Monday, October 31, 2005

It's Alito

News agencies are reporting that the president will nominate Third Circuit Court of Appeals judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court this morning. Here are a few biographical links: (USNews, ACSBlog, Wiki, more to come).

Ugh. This is going to be a most unpleasant process.

[Update: Statement from Frist: "This morning, President Bush nominated Judge Sam Alito as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. With this selection, the president has chosen a proven nominee that meets the highest standards of excellence."

Statement from Schumer: "It is sad that the president felt he had to pick a nominee likely to divide America instead of choosing a nominee in the mold of Sandra Day O'Connor, who would unify us. This controversial nominee, who would make the Court less diverse and far more conservative, will get very careful scrutiny from the Senate and from the American people." [via Hotline On Call].

The right and left are really spoiling for the kind of fight here that eluded them with the Roberts nomination. The middle will probably be, well, caught in the middle. -- 8:01 a.m.]

[Update: In his nominating statement, Bush talks up Alito's experience big time, mentioning his "breadth" of expertise, his many arguments before the Supreme Court (12) and his "passionate commitment to the rule of law," says he has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in seventy years (see? He's not Miers!). He is "a thoughtful judge, who considers the legal merits carefully and applies the law in a principled fashion," Bush says. He's "confident that the United States Senate will be impressed" with Alito, and urges a vote before the end of the year.

Alito says he's "deeply honored," "very grateful." Mentions the "reverence" with which he views the Supreme Court (sounds almost exactly like Roberts' statement a few months ago). Notes that during his first oral argument at the Court, O'Connor threw him a softball for his first question. Says he will be a "fair, conscientious, and temperate" judge.

Alito will now head immediately to Capitol Hill to begin the meet-n-greet process.

The nominee clearly has a great range of experience and a tremendous paper trail. There will be much to digest, debate, and discuss over the next few weeks. I make no judgment on the nomination yet, pending the hearings. -- 8:16 a.m.]

[Update: "The base" is, as they say, energized. Alito is already being considered the mirror opposite of Harriet Miers. And I have to wonder, as I did back on the morning that Miers was nominated, whether her whole nomination was nothing more than a political stunt to rally the base for exactly this moment. -- 10:03 a.m.]

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Movie Review: "Good Night, and Good Luck"

Three words: "See It Now."

Second-Term Blues

Alongside the endless (and I do mean endless, I didn't even get through it all before throwing up my hands) ink spilled in this morning's papers on the Indictment a la Libby, the NYTimes has a handy little guide to the second-term troubles in past administrations. It's worth a read, if only for historical interest. Among the tidbits:

- "The last sitting White House staff member to be indicted may have been Orville Babcock, Ulysses S. Grant's private secretary, who was charged in 1875 with a group of whiskey distillers in a conspiracy to defraud the government of taxes."

- Since Eisenhower, only Nixon has had a lower approval rating than President Bush during his second term: Eisenhower's dipped to 48%, Reagan's to 42%, and Clinton's only to 55% - each stood at or above 60% at the end of their terms. A recent WaPo/ABC poll put Bush's approval rating at 39% (the most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup number is 42%, which would tie Bush with Reagan except that Reagan's disapprove number was only 46% - Bush's is 55%).

It is time for a serious course correction.

Biannual Lunacy Redux

In case you forgot, last night was "fall back" time for the nation's clocks (well, most of them), which means the silly daylight saving time menace goes back into its drawer for another six months. Three cheers.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

The Libby indictment and the ongoing Supreme Court business will be the main topics of discussion on the talk shows tomorrow. Here are the lineups:

Meet the Press (NBC): Russert will panelize with a bunch of folks who know all there is to know about White House coverups. Former presidential chiefs of staff Ken Duberstein (Reagan), Hamilton Jordan (Carter) and Leon Panetta (Clinton) will appear, as will presidential historian Michael Beschloss, columnists David Broder and Bill Safire, and former CNN anchor Judy Woodruff.

Face the Nation (CBS): The Judiciary Committee's Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham will guest.

This Week (ABC): Judiciary Committee's John Cornyn and Minority Leader Harry Reid will interview with Steph.

Fox News Sunday: Former Majority Leader Trent Lott and Senator Chris Dodd.

Late Edition (CNN): Harry Reid also will interview with Wolf; other guests include Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, Senator Sam Brownback, and former officials Dick Thornburgh, Madeline Albright, Lanny Davis and Alexander Haig.

On the SCOTUS Front ...

The NYTimes reports today that Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito (yes, he's the one nicknamed Scalito, for frighteningly obvious reasons) has emerged as a leading contender for the Supreme Court nomination yet to come. Other names in the Times report are J. Michael Luttig and Priscilla Owen, both also appeals court judges.

WaPo basically agrees with the Times on the short list, adding Emilio Garza, Edith Jones and Michael McConnell to believed to be under consideration. RedState's Erick Erickson blogged yesterday that the buzz was on Alito, and then shifted to Luttig later in the day. He also noted a growing number of times that Chris Cox' name was mentioned; Cox is the former GOP congressman now running the SEC.

The president is currently in a position of serious disadvantage. His prior nominee's just been shot down. One of his top aides has been indicted and more charges may materialize. He needs a slam dunk here, but he needs a slam dunk that will not just satisfy (mollify might be a better term) the rabid wolves of the right-wing punditburo, but also those of us who do not share their activist views. Perhaps a senator or former senator (Fred Thompson comes to mind, but several current senators might also fill the bill) would be an appropriate choice, or an elder statesman like John Danforth or Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson. (These are not by any means the only people I would find acceptable, I'm just thinking wishfully for a few moments before I jump back into reality.)

This is not the moment to split the country (even if it might "mend the fence" with "the base") by nominating a so-called movement conservative to the bench. This is a time to unify most (all's probably impossible) of the country around a candidate who brings strong qualifications to the job and will act with the judicious temperament that has characterized all great Supreme Court justices.

Can it be done? We'll have to wait and see. Cross your fingers.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Fitzgerald Press Conference

This is old news now, but I did want to pass along the text of Patrick Fitzgerald's lengthy press conference this afternoon in which he discussed the case against Scooter Libby and where the investigation's going from here. I thought that Fitzgerald handled himself remarkably well with the press, and certainly brought a great deal of credibility and candor to the process.

Crooks & Liars has video of Fitzgerald's opening statement as well.

It's very hard to say where things go from here, but clearly there is more news yet to come in this case.

Libby Indicted

VP Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted Friday by a federal grand jury on five counts: one obstruction of justice, two making false statements, and two perjury charges.

There may be more shoes yet to drop today; special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has scheduled a news conference for 2 p.m. Eastern.

[Update: Libby has resigned his position. Here are the charges. -- 1:14 p.m.]

The Next Nominee

Indictments may come today; the Times says that Libby will be indicted (and maybe others) but that Fitzgerald will ask for more time to investigate Rove. Could be true. I don't know. One thing I do know is that the president now has an important choice to make on the SCOTUS front: his nominee to replace the mired Miers.

