Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 30, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Could the timing be any worse? "The first major storm of the season in the Gulf of Mexico continued to disrupt oil spill cleanup and containment work on Wednesday, officials said."

* In related news, Alex is now a hurricane, and evacuations are underway in parts of Mexico and Texas.

* Taliban insurgents attacked a NATO air base in Afghanistan yesterday, in an attempt to breach the gate. They failed, and eight insurgents were killed. Two NATO soldiers received minor injuries.

* It seems extremely likely that Elena Kagan will be confirmed fairly easily to the Supreme Court. There are however, a few far-right senators trying in vain to cause a fuss.

* Speaking of confirmation, Gen. David Petraeus was approved today to serve as the new commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The Senate vote was 99 to 0.

* I hope folks will take a few minutes to read this terrific David Leonhardt piece on the economy. It doesn't break new ground, exactly, but it's a fantastic summary of the huge risk policymakers are taking around the globe, gambling that the fragile economic recovery can withstand austerity measures.

* The Senate leadership conceded today that the vote on Wall Street reform will have to wait until after the July 4th recess.

* Shouldn't this have been done a long time ago? "The Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday tightened restrictions against 'pay-to-play' practices in the municipal securities market."

* The majority has gone to ridiculous lengths to make Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) happy with this bill, but he still won't publicly commit to voting for it.

* Oh, AIG: "Reversing its oft-repeated position that it was acting only on behalf of its clients in its exotic dealings with the American International Group, Goldman Sachs now says that it also used its own money to make secret wagers against the U.S. housing market."

* No one should count on Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) to help pass an ambitious energy/climate bill.

* If the Kagan hearings accomplish nothing else, I'm glad to see the "umpire" metaphor generate serious pushback.

* CNN's Larry King is giving up his prime-time show after an extraordinary career.

* If "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is repealed, the right will rediscover its love of judicial activism.

* Conservatives' confusion over what Journolist was continues to amaze me.

* The nation should spend more on higher education because that investment will result in economic growth. But what if the truth is a little more complicated?

* Andrew Sullivan describes the contemporary right: "[N]o solutions, just anger, paranoia, insecurity and partisan hatred."

* Maybe the political world can get past blaming Bush for his spectacular failures a) after we're no longer dealing with the consequences of Bush's reign of error; and b) after Republicans stop blaming everything on Clinton.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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CANTOR IS THE OPPOSITE OF A 'WONK'.... Politico ran a big piece today on House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and his "hyperambitious" motivations. It's filled with various tidbits of praise for the Virginian, including one House Republican who was serious when he said Cantor could be the "first Jewish Republican president."

Perhaps most strikingly, the article states, simply as a matter of fact, that "Cantor is a serious wonk."

Ezra Klein said he's "always been a bit puzzled" by Cantor, and hasn't "seen much evidence" of Cantor's interest in policy.

His policy positions range from "whatever the rest of the caucus is supporting," which makes sense given that he's part of the House leadership, to sort of wacky ideas, like his bailout alternative in which the federal government would insure all mortgages. At the health-care summit, there were plenty of Republicans -- Paul Ryan, Lamar Alexander, and Tom Coburn, among them -- who made compelling presentations. Cantor, as you can see in the clip atop this post, was the guy who brought props.

What Cantor does seem to be is an excellent fundraiser and messager... But maybe I'm missing something on Cantor and my readers can enlighten me. Is he known for mastery of a particular issue?

Ezra, you're not missing anything.

Eric Cantor has never demonstrated any working familiarity with any area of public policy -- ever. On health care, he had no idea what he was talking about, but pretended he did. On national security policy, Cantor is "divorced from reality."

In one of my favorite Cantor stories, the Minoroty Whip appeared at the Economist's World in 2010 conference late last year, and insisted that his Republican Party had plenty of "big ideas," especially on "jobs." The moderator responded, "What is the big idea? 'Jobs' is not an idea." Cantor replied, "The big idea is to get, to get, to produce an environment where we can have job creation again."

He then changed the subject.

When I chat with various aides on the Hill, and I ask about GOP leaders, folks seem fairly impressed with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), but tend to laugh when Cantor's name is brought up.

So, how did Eric Cantor get a reputation as some kind of GOP genius? Part of it has to do with grading on a curve -- it's easy to look like a "wonk" given the stature of the current House Republican conference. It doesn't hurt that Cantor has an aggressive media/p.r. operation that helps build Cantor up, and papers over the fact that he doesn't appear to know anything about public policy.

But arguably the biggest factor is that Cantor has a near-obsession with Republican strategizing -- he's launched multiple rebranding and campaign-oriented gimmicks -- which in GOP circles, necessarily translates into an impressive intellect. After all, if the quest for electoral power matters more than substance anyway, the most laudatory "wonks" are the ones who spend the most time thinking about how to help Republicans win elections.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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THE GLOBAL ECONOMY ISN'T NEW.... Last year, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), deeply confused about what a reserve currency is, was convinced that the Obama administration was trying to create some kind of "global currency." She had no idea what she was talking about -- every Bachmann tirade on the subject made her look just a little dumber -- and eventually moved on to other tantrum-worthy fantasies.

This week, for example, the nutty Minnesotan lawmaker is outraged by President Obama's interest in the "global economy." Here were Bachmann's remarks on a radio show a few days ago:

"If you look at the G20, what they're trying to do is bind together the world's economies. Look how that played out in the European Union when they bound all of those nations economies together and one of the smallest economies, Greece, when they got into trouble, that one little nation is bringing down the entire EU.

"Well, President Obama is trying to bind the United States into a global economy where all of our nations come together in a global economy. I don't want the United States to be in a global economy where, where our economic future is bound to that of Zimbabwe. I can't, we can't necessarily trust the decisions that are being made financially in other countries. I don't like the decisions that are being made in our own country, but certainly I don't want to trust the value of my currency and my future to that of like a Chavez down in Venezuela. So I think clearly this is a very bad direction because when you join the economic policy of different nations, it is one short step to joining political unity and then you would have literally, a one world government."

Bachmann did not appear to be kidding.

She actually seems to believe that President Obama came up with the idea of the modern global economy, in which there's some interconnectivity between international financial systems and the fortunes of one country can affect another. Does Bachmann even hear the words coming out of her mouth?

As for G20 meetings being a step towards a "literal ... one world government," Yglesias described this as "insane." That's as good an adjective as any.

I wonder what kind of leadership role House Republicans will give Bachmann if they retake the majority?

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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ONCE MORE, INTO THE JOBLESS BREACH.... Late last week, when Senate Republicans once again refused to allow the chamber to vote, up or down, on extended unemployment benefits, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) vowed to give it another try.

And here we go again.

Last night, Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the Senate majority leader and the head of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced a new unemployment extension bill. It is not actually strictly standalone: It includes an extension of the period in which homebuyers can close on a house and claim the homebuyer tax credit, a change agreed to in the House yesterday, and other provisions. [...]

Reid filed for cloture last night, and is working with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to move the bill today, though Republicans have repeatedly objected to any measure that increases the deficit.

The new bill extends federal unemployment insurance benefits through Nov. 2010, and the closing period for qualification for the homebuyer tax credit to Sept. 30. It is technically a substitute amendment to the killed jobs legislation.

Annie Lowrey's summary is well worth reviewing -- the bill does more than just extend benefits for the jobless, but notice that it doesn't include aid to state governments, which would save thousands of jobs, but which Republicans continue to oppose.

What are the odds that the GOP will let the Senate vote on this smaller bill? Reid's office concedes it's unlikely. It was tough enough to overcome Republican filibusters when the Democratic caucus had 59 votes, but in light of the death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), and with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) voting with Republicans, this is even more difficult.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) might be a possible pick-up vote, but he continues to oppose the measure, regardless of the negative consequences for his home state of Massachusetts. Instead, Brown is pushing his own alternative measure that would fund jobless benefits by taking money out of the Recovery Act.

What a transparent sham. Brown will only help the unemployed if he can undermine the economy? Because the deficit is that much more important than job creation?

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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MORE EVIDENCE OF HEALTH CARE REFORM'S INCREASING SUPPORT.... We're not yet at the point at which we can characterize the Affordable Care Act as "popular," but for the first time in a long while, there's a fair amount of evidence that supporters out number opponents.

The health-care overhaul gained popularity from May to June, according to a new tracking poll.

The results suggest that the Obama administration's promotion of the legislation may be paying off or that the public may be warming to the law as early provisions take effect.

The Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 48 percent of the public had a favorable view of the law in June while 41 percent had an unfavorable opinion. A month earlier, the split was 41 percent favorable to 44 percent unfavorable.

What's especially noteworthy here is that it's not just one poll pointing to the encouraging trend. Two weeks ago, a national Associated Press-GfK poll found that support for the Affordable Care Act was not only the rise, but had reached new heights -- health care reform's supporters outnumbered opponents, 45% to 42%. A week later, a Gallup poll found 49% of respondents agreeing that passage of the law is a "good thing," while 46% think it's a "bad thing."

In fairness, not all of the polls reach this conclusion. The latest NBC/WSJ poll found the public leaning in the other direction, 44% to 40%, though even here, support was on the rise.

But there are nevertheless three credible, national polls out this month showing supporters outnumbering opponents. Throughout the debate on the Hill, that simply never occurred.

Looking ahead, much of the Republican campaign strategy is built around the notion that Americans simply hate the new law. House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office argued the other day that "the American people remain squarely opposed" to health care reform, and pointed to "the rising public backlash against the new law."

The evidence to support such observations is lacking.

Steve Benen 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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BIDEN REFLECTS ON GOP PARTY DISCIPLINE.... Vice President Biden spoke at an event in his home town earlier, hoping to help raise some money for Chris Coons' (D) Senate campaign. Biden raised an interesting point about the chamber he served in for several decades.

VP Joe Biden on Monday accused Senate GOPers of holding their top members' votes hostage in exchange for ranking committee posts, assailing the GOP as sitting "on the sidelines" while the economy nearly collapsed.

"I know at least 7 [GOP] senators, who I will not name, but were made to make a commitment under threat of losing their chairmanships, if they did not support the leadership on every procedural vote," Biden said at a fundraiser Monday night.

"Every single thing we did, from the important to the not so important, required for the first time in modern American history, majority votes required 60 votes. All the sudden a majority became 60 instead of 50," the VP added, according to a pool report of the event.

The RNC said something about this being "a scurrilous accusation," though the party didn't exactly deny it, either.

Is it really so far-fetched? Back in October, when Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) was weighing how to vote on health care reform, word went out that the ranking member post on Senate Commerce Committee was up for grabs, and if Snowe wanted it, she had to toe the party line. One unnamed GOP senator on the committee told a reporter, "A vote for healthcare would be something that would weigh on our minds when it came time to vote" on which senator got the slot.

Two months later, Snowe filibustered a motion to proceed, filibustered to prevent a vote, and opposed the legislation -- and never could explain why.

Indeed, there are widespread rumors that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) shifted away from cooperation on reform and towards belligerence immediately after his Republican colleagues made it clear that his future committee assignments were in jeopardy if he worked with Dems to pass a reform bill.

It often goes overlooked, but it's worth remembering that the Senate Republican caucus, unlike Senate Democrats, have mechanisms in place to enforce party unity and discipline. When Democrats break party ranks on key bills, there are no consequences. Those who let GOP leaders down, however, know in advance that enticements like committee positions are very much on the line.

But this need not be considered criticism, though Biden almost certainly meant as such. Matt Yglesias explained that it's entirely "sensible" for a political party to "demand that its members support the party leadership on procedural votes."

Had the Democratic caucus adopted such a rule, the White House, the leadership, and the members themselves would have been spared an awful lot of headaches and the country would be in much better shape. After all, every member of the caucus puts some value on his or her ability to secure chairmanships of committees and subcommittees, so such a rule could very plausibly have swiftly led to the creation of a norm against filibustering your own party's initiatives. Vote "no" on final passage if you like, but vote with the leadership on process.

We should be so lucky.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Sen. Bob Bennett (R) of Utah, one of the highest-profile victims of the Republican Party's ideological "purge" this year, won't even be on the ballot in November, freeing him to be a little more candid as his Senate career comes to a close.

His party would be wise to take Bennett's concerns seriously.

Bennett told a Republican group the party could even take back the Senate soon but will lose both houses just as fast if the GOP continues to rely on slogans and not solutions.

"As I look out at the political landscape now, I find plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas," Bennett told The Ripon Society.

"Indeed, if you raise specific ideas and solutions, as I've tried to do on health care with [Oregon Democratic Sen.] Ron Wyden, you are attacked with the same vigor as we've seen in American politics all the way back to slavery and polygamy; you are attacked as being a wimp, insufficiently pure, and unreliable." [...]

"The concern I have is that ideology and a demand for absolute party purity endangers our ability to govern once we get into office," Bennett said.

I suspect many in the Republican Party will dismiss this as sour grapes. Bennett was rejected by his own state party caucus, they'll say, so he's just bitter now.

While I certainly can't speak to Bennett's motivations or state of mind, I think his observations about Republicans are critically important. The party that once liked to throw around the "party of ideas" moniker has become devoid of almost all thought. Indeed, in most GOP circles, ideas themselves are suspect -- they're probably the result of some kind of egg-head intellectual who reads books instead of watching Fox News.

Bennett has to be frustrated that his career his is ending because members of his own party were outraged that he tried to solve problems by working with other senators (i.e., his job). But the more important point is that the development itself is evidence of a Republican Party with a kind of reflexive sickness -- an allergy to substance, problem-solving, compromise, and reason.

It's not healthy.

Update: An emailer reminds me that Republicans have occasionally come up with policy ideas in recent years, but they end up opposing their own proposals once Democrats agree. Good point.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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PRESIDENT, DNC KEEP HEAT ON BOEHNER.... House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) handed Democrats another opportunity this week, arguing that sweeping Wall Street reform efforts are simply unnecessary. An unregulated financial industry nearly destroyed the global economy, but as far as Boehner is concerned, Democratic policymakers are "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon." Even Boehner's press office had trouble spinning this one away.

Dems are trying to capitalize on the Minority Leader accidentally saying what he really believes, since it fits so nicely into Democrats' larger campaign themes. CNN noted that "Boehner's comments couldn't come at a better time for Democrats, who are on the eve of passing the financial reform bill with little-to-none GOP support and are eager to portray Republicans as out of step with Main Street America."

To that end, the DNC has a new web video mocking Boehner, and more importantly, President Obama intends to emphasize the point at a town-hall event in Wisconsin this afternoon. According to the prepared text:

"As we speak, we're on the verge of passing the most comprehensive financial reform since the Great Depression -- reform that will prevent a crisis like this from happening again. It's reform that will protect our economy from the recklessness and irresponsibility of a few. Reform that will protect consumers against the unfair practices of credit card companies and mortgage lenders. Reform that ensures taxpayers are never again on the hook for Wall Street's mistakes.

"But most of our friends in the other party are planning on voting against this reform. In fact, just yesterday, I was stunned to hear the leader of the Republicans in the House say that financial reform was like using a nuclear weapon to target an ant. That's right. He compared the financial crisis to an ant. The same financial crisis that led to the loss of nearly eight million jobs. The same crisis that cost people their homes and their lives savings.

"Well if the Republican leader is that out of touch with the struggles facing the American people, he should come here to Racine and ask people if they think the financial crisis was an ant. He should ask the men and women who've been out of work for months at a time. He should ask the Americans who send me letters every night that talk about how they're barely hanging on.

"These Americans don't believe the financial crisis was an ant. They know that it's what led to the worst recession since the Great Depression. And they expect their leaders in Washington to do whatever it takes to make sure a crisis like this never happens again. The Republican leader might want to maintain a status quo on Wall Street. But we want to move America forward."

Presidential remarks like these will likely take the Boehner quote -- it's not a "gaffe"; he actually believed what he was saying -- to a new level. At a minimum, it will keep the story alive for another day, and likely put Republicans on the defensive, at least a little.

Will this have the staying power as Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP (another item Obama is scheduled to emphasize today) or John McCain's "fundamentals of the economy are strong" line? I rather doubt it. But as Democrats continue to push the theme that Republicans are on the wrong side of every issue that matters, Boehner's candor certainly helps.

Also note, by the way, that the campaign mode Team Obama entered recently is clearly in full swing now.

Steve Benen 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Former President Bill Clinton shook up Colorado's Democratic Senate primary a little yesterday, breaking with party leaders and endorsing Andrew Romanoff's challenge to Sen. Michael Bennet. Some perceive this as a major fissure, but I think too much is being made of this -- Romanoff is a long-time Clinton backer who championed Hillary Clinton's campaign in Colorado, while Bennet backed Obama. Yesterday's endorsement -- which came in the form of an email -- appears to be evidence of gratitude, not a Clinton/Obama split.

* In Ohio's very competitive Senate race, a new Quinnipiac poll in shows Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) with a narrow lead over former Bush budget director Rob Portman (R), 42% to 40%.

* Speaking of Ohio, while Quinnipiac shows incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland (D) leading former Rep. John Kasich (R), a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Kasich up by two, 43% to 41%. [corrected]

* In California, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll offers some relatively good news for Democrats. It finds Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) leading Carly Fiorina (R) by four, 45% to 41%, and state A.G. Jerry Brown (D) leading Meg Whitman (R) by six, 45% to 39%.

* Freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), one of this year's key GOP targets, released his first re-election ad, and he's apparently "the first candidate of the season to smear his face with dust and dump coffee on his shirt for a campaign ad." If you watch it, this makes more sense.

* In Arizona, right-wing state Sen. Pamela Gorman (R) has launched an ad in her congressional campaign, apparently trying to argue that her ability to use multiple firearms is evidence of her qualifications.

* And in South Carolina, Senate "candidate" Alvin Greene (D) finally has a website, but it's not very good.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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'ON THEIR SIDE'.... About two weeks ago, hot on the heels of Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) public apology to BP, the DNC unveiled a television ad, urging Republicans to "stop apologizing to Big Oil." Four days later, the DNC released another spot, tying together several Republicans and their collective efforts to put oil companies' interests above the public's.

The spots weren't bad, and for ads being thrown together quickly, they got the job done. But the ads weren't especially memorable, either. By late last week, the DNC had a more compelling message, but it was a "web video," not a televised ad.

To its credit, the DNC considered public feedback. The result is a video, called "On Their Side," that strikes me as the most compelling to date. As the DNC's Greg Greene said yesterday, "When Republicans in Congress head home during the Fourth of July recess, voters in their districts need to know where they stand: with big oil, health insurers and Wall Street."

The spot hammers home one of the stronger themes available to Democrats this year: on the major policy disputes of the day, Republicans are on the wrong side of the fight. On energy, as Barton helped demonstrate, the GOP is on the side of the oil companies. On health care, as Mitt Romney helped demonstrate, the GOP is on the side of the health care companies. On Wall Street reform, as Michael Steele helped demonstrate, the GOP is on the side of the banks and the industry that nearly destroyed the global economy.

The ad's tagline: "Republicans: This is how they would govern." It seems like a safe bet you'll be hearing this quite a bit, far more than even the "party of no" line that dominated Democratic rhetoric last year.

In the larger context, it's worth noting that a vulnerable incumbent party, facing broad challenges, tends to want to localize elections. Dems this year seem to be doing the opposite, which strikes me as wise -- the more the elections are nationalized, the more local Republican candidates can be connected to the larger trend of the GOP siding with powerful interests over the public good.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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KIRK BREAKS HIS SILENCE, TOO.... Yesterday, Nevada's Sharron Angle finally agreed to talk to a reporter about her positions on issues, but she wasn't the only one finally prepared to stop hiding.

Illinois' Mark Kirk, the Republican Senate candidate who's been caught telling a disturbing number of falsehoods, hasn't spoken to the media in nearly a month. Last week, after a speech, he literally ran through a hotel kitchen to evade journalists.

Yesterday, Kirk tried to put the ordeal behind him, and get back to attacking his opponent.

A month to the day after the first allegations surfaced about embellishments in his military resume, Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk (R) held a press conference in Chicago designed to re-start a Senate campaign that has gone badly off track.

"I was not thinking," said Kirk at the Chicago presser when asked about various misstatements in his military background including that he was once named the Navy's intelligence officer of the year. (He wasn't.)

"This was a carelessness that did not reflect well upon me and this is a high office," said Kirk, according to the Chicago Sun Times. "Going forward, you have to speak with great precision and detail."

Kirk's political motives in calling the press conference are fairly transparent: end the story once and for all and, in so doing, put the spotlight in the race back on state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic nominee.

Look, as strategies go, a vague mea culpa may impress some in the media. It may even help Kirk get past his self-generated mess (the next time a reporter asks about his falsehoods, he'll just say he "already held a press conference to discuss this, so let's move on"). But it's hard to imagine anyone seriously finding the "carelessness" excuse persuasive. An error or two is mildly embarrassing, but easily forgivable. Mark Kirk, however, lied repeatedly about everything from his military service to having been a nursery-school teacher.

That's not an example of being careless; that's an example of someone with an allergy to the truth.

What's more, Kirk didn't just invite reporters to ask questions, he packed the room with a "Hallelujah chorus'' of 100 supporters who "heckled reporters and shouted 'move on' when reporters pressed Kirk about his numerous mistakes." If Kirk was confident he could defend his record, would this really have been necessary?

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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ANGLE SPEAKS.... Sharron Angle, the extremist Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, has been so afraid of media scrutiny, she's literally run away from journalists asking about her record. Angle's fear of answering questions, when coupled with her radical ideology, has made her something of a laughingstock.

But Angle ended her self-imposed media boycott last night, sitting down for a half-hour chat with Jon Ralston, arguably Nevada's highest-profile, and most esteemed, political journalist.

In her first mainstream media interview since winning the Republican nomination in the U.S. Senate race, former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle softened her rhetoric on "phasing out" Social Security and fearing the electorate would take up arms if conservatives didn't win at the ballot box.

But on other issues, such as abortion and her belief that unemployment benefits deter the jobless from applying for work, she stridently defended herself amid criticism from her Democratic rival, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that her views are "wacky" and "dangerous."

Angle continued to call for the privatization of Social Security, though she's now wording it in a slightly more mild way, and she continued to state her opposition to extended unemployment benefits, insisting that "there are jobs that do exist" if only the unemployed would pursue them. She also rejects the notion of separation of church and state as a constitutional principle.

It was a startling reminder of the parallel universe Angle appears to live in.

But of particular interest was Ralston asking the right-wing candidate about her proposed "Second Amendment remedies." The reporter showed the candidate and viewers some of Angle's remarks on the subject, including this comment from January: "[I]f this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around? I'll tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out."

Angle conceded that those last four words were "a little strong," adding, "That's why I changed my rhetoric to 'defeat Harry Reid.'"

But that badly misses the point. The issue here was not just Angle talking about "taking out" the Senate Majority leader; there's the larger point about Angle repeatedly speculating about the armed overthrow of the United States government. She'll no longer refer to "taking out" Reid? How nice. But what about her public remarks about armed insurrection?

When pressed further by Ralston about whether she'd gone too far, Angle said, "I think it's interesting that we're nitpicking on all the little topics that Harry is putting out there."

First, when U.S. Senate candidates speculate about a literal revolution, it's not "nitpicking" to ask for clarification. Second, as Ralston was quick to point out, "Harry Reid didn't put this out there. You put it out there."

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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CREATING THE RIGHT POLITICAL CLIMATE.... One would like to think the circumstances for a major new energy/climate bill are ripe. Indeed, between the massive environmental catastrophe and the size of the Democratic majorities on the Hill, we'll probably not see an opportunity like this for many, many years.

But Congress nevertheless seems reluctant to act, and as Jonathan Cohn noted this morning, lawmakers aren't facing much in the way of public pressure.

While Obama and congressional leaders obviously have some leverage at the margins, their most powerful weapon is the ability to make members of Congress fear constituent retribution. And that's simply not a threat they can make stick when members aren't getting an earful from people who care. [...]

[T]o be clear, it's not as if the environmental community is sitting on its hands. Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow and direct of climate change advocacy at the Center for American Progress, points out that organizations like CAP's Action Fund, the Sierra Club, and Environmental Defense Fund have been organizing everything from protests at district offices to Washington visits from military veterans pushing energy independence -- with more activism to come. That's all to the good. Even a scaled-back climate bill could make a difference, as my better-informed colleague Brad Plumer has argued. But the existing pressure doesn't seem strong enough to make it a reality.

Agreed. During the fight over health care, lawmakers were led to believe their votes on this issue would be a defining moment of their careers. Members were afraid that the wrong move on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform a dysfunctional system would carry dramatic consequences.

But on energy/climate, the activism hasn't been nearly as intense, prompting Congress to make the issue less of a priority. The polls look encouraging, suggesting the public is inclined to back the Democratic proposals, but that support hasn't translated into aggressive advocacy -- phone calls to lawmakers' offices, letter-writing campaigns, district meetings, sizable rallies, etc.

Cohn added that the president and his allies feel as though they've "hit the political limits of what they can achieve" on an energy bill, which is why they've been so prepared to make concessions.

If engaged constituents want more, Congress will have to feel considerably more heat than they are now.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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OPEN MIC CATCHES REPORTERS TELLING THE TRUTH.... Former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) spoke at a California university fundraiser last week, which generated some controversy due to her excessive speaking fees. Now, it appears the event has become controversial for an entirely different reason.

The local Fox affiliate overheard a variety of journalists reflecting on Palin's remarks on a live mic, with reporters unaware that they were being recorded. The result was some unexpected candor.

"I feel like I just got off a roller coaster, going round and round," one reporter is heard saying on audio captured by Fox40 News. "S--- flying out everywhere."

"She didn't finish a statement," another reporter says.

"Did she make a statement?" another asks, drawing laughs.

"I don't know how we're gonna make a story out of that," a voice is heard saying.

"Now I know that dumbness doesn't come from just sound bites," yet another reporter says.

It's unclear exactly which reporters were caught by the open mic, and the Fox affiliate issued a statement that noted, "Unfortunately, there's no way to immediately identify the photographers and reporters making commentary following Sarah Palin's speech."

Not surprisingly, some on the right are pointing to these remarks as "proof" of liberal media bias. I don't quite see it that way.

Remember, reporters are people, and though they're usually reluctant to say so publicly, they tend to know the difference between bright politicians and clueless ones. In private moments, or moments they think are private, they're even willing to say so.

In truth, Sarah Palin is conspicuously unintelligent. Objectively, that need not be controversial. For reporters to notice her conspicuous unintelligence isn't evidence of bias; it's evidence of reporters simply paying attention and noticing what is plainly true.

Indeed, let's not forget that in September 2008, Peggy Noonan was helping cover the Republican National Convention, and she was caught on a live mic questioning Palin's qualifications, and describing Palin's role on the GOP ticket as "political bullshit."

What's more, I think the right should also remember that in 1999, political reporters covering a presidential candidate debate openly mocked and jeered Al Gore during the event. Time's Eric Pooley wrote that during the debate, the reporters in the press room responded to Gore "in a collective jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd." Another reporter added, "The media groaned, howled and laughed almost every time Al Gore said something."

If the Palin mockery is evidence the media is liberal, was the media's response to Gore proof that the media is conservative?

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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GETTING WALL STREET REFORM BACK ON TRACK.... They didn't want to, but congressional Democrats re-opened the conference committee on Wall Street reform yesterday afternoon, to make one key change: how to pay for the regulatory overhaul. The move became necessary when Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) announced he was prepared to kill the entire legislative package over a small bank fee.

Conference committee members met, and in fairly short order, made the changes that should deliver the needed votes.

Conference negotiators voted to eliminate the proposed tax and adopted a new plan to pay the projected five-year, $20 billion cost of the legislation.

The new plan would bring an early end to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the mammoth financial system bailout effort enacted in 2008, and redirect about $11 billion toward heightened regulation of the financial industry.

The conferees also voted to increase the reserve ratio of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, but specified that small depository institutions -- those with less than $10 billion in consolidated assets -- be exempt from paying any increase.

They also voted to permanently set the maximum deposit insured by the F.D.I.C. at $250,000 per account, a change that would further raise the amount banks must pay toward the coverage.

The partisan dynamic was a little awkward -- Democrats were voting to approve changes to satisfy some Republicans (Brown, Snowe, and Collins), while Republicans on the conference committee voted to reject the same changes because they oppose the entire legislation. In other words, Dems were making changes demanded by Republicans, which were then opposed by Republicans. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) described himself as being "caught in the middle of an intra-Republican debate here."

It's also worth noting the oddity of the "moderate" Republican demands. Under the original financing mechanism, a modest fee would be imposed on banks over the next five years. To satisfy Brown, financing will now largely come from a shut-down TARP system. In effect, Brown insisted that the Wall Street reform initiative itself is paid for by taxpayers, instead of by banks.

But, you know, he sort of drives a truck, so he must be a man of the people.

In any case, unless Brown, Snowe, and Collins find a new complaint -- with these folks, you just never know -- yesterday afternoon's "fixes" seem to satisfy their concerns. Their votes would bring the total to 59, and if Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) of Washington votes with her party to overcome a Republican filibuster, Wall Street reform will be on track for final passage.

Indeed, the House is prepared to move forward with its final vote as early as today. Given GOP delaying tactics in the Senate, it's unlikely the other chamber will wrap this up before the July 4th break, but most insiders seem to believe passage won't be too big a problem when senators return.

Kevin Drum had a good item overnight on the bill, highlighting several of its key provisions. He concluded, "Given the alternatives, anyone who cares about financial reform should support this bill."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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June 29, 2010

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* If the seas get too rough, the containment cap would have to be removed altogether: "Tropical Storm Alex is churning through the Gulf of Mexico as it threatens to become the first storm of this region's notorious hurricane season, forcing officials to delay efforts to double the amount of oil that can be siphoned from BP's damaged well."

* Day 2 of the Elena Kagan confirmation hearings.

* Consumer confidence took a sharp and painful turn for the worse in June.

* Maybe now would be a good time to focus more on economic recovery than deficit reduction: "No matter where they look, investors are seeing economic trouble. Stocks and interest rates tumbled Tuesday after signs of slowing economies from China to the U.S. spooked traders who were already uneasy about a global recovery."

* Gen. David Petraeus has another chat with the Senate Armed Services Committee, this time as part of his confirmation hearings for comamnd in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, meanwhile, is retiring from the Armed Forces.

* They needed a two-thirds majority, and didn't get it: "The House of Representatives failed Tuesday to pass a bill that would extend long-term unemployment benefits through the end of November."

* Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman's (D) controversial conviction will get a second look, thanks to a Supreme Court order.

* There's a huge dispute underway between Daily Kos and Research 2000, with the blogging powerhouse accusing the pollster of fraud. Kos expects a lawsuit to be filed "within the next day or two."

* President Obama will speak at the American University School of International Service in Washington on Thursday to emphasize the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

* Short of eliminating all filibusters, abolishing filibusters of conference reports seems like a no-brainer.

* Expanding the spectrum would bring some hope to frustrated cell phone users.

* Is the religious right still upset with Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.) over his proposed "truce" in the culture war? Um, yeah.

* Do state colleges and state prisons really compete for money? Well, sort of.

* And for all the recent hullabaloo about Journolist, it turns out there's "a private RNC-related listserv" -- and it has its leaks, too.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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SHELBY BACKS BOEHNER ON INSIGNIFICANCE OF CRASH.... House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued yesterday that sweeping Wall Street reform efforts are simply unnecessary. Sure, an unregulated financial industry nearly destroyed the global economy, but as far as Boehner is concerned, Democratic policymakers are "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon."

How ridiculous was the argument? Let's put it this way: usually, Boehner's press flacks can come up with a semi-coherent spin to make his more outlandish remarks seem somewhat reasonable. Today, Boehner left his poor spokesperson sounding like a fool.

What's worse, some of Boehner's Republican colleagues seem to think he's right. ThinkProgress caught up with Senate Banking Committee ranking member and financial conference member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) outside a D.C. fundraiser today.

TP: This morning, it was reported that Minority Leader John Boehner said that financial reform is too broad, it's basically like using a nuclear weapon on an ant. Do you agree with that kind of sentiment?

SHELBY: Well, I basically agree with that. I voted against it. We could have had a meaningful, substantive bill. There a few good things in it, but it's a broad reach of power, and you got to ask a question, the real question, "are we going to be better off because of this legislation?" And that's problematic.

Let's pause to note that, in the event of a Republican majority next year, Richard Shelby would be the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

It's really fascinating to see GOP leaders pursue this. The trick for Republicans has long been to work with Wall Street lobbyists to kill reform efforts while pretending to care deeply about accountability.

But now they're not even bothering to do that, dismissing a systemic crisis as being comparable to a small insect, and criticizing Democrats for trying to bring some oversight to the industry.

How bizarre.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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CONFERENCE COMMITTEE GETS BACK TO BUSINESS.... Late last week, members of a House-Senate conference committee worked through the night, wrapping up a 20-hour marathon session to complete their work on Wall Street reform. At 5:39 a.m. on Friday, before much of Washington was even awake, a final package was complete, and the goal of having the bill on President Obama's desk by the 4th of July was right on track.

Or so we thought. First, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) died, depriving reform supporters of a key vote. Second, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) decided to reverse course on the bill (for a third time). The Massachusetts Republican worked behind closed doors last week, secretly pushing a provision to exempt some major Massachusetts financial firms from new regulations. He ended up walking away anyway, complaining about a modest fee on banks that would have kept the deficit down.

Left with no choice, the conference committee that was done with its work is headed back to the table.

In an extraordinary move aimed at winning over reluctant Republican senators, the top Democratic negotiators on the Wall Street reform bill will reopen the conference committee Tuesday to swap out a controversial $19 billion tax on big banks, according to House and Senate aides.

The unusual development points to deepening troubles for Democrats in their push to finish the bill before the July 4 recess. [...]

The committee is expected to meet at 5 p.m., a Democratic aide said. And House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said that the emerging compromise would give Democrats 60 votes in the Senate for the package.

By all appearances, conference committee members will effectively have a single task: find a way to get $19 billion to pay for the reform effort that doesn't come from a bank fee. One possibility is shutting down the TARP program, and using unspent funds.

Some in the leadership would still like to have this done before the end of the week, but most seem to agree that the deadline may not be realistic. That said, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs agreed that while the work may not be done until after lawmakers return from their break, "I don't think there is now a question whether it will be done -- it's when it will be done."

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ANGLE ON IMPREGNATED RAPE VICTIMS AND 'GOD'S PLAN'.... Sharron Angle, the extremist Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, is hardly the only opponent of abortion rights running for statewide office this year. Indeed, her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), describes himself as pro-life, too.

But as further evidence of Angle's ideological rigidity, consider just how far she's willing to go on women's reproductive rights.

Since winning the Republican nomination in the Nevada Senate race Sharron Angle has drawn attention and controversy for a host of conservative policy prescriptions that seem well outside the political mainstream. Now, a Democratic source has passed along a radio interview she did back in January 2010 that could end up topping the list.

In a segment that has gone unnoticed since it first aired, the Tea Party-backed candidate told the Bill Manders show -- a favorable platform for Republican candidates -- that she opposed abortion even in cases of rape and incest. A pregnancy under those circumstances, she said, was "God's plan."

Angle told Manders that "in her book," there's never a reason for a woman to terminate her pregnancy. When he asked about women who get impregnated by a rapist or by way of incest, Angle said, "You know, I'm a Christian and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things."

No wonder she's afraid of professional journalists' questions -- reporters are likely to ask Angle for her positions on key issues, and her views are rather terrifying.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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OBAMA 'VERY STRONG' ON CARBON LIMITS.... As promised, the White House hosted a key meeting earlier today with a large Senate contingent, all in the hopes of crafting a climate/energy bill that can overcome Republican obstructionism. The key question for many of us was pretty straightforward: can President Obama step up and push for cap-and-trade?

Yes, he can.

Leading Senate advocates of climate change legislation emerged from a White House meeting proclaiming that President Barack Obama offered firm support for including greenhouse gas curbs in the broad energy package slated for Senate debate this summer.

"The president was very clear about putting a price on carbon and limiting greenhouse gas emissions," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said outside the White House after the roughly 90-minute meeting between Obama and a bipartisan group of roughly 20 senators.

Carbon pricing is shorthand for cap-and-trade or other methods for creating a cost for emitting greenhouse gases. "[Obama] was very strong about the need to put a price on carbon and make polluters pay," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who authored a sweeping climate and energy bill with Kerry.

Whether the president's urging will translate into Senate votes remains to be seen, but it's heartening to learn that Obama isn't backing off. A couple of weeks ago, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told Roll Call, "At the end of the day, my guess is [the White House] won't push [cap-and-trade] that hard."

Today suggests otherwise. If the White House were prepared to scale back its expectations, and move away from cap-and-trade, that would have been apparent today. I obviously wasn't in the room, but according to senators who were, Obama did exactly what we needed him to do to keep the measure alive.

Of course, if Republicans stand united against any and all efforts on carbon emissions, it's a moot point -- Democrats simply won't be able to overcome GOP obstructionism. But with the president making the right push today, cap-and-trade is still very much on the table.

Update: Further confirmation from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a cap-and-trade supporter, who told Greg Sargent that the president "made it clear that a price on carbon is a very powerful instrument." The senator added that Obama "said it's a very important tool and one we should thoroughly explore," and that the president emphasized the issue "a number of times." Merkley concluded, "I don't think he would have done so if that wasn't very important to him."

On a related note, the White House issued a post-meeting statement, reiterating its backing for "putting a price on pollution."

Steve Benen 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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MAYBE SESSIONS SHOULD AVOID THIS SUBJECT ALTOGETHER.... The controversial Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United earlier this year established a sweeping new precedent. Laws prohibiting direct campaign support from corporations were deemed unconstitutional, clearing the way for, among other things, corporate-backed independent expenditure campaigns for and against candidates.

And as far as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is concerned, the laws restricting corporate intervention in U.S. campaigns were pretty similar to segregation. Seriously.

Last night, elaborating on his criticisms of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Sessions made the unusual comparison of Citizens United v. FEC to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

"[Marshall] was right on Brown v. Board of Education. It's akin in my view to the Citizen's United case. The court sat down and we went back to first principles -- What does the Constitution say? Everybody should be equal protection of the laws," Sessions told me after a Senate vote last night.

"Is it treating people equally to say you can go to this school because of the color of your skin and you can't?" Sessions asked rhetorically. "We've now honestly concluded and fairly concluded that it violates the equal protection clause."

How is that like Citizens United? "I think this Court, when they said 'Wait a minute! If you're talking about a precedent that says the government can deny the right to publish pamphlets, then we've got get rid of this one outlier case Austin -- 100 years of precedent -- and go back to what the Constitution [says].' I don't think that's activism."

So, the top GOP senator on the Judiciary Committee believes restrictions on corporate intervention in political campaigns is effectively the same thing as public schools segregated along racial lines.

Given Jeff Sessions' ugly and offensive history with racial issues, I can't say this is especially surprising, but I do think this is a subject the far-right Alabama senator would be wise to avoid in the future.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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WHAT BOEHNER CONSIDERS AN 'ANT'.... In retrospect, maybe I buried the lede.

We talked earlier about House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) over-the-top interview with the Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and noted some of the highlights, including his belief that Democrats are "snuffing out the America that I grew up in."

On further reflection, perhaps this was the most notable comment in the interview.

Boehner criticized the financial regulatory overhaul compromise reached last week between House and Senate negotiators as an overreaction to the financial crisis that triggered the recession. The bill would tighten restrictions on lending, create a consumer protection agency with broad oversight power and give the government an orderly way to dissolve the largest financial institutions if they run out of money.

"This is killing an ant with a nuclear weapon," Boehner said. What's most needed is more transparency and better enforcement by regulators, he said.

Just to be clear here, what Boehner considers an "ant" was a severe economic crash that nearly collapsed the global financial system.

Jon Chait added, "Republicans have tried not to admit this, but Boehner pretty much spelled out what they think. The underlying problems in the financial system are minor ('an ant') and the main solution is just to hope regulators do a better job than they did before."

This, like a variety of other candid Republican moments of late, seems like the kind of quote that might matter to voters. Indeed, it's something of a bookend to John McCain's "fundamentals of the economy are strong" line from 2008 -- the GOP sees an economic crisis, the likes of which we haven't seen in generations, and Republicans just don't think it's that big a deal.

This was a crisis that led to 8 million U.S. job losses and $17 trillion in lost retirement savings and net worth. What's more, it was a crisis that could have been prevented had safeguards and accountability measures been in place to regulate Wall Street.

And now that Democrats want to approve such safeguards, Boehner's not only against the effort, he thinks the whole endeavor is unnecessary, since the crisis was just "an ant."

Ladies and gentlemen, the man who would be Speaker.

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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EVEN A BILL ON HOMELESS VETERANS.... Sen. Patty Murray's (D-Wash.) bill on homeless veterans seems like the kind of legislation that should be approved rather easily. But in this Senate, nothing's easy.

As the senator's office explained, her Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans With Children Act would "expand assistance for homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children and would increase funding and extend federal grant programs to address the unique challenges faced by these veterans."

It was approved in committee with bipartisan support, and Murray brought it to the floor this morning, seeking unanimous consent. She didn't get it -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected on behalf of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who apparently was concerned about funding.

With an estimated 107,000 homeless veterans, this is pretty low, even for Republicans.

In a statement, Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "Republicans have their priorities backwards -- according to them, it's OK to give tax breaks to CEOs who send American jobs overseas, but not to help out-of-work Americans and homeless veterans. As we've seen time and again, Republicans just want to protect special interests instead of working with Democrats to stand up for the middle class and get our economy back on track."

For her part, Murray vowed to "continue fighting," and urged Senate Republicans "to end their obstruction and allow homeless women veterans across the country to get the support they have earned."

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Citing a long-gone filing deadline, officials in West Virginia announced yesterday that the special election to the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D) will be in 2012, not in November as Republicans had hoped. Gov. Joe Manchin (D) will have to select someone to fill the seat for two years -- former state party chairman Nick Casey appears to be a leading candidate -- while deciding whether to launch his own campaign in two years.

* In Ohio, a new Quinnipiac poll shows incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland (D) leading John Kasich (R) by five, 43% to 38%.

* Kentucky Senate hopeful Rand Paul spoke to Christian Homeschool Educators and was asked how old he believes the earth is. He declined to answer.

* In Wisconsin, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold (D) leading right-wing businessman Ron Johnson (R) by just two, 45% to 43%.

* It's Rasmussen, so take the results with a grain of salt, but the pollster shows Sen. David Vitter (R) with a big lead over Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) in this year's race, despite Vitter's humiliating scandals, 53% to 35%.

* In Kansas, SurveyUSA found Rep. Jerry Moran up by 20 over Rep. Todd Tiahrt in the Republican Senate primary, 53% to 33%.

* Hoping for another "macaca" moment, the Democratic National Committee has launched its new "Accountability Project," a website devoted to "citizens uploading content from political events including audio and video -- a central resource to hold Republicans accountable."

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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THE IRISH MODEL OF AUSTERITY.... The New York Times has a rather disheartening front-page piece today on Irish austerity measures, which I hope folks -- especially federal policymakers -- will read. Ireland responded to a sharp economic downturn with aggressive austerity measures -- which has made the country's economy worse.

Much of the world -- and domestically, all of the Republican Party -- believes the lesson to be learned is that belt-tightening and deficit reduction works. "Other European nations," the NYT, "including Britain and Germany, are following Ireland's lead."

Paul Krugman helps highlight the larger context.

The key thing to bear in mind about calls for harsh austerity in the face of a depressed economy is that such calls depend on two propositions, not one. Not only do you have to believe that the invisible bond vigilantes are about to strike -- that you must move to appease markets, even though right now bond buyers are willing to lend money to the United States at very low rates; you must also believe that short-term fiscal cutbacks will in fact appease the markets if they do, in fact, lose confidence.

That's why the Irish debacle is so important. All that savage austerity was supposed to bring rewards; the conventional wisdom that this would happen is so strong that one often reads news reports claiming that it has, in fact, happened, that Ireland's resolve has impressed and reassured the financial markets. But the reality is that nothing of the sort has taken place: virtuous, suffering Ireland is gaining nothing.

Of course, I know what will happen next: we'll hear that the Irish just aren't doing enough, and must do more. If we've been bleeding the patient, and he has nonetheless gotten sicker, well, we clearly need to bleed him some more.

Remember, here in the U.S., Republicans are desperate to do exactly what the Irish have done -- respond to an economic downturn by taking money out of the economy, focusing on the deficit, fearing inflation that doesn't exist, and taking steps to reassure investors -- that don't actually reassure investors.

It is, as Krugman noted yesterday, "the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times."

Postscript: I'd add, by the way, that if U.S. policymakers decide to follow Dublin over this easily-avoidable cliff, it will be after Dublin followed the U.S. over the last cliff. Henry Farrell had a great piece on this in the most recent issue of the Washington Monthly, highlighting the Irish's combination of crony capitalism and worship of American-style market fundamentalism -- and where it got them.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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BOEHNER GOES OFF, SAYS DEMS 'SNUFFING OUT' AMERICA.... House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) chatted yesterday with the Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and apparently felt pretty good about himself.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, the Ohio Republican with his eye on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's gavel, said the tide is turning the GOP's way.

"The American people have written off the Democrats," Boehner said Monday in an interview with Tribune-Review editors and reporters. "They're willing to look at us again."

Well, "writing off" Dems seems more than a little excessive. More Americans consider themselves Democrats than Republicans; more Americans have a favorable opinion of Democrats than Republicans; more Americans trust Democrats to handle the biggest issues of the day than Republicans; and if one excludes Rasmussen, the generic congressional ballot looks pretty competitive for Democrats, too.

Boehner said the protests are emblematic of deep voter anger against Washington's leaders.

"They're snuffing out the America that I grew up in," Boehner said. "Right now, we've got more Americans engaged in their government than at any time in our history. There's a political rebellion brewing, and I don't think we've seen anything like it since 1776."

For a lawmaker who intends to be Speaker of the House, this is pretty irresponsible language. "Snuffing out"? Seriously?

The health care law passed in March "pushed most Americans over the edge," Boehner said.

Well, no, not really. Public attitudes towards the health care law have improved in recent months, and opposition has fallen. The Affordable Care Act may have pushing most Republican members of Congress over the edge, but not "most Americans."

Boehner proceeded to threaten to repeal health care reform, voiced his opposition to Wall Street reform, defended offshore coastal oil drilling and said Obama overreacted to the BP spill crisis, and voiced support for increasing the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement -- in order to get enough money to pay for the wars in the Middle East.

Quite an interview, to be sure.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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ANOTHER QUESTION FOR ANGLE (IF SHE'LL EVER ANSWER).... The New York Times has an item today about Sharron Angle, the extremist Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, and the lengths she'll go to avoid answering journalists' questions about her positions on issues. In one of the more notorious instances, Angle literally fled when a reporter asked about comments she made about an armed uprising against the United States.

The piece didn't necessarily draw any conclusions -- neither the candidate nor her campaign aides responded to inquiries; imagine that -- but Republican officials claim Angle will eventually get around to responding to questions.

That's something to look forward to. One of the newer questions is why Angle wants to deregulate the mining industry, given the recent Massey Energy disaster in West Virginia.

