of the administration. Sheryl Gay Stolberg profiles a new possible 'no' vote on Bolton from the Republican bench: South Dakota's John Thune, who is playing hardball with Bush & Co. over a proposed base closure.

The go-to blog for all things Bolton has been and remains The Washington Note, managed by the very capable Steve Clemons. Some recent posts here (on how Bolton fails Lugar's 'Tests of a Nominee'); here (discussing this Newsweek story on the NSA intercepts business); here (on Biden's floor statements yesterday); and here (on the information presented by Senator Rockefeller yesterday evening, which I discussed here). Laura Rosen at War and Piece is also a good Bolton resource. Senate consideration of Bolton resumes at 9:30 a.m. today, with the cloture vote still scheduled for 6 p.m.

[Update: DEMBloggers has posted video of Senator Voinovich's speech on the floor yesterday. Watch it. They also have videos of other speeches, and note they're planning to keep up with things today as well. -- 9:21 a.m.]

Stem Cells: This LA Times editorial is an excellent look at the tenuousness of President Bush's position on embyronic stem cell research. It ends:

"A bill approved by a wide (but not veto-proof) margin in the House on Tuesday would loosen restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research. The president is threatening to veto this bill. If he does, these embryos will either be destroyed or frozen forever. They will not develop into cuddly babies. Therefore a veto wouldn't actually save a single embryo. His threat is purely symbolic.

If you really believe that embryos are full human beings, this doesn't matter. But if you think the issue is uncertain or ambiguous at all, it's a powerful argument to say: It's not a choice between a human life and an embryo's life. It's a choice between real human lives and a symbolic statement about the value of an embryo. And it's a statement belied by the reality of in vitro fertilization and how it works."

The NYT also editorializes on stem cells today, taking their support a step beyond where I'm willing to go at the moment, but justly criticizing the president for his stance.

Mike Allen and Rick Weiss report in the WP that Bush is looking to oppose any compromise on this issue, continuing to threaten a veto of any bill relaxing limits on federal funding. Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the NYT writes that Senator Specter announced yesterday there are enough votes in the Senate to override a presidential veto of stem cell legislation. Not sure where they're going to get those they need in the House, but the Senate's got them.

McCain v. Frist: Margaret Carlson joins David Broder in handicapping a hypothetical 2008 primary fight between one of the "Gang of 14" and the "Justice Sunday" Doctor. Both need to read more Joe Gandelman (and Adam Nagourney). McCain knows that making this compromise did him no favors in a Republican primary: "I knew it would hurt me, I knew it could hurt me - I'm not dumb. I wouldn't have come out against the nuclear option if my political ambitions were playing a role in this," he told reporters Tuesday. The right wing of the GOP probably was never going to forgive McCain anyway, or give him a pass to the nomination in 2008 - this week's compromise makes that even less likely. If he were to pursue a third party bid, all bets would be off, of course ...

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Senators Urge Quick Vote on Stem Cells

Following House passage of H.R. 810 yesterday, senators supporting identical legislation in their chamber spoke out today in favor of scheduling debate and a vote sometime in the very near future.

Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin: "The American people cannot afford to wait any longer for our top scientists to realize the full potential of stem cell research."

Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, "newly bald from chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin's disease, held himself up on Wednesday as Exhibit A for the possible benefits of embryonic stem cell research," says Sci-Tech Today. Specter "called Bush's promise to veto any relaxation of his restrictions on funding stem cell research an affront to millions of people with diseases that might be treated or even cured with federal dollars propelling the science."

Minority Leader Harry Reid called on Frist to schedule debate soon, and called Bush's veto threat "
wrong politically, morally and scientifically."

As I've
remarked previously, I strongly support passage of the Senate equivalent of H.R. 810, and I have no doubt that it will pass the Senate with wide bipartisan support. It would be a significant error for President Bush to use his first veto on a bill with strong public support (58% approve, 30% disapprove, according to a new CBS News poll: 50% of Republicans approve, while 65% of Democrats do). Might I recommend, again, the highway bill as a much better use of the veto-pen?