The Washington Post has a decent editorial on the subject this morning, which concludes this way:

"In looking for a new nominee, Mr. Bush may be tempted - particularly at a time of political weakness - to mollify his base with a nominee more 'reliable' than Ms. Miers. If that means a nominee with a history of pounding the tables on behalf of conservative causes, he should resist the temptation and instead nominate someone whose approach, modesty and views command respect across the political spectrum.

It is important to remember that in nominating Ms. Miers, Mr. Bush was not simply attempting to put a loyalist on the bench. He was also nominating, rightly in our view, someone not obviously offensive to the opposition party and without evident radical ambitions to remake society. He should now pursue this approach with a nominee whose professional credentials stand above dispute

I think that's about right. Bush is under intense (that's not a strong enough word) from the right wing to nominate someone whose views may be less than acceptable to the rest of the country, and he should indeed fight the urge to take that route out of this mess. He should listen to former senator and former UN ambassador John Danforth (who would, by the way, make an amazing Supreme Court nominee). Danforth was on "Newsnight" last night, and here's some of what he had to say:

"DANFORTH: Well, I - I am very concerned about the ascendancy of the political right, particularly in the Republican Party.

I mean, it's - it's very obvious that nobody can do enough to please them. The president certainly can't. All this business about appealing to the political base, pandering to the political base, telling the political base that they're wonderful, doing one thing after another to - to try to make the political base happy, look what it got the president. They gave him a kick in the teeth. ...

BROWN: Tell me if you agree with this, that - everybody talks about, the other guy wants a litmus test, and we don't want a litmus test. But the fact is that both sides want litmus tests.

DANFORTH: They sure do.

BROWN: They want to know absolutely, 100 percent, that that judge will overturn Roe vs. Wade.

DANFORTH: That's correct. They - they want a political judge. They want a judicial activist. This business about judicial conservatism and somebody who decides the law, that's baloney. I mean, that's what they should want. That - that is what the judge should be, somebody who interprets the law and not makes it. But forget about that. I mean, these people are just as activist as the People For the American Way and all those organizations."

John Danforth is a conservative. He's also sensible, and he is willing to speak his mind and call out the kind of irrational nonsense that many on the right (and the left) seem content to sit around and spew. He is the kind of leader that we need more of in Washington and around the country, and I could not be more delighted that he's making the rounds and talking sense during these rough days. The president could certainly do worse than to listen to his counsel.

The next nominee could come any day now, according to reports - and then things start to get really interesting.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Honoring Rosa Parks

Reuters reports tonight that the Senate agreed on Wednesday to a resolution that would allow the body of Rosa Parks to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. If the measure is passed by the House, as is expected to occur tomorrow, Parks would be the first woman to be so honored. I can think of no better tribute to Ms. Parks, whose quiet protest sparked a sea change in American society that was much too long in coming.

National Journal: Cheney Withheld Papers from Congress

Murray Waas reports at National Journal that VP Cheney and his chief of staff, the perhaps-soon-to-be-indicted Scooter Libby, went against the advice of some White House political staff and lawyers and "decided to withhold crucial documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 when the panel was investigating the use of pre-war intelligence that erroneously concluded Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, according to Bush administration and congressional sources."

Some of the documents withheld, Waas writes, were "Libby-authored passages in drafts of a speech that then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivered to the United Nations in February 2003 to argue the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq," as well as "intelligence data that Cheney's office - and Libby in particular - pushed to be included in Powell's speech, the sources said."

Cheney's office declined comment.

Is this a Rovian scheme to bring down enough people in the Veep's office to keep him out of trouble? Or Cheney's staff falling on their swords to protect their bosses?

The shoes are falling fast and furious now.

Miers Withdraws

President Bush has "reluctantly" accepted Harriett Miers' request to withdraw her nomination to the Supreme Court.

Not surprising after all that's gone on. But now we go back to my original question about what happens if Miers failed - what's next?


[Update: Bush statement here, noting that "It is clear that Senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House - disclosures that would undermine a President's ability to receive candid counsel." Miers's letter is here: she notes that she feels "the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of our country."

Indictments will completely end the Miers story when they happen - will a replacement nominee then eclipse the indictments? -- 9:09 a.m.]

[Update: CNN reports Fitzgerald has said there will be no announcement today. -- 9:12 a.m.]

[Update: The Wall Street Journal has a good running commentary on the latest Miers-developments, including some responses from Democrats which I found quite intriguing. As I expected, they seem likely to take advantage of the conservative opposition to Miers which scuttled her nomination and remain ready for anything when the next one comes. I think they played this pretty smart ... much smarter than the Administration, at any rate. -- 11:56 a.m.]

Politicians and Blogs

The Christian Science Monitor has a good article today on how political leaders are reaching out (in most cases) to blogs as a new way to get their message out - or, in some cases, are even starting their own.

Just this year when we've seen former Senator John Edwards guest-blog at TPMCafe, Senator Barack Obama engage in a heated debate over at dKos, and the Republican Study Committee invite in a bunch of bloggers for a press conference (covered well by RedState). And those are just a few I remember.

Of course even smallish blogs like this one aren't off the radar screens - you'll remember my own recent e-interview with Rep. John Tanner, and I hope as we move forward to be able to provide more things like this. Blogs can provide an important way to reach out, even if those who typically read them may already be politically engaged to a large extent. I don't the blog trend is going away anytime soon, and it's good to see political leaders recognizing their potential.

"The Mood"

As the suspense continues to build in Washington and around the country over what (if any) indictments Patrick Fitzgerald will bring in the Plame Name Investigation, Mark Leibovich writes up a puff piece on the way folks in D.C. are handling the anticipation.

The Quag-Miers nomination is certainly playing second fiddle to the gathering indictment storm: her failure to turn in her revised questionnaire by last night's 6 p.m. deadline gets little play in the media this morning. The Senate Judiciary Committee released a statement last night saying they still hoped to recive the document last night.

Jon Stewart will have a great time with that. I can hear it now - now only does she get to take the test again, but she also gets to hand it in late?!

Who knows what's going to happen today - we could finally get some news, or we could get more waiting. I'm afraid if Fitzgerald asks for an extension (the grand jury expires on Friday otherwise), some pundits' heads may literally explode.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Asking the Questions

Once again, Arlen Specter has renewed my faith in him, today releasing a letter to Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers in which he wrote that he will ask Miers "about the Bush administration's policy of detaining suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay." Specter "also said he would ask what assurances she could offer that she would be independent, if confirmed, 'and not give President Bush any special deference on any matter involving him that might come before the court,'" according to the Associated Press.


Indictments Anytime

The speculation that indictments may be made public today is basically at a fever pitch, with blogs, conventional media, and all the political junkies on their toes just waiting for the news to break. When it hits, it's going to hit hard. If anything happens, I will try to check back in, but otherwise I'm just waiting (im)patiently along with the rest of you. Morbid fascination, I guess.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dropping Shoes?

Steve Clemons reports, via an "uber-insider source" that target letters have been sent to those about to receive indictments in the Plame Name Game investigation. Indictments, the source says, will be sealed and filed tomorrow, with a press conference by Fitzgerald on Thursday.

