Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Did AGAG Mislead the Senate?

Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold dispatched a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (AGAG) yesterday asking him to explain what could be a rather troublesome comment from Gonzales' confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, 2005.

This from today's WaPo writeup: "At the hearing, Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant.

"Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was 'not the policy or the agenda of this president' to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of the hearing."

As it turns out, of course, the president had ordered warrantless wiretapping waaaay back in 2001, almost four years before Gonzales declared the possibility hypothetical. I have to wonder just what Gonzales was thinking in answering that question though, since for Feingold, the situation at that point was still hypothetical (his staff "developed the 2005 questions based on privacy advocates' concerns about broad interpretations of executive power," says the Post).

I agree with Senator Feingold that the Attorney General has some explaining to do. While I am in favor of all steps taken to combat the terrorist threat, those steps must be taken within the existing rule of law, not at the arbitrary whim of the executive branch.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Latest Front in the War on Science

A must-read post from Tim F. over at Balloon Juice on new reports of stifled science at NASA (over what else but global warming). Rep. Sherry Boehlert (my own congressman, I hasten to note again) has written a letter to the NASA administrator concerning the issue. Here are some bits from the note:

"It ought to go without saying that government scientists must be free to describe their scientific conclusions and the implications of those conclusions to their fellow scientists, policymakers and the general public. Any effort to censor federal scientists biases public discussions of scientific issues, increases distrust of the government and makes it difficult for the government to attract the best scientists. And when it comes to an issue like climate change, a subject of ongoing public debate with immense ramifications, the government ought to be bending over backward to make sure that its scientists are able to discuss their work and what it means.

Good science cannot long persist in an atmosphere of intimidation. Political figures ought to be reviewing their public statements to make sure they are consistent with the best available science; scientists should not be reviewing their statements to make sure they are consistent with the current political orthodoxy.

is clearly doing something wrong, given the sense of intimidation felt by Dr. Hansen and others who work with him. Even if this sense is a result of a misinterpretation of NASA policies – and more seems to be at play here – the problem still must be corrected. I will be following this matter closely to ensure that the right staff and policies are in place at NASA to encourage open discussion of critical scientific issues. I assume you share that goal."

Boehlert goes on to report that his Science Committee staff is preparing meetings and that he intends to hold hearings on the issue of scientific intimidation. Carry on, Mr. Chairman. We're with you.

[Update: More on this from the NYTimes. -- 1/31, 9:01 a.m.]

Chafee to Vote No

Senator Lincoln Chafee, facing both a conservative primary challenger and Democratic opponents in his upcoming reelection bid, will announce this morning that he's voting against the confirmation of Sam Alito. Taking the same position that I have, however, Chafee said he'll oppose an attempt to filibuster the confirmation. Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine now is the only Republican senator not to publicly state how she'll vote on the nomination.

The cloture motion on Alito's nomination will come up for a vote this afternoon; if it attains a 60-vote majority (as it presumably will), the final vote on confirmation will come tomorrow morning.

GOPers Urge White House to Release Abramoff Info

There are still a few Republicans in Washington with a little bit of sense. As the LATimes reports this morning, several lawmakers yesterday urged the White House to abandon its silly and ridiculous position of refusing to release the "grip and grin" photographs of Bush with Jack Abramoff, as well as other records regarding meetings between Abramoff and Bush's staff. At this point, everyone knows they exist, and continued stonewalling from the Administration only makes it a bigger story - if they're released, they show up on the front page and then they disappear (alright, except from left-wing blogs and every window at DNC HQ).

Senator John Thune (SD) said that he didn't think the photos should be released, and then inexplicably said that records of meetings should be, because "I'm one who believes that more is better … when it comes to disclosure and transparency, so I'd be a big advocate for making records that are out there available." Now to my mind that also includes the pictures ... but baby steps. Rep. Mike Pence took the same position as Thune.

