Thursday, June 30, 2005

Recess Appointment Prospects Fading

Steve Clemons reports this evening, after consulting with Senate and White House sources, that the chances of a recess appointment for John Bolton next week are growing slimmer. While that option is still a possibility, Clemons believes that the Senate will take up Bolton's nomination again sometime in July, possibly in coordination with a yet-to-be-released "United Nations reform" bill.

The White House undoubtedly understands the signals a recess appointment would send, and the players there are attempting to wriggle their way out of the corner they have so inexpertly backed themselves into. By coordinating votes on Bolton with debate on a UN reform package, the goal would be to paint Bolton opponents as anti-reform, exactly what they've been trying to do since April, but with a concrete example. We don't know yet what shape the reform package will take, but you can bet that it will be designed to force opposition (i.e. it could include a provision mandating the withholding of dues or something similar, which many in the Senate have said they would oppose).

What we all must remember as we move forward on this: John Bolton's record as a diplomat is ineffective at best, and could more aptly be described as downright detrimental. From Libya, to the nuclear non-profileration initiative, to Iran and North Korea, John Bolton has done more harm to American diplomacy than good. I cannot expect this record will change if he's confirmed as the UN Ambassador. John Bolton has tried, on numerous occasions, to influence intelligence analysts - and when they didn't cave under his pressures, he attempted to have them fired or transferred. His reputation in the international community is abyssmal, and his chances of success in carrying out the necessary and vital reforms at the UN are slim to none.

Since the Bolton nomination was announced, support for it has been on a straight downward slope almost from day one. The president and his administration have backed themselves into a very dark corner by refusing the very reasonable requests from senators Biden and Dodd; after a rising tide of statements from Republican senators in favor of granting those requests, it is clear that another attempt at cloture would be just as unsuccessful (if not more so) than prior efforts. So now we're down to three options: quietly withdraw Bolton's name and nominate a strong leader who can be confirmed and get to work, appoint Bolton during a recess and send a hamstrung, unconfirmed representative to the United Nations when America requires a strong voice there, or this new possibility - tying a vote on Bolton to a UN-reform package sometime in July.

Option one obviously would be the best choice for the country, but since this Administration refuses to admit error on anything, it seems unlikely. Option two remains a possibility, but Bolton's possible (and understandable) reticence (as well as that of many Republican senators) may preclude it from happening. Option three allows the debate on Bolton to continue, and will give opponents of the nomination another few weeks to gather information and continue to make our case that John Bolton is not the ambassador we need to carry out any sort of meaningful reform at the United Nations. I, for one, will relish the chance to keep pointing out the reasons that John Bolton's not the best man for the job.

I say to the White House, "bring it on."

Cox Puts the Wrong Foot Forward

Since I am a New Yorker, I'll obviously be watching next year's Senate race between Hillary Clinton and Republican Candidate TBD quite closely. Since I am a Republican, I would like nothing better than for my party to field a decent candidate who I can support. After yesterday, I'm not sure that's going to happen.

Attorney Ed Cox, best known for marrying the daughter of Richard Nixon, announced Wednesday that he is forming an exploratory committee to begin planning a campaign for the GOP nomination to take on Clinton. In his announcement, and in a press conference just following, Cox laid out what seem to be the twin themes of his campaign: A) that Hillary Clinton is a carpetbagger, and B) that she's not a Republican.

One theme A: "She parachuted into New York solely for the reason of running for the Senate," Cox said. "How can she focus on the problems in New York when she's thinking of running for the presidency? She's more concerned about the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire than the priorities of the people of New York." And on theme B: "We need a senator from New York, for New York, who's in the majority in Washington, who can deliver for New York State."

In 2000, I campaigned for Rick Lazio in his campaign against Mrs. Clinton; I thought then that the carpetbagger issue was an important one, that New Yorkers would have to decide whether they wanted a senator who had lived in New York and represented our state in Congress already, or whether they wanted a former First Lady who had previously only visited the Empire State. The people of New York decided in favor of Hillary Clinton, and she's been our senator now for nearly six years.

The carpetbagger argument failed in 2000, and for Ed Cox to try and recycle it for 2006 is frankly one of the stupidest political strategies I've ever heard. New Yorkers knew six years ago that Hillary hadn't lived here, and it didn't matter then - what on earth can Cox and his team think is going to make it work now?

On the charge that Mrs. Clinton is planning a run for the presidency, that's certainly an issue that the senator will have to deal with during the campaign, and I'll be watching closely to see how she handles the questions that she will undoubtedly get (i.e. will you pledge to serve a full six-year term if you're reelected? etc.) But I personally can't see how future political decisions should serve to disqualify the senator from reelection (a la George W. Bush in his 1998 gubernatorial campaign, just as an example).

As for theme B, the argument that Cox could get more done for New York as a Republican than Hillary can as a Democrat, I really have my doubts as to the accuracy of that statement. Every time Hillary Clinton opens her mouth, people listen. Her speeches, and her actions in committee, get covered widely by media not only from New York, but from around the country and the world. Would six years of Ed Cox create even a tenth of the ink spilled about the words and positions of Hillary Clinton? Seems doubtful.

Senator Clinton has been a strong voice for New York in the Senate. She has worked effectively across the aisle, and has made a name for herself even among Senate Republicans as a hard-working and serious legislator. Any Republican candidate who wants this Republican's vote next November will have to make a very strong case that they can do more for New York and for centrist, common-sense government than the incumbent.

If yesterday's statements from Ed Cox were any indication, his campaign against Hillary Clinton is based on little more than "I'm not Hillary", a strategy which failed miserably in 2000 and would undoubtedly do so again in 2006. If Mr. Cox intends to be a serious candidate in next year's election, he'd better get a grip on reality and start making a real case for himself. Since I think that unlikely, if the New York Republican Party intends to field a serious candidate against Mrs. Clinton, they might want to look at someone other than Ed Cox.

Dean on "Hardball"

This morning a reader emailed and suggested that I check out video of DNC chairman Howard Dean's appearance on last night's "Hardball" with Chris Matthews. I found the video on Dem Bloggers, and finally got a chance to view it early this evening - I agreed with the emailer's assessment that Dean did a better-than-satisfactory job in the interview. I didn't necessarily agree with 100% of what Dean said, but I thought for the most past he was offering up decent, substantive criticisms of the Administration without engaging in the rampant zingerism that has been all too present in many recent appearances.

I hope he keeps it up.

SCOTUS Watch: The Stevens Court?

The Christian Science Monitor will run an interesting article in Friday editions, analyzing the breakdown of the so-called 'federalist revolution' in recent Supreme Court terms and questioning whether Justice John Paul Stevens' name is a more appropriate descriptor for recent trends than the Chief Justice's. I think Justices O'Connor and/or Kennedy probably deserve the title as much or more than Stevens does (and not to spoil the fun, but that's basically the same conclusion reached by the article's author, Warren Richey).

In effect, Richey argues, conservatives on the Court have been unable to muster enough support to take things much further down the federalist road: "Carried to their extreme, the federalism and property-takings projects might have triggered a wholesale assault on much of the modern regulatory state that dates from the New Deal. But instead of a call to arms, the conservative wing disintegrated, leaving the chief justice with no blockbuster precedents this year," due in large part to the alliance of centrists O'Connor, Kennedy and Souter (at various times) with the more liberal justices.

A Stevens Court? No, the Rehnquist Court has certainly turned into a centrist one.

"In a Foul Mood"

The Christian Science Monitor reports today on a new Democracy Corps poll which bears out other data suggesting Americans are quite unhappy with the direction the country's taking - and they're not turning to the Democrats as an alternative to Republican leadership. In a breakfast meeting with CSM, Democratic strategist James Carville and pollster Stan Greenberg discussed the new data, and its implications for the Democratic Party ... which aren't positive.

Greenberg, citing a result in the poll, noted that Republicans are favored by 43% of those surveyed, while Democrats get support from 38%. Not a large margin, but Greenberg concluded "Republicans weakened in this poll ... but it shows Democrats weakening more." He attributes the lack of support for Democrats to the perception that the party has "no core set of convictions or point of view." Carville added "The country is just in a foul mood."

At the meeting, both Greenberg and Carville say they're worried that a Supreme Court vacancy and confirmation fight might further damage the approval ratings of political figures in Washington, on both sides of the aisle. Carville: "This Supreme Court thing could really set the country off against Washington, because this is something that we care about in Washington a whole lot more than [voters] care about out there." Greenberg added that a Court fight "reinforces a sense that Washington is out of touch ... You've got a lot of economic discontent out there that neither party is championing."