True? I have no idea, but my sources (if I had any) are nowhere near as good as Steve's, so I'm passing along the rumor.

RawStory also notes that their sources say Fitzgerald has decided to seek indictments and will submit at least two to the grand jury (Clemons' source says between 1 and 5).

It's coming, folks. This is not a time for gloating, or cheering, but a time to hold those who committed crimes accountable for their actions. The country deserves no less.

It's Wet

Coursework is keeping me very busy these days, hence the sporadic postings and the weird pace. I had a moment this afternoon to blog, but in the absence of any really big news out over the course of the day today, I will just make a quick comment on the weather. It's unpleasant.

I'm experiencing my first Boston nor'easter today, and I will just say it's a darn good thing the temperature's not twenty degrees cooler, or we would be digging out from under very deep piles of snow (as John Cole is down in WV). As it is, here we're just getting very cold, very hard rain and strong, umbrella-inverting winds that drive the rain directly into your face as you walk down the street.

On my walk home from the T-stop tonight (eh, five or six blocks), I saw at least twelve abandoned umbrellas on the sidewalk, all either snapped or shredded (or both) by the wind. It's pretty incredible. And these winds are only like 25-40 miles per hour. I cannot even begin to imagine what life is like during a hurricane, but frankly this is about as close as I ever want to get to one.

They say we may see sun for a brief moment tomorrow.

No Exemptions From Torture Ban

Eric Schmitt writes in the NYTimes today that the White House is seeking to insert a Hummer-sized loophole into the Senate-passed (90-9, if you recall) McCain amendment prohibiting the use of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of American-held prisoners.

Schmitt reports that in a meeting last Thursday, Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss urged McCain to accept a change to his amendment exempting the CIA from its provisions - he cites "two government officials who were briefed on the meeting," but oddly could get no comment from the offices of those directly involved.

McCain rejected the exemption, Schmitt says - and rightly so. It would competely gut McCain's amendment, since the Defense Department could just "transfer" any prisoner it wanted to the CIA's control.

We must all stick tight to this; the conference committee may try and remove the measure, and there is White House-backed opposition on the House side. But this is too important to let go.

Foot in Mouth Disease

There seems to be an epidemic of this horrible affliction sweeping the political world recently. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is one of the latest victims, and her symptoms are acute. Here's what she said on "Meet the Press" this weekend about possible charges in the Plame Name Game case:

"I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment . . . that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. So they go to something that trips someone up because they said something in the first grand jury and then maybe they found new information or they forgot something and they tried to correct that in a second grand jury

I think we should be very careful here, especially as we are dealing with something very public and people's lives in the public arena."

Mmm-kay. So we're sure you've always felt this way, that perjury's just a "technicality," right? Just a way to "trip someone up"? Well, not so much. Here's the good senator at a news conference from February 5, 1999:

"I do think ... that something needs to be said that is a clear message that our rule of law is intact and the standards for perjury and obstruction of justice are not gray. And I think it is most important that we make that statement and that it be on the record for history.

I very much worry that with the evidence that we have seen that grand juries across America are going to start asking questions about what is obstruction of justice, what is perjury. And I don't want there to be any lessening of the standard. Because our system of criminal justice depends on people telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

There's no antidote yet developed for this horrible disease, but Senator Hutchison will get the first dose when it's available.

In all seriousness though, if more Republicans come out after an indictment for perjury (if one is brought) and start making this kind of argument the entire country ought to just laugh in their faces. Those who break the law - I don't care what law it is, perjury or murder - should be held to the highest standard of accountability under our legal system, and no one ought to laugh off charges as "technicalities."

Monday, October 24, 2005

Things That Make You Go "Hmmmm"

Scooter Libby learned about Valerie Plame from ... Dick Cheney? So reports the New York Times.

Frist's "Blind Trust"

I've discussed before the question of whether Bill Frist's so-called blind trust (which he claimed shielded him from any knowledge of what stocks he owned) could see. From an article in today's Washington Post, it's beginning to appear that not only was the trust not blind, it probably had close to 20/20 vision.

The Post has discovered that the trustees of Frist's trust wrote to him 15 times since 2001, "detailing the sale of assets from or the contribution of assets to trusts of Frist and his family. The letters included notice of the addition of HCA shares worth $500,000 to $1 million in 2001 and HCA stock worth $750,000 to $1.5 million in 2002."

Ridiculous. I don't know how all of the investigations into Frist's stock sales will end up playing out, but this looks more than slimy to me.

Redistricting Watch: WaPo Weighs In

The Washington Post editorial board writes in defense of redistricting reform today, endorsing both the California and Ohio referenda that will be on the ballot this fall. "While neither is perfect or would be a cure-all to the corrosive problem of noncompetitive elections, both initiatives would bring improvement over the status quo," they argue.

Calling modern redistricting processed "a travesty" (which they are indeed), the editorial adds that "few races are more than fictions. Sometimes the process is rigged to protect incumbents, sometimes to oust them, but maximizing competition and voter choice is never the goal when politicians get to draw the districts in which they or their friends will run. The result contributes to political polarization, since heavily Democratic districts tend to elect people far more liberal than average while heavily Republican districts tend to elect people far more conservative."

I agree with the Post that a major problem with both the Ohio and California plans is that they involve a mid-decade redistricting process, and I think they point out the effect of these provisions on the proposals' chances for success: "unwillingness to delay implementation in both California and Ohio until the next census puts a partisan edge on what should be a nonpartisan issue - allowing Democrats in California and Republicans in Ohio to argue that supporters of reform are merely members of the out party trying to gain seats they can't win under current law. The case for redistricting reform is better argued when it isn't quite so clear as to whom it will help and hurt."

Picking up one of the lines that I and others (including the Centrist Coalition) have been using, the editorial ends by commenting that "Elections are supposed to be about voters choosing candidates. That's not a meaningful choice if the candidates have already gotten to choose their voters."

Quite so. A good, solid piece. This reform movement has only just begun, but it's picking up steam fast.

Previous Redistricting Watch posts:
- "Q & A with Congressman John Tanner" (10/20)
- "Governator Goes to Ohio" (10/18)
- "Schwarzenegger Calls on McCain" (10/11)
- "Broder's Right" (9/1)
- "WaPo on Prop 77" (8/21)
- "Prop 77 Back On" (8/12)
- "Updates from the States" (8/10)
- "Updates on Several Fronts" (7/28)
- "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)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Scowcroft Lets 'Er Rip

There is an important article in tomorrow's edition of the New Yorker, in which former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft lays out important and meaningful differences with the current President Bush. Steve Clemons has been all over the news of this story, and posted earlier this New Yorker release as well as extensive excerpts from the article itself. It is definitely worth reading.

Short Takes

A few of the things I noted during my perusal of the papers this morning:

- The NYTimes' San Francisco bureau chief, Dean Murphy, has a magazine piece today asking "Who Should Redistrict?" Since redistricting reform has become of my major themes over the last few months, it would be more than derelict of me not to mention Murphy's article. While it is hardly positive about redistricting reform (Murphy seems to think the whole thing is hopeless), it does discuss some important aspects of the process. Also, the LATimes endorses Schwarzenegger's redistricting proposal in an important editorial, saying that its passage will "restore some reason and moderation to the political process."