On "This Week," Senator Chuck Hagel (NE), went a little further: "My personal opinion on these things is to just get it out. If you've got pictures, get the pictures out. Disclosure is the real issue. Whether it's campaign finance issues, whether it's ethics issues, whether it's lobbying issues, disclosure is the best and most effective way to deal with all of these things." While I don't agree with Hagel that disclosure is the cure-all he seems to think it is, he's right about the pictures and the release of records in this case.

Perhaps (maybe even probably) the Administration is just waiting until after the State of the Union to release the photos in order to keep them off the front page and get the speech a little bit of coverage. We'll soon see.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

An Earmarking Primer

Sunday's must-read article comes out of the LATimes, where Janet Hook and Richard Simon offer an excellent overview and case study of the earmarking process that all us political junkies are going to be hearing a great deal about in coming weeks and months.

Tom Raum's AP analysis of the upcoming State of the Union message and what it 'should' accomplish is none too shabby either.

Friday, January 27, 2006

An Odor of Fishiness

The New York Times reports that Noel Hillman - the Justice Department's top prosecutor working on the Jack Abramoff lobbying investigation - will remove himself from the investigation next week ... because he's been nominated by the president for a federal judgeship.

Ummmm ...

Bush administration officials told the Times that Hillman's nomination is "routine" (it was one of fifteen made yesterday). Setting aside the large question of whether nominations to fill seats on the federal bench ought to be considered "routine," the timing of this particular nomination, well, let's just say it's a little fishy. In fact, it downright reaks. Will Patrick Fitzgerald's name be on a similar list in a few weeks?

I would very much like to believe the Administration's averrals that Hillman's elevation to federal judge has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he's right smack dab in the middle of a major investigation which may have very severe consequences for several members of Congress and high-level administration officials. But, to be frank, over the last five years the Bush White House has given me no reason to believe what they say on just about any subject under the sun, leading me to conclude that this nomination at this moment bears the hallmark of the time-worn "if you can't fire 'em, promote 'em" strategy.

Although I suspect I've probably done it before, I will do it again this morning: it is time for an independent special prosecutor to be made head of the Abramoff investigation and all of its subsidiaries. The sooner all of the dirt comes out, the better, as far as I'm concerned. Bob Ney almost certainly disagrees with me, but that's his fish to fry.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Filibustering Alito

It appears that Senator John Kerry has called for and will lead a filibuster of the Alito nomination. As I've written, while I am personally not able to support Alito's confirmation, I do not support a filibuster, and believe the Senate should invoke cloture on the nomination should Kerry attempt this maneuver.

Today's "Well Duh" Headline

To whatever editor at the NYTimes came up with "Lobbyists Oppose Efforts to Impose New Restrictions" - we need to talk. If this headline comes as a surprise to anyone else, we need to talk too.

The article, at least, is worth reading, as it discusses a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing yesterday on lobbying reform and other efforts to root out government rot. For more on that, also see the WaPo's piece on the same subject, which headlines McCain's testimony at the hearing. McCain called for reforms beyond tightening lobbying rules (although he supports those too), including banning the earmarking process (a ban I think entirely necessary). McCain noted of earmarks in recent years "In 1994, when the Congress was taken over by Republicans, there were 4,000 earmarks on appropriations bills. Last year there were 15,000. It's disgraceful, this process."

McCain's statement received support from committee chair Susan Collins of Maine, who said in her opening remarks "We must end the practice of allowing members to slip earmarks that have received neither scrutiny nor a vote in either the House or the Senate into the final versions of legislation." Senator Tom Coburn agreed, saying "The problem is us ... we're not going to change anything 'til we change the motivation that the next election is more important than anything else."

Earmarking reform is going to be a very important part of the upcoming debate, and probably the sticking point for many in both houses. Our members of Congress will need to hear, loud and clear, from those of us who oppose the process - because you can bet your boots that they'll be hearing from those who want them to keep the status quo rolling along.

On Hamas

If we needed additional evidence that democracy can be a messy system, looks like we just got it. As if the Mideast needed any more points of conflict at the moment.

More on this later after I've had a chance to digest it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Let's Not Tick Off Australia Too ...