On May 26, a few weeks after BP's oil disaster began, U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV) told a local media outlet that her solution to America's energy policy would be to "deregulate" the oil industry. While both conservatives and liberals agree that this catastrophe could have been prevented if BP had invested more in safety and if regulators had been more attentive, few, if any, have taken the extreme view at there is actually too much regulation on the oil industry.

However, last Wednesday, while appearing on the hate-filled website ResistNet's Internet radio station, Angle reiterated her position and explained that if elected, she would ensure that "government isn't over-regulating" the "oil and petroleum industry," as well as the "mining industry." Angle appeared to attack her opponent, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), for supporting the Mining in the Parks Act, a law that prohibits mining in National Parks.

I realize that "regulation" is necessarily an offensive word to the far-right, but this really is crazy. Angle sees the BP oil spill disaster, which could have been prevented through regulation, and calls for deregulation. Angle sees the tragedy at Montcoal, which could have been prevented through regulation, and calls for deregulation.

Who are the voters who'll find this even remotely persuasive?

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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IS THERE ANY DOUBT HOW HATCH WOULD HAVE VOTED?.... Following up on the last item, Republicans spent a surprising amount of time yesterday going after a revered Supreme Court justice, the late Thurgood Marshall, as a way of undermining Elena Kagan. It's worth taking a moment to acknowledge a point that's probably pretty obvious.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) kept up the message of the day on MSNBC, taking a harsh tone towards the Marshall legacy. "Let's admire the man for the great things he did, but let's not walk over and wipe out the things that really didn't make sense as an obedient student of the practice of law," Hatch said, adding there was "no doubt he was an activist judge."

It prompted the Salt Lake Tribune's Thomas Burr to ask a reasonable question.

I caught up with Hatch after today's confirmation hearing to ask an obvious question: Would Hatch have voted for Marshall?

"Well, it's hard to say," Hatch said.

Hatch -- who, of course, wasn't in the Senate in 1967 when the vote took place -- said Marshall deserves "tremendous respect because he fought so hard for civil rights," and he should be honored for bringing about the transformation that allowed black Americans to be able to vote.

Still, he added, "When he got on the bench, there's no question that he at times went a very activist route. That can't be complemented [sic]. But you've got to compliment the man for the courage, and conviction and leadership he provided."

Let me give Hatch a hand with this. No, if Thurgood Marshall were nominated for the Supreme Court today, Hatch would probably filibuster him. It's not "hard to say"; it's easy to say. Marshall was a giant of 20th century liberalism, and today's Republican Party is practically hysterical in its conservatism. It's obviously speculative, but how can there be any doubt over how GOP senators would view Marshall?

Indeed, this can, and probably should, be taken much further. Would Hatch and his Republican colleagues have voted for Social Security? Or Medicare? Or the Clean Air Act? Or the parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that applied to private enterprise?

Would they have voted to confirm Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was approved on a 96 to 3 vote in 1993?

Would they have voted to nominate Ronald Reagan for the GOP presidential nomination? Or H.W. Bush? Or Eisenhower?

The answers to all of these questions seem pretty obvious. It's not "hard to say" at all. In each instance, the answer is "of course not."

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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WHAT DID THURGOOD MARSHALL EVER DO TO THE GOP?.... In early May, soon after President Obama nominated Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court, we learned that Kagan had clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, whom she considers a personal hero. Inexplicably, the Republican National Committee considers this an area ripe for attack.

In particular, Marshall had characterized the Constitution as having been "defective" as it related to issues like slavery. Republicans hoped to use this to attack Kagan, and the RNC's Michael Steele demanded to know whether Kagan's reverence for Marshall included "support for statements suggesting that the Constitution 'as originally drafted and conceived,' was 'defective.'"

When it appeared the RNC's line was indirectly pro-slavery, the party quickly dropped the criticism. But for some reason, Republicans haven't given up on their Marshall-bashing.

As confirmation hearings opened Monday afternoon, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee took the unusual approach of attacking Kagan because she admired the late justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked more than two decades ago.

"Justice Marshall's judicial philosophy," said Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, "is not what I would consider to be mainstream." Kyl -- the lone member of the panel in shirtsleeves for the big event -- was ready for a scrap. Marshall "might be the epitome of a results-oriented judge," he said.

It was, to say the least, a curious strategy to go after Marshall, the iconic civil rights lawyer who successfully argued Brown vs. Board of Education. Did Republicans think it would help their cause to criticize the first African American on the Supreme Court, a revered figure who has been celebrated with an airport, a postage stamp and a Broadway show? The guy is a saint -- literally. Marshall this spring was added to the Episcopal Church's list of "Holy Women and Holy Men," which the Episcopal Diocese of New York says "is akin to being granted sainthood."

With Kagan's confirmation hearings expected to last most of the week, Republicans may still have time to make cases against Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Gandhi.

I often find Republican ideology to be rather twisted, but it simply never occurred to me that GOP senators would spend the first day of the confirmation hearings condemning one of the most venerated Supreme Court justices in American history.

But condemn they did. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) declared Marshall "a judicial activist." So did Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Marshall's approach to the law "does not comport with the proper role of a judge or judicial method."

Better yet, this was a coordinated attack -- Republican aides circulated materials to reporters during the hearing detailing all of the things the GOP doesn't like about Thurgood Marshall.

Christina Bellantoni put together an interesting count -- while President Obama's name came up 14 times yesterday, Thurgood Marshall's name came up 35 times.

It's quite a strategy Republicans have put together here, isn't it? Unable to come up with a coherent line of attack to undermine this nominee, the GOP has decided to turn its guns on an iconic civil rights attorney and one of the more celebrated American heroes of the 20th century.

And the Republican Party's outreach to minority communities suffers yet another setback.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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WALL STREET REFORM IN PERIL.... It's not at all unusual for Congress, on the verge of a major legislative breakthrough, to start getting cold feet. Lawmakers start feeling antsy and decide they have disproportionate leverage, putting passage in doubt. Hill watchers have come to expect some 11th-hour wrangling.

That said, after months of work, a major Wall Street reform package, which seemed almost certain to pass, is now in very deep trouble.

The death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) instantly made passage considerably more difficult, given the non-existent margin of error. Democrats hoped Sen. Russ Feingold might make up for Byrd's passing by supporting the policy, but the Wisconsin Democrat announced yesterday he will vote with Republicans.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said Monday he would vote against advancing Wall Street overhaul legislation. [...]

"As I have indicated for some time now, my test for the financial regulatory reform bill is whether it will prevent another crisis," Feingold said in a statement. "The conference committee's proposal fails that test and for that reason I will not vote to advance it."

To clarify, Feingold isn't just talking about opposing the legislation; he's also promising to side with far-right Republicans on a filibuster, preventing the Senate from even voting on the bill. The consequence of Feingold's support for GOP obstructionism may kill the legislation, leaving an industry regulatory structure in place that nearly collapsed the global economy. Feingold, in effect, prefers a broken status quo to a reform bill he believes doesn't go far enough -- which is exactly the outcome sought by the Wall Street lobbyists the senator claims to oppose.

Of course, it's not just Feingold. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is prepared to kill the bill over a modest bank fee that would help pay for the broader reform effort. Yesterday, Maine Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Olympia Snowe (R) said they're also prepared to walk away from the bill over the bank fee. Making matters even worse, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said he's "concerned" about the fee, suggesting his vote is far from secure, too. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who supported the GOP filibuster last month, is non-committal, for now, as is Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who backed the filibuster but supported final passage.

Remember, to break a Republican filibuster in May, the majority had exactly 60 votes, which included three Republicans (Brown, Collins, and Snowe). Byrd's death puts the number at 59, meaning the majority will need to make up at least one vote somewhere. Instead, yesterday, the bill was losing votes, not gaining them.

The goal has long been to have the final bill on the president's desk by the 4th of July. That now appears increasingly unlikely.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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June 28, 2010

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* This could get even uglier: "Federal officials are increasingly concerned that high waves from Tropical Storm Alex may interfere with the oil cleanup effort in the Gulf of Mexico, National Incident Commander Thad Allen told reporters in a Monday afternoon briefing."

* Major 2nd Amendment ruling: "The Second Amendment's guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision." More on this from Scott Lemieux, and at his brand-new, stand-alone blog, Adam Serwer.

* Sarbanes-Oxley also fared well at the high court: "The first group established by Congress to regulate the accounting industry survived a constitutional challenge on Monday, emerging only with its members' having a little less job security.... In its ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which established the board and sought to reform corporate America after the Enron and WorldCom accounting scandals." It may seem unrelated, but this matters to legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act.

* Not inspiring confidence: "Top officials in President Hamid Karzai's government have repeatedly derailed corruption investigations of politically connected Afghans, according to U.S. officials who have provided Afghanistan's authorities with wiretapping technology and other assistance in efforts to crack down on endemic graft."

* And in related news: "The chairman of a key House subcommittee said Monday that she would strip $3.9 billion in aid for Afghanistan from next year's spending bill over concerns about rampant graft in the country and alleged efforts by President Hamid Karzai's government to derail corruption probes."

* Shades of the Cold War: Russian spies arrested in the U.S.

* I'm genuinely delighted to see so many Senate Democrats dismiss the "umpire analogy" as it relates to the Supreme Court.

* Not encouraging at all: "Leaders of the world's biggest economies agreed Sunday on a timetable for cutting deficits and halting the growth of their debt, but also acknowledged the need to move carefully so that reductions in spending did not set back the fragile global recovery."

* Slightly improved: "Consumer spending in the U.S. rose in May more than forecast, a sign households are gaining confidence in the recovery and the job market." Personal incomes were up a little, too.

* Former Vice President Dick Cheney was hospitalized over the weekend for medical reasons, and was released earlier today.

* The White House hasn't given up on immigration reform.

* Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) of Hawaii becomes the new president pro tempore of the Senate.

* The Monthly's Daniel Luzer interviews James Kvaal, the next deputy undersecretary of education.

* For all the bizarre theories about the now-defunct Journolist, I can personally attest to the fact that the truth is far more mundane.

* In light of the Dave Weigel mess last week, some Washington Post insiders trashed in-house bloggers to Jeffrey Goldberg. Don't miss Greg's Sargent's beautiful response.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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'THE LAST TIME ANY PRESIDENT DID THIS MUCH IN OFFICE, BOOZE WAS ILLEGAL'.... Last week, I mentioned in passing that President Obama's record of accomplishments, after just 17 month in office, is as impressive as anything we've seen in generations. It prompted Howard Kurtz to ask, "Will the Beltway pundits reassess Obama's presidency once he signs the banking bill? Don't hold your breath."

I agree; it's unlikely the Beltway pundits will pursue this. Indeed, the establishment consensus is pushing aggressively in the other direction. But I'm noticing the larger observation about Obama's historic record is nevertheless becoming at least a little more common.

Peter Beinart noted today that for all the challenges making life difficult for the president right now, "he keeps racking up the wins." Indeed, Beinart makes the compelling case that Obama has recorded more significant milestones in 18 months than the last two Democratic administrations achieved in 12 years.

[E]ven if Obama never manages another legislative victory, he'll already have pulled off one of the most impressive opening acts in American political history. [...]

The larger truth is this: Even as Republicans claim political momentum, the country is in the midst of a major shift leftward when it comes to the role of government. That shift is playing itself out from infrastructure to health care to finance and perhaps eventually to the environment. No one knows whether these shifts will revive the U.S. economy and lay the foundation for stable, broad-based growth, just as no one could predict the impact of the rightward turn in American policy in the early 1980s. Decades later, liberals and conservatives still disagree about whether Reagan's reforms changed America for good or ill. What they don't disagree about is the fact that they fundamentally changed America. Those changes made Reagan one of the most consequential presidents in American history. Eighteen months in, it's a good bet that historians will say the same about Barack Obama.

Beinart isn't the only one making this observation.

Take Rachel Maddow, for instance.

If you missed "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Friday, you missed a similar assessment, considering the Obama presidency in this larger context.

The clip is worth watching in its entirety, but Rachel's recitation of some of Obama's greatest hits revealed a pretty impressive list.

"Even before today's historic Wall Street reform agreement, President Obama, of course, did what politicians have been trying to do for more than 60 years. He passed health reform, which, for the first time, establishes government responsibility for the health care of American citizens. Consider also the stimulus bill. It didn't just throw a lasso around our entire economy and yank and yank it back from the brink, it also pumped about $100 billion into the crumbling embarrassment of our national infrastructure and transportation system. It was the largest investment in infrastructure since Ike. For solving our country's energy problems, something Obama has compared to man walking on the moon, it contained about $60 billion in spending and tax incentives for renewable and clean energy, also a historic investment. It also included an unheralded but giant investment in science and tech, amping up the budgets at NASA, the National Science Foundation, and an experimental energy research agency that was created under President George W. Bush, but never funded until now.

"President Obama also expanded state kids' health insurance to cover another four million kids. He signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act amending the 1964 civil rights act for equal pay for equal work. He signed a nuclear arms deal with Russia that would reduce both countries' arsenals by a third. He created a new global nonproliferation initiative to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. He set forth an international way forward on that radical left-wing proposition of Ronald Reagan, a world without nuclear weapons.

"Then there are the legislative and policy achievements that don't just build on previously-set precedents, but set new ones. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act. It had languished in Congress for years. The Food and Drug Administration permitted for the first time to regulate tobacco. Better late than never, he dismantled the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service, broke it into three parts so that the folks who collect money from oil leases aren't the same ones regulating the industry. And now, it will actually investigate the industry that it was busy schtupping and doing drugs with during the last administration. Obama fired two wartime commanding generals in little over a year.

"He overhauled the astonishing stupidity of the student loan system in which banks were being subsidized to give loans that were guaranteed by the government anyway, a license to print money. That was ended in the savings put toward actual aid to students. He canceled a weapons program that was bloated, unnecessary and totally irrelevant to either of our current wars, the F-22. Why even mention the cancellation of a single weapons system? Because that never happens. Weapons systems never get canceled. The F-22 did, which is itself a miracle."

And Rachel didn't even mention the administration's successful efforts on China revaluing its currency, the advances on expanded stem-cell research, the national service bill, and the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years.

Her conclusion rang especially true:

"In each of these achievements and in the list of things he has yet to do -- Don't Ask, Don't Tell, closing Guantanamo -- in each of these things, there is room for liberal disappointment. I sing a bittersweet lullaby to the lost public option when I go to sleep at night.

"But presidential legacies are complex. Not even the Reagan administration's legacy is pure as the conservative-driven snow. But Taegan Goddard at CQ Politics was right today about nothing this big happening since FDR. The list of legislative accomplishments of this president in half a term even before energy reform which he's probably going to get to is, to quote the vice president, 'a big freaking deal.' Love this administration or hate it, this president is getting a lot done. The last time any president did this much in office, booze was illegal. If you believe in policy, if you believe in government that addresses problems, cheers to that."


Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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WHAT DOES KYL HAVE AGAINST 'ORDINARY CITIZENS' AND 'UNDERDOGS'?.... The Senate confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination got underway this morning, and today has so far proven to be mind-numbingly dull a little slow. What we've seen are opening statements from Judiciary Committee members -- all of whom seem to have already made up their minds -- and nothing else.

But there are some gems to be gleaned from some of the mini-speeches senators have delivered. Greg Sargent, for example, highlighted some fascinating comments from Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R.), in which the right-wing Arizonan took on the very concept of judges looking out for the defenseless.

"Judge Sotomayor explicitly rejected the 'empathy' standard espoused by President Obama -- a standard where 'legal process alone' is deemed insufficient to decide the so-called 'hard cases'; a standard where the 'critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge's heart.'

"Perhaps because his first nominee failed to defend the judicial philosophy that he was promoting, the President has repackaged it. Now, he says that judges should have 'a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people ... and know that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.' [...]

"Kagan wrote a tribute to Justice Marshall in which she said in his view it was the role of the courts and interpreting the Constitution to protect the people who went unprotected by every other organ of government. The court existed primarily to fulfill this mission. And later, when she was working in the Clinton administration, she encouraged a colleague working on a speech about Justice Marshall to emphasize his unshakable determination to protect the underdog."

I suppose I'm not the target audience here, but this reads like praise to me. President Obama thinks jurists should have "a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people"? That sounds like a principle with real value. "Powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens"? Sign me up. Looking at the courts as champions of those "unprotected by every other organ of government"? Preach it, brother. Thurgood Marshall had an "unshakable determination to protect the underdog"? No wonder he's a national hero.

Except, of course, Kyl meant all of this as a condemnation. What I perceive as compliments were intended as derision. Kyl was repackaging progressive principles and commitments to protect the defenseless as concepts to be ignored and rejected. Indeed, the subtext wasn't subtle -- to embrace these ideas makes one unsuitable for the bench, at least as far Kyl is concerned.

Maybe my perceptions of public attitudes are off, but I don't imagine most Americans would recoil at the notion of a federal judge looking out for the voices of ordinary citizens, before they're drowned out by powerful interests. Nor do I think the American mainstream's sensibilities are offended by Thurgood Marshall's interest in protecting the underdog.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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THE NEXT ANGLE/PAUL.... Nevada's Sharron Angle and Kentucky's Rand Paul are noteworthy because they're extraordinary -- it's simply not common for radical ideologues on the fringes of American political thought to win major-party primaries for the U.S. Senate. Candidates like Angle and Paul come around from time to time, and generate some extremist excitement, but cooler heads traditionally prevail. This year, Angle and Paul actually won their respective primaries, and may yet join the Senate.

But what's especially important right now is that while Angle and Paul collectively set the bar for painfully ridiculous 21st-century Senate candidates, there are others who may qualify for their right-wing contingent.

In Wisconsin, there's a case to be made that GOP Senate hopeful Ron Johnson fits comfortably in Angle/Paul fringe. In Florida, some have made the case that Marco Rubio is of their ilk. In Pennsylvania, former Rep. Pat Toomey is clearly hanging onto the far-right cliff of his party.

And there's Colorado's Ken Buck, who is arguably the strongest choice to complete a crazed triumvirate with Sharron Angle and Rand Paul.

He's questioned the constitutionality of Social Security, toyed with phasing out the federal student loan program and spoken of lowering the wall that separates church and state.

Meet Ken Buck, the Colorado Republican Senate primary candidate who looks like the next Rand Paul or Sharron Angle.... Like Paul and Angle, whose post-nomination rollouts were notably rocky, the upstart Weld County district attorney carries with him similar made-for-cable-TV political baggage. And like those two, Buck's more unconventional statements haven't received a full vetting yet.

Democrats promise -- and Republicans fully expect -- that will change if Buck continues his trajectory against former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton in the Aug. 10 primary contest.

Buck hasn't been shy about trashing Social Security, calling for the end of the federal student loan program, announcing his opposition to church-state separation, and even supporting "Birther" craziness.

Buck, of course, is being rewarded for his extremism. The Republican establishment recruited former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton into the race, and considered her the likely nominee. But Buck has struck a chord with the party's hysterical base, and appears well positioned to defeat Norton in the GOP primary.

Whether the statewide mainstream -- in any of the states with right-wing candidates -- finds this brand of extremism compelling remains to be seen.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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WILL SCOTT BROWN KILL WALL STREET REFORM?.... Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) record on the financial regulatory reform package is less than pretty.

In April, he said he simply couldn't support the legislation, in part because the bill is "going to be an extra layer of regulation." Brown was apparently unaware of the fact that an extra layer of regulation was the point of the legislation. The financial industry went unchecked and nearly destroyed the global economy. That's why the legislation is being considered -- to bring oversight and accountability through regulation.

Soon after, Brown was asked what kind of changes he'd like to see to the bill. He told a reporter, "Well, what areas do you think should be fixed? I mean, you know, tell me."

In May, Brown came around and voted to break a Republican filibuster and in support of final passage. The bill proceeded to a conference committee, which wrapped up its work on Friday, and final passage could come as early as this week.

Brown, however, is now weighing whether to try to kill the bill.

The Massachusetts Republican worked behind closed doors last week, secretly pushing a provision to exempt some major Massachusetts financial firms from new regulations. Democrats, needing Brown's vote, acquiesced.

Brown is now poised to betray his colleagues anyway, saying he can't vote for any bill that raises any tax on anyone or anything. Pat Garofalo flagged this CQ item.

On Friday, Brown questioned a provision added to the bill late in negotiations that would charge large banks and hedge funds a fee to generate as much as $19 billion to help cover the cost of the bill. "My fear is that these costs would be passed onto consumers in the form of higher bank, ATM and credit card fees and put a strain on lending at the worst possible time for our economy," he said in a press release. "I've said repeatedly that I cannot support any bill that raises taxes."

Just to be clear, Brown is prepared to kill one of the most important bills of this Congress, bringing accountability and safeguards to an industry that nearly destroyed the global economy, because it will include a modest fee on banks that pays for the legislation.

This from a guy who doesn't even seem to understand the legislation he's voting on.

With Brown balking and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) having passed away, is the legislation actually in trouble? It's certainly possible. Last month, to overcome a GOP filibuster, Dems relied on four Republican votes -- Brown, Grassley, Snowe, and Collins -- which made 60. Without Brown and Byrd, that's 58, which is obviously two short of an absurd mandatory supermajority.

Of course, two Democratic senators -- Cantwell and Feingold -- voted with Republicans to filibuster the legislation, because they deemed it too weak. If they can be convinced to allow the Senate to vote on the legislation -- hardly an unreasonable request -- Dems would only need two of the four GOP senators who backed the bill in May to overcome the Republican obstructionism.

If not, passage that seemed obvious on Friday may be delayed for weeks -- all because Republicans won't let the Senate vote up or down to bring some safeguards to Wall Street. That voters are prepared to reward this party is a never-ending source of amazement.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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WHAT DOES BARBER MEAN BY 'WE'?.... Right-wing congressional candidate Rick Barber in Alabama's 2nd caused a bit of a stir two weeks ago, releasing a bizarre video in which the agitated conservative had an imaginary "conversation" with Sam Adams, Ben Franklin, and George Washington. It was rather painful to watch -- Barber came pretty close to not only calling for the impeachment of the president, but also for a violent uprising against the United States government.

Hoping to duplicate the "success" of the first ad -- Barber's video was widely seen, though mostly by those who found him ridiculous -- the right-wing Alabamian is back with another clip, and this time, he's having an imaginary "conversation" with Abraham Lincoln.

Barber says, "Hey Abe, if someone is forced to work for months to pay taxes so that a total stranger can get a free meal, medical procedure or a bailout, what's that called? What's it called when one man is forced to work for another?" The actor pretending to be Lincoln replies, "Slavery."

At that point, viewers are bombarded with images of slaves and concentration camps, including those from Nazi Germany.

"We shed a lot of blood to stop that in the past, didn't we?" Barber adds. "Now look at us. We are all becoming slaves to our government."

The spot is a special kind of stupid, but let's just consider three quick points. The first is, what does Barber mean by "we"? Alabama didn't "shed a lot of blood to stop" slavery; Alabama shed a lot of blood to maintain slavery. Indeed, Barber is engaged in this "conversation" with the president Alabama considered responsible for "Northern Aggression." As Eric Kleefeld noted, "Indeed, it's quite interesting to see a Southern right-winger putting words into Lincoln's mouth on this subject."

Second, Lincoln was responsible for imposing the first federal income tax. If he considered the tax "slavery," Lincoln had a funny way of showing it.

And third, I'm sure there are some folks who'll find Barber's hysterics compelling, and consider tax rates to be "slavery," but tax rates are currently at their lowest levels since the days of Truman. I shudder to think how violent Barber might be prepared to get if Democrats proposed putting taxes rates back to where they were when, say, Reagan was president.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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SUPREME COURT MAKES THE RIGHT CALL ON DISCRIMINATION.... There was quite a bit of activity this morning at the U.S. Supreme Court, in what I believe is the last day of the session, and John Paul Stevens' final day as a justice.

The court's ruling on a Chicago gun law will get most of the attention -- we'll get to that one later -- but I was especially interested in a case called Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. The case may be familiar to regular readers of my "This Week in God" Saturday feature, but to briefly review, this was the year's biggest church-state case.

It's a pretty straightforward dispute. The University of California's Hastings College of the Law funds and recognizes student groups, but places limits on eligibility -- student groups can't discriminate on the basis of "race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation."

The chapter of the Christian Legal Society refused to allow LGBT students to join -- the group's materials decry "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle" -- and required members to sign a statement of faith. Hastings said the Christian Legal Society could still hold on-campus meetings, but could not receive funding and official recognition.

The CLS filed suit, claiming "discrimination" against their conservative Christian beliefs. The school argued that it is not legally required to subsidize groups that show prejudice towards other students.

Today, the Supreme Court sided with the school.

An ideologically split Supreme Court ruled Monday that a law school can legally deny recognition to a Christian student group that won't let gays join. [...]

The court on a 5-4 judgment upheld the lower court rulings saying the Christian group's First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise were not violated by the college's decision.

"In requiring CLS -- in common with all other student organizations -- to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the 5-4 majority opinion for the court's liberals and moderate Anthony Kennedy. "CLS, it bears emphasis, seeks not parity with other organizations, but a preferential exemption from Hastings' policy."

The court's conservative bloc -- Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas -- were less than pleased, and their dissent complained bitterly about "freedom of expression" being overridden by "prevailing standards of political correctness in our country's institutions of higher learning."

Many universities feared a ruling in CLS's favor would mandate subsidies for all kinds of fringe and extremist groups, and the decision may likely create new rules for campus groups nationwide.

It should generate a significant religious right freak-out.

The entire ruling is online here (pdf).

Steve Benen 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In Florida, disgraced former health care executive Rick Scott's (R) gubernatorial campaign is running into something of a "paradox." He wants to tout "his stature and experience as the get-things-done CEO of what was once the nation's largest for-profit healthcare company, while also trying to distance himself from Columbia/HCA's notorious legacy of fraud."

* While there are competing results out of North Carolina's Senate race, SurveyUSA shows incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) leading Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D) by 10 points, 50% to 40%.

* In Massachusetts, the latest Boston Globe poll shows Gov. Deval Patrick (D) leading in a three-way race with 38% support. Charles Baker (R) is second with 31%, followed by Timothy Cahill (I) trailing with 9%.

* It's Rasmussen, so take the results with a grain of salt, but the pollster shows Sen. Patty Murray (D) tied with former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) in the state of Washington, with both candidates at 47%.

* In South Carolina, Rasmussen shows Nikki Haley (R) leading Vincent Sheheen (D) in this year's gubernatorial race, 52% to 40%.

* Speaking of South Carolina, apparent Senate candidate Alvin Greene (D) is facing an ongoing criminal investigation. It's not clear if he can afford an attorney.

* I don't imagine he's happy about it, but Sen. John McCain has agreed to debate former Rep. J.D. Hayworth twice in advance of Arizona's Republican Senate primary.

* Rep. Larry Kissell's (D-N.C.) re-election prospects improved late last week when former Democratic congressional staffer Wendell Fant announced he will not run as an independent in the district.

* And in 2012 news, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, now a Fox News personality, apparently considers himself the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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A FORGIVING ELECTORATE IN THE BAY STATE.... Evaluating lawmakers tends to be a subjective endeavor, but when I take a look at Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), I see a senator who's gotten off to a very rough start after about a half-year in office. The senator has, to be sure, benefited from undue hype, but he's struggled badly with his actual responsibilities.

After all, we've learned this year that Brown doesn't understand the stimulus, doesn't understand financial regulatory reform, doesn't understand health care reform, doesn't understand economic policy, and doesn't understand energy policy.

He's voted with the far-right to strip the EPA of its authority on climate change; he's voted with the far-right on health care; he's voted with the far-right on extending unemployment benefits; and he's voted with the far-right on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." At one point, Brown reflected on a deranged Texas man who flew a plane into a building, and told a national television audience that the terrorist's motivations reminded him of his own Senate campaign.

By all appearances, Brown just isn't ready for prime-time. But what I can't help but find striking is that his constituents just don't seem to mind.

US Senator Scott Brown, who only months ago was a little-known figure even within the tiny band of Republicans in the state Senate, not only catapulted to national stature with his upset US Senate victory, but is today the most popular officeholder in Massachusetts, according to a Boston Globe poll.

After less than five months in Washington, Brown outpolls such Democratic stalwarts as President Obama and US Senator John F. Kerry in popularity, the poll indicates. He gets high marks not only from Republicans, but even a plurality of Democrats views him favorably.

For context, Kerry's favorable rating in Massachusetts is 52%, Obama's is 54%, and Brown's is 55%. That's not an approval rating, but is a gauge of personal popularity.

I guess this is a reminder that voting records and on-the-job performance are nice, but in politics, charm and appearance often matter more.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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PARTY OVER PLANET.... With the White House scheduled to host a meeting tomorrow with key senators over an energy/climate bill, it's worth considering how nearly impossible it's likely to be to strike a deal to address global warming. The problem isn't that Republicans have always opposed cap-and-trade; the problem is that those who've been reasonable in the past have changed their minds.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) co-sponsored a bill with cap-and-trade in 2008. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) voted for cap-and-trade in the state legislature. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is on record supporting carbon limits on power plants. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) has called for greater U.S. leadership on global warming. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) helped write the cap-and-trade language that Senate Democrats support right now.

And in perhaps the most dramatic example, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), during his national campaign less than two years ago, promised voters he would "establish ... a cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions." The official McCain/Palin position added, "A cap-and-trade system harnesses human ingenuity in the pursuit of alternatives to carbon-based fuels."

So, how many of these same lawmakers are prepared to consider a similar measure now? Apparently, none.

President Barack Obama needs a couple of Senate Republicans to play ball if he's going to pass a cap on greenhouse gases this year.

But few, if any, GOP senators seem willing to work with him on a plan their leaders have dubbed a "national energy tax" -- despite the fact that some of them have seemed supportive of the idea before. [...]

"No one in our conference supports a national energy tax," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Lindsey Graham added, "In a partisan atmosphere, it's hard to help the other side without being accused of aiding and comforting the enemy."

So, our existing energy framework will continue to deteriorate; American competitiveness will suffer; and global climate change will become a more serious crisis ... but Lindsey Graham may not have to endure some name-calling for working with senators from the other party.

In order for our country to maintain the capacity to solve problems, we need two political parties, not one, that are prepared to work in good faith towards finding solutions to shared challenges. We have nothing of the kind -- and the consequences will likely be severe for all of us.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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SOMEONE GET CORNYN A COPY OF THE BUDGET.... Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was on CNN yesterday, sharing some thoughts about Democrats.

"Well, I am waiting for this administration to take responsibility for the job it volunteered for, and our Democratic colleagues who are in the majority and who run the show in Congress.

"The fact of the matter was that in 2008, the last year President Bush was in office, the deficit was 3.2 percent of the gross domestic product. Now it's about 10 percent. So it has more than tripled with $2.3 trillion of additional debt.

"People are tired."

I can't speak for "people" in general, but I know I'm tired of nonsensical talking points.

Cornyn's memory isn't just short; it's factually wrong. The budget deficit Bush/Cheney left for Democrats to clean up was $1.3 trillion. It's unclear exactly what this year's shortfall will be, but it's likely to be around $1.5 trillion. To suggest that the deficit has "more than tripled" is to suggest that John Cornyn is strikingly bad at arithmetic.

Just as importantly, for Cornyn to blame Democrats for the size of the deficit is demonstrably ridiculous -- Bush's policies are the single biggest factor in the budget shortfall, and will remain the single biggest contributor to the deficit over the next decade.

And even more important still, the deficit matters, but not as much as generating economic growth and creating jobs. Cornyn is obsessed with one of the messes he helped to create (the budget deficit), while ignoring the other mess he helped to create (a painfully weak economy and job market). Focusing on deficit reduction when the deficit is supposed to be high reflects priorities that are flawed to the point of comedy.

The whole argument is farcical. Cornyn wanted tax cuts for the wealthy, so he increased the deficit. He supported a war in Afghanistan, so he increased the deficit some more. He wanted a war in Iraq, so he increased the deficit some more. Cornyn backed a new national education policy and an expansion of Medicare, but he didn't want to pay for them, so he increased the deficit some more.

And now Cornyn wants Democrats to "take responsibility" and work towards balancing the budget? It'd be hilarious if it weren't so pathetic. He got us in this mess; he doesn't get to whine about the speed with which Dems clean it up.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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BARBOUR'S PRIORITIES.... Truth be told, I don't really expect all officials in leadership roles to necessarily curtail unrelated activities during a crisis. I don't care if President Obama goes golfing during the oil spill; I didn't care that President Bush cleared brush during two wars; I didn't even care about BP's Tony Hayward's recent yachting excursion.

If those in positions of authority are missing key meetings, or if unrelated activities are interfering with their duties, it's a problem. If not, folks can blow off steam however they choose.

That said, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), who's done his level best to politicize the hell out of the ongoing disaster in the Gulf, seems surprisingly oblivious to appearances. Late last week, the right-wing governor, whose lobbying business took on oil companies as generous clients, continued to blast federal officials for not doing enough to address the crisis.

But as oil washed ashore in quantity along the Mississippi Coast, Barbour, who had boasted that oil would not reach his shore, wasn't even in his state. (thanks to V.S. for the heads-up)

Gov. Haley Barbour rushed back to Mississippi from Washington early on Friday upon news that large amounts of oil is threatening the Coast, and said his national political work is not distracting him from guiding the Magnolia State through the BP disaster.

Barbour on Thursday held Washington fund-raisers for the Republican Governors Association, which he heads, and for one of his political action committees, which is raising money for GOP congressional candidates. His fund-raising is receiving some national media attention and fueling speculation that he is already gearing up for a run for president in 2012.

"The most important thing right now is the 2010 elections," Barbour said. "We can't wait until 2012 to take back our country."

I'd feel better about Barbour's priorities if he thought the most important thing right now is dealing with the oil spill disaster and mitigating its effects on the region.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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WHAT KAGAN CAN EXPECT.... There's been some talk about delaying the start of the confirmation hearings in light of Sen. Robert Byrd's (D-W.Va.) passing*, but the Senate Judiciary Committee may well proceed this morning with Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination.

Senate Republicans have struggled of late to come up with a coherent line of attack -- though, as of yesterday, there was still plenty of rhetoric about a possible filibuster -- and today, a leading Republican senator trotted out a new argument.

Judiciary Committee member Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) wrote in a column Sunday evening that "it is reasonable to worry that [Elana] Kagan is a judicial activist simply because President Obama nominated her." [...]

"The president's judicial nominees over the past 17 months show an unmistakable determination to create a more activist federal judiciary," Cornyn writes of Obama's picks for lower federal courts.

I kind of like this, in large part because the argument reflects a certain degree of honesty. Why don't Republicans like Kagan for the high court? Because President Obama nominated her. Cornyn's concession makes this plain -- if the president chose her, she necessarily has to be considered suspect.

This kind of partisanship is the opposite of substantive criticism, but I do enjoy the argument's circular quality -- Republicans are inclined to oppose Obama's nominees because they're Obama's nominees.

Likewise, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued on "Meet the Press" yesterday that he's "disturbed" by Kagan's "obvious steadfast and even zealous opposition to military recruiters." Host David Gregory didn't inquire further -- except to ask, "Is that disqualifying?" -- and that's a shame. In reality, as has been discussed repeatedly and even acknowledged by other Republicans, McCain's argument is contradicted by reality.

It's going to be a long week.

* Update: It looks like the hearings will get underway today, as scheduled.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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SEN. ROBERT BYRD DIES AT AGE 92.... An extraordinary life and historic career came to an end overnight, as Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia died in a Washington-area hospital. The accomplished 92-year-old senator was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history, and had an unrivaled knowledge of and appreciation for institutional history.

The Washington Post's obituary is well worth reading, and I'm also including a video put together by the Senate Democratic caucus last year, when Byrd broke the record as the longest serving federal lawmaker.

Starting in 1958, Mr. Byrd was elected to the Senate an unprecedented nine times. He wrote a four-volume history of the body, was majority leader twice and chaired the powerful Appropriations Committee, controlling the nation's purse strings, and yet the positions of influence he held did not convey the astonishing arc of his life.

A child of the West Virginia coal fields, Mr. Byrd rose from the grinding poverty that has plagued his state since before the Great Depression, overcame an early and ugly association with the Ku Klux Klan, worked his way through night school and by force of will, determination and iron discipline made himself a person of authority and influence in Washington.

Although he mined extraordinary amounts of federal largesse for his perennially impoverished state, his reach extended beyond the bounds of the Mountain State. [...]

He was known for his stentorian orations seasoned with biblical and classical allusions and took pride in being the Senate's resident constitutional scholar, keeping a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket. He saw himself both as institutional memory and as guardian of the Senate's prerogatives.

By any reasonable measure, that institutional memory is simply irreplaceable. What's more, Byrd's passing represents the end of an era, and his stature and grace will be missed.

The day clearly belongs to the legendary senator, but given the larger circumstances on Capitol Hill, it's only natural to consider the implications of Byrd's Senate vacancy, as the Democratic caucus slips from 58 to 57 members (with two independents).

Byrd's replacement will be named by West Virginia's Democratic governor, Joe Manchin, but as Nate Silver noted yesterday, it's not entirely straightforward. Under state law, if the vacancy this year is declared before July 3 (this upcoming Saturday), West Virginia will hold a special election this November to elect a senator to fill the remaining two years on Byrd's current term. If the vacancy is declared after July 3, Manchin can appoint an interim senator who would serve through 2012, and there would be no election this year.

Complicating the political considerations, Steve Kornacki explained that Manchin will likely be interested in the Senate seat, though he has vowed not to appoint himself. It's in his interest, then, not to declare the seat vacant until after Saturday, after which point Manchin can name a placeholder until the 2012 election.

But regardless of those electoral consequences, Byrd's storied life and career are nothing short of remarkable. He will not soon be forgotten.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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June 27, 2010

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... When President Obama explained this week why he was relieving Gen. Stanley McChrystal of command in Afghanistan, the president said the conduct represented in the Rolling Stone piece "undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system." He added that democracy depends on "respect for civilian control" over the "chain of command."

It was a good reminder about a bedrock principle of our system of government. Someone might want to remind Dianne Feinstein.

A senior Senate Democrat on foreign policy issues said on Sunday that the president's pledged July 2011 timeline for a troop drawdown in Afghanistan was malleable to the requests of military command.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cali.), whose hawkish grounding has angered progressive in the past, likely facilitated that anger again, when she told "Fox News Sunday" that if General David Petraeus asked for more troops next summer, he should be granted them.

"I would say give it to him, absolutely," said the California Democrat.

The California Democrat added that Petraeus should also have influence in changing the civilian U.S. leadership in Afghanistan -- as she put it, "If the team isn't right I think Gen. Petraeus' views should be taken into consideration" -- and basically suggested the general should have control over practically the entire policy.

"I think we put all of our eggs in the Petraeus basket at this stage," Feinstein said.

Maybe the president's comments about democracy depending on "respect for civilian control" over the "chain of command" weren't quite clear enough?

Here's hoping Petraeus knows better than to believe the unrealistic hype.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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PANETTA EXPLAINS WHAT 'WINNING' LOOKS LIKE.... CIA Director Leon Panetta sat down for a pretty interesting interview this morning with ABC's Jake Tapper, who asked a question that often goes unasked: after nine years, what, exactly, does "winning" in Afghanistan look like?

"Winning in Afghanistan is having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safehaven for Al Qaeda or for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al Qaeda," Panetta told host Jake Tapper. "That's really the measure of success for the United States."

"Our purpose, our whole mission there, is to make sure that Al Qaeda never finds another safehaven from which to attack this country. That's the fundamental goal of why the United States is there," he said. "And the measure of success for us is: do you have an Afghanistan that is stable enough to make sure that never happens."

That sounds straightforward enough. Indeed, it's always been the most compelling rationale against withdrawal -- we leave, the Karzai government falls, the Taliban seizes Afghanistan in its entirety, and al Qaeda renews its base of operations. In other words, as the argument goes, our departure would create an Afghanistan that was practically identical to the one that existed before October 2001. "Winning," then, is the opposite -- no Taliban rule, no al Qaeda safe haven. Got it.

But even if we put aside the fact that the Taliban already has control of much of Afghanistan, making "victory" that much more elusive, the measure of success is still dependent on a Karzai government that can function, deliver services with competence and without corruption, and be viewed as legitimate by Afghans. And by that measure, hope is elusive.

Fred Kaplan explained this week, "If the government is incompetent, corrupt, or widely viewed by the people as illegitimate, then a counterinsurgency campaign -- no matter how brilliantly planned or valiantly fought -- is futile.... The U.S. military is doing its part; the Afghan government isn't."

Take the ongoing campaign in Helmand province. In March, Gen. McChrystal moved 15,000 Marines into Marja, a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, with the goal of killing or sweeping out the insurgents, then moving in what he called "government in a box."

Two things went wrong: First, the Taliban, though initially swept out, kept coming back, especially at night. Second, and more to the point, the government-in-a-box never arrived. It never existed in the first place, in part because an Afghan government -- of which this was to be a mobilized chunk -- doesn't really exist, either.

Polls suggest that the Taliban are not popular among the Afghan people. They have made inroads in recent years, however, because they provide security, services, and justice -- cruel forms of all three, but that's more than the Afghan government has been able to offer.

It's not I disagree with Panetta's vision or goals. Indeed, I find them fairly persuasive. It's that his vision is predicated on a stable, reliable Afghan government -- which doesn't appear to exist, and which makes the notion "winning" rather hard to believe.

In the same interview, by the way, Panetta was asked about Osama bin Laden.

"He is, as is obvious, in very deep hiding," Panetta said. "He's in an area of the tribal areas of Pakistan, that is very difficult. The terrain is probably the most difficult in the world…"

"Can you be more specific?" host Jake Tapper asked.

"All I can tell you is it's in the tribal areas ... we know that he's located in that vicinity," Panetta said.

"The more we continue to disrupt Al Qaeda's operations -- and we are engaged in the most aggressive operations in the history of the CIA in that part of the world -- and the result is we are disrupting their leadership," he said.

"We've taken down more than half of their Taliban leadership, of their Al Qaeda leadership. We just took down number three in their leadership a few weeks ago. We continue to disrupt them. We continue to impact on their command and control. We continue to impact on their ability to plan attacks in this country," he said.

"If we keep that pressure on, we think ultimately we can flush out bin Laden and Zawahiri and get after them," the CIA chief insisted.

Our last good intelligence about bin Laden's specific whereabouts? "The early 2000s."

As for al Qaeda in Afghanistan, according to the CIA chief, the network is down to 50 to 100 members in the entire country. That's encouraging, of course, given al Qaeda's previous numbers, but the point, I suppose, is that those numbers would grow if the Taliban reclaimed control of Afghanistan.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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PELOSI'S UNDERSTANDABLE FRUSTRATIONS.... House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, certainly more than other House Democratic leaders, is generally reluctant to publicly criticize the other chamber -- the one that has abandoned majority-rule, making the American legislative process unnecessarily difficult.

But once in a while, Pelosi's patience is tested more than usual.

The message Thursday as a slimmed-down package went down to defeat in the Senate over GOP objections it would add to the deficit, was quite different.

In back-to-back press conferences, Pelosi unleashed her full wrath on the Senate Republican Conference, blaming them for torpedoing unemployment benefits and leaving the middle class out to dry.

"What did middle-class families ever do to Republicans in the Senate that they would snuff out every opportunity for job creation that has been sent to them?" Pelosi chided at an afternoon press conference with Democratic women to drum up support for her remaining jobs agenda, much of it either unmovable in the Senate or the subject to stalemate in the House.

Some reporters seemed slightly taken aback by the House Speaker blasting the Republican Senate conference, but need Pelosi's question be considered an unreasonable one? Is it not fair to wonder what GOP senators have against the unemployed?

On a related note, I suggested the other day that it may be time for a discussion about whether GOP lawmakers are trying to deliberately sabotage the economy to help their midterm election strategy. Theda Skocpol seems to have come to a conclusion:

Republicans have figured out that if they undercut economic recovery and increase unemployment rates, they will gain in the 2010 elections -- and probably have a much better shot in 2012.... Republicans may or may not care about unemployed people, most of whom will not vote for them anyway, but Republican leaders know what they are doing strategically: slow-walking economic growth until they get back into office.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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JINDAL SHIELDS INFO ON SPILL RESPONSE.... We've been talking the past few days about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who has decided to send only a fraction of the available National Guard troops to the coast to aid in the response to the BP oil spill. Jindal has given two different explanations, both of which falter under scrutiny.

Complicating matters, Jindal is keeping public access to his spill-response records to a minimum. (thanks to carolerae for the heads-up)

Gov. Bobby Jindal has vetoed a bill that would have required his office and agencies to grant public access to state records related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. [...]

Jindal for years has lobbied to preserve broad exemptions for the governor's office in Louisiana's public records law. The House bill would have cracked open a category of records related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the state's response.

"I'm saddened by his action, but not surprised," said Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, who amended Smith's public records bill to include the provision about the oil spill documents. "His excuse is he is afraid that BP would find out something Louisiana did, and I always thought justice was about the truth and facts."

In explaining the rationale for the veto, Jindal said Louisiana will likely be in litigation with BP and others, and access to public records "could impact the state's legal position."

I'm not really in a position to know whether that's true or not -- I'm not an attorney -- but if materials would be turned over to BP anyway through the discovery process, I wonder if Jindal might be more worried about what the public learns, not opposing counsel.

Either way, the result is the same -- the public wants access to spill-related records, state lawmakers want transparency when it comes to spill-related records, and Jindal prefers secrecy. In the larger context, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

On a related note, Jed Lewison has a good item, summarizing some of the revelations in yesterday's New York Times piece:

The basic story: Louisiana's spill response plan was inadequate, largely because the state failed to fully develop a plan. As a result, instead of following a methodical, well-prepared plan, Bobby Jindal winged it, pursuing grandiose (and politically sexy) schemes that most state and local officials as well as experts consider counterproductive, such as Jindal's proposed barrier islands.

Jindal and Republicans have worked aggressively of late to make it seem as if the Louisiana governor's office has been a model of competence and efficiency, all the while taking shots at the Obama administration. The media has largely bought into the narrative, but as more information comes to light, there's ample reason for skepticism.

Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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GOOD SEATS, STILL AVAILABLE.... In February, a right-wing group called Tea Party Nation organized its first national event, hosting a convention in Nashville, which wasn't well attended. About 600 attendees showed up -- less than half the total of the inaugural Netroots Nations events. For a "movement" ostensibly poised to change the American political landscape, this was underwhelming. (The attendees who did show up, by the way, gave the impression of being stark raving mad.)

But event organizers decided to give it another shot, scheduling another convention for July. Will this one generate a little more excitement? Not so much.

A National Tea Party Unity convention that was scheduled to be held in Las Vegas in July will now take place in October, according to organizers.

The event, organized by Tea Party Nation (a national Tea Party organization) and Free America (a conservative non-profit group) and other organizations, will still be held at the Palazzo Las Vegas Resort. But Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips confirmed to CNN Saturday that the date is being moved from July 15-17 to October in order to hold the event closer to the midterm elections.