- Also from the Times, don't miss this story, about an interesting gift that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld received while visiting Mongolia, as well as their endorsement of Republican Mike Bloomberg for a second term as mayor.

- George Will gets all (and I do mean all) hot and bothered in his column this week; it lives up to and even surpasses all the rumors I had heard about how harsh it was going to be toward the Miers nomination and its defenders. I think this kind of rhetoric (saying any Republicans who support her are unworthy of consideration for 2008, etc.) might be a touch overblown; I don't like the nomination either but I'm kind of worried Will's head may explode.

- Mark Leibovich profiles Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby, who may find his name on front pages everywhere in just a few days.

- The LATimes looks at Democratic silence on the "quag-Miers," noting that many Democrat senators, like me, are wary of being seen as helping to scuttle the nomination since they remain worried about what comes next if she is forced out. If the conservatives can bring her down on their own, the argument goes, then non-conservatives keep their powder dry in case he sends up an even more ideological nominee next time.

- The must-read of the day award, however, goes to the Washington Post for its editorial "Mr. Stevens' Tirade." Yes, that would be the "senatorial version of a hissy fit" that Stevens engaged in during debate on the Coburn amendment on Thursday. The Post writes "What's most impressive about Mr. Stevens's tantrum is his ability to summon up this degree of righteous indignation - self-righteous might be more apt - over the alleged mistreatment of a state that benefits enormously, and disproportionately, from federal spending." The whole thing is excellent.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Sunday Show Guests

My guess is that Hurricane Wilma may intrude on the political talk shows this week, but here are the scheduled lineups, with Harriett Oh Harriett as the main topic of conversation on most of the gabfests.

This Week (ABC): Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is the headliner (generally good for some outrageous statement or another). Rather inexplicably, actress Mira Sorvino is the other interviewee - apparently she's some kind of ambassador for Amnesty International. There will also be a roundtable with David Brooks, Donna Brazile, E.J. Dionne and George Will (whose column tomorrow is rumored to be a scorcher, by the way).

Face the Nation (CBS): Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter and committee member Dianne Feinstein will be on to discuss the Miers nomination. Then former House speaker Newt Gingrich will appear, to talk, undoubtedly, about anything and everything.

Meet the Press (NBC): Senator George Allen (R-VA) will discuss Iraq and other things, including Miers; Senators Hutchison and Schumer will discuss Miers and presumably some DeLay-related goodies. Russert will roundtable with Frank Rich, Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, and George Packer from the New Yorker.

Fox News Sunday: Senators Pat Leahy and Sam Brownback will discuss the Miers nomination.

Late Edition (CNN): Florida senator Bill Nelson, Red Cross president Marty Evans, and Fort Myers mayor Jim Humphrey will discuss the incoming Hurricane Wilma. Then former law enforcement guys Lanny Davis and Dick Thornburgh will discuss the Plame Name Game.

The Moose on a Limb

The Bull Moose's post from yesterday morning (which I somehow managed to miss all day, shame on me) is a must-read. I don't want to even pick and choose quotes from it because they'd lose something in the chopping. Please check it out.

Stem Cell Debate Postponed

I hope Arlen Specter knows what he's doing. He's accepted an "understanding" with Senator Bill Frist to postpone the debate on relaxing a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research until the beginning of the next congressional session, in January. Specter said that Frist (who you'll recall, is now a supporter of enhanced federal funding) had agreed that the bill will be brought up "as one of the first items next year."

Specter's bill would allow funding for research on stem cell line derived from embryos that would otherwise be destroyed. Responding to critics of the approach yesterday, Specter said "If all these embryos could be adopted, produce life, I would not have any interest in advocating scientific research on them. But if they're going to be thrown away, it makes a lot more sense to use them than to throw them away." He's right, and since the House has passed this bill, Senate action must come soon.

I wish that I could say I trust Bill Frist, but I don't. I'm afraid the debate will keep getting pushed back and pushed back and a vote will just keep eluding us. It is well past time to move this debate forward and get this bill to the president's desk (he has threatened a veto, but that is becoming increasingly untenable). I just hope Specter is as on top of his game on this as he is on the Court business - if so, I'm not worried.

Friday, October 21, 2005

More on the Bridges

Anchorage, Alaska's KTVA television station is running a poll asking its viewers to vote on whether they support or oppose funding the bridges that were the subject of last night's Coburn amendment. Right now it's running about 98%-2% in opposition (even if the sample is somewhat small).

Anybody surprised?

Miers' Makeup Test

After leading members of the Senate declared Harriett Miers' nomination questionnaire was filled with "insufficient" responses (prompting a fantastic "Daily Show" skit last night of which I will try to find a video link), Dahlia Lithwick over at Slate has cooked up a little replacement exam. Snarky, yes - but hysterical.

On a more serious note, Miers will apparently stop meeting with senators in order to spend more time studying for her confirmation hearings. The Washington Times (yes, the Times) says Miers will spend the next two weeks "cramming" before she goes in front of the Judiciary Committee. What is this, a seventh-grade history exam? Surely there are candidates for the Court who wouldn't have to "cram" for a Senate hearing ...

Stygius has more. His conclusion: "Stick a fork in 'er, folks. She's done."

Kissing Ears

A brief followup to last night's discussion of the Coburn amendment. There is a very good synopsis of the day's events in the WaPo this morning by Shailagh Murray, outlining what the amendments would have done, the grassroots support that sprang up in support of them, and the response from the pork-addicted Senators who voted to leave the money in Alaska.

Murray gets the money-quote from Rep. Don Young, Alaska's congressman and the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ... the one who stuck lines into the bill to fund the constructions of the bridge named "Don Young's Way" and the "Bridge to Nowhere."

Asked by an Alaska reporter what he thought of the public groundswell in support of diverting the money from Alaska to Louisiana, Young replied "They can kiss my ear! That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard."

I've heard many dumb things in my life. Like, for instance, naming a bridge after yourself.

Spending money to repair a bridge (one that even gets used!) that was destroyed by a hurricane? That doesn't seem very dumb to me at all. Mr. Young, you'd better hope all the people around the country who are fed up with the politics of pork and are sick of being spent into fiscal oblivion by this reckless Congress and this veto-fearing president don't decide to take you up on your offer ... or you might end up with a very, very sore ear indeed.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Schorr on How to Win

Daniel Schorr of NPR has what I think is a fairly perceptive op/ed column in tomorrow's Christian Science Monitor about what Democrats need to do in order to take advantage of falling Republican fortunes. It's worth a read.

Governed by Children Watch: Antics in the Senate

Here's the backstory. Senator Tom Coburn has offered an amendment to the Senate Treasury, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill now under consideration that would remove approximately $220 million from June's highway (aka pork) bill that was destined for the "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska and divert it to Louisiana for reconstruction of a bridge that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina (which will have to be rebuilt anyway).