The Christian Science Monitor reports tomorrow on the rather lengthy delay (more than a year now) between the departure of the most recent American ambassador to Australia and the appointment of a new one. While the president has been only two eager to fill other vacancies (including eighteen by recess appointment earlier this month), but the embassy of one of our strongest allies is allowed to remain vacant. Why the holdup?

Of course, it's probably better to have a State Department career officer "holding down the fort" in Canberra than whichever GOP flunkie Bush eventually picks to fill the post ...

Monday, January 23, 2006

On Defending the Wiretaps

Joe Gandelman at TMV has an important post on the president's new defenses of his extra-legal NSA wiretapping efforts - make sure to stop by and read it if you have a chance. I continue to be more than a little concerned about this entire program, and am impatiently awaiting the hearings to be held on the issue by the Senate Judiciary Committee next month.

I wholeheartedly agree with Senator McCain's question on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday: "Why not come to Congress? I know of no member of Congress, frankly, who has said that if the administration came and said here is why we need this capability, that they wouldn't get it."

Further, I agree with McCain's rebuttal of Karl Rove's assertion last week that "Republicans have a post-9/11 world view and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 world view." McCain responded "There's too many good Democrats over there who are as concerned about national security and work just as hard as I do. ... There's nothing wrong with disagreeing, with questioning, with debate and discussion."

McCain is right. There's nothing wrong with asking questions and demanding answers of this administration or any other. In fact, to do otherwise would be to abdicate our responsibilities as citizens. We all must continue to ask just why it was that Bush concluded it necessary to work outside the law's parameters - his defenses so far have completely avoided answering this key question - and we should not accept "to protect the American people" as the only necessary response.

[Update: The Bull Moose strongly disagrees, and urges those of us with concerns about the wiretapping to "get serious." I agree with him that those who knew of the program before it was made public by the Times should have come forward if they had the concerns they now claim to have had, but I reiterate my original question: why couldn't the president have worked within the parameters of FISA or asked Congress to change the law?]

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Centrist Bloggers on ... Centrist Bloggers

I've been a little slow on the uptake about this, but I did finally want to mention New York Sun columnist John Avlon's Friday column, which covers the precipitous rise of centrist blogs and their potential to "dealign" American politics - in a good way. Highly recommended reading. Avlon concludes:

"As politics awakes from industrial age rules to information age realities, old political labels are outliving their usefulness. The rise of centrist blogs under the Beltway radar screen is another indication of how quickly the landscape is shifting on the road to 2008, and why Washington might be the worst place to assess the instincts of the American electorate."

Of course all of us centrist bloggers were delighted to both see our names in print and have a chance to talk about and amongst ourselves on the impact we've had and are having - and hopefully will continue to have - whatever that impact is. If you haven't already, be sure to visit the posts at Centerfield, Mighty Middle, and Maverick Views (don't miss the comments on the last one, they are great).

Judging from the number and variety of centrist blogs that have appeared over the last year or so (including this one), I'd say we're off to a good start. De-alignment doesn't happen overnight, but the rumbles of reform are sounding in the distance. I'm proud to be doing whatever miniscule part I can in this effort, and I hope everyone reading this will stay along for the ride.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A New Blog

Our longtime ally Dennis from The Moderate Republican has moved over to NeoMugwump, with a new name but many of same important and necessary views. I've long thought that the mugwump name should be revived, and Dennis will handle that revival as well as anyone. Make sure you stop on by, and make it a regular watering place.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

One Necessary Reform

Via John Cole at Balloon Juice, I wanted to recommend and pass along ReadtheBill.org, a new effort to pass legislation mandating a 72-hour "sunshine period" between completion of a legislative bill and its passage by Congress. (Technically the House already has this rule but they consistently ignore it).

I fully support ReadtheBill's efforts. No more midnight meetings of Rules Committees and debate on the floor hours later before anyone's even seen what they're supposed to be voting on.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lobbying Reform Takes Center Stage

It only takes a scandal ... the House and Senate, and both parties within each house, continue to scramble madly in an attempt to outdo each other on the leve of "lobby reform" they want to push for. Just six months or a year ago, this kind of thing would have been not only unimaginable, but only impossible to get through Congress; as McCain quipped yesterday, "It proves that if you live long enough, anything can happen."