"We concluded it would more advantageous to hold the convention in the middle of October just prior to the November elections," says Phillips in a statement.

At first blush, that spin may seem plausible. Maybe the far-right effort will be better off if activists leave their local communities a few weeks before the election, and head to a Las Vegas resort. I wouldn't think so, but organizers didn't ask me.

The more interesting angle to this, though, is what the report didn't mention -- the "National Tea Party Unity" convention is being postponed just two weeks before it was scheduled to kick off. I'm not an expert in conference management, but it seems to me that a national group doesn't organize a major gathering at a Las Vegas resort, lining up speakers and guests, and then scrap the whole thing two weeks before it begins unless no one was planning to show up.

Maybe Tea Partiers are having more trouble than we realized?

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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June 26, 2010

NEGOTIATING WITH THOSE WHO OPPOSE THEIR OWN PRINCIPLES.... This week, a couple of key Senate Republicans said they would never agree to any compromise on energy policy if it included a cap-and-trade provision. If a proposal puts a cap on carbon emissions, and applies that cap to anyone or anything, anywhere, even a little, Republicans said they will kill the legislation and not allow the Senate to vote on it.

It led Mark Kleiman to raise a good point, and I hope he won't mind if I quote it at length.

Why, I'm so old that I remember when market-simulating pollution-control regulations -- polluter charges or cap-and-trade -- were the official conservative alternative to command-and-control regulation. I was sympathetic to that critique, and frustrated about the environmental movement's unwillingness to see reason.

But now that the enviros have embraced a GHG tax or its cap-and-trade equivalent as the way to deal with global warming, conservative support is nowhere in sight. They're all too afraid of Grover Norquist.

Remember this the next time a conservative explains how we ought to voucherize public education. The minute that happens, the conservatives will come back and decide that we need to means-test the vouchers. That done, they'll attack the remaining program as "welfare."

This is not a group of people it's possible to do business with.

This is important. Cap-and-trade -- any version of it -- has been deemed wholly unacceptable by Republicans this year. But given the intense opposition to the idea, it's easy to forget that Republicans used to consider cap-and-trade a reasonable, market-based mechanism that was far preferable to command-and-control directives that the right found offensive.

And I'm not talking about the distant past -- the official position of the McCain/Palin Republican presidential ticket, not even two years ago, was to support cap-and-trade. Not just in theory, either. The official campaign website in 2008 told Americans that John McCain and Sarah Palin "will establish ... a cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions." McCain/Palin's official position added, "A cap-and-trade system harnesses human ingenuity in the pursuit of alternatives to carbon-based fuels."

Even George W. Bush awkwardly endorsed cap-and-trade before leaving office.

Democratic policymakers could, today, endorse the policy put forward by the Republican ticket from 2008, and GOP senators would filibuster it. Republicans said they wanted cap-and-trade, but now refuse to take "yes" for an answer.

The goal posts are always on the move, which in turn makes substantive policymaking with Republican lawmakers practically impossible.

Indeed, after Kleiman posted his piece this week, plenty of others noticed how common the phenomenon is. Matt Yglesias noted:

Another major example I can think of is the Earned Income Tax Credit, once touted as the conservative alternative to welfare and/or restoring the real value of the minimum wage, but now supported almost exclusively by liberals while conservatives castigate the poor for not paying taxes. Section 8 housing vouchers, put forward as an alternative to public housing and then repeatedly cut by GOP congresses is another one. Of course this kind of consideration doesn't invalidate any given idea -- I think auctioned, tradable emissions permits actually are the best way to regulate most sources of pollution and that housing vouchers are superior to old-school public housing. But this kind of continual pulling away of the football by the conservative movement makes it quite difficult for us to reach stable consensus around decent policies.

Ezra Klein noted that Republicans used to support industry bailouts, but now consider them creeping socialism. Jon Chait noted that the Republicans "fervently embraced the logic of Keynesian stimulus in 2001," but now fundamentally reject the same idea.

In perhaps my favorite example, the concept of an individual mandate as part of health care reform was, in fact, a Republican idea. Now, the GOP considers it the single most offensive part of the Democratic policy.

The point isn't to point out Republican inconsistencies; that's fairly routine. The point is to demonstrate that Republicans are so fundamentally unserious about solving public policy challenges, that they'll shamelessly move the goalposts at a moment's notice. The party supports cap-and-trade, EITC, industry bailouts, housing vouchers, and mandatory health insurance -- right up until there's a Democratic president. Then, Republicans are no longer willing to even consider Republican ideas.

When the David Broders of the world lecture the dysfunctional Congress on the importance of policymakers working together in good faith, this dynamic tends to be overlooked entirely. Credible people who are serious about solving problems can formulate consensus solutions. But they'll invariably fail because Republicans have no qualms about fighting against their own proposals.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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IT'S NOT JUST RAND PAUL'S IDEOLOGY THAT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE.... When we think of Senate hopeful Rand Paul, we tend to think of his extreme, often-bizarre ideology. But it's worth remembering that the Kentucky Republican has shared some of his policy ideas with the public, and they're bizarre, too.

Republican Senatorial candidate Rand Paul wants to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. It's a rather ho-hum proposition in the larger context of conservative ideas -- except that Paul wants that fence to be electric and he wants it built underground.

Among the variety of proposals to stem illegal immigration along the southern border, the construction of an underground electrical fence appears to stand alone on the extreme. There is little contemporary evidence of other Republican officials proposing such a project, even among the most conservative of the bunch. Indeed, when approached in the halls of Senate several weeks ago and asked about the idea (though not told who proposed it), National Republican Senate Committee Chair John Cornyn (R-Tex.) assumed it was a joke.

"I have not heard that," the Texas Republican said. "Underground? What would happen? How would that work?"

For a change, I can relate to Cornyn's confusion. Rand Paul's website boasts of the Senate candidate's plan to build "an underground electric fence," but no one -- not even Paul's allies -- has the foggiest idea what he's talking about. When asked about the proposal, campaign aides won't talk about it.

Does Paul mean some kind of electrified fence that would be shocking to the touch? If so, wouldn't burying it underground defeat the purpose? Or maybe Paul means some kind of invisible, electrified fence -- like those used with outdoor pets? If so, how does Paul propose getting human beings to wear the shock devices?

Maybe he means some kind of electric barrier that would zap people trying to cross? If so, wouldn't people just step over it? Perhaps Paul would want it to be really wide, but given that it's a 2,000-mile border, it would probably cost an enormous amount of money to construct this, if the technology even exists.

In what appears to be the only instance in which Paul elaborated on his idea, the Senate candidate said building the electric fence underground would help avoid the unfortunate symbolism of a Berlin Wall-like structure. That's true, but it doesn't explain how the contraption would work. Paul also said his plan would cost between $10 and 15 million dollars, which is fairly ridiculous on its face.

To the extent that policymakers will try to address immigration policy, the fact that Paul has a nutty idea probably doesn't matter much -- there are plenty of nutty ideas out there, and they're easily ignored. But this is nevertheless a reminder that Rand Paul isn't just an extremist on issues related to the role of government in society; he's even on the fringes of libertarian thought. The seriousness with which he approaches policy issues makes it very difficult to find him credible as a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is the new, faith-based response to the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf: Days of Prayer.

Four Gulf Coast governors are calling on residents to set aside Sunday as a Day of Prayer to pray for a solution to the oil spill and for citizens impacted by the disaster.

Alabama's Bob Riley, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, Mississippi's Haley Barbour and Texas' Rick Perry all issued proclamations calling on prayer for the spill, which entered its 66th day Thursday.

"Throughout our history, Alabamians have humbly turned to God to ask for His blessings and to hold us steady during times of struggle. This is certainly one of those times," Riley said in a statement.

Riley's proclamation reads in part, "Citizens of Alabama are urged to pray for the well-being of our fellow citizens and our State, to pray for all those in other states who are hurt by this disaster, to pray for those who are working to respond to this crisis, and to pray that a solution that stops the oil leak is completed soon."

Tomorrow's regional prayer day will, as Kyle at Right Wing Watch reminds us, follow Monday's prayer vigil in Louisiana for Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), where evangelical "intercessors" laid hands upon him.

Within a few days of Jindal's vigil, an accident dislodged the containment mechanism from the wellhead, and Tropical Storm Alex started churning in the Caribbean. The timing could have been better.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* More fallout from the devastating scandal surrounding the Roman Catholic church and the sexual abuse of children: "An extraordinary series of raids on the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium provoked sharp criticism from the Vatican on Friday, with the church expressing 'shock' a day after Belgian investigators interrupted a bishops' meeting at the church's Brussels headquarters, detaining clerics for nine hours, and opened an archbishop's grave at a cathedral north of the city."

* Remember, the Fellowship Foundation is a religious organization: "A handful of Members of Congress have accepted more than $100,000 worth of free international travel from the religious organization affiliated with the 'C Street house,' a Capitol Hill townhouse linked to recent Congressional sex scandals. While most of the Members have taken a trip or two from the Fellowship Foundation, also known as the International Foundation, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) accepted foreign trips worth more than $50,000 over the past four years." (thanks to reader D.J. for the tip)

* Interesting controversy in Chicago this week: "The Illinois State Police has revoked the appointment of the agency's first Muslim chaplain, citing only information revealed during a background check. A national Muslim advocacy group this week blamed the move on Islamophobia."

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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IF IT'S SUNDAY, IT'S JOHN MCCAIN DAY.... Bookers for the Sunday shows have shown admirable restraint of late. They continue to book Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and Newt Gingrich with painful frequency, but they've gone two whole months without inviting John McCain back on.

Don't worry; the Sunday shows just can't quit him that easily. "Meet the Press" made this announcement the other day:

This Sunday: Exclusive! Sen. John McCain

President Obama relieves Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his command in Afghanistan after his comments about the president's diplomatic team causes a firestorm in Washington and undermines the President's strategy in Afghanistan. How will Obama's decision impact the war going forward? Will McChrystal's replacement, CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus, be able to successfully lead the effort in Afghanistan? Plus, the upcoming midterm elections and the future of the GOP. We'll ask a man in the center of it all: fighting his own tight re-election battle to the Senate and serving as the Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

I especially enjoyed the "Exclusive!" with the exclamation point, as if this were a rare, special occurrence. It's not.

For those keeping score -- and you know I am -- this will be McCain's 22nd appearance on a Sunday morning talk show since Obama's inauguration. That's an average of 1.3 appearances a month, every month, for over a year -- more than any other public official in the country.

Since the president took office 17 months ago, McCain has been on ABC's "This Week" three times (9.27.09, 8.23.09, and 5.10.09), CNN's "State of the Union" four times (1.10.10, 10.11.09, 8.2.09, and 2.15.09), CBS's "Face the Nation" five times (1.24.10, 10.25.09, 8.30.09, 4.26.09, and 2.8.09), and "Fox News Sunday" five times (4.18.10, 12.20.09, 7.2.09, 3.8.09, and 1.25.09). His appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" tomorrow will be his fifth since Obama's inauguration (6.27.10, 2.28.10, 12.6.09, 7.12.09, and 3.29.09).

Obviously, there's no reason for this. In the announcement, "Meet the Press" seemed to justify the invitation by saying it was a big week with regards to U.S. policy in Afghanistan -- and it was. But John McCain has never demonstrated any meaningful understanding of the war policy. On the contrary, he's been routinely confused. "How will Obama's decision impact the war going forward?" It's a good question, but McCain's hardly the best person to answer it.

McCain lost a presidential election; he's not in the GOP leadership; he's not especially influential with anyone; he's not playing an active role in shaping any legislation; and he doesn't appear to have any expertise in any area of public policy. The Sunday shows seem to book him out of habit. It's farcical.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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DOES JINDAL KNOW WHAT HE'S DOING?.... We learned something important and unexpected on Thursday night, when CBS News reported that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), for all his rhetoric about an insufficiently aggressive response to the BP oil spill, has chosen not to exercise his authority to dispatch thousands of National Guard troops to the coast. The Obama administration authorized Jindal to use 6,000 troops to respond to the disaster, but Jindal only dispatched 1,053 -- less than a fifth of the available total.

Asked to explain why he wouldn't want every available person on the scene working, Jindal claimed he's forbidden from deploying more because it's up to "the Coast Guard and BP" to "authorize individual tasks." That turned out to be untrue.

Yesterday, the governor came up with a new rationale.

Following a CBS News Investigates report that Gulf coast governors haven't been fully utilizing the 17,500 National Guard troops authorized by the federal government to help them with the oil spill, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's office offered a tart response.

In a statement sent to ProPublica, Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said that Louisiana would "call up more National Guard troops as the Adjutant General tells us he needs them."

But this actually raises more questions than it answers. First, if Jindal is waiting for word from Louisiana's Adjutant General, why was the governor's initial response a different story altogether? Second, in Louisiana, the Adjutant General answers to Jindal, not the other way around. If the governor wants every available resource on the coast, helping with the response, why is Jindal waiting for a request that seems obvious, when it's within his authority to simply give the order?

The only rationale explanation I can think of here, is that the governor is afraid 6,000 National Guard troops working along the coast might discourage tourism, so he's willing to settle for a weaker, slower response to the spill. I'm not saying that is the reason, but I'm trying to imagine why the governor would deliberately choose not to send every available person, and this is the only thing I can think of. That Jindal is changing his story, and that his second attempt is hardly better than his first, is a bad sign.

If reporters covering the spill pursue this aggressively, it could be a major headache for Jindal.

On a related point, the New York Times reports today that the Louisiana governor, practically from the beginning of this disaster, has "often disregarded" his administration's "own plans and experts in favor of large-scale proposals that many say would probably have had limited effectiveness and could have even hampered the response."

It's starting to cast an entirely new light on why Jindal has been so aggressive in blaming others for an inadequate response -- perhaps he's trying to deflect attention from his own mismanagement.

Update: To clarify, the CBS piece refers to 17,500 National Guard troops, while the angle referring to Jindal points to the 6,000 figure. The larger total is the number the Obama administration has made available to the region, and the 6,000 is specific to Louisiana.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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BEWARE OF TERRORIST BABIES.... The right's campaign against birthright citizenship has been intensifying of late, but leave it to Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) to take the campaign to entirely new depths.

By now, the argument is likely pretty familiar -- the 14th Amendment says, in effect, that if you're born in the United States, you're a natural-born American. There's very little wiggle room in the language, and Supreme Court precedents are clear. Conservatives don't care for this, in large part because of immigration -- if a couple is in the U.S. illegally and have a baby, that couple's child is an American citizen. Many on the right have even called for a constitutional amendment to address this.

But for Gohmert, the issue isn't just related to immigration; it's also a national security issue.

Walid Zafar reports that Gohmert appeared on the House floor on Thursday, and presented the following case: "I talked to a retired FBI agent who said that one of the things they were looking at were terrorist cells overseas who had figured out how to game our system. And it appeared they would have young women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby. They wouldn't even have to pay anything for the baby. And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, 20, 30 years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life. 'Cause they figured out how stupid we are being in this country to allow our enemies to game our system, hurt our economy, get setup in a position to destroy our way of life."

Let's pause to appreciate the irony of Louie Gohmert lecturing us about "how stupid we are being."

Is there any credible evidence that terrorists are using birthright-citizenship as part of attack plots scheduled for the year 2040? Not even a little. Gohmert appears to be making this up, in the hopes that he can use a ridiculous scenario to scare people into doing what he wants to do anyway.

Look, there's a genuine terrorist threat in this country, and one might even be able to make a plausible case that there's a credible link between border security and counter-terrorism. But the last serious terrorist plot involved some schmuck with exploding underwear. We should be afraid of a plot involving infants? Because Louie Gohmert says so?

Please.

Steve Benen 8:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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June 25, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The news out of the Gulf always seems to be bad: "With a storm threatening to disrupt oil-siphoning efforts at BP Plc's blown-out Gulf of Mexico well, the U.S. Coast Guard on Friday said collection efforts would be suspended five days before the forecast onset of gale-force winds."

* The relief wells still seem to be on track for mid-August, but mid-August isn't exactly soon under the circumstances.

* Only 15 months after the White House first tried to fill the post, the Senate confirmed John Pistole as head of the Transportation Security Administration.

* Good summary of the final Wall Street reform package.

* Good summary of the DISCLOSE Act passed yesterday by the House.

* Someone seems to have trouble following the law: "An investigator has determined former Gov. Sarah Palin's legal defense fund broke state ethics law and said Palin has agreed to settle the matter by having the trust return more than $386,000 to donors."

* Jeffrey Goldberg took a cheap shot at Dave Weigel today; Adam Serwer responds.

* It's a shame the cuts to Army deployment times will take so long to implement.

* What's worse: the notion that Glenn Beck is touting Ezra Taft Benson without knowing who he is, or Glenn Beck touting Ezra Taft Benson and Beck does know who he is?

* What's happening to public colleges?

* Quote of the Day, from "Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade: "It took the president a matter of hours to pick a commander in Afghanistan, so why is it taking months to plug the leaking oil?"

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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DAVE WEIGEL GOT SCREWED.... I don't know Dave Weigel especially well. We've never met in person or talked on the phone, but we occasionally trade emails and tweets. And so when I express my deep, visceral disgust for what's happened to him this week, I approach this with a degree of detachment.

I've come to admire and respect Dave as one of the best political journalists in the business, but my anger is not personal. It's the result of a media professional who got screwed for no good reason.

When he arrived at a party on the Huffington Post's D.C. office roof-deck on Thursday evening, Washington Post reporter/blogger David Weigel felt secure in his job. Earlier in the day, the media-focused site FishbowlDC had published a series of off-the-record emails written by Weigel in which he had disparaged members of the conservative movement that he covers.

But after checking with the powers that be at the Washington Post, it was relayed to him that they found the material not consequential enough to be a firing offense. Weigel, a well-regarded chronicler of all things Tea Party, had been an immediate success at the paper, and his offer of resignation was seen as highly gratuitous.

By Friday morning, however, things had changed. Weigel made a call to the Huffington Post at roughly 10:15 a.m. to privately relay that he was, in fact, leaving the Post. A new set of off-record Weigel emails had been disclosed to The Daily Caller disclosing even more snide quips about major conservative players (as well as comments expressing hope that health care reform would pass Congress).

The conservative-leaning website was ostensibly making the argument that Weigel was no longer objective enough to cover his beat. The Post editors agreed. The resignation he offered the night before was now viewed as the best path forward. And by noon the final deal had been struck to end Weigel's three-month run at the paper.

Dave's off-the-record emails, which were written before he joined the Post, came on a listserv called Journolist, created several years ago by Ezra Klein (if it matters, I joined Journolist more than three years ago). Dave, like most members, came to think of the list as a safe place to throw around ideas, vent, ask questions, highlight news, and engage in spirited debate. On a few occasions, Dave, like plenty of others sharing thoughts on a private email list, shared some uncharitable words and opinions about others. What's wrong with that? Nothing; he was among friends.

Or so we thought. Someone -- it remains unclear who -- decided to try to destroy Dave professionally by leaking emails from the list. Tragically, it worked.

As much as the Post deserved enormous credit for having the good sense to hire Dave in the first place, the paper deserves equally strong blame for accepting his resignation today. For three months, he did exactly what he was hired to do -- cover the conservative movement -- and he did it better than anyone in American journalism. Was Dave let go because the emails brought his objectivity into question? If so, that strikes me as inherently ridiculous -- his left-leaning libertarianism wasn't a secret, and it helped shape the quality of his reporting.

Worse, I'm at a loss to explain the Post's approach to ideology. Marc Thiessen and Bill Kristol can publish dubious, morally-bankrupt nonsense, and remain contributors in good standing. Dave Weigel trashed Drudge and "Paultards" in a private email and has to go?

The whole fiasco just leaves me sad. Dave's out of a job; Journolist, which I've come to cherish and rely on, has been shut down; the Post loses one of its most important voices; and the bastard who leaked Dave's emails in the first place isn't facing any consequences at all.

It's not a good day.

For more on this, Greg Sargent, one of Dave's Post colleagues, has a very thoughtful, worthwhile piece, and Marc Ambinder makes a compelling case that the Post made the wrong call today.

Steve Benen 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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KYL STARTS WALKING BACK BOGUS CLAIM.... There was an odd dust-up earlier this week, with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) alleging that President Obama had told him, privately and directly, that the White House would ignore border security unless it was part of a comprehensive immigration reform package.

In a video that made the rounds, Kyl said a town-hall meeting, "Here's what the president said. 'The problem is,' he said, 'If we secure the border, then you all won't have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform.' In other words, they're holding it hostage."

The White House responded fairly quickly, coming awfully close to calling Kyl a liar, but the far-right senator stood by his remarks.

Every aspect of the senator's story seemed literally unbelievable, but conservatives ran with it, probably because Kyl told them a tale they wanted to believe.

Today, the far-right Arizonan decided to shamelessly walk back clarify the claims that never really made sense anyway.

Kyl tells us that the comments were "taken a bit out of context," and that the "they" he was referring to was the Left, "the president's base," and not the administration. "I did not try to start a fight...."

As Matt Finkelstein noted, "That's a far cry from Kyl's original claim, which pretty clearly implicates Obama." Quite right.

So, here's the question for Fox News and other conservative media outlets that heavily pushed Kyl's original story: will you be equally diligent in letting the public know about his revised version of the events?

Steve Benen 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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PRESIDENTIAL DOUBLE-STANDARDS, CONT'D.... I've been maintaining a list of some of the actions President Obama has taken that have been deemed "controversial," despite being quite common and routine amongst his predecessors. Al Kamen flags another one for the list today.

As is now well known, Obama hosted a meeting at the White House with BP executives last week, and persuaded the oil giant to create a $20 billion fund to bring relief to families and businesses victimized by the company's devastating oil spill. Instead of applauding the breakthrough, the right has casually thrown around words and phrases like "shakedown," "extortion," "illegal," "power grab," and "Chicago-style political shakedown." This week, some on the right have gone so far as to equate the White House's success with Hitler and the Nazis.

But Obama's accomplishment is hardly without modern historical precedent.

Back in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy, fearing an inflation uptick, threatened to use steel stockpiles to lower prices if the steel industry didn't overturn a recent price increase, it was called traditional "jawboning."

Reaction, as is pretty much always the case, fell along party lines, with the party not in the Oval Office opposing the action. Economists criticized it as bad policy, Republicans criticized it as wrong-headed and unwarranted government intrusion. Democrats naturally hailed the move as an example of strong leadership and a fine use of the bully pulpit.

Lyndon Johnson, a veteran of Senate arm-twisting and cajoling, jawboned to forestall airline and railroad strikes and such.

Richard Nixon decried the Democrats' jawboning but then, with inflation getting out of control, said, "We will have jawboning." And we did, until Nixon tweaked the free market system ever-so-slightly by imposing a wage and price freeze.

Jawboning had become so ingrained as a presidential activity that, in December 1999, candidate George W. Bush criticized President Bill Clinton because he didn't "jawbone OPEC members to lower prices."

It's only "controversial" when it's Obama looking out for Americans' interests.

For those keeping score at home, here's the updated, running list:

* When other presidents pressure private industries in support of struggling Americans, it's routine. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

* When other presidents honor Memorial Day, but do not visit Arlington National Cemetery, it's fine. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

* When other presidents use teleprompters, it's hardly noticed. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

* When other presidents bow to foreign heads of state when meeting leaders where bowing is customary, it's routine. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

* When other presidents speak to school children in national addresses, it's of no consequence. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

* When other presidents rely on "czars" to tackle various policy areas, it's routine. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

* When other presidents are seen in the Oval Office without a jacket or tie, it's unimportant. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

* When other presidents criticize specific media outlets for unwelcome coverage, it's commonplace. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

* When other presidents encourage Congress to use the budget reconciliation process to pass legislation, it's ordinary. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

* When other presidents rescue struggling American industries and major companies, it's seen as necessary. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

* When other presidents intervene in specific elections, and even offer jobs to help coax candidates out of various races, it's customary. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

* When other presidents lead administrations that made terrorist suspects aware of their Miranda rights, it's just the rule of law. When Obama does the same thing, it's "controversial."

As always, these examples seem to come up often enough that I intend to keep a running tally going. Let me know if I miss any big ones.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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SOMEONE SHOULD PROBABLY MESS WITH TEXAS.... Over the years, thanks to Kevin Drum's keen eye, Political Animal has brought readers several reports on the truly hysterical -- in more ways than one -- platform created by the Texas Republican Party. It's one of the more astounding documents one will find in 21st century American politics.

I feel a certain responsibility to keep our coverage going, and noticed this week that the Texas GOP has released a 25-page proposal (pdf) intended to guide state Republicans for the next two years. It's not pretty.

The Texas Republican Party's new 25-page platform is chock-full of absurd policy prescriptions, many of which are based on the most absurd of conspiracy theories. While not particularly surprising for Texas, the platform does remind us just how outside the mainstream Republicans in Texas truly are. Political Correction sifted through the haphazardly written document and highlighted several sections that best symbolize the sort of conservatives who have political control in Texas.

It's hard to know where to start. I suppose, right off the bat, it's worth noting that Texas Republicans have a few problems with gay people -- the platform wants to make gay sex illegal, wants Congress to prevent federal courts from even hearing litigation on the issue, and wants it to be a felony for any judge to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. Why? Because, as the platform argued, the "practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society" and "leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases."

But, really, that's really just the tip of a deranged iceberg. The Texas Republican Party wants the 16th Amendment to be repealed, along with the federal minimum-wage. It wants Social Security to be eliminated, along with early-childhood-development programs. It's worked up about the Fairness Doctrine, the formation of a "North American Union," and "the implementation of one world currency" -- none of which is seriously being pursued by anyone. American foreign policy towards Israel should, the platform argues, be based on the Republican Party's interpretation of the Bible.

The good news? The Texas Republican Party used to demand a return to the gold standard, and now it doesn't.

Clearly, the Texas Republican Party is moving to the left. What a bunch of sellouts.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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JINDAL INEXPLICABLY RESISTS GUARD DEPLOYMENT TO GULF COAST.... Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) criticism of the federal government has been loud and frequent as the BP oil spill crisis intensified, but CBS News ran a very damaging piece last night, noting that Jindal has the authority to dispatch thousands of National Guard troops to the coast to help with the response, but has chosen not to. (via Jed Lewison)

The video is well worth watching -- it's only two-and-a-half minutes long -- in part because Jindal's decisions have been so inexplicable. The governor asked President Obama two months ago to authorize the use of 6,000 National Guard troops for the disaster, and the president immediately agreed. Jindal, however, only deployed 1,053 -- less than a fifth.

When CBS asked why, Jindal said he's forbidden from deploying more because it's up to "the Coast Guard and BP" to "authorize individual tasks."

In reality, Jindal is either deeply confused about something he should understand, or he was lying. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, said unequivocally that there is "nothing standing in the governor's way from utilizing more National Guard troops."

Indeed, before the CBS report aired, the governor's office conceded that Jindal has not asked for more Guard troops to be deployed to the coast to help with the response to the spill. The report did not offer an explanation.

This is potentially a huge revelation. President Obama, in his Oval Office address, specifically and publicly urged the regional governors "to activate these troops as soon as possible. " Jindal seems to have specifically chosen not to, can't justify the decision, and is telling falsehoods when asked about his decision, shifting the burden of responsibility dramatically.

Put it this way: imagine if Obama had the authority to send troops to help with the response to the spill, but for no apparent reason, declined to issue the order for more than two months. Do you suppose there'd be some political blowback?

As Jed added, Jindal has "argued that the federal government has denied him the resources he needs to fight the spill, but even though he's had thousands of National Guardsmen at his disposal, he's only used a tiny fraction of them, allowing more than 80% of the resources at his disposal to go unused."

Jindal has some explaining to do.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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WIDESPREAD GOP COMFORT WITH SOWELL'S HITLER COMPARISON.... There has been a little too much right-wing criticism of late about President Obama securing $20 billion in escrow for Gulf Coast victims of BP's oil spill. I realize that everything the president does must be opposed, regardless of merit, and conservatives tend to offer reflexive support for oil giants, regardless of culpability, but it's quickly becoming farcical.

This week, for example, prominent right-wing columnist Thomas Sowell said the president's efforts to get BP to create a relief fund for families and businesses in the region are comparable to the Reichstag making Hitler a dictator. The unambiguous headline read, "Is U.S. Now On Slippery Slope To Tyranny?"

It was a new low for the right, at least in this debate. Dave Weigel noted he considered Sowell's argument "un-endorseable."

I'd hoped the same thing, but this week, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R), a right-wing Texan, appeared on the House floor to endorse the Sowell piece. Today, former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) used Twitter to do endorse it, too.

The right-wing Fox News personality had two tweets to get her message across:

GOP: Don't let the lamestream media suck you into "they're defending BP over Gulf spill victims" bs...

...This is about the rule of law vs. an unconstitutional power grab. Read Thomas Sowell's article: http://u.nu/6e4ec

Even for Palin, this is pretty crazy. Sowell compared Obama to Hitler -- and now Palin is encouraging her minions to read the piece, as if the unhinged argument has value.

Granted, Palin didn't personally compare Obama to Hitler; she "merely" endorsed an article that did. If she'd said, "Can you believe what this whackjob said about the president?" I wouldn't accuse her of endorsing a disgusting argument. But that's clearly not what happened here. Palin touted a truly outrageous piece of garbage because she agrees with the substance of the argument.

And the right slips a little further into hopeless insanity.

Update: Just as an aside, the "they're defending BP over Gulf spill victims" argument isn't b.s.; it's reality.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* How worried is Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) team about former Houston Mayor Bill White (D)? Nervous enough that Perry's former chief of staff paid quite a bit of money to try to get the Green Party of Texas on the ballot.

* In related news, former President Bill Clinton is giving White a hand, and endorsed the Democratic gubernatorial nominee yesterday. Clinton framed the campaign as a choice "between a proven, mainstream public servant, Bill White, and one of the most strident, divisive political figures in the nation."

* It's Rasmussen, so take the results with a grain of salt, but Democrats were thrilled yesterday when Rasmussen showed Sen. Richard Burr (R) with only a one-point lead -- 44% to 43% -- over Elaine Marshall (D) in North Carolina's Senate race.

* When voters consider various candidates this year, most will view an endorsement from former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as a clear negative. A plurality of Americans are "very uncomfortable" with candidates "endorsed by Sarah Palin."

* In the wake of revelations about his work in a sleazy infomercial, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) apologized yesterday, calling it "a mistake." Hayworth is being hammered by John McCain's campaign, as the two face off in a Republican primary.

* In related news, a Magellan Strategies poll shows McCain leading Hayworth in the GOP primary, 52% to 29%.

* In Vermont, Rasmussen shows Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (R) leading all five Democratic gubernatorial candidates, in margins ranging from 7 to 26 points.

* And at this point, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) probably won't endorse anyone in his state's open U.S. Senate race.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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NATIONAL SUPPORT FOR OIL DRILLING DOWN SHARPLY.... One of the biggest hurdles to passing an energy/climate bill this year is Republican demands for expanded coastal oil drilling. As it turns out, the policy the GOP insists upon is the same policy the public is quickly turning against.

A new Pew Research Center poll finds that the BP oil spill disaster has grown more serious, Americans' support for drilling has fallen dramatically.

Opposition to allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters has grown dramatically in recent months as oil continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico. For the first time since the question was first asked nearly two years ago, a majority (52%) opposes the government allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters. That is up from 31% in February and 38% in May, shortly after the April 20 rig explosion that triggered the leak. In April 2009, 68% favored allowing more drilling in U.S. waters; 27% were opposed.

Support for offshore drilling has dropped across party lines, most sharply among Democrats and independents.

A majority of self-described Democrats and independents now oppose expanded offshore drilling, a sharp reversal of attitudes from earlier this year. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, rank-and-file Republicans still want more drilling, though it's worth noting that even opposition among Republicans has grown from 19% in May to 34% now.

The results of the latest NBC/WSJ poll weren't quite as striking, but support for offshore drilling is down significantly since May in this survey, too.

This shift in public attitudes could influence political developments. If the principal obstacle in the Senate on energy policy is expanded drilling, the polls may stiffen bill proponents' spines, at least a little, knowing that public opinion is on their side.

For that matter, when it comes to the elections, Republicans probably shouldn't count on "drill, baby, drill" being an electoral winner for them.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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WHEN 'FULL REPEAL' DOESN'T MEAN 'FULL REPEAL'.... In Florida, Senate candidate Marco Rubio became a darling of the right-wing crowd by taking uncompromising, far-right positions on most issues, most notably health care. Rubio has been unapologetic in calling for a full repeal of all of the Affordable Care Act, regardless of the consequences.

But wouldn't you know it, as support for health care reform grows, and Americans welcome some of its popular provisions, Rubio isn't so sure about repealing the whole thing after all. Here's what the far-right Floridian told National Review and a few other outlets at a D.C. coffee shop yesterday:

He just mentioned that there are two parts within the Obamacare legislation that he doesn't want repealed. The first is the ban on insurance companies denying coverage based on preexisting conditions and the second is that he thinks that children up to age 26 should be allowed to "buy into" their parents' coverage.

So, Rubio wants to get rid of that health care law he just hates -- except the stuff that everyone seems to like.

His campaign later issued a clarification saying Rubio still wants to repeal "all" of the Affordable Care Act, though he approves of "some" of the ideas "lumped in with the monstrousity [sic] of the final bill."

There are a couple of problems here. The first is that the Rubio line isn't exactly coherent. If he plays a role in scrapping the entire law, that will get rid of the very provisions he now claims to support. Maybe he'd try to pass the "good" provisions in a new bill, but that would take a lot of time, and may ultimately fail. Ultimately, Rubio can't have a full and partial repeal at the same time.

The second is more substantive, and it's a lesson that Republicans simply refuse to even think about, no matter how many times it's explained to them. If you're prepared to ban discrimination on those with pre-existing conditions, then the policy must include an individual mandate. It's not that complicated -- if those with pre-existing conditions are to be protected, the mandate is necessary to keep costs from spiraling and to prevent the "free rider" problem.

Of course, if there's an individual mandate, then it's also necessary to include subsidies to those who otherwise couldn't afford coverage. And once you put this string together -- protections for those with pre-existing conditions ... which requires a mandate ... which requires subsidies -- what you're left with is the Affordable Care Act that right-wing politicians like Marco Rubio are so anxious to repeal in its entirety.

Shouldn't Rubio have done his homework before launching a Senate campaign?

Regardless, I don't imagine this will be the last time we'll see a far-right GOP candidate hedge on a "full" repeal. It's something to keep an eye on as November draws closer.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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RAND PAUL LEARNS HOW NOT TO ANSWER A QUESTION.... Senate hopeful Rand Paul has generally been loath to talk to reporters lately -- they keep asking pesky questions about his beliefs and background -- but the estimable Dave Weigel was able to chat with the Kentucky Republican yesterday.

In particular, Dave asked whether Paul supports the $20 billion fund President Obama secured from BP for victims of the oil spill disaster. Paul replied:

"Well, I don't think there are many people who don't believe in any regulations, myself included, and even my dad -- I don't think you'll hear him say he doesn't believe in any regulation. But I'm not sure I have the answer to that, sincerely. I think everyone in the country wants BP to pay for the clean-up, myself concluded. I've never had any argument with that -- it's amazing how you say things and they get blown into things you didn't say! I'm not even sure I can talk to some people anymore because they take things out of context."

Those are a lot of words loosely related to the fund, but it didn't answer the question. So, Dave tried again.

"There should be some regulations, but I want to do it in a rational, reasonable way, and ask: Did they obey the regulations? Do we not have enough regulation, and do we need two blow-out preventers from now on? These are the things scientists and inventors should tell us. Should we be drilling at that level? There are a lot of issues, but we shouldn't react in an emotional way and say no more drilling. I see some of that emotionalism happening because the president feels trapped -- his advisers say you've got to be tough, you've got to have tough language. I'm not sure that's a rational way to handle this."

Still unclear, Dave tried a third time, asking, "To finish up, though: Do you oppose the fund?"

"I was listening to some people on the Hill today, and they were looking for the justification for setting it up. I don't know what the legal justification is -- I'm not an expert in whether Congress has to give you authority or the president has authority to do it. Those issues take research and time, and I'm not going to make an off-the-cuff response.

I haven't spoken to Paul directly, but from what I can tell, he's an extremist, but he's savvy enough to know that extremists have trouble getting elected to statewide office. Paul holds radical beliefs, but he's not so detached from reality that he thinks his brand of radicalism is popular.

What's evident, then, is that Rand Paul has learned how not to answer questions. Given his bizarre and offensive worldview, it's a quality he'll have to cling to if he expects to prevail in November.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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MARATHON SESSION LEADS TO BREAKTHROUGH ON WALL STREET REFORM.... It wasn't easy, it wasn't quick, and it wasn't pretty, but seemingly-endless negotiations have produced a sweeping Wall Street reform package ready to be approved by both chambers.

Nearly two years after the American financial system teetered on the verge of collapse, Congressional negotiators reached agreement early Friday morning to reconcile competing versions of the biggest overhaul of financial regulations since the Great Depression.

A 20-hour marathon by members of a House-Senate conference committee to complete work on toughened financial regulations culminated at 5:39 a.m. Friday in agreements on the two most contentious parts of the financial regulatory overhaul and a host of other provisions. Along party lines, the House conferees voted 20 to 11 to approve the bill; the Senate conferees voted 7 to 5 to approve.

Members of the conference committee approved proposals to restrict trading by banks for their own benefit and requiring banks and their parent companies to segregate much of their derivatives activities into a separately capitalized subsidiary.

The timing is especially helpful for President Obama, who leaves today for Canada for a G20 meeting, and who wanted to be able to tell global leaders that the United States is poised to complete its work on financial regulatory reform. Now, he'll be able to do just that, and Obama spoke briefly to the press this morning to herald the legislative breakthrough, most notably the new consumer protection agency, and calling the larger package the "toughest" industry regulations in generations.

The NYT's report is worth reading in full, to get a sense of the changes that were made through the negotiations, most notably to the Volcker Rule. Note that while intense industry lobbying influenced the process, and produced "some specific exceptions to new regulations," by and large "the bill's financial regulations not only remained strong but in some cases gained strength."

The House and Senate are expected to bring the conference committee bill to the floor next week. Senate Republicans will very likely launch a filibuster -- they have no shame -- but leaders are confident the legislation will pass.

And in the larger context, this will add to an impressive list of historic accomplishments spanning President Obama's first 18 months in office, a list that will now include Wall Street reform, health care reform, student loan reform, economic recovery, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, expanded civil rights protections, expanded stem-cell research, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, and the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, among other things.

Taegan Goddard noted this morning, "Not since FDR has a president done so much to transform the country." That's not a hyperbolic observation in the slightest.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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A PARTY OF BUNNINGS.... With Senate Republicans having killed an important jobs bill yesterday afternoon, it seems like a good time to take a quick stroll down memory lane -- to about four months ago.

The Senate was getting ready to approve a jobs bill that extended unemployment benefits to jobless Americans. It would have increased the deficit a little, but under the circumstances, that was considered routine and uncontroversial.

Sen. Jim Bunning, the Kentucky Republican who has occasionally seemed mentally unstable, took a bold, lonely, ridiculous stand -- there could be no jobs bill if it increased the deficit. Bunning launched what was, in effect, a one-man filibuster, which came to be known as the "Bunning Blockade."

The right-wing Kentuckian soon became the subject of widespread ridicule, and a symbol of all that is wrong with the modern-day Senate. It didn't help when Bunning flipped off a journalist who dared to ask the senator to explain his position, nor when Bunning told one of his colleagues, imploring him to be reasonable, "Tough sh*t."

After about a week, Bunning ended his little tantrum, the bill advanced, benefits to the jobless were extended, and thousands of furloughed workers Bunning had sent home without pay were able to get back to work.

But let's pause to appreciate what's become evident since -- Bunning's absurd behavior has spread like a cancer, to the point that every single member of the Senate Republican conference, and one confused conservative Democrat, is taking the exact same position he took in late February and early March.

We've gone from one erratic senator flipping off a reporter to an entire party caucus flipping off millions of Americans. We've gone from a seemingly unstable lawmaker telling a colleague, "Tough sh*t" to the entire Republican conference telling the whole country, "Tough sh*t."

In the late winter, Jim Bunning was something of a laughing stock. In the early summer, we have an entire Party of Bunnings.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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SENATE REPUBLICANS KILL JOBS BILL.... For casual news consumers hoping to know what happened with the Senate's tax-extenders/jobs bill yesterday afternoon, perusing the headlines won't necessarily help.

The NYT's headline read, "Congress Fails to Pass an Extension of Jobless Aid." That's true, but incomplete. The lead paragraph told readers, "Senate Democrats and Republicans traded bitter accusations about who was to blame for an eight-week impasse," which doesn't actually convey who was responsible.

The WaPo headline read, "Senate again rejects expanded spending package," which also only tells part of the story. Worse, the lead paragraph doesn't mention the party responsible for rejecting the bill at all.

The LAT gets it right: "Senate GOP blocks jobless aid extension."

Senate Republicans on Thursday once again blocked legislation to reinstate long-term unemployment benefits for people who have exhausted their aid, prolonging a stalemate that has left more than a million people without federal help.

With the Senate apparently paralyzed by partisan gridlock, the fate of the aid, as well as tax breaks for businesses and $16 billion in aid for cash-strapped states, remains unclear.... Republican lawmakers -- joined by Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska -- maintained a unified front to sustain a filibuster of the $110-billion bill. The vote was 57 to 41; the majority was three short of the 60 needed to cut off debate and bring the bill to a final vote. [...]

"If there were ever evidence that this is the party of no, this is it," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who added that several governors would be arriving in Washington next week to make the case for the bill to help states, businesses and those who have been out of work more than six months. [...]

It was the third time in two weeks that Democrats failed to circumvent unified GOP opposition, despite making a series of changes to accommodate complaints about deficit spending.

Here's the roll call. Note that Lieberman rejoined the majority; Nelson joined a unanimous Republican caucus; and Sens. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Murkowski (R-Alaska) did not vote, and could not have shifted the outcome.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who helped add $5 trillion to the national debt during the Bush/Cheney years, said Republicans had to kill the economic legislation because the extended unemployment benefits, at a cost of about $30 billion, were deficit financed -- despite the fact that extended unemployment benefits are routinely deficit financed.

There's no real doubt, or even debate, about the consequences of failure here -- millions of jobless Americans will lose already-meager benefits, which will mean less spending and a weaker economy. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost. Businesses that were counting on tax breaks won't get them.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement late yesterday, noting, "By blocking an up or down vote on this legislation, Republicans in the Senate obstructed a common-sense package that would save jobs, extend tax cuts for businesses and provide relief for American families who have suffered through the worst economic downfall since the Great Depression, even after Democrats offered multiple compromises to gain Republican support for the bill."

As for the next step, the bill, for now, is dead. If voters in Maine -- a state that will be particularly hard hit by Republicans' decision -- start making some phone calls to their senators, the bill may be brought back.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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June 24, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The Senate is getting ready to vote, any minute now, on the tax-extenders/jobs bill. I'll have a report in the morning.

* The BP oil spill disaster shuts down more of the Gulf Coast.

* In a bit of a surprise, the House approved the DISCLOSE Act late this afternoon, 219 to 206. It passed with the support of two House Republicans.

* Slightly better, but not even close to good enough: "This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that initial jobless claims fell by the largest amount in two months.... The new claims number dropped slightly more than economists predicted."

* I guess bipartisanship exists in some areas: "The Senate on Thursday approved tough new sanctions on Iran aimed at discouraging that country's development of nuclear weapons and support of terrorist groups." The vote was 99 to 0.

* President Obama welcomed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to the White House -- and to Ray's Hell Burger.

* High court ruling of note: "The Supreme Court Thursday restricted one of federal prosecutors' favorite tools for pursuing corrupt politicians and self-dealing corporate chiefs, and cast doubt on the conviction of former Enron chief Jeffrey Skilling."

* I didn't realize Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was in trouble, but he was replaced yesterday by Julia Gillard. It will be the first time the country's head of state is a woman. [Update: As it turns out, Australia's "head of state" is a bit more complicated than I'd realized. Apologies.]

* Former Vice President Al Gore was accused of sexual assault by an Oregon masseuse in 2006, but the matter was dropped by law enforcement officials for lack of evidence. Justin Elliott takes a closer look at the case and available information.

* BP is deeply unpopular.

* Fox News' Greta Van Susteren seems a tad confused about a) her responsibilities as a media professional; and b) the degree to which John McCain knows what on earth he's talking about.

* Taking a look at the efficacy of the nation's vocational programs.

* It's not a real campaign ad, but it's still the funniest campaign ad of the year.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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DEMS HOPE FOR ENERGY BILL MOMENTUM AFTER 'INSPIRATIONAL' CAUCUS.... With time running out, and expectations low, Senate leaders working on a energy/climate bill still hope to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and took the case to the Senate Democratic caucus room today with the hopes of firing up members. Participants left feeling encouraged.

Democrats put on a show of unity this afternoon, claiming a special caucus on energy legislation was an emotional and inspirational success of the first proportion.

Though they seem to lack the votes for a carbon cap, party leaders emphasized the "inspirational" nature of their discussion, attempting to throw some momentum behind legislation that has so far lacked it.

"A number of senators said this was the best caucus they've ever attended," Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said at a press conference after the meeting. "It was really very, very powerful. It was inspirational, quite frankly."

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has made climate legislation his hallmark issue, said the meeting was one of the most successful he'd ever attended.

Indeed, Kerry's office sent out a press release this afternoon, quoting the senator saying, "I just left one of the most motivating, energized, and even inspirational caucuses that I've been a part of since I've been here in the Senate for 26 years."

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), partnering with Kerry on the energy bill, added, "The Senate Democratic caucus that I just attended was absolutely thrilling. And by that I mean it was an uprising of the rank and file members of the caucus speaking with passion and purpose in favor of enacting strong comprehensive energy independence legislation this year."

This sounds great, and I'm glad members are feeling energized (no pun intended), but are we any closer now to regulating carbon emissions and combating global warming than we were yesterday? Probably not. The caucus seems largely united behind the idea of doing something -- which is, to be sure, good to hear -- but the challenge of putting together a worthwhile bill, and overcoming scandalous Republican obstructionism, is still daunting to the point of dejection.

A spokesperson for Harry Reid said that the final energy bill "will need broad bipartisan support" in order to come to the floor. Since exactly zero major pieces of legislation have enjoyed "broad bipartisan support" in this Congress, I'll continue to keep my expectations in check.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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STABENOW: REPUBLICANS 'WANT THIS ECONOMY TO FAIL'.... With Senate Republicans poised to kill the tax-extenders/jobs bill today -- it has 58 supporters, who will be denied a chance to vote, up or down, on the legislation -- Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) participated in a conference call this afternoon, and was understandably outraged by the GOP tactics.

"It is very clear that the Republicans in the Senate want this economy to fail. They see that things are beginning to turn around.... In cynical political terms, it doesn't serve them in terms of their election interests if things are beginning to turn around."

She added that she's "outraged about what has been happening," and described the likely defeat today as "extremely serious."

