Archive: Beltway Perspectives

Why Is Congress on Steroids?

Several Debaters have made comments like this one, saying the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in sports doesn't matter, it's not relevant, and there are more important things to discuss. But surely if The Debate has more important things to discuss, the same can be said of Congress. So why did they jump into this issue so forcefully -- especially when there are laws against illegal drug use and distribution already on the books? In introducing the Integrity in Professional Sports Act, Sen. Bunning made his case for Congressional involvement, arguing that Congress needs "to restore some integrity to the games that tens of millions of Americans enjoy so much." Oh really? That sounds an awful lot like the rationale cited when the House decided last December that they needed to intervene to "protect Christmas." Is it really the place of Congress -- in charge of a budget so large that...

By Emily Messner | March 17, 2006; 12:34 PM ET | Comments (13)

National Security Strategy Puts Iran on Notice

Yes, the 2006 National Security Strategy released yesterday looks a lot like the 2002 strategy.* The commitment to the fundamental doctrine outlined in 2002 -- preemption -- remains a key component, it still aims to promote freedom and democracy, and both versions even reference September 11, 2001 the same number of times (seven). The 2006 revision does include a new tenth chapter, titled "Engage the Opportunities and Confront the Challenges of Globalization," and a two-paragraph conclusion. The other nine chapters of the 2006 report have identical titles to those in the 2002 report. Perhaps the identical chapter names are intended to show that this administration is "staying the course," following the same strategy it outlined four years ago. One could also see it as betraying a certain laziness and indicating that their thinking hasn't evolved much over time, in spite of the many lessons that should have been learned over...

By Emily Messner | March 17, 2006; 11:14 AM ET | Comments (67)

Censure: Dodging Dems and a Giddy GOP

Dear Debaters, Here's little meat for those of you who find the steroids issue uninteresting: Sen. Russ Feingold's resolution to censure the president for misleading the American people over the domestic surveillance program -- political gimmick or principled stance? From the very little we do know of the program, the "whereas" clauses in Feingold's resolution (describing the relevant laws and Bush's statements) are accurate. Nonetheless, Republicans -- and the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board -- can barely contain their glee at what they see as an overeager Feingold showing the Democrats' hand before the November elections. Dana Milbank describes flustered Democrats "fleeing" their weekly caucus lunch "out a back door as if escaping a fire." So why'd he do it? Why now? Obviously, it's not because his Democratic party colleagues were banging down his door to introduce a censure resolution -- ThinkProgress's running tally of S. Res. 398's supporters...

By Emily Messner | March 16, 2006; 01:54 AM ET | Comments (212)

It's Already Outsource, U.S.A.

The right-wing Center for Security Policy, which opposes allowing Dubai Ports World to manage U.S. ports, says that "Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer have been quick to seize on this issue as an opportunity to burnish their national security credentials at the expense of President Bush and his party." Huh? At the expense of Bush, perhaps, but certainly not his whole party -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist expressed his concerns fairly early on, and several other Republicans, including Governor Robert Ehrlich of Maryland, have also challenged the takeover. Schumer, however, has been a particular pain in the nose, for example saying that, "Just as we would not outsource military operations or law enforcement duties, we should be very careful before we outsource such sensitive homeland security duties." The senator appears not to have heard about the legions of private contractors supporting, for example, the Iraq effort. As...

By Emily Messner | February 23, 2006; 10:05 AM ET | Comments (158)

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Why do members of this administration seem to have so much difficulty owning up to mistakes? Why couldn't Vice President Dick Cheney have just said, publicly and immediately, how sorry he was for accidentally shooting Harry Whittington? Countless media outlets used the shooting as an outlet for all those bad puns and Bugs Bunny wisecracks they've been saving up.* The New York Post threw the English language to the wind for the sake of the joke: "The White House took heavy flak yesterday for waiting a vewwy, vewwy long time before revealing that wascally Vice President Dick Cheney had shot a fellow hunter." Of course, it wouldn't be quite so amusing if Whittington had been seriously injured. And it looks like that might be the case: Whittington suffered a minor heart attack as a result of some birdshot lodged in his heart. Over at Political Cortex, they were wondering as...