We'll see where all these proposals go. They all are going to sound great at first as their proponents shout them from the rooftops, but analysis will have to be done to make sure they don't contain Abramoff-sized loopholes that will render them about as effective as a time-clock in front a bloviating Judiciary Committee member (pick your favorite). As Jeff Birnbaum reports in today's WaPo, the House's version released yesterday does contain a major loophole which must be remedied.

Let's get these reforms done, but let's get them done the right way. The current mad rush to pass "something, anything" is not the best way to go.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Happy Birthday, Ben

A little break from modern politics today to mark the 300th birthday of one of America's greatest. Benjamin Franklin was born January 17, 1706 in a modest little house on Boston's Milk Street, and of course would go on to become a sort of Founding Renaissance Man: printer, athlete, inventor, comedian, statesman, sometime vegetarian, diplomat, rake, abolitionist, public servant - you name it. He started early and stayed involved with public life until the very last moments of his life, truly going above and beyond the call of duty time and time again.

Franklin's works are too vast to be excerpted here to any great effect (although I am tempted to try), and their impact is even more vast, from the successful invention of bifocal lenses to obtaining French support for the Revolution and far, far beyond.

The AP has issued a nice little writeup for the tricentennial here, which I'd urge a reading of; biographer Stacy Schiff has a nice op/ed in the Times as well. There's also a handy Ben FAQ here via the Franklin Institute. And if you've got enough time on your hands and haven't had the opportunity, I highly recommend Ben's hilarious and marvelous Autobiography, which is available online here or can be had cheaply from most bookstores. I'd also recommend this letter from Franklin to his daughter in 1784, in which he pushes for the wild turkey (rather than the bald eagle) to be named America's national bird, as well as his 1789 "Address to the Republic" regarding the abolition of slavery.

My personal favorite Franklin quote, and one I used before on the occasion of "Constitution Day" back in September, is this one, recorded by James Madison:

"... Whilst the last members were signing [the Constitution], Doct'r Franklin looking toward the Presidents chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicisitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun."

Happy Birthday, Ben.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Monday Updates

A few things from today and the weekend, as Congress prepares to reconvene this week.

- Don't miss Elisabeth Bumiller's 'White House Letter' in today's NYTimes. She discusses this president's use of the extra-constitutional "signing statement" to "clarify" the administration's position on various laws, most notably the torture ban he signed recently but then pledged to ignore at his discretion. Bumiller notes that Bush has greatly expanded the use and scope of signing statements, which are most often "attached to national security and intelligence legislation and that he frequently uses them to assert that the administration regards requirements to turn over information as purely advisory."

- As you've no doubt heard, Bob Ney (aka "Representative # 1" from the Abramoff plea deal) has stepped aside "temporarily" from his post as Chairman of the key House Administration and Rules Committee. The only consolation for those of us who know he should be ousted permanently - remember that DeLay only stepped down temporarily at first too. More on Ney from Hotline On Call.

- Most appropriately, Senator Specter said yesterday that he'll hold full and comprehensive Senate Judiciary hearings over the president's NSA domestic spying program, expressing doubts about the activity's legality. Just when those hearings will begin is still unclear.

- Senator Feinstein shares my position on Alito - she said yesterday she did not think a filibuster of Alito was a smart idea, but that she will oppose his confirmation.

- John Shadegg (AZ) jumped into the House Majority Leader race on Friday (a bit late, in my opinion). I'm still not "happy" with any of the contenders, and don't know yet which way I'll finally decide to go; it could well be Shadegg. On other House leadership notes, Reps. Dan Lungren and John Sweeney have now both called for full caucus elections, from speaker on down. I think this would be a good idea. So far, says The Hill, 15 members have signed a petition calling for full elections.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Judging Alito

I watched almost every minute of the Alito hearings (thank goodness for my ability to multi-task). I was thoroughly unimpressed by the preening senators, and hardly disagree with Biden's suggestion that committee hearings be effectively scrapped. But since they're all we have at this point ...