As I asked back in the early part of June, "Who will seize the day?" The Republicans have lost their way in a briar patch of distractions, and the Democratic leadership hasn't yet begun heeding the words of Carville, Greenberg and their ilk. The CSM article notes that both Carville and Greenberg "believe economic conditions could trigger a third party bid in 2008. Greenberg said it could be helped by a 'rural revolt against Washington' rooted in concerns about healthcare costs."

Health care costs, and so much more. Will a party begin to lead? Or must we all look elsewhere?

Pennsylvania Senators Square Off

In Thursday's USA Today, Andrea Stone profiles Pennsylvania's two Republican senators, Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, who are finding themselves deeply at odds over the issue of embyronic stem cell research. For the first time since Santorum's election in 1994, a public rift has developed between the two men: Specter supports increased federal funding for research on embryos that would otherwise be destroyed, while Santorum opposes such research.

"Their conflicting positions," Stone writes, "despite shared constituents and political affiliation, illustrate the rift within the Republican Party over the matter."

It's a piece worth reading; check it out if you have time.

Senate Stem Cell Deal "Close"

In another good Hill article, Jeffery Young reports that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, bowing to pressure from a bipartisan majority of senators, is planning a vote on the Senate's version of the House bill passed in May that would allow federal funding for stem cell research on embryos that would otherwise be destroyed. While Senators Sam Brownback and Tom Coburn have threatened to try and block the legislation, through filibusters or other procedural holds, proponents of the bill say they've got more than enough votes to end debate on the measure and obtain a vote on final passage.

Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), told Young he expects negotiations between Frist and Minority Leader Harry Reid on a timetable for the vote to conclude sometime this week, and that Frist has "promised" a vote on the bill prior to the August recess. Yet to be resolved, Young says, are questions of what other proposals (including funding for adult stem cell research and/or research on umbillical cord blood cells) will be debated at the same time as the embryonic research proposal.

At a press conference Wednesday, Smith, along with senators Harkin, Hatch, Kennedy, Feinstein and Stabenow announced "a grassroots effort led by the American Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Diabetes Association and the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research to promote the legislation across the country during the July 4 recess," Young reports.

The increased pace of negotiations, the article suggests without saying outright, has come about not only through the efforts of senators, but also because several conservative organizations (including Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America) formerly opposing a vote on the stem cell measure now are pushing for a vote, in order to force the president to issue a promised veto of the bill.

What Young does not bring up is the question of where exactly Senator Frist is going to come down on the embryonic stem cell measure. As I've reported before (most recently here, originally here back on May 24), Senator Frist back in 2001 announced that he supported federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells that would otherwise be destroyed. Where he stands on this issue today is entirely unclear, and it will be very interesting indeed to see where he ends up. It's certainly a tough spot for him: oppose the bill and placate the right wing (and the president), but be open to the charge that he changed his position for transparent political gain - or support the bill and face the wrath of those conservatives he's courting for 2008, as well as taking a public stand against the president's stated position.

Will the majority vote in the Senate be large enough that Frist can vote yes on the measure and stay under the radar? Little chance of that if Bush vetoes the bill ... Are the conservative groups now pushing for a vote out to put Frist on record here and embarrass him if he holds his 2001 position?

What's a doctor to do?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

House Ethics Panel Breaks Impasse

The Hill will report on Thursday that "The House ethics committee is back in business." Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and ranking Democrat Alan Mollohan (WV) reached agreement Wednesday on how to organize committee staff, a decision which will finally allow the committee to organize and begin functioning. Mollohan told reporter Alexander Bolton that he thought staff members could be hired over the next three weeks, which would allow the committee to begin investigations after the August recess.

The "agreement in principle" between the chairman and ranking member meant, Mollohan said, that "We are in agreement that we can move forward in strict accordance of the rules and hire staff by majority vote of the full committee. ... The chairman and ranking member will work through the chief counsel/staff director hired by majority vote of the full committee."

Bolton adds that even though this agreement has been reached, "
Some suspicion lingers between Hastings and Mollohan ... Mollohan said the agreement would be put in writing in such a way 'so that as we use these words we understand these words to have the same meaning.'"

I hope that this agreement will hold, so that the ethics committee can finally get down to business and begin investigations into very serious allegations of ethical abuses by various members of the House, including Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Reps. Jim McDermott and Duke Cunningham. It's about time these issues were resolved.

House Advances Limits on 527s

Voting 5-3, the House Administration Committee today advanced a bill sponsored by Reps. Chris Shays and Marty Meehan that would "place tax-exempt partisan groups [commonly known as 527 organizations] under the same fundraising and spending limits that apply to political action committees," says an AP report. The House is expected to vote on the measure as soon as July.

Democracy 21's Fred Wertheimer said in a statement "We strongly support the Shays-Meehan bill as the means for closing the soft money loophole for 527 groups and urge the House to pass it as a completely separate bill." There was some concern that the Shays-Meehan bill might be lumped with another, sham, reform bill that would undo some provisions of McCain-Feingold, but that version (known as Pence-Wynn) will also be debated on its own merits (or lack thereof).

Today's action is a good step forward for the 527 legislation, and I hope it gets a fair hearing in the House and a positive vote. Stay tuned for more developments.

Bolton Nomination: The Latest

It has been several days since any public statements from the Administration or new major news stories appeared about the John Bolton nomination. The silence is deafening. Since I noted yesterday that Bill Frist had not yet filed a new cloture petition in the Senate - meaning that the chamber would not hold another Bolton cloture vote this week - discussion has revolved mainly around two questions: is Bush prepared to make a recess appointment for Bolton? And even if he is, would Bolton accept?

Steve Clemons, who has been out in front on all things Bolton since the outset, says he's not so sure Bolton would take the job if offered as a recess appointment. Speculating this morning at TPMCafe, Clemons writes "Most think that a recess appointment is likely this next week. But Bolton himself has not wanted to go to the United Nations in such a crippled position - and may want to drop out. What may be going on now is the White House trying to bully Bolton into accepting the job - and standing by the President's plan no matter how personally harmful to Bolton."

I'm not sure if this is right, but it certainly makes some sense. There's also the possibility that the Administration has been being quiet on Bolton so as not to distract from the president's Iraq speech last night. If that's the case, though, we might have expected some action on the nomination this afternoon or evening, and thus far that hasn't been forthcoming.

"In the end," Clemons adds at The Washington Note, "while the White House did not get its way in the Senate, it will probably prevail in nudging Bolton to accept the job any way he gets it. Principle will be lost, and Bolton knows it. No more illusions - and no weight at all on U.N. reform or on the coming Security Council efforts on North Korea and Iran."

As I've said before, a recess appointment would indeed hobble Bolton's chances for getting anything meaningful accomplished at the United Nations. It would serve only as a reinforcement of the petulancy and petty stubbornness of this White House and the vice president. Their stated goal is to get a strong reformer at the UN. A recess-appointed Bolton would be neither strong nor effective, and I think John Bolton knows that as well as anyone.

Coalition for Darfur Posts Update

The Coalition for Darfur offers a new weekly post today, "Conflicting Priorities." It aptly details the various roadblocks that have conspired to keep international action from happening in Darfur, examining relationships between Sudan and the United States, the International Criminal Court, African Union, as well as the United Nations.

The sad conclusion: "Solving the crisis in Darfur is undoubtedly a priority for many in the international community. Unfortunately, it is not a main priority. And because of that, it is likely that tens of thousands Africans will continue to die over the coming months."

Congress Gives Itself a Raise

From the Associated Press:

"WASHINGTON, June 28 - The House agreed Tuesday that members of Congress should earn $3,100 more next year, bringing their salaries to $165,200.

By a vote of 263 to 152, the House blocked a bid by Representative Jim Matheson, Democrat of Utah, to force a vote on the increase. Instead, lawmakers will automatically receive the money as provided for in a 1989 law that barred them from accepting large speaking fees in exchange for an annual cost of living adjustment.

Mr. Matheson was the only House member to speak out against the increase, which will take effect in January."