The amendment came up this morning and was debated for quite some time on the floor prior to some other business. There was supposed to be a vote at 2 p.m. Late this afternoon, Coburn added some more to the amendment - it would now also remove funding for the bridge to be named "Don Young's Way" (for Alaska's representative in the House), and would send $454 million to New Orleans.

Senators Kit Bond from Missouri and the two Alaskans (Ted Stevens, Lisa Murkowski) have been on the floor this afternoon speaking in opposition to Coburn. Stevens recently announced that if the amendment passes, he will resign from the Senate. The Senate went into a quorum call around 5:20 this evening, and Stevens has said that he will object to rescinding that procedure until an agreement is reached to kill the Coburn amendment.

This moment has made for very strange bedfellows. The Club for Growth and DailyKos are on the same side, and many other groups are watching the goings-on (RedState is doing a live-blog as well). Things could get very interesting. I'll update as necessary.

[Update: Stevens has just offered an amendment saying that no funds from the highway bill for the two bridges targeted by Coburn can be spent until the Twin Spans Bridge in Louisiana is reconstructed (i.e. pay for that from somewhere else and then build our bridges). Coburn is now up urging the Senate to reexamine its priorities. -- 6 p.m.]

[Update: The Coburn amendment is now being voted on. It will definitely be interesting to see what happens here. It should pass, but we all now how addicted these guys are to pork. -- 6:06 p.m.]

[Update: It doesn't look good. More soon. -- 6:15 p.m.]

[Update: Coburn amendment fails 15-82. The ayes were Feingold, Kyl, DeMint, Coburn, Conrad, Vitter, Landrieu, Sununu, Graham, Burr, Allard, Sessions, Bayh, DeWine and Talent. Pork wins again. McCain is not in town tonight, he's giving a speech in New York. -- 6:36 p.m.]

Redistricting Watch: Q&A with Congressman John Tanner

In what I think is a Charging RINO first, I'm very pleased to offer a short question-answer session I've been conducting via email with Congressman John Tanner, who represents Tennessee's 8th District in the House of Representatives. Tanner, a centrist Democrat, is the main sponsor of the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act, H.R. 2642, which would reform the way congressional districts are drawn by implementing an independent commission system in each state rather than the partisan processes we see in most states today.

Without further ado, let me get right to the questions. For more information on all things redistricting, see the list of links at the bottom of the page to my other posts on the topic.

JBD: Congressman Tanner, what prompted you to introduce the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act?

Tanner: Washington , which is now a one-party town with no real checks-and-balance, has become so politically polarized that Congress isn't able to perform its oversight responsibility adequately. A perfect example is another issue I'm passionate about - the out of control borrow-and-spend economic policies that have gone on here for years without any pushback from a Congress that is friendly to the Administration. The reason for the polarization, as some of us see it, is that the lack of competitive Congressional elections has led to an absence of the political center in this town. We have one side on the far right and one side on the far left, and very little voice for those Americans who are in the middle, which is, in my opinion, where most people would identify themselves ideologically. The solution is to fix the broken system to make elections more competitive instead of having seats that are drawn specifically for one party or another. Right now, an incumbent U.S. House Member has a 99% chance of being re-elected if he or she runs again. We like to joke that it's hard to give up that level of job security, but the people are really losing their voice in the way it's set up now. In other words, with modern computer technology, officeholders elect their constituents, rather than citizens electing their leaders.

JBD: For those just reading about this for the first time, can you give us a brief rundown of how your bill would change the redistricting process?

Tanner: Basically, we would take the politics out of the system. What we want to do is help each state establish an independent commission every 10 years to draw the Congressional maps after the census, based on such factors as geography, population and requirements set out in the Voting Rights Act - but not based on politics or political affiliation or voting history. The commission would be appointed in a bipartisan way. A commissioner could not have been recently involved with a political party and could not run for Congressional office in the state until after the next redistricting cycle, 10 years later. There are other things we spell out, but that's the jist of it.

JBD: Why is it important to only have a redistricting process once every decade?

: Congressional district maps should be drawn right after census results are released every 10 years so the commission can get the most accurate statistical data with regards to equal representation and so on. But beyond that, there simply has to be more continuity in the process. It is impossible for me to believe that the people's best interest is being served by changing the Congressional map every time a new party is in charge, no matter if it's Republicans or Democrats in power. The political tide changes frequently, but it should be the voters who get to decide that and not the politicians already in power. One of the things I'm proud of is that this is not a Democratic or Republican bill - it's an American bill; it's the right thing to do no matter which party is in charge in
Washington or in any state capital.

JBD: Some people have expressed doubts about the constitutionality of your bill. How do you respond to those concerns? Isn't redistricting best left up to each state?

Tanner: The Congressional Research Service - that's the research arm of Congress - looked into that issue for us, and the electoral experts there assure us this is in accord with the states' responsibility to redraw Congressional maps and Congress' authority to set national elections. That comes from Article I, Section 4, of the Constitution. ["The times, places, and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators."] The House is a federal entity that should have some level of universal regulation. The most recent example is the Help America Vote Act that established minimum federal-election standards for state and local governments. That said, we do feel the substance of the redistricting process is best left up to the states. What we are suggesting is minimal national guidelines. It's a floor rather than a ceiling, just the basic structure of how to set up the process. The meat-and-potatoes of redistricting would still be up to those in the states, as it should be.

JBD: Your bill has attracted some 41 cosponsors so far. What's the game plan from here? Have any committee hearings been scheduled for consideration of the bill?

: We are still talking to other Members, in the House and Senate, about coming on board with us. It's hard to find politicians who are willing to make their own jobs tougher to keep. As you know, we have bipartisan support, and this legislation is now an official position of the Blue Dog Coalition, of which I'm a member. But for this type of reform, the movement will have to come from outside the halls of Congress. To that end, we have gotten the endorsements of FairVote, Common Cause and Public Citizen. I think that is a good sign of how this reform plan will resonate with the people as they learn more and more about what's wrong and how we're trying to fix it.

JBD: What can we as citizens do to help push the bill along?

: Contact your representatives and senators to talk to them about the bill. I know it's difficult to call up your House Member and say, "I want to make it easier to replace you," but putting it on their radars can help get them on board with us. But just as important is discussing this issue with people outside the Beltway. Like we talked about, that is where the real call for change will need to come from. I appreciate how you've been sharing the information with your readers, and that is the kind of grassroots momentum we need to keep up to make these reforms from the ground up. Our citizens need to reclaim the political process, which I believe has been hijacked by the present system

JBD: Thanks very much for taking the time to answer some questions on this issue. Please keep in touch and let us know how best we can assist in getting this bill through Congress.

Thank you. Keep up the good work you're doing to help bring some attention to this.

I think Tanner's got some great things to say here - I could not agree more with his view that this is an American issue, not a Democrat or Republican talking point. This affects everyone. Obviously I wasn't out to trip him up, and I'm not going to disguise the fact that I am a strong proponent of the bill. I make no claims whatsoever of objectivity, but I certainly appreciate the Congressman's efforts and his willingness to share his views.

