Sunday, July 31, 2005

Week/end in Review

Normally this late on a Sunday night I'd have been reading over tomorrow's papers already and be working on a post concerning some story out of one of them. But, oddly, neither the Times nor the Post have uploaded their Monday editions yet (as of about 11:20 p.m. Sunday), and in the interest of napping, I'm going to just throw up a few links to some stories from the past week that might be interesting. I'll wait until the morning to check out what new and exciting things the papers have to say.

- On Monday (7/25), Senator McCain introduced his amendment package to the DoD appropropriations bill to standardize interrogation procedures and register all detainees held by the Pentagon with the International Red Cross. I excerpted his floor statement here.

- Tuesday morning, Senator Frist set aside the Defense bill and took up gun-maker liability protection, a manuever that I suggested was rather unwise and a gift to Democrats, should they choose to capitalize on it. I covered the press and blog reaction to Frist's actions (here and here) on Wednesday.

- Also Wednesday, I posted an important Darfur update.

- Saturday's Congressional Report Card was the big project from this weekend, along with the write-ups from today's talk shows (here, here and here).

Of course as I've been writing, the new Times has gone online. But I suspect it will still be there in the morning.

Frist Speech Angered White House

From Newsweek's Richard Wolffe:

"Sen. Bill Frist's decision to break with the president over stem-cell research annoyed Bush's aides. 'He's changed his position on this before,' said one senior Bush adviser, who declined to be identified so he could speak freely.

Frist called Bush to alert him the night before he went public on the Senate floor. 'I don't know how long he's been working on this, but he had left the impression with a lot of people that he was supporting the president's policy,' the senior aide said.

Frist's flip-flop has fired up Bush's supporters in the House, who are likely to block any attempt to override a veto. 'This may have solidified it,' the aide said."

The only thing I'm surprised at about this reaction is that it's not any harsher. Considering some of the other things said about the Majority Leader's speech on Friday, this from the White House is remarkably tame.

The Latest on Bolton

I've just posted a bunch of updates and other info over at The Washington Note, so feel free to check in there for the very latest on the state of all things Bolton.

Another Good Schieffer-Comment

As I've said before, sometimes Bob Schieffer just gets it right in his brief commentary at the end of "Face the Nation." Here's today's:

"Finally today, I don't always agree with him, but when John McCain talks about prisoners of war and torture I do pay attention. As someone who was tortured for five years in a North Vietnamese prison, he just knows a little more about torture than the rest of us. So when John McCain told me the other day that he would not want to be the next American taken prisoner in Iraq, I listened. McCain, along with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, is sponsoring legislation to outlaw, quote 'cruel, inhumane and degrading' treatment of all prisoners held by the United States. Incredibly, the administration is trying to kill this legislation, claiming it would hamper the fight against terrorism or some such.

Here is my question: Does this mean we endorse torture? Of course not. But what will the other side make of these words? John McCain has no more sympathy for the terrorists than I do. He is worried about our soldiers. He knows that if the enemy believes we are torturing their people, they will be more likely to torture our people.

John McCain has never been a favorite of this adminstration but they should pay attention to him on this one. He was learning about torture while some of them were still in graduate school. The gallant young men and women we are asking to fight this war are already paying a terrible price. Let's not make it more dangerous for them. Listen to John McCain."

For more on McCain's stance on the amendments, see his floor statement from last Monday.

Crooks & Liars has the video up here. Thanks to Phil S. for pointing this out in comments; I missed the commentary when it aired.

Burns Cancels Visit to Uzbekistan

Perhaps not surprisingly after the brutal government of Uzbekistan announced that the US has 180 days to evacuate from the K2 airbase there, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns has nixed a scheduled visit to the country, the BBC and New York Times report. Burns was planning the trip to discuss the status of K2 base and to "demand that Uzbekistan permit an international investigation into the violent suppression of a prison riot and public demonstration in Andijon in May," says the Times.

Burns says that because of the eviction notice, he will wait several weeks before travelling to the region. Another State Department official is quoted as saying that while the government did not want to lose access to K2, "loss of the base was preferable to backing away from demanding that Uzbekistan start political and economic reforms and agree to an international investigation of the Andijon killings." That position has only recently been adopted by the Pentagon, which earlier had blocked a State Department effort to push for an investigation into the massacre.

Burns should make the trip at the earliest possible time. He should make very clear to the Karimov government that they must allow a transparent international investigation into their actions. No government should be allowed to murder its own civilians with impunity, and we must do our part to ensure that those responsible are held to account.

Sunday Shows III: Santorum on "This Week"

ThinkProgress has the transcript of Senator Santorum's appearance with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week." Some excerpts:

"I disagree with Senator Frist. I think that you cannot take a utilitarian approach to human life. And this is an innocent human life. You’re destroying this life for the purpose of research which has questionable value."

Santorum called Frist's decision to back stem cell research "problematic for him" with the conservative base of the Republican Party should he opt to run for president. He said that the president will, "without question," veto Specter-Harkin if it passes the Senate. "I mean, the president understands that the federal government should not be on the side of taking innocent human life, period."

The Pennsylvania senator said that while he supports a constitutional amendment to ban abortion (as, unfortunately, the Republican Party's platform has done since 1984), he has not introduced an amendment because "we’re so far away from any potential of doing a constitutional amendment. The bottom line is, what we want is the people to speak on this issue."

There was some discussion about Santorum's new book, during the course of which the senator characterized Hillary Clinton as "a radical feminist": "I mean, read her work and what she’s done on children’s rights. I mean, that’s radical. I mean, you’re talking about giving children the same - that children have rights equal to adults. I mean, that is not a nurturing atmosphere of mothers and fathers taking responsibility for shaping the moral vision of their children." (Much more of this line in the full transcript).

Asked about 2008, Santorum first said "I am not going to run," then in the next breath "I said I have no intention of running," which Steph pointed out are rather different. They went back and forth a bit before Santorum settled on "Well, all I’ve — you know, the only thing I always say is that I just simply don’t ever lock a door, because strange things happen. But let me assure you that I’m running for the whip position in the United States Senate. I wouldn’t be running for the whip position in the United States Senate and asking my colleagues for their vote if I had intention of going off and running around the country campaigning for president. I don’t. I’m not going to go running around the country campaigning for president. That much I will tell you."


Sunday Shows II: Specter/Brownback on Stem Cells

Senators Specter and Brownback were on "Face the Nation" this morning to discuss the upcoming stem cell debate with host Bob Schieffer and Elisabeth Bumiller of the NYT.

Specter was asked first whether his side has enough votes to overcome the prospective presidential veto. "I think we're getting there," Specter said, noting that he thinks support has crossed the 60-vote mark, and that Frist's speech gave it a "big boost," both scientifically and politically. "We're on our way" to the magic 67 number in the Senate, he said, but he recognized that an override would be much tougher in the House. Pressed by Schieffer on a specific vote count, Specter said he thought right now they're at about 62, with "around 15 more thinking it over." He reported that one senator signed onto the bill following Frist's speech, and that two more have told him they're considering changing their positions.

Brownback was asked if he intends to filibuster Specter-Harkin when it comes to the floor; the Kansan said that a filibuster is "not the focus," but that he's concerned with making sure we "don't take the next step," i.e. the intentional creation of embryos for use in research. The Specter-Harkin bill, of course, would allow federal funding for research on stem cells taken from embryos that would otherwise be discarded.

Schieffer asked if Brownback had "resigned himself" to passage of Specter-Harkin in favor of stopping the "next step" - Brownback said he hasn't resigned himself, that he won't support Specter-Harkin, and that it is a "big step," calling it [speciously?] "the first time we've ever used taxpayer money to pay for the intentional destruction of human life." But, he said, his focus right now is on getting the multi-bill package of votes on the Senate floor: Specter-Harkin, adult stem cell funding, a ban on human cloning and embyro production, etc. He added, as Specter had, that the votes aren't there in the House to override a presidential veto.