The Congressional Record from yesterday's session is not yet online, but I'm going to update this later with Matheson's speech. The roll call vote, however, is here. The key is probably to recognize that not all of the no votes you see there were because they opposed a pay raise; other factors undoubtedly came into play. But it was 87 Republicans, 64 Dems, and independent Bernie Sanders voting to block consideration of the bill (136 Reps and 127 Dems supported moving forward and accepting the raise).

Jim Matheson gets a gold star for the day. He's the only one.

[Update: Here's Matheson's statement, from the Congressional Record:

"Mr. MATHESON. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to ask my colleagues to oppose the previous question.

Our Nation is facing a number of challenges. We are fighting a war against terror that will continue to require significant attention and resources. We are facing historic budget deficits with a national debt of almost $8 trillion.

Our country has pressing needs in education, health care, veterans services and other areas. With all of those challenges before us now, now is not the time for Members of the Congress to be voting themselves a pay raise. We need to be willing to make sacrifices. We need to behave like American families who make tough choices every day. We need to budget, live within our means, and make careful spending decisions based on our more pressing priorities.

A no vote on the previous question will allow Members to vote up or down on the automatic cost of living pay raise for Members of Congress. If the previous question is defeated, I will offer an amendment to the rule. My amendment will block the fiscal year 2006 cost of living pay raise for Members of Congress. Because this amendment requires a waiver, the only way to get to this issue is to defeat the previous question. So again, I urge my colleagues to vote no on the previous question" [emphasis added].

Matheson's procedural motion, as I noted above, failed to pass. I wish it hadn't. What better points can be made than those he sets out? Historic budget deficits, other pressing needs, willing to make sacrifices, now is not the time. Indeed. -- 9:10 a.m.]

[Update: The Salt Lake Tribune covers Matheson's effort, noting that he has opposed each year's pay increase since he was elected in 2000, and that he donates each year's raise to charity.

Also we have this, from the Washington Post:

"The annual debate on the members' COLA resembles kabuki theater: Both Democratic and Republican leaders guarantee sizable majorities of their members to block the effort, and they make sure there is not a clear-cut vote on the measure. None of the party campaign committees uses the pay-raise issue in campaigns."

Great. More kabuki theater from Congress - just what we need. -- 11:04 a.m.]

Discussion for the comments, if you're interested: does Congress deserve this pay raise? Use whatever criteria you'd like to evaluate their job performance.

Spinning the Speech

Before I move along to other fun and exciting things, I wanted to pass along the major papers' coverage of the president's speech last night, for your reading pleasure (or not, as you see fit). For my own take, scroll down to the live-blog of the speech and the insta-spin from last night, in which I clearly was much too hard on poor Bob Costas (who, I will admit, did a decent job with the interviews).

In the New York Times, Richard Stevenson analyzes the speech, saying that it "offered no new policies or course corrections, and for the most part was a restatement of the ideas and language that he has been employing for two and a half years to explain the war and assert that it is an integral part of a broader struggle to protect the United States from terrorism." Stevenson does credit Bush with being more forthright than in the past about his own reactions to the violence (using the word "horrifying"), and for his implicit contradictions of the "last throes" formulation offered by the vice president.

Also in the NYT, what passes for the straight coverage comes from David Sanger (but really almost approaches Stevenson's in its analytical elements). There is a "from the soldiers" reaction piece as well, by Kirk Johnson, as well as an editorial. The latter is even more disappointed with the speech than I was: "Sadly, Mr. Bush wasted his opportunity last night, giving a speech that only answered questions no one was asking. He told the nation, again and again, that a stable and democratic Iraq would be worth American sacrifices, while the nation was wondering whether American sacrifices could actually produce a stable and democratic Iraq." The piece also criticizes the repeated 9/11 references.

The Washington Post's main coverage is courtesy of Peter Peter and Dana Milbank, which notes the Kerry point from last night that "The address continued a shift in the administration's emphasis as it has justified the Iraq war, beginning with the threat posed by Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction, continuing to the need to promote democracy in the Middle East and now suggesting a more seamless link to the attacks on American soil."

Balz continues this line of argument in a separate analysis piece. Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright contribute an excellent fact-checking article on the speech (if you only read one today, read this). Tom Shales examines the media coverage of the event, and the WP also has an editorial, which is less sanguine than that in the Times, but says "Once again ... the president missed an opportunity to fully level with Americans ..."

The LA Times offers up coverage from Paul Richter and Edwin Chen, as well as a Ron Brownstein analysis. They too have an editorial. USA Today has coverage and analysis as well.

On to other things shortly ... stay tuned.

[Update: Alan at The Yellow Line has a good run-down of how centrist bloggers reacted to the speech, which he concludes by saying "So the resounding conclusion from the center seems to be: there was not much there, there. Whether or not this works to shore up support remains to be seen. Over the next few days I’m sure we’ll get some sense on how Americans are reacting and whether Bush achieved his goal." Agreed. -- 10:12 a.m.]

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Hybrids on the Rise

Reuters has some good news tonight, with a report that a new J.D. Power-LMC Automotive Forecasting Services study forecasts that hybrid vehicles will increase from a .5% market share in 2004 to a 3.5% share by 2012, and diesel vehicles' share will increase from 3% to 7.5% in the same period.

A participant in the study, Anthony Pratt, said of the findings "Higher gas prices are acting as a catalyst for automakers and consumers to find alternatives to the traditional gasoline internal combustion engine."

If the forecast proves true, this is good news. It also puts the lie to the argument that auto companies cannot make more fuel efficient vehicles without compromising safety (the projected hybrids are likely to be largely in the mid-size to SUV range, the study suggests). Get at it, Detroit.

Bush's Speech

The president has just taken the stage at Fort Bragg. I'll follow along and post throughout. Stay tuned.

- First mention of 9/11, less than one minute in. Second, less than one minute later.

- Calls Iraq "the newest front" in the war against terror. -- 8:04 p.m.

- Delivers as released this paragraph, "The work in Iraq is difficult and dangerous. Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying - and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country. And tonight I will explain the reasons why." Let's hear them. -- 8:06 p.m.

- Quoting Osama bin Laden? I winced at that; doesn't seem like a particularly helpful thing to do. -- 8:08 p.m.

- Notes how the insurgency in Iraq has failed: transfer of sovereignty, provisional government, elections. "The terrorists can kill the innocent - but they cannot stop the advance of freedom. The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11 ... if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi ... and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like Bin Laden. For the sake of our national security, this will not happen on my watch." Why are we continuing to link 9/11 and what's going on in Iraq right now? Does this make sense to anyone else? -- 8:11 p.m.

- "Our progress has been uneven, but progress is being made." That's the first (even tangential) moment of admitting so much as 'uneven' in the way progress has been going. -- 8:12 p.m.

- "We have a clear path forward ... continue to hunt down the terrorists and insurgents ... preven Iraq from being turned into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban ... help Iraqis build a functioning state." Says military will hunt terrorists, train Iraqi security forces: "as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down. We've made progress, but we have alot more work to do." -- 8:15 p.m.

- Real specifics on numbers when it comes to the readiness levels of Iraqi troops: "some," "many," "others". -- 8:16 p.m.

- Makes the (good) point that setting an "artificial timetable" isn't a very good idea. Makes clear that American troops will not be in Iraq forever, he says he looks forward to the day when Iraqis can defend themselves. The "no permanent presence" point is an excellent one, and it was necessary to make this clear. -- 8:20 p.m.

- Credits action in Iraq with bringing about the end of Libya's WMD programs, and allowing elections in the Palestinian Authority, Saudi, and Egypt. Tough to make that case, I think. -- 8:24 p.m.

- "We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America's resolve. We are fighting against men with blind hatred - and armed with lethal weapons - who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality. They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras. They are trying to shake our will in Iraq - just as they tried to shake our will on September 11, 2001. They will fail. The terrorists do not understand America. The American people do not falter under threat - and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins." -- 8:25 p.m.

- "America and our friends are in a conflict that demands much of us. It demands the courage of our fighting men and women … it demands the steadfastness of our allies … and it demands the perseverance of our citizens. We accept these burdens - because we know what is at stake. We fight today, because Iraq now carries the hope of freedom in a vital region of the world - and the rise of democracy will be the ultimate triumph over radicalism and terror. And we fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens - and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we will fight them there … we will fight them across the world - and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won." -- 8:27 p.m.

- Asks Americans to thank those to who for us to defend freedom "by flying a flag, sending letters to troops in the field, or helping the military family down the street." He might as well have added "and go shopping." Argh. We can't do any more than fly the flag or send a letter? C'mon. -- 8:28 p.m.