Judge Alito's responses were worrying. He seems incredibly favorable toward a (nearly all-) powerful executive branch. His lack of commitment to the settled nature of the Griswold cases was palpable (even as Judge Roberts' was rather more evident). He refused to answer questions about his views on the extent to which Congress can utilize its Commerce Clause power. His stated judicial philosophy ("I think we should look to the text of the Constitution, and we should look to the meaning that someone would have taken from the text of the Constitution at the time of its adoption") aligns him closely with Justices Scalia and Thomas and less with those justices who look pragmatically at the implications of their decisions on today's world.

Were I a senator, I would not find myself able to vote in support of Judge Alito's nomination. However, I find no "extraordinary circumstances" in his record that would warrant a filibuster, and would/will not support one. I hope that the Alito opponents do not take the country down that road.

More than anything, Alito's nomination should be used as a clarion call to the centrist and liberal grassroots of America. If we want justices less in the vein of Scalia and Thomas, we must elect enough senators who feel similarly. Remember that in November.

[Update: Just to show you how funny we centrists can be, Alan Stewart Carl over at Maverick Views comes down just to the opposite of me on this one, with some fine arguments in that direction. - 7:25 p.m.]

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Once Bitten, (Hopefully) Twice Shy

The NYTimes reports this morning that Rep. David Dreier, chairman of the Rules Committee, is considering a comprehensive package of lobbying reforms, which may include a complete ban on "all travel underwritten by outside groups." Dreier told the Times "The plan is to be really bold and strong here," after meeting with Senator John McCain, who has introduced his own lobbying-reform plan in the Senate.

Dreier will meet today with Steny Hoyer, the Democratic Whip; hopefully the two can reach agreement on a rules-reform package so that these changes can be made in a bipartisan manner. Along with the travel ban, Dreier said he was also looking at more stringent reporting requirements for lobbyists, and also considering a longer waiting period before former congress members or their aides could become lobbyists.

I hope that Dreier and McCain will get significant support for their plans from both sides of the aisle, and that both chambers will pass these rules changes in the near future. They're obviously much too long in coming, but that's no excuse for not getting it done now.

In other news, Senators McCain and Coburn in the Senate and Rep. Jeff Flake in the House are joining forces to root out so-called "hidden earmarks" - pork pies stuffed anonymously into appropriations and other bills. Said Coburn "If we aren't told who is asking for it, who benefits and its justification, we'll move to strike it." Good for them, I hope they actually do it.

Hotline On Call has the latest (public) numbers in the Blunt v. Boehner race: currently Blunt 46, Boehner 30. Many members continue to sit on their hands, according to many sources, because they're waiting for the entry of another candidate (possibly John Shadegg). Unfortunately, the centrist Tuesday Group seems to be splintering, which is not a good thing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Redistricting Watch: NTU Endorses Tanner Legislation

Some good news for the first "Redistricting Watch" post of 2006. I got word yesterday that the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union (which I agree with quite infrequently), has decided to back Rep. John Tanner's redistricting reform bill, H.R. 2642 (much more info on the bill in the posts listed below).

The NTU released a letter expressing their support for Tanner's measure, noting "If passed into law, this legislation would go a long way toward creating more competitive races for the United States House of Representatives."

More from the letter: "Having competitive races is important for a healthy democracy. Closer contests bring voters to the booth as they recognize their vote makes a difference. Texas, which had both competitive and non-competitive House races in 2004, provides a perfect illustration of this principle in action. In that state, the House races with winners who secured 55 percent of the vote or less had turnouts five points higher than the races that were not close.

As a taxpayer group representing Americans concerned with out-of-control spending in Washington and the ever-increasing influence of special interests, we support genuine efforts to bring accountability to the political system. ..."