Specter said that he felt Frist's speech will help his presidential ambitions, calling it "a declaration that you don't have to agree with every statement of the Republican Party to be the nominee." He said he felt that the party ought to be concerned with finding a nominee who could be elected, expressed his view that a candidate who opposed stem cell research couldn't be elected. He replied to Brownback's point about creating life to destroy it, noting that the only embryos eligible for use under Specter-Harkin would be those destined for destruction. If they could be implanted, he said, they should be.

Brownback replied by restating his view that "you're taking human life, and you're experimenting on it," saying he preferred using adult stem cells instead.

I thought this was a good back-and-forth between the two senators - respectful, but with clear differences outlined.

[Update: Just a word here, I realized that I did not express above my agreement with Brownback that I do not believe that embyros should be 'created' specifically for the purpose of harvesting their stem cells; nor do I believe that human cloning in any form should be permitted. I think that adult stem cells do hold certain promise and research on them as well as on cord blood cells should be pursued. But as I've long said, I strongly support the Specter-Harkin legislation, which would allow funding for research on stem cells from embryos that literally would otherwise be discarded. -- 12:03 p.m.]

Sunday Shows

I'll update this periodically if and when anything particularly noteworthy politically is said on the Sunday shows.

I skipped the Santorum interview in favor of McConnell and Dodd, but I'll catch a clip of that very soon and see if he said anything important. As for "Fox News Sunday," though, here are some excerpts.

- McConnell was asked first about Frist's stem cell speech. He noted that "when Dr. Frist ... speaks on a medical issue, we all listen carefully." He said that the issue is "very complicated," with "both scientific and ethical issues." Wallace asked where he stood and whether he too would buck the president, and McConnell said that he's "still studying" the bill and that he would decide after the debate. He continued by saying that while Frist's support may make a difference, he thought Specter-Harkin already has the support of a majority of senators.

[Update: I'm not sure whether McConnell's "still studying" comment is a shift or if he has not taken a position on stem cell research in the past. In the only interview I've been able to find so far (here) where he's asked about the issue, he does not express a personal view. But I'm still poking around. More soon. -- 11:16 a.m.

More Update: Came across this article from the Cincinnati Post back in June, 2004, which discusses stem cell positions. Here's the relevant paragraph on McConnell: "Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican from Louisville, supports the president's decision and believes 'that we must balance our desire for scientific progress with the need to ensure that this research is conducted in a moral and ethical manner,' said his spokesman, Robert Steurer." That doesn't sound too far from Frist's position to me ... will McConnell join the Majority Leader in accepting Specter-Harkin? -- 11:44 a.m.]

- Wallace asked Dodd about stem cells next, and Dodd made the good point that the Senate ought to have dealt with the bill prior to recessing for August. He noted the "growing support" for the bill in the Senate and in the House, and said he's "not convinced there could be a successful veto" of the legislation (although how he intends to get that many more votes in the House was unclear). He said he recognized that this is a "difficult call" for some members but that he too was sure it has strong majority support.

- Dodd got a chance next to discuss the potential Bolton recess appointment, and he missed a tremendous opportunity to bring up the very serious new allegations against Bolton (that he withheld information from the Senate on his disclosure forms). Dodd just continued his months-long mantra of "Mr. Bolton's a bad choice here," noting the opposition to him from 15 former State Department officials. He said that recess-appointing Bolton would have a "negative impact" on the United Nations, calling the nominee "damaged goods." He "lacks credibility," said Dodd, and "doesn't have the confidence of the Congress."

Wallace broke in to ask if Bill Clinton's recess-appointed officials were "damaged goods," and at least for that Dodd had a decent response. He admitted that yes, some of Clinton's nominees probably were damaged goods, and that the "recess appointment process is being abused, by Democratic and Republican presidents." He noted the language of the Constitution, which seems to indicate that recess appointments are to be used when the vacancy occurs during a recess, rather than a bypass of the advice and consent provision. Recent presidents from both parties, Dodd said, have been abusing the process, and sending Bolton there will just be another example of that.

- McConnell, in response, said that "Bolton's been sort of twisting in the wind since March," that he's "exactly what the UN needs at this point," he'll "go up there and challenge the establishment." He said he had no problem with the recess appointment, since Bush deserves to have an ambassador "he believes is best to represent his administration at the UN."

- On to Roberts, albeit briefly ... Wallace asked McConnell about all the documents that have been handed over, and whether McConnell had seen anything in the record yet to indicate that Roberts is "out of the mainstream." Mitch used the opportunity to give a gratuitously slap at Democrats, saying that he viewed "mainstream" as "Louisville Kentucky, while the Democrats apparently view it as the east side of Manhattan." He said the Senate "clearly has enough information" to make a decision on Roberts, and that he expect's he'll be confirmed.

- Dodd replied, calling Roberts a "pretty good choice," a conservative with a "distinguished legal record, a distinguished academic record." But, he said, we need to come to understand Roberts' "views on basic values," and that's the process that's going to play out. "We need to remember this is a nomination, not a coronation," Dodd said, "that's why we have a nomination process." Dodd said he looked forward to the process moving forward, and noted if Roberts answers the questions, he hopes to be able to vote for him.

- McConnell and Dodd then agreed that Bush's Social Security plan is pretty much dead for this year, McConnell blaming it on Democrats having "dug in their heels," and Dodd noting "there are almost as many Republicans opposing" privatization as Democrats.

More soon, I'll be tuning in to "Face the Nation" shortly.

[Update: Decided to bump the "Face the Nation" discussion up to a new thread, here. -- 11:08 a.m.]

In the Papers

A few of the more interesting pieces from the Sunday papers (and beyond) this week:

- Uzbekistan has handed the U.S. an eviction notice, telling the military it must remove all personnel and equipment from Karshi-Khanabad (K2) airbase there within 180 days. The AP says no reason was provided for the notice, but notes that the NYT cited a State Department official as saying the eviction is in retaliation for US support for a United Nations airlift of refugees out of the region last week. The 400 Uzbeks had fled to Kyrgyzstan after the Andjian massacre in May, in which Uzbek troops killed several hundred civilian protesters. The Karimov regime had sought the return of the refugees to Uzbek control, but the United Nations flew them to a camp in Romania late last week.

Since the events in Andjian more than two months ago, I have urged a stronger line against the Karimov regime. The State Department and the Pentagon had been tussling over what approach the US government should take in calling for international investigations into the massacre ... perhaps now that there is no need to worry about basing rights, the Pentagon will set aside its reservations and push for an immediate and thorough examination. From the outset, Senators McCain, Graham, DeWine, Sununu, Lieberman and Leahy have been leaders in the calls for a reevaluation of American relations with the Karimov government, and they deserve much credit for their stances. Our departure from Uzbek territory is a healthy step, and hopefully it will allow us to push more sincerely for reforms there, while at the same time not hampering ongoing operations in Afghanistan.

- Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler's WaPo profile of Secretary of State Rice and an analysis of her first six months on the job is well worth a read.

- Don't miss the Nicholas Confessore NYT "Week in Review" piece sure to rile up the right wing of the GOP. Noting early that "cultural conservatives, once the fiery insurgents of their party, have become the central pillar of the new G.O.P. establishment," Confessore goes on to remark "Yet the early list of Republican White House contenders is dominated by politicians whose commitment to conservative orthodoxy is newfound, inconstant or diminishing." He includes in that category Frist (one speech does inconstancy make these days, I guess), McCain, Pataki, Giuliani, and Romney, going on to briefly profile each character. Note, of course, the important exclusion of at least a few possible candidates who do not share the pecularities of Confessore's lineup: Allen, Pawlenty, Huckabee, ... dare I add Santorum, Brownback.