Of particular interest, Stabenow said Senate Republicans are "counting on the fact that no one knows what's going on here."

That's clearly true -- if the public realized the consequences of a successful GOP filibuster of this bill, I suspect there'd be quite a backlash.

But in some ways, that's the pernicious beauty of the cynicism, at least as far as Republicans are concerned -- they deny the Senate a chance to vote, the bill dies, the economy gets worse, and Democrats get blamed because they're in the majority. Americans suffer, but for the GOP, that's a small price to pay for a bump in the polls. Public confusion, coupled with inadequate media coverage, will mean rewards for those who were wrong, and punishment for those who were right.

I'm delighted this is starting to generate some real attention today -- alas, it's probably too late, unless voters in Maine and Massachusetts start calling Sens. Snowe, Collins, and Brown in huge numbers -- but I still don't think folks fully appreciate the consequences of failure here. As of tomorrow, 1.2 million jobless Americans will lose unemployment benefits. That number will grow by hundreds of thousands next week, and the week after, and the week after that. That's not only devastating for those immediately affected families, but it undermines the economy -- unemployment benefits tend to get spent, which makes them stimulative.

As a result of this bill dying, at least 200,000 jobs will be lost on just the measures in this bill related to Medicaid. The overall number is likely closer to 900,000 job losses. In a fragile economy, with a weak job market, it's unconscionable that 41 Senate Republicans and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) have the capacity to save those jobs, and chose not to act -- indeed, they choose not to even let the Senate vote.

Republicans continue to insist that the country simply can't afford this legislation, but it's already been scaled back so severely, the entire thing is paid for except for the unemployment benefits, which not only constitute emergency spending, but generally have been considered emergency spending by Congresses run by both parties.

This is nothing short of crazy. I've been watching this for weeks, and part of me still can't believe it's actually happening.

WonkRoom, Suzy Khimm, Ezra Klein, Joan McCarter, and Annie Lowrey have pieces on this that are worth checking out.

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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'ON THEIR SIDE'.... In recent months, we've seen Democrats push some campaign themes to describe Republicans, usually relying on "Party of No." Thanks in part to Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP, a new theme seems to be emerging.

The Democratic National Committee released this new clip today -- it's not a television ad, just a web video -- connecting Barton to a larger trend of GOP leaders siding with powerful interests over the needs of the public. The name of the ad is, "On Their Side."

If you can't watch clips from your work computer, the video starts with on-screen text that reads, "On The Side of Big Oil," followed by Barton's apology to BP's Tony Hayward. We then see, "On The Side of Insurance Companies," followed by a clip of Mitt Romney arguing that health insurance companies have nothing to do with health care being too expensive. The third hit says, "On The Side of Wall Street," followed by Michael Steele urging Americans to trust Wall Street to help the economy.

The wrap-up: "Republicans: This Is How They Would Govern."

It's not subtle, but it's effective. If the midterm elections are going to be nationalized, it's only reasonable to highlight who'll benefit from a GOP majority.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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'JOE BARTON IS NOT THE ISSUE'.... In one of the day's more entertaining media interviews, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" earlier, and host Joe Scarborough asked a reasonable question related to last week's infamous apology to BP: "Why is Joe Barton being allowed to keep his job, when Joe Barton apologized to a corporation that is destroying my home town's economy, and is destroying the environment across the Gulf Coast?"

Cantor didn't seem especially interested in addressing the issue -- the first part of the interview dealt with Gen. Stan McChrystal being relieved of his command -- and the Minority Whip was reduced to repeatedly reminding the audience that Barton apologized. Cantor eventually tried to compare Barton's apology to Vice President Biden's occasional gaffes, which only led the co-hosts to point out that Barton's apology was written down in advance.

Scarborough, to his credit, did not let up: "This hurts the Republican Party. This hurts the Republican brand. Joe Barton is the most powerful Republican on the Hill when it comes to energy policy, and that shows his mindset."

At least twice, Cantor insisted that Barton "is not the issue." DNC spokesperson Hari Sevugan, oddly enough, agreed.

"We don't say this often, but Eric Cantor's right -- Joe Barton's not the issue," Sevugan said. "The issue is a broader Republican culture of not just apologizing to the oil industry, but defending them and their other corporate benefactors at every turn and at the expense of middle class families and small businesses. They proved that in their opposition to the President holding BP to account and in their opposition to the President's call for a new energy policy that ensures we are never again in a position where we are solely reliant on oil and oil companies.

"And just as Republicans showed their allegiance in taking the side of oil companies in the wake of the BP disaster, they proved it taking the side of the insurance companies in the health reform debate and big Wall St banks in the financial reform debate. So, Eric Cantor is right -- Joe Barton's not the illness, he's a symptom."

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT DRAWS THE LINE ON 'NURTURING FAMILIES'.... Ordinarily, the annual presidential proclamation on Father's Day goes by unnoticed. But this year, President Obama's proclamation included a sentence that a lot of conservatives didn't like at all: "Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a step father, a grandfather, or caring guardian."

Yes, Obama included "two fathers." He did the same thing in May in a Mother's Day proclamation, using nearly identical language: "Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by two parents, a single mother, two mothers, a step-mom, a grandmother, or a guardian."

It's hard to overstate what a fit the religious right is throwing over this.

A Christian group is denouncing Barack Obama's salute to families headed by "two fathers" in the president's June 18 Father's Day proclamation. [...]

American Family Association president Tim Wildmon says, "This is the first time in our nation's history that a president has used Father's Day as an excuse to promote the radical homosexual agenda and completely redefine the word 'family.'"

The Family Research Council is outraged, calling the proclamation a "detour to promote homosexuality," and adding, "Sadly, the real victims of [the president's] agenda are the children."

Focus on the Family sent a message to supporters arguing that Obama "seems bent on bowing to an agenda that ensures more children will be excluded from their best chance for stability and success -- a married mother and father."

That's quite a reaction from two innocuous words in a largely-unread, ceremonial presidential proclamation. It's almost as if the religious right's hatred for gay people leads the movement to wildly overreact to a sensible, mainstream observation about modern, nurturing families.

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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FROM CHAIN-EMAILS TO BECK TO CONGRESS.... About a year ago, a right-wing chain-email started making the rounds, about an alleged nefarious scheme. As the story went, President Obama loaned $2 billion to a Brazilian oil company to drill for oil in Brazilian waters, to benefit China. Worse, the tale continued, George Soros was involved in some way, as an investor in the project.

The whole thing was debunked last year by, among others, FactCheck.org. In reality, it seems the Brazilian oil company, PetroBras, received a loan from the independent Export-Import Bank, approved by appointees of the Bush/Cheney administration. Soros is part of the project, but his investment came in 2008 -- months before the Export-Import Bank agreed to make the loan.

The Export-Import Bank agreed to the loan, by the way, in large part because PetroBras will use U.S.-made oilfield equipment and services on the project.

With this reality in mind, here was Glenn Beck's message to his misguided audience on Monday:

"Then Obama suspends the deepwater drilling at 1,500 meters. He says, 'He-ey, that's dangerous. 1,500 meters, that's crazy!' PetroBras is drilling at 2,777 meters. Obama knows it and loans $2 billion to? PetroBras. Last stop? PetroBras shareholders get rich. Oh my gosh, we're back at the beginning! Shareholder, PetroBras, getting rich. You getting screwed."

Beck added that the loan came "just days" after Soros strengthened his investment. None of this is true. The deranged media personality is just recycling nonsense from an old chain-email.

And yet, here's Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) the day after Beck's program:

"The thing that really is funny about this is we just sent $2 billion to Brazil so they could do offshore drilling.... We've got the energy here in the United States to solve these problems. We don't need to be sending Mr. Soros money in Brazil so he can make more money by doing offshore drilling with our taxpayers' money."

The problem here is not just that a House Republican is confused -- that's a daily occurrence -- but that GOP lawmakers believe they're getting actual, reliable information from Glenn Beck's program.

It's one thing to tolerate madness for entertainment's sake. It's even understandable for Republicans to cheer Beck on to keep the party base riled up. But actual members of Congress should know better than to rely on the self-described rodeo clown as a source of legitimate news, worthy of officials' interest.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D) second general-election ad in Nevada is targeting Sharron Angle's (R) opposition to Social Security and Medicare. The spot features commentary from a representative of the Alliance for Retired Americans, who described Angle's position this way: "This is crazy."

* On a related note, it's a Rasmussen poll, so take the results with a grain of salt, but the pollster finds Angle leading Reid in Nevada, 48% to 41%. Two weeks ago, Rasmussen showed Angle up by 11 points over the incumbent.

* In Florida's increasingly competitive Republican gubernatorial primary, state Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) is nervous enough to go after disgraced former health care executive Rick Scott in a hard-hitting new ad. Recent polls show Scott pulling into the lead.

* In Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows state Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) leading Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato (D), 45% to 35%.

* New Mexico's gubernatorial race looks very tight, with a new poll showing district attorney Susana Martinez (R) leading Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D) by the narrowest of margins, 44% to 43%.

* In Iowa, far-right activists hoped GOP gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad would pick Bob Vander Plaats as his running mate. He didn't -- Brandstad announced freshman state Sen. Kim Reynolds (R) is his choice.

* Carol Fowler, the South Carolina Democratic chairwoman, described Senate candidate Alvin Greene yesterday as "irrelevant to South Carolina voters and he is irrelevant to the fall campaign." Ouch.

* Dashing the hopes of some on the right, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he will not run for president in 2012.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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REPUBLICANS JUST DON'T LIKE THE UNEMPLOYED, CONT'D.... The evidence continues to pile up to suggest Republican lawmakers and candidates actively dislike -- on a personal level -- those who've lost their jobs in the recession.

Take Sharron Angle, the extremist Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, for example. Nevada recently passed Michigan as the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country, so it stands to reason that candidates in the state would be sympathetic to the plight of the jobless.

But Angle doesn't quite see it that way. This video, put together by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) campaign, highlights the Republican candidate's perspective on the unemployed, whom she describes as "spoiled." Angle added in a separate public appearance, "As your U.S. Senator, I'm not in the business of creating jobs."

This fits into a larger pattern for the party. One GOP congressman recently compared the unemployed to "hobos." In the House, GOP lawmakers tried to eliminate a successful jobs program. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) actually started pushing a measure to require the unemployed to take mandatory drug tests in exchange for benefits. Kentucky's Rand Paul wants the jobless to quit their bellyaching and "get back to work."

And this week, a unanimous Republican Senate caucus will apparently kill a tax-extenders bill that will, in turn, cut off unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of struggling Americans, and cut off state aid that will lead to hundreds of thousands of additional layoffs.

What did the unemployed ever do to offend the Republican Party this much?

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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PUTTING PENTAGON SPENDING ON THE TABLE.... As we've seen repeatedly, the Pentagon budget has been deemed entirely off-limits for too many policymakers, despite the fact that the United States now spends about as much on defense as every other country on the planet combined. For a Congress so concerned about deficits that it's willing to let unemployment benefits expire for struggling families, it's hardly outrageous to think at least some budget savings can be found in the enormous Pentagon budget.

This week has offered a little encouragement on this front. Center-right Democrats, who've historically joined Republicans in holding defense spending sacrosanct, are starting to signal flexibility on the issue.

Now that opposition is softening amid rising concern about the nation's fiscal future and the fact that defense makes up more than half the country's discretionary spending.

"We are going to have to adopt the philosophy that nothing can be off the table," said Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), one of the first members of the class of 2008 to be admitted into the Blue Dog Coalition. "And that is increasingly becoming the dominant view of the Blue Dogs."

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a centrist who is the House's top defense appropriator, believes his panel can reduce the Pentagon's budget top line somewhat without affecting military readiness, according to Dicks's chief of staff, George Behan.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) delivered a widely-noticed speech this week on the budget to the Third Way think tank, which also raised the specter of defense cuts, and which came and went without significant outrage from any of the usual suspects.

Not all of the news on this front has been heartening. Blue Dog Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) said he wants to leave exorbitant Pentagon spending alone, and instead look for "cuts to social programs."

But there are nevertheless signs of progress. Idaho's Minnick, arguably the most conservative Democrat in Congress, said more Blue Dogs were coming around to the notion that defense could not be considered a "sacred cow" by default.

Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, conceded this week, "The Pentagon's budget itself is not working right, so there are billions of dollars of waste you can get out of the Pentagon, lots of procurement waste. We're buying some weapons systems I would argue you don't need anymore."

I'll believe it when I see it, but there are at least some indications that Pentagon spending will be on the table the next time policymakers are looking at the budget with scissors in their hands.

That would clearly be a step in the right direction -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said, publicly and repeatedly, that the United States can't keep spending such vast amounts of money on the military indefinitely. If deficit hawks are going to be taken seriously, they'll eventually have to agree.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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WHEN THE POT CALLS THE KETTLE A 'PARASITE'.... In Missouri, a man named David Jungerman is drawing some attention for having placing a 45-foot-long banner on a tractor-trailer on his property. It reads, in all caps, "Are you a Producer or Parasite." The line below it reads, "Democrats -- Party of the Parasites."

Asked to explain his ugly message, Jungerman said he put up the sign to protest people who don't pay taxes, but who "always have their hand out for whatever the government will give them" in the form of social programs.

People, it turns out, like David Jungerman. (via Zaid Jilani)

The Raytown farmer who posted a sign on a semi-truck trailer accusing Democrats of being the "Party of Parasites" received more than $1 million in federal crop subsidies since 1995.

But David Jungerman says the payouts don't contradict the sign he put up in a corn field in Bates County along U.S. 71 Highway.

"That's just my money coming back to me," Jungerman, 72, said Monday. "I pay a lot in taxes. I'm not a parasite."

No, he's just the guy who's accepted nearly $1.1 million in taxpayer-financed farm subsidies over the past 15 years.

It's also worth noting that Jungerman and his backers may not realize it, but those "parasites" pay taxes, too. There are middle- and lower-class families who have been given a break on their federal income taxes, but they're still paying sales taxes, state taxes, Social Security taxes, and Medicare/Medicaid taxes.

When they get unemployment benefits or food stamps, they're just getting their "money coming back" to them, too.

But there's also an even more painful subtext to consider here. Jon Chait noted that the Producer vs. Parasite frame "is historically connected with white supremacy."

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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GOHMERT ENDORSES SOWELL'S HITLER COMPARISON.... Prominent right-wing columnist Thomas Sowell this week not only complained about President Obama securing $20 billion in escrow for Gulf Coast victims of BP's oil spill, he compared the administration's move to Hitler's dictatorship.

As offensive as this was, it was all the more startling when Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) endorsed the Hitler piece on the House floor.

Before reading directly from the piece at some length, Gohmert argued, "There's a brilliant man named Thomas Sowell. And, um, I didn't vote for Barack Obama in 2008, but I sure would have voted for Thomas Sowell. This man, well, his article says quite a lot."

He added that there are "useful idiots" in the United States who mistakenly urge us to make the president "a dictator for a little while." (Gohmert wasn't specific about who he was complaining about, probably because his target exists only in his imagination.)

Let's not brush past this development too quickly. A right-wing media figure compared the president to Hitler because Obama secured funding for the Gulf Coast -- a right-wing member of Congress found the comparison compelling enough to endorse it on the House floor.

There's something deeply wrong with the contemporary right, which will likely get worse if voters back its candidates in November.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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PASSING A SILLY MEDIA TEST.... I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I've become so accustomed to the inane chatter of talking heads that, while watching President Obama in the Rose Garden yesterday, it actually occurred to me to think, "What will the pundits complain about this time?"

After all, the recent chatter has been disparaging. The president held a White House conference, which was panned for reasons related to "emoting." Obama delivered an Oval Office address, which was panned for, in Chris Matthews' words, lacking a "sense" of "executive command."

What kind of complaining would we hear in response to yesterday's remarks about a change in military command in Afghanistan? Apparently, there isn't much -- the president seems to have satisfied the media's expectations. Here's Dana Milbank, for example, who often captures (shapes?) the media establishment's conventional wisdom.

It was 95 degrees in the Rose Garden. Reporters dripped with sweat. Vice President Biden's brow glistened. Defense Secretary Robert Gates's face was pink and Gen. David Petraeus's was red.

But the sight before them was rare enough to be worth the suffering: The commander in chief was being commanding.

Without benefit of his favorite transitional object -- the teleprompter malfunctioned at the start of his remarks -- Obama stood, preternaturally cool and dry, on the steps leading to the Oval Office and delivered some of the most forceful words of his presidency. [...]

For those craving strong presidential leadership, it was reassuring to hear unequivocal words such as "certainty" and "won't tolerate" on Obama's lips -- and even more reassuring that he was acting on those sentiments. The president, too often passive in the face of challenges to his authority, correctly recognized that McChrystal's insults to him and his advisers threatened to weaken his administration. For 36 hours, he flirted with a Carter-esque response -- expressing anger in words but not deeds -- before finally taking decisive action.

Slate's John Dickerson said the McChrystal affair was "a test -- more of a pop quiz, really -- of Obama's leadership skills" and the president "aced it." Obama, Dickerson added, "was resolute and commanding." [Update: To clarify, the Dickerson piece dealt only briefly with style-related issues, and was almost entirely about the substance of the Rose Garden remarks and the larger McChrystal decision.]

Time's Michael Crowley added, "The change of generals was the firm action of a hands-on executive. And a self-confident one, too."

Even Josh Marshall, who'd said earlier in the day that he was surprised Obama "had it in him," wrote last night, "When I woke up this morning I still couldn't quite see how President Obama could not fire McChrystal. But I also couldn't quite imagine him doing it. But he did. Showed me a different side of him. And what I really couldn't have imagined was that he found a way not just to acquit himself honorably and protect the office but actually enhance his prestige and standing."

The president doesn't seem to care much about media reactions when weighing major decisions, but I suspect many in the West Wing, who've no doubt grown tired of un-passable media tests, will be pleased that observers are finally satisfied with a presidential appearance, at least for now.

Postscript: The NYT has a fascinating tick-tock, by the way, on what led to McChrystal being relieved of command.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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GOP POISED TO KILL TAX-EXTENDERS BILL.... For weeks, Senate Democrats have tried to pass what's called the "tax-extenders bill" -- a key economic package that extends unemployment benefits, maintains popular tax breaks, protects doctors from Medicare cuts, and boosts state aid to prevent massive job layoffs in the states. The country needs this bill to pass, but Republicans won't let it come up for a vote.

In the hopes of finding a compromise, Dems have repeatedly scaled-back the measure, watering it down and removing worthwhile investments. The GOP has responded by insisting the reductions aren't enough, and that they still won't allow a vote.

It now appears Republicans are going to win this fight -- and Americans will lose.

Democratic leaders in the Senate have apparently failed to win enough support to overcome a Republican filibuster of a bill to help the poor, the old and the jobless, despite making a series of cuts to the measure over the past several weeks to appease deficit hawks.

"It looks like we're going to come up short," said a senior Democratic aide on Wednesday evening. "It looks like Republicans are prepared to kill aid to states, an extension of unemployment benefits, and ironically, the Republicans are prepared to kill efforts to close loopholes that allow companies to export jobs overseas." [...]

"Sen. Baucus and Sen. Reid did everything they can to try to pick up the handful of votes needed to overcome the Republican filibuster" said the Dem aide. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson has said repeatedly he would not vote for the measure unless its cost was completely offset, so Reid and Baucus focused on moderate Maine Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who demanded more cuts to the bill if they were to break the unified GOP opposition.

For Snowe and Collins, nothing was good enough. Democrats appear to have lined up 58 votes, but in the Senate, 42 is greater than 58, even when our economic health is on the line.

In the real world, this means millions of jobless Americans will lose their already-modest benefits, and hundreds of thousands of workers will be laid off over the next year, including teachers, police officers, and firefighters. All of this will happen because Republicans are more concerned about the deficit -- a deficit they created under Bush/Cheney -- than the economy.

It's unpleasant to think about, and I really hope it's not true, but it may be time for a discussion about whether GOP lawmakers are trying to deliberately sabotage the economy to help their midterm election strategy. After all, these same Republicans have supported deficit-financed tax-extenders before -- there's no credible reason to change course now. On the contrary, with the economy struggling to break through, the need for this package is more obvious, not less, if your goal is to actually improve economic conditions.

The vote is expected today.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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June 23, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* A painful setback in the Gulf: "BP suffered another setback in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, when a discharge of liquid and gases forced the company to remove the containment cap that for three weeks had been able to capture a large portion of the oil gushing from its damaged well.... Live video from the seafloor showed oil and gas storming out of the well unrestricted."

* Part of the housecleaning: "The Mineral Management Service is no more. As of today, the agency in charge of overseeing offshore oil exploration-and the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon drilling rig-will be known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. That's the Bureau of Ocean Energy, or BOE, for short."

* Housing: "Today, the Commerce Department reported that sales of new homes, well, went off a cliff after the expiry of the Obama administration homebuyer tax credits. In May, sales were at a rate of 300,000 a year. That is 33 percent lower than in April, when the rate was 446,000, and 18.3 percent lower year-on-year."

* Afghanistan: "June has become the deadliest month of the Afghan war for the NATO-led international military force. An Associated Press count based on announcements by the alliance and national commands shows 76 international service members have died this month. The total includes 46 Americans."

* Senate confirmation of Gen. David Petraeus to take command in Afghanistan is expected "within days." The chamber can move pretty quickly when it wants to.

* Elizabeth Warren came up with the idea of the consumer financial protection agency, and she's fairly pleased with how it's coming together.

* This was the first earthquake I've ever felt in my entire life.

* It's almost as if House Republicans are trying to appear ignorant about health care policy.

* All kinds of interesting media moves today, including the estimable Spencer Ackerman moving from the Washington Independent to Wired; Ron Fournier making the transition from the AP to National Journal; and CNN hiring Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker for a new primetime show.

* Apparently SAT preparation is so popular that it's now showing up in some unexpected places.

* I really don't like it when Glenn Beck talks like this: "I think we're headed for a civil war."

* John Cole noted yesterday what he doesn't understand about contemporary movement conservatism: its proponents are "simply operating in their own made-up fictional universe in which history and the English language mean different things to them than to anyone outside the cult." I have the same thought, literally every day.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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GERSON'S MISPLACED HATRED FOR AL FRANKEN.... Our first hint that Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson really hates Al Franken came two years ago this week. Gerson, George W. Bush's former chief speechwriter, drew upon some of Franken's satirical work to insist that Franken would push our "political discourse ... toward vulgarity and viciousness."

It seemed like an odd complaint coming from a man who foisted George "F**k Saddam" Bush and Dick "Go f**k yourself" Cheney onto the world, but we nevertheless know with the benefit of hindsight that Gerson's fears were unfounded. Al Franken has been an exceptional senator, bringing a degree of intelligence and seriousness of purpose that the institution sorely needs.

Nevertheless, we were reminded of Gerson's Franken hatred again today, with a column about the Minnesota senator's recent speech on conservative judicial activism at a gathering of the American Constitution Society.

One of Franken's points often goes unsaid: the "balls and strikes" metaphor popularized by Chief Justice John Roberts is badly flawed. As the University of Chicago's Geoffrey Stone explained in a terrific piece in April, the metaphor fundamentally confuses the responsibilities of a jurist: "Constitutional law is not a mechanical exercise of just 'applying the law.'"

The law defines bedrock freedoms in ambiguous ways, and the Constitution did so deliberately -- the "framers fully understood that they were leaving it to future generations to use their intelligence, judgment and experience to give concrete meaning to the expressed aspirations."

For Franken, the problem is that conservative judges claim to be calling balls and strikes, while consistently using their power to side with corporations and powerful interests over the needs of the public at large.

Gerson was outraged.

Franken mocks Roberts's description of the role of a judge as an umpire, applying rules he does not create. "How ridiculous," Franken says. "Judges are nothing like umpires."

No, in Franken's view judges should be more like the Committee of Public Safety during the French Revolution -- an unelected group of super-legislators who issue binding verdicts based on their advanced conceptions of justice and class warfare.

Of course, Franken said nothing of the kind. Gerson just got a little hysterical and let his imagination run wild.

The columnist added, "Franken is attempting to be serious, but he should not be taken seriously. A judge who does not think himself an umpire may end up an autocrat."

Jon Chait replied, "Really? Anybody who acknowledges that judicial rulings sometimes involve interpretation rather than merely discerning objective fact is not only wrong but doesn't deserve to be taken seriously?"

Apparently. Perhaps the more important lesson is that columnists who perceive judges interpreting ambiguous 18th-century legal frameworks as little more than robots are the ones who "should not be taken seriously."

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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WHEN IT DOUBT, THE RIGHT GOES WITH THE HITLER COMPARISON.... After President Obama successfully secured $20 billion in escrow for Gulf Coast victims of BP's oil spill, the right tried a variety of attacks. By now, they're familiar -- it was a "shakedown"; it was "extortion"; it was "unconstitutional."

But Thomas Sowell kicked things up a notch, taking the right-wing whining about the president fighting for small businesses and struggling families to a whole new level this week.

[D]uring the worldwide Great Depression, the German Reichstag passed a law "for the relief of the German people." That law gave Hitler dictatorial powers that were used for things going far beyond the relief of the German people -- indeed, powers that ultimately brought a rain of destruction down on the German people and on others. If the agreement with BP was an isolated event, perhaps we might hope that it would not be a precedent. But there is nothing isolated about it.

Yep, we've moved past the "shakedown" phase, and have entered the "Hitler-esque" stage. Oh good.

Likewise, Matt Yglesias noted today, "In addition, I note that yesterday noted fascism scholar and moron Jonah Goldberg observed that there's a slippery slope from infrastructure projects to Auschwitz."

Of course there is.

Far-right rhetoric is routinely exasperating, but this Nazi preoccupation holds a special place in the lexicon. Remember when Obama's efforts to rescue American auto manufacturing were compared to Hitler? And how many times did Republicans compare health care reform to the Nazis? Or how about the time a Republican congressman compared Obama to Hitler over national-service opportunities? Let's also not forget Newt Gingrich's recent assertion that Obama and his backers are actually worse than Nazis.

On its face, the fact that so many conservatives rely on Hitler comparisons so often is a reminder of an unfortunate truth -- much of the discourse on the right has gone hopelessly insane.

But I'm also reminded of the time some anonymous contributor posted a homemade video to MoveOn.org's website comparing Bush to Hitler, without the group's knowledge. MoveOn pulled the submission, but to this day, far-right voices use the incident -- "See how extreme liberals are? MoveOn compared Bush to Hitler!" -- to dismiss the left, even though the attack is baseless.

But if the left is radical because some random guy compared Bush to Hitler, what does this tell us about the right, which routinely compares Obama to Hitler?

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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ANOTHER REPUBLICAN, ANOTHER CHICKEN, ANOTHER COSTLY MISTAKE.... Lately, when we think of Republican campaigns making chicken-related mistakes, we think of Nevada's Sue Lowden, who suggested trading poultry for medical care made sense. The comments likely cost Lowden the race.

Now, Republicans have another chicken-related controversy to worry about.

The first line of Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's campaign biography boasts the Democratic governor is "the son of a steelworker" who "never imagined he'd be able to go to college."

Indeed, Strickland's humble upbringing is just the type campaigns love to highlight, and never more so during an economic climate that still hasn't shown signs for recovery for many Ohioans.

But the campaign of Strickland's Republican opponent -- former U.S. Rep. John Kasich -- is causing a stir for attacking the same simple origins Strickland celebrates.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said in a statement Tuesday Strickland is a poor manager of Ohio's cities because the Democrat was raised "in a chicken shack on Duck Run."

As if that weren't enough, the Kasich campaign also mocked Strickland's modest upbringing the day before, saying the governor doesn't care about urban areas because he was raised "in a chicken shack on Duck Run."

Is this really where the Republican campaign wants to go? After John Kasich left Congress, he split time between Fox News and Lehman Brothers ... and now his campaign wants to insult the governor based on his modest upbringing?

DNC Chairman Tim Kaine appeared in Cleveland today, and defended Strickland: "I noticed that the other campaign yesterday ridiculed him for 'growing up in a chicken shack on Duck Run Ohio.' I don't know why they thought that's a bad thing, but maybe that's how it looks from the perspective of a Lehman Brothers consultant."

In the 21st century, it's rare, even for wealthy Republicans, to go out of their way to run a pro-elitist statewide campaign. It's curious move for a candidate whose polls seem to be moving in the wrong direction, and we'll see if this strategy works out well for Kasich.

Postscript: It looks like Kasich's campaign spokesperson apologized this afternoon, saying his mockery of the governor's upbringing wasn't meant "pejoratively."

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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'I WELCOME DEBATE AMONG MY TEAM, BUT I WON'T TOLERATE DIVISION'.... President Obama spoke in the Rose Garden this afternoon, flanked by Biden, Gates, Mullen, and Petraeus, to announce that he "accepted the resignation" of Gen. Stanley McChrystal -- who was not at the event -- but did so with "considerable regret," but with "certainty" that the decision was the right move.

After heralding McChrystal's "remarkable career in uniform," the president added, "But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general, or a president. As difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for national security."

And then Obama explained exactly why.

"The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan."

In case there were any ambiguities, the president added that "our democracy depends upon institutions that are stronger than individuals -- that includes strict adherence to the military chain of command, and respect for civilian control over that chain of command."

Highlighting the practical effect of McChrystal's and his team's remarks to Rolling Stone, Obama went on to explain:

"I believe that this mission demands unity of effort across our alliance and across my national security team. And I don't think that we can sustain that unity of effort and achieve our objectives in Afghanistan without making this change. That too has guided my decision.

"I've just told my national security team that now is the time for all of us to come together. Doing so is not an option but an obligation. I welcome debate among my team but I won't tolerate division.

"All of us have personal interests. All of us have opinions. Our politics often fuels conflict. But we have to renew our sense of common purpose and meet our responsibilities, to one another and to our troops who are in harm's way and to our country.

"We need to remember what this is all about. Our nation is at war. We face a very tough fight in Afghanistan. But Americans don't flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks. We persist and we persevere."

As for Petraeus, it appears he's giving up his role at CENTCOM to replace McChrystal in Afghanistan. It will require Senate confirmation, which I suspect won't be much of a problem. Indeed, whatever temptations Republicans might have had about trashing the president for relieving McChrystal of his command quickly disappeared with the Petraeus announcement.

As for whether the president made the right call today, his remarks seemed to resolve any questions nicely -- McChrystal did more than just engage in locker-room-style bravado, he signaled the kind of division the president simply couldn't tolerate.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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OBAMA RELIEVES MCCHRYSTAL OF COMMAND.... This morning's schedule offered a pretty big hint. President Obama met with Gen. Stanley McChrystal for only 20 minutes in the Oval Office, and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan then departed -- before a scheduled meeting of officials to discuss the ongoing war effort. If McChrystal was going to stay at his post, it seemed the four-star general likely would have stuck around.

He didn't for a reason. The Commander in Chief relieved McChrystal of his command today.

President Obama today fired embattled Gen. Stanley McChrystal from his position as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan after the general made disparaging comments in a magazine story about top administration officials.

In a striking development, McChrystal will be replaced by Gen. David Petraeus, the current CENTCOM commander. It's unclear, at this point, if Petraeus will try to take on both tasks at the same time, but the shift from McChrystal to Petraeus is stunning and unexpected. At a minimum, it signals something of a doubling down -- by tapping Petraeus, it's clear Obama isn't changing course in Afghanistan.

More soon.

Steve Benen 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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DEAR JOE BARTON: STOP DIGGING.... Rep. Joe Barton (R) has done a fair amount of apologizing lately. It started with a public apology to BP, which was soon followed by an apology for the apology. The right-wing Texan privately began apologizing to Gulf Coast Republicans, and apologized to his caucus this morning for all the trouble he caused.

And with that last apology, the House Republican leadership decided to let Barton off the hook, treating the whole fiasco as oil under the bridge.

But some of us cynical types can't help but wonder if maybe Barton isn't quite sincere about his regrets. Dave Weigel noted this morning that Barton has apparently reversed course on his half-hearted repentance.

Hours after getting a respite from House Republicans, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) has cheekily responded to criticism over his "apology to BP" by tweeting a link to an American Spectator article titled, "Joe Barton was right."

The article by Peter Hannaford is a robust defense of what Barton said, knocking the Obama administration for "Alinsky" tactics and hatred of business.

Let me try to put this in a way Barton will understand. When a lawmaker is sincerely sorry about an ostensible mistake, and believes he was wrong, he doesn't turn around hours later to boast publicly that he was right. It's the kind of move that suggests his apology was made for the sake of political expedience.

Interestingly, Barton's office scrambled to remove the tweet -- it has, of course, been captured with screen-grabs -- and the right-wing American Spectator piece is either currently unavailable or has also been removed. It reinforces the notion that Barton probably realizes he's screwed up -- again.

And in the larger context, by one measure, it appears Joe Barton has now unapologized for apologizing for his apology.

Remember, this guy is the leading House Republican on matters related to energy and climate policy. Seriously.

Update: Greg Sargent put it this way: "It's a head-spinner: Barton apologizes to BP. Then he apologizes for his apology. Then he unapologizes and says he was right all along. And now he's trying to expunge any sign that he unapologized. Maybe Barton should just stop talking. Plug his damn hole already."

Second Update: A member of Barton's staff is now willing to take the blame for the misguided message on Twitter.

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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HEALTH CARE REFORM'S POPULARITY GETS ANOTHER BOOST.... Last week, a national Associated Press-GfK poll found that support for the Affordable Care Act was not only the rise, but had reached new heights -- health care reform's supporters outnumbered opponents, 45% to 42%.

Now, we have another poll with similar results. A new Gallup poll shows support inching up, with supporters topping opponents -- 49% of respondents said passage of the law is a "good thing," while 46% said it's a "bad thing." That's a modest shift in the right direction from a few months, but it's a shift nevertheless.

Of particular interest, though, were the breakdowns by age group.

On the basis of age, the largest well of opposition is found among seniors, 60% of whom call passage of the bill a bad thing, similar to the 57% in April. By contrast, attitudes are more favorable than unfavorable among young and middle-aged adults.

The Affordable Care Act is quite popular among Americans aged 18 to 29, with 57% believing the new law is a good thing. Among those 30 to 49 and those 50 to 64, support isn't quite as strong, but supporters clearly outnumber opponents in both age groups, and the favorable attitudes have increased since April.

It's the older folks who aren't happy -- opposition is nearly 2-to-1, and it's the only age group where opposition has gone up, not down, since April.

This tell us a couple of interesting things. The first is that right-wing efforts to scare the elderly -- the constituency that's generally skeptical of Obama anyway -- have been largely successful. Seniors love their government-run socialized medicine, and they're worried about Democrats finding cost-savings in unnecessary Medicare spending. The second is that those who are likely to be affected most by the new law are those most likely to approve of it.

Regardless, in the bigger picture, one of the keys to the Republican midterm strategy is predicated on the notion that Americans just hate the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, just this morning, House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office insisted, without evidence, that "the American people remain squarely opposed" to health care reform, and recognize "the rising public backlash against the new law."

Boehner may want to consider updating those talking points; they're both stale and wrong.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* As expected, state Rep. Nikki Haley (R) cruised to an easy victory in yesterday's South Carolina Republican gubernatorial primary runoff. She'll face Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, with Haley positioned as the heavy favorite.

* The party establishment backed and recruited Cal Cunningham in North Carolina's Democratic Senate primary, but Democratic voters stuck with North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who easily won yesterday's primary runoff. Marshall will take on incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) in November, who Dems continue to consider vulnerable.

* Tea Partiers got what they wanted in Utah, as right-wing attorney Mike Lee won the Republican Senate primary, edging businessman Tim Bridgewater.

* Speaking of Utah, Blue Dog Rep. Jim Matheson (D) easily won his first primary challenge, dispatching educator Claudia Wright by a 2-to-1 margin.

* In South Carolina's 1st congressional district, Tim Scott easily defeated Paul Thurmond in the Republican primary, and will likely be the first African-American Republican elected to Congress since Oklahoma's J.C. Watts. It is curious, though, that the NRCC didn't include Scott in its "Young Guns" program.

* The closely-watched Senate race in Pennsylvania couldn't be any closer. The latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Rep. Joe Sestak (D) and former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) tied at 41% each.

* It didn't take long at all for John McCain's (R) campaign in Arizona to make an attack ad out of primary challenger J.D. Hayworth's (R) background as a pitchman in a controversial infomercial.

* And despite Rep. Mark Kirk's (R) apparent allergy to the truth, he's very likely to benefit from Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones splitting progressive votes with Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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GOP LETS BARTON OUT OF THE DOGHOUSE.... As recently as Monday, the "vultures were circling" around Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), following his groveling apology to BP during a public hearing last week. Democrats pounced, and several leading Republicans took pains to distance themselves from the right-wing Texan.

But Republican humiliation appears to have faded, and Barton is apparently off the hook.

House Republicans who condemned Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and threatened to yank his position atop the Energy and Commerce Committee have backed off and will let Barton remain the party's top lawmaker on the panel.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who rebuked Barton for his BP apology last week, told the House Republican Conference Wednesday morning in a closed door meeting that it's time to move on.

"Joe has done the right thing by apologizing -- it's time to move on," Boehner told his Republican colleagues, according to multiple sources in the room.

As far as I can tell, Democrats couldn't be more pleased. If Republicans threw Barton under the bus, removed him from his committee post, and guaranteed he wouldn't be the next committee chairman next year, the majority party would have had a slightly harder time exploiting the controversy. But for whatever reason, the GOP has done Dems another favor -- Barton apologized to BP, and Republicans aren't going to do anything about it.

Indeed, he's also apparently welcome back on the fundraising circuit -- Barton will be in Florida next week, helping Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) raise some money.

So, it's back to business as usual for the Party of BP.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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THE COMPANY VITTER KEEPS.... When looking ahead to this year's most competitive Senate races, most observers tend to overlook Sen. David Vitter's (R) re-election campaign in Louisiana. At first blush, that seems odd -- after all, Vitter ran on a right-wing, "family-values" platform and then got caught with prostitutes. He's also spent the last six years fighting on the wrong side of almost every issue.

The polls, for now, show Vitter leading anyway. That may soon change.

For one thing, Vitter has chosen to fight for BP and oil companies, which might not go over well in Louisiana under the circumstances. For another, Vitter has kept Brent Furer on the payroll.

Who's Brent Furer? He's the Senate aide who allegedly held his ex-girlfriend hostage, "threatening to kill her, placing his hand over her mouth, and cutting her in the hand and neck."

After drinking at a restaurant, the two returned to Furer's Capitol Hill apartment, the report says. Furer "would not let her leave." He "pulled on her coat, which caused it to rip," then "pulled out a knife and stabbed [her] in the hand," the police report says.

Charging documents allege that Furer became angry when he found phone numbers for other men in her blackberry. He smashed her phone when she tried to call 911, the records say, and he shoved her to the floor when she tried to leave, then held his hand over her mouth and threw her on a bed.

Demopoulos told police Furer "uttered the words to her, 'Do you want to get serious.'" Then, the arrest warrant states, Furer "grabbed an unknown object and held it under her neck. The suspect asked the complainant, 'Do you want to die?' The complainant replies and she stated, 'No, I don't want to die.'"

After a 90 minute standoff, Furer made her promise not to call police, and then allowed her to leave. She fled to a friend's house, and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. A slash on her chin took eight stitches to close, the police report says.

Brent Furer now receives taxpayer money to oversee women's issues for Sen. Vitter. I wish I were kidding, but there's nothing funny about this.

Vitter is well aware of Furer's transgressions. Vitter is also well aware of the fact that Furer has been arrested on four other occasions -- three times for DUI, and once for cocaine possession. Indeed, at present, Furer remains wanted on an open warrant in Baton Rouge.

The ABC News report noted, "Those who have had encounters with Furer say his presence on Vitter's payroll raises serious questions about the senator's judgment."

You think?

Update: That was quick -- Furer resigned this morning.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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STEELE URGES 'TRUST' OF WALL STREET.... We talked yesterday about Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's appearance on CNBC, where he argued in support of George W. Bush's job-creation efforts -- apparently unaware of how spectacularly those policies failed.

But as it turns out, Steele had another interesting insight to share during the same interview.

RNC chair Michael Steele defended Wall Street as the creators of wealth in a combative interview today while urging the Obama admin not to "demonize" and "demagogue" against a system that plunged the economy into recession.

In a stop on CNBC's "Squawk Box," Steele attacked government spending and the admin, all while urging more trust in Wall Street.

"Don't trust the federal government to get it done. We're here on Wall Street. We are on Main Street. Trust those people who built the economy in the past. The federal government has never created one job that is sustainable long term."

"Good luck telling the American people to trust Wall Street to create jobs," shot back host Erin Burnett.

Good luck, indeed. I haven't the foggiest idea why Steele says things like this. Steele may not remember 2008, but it was an unregulated Wall Street that brought the global economic system to its knees. Americans bailed the financial industry out, and then the industry hired legions of lobbyists to work with Republicans to kill efforts to bring some safeguards and accountability to the system.

Michael Steele wants us to "trust those people"? Does he not realize that the public is generally not fond of Wall Street right now?

There's also, of course, the larger matter of where Republicans' loyalties lie. When it comes to the BP oil spill disaster, Republicans side with the oil industry. When it comes to the economy, Republicans side with Wall Street. When it comes to health care, Republicans side with insurance companies. When it comes to energy policy, Republicans side with polluters.

I've seen the polls, and I know which way the partisan winds seem to be blowing, but this has to be the strangest election-year message I've ever heard.

Postscript: Just as I finished typing this, I see an item from Sam Stein noting that Steele is slamming the Obama White House today for not "cracking down on Wall Street" enough. This comes less than a day after Steele slammed the Obama White House for being too tough on Wall Street.

Our political system would be so much more effective with a serious, credible opposition party. What's become of Republicans is genuinely sad.

Steve Benen 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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A DELAY IN ENERGY TALKS.... For those closely watching developments on the energy/climate bill in the Senate, today was poised to be a big day. The White House had convened a meeting with congressional leaders, and President Obama reportedly hoped to make at least some progress on putting together a deal.

The scheduled meeting has, however, been postponed.

The White House on Tuesday abruptly canceled a planned energy summit between President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers, citing a scheduling conflict.

Obama had been scheduled to meet with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), their respective leadership teams, and the chairmen and ranking members of relevant committees Wednesday morning. According to Senate aides, the meeting was planned to discuss the chances of comprehensive energy legislation.

The time the president was going to spend with lawmakers he'll now spend with Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

The positive side of this is that it gives the various leaders involved in the process time to continue to work on possible avenues of compromise. The far less encouraging side is that the Senate is simply running out of time, and delays make success less likely.

The meeting has reportedly been rescheduled for early next week.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (1)

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THE GOP PURGE CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM.... Arguably the most significant election result yesterday wasn't found in one of the statewide contests; it was an incumbent Republican congressman getting trounced in a primary runoff.

South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis has been bounced from his longtime seat by a well-known prosecutor after challengers questioned the Republican's conservative credentials.

Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg won the GOP primary runoff Tuesday.

Inglis has always scored well with conservative organizations. But his challengers this year painted him as a liberal who voted for Wall Street and banking bailouts in 2008.

It wasn't close -- despite having represented the area for 12 years, Inglis lost by a ridiculous 42-point margin, 71% to 29%.

Given the one-sided nature of the results, it's tempting to think Inglis must have been caught up in some devastating scandal, since incumbents in good standing just don't get humiliated like this often. But Inglis' only crime was taking on a moderate, pragmatic tone, which led Republicans to revolt.

I emphasize "tone" because Inglis had a very conservative voting record, and scored well among the far-right organizations that grade lawmakers on their positions.

But Inglis expressed a willingness to work with Democrats on energy policy; he urged his constituents not to take Glenn Beck too seriously; he thought Joe Wilson was wrong to heckle the president during a national address; and he said his main focus as a lawmaker was to find "solutions" to problems. Last year, Inglis said the Republican Party has a chance to "lose the stinking rot of self-righteousness" and "to understand we are all in need of some grace."

And as a result, Republicans turned on Inglis and he lost by 42 points. He was a conservative Republican in a conservative Republican district, but the GOP base decided he simply wasn't right-wing enough for their voracious appetites.

There's been some media interest this year in ideological "purges," with unhinged activists driving reasonable policymakers from their posts. We've seen it repeatedly with Republicans over the last year -- Arlen Specter, Dede Scozzafava, Charlie Crist, Bob Bennett -- with the party showing no tolerance for mainstream GOP officials who fail to toe the right-wing line in every instance.

To my mind, Inglis is the most outrageous example yet, given that his voting record made him a reliable conservative ally, and his greatest sin -- voting for the financial industry bailout -- led him to take the same position on the same issue as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.

The goal, apparently, is to create a smaller, more rigid, less reasonable Republican Party, which discourages diversity of thought and even a constructive tone.

Inglis' humiliating defeat also sends a message to Republican lawmakers who might consider constructive lawmaking: don't do it. The GOP base doesn't want responsible leaders who'll try to solve problems; it wants hard-right ideologues.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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SHOULD HE STAY OR SHOULD HE GO NOW.... President Obama spoke briefly in the Cabinet Room late yesterday afternoon, and was asked one question by a reporter: "Mr. President, are you going to fire Mr. McChrystal?"

"Gen. McChrystal is on his way here and I am going to meet with him," the president said. "Secretary Gates will be meeting with him, as well. I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed poor judgment, but I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions."

And with that, the guessing game about what happens next continued.

For every reasonable prediction forecasting McChrystal's professional survival, there's an equally reasonable prediction forecasting the opposite. As of this morning, though, most of the signals seem to point to the general's departure.

America's top military commander in Afghanistan is unlikely to survive the fallout from remarks he made about colleagues in a magazine profile to be published Friday, according to a Pentagon source who has ongoing contacts with the general.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal will likely resign Wednesday, the source said.

By all accounts, the president's paramount concern is with the larger mission in Afghanistan, and if Obama concludes that he still has confidence in McChrystal's ability to do the job, the general will be in a position to keep his command. The key question, then, is whether McChrystal's locker-room-style derision has undermined not only his reputation, but also the larger war effort.

The general seems to believe he has.

During his round of phone calls to top officials of the Obama administration whom he and his team disparaged to a Rolling Stone reporter, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said, "I've compromised the mission," a senior administration source tells ABC News.

Whether he did so irrevocably is at the top of the agenda in his Oval Office meeting with President Obama this morning.... "He'll have to have some pretty good answers to some tough questions," a senior White House official tells ABC News.

Jake Tapper added, "But if McChrystal by his own admission has compromised the mission, where does that leave him?"

It's a good question.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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June 22, 2010

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Mike Allen thinks all signs point to Gen. McChrystal's ouster. Michael Scherer thinks all signs point to the opposite. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

* There is one report, from Joe Klein citing an anonymous source, that McChrystal has offered to resign.

* Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today that his top commander in Afghanistan "made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment" in his remarks to Rolling Stone.

* Plenty of Republicans have been critical of McChrystal today, but as far as I can tell, only one has said publicly that the president probably ought to fire him.

* Ugh: "Sales of previously built homes dropped in May after huge gains the previous two months, a sign that the federal tax credit that helped energize sales at the start of the selling season has sputtered out sooner than expected."