Tanner's suggestion, that we contact our representatives, is a good one. I've found the best way to get contact information is through this site - just enter your ZIP and it will pull up the profiles of your House and Senate members with all their contact information. Call or fax a short letter to them at the numbers listed, and urge them to support H.R. 2642, the bipartisan Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act (or, for your senators, urge them to sponsor companion legislation in that chamber). If you have any questions feel free to email me and I'll try to answer. This is a very important effort, and we should all do our part to make reform happen.

For more information, please see the posts below, or visit Rep. Tanner's resource page for H.R. 2642.

Previous Redistricting Watch posts:
- "Governator Goes to Ohio" (10/18)
- "Schwarzenegger Calls on McCain" (10/11)
- "Broder's Right" (9/1)
- "WaPo on Prop 77" (8/21)
- "Prop 77 Back On" (8/12)
- "Updates from the States" (8/10)
- "Updates on Several Fronts" (7/28)
- "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)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Specter and Leahy: Miers Answers "Insufficient"

The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee have sent a letter to the White House asking for more information from Harriett Miers, saying they consider the questionnaire submitted yesterday to be "insufficient," the AP reports. Leahy added "The comments I have heard range from incomplete to insulting."

Specter and Leahy also said they intend to request "non-privileged" information from the White House once additional answers to the questionnaire are received. Some of the areas they want more information on: "
her temporary Washington, D.C., bar suspension for nonpayment of dues and for her to double-check that she submitted all of her litigated work to the committee."

Once again, I think the whole country ought to be glad that we've got these two senators in charge of this process. Specter and Leahy are doing their job, and they're doing it well.

Brownstein on Rocks and Hard Places

Ron Brownstein's analysis in the LATimes today on the difficulties faced by the GOP leadership right now is quite a good synopsis of where things stand. If the Bush folks can persuade the angry conservatives that Miers is "right enough," they risk losing support from the middle - ditto on topics from immigration to tax reform, etc. And going into mid-term elections next year, the party cannot really stand to lose more support from the center, particularly if Democrats run a halfway decent campaign.

If Matthew Dowd is to be believed (and he strategized Bush's '04 campaign so he's probably got a better idea than, say, me for example), the Administration and Congressional leadership are going to pull a "full speed ahead" maneuver. Brownstein writes that Dowd "said that stabilizing the president's base was more important for the GOP over the next year than wooing independents disaffected from the administration."

The best strategy? Who knows. Maybe Bush just enjoys having toilet-level approval ratings and wants a Democratic congress to beat up on for the last two years of his presidency. If he keeps on his present course, there's a growing chance he could have both.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My Sentiments Exactly

Michael Reynolds has a spot-on post over at The Mighty Middle. Go read the whole thing, but here's a bit of it:

"It's like the whole country is holding its breath. Waiting to see if the bird flu will be 1918 all over again, with echoes of Katrina. Waiting for another 9/11. Waiting to see whether Plamegate becomes another Watergate, with Cheney as Agnew and Bush wandering the White House talking to portraits. Waiting to see if Iraq is another Vietnam. Holding our collective breath, waiting to see whether we're in some Twilight Zone of political reruns. ...

Anticipation can be fun. This doesn't feel fun."

Let the Rumors Fly

As we draw ever closer to the moment when the Fitzgerald shoe drops and D.C. goes completely haywire, the rumor mills continue to run at warp speed. The latest, from just this afternoon, after today's WaPo confirmation that the Fitzgerald investigation is focusing on Cheney's office, seems to be that Cheney will resign his office and that Bush will nominate SecState Rice to replace him.

Seems a little premature still for the moment.

The Questionnaire

Harriet Miers has submitted answers to a standard Senate committee questionnaire required for her nomination to proceed. The whole document is here - I have not gotten a chance to go through it yet, but once I do I'll have some more. For now, enjoy.

[Update: The Hotline's blog did a nice job cutting out the interesting bits of Miers' responses. I don't really have too much to add to their comments. I didn't see anything very interesting, thought-provoking, or otherwise worth mentioning. Blah. -- 5:05 p.m.]

Redistricting Watch: Governator Goes to Ohio

The New York Times reports this morning that CA Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger will be taking some time off from campaigning for his own redistricting measure in California in order to lend support to a similar effort in Ohio. Schwarzenegger becomes the first prominent Republican to endorse the Ohio plan.

I have issues with the Ohio plan as it stands, and I think it's important to remember that redistricting plans are not all created equal. Redistricting reform is incredibly necessary and in the abstract a great thing - but the devil's in the details, and the details of Ohio's plan are rather worrisome (as I note more fully in the post linked above).

You don't have to be a partisan Republican (I'm certainly not) to have concerns about the Ohio plan. It would be neither independent nor fair, and is almost definitely not the best way to go. While I strongly support the efforts in Florida, and half-heartedly accept the CA plan as the best we're going to get right now, Ohio's current effort just doesn't cut the mustard.

Previous Redistricting Watch posts:
- "Schwarzenegger Calls on McCain" (10/11)
- "Broder's Right" (9/1)
- "WaPo on Prop 77" (8/21)
- "Prop 77 Back On" (8/12)
- "Updates from the States" (8/10)
- "Updates on Several Fronts" (7/28)
- "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)

Harriet Oh Harriet

Another day, another round of not-so-favorable news coverage for Harriet Miers.

The NYTimes reports that she told Senator Schumer that her friends speaking for her on the conference call (y'know, the ones who said she would "absolutely" overturn Roe) don't know how she would rule on Roe, since "No one knows" how she would rule. She also said she "could not recall" discussing the case with anyone. Ever.

Oh and that questionnaire that was going to be turned over to the Senate yesterday? Not so much. Turns out "early this week" is the new Administration line on that.

Schumer said that Miers refused to offer support or opposition to any specific cases, and said of the meeting in general "I didn't learn answers to so many questions. On many she wouldn't give answers, and many others she deferred, saying, 'I need to sort of bone up on this a little more,' 'I need to come to conclusions.'"

And that was even before the Specter meeting. After her powwow with the Judiciary Committee chairman for almost two hours, Specter made a statement saying that Miers had expressed support for the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 decision in which the Court recognized the existence of a right to privacy (Judge Roberts, during his hearings, said that he believes a right to privacy exists under the Constitution, although he declined to note how far he believes that right extends).

Just after he made the statement, Specter got slapped down by the White House, which released another statement saying he had "misunderstood" Miers and that he would be putting out a clarification. He did, and noted that "Miers called him to say that he misunderstood her and that she had not taken a position on Griswold or the privacy issue."

Does Harriet Miers have a position on anything? Except of course for birthday parties, we know how she feels about those. I don't want specific cases, but surely she can agree or disagree that a right to privacy exists in the abstract.

These hearings are going to be some of the most interesting in the modern era. Finally we will get to see Miers before the cameras, answering questions she can't statement herself out of an hour later.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Slow News Day Indeed

Now, you know the reporters who get "Karl Rove Housewatch Duty" must get a little bored hanging out in front of Rove's house all the time just waiting for something to happen (i.e. Rove leaving for work, Rove's wife coming home with groceries, the paper boy stopping by, etc.). But honestly, was this AP dispatch outlining the contents of Rove's garage (from the street) really necessary?