Owen Passes, on to Bolton

The Senate approved the nomination of Priscilla Owen today, by a vote of 56-43. The vote was largely along party lines, although Democrats Robert Byrd and Mary Landrieu voted with the majority and Republican Lincoln Chafee opposed Owen's confirmation. Democrat Daniel Inouye did not vote. The roll call vote is here [Update: At some point Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, changed his vote to "Present", making the count 55-43 -- 26 May, 8:41 a.m.]. David Stout of the NYT has this report on the vote, and Jim Abrams of the AP offers this.

That hurdle crossed, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has now brought to the floor the controversial nomination of John Bolton to be United Nations Ambassador. The agreement reached means that there will be forty hours of debate, twenty hours controlled by each side, with a vote to come sometime before the end of the week (presumably on Friday).

On Wednesday morning, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts (KS) sent a letter to the leaders of the Foreign Relations Committee, after reviewing NSA intercepts of various American officials that Mr. Bolton had requested. Roberts and Intelligence Committee ranking member Jay Rockefeller were briefed on the intercepts two weeks ago, but were not made privy to the names of the officials whose intercepted conversations Bolton read.

In his letter, Roberts informed the Foreign Relations Committee that he and Rockefeller found "nothing within the contents of the intelligence reports in question that caused us any concern. ... I found no evidence that there was anything improper about any aspect of Mr. Bolton’s requests for minimized identities of U.S. persons. I further found no violations of procedures, directives, regulations or law by Mr. Bolton."

Rockefeller, however, refused to sign Roberts' letter, and sent a three-page missive of his own to the Foreign Relations Committee. In that, Rockefeller makes a new allegation against the embattled Bolton: that he "might have mishandled classified information by sharing with another State Department official details about a communication intercepted by the National Security Agency" on "at least one occasion." Rockefeller encouraged the Foreign Relations Committee to interview Bolton again, "to conduct a more complete understanding of the extent to which he may have shared with others."

This is quite a serious allegation. It deserves investigation.

[Update: In a new addition to his article, Douglas Jehl reports that Senator Chris Dodd "announced this afternoon that he would seek to block any vote on Mr. Bolton by the full Senate until the committee was provided with further information about his handling of the classified information." Senator Voinovich is making a lengthy speech in opposition to Bolton right now, and is being very strong in his criticisms of Bush's nominee. As soon as I can find a transcript I will post it. -- 4:12 p.m.]

[Update: Voinovich, in tears on the Senate floor, his voice cracking. Still waiting on a transcript, but let me just say, wow. -- 4:41 p.m.] [Update: Video is available here of the entire speech, and here of the emotional finish. -- 26 May, 9:28 a.m.]

[Update: Senator Rockefeller is now giving a statement, adding to the allegations that Bolton misused and mishandled intelligence information during his tenure as undersecretary of state for arms control. -- 5:12 p.m.]

[Update: Rockefeller adds to the record more about the charge that Bolton shared information about the name of an American official he received from the NSA in the context of an intercept. This name would only have been made available to Bolton, Rockefeller says, under very specific circumstances governed by strict guidelines, and would have come with an admonition not to share the name with others. Rockefeller says that Bolton, in at least one case, disregarded that warning. -- 5:20 p.m.]

[Update: Rockefeller says Bolton has "a cavalier attitude ... toward dealing with sensitive intelligence information." "When viewed collectively, these actions demonstrate Mr. Bolton's unfitness for this position." -- 5:22 p.m.]

[Update: Dodd asks Rockefeller if he thinks it's inappropriate to ask for unredacted versions of the intercepts that Bolton requested so that the senators can see what Bolton saw when he received them. Rockefeller says it is incredibly appropriate and "important" that this information be made available to the Senate. -- 5:25 p.m.]

[Update: Dodd asks if it is true that when a request such as that by Bolton is made, doesn't there have to be a written rationale outlining the purpose of such a request? Rockefeller replies that indeed, there must be a written explanation for the requests, but that the State Department has not made Mr. Bolton's requests available to anyone in the Senate. -- 5:28 p.m.]

[Update: Still Dodd, suggesting that if the administration doesn't provide the additional information that has been requested (the unredacted NSA transcripts of intercepts), he might encourage his colleagues to vote against cloture tomorrow, but adds that he does not intend to filibuster and that if cloture is invoked, he will move for a speedy up-or-down vote on confirmation. It may well be there's nothing in these requests, he says, but if they don't insist on seeing the information when there's a chance it might be relevant, they wouldn't be doing their jobs. -- 5:34 p.m.]