Confessore's "big question" - can a non-100%-orthodox Republican win through in the primaries, is unanswerable right now, he says - the "tectonics of 2008 are hard to read." Indeed, so far they are. But before too long, they're going to be coming into focus ... and for those of us who hold out hope that centrism (or at least non-fundamentalist mainline conservatism) can win through are going to have to be well prepared for the debate that lies ahead.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

Tomorrow is the space shuttle Discovery's turn to shine on the Sunday talk shows: Commander Eileen Collins, Pilot James Kelly and Mission Specialist Charles Camarda will appear on Meet the Press (NBC), Fox News Sunday, and This Week (ABC). They'll be joined by NASA Administrator Mike Griffin on Meet, and former astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Senator John Glenn on TW. Other guests:

Meet the Press: Following the shuttle interviews, Russert will roundtable with David Broder and Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, John Harwood of the Wall Street Journal, and National Review's Kate O'Beirne.

This Week: Senator Rick Santorum will take to the circuit for the first time in recent memory, discussing his recent book It Takes a Family. Lee Iaococca, the former Chrysler CEO, will also appear. The Santorum interview might be the best chance for any real off-the-wall statements tomorrow: watch for a question about Frist's stem cell stance.

Fox News Sunday: Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell and Democrat Chris Dodd will be on, discussing the Roberts nomination, stem cells, Bolton, and the August recess, among other things. The panel this week: host Chris Wallace, Fox' Brit Hume, WaPo's Ceci Connolly, and Juan Williams. [Update: Senator Bill Nelson, also a former astronaut, will also appear. -- 11:33 p.m.]

Face the Nation (CBS): Schieffer lost out on the shuttle crew this week, but he's got probably the Republican duo mostly likely to spit fire at each other: Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter and Kansas' Sam Brownback. The last time these two were on the same show, Specter made the comment during a stem cells dialogue that he was less concerned right now with when life begins than when it ends. Stem cells will be the major issue here, although Roberts may intrude. CBS space analyst Bill Harwood will guest, and the NYT's Elisabeth Bumiller joins in the questioning.

Late Edition (CNN): Iraqi national security advisor Mofawwak al-Rubaie headlines. Senators Joe Lieberman and John Kyl (R-AZ) also will be on, as well as Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and LA counter-terror chief John Miller.

Senate Report Card

This is going to end up being rather a lengthy post; I will examine each of the major actions taken by the Senate on Friday in some detail: appropriations bills, energy bill, gun-maker liability measure, highway bill, and renewal of the PATRIOT Act (plus some odds and ends). I'll post each section as I finish it.

Appropriations: Yesterday the Senate sent the first two of eleven mammoth appropriations bills for fiscal year 2006 to the president's desk, passing the conference reports for the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act as well as the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act. The votes were 99-1 on the Interior report (Coburn voted no) and 96-4 on the Legislative bill (Coburn, Conrad, Ensign and Inhofe voted no). The House passed both reports on Thursday (votes over there were 410-10 on Interior, 305-122 on Legislative).

The Interior appropriations bill, amounting to $26.3 billion, includes a $1.5 billion emergency increase in funding for veteran's health care spending, significant cuts in EPA enforcement and incentive funds, and a $1o million grant to fund a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall.

The Legislative Affairs bill amounts to $3.8 billion, including $42 million for the Capitol Visitors Center (which is costing more than five times the original estimates).

You can check the status of all the FY06 appropriations bills here. Three others are currently headed for House-Senate conference, and the rest are at various points in the lengthy process. The most notable non-resolution this week in the Senate was on the Defense bill, which - as I have discussed at length - was pulled from the floor earlier in the week to make way for the gun-maker liability bill.

: (C+) Having two approps bills complete before the August recess puts Congress ahead of its pace from the last several years. The grade is so low mainly because of the cuts in EPA funding, and due to Frist's manuever to take the DoD bill off the floor in favor of the gun bill. In a time of war, our troops should not have to wait for the vital funding needed to support their operations, and Senator Frist ought to have allowed the Senate to finish its work on the bill so that conference reconciliation could have gotten underway.

Energy Policy: After several failed attempts over the past few years, the House and Senate managed to agree on a so-called "comprehensive" energy bill this week, resulting in a 1,700-page behemoth piece of legislation offering up more than $14.5 billion in tax breaks and other incentives in coming years "
to encourage new oil and natural gas drilling, stimulate a rebirth of nuclear power and encourage development of clean-coal technologies and renewable energy sources such as wind power," according to the Associated Press.

The energy bill conference report passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 275-156, and the Senate approved the measure on Friday 74-26. Those voting in opposition were drawn almost exclusively from the Northeast, Florida, and the West Coast. As I wrote on Tuesday, while I'm pleased that the bill removed some of the most pernicious provisions included in earlier versions (MTBE-maker liability protection, ANWR drilling), the bill is skewed much too heavily toward providing tax breaks and other incentives to oil, gas, and coal companies, and does nothing to wean America off its addiction to foreign petroleum products.

Good provisions adopted on a strong bipartisan basis by the Senate (one to ensure that just 10% of America's energy was coming from renewable sources by 2020, another to require the president to take steps to decrease foreign oil consumption by 1 million barrels a day over the next ten years) were gutted from the final version, and no measures to improve fuel efficiency standards or to combat global warming were included.

The final version of the bill also includes repeal of the 1935 Public Utility Holding Company Act, which since the New Deal has "has blocked the owners of utilities from owning other companies and has prevented mergers in the electricity industry," the Washington Post noted today. Another little-discussed provision in the energy bill, a handout to the nation's electric companies, gives "the federal government new eminent-domain powers to clear paths for power lines."

I'm sure we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of all the little provisions tucked into the gigantic bill. Who knows what will come to light once people have had a chance to leaf through the 1,700 pages. Quite a way of doing the peoples' business.

Grade: (D-). The nation certainly needs an energy policy. But we need an energy policy that is more than a Christmas tree of handouts to the oil, gas, ethanol and coal industries. We need to find ways to decrease dependence on foreign oil, seriously increase incentives for alternative energy use, combat high gas prices, and create a long-term strategy to deal with global warming. This bill does none of those. Its $12.3 billion cost (after revenue offsets) is almost double the $6.7 billion bill requested by the White House, and as Senator Russ Feingold tried to point out yesterday, probably broke the Senate's own budget rules (which the chamber voted 71-29 to waive). This is a fiscally irresponsible "grab bag" of special interest goodies, with all too few provisions that with benefit the long-term energy interests of the United States.

Gun-Manufacturer Liability Shield: After four days of debate, the Senate on Friday passed an NRA-backed bill providing "broad liability exemption for the firearms industry that would protect gun manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits by shooting victims." This is the bill that was of such high priority that it superseded the Defense Appropriations bill for consideration on Tuesday. While I don't have a problem with the legislation - I don't believe that gun-makers should be held responsible for legally-sold products that they manufactured - I have serious concerns about the high priority this bill was given, and I share the concerns of my friends at The Yellow Line about the fact that the bill's main Senate sponsor, Idaho's Larry Craig, is an NRA board member. That serious conflict of interest should be of concern to all.

After beating back several amendments (and accepting one to mandate trigger-locks on all handguns sold, which passed 70-30), Craig's bill passed the Senate 65-31, with the support of Independent Jim Jeffords, Democratic Leader Harry Reid and thirteen other Democrats. Republicans Chafee and DeWine voted no.

This bill passed the House last year, and is widely expected to cruise through that chamber easily in September.

Grade: (B-). Decent legislation, bad prioritization. Funding our troops is of much more importance to me than protecting the gun industry, and Defense should have come first.

Highway Bill: And you thought the energy bill was a pork-barrel prize! The conference report for the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005" (SAFTEA), passed by the House and Senate on Friday, contains $286.4 billion in spending, that is supposed to fund highway construction and maintenance for the next six years. Of that $286.4 billion, analysts report that more than $24 billion is destined for so-called "special projects," many of which have absolutely nothing to do with highways whatsoever.

The House passed the conference report Friday morning by a vote of 412-8, with only Republicans Boehner, Flake, Hensarling, Jones (NC), Royce, Sensenbrenner, Shadegg and Thornberry in opposition. The Senate voted 91-4 in support; Cornyn, Gregg, McCain and Kyl voted no.