* OMB Director Peter Orszag will leave his post next month, becoming the first member of the president's cabinet to depart. His 18 months on the job is actually a fairly lengthy run by contemporary standards.

* Good to see this on the radar again: "The Obama administration on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious plan that aspires to end homelessness among some of society's most vulnerable groups within the next decade."

* In a pleasant surprise, the Senate confirmed a whole bunch of pending administration nominees, and three district court judges, in one unanimous vote today. [Update: It turns out the three confirmed judges were actually confirmed unanimously on separate votes yesterday, not today. Apologies.]

* Five months after a devastating earthquake, all is not well in Haiti's Port-au-Prince.

* Standing up for health care reform: "President Barack Obama unveiled a package of consumer benefits Tuesday to build support for his health care overhaul within a divided nation and warned Republicans about trying to repeal his landmark law. 'We're not going back,' said a defiant president."

* On a related note, Obama is pushing insurers not to use reform as an excuse to raise premiums.

* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R)'s economic plan would increase taxes on some in the middle class, and cut taxes on millionaires. No wonder the right loves him.

* Will Congress pass a budget blueprint this year? Not so much.

* Good news out of the Wall Street reform conference committee on card-swipe fees.

* GAO to investigate for-profit colleges. Should be interesting.

* Big news in the media world: "CNN announced on Monday that it will no longer use content from the Associated Press, ending a business relationship that had been in place since the cable network's inception." CNN will be in a position to act as a permanent AP rival.

* Speaking of interesting media developments, Rolling Stone scored an incredible scoop with its McChrystal story, but handled it incredibly poorly.

* And in case anyone missed it, the major Rolling Stone story on McChrystal is, finally, online.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THE BROADER SIGNIFICANCE OF MICHAEL STEELE'S CONFUSION ON JOBS.... Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele spoke to CNBC earlier -- I feel like we haven't seen him in a while, and I'm glad he's back -- struggling to explain the Republican approach to job creation.

Of particular interest, Steele suggested the economy would improve if only we'd go back to the Bush/Cheney policies. "George Bush created a lot of jobs," the RNC chairman insisted. Challenged on whether the claim made any sense at all, Steele added, "I think jobs were created. I'm almost confident about that. And I think the markets reflect that."

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As much as I enjoyed the phrase "I'm almost confident about that," it's hard to overstate how ridiculous Steele's comments were. George Bush did not create "a lot of jobs" -- at the end of Bush's first term, it was the first administration in the modern era to go four years with a net job growth of zero. By the end of the second term, the net gain under Bush was about 1 million jobs.

That's not "a lot"; it's a disaster. It's a dreadful period unlike any other in generations. Indeed, it's very likely more jobs will be created in 2010 than in the entire eight years Bush was president.

Steele thinks "the markets reflect" Bush's success on the economy? The day Bush was sworn into office in January 2001, the Dow Jones stood at 10,732.46. The day he left, it was 7,949. In other words, after eight years of Bush/Cheney, the Dow had a cumulative gain of negative 2,783 points.

Steele does realize that negative is bad, right?

But it wasn't just Steele's confusion about facts and figures that bothered me. What was troubling was the reminder that Republicans, instead of feeling humiliated by Bush's stunning failures, actually believe the United States would be better off if only we'd go back to the same policies that didn't work.

If I'm Steele, and I'm trying to be intellectually serious and honest, I tell interviewers, "You know what? Bush's way didn't work, and the status quo isn't good enough. The Republican Party is moving forward with a new vision for economic growth that has nothing to do with the policies that fell short in the past." It's a weak pitch, but at least it'd be coherent.

But that's not the message. Instead, the RNC chairman tries to tell the public with a straight face, "George Bush created a lot of jobs" -- a genuinely idiotic claim that no one can take seriously.

It's a problem that Republicans were dreadfully wrong about economic policy in the Bush era, but the really painful realization is that the GOP believes they were right, and want to go back to what failed.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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ABOUT THAT MORATORIUM RULING.... President Obama recently imposed a rather popular moratorium on new deepwater oil drilling, but the move was blocked today by a federal judge in New Orleans.

Administration attorneys insisted the delay was necessary to ensure safety regulations, but District Court Judge Martin Feldman disagreed, concluding that "an invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in depths of over 500 feet simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country." The ruling, not surprisingly, will be appealed immediately.

But before we look past today's ruling, it's worth noting that Feldman perhaps should have recused himself.

The federal judge who overturned Barack Obama's offshore drilling moratorium appears to own stock in numerous companies involved in the offshore oil industry -- including Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to BP prior to its April 20 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico -- according to 2008 financial disclosure reports. [...]

According to Feldman's 2008 financial disclosure form, posted online by Judicial Watch, the judge owned stock in Transocean, as well as five other companies that are either directly or indirectly involved in the offshore drilling business.

It's not surprising that Feldman, who is a judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana, has invested in the offshore drilling business -- an AP investigation found earlier this month that more than half the federal judges in the districts affected by the BP spill have financial ties to the oil and gas industry.

It hardly inspires confidence. Indeed, Ian Millhiser recently explained, "Industry ties among federal judges are so widespread that they are beginning to endanger the courts' ability to conduct routine business. Last month, so many members of the right-wing Fifth Circuit were forced to recuse themselves from an appeal against various energy and chemical companies that there weren't enough untainted judges left to allow the court to hear the case."

Update: Looks like the estimable Kate Sheppard looked up Feldman's financial disclosure records even quicker and had this story first.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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REPUBLICAN DECRIES OBAMA 'ARROGANCE' OVER FIGHTING FOR GULF COAST.... Ever since Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) public apology to BP, Democrats have been desperate to characterize the Republican Party as siding with the foreign oil giant over U.S. interests. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but it amazes me to see so many Republicans help Democrats in this endeavor.

In some instances, this has meant a direct endorsement of Barton's sentiments, as well as the argument from the 114-member Republican Study Committee. In other instances, we see Republicans pushing the line that President Obama shouldn't have been aggressive in urging BP to set aside money to help victims of the spill.

"It's my opinion that Mr. Barton and Mr. Price's comments were more of a reaction to the arrogance in President Obama's speech, where he said he was going to 'inform' BP that they would set aside this separate compensation fund to be controlled by a third party," said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). "Under our laws and Constitution, the president does not possess the power or authority to make such an arrogant command to a private company."

Well, at least Franks resisted the urge to say "uppity."

Comb though that rhetoric, and you're left with a bizarre conclusion: Obama took a firm stand in the hopes of securing funds for devastated families and small businesses, and succeeded. Republicans don't like it, Trent Franks said, because the president was "arrogant" about it.

Substantively, "under our laws and Constitution," presidents have the ability to stand up to private businesses and fight for struggling Americans. We're better off when presidents do exactly this. This may be an unfamiliar concept to Republicans, but that doesn't make it illegal.

Likewise, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told CNN he's concerned that the talks between the White House and BP weren't "fair," because BP was the "very weak party in terms of public relations."

Notice, Coburn isn't happy about this. Some of us might be inclined to think this was a good thing -- the foreign oil company responsible for the worst environmental disaster in American history was weakened, making it easier for the president to get funding for victims -- but Coburn is worried about whether BP was treated fairly.

There's no doubt whose side Obama is on -- he's the one fighting for the Gulf Coast. Oddly enough, there's also no doubt where Republicans' loyalties lies -- they're the Party of BP.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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PICK A SMEAR AND GO WITH IT.... The tragically embarrassing Michael Barone has decided that President Obama has resorted to "thuggery" in dealing with BP and the oil spill disaster. That seems consistent with the broader far-right push against the president -- or at least half of it.

After all, what's the conservative message about Obama? He's not only a "thug," the president and his team are also "bullies." Obama isn't above a "Chicago-style political shakedown." Bachmann thinks he runs a "gangster government."

The president, we're told, is a hardball partisan operator, who doesn't believe in compromise. One can almost imagine Obama in the Oval Office, polishing his brass knuckles.

Except, as digby reminded us, conservatives are simultaneously arguing that the president has adopted the exact opposite persona: he's a professorial pushover. The conservative line includes phrases like "limp and weak" to describe the president. He's not tough enough. He bows too much. He doesn't instill enough fear.

Is it too much to ask that the right pick one? The president can be a vicious thug, intimidating his way into getting what he wants, or he can be a spineless weakling, intimidating to no one.

He can't, however, be both.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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CANTOR THE CLOWN.... Republicans responding to the controversy surrounding Gen. Stanley McChrystal have generally been cautious. The GOP supports McChrystal's strategy in Afghanistan, but even Republicans tend to respect the chain of command and aren't inclined to endorse remarks that even the general concedes were out of line.

In a combined statement, Sens. McCain, Graham, and Lieberman -- some of Congress' more ardent hawks -- conceded that McChrystal's comments were "inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between Commander-in-Chief and the military." The three stopped short of calling for his ouster, but didn't endorse him staying on, either.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the perpetually-confused House Minority Whip, adopted a more ridiculous line.

Obviously a General and his top brass don't make statements like these without being frustrated, so I hope that the President's meeting with General McChrystal will include a frank discussion about what is happening on the ground, and whether the resources and the plan are there to defeat terrorists and accomplish our mission in Afghanistan. Without question, the article in Rolling Stone raises a lot of concerns, but our top priority must be to ensure that our forces in Afghanistan have what they need in order to successfully execute their mission and win the war there.

At the moment, Democrats in Congress are standing in the way of a clean bill to fund our troops and provide the resources needed because they want to lard it up with domestic spending. We need to get our troops these funds, and should do so without any pork or unrelated domestic spending items thrown in.

Cantor, it's worth noting, voted last year against funding the troops engaged in two wars. The ol' post-turtle has also never demonstrated any working knowledge of military policy at any level at any point in his career.

But he's nevertheless trying to make the case that McChrystal and his team popped off because of unstated frustrations over allocation of military resources? Which, incidentally, Republicans have resisted sending? Cantor's clownish capacities are truly limitless.

I have no idea what the president will do with McChrystal tomorrow, or what can be done to salvage his command. But if the general could issue some kind of statement explaining that Eric Cantor is clueless and not to be taken seriously, I'm sure it'd be widely appreciated.

Steve Benen 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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ECONOMY AND ENERGY (NOT DEFICITS).... We've been talking quite a bit lately about how Congress -- including some Democrats -- inexplicably chooses to prioritize the deficit over economic growth and job creation. As these hand-wringing lawmakers see it, what the "American people" really want is less spending and a lower deficit, which is why even some nervous Dems are afraid to vote for an important, job-saving bill.

With this in mind, note that a new New York Times/CBS News poll asked respondents, "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" The results (pdf) weren't close:

Economy/Jobs: 40%
Oil Spill in Gulf: 13%
Health Care: 5%
Budget Deficit/National Debt: 5%
War/Iraq/Afghanistan: 3%
Immigration: 3%
Moral Values/Family Values: 2%

Remember, as far as the Senate is concerned, members can't even vote on a bill related to the economy and jobs, because the minority is worried about the deficit. But when asked what matters most, the public -- you know, the folks who'll vote in November -- consider the economy and job creation eight times more important than the deficit.

It seems like the kind of detail nervous politicians would take seriously.

The poll also offered some interesting results on energy policy. For example, respondents were asked, "Which comes closer to your view: 1. Government should do more to regulate the off shore drilling practices of oil companies in order to protect the environment OR 2. Government should place fewer regulations on the off shore drilling practices of oil companies in order to make it easier for them to increase oil production?"

A whopping 76% backed more regulation, as compared to 18% who favored fewer regulations. Even among self-identified Republicans, it was two-to-one: 61% want more regulations, 30% want fewer. Likewise, the moratorium on new drilling enjoys broad support, with nearly two-thirds of the country agreeing that it's a "good idea."

But this was my favorite question in the poll:

"Which of the following three statements comes closest to expressing your overall view of U.S. energy policy? 1. On the whole, the U.S. energy policy works pretty well and only minor changes are necessary to make it work better. or 2. There are some good things in the U.S. energy policy, but fundamental changes are needed, or 3. The U.S. energy policy has so much wrong with it that it needs to be completely rebuilt."

A 58% said they want to see "fundamental changes," while an additional 31% wants to see the energy policy "completely rebuilt." That's a stunning combined total of 89% of the public that wants a significant overhaul of the energy status quo.

President Obama agrees. A House majority agrees. Will the Senate have the ability to act?

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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'I SAID NO CAP-AND-TRADE'.... There aren't enough votes in the Senate to pass an ambitious cap-and-trade proposal, and Republicans won't let the Senate vote on a more scaled-back version, put together with tri-partisan backing, called the American Power Act. The new compromise offer is a "utilities only" approach that would impose emissions limits on the electric utility sector -- and not on the economy at large.

Any chance Republicans might let the Senate vote on this?

A centrist Republican that President Barack Obama is courting on energy legislation on Monday rejected the idea of greenhouse gas limits applied only to electric utilities, just days after a senior White House official floated the concept.

"No. I said no cap-and-trade," said Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), speaking to reporters in the Capitol.

How would Lugar prefer to reduce carbon emissions? He wouldn't. What's his alternative approach? To ignore the problem entirely.

In other words, if the legislation tries to combat global warming at all, Lugar -- one of the more approachable Senate Republicans -- will not only oppose it, he'll also fight to prevent the Senate from even voting on it.

Lugar's inflexibility is similar, by the way, to that of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who said a "utilities only" approach is unacceptable because "it still puts you in the world of cap-and-trade."

So, if the legislation limits carbon emissions on anyone or anything, anywhere, even a little, Republicans will kill the legislation. Better yet, Democrats can acquiesce and drop cap-and-trade, and Republicans might still kill the legislation, just because.

And because Senate Democrats are "only" in the majority, and the Senate rules are ridiculous, the most pressing global crisis facing humanity in the 21st century will continue to be ignored, almost entirely because Republicans refuse to even consider action.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Four states -- North Carolina, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah -- will host primary elections today. Arguably the most competitive contests to keep an eye on are two Senate primaries: Democrats in North Carolina, and Republicans in Utah.

* In Texas, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows the gubernatorial race unexpectedly tied. Incumbent Gov. Rick Perry (R) and former Houston Mayor Bill White (D) have 43% support each in the poll, with White benefiting from a six-point lead among Texas independents.

* Her support is below the 50% threshold, but Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) still has big leads in a new Quinnipiac poll over her Republican challengers.

* On a related note, the same poll shows state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) with 2-to-1 leads in New York's gubernatorial race.

* It's Rasmussen, so take the results with a grain of salt, but its latest poll in Arizona shows Sen. John McCain leading former Rep. J.D. Hayworth in a Republican primary, 47% to 36%.

* Former wrestling executive Linda McMahon is expected to be the Republican Senate candidate in Connecticut, but economist Peter Schiff, a former Ron Paul backer, has secured enough petition signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.

* In New Hampshire, Rep. Paul Hodes (D) is going after former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) in a new TV ad, mocking her handling of an alleged mortgage fraud scheme.

* There's at least a possibility that Bob Vander Plaats, who recently lost the Republican gubernatorial primary in Iowa, may run as an independent, undermining Terry Branstad's (R) campaign.

* And in Nevada, journalists have grown so frustrated by Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle's refusal to talk to reporters that an NBC affiliate in Nevada has resorted to practically begging the right-wing extremist to talk about her record and views for the public's benefit.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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INFOMERCIAL SALESMAN FOR SENATE.... Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is worried enough about his August primary fight with former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) to keep campaigning pretty aggressively.

But McCain may have caught a break this week, with revelations about what Hayworth was up to after voters threw him out of Congress. (video by way of TPM's Rachel Slajda)

Republican Senate challenger J.D. Hayworth appeared in a 2007 television infomercial in which he helped convince viewers that they could rake in big bucks by attending seminars that would teach them how to apply for federal grants that they wouldn't have to pay back.

National Grants Conferences, the Florida-based company that hosted the classes and produced the informercial, has faced criticism from multiple state attorneys general and Better Business Bureaus.

Hayworth, a former Arizona congressman who is running against incumbent Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the Aug. 24 GOP primary, made the infomercial after losing his U.S. House seat in the 2006 election.... The infomercial promotes seminars that ostensibly instruct attendees how to get the "free money grants." Tucson TV station KVOA did an investigation of National Grants Conferences [and] found that the workshops cost from $999 to $1,200 and federal government grants really aren't even available to individuals.

Just on the surface, being a former congressman and making the transition to infomercial pitch-man is kind of humiliating. But the key here isn't just the job, but what Hayworth was pitching.

This wasn't just some kitchen gadget. Hayworth was peddling dubious seminars on how to get tax dollars from the government -- not exactly a Tea Party-friendly, reducing-public-spending kind of message -- and he told viewers that they had to go to these expensive gatherings to get information that was readily available to the public for free. That Hayworth was hooked up with a controversial company with an awful reputation only adds insult to injury.

The next question, then, is how something like this can/will affect the campaign. At first blush, this seems pretty damaging to Hayworth -- "sleazy infomercial pitch-man" isn't usually on a senator's resume -- but Steve M. has a creative explanation as to why right-wing voters might actually like Hayworth's tactics.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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WHAT TO DO ABOUT MCCHRYSTAL.... The question of the day, at least at first, was, "What on earth was Gen. Stanley McChrystal thinking when he and his team took derisive potshots at so many top U.S. leaders?" It wasn't long, though, before that question was replaced with, "What on earth is President Obama going to do about it?"

It's tempting to think this is a Truman/MacArthur* kind of moment, and the president doesn't have a choice but to replace the top U.S. general in Afghanistan. McChrystal's ties to top officials were strained before, and now they may be irreparably damaged.

Spencer Ackerman emphasizes, however, that there are risks associated with Obama firing the general.

There's only a year to go before the July 2011 date to begin the transition to Afghan security responsibility and the Kandahar tide is starting to rise. It'll be hard to fire McChrystal without ripping the entire Afghanistan strategy up, and I've gotten no indication from the White House that it's interested in doing that. On the other hand, if senior administration officials are and I just haven't picked up on it, McChrystal just gave them their biggest opportunity.

It's possible, as L.B. noted this morning, that McChrystal sees his strategy failing, and is trying to be relieved for insubordination, but reports suggest the general really is scrambling and wants to keep his job. The burden, of course, will fall on him to prove to the White House that he is the leader to be trusted to execute Obama's strategy, and given the Rolling Stone piece, that hurdle will be tough to clear.

But when push comes to shove, it's yet another tough call for the president -- he probably should fire McChrystal, but he probably doesn't want to.

What Obama prefers to do is stick to his current plan, and begin a phased transition in Afghanistan in just 12 months. If McChrystal is sacked, it means a shift in strategy, likely delays in the broader timetable, and more perilous conditions on the ground. If McChrystal is allowed to stay, the larger plan remains in place, but with a weakened general and frayed lines of trust between the White House and the commander of U.S. and NATO forces.

If Obama keeps McChrystal at his post, the president runs the risk of losing face, and weakening his position as Commander in Chief. If Obama fires McChrystal, the president's own war policy is at risk, and a delicate moment in Afghanistan could deteriorate.

For what it's worth, if either side is looking for possible face-saving caveats, the most insulting quotes in the Rolling Stone article came not from McChrystal, but from his aides. For that matter, the potshots aren't substantive: "All the criticisms -- of Eikenberry, of Jones, of Holbrooke, of Biden -- are actually just immature and arrogant snipes at how annoying Team America (what, apparently, McChrystal's crew calls itself) finds them."

Could this angle be used to smooth things over tomorrow at the White House? I don't know; I'm just throwing it out there. This mess may be too severe to be cleaned up.

* fixed

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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ANOTHER STEP FORWARD ON GAY RIGHTS.... The pace hasn't always kept up with the hopes of supporters, but it's hard not to notice that the Obama administration's record on advances in gay rights keeps improving.

President Obama will soon expand the rights of gay workers by allowing them to take family and medical leave to care for sick or newborn children of same-sex partners, administration officials said Monday.

The policy will be set forth in a ruling to be issued Wednesday by the Labor Department's wage and hour division, the officials said.

Under a 1993 law, people who work for a company with 50 or more employees are generally entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or for a spouse, son or daughter with "a serious health condition."

The new ruling indicates that an employee in a same-sex relationship can qualify for leave to care for the child of his or her partner, even if the worker has not legally adopted the child.

The Obama administration's move on this follows legislative progress on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," hospital visitation rights, a package of domestic partnership benefits for federal workers, lifting the travel/immigration ban on those with HIV/AIDS, expanded hate-crime laws, addressing the diplomatic passport issue, ordering the Federal Housing Authority to no longer consider the sexual orientation of applicants on loans, expanding the Census to include the number of people who report being in a same-sex relationship, and endorsing the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and making the Domestic Partners Benefit and Obligations Act law.

There have also been more symbolic gestures, including the White House hosting an event to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Tonight, Obama will host a Gay and Lesbian Pride Month event at the White House for the second year in a row, and over the weekend, in his Father's Day statement, the president noted that "nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a stepfather, a grandfather, or caring guardian."

For religious right groups hoping to label Obama our "first gay president," the criticism will likely get more intense.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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'HOW REPUBLICANS WOULD GOVERN'.... Last week, the DNC acted pretty quickly, launching a television ad going after Republicans in light of Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP. It was pretty well received -- so the DNC is taking another bite at the apple.

If you can't watch clips from your work computer, the ad starts with Barton's apology, and a voice-over says, "The Republican Party, standing up for big oil and apologizing to BP. What do they say about holding BP accountable?" At that point, it shows Rand Paul describing criticism of BP as "really un-American."

The voice-over adds, "That we shouldn't be so hard on BP" at which point Eric Cantor says the president should "absolutely" stop demonizing BP. "And Republicans call BP's escrow fund..." with video of Barton calling it a "shakedown," and Michele Bachmann calling it "extortion."

The voice-over concludes, "Apologizing to big oil: This is how Republicans would govern."

As with the first ad, note that the spot doesn't bother with names -- most Americans have no idea who Joe Barton is -- but emphasizes the Republican Party and its decision to side with BP. The closing line is the important one: if you want to know how a GOP-led Congress would operate, we're getting a good look right now.

Last week's ad generated donations in the "significant six figures," and the DNC clearly hopes to keep the momentum going.

Indeed, as far as the politics are concerned, Democrats reportedly consider this "the best stretch for the White House on the oil spill since the saga began," all because Republicans chose to back the foreign oil company responsible for the worst environmental disaster in American history.

Once in a while, a team is blessed by inept opponents.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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REPUBLICANS JUST DON'T LIKE THE UNEMPLOYED, CONT'D.... The evidence continues to pile up to suggest Republican lawmakers and candidates actively dislike -- on a personal level -- those who've lost their jobs in the recession.

It's been remarkable to watch this unfold of late. One GOP congressman recently compared the unemployed to "hobos." Several Republicans have blocked extended benefits for the unemployed. In the House, GOP lawmakers tried to eliminate a successful jobs program. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) actually started pushing a measure to require the unemployed to take mandatory drug tests in exchange for benefits.

And now Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul, in his infinite wisdom, wants the jobless to quit their bellyaching and "get back to work."

Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul has a blunt message for the millions of Americans who remain unemployed in the long-term: "Accept a wage that's less than [you] had at [your] previous job" and "get back to work."

According to Paul, the issue is "bigger than unemployment benefits" and the Tea Party-backed Senate hopeful made his position on the matter clear in an interview with talk radio host Sue Wylie on WVLK-AM last week.

"As bad as it sounds, ultimately we do have to sometimes accept a wage that's less than we had at our previous job in order to get back to work and allow the economy to get started again," Paul explained. "Nobody likes that, but it may be one of the tough love things that has to happen."

It occurs to me that, as bad as it sounds, ultimately someone has to tell Rand Paul to accept the fact that he's a bit of a nutjob. Nobody likes that, but it may be one of the tough love things that has to happen.

Honestly, does this guy have any idea what the job market is like right now? Does he understand the ratio of applicants to openings? Can he appreciate what happens to a struggling family, that's desperate to get back on track, that loses meager unemployment benefits?

For the record, at 10.4%, Kentucky has one of the higher unemployment rates in the country. One wonders if the state's jobless intend to vote in November.

And in the larger sense, I continue to marvel at the Republican Party's fundamental dislike of the unemployed. It's almost as if the GOP finds the jobless personally offensive.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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'RUNAWAY GENERAL,' INDEED.... As conditions in Afghanistan remain very much in peril, and domestic and international skepticism about the longest war in American history grows more intense, the timing of these inexplicable comments couldn't be much worse.

The top U.S. general in Afghanistan apologized Tuesday for a magazine article that portrays him and his staff as flippant and dismissive of top Obama administration officials involved in Afghanistan policy.

The profile in Rolling Stone magazine, titled the "Runaway General," is certain to increase tension between the White House and Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

It also raises fresh questions about the judgment and leadership style of the commander Obama appointed last year in an effort to turn around a worsening conflict.

I have not yet seen the Rolling Stone piece, but media accounts note that the article "depicts Gen. Stanley McChrystal as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to convince even some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the war."

McChrystal and his team, who the general allowed to speak to Rolling Stone on background, took derisive potshots at nearly everyone -- NSA James Jones was called a "clown" and senior envoy Richard Holbrooke was described as "a wounded animal." Vice President Biden is mocked and even lawmakers like John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are singled out. Of particular note, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, a retired three-star general, is apparently the target of the most intense criticism from McChrystal and his aides.

As news of the article began to circulate quickly, McChrystal fielded calls from the White House, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, all of whom were described as "not happy."

Soon after, McChrystal issued a statement, extending his "sincerest apology for this profile." It added, "It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and it should have never happened.... Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard."

McChrystal went on to say he has "enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team."

Whether the feeling is mutual is very much in doubt. McChrystal has reportedly been ordered to get on a plane -- he'll be in the White House tomorrow to explain himself, or at least try to. It's not an exaggeration to say McChrystal's hold on his command is tenuous, at best.

As for what the general could have been thinking, Marc Ambinder has a good background piece, highlighting the larger context.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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June 21, 2010

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Not surprisingly, Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty today to the attempted Times Square car-bombing. And to think, we managed to get a guilty plea without torture. Imagine that.

* Not good: oil collection at the Deepwater Horizon wellhead slowed today because of weather and maintenance issues.

* Key 6-3 ruling from the high court: "In a case pitting free speech against national security, the Supreme Court on Monday upheld a federal law that makes it a crime to provide 'material support' to foreign terrorist organizations, even if the help takes the form of training for peacefully resolving conflicts."

* Iraq: "Two car bombs exploded near a government-owned bank in central Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 26 people and injuring more than 53, police said."

* Good move, but the details will matter: "Facing growing pressure from around the world, China's central bank announced Saturday that it is prepared to allow the country's currency to float more freely against the dollar and other foreign currencies, potentially raising the cost of Chinese goods."

* The White House is getting behind the DISCLOSE Act in a more forceful way as the possibility of a vote draws closer.

* German Chancellor Angela Merkel is very wrong about the economy, and is putting the global recovery at risk with her focus on deficits.

* Expectations were low when the Home Affordable Modification Program was approved. The disappointing results, then, were predictable.

* Looks like there will be a Consumer Financial Protection Agency coming out of conference, but it will exist within the Federal Reserve.

* While the Republican establishment throws Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) under the bus over his pro-BP remarks, the GOP caucus isn't exactly united.

* Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is apparently annoying some of his colleagues with his efforts to pass a climate/energy bill.

* I've occasionally given Mika Brzezinski a hard time, but her remarks this morning, marveling at Rudy Giuliani's lies, were terrific.

* The SAT's (many) problems.

* The court's "balls and strikes" metaphor has never really worked.

* Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) not only continues to say truly insane things, he also seems to think he knows something about Socrates and Plato. What an unbelievable clown.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THOSE SHY SENATE CANDIDATES.... Over the weekend, we talked a bit about a) the fact that Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has trouble speaking about any subject without telling demonstrable falsehoods; and b) a growing number of Republicans, especially GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate, have decided to run away from political reporters rather than answer questions about their beliefs and agenda.

Why not combine these two threads in one amusing package?

The Democratic and Republican nominees for the U.S. Senate, Alexi Giannouilas and Mark Kirk, gave their views on planning and environmental issues to a Metropolitan Planning Council lunch on Monday.

But the news was what happened afterwards: Mr. Kirk literally ran out the hotel door, rather than answer questions about a host of recent reports that he repeatedly has exaggerated his experience and credentials.

The Peter Cottontail moment happened at the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel, where about 1,000 folks were on hand for MPC's annual big do.

It was the first public appearance Kirk has made in three weeks, but he entered through a side door -- again to avoid political reporters -- and bolted after his speech through a back door.

Reporters followed him -- journalists know that when a politician is running away, it's best to stay in pursuit -- and Kirk eventually "raced through a Hyatt kitchen and into the back seat of a black SUV ... which instantly pealed out."

I don't imagine Kirk is interested in my advice, but this strikes me as a truly awful strategy. The more he literally flees from the press, the more Kirk looks like a candidate afraid to talk about his own record in public. It's June, and such an approach is unsustainable. If Kirk is going to have to talk to reporters eventually -- and he will -- it's better to rip off the bandage quickly now.

For the record, Giannouilas was only too pleased to chat with reporters before the event, and while he left for a fundraiser afterwards, I talked to a campaign aide today who said the Democratic candidate was available for press questions later in the day.

As for the bigger picture, Kirk joins Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and Sarah Palin as Republicans who are simply too afraid (and/or too embarrassed) to talk to professional news outlets. It's really not a healthy development.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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WHAT A COMPROMISE ON CAP-AND-TRADE MIGHT LOOK LIKE.... For many environmentalists, there's strong desire to see policymakers approve an ambitious cap-and-trade proposal, with broad, strict caps and minimal exemptions. There's no political support for that. The next best move would be something along the lines of the American Power Act, with a still-worthwhile cap-and-trade, which would at least be a step in the right direction. Political support appears insufficient on this, too.

But there's yet another possible compromise. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel sent a big hint to the political world last week, raising the specter of a "utilities only" approach to cap-and-trade. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), one of the leaders on the American Power Act, had a rather positive reaction to the proposal when talking to CNN yesterday.

So, what's this all about? In practice, a "utilities only" cap-and-trade would impose emissions limits on the electric utility sector -- and not on the economy at large. It's at least step in the right direction.

A handful of utility industry officials have also signaled they won't knock down the idea of a power plant-only emissions cap.

Electric utilities emit about a third of U.S. greenhouse gases per year. The industry has been involved for about 15 years in a similar market-based mechanism that has successfully reduced acid rain, and the sector is seeking regulatory certainty as companies look to make significant new investments over the next several decades.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, reiterated Republican opposition to any compromise on regulating carbon emissions, and said no bill with any kind of cap-and-trade, no matter how weak, can get an up-or-down vote.

But Murkowski's assessment isn't necessarily the final word on the subject.

Dave Roberts did a nice job today reviewing this compromise approach, and he had a generally positive take: "If you're going to single out one sector for cap-and-trade, electricity is the right choice. For one thing, it's the biggest emitter.... For another, most of the lowest-cost carbon reductions are expected to come from electricity." Roberts conditionally concluded that "a bill with a utility-only carbon price could be a credible step forward."

Something to keep in mind in advance of Wednesday's White House meeting.

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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THE GIZAB GOOD GUYS.... I'm generally skeptical of good news out of Afghanistan, in large part because it tends to be fleeting. But Rajiv Chandrasekaran's front-page piece in the Washington Post today was not only heartening, it has the potential of being important.

U.S. and Afghan officials were doubtful they'd ever see local rise up on their own to take back areas from Taliban control. But that's what happened in the small Southern town of Gizab, which one U.S. commander called "perhaps the most important thing that has happened in southern Afghanistan this year."

The revolt of the Gizab Good Guys began with a clandestine 2 a.m. meeting. By sunrise, 15 angry villagers had set up checkpoints on the main road and captured their first prisoners. In the following hours, their ranks swelled with dozens of rifle-toting neighbors eager to join.

Gunfights erupted and a panicked request for help was sent to the nearest U.S. troops, but the residents of this mountain-ringed hamlet in southern Afghanistan held their ground. By sundown, they managed to pull off a most unusual feat: They kicked out the Taliban.

"We had enough of their oppression," Lalay, the one-named shopkeeper who organized the uprising, said in recounting the late April battle. "So we decided to fight back."

U.S. diplomats and military officials view the rebellion as a milestone in the nearly nine-year-long war. For the first time in this phase of the conflict, ordinary Afghans in the violence-racked south have risen on their own to reclaim territory under insurgent control.

Rachel Maddow noted today, "If this isn't an outlier, this is a big strategic deal for the US in Afghanistan." Military and civilian leaders seem to agree, and are closely studying the developments in the hopes that they can be duplicated.

At first blush, the motivating force seems to have been locals getting sick of the Taliban. In recent months, Taliban fighters "commandeered the health clinic, destroyed the school and started seizing trucks along the road, often to steal cargo or levy taxes." So, locals took their town back.

It's not the kind of defeat that will turn the tide of a war, but Taliban commanders were reportedly taken aback by the setback -- holding onto Gizab was not supposed to be a problem for insurgents -- and "residents of neighboring towns have told Gizab elders that they also want to rise against the insurgents."

That's the good news. The bad news is Afghanistan is still Afghanistan -- the Gizab Good Guys are now looking to the Afghan government for resources to maintain the peace, keep the Taliban at bay, and funding and equipment for the local forces. Locals have been unimpressed to date, and reportedly "impatient" with progress.

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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A MESSAGE IN MAINE 'EVEN OUR KIDS CAN UNDERSTAND'.... In the Senate, one of the key impediments -- if not the principal obstacle -- to legislation intended to boost the economy is the delegation from Maine. In a Congress where moderate Republicans have all but disappeared, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are supposed to be the GOP senators who can help break Republican filibusters on measures that matter.

But when it comes to the economy, both Snowe and Collins have decided party loyalty and long-term deficit fears matter more than economic growth and job creation. When it comes to unemployment benefits, key tax credits, and preventing massive layoffs at the state level, Snowe and Collins won't even let the Senate vote.

The ostensible moderates are no doubt facing a great deal of party pressure in Washington, so there's a new effort to place public pressure on Snowe and Collins in Maine. Americans United for Change (AUC) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) have launched this new television ad in Maine today, hoping to get the senators to listen to reason.

If you can't watch clips from you work computers, the ad shows a series of photos of children, with a narrator doing a voice-over: "It's pretty simple, the more jobs we create now, the less Federal debt they'll have to carry later. Because jobs not only put food on the table, they put revenue in the treasury and money in the marketplace. More jobs equal less debt, even our kids can understand that. Tell Senators Snowe and Collins to pass the jobs bill now. Not just for us, but for our children."

I like the ad, precisely because it turns the larger argument on its head. For the right, senators can't possibly try to improve the economy, because that would increase the deficit ... which our kids will eventually have to deal with. But the AUC/AFSCME ad offers a more compelling vision -- if you want to help the kids, let's create some jobs. A stronger economy means a lower deficit.

The ad isn't just some web video -- it's part of a six-figure ad buy in Maine. Here's hoping it has the desired effect.

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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JON KYL'S WRONG ON MULTIPLE LEVELS.... Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) is not exactly known for his candid, honest assessments of reality, but even for him, this seems ridiculous.

The White House on Monday denied Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl's claim that President Barack Obama told him privately that he would not work to secure the border unless it was part of a comprehensive immigration reform package.

In a video that started circulating among conservative blogs over the weekend, the Arizona Republican is seen telling supporters in North Phoenix that in a private meeting in the Oval Office, Obama said "the problem" with border enforcement measures is that "if we secure the border then [Republicans] won't have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform."

Kyl said the president's supposed statement is proof that Democrats "don't want to secure the border unless or until it is combined with comprehensive immigration reform."

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer categorically rejected Kyl's claims, explaining that "the president didn't say that and Senator Kyl knows it."

As a substantive matter, it doesn't take much to realize Kyl, the #2 Republican in the Senate, is lying. After all, the Obama administration has already invested considerable resources into border security, a detail Kyl ought to be familiar with. As a political matter, it's hard to imagine the president making a concession like this to a right-wing senator, especially since it's at odds with what the administration is already doing.

Kyl added that the reason the federal government has not secured the border is that Democrats "don't want to do it." That's just dumb. The border wasn't "secured" during the Bush administration, and comprehensive immigration reform failed in Congress due to GOP opposition. Is that proof that the federal government has not secured the border because Republicans "don't want to do it"?

Kyl would do well to read Dennis Wagner's thoughtful piece in The Arizona Republic, which offered a serious, sober look at the political dispute when politicians say they want to "secure the border first," and "then talk about immigration reform."

Anyone with a minimal knowledge or understanding about the nearly 2,000-mile swath of land between Mexico and the United States realizes that requiring a secure border establishes an impossible standard. [...]

Here is another way to consider the problem: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a leader in the anti-immigration movement and acclaimed as America's toughest sheriff, cannot secure his own jails. Every year, despite armed guards, electronic locks and video monitors, inmates smuggle drugs in from the outside and sometimes even escape.

No one would blame Arpaio. All penal institutions, regardless of security measures, have breaches. Yet imagine if America adopted a position that no new laws could be passed regarding prison reform "until the nation's jails are secure."

Tom Barry, director of the Transborder Project at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., said the demand for a completely secure border is a ploy by those opposed to immigration reform to prevent new policies.

"No matter how much enforcement you have, there will always be people coming through," he said. "Since that is true, opponents to immigration reform will always be able to say the border is still not secure . . . and therefore we cannot pass immigration reform."

Kyl's dishonest demagoguery is shameful, and I suspect he knows that. It only reinforces what a disappointment he is as a Senate leader.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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EVEN O'REILLY ISN'T BUYING THE 'SHAKEDOWN' LINE.... As the right continues to defend BP against that mean ol' President Obama, who's apparently fighting too hard to protect the Gulf Coast, the right might want to keep something in mind: if they're not convincing Bill O'Reilly, they're probably not convincing many.

The Fox News host spoke to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a leading right-wing voice criticizing the president for securing a $20 billion relief fund for Gulf Coast families and businesses. O'Reilly asked Bachmann if she thinks Obama "shook down" BP. She replied that officials "put pressure" on the oil giant in order to get the $20 billion commitment.

I hardly ever find areas of agreement with Bill O'Reilly, but he didn't seem to have any problem with the president pressuring BP on the relief fund, and neither do I.

"The only thing we're disagreeing about here today is that I don't mind Obama looking at these guys, saying, 'You better do the right thing or we're coming after you with everything we have.' I want him to do that."

At that point, Bachmann started backtracking a bit, but it was too late. It pains me to type this, but O'Reilly actually summarized the larger dynamic fairly well -- the president fought for the Gulf Coast the way the country wants him to. In response, the Republican Party and its far-right base have tried to trash him for it, up to and including issuing a groveling apology to the company responsible for the worst environmental catastrophe in American history.

And if the right hasn't persuaded O'Reilly, I'm guessing the right hasn't persuaded much of anyone beyond its unhinged circle.

But what do I know? Go ahead, Republicans, and take this message to voters. Keep telling the public that the GOP wants to defend BP from that mean White House, which is standing up too aggressively to help the region and hold the company accountable. Let's see how that works out at the ballot box.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* It took a little while, but former state Rep. Vic Rawl has conceded the South Carolina Senate Democratic primary to confused, unemployed newcomer Alvin Greene.

* It's a Chamber of Commerce poll, so I can't speak to its methodology, but in Florida, it shows Gov. Charlie Crist (I) expanding his lead in the Senate race, topping Marco Rubio (R) by double digits, 42% to 31%. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) is third with 14%.

* On a related note, the same poll shows disgraced former health care executive Rick Scott leading state Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Republican gubernatorial primary, 35% to 30%.

* In Colorado, a new Denver Post poll shows Sen. Michael Bennet with a big lead over Andrew Romanoff in the Democratic Senate primary, 53% to 36%. Likewise, Ken Buck leads former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton in the Republican Senate primary, 53% to 37%. In a hypothetical match-up, Buck leads Bennet by three points, 46% to 43%.

* On a related note, the same poll also found former Rep. Scott McInnis (R) leading Denver Mayor John Hicklenlooper (D) in Colorado's gubernatorial race, 47% to 43%.

* Utah's Republican Senate primary is tomorrow, and a new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows Tim Bridgewater leading Mike Lee, 42% to 33%.

* Elsewhere in Utah, Rep. Jim Matheson (D) is facing a primary, in large part because he voted with Republicans on health care reform. The Deseret News poll shows him leading former schoolteacher Claudia Wright for the party nod, 52% to 33%.

* Brian Sandoval, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Nevada, said he wasn't recruited for the race. There's ample evidence to the contrary.

* And Alabama Republicans can finally have their gubernatorial runoff, now that a recount found businessman Tim James came in third. James, son of former Gov. Fob James (R), spent $200,000 for the recount -- and managed to lose a net total of 104 votes.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (3)

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THE GINGREY PLAN.... Rep. Phil Gingrey (R) of Georgia appeared on an Atlanta radio show over the weekend, and reflected on developments in the Gulf. Initially, the interview went fairly well -- Gingrey distanced himself from Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP and suggested the $20 billion escrow fund is worthwhile. He even had some unkind words for Tony Hayward.

But as the AJC's Jim Galloway noted, Gingrey added some additional thoughts on how he'd like to see the response to the oil gusher proceed.

"For the life of me, I can't understand why BP couldn't go into the ocean floor, maybe 10 feet lateral to the -- around the periphery -- drill a few holes and put a little ammonium nitrate, some dynamite, in those holes and detonate that dynamite and seal that leak. And seal it permanently.

"And although I didn't ask him that question yesterday -- I think I had three minutes -- if we get another bite at that apple, I'm going to ask that question, over and over again. What is going on here?"

I'm not an engineer -- nor, by the way, is Phil Gingrey, who's an obstetrician by trade -- but this seems like a spectacularly bad idea. I can appreciate outside-the-box thinking as much as the next blogger, but wouldn't dynamite make the hole in the ground bigger? If containment is already incredibly difficult now, wouldn't this make it impossible?

Again, I don't want to present myself as some kind of expert on this -- and I'm certainly open to clarification from more knowledgeable sources -- but there was a rig, it exploded, and now there's a gushing wellhead. If you blow it up with dynamite, it seems there would be no way to plug it, nor put a containment mechanism over it.

There are reports about using nuclear blasts and "letting its fiery heat melt the surrounding rock to shut off the flow" from runaway gas wells. But officials who've considered such an approach for the ongoing crisis consider this "crazy." And Gingrey isn't even talking about nukes; he's talking about dynamite.

Josh Marshall added that Gingrey offered "a good example of why it's good to have engineers running the relief efforts and not congressmen."

True, but it's worth adding that Gingrey will be helping lead the House Energy Committee next year if Republicans re-take the House.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID, CONT'D.... Another day, another piece in a major media outlet about Congress deliberately choosing to emphasize the deficit over economic growth and job creation. Congressional Republicans, not surprisingly, are unanimous in trying to undermine the economy, but far too many Democrats on the Hill have internalized right-wing talking points, too. In an election year, hand-wringing Dems actually believe they'll be better off with a weaker economy. It's bewildering.

In a major shift in congressional politics, Democrats have developed a severe case of sticker shock, just as many of their colleagues press to prime the pump of the economy in time for the mid-term congressional elections.

Now, even popular initiatives with widespread support ... are stalled inside Congress.... But as the White House plans a push this summer to sell the results of last year's massive stimulus bill, the prospects of any major new investment this year appear bleaker by the week.

It adds instability to a creaky economic recovery -- and adds a new dimension to a volatile political year, as the White House watches its pull on Capitol Hill diminish as elections approach.

This is genuinely insane. The economy is struggling to get back on track, and more than a few panicky Dems have concluded, "Maybe now would be a good time to start listening to those who put us in the ditch in the first place."

I mean, really. Are there Tea Party sympathizers out there who will vote against Dems over the huge deficit (which Republicans created)? Sure. But those votes are gone and won't come back if Dems abandon their efforts to improve the economy -- and they can be offset by votes earned by taking positive steps to create jobs.

There was a point not too long ago when Democrats thought the focus should be "jobs, jobs, jobs." Now, with the elections drawing closer, some of the Dems have decided the focus should be "deficit, deficit, deficit" -- a deficit that will, by the way, get worse if more Americans are unemployed.

As a result, recovery measures aren't passing, unemployment benefits are ending, popular tax credits are languishing, and massive state layoffs are coming. Congress has the means to act, but it's choosing not to.

I don't want to overstate the Democratic role in this -- most Dems are right where they need to be, and are up against a Republican Party that acts as if it's trying to sabotage the national economy. Even if Dems were entirely united, moving forward would be difficult.

But the fact that there are any Dems at all who have decided to stop caring about economic growth is unfathomable. This is like ritual electoral suicide.

Paul Krugman asked today, "Spend now, while the economy remains depressed; save later, once it has recovered. How hard is that to understand?"

It's much easier to understand than Dems who are so afraid of their own shadow that they're losing their nerve just when the country needs them to step up.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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CHECKING IN WITH 'AMERICA SPEAKING OUT'.... Remember that taxpayer-financed gimmick House Republicans launched a month ago? It's called "America Speaking Out," and it offers regular folks a chance to go to a website, funded by the public, and submit ideas that will help the GOP put together a policy agenda.

So, how's that going?

Its stated purpose is to provide people with "a new platform to share their priorities and ideas for a national policy agenda." ... But the project's usefulness in shaping a Republican agenda is questionable.

Last week, the top five entries in the "Liberty and Freedom" category were: ban handguns, "drop the idea that we're a 'Christian' country," declare abortion "none of the government's business," allow gays to serve openly in the military and legalize marijuana.

Republican leaders mentioned none of these when they began highlighting proposals from the project.

You don't say.

The Republican spokesperson on the initiative said party officials "are plucking out ideas" they like. "It's not a 'top vote gets in'" deal, he said.

That's not unreasonable, I suppose -- no one ever said this was some kind of game-show -- but it raises questions anew about why the gimmick exists in the first place. The ideas faring well on the Republicans' website are ideas Republicans don't like, so they're ignoring them. Fine. But why bother with a website at all if the party is only going to accept policies it already approves of?

Why not save the taxpayers some money and scrap the gimmick? GOP leaders could just create an email account and announce, "If anyone has any suggestions on what we should do with government power, let us know." It would serve the same purpose as "America Speaking Out."

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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'THE BP 114'.... Democrats have made no secret of the fact that they want to keep exploiting Republican support for BP as the midterm elections draw closer. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and his infamous apology are clearly at the forefront of the effort, but also keep an eye on "The BP 114."

As we talked about last week, even before Barton started groveling to BP CEO Tony Hayward, the Republican Study Committee issued a statement condemning the White House for securing a $20 billion relief fund for Gulf Coast families and businesses, calling it a "Chicago-style political shakedown." The Republican Study Committee didn't extend an apology to BP, but in every other way, the RSC's statement was just as outrageous as Barton's. Indeed, they used largely the same language.

The Republican Study Committee has 114 House members, so the goal for Dems is to tie the pro-BP sentiment to each of the contingent's members. And thus "The BP 114" was born.