[Update: Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts is up now after some comments from Coleman and Allen; he says he "sure has a different take" on things related to Bolton's intelligence handling than Rockefeller does. Now he's just reading the letter that he sent to Lugar earlier in the day (discussed in the second and third paragraphs of this post, above). -- 5:47 p.m.]

[Update: Steve Clemons has posted the full text of Rockefeller's letter to Lugar and Biden here. Roberts continues reading his own letter into the record. -- 5:53 p.m.]

[Update: We seem to be back to 'more of the same' on the floor so I'm going to leave off the live-blogging here. I'll resume if things get interesting. Laura Rosen has some procedural information from a Hill source on how things are going to go tomorrow night: looks like a cloture vote will be held around 6 p.m. -- 6:04 p.m.]

[Update: The Senate is set for the night with the Bolton nomination; McConnell has filed for cloture and announced that a vote will be held at 6 p.m. tomorrow followed by a confirmation vote immediately if cloture is achieved. More then, in a new thread. -- 7:10 p.m.]

Coalition for Darfur Weekly Update

The Coalition for Darfur has posted its weekly update on the ongoing genocide there and the world's (non)reaction. As always, it is well worth your time, and is available here.

A Centrist Coup d'etat? Hardly.

Sheesh. From the amount of ink spilled on the subject in the last couple days, one would think that John McCain had led the "Gang of 14" down Capitol Hill to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and tossed President Bush and his entire administration into a gutter (on top of an already bound-and-gagged Bill Frist), before taking complete control of the government and the agenda for the forseeable future.

Some in the mainstream media (Dick Morris, David Broder, the CSM, The Hill, ...) have been quick to declare victory for the centrists - but not just victory. They're ready to say that centrists are "taking over," that a new day has suddenly dawned in which moderation and cooperation are the way of things, where extremists are left out in the cold permanently and warm, fuzzy bipartisanship is the way everything works.

I don't want to rain on anybody's parade, and there is no doubt in my mind that the Senate's centrists did win a major victory on Monday evening. However, a little circumspection on the part of those in the media is necessary right now. Let's be realistic: this deal is a fragile one, and might not hold through the week, let alone through a fight over a Supreme Court nominee.

Moderates like me would like nothing more for the "Gang of 14" to keep meeting, and to continue pushing centrist, commonsense solutions to problems facing the country (Lindsey Graham has suggested they might take up Social Security next - great! it's about time somebody did). But it's much, much too early to say they're the "new power brokers" in the Senate. Let's hope they and others who join them come to be - but we're not there yet. Not by a long shot.

I'm glad to see other centrists are also warning about the pitfalls of the media's siren song. Alan at The Yellow Line has this, and I'll add more similar posts as they appear (if you know of one, please submit it in the comments). Of course, all the attention the middle is getting is nice, and I hope it continues - but let's not forget the ups and downs of all this. After all, just two months ago Slate was declaring moderates in the Senate completely irrelevant. Those days, we can hope, are gone, but it's going to be a long time before we can be sure of that. Forty-eight hours do not a revolution make ... the best we can hope is that they mark the start of one.

[Update: This post from Thoughts of an American Centrist is another element: centrists need organization, and soon. It also echoes the notes of caution. -- 2:07 p.m.]

[Update: My first paragraph has shown up in Howard Kurtz. I've posted a response to it here. -- 26 May, 10:03 a.m.]

Wednesday Reads

The Christian Science Monitor has several excellent articles this morning: this on "the reemergence of a center that counts" in the Senate; this on how the filibuster 'fracas' may shape the 2008 presidential race, particularly the primaries; and this from Peter Grier on how it will be the next Supreme Court vacancy that really tests the compromise reached by the "Gang of 14." Also, check out the Bennett cartoon on their editorial page - a centrist classic - and their editorial on the meaning of 'extraordinary'. The CSM is an awfully under-mentioned publication, but its quality and centrist viewpoint make it well worth a perusal.