[In case you're interested, the article does contain an inventory. No kidding. Joe Gandelman has more.]

Miersed in Controversy II

Just a quick followup to my earlier post, to suggest a read of this Matthew Franck entry at "Bench Memos" about the conference call. Franck writes:

"... To have any White House fingerprints on a confidential exchange that resulted in any kind of assurances - however speculatively offered - about a nominee's future vote on the fate of a specific Supreme Court, is a matter that will justly attract the attention of senators. All senators, anti-Roe as well as pro-Roe, should be concerned about such backroom maneuvering in what amount to the precincts of the executive branch. It is a maxim of the separation of powers that each branch of government jealously guards its prerogatives, and reacts almost instinctively to the merest whiff of encroachment on them. If there is actual knowledge in the executive branch about Harriet Miers's views on Roe v. Wade, then the Senate is equally entitled to that knowledge, in order to do its work of advice and consent properly. ..."

I quite agree.

Cheney Involved with Leak?

Bloomberg reports this morning that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may be "focusing on whether Vice President Dick Cheney played a role in leaking a covert CIA agent's name, according to people familiar with the probe that already threatens top White House aides Karl Rove and Lewis Libby." Fitzgerald has interviewed several current and former top Cheney aides, and the Bloomberg pieces notes that Judy Miller wrote in her first-person piece yesterday that the prosecutor asked her if Cheney knew was Libby "was doing and saying" concerning the Wilson-Plame affair.

The plot thickens.

Miersed in Controversy

The question of whether Harriet Miers will ever sit on the Supreme Court grows more and more iffy by the day. Time's Mike Allen reports that the White House is about to release Harriet Nomination 2.0, an all-out effort to focus on the nominee's accomplishments for the several week period prior to her planned confirmation hearings (set to start November 7). Howard Fineman and Richard Wolffe have a similar piece in Newsweek.

Allen also notes that the vote count as it stands "could be as low as 52," which means some Republicans aren't fully on board or are already looking to oppose the nomination.

Meanwhile, Miers herself is set to submit a questionnaire to the Senate today, according to the New York Times. This may offer some interesting insights into her judicial philosophy. More likely, it will be a whole lot of words which amount to nothing.

The concern about "back-door deals" may be the straw that breaks this nomination's back. Senator Feinstein said yesterday on "Late Edition" "The more I hear from the far right, the more it pushes me the other way," and Senator Schumer said that he will ask Miers "whether she played any role in those whispers and nods" when he meets with her today.

Senator Chuck Hagel, who seems to be distancing himself from the nomination at warp speed, said on "Face the Nation" that criticism of Miers was not sexist, adding "We want an elite group of individuals. I'm not so sure I want my next-door neighbor, as much as I like him or her, to be on the Supreme Court because they're nice people." For Miers, ouch.

The biggest blow yet, however, may come from the Wall Street Journal, which features a piece by John Fund on Monday's editorial page. Fund, a conservative opponent of the Miers nomination, has issued a powerful shot across the bow for prospective centrist and liberal supporters of Miers. He notes that in a conference call with evangelical leaders on October 3 (the day the nomination was announced), two of her biggest backers, Texas Supreme Court judge Nathan Hecht and federal judge Ed Kinkeade, were asked "Based on your personal knowledge of her, if she had the opportunity, do you believe she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?"

According to the notes of one participant, which Fund quotes, Kinkeade answered "Absolutely." Hecht then responded "I agree with that. I concur." Fund says "several people who participated in the call confirm that both jurists stated Ms. Miers would vote to overturn Roe."

This is unacceptable. If accurate, it amounts to a back-door pre-determined deal, whether sanctioned by Miers or not. She may be a nice lady and all, but I want no one on the Court who has to make deals to get there.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

More Sordid Abramoff Tales

I'm not how many of the sleazy activities outlined in this WaPo piece on Jack Abramoff's lobbying tactics are illegal, but I feel like at least some of them ought to be! It's a long article, outlining Abramoff's campaign to kill an anti-gambling bill in the House at the behest of one of his clients. It has the potential to be a great political thriller novel: forged letters, payoffs, congressional staffers leading their bosses by the nose ... but this all actually happened. Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Judy "I Cannot Recall" Miller Speaks

At long last, both the New York Times and Judy Miller break their silence on their involvement in the Plame-name leak investigation. In a monstrous article (nearly 6,000 words) team-written by Don Van Natta Jr., Adam Liptak and Clifford Levy, the paper of record lays out its own anxieties about the case even as it tries to fill in the gaps in the story. Nearby, Ms. Miller provides a first-hand account of her own testimony before the grand jury, in which we learn that she "cannot recall" who first gave her the name of Joseph Wilson's wife. The WaPo summarizes both articles here.

I agree with Joe Gandelman: "File this one in the Hmmmmmmmmmm Department." It seems incredibly fishy to think that she wouldn't remember who told her the name (although since the name appears in her notes as both Valerie Flame and Victoria Wilson, maybe her hearing and/or memory aren't really all that great in the first place). Is she covering for someone? Is "I cannot recall" her way of "not revealing her source"? Who knows. Maybe someday we'll find out for sure. But neither of these two articles give us much new to go on. Let the waiting continue.

Sunday Show Guests

All sorts of topics to talk about this week on the political gab-shows. Here's what the lineup looks like:

This Week (ABC): US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad will discuss today's constitutional referendum. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) will be on to discuss Iraq and other defense-related issues (he's on the Senate Armed Services Committee). Ex-prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and Joseph DiGenova will discuss the Plame-name leak investigation, and there will be a roundtable.

Face the Nation (CBS): Senators Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel from the Foreign Relations Committee will be chat about the Iraq referendum. Then reporters will talk amongst themselves: Doyle McManus of the LATimes, Jan Crawford Greenberg of the ChiTrib and CBS' own Lara Logan will appear.

Meet the Press (NBC): Russert gets the big fish of the weekend, Secretary of State Condi Rice. She'll be on to talk Iraq, as will Senator Carl Levin (D-MI, the ranking Dem on the Armed Services panel). Former FBI Director Louis Freeh will also be on; he's hawking a new book.

Fox News Sunday: Rice will appear here too, along with Democratic Senate Whip Dick Durbin. The usuals will have a panel discussion.

Late Edition (CNN): Khalilzad reappears here, to be joined by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner and the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hosyar Zebari. Dr. Irwin Redlener will be on to discuss bird flu (he is from the Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness).

Senate Races to Watch

Chris Cillizza over at WaPo's "The Fix" blog has a very good look at the top 10 competitive Senate races for next fall. I think he's just about spot-on with his analysis in each of the ten races he examines this week.

Voting in Iraq

The first reports are in from Iraq as voters there cast ballots that will decide the fate of the draft constitution. The WaPo Foreign Service's John Ward Anderson and Jonathan Finer filed a dispatch at 7:57 Eastern time this morning: turnout is reportedly heavy in some Sunni areas (some places have had to receive extra ballots already), with most voters there saying they oppose the draft document. Clashes between coalition troops and militants in western provinces are driving down turnout in those regions, the report indicates.