"While a Republicans criticized Barton once he became a PR problem, not a single member disagreed with the RSC attack on the accountability fund which happened the day before Barton's comments," noted DNC national press secretary Hari Sevugan.

To that end, the DNC sent out emails to the districts of the 114 members of the committee, which included tools allowing recipients to easily call local radio stations and express opinions on the members. The DNC also started running Google ads redirecting users who search for members of the committee to a Democratic-hosted page criticizing RSC members for their views on the oil spill.

If House Republicans are smart, they'll take the talking point away from Democrats, and formally distance themselves from the Republican Study Committee's BP-sympathizing statement. If RSC members say they disagree with their contingent's attack, it'll be tough for Dems to go after all of the group's members.

But either way, Dems like the hand they're playing -- if Republican Study Committee members stand by the group's statement, they're taking BP's side at an inopportune time. If RSC members denounce their own group's line, Dems are sowing seeds of division among Republicans.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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BARBOUR: MORATORIUM WORSE THAN SPILL.... As part of the federal response to the BP oil spill disaster, the administration imposed a six-month moratorium on drilling new deepwater wells. The point, of course, was to prevent another crisis -- Deepwater Horizon had undermined confidence in the industry and its practices. Before companies start new drilling, it's reasonable to make sure the industry's doing it right.

Conservatives, and some regional Democrats, are less than pleased about the six-month pause. Yesterday on "Meet the Press," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) went so far as to argue that the moratorium is actually worse than the oil spill and its effects on the region. Seriously.

Host David Gregory specifically asked, "[W]hat's worse, the moratorium or the effects of this spill on the region?" Barbour replied, "Well, the moratorium. The skill -- the spill's a terrible thing, but the moratorium is a, is a terrible thing that's not only bad for the region, it's bad for America."

Look, I realize that the moratorium is causing economic hardship on industry workers, and I hope some of the resources President Obama secured from BP will help. Indeed, what Barbour neglected to mention is that Obama got BP to commit to a $100 million fund to compensate unemployed oil rig workers affected by the closure of other deepwater rigs.

But putting aside these pesky details, if Haley Barbour seriously believes a moratorium on new drilling is worse than the spill itself, he's high on crude fumes. That's just crazy. This spill threatens the future of the region in ways few disasters even could. It's in no way comparable to a six-month break in new drilling.

The thinking behind Barbour's argument is fundamentally silly. As digby noted, "I'm surprised these conservatives haven't used this argument when the food and drug companies when their products are killing people: sure, the e coli may be deadly but we can't stop selling that tainted meat because it costs jobs and drives up prices."

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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WE'RE ALREADY GETTING FOREIGN ASSISTANCE.... There's a peculiar claim that continues to circulate on the right about the federal response to the BP oil spill, and I'm not even sure why conservatives are bothering with it. The argument isn't only wrong, it's pointless.

On "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, Liz Cheney sought to prove that President Obama isn't doing everything possible to address the disaster in the Gulf.

"[The president] doesn't say that he'll allow foreign carriers to come in, [he] doesn't then move to do anything possible, [and he] won't grant a waiver for the Jones Act."

Former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) said something similar last week, complaining that the administration "should have ... accepted the assistance of foreign countries." Glenn Beck told his minions last week that the president "needs to explain why we haven't -- why we turned down all the international help. They offered it within a couple of days. We said no."

There are three key angles to this. The first is that Cheney, Palin, Beck, and others who keep repeating the argument are simply, demonstrably wrong. Foreign governments have offered assistance, and the Obama administration has accepted it -- this includes skimmers and boom from Mexico, three sets of Koseq sweeping arms from the Dutch, eight Norwegian skimming systems, and 3,000 meters of containment boom from Canada.

Why not accept even more international help? Because, as the president has already explained, some of the offered assistance is redundant and unnecessary.

The second point to keep in mind is that the White House hasn't granted a waiver for the Jones Act because there's been no need to. There have been "15 foreign-flagged vessels" involved in the response. How many needed a waiver to participate? None. How many vessels have been turned away because of the Jones Act? None.

For that matter, the White House has said it would gladly start issuing waivers if the circumstances warranted it. Cheney is just popping off without getting her facts straight (again).

And third, aside from the simple facts of the matter, I'm not even sure why the angry right is taking this talking point seriously. What's the message here? That President Obama is opposed to international cooperation? Isn't that Republicans' job?

I get the sense conservatives are so desperate to attack the White House over the BP spill that it's clouded their judgment, leading to nonsensical talking points like this one.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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June 20, 2010

AT LEAST HE MENTIONED CARBON.... By all accounts, hopes of passing a comprehensive energy bill this year are dwindling, if not altogether non-existent. Meetings at the White House with congressional leaders are scheduled for mid-week, and many involved in the process are wondering what, exactly, the president is prepared to push. Obama wants the strongest bill he can sign, and he's already touted the importance of cap-and-trade, but he also recognizes the difficulties in overcoming a Republican filibuster.

On "This Week," Jake Tapper asked WH Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel "how important is it to the president that energy legislation includes a carbon tax." Emanuel replied:

"[The president] campaigned on the view that you've got to deal with comprehensive energy, and also that energy bill has to have a climate component and helping us reduce our dependence on carbon as well as our carbon -- reducing our carbon pollution. [...]

"In the House of Representatives, they've passed a cap and trade -- an energy bill with cap and trade as a component. He spoke about this in Pittsburgh. He also spoke about it in the Oval Office. Everybody is coming to the meeting next week. There will be a meeting on Wednesday, senators from both parties with array of ideas are coming to the table.

"They know the president's perspective. He has been clear with them about what there needs to be done. His goal now, now that the House passed a bill, is to get the Senate to pass a comprehensive energy bill that reduces our dependence on foreign oil, makes key investments in the areas of alternative energy so America leads in that space, and deals fundamentally with the environmental degradation that happens from carbon pollution."

That's obviously not a veto threat -- not that I expected one -- but it was at least a step in the right direction that Emanuel twice referenced the need to address "carbon pollution." He also twice used the word "comprehensive."

Am I grasping at straws here? Probably a little. Indeed, it's worth emphasizing that Emanuel has floated the idea -- not on today's show, but in policy discussions -- of a limited cap-and-trade system, which would apply only to energy utilities.

Nevertheless, it's in the White House's interests to help lay down some markers before discussions begin in earnest with lawmakers, and Emanuel's on-air comments help at least set some parameters -- the White House is looking for a comprehensive plan that "reduces our dependence on foreign oil, makes key investments in the areas of alternative energy so America leads in that space, and deals fundamentally with the environmental degradation that happens from carbon pollution." From there, one supposes, the details are negotiable.

For his part, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told CNN this morning that he still believes the BP oil spill disaster will motivate his colleagues to act on an ambitious bill. Saying that his American Power Act "does have a chance and it needs to be done," Lieberman went on to say, "There are about 50 senators who want to vote for a strong, comprehensive energy bill that puts a price on carbon pollution. There are about 30 who are set against it and there are 20 undecided. You've got to get to 60 to pass anything in the Senate. We need half of the undecided and we can do it."

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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SOMETIMES, YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.... In Kentucky, the Lexington Herald-Leader had a good editorial the other day that an alert reader brought to my attention. It expressed a sentiment we've probably all heard more than a few times, but it's nice to get a reminder now and then.

The editorial board highlighted the fact that Rand Paul, the bizarre Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, has ideas that sometimes "crash into reality" in awkward ways. For example, Paul hates "big government" programs like Medicaid and Medicare, but the health care programs nevertheless constitute about half of his professional income. Indeed, the right-wing ophthalmologist would like to eliminate most of the federal government, but he's prepared to leave Medicare intact -- the socialized-medicine program that's helped him pay his mortgage.

Likewise, Paul wanted nothing to do with contributions from senators who support the financial industry bailout in 2008. The pledge suddenly disappeared when his campaign decided he needed the money.

For the Herald-Leader, the point for voters to ponder is "how Paul's ideas and ideals would translate on the ground."

In fairness, many of us are guilty of wanting the benefits of something -- whether it's board certification or full campaign coffers -- without paying the price.

Like the Gulf Coast residents who want government off their backs, until a hurricane or oil spill comes along.

Or the Farm Bureau that wants government off the farm, except for the mailbox which is always open to subsidy checks.

Or politicians who rail against out-of-control spending but show up to take credit when a ribbon is cut or oversized check presented.

Or all the rest of us, who resent the chunk of change that government extracts from our pockets but want smooth roads, good schools, police and fire protection, national security, personal security in old age, free markets governed by laws, student loans, flood walls, lakes and parks and the list goes on.

The Tea Party movement, of which Paul is both a leader and beneficiary, feeds the comforting illusion that we can have all we've come to expect from government without paying for it. We buy into this illusion at our own peril.

I don't have anything especially insightful to add; I just found this sentiment worth repeating.

Steve Benen 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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BREAKING EVEN AGAINST 50 HOOVERS.... A year ago, with the economy in freefall and facing a deflationary spiral, the last thing we wanted the government to do is respond with spending cuts and tax increases. But that's exactly what happened in every state in the country -- because states have to balance their budgets.

And as Ezra Klein explained today, it created a dynamic that made growth that much more difficult -- just as the federal government was boosting the economy with an effective stimulus strategy, states were undercutting the economy with an anti-stimulus strategy.

A multiple choice question for you: Did the stimulus a) work; b) fail; c) end up locked in an unexpected battle with the massive anti-stimulus that's ripped through the states?

Most people would choose "a" or "b" (though I'd say "a" has the better of it). They probably haven't heard of "c." But ask Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist who worked for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Jack Kemp, and you'll hear all about it. "When the history of the current crisis is written, much of the blame will be placed on the sharp fiscal contraction of state and local governments," he says. "I think economists will view this as a preventable error equivalent to the Fed's passive shrinkage of the money supply in the early 1930s." [...]

Some 46 states are facing budget gaps that will require them to cut spending or raise taxes. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that in 2011, the states will have to come up with a total of $180 billion.

These budget shortfalls are the equivalent of a massive anti-stimulus, which some experts believe has overwhelmed the $787 billion stimulus passed by the federal government in 2009.

All told, the federal stimulus did exactly what it was supposed to do, but its sum total was overwhelmed by even larger anti-stimulus at the state level. Nick Johnson, who directs the State Fiscal Project at CBPP, told Ezra that "the effect of the federal stimulus was to wipe out the negative effect of the state contraction."

The Recovery Act, then, has struggled to break even. Worse, it's not over -- states are still cutting, and are prepared to approve massive layoffs of teachers, police officers, and firefighters. Congress could intervene to prevent it -- President Obama has urged lawmakers to save those jobs -- but Senate Republicans won't let the aid come up for a vote.

It's also worth remembering that the original federal stimulus, as written last year, included extensive aid to the states -- not enough to prevent cuts, but money to help soften the blow. When the Republican "moderates" demanded a compromise, they not only slashed $100 billion from the overall package, they also specifically demanded $40 billion intended to help state budgets be eliminated. Dems had no choice but to go along, since it was the only way to overcome the GOP filibuster.

At the time, some of us screamed about how misguided the Republican demands were. With the benefit of hindsight, it's even more obvious how right we were, and how wrong Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe were.

That Republicans will be rewarded in November for getting the crisis backwards seems especially tragic.

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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'THAT'S NOT A POLITICAL GAFFE'.... On ABC's "This Week," host Jake Tapper, not surprisingly, asked White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel this morning about Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP. Emanuel raised an important point in his response.

Though the Ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce later withdrew the apology he made to BP CEO Tony Hayward during a hearing Thursday, Emanuel made the case that Barton's remarks were no mistake. "That's not a political gaffe, those are prepared remarks. That is a philosophy. That is an approach to what they see. They see the aggrieved party here as BP, not the fishermen," Emanuel told me during my exclusive This Week interview.

Emanuel said Barton and Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul, who recently called the President's criticism of BP "un-American," are a reflection of the Republican Party's governing philosophy. "They think that the government's the problem," Emanuel said. "And I think what Joe Barton did was remind the American people, in case they forgot, how the Republicans would govern."

Lately, it seems the word "gaffe" has been overly used, and expanded to mean anything embarrassing that someone says. But Emanuel's right -- when Barton delivered a groveling apology to the company responsible for the disaster in the Gulf, he didn't just misspeak or trip over his words. Barton was reading from his own remarks. "That's not a political gaffe."

But some in the media seem confused about this. David Broder's column this morning had a headline that read, "Barton's BP comments highlight GOP's propensity for gaffes." That's not Broder's fault -- columnists don't get to write their own headlines -- but it's part of a larger trend in which the media treats politicians who accidentally state their actual beliefs as if they've just committed an awkwardly worded blunder.

Rand Paul opposes the Civil Rights Act? A rookie "gaffe." Sharron Angle is speculating about the armed overthrow of the United States government. "Gaffe." Joe Barton is apologizing to BP? "Gaffe."

This is a misguided way to help politicians out of a jam. As Jon Chait noted the other day, the radicalism of today's Republican Party is covered poorly by many outlets, "in part because [the media] insists upon viewing this new brand of radicalism through the lens of a 'gaffe' ... rather than explaining it in ideological terms."

When political extremists share their radicalism with the public, that's only a mistake to the extent that they're generally better at hiding it. Barton, Angle, Paul, Palin, and others aren't just misspeaking -- they're saying what they actually believe. "That's not a political gaffe."

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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CREATING INCENTIVES FOR EXTREME CANDIDATES TO IGNORE THE PRESS.... The traditional model was never especially controversial, and there was no real reason to question it. Politicians who wanted to garner public support would engage political reporters in the hopes of reaching voters and getting their message out, and would generally complain if the press ignored them.

The traditional model is quickly being replaced, and for the first time, we're finding multiple statewide candidates -- Kentucky's Rand Paul and Nevada's Sharron Angle, for the example -- who simply ignore reporters' questions and blow off interview opportunities. The fear, of course, is that reporters might ask them to explain their extreme policy positions. The politicians can try, but that only serves to remind voters of the inherent radicalism.

Eric Boehlert had a great item the other day explaining that a certain former half-term governor helped establish the new playbook, and some of the nuttier candidates are following it closely.

I've been writing about Palin's press boycott for months now, simply because we've never seen anything like this. We've never seen a high-profile politician categorically refuse to engage with serious, independent journalists. And we've certainly never seen a politician stiff the press and then have the press lay down in response. We've never seen the press so willingly get steam-rolled before. But with Palin and her news media boycott, that's exactly what's happened: Palin refuses to acknowledge their existence (except to ridicule it) and in return they fawn over her.

So why is anybody surprised that controversial senatorial candidates such as Angle and Paul, after having recently stepped in on the campaign trail, are now duplicating Palin's strategy and declining to talk to legitimate, non-partisan reporters? That's right, we now have two major party candidates running for state-wide office who pretty much won't answer questions from reporters.

This is beyond unprecedented. It's Bizarro World.

Quite right. Palin, Paul, and Angle will talk to outlets that agree in advance to help -- Fox News, Human Events, right-wing talk radio shows -- and blow off everyone else. It's simply a matter of cowardice, since it's easier to hide from journalists and avoid public scrutiny than it is to explain extreme positions that make the politicians appear ridiculous.

If political reporters at major outlets disapprove, as one might assume, news organizations are going to have to start adapting to the new model. As a practical matter, cowardly politicians like Palin know that outlets will run stories about her Facebook postings, for example, usually without scrutiny. It's a scam -- she doesn't have to endure questions she can't answer, but she can still get her message out by manipulating news organizations that treat Twitter messages and blog missives as qualitatively the same thing as interview quotes. For reporters, the goal should be to characterize the "silent treatment" from right-wing candidates as genuinely scandalous, not something media professionals will accomodate or encourage.

Unless the media resists these tactics more assertively, it's only a matter of time before Republican candidates boycott professional journalists in even larger numbers. It an incentive structure that's awful for the press, and considerably worse for democracy.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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THE CONSEQUENCES OF ANTI-CENSUS PARANOIA.... Every decade, census workers endure at least some antagonism from anti-government types. But there's reason to believe this year is worse than the norm.

This is the scary season for the nation's census takers.

Since they began making follow-up house calls in early May, census takers have encountered vitriol, menace and flashes of violence. They have been shot at with pellet guns and hit by baseball bats. They have been confronted with pickaxes, crossbows and hammers. They've had lawn mowers pushed menacingly toward them and patio tables thrown their way. They have been nibbled by ducks, bitten by pit bulls and chased by packs of snarling dogs.

Some days, being cursed at seems part of the job description.

So far, the Census Bureau has tallied 379 incidents involving assaults or threats on the nation's 635,000 census workers, more than double the 181 recorded during the 2000 census. Weapons were used or threatened in a third of the cases.

I can appreciate the fact that anecdotal evidence is not the equivalent of data. But the number of assaults on census workers has more than doubled since the 2000 tally, and the accounts from census takers are rather harrowing, including the Ohio homeowner who began swinging a baseball bat at a worker the moment he heard the word "census."

Without more information, it's hard to know just how much the animus relates to government in particular, or whether these lunatics would respond the same way to missionaries or Girl Scouts who showed up at their door uninvited.

But given some of the accounts from those who've experienced the vitriol first hand, many of those who fly off the handle consider the census "the embodiment of intrusive government."

I wonder where they may have gotten that idea. It probably didn't help that high-profile clowns like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) described the census as "government intrusion," and drew a connection between the census and "internment camps." Likewise, Glenn Beck told his minions that census workers are "ACORN members coming to find out all this information" about the public. Right-wing radio host Neal Boortz said on the air, "Most of the rest of the [census] information is designed to help the government steal from you in order to pass off your property to the moochers. They're looters."

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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JUST KEEP TALKING, SHARRON.... During Nevada's Republican Senate primary, one-time front-runner Sue Lowden tried to exploit Sharron Angle's votes in support of a controversial prison program. Angle, Lowden told voters in campaign ads, wanted to treat prisoners with saunas and massages, in a program developed by the Church of Scientology.

The criticism didn't seem to affect Angle much -- she still won the GOP primary easily -- but it nevertheless left lingering questions about why Angle supported the prison program, and even appeared in a promotional video to support it.

The right-wing extremist is afraid to speak to journalists, but she is doing some interviews with far-right outlets. Human Events, a very conservative magazine, asked Angle about the program.

Seeking to "clear the record," Angle told us "I am not even sure that the Church of Scientology fits into it at all. You have to make some quantum leaps here."

She noted "the program itself is a multifaceted program, and it had two protocols: one in the area of withdrawals, and it was a natural withdrawal system. As s you know, that can have some severe physical side effects and the cramping that was involved there required that other people be taught how to relieve the cramping. So that is where it said that people were being massaged."

"The second protocol was what they called the 'disintoxification,' which was actually sweating the drug out of one's system so that there were no longer any cravings for the drug. This is a very intense potassium, calcium, vitamin, mineral regimen, with a hot rock sauna that sweats the toxins out. Those two protocols were developed by [the late Church of Scientology founder] L. Ron Hubbard, and they had to give him credit. But it is not Scientology, but rather natural homeopathic medicine."

This really doesn't make any sense. We're talking about a controversial prison program developed by the head of the Church of Scientology, and supported by the Church of Scientology, based on the principles espoused by the Church of Scientology. But, Angle believes, "it is not Scientology," and she has no idea how the Church of Scientology "fits into it at all."

Or as Steve M. put it, "Oh. So, it's, um, not linked to Scientology, but it was devised by the guy who founded Scientology. And it's homeopathic! That's good, right? The Framers were homeopathic, weren't they?"

One wonders if Angle is so far gone, she doesn't even hear the words coming out of her mouth.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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LETTING GO OF SECRET HOLDS.... The Senate's tolerance of "secret holds," thankfully, appears to be nearing an end. It's a step in the right direction for an institution badly in need of reform.

The practice has become entirely too common -- the White House sends the Senate an administration or judicial nominee, who waits indefinitely for a vote after some peeved senator with a chip on his/her shoulder quietly and anonymously blocks the nomination from reaching the floor. Often, the holds don't even relate to the nominee's qualifications.

Nearly two months ago, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) set out to eliminate the practice altogether, telling her colleagues that if they want to place a hold, the very least they can do is put their name on it, and not hide in anonymity. As of yesterday, McCaskill appears to secured enough support to succeed.

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, announced Saturday that she has enough Senate support to overturn members' ability to anonymously delay confirmation proceedings for nominees and legislation requiring Senate confirmation.

Republican Senators Kit Bond of Missouri and Sam Brownback of Kansas provided the 65th and 66th signatures on a letter sent to Majority Leader Harry Reid requesting a vote to end the so-called secret holds. Mr. Reid also supports the ban.

"First battle won!With Sens Bond and Brownback now have 67 Senators on my letter calling for the end to secret holds.Now gotta get a vote," McCaskill wrote on Twitter.

The next step will be a Senate Rules Committee hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, where the measure will be endorsed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

There was some debate about exactly how many votes McCaskill's effort would need -- did this constitute a formal institutional rule change? -- but with 67 votes, the question is moot. Unless Republicans start changing their minds, "secret holds" will soon be a thing of the past, and the Senate will operate with a little more transparency and accountability than it does now.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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June 19, 2010

GOP STEPS ON ITS OWN 'SHAKEDOWN' TALKING POINT.... It's hard to see how Wednesday's meeting at the White House could have gone much better. President Obama met with BP executives, told them how it was going to be, and BP quickly agreed. The result: a $20 billion pot of money that will bring much-needed help to workers, businesses, and families who've been victimized by a devastating oil spill.

The Republican response was quick: the relief fund is outrageous. The matter, the GOP said, should have been resolved in the courts. Obama pressuring BP on Americans' behalf was evidence of a "shakedown" and "extortion," which might have even been "illegal." How dare the president step up to secure needed funding for struggling families and small businesses in the region. The nerve. Hell, one key Republican official even apologized to BP for Obama strong-arming the oil giant into setting the money aside.

Yesterday, though, the Republican message seemed to shift a bit, at least in some corners. What was initially deemed an outrageous presidential abuse turned into a GOP idea that Obama shouldn't take credit for.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), for example, issued a statement yesterday implicitly arguing that there couldn't have been a shakedown, since BP intended to put $20 billion into the escrow fund before the White House meeting. "The true outrage," Franks said, "is that this was never the President's idea at all."

It wasn't just Franks.

On Thursday, Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao told me that he pressed BP on the fund idea a month ago, inspired by the example of Exxon after its 1989 spill off the coast of Alaska. And on Friday I talked with Ray McKinney, another engineer, who is running for Congress in Georgia against Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.). McKinney stressed that there was no serious disagreement about the escrow issue, and said Democrats were concocting a political debate when all that mattered was making BP pay and investigating the disaster.

First, there was considerable disagreement about the escrow issue, since the entire Republican establishment quickly rose up to trash the agreement, loudly and publicly.

Second, this new message completely invalidates the first. Simultaneously, we have Republicans saying Obama extorted the money out of BP and that BP agreed to the payment before Obama walked into the room. The president's efforts were scandalous, some Republicans are arguing, but the effort was a GOP idea.

Can't anybody here play this game? Just pick a message and go with it.

Steve Benen 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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POTUS THROWS AN ELBOW AT THE SENATE, GOP IN WEEKLY ADDRESS.... The Senate this week rejected extended aid to the unemployed, some popular middle-class tax credits, and state assistance intended to prevent massive layoffs. A day later, the Senate rejected it again. I was pleased, then, to see President Obama use this opportunity to throw a few elbows in his weekly address.

Specifically, the president described himself as "disappointed" to see "a dreary and familiar politics get in the way of our ability to move forward on a series of critical issues that have a direct impact on people's lives."

He added, "Unfortunately, the Republican leadership in the Senate won't even allow this legislation to come up for a vote. And if this obstruction continues, unemployed Americans will see their benefits stop. Teachers and firefighters will lose their jobs. Families will pay more for their first home. All we ask for is a simple up or down vote. That's what the American people deserve."

Better yet, the address tied this into the larger problem of scandalous Republican obstructionism, noting that the GOP also recently refused to allow the Senate to vote on oil company liability, and continues to refuse votes on 136 qualified pending administration nominees.

"Look, the nature of our democracy is that we'll always have disagreements and debates -- even heated ones. That's healthy and it's important. But let's argue over genuine differences -- over ideas and policies. And let's go into those debates with an open mind -- a willingness to find common ground and a conviction that, in the end, one way or another, we will have a vote to decide them. Next week, I'll be meeting with a bipartisan group of Senators to discuss how we can transition away from our dependence on fossil fuels and embrace a clean energy future. I don't expect that we'll agree on a solution right away. In fact, I know that there will be plenty of disagreement and different ideas. But at least it shows that Republicans and Democrats can still sit down together in an attempt to tackle the big challenges facing our nation."

Well, it would show that if the parties could sit down together in an attempt to tackle the big challenges facing our nation. I'm fairly certain, however, that when next week's meeting on energy policy takes place, the president (and the rest of us) will find that Republicans are about as interested in serious problem-solving on this as they've been on every other issue of late -- which is to say, not at all.

Still, it's a systemic flaw in our political system in desperate need of additional attention. I have no idea how much attention a weekly address in mid-June is going to generate, but this seems worthwhile anyway.

Steve Benen 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID.... I feel like it's nearly every day that we see another story like this one, and every one of them annoys and frustrates me a little more. It's not the reporting -- which has actually been quite good -- it's the bizarre and misplaced priorities of hand-wringing congressional Democrats who've convinced themselves that the deficit is more important than the economy. Lori Montgomery's front-page piece today is well worth reading.

Barely a week after President Obama tried to re-energize his push for more spending on the economy, his agenda is stalled on Capitol Hill, mired in election-year anxiety about the deficit.

Congress has delivered only about a quarter of the $266 billion in "temporary recovery measures" the president sought in his February budget request and ignored much of the rest. There is unlikely to be another "recovery" check for Social Security recipients. Come December, Obama's "Making Work Pay" tax credit -- the signature initiative he regularly touts as a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans -- will probably be gone.

Even the state aid that Obama last week called critical to preventing the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and other government workers is foundering. After days of talks, frustrated Democratic leaders in the Senate failed again Thursday to muster the 60 votes needed to approve the cash and left town for the weekend with no clear path forward.

If Congress doesn't provide additional stimulus spending, economists inside and outside the administration warn that the nation risks a prolonged period of high unemployment or, more frightening, a descent back into recession. But a competing threat -- the exploding federal budget deficit -- seems to be resonating more powerfully in Congress and among voters.

Read that last paragraph again -- lawmakers actually seem to believe that voters will be happier with prolonged unemployment and a weaker economy, just so long as the deficit doesn't go up.

Look, I'm well aware of Democrats' election anxieties and the fear of "big spender" attacks ads. It's hardly a secret what Republicans are going to say in their campaign pitch: Dems have spent too much and they've failed to lower the deficit. The message as a substantive matter, is ridiculous -- GOP policymakers got us into this mess, left a $1.3 trillion deficit for Dems to clean up, and begged Obama for stimulus money to help the economy in their districts -- but that's the shpiel. Voters will either be persuaded or they won't.

The question is what Dems will have to show for their legislative efforts. They made the investments necessary to rescue the economy from its free fall, but they're losing their nerve before the economy is secure. Why any nervous politician in his/her right mind thinks the majority party will be rewarded for a weaker economy is a question I can't begin to answer.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is an interesting initiative being launched by Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), the founder and leader of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, who doesn't much care for the separation of church and state. Forbes isn't just pushing prayer resolutions on Capitol Hill; he has plans to take his show on the road.

Now Forbes has set up a nonprofit Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation to raise money to franchise the prayer-caucus concept to state legislatures. These affiliates will exist to monitor and oppose legislation, agency rulings and court opinions that uphold church-state separation. Mississippi has already signed on, and Virginia and Florida are working on it.

Forbes discussed his plans with James Dobson on Friday's Family Talk broadcast, Dobson's radio show. (Dobson founded the Religious Right powerhouse Focus on the Family, but now seems to be building a new broadcasting empire.)

"The country is in a great deal of trouble and I just felt like we needed to do something about it," said Dobson, who suggested that there is a growing assault on Christianity in America. Forbes, of course, agreed, claiming these state prayer caucuses will be a way to deal with these "attacks."

It's the same sad song the Religious Right always sings.

But we all know better. Forbes and Dobson aren't concerned with threats to religion; they're concerned with finding ways to impose their faith on others.

Coming soon to a state legislature near you. Something to keep an eye on.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* When the Catholic Health Association endorsed Democratic health care reform efforts earlier this year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops really wasn't happy. Now that the USCCB has had time to reflect, the Bishops not only are still displeased, they're blaming the CHA for the Affordable Care Act becoming law. "Sister Carol [Keehan] and her colleagues are to blame," Cardinal Francis George is quoted as saying in a Catholic News Agency report this week. (thanks to reader D.J.)

* The American Values Network, a progressive faith organization, launched a cable news ad campaign this week, calling out Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for abandoning his commitment to a comprehensive climate/energy bill. Eric Sapp, the AVN's executive director, said in a statement, "With Sen. Graham now abandoning bi-partisanship for precisely the type of energy bill he previously dismissed as 'half-assed,' it's hard to understand how he maintains any credibility on what is doable on energy policy in this Congress."

* And some in the religious right are apparently livid with the Obama White House for hosting a discussion two weeks ago on Interfaith Service Projects on college campuses, and inviting an atheist student group, the Secular Student Alliance, to participate. For some conservative activists, "Interfaith Service Projects" should effectively mean "No Atheists Need Apply."

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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WHETHER GREENE IS BLACK IS IRRELEVANT.... Democrats in South Carolina and D.C. haven't exactly hidden their objections to Alvin Greene's Senate "candidacy." But for Republicans to suggest racism is somehow responsible for the concerns is pretty pathetic.

This week, Rush Limbaugh, of all people, insisted opposition to Greene is evidence of "out and out racism coming from the Democrat [sic] Party here." Dave Weigel noted yesterday that the cheap argument is spreading.

TPM, which has become something of a one-stop shop for Greene news, links to Laura Ingraham's interview with the hapless candidate. Here's the interview, in which Ingraham mockingly asks Greene if he's been contacted by a series of Democratic leaders (botching the name of Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn in the process) and implies that white liberals are opposing him because of his race.

"Didn't you think Keith Olbermann was kind of dismissive toward you?" asks Ingraham. Later: "How is that progress for black Americans if they're trying to get you out of the race? ... The first African American president, and you're Alvin Greene, who is an American success story!"

Look, Ingraham doesn't mean this. She gives the game away a bit by asking Greene about stagflation, reminiscent of the 1988 question about the G-7 that George Will posed to Jesse Jackson to make the candidate look stupid. She thinks he's stupid. But it's too irresistible to suggest that the party of Clyburn (D-S.C.) and the president is secretly racist, so she does so.

Republicans know -- everyone knows -- exactly why Dems aren't happy with these developments. Greene is an unemployed, 32-year-old novice who lives with his parents and didn't campaign for the office he seeks. He was kicked out of the military, and is facing a pending, porn-related felony charge. He's done some news interviews in which have gone so poorly, in one instance, a CNN host asked if Greene is "mentally sound."

Can anyone seriously argue, with a straight face, that Democratic concerns about this guy has anything to do with race? Of course not.

So why are clowns like Limbaugh and Ingraham bothering? Perhaps because they're embarrassed by the ugly racism that still dominates Republican Party politics -- Steve King, South Carolina, Arizona -- and hope that stories like Greene's can be manipulated to turn the tables on Democrats.

No one can possibly take this seriously.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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ANGLE'S 'SECOND AMENDMENT REMEDIES'.... Of all the issues with Sharron Angle, the extremist Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, perhaps the most frightening is her willingness to talk about armed insurrection against the United States government. Her policy positions make her appear nutty, but this portion of her rhetorical repertoire makes her appear dangerous.

Given that Angle has spoken publicly about the possibility more than once, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a conservative paper, asked the Senate candidate to explain what she means when she talks about "Second Amendment remedies" to political disputes. Angle seemed annoyed by the question.

"I can't believe people are even asking that," Angle said in the brief interview. "I'm very much a proponent of the Second Amendment and the Constitution. But what we have to focus on here is a movement, a movement that's about retiring Harry Reid" by voting him out of office."

This vague and unhelpful answer came the same day Angle literally ran away from a journalist asking the same question.

This won't do. A candidate for the U.S. Senate, who has already won her party's nomination, has talked openly about the possibility of the armed overthrow of the government. Asked to clarify, she either flees from journalists, or gives a non-answer. It's incumbent on all candidates to explain their beliefs to voters, but in this case, Angle's extremism makes the responsibility all the more acute.

Jon Chait explained, "There's been a lot of wild, loose rhetoric on the right since Obama took office -- wilder and more mainstream than the equivalent on the left under George W. Bush -- but Angle is really taking things dangerously far. The protection of the law is not enough to ensure the survival of a democracy. Democracies rely upon certain social and cultural norms in order to survive. An important one is a basic respect for the democratic process and a refusal to hint about the idea of actual armed rebellion. Angle did not quite advocate armed rebellion, but she did clearly egg it on it in a way that melds prediction with encouragement....The alarming thing is not so much what Angle said but how relatively little a ripple it has made.... It really seems like a dangerous milestone is the darkening mood of the American right."

Angle won't be able to literally run from this indefinitely.

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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CANTOR PUTS HIS MONEY WHERE HIS MOUTH IS.... It's funny what turns up sometimes in financial disclosure materials. The Wall Street Journal had this gem yesterday:

WSJ's Heard on the Street reported this nugget Thursday that caught Washington Wire's eye:

Putting his money where his mouth is? Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip in the House of Representatives, bought up to $15,000 in shares of ProShares Trust Ultrashort 20+ Year Treasury ETF last December, according to his 2009 financial disclosure statement. The exchange-traded fund takes a short position in long-dated government bonds. In effect, it is a bet against U.S. government bonds -- and perhaps on inflation in the future.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this is the way in which it confirms the worst suspicions about Cantor's understanding of current events -- this guy is betting on inflation? The economic phenomenon that's effectively non-existent given our current economic conditions? Inflation that the Fed isn't going to begin worrying about for the rest of the year?

The Washington Independent's Annie Lowrey added: "...Cantor is not a very canny investor. The fund is down 31 percent this year."

It appears Cantor's investment decisions are about as wise as his legislative decisions. Indeed, if Cantor wanted to give his portfolio a boost, he could do as the White House would like and endorse policies that would stimulate the economy. Americans would be better off, and Cantor's investments would be worth more money.

But, as Matt Yglesias explained, "either Cantor doesn't understand his economic self-interest properly, or else he's more committed to his principled opposition to sound macroeconomic stabilization than he is to the performance of his portfolio."

My bet is on the former. Cantor doesn't seem to understand much.

Steve Benen 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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MARK KIRK MAY HAVE A PROBLEM.... Usually, when we talk about political candidates with a "problem," we're talking about issues that may cause trouble for their campaign. When I refer to Rep. Mark Kirk (R) in Illinois having a "problem," I mean there might just be something wrong with him.

Kirk, the Republicans' U.S. Senate nominee, has described himself to voters as "a former nursery school teacher." His campaign has said Kirk worked "as a nursery school teacher." In reality, Mark Kirk wasn't a nursery school teacher.

A leader of the church in upstate New York where Representative Mark S. Kirk of Illinois claims he worked as a nursery school teacher said on Friday that he had overstated his role there.

The leader, Sally Grubb, a member of the administrative council at Forest Home Chapel, a Methodist church in Ithaca, N.Y., said Mr. Kirk had a limited role while working part-time in a work-study program while he was a student at Cornell University nearly three decades ago.

"He was never, ever considered a teacher," Ms. Grubb said in a telephone interview after researching the history of Mr. Kirk's association with the nursery school. "He was just an additional pair of hands to help a primary teaching person."

Apparently, the school had a play group that met in the church basement. Kirk helped out, but he "did not have major responsibilities at the play group, like creating lesson plans, and he was assistant who played with the children."

As a substantive matter, what Kirk did as a college student in 1981 seems to have no relevance today. The point, though, is that Kirk keeps making specific claims about his background -- using his experiences to impress voters -- that fall apart under scrutiny. He's saying what he did as a college student in 1981 is entirely relevant -- he referenced his nursery school background with the Illinois Education Association, in the hopes of getting an endorsement -- but Kirk's version of events just isn't true.

More importantly, it seems Kirk can't seem to help himself when it comes to telling tall tales. When describing his military service, Kirk has made at least 10 specific false claims. When describing his views on foreign policy, he's made several more false claims. Now we learn that Kirk's claims about having been "a nursery school teacher" aren't true, either.

How voters are supposed to find Mark Kirk trustworthy going forward remains a mystery.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THE NEW CENTERPIECE OF A CAMPAIGN STRATEGY.... In terms of political crisis management, House Republicans and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) did the right thing on Thursday -- they responded quickly. Barton issued a groveling public apology to BP at 11 a.m., and within a few hours, the right-wing Texan had reversed course and the party leadership had denounced his remarks. The goal was to tear the bandage off swiftly, in the hopes that it would be a one-day story.

Democrats' goal, of course, is to figure out how to keep the story alive and relevant for the next five months. There's little doubt that they're prepared to use Barton's BP apology as the starting point of a larger campaign effort.

The White House worked [Friday] to extend the damage of Rep. Joe Barton's apology to BP for the "shakedown" it received by the White House in setting up the $20 billion escrow fund to compensate victims of the oil spill.

En route to an event in Columbus, Ohio, White House spokesman Bill Burton made a thinly-veiled promise that Democrats will make the issue a voting matter this fall.

"If Republicans were in control of the House, Joe Barton is the man who would be the chairman of that [Energy and Commerce] committee. So that's just something that I think people will be considering moving forward here," he said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Maryland), who runs the House Democrats' campaign operation, was more direct, saying Barton's comment will feature prominently in Democratic campaigns this year. "This will become an issue in the races around the country, because it's another big piece of the story about how the Republicans have been on the side of the big corporations," he said.

He said they would make sure voters knew that if the GOP wins the majority, Barton would be the "Republican point person" on energy.

Van Hollen also talked to Greg Sargent yesterday, and went even further still, arguing, "Joe Barton said publicly where the majority of Republicans stand on energy -- protecting the big oil companies.... We're going to be making the point again and again that Joe Barton's comments on big oil [show] Republicans in the House stand on the side of big corporate interests against consumers and taxpayers."

For what it's worth, Dems seem to be making two points here, one of which is much stronger than the other. The first is that Republicans are fighting to protect oil companies, over the public's needs, and Barton's apology to BP only helps crystallize the larger problem. That's a strong, salient point.

The second is that Barton would be the chairman of the House Energy Committee next year if Republicans re-take the House, so a vote for a GOP candidate is a vote to put this clown in charge of industry oversight. That's less compelling -- in part because it might not be entirely true, and in part because Republican leaders can (and probably should) take the talking point away by simply declaring that Barton isn't in line to be the next chairman.

Either way, this is likely a drum Dems won't stop beating for quite a while.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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June 18, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* In the most successful day since the crisis began, containment mechanisms were able to capture 25,290 barrels of oil gushing from the wrecked well in the Gulf yesterday.

* BP CEO Tony Hayward is "being relieved of day-to-day responsibility for managing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill," and the reins will be handed to BP Managing Director. Bob Dudley. I guess this means Hayward can get his "life back"?

* Afghanistan: "Three Americans and a British soldier died in fighting Friday in southern Afghanistan, raising to 34 the number of U.S. troops killed in the war so far this month."

* Faced with opposition from Blue Dogs and the Congressional Black Caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday pulled the DISCLOSE Act, the campaign-finance bill pending in the chamber. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen said obituaries for the proposal are "very, very premature."

* It took some Senate scrambling, but the Medicare "doc fix" passed today. It was approved without a roll call vote.

* North Korea: "Bowing to reality, the North Korean government has lifted all restrictions on private markets -- a last-resort option for a leadership desperate to prevent its people from starving."

* In Florida, Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R) has an odd sense of "personal responsibility."

* CIA torture review: "Attorney General said Thursday evening that the Justice Department prosecutor conducting a review of torture of detainees by the CIA, which was launched last August, is 'close to the end of the time that he needs and will be making some recommendations to me,' Main Justice reports."

* C Street members off the hook: "The Office of Congressional Ethics has dropped its investigation into whether several Members of Congress received an improper gift in the form of below-market rent at a Capitol Hill townhouse, five of the lawmakers' offices have confirmed."

* I'd feel better about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) if he stopped saying making claims with no basis in reality.

* An important argument at the American Constitution Society event yesterday: "Republican senators and conservative jurists found themselves on the defensive after Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) blasted 'conservative activism' on federal courts."

* Great speech from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on immigration and economic policy.

* There was a problem with the live stream this morning, but the video of the entire Monthly/NAF event is now online.

* The "use income to promote diversity" public policy tactic is not easy.

* Even now, the right is still hung up on ACORN. How sad.

* It's seems more than a little bizarre for a state official to use Twitter to announce an impending execution. I get that it's a versatile application, but c'mon.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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SOMETIMES, ALL POLITICS REALLY IS LOCAL.... Responding to Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) public apology to BP yesterday, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), whose Pensacola district is already feeling the brunt of the spill, announced that he'd like to see Barton step down as the ranking member of the House Energy Committee. Today, another House Republican followed suit.

Rep. Jo Bonner called on fellow Republican Rep. Joe Barton to step down as ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Friday following the Texas Republican's controversial statements to BP chairman Tony Hayward on Thursday.

"Earlier this morning, Rep. Barton called me to offer his personal apologies for any harm that his comments might have caused," said Bonner, whose district covers much of Alabama's coastline.

"It takes a big person to admit they were wrong and I appreciated Joe's call," Bonner continued. "However, as I told him, I believe the damage of his comments are beyond repair and, as such, I am today calling on Joe to do the right thing for our conference and immediately step aside as Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee."

In his statement, Bonner called Barton's apology "stupid." As for Barton's walk-back, Bonner called it "at best a half-hearted apology" intended to "save his position on one of the most influential committees in Congress."

In case it's not obvious, it's worth noting that both Bonner and Miller represent Gulf Coast districts. This isn't ideological -- Bonner and Miller aren't moderates -- this is a classic all-politics-is-local moment. Gulf Coast lawmakers, even conservative Republicans, are reluctant to look like BP toadies right now. Barton made the entire Republican Party look bad yesterday, so it's not surprising that lawmakers like Bonner and Miller would take the opportunity to impress voters back home, party be damned.

The end result, of course, is another round of headlines about the controversy, which is the last thing Republican leaders hoped to see.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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DNC UNVEILS BARTON AD.... It was only a matter of time before the Democratic National Committee went after Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP in a television ad. Indeed, I suspect there will be multiple spots as the campaign season progresses.

But the first such ad was launched today, and I don't imagine Republicans will like it. For those of you who can't watch video clips from your work computers, the spot features a voiceover saying, "BP caused the worst oil spill in American history. Now, at President Obama's direction, BP's set aside $20 billion for recovery on the Gulf coast. But if Republicans were in charge, this is the guy who'd be overseeing BP."

The ad then shows Barton apologizing to BP's Tony Hayward. "He apologized to BP and called the recovery fund a 'tragedy.'" Again, Barton is shown apologizing.

"Republicans apologizing to BP?" the ad concludes. "Tell Republicans: Stop apologizing to big oil."

Notice, the spot doesn't mention Barton by name, which makes sense -- no one outside his district necessarily knows who he is. Instead, the DNC is counting on yesterday's controversy being well known in its own right. Voters may not know Joe Barton, but they (hopefully) know that a key Republican issued a groveling apology to the foreign company responsible for the biggest environmental catastrophe in American history.

The commercial is set to begin airing on MSNBC and CNN.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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JUDGING LEADERS BY THEIR LUCKINESS.... Sometimes, I just don't know what Peggy Noonan is trying to say. From today's column:

The president is starting to look snakebit... Mr. Obama is starting to look unlucky, and -- file this under Mysteries of Leadership -- that is dangerous for him because Americans get nervous when they have a snakebit president. They want presidents on whom the sun shines.

Noonan went on to say that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have to consider whether to challenge the president in a Democratic primary in two years. Because maybe she'd be luckier. Or something.

I've read Noonan's columns for quite a while, and I can usually decipher the message when she delves into metaphysical/mystical political observations, but her point here eludes me. I'm trying to follow the logic: bad things happen ... they're not the president's fault ... the president gets blamed because Americans prefer lucky presidents?

This is all part of the "Mysteries of Leadership"?

It was almost as if Noonan was trying to argue that God has chosen not to help the Obama presidency. This might be more effective on "The 700 Club," but a respected columnist should at least try to show a little more seriousness of thought.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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IF YOU THOUGHT BURTON WAS BAD.... If you followed politics in the mid- to late-'90s, you may recall the tragedy of the House Committee On Oversight and Government Reform. Led by its ridiculous chairman, Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana, the panel launched pointless investigations into every wild-eyed Clinton-related accusation unhinged activists could manufacture.

In one instance, Burton held hearings -- for 10 days -- on the Clintons' Christmas card list. In another, Burton fired a bullet into a "head-like object" -- reportedly a melon -- in his backyard to test his conspiracy theories about Vince Foster. Over the last six years of Bill Clinton's presidency, Burton's committee unilaterally issued 1,052 subpoenas -- that's not a typo -- to investigate baseless allegations of misconduct. That translates to an average of a politically-inspired subpoena every other day for six consecutive years, including weekends, holidays, and congressional recesses.

Burton, of course, wasn't just some talk-radio shock-jock or publicity-hungry activist; he was the chairman of a congressional committee with oversight authority over the White House. And he wielded that gavel as if he were a fringe blogger with a chip on his shoulder.

And if Republicans retake the House majority after the midterms, Darrell Issa will make Dan Burton look like a meek, submissive toady.

Rep. Darrell Issa, the conservative firebrand whose specialty is lobbing corruption allegations at the Obama White House, is making plans to hire dozens of subpoena-wielding investigators if Republicans win the House this fall.

The California Republican's daily denunciations draw cheers from partisans and bookings from cable TV producers. He even bought his own earphone for live shots. But his bombastic style and attention-seeking investigations draw eye rolls from other quarters. Now, he's making clear he won't be so easy to shrug off if he becomes chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2011.

Issa has told Republican leadership that if he becomes chairman, he wants to roughly double his staff from 40 to between 70 and 80. And he is not subtle about what that means for President Barack Obama.

Issa, who even some Republicans perceive as an embarrassing clown, has specifically promised to leave "corporate America" alone, so he can attack the White House relentlessly.

Of course, the more Issa takes on a high-profile role, the more scrutiny he's likely to receive. Given Issa's background, that's probably not a good thing -- the guy was, after all, an alleged car thief who lied about his military background. It's a record Democrats are likely to make note of if Issa starts throwing stones in his glass house.

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GOP TO OBAMA: LEAVE BP ALOOOOOONE.... As astounding as Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) groveling public apology to BP was yesterday, there's a much larger, more relevant truth to keep in mind: President Obama is getting tough with BP, and the Republican Party wishes he wouldn't.