- Ends with "After September 11, 2001, I told the American people that the road ahead would be difficult - and that we would prevail. Well, it has been difficult. And we are prevailing. Our enemies are brutal - but they are no match for the United States of America - and they are no match for the men and women of the United States military. May God bless you all."

Well. Nothing much new, not much different, not much straight talk. In all, a disappointment. The continued linkages between 9/11 and Iraq are really pretty brazen, and we heard nothing concrete about fighting the insurgency. Of course we all support the troops (I can't say that nearly enough, I could not have more respect for those out there carrying out the orders) - I'd also support some real honesty from this president. -- 8:34 p.m.

- The insta-spin, at least on CNN, is about the high number of references to 9/11. Dana Bash says insiders are saying the language is justifiable "because even Osama bin Laden says" this is the same war. The president is basing his rhetoric around quotes from Osama bin Laden? Wow. -- 8:36 p.m.

- CNN on with Joe Biden, who says "There has been progress." Gives some clearer numbers on trainees, but says he didn't hear much about changes in policy tonight. He gives Bush credit for "leveling" (wow, he must have heard something I didn't hear), and says he hopes the American people will give Bush "more time." Adds that the American people are smart enough to see through the 9/11 references, then says he wishes Bush had "leveled more." Suggests that Bush should ask NATO to come in and secure the borders. -- 8:51 p.m.

- McCain and Kerry to be on with Larry King. I know, I know, Larry King - but McCain and Kerry ought to be interesting. -- 8:55 p.m.

- Response from Harry Reid here. -- 8:58 p.m.

- haha well it's not Larry King. It's Bob Costas, possibly the only anchorperson worse. Asks Kerry to start if Bush gave the speech he should have given. Kerry says Bush had an opportunity tonight, but didn't take it. Says he heard the third rationale for war tonight: weapons of mass destruction, spreading democracy, and now fighting terrorism. Costas asks "what would President Kerry do?" and thankfully Kerry bats that down as dumb, says that he really disagrees with the requirement that all training of Iraqis be in-country (as he did today in the Times), because training could be accomplished quicker and more effectively by utilizing our allies. Suggests maybe Bush will continue to lay out new policies in the next several weeks - wow he's playing nice tonight. Notes that many Democrats "and I plead guilty" didn't ask enough questions before the war in Iraq, but then turns it to 9/11 himself, notes that everyone was united after the attacks, that questions only were raised when it came to Iraq. -- 9:05 p.m.

- Kerry continues, saying Americans "have a right to expect a higher level of accomplishment, and a higher level of safety and security." -- 9:06 p.m.

- Makes the point I made earlier about flying the flag to honor the troops, says the Administration is not doing "all that's necessary to honor the troops," that Americans "want to demand more." "Yes there is progress, but the measure is to do the best that we can do, and I think alot of people think we're failing to do that." -- 9:08 p.m.

- Kerry's finished up a fairly straightforward, if somewhat repetitive, interview with Costas - McCain's up next. Kerry and Biden seemed to be tripping over themselves to see who could be more critical-but-supportive, which I found of interest. -- 9:11 p.m.

- Since the president suggested it, I'll pass along the URL he spoke of, where you can send an email to troops and at least do something to support them. It's at I just wish he'd offered Americans something more than a website. - 9:14 p.m.

- McCain now: Costas quotes Hagel's recent comments about the White House being disconnected from reality and that we're "losing." McCain says mistakes have been made, but that there are signs of progress in military training, constitution-framing. "I think there there is progress, we cannot afford to fail ... the benefits of success throughout the region are already being felt." He says that he's satisfied with Bush's message and its delivery tonight. McCain's left eye looks funny, half-closed and watery (sorry, minor aside, it's getting late). Notes the huge change in Iraq from minority Sunni rule to Shia majority control and how difficult that will be. Clearly just about everyone (at least those on t.v.) is trying to be very positive about this speech, but I didn't get the same warm fuzzy feelings about it that Biden, Kerry, and McCain seemed to. -- 9:26 p.m.

- Senator Bayh, on CNN now, says Bush did a good job of saying things that all Americans agree on, but did not "lay out a clear plan." He says "we need accountability for progress, and I think he could have done a better job of that tonight." Finally, something against the grain tonight. -- 9:33 p.m.

- Senator John Warner says progress is being made, but adds some excellent points, that a bipartisan message should be sent that we support the troops and success in Iraq, and that we should stop talking about whether conservatives are more patriotic than liberals and focus on reality. Always good to hear things like that, for sure. -- 9:36 p.m.

- Alright, I think I've about exhausted this business for the evening. As I've said, bottom line was nothing new out of this. Disappointing.

Full text of the speech is available here.

[Update: Alan at The Yellow Line has some excellent commentary on the speech, discussing specifically what the president did not do tonight. -- 11:05 p.m.]

Bush Approval by State

In anticipation of President Bush's speech tonight (I'll be semi-live-blogging, so be sure to stop by later on), I wanted to pass along (via Political Wire) these new Survey USA approval rankings for President Bush, done on a state-by-state basis. Most are unsurprising, but the results in both Ohio and Nevada are intriguing. The ratings range from a 63% positive mark in Utah, to just 32% in Vermont. The national weighted average for approval is 43%.

Russ Potts Debate Watch

As I've discussed before, centrist independent Virginia gubernatorial candidate Russ Potts [homepage] has been working hard to get the Virginia Bar Association to allow him to join the Republican and Democrat candidates in their gubernatorial debate, scheduled for July 16. Their excuse? Potts was not a candidate when the debate was announced last year (and that the Republican, Jerry Kilgore, refuses to debate with Potts).

Many editorial boards and columnists have weighed in supporting Potts' bid to participate in the debate, and now the Potts campaign is asking all Virginians to join the effort. In emails to supporters and on the homepage, the campaign suggests that voters contact the Virginia Bar Association's leaders: President James Meath (804-783-6412) and Executive VP Breck Arrington (804-644-0041). If you're a Virginia voter (and obviously if you think Potts should be allowed to join in the debate), please call or email Meath and/or Arrington. I would not advise non-Virginians to do so, in the interests of not doing more harm than good to Potts' efforts. You can see some sample emails here.

There is no good excuse for the exclusion of Russ Potts from the VBA's debate. None, except that Jerry Kilgore and Tim Kaine are worried that he might actually tell Virginians what they need to hear. I add Kaine to that since although he has said Potts is welcome to participate, he has not said that he will boycott the debate unless Potts is allowed to join. He should take this step, and put the burden solely on Kilgore's shoulders.

Again, if you're from Virginia, please take a moment to email or call the VBA and encourage them to let Potts into the debate. It's the least we can do.

Previous posts on the Potts campaign:
- "Catching Up" (6/22)
- "Let Potts Debate" (6/20)
- "Primary Results from Virginia" (6/14)
- "Centrist Surge in Virginia" (6/13)
- "Renegade Realist: More on Russ Potts" (5/18)
- "A Little Straight Talk" (5/12)
- "Walking the Walk in Virginia" (4/29)

A Few Good Reads

Some of the notable things I've read today from around the blogosphere:

- The Bull Moose, Common Sense Desk, and The Yellow Line discuss what President Bush should talk about in tonight's speech (my own thoughts here). Also, if you haven't been keeping up with The Yellow Line's Iraq debate series, check this out.

- The Moderate Voice examines the possibility of a Jeb Bush run in '08.

- In twin posts today (here and here) Steve Clemons updates us on Bolton, noting that Frist filed no cloture petition this morning - which in all likelihood means there will be no new cloture attempt this week- and also makes the case (again) in opposition to a recess appointment.

- Take a look at this interesting thread over at TPM Cafe: I started it by asking other readers there to link to their own blogs and describe them a bit. It's made for a very interesting cross-section.

- At Centerfield, Mathew has an excellent post about John Edwards, and this post from Rick Heller a few days ago, "Define Centrist" attracted some great responses and debate.

[Update: Not from the blogosphere, but being linked extensively today, is this "guest viewpoint" from the Eugene, OR Register Guard. It's by a defecting Republican ... and I have to say, he makes a pretty good case. -- 5:46 p.m. Dennis at The Moderate Republican has more on this essay, very well done. -- 7:02 p.m.]