Judicial Nominations: Now that the nuclear option has been averted, things can get back to "normal" regarding the confirmation of judges. As I reported yesterday afternoon, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on the nomination of Priscilla Owen, and a final vote on her confirmation will be held sometime today. The Washington Times, USA Today (here and here), LA Times (here, here, and here), Washington Post (here, here, and here) and New York Times (here, here and here) all cover the cloture vote, the compromise, and the reaction, as well as the bigger question of what further impact the "Gang of 14" will have. The big focus seems to have become what the meaning of the word "extraordinary" is: yesterday Senator McCain used the same formulation I have been using in conversations, "It's like child pornography, my friend. You know it when you see it." The WT also reports one interesting moment from yesterday's Senate debate:

"As the Senate clerk officially read the nomination under consideration, Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat who has been a key opponent of four of Mr. Bush's judicial nominees, arose and asked to make a 'parliamentary inquiry.'

Sen. John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican who was seated in the chair as the presiding officer, gave Mr. Levin the floor. Wanting to establish that judicial filibusters are legitimate because 60 votes are required to invoke cloture or end debate, Mr. Levin asked how many votes are required for cloture 'under the rules and precedence of the Senate.'

Mr. Sununu, a first-term senator, ignored Mr. Levin's inquiry. Ten seconds passed and still Mr. Sununu refused to answer Mr. Levin's question. 'Is there an answer to my parliamentary inquiry, Mr. President?' Mr. Levin asked again to no answer. After about a half-minute of ignoring Mr. Levin's request, the clerk began calling the roll for the vote on ending debate on Justice Owen's nomination." Wow.

Some editorial thoughts on the judicial nominations: Washington Times ("The arithmetic tells the story. The Democrats won ..."); Tony Blankley (take a guess); Ronald Cass ("Gang of 14" a 'super-minority"); David Broder ("The Monday night agreement to avert a showdown vote over judicial filibusters not only spared the Senate from a potentially ruinous clash, but also certified John McCain as the real leader of that body"); New York Times (compromise "was heartening in that it did demonstrate that moderates still exist in Washington, and actually have the capacity to work together to get things done").

The Washington Post's Peter Baker reports that the Senate compromise hasn't made the Bush administration any more likely to nominate a "consensus candidate" to any opening on the Supreme Court. If you're surprised, raise your hand.

Stem Cells: WT, USA Today, LA Times, WP, and NYT all cover yesterday's vote in the House to relax restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cells that would otherwise be discarded. The WP discusses the move into the Senate, where legislation backed by key Republicans Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter (as well as many Democrats and other Republicans) is expected to pass, although Kansan Sam Brownback said yesterday he intends to filibuster it (Hatch and Specter suggested, and they're probably right, that they have the votes to break a filibuster already).

This quote from Chris Shays during the House debate is worth repeating: "I think it's time we recognized the Dark Ages are over. Galileo and Copernicus have been proven right. The world is in fact round; the Earth does revolve around the sun. I believe God gave us intellect to differentiate between imprisoning dogma and sound ethical science, which is what we must do here today."

Bolton: The NYT and LA Times, report on the "Dear Colleague" letter circulated by Senator Voinovich in opposition to Bolton's nomination. Like I suggested last night, though, chances that Bolton will be defeated all quite slim indeed. Debate on the nomination will begin today, with 40 hours equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. Frist has said he wants to complete action on the nomination this week, before the Senate goes into recess for Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Return of the Voinovich

After victories for bipartisan centrism on the nuclear option and on stem cells, it is tempting to think that another triumph for moderation might be on the horizon when John Bolton's nomination hits the Senate floor, perhaps as early as sometime this week. Until today, it was difficult to envision a scenario in which Bolton's confirmation would be voted down by the Senate ... and frankly such a scenario is still probably quite unlikely. But a renewed effort from Ohio senator George Voinovich to defeat Bolton may change the dynamic just enough to make things interesting.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated among all 100 senators Tuesday, Voinovich lays out his "deep concerns" with Bolton's nomination, writing "I worry that Mr. Bolton could make it more difficult for us to achieve the important U.N. reforms needed to restore the strength of the institution. I strongly believe that we need to reform the U.N., make it a viable institution for world security, and remove its anti-Israel bias. However, I question John Bolton's ability to get this job done." Voinovich adds "I strongly feel that the importance of this nomination to our foreign policy requires us to set aside our partisan agenda and let our consciences and our shared commitment to our nation's best interests guide us."