Reform sometimes makes for strange bedfellows, but I know those of us who care deeply about redistricting reform are glad to have all the help we can get. I hope the NTU will help persuade Chairman Sensenbrenner to hold hearings on Tanner's bill so that we can move forward on the legislation this year. Now's the time!

Previous Redistricting Watch posts:
- "SCOTUS Grabs the Ball" (12/13/05)
- "Tanner Calls for Hearings" (11/3)
- "WaPo Weighs In" (10/24)
- "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)

Monday, January 09, 2006

And On We Go ...

- The Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings for Sam Alito begin today at noon with three (plus) hours of opening statements from the senators and then Alito's opening remarks. Questions start tomorrow. I'll be listening in and provide updates as necessary.

- Looks like it'll be a race between Roy Blunt and John Boehner to succeed Tom DeLay for Majority Leader ... given the choice I think I'd probably go with Boehner but I'm not particularly enthused about it. In fact, I'm going to join Rep. John Sweeney and call for new caucus elections for the entire leadership - Speaker Hastert included. For all the coverage of the GOP caucus craziness, Hotline On Call is the place to go these days - they're doing a great job so far. It's certainly going to be an interesting few weeks.

- One more thing on the leadership race: the Tuesday Group, a small caucus of GOP centrists, will interview the candidates for Majority Leader before the end of the month. An aide to one of the moderate members told National Journal that the Tuesday Group members are going to try and "band together" for the leadership contest in order to "secure changes in House operations on ethics, spending, and political gimmicks."

Saturday, January 07, 2006

DeLay Gives Up

It is a good day. Here's DeLay's resignation letter, and here's some early reaction. My own is simple: it's about time.

Wear it With Pride

The conservative magazine "Human Events" has released a list of the "Top 10 RINOs". It's supposed to be derisive, but if you read the descriptions of each, it sounds more like a hall of fame to me.

Well It's About Time!

A group of House Republicans is finally circulating a petition to officially call for new leadership elections sometime this month. Coverage this morning from the WaPo and the NYT. Hotline On Call posted the names of those members who are believed to have signed the petition so far: most are centrists, but there are a few conservative names in there.

No more waiting. Get it done.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Short Takes

- First, an announcement. Former Yellow Line founder Alan Stewart Carl has returned to the blogosphere over at Maverick Views, which I've added to the links at right and urge you all to check out.

- National Journal suggests that with the Abramoff scandal coming to a head, calls for new leadership of the House Republican caucus may result in elections as early as this month. I'm sorry that it's taken this long, but I hope they're right.

- From Politics1 (via Mathew at Centerfield) continued rumors that my own congressman, staunch centrist Sherwood Boehlert, may not run for a thirteenth term. Boehlert, who is currently leading a Congressional trip to Antarctica, was not available for comment. He's in line to chair the House Transportation Committee in the next Congress, but his scuffles with leadership this year have put that position for him in doubt. I hope he doesn't retire, it would be a tremendous loss for moderate GOP ranks. I'll try to get more on this story as soon as I can.

- The Financial Times and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette pick up the story about Bush contradicting the torture ban.

- A decent dKos diary about the FEC recess appointments forced through yesterday evening. Oddly, almost no media coverage of this story today, which is depressing. Still on vacation, I guess.

- Wonkette's DCeiver finds a funny-but-not moment from today's White House press briefing.

- In what (as a severe "Daily Show" addict) I see as an excellent move, the Academy of Motion Pictures has announced that Jon Stewart will host this year's Oscars ceremony. I might actually watch.

McCain, Warner, Graham: No Bypassing Torture Ban

In a followup to yesterday's post about the president's decision that he can waive the law banning "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners whenever he feels like it, the amendment's main Senate sponsors issued statements in response. Alone among major papers, the Boston Globe covers the story, with another Charlie Savage piece today.

Senators John McCain and John Warner put out a joint statement Wednesday afternoon saying in part "We believe the president understands Congress's intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees. The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation. Our committee intends through strict oversight to monitor the administration's implementation of the new law." A part of that is very important: part of the "negotiations" between Congress and the White House over the amendment's text dealt with providing a presidential waiver - Congress rejected that. Now this president is just unilaterally reasserting his right to circumvent the law.