Senator McCain was the only senator to speak in opposition to the conference report on the Senate floor; he gave one of those fantastic vintage McCain speeches, taking nearly a half hour (almost the full amount of time allotted, much to the chagrin of other senators looking to get out of Dodge) to discuss some of the many "special projects" lumped into the highway bill. Quoting from the speech doesn't do it justice at all, but I'll give a few samples from the prepared version:

This monstrosity of a conference report - which costs an astounding $286.4 billion - is both terrifying in its fiscal consequences and disappointing for the lack of fiscal discipline it represents. What will it take, Mr. President, to make the case for fiscal sanity in Congress? If you had asked me years ago, I would have said that the combination of war, record deficits, and the largest public debt in the country’s history would constitute a sufficient 'perfect storm' to break Congress out of the spending addiction it is so famous for. I would have been wrong. It would seem that this Congress can weather any storm thrown at it, as long as we have our pork life-saver to cling to. ...

Some members of Congress may be happy to associate their names with this legislation – the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for example has made sure that this legislation renames the Knick Arm Bridge in Alaska 'Don Young’s Way.' The bridge would also receive more than $229 million. I want no part of this, Mr. President. This legislation is not - I emphasize not - my way of legislating.

And I’m sure, Mr. President, that if we had adequate time to review this conference report we would find more pork and more inappropriate provisions. But, of course, we will once again go through this process too quickly for a proper evaluation. This conference report is over 2,000 pages long - and over six and one-half inches high - and yet we’ve had less than a day to review it."

McCain listed forty of fifty of the more egregiously pork-y provisions of the bill, most of which are listed on his website. Just a couple of those: $2.95 million to "fund the production of a documentary about infrastructure that demonstrates advancements in Alaska, the last frontier." $1 million "for a wood composite products demonstration project at the University of Maine." $1.6 million "for the Blue Ridge Music Center in Connecticut." And those aren't even the big ones. McCain also noted some of the various tax-breaks in the supposed highway bill, including one to exempt transportation provided by seaplanes from taxation. "As an old pilot," McCain said, "I guess you could land a seaplane on a highway. But that would be hard."

As the New York Times reports today, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Don Young, Alaska's only congressman, had a very good day with this bill. His state is the sole beneficiary of a whopping 119 "special projects," at a total cost of $941 million to the American taxpayers. $230 million of that will be used to build a bridge in Anchorage to be named "Don Young's Way."

The watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense reported discovering a grand total of 6,376 pork-barrel provisions in the conference report, according to the Washington Post. The bill rounds out at more than $2 billion over the $284 billion target sought by the White House. While President Bush had threatened to veto any bill that cost more than that amount, the Administration has now backed away from that, and Bush is expected to sign the highway legislation in the coming days.

Grade: (F). While this bill provides some much-needed funds for actual highway construction and maintenance, there is far too much pork in it to warrant a passing grade. The President ought to have stuck to his veto pledge and demanded that Congress abide by a bottom line. Funny how he'll only change his mind on something if it involves spending more money on pork-barrel projects! This budget-busting boondoggle bill, with its many provisions of absolutely no national relevance, should have garnered far more negative votes in both chambers, and should have gone down to ignominous defeat. This is not the way our government should be doing business.

PATRIOT Act Reauthorization: Just a little while before going to recess for August, the Senate agreed unanimously to make the vast majority of provisions in the PATRIOT Act permanent, while tightening "the requirements that must be met in order to seize business records, allow people to challenge warrants issued by the secret intelligence court, and require that the subjects of secret searches be notified within seven days unless an extension is approved by a judge," according to the Washington Post. The Senate's version would also allow two controversial provisions of the original act (which allow "the government to conduct roving wiretaps and to demand records from institutions like libraries") to expire in four years. This version of the reauthorization bill was passed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee recently, and its tightening provisions are opposed by the White House.

The House passed a different reauthorization plan on July 21, so the two chambers will now meet in conference to reconcile the differences.

Grade: (A-). Compared to the House version, the Senate's PATRIOT Act reauthorization plan is much to be preferred. Hopefully the Senate conferees will be able to withstand pressure from the House and the White House during the conference process.

Roberts Confirmation Process: Senators Specter and Leahy of the Judiciary Committee announced late Friday night the tentative schedule for committee hearings and floor debate on the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. The leaders of the committee have agreed that the Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearings on the nominee on Tuesday, September 6, with a vote penciled in for September 15. Majority Leader Bill Frist said that floor debate on the nomination could begin around September 26, with a final vote sometime between then and October 1.

Grade: (A). I'm very pleased that Specter, Leahy, Frist and Reid were able to agree on this tentative schedule. It is a good timetable, that will provide ample time for committee discussion and floor debate on the Roberts nomination. I hope that all sides are able to keep to this agreement as we move forward.

Final Grade: (C+). Could be worse, but plenty of room for improvement. -- Final update, 4:44 p.m.

Further Word on Linc Chafee

I'm still working on the Congressional Report Card, that will be out before the end of the afternoon.

As I noted late last night here and at TWN, Senator Chafee of Rhode Island told the Associated Press that the newest revelations about John Bolton were enough to make him withdraw his support for the nomination and oppose a recess appointment. As Chafee said, "Any intimidation of the facts, or suppression of information getting to the public which led us to the war, absolutely should preclude him from a recess appointment."

While I appreciate Chafee's new-found opposition to Bolton, as I said last night, his timing could not be worse. The time for opposition to Bolton was, well, anytime prior to late last night - and Chafee missed the boat. While I feel like I spend half my time defending fellow moderate/centrist/liberal Republicans from criticism, I cannot defend Chafee on this. I said in comments at TWN earlier this morning, and will repeat here, that this latest from Chafee only adds to his reputation as "the very model of a modern mushy moderate" ... a description which in this case is quite apt.

For those of us working diligently, both in and out of the blogosphere, to overcome the stigma that centrism or moderation is the same thing as wishy-washiness, Chafee has been a great disappointment, particularly but not only when it comes to John Bolton. He had a tremendous opportunity to play an important centrist role, an opportunity which he squandered completely. Unlike his father John, who once held the seat Linc occupies, the current Senator Chafee does not relish his position as a "charging centrist" within the Republican Party; all too often he wilts under pressure from the White House and Senate leadership, emitting only meek chirps of half-dissent.

John Chafee is one of my personal and political heroes, and I have the greatest respect for him and his accomplishments as one of the greatest senators and Republicans of the twentieth century. I wish that the son had inherited a bit more of his father's intestinal fortitude, as well as his backbone. I probably agree practically with Linc Chafee on 90% of the issues, but his tactics depress me.

This has been a hard post to write, but it had to be said. No offense intended, Linc - but we centrists need your voice. You need to find it, and start charging.

From Traitor to Hero: Reaction to Frist

Not surprisingly, reaction to Senator Bill Frist's announcement (text here, live-blog here) that he will support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research under certain conditions sparked reaction from the blogosphere and beyond running the full gamut: from effusive praise to hearty denunciations, with cautious optimism in between.

Personally, I take the latter tack: as I said yesterday, I am delighted that Frist has decided to return to his 2001 position on stem cells - but I was disappointed that his speech failed to lay out a timetable for a floor debate and final vote on Specter-Harkin, and I worry about the great many all-too-plausible scenarios under which this important measure could remain in legislative limbo for the forseeable future. The bill's sponsors, even with this new support, still have a tough hill to climb.

Conservatives were, to say the least, rather displeased. Tom DeLay quickly called a news conference with House opponents of stem cell research to attack Frist's stance, and the Majority Leader issued an unveiled threat to Frist that his statement probably didn't help his presidential ambitions: according to the New York Times, DeLay said that a candidate who supported "creating commodities out of embryos would have a very hard time appealing to the vast majority of Republicans in this country." Also at the conference, Rep. Phil Gingrey, an obstetrician, said of Frist "This is sort of a disappointing end to an otherwise great week. We will fight him on this to the very end."