Douglas Jehl in the New York Times notes "it is unusual for a Republican to break ranks so publicly with President Bush," noting that Voinovich "was also making telephone calls and meeting with other Republican senators to urge them to oppose Mr. Bolton's nomination, according to two Senate Republican officials."

Jehl and others add that Senator Barbara Boxer on Tuesday lifted her procedural "hold" on the Bolton nomination; Boxer and Senator Biden reportedly have agreed to a vote on Bolton's nomination after forty hours of debate on the Senate floor. The likelihood of a Democratic filibuster against Bolton seems very much diminished at this point, so now the only major questions remaining are, will other Republicans join Voinovich in opposing Bolton on the floor? And how many Democrats will vote to confirm him?

My guess, and this far out it's still very much a guess, is that the answers to those questions are maybe one, if that; and three, possibly four. But there is plenty of time remaining to change minds. Victory could yet be snatched from the jaws of defeat. Let's just hope George Voinovich's powers of persuasion are at their very finest for the next couple of days.

New Column from John Avlon

John Avlon's column this week is excellent, and The Yellow Line's comments on it are well worth a read. I couldn't agree more with them.

Stem Cell Votes in the House

Several hours of debate over two stem cell bills (discussed here) are about to end on the House floor, and votes on the bills will be held shortly. The New York Times' Timothy Williams filed this report on the debate early this evening, covering President Bush's veto threat and most of the day's floor discussions on the measures.

Not surprisingly, I guess, those who oppose Castle-DeGette are basically accusing its proponents of murder. This is really quite difficult to stomach. Have Tom DeLay and Henry Hyde really not even read the legislation? Here's a quote directly from the bill: "Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded." That's one of the requirements for the use of these embryos - it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded. It's hard to believe that those who say so strenuously that they value "life" so much that they would rather embryos be thrown out than used in stem cell research. But I guess they do.

I will update as soon as the votes are announced.

[MAJOR UPDATE: H.R. 810, the Castle-DeGette bill to allow federal funding for research on stem cell research on embyros that would otherwise be discarded, just passed the House by a margin of 238-194. Fifty Republicans, 187 Democrats and one Independent voted in support; 180 Republicans were joined by 14 Democrats in opposition. I'll post a roll call vote once it's available. The vote now has begun on Smith-Davis, H.R. 2520. -- 6:11 p.m.]

[Update: Smith-Davis, to increase federal funding into adult stem cell research, passed the House by a vote of 431-1 (one Republican voting no).

Now the questions. Will the Senate take up Castle-DeGette or a similar bill in the near future? If so, will it pass? If it passes, will President Bush follow through on his threat to veto it? -- 6:19 p.m.]

[Update: Roll call on H.R. 810 here. Roll call on H.R. 2520 here. -- 7:37 p.m.]

[Update: New NYT story from David Stout and Timothy Williams here. -- 9:05 p.m.]

Cloture Achieved on Priscilla Owen

The Senate has just voted to end debate on the nomination of Priscilla Owen by an 81-18 margin. Democrats who voted against cloture: Feingold, Reed, Levin, Cantwell, Dayton, Lautenberg, Corzine, Dorgan, Murray, Boxer, Kennedy, Biden, Dodd, Sarbanes, Stabenow, Kerry, and Lincoln. The rest voted with the majority (one senator didn't vote).

[Update: Here's a CNN piece on the cloture vote and what comes next ... looks like there could be a vote on Owen's confirmation sometime this afternoon or evening. This also from the NYT, which notes that of the twenty-six Democrats who supported cloture, many will likely vote against Owen's confirmation in the final vote. The one senator who didn't vote on cloture was Democrat Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. -- 3:33 p.m.]

[Update: FOXNews reports this afternoon that the vote on Owen's confirmation will take place sometime on Wednesday. -- 4:35 p.m.]