Senate Passes Energy Bill

Earlier this morning, the Senate passed its version of the energy bill, voting 85-12. This AP piece covers the bill's provisions fairly well, so if you'd like background, I recommend it. For my own running commentary on the debate on the bill last week, go here, here, here, or here.

The twelve no votes came from predictable corners: Corzine and Lautenberg (NJ), Gregg and Sununu (NH), Schumer (NY), Reed (RI), Kyl and McCain (AZ), Feingold (WI), Martinez and Nelson (FL), and Wyden (OR). Connecticut's Lieberman and Dodd didn't vote, nor did Sessions.

This bill isn't perfect. By any stretch. But, as I've said before, I hope that what emerges from the upcoming Senate-House conference is closer to this than what the House will bring to the table. That's going to be important.

Kerry's Shadow Speech

John Kerry has an op/ed in today's New York Times laying out the case for what President Bush should say about Iraq when he addresses the nation later tonight. It may be because I need sleep, but I have to confess, I can't find anything in there that doesn't make sense. In fact, many of the points are similar to those I made on Sunday. Read Kerry's piece over, let me know what you think.

[Update: Alright I've read Kerry's column again, in the light of day, and it still seems to be almost right on target with what the American people need to hear from their president. I agree wholeheartedly with the comments below: where the heck was this speech last October? -- 8:17 a.m.]

How Long?

Some liberal bloggers have picked up a quote from conservative 'leader' Grover Norquist in a speech he gave at the College Republican National Convention last week. As reported by the Dallas Morning News on Friday night:

"[P]arty strategist Grover Norquist lambasted three Republicans who broke party ranks over the issue of judicial filibusters. He referred to them as 'the two girls from Maine and the nut-job from Arizona' – Sens. Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and John McCain."

"Two girls from Maine and the nut-job from Arizona." This from a top party strategist, to a group of young Republicans. What a shining example of exactly the kind of thing that absolutely sickens me about the Republican Party today. Big tent? Sure, if you agree 100% with their demands. Otherwise, it's the woodshed for you.

Ridiculous. I don't feel like this can possibly last much longer.

[Update: McCain's response to this is classic, as quoted in Roll Call: "I assume he wants to provoke us, but it’s hard to work up much interest for someone who in his continued warm embrace of Jack Abramoff is doing a more than adequate job of marginalizing himself. Most Reagan revolutionaries came to Washington to do something more patriotic than rip off Indian tribes." Love it. -- 8:29 a.m.]

[Update: More on this from today's Washington Post: Norquist backed off the "girls from Maine" comment, saying "It was not meant that way. We were talking to a bunch of college kids." Because college kids think of two female senators, both in their fifties, as girls. Riiiight.

And of McCain? Norquist said he "misspoke ... I meant to say gun-grabbing, tax-increasing Bolshevik."

The excellent responses to this gutter-talk from McCain's staff continue: adviser Mark Salter issued a statement saying "John McCain hasn't spent five seconds in his entire life thinking about Grover Norquist. He's not going to start now."

Thank goodness for that. -- 9:33 a.m.]

[Update: A good reminder from a couple of readers: maybe a few minutes thinking about making Norquist testify in the Abramoff hearings would be acceptable ... -- 9:48 a.m.]

Monday, June 27, 2005

NBC is Right ...

This is bizarre indeed. Sure the CIA needs to be imaginative, but this is something else.

Bolton Update

Stygius has a good look at where the Bolton battle stands now; check it out. I have not been watching the Senate closely enough today to know whether Frist filed another cloture petition, but I haven't seen any reports that he did. I agree with Stygius that a recess appointment next week is somewhat unlikely at this point, but there's certainly been no confirmation that it won't happen. Even though I don't agree with everything he says in the post, it's a decent rundown.

Rightly Decided

My initial impressions were right; I agree with the decisions in both the Texas and Kentucky Ten Commandments cases as they came down. In the Kentucky case, both Justice Souter's opinion for the majority (himself, O'Connor, Ginsburg, Breyer and Stevens) and Justice O'Connor's concurring opinion are instructive. I would pass along this from O'Connor's:

"Given the history of this particular display of the Ten Commandments, the Court correctly finds an Establishment Clause violation. ...

The purpose behind the counties' display is relevant because it conveys an unmistakable message of endorsement to the reasonable observer. ... It is true that many Americans find the Commandments in accord with their personal beliefs. But we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment. ... Nor can we accept the theory that Americans who do not accept the Commandments' validity are outside the First Amendment's protections. ... It is true that the Framers lived at a time when our national religious diversity was neither as robust nor as well recognized as it is now. They may not have foreseen the variety of religions for which the Nation would eventually provide a home. They surely could not have predicted new religions, some of them born in this country. But they did know that line-drawing between religions is an enterprise that, once begun, has no logical stopping point. They worried that 'the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects.' ... The Religion Clauses, as a result, protect adherents of all religions, as well as those who believe in no religion at all.

We owe our First Amendment to a generation with a profound commitment to religion and a profound commitment to religious liberty - visionaries who held their faith 'with enough confidence to believe that what should be rendered to God does not need to be decided and collected by Caesar'" (internal citations omitted).

Scalia's dissent in McCreary is biting, and in fact quite nasty. O'Connor's (perceived?) swipe at him in her final paragraph clearly made its mark.

In the Texas case, Justice Breyer's concurring opinion (he being the swing vote in this instance) is the notable one. He does not join the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, which seeks to draw too bright a line in the sand (and which I also would not agree with), but notes the "borderline" aspects of the case:

"If the relation between government and religion is one of separation, but not of mutual hostility and suspicion, one will inevitably find borderline cases. And in such cases, I see no test-related substitute for the exercise of legal judgment. ... That judgment is not a personal judgment. Rather, as in all constitutional cases, it must reflect and remain faithful to the underlying purposes of the [Religion] Clauses, and it must take account of context and consequences measured in light of those purposes. While the Court's prior tests provide useful guideposts - and might well lead to the same result the Court reaches today, ... no exact formula can dictate a resolution to such fact-intensive cases. ..."

Breyer goes on to make his argument that the Texas display "is distinguishable from instances where the Court has found Ten Commandments displays impermissible." He concludes his argument by saying "But, as I have said, in reaching the conclusion that the Texas display falls on the permissible side of the constitutional line, I rely less upon a literal application of any particular test than upon consideration of the basic purposes of the First Amendment's Religions Clauses themselves. This display has stood apparently uncontested for nearly two generations. That experience helps us understand that as a practical matter of degree this display is unlikely to prove divisive. And this matter of degree is, I believe, critical in a borderline case such as this one.

... [T]o reach a contrary conclusion here, based primarily upon the religious nature of the tablets' text would, I fear, lead the law to exhibit a hostility to religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause tradition ..."

Breyer's opinion is a classic example of judicial pragmatism at its best, not to mention a genuine centrist argument. Examine the cases on their own merits, and decide that way, not based on any line drawn in the judicial sands.

SCOTUS Watch: Rulings Are In

Lots of news from the Supreme Court so far this morning, but as of yet, no retirement announcement. Here's how some of the cases came down:

- In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled that police officers cannot be sued for their methods in enforcing restraining orders (Castle Rock, CO v. Gonzales).

- Cable companies may keep competitors from using existing lines to provide high-speed Internet access, according to a 6-3 ruling. (NCTA v. Brand X Internet Services, FCC v. Brand X Internet Services). Not good for competition.

- The entertainment industry can sue file-sharing services if their intent is to allow users to violate copyright laws, the Court said unanimously. Justice Souter wrote for the Court, saying in part "One who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright ... is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties using the device, regardless of the device's lawful uses." (MGM v. Grokster). Regardless of anyone's views on copyright law, this decision seems quite fair.

- In what many will regard as a serious blow to freedom of the press, the Court refused to hear an appeal from reporters Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper, both of whom have resisted revealing sources they spoke with regarding the leak of an undercover CIA' operative's name. Cooper and Miller's cases now go back to a lower court, and they could face jail time if they continue to withhold the names of their sources. (Miller v. United States, Cooper v. United States). This is an unfortunate ruling.

- The Ten Commandments cases were the main attraction at the Court today, of course, and not surprisingly, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor proved the swing vote and arbiter. By 5-4 rulings, the Court said a monument featuring the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas state capitol is permissible, but said that certain displays of the Commandments inside courthouses are not. (Van Orden v. Perry, McCreary County v. ACLU). I haven't read these decisions, and since they're so narrow I don't want to say too much until I've gotten a chance to do so, but generally I think this was probably the right call in each case. Neither decision surprises me in the slightest, and with O'Connor's penchant for splitting hairs on religious questions, both make sense.