Since his speech, Frist has come to learn just how true his "Justice Sunday" friends were. Here's just a short sampling of the reaction from the far right (from the NYT, WaPo, and LAT articles on this today):

- "I'm brokenhearted," said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention (that's the nicest one).
- James Dobson said that if Frist thinks supporting Specter-Harking will bolster his presidential ambitions, "he has gravely miscalculated. To push for the expansion of this suspect and unethical science will be rightly seen by America's values voters as the worst kind of betrayal choosing politics over principle."
- "It certainly gives one pause in trusting his commitment to the sanctity of life," said Lanier Swann of Concerned Women for America.
- The Christian Defense Coalition preemptively said Frist would not get its endorsement in 2008.
- William Donohue of the Catholic League called Frist "Dr. Duplicity" and "a hypocrite."

The Weekly Standard editorialized strongly against Frist's statement, calling it "the wrong thing at the wrong time." RedState declared Frist a "traitor," saying there is "only one explanation for today’s Senate floor flip-flop: Bill Frist is a man without principles. He does not deserve polite acceptance of his treachery by any Republican. And any party that truly believes in a culture of life does not tolerate such men in positions of leadership. It should not tolerate Dr. Frist."

Wow. Fair-weather friends indeed. Almost makes me feel sorry for the guy. I guess I can understand the frustrations of the far right: Bill Frist has been rubbing noses with them for so long, his newfound ability to oppose them on something must be very galling.

Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice has a long round-up of the blog reaction from yesterday, so check that out in full.

There was, of course, some praise for Frist's speech, notably from Senator Specter on the Senate floor yesterday, and later from former first lady Nancy Reagan. She issued a statement saying "Thank you, Dr. Frist, for standing up for America's patients," and later called his decision "courageous" and "principled." In an interview, Reagan said she hoped Bush would now reconsider his veto threat (White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in response that the president has "made his position pretty clear").

[Update: I forgot to add StemPAC to the effusive praise category. They pulled an ad criticizing Frist, and immediately unveiled a new "Thank you Dr. Frist" campaign. "This is a huge step," their website says, "it took a lot of courage, and [Frist] deserves credit." -- 11:09 a.m.]

Today the major editorial boards weigh in, basically taking the 'cautious optimism' route. The Boston Globe writes that Frist is "showing good sense about stem cell research." The New York Times says Frist "deserves credit" for his position, while noting that it puts him "in some danger of alienating a powerful segment of the Republican political base." The Washington Post notes Frist's "mixed record" on medical issues (ahem, Schiavo), but their editorial uses the same phrase as the Times and says that Frist "deserves credit" for yesterday's speech. "In the face of evidence that the existing rules are impeding valuable research, this is the only sensible conclusion - one that ought to make the president reconsider his veto threat," the Post continues.

Having observed this White House, I find it difficult to believe that Frist's support for Specter-Harkin will persuade the president to sign the bill. But the Majority Leader's renewed embrace of it is a healthy step forward for progress, and hopefully will enable the Senate to engage in a good debate and a final vote soon after their return in September.

Saturday Snack

I'm going to work on two big posts today: reaction to the Frist stem cells speech from yesterday as well as an analysis of all the things the Senate passed before they recessed ... it's funny how fast they can work when they've all got planes to catch, isn't it?

In the meantime, Slate has a good roundup of the morning papers today.

Friday, July 29, 2005

UN: Darfur Abuses Continue

The Washington Post reports in Saturday editions on a new United Nations human rights report, which finds that "Sudanese security forces and other armed groups continue to rape and abuse displaced women in Darfur with impunity." In the report, the UN's high commissioner for human rights writes "Rape and gang rape continue to be perpetrated by armed elements in Darfur, some of whom are members of law enforcement agencies and armed forces, and the government appears either unable or unwilling to hold them accountable. Many women do not report incidents, out of fear of reprisals, and are discouraged from reporting by the lack of redress for sexual violence."

Louise Arbour, the high commissioner (a former Canadian supreme court judge) "said the Sudanese government has taken some minor steps to address the crimes, including the establishment of a committee to combat gender crimes and a special criminal court to prosecute alleged war criminals. But she said Khartoum 'needs to acknowledge the scope of the problem and to take concrete action to end the climate of impunity in Darfur.'"

Sick. But at least our media is reporting it. That's a start.

Little Late, Linc

The Associated Press, along with other news outlets, is now reporting that President Bush will send John Bolton to the United Nations next week via his power of recess appointment. This is, as I have said repeatedly, an unfortunate step, but a particularly egregious one now that we have learned that Mr. Bolton falsified, intentionally or not, his disclosure form to Congress. Sending Bolton to the United Nations under such circumstances is a true act of political indecency, and I hope that the president will reconsider this step.

Within the AP story is a comment from Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, who had said earlier in the day that he might reconsider his support for Bolton based on the disclosure form revelations. The AP got him to kick his opposition up a notch: Chafee told the wire service he would now vote against Bolton and will oppose a recess appointment. "Any intimidation of the facts, or suppression of information getting to the public which led us to the war, absolutely should preclude him from a recess appointment," Chafee says.

While I appreciate Chafee's insistence on getting to the truth of this matter, I have to express my wonder that this, of all things, is the straw that breaks the camel's back. Of all we have come to learn about Bolton since his nomination in March, this is the one thing that gets Chafee's dander up.

Better late than never, I guess ... but the relevance of Chafee's change of heart is minimal now that the Senate's out of session anyway. The ball is in the president's court, and from all current reports, it looks like he's going to pop it rather than hit it back over the net.

Discovery of the disclosure omission a week earlier, this nomination would probably have been dead in the water. As it stands now, come this time next week, we'll likely have a UN Ambassador who's already got a track record of keeping vital information from Congress. Great start.

[Update: Just a little while before the Senate recessed this evening, I heard out of one ear (I was working on three other things at the same time of course, and also eating dinner) Bill Frist make some kind of unanimous consent request regarding the nomination of Mr. Bolton. I did not catch the first part of it, and have been wondering since what it was. I am now led to believe - although I must caution that I have not independently confirmed this - that Frist, with the unanimous agreement of all senators, put the Bolton nomination on the executive calendar for a possible up-or-down vote following the August break. If true, it seems to me that this would make a recess appointment a very bad idea for the president ... and also if true, it could mean that Democrats are now confident that Bolton may not have the support of a majority in the Senate, since they would not otherwise have agreed.

I am working hard right now to track down an answer to the important question of exactly what action Frist took tonight ... it might be nothing, but it may be very significant indeed. I'll report back as soon as I can. -- 9:37 p.m.]

[Update: I have revised and extended my comments on Chafee in a comment over at TWN. 30 July, 9:55 a.m.]

Senate Wrapping Up

The Senate is finishing up its work for the day and will head into recess tonight, from now through September 6. They've been extremely busy today, and I will have a full run-down of all their actions (including a great speech by McCain a little while ago ripping apart the highway bill) either later tonight or first thing tomorrow. I want to just note right now though that Senators Specter and Leahy have just announced that hearings on the Roberts nomination will begin on Tuesday, September 6, with a Judiciary Committee vote tenatively scheduled for Thursday, September 15.

Remember, as soon as the Senate gavels out tonight, the clock starts ticking for when a Bolton recess-appointment could occur (although the rumors this evening suggest that if that move comes, it will come on Monday or Tuesday).

Much more as soon as I can provide it.

[Update: As of 8:35 tonight, the Senate is adjourned through September 6. I decided I'm going to wait until tomorrow morning to do up my run-through of the things they passed today, since I want to be able to get some quotes from the Congressional Record when it's released. So stay tuned for that. But for the next month, rest easy and know that Congress (at least) can't muck anything up for a while.

Much remains for us to do and discuss, and I'll look forward to a slightly less frenetic pace for the next couple of weeks so that I can post on things other than immediate news at least once in a while. I hope that you all will keep coming back, and as always, I welcome and appreciate your comments. -- 8:38 p.m.]

New Bolton News

Much is happening again this afternoon on the Bolton front. I just wrote up a post for The Washington Note (here) containing all the gory details, but here's a basic rundown:

- Scott McClellan hinted more strongly today that a recess appointment may be forthcoming as early as the first few days of next week.

- Howard Dean urged Bush not to use a recess appointment for Bolton.