White House Weighs in on Stem Cells

With the House prepared to vote on two stem cell bills sometime today, the White House released two statements this morning, one in favor of the Smith-Davis adult stem cell research bill and another in opposition to the Castle-DeGette legislation. Of the latter, the administration says it "would require Federal taxpayer dollars to be used to encourage the ongoing destruction of nascent human life." Apparently they really do believe that embryos can be put to better use in the wastebaskets of fertility clinics. The administration has now pulled out all the stops: the statement says outright "If H.R. 810 were presented to the President, he would veto the bill."

This is most unfortunate, and puts pressure on more House Republicans to vote against Castle-DeGette later today. It's going to be a very close vote this afternoon in the House, so stay tuned.

The Next Fight

As I wrote on Sunday, a bill sponsored by Republican Mike Castle and Democrat Diana DeGette to loosen restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research will come up for a vote in the House sometime today. Another bill, sponsored by Republican Chris Smith and Democrat Artur Davis, will also be debated today.

Castle-DeGette would allow federal funding on human stem cells that were "derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment," provided that "Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded." Smith-Davis "would provide $79 million in federal money to increase the amount of umbilical cord blood for stem cell research and treatment and establish a national database for patients looking for matches," according to an article in today's Washington Post.

The Smith-Davis bill is considered very likely to pass, and it has the support of President Bush. Castle-DeGette is more controversial, and has drawn the threat of a presidential veto. Of his own bill, Castle told the Post "This is not an easy vote for many Republicans ... and some Democrats, too, because you have pro-life and other arguments. There's a lot of tide against them voting for it." Castle said that while about twenty representatives are still publicly undecided on H.R. 810, he thinks it will get the simple majority needed to pass (but probably not the 290 votes needed to override a veto).

Both bills are good and necessary pieces of legislation - one is not an alternative for the other. As a Castle spokeswoman told the Post, "It's an additional bill. It's something we'd encourage all members to support because all avenues of stem cell research need to be explored."

As I've been writing, I'm learning that Smith-Davis will be considered this morning, and Castle-DeGette this afternoon. More updates as they become available.

In the Papers

In case you're feeling sleepy this morning and don't want to click all around the web to get your nuclear option media-frenzy-fix, I've collected some of the coverage:

- New York Times: Carl Hulse, "Bipartisan Agreement in Senate Averts a Showdown on Judges." Richard Stevenson, "A Modest Victory for Bush, but More Tests Lie Ahead" (analysis). Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Efforts of 2 Respected Elders Bring Senate Back from Brink" (on the roles played by Senators Byrd and Warner on reaching the compromise).

- Washington Post: Charles Babington and Shailagh Murray, "A Last-Minute Deal on Judicial Nominees". Dan Balz, "Breakthrough Pact Unlikely to End Battle" (excellent analysis). "The Center Holds" (editorial). E.J. Dionne, "'Watch Those Guys'" (op/ed column).

- Los Angeles Times: Maura Reynolds and Richard Simon, "Senate Deal Reached on Filibusters." Richard Simon and Mary Curtius, "Conservative Groups Accuse Senators of Sellout." Janet Hook and Ron Brownstein, "A Center Forms to Outflank Left, Right" (analysis). "Alas, a Nuclear Freeze" (editorial).

- USA Today: Kathy Kiely and Jim Drinkard, "With deal struck, first judicial vote is due Tuesday." "Mixed Reviews" (compilation).

- Washington Times: Charles Hurt, "7 Republicans abandon GOP on filibusters."

- Boston Globe: Rick Klein, "Deal in Senate averts filibuster showdown." Peter Canellos, "The center holds clout" (analysis). Susan Milligan, "Frist on sidelines as moderates agree." Rick Klein and Susan Milligan, "As battle approached, both sides had dug in."

- Chicago Tribune: Jill Zuckman, "Filibuster deal surprises leadership." "Remember Priscilla Owen?" (editorial).

- The Hill: Geoff Earle, "Deal heads off nuclear option."

Reaction Roundup

The reaction to last night's surprising (and welcome, from my perspective) compromise bringing the Senate back from the brink of a nuclear showdown has been nothing short of explosive itself.
Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice has done an excellent job of consolidating thoughts from the blogosphere here. Confirm Them also has a decent roundup here, and Crooks and Liars has more bloggers here. For reactions from senators, see my post from last night. [I will just highlight this response from the Bull Moose -- 8:46 a.m.]