Senator Lindsey Graham told the Globe he'd go even further than McCain and Warner did in their statement: "I do not believe that any political figure in the country has the ability to set aside any ... law of armed conflict that we have adopted or treaties that we have ratified. If we go down that road, it will cause great problems for our troops in future conflicts because [nothing] is to prevent other nations' leaders from doing the same." Nothing in there that I would disagree with.

I'm glad that these three senators have made such strong statements on this, and I hope they'll keep it up. I'm not going to let go of this story, and I hope other news outlets start picking up on it as well. This pattern of executive end-runs and disregard for the rule of law has simply got to stop.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Yet Another End-Run from the White House

Remember Julie Myers? She was Bush's nominee to be Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose confirmation was blocked by bipartisan agreement in the Senate. Myers has minimal immigration experience, and back in September I urged that her name be withdrawn from consideration in favor of a more qualified nominee.

Well, today, in the most recent circumvention of normal procedure by the Bush Administration (even though this one's technically legal at least), the President today recess-appointed Myers to the post.

Myers' name appears on a "Personnel Announcement" issued this evening by the White House listing today's recess appointments, which number an astounding seventeen total. Others include Gordon England to be Deputy Secretary of Defense, three Federal Election Commissioners, and two other assistant cabinet secretaries.

Because normal procedures just can't be bothered with.

Waiving the Torture Ban?

Via The Note, I came across a Boston Globe story today by Charlie Savage, which reports that even as President Bush signed the Defense Appropriations bill into law, he "quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief." Issuing a so-called "signing statement," Bush wrote "The executive branch shall construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President ... as Commander in Chief," which "will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President ... of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."

A "senior administration official" told the Globe that while the administration intends to follow the torture ban ("We consider it a valid statute. We consider ourselves bound by the prohibition on cruel, unusual, and degrading treatment"), he added "Of course the president has the obligation to follow this law, [but] he also has the obligation to defend and protect the country as the commander in chief, and he will have to square those two responsibilities in each case."

Savage's report quotes Georgetown law prof Marty Lederman: "The whole point of the McCain Amendment was to close every loophole. The president has re-opened the loophole by asserting the constitutional authority to act in violation of the statute where it would assist in the war on terrorism."

The Globe story says that calls to McCain's office for comment yesterday were not returned.

This is outrageous. If the president believes he can just waive the law whenever he thinks it will be useful in the war against terror to do so, we have a very, very serious problem. This Nixonian formulation ("It's not illegal if the president does it") of the rule of law cannot be the way we proceed, and Bush's evisceration of the McCain language must not be tolerated.

Bush Calls in the Old Guard

As the repercussions of Jack Abramoff's plea deal begin to ricochet around Washington (Hastert's already donating his Abramoff-funds to charity, Gingrich of all people has now come out and said the House caucus needs new leadership, etc.), President Bush is going to do his best to ignore the matter - or at least talk about other things.

In what I find quite an interesting move, Bush has invited all living former secretaries of state and defense to a summit of sorts at the White House on Thursday. The ex-officials will reportedly be briefed by Gen. George Casey, the current US commander on the ground in Iraq, as well as ambassador Zalmay Khalilzhad. And, as Scott McClellan said yesterday, "There will be opportunity for them to ask questions and have a discussion."

I would like to hope this will be a serious meeting of the minds about Iraq policy and where it goes from here. I rather suspect it will be little more than a PowerPoint briefing and some perfunctory q & a. The men and women sitting in that room could have much to offer this president and his current advisers, but this administration has shown little willingness over the past five years to pay much attention to outside thoughts. So I guess we'll see how it goes. If it's anything more than tea, cookies and Casey's talking points, you can all color me surprised.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

And Now Things Get Interesting ...

Abramoff cops a plea. If DeLay, Ney & Co. weren't running scared before, they almost certainly are now. Certainly is going to be interesting to see what comes next in this ongoing saga.