- Thirty-five Senate Dems and Jeffords sent Bush a letter calling on him to withdraw Bolton's name.

- Linc Chafee says the latest revelations may cause him to reconsider his support for the nomination.

For more on all these, see the TWN post.

Much more to come.

[Update: I'm working on trying to read the names of the 35 Dems on the letter. I'm just about done, but there are a few scribbles I'm still attempting to decipher. I'll have a list up as soon as I can. -- 6:07 p.m.]

[Update: TWN has just posted the letter sent from the State Department to Senator Biden re: Bolton's selective memory loss. -- 6:14 p.m.]

[Update: Alright I've got it. Those senators who signed were Durbin, Reid, Clinton, Boxer, Dodd, Biden, Feinstein, Kerry, Corzine, Wyden, Lautenberg, Jeffords, Obama, Salazar, Bingaman, Schumer, Bill Nelson, Feingold, Rockefeller, Reed, Dorgan, Cantwell, Murray, Mikulski, Sarbanes, Leahy, Lincoln, Stabenow, Kennedy, Kohl, Harkin, Landrieu, Levin, Inouye, Dayton, and Akaka. Nine Democrats (Baucus, Bayh, Byrd, Carper, Conrad, Johnson, Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and Pryor) did not sign, along with all 55 Republicans. -- 6:35 p.m.]

D'Amato: Don't Count Pataki Out

Former New York senator Al D'Amato has an op/ed column in Newsday today warning Republican primary watchers not to underestimate George Pataki's chances for '08. While I think those chances remain fairly slim, it's always good to see somebody sticking up for centrism and its voices.

Tip to Political Wire.

[Update: Dennis at The Moderate Republican makes a good point regarding the op/ed cited above, noting that "If we think that a moderate has no chance of winning the GOP nomination, then we will make sure that prophecy is fulfilled. We as moderates are sometimes too weak willed to see a future when the party will move back to the center. We tend to think the far right is way too powerful for us to challenge them."

I don't think at all that a moderate/centrist has no chance of winning the GOP nomination ... but I do think Pataki has very little chance of winning it. He's been my governor for ten years, I've met him, had lunch with him, heard him speak. And except for his announcement speech the other day that he wasn't running again, I have been perpetually underwhelmed. While I agree with nearly all of his policy positions, I just don't see his personality playing well in the presidential ballpark. As I said earlier in the week, however, if he becomes the centrist standard-bearer in the GOP pack, he'll have my full-throated support.

As Dennis concludes, so will I: "I dare to dream that the GOP can change and that it will change. Maybe it won't be Pataki, but his campaign would lay the groundwork for moderate movement in the way that Barry Goldwater laid the blueprint for the conservative movement fourty years ago. One loss today might mean a big win tomorrow." Absolutely right. -- 1:54 p.m.]

Deep Breath

Alright, Frist's speech is done. As I note below, while he said he will support Specter-Harkin, he failed to lay out a timetable for when a debate and vote will be held. This is unfortunate, and once the recess is completed, proponents of the bill are going to need to push - hard - for movement on this front. Aside from what will probably be some media glorification of Frist's stance, I don't think it won him any new friends, while it almost certainly made him some new enemies.

The Senate now is back on other matters, and will be using today to wrap up consideration of some appropriations bills, the energy bill conference report, possibly the highway bill, and the gun liability bill. They are planning to gavel out tonight, but that could spill over into tomorrow.

Will Bolton get a recess appointment now with the new controversy swirling around him? I would find it hard to believe that even this Administration could take such a precipitous step. It would certainly be incredibly unfortunate. President Bush, Secretary Rice and other advisors should take the much wiser course: quietly withdraw John Bolton's name this afternoon, and submit to the Senate a candidate for the UN ambassadorship who would be an effective reformer and a strong voice for America.

Frist Speech on Stem Cells

Senator Frist is reportedly going to give the stem cell speech immediately after the preliminaries this morning. I'll update this throughout, but if you are able to watch along, you can do so here.

[Frist has now taken the floor, is making a number of unanimous consent requests and announcing the schedule for the morning. -- 9:04 a.m.]

[Frist begins the speech. Says that he's said since 2001 that the issue of stem cell research should be reviewed on an ongoing basis. Challenges that arise from advancing science and moral issues are incredibly and will continue happen as we move forward, will affect how we are looked upon by history. -- 9:08 a.m.]

[Fundamental questions that affect human life are "never easy." Discusses the issues involved in his own medical field, organ transplanation. -- 9:09 a.m.]

[Ethical construct of transplantation must honor the donor and the recipient. "We must get our stem cell policy right - scientifically and ethically." ... Notes his "comprehensive proposal" of four years ago, including the ten principles he laid out then, both adult and embryonic forms. -- 9:10 a.m.]

["Embryonic stem cells uniquely hold specific promise" ... says he believes the federal government should fund embryonic stem cell research, but only on those embryos left over from fertility therapy, those that are "destined, with 100% certainty, by the parents, to be discarded, destroyed. -- 9:12 a.m.]

[Reads his "fifth principle" from four years ago, adds that research must be taken under a "comprehensive ethical system." Now reads all ten of his "Frist Principles" from 2001. -- 9:14 a.m.]

["I'm a physician. My profession is healing ... continued commitment to heal ..." says he sees "great, great promise to heal" in stem cell research. "Stem cells offer hope for treatment that other lines of research simply cannot offer. Embryonic stem cells have special properties that make them uniquely powerful ... unlike other stem cells, embryonic stem cells are plouripotent" - can become cells from any part of the body, and can replicate themselves over and over and over." -- 9:17 a.m.]

[Notes that Bush's policy, announced August 9, 2001, is "fully consistent" with the principles Frist had laid out, and that's why he's supported it. But says that it restricted federal funding to those lines that had been established by that date, says we must ask the question of whether over time we would be able to realize the "full promise" of stem cell research. Says that when Bush announced, it was believed there would be 78 stem cell lines ... "this has proven not to be the case." Only 22 now available, and those now not stable. -- 9:19 a.m.]

["I believe the president's policy should be modified. We should expand federal funding ..." notes that he's been trying to bring stem cell bills to the floor but unsuccessful. Says the Senate will "in all likelihood" consider Specter-Harkin "at some point in this Congress." This is key. Not September, so many qualifications ("in all likelihood," "at some point in this Congress"). Notes that this bill has "significant shortcomings," outlined here. -- 9:23 a.m.]

[Frist continues going into his issues with Specter-Harkin, says it could "seriously undermine the informed consent process" and that he's not sure if all the decisions would be taken by the parents. But, he says, "with appropriate reservations, I will support" Specter-Harkin. There's the line. He said it. But when are we going to get a vote on it? -- 9:25 a.m.]

["I am pro-life." Notes difference between faith and science, but "this is about more than faith, it's also about science." -- 9:26 a.m.]

[Says we must be able to "make adjustments" to our stem cells policy as we move forward, to take account of the changing science. Says we should be also looking at all the new methods as well as those currently being utilized. -- 9:28 a.m.]

[Outlines four of the possible alternative methods, including the use of adult stem cells, to a greater degree. Says adult cells so far are the only ones with proven results. -- 9:29 a.m.]

[Adds now, again, that embryonic stem cells hold the most potential. "The ethical questions over embryonic stem cell research are profound, etc." We have to continue to discuss these questions. This is why senators must be allowed to discuss their various different measures cleanly, and says it will be brought to the floor for a "serious, thoughtful debate." -- 9:32 a.m.]

["As a physician, one should always give hope, but never false hope ... policymakers too ... we must stay within ethical guidelines. Cure today may be just a hope, a dream, but the promise is powerful enough. It's time for a modified policy, the right policy for this moment in time." -- 9:34 a.m.]