I want to focus in on some of the very interesting statements from outside the blogosphere: from interest groups, the MSM and others. Of course the best comment about the special interests so far has to come from John McCain, who said last night that of course groups on both sides were going to be upset: "Think of all the money they are going to lose."

- Nan Aron, of the Alliance for Justice: "While we had no interest in seeing the Senate break down, we are very disappointed with the decision to move these extremist nominees one step closer to confirmation." [via NYT]

- Paul Weyrich, conservative activist: Weyrich called the agreement "an outrage" that "solves nothing." "Once again, moderate Republicans have taken the victory and thrown it overboard," he told the NYT, also predicting "that conservatives voters would punish the party."

- Ralph Neas, of People for the American Way: "The explicit language of the agreement reached tonight by a group of senators rejects the nuclear option, preserves the filibuster and ensures that both political parties will have a say in who is appointed to our highest courts. The agreement embodies the very principle of consultation and consensus that the filibuster encourages. ... Nonetheless, we cannot endorse every aspect of the deal that was announced today. We are deeply concerned that it could lead to confirmation of appeals court judges who would undermine Americans’ rights and freedoms. ..." Full statement here.

- James Dobson, Focus on the Family: "This Senate agreement represents a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats. Only three of President Bush’s nominees will be given the courtesy of an up-or-down vote, and it's business as usual for all the rest ... We are grateful to Majority Leader Frist for courageously fighting to defend the vital principle of basic fairness. That principle has now gone down to defeat. We share the disappointment, outrage and sense of abandonment felt by millions of conservative Americans who helped put Republicans in power last November. I am certain that these voters will remember both Democrats and Republicans who betrayed their trust." Full statement here.

- LA Times editorial: "It was always going to be a long shot given the clubby institution's instincts for self-preservation, but this debate at least held out the possibility of making the system more fair. Now that the Senate is back in business, to borrow a phrase, its privileges preserved, its members are understandably pleased. Forgive us if we decline to join them."

- Columnist E.J. Dionne: "... The deal is not perfect. There are grounds to worry that the federal judiciary will be dominated at the end of the Bush years by a certain style of conservative - Janice Rogers Brown is representative - ready to roll back the New Deal jurisprudence of the last 70 years. Many who buy this legal approach preach that federal rules on wages and hours, environmental and business regulation, should be overturned by courts that would use 19th-century standards to void Washington's capacity to create rational standards for a complex 21st-century economy. Stopping such a judicial takeover would justify filibusters. But for now, at least, the principle of Senate scrutiny of judges has been preserved." Full text here.

- Washington Times headline: "7 Republicans Abandon GOP on Filibuster." Because who needs editorials anyway?

- Gary Bauer, of American Values: "This is a sad day for our nation. The desire of millions of Americans to restore balance to our federal courts has been thwarted behind closed doors by 14 senators. Only three of President Bush's appointees are guaranteed an up or down vote under this sell out. Under this agreement it is now more likely that radical social change will continue to be forced on the American people by liberal courts committed to same sex marriage, abortion on demand and hostility to religious expression. The Republicans who lent their names to this travesty have undercut their President as well as millions of their most loyal voters. Shame on them." Text here.

- The Washington Post editorial board: "[T]he agreement by seven Republicans and seven Democrats, ... is a great achievement. It is a demonstration, in an era of increasingly bitter partisanship, of what can still be accomplished through negotiation and the proffer of a modicum of trust across the aisle. Interest groups on both sides railed against compromise and threatened its architects; Senate leaders of both parties and the president did more to obstruct a deal than to facilitate it. The 14 senators nonetheless managed to put principle above self-protection." Full text of "The Center Holds" here.

Absolutely fascinating, the range of opinions on this. This is just a short sample, nothing very comprehensive at all. If you've found some good quips and quotes from other interest groups or newspapers, feel free to add them in the comments.

The Agreement, Under the Microscope

I'm finding it quite fascinating how people on both sides of the nuclear option issue are either hollering "we won, yay!" or "we lost, our side caved in." More than anything else I think this speaks to the beauty of the compromise reached by "The Fourteen." But, just as an exercise, I wanted to take a look at the text of the deal itself, section by section, and see if there's an advantage there for either side.