[Update: A whoops correction to the above: it was Justice Breyer whose vote changed in the Ten Commandments cases, not Justice O'Connor. He concurred with Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy and Rehnquist in the Texas case. More once I've read the decisions. -- 12:00 p.m.]

More to come once I've had a chance to read over the rulings. And of course, retirement news could still be on the horizon. Stay tuned.

[Update: I've added links to the decisions, via How Appealing. -- 12:05 p.m.]

"Law Matters"

While we wait for the Supreme Court's rulings and possible announcements this morning, check out this op/ed by Jeffrey H. Smith in the Washington Post. Smith is the former general counsel to the CIA, and has some excellent suggestions for how the Bush Administration can address some of the outstanding legal issues pertaining to the war on terror.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

What's Next?

We've got a busy political week ahead. Here's some of what's on the immediate horizon.

The Senate reconvenes tomorrow, Monday, at 1 p.m. for a period of morning business. They will resume consideration of the Interior Appropriations bill at 3 p.m., and debate that for as long as they're in session. There are no roll call votes scheduled. On Tuesday at 9:45 a.m. a vote is scheduled for final passage of the energy bill, after which debate on the appropriations bills will be resumed. We may see Majority Leader Bill Frist file another cloture petition on the John Bolton nomination as early as tomorrow; if that happens, a vote could come on that motion as early as Wednesday or Thursday. The Senate will complete its business for the week probably late Thursday or Friday, and then will not be in session the week of July 4.

The House meets at 12:30 p.m. Monday, with morning hour speeches until 2 p.m. Several items will be considered under suspension of the rules, but there will be no votes until 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and the remainder of the week will be devoted to appropriations bills, with those pertaining to Foreign Ops, Transportation, Treasury, and HUD on the docket. The Water Resources Development Act may also be debated.

President Bush will meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder Monday at the White House, and will also be planning for his primetime Tuesday night speech to the nation, to be delivered from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The Supreme Court tomorrow will likely hand down rulings in the last few cliffhanger cases of the term beginning around 10 a.m. Outstanding decisions include questions over the constitutionality of Ten Commandments displays on government property, the right of record companies to sue music downloaders, competition among high-speed Internet providers, and cases concerning death penalty appeals and restraining orders. More on those here.

Of course the moment all will be waiting for with bated breath is the question of Supreme Court retirements. Will Rehnquist retire? Will O'Connor? Will both? Will neither? Will we get a surprise retirement from Stevens? The answer to all of these questions, and to the inevitable 'what happens next?' corollary, is still at this point a big fat 'who knows.' As someone quipped on CNN this evening, those who know are talking, and those who are talking don't know. So, we shall see. One thing's for certain - if we get an announcement tomorrow (and over the past several days I've been feeling increasingly confident that we might not, at least not first thing in the morning), the interest groups on both sides are going to kick into high gear like it's nobody's business. It's not going to be pretty.

An announcement tomorrow would probably gum up the works for the Senate, the interest groups, the media, and the blogosphere for days. Everything else currently on the agenda will be quickly swept away while the nomination battle (and it will be a battle) takes center stage. I see only one possible positive from that - it would be the perfect time for the Bolton nomination to just ... slip away.

Hitting the Nail on the Head

I like listening to Bob Schieffer's final commentary at the end of "Face the Nation" each week. Sometimes I take him to task for what he says (i.e. here), but today's thoughts were right on target:

"And finally today, when the president when to a school in Montgomery County not far from the White House last week to push his plan for Social Security reform, The Washington Post called it a town hall style meeting. Choir practice style meeting would have been more accurate. Once again, the president was preaching to the choir: an invitation-only crowd. Those who disagreed were made to stand outside. The White House could not say if the audience included any actual Montgomery County residents.

Like most of the president's proposals, Social Security reform is in deep trouble. The administration blames the Democrats, and that's part of it. But I think it has more to do with spending so much time preaching to the choir. This White House takes great pride in being resolute, in standing apart from the rest of Washington, especially those who disagree with them. But the votes were never there to pass the president's Social Security reform package, and everybody knew it but the White House. The administration has badly misread the public mood on the Schiavo case and stem cell research, and it's backed itself into a time-wasting corner on who should be UN ambassador.

I like politicians who stand by their principles, who refuse to bend to every kick and every poll. But it is hard to get much done when you spend all your time with the choir and lose touch with the rest of the congregation.

President Bush will have his chance with the congregation Tuesday night. Will he put it to good use? Or will we get more of the same?

... No Straight Talk from Rumsfeld

In a move that (unfortunately) probably previews the president's speech on Tuesday night, the Secretary of Defense certainly isn't offering any kind of straight talk in making the Sunday talk show rounds this morning. He's just been engaging in a near-Clintonian semantic debate with George Stephanopoulos about the meaning of "last throes," and dodged questions from both Stephanopoulos and Chris Wallace about a report out today that Pentagon representatives have met with leaders of the insurgency in Iraq.

The Need for Presidential Straight Talk

Peter Beinart's "Shake Up the War Room" in today's Washington Post offers some very useful ideas to President Bush as he prepares for his Tuesday night prime-time speech to discuss the state of things in Iraq. Among them:

- Understand that the "Out of Iraq" movement is, largely, "the result of President Bush's ongoing refusal to speak honestly about the war." He must address the perception of at least a plurality of Americans (including this one) that the Administration exaggerated if not manufactured the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs and his government's ties with terrorists; the "lowballed" cost estimates of victory; and he must, for once and for all, stop making implicit connections between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of 9/11. Only by addressing these items, which Beinart correctly sees as damaging the Administration's credibility tremendously, can Bush make progress and start winning back the hearts and minds of those in this country who have come to question the policy in Iraq, whether from left, right, or center.

- Withdraw John Bolton's name from consideration. Beinart: "The nomination of Bolton is a giant declaration that the Bush administration still thinks it did nothing wrong on prewar intelligence. As undersecretary of state for arms control, Bolton tried to hype the threat from Cuba, Syria and Iraq. And when intelligence analysts opposed him, he tried to fire them. Now the Bush administration wants to send him to the United Nations so he can opine about U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear program - and be laughed out of the building."

- "[D]ump Donald Rumsfeld - whose continued employment signals that the Bush administration still thinks it did nothing wrong on prewar planning. ... How can Bush offer a credible strategy for winning peace if he relies on an utterly discredited defense secretary to carry it out?" I would add to the rationale for firing Rumsfeld his role in the Abu Ghraib and Gitmo prisoner abuse scandals, which have tarnished America's role in the world tremendously and have aided the recruitment efforts of the terrorists.

- Resist calls for a withdrawal timetable. The President and his Administration are right on this: an arbitrary timetable for pulling out is a ridiculous idea. However, honesty and pragmatic straightforwardness should be offered up in its place. Bush ought to say, clearly and unequivocally, that America is in Iraq for the long haul, that we're not going to give up there until the mission is accomplished and the Iraqi people can defend themselves. This should be done, however, with the realization that the insurgency is not "in its last throes," but that much more remains to be done.

- Beinart saves his best solution for last: "make this a national war, not a partisan one." He suggests "That means appointing independent figures to key jobs - people like Richard Lugar or Sam Nunn, who come from outside the conservative cocoon. And it means speaking about Iraq with a humility that this administration has richly earned." Bush needs to accept that the invasion of Iraq did not have the near-universal support that action in Afghanistan did have (from conservatives, centrists, and yes, liberals too, Karl), and that his actions since the war began have done little to bridge the gap and much to accentuate the rift. Even just a few words of contrition or indeed humility on Tuesday night would go a long way.

Alan at The Yellow Line made another excellent suggestion yesterday: along with calling for Bush to "speak clearly about the challenges and losses ahead, [and] about why we absolutely must push forward," Alan calls on the president to talk "about how all of us here on the home front can help the efforts." This is as important as anything else. Right after 9/11, the Bush Adminstration pledged to offer up ways for Americans to serve, in various ways. But that soon morphed into a numbingly dumb attempt to encourage "monitoring your neighbors," and the rhetoric shifted from "serve your country" to "go out and shop."