[Reid calls Frist's statement "courageous," says it will "bring hope to millions of Americans," and that is carries even more weight since he's a doctor. Says he "admires" Frist for taken this step. Specter "congratulates" Frist, says his speech is "the most important speech made this year, perhaps any year." Notes this is a life-and-death issue, that Frist's view has "enormous impact" when the Majority Leader takes this position. Says he's talked to Frist "many, many, many times ... I know how he has wrestled with this issue ... Frist's comments will "reverberate far and wide, will be heard around the world, including at the White House." Says he's talked to Bush about this repeatedly, "I know that the president will listen to what Senator Frist has had to say." -- 9:38 a.m.]

[Brownback now, clearly unhappy with Frist's new speech, but thanks him for his opposition to human cloning. Brings up a bunch of new theories about adult stem cells and how fast the science is moving. Very basic principle involved here, "whether or not the young human embryo is a life or a piece of property" and we must deal with this "precursor" question before we debate any question of embyronic stem cells. Notes that he "differs" on stem cell policy. -- 9:40 a.m.]

[Durbin says he "admires Frist very much," for his medical expertise and experience. "It says alot about him, it says alot about his heart, as does his statement this morning." Notes that his speech today gives millions "new hope." -- 9:41 a.m.]

[More from Durbin, but let me go back to Frist. He said outright, as I did not expect he would, that he will support Specter-Harkin; he did not commit in any serious way to bringing the bill to the floor at a time certain. He will get much scorn from the right for this, and while I am delighted that he's decided to return to his earlier position and support funding for research on embryos that would otherwise be discarded, I will believe in his sincerity when I hear his 'yea' vote on an actual bill. -- 9:45 a.m.]

AP on Frist's Stem Cell Stance

The Associated Press has issued a story following up on last night's developments on the stem cell front. Senator Frist appeared on "Good Morning America" this morning, and said his decision to back additional research was "based on policy, not on politics." Apparently Frist is saying that embryos which would otherwise be discarded are okay to be considered for research, but nowhere yet have I seen any indication that he's explicitly said he will support Specter-Harkin specifically.

Frist said, according to AP "Now is the time to expand the president's policy because it's promising research, but it must be done in a way that is ethically considerate, that respects the dignity of human life."

Of course by 'now' he means 'in September,' at least based on all the information we know currently.

I'll keep at ear on C-SPAN2 beginning at 9 today, and when Frist takes to the floor with this, I'll be back with updates. Stay tuned.

Friday Satire

It's not entirely clear when Frist's speech on stem cells will be delivered this morning, but it may be as soon as the Senate gavels in around 9 a.m. I'll be posting as much as I can throughout. But first, here's your satire for the week.

- First and foremost this week, if you haven't been following "Doonesbury" this week, you've missed some good ones. The strips on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and today have focused on the President and Karl Rove. They've caused a bit of a ruckus, but I have found the strips quite humorous.

- Scrappleface has been on top of its game this week, which very good posts on Roberts documents, liberals and free trade deals, and the energy bill.

- Andy Borowitz compares VP Cheney to the space shuttle, and Lance Armstrong to Justice O'Connor.

- The Swift Report notes that torture may be used to get Judy Miller to talk, and discusses the latest Christo art project.

- The Garlic examines the Bush Administration's feverish campaign to keep their torture-power.

- The Capitol Steps sing "If Ever I Would Leak You," featuring Karl Rove.

- And finally, The Onion offers an exclusive look into what exactly happens to a Supreme Court justice when they retire.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Possible Major Movement on Stem Cells

[Updated, newest at bottom]

I am going to make note of the fact (tip to Stygius for this) that Drudge is reporting tonight "In a break with Bush, Senate Republican leader Bill Frist will support bill to expand fed financing for embyronic stem cell research -- will announce decision in morning with lengthy Senate speech ... MORE ..." under a huge headline. Drudge offers no link.

Let me just say, I'll believe it when I see it. While it would be entirely reasonable for Frist to support the Specter-Harkin legislation, since he said he supported funding exactly the same thing back in 2001, I find it very difficult to believe that he's been stalling the bill for weeks and will suddenly support it now.

Just this morning, as Wired News reports, senators tried to bring the stem cell bill to the floor, and Frist batted it down.

My guess is, if there's anything to this story, it will be some sort of half-baked "compromise" legislation Frist has come up with, possibly that which Norm Coleman was planning to introduce earlier this week.

Look, if Frist comes on (back) on board and decides to support Specter-Harkin, I'd certainly welcome his support. But like I said - I'll believe it when I see it.

[Update: Well, we might just be seeing it. The New York Times reports for Friday editions that Frist will back expanding the president's policy ... although it does not say explicitly that he'll vote for Specter-Harkin. I'm still reading the article, will post back very soon. -- 11:10 p.m.]

[Update: From the draft speech, excerpted in the Times: "While human embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage, the limitations put in place in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases. Therefore, I believe the president's policy should be modified. ...

I am pro-life. I believe human life begins at conception. I also believe that embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged and supported."

Frist's speech, which apparently will be delivered Friday morning, does not mean that he's changed his mind on timing: the stem cell bill still won't be debate and voted on until September ... and Frist is also apparently still going to try to bring up all the proposed alternatives, apparently so there can be a "serious and thoughtful debate."

From the article: "In his speech, Mr. Frist seems ... [to draw] back to a set of principles he articulated in July 2001, before the president made his announcement, in which he proposed restricting the number of stem cell lines without a specific cutoff date. At the time, he said the government should pay for research only on those embryos 'that would otherwise be discarded.'"

Drawing near the end of the article, we come to "the rub." Nowhere does the Times say that Frist has committed to backing Specter-Harkin (which he may do tomorrow, but it's not specifically stated in the excerpts provided). In fact, Frist says that the bill as written has "serious shortcomings, in his view. He says it 'lacks a strong ethical and scientific oversight mechanism,' does not prohibit financial incentives between fertility clinics and patients, and does not specify whether the patients or the clinic staff have a say over whether embryos are discarded. He also says he does not like the idea that the new policy would be in place indefinitely. 'This concerns me,' Mr. Frist says in the speech, 'because the science of stem cell research is evolving in so many different ways.'"

Unless Frist says in the full speech (and you can bet I'll be watching very closely) that he's absolutely supporting Specter-Harkin, what I would be seriously concerned about is the construction of some different version of the bill prior to September that Frist would come out and support. So, as they say, we shall see.

Regardless of this, I guess I do need to give Frist some props for this speech, even though it does nothing but prove that he continues to have the political instincts of an eggplant. The right wing and the White House will go bananas over this, and I daresay supporters of stem cell research will remain wary at best of his commitment. But hey, his vote is certainly welcome - we'll need every one we can get to override that threatened veto.

Stay tuned tomorrow for much, much more on this. -- 11:26 p.m.]

[New updates up on the main page, so click up there if you're directly routed to this post]

State Department: "Whoops"

Following up on my earlier posts, the Associated Press reports tonight that John Bolton WAS interviewed by the State Department's Inspector General back in 2003. Spokesman Noel Clay says that when Bolton filed out his paperwork for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he "didn't recall being interviewed by the State Department's inspector general. Therefore, his form, as submitted, was inaccurate. He will correct it."

Score one for honesty. This is a very important revelation. Didn't recall? Shouldn't there be staff to check things like that? Why has it taken until now to realize this?

[Update: The New York Times weighs in on this for Friday, with Elisabeth Bumiller poaching Doug Jehl's Bolton-turf, headlining her piece "U.N. Nominee Omitted Data at Hearings in the Senate." She leads off with "John R. Bolton, President Bush's nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations, failed to tell the Senate during his confirmation hearings that he had been interviewed by the State Department's inspector general looking into how American intelligence agencies came to rely on fabricated reports that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa, the State Department said Thursday."

Sadly, there's not much else new in the NYT piece. But at least the word is out. -- 11:35 p.m.]

Last Call

One final reminder; if you haven't been over to Patrick Ruffini's site to vote in his '08 straw poll, check it out.

I'm working on a few things tonight, including tomorrow's satire roundup and more on all the new developments on the Bolton front. If you're not interested in all that, don't miss the new post on redistricting I posted earlier this afternoon. There's something for everybody somewhere along down the page, I hope!