Voting is brisk and enthusiastic in Shiite and Kurdish areas, Anderson and Finer report. We should know the results in two or three days.

This is indeed an important time for the Iraqi people. I hope that the voting continues to proceed with as little violence as possible, and that regardless of the outcome, the political process continues to move forward.

[Update: The polls have now closed. CNN's Nic Robertson reported that voting seemed heavier in this referendum than when Iraqis turned out in January to select a transitional government. -- 10:37 a.m.]

Friday, October 14, 2005

Staging Redux

After leading their nightly newscast last night with the story of President Bush's rehearsed "press conference" with some soldiers, you'd think NBC would be on the lookout for such things. Probably not the best timing, then, for this to occur on this morning's "Today Show."

Whoops! Photo and video are here.

Time for Independence?

At the blog for Governing magazine, Josh Goodman writes an excellent post which begins "Next year is shaping up to be a banner year for independent and third-party office seekers. The only thing that is missing is the candidates."

Goodman chalks it up to the two-party system's control of fundraising, people power, and attention. He might be right. But is it time to break that monopoly?

Check out Goodman's post, it's worth a read.

Scandal Jitters

Twin pieces in the WaPo and NYT today on Washington's undropped shoes are very much worth reading. Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker in the Post write that the multitude of suddenly-emerging scandals "have converged to disrupt President Bush's agenda, distract aides and allies, and exacerbate political problems for an already weakened administration." Between the Abramoff investigation, DeLay's indictment, the Plame-name leak investigation, Katrina, and whatever other troubles I've forgotten, things are "enormously distracting" at the moment.

The Times piece, by Richard Stevenson, is similar, but focuses mainly on the leak investigation as Rove goes before the grand jury for the fourth time today. Stevenson notes the fact that most second-term administrations "come to a point like this, at risk of being paralyzed internally and frozen externally in the klieg lights of scandal."

VandeHei and Baker end their article by speculating that Rove and Libby "the two most powerful staffers in the federal government, could be indicted by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald within two weeks. While the idea struck many on the Bush team as unfathomable a few months ago, now the common assumption is that both men could be in trouble." Stevenson says many White House allies are "in near panic" about the potential departure of Rove, "fearful that without him the administration would lose the one person capable of enforcing discipline across a party that has become increasingly fractious and that is almost at war with itself over the president's nomination of Harriet E. Miers to the Supreme Court."

What goes up must come down. The hubris of this administration has been at astronomical levels for the past five years, and maybe now the lot of them will start to experience a little taste of reality. It's hard indeed to shed a tear.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

New Spy Agency Created

The BBC reports that the US has created a new intelligence agency, the National Clandestine Service (NCS), which will be led by the CIA and will "coordinate all overseas spying activities."

This paragraph is my favorite: "The director of the new agency, whose identity will remain secret and is known simply as 'Jose', will report directly to the head of the CIA, Porter Goss."

Wasn't "Jose" Bush's pre-"Brownie" nickname for a certain former head of FEMA?

Just kidding. I don't know who Jose is. But I am definitely going to have to read up on the NCS.

[Update: Some more on this from the NYT: "A new Central Intelligence Agency office intended to provide more coordination over American spying operations will wield only limited authority ..." The director will "be responsible primarily for setting standards and rules designed to minimize conflicts between the agencies." So really this whole thing means basically nothing. Great. -- 14 October, 7:19 a.m.]

Stage-Management to the Nth Degree

[Note: Updated at the bottom. There's more, if you can believe it.]

This morning, President Bush addressed American troops in Tikrit, Iraq live via videoscreen from the White House. The transcript and video are available here. I know you'll all be shocked to learn that the whole thing was one gigantic kabuki dance of stage management - the participants were hand-picked, the questions were divvied up beforehand, and the president was his typical self, except even more awkward since there was a bit of a transmission delay.

Reading the transcript is bad enough, but if you watch the video, I can almost guarantee you will cringe at least once. I did repeatedly. It's completely ridiculous.

Of course, Scott McClellan, the increasingly silly-looking White House Press Secretary, was asked whether this morning's exchanges were scripted. According to TPM, that exchange went like this:

"QUESTION: How were they selected, and are their comments to the president pre-screened, any questions or anything...


QUESTION: Not at all?

MCCLELLAN: This is a back-and-forth."

Later on, after the event, the topic came up again at the full press briefing. The first question after McClellan's opening statement was this fastball: "Scott, why did the administration feel it was necessary to coach the soldiers that the President talked to this morning in Iraq?"

It didn't get better:

"MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I don't know what you're suggesting.

Q Well, they discussed the questions ahead of time. They were told exactly what the President would ask, and they were coached, in terms of who would answer what question, and how they would pass the microphone.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, are you suggesting that what our troops were saying was not sincere, or what they said was not their own thoughts?

Q Nothing at all. I'm just asking why it was necessary to coach them.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the event earlier today, the event was set up to highlight an important milestone in Iraq's history, and to give the President an opportunity to, once again, express our appreciation for all that our troops are doing when it comes to defending freedom, and their courage and their sacrifice. And this is a satellite feed, as you are aware, and there are always technological challenges involved when you're talking with troops on a satellite feed like this. And I think that we worked very closely with the Department of Defense to coordinate this event. And I think all they were doing was talking to the troops and letting them know what to expect.

Q But we asked you specifically this morning if there would be any screening of questions or if they were being told in any way what they should say or do, and you indicated no.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's what the question was earlier today. I think the question earlier today was asking if they could ask whatever they want, and I said, of course, the President was -- and you saw --

Q And I asked if they were pre-screened.

MR. McCLELLAN: You saw earlier today the President was trying to engage in a back-and-forth with the troops. And I think it was very powerful what Lieutenant Murphy was saying at the end of that conversation, when he was talking about what was going on in January, how the American troops and coalition forces were in the lead when it came to providing security for the upcoming election, an election where more than eight million Iraqis showed up and voted. It was a great success.

And he talked about how this time, when we had the preparations for the upcoming referendum this Saturday, you have Iraqi forces that are in the lead, and the Iraqi forces are the ones that are doing the planning and preparing and taking the lead to provide for their own security as they get ready to cast their ballots again.

Q But I also asked this morning, were they being told by their commanders what to say or what to do, and you indicated, no. Was there any prescreening of --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any such -- any such activities that were being undertaken. We coordinated closely with the Department of Defense. You can ask if there was any additional things that they did. But we work very closely with them to coordinate these events, and the troops can ask the President whatever they want. They've always been welcome to do that."

Utter nonsense.

Wonkette has more on this, and hits the nail on the head with her conclusion: "Perhaps they didn't want another 'body armor' moment, a spontaneous admission of reality onto the Bush stage set. Whatever the reason for clamping down so tightly on their message, we can't say that propaganda like this says much for 'American-style democracy.'"

Enough of the bubble. It's well past time this president started experiencing reality.

[Update: As if all this wasn't enough, the AP has much more on the rehearsal that took place before the interview. -- 6:28 p.m.]

[Update: McPherson notes in comments this NPR report on today's events. It is an excellent summation. -- 8:44 p.m.]