By Emily Messner | February 15, 2006; 09:22 AM ET | Comments (168)

Democrats Talking Back

The week's news is piling up, but before we jump into the fray to debate the domestic surveillance hearings, etc., I'd like to take one more look back at the State of the Union, this time focusing on the Democratic response. First, must give credit where credit is due: The Democrats' Spanish language SOTU rebuttal by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa. It was wise for the Dems to recognize that there's a whole Spanish-speaking audience out there that might not otherwise be drawn into the national conversation on key issues like health care, immigration, taxes and war -- yet it's a conversation that directly impacts them. A blogger called Pinto Bean disagrees. What do you think, Debaters? Secondly, not so sure about the selection of Kaine. He's my governor now, and I think he was a fine choice. But I'm not so sure he was a fine choice to...

By Emily Messner | February 6, 2006; 11:27 PM ET | Comments (103)

Spending and the Leadership Vote

(13:59, 2/2/6) UPDATE: John Boehner is the new leader of the House GOP. What do you think, Debaters? A good choice by the Republican congressmen? In yesterday's Debate on the conspicuous absence of Hurricane Katrina in President Bush's State of the Union address, Debater Will made this observation: Another noteworthy word lacking in this speech was "deficit". I mention this as an unsexy issue that will probably go unnoticed, because it is not treated as a life or death issue (yet) though Katrina and Iraq are. So what is Congress doing about the problem? By a slim 216-214 vote Wednesday, the House moved to cut entitlement spending in ways that will hurt the poor, students who get college loans and more affluent seniors who need nursing home care. E.J. Dionne explains what is so wrong with this budget plan. Debater Cayambe, who argues that the president "has no credibility on...

By Emily Messner | February 2, 2006; 06:40 AM ET | Comments (141)

SOTU: Where's Katrina?

(I arrived home -- jetlagged and totally worn out -- just in time for the State of the Union address.) Has anyone noticed that the State of the Union is always "strong"? In 2004 and 2005, the state of the union was "confident and strong." In 2002, it had "never been stronger." In Clinton's 2000 SOTU, it was "the strongest it has ever been." See for yourself -- do a search for the word strong (it pops up several times) in the speeches for 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. (In 2001, Bush gave a "budget address.") Bush's State of the Union speech last night (view excerpts here) was considerably less ambitious than some of his previous efforts -- no Axis of Evil or Social Security overhaul here -- and quite a bit of it felt like a rebuttal to opponents and a rallying of the base. One thing...

By Emily Messner | February 1, 2006; 06:17 AM ET | Comments (150)

Steel Mills and Surveillance

First, a big thanks to all the Debaters participating in the discussion of this important rights issue. For the most part, the conversation has been enlightening and insightful -- and even those who initially came out hurling abuse (and little else) at their opponents seem to have largely calmed down and begun to have a meaningful debate about the matter at hand. Huzzah! Debater James J. Klapper provides this link that leads to the Supreme Court's opinion in Youngstown Co. v. Sawyer, a 1952 case challenging the legality of President Truman's seizure of the nation's steel mills to avoid a potentially damaging strike. Klapper goes so far as to suggest that the entire Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) "is probably an unconstitutional intrusion on presidential powers and responsibilities." I'm not convinced that view is supported by the Constitution -- or by the Supreme Court, which actually recommended in a 1972...

By Emily Messner | January 5, 2006; 01:15 PM ET | Comments (218)

WWFFD? Another Perspective on Surveillance

If I were to design my own line of inspirational T-shirts and bracelets, the theme would be "WWFFD?" -- "What Would the Founding Fathers Do?" In the case of domestic surveillance, James Madison offers some guidance, in the form of his 1792 exposition on "Property." Madison wrote that property rights extend beyond physical objects, to thoughts, opinions, and one's very liberty: "[A] man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them. ...He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person. He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them. In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights." For officials of the government to monitor the communication...