We as Americans have not been asked to sacrifice - we have not been asked to conserve energy, or to recognize that fighting a war costs money (rather alot of it, actually) that has to come from somewhere, or even to serve in some volunteer capacity at home. No, this Adminstration has tried to prove that you can have a war, giant tax cuts, bloated "emergency" spending bills and no sacrifices, all at the same time. And all while Americans just "go about their daily lives." It's time for that to end. President Bush should take the opportunity Tuesday night to lay out a detailed plan of national service opportunities for everyday Americans that offers up ways each and every one of us can contribute.

Nicholas Kristof writes in today's New York Times that because our national deficit is so high (he quotes the Comptroller General of the United States as calling recent budget years "the most fiscally irresponsible in our nation's history"), every American child is born today with a "birth tax" of approximately $150,000, their share of the deficits created during the Bush years. I've not independently run those numbers - but if true, that is incredible! Talk about a message for Democratic success next November ... I can see the ads already (cue the sunglassed men in suits, carrying large briefcases striding into maternity wards to collect).

Bush has much leveling to do with the American people. It's time to admit that things aren't going spectacularly in Iraq, but that they would likely be going much worse if America pulled out and came home. It's time to tell Americans we have to take steps to draw down the national deficit, and that doing so might mean (heaven forbid!) examining some of the current tax cuts and asking for further sacrifices. It's either we hear this, or we hear more of the same unwarranted rosiness that we've been seeing from Cheney and Rumsfeld. Let's have some straight talk, Mr. President.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

American Exceptionalism Examined

Don't miss Michael Ignatieff's "Who Are Americans to Think That Freedom is Theirs to Spread?" in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. It's a fascinating look at the tumultuous trend of American exceptionalist philosophy and the exportation of democracy, from the days of Jefferson to the present.

New Hurdles for the ESA

Since its passage in 1978, the Endangered Species Act has been a litigation rod, with landowners and their allies filing lawsuit after lawsuit to chip away at its protections, and environmental groups lodging their own arguments to force more strict compliance with the law's provisions. Sunday's New York Times features a good summary of recent challenges from both sides, as well as a look at the growing consensus emerging that some changes to the law to offer more incentives for property-owners to comply with the ESA might not be a bad idea.

The article also examines the importance of scientific finding vis-a-vis economic impact in federal agency decisions on ESA designations, an important element in the ongoing debate. It's definitely worth a read.

Sunday Show Guests

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld looks to match Rice's trifecta from last weekend on tomorrow's Sunday talk shows: he'll appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, Fox News Sunday, and ABC's This Week. Iraq, Gitmo, Osama and recruitment numbers will probably be the major topics of discussion.

Rumsfeld is Fox's only guest this week, although I'm sure they'll still have their round-table as well. The SecDef will be followed on NBC by U2's Bono, discussing current efforts to end global poverty. "This Week" will also feature former Nixon FBI Director L. Patrick Gray (because the Deep Throat story still hasn't passed its expiration date over at ABC, clearly), and a discussion panel with Fareed Zakaria, ABC's Martha Raddatz, and the ever-present George Will.

CBS' Face the Nation and CNN's Late Edition lost out on Rumsfeld, but I think their headliner, General John Abizaid, has the potential to make just as much, if not more, news. CNN will also feature Senator Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee (the only senator in the lineup this week!), Iraqi Prime Minister Ibraham al-Jafari, and Lebanese president Emile Lahoud. CBS has no other guests, but the Chicago Tribune's Jan Crawford Greenburg and CBS' Lara Logan will join Bob Schieffer in interviewing Abizaid.

Roberts Urges Recess Appointment

Doug Jehl, finally back on the Bolton beat for the New York Times, reports in Saturday editions that Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is bucking the current trend and urging President Bush not to allow Democrats to see information they've requested regarding NSA intercepts and the use of intelligence information related to Syrian weapons programs.

Jehl writes that Roberts expects Bush will appoint Bolton to the UN post during the Senate's July 4 recess, and that this "would be preferable to the potential security risks of providing Congress with wider access to names in the NSA reports." There is certainly reason for Roberts to be concerned with the leaking of the information in the intercepts: if I were him, I'd be concerned with that too. But safeguards are in place, and those concerns, frankly, should not override the Senate's right to examine materials related to this nomination.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Redistricting Watch: Links, News, and Views

My post from yesterday morning about the bipartisan redistricting bill proposed by Rep. John Tanner has been widely linked (thanks all!) and commented on. Check out posts and comments at non-fat latte liberal, The Yellow Line, Balloon Juice, and The Moderate Republican, among others. I'm glad to see this great response - this is quickly turning into one of the big issues I intend to focus on, so I've added a 'header' to the title: any post prefaced by "Redistricting Watch" will deal with this topic, and then I'll add another short title to try and indicate the specific contents. I hope that all of you will be as interested in the subject as I am and will want to read each post, but if not, the header will tip you off and you can skip right by.

Each Friday (or so) I'm going to try and provide an update of House members who have signed onto Tanner's bill as co-sponsors: just yesterday two more representatives signed on, bringing the total to 23 (including Tanner). The original co-sponsors from May 25, with their party affiliation and district, were: Tanner (D-TN-8), Jim Cooper (D-TN-5), Ben Chandler (D-KY-6), Jim Costa (D-CA-20), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA-18), Allen Boyd (D-FL-2), Ed Case (D-HI-2), Dennis Moore (D-KS-3), Adam Schiff (D-CA-29), Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN-9), and Jim Matheson (D-UT-2).

On June 8, the original sponsors were joined by Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3), John Lewis (D-GA-5), Tom Udall (D-NM-3), Stephanie Herseth (D-SD), and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY-4). Charlie Melancon (D-LA-3), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), and Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) signed on June 14. Zach Wamp (R-TN-3) became the first Republican to join the bill (as noted yesterday) when he joined on June 17, along with Bob Filner (D-CA-51).

Just yesterday, June 23, Major Owens (D-NY-11) and Tim Holden (D-PA-17) became the twenty-second and twenty-third co-sponsors of the bill. I'll list any new supporters next week, and I would again urge any of you out there whose members have not signed on (and that's just about everybody) to make your voices heard on this important issue. It's not going to be an easy task to persuade incumbent legislators to put the future of our democracy ahead of their own self-interest, but this idea certainly won't go anywhere if people go in thinking we'll lose. It might take a long time, it might be a hard fight ... but isn't that better than surrendering before the fight begins?

Finally today, I want to pass along a few of the editorials that have been written about the redistricting proposal as introduced. The Indianapolis Star this week wrote in support of Governor Schwarzengger's redistricting plan, calling both his specific proposal and redistricting in general "a long overdue reform that would do far more than term limits to return politics to the people." Back on June 4, the Minneapolis Star Tribune editorialized that "the decline in competitive districts helps explain the bitterly divisive atmosphere in Washington and a growing divide in state capitals. ... House members of both parties should be embarrassed if they do not sign onto this bill."

While I'm afraid not much of anything embarrasses most House members anymore, the StarTrib is right. Let's start moving this bill forward, and reclaim our democracy.

[Update: By popular request (thank you!): the Tanner bill is H.R. 2642, the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act of 2005. You can find your representative's contact information and email them directly here. More info on the bill itself in yesterday's post, here. -- 3:56 p.m.]

[Update: Another op/ed from today to add, this one from John Farmer in the Newark Star-Ledger. Farmer writes "the process of redrawing the 435 districts every 10 years has become a national embarrassment and the root cause of political stalemate in the Capitol." He calls the current redistricting process (great phrase!) "a bipartisan conspiracy against the public interest."

"It's nothing new," Farmer adds. "It's been going on under the noses of a largely indifferent public for years. But over time it has produced a set of Democratic districts that are increasingly liberal and Republican districts that are increasingly conservative - and increasingly uncompetitive in each case. ... No improvement in how the House does business - especially how its members are selected and its districts drawn - is possible without major public pressure for change. And the public doesn't seem to care that much," Farmer concludes.

It's well past time to start caring. -- 4:15 p.m.]

Coming UnBoltoned?

There hasn't been too much published in the media over the past couple of days on the Bolton nomination, but in a new post Steve Clemons highlights a Reuters report from last night which quotes Senator Joe Biden as saying "If they don't have (the documents) by the end of the day, it's finished." A source close to Biden, according to Clemons, says the Biden quote is indicative of the senator's "assessment that the window for confirming Bolton is closing fast."