Section: "A. Votes for Certain Nominees. We will vote to invoke cloture on the following judicial nominees: Janice Rogers Brown (D.C. Circuit), William Pryor (11th Circuit), and Priscilla Owen (5th Circuit)."

Advantage: Republicans. President Bush is going to get up-or-down votes on three of his most controversial judicial nominees, and it is at least somewhat likely that they will be confirmed. Under the current rules, these judges would not have achieved cloture, and would have been subject to continuing indefinite delays. Now, however one feels about them, they're probably going to be confirmed.

Section: "B. Status of Other Nominees. Signatories make no commitment to vote for or against cloture on the following judicial nominees: William Myers (9th Circuit) and Henry Saad (6th Circuit)."

Advantage: Democrats. Myers and Saad could potentially remain filibustered, and probably will.

Section: "A. Future Nominations. Signatories will exercise their responsibilities under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United States Constitution in good faith. Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist."

Advantage: Democrats. Extraordinary is in the eye of the beholder. This was, as I understand it, the major sticking point, but it stuck. The right to use the filibuster in the future is preserved.

Section: "B. Rules Changes. In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement, we commit to oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress, which we understand to be any amendment to or interpretation of the Rules of the Senate that would force a vote on a judicial nomination by means other than unanimous consent or Rule XXII."

Advantage: Republicans and Democrats, the Senate, and the country. There is no question in my mind that the use of the nuclear option would have done a tremendous amount of harm to the Senate's ability to function, would most likely have backfired on the Republicans in the long term, and would have resulted in even more controversial judicial nominees, which the Democrats would then have been powerless to stop.

Section: "We believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word 'Advice' speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President’s power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration."

Advantage: The country. Should the president accept this offer, it would go far to decrease the level of animus between the branches, and would result in the nomination (and undoubtedly the speedy confirmation) of qualified, acceptable judges in the future.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Put Away the Cots

And so it all comes down to this. Fourteen United States senators, representing states from Maine to Hawaii, with Senate tenures ranging from almost fifty years to just over four months, came together, put country ahead of party, and defused the nuclear option just hours before it was to be deployed. Fourteen senators, seven Democrats and seven Republicans, worked tirelessly over the past few days and weeks before finally reaching this agreement [PDF, text].

This deal isn't 100% good for every single senator, or for either political party. It is good, however, for the Senate as an institution. It is good, however, for the American people, and it is good for centrism. These fourteen senators did what all of the pundits were saying couldn't be done - they joined together, they worked hard, and they reached an agreement.

We will hear much squealing from special interests on both the left and the right in the coming days. The fourteen senators involved in this compromise will be vilified, Republicans by the "Justice Sunday" crowd, and Democrats by the PFAW folks and others. But there can be no mistake - averting the nuclear option is a good thing. Bipartisan compromise and agreement is a good thing.

The Senate is not going to stay up all night. Sometime around 10 p.m., the chamber will go into recess until 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, when consideration of the Owen nomination will resume. At noon tomorrow, there will be a cloture vote, which will pass under tonight's agreement; after that, Owen will likely be confirmed by a majority vote fairly quickly.

Put away the cots.

We all owe senators McCain, Nelson, Byrd, Warner, DeWine, Salazar, Pryor, Collins, Graham, Landrieu, Lieberman, Snowe, Chafee and Inouye a tremendous debt of gratitude. They have indeed saved our country from a dangerous road this evening.

Much more analysis to come, of course. Stay tuned, and stay active. We must continue to be vigilant, and make sure that this deal holds. But for now, look forward to a good night's sleep - we all deserve it.

[Update: I realized I hadn't linked down to my posts from earlier today where I was live-blogging, first the Senate debate (here and here) and then the sudden announcement of the compromise. Also, I do want to say, I agree with much of the instant analysis which suggests that the big loser in tonight's events is Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. If there is a single big winner it's hard to know who - McCain clearly comes out looking good from a centrist standpoint, but conservatives will be howling. For the country in general, of course, this agreement couldn't be better.

For more analysis, see this post from Crooks and Liars and this from The Moderate Voice. -- 10:13 p.m.]

[Update: Here's an amusing one. NRO's The Corner posts the press release from PFAW; dKos posts the response from James Dobson. -- 10:39 p.m.]