Another Letter from Biden

While the question of whether Bolton was interviewed by the Fitzgerald grand jury remains unanswered, Senator Biden has dispatched another letter to Secretary Rice responding to the questions asked on this blog and others about whether Bolton was interviewed in any earlier inspector general investigations.

Here is the text of Biden's letter, as provided by Raw Story. A scan of the letter is also available there.

"July 28, 2005

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice Secretary of State Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madam Secretary:

It has just come to my attention that then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton was interviewed on July 18, 2003 by the State Department Office of the Inspector General in connection with a joint State Department/CIA IG investigation related to the alleged Iraqi attempts to procure uranium from Niger. This information would appear to be inconsistent with information that Mr. Bolton provided to the Committee on Foreign Relations during the Committee's consideration of his pending nomination to be Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

The Committee on Foreign Relations expects all nominees to provide to it accurate and timely information. Indeed, in submitting the Committee's questionnaire, all nominees are required to swear out an affidavit stating that the information provided is "true and accurate." It now appears that Mr. Bolton's answers may not meet that standard. I write, therefore, to request that you review this matter to determine whether incomplete or inaccurate information was provided by Mr. Bolton.

Thank you for your assistance.


Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Ranking Minority Member"

So far as I know, this is the first time that Bolton's meeting with the State Department's IG has been made public (if I'm wrong about that, my apologies). It's going to be awfully hard for Bolton to loophole his way out of this one, if Biden's information is accurate.

[Update: Tip to Stygius for letting me know the AP story is up about today's Bolton developments. Reuters has an updated story here. -- 7:37 p.m.]

State Says Bolton Didn't Testify

Reuters' Vicki Allen reports:

"The State Department on Thursday said U.N. ambassador nominee John Bolton told Congress the truth when he said he did not testify in the investigation of the leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Bolton's answer in March to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was 'truthful then and it remains the case now.' ...

Questioned by reporters, McCormack recited the committee's questionnaire that asks whether a nominee 'has been interviewed or asked to supply any information in connection with any administrative (including an inspector general), congressional or grand jury investigation, within the past five years, except routine congressional testimony.'

'Mr. Bolton, in his response on the written paperwork, was to say 'No.' And that answer is truthful then and it remains the case now,' McCormack said

Assuming that what McCormack meant by that last statement is that Bolton's response was to say 'no' - not that he was told by someone else to reply in the negative - that still leaves unresolved the same questions Steve Clemons asked earlier, particularly if the State Department is using some nebulous loophole in the disclosure form's language.

A spokesman for Joe Biden told Reuters that the statements from McCormack did not resolve the questions that Biden outlined in his letter to Rice from yesterday. He said that Biden continues to await a written response from Secretary Rice.

Good for Biden. The possibility of word parsing in this case, and the continued question of whether Bolton was involved in at least two inspector general investigations while at the State Department, mean that none of us should let up the pressure. Keep asking the questions, and keep demanding answers.

In other news from the Reuters report, which may or may not be of any relevance whatsoever, Frist said today that the Senate would not act in any way on the Bolton nomination prior to recessing at the end of the week, "
and therefore we will address it after the recess." As for the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan continued today with the "nothing has changed" line, refusing to say anything further than that and "We've always felt he deserves an up or down vote."

And we've always felt that if all our questions are answered, he'll get one. Nothing has changed there either.

Redistricting Watch: Updates on Several Fronts

Some excellent news to report on the effort to reform the way congressional districts are drawn (for previous posts on this topic, see the list below):

- First and foremost, I am delighted to be able to report that six more House members have signed on as cosponsors to H.R. 2642, the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act sponsored by Rep. John Tanner of Tennesee. The bill's newest backers, whose support become official on Tuesday, are Democrats Eliot Engel (NY-17), Bart Gordon (TN-6), John Larson (CT-1), Anna Eshoo (CA-14) and Neil Abercrombie (HI-1), as well as Republican Phil Gingrey, who represents Georgia's 11th District. Gingrey becomes the second Republican representative (joining Tennessean Zach Wamp) to sign onto the bill.

On a personal note, I'm delighted that Rep. Abercrombie has joined; he and I share Union College as our alma mater. Support for this legislation continues to grow with each passing week, and the additional bipartisan spirit added by Gingrey's support is more than welcome. Following the August recess, I'll be unveiling a targeted plan to elicit support from others, particularly centrist Republicans from the Northeast and Midwest. We'll also need to persuade a senator to sponsor a companion bill in that chamber and start working on that front in the near future.

- Rep. Tanner's website now includes a page on the reform legislation, complete with an excellent summary of H.R. 2642, the bill's text and status pages, and photos and statements from the recent birthday party for Elbridge Gerry. This webpage will be a tremendous resource as we move forward, and I'm glad to see it up and running.

- A Congressional Research Service report on the constitutionality of Tanner's bill has been completed, and concludes "Article I, Section 4, of the Constitution expressly provides Congress with the power to enact laws governing the time, place, and manner of elections for Members of the House of Representatives. This express grant of power would appear to permit Congress to limit the number of times states can conduct congressional districting and to prescribe how such districting is conducted." For more on the bill's constitutionality, see my earlier post on that topic here.

- The San Antonio Express recently editorialized in support of Tanner's bill, saying in part:

"Texans have some firsthand knowledge of how elected leaders of both parties can manipulate the redistricting process for partisan gain. The wounds of the 2003 redistricting fight — which redrew congressional boundaries for the second time in as many years — are still fresh.

That battle royal was a political payback for decades of redistricting that drew lines in a different direction.

Aside from the partisan acrimony, the current method of redistricting creates a stunningly uncompetitive political environment. Politicians stack and pack voters into safe districts for both Republicans and Democrats.

Outside of Texas, where four incumbent Democrats were targeted in redistricting and defeated, only three of 399 congressional incumbents who ran for re-election lost their seats last November.

There is a better way. A handful of states already have independent commissions that take redistricting out of the hands of partisan, elected officials. State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, has been a tireless advocate for this approach in Texas.

Tanner's proposal in Congress would make independent redistricting commissions the law of the land. Among the 36 bipartisan co-sponsors of his measure, astonishingly not one is from Texas.

Texas representatives, more than most, should understand the necessity for the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act. Texas voters should demand that they support it."

All Americans should ask the same of their own representatives. Real democracy only comes when we have real choice. If your congressional rep hasn't yet signed onto H.R. 2642, contact him or her, and encourage them to do so.

Previous Redistricting Watch posts:
- "Cosponsors Update" (7/22)
- "How Exactly do you Gerrymander a Birthday Cake?" (7/20)
- "Happy Birthday Mr. Gerry" (7/19)
- "Federal Authority in Historical Perspective" (7/16)
- "Blue Dogs, on the Scent" (7/12)
- "Cosponsors Update" (7/1)
- "Links, News, and Views" (6/24)
- "Polarization & Collegiality" (6/24)
- "Centrist Action on Redistricting Reform" (6/23)

CSM on the Frist-a-Buster

One of the harshest mainstream critiques I've seen yet of Bill Frist's decision to stall the DoD appropriations bill in favor of spending time on legislation to protect gun manufacturers (discussed at length in earlier posts here, here and here) comes today in the form of an editorial at the Christian Science Monitor.

"One might think that senators heading home for a month-long summer holiday would first want to pass the defense bill, a gesture that would show support for America's troops risking their lives around the world.

Instead, Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R) has decided they should spend these last hours sending a box of candy and a bouquet to the gun lobby.

Earlier this week Senator Frist abruptly cut off debate on the defense bill - effectively pushing it back to the fall - to turn attention to a measure that's a darling of the National Rifle Association. It would shield firearms manufacturers and dealers from individuals or local governments trying to hold them responsible in court for damages caused by the unlawful use of guns. Lawsuits already under way would have to be dismissed. And no local laws could be passed in the future to supercede this special protection.

That the Senate would turn away from important national security legislation to deal with a special plea from a powerful lobbying group is unsavory enough. But, just as important, the bill itself is both unnecessary and harmful."

Read the whole piece; it's excellent.