Clemons goes on to report in depth how negotiations regarding a possible compromise have proceeded over the past several days, including overtures from Majority Leader Bill Frist. He writes "Today is Friday - and if the materials are not received today, or at the latest on Monday, there will be no time for Senators to be able to interpret and assess the materials so that a vote can be held next week. Karl Rove is known for Friday 'close-of-business document dumps,' so there remains a possibility that the White House will provide something this evening. We just have to wait and see - though there is no evidence of movement by the White House - and no one on the Democratic side reports that a deal is anywhere near being reached."

The post is a good run-through of the current dynamics of the Bolton saga. As Friday afternoons often are, this one could get interesting.

Polarization & Collegiality

Two bits from today's New York Times to share:

- Jack Valenti's undoubtedly glorified but still instructive op/ed essay "The Best of Enemies," in which this former special assistant to LBJ remembers "the good old days."

- This analytical chart (click the graphic on the left side) from Norm Ornstein showing the sharp decline of centrism in the House and Senate over the past few decades. Really quite a striking shift, brought on, at least in part, by the partisan gerrymandering of House districts I posted on yesterday. More on that again later today.

Friday Satire

For satire this week, nothing beats the new issue of The Onion, dated June 22, 2056. I can't even begin to list all the great headlines - go read them all.

Coming in a close second: Mark Fiore with his animation "Rewriting Reality."

From Scrappleface, the Democrats' secret ulterior motives in opposing John Bolton, the release of the "Sesame Street Memo," and of course, the obligatory Dick Durbin stories (here and here).

The Swift Report offers up a few gems, including "Most Americans Want to See Constitution Replaced by Ten Commandments" and "Ethics Troubles Could Keep DeLay Out of Heaven."

Andy Borowitz went the entertainment route this week with his columns, but they're here if you want them.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

SCOTUS Watch: Dems Want In

The Associated Press reports that Senate Democrats have sent a letter to President Bush urging him to consult with them over any prospective Supreme Court nominees, saying in part "The way to avoid the divisiveness and discord that occurred over past judicial nominations is through consensus and cooperation in the selection of future candidates." Senator Chuck Schumer announced the existence of the letter Thursday on the Senate floor: it is signed by 43 Democrats and Independent Jim Jeffords; the only non-signer, Senator Robert Byrd, is apparently planning to send his own letter to Bush.

I don't see any problem at all with this suggestion. Consultation with the Senate was one of the recommendations backed by the Gang of 14 when they announced their compromise back in May, and while I don't expect this White House will be interested in anything of the sort, it would certainly be a healthy and probably productive action for the Administration to take.

A recommendation as well, via Simon in a comment below: The Supreme Court Nomination Blog has been set up to monitor any vacancies that occur. I've bookmarked it, and will be checking in regularly.

Energy Debate Updates

The Senate late this evening prepared to wrap up work on its version of the energy bill, with a vote on final passage scheduled for 9:45 a.m. Tuesday morning (so there will be no votes until then and senators can go back to their states for the weekend). Early Thursday, the chamber voted to invoke cloture on the bill by a vote of 92-4, with Senators Corzine, Lautenberg, McCain and Durbin opposing the motion. Post-cloture debate on any bill is limited to thirty hours, but through much of the day Thursday it looked as though the Senate might hold a vote on final passage as early as tonight, rather than carrying debate into Friday morning as is now the plan.

A number of amendments were approved by voice vote on Thursday: only five post-cloture roll call votes were held. By a vote of 69-26, the Senate approved a waiver of the Congressional Budget Act in relation to an amendment sponsored by Senator Bingaman; senators also approved an amendment offered by New York's Chuck Schumer and Arizona's John Kyl to strike from a bill a provision that would have lifted restrictions on the export of weapons-grade uranium for use in the production of medical isotopes. That measure passed 52-46. Following the Schumer vote, an amendment offered by John Sununu (R-NH) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) that would have stricken some "incentives for innovative technologies" from the bill failed 21-76.

Finally on Thursday, two amendments concerning fuel efficiency standards were voted on. The first, offered by Missouri Republican Kit Bond, urged the increase of CAFE standards "when scientifically feasible" (i.e. whenever the automakers want to). It passed 64-31. A second amendment, offered by Democrat Dick Durbin, would have increased CAFE standards to 40 mpg within 11 years. It failed on a 28-67 vote. It is unfortunate that no centrist fuel efficiency proposal was debated during this energy discussion; senators had the choice between "talk but no action" and "too much too fast."

I had hoped that centrists from both parties would accomplish more with this energy bill. It is a shame that the Senate did not act, in any meaningful way, to combat global climate change or to increase fuel efficiency standards. The latter action, as I've said before, would be the most immediate and best way to decrease America's overwhelming dependence on foreign petroleum, which not only pumps greenhouse gases and other pollutants into our environment, but also threatens our national security and our economic stability.

That said, I hope that the Senate bill which will (barring some unexpected event) pass on Tuesday is the version used by the House-Senate conference when the chambers meet to resolve their differences. As you can see from this AP comparison, from a conservation and efficiency standpoint, the Senate's version is vastly superior. What hybrid bill, if any, emerges from the House-Senate conference (probably not until the of the summer at the earliest) will be the one senators and representatives will have to support or reject. Centrists can only hope that the Senate conferees win the day.

SCOTUS Watch: Kelo Decision

I don't have much to add to The Yellow Line's take on today's decision in the case of Kelo v. City of New London (report here, text here). So I won't try. Read Alan's thoughts, and also be sure to read the exchange in the comments section - quite a good series of exchanges.

Bolton Fix

Steve Clemons provides your Bolton news for the day. More Republicans calling for the release of the requested information ... how long will the White House continue blocking their own nominee?

Rove's Turn to Apologize

Will people never learn? I join the chorus of calls for deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove to apologize for comments made last night at a New York City fundraiser. They were outrageous, inappropriate, and untrue, to say the least. They serve only to further divide a nation that needs no more division. The Bull Moose has it right: "Since this is the summer of contrition, Rove should make his contribution." The Moderate Voice also adds good thoughts on this subject, and I find White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's line that Rove was "just telling it like it is" absolutely ridiculous.

Rove's comments, frankly, are indefensible. They serve as little more than another distraction, after we finally got the Dick Durbin (non)-incident behind us.

Centrist Action on Redistricting Reform

Republican Rep. Zach Wamp on Wednesday joined his Tennessee colleague John Tanner in co-sponsoring legislation that would fundamentally reform the way Congressional district boundaries are drawn, reports The Hill. "Too many Congressional districts have been carefully designed to guarantee victory for one political party or another. As the political lines become more skewed, successful candidates are increasingly more interested in political rhetoric than solutions and serving the public," Wamp said in a statement.

Tanner's bill, introduced May 25, is titled the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act. It "calls for an independent, bipartisan commission in each state to redraw Congressional district maps every 10 years and restricts redistricting efforts from taking place between census cycles," according to a press release.

Of the idea behind the bill, Tanner said "Partisan politicians have hijacked the electoral system through redistricting. Voters have lost much of their say in who they hire to represent them in Washington. We need to reform the process to put the House of Representatives back in the hands of the people as it was designed to be."

Tanner continues, noting "The political center has been disappearing in Washington. Part of the reason is that so many Congressional districts have been designed to guarantee victory for one political party or another, paving the way for partisan extremists unwilling to work cooperatively with others toward the best interest of the country. The result is political polarization and tyranny of the majority, which is dangerous in any country or state where one party controls every branch of government."

The specifics of the FIRA are outlined well here. It has attracted support already from FairVote, the Center for Voting and Democracy chaired by John Anderson, former centrist Republican congressman and 1980 independent presidential candidate. Anderson said of the bill "It's just wrong to allow politicians to help their friends and hurt their enemies in what should be a public interest process. Seeking redistricting reforms in states can be valuable but too often is motivated by partisan calculations. We need national standards for elections that affect all of us."

Wamp is the first Republican to join Tanner's effort, joining nineteen Democrats so far.

Redistricting reform is a vital issue for all centrists, and I am more than a little delighted that Wamp has joined the fight. I am going to stay very active on this front. As a first step, I would encourage everyone to call or fax their representative's office and urge them to support Tanner's bill - its passage would be a giant leap forward for centrism.

[Update: I've got a new post on this issue here. -- 23 June, 4:30 p.m.]