Friday, May 15, 2009

Back on the Bush Years

It’s Friday, May 15, 2009. Here’s what we’re looking at:

After suspending them early in his term, President Obama today decided to resume military tribunals of terror detainees - although no decision has been made as to when they would proceed. Although they will include some sweeping reforms (such as banning hearsay evidence) that contrast with how they operated during the Bush Administration, liberal groups like the ACLU still are not satisfied.

Obama isn’t the only one stuck between a rock and a hard place (or “hawks and a liberal base”) - Attorney General Eric Holder received a major grilling yesterday, defending the Administration from both conservatives and liberals on the House Judiciary Committee over the detainees issue.

As we’ve said before, the smartest move - in political terms - would be to appease the base on these issues.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing her own controversy on the issue of detainees. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) even went so far as to call for her removal today.

Finally, the architect of the Bush years himself - Karl Rove - is being interviewed by special prosecutors who are investigating the firing of nine U.S. attorneys during Bush’s time in office.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GOP Obstructionism in the Senate

Today Senate Republicans blocked their first Obama Administration nominee. David Hayes, the nominee for Interior deputy secretary, would have been easily confirmed had it not been for a failed cloture vote.

The vote for cloture was 57-39 - just three votes short.

It all began when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar put an oil-and-lease sale in Utah on hold. That sparked Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) to call for an opposition to incoming Interior Department nominees.

It seems like a strange move for all but two GOP Senators - John Kyle and Olympia Snowe - to rally behind Bennett for his local constituency in a partisan effort to filibuster a non-political civil servant such as Hayes. Especially for the Interior Department. But that’s exactly what they did.

What’s really incredible is that Bennett said that Hayes was qualified for the position and "I want to do everything I can to get Hayes confirmed as rapidly as possible."

Now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’ll wait until Al Franken is seated - if he needs to - in order to confirm Hayes. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin pledged to bring the Hayes confirmation back to a vote on Monday.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) told reporters today "What we have today is a classic hostage-taking," while Salazar said in a press statement:

"This was a tired vote of bitter obstructionism … It may be uncomfortable for some to watch us have to clean up mess after mess -- from corruption to lawbreaking -- that is the previous administration's legacy at Interior, but to cast a vote against such a qualified and fine person is the height of cynicism."

While Salazar stood by the decision to hold-up the lease, he told Bennett in a letter yesterday that he would instruct Hayes (once nominated) to go to Utah and review the situation.

Beyond this, the confirmation process of Obama nominees has been the slowest for any President in ages. The last time it was comparatively slow was in 1981, where (by this point in the year) Democrats in the Senate had confirmed 125 Reagan nominees. This year the GOP has only confirmed 104 of Obama’s.

But why are Senate Republicans doing this?

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined the opposition to Hayes because of her disagreements with the Obama Administration on enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.

But that only accounts for one GOP Senator, and it really isn’t a good answer.

The truth is that this could serve as a huge setback to the GOP. If this story gets the attention it deserves it would make the Republican Party seem as hyper-partisan as ever.

If we were Senate Republicans, we would use the upcoming Supreme Court nomination to replace Justice David Souter as an opportunity to save what grace the GOP has left with the voters.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Will Specter Survive While Opposing EFCA?

The Number One piece of progressive legislation that Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) has refused to support since switching parties is the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill - which would make it easier for workers to organize for collective bargaining - has been mentioned several times by Specter since he became a Democrat.

Before the party-switch, he told Republican constituents "the 41st Republican, whose name is Arlen Specter, is vital to stopping…passage of card check".

In his campaign statement following the switch, he told voters

"My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change."

Of course, during the 110th Congress, Specter supported EFCA as a co-sponsor and said he was "delighted" to let it get past the cloture vote. Since then he changed his stance - probably to satisfy Republican donors for his upcoming battle with former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA) - and kept his position consistent through the party-switch so as not to appear to be a flip-flopper. But this campaign pragmatism has put him in a bit of a predicament.

As we mentioned before, the most significant reason that Specter changed parties was to avoid a Republican Primary with Toomey. But without supporting EFCA, Specter will be at a serious disadvantage in a possible Democratic Primary.

State Rep. Bill Kortz (D-Dravosburg) and Joseph Torsella (a former aide to Gov. Ed Rendell) are already running against Specter in the Primary, and many expect Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) to jump in as well.

The unions may be inclined to support any of these challengers so long as Specter opposes EFCA - a major problem for him in a Democratic Primary. As some of the most efficient progressive organizing associations, labor unions are particularly important for Democrats to win the support of going into an election.

And in Pennsylvania they’re especially important. With more than 800,000 union members statewide - and the home to the very politically active United Steelworkers - the Keystone State will be a tough place for any Democrat that opposes such a key labor law while going into a Primary.

So far the unions have made the importance of this bill clear. Last month, more than 300 union members marched in Pittsburg in an effort to reverse Specter’s position.

Yet Specter claims his newfound concerns with EFCA are not entirely about an anti-labor principle. Earlier this month he said “I’m opposed to giving up the secret ballot or mandatory arbitration as they are set forth in the bill, but I do believe that labor law reform is past overdue”. So a compromise to the Card Check Clause may be enough to bring him on board.

Sen. Diane Feinstein has such a compromise.

From the National Journal:

[Diane Feinstein's] proposal would replace the card-check provision, which would allow workers to unionize if a majority signed authorization cards and strip a company's ability to demand a secret ballot election. "It's a secret ballot that would be mailed in ... just like an absentee ballot. The individual could take it home and mail it in," Feinstein said. If a majority mailed the ballots to the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB would recognize the union.

It may not be what the unions had in mind, but many union organizers say the proposal sounds alright.

Specter, meanwhile, has suggested the Arbitration Clause could be amended to make "last best offer" arbitration (or Baseball Arbitration) into law. And Bill Samuel of the AFL-CIO says "we're open to that."

As far as passing the legislation goes, Specter may not be the only one to change positions with the compromise. It could satisfy the concerns of other moderate senators such as Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jim Webb (D-VA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Udall (D-CO), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

Ultimately, the unions may be disappointed with the concessions, but pleased that such reform would actually pass.

Specter will have his own reasons to support such a compromise bill. His future may depend on it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Obama's First White House Correspondents' Dinner

It’s Monday, May 11, 2009. Here’s what we’re looking at:

President Obama made the crowd laugh Saturday night at his first White House Correspondents’ Dinner. See the full video here.

Following him was actual comedian Wanda Sykes.