For weeks, much of the criticism of the White House was centered around the idea that the administration wasn't pushing BP hard enough. But on Wednesday, the president went into a meeting with the company's executives, told them how it was going to be, and BP quickly agreed. The result: a $20 billion pot of money that will bring much-needed help to workers, businesses, and families who've been victimized by a devastating oil spill. This was no small task for Obama, and Americans have every right to be pleased. (One poll this week found 82% of the public supports the creation of the escrow fund.)

And yet, Republicans seem to be outraged. We talked yesterday about GOP officials and candidates sticking up for BP, and today, ThinkProgress put together this compilation video of Republican media figures doing the same thing. It's all quite breathtaking, and the result of a strategy the party really hasn't thought through.

Indeed, the rhetoric is almost comical. Fox News' Brian Kilmeade suggested this morning that Obama is being "too tough" on BP. Talk of a "shakedown" is ubiquitous in conservative media circles. Some Republican media personalities have described the president's securing of funds for the Gulf Coast as "illegal" and "unconstitutional." Even after party leaders said Barton was "wrong," leading party voices, including Rush Limbaugh, continue to insist he was right.

Now, it's possible that Republicans in Congress and in the media are simply offering a knee-jerk response -- Obama secured funding for spill victims, so the funding must be bad -- but there seems to be more to this. Republicans on the Hill and in the media just want BP to be treated with kid gloves. A foreign oil giant is responsible for the worst environmental catastrophe in American history, and the GOP would prefer that Obama go easy on the company. In Rand Paul's words, for the president to even criticize BP is "un-American."

It would be better, Republicans are arguing, if aid to help spill victims didn't exist, and if the president didn't take the lead in getting resources for the region.

Every day, it seems to get a little easier for Democrats to characterize Republicans as "The Party of BP."

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SO MUCH FOR THAT 'TRUCE'.... Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), a potential presidential candidate in 2012, caused a stir in conservative circles recently when he suggested it's time for a "truce" on culture-war issues. The religious right and leaders like Mike Huckabee were outraged.

But what would the "truce" look like in practice? The right probably shouldn't worry too much about Daniels' conservative bona fides. The Washington Post's Michael Gerson talked to the Indiana governor this week, and found that Daniels' interest in cultural-war issues hasn't disappeared after all.

"I would reinstate the Mexico City policy," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told me, removing an uncertainty of his own creation. Promoting abortion with international family planning funds is one of "a thousand things we shouldn't be spending money on."

Yet days earlier, when asked if he would return to that family planning rule as president, Daniels had responded: "I don't know." It is a measure of Daniels' standing as a possible Republican candidate in 2012 that his answer caused a considerable stir.

That quick evolution in Daniels' thinking matters. He wanted a "truce" on issues like abortion, and said he didn't know whether he would return to the GOP-backed family planning rule. But in the wake of the far-right freak-out, Daniels had a sudden change of heart. Imagine that.

For the record, Daniels' willingness to "reinstate the Mexico City policy" tells us quite a bit about his worldview. This is a dreadful policy -- which President Obama wisely reversed soon after taking office -- that undermines women's health care around the world.

The "Mexico City" policy prohibits US dollars and contraceptive supplies from going to any international family planning program that provides abortions or counsels women about their reproductive health options. The policy isn't about money going to pay for abortions. Even those groups that use only private funds for abortion services -- where abortion is legal -- are barred from assistance. This is money going to family planning programs. [...]

[N]ot only are organizations that provide or counsel about abortion services affected; those that dare to take part in a public discussion about legalizing abortion are also affected (hence the name "global gag rule").... This policy has nothing to do with government-sponsored abortions overseas. Ten years before the gag rule was in place the law strictly prohibited that. This policy is about disqualifying prochoice organizations from receiving US international family planning funding.

Under Bush's policy, organizations that play a vital role in women's health are forced to make an impossible choice. If they refuse to be "gagged," they lose the funding that enables them to help women and families who are cut off from basic health care and family planning. But if they accept funding, they must accept restrictions that jeopardize the health of the women they serve.

If Daniels would want to return U.S. policy to this gag-rule, it would be stoking the culture-war fires -- which is the opposite of a "truce."

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Left with no real choice, the South Carolina Democratic Party's executive committee voted overwhelmingly yesterday to reject calls for a new Senate primary. Though party officials called the election "flawed," Alvin Greene is nevertheless the Democratic nominee.

* The Democratic Governors Association is going after John Kasich (R) pretty aggressively in Ohio this week, with a new ad slamming his Wall Street work for Lehman Brothers. "When Lehmann Brothers collapsed, Ohio seniors lost $480 million from their retirement funds," says the narrator. "John Kasich got rich while Ohio seniors lost millions."

* In Minnesota, the gubernatorial race appears very close in a new SurveyUSA poll. Former Sen. Mark Dayton (D) leads Tom Emmer (R) by three, 38% to 35%, though Emmer has narrow leads over the other Democratic candidates in hypothetical match-ups.

* Jeff Greene is still going after Rep. Kendrick Meek in Florida's Senate Democratic primary, with Greene launching an attack ad accusing Meek of improprieties in a real estate deal. Oddly, Greene isn't running the ad in Florida, but rather, in D.C. The goal, apparently, is to spark interest in an ethics investigation.

* Rep. Mary Fallin (R) continues to be the frontrunner in Oklahoma's gubernatorial race, with a new Sooner Poll showing her with double-digit leads over the leading Democratic candidates.

* It's Rasmussen, so take the results with a grain of salt, but the pollster find Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) lead over Dallas former Houston Mayor Bill White (D) slipping into single-digit territory, 48% to 40%.

* Chris Cillizza raised a good point yesterday: the wave of Democratic retirements that many expected never materialized.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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1937, REDUX.... When FDR launched the New Deal investments in the early 1930s, it improved the economy and the United States started to pull out of the Great Depression. In 1937, Democrats decided to start taking Republican complaints seriously, and emphasized spending cuts and deficit reduction over economic growth. The economy tanked, the recovery ended, and a recession began.

Paul Krugman, reporting from Berlin, sees contemporary parallels.

Suddenly, creating jobs is out, inflicting pain is in. Condemning deficits and refusing to help a still-struggling economy has become the new fashion everywhere, including the United States, where 52 senators voted against extending aid to the unemployed despite the highest rate of long-term joblessness since the 1930s. [...]

[D]espite these warnings, the deficit hawks are prevailing in most places -- and nowhere more than here [in Germany], where the government has pledged 80 billion euros, almost $100 billion, in tax increases and spending cuts even though the economy continues to operate far below capacity.

What's the economic logic behind the government's moves? The answer, as far as I can tell, is that there isn't any.

For what it's worth, President Obama does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, and is urging Germany and the rest of our G20 partners not to lose sight of what matters.

President Obama warned world economic leaders in a letter this week that the global recovery could founder on growing divisions over issues they pledged a year ago to resolve cooperatively.

As a key world summit in Toronto approaches next week, Obama referred -- sometimes elliptically but still unmistakably -- to a lengthening list of disagreements among the G-20 group of nations, including China's overvalued currency and Europe's suddenly aggressive budget-cutting.

Instead of meeting in Toronto to review the progress made toward goals announced last year in Pittsburgh, when there was a buoyant mood of world cooperation, the coming session stands as a fresh reckoning. [...]

[There has been] a surge in budget-cutting plans that the IMF has said are appropriate for the most indebted nations, such as Greece and Spain, but that risk undercutting recovery in countries where government debt is not as urgent a problem and growth remains tentative. France, Germany and England, the drivers of the European economy, have all announced austerity plans.

In the letter obtained by the Washington Post, Obama told his international colleagues, "I am committed to the restoration of fiscal sustainability, but it is critical that the timing and pace of consolidation in each economy suit the needs of the global economy, the momentum of private sector demand, and national circumstances."

Vice President Biden added yesterday, "This is not a time to take our foot off the accelerator here. We still need to continue to create jobs and spur job growth."

Republicans and center-right Democrats no longer want to hear this. Here's hoping the rest of the world is more sensible.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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CAPITALIZING ON BARTON.... Democratic campaign committees know an opportunity when they see one. And clearly, Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP is an opportunity.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) blasted out a fundraising e-mail pointing to Barton's comments as evidence the GOP is the party of Big Oil.

"This isn't from some backbencher. Republicans want to put Congressman Barton in charge of the entire Energy and Commerce committee!" DCCC Executive Director Jon Vogel wrote.

"It's clear that Republicans are counting on their corporate special interests like Big Oil to fuel them to what they hope will be a record breaking fundraising quarter -- but this is a disgusting new low. Don't let Big Oil's backers claim the momentum."

This appears to be a multifaceted effort. In addition to yesterday's email appeal, the DCCC is running new Facebook ads, and issuing statements to targeted congressional districts demanding that GOP candidates disavow Barton's apology to the foreign oil giant.

What's more, overnight, the DNC's Organizing for America sent out a letter, over David Plouffe's signature, about Barton and other Republicans who are siding with BP. "Let's be clear," Plouffe said. "This [$20 billion] fund is a major victory for the people of the Gulf. It's a key step toward making them whole again. BP has a responsibility to those whose lives and livelihoods have been devastated by the disaster. And BP oil executives don't deserve an apology -- the people of the Gulf do." The message included a box with text that read: "We support holding BP accountable and we won't apologize for doing so."

But there's a related question that's also worth considering: will Barton capitalize over this, too?

Remember, last year, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) was initially humiliated for heckling President Obama during a speech before a joint session of Congress. The GOP's right-wing base, however, decided that they loved Wilson's outburst, made him a far-right hero, and contributed generously to his re-election.

Might Barton get a similar bump from the nutty wing of the Republican Party? It may sound ridiculous, but it's nevertheless a distinct possibility. Michael Roston noted, "[G]et ready for far right conservatives to rally to Barton's defense, and the congressman to walk away from his act of insensitivity with his conscience light and his campaign war chest heavier."

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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ANGLE BREAKS HER SILENCE (SORT OF).... Sharron Angle, the extremist Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, has been a little too embarrassed by herself to talk to the media lately, refusing all questions from local and national journalists. Yesterday, the radical conservative broke her silence. Sort of.

Angle greeted supporters at a Las Vegas restaurant, and spoke briefly to Nathan Baca, a reporter with the local CBS affiliate. Baca asked about Angle's stated position, as it appears on her website, about eliminating Social Security and Medicare. Angle replied, "You believe the Harry Reid lie."

Asked why Angle would like to eliminate the EPA, she added, "The issues are not about the EPA. The issues are homes here in Nevada."

The Republican Senate hopeful did have a 20-minute chat with a far-right local radio host. But Baca, who deserves a lot of credit for persistence, asked Angle to explain what she meant when she said, "If this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking towards those Second Amendment remedies." (Given Angle's remarks about armed insurrection against the United States government, it's a relevant question.)

Angle not only refused to answer, she literally ran away from the reporter in the parking lot.

As a rule, when politicians are seen fleeing from journalists, they're either under indictment, have been caught doing something scandalous, or cowards.

After the unsuccessful effort to get answers from Angle, the right-wing candidate's campaign lashed out at the reporter, calling him "an idiot" and another term that can't be repeated.

What a political trainwreck.

Update: I've updated the post with this YouTube clip, via ThinkProgress, which loads better than the embed from the local affiliate.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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PUBLIC BACKS ADDITIONAL STIMULUS.... As 2009 got underway, Democrats had two unfortunate messes Republicans left behind to clean up: an economy in free fall and a massive budget deficit. Dems couldn't address both at the same time -- tackling one problem necessarily meant making the other problem worse.

Republicans said the focus should be on fixing their huge budget shortfall; Democrats fortunately ignored them and chose to emphasize economic growth and job creation. Their efforts didn't reduce the deficit -- they weren't supposed to -- but they did help turn the economy around.

The success of the recovery effort has, alas, not translated into a robust economy. The question, then, is what to do now. As we saw yesterday, Senate Republicans want to slam on the brakes and stop trying to improve the economy. The public prefers a different approach.

Among four pieces of legislation Congress could consider this year, Americans are most supportive of authorizing more economic stimulus spending. Specifically, according to a June 11-13 USA Today/Gallup poll, 60% of Americans say they would favor "additional government spending to create jobs and stimulate the economy." [...]

Stimulus spending emerges as the most widely favored proposal of the four, overall, because of support that is particularly high from Democrats (83%) and relatively high from Republicans (38%) compared with the other Democrat-favored items.

It's worth emphasizing the fact that public attitudes seem to have shifted over the last year or so. Last summer, it was still common to see polls showing Americans emphasizing the deficit over economic growth. Now, the public's support for additional stimulus is surprisingly strong.

For that matter, there's additional data that shows Americans are far more concerned with the economy than the deficit.

So, members of Congress have a choice:

1) Side with Republicans, who got us into this mess in the first place, and stop trying to improve the economy; or

2) Side with the public, who'll be voting in November, and invest in job growth.

That this is even a debate is astounding to me. That the first option is winning right now is just stunning.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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GOP SCRAMBLES TO CONTAIN BARTON MESS.... By all appearances, no one knew in advance what Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) was poised to do yesterday morning. The right-wing Texan hadn't told his colleagues he would apologize to BP CEO Tony Hayward, and Barton hadn't advertised the fact that he would side with the foreign oil giant over the White House.

A Republican staffer told Newsweek that "there was almost an instant admission that what [Barton] said could turn into a huge problem."

And that it did. By yesterday afternoon, Republican leaders weren't just bordering on panic, they were also hauling Barton to a private meeting, issuing very specific threats.

Under fire for appearing to shield BP from criticism Thursday morning, Rep. Joe Barton was told by House GOP leaders later in the day to apologize "immediately" or lose his position as the senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, several Republican sources tell CNN.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, delivered the pointed demand to Barton, a Texas congressman.

"He was told apologize immediately or you will lose your position immediately," said a Republican leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Wait, GOP officials were using a job opportunity as leverage to get a congressman to cooperate in a political plan hatched behind closed doors by party leaders? Why aren't Darrell Issa and Fox News comparing this to Watergate?

Regardless, Politico's report accurately noted that Barton "handed Democrats just what they wanted: a Republican villain in the oil spill crisis."

It would have been bad enough for the GOP if a backbencher had accidentally strayed wildly off message, but Barton, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is the face of the party on energy policy -- and his comments were intentional. So rather than talking about BP's culpability and the Obama administration's response, Washington was fixated on a Texas Republican's seemingly tone-deaf comments. [...]

"Whether Mr. Barton realizes it or not, he certainly did no favors to every member of our conference, his Republican colleagues in the Senate, candidates out running and a lot of our vulnerables," a Republican aide said. "What he did certainly did not help anybody."

Well, except Democrats, that is.

Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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A JOBS BILL THAT CAN PASS: COMMUNITY COLLEGE REFORM.... I've been telling you about today's event all week, and it's getting ready to start. From what I hear, it's going to be one of the bigger events the Washington Monthly and the New America Foundation have hosted -- the venue is already fully booked.

As a reminder, here's what it's all about:

Prospects look grim for the nation's 15 million unemployed, according to a recent jobs report from the Labor Department. Yet lawmakers in Washington, gripped by deficit fears, haven't found the votes for even a modest stimulus package.

In the current issue of the Washington Monthly, Jamie Merisotis and Stan Jones offer a plan to assist the unemployed without breaking the federal bank: help them earn one and two-year college credentials, fast. Most of the new jobs being created (slowly but surely) in this recovery require skills most unemployed Americans don't have. Yet the schools where they might get training are not up to the task. Community colleges are inexpensive but not designed to deliver credentials quickly. For-profit colleges provide quick degrees but cost a bundle and often offer subpar training.

What the unemployed really need are colleges that combine the low-cost and public mission of community colleges with the job-focused curriculum of the best for-profits. Fortunately, there is a model public college system already up and running that does precisely that, with stunningly successful results. That model could be spread nationwide in a matter of months, not years, with an investment of federal money that is already in the budget.

You can watch the live stream of the event right here. It's scheduled to get started shortly at 9 a.m. (ET).

If you miss it, we'll offer the full video later, and I'll let you know when it's up.

Update: There are apparently some technical issues with the live stream this morning. If you're having trouble watching, know that the entire event will be available for online viewing later.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (1)

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40 SENATE HOOVERS.... It's an election year, and the economy remains the issue at the top of voters' priority list. It stands to reason that lawmakers would want to take modest steps to improve the economy and prevent job losses.

But reason has been deemed irrelevant in much of the Senate, where sacrificing workers and the unemployed over long-term deficit fears is somehow perceived as wise.

The Senate effectively rejected a slimmed-down package of jobless benefits and state aid late Thursday, rebuffing President Obama's call for urgent action to bolster the economic recovery. [...]

Democratic leaders, who had predicted victory less than 24 hours earlier, vowed not to give up on the measure, but acknowledged that they have no clear path to securing the one or two Republican votes needed to push it to final passage. Though the sprawling package contains a number of must-pass provisions, Republicans have been steadfast in their opposition, insisting that the full cost of the measure be covered by cutting existing government programs.

If the Senate had been allowed to vote on the measure, it would have passed. But Republicans kept up their scandalous habit of filibustering literally every proposal of any significance, leading to a 56 to 40 vote. (Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) voted with Republicans, who unanimously opposed the bill.) Because the Senate is ridiculous, 40 votes trumps 56.

Note that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not switch his vote for procedural reasons, which means that the economic aid package is, for now, dead.

In real-world terms, this means more than a million unemployed Americans will stop receiving assistance next week, and aid states are counting on to prevent massive layoffs won't arrive.

The Senate had a choice: worry about the deficit or worry about higher unemployment. For reasons that defy common sense, the Senate chose the former -- as if the deficit will improve when more Americans are out of work.

The Democratic majority really can't let this stand. As a policy matter, Republicans' neo-Hooverism will cause widespread suffering. As a political matter, it's Dems who'll be blamed when unemployment gets worse. (It's unpleasant to think about, but it may be time for a discussion about whether GOP lawmakers are trying to deliberately sabotage the economy to help their midterm election strategy.)

Ideally, the Democratic leadership would keep bringing this up, every day, shining a light on exactly what Republicans are doing here.

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Reid are scheduled to meet today to discuss their next steps. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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June 17, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* A certain Texan's apology notwithstanding, BP CEO Tony Hayward did not have a pleasant experience on Capitol Hill today: "Hayward grew defensive as the accusatory tone of the hearing grew more heated and members of the House panel began asking detailed questions about the design of the company's oil well and the faulty decisions BP engineers and managers made about keeping it under control. As the hearing proceeded, he was unable -- and, occasionally, unwilling -- to answer detailed questions."

* In related news, Hayward should have made a little more of an effort to change his rhetoric from the words he used in his television ad campaign.

* It's almost hard to believe, but Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) top corporate donor is a partner on ... BP's Deepwater Horizon rig.

* The fallout from the raid: "Israel announced Thursday that it will loosen its blockade of the Gaza Strip and allow more goods to enter the territory. The decision came in response to international pressure on Israel to end its siege of the strip following an Israeli raid on a Turkish aid ship that left nine activists dead."

* The number of people filing for unemployment benefits was expected to drop last week. It didn't: "The Labor Department says initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000, the highest level in a month."

* The Obama administration rolled out new sanctions on Iran yesterday.

* Another good piece from Dahlia Lithwick: "Ignoring Maher Arar won't make his torture claims go away."

* Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) seems to realize that health care costs would go up if the individual mandate -- an idea he used to support -- were scrapped. He doesn't care.

* Shameless: when Fox News aired footage from this morning's hearing with Hayward, the network edited out Barton's apology. Imagine that.

* College enrollment recently saw its largest increase in 40 years. Much of it is the result in a boost in minority enrollment.

* And finally, Bill Randall, a Republican congressional candidate in North Carolina, believes there's a "possibility" that federal officials and BP "colluded" to create the oil spill in the Gulf. He couldn't explain why anyone would want this, and added, "I'm not necessarily a conspiracy person." Randall nevertheless signaled his support for an "investigation," leading me to once again wonder where in the world the Republican Party finds these clowns.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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DEFINE 'NATURAL'.... How big a problem was Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP's Tony Hayward today? Big enough for the entire House Republican leadership -- Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Conference Chair Mike Pence (R-Ind.) -- to issue a joint statement distancing the party from the Texan's comments.

"The oil spill in the Gulf is this nation's largest natural disaster and stopping the leak and cleaning up the region is our top priority. Congressman Barton's statements this morning were wrong. BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose."

It takes quite a bit for the Republican leadership to throw one of their own under the bus, which just goes to show how toxic Barton's apology really was.

But there was something in the leadership's statement that stood out -- the nation's largest "natural" disaster?

Um, no. Damage from a hurricane is a natural disaster. When there's an earthquake, it can cause a natural disaster. Volcanoes, flash floods, tornadoes, and tsunamis result in natural disasters.

When an oil company uses machinery to go a mile below sea level, then digs down another mile below that, and then builds a rig that explodes, sending tens of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, there's nothing "natural" about it.

Steve Benen 5:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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ON THE OFFENSIVE -- AND IN CAMPAIGN MODE.... Shortly after Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) half-hearted walk-back -- he wished to "apologize for that misconstruction" -- White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs turned to Twitter to say, "MICONSTRUCTED?!" Less than a half-hour later, Gibbs tweeted again: "Who would the GOP put in charge of overseeing the energy industry & Big Oil if they won control of Congress? Yup, u guessed it - JOE BARTON."

The mockery is a reminder that today was the first day in a while that we're seeing the White House in a very different posture -- on the offensive. The president and his team had an exceptionally good day yesterday, when Obama secured $20 billion for victims of the BP oil spill, and Barton's public apology to BP's Tony Hayward this morning has helped keep a spring in White House's officials' steps.

Note that Barton's groveling remarks to BP's chief executive started around 11:01 a.m. (ET). The White House statement calling Barton's apology "shameful" came at 47 minutes later. That's not just quick; that's campaign-mode speed.

The Obama team seems to see this week as a chance to change the larger political argument about the Gulf crisis, and Barton and his GOP cohorts are making that easier.

"It's hard to tell what planet these people live on," Gibbs said, when asked about the litany of attacks on the White House's treatment of BP coming from multiple Republicans.

"It's hard to understand their viewpoint but it may explain their votes on financial regulation," he continued. "It explains how they view whether or not the banks ought to be able to write their own rules and play the game the way they played it several years ago that caused our economy to crash."

Gibbs ripped BP for doing untold damage to our economy, environment, and "way of life," and added that if you listen to Barton, Michele Bachmann and other Republicans, "you'd think somehow BP was a handkerchief, a crying shoulder."

Notice, it's not just Barton's apology that's drawing the focus; it's building on that to make the case that Republicans are the Party of BP.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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BARTON REGRETS 'MISCONSTRUCTION'.... After his public apology to BP's chief executive, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) was going to have to say something else on the matter. Democrats have been using him as a pinata this afternoon, and some Republicans have stated their dissatisfaction with the right-wing Texan.

About a half-hour ago, Barton kinda sorta walked back his remarks.

Just now, Rep. Joe Barton took a point of "personal privilege" to clarify his much discussed remarks this morning to BP CEO Tony Hayward.

"I think BP is responsible for this accident, should be held responsible," Barton said, before adding that he also thinks the company should pay for costs of the spill. "If anything I have said this morning has been misconstrued to an opposite effect, I want to apologize for that misconstruction," he added.

That's not much of an apology, and it certainly won't help in ending the criticism. Indeed, it's one of those typical insincere apologies in which the one who screwed up is sorry if we misunderstood him -- as if we're to blame for his mistake.

It's going to take a lot more than this to make up for Barton groveling to the CEO of a foreign company responsible for the worst environmental catastrophe in American history.

Van Jones was on MSNBC this afternoon and said Democrats are looking to "kick some ass" when it comes to BP, while Republicans are looking to "kiss some ass."

A half-hearted walk-back about a "misconstruction" won't make this go away.

Update: In a written statement, Barton went further: "I apologize for using the term 'shakedown' with regard to yesterday's actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning, and I retract my apology to BP."

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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SESSIONS SCRAPES THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL.... Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has adopted a rather embarrassing approach to attacking Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan: throw as much garbage as possible at the wall, and hope something sticks. The latest effort was cheap, even for Sessions.

Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions stepped up his challenges against Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan on Wednesday by criticizing Harvard University's acceptance of a $20 million donation from a Saudi Arabian family while she served as dean of the law school.

The donation, the Alabama Republican said in a floor speech, funded the creation of an Islamic studies center at the university. [...]

"Ms. Kagan was perfectly willing to obstruct the U.S. military, which has liberated countless Muslims from the hate and tyranny of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban," Sessions said. "But it seems she sat on the sidelines as Harvard created an Islamic studies center funded by -- and dedicated to -- foreign leaders presiding over a legal system that violates what would appear to be her position."

First, Kagan didn't "obstruct the U.S. military." Sessions should know better than to lie about something like this.

Second, when the Islamic Studies program was created, it was for Harvard, and had nothing to do with the law school Kagan led.

Third, there's nothing wrong with an Islamic Studies program.

Fourth, the school's program offers a wide variety of cultural, historical, and sociological courses, and is not and was not "dedicated to" a foreign legal system.

And what of the Saudi family that donated the money to start the program? That would be Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal -- the largest stockholder in Fox News outside of the Murdoch family. Is Sessions really prepared to make Bin Talal controversial? If so, the Republican news network has a problem.

If this is the best Sessions can do, it's no wonder Kagan is expected to be confirmed.

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT AN APOLOGY.... Josh Marshall notes today that as shocking as Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology was, yesterday's statement from the House Republican Study Committee deserves attention, too. It's a fair point.

What actually has me curious is when this gets back around to the House Republican Study Committee, which is essentially the right-wing or Movement conservative caucus within the House GOP, and a very big deal. Everybody's reacting to Barton's statement. But the HRS put out a pretty much identical statement yesterday about the Escrow account and President Obama yesterday. And more than a hundred members of the House Republican caucus belong to that group.

That makes it much more of a Republican position than what Barton said.

True. Barton and the RSC used nearly identical language -- both characterized the relief fund for the Gulf as the result of a "shakedown" -- but Barton said he was speaking for himself. The Republican Study Committee has 114 members, which is nearly two-thirds of the entire GOP caucus.

In other words, instead of praising the president for securing funding for victims of the BP disaster, a clear majority of the House Republican caucus endorsed a ridiculous statement that, in effect, sided with BP over the White House. That matters. A lot.

So why is Barton generating so much heat, while the Republican Study Committee's nonsense has been largely overlooked? Because there's just something about the apology.

Barton -- the man positioned to lead the House Energy Committee if Republicans re-take the majority -- issued a public apology (twice) to the chief executive of a foreign company, which is directly responsible for the worst environmental catastrophe in American history. Why? Because Barton didn't want President Obama to secure money for victims of the disaster. The RSC statement was genuinely ridiculous, but at least those 114 members didn't apologize to BP.

As Greg Sargent put it, "Every now and then a gaffe comes along that really cuts through the noise and perfectly crystallizes the argument one side is trying to make, driving the debate with a whole new level of velocity and momentum. Barton's apology, with its extraordinary public display of solicitousness and even pity towards the despised BP, even as the country is suffering wrenching losses from a major disaster of BP's making, is one of those moments."

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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BARTON'S APOLOGY TO BP SPARKS UPROAR.... Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) public apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward this morning only looks more stunning upon further reflection. Democrats throughout Washington can hardly seem to believe their good fortune, and Republicans don't seem to know what to do.

At this point, some in the party are actually defending him. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, conceded that he "shares" Barton's "concerns."

"I think it's good that there's going to be some money there, I don't know whether it's going to be enough money to pay all the claims. They should pay the legitimate claims. But the part that Representative Barton is expressing some concern about, that I share the concern, is this has really become a political issue for the President and he's trying to deal with it by showing how tough he's being against BP. The problem is BP's the only one who really is in control of shutting down this well, and he's trying to mitigate, I think, his own political problems."

Would it be terribly rude to note that Cornyn's response makes no sense? Obama secured $20 billion for the victims of BP's disaster, and for Cornyn, the relevant question is whether this mitigates the president's "political problems"?

While Cornyn is sympathetic to Barton, other Republicans are more anxious to throw him under the bus. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), whose Pensacola district is already feeling the brunt of the spill, announced today that he'd like to see Barton step down as the ranking member of his committee. (Note: if Republicans retake the majority, Barton is currently positioned to be the next chairman of the House Energy Committee.)

"I condemn Mr. Barton's statement," Miller said in a written statement. "Mr. Barton's remarks are out of touch with this tragedy and I feel his comments call into question his judgment and ability to serve in a leadership on the Energy and Commerce Committee. He should step down as Ranking Member of the Committee."

Politico reports that Barton's apology has caused a bit of a panic in Republican circles. "People are calling for his head," said a GOP member of the committee.

The report added that Republican lawmakers are "hunkered down" in Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office today, discussing Barton.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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THE PARTY OF BP.... I haven't seen much in the way of polling on this, but I'd hazard a guess that BP isn't especially popular with Americans right now. The company's horrific safety record, its willingness to cut corners, its repeated falsehoods about the scope of the ongoing disaster, and its efforts to downplay the significance of the crisis have, I suspect, made BP rather villainous in the eyes of the public.

Common sense suggests politicians, especially in a competitive election year, would go out of their way to look "tough" against BP. No one wants to side with the foreign company responsible for the worst environmental disaster in American history.

No one, that is, except a surprising number of leading Republicans.

Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) public apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward this morning looks like a potential game-changer, but let's not forget that there's a much larger push among Republicans to defend BP.

GOP officials: Barton's apology will likely be the most memorable moment of the dispute, but let's not forget that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) slammed the escrow fund to help victims of the spill as "a redistribution-of-wealth fund" that could serve as a "gateway" for "more money to government." Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) blasted the White House for securing the funds for Gulf Coast businesses and families, condemning the success as a "Chicago-style political shakedown." Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) disapproves of the escrow fund, and has said he's worried it will undermine BP profits too much. At one point, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) went so far as to suggest American taxpayers should help pay for the relief effort, though he later backpedaled.

GOP candidates: In Nevada, Senate candidate Sharron Angle has said the appropriate response to the disaster is further deregulation of the oil industry. In Kentucky, Senate candidate Rand Paul said it's "un-American" for the president to criticize BP.

GOP allies: A variety of Republican media personalities -- Limbaugh, Hannity, and Oliver North -- all read from identical talking points, calling the independently-operated escrow account "a slush fund." Dick Armey has blasted the fund, as has the Heritage Foundation.

What on earth is going on here?

I suspect there are two factors playing out.

The first is that Republicans probably feel like they don't have a choice, at least in a partisan sense. President Obama and Dems are going after BP -- demanding the $20 billion, lifting the liability cap, proposing tax hikes and new safeguards -- which means Republicans are necessarily inclined to move in the other direction. After all, whatever Democrats are for, Republicans are against, regardless or merit or circumstances.

As Kevin Drum noted, "Keep up the BP-bashing a little bit longer and eventually, just out of reflex, Fox News and the Republican Party will be calling for Obama to make payments to them."

The second is that BP is a giant, private oil company, and when it's under fire, the Republicans' knee-jerk response is to launch a defense. Even if BP is to blame -- even if BP is criminally responsible -- Republicans want to blame government, bureaucrats, and environmentalists. Holding a giant corporation accountable just makes the GOP uncomfortable.

In an election context, this has the potential to be incredibly toxic. Barton's public apology to BP will be part of about a zillion campaign ads over the next several months, and Republicans have made a huge strategic error positioning themselves as the Party of BP.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY (AND MAYBE THE YEAR).... We talked earlier about the lengths Republicans are going to side with BP, despite the oil giant's role in the worst environmental disaster in American history. I argued that the GOP is approaching the point at which Dems will reasonably be able to argue that Republicans are siding with BP over the country.

A few hours later, Republicans not only reached that point, they blew past it.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee convened a hearing this morning, ostensibly to read BP CEO Tony Hayward the riot act. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who has a well-deserved reputation for being the most pro-pollution member of Congress, used his opening statement to apologize to BP. As Barton explained it, he was outraged that the White House pressed BP to put aside $20 billion in escrow to bring relief to those hardest hit by the disaster.

"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday," Barton said. "I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown." Talking directly to Hayward, Barton added, "I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize."

Democrats have been desperate to paint Republicans as siding with BP during this crisis. Barton just made that task much easier, with remarks that may prove to be the most politically important apology in recent memory.

Incessant Republican criticism of the White House is one thing; a leading Republican lawmaker issuing a public apology to BP is another.

I just never thought I'd see the day when a leading Republican publicly groveled to a foreign CEO, who just happens to be leading a company responsible for a devastating oil spill disaster. It was just a stunning display. That the right-wing Texan has taken in over $1.4 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry over his career makes his apology that much more unseemly.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs felt compelled to issue a statement: "What is shameful is that Joe Barton seems to have more concern for big corporations that caused this disaster than the fishermen, small business owners and communities whose lives have been devastated by the destruction. Congressman Barton may think that a fund to compensate these Americans is a 'tragedy', but most Americans know that the real tragedy is what the men and women of the Gulf Coast are going through right now. Members from both parties should repudiate his comments."

We'll see if Barton is forced to walk back his apology, but at this point, his remarks may be one of the year's game-changing moments.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* With apparently no way to get Alvin Greene off the ballot as their Senate nominee, some South Carolina Dems have launched an effort to "put a more polished candidate on the ballot as an independent." The preferred candidate appears to be former congressional candidate Linda Ketner.

* The DNC is kicking off a new voter turnout initiative, called "Raise Your Vote."

* In Nevada, right-wing activists are leaning heavily on Tim Fasano, a third-party Senate candidate with the right-wing Independent American Party, to get out of Sharron Angle's (R) way.

* Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (R) continues to invest heavily in her gubernatorial campaign in California. This week, she contributed another $20 million of her own money.

* Whitman is also reaching out to Latino voters, running Spanish-language ads criticizing Arizona's anti-immigrant law, hoping the community wasn't paying attention to Whitman's message from the primary season.

* In Florida, state Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) has found himself struggling to win the GOP primary, thanks to Rick Scott's (R) very aggressive advertising campaign. In a hard-hitting interview, McCollum said he's "appalled" by Scott, and all but calls his rival a criminal.

* It's a Rasmussen poll, so take the results with a grain of salt, but in Arkansas' Senate race, the pollster finds Rep. John Boozman (R) crushing incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), 61% to 32%.

* In Illinois' gubernatorial race, a new Public Policy Polling survey shows Bill Brady (R) leading incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn (D), 34% to 30%. The Republican lead is boosted by a Green Party candidate pulling 9% support.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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A JOBS BILL THAT CAN PASS: COMMUNITY COLLEGE REFORM.... Following up, here's the email the Washington Monthly sent out this week about an interesting event scheduled for tomorrow.

Prospects look grim for the nation's 15 million unemployed, according to a recent jobs report from the Labor Department. Yet lawmakers in Washington, gripped by deficit fears, haven't found the votes for even a modest stimulus package.

In the current issue of the Washington Monthly, Jamie Merisotis and Stan Jones offer a plan to assist the unemployed without breaking the federal bank: help them earn one and two-year college credentials, fast. Most of the new jobs being created (slowly but surely) in this recovery require skills most unemployed Americans don't have. Yet the schools where they might get training are not up to the task. Community colleges are inexpensive but not designed to deliver credentials quickly. For-profit colleges provide quick degrees but cost a bundle and often offer subpar training.

What the unemployed really need are colleges that combine the low-cost and public mission of community colleges with the job-focused curriculum of the best for-profits. Fortunately, there is a model public college system already up and running that does precisely that, with stunningly successful results. That model could be spread nationwide in a matter of months, not years, with an investment of federal money that is already in the budget.

Please join New America and the Washington Monthly for a discussion of this new idea.

The event will be held at the New America Foundation's D.C. offices at 1899 L St NW, Suite 400, and will begin at 9 a.m. (ET) this Friday, June 18.

The Monthly's editor in chief, Paul Glastris, will moderate the discussion, and the panel will include Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation for Education; Stan Jones, president of Complete College America; Carol Puryear, the director of the Tennessee Technology Center; and James Kvaal, special assistant to President Obama on the White House National Economic Council, and the official recently chosen to be the next deputy undersecretary of education.

The Merisotis/Jones plan presented in the current issue of the Monthly has real merit, and I hope Friday's event helps bring some needed attention to the policy -- particularly now, when policymakers consider proposals to improve the jobs landscape.

Steve Benen 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (1)

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SCALING BACK CLIMATE EXPECTATIONS EVEN MORE.... Yesterday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) made one of the more depressing comments of the week, saying, "The climate bill isn't going to stop the oil leak. The first thing you have to do is stop the oil leak."

This, of course, was a seasoned Democratic senator practically reading the Republican talking points, word for word. The message, at its core, is absurd. Obviously, combating climate change will not stop oil gushing into the Gulf, but since senators can't plug the leak anyway, they might choose to make good use of their time by approving a comprehensive energy/climate bill that would make more drilling less necessary in the future.

All evidence now suggests actually dealing with global warming isn't going to happen. The White House is still committed to cap-and-trade, but the prospects of a grand bargain producing 60 votes have all but disappeared.

Obama went into full woo-mode Wednesday after his Tuesday night address to the nation, meeting with moderate Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and inviting a bipartisan group of Senators to the White House next week for a high-stakes powwow to jump-start the issue, which has languished in the Senate in the year since the House passed its sweeping cap-and-trade climate bill.

Moderates in both parties said that an energy bill of some sort was a real possibility, but a cap on carbon emissions or a new carbon tax probably won't be in the mix.

Brown said after the meeting with the president that he wasn't interested in backing a national energy tax or a cap-and-trade proposal, "but I am very excited about working with him in a bipartisan manner to come up with a comprehensive energy plan to address a whole host of issues -- wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, geothermal, conservation, incentivizing businesses."

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told Roll Call, "At the end of the day, my guess is [the White House] won't push [cap-and-trade] that hard. I think the president wants it. ... I just don't think there's 60 votes to do that, even with the oil spill."

"Even with the oil spill" seems like the key part of those comments. In effect, we're looking at a rare opportunity -- the last, best chance to pass a modest, reasonable package to reduce carbon emissions and finally address the climate crisis. And "even with the oil spill," the Senate just doesn't want to.

It will be years before anyone even tries to consider such a plan, and the problem will only keep getting worse.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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OUR DISCOURSE HAS COME TO THIS.... This morning, the lead story on CNN.com -- the main, center-of-the-page feature piece -- was this bizarre item. (thanks to reader V.S.)

President Obama's speech on the gulf oil disaster may have gone over the heads of many in his audience, according to an analysis of the 18-minute talk released Wednesday.

Tuesday night's speech from the Oval Office of the White House was written to a 9.8 grade level, said Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor. The Austin, Texas-based company analyzes and catalogues trends in word usage and word choice and their impact on culture.

Though the president used slightly less than four sentences per paragraph, his 19.8 words per sentence "added some difficulty for his target audience," Payack said.

So, let me get this straight. The lead CNN.com story this morning was a piece quoting an alleged expert, complaining that the president spoke to the country at nearly a 10th-grade level. Obama, apparently, should have dumbed it down for us.

I realize the Oval Office address had more than its share of detractors, but this is really a question separate from the substantive content. The complaint here is that our discourse has reached a point at which the president will be criticized for not talking down more to the public.

The expert CNN relied on said some of Obama's longer sentences used "the type of phraseology that makes you (appear) aloof and out of touch." He recommended that the president be "more ordinary" in his choice of words.

Sigh.

One of the things I've always liked about Obama is that, as a rule, he treats the public like adults. During the campaign, when he talked about changing the nature of politics, one of the underlying points was about the way in which leaders would communicate with the electorate.

Apparently, communicating at a 10th-grade level will draw rebukes. Our political discourse is just that bad.

Postscript: I'd just add, by the way, that the CNN story reminded me of a scene from "The Simpsons."

Dr. Hibbert: Homer, I'm afraid you'll have to undergo a coronary bypass operation.

Homer: Say it in English, Doc!

Dr. Hibbert: You're going to need open-heart surgery.

Homer: Spare me your medical mumbo jumbo!

Dr. Hibbert: We're going to cut you open and tinker with your ticker.

Homer: Could you dumb it down a shade?

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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HEALTH CARE REFORM'S POPULARITY GROWS.... One of the keys to the Republican midterm strategy is hammering away at an unpopular health care reform package signed into law in March. Of course, the plan -- which includes GOP demands for a repeal of the entire law -- only works if the Affordable Care Act is, in fact, unpopular.

There's at least some evidence, however, that public attitudes are changing.

The patient is alive and kicking. A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds public support for President Barack Obama's new health care law has risen to its highest point.

The nation remains divided, with 45 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed to the president's signature domestic accomplishment.

Still, the shift in public sentiment was significant. Opposition to the overhaul increased after Congress passed it in March. And last month, supporters were outnumbered 39 percent to 46 percent. But the latest survey found the strongest backing for the health care plan since the AP-GfK poll began asking in September.

The AP found some of the largest gains among men (support jumped 10 points, to 46%) and 30-49 year-olds (support jumped 14 points to 49%). Even among self-indentified Republicans, support for the new law doubled -- from 8% to 17% -- though clearly GOP voters are a long way from liking the ACA.

Also note, despite skepticism about the law, the same poll found that the public trusts Democrats on the issue over Republicans, 51% to 38%,

It's worth emphasizing that all of the usual caveats apply. This is, after all, just one poll -- and of all the recent polling on health care reform, this AP survey is the only one that shows supporters outnumbering opponents. We'd need to see several other polls with similar results before we can start drawing conclusions about a positive trend.

That said, the AP data offers some political encouragement to Dems, and should give the GOP pause.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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MARK KIRK CAN'T SEEM TO HELP HIMSELF.... Rep. Mark Kirk, the Republican Senate nominee in Illinois, seems to have trouble telling the truth -- about much of anything.

His wildly exaggerated claims about his military service keep piling up. His exaggerated claims about foreign policy suggest he doesn't really understand his signature issue. And now Mark Kirk seems to have been caught exaggerating his background as a classroom teacher.

Representative Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, a Republican candidate for the United States Senate, has often reminisced about his time as a teacher.

On the floor of the House, in campaign commercials and during interviews, Mr. Kirk has invoked his experience in the classroom. At a speech this spring to the Illinois Education Association, Mr. Kirk declared, "as a former nursery school and middle school teacher, I know some of what it takes to bring order to class."

A review of public comments that Mr. Kirk has made over the last decade shows that while he may refer to himself as a former teacher, he does not talk about the brevity of his experience: a year in London at a private school and part-time in a nursery school as part of a work-study program while he was a student at Cornell University.

In this case, Kirk didn't just make up tall tales out of whole cloth, as with the case of his military service. But when it comes to his teaching background, Kirk seems to have exaggerated his career to the point of misleading the public. Again.

In fact, in arguably the most entertaining anecdote, Kirk delivered a speech on the House floor in 2006 about school safety. He reflected on students he remembered who "bore scrutiny as people who might bring a gun to class." Yesterday, Kirk's campaign spokesperson said the congressman was referring to nursery school students in Ithaca.

Now, I've never been to Ithaca -- maybe it's a much tougher place than I realize -- but I have a hard time believing that Mark Kirk worried that children in a nursery run by a United Methodist ministry in 1981 might be packing heat.

At this point, Kirk's record of exaggerations is so extensive, practically every claim he makes about any subject should be considered suspect. He's simply proven himself to be untrustworthy.

As a friend of mine joked this morning, "The only thing Mark Kirk hasn't claimed at this point is that he commanded the Starship Enterprise."

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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WHY WOULD THE GOP TAKE BP'S SIDE?.... By any reasonable standard, things went pretty well at the White House meeting yesterday with BP executives. President Obama came into the meeting, and told BP how it was going to be -- and BP caved rather quickly.

The result was a $20 billion pot of money that will bring much-needed help to a devastated region. As one report noted, "The figure is not a cap on the potential damages, and the company received no liability waiver as part of the agreement." BP also scrapped this year's dividends payments, and agreed to set aside an additional $100 million to support unemployed oil industry employees.

It seems praise for the president isn't especially common right now, but for Obama, this was no small feat -- he got what he wanted, and gave up nothing. As one lawyer explained, "[The president] had no actual power to compel that aside from moral suasion and the threat of having an unhappy president. Legally, BP could have just waited for the lawsuits and drawn the whole thing out for years. As a lawyer, I find it a unique and mind-boggling accomplishment."

So, good news for the country, right? If only Republicans saw it that way.

The Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative members of the House, released a statement today calling the $20 billion BP escrow account a "Chicago-style political shakedown."

"BP's reported willingness to go along with the White House's new fund suggests that the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics, wrote chairman Tom Price (R-GA). "These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration's drive for greater power and control."

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called the escrow "a redistribution-of-wealth fund" that could serve as a "gateway" for "more money to government." A variety of right-wing media personalities -- Limbaugh, Hannity, and Oliver North -- all read from identical talking points, calling the independently-operated escrow account "a slush fund."

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) continues to whine about the money set aside for the Gulf Coast, inexplicably telling the AP, "If they take a huge amount of money and put it in an escrow account so they can't use it to drill oil wells and produce revenue, are they going to be able to pay us?"

I find all of this rather bewildering. Given the nature of the crisis, it stood to reason that politicians would be tripping over each other to appear "tougher" on BP than the next guy. What elected official in his/her right mind would want to side with the oil giant responsible for the worst environmental catastrophe in American history? Apparently, we're getting a clearer picture of the answer.

I don't think Republicans have thought through the politics of this. If they don't want to praise the Obama White House for its success with BP yesterday, fine. But the GOP is approaching the point at which Dems will reasonably be able to argue that Republicans are siding with BP over the country.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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THE SENATE'S FLAWED PRIORITIES.... The Senate yesterday took up a "major package of tax breaks, tax increases and unemployment pay," which carried a $140 billion price tag. The vote wasn't even close -- Democrats needed 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster, and they mustered 45.

The ongoing emphasis on the deficit, instead of the economy, continues to be frustrating.

"$77 billion or more of this is not paid for," said Sen. Ben Nelson, "and that translates into deficit spending and adding to the debt, and the American people are right: We've got to stop doing that."

No, sir, they're wrong, and we don't. It's hard to say this loudly enough, but it really doesn't make sense to offset stimulus spending, at least in the short term. The point of the money is to get the economy moving faster, to give people cash to spend.... When you're trying to expand the economy, you need to use debt to put more money into it than would otherwise be there. [...]

Unemployment is at 9.7 percent right now. It's extraordinarily high. And it's extraordinarily high because not enough jobs are being created to absorb all the workers who got laid off during the recession. Killing their unemployment benefits wouldn't magically make more jobs appear. It would just make those people poorer, and because they'd be poorer, they'd have less to spend.

It's especially annoying to think Ben Nelson knows what "the American people" are clamoring for. For one thing, the public isn't necessarily the best arbiter of what is and isn't the best economic policy -- it's why voters elect representatives to consider evidence and make wide judgments. For another, does anyone seriously believe "the American people" will be happier with a weaker economy? Will Ben Nelson boast about deficit reduction to struggling families?

The next step in the Senate is consideration of a weaker bill -- remember the maxim: to get a bill through the Senate, it necessarily must be made worse -- which is $20 billion cheaper. Much of the savings comes through less generous benefits for the unemployed.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said he wanted a cheaper bill, and then made it slightly more expensive by adding additional housing tax credits. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) wants the package to be cheaper still, not to achieve any specific policy goals, but because she considers smaller price tags to be necessarily better, regardless of consequences.

A vote on the weaker spending bill may come today.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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June 16, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest official estimates state that "as much as 60,000 barrels a day could be spewing into the Gulf of Mexico." That's about double the figure from last week. Josh Nelson has more.

* Not sure why this didn't happen sooner: "BP expanded its effort to recover oil at its runaway Deepwater Horizon well overnight, activating a system it hopes will raise the amount of crude being collected to 20,000 to 28,000 barrels a day."

* At the White House today, when BP executives spoke briefly to the media, they did not take questions. ABC's Jake Tapper asked, "How's that 'relative trickle' going?" in reference to CEO Tony Hayward describing the oil gusher in the Gulf as a "relative trickle."

* Don't worry, though, BP won't forget about "the small people."

* If lawmakers cared as much about struggling families as they do about long-term deficits, votes like these wouldn't happen: "A Democratic effort to break a Senate impasse over a major package of tax breaks, tax increases and unemployment pay failed Wednesday morning on a test vote, forcing the leadership to begin scaling back the measure in order to win over Republicans and Democrats worried about the bill's $140 billion cost and its impact on the national deficit."

* Congressional ethics investigations are underway, looking at eight lawmakers -- five Republicans and three Democrats -- who "held fundraisers within 48 hours of a major House vote on a Wall Street reform bill or received substantial donations from business people with a financial stake in the bill."

* Deserves additional scrutiny: "It hasn't gotten much attention nationally, but on Monday a man and a woman in their 20s showed up at an entrance to one of the most important military bases in the country with a car full of guns and fraudulent military ID."

* Smart post from Yglesias: "The Filibuster and Incentive-Compatible Governance."

* Lawrence O'Donnell will get his own hour-long 10 p.m. (ET) weekday slot, following "Countdown" at 8 and "The Rachel Maddow Show" at 9.

* Retired Gen. John Sheehan seems to really hate gay people.

* Ted Frier scrutinizes Arthur C. Brooks so I don't have to.

* The continuing recession is apparently causing some college graduates to flock to jobs as skilled laborers.

* Fox News claimed today that the White House gave part of Arizona to Mexico. The story is 100% wrong, proving again that you're better off just guessing the news than relying on Fox.

* Rush Limbaugh has now decided he hates the school-lunch program, and believes low-income children should "dumpster dive." Classy.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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A 'DEBATE' STEVE KING IS LIKELY TO LOSE.... Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) argued on a right-wing radio show this week that President Obama has a "default mechanism" that causes him to "favor the black person" in every dispute. While King makes offensive remarks like these with some regularity, this incident caused a bit of a stir and was picked up by some major media outlets.

It helped that some of King's own allies distanced themselves from him after the comments, and the far-right Iowan was disinvited from two upcoming events in Colorado.

King is not, however, embarrassed. On the contrary, he's doubling down, arguing on the House floor last night that the Obama administration "defaults in favor of whichever minority they think will be the one that will most likely support their party and their agenda."

He also told an Iowa radio show yesterday that his accusations of racism were "accurate" and "objective." King added that he hopes to spark a larger national discussion.

"I told my people here that handle my media: 'Let's let this cook for a couple of days and see if this pot will come to a boil,'" King said. "I don't want to put it away in the first day because I think the American people need to have this debate about what appears to me to be an inclination on the part of the White House and the Justice Department and perhaps others within the administration to break on the side of favoritism with regard to race."

First, if King wants to start a public dialog, he's going to have to offer some kind of proof to bolster his ridiculous accusations. Simply asserting that the president is a racist is more likely to spark a discussion about King's madness than Obama's biases.

Second, if we do have this "debate," the only politician whose racism will be obvious will be King's. As Adam Serwer explained yesterday, "This is, of course, the same Steve King who has defended the Confederate flag, advocated for racial profiling, referred to the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses as 'separatist groups,' and said that people in the Middle East would be 'dancing in the streets' if Obama was elected because of his middle name. He was also the only -- repeat -- only congressman to vote against recognizing the contributions of slaves in building the U.S. Capitol, where King now spends his time spewing this kind of nonsense."

"The American people need to have this debate"? Sounds good to me.

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... There were a fair amount of references to religion in President Obama's Oval Office address last night. He used the word "faith" three times; shared an anecdote about the role of clergy in "The Blessing of the Fleet"; and concluded, "This nation has known hard times before and we will surely know them again. What sees us through -- what has always seen us through -- is our strength, our resilience, and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it. Tonight, we pray for that courage. We pray for the people of the Gulf. And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day."

Wouldn't you know it; Fox News didn't appreciate the president's religious remarks.

If there's one thing Fox & Friends loves, it's religion. Christianity, to be specific. The Fox News morning show hosts relish and celebrate those who are outspoken in their Christian beliefs and will not hesitate to defend anyone who mentions God in the public square. Except, of course, if that person is President Obama.

Implausible as it may seem, the crew of Fox & Friends this morning -- the same people who fawningly report on pro-God billboards and rally to the cause of book-banning activist Christians -- criticized the president for asking Americans to pray for the nation and for the people of the Gulf during his speech last night.

One of the cast members, co-host Gretchen Carlson, said "some people" heard the president's remarks and concluded the emphasis on faith "was disingenuous from a president who does not go to church on a regular basis."

Yes, "some people." Gretchen Carlson didn't say she believed such nonsense -- heaven forbid -- only that "some people" drew that conclusion. And who might those people be? Well, Carlson didn't say. (For the record, I spent some time today looking for someone, anyone, who publicly raised this concern in any form of media, before Fox & Friends aired this morning. I couldn't find a soul.)

I don't expect much from Fox & Friends, but even by this show's low standards, this was a rather pathetic display.

For the record, Ronaldus Magnus hardly ever attended religious services during his two terms, and George W. Bush's attendance was sporadic, at best. When Gretchen Carlson questions the sincerity of the religious rhetoric they used in office, I'll gladly praise her objectivity and consistency. Until then, I'll conclude she's a sorry excuse for a television personality.

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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GETTING WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTED.... President Obama spoke to the media this afternoon, following his meeting with BP executives, including its chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg. In his remarks, the president outlined the results of the discussion.

"...I am pleased to announce that BP has agreed to set aside $20 billion to pay claims for damages resulting from this spill. This $20 billion amount will provide substantial assurance that the claims people and businesses have will be honored. And it is not a cap. The people of the Gulf have my commitment that BP will meet its obligations to them.

"BP has publicly pledged to make good on the claims it owes to people in the Gulf. And so, the agreement we reached will set up the financial and legal framework in which to do it.

"Another important element is that this $20 billion will not be controlled by either BP or by the government. It will be put in an escrow account, administered by an impartial, independent third party.

"If you or your business has suffered an economic loss as a result of this spill, you will be eligible to file a claim for part of this $20 billion. This fund will not supersede individuals' or states' rights to present claims in court. BP will also continue to be liable for the environmental disaster it caused, and we will continue to work to make sure they address it. Additionally, BP voluntarily agreed to establish a $100 million fund to compensate unemployed oil rig workers affected by the closure of other deep water rigs."

As to concerns raised by Republicans like Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the president added, "I'm absolutely confident BP will be able to meet its obligations to the Gulf Coast and to the American people. BP is a strong and viable company and it is in all our interests that it remains so. This is about accountability. At the end of the day, that's what every American wants and expects."

The White House also released a fact-sheet on how the escrow fund will work.

Also note, as Obama was briefing the media, BP's board of directors announced it would suspend paying dividends for the rest of 2010.

There were some concerns going into the week that BP would balk at White House demands. At this point, Obama seems to have won every concession he sought. For those along the Gulf Coast, that's good news.

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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BONUS POINTS FOR CREATIVITY.... On Monday, Al Gore had an item criticizing BP for denying journalists access along the Gulf Coast. A photographer from The Times-Picayune sought permission to fly over restricted airspace to get some shots above the water, and the company quickly denied the request.

"This behavior is completely unacceptable," Gore wrote. "Access by reporters should be as unfettered as possible. This de facto form of censorship needs to stop."

National Review's Jim Geraghty told readers today that a British tabloid ran a story, exactly "twenty-five hours and twenty-seven minutes" after Gore's criticism of BP, accusing the former vice president of carrying on an extra-marital affair.

Geraghty sees a connection.

Remarkable coincidence, having this rumor turn up roughly one day after Gore accuses authorities of "de facto censorship."

Indeed, the National Review writer specifically said Gore is "pay[ing] the price" for failing to "toe the Obama line."

This doesn't appear to be satire, or an example of mocking the far-right's propensity for bizarre conspiracy theories. Geraghty seems completely serious.*

As Jon Chait explained, "Yes, I'm sure that is Obama's plan. Al Gore criticizes BP, and Obama won't countenance any criticism of BP, unless of course it's coming from him or his own administration. So he decided to smear Gore, in order to discredit him as an environmental spokesman. That certainly seems like the most plausible way to account for the fact that a tabloid published a rumor of a politician having an affair with a celebrity."

Back in September, there was a fair amount of talk in professional media circles about the need for major outlets to take seriously the kind of stories and ideas that bubble up on conservative websites and talk radio. I continue to respectfully disagree.

* Update: Geraghty was apparently kidding. Sadly, with National Review in recent years, it's surprisingly hard to tell.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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A GOP MESSAGE THAT'S SLIPPING IN THE OIL.... It's quickly becoming apparent that, in the midst of the BP oil spill crisis, the Republican Party hasn't quite settled on a message yet.

[T]he party that took control of the House chamber two summers ago with a "drill here, drill now" chant is suddenly struggling to find the right pitch on energy policy as the oil spill crisis defies conventional political messaging. [...]

...Republicans are now struggling with how to show appropriate outrage at Big Oil while sticking to their long-standing pro-drilling, pro-oil-company policies.

It's no doubt tricky -- the GOP has been allied with oil companies for years -- and considering the party's rhetoric of late, I'm not sure Republicans have decided exactly what point(s) they want to emphasize.

Republicans aren't satisfied with the Obama administration's response, but they don't want the administration to do more or be more aggressive. BP should be held accountable, the GOP believes, but should be protected from excessive accountability and oversight. The existing U.S. energy framework needs work, Republicans argue, but not too much, and certainly not with any policies that would make a significant difference.

One need look no further than House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) confusion last week over lifting the liability cap to realize that the GOP has no idea what it wants to say right now. For a party that prides itself on inflexible message discipline and talking points written in stone, it's an unusual spectacle.

Even good news is deemed dubious by Republicans. The new $20 billion escrow fund demanded by the White House will help ensure that American taxpayers are not left to pick the tab for the BP oil spill. And yet, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) disapproves of the idea -- he's apparently worried it will undermine BP profits too much -- and the perpetually-crazy Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called the escrow "a redistribution-of-wealth fund" that could serve as a "gateway" for "more money to government."

As a substantive matter, Bachmann's hysterics are incoherent. But politically, it's worth keeping an eye on a potential trend -- if Republicans position themselves as the party looking out for BP and the oil industry's interests, there may be political consequences.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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BP AGREES TO $20 BILLION FUND.... In his Oval Office address last night, President Obama explained that he would meet today with the chairman of BP at the White House. The president said he would "inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness."

It was an interesting choice of words. Obama didn't intend to "ask," he would "inform." The president wasn't planning to offer a request; he would offer instructions.

The follow-up question was obvious: what if BP simply refused? Fortunately, it appears Obama was persuasive -- just a few hours after sitting down in the Roosevelt Room, a deal came together.

The White House and BP tentatively agreed on Wednesday that the oil giant would create a $20 billion fund to pay claims for the worst oil spill in American history. The fund will be independently run by Kenneth Feinberg, the mediator who oversaw the 9/11 victims compensation fund, according to two people familiar with the deliberations.

The agreement was not final and was still being negotiated when President Obama and his top advisers met Wednesday morning with BP's top executives and lawyers. The preliminary terms would give BP several years to deposit the full amount into the fund so it could better manage cash flow, maintain its financial viability and not scare off investors.

Remarks from participants in the Rose Garden, announcing the final agreement, are supposed to begin any minute now.

This is, clearly, good news, since the escrow account will make it less likely American taxpayers will be asked to pick up the tab for BP's disaster. It's not a substitute for an effective response to the crisis -- BP still has an incredible amount of work to do -- but it's a big step in the right direction.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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LET YAHYA WEHELIE COME HOME.... The list of people who've had absurd experiences with the no-fly list is hardly short, but the ordeal Yahya Wehelie is facing is more painful than most. (via Kevin Drum)

As a 26-year-old Muslim American man who spent 18 months in Yemen before heading home to Virginia in early May, Yahya Wehelie caught the attention of the F.B.I. Agents stopped him while he was changing planes in Cairo, told him he was on the no-fly list and questioned him about his contacts with another American in Yemen, one accused of joining Al Qaeda and fatally shooting a hospital guard.

For six weeks, Mr. Wehelie has been in limbo in the Egyptian capital. He and his parents say he has no radical views, despises Al Qaeda and merely wants to get home to complete his education and get a job.

But after many hours of questioning by F.B.I. agents, he remains on the no-fly list. When he offered to fly home handcuffed and flanked by air marshals, Mr. Wehelie said, F.B.I. agents turned him down.

"The lady told me that Columbus sailed the ocean blue a long time ago when there were no planes," Mr. Wehelie said in a telephone interview from Cairo. "I'm an innocent American in exile, and I have no way to get home."

I can appreciate the caution federal officials chose to exercise, particularly with those who've spent time in Yemen after the failed Christmas-day plot. Vigilance is wise.

But for Wehelie, an American citizen who has effectively been banished from his home without cause or charges, this is no wisdom in this mistreatment. The man is in limbo.

If there's reason to be suspicious of him, subject him to a thorough search. Check his luggage closely. Hell, if there's credible evidence of a terrorist threat, put him on the plane Hannibal Lecter-style. But to simply deny him access to a flight home, even after questioning, without charges or explanation, is ridiculous.

Kevin called this "an abomination, pure and simple." If officials can explain otherwise, I'd like to hear it.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Rand Paul, the Republican Senate nominee in Kentucky, had pledged to reject all financial help from senators who voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Paul has since decided to abandon that pledge, and his campaign said it wasn't intended to apply to the general election.

* With less than a week until the Senate Democratic runoff in North Carolina, both candidates are picking up support. This week, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham received some 11th hour funding from the DSCC, while North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall picked up an endorsement from MoveOn.org yesterday.

* In the state of Washington, Sen. Patty Murray (D) leads Dino Rossi (R) by seven in a new Elway Research poll, 47% to 40%. Murray's lead over the lesser-known GOP candidates is about twice as big.

* A new Associated Press-GfK Poll found Americans "want Democrats to win control of Congress by a 46 percent to 39 percent margin. That is the second straight month in which Democrats have held a delicate advantage on that question since April, when 44 percent preferred Republicans and 41 percent picked Democrats."

* Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) remains a strong favorite for re-election in Alaska this year, but her primary challenger, Fairbanks lawyer Joe Miller, continues to pick up right-wing support. Today, the Tea Party Express will throw its endorsement to the challenger.

* Don't be too surprised if Alexi Giannoulias (D) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R) face an independent challenger in Illinois' Senate race. Mike Niecestro, a Chicago-area mortgage broker, is collecting signatures to appear on the ballot, and has vowed to spend $1 million of his own money on the race. Niecestro would apparently run to the right, and has reached out to Tea Partiers.

* Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has said he's not particularly interested in running for president, but the Fox News personality asked that he be included the next time the Des Moines Register polls Iowans about the 2012 race.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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AND THEN THERE WERE 10.... "Top 9 Lists" just don't have the same impact, so I'm glad to see the list of Mark Kirk's falsehoods grow just a little more.

The Pentagon said Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk has been cautioned twice for improperly mingling politics with his military service, but Kirk's campaign denied any improper conduct Tuesday.

The Defense Department said Monday night that Kirk, a commander in the Navy Reserve, was warned after two incidents of political activity while he was on active duty. Before being allowed to go on active duty again in Afghanistan, Kirk was required to sign a statement acknowledging he knew to avoid all political work.

"Commander Kirk was counseled about each of his violations after they occurred and signed a statement acknowledging the limitations on his ability to participate in campaign activities while on active duty. He was required to complete this acknowledgment before being allowed to begin active duty in December 2009," the Pentagon said.

This wouldn't necessarily count as one of Mark Kirk's (R-Ill.) misstatements of fact, except his campaign issued a very specific statement last week, insisting, "The fact is, Congressman Kirk never violated Defense Department policies." According to the Pentagon, that's not true.

And unless I'm missing any, I think that brings us to a new, even total: Kirk (1) falsely claimed he served "in" Operation Iraqi Freedom; (2) falsely claimed to "command the war room in the Pentagon"; (3) falsely claimed to have won the U.S. Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year award; (4) falsely claimed to have been shot at by the Iraqi Air Defense network; (5) falsely claimed to be a veteran of Desert Storm; (6) falsely claimed to be the only lawmaker to serve during Operation Iraqi Freedom; (7) falsely claimed to have been shot at in Kosovo; (8) falsely claimed to have been shot at in Kandahar; (9) falsely claimed to have been repeatedly "deployed" to Afghanistan; and (10) falsely claimed not to have violated Defense Department rules on mingling politics with his military service.

At this point, perhaps Kirk's Senate campaign should start listing the military-related claims the candidate has made that aren't false.

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GOP STILL TARGETING HEALTH CARE MANDATE.... House Republicans are still playing games with motions to recommit -- a scheme intended to force floor delays by pushing votes intended to put Democrats in awkward positions. Yesterday afternoon offered the latest example.

House Republicans will look to force a vote this afternoon to repeal the individual mandate provisions within Democrats' healthcare bill.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, will offer a motion to recommit on a small business tax cut bill this afternoon that would look to strike the provision from Democrats' healthcare reform law.

The vote comes as part of the GOP's "America Speaking Out" initiative, one of House Republicans' programs seeking online engagement with constituents.

If the ploy was intended to put House Dems on the defensive, it failed badly. The final vote was 187 to 230 to reject the GOP motion, with 21 Blue Dogs (who opposed health care reform anyway) voting with Republicans, and Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.) voting with Dems.

Nevertheless, the fact that House Republicans pushed this at all is a reminder that the caucus continues to see the individual health care mandate as the most problematic and controversial provision in the Affordable Care Act. For right-wing activists, it represents an unprecedented assault on liberty. For right-wing grandstanders, it represents the basis for litigation. The whole idea is supposed to be so red-hot that it forces Dems to run in the other direction.

But as long as the GOP keeps pushing this, I'm inclined to remind them that the individual health care mandate is a Republican idea. It was always a Republican idea, ever since it started gaining traction in GOP circles in the 1970s.

Indeed, this isn't an idea Republicans were willing to tolerate in years past as part of negotiations with Democrats, but rather, this was an idea Republicans came up with.

The roster is pretty long of prominent Republicans who've either endorsed the individual mandate, voted for a plan with an individual mandate, co-sponsored legislation with an individual mandate, or all of the above. It includes George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon, John McCain, Bob Dole, Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Bob Bennett, Tommy Thompson, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, and Judd Gregg, among others.

All of them have supported an individual mandate -- a provision that Republicans now believe to be an unconstitutional freedom-killer that must be eliminated for the sake of American liberty.

As the GOP continues to hyperventilate over the mandate, keep this relevant detail in mind.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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SHE CAN RUN, BUT CAN SHE HIDE?.... The number of questions for Sharron Angle, the extremist Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, continue to pile up. At this point, she lacks the courage and the conviction to answer them.

Yesterday, Greg Sargent discovered a radio interview from earlier this year in which Angle "appeared to float the possibility of armed insurrection if 'this Congress keeps going the way it is.'"

I'm not kidding. In an interview she gave to a right-wing talk show host, Angle approvingly quoted Thomas Jefferson saying it's good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years -- and said that if Congress keeps it up, people may find themselves resorting to "Second Amendment remedies."

What's more, the talk show host she spoke to tells me he doesn't have any doubt that she was floating the possibility of armed insurrection as a valid response if Congress continues along its current course.

If this seems vaguely familiar, it's because Angle said something similar a month ago. "[T]he nation is arming," the radical Senate candidate noted, adding, "If we don't win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?" The implication isn't subtle -- elect extremists like Angle, or the consequences may include bloodshed.

Under normal circumstances, a candidate for statewide office would offer some explanation for comments like these. But Sharron Angle was approached by a variety of reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday, and she refused to say anything to them. At one point, one of the dozen reporters hoping to get something out of her asked, "Why aren't you talking to us?" Angle ignored that, too.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chairman of the NRSC, said it would be "a few weeks" until Angle was ready to answer reporters' questions. I find that rather amazing -- a candidate launches a U.S. Senate campaign, hits the campaign trail, wins a statewide primary, and then decides it will take "weeks" to prepare for reporters' questions.

Last month, Angle was complaining about the media "ignoring" her campaign. Well, now they're interested, and she prefers to hide. If Angle is in over her head, maybe she should have thought about this before the primary?

Sharron Angle is the most radical major-party candidate to seek statewide office since David Duke was the Republican nominee for governor in Louisiana in 1991. Her silent treatment may help downplay some of Angle's new problems -- such as, you know, public speculation about an armed insurrection against the United States government -- but it's a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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REPUBLICANS JUST DON'T LIKE THE UNEMPLOYED, CONT'D.... If I didn't know better, I might think Republican lawmakers actively dislike -- on a personal level -- those who've lost their jobs in the recession.

One GOP congressman recently compared the unemployed to "hobos." Several Republicans have blocked extended benefits for the unemployed. In the House, GOP lawmakers tried to eliminate a successful jobs program.

But Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is taking Republican revulsion for the jobless to new depths.

Hatch introduced an amendment to the tax extenders bill that would require those who are applying for some of the benefits in that bill, including unemployment and welfare benefits, to pass a drug test in exchange for the benefits.

"Drugs are a scourge on our society -- hurting children, families and communities alike," Hatch said in a statement. "This amendment is a way to help people get off of drugs to become productive and healthy members of society, while ensuring that valuable taxpayer dollars aren't wasted."

Under the Hatch amendment, individuals who fail to qualify for benefits because they failed a drug test wouldn't necessarily be jailed, but would be enrolled in a state or federal drug treatment program.

There are so many problems with such a ridiculous idea, I hardly to know where to start, but let's just focus on the most offensive angle to this: Hatch seems to think those who've lost their jobs should necessarily be suspected of drug abuse. What does the senator base his suspicions on? Nothing but his own twisted worldview.

I find it hard to imagine a proposal like this will go anywhere -- at least until there's a GOP majority again -- but it's nevertheless a startling reminder that the Republican Party just doesn't seem to like unemployed people.

Steve Benen 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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THE NATION'S LEADING EXPERT ON ENERGY POLICY.... In September 2008, just eight weeks before presidential election, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) boasted that former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) "knows more about energy [policy] than probably anyone else in the United States of America." He was, for the record, entirely serious.

Of course, now that energy policy is up front and center, and the nation struggles with an environmental catastrophe, it's a good thing we can utilize Palin's expertise.

Last night on Fox News, Bill O'Reilly asked Palin if she knows how to stop the oil gushing into the Gulf. Instead of answering, she said, "Well, what the federal government should have done was accept the assistance of foreign countries, of entrepreneurial Americans who have had solutions they wanted presented.... The Dutch, they are known, and the Norwegian, they are known for dikes, for cleaning up water, and dealing with spills. They offered to help. And yet, no, they too, with the proverbial, can't even get a phone call back."

I'd swear she's getting dumber.

For the record, the government did accept the assistance of foreign countries, including skimmers and boom from Mexico, three sets of Koseq sweeping arms from the Dutch, and eight Norwegian skimming systems.

Palin is whining that the administration didn't do what the administration has already done.

Palin added that that "we haven't heard" that stopping the leak is the president's "top priority." Palin must not have been listening.

Where would we be without this visionary who knows more about energy policy than probably anyone else in the United States of America?

Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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OBAMA'S CALL TO ARMS.... If the media's and pundits' reactions to President Obama's Oval Office address are intended as a guide, I'm apparently supposed to be unimpressed. Maybe I approached the remarks with lower expectations -- it's not as if Obama was going to announce that everything in the Gulf is suddenly fine -- but I thought the speech got the job done in a workmanlike kind of way.

In the larger sense, the remarks were intended to serve several purposes: tell the nation about the status of the response; commit to following through for those affected; pledge accountability for those responsible; present a vision for the road ahead.

If that's the checklist going in -- and for me, it was -- I'm inclined to put a check next to all of them.

We heard about the development of "a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan," and the efforts of the commission to "understand the causes of this disaster and offer recommendations on what additional safety and environmental standards we need to put in place." We heard about the fund BP will have to pour money into to help put things right. We heard about cleaning up Bush-era corruption at the Minerals Management Service. We heard that "one of the lessons we've learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling."

I realize that government plans, agencies, and committees make for underwhelming rhetoric, and are awful vehicles for a stirring address that gets the crowds on their feet. But this is what governments do. It's what the administration has to do to mount an effective response to the catastrophe.

Of course, the portion of the speech that was the longest, and the most closely watched, dealt with the future.

"For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we've talked and talked about the need to end America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked -- not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

"The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.

"We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America's innovation and seize control of our own destiny. [...]

"Each of us has a part to play in a new future that will benefit all of us. As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs -- but only if we accelerate that transition. Only if we seize the moment. And only if we rally together and act as one nation -- workers and entrepreneurs; scientists and citizens; the public and private sectors."

The policy details were lacking, and that seems to be a driving factor in much of the criticism. The president didn't specifically call for a cap-and-trade system, though he praised the House bill that "finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America's businesses." The speech didn't mention global warming at all -- which was almost certainly a mistake on the White House's part -- but Obama framed the problem in a way that was most likely to resonate with the public.

This part of the speech concluded with a demand that inaction is not an option. It gave the impression that the president would accept almost any bill that represents even a modicum of progress, but that's probably because the president really would accept almost any bill that represents even a modicum of progress.

Besides, this wasn't exactly a break with Obama's m.o.

We saw the same thing during the health care debate. The president sets out a larger vision, signals a willingness to compromise, adds a sense of urgency, and calls on legislators to fill in the gaps and do what they're supposed to do.

The House has passed its bill; the Senate can pass its version; and the president will try to get something he can live with in conference. There are worse plans.

Will last night's address change the trajectory of the national conversation? I rather doubt it. But as Chris Hayes reminds us, the White House doesn't have a message problem, it has a fact problem. The speech wasn't going to plug the well or change votes on cap-and-trade; it was going to keep the ball moving forward.

It seems to have done just that.

Steve Benen 8:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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June 15, 2010

OVAL OFFICE ADDRESS OPEN THREAD.... I'll have plenty of coverage in the morning of President Obama's Oval Office address, but in the meantime, here's the live video feed. Also note, this same embed will feature WH Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' Q&A, which will follow the president's remarks.

So, what'd you think? The floor is yours.

Steve Benen 7:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* It's been that kind of disaster: "A drill ship resumed siphoning off oil gushing from a blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday after a bolt of lightning struck the vessel and ignited a fire that halted containment efforts, the company said."

* Rumor has it that former Justice Department inspector general Michael Bromwich will, any minute now, be named the new director of the Minerals Management Service -- the Interior Department agency severely corrupted during the Bush/Cheney administration.

* The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a tense hearing today, during which lawmakers demanded the CEOs of the world's largest oil companies "justify offshore drilling and explain how their safety practices differed from BP's."

* The executives' answers were not exactly well received.

* Just six days before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded: "BP took measures to cut costs in the weeks before the catastrophic blowout in the Gulf of Mexico as it dealt with one problem after another, prompting a BP engineer to describe the doomed rig as a 'nightmare well,' according to internal documents released Monday."

* During his trip to the Gulf Coast, President Obama spoke at a rally with U.S. troops in Pensacola: "This is an assault on our shores, and we're going to fight back with everything we've got," the president told a fired-up crowd of Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard troops this morning, to cheers. "And that includes mobilizing our resources with the greatest military in the world."

* I guess old habits die hard: "Nearly two dozen members of the House GOP from the Gulf Coast region, joined by Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), called Tuesday for President Obama to reverse the post-BP disaster moratorium on offshore drilling in deep water."

* At first blush, preemptive relief well drilling seems entirely reasonable.

* Minor drug offenses will no longer trigger automatic deportation for documented immigrants.

* James Rubin offers a very compelling defense of U.S. foreign policy in the Obama era.

* Yes, it really does seem like we're introduced to another Republican "nutjob" every week.

* The New York Times' Jim Risen does not seem to respond to criticism well.

* The U.S. education system still needs to catch up to economic realities.

* And finally, it appears that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) really is on a roll this week. Last night, he took to the floor of the House to argue that Arizona law enforcement can also target undocumented immigrants by considering "what kind of shoes people wear" and through utilizing "a sixth sense."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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AMERICAN POWER ACT STARTS TO LOOK EVEN BETTER.... If empiricism, evidence, and reason had a prominent role in the debate over climate/energy policy, the debate wouldn't last particularly long. It'd be painfully obvious that the status quo is unsustainable; global warming is a genuine crisis; and proposals like the American Power Act are a modest, reasonable step in the right direction.

Alas, empiricism, evidence, and reason aren't as relevant as I'd like, and comprehensive legislation is struggling badly.

That said, for those who take substance seriously, the latest news is encouraging.

A new EPA analysis of Senate climate change legislation estimates the plan would impose an average annual household cost of $79 to $146 [a year] over 40 years.

The finding could provide a political lift for the bill authored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), allowing them to counter GOP allegations that greenhouse gas limits would impose major costs on taxpayers.

The two senators, who circulated the analysis Tuesday, quickly sought to capitalize on the estimate and other findings as they seek a spot for the bill in the Senate energy debate expected to unfold this summer.

"This definitive analysis proves that the American Power Act (APA) will decrease energy bills for families and protect consumers while offering the most effective cost containment measures of any previous climate legislation," they said in a prepared statement.

Some consumers would see modest cost increases -- we're talking about literally $7 a month -- but the legislation includes mechanisms to help consumers offset those costs. As Dave Roberts explained, "Cost is simply not a credible reason to oppose a carbon cap."

And at the same time the American Power Act would overhaul a broken energy framework, combat global warming, make America more competitive globally, lower the budget deficit, and according to a ClimateWorks Foundation analysis also published today, create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next generation.

Given all of this, plus public opinion, plus the effects of the worst environmental catastrophe in American history, it's painfully frustrating to realize this might die in the Senate.

For what it's worth, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said today, "Are we there? No. We don't have the 60 votes yet. I know that. But we're close, enough to be able to fight for it, and we'll see where we wind up."

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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DON'T FORGET THE RED-TO-BLUE POSSIBILITIES.... Brian Beutler has a good report today on how this year's Senate races are shaping up, and what next year's Senate is likely to look like, given what we currently know. It's a strong overview, but I think Brian missed a few races worth noting.

With nearly five months to go until Election Day, Republican hopes of retaking the Senate have dimmed and they're privately lamenting their lost opportunity. Until just a few weeks ago, Republicans considered winning a Senate majority a long shot but by no means out of reach. But the euphoria over Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts in January seems a distant memory now, especially after the latest round of primary results last week.

Primary victories by Carly Fiorina in California and Sharron Angle in Nevada bolstered a growing national narrative that Republican candidates are lightweights, or too outside the mainstream, to survive in the fall, and that could harm even top tier Republicans.

"There's now a path to 'acceptable losses' for Democrats," notes one cautiously optimistic Democratic strategist.

"I totally see how the number stops at five to seven [Republican pickups]" says a Republican consultant, speaking of an optimistic scenario for the GOP.

Brian considers four states -- North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas, and Delaware -- "obvious" pick-ups, and those seem like relatively safe bets, even though Indiana is running a D.C. corporate lobbyist who left the state more than a decade ago.

In the next tier, we see plenty of Democratic-held Senate seats that are in play, but which Dems are feeling relatively good about: Nevada, California, Washington, Wisconsin, and Connecticut.

States like Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Illinois -- all currently held by Dems -- are comfortably in the toss-up category.

Brian notes that Republicans "have a couple vulnerabilities of their own," but I think he understates the case.

His piece notes that the increasingly liberal Charlie Crist is running fairly strong as an independent in Florida, and it no longer seems far-fetched to think he might caucus with Dems if he wins. There's also Louisiana, where the scandal-plagued incumbent, Sen. David Vitter (R), is seeking another term, despite being caught with prostitutes after running on a "family values" platform, and despite doing the bidding on increasingly unpopular oil companies.

But the list of seats that can be flipped from "red" to "blue" shouldn't end there. In Ohio, polls show Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) in a competitive race against former Bush Budget Director Rob Portman (D). In Missouri, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) is running even with Rep. Roy Blunt (R). It's not unrealistic to think Rand Paul (R) will struggle in Kentucky. Richard Burr (R) isn't a lock in North Carolina. And in New Hampshire, Rep. Paul Hodes (D) is clearly credible.

All of those seats are currently held by Republicans, and they're in play as Democratic pick-up opportunities.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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WALL STREET LOBBYISTS FEELING LEFT OUT.... Financial industry lobbyists, hedge fund managers, and Wall Street elites had a plan: rely on Republicans to kill the financial regulatory reform package as it moved through the Senate. That didn't work out -- GOP tactics delayed the process, but didn't kill the bill.

At that point, the industry moved to Plan B: craft the bill more to Wall Street's liking during the conference committee. As it turns out, that's not coming together, either.

Wall Street's lobbying army is marching around Washington in a push to shape the final financial-overhaul bill. But it has gotten harder to get through the door with some lawmakers.

One bank has complained that it no longer has access to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D., Mass.), whose schedule has filled up to accommodate negotiations with his Senate counterparts during the next two weeks. [...]

There are three reasons why bending the ear of lawmakers suddenly has become a bigger challenge for financial-services industry lobbyists. Some lawmakers want to avoid even the slightest appearance that Wall Street is getting one last chance to throw its weight and money around on key provisions of the bill, including toughened oversight and other banking and securities cash cows.

Some lawmakers also have said they have little time to listen to outside lobbyists, particularly since Democrats are hoping to have the financial-overhaul bill signed into law by July 4.

Maybe it's just me, but I consider the industry's complaints a good sign.

Tanya Somanader, meanwhile, notes that Republicans have been far more accommodating: "During initial Senate consideration of the bill, House GOP members "huddled" with over 100 lobbyists to 'kill' the 'financial reform bill.' House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has even called upon bankers to 'stand up for themselves' against 'those little punk staffers' trying to improve regulation. But, when it comes to killing significant progressive initiatives, GOP and K street have made such collusion a habit."

There's a chance, of course, that Republicans will re-take Congress, and industry lobbyists can go back to writing legislation again, but until then, the Democratic majority isn't making time for them.

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FAR-RIGHT CANDIDATE KEEPS HIS DISTANCE FROM KING.... It's hardly a stretch to consider Cory Gardner a pretty far-right candidate. Gardner, a Republican congressional hopeful in Colorado's 4th district, voted against drunk-driving laws in the state legislature because they represented a "nanny state." He's even voiced doubts that President Obama was born in the United States.

But Republicans are nevertheless rallying to support Gardner, and Rep. Steve King (R), the right-wing Iowan, was scheduled to help Gardner raise money at fundraiser this weekend. Today, Gardner sent King a message: don't come.

An Iowa congressman's fundraiser for Republican congressional candidate Cory Gardner was canceled Monday after the congressman suggested that President Barack Obama favored blacks over whites.

Just yesterday, King said on a right-wing radio show, "[T]he president has demonstrated that he has a default mechanism in him that breaks down the side of race -- on the side that favors the black person." The comments were as ugly as they were stupid.

Dems, understandably, started asking whether Gardner agrees with his ally's remarks. Soon after, the fundraiser where King was to appear was scrapped.

Congratulations, Steve King. You're now so far gone that even far-right Birthers don't want to be associated with you. A rare feat, indeed.

Update: King was also scheduled to appear at a Colorado Tea Party gathering, and that appearance has been cancelled, too. (thanks to T.P.)

"His comments do not represent the tea party," a spokesperson for far-right Senate candidate Ken Buck (R) said.

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AWKWARD.... Nevada Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle is on Capitol Hill today, hoping to convince party leaders and her would-be colleagues that she's not stark raving mad. As part of her tour, Angle will be introduced to GOP senators and party officials by her home-state senator, Nevada's John Ensign.

[A]pparently not all Senate Republicans are thrilled with Ensign's move to bring Angle's at the weekly gathering.

A senior GOP Senate source said Ensign didn't officially inform those who run the lunch, which Ensign used to do before he was forced to resign from his leadership post.

"This is Ensign going rogue in an attempt to rehabilitate his soiled reputation by latching onto someone popular with Nevada voters," said the source.

And what does Angle think of her Senate escort? Late last year, Angle responded to Ensign's humiliating sex scandal by telling reporters, "If your wife can't trust you, how can I trust you?"

So, the party isn't thrilled with Angle; Angle isn't thrilled with Ensign; and Ensign isn't scoring any points with his own GOP colleagues.

What an awkward situation for everyone involved.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Conference committee members continue to debate the details of a Wall Street reform package, and one of the contentious issues of the week involves limiting debit fees banks can charge retailers.

This problem isn't new -- retailers have long complained that unreasonable fees undermine profits, and lead to higher prices for consumers.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a participant in the conference committee talks, spoke to the Tennessee Bankers Association last week, and explained why he's on the banks' side. (thanks to reader R.P.)

"You have these retailers, gas station owners paying these debit card fees and your heart goes out to them,'' Corker, R-Tenn., said. "But the federal government getting involved in setting prices, I just voted against it."

Of course. Corker feels bad about the burdens on retailers and customers, but not so bad that he's willing to allow the government to intervene on their behalf.

It gets back to a point I like to emphasize from time to time. For the left, political goals relate to policy ends. We want to expand access to quality health care. We want to lower carbon emissions to combat global warming. We want to reform the lending process for student loans so more young people can afford to go to college. We want to help retailers who can't afford unfair fees. There are competing ways to get to where progressives want to go, but the focus is on the policy achievement.

The liberal worldview is not necessarily about increasing the size of government or raising taxes; those mechanisms are only valuable insofar as they reach the desired end-point. Whether the government increases or shrinks in the process is largely irrelevant.

For the right, it's backwards, since the ideological goal is the achievement. Corker's comments are straightforward -- the goal isn't about helping retailers or consumers; the goal is to limit government. Why? Because limiting government is good.

As Jon Chait explained a few years ago, "[I]f you have no particular a priori preference about the size of government and care only about tangible outcomes, then liberalism's aversion to dogma makes it superior as a practical governing philosophy."

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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THE LAST, BEST CHANCE TO OVERHAUL U.S. ENERGY POLICY.... Most objective observers, and more than a few biased ones, will concede that the odds of passing a comprehensive climate/energy bill this year are pretty bad. And given the likely results of the midterm elections, coming up short this year will make meaningful efforts nearly impossible for the next several years.

With that in mind, President Obama has an important task ahead of him tonight, when he addresses the nation from the Oval Office. In addition to updating Americans on the response to the BP oil spill disaster, explaining how BP will be held accountable, and assuring the public that this crisis will not be repeated, the president also has to make the case for a new U.S. energy policy -- that the Senate doesn't want to pass.

The speech, then, may be the last chance to generate support for one of the year's most important legislative initiatives.

No one outside the White House knows exactly what Obama will say -- I doubt the remarks have even been written yet -- but officials have told reporters that the president will address "what our fundamental energy approach must be going forward to reduce our dependence on oil and fossil fuels."

Another official told Marc Ambinder that Obama will use the time to "go Big. That's where he does best."

The good news for the White House is that an ambitious message will likely fall on fertile ground. A new national poll from the Pew Research Center shows surprisingly strong support for key policy efforts: 66% of Americans support placing limits on greenhouse gas emissions; 78% support tougher efficiency standards; and 87% favor requiring utilities to produce more energy from renewable sources. Asked if it's more important to protect the environment or keep energy prices low, the environment wins, 56% to 37%.

So, with all of this in mind, what might a "go big" message look like? Greg Sargent has a worthwhile rhetorical suggestion: "If not now, when? If not us, who?"

[I]t's a reference to the political circumstances created by the Gulf spill. While the health care crisis was and is severe, and touches many lives, the Gulf spill is a slow motion disaster that is dramatizing the consequences of previous inaction with a nonstop gusher of disturbing imagery.

If the Gulf crisis isn't enough to prompt action by Congress, what would be enough?

By repeating the mantra of "if not now, when" during the health debate, Obama positioned himself as a kind of historical scold, urging members of Congress to rise above petty and parochial political concerns in order to be part of something that would earn them a place in the legislative history books. I don't know whether it would be enough to move individual Senators, but the argument on its face would arguably be more historically compelling when applied to climate change.

I'd just add that while Obama obviously needs to influence individual senators, he also has to change the larger existing political dynamic. After all, reluctant lawmakers are prepared to let the bill die because they see it as the easier, more politically expedient path.

If the public response to the BP oil spill disaster is a clamoring for a comprehensive energy package, the legislative circumstances can change quickly. Here's hoping the White House shapes tonight's message accordingly.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In Louisiana, a new Public Policy Polling survey shows scandal-plagued Sen. David Vitter (R) leading Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) by nine, 46% to 37%. It's as close as Melancon has been in any poll, and may be the result of Vitter's support for the oil industry.

* Meg Whitman, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in California, reportedly pushed an employee in an executive conference room at eBay's headquarters a few years ago. The former CEO paid a six-figure financial settlement.

* Alvin Greene's Senate candidacy continues to be a source of fascination, especially since the candidate still can't explain why he spent more than $10,000 on a filing fee. During a CNN appearance over the weekend, Don Lemon asked Greene if he was "mentally sound" and "impaired by anything" during the interview.

* As promised, right-wing activists are, at least for now, refusing to endorse state Sen. Robert Hurt (R), who won the GOP primary last week in Virginia's 5th congressional district.

* Before the Alabama Republican gubernatorial runoff election, there will apparently be a recount, which is scheduled to begin today.

* Respecting a long-held tradition, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will not personally campaign against Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). [Update: It's a tradition, by the way, that Bill Frist ignored by going after Tom Daschle in 2004.]

* And NPR released a poll this morning analyzing 70 key, competitive House districts. In the districts that voted Democratic in 2008, the GOP leads on a generic ballot, 47% to 42%. In the "red" districts, Republicans led 53% to 37%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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PETRAEUS FALLS ILL, BUT IS REPORTEDLY FINE.... There was a bit of a scare this morning during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, when Gen. David Petraeus fell ill during a question from John McCain. The New York Times said the general "appeared to faint briefly."

While Petraeus was escorted from the room, he returned about a half-hour later, explaining that he was dehydrated.

Though Petraeus expressed a willingness to continue with the hearing, Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he would reconvene tomorrow.

As for the substantive discussion of the hearing, Petraeus defended the existing U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Reflecting on President Obama's strategy of reducing U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July 2011, Petraeus said, "I support the policy of the president."

He added, "what happens in July 2011 is the beginning of a process for transition that is conditions-based," and will be a "responsible draw-down of U.S. forces." The general went on to say, "There was a nuance to what the president said that was very important, that did not imply a race for the exits, a search for the light to turn off or anything like that. It did imply a need for greater urgency."

With Congress increasingly skeptical about the U.S. mission, it remains to be seen whether Petraeus' assurances change the debate among lawmakers.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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KIRK'S PROBLEMS GET A LITTLE WORSE.... Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk ran into trouble recently when a variety of claims about his military service -- in speeches, in correspondence, and in written materials -- were proven to be untrue. Making matters worse for the Illinois Republican, the story isn't quite done yet.

As of about a week ago, I think the list was up to eight separate incidents: Kirk (1) falsely claimed he served "in" Operation Iraqi Freedom; (2) falsely claimed to "command the war room in the Pentagon"; (3) falsely claimed to have won the U.S. Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year award; (4) falsely claimed to have been shot at by the Iraqi Air Defense network; (5) falsely claimed to be a veteran of Desert Storm; (6) falsely claimed to be the only lawmaker to serve during Operation Iraqi Freedom; (7) falsely claimed to have been shot at in Kosovo; and (8) falsely claimed to have been shot at in Kandahar.

This week, we have a new one for the list.

When Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk says he repeatedly deployed to Afghanistan with the Navy, he's referring to two-week training missions as part of his annual reservist requirements.

After acknowledging a series of misstatements that embellished his Navy service, Kirk is being challenged over his use of the military term "deployment," and this could be yet another opportunity for critics to parse his words in what has recently become a resume-bashing battle with Democratic Senate opponent Alexi Giannoulias.

Deployment can mean more than one thing in the military, but it is often used to describe service members going off to war for an extended time.

Navy Cmdr. Danny Hernandez said there is a difference between annual training and being deployed, which can sometimes last more than a year.

"I would think that would be (considered) two weeks of annual training," Hernandez, a Navy spokesman, said of Kirk's stints. "A deployment is a deployment and annual training is annual training."

The official response from the Kirk campaign is that the candidate's definition of "deploy" is different from that of the U.S. military. As political spinning goes, this needs some work.

Making matters slightly worse, the Pentagon said this week that Kirk "twice violated military policy by participating in political activities while on active duty -- once in 2008 and once in 2009."

Remember when Mark Kirk's selling point as a candidate was his military service?

For more on all of these controversies, Nitpicker is the guy to rely on. Indeed, it's worth emphasizing that he's broken many of these Kirk-related incidents that were later picked up by major outlets.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THE ANGLE FOLLIES, CONT'D.... Sharron Angle, the strikingly ridiculous Senate candidate in Nevada, is already on record demanding the elimination of two cabinet agencies -- the Departments of Education and Energy. It looks like we can now add a third to the list.

Here's the Nevada Republican talking to a local NPR affiliate last month, talking about her desire to privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs.

ANGLE: He's 87 years old and has Parkinson's and we have to pay more and more for his health care. I know he pays over $800 a month in prescription drugs that we can't get through his VA nor through Medicare -- they just won't cover those things. And I know lots of seniors --

BECKER: Should they cover those things?

ANGLE: No, not if you're working towards a privatized system. And he can pay for them. That's my whole point.

As Greg Sargent explained, "It isn't entirely clear what Angle's overarching policy prescription is here. She says it's proper that the VA isn't covering her father's prescription drugs 'if' we 'are working towards a privatized system.' It's hard to read that as anything but an endorsement of the idea."

For good measure, it's also worth noting that in the same interview, Angle also argued, "The idea of privatizing and getting out of Medicare and Social Security is not up for grabs."

In other words, she not only wants to eliminate these bedrocks of American society, Angle considers the matter non-negotiable.

And before we go, let's also note that Angle condemned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday, saying he "has pretty much waterboarded our economy for the last year and a half."

Substantively, that's obviously ridiculous -- Reid backed the recovery effort that rescued the economy from a tailspin -- but simply as a matter of rhetoric, aren't Republicans supposed to like waterboarding?

Steve