By Emily Messner | January 3, 2006; 05:16 AM ET | Comments (186)

Judicial Interference Justification Doesn't Hold Water

Some debaters pointed to this Seattle Post-Intelligencer article as the explanation for Bush's decision to circumvent the FISA court. The story says that an unprecedented number of wiretap requests were modified by the court -- 179 of the 5,645 requests from the Bush administration since 2001, plus another six that were rejected or deferred. But read through the second half of the article and it's hard not to notice that the timelines don't match up: 173 of the modifications and all six of the rejections were issued in 2003 and 2004; Bush ordered the warrantless spying in 2002. So even if no modifications were made to warrant requests for the rest of 2002 after Bush issued his directive, that still means he based his decision on a maximum of six modified warrants -- hardly such an overwhelming figure that it should cause a president to take extrajudicial action. Even if...

By Emily Messner | December 29, 2005; 09:28 AM ET | Comments (46)

Could a "Fair Tax" Help Fix the Budget Mess?

Note to Debaters: Want to lead the Debate for a day? Click here for details. Earlier in the budget debate, I asked what sort of tax policy would be best for the United States. I admit that's a bit broad, so let's take a look at one tax plan that seems to be gaining support: the so-called "Fair Tax". The idea, which has supporters in the House and in the Senate, is to repeal several taxes, most notably income tax, and replace that revenue with a universal sales tax. (The Fair Tax Blog asks: should you be paying income tax at all?) The proposal calls for a 23 percent tax on all goods and services -- although some have argued that in practice, it would be closer to 30 percent -- and businesses would keep one quarter of one percent of the tax revenue they bring in as payment for...

By Emily Messner | December 21, 2005; 11:14 PM ET | Comments (153)

War on Christmas Inspires Congressional Poetry

Note to Debaters: We'll be wrapping up the budget debate this week, but I couldn't resist getting a start on the "War on Christmas" -- conveniently, the two issues collide in the pages of the Congressional Record... Having decided that after roughly two millennia, safeguarding Christmas has become too big a job for God to do all by himself, the U.S. Congress stepped in last week with a House resolution to help protect this sacred holiday. Officially titled "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for those who celebrate Christmas" (the resolution was amended to tack on those last five words), H. Res. 579 passed by a vote of 401-22, sending a clear message to the anti-Christmas commies that the jig is up. These liberal, secular Americans -- among them, anyone who dares alienate the Christian majority by saying...

By Emily Messner | December 19, 2005; 09:43 AM ET | Comments (187)

The Law of Supply and Demand

When members of Congress left for their August recess, they fully expected to come back to vote on a number of tax cuts, including the permanent repeal of the estate tax. Hurricane Katrina changed all that. A week after the hurricane, Matthew Gardner wrote in the San Diego Union-Tribune about what the slow response to the disaster revealed. "This glaring failure should be a wake-up call for anyone who still believes that the administration's tax cuts have not hampered its ability to effectively prosecute multiple wars while providing basic services to its own citizens." Gardiner says Congress "can confront the horrible reality of a nation that is incapable of caring for its most vulnerable citizens in their time of greatest need -- or they can continue to pretend that tax cuts for the wealthiest few impose no costs on the nation as a whole." But why would the ruling party...

By Emily Messner | December 18, 2005; 09:25 PM ET | Comments (10)

The Iraqi-al Qaeda Connection

In a news conference following Bush's announcement of his plan for Victory in Iraq, Sen. Richard Lugar said: It is not an option simply to say that Iraq doesn't matter. Iraq does matter because, in the worst of cases, not only would there be civil war but there would be intervention by other countries, the possibility for training ground for al Qaeda or others and we've recycled Afghanistan from another time and another place into a very dangerous predicament. And we are in this predicament because we were attacked here in Washington and in New York. The world did not leave us alone. Sorry, but who didn't leave us alone? All those Iraqi hijackers? Oh, wait, they weren't Iraqi. Most were Saudi; not a single one was Iraqi. (Nor were any of the hijackers Iranian. Or Syrian. How again is it that Saudi Arabia isn't a member of the Axis...

By Emily Messner | December 6, 2005; 12:45 PM ET | Comments (154)

Congress and the Case for War

On the campaign trail in 2004, President Bush told a crowd in Kirtland, Ohio, "I said to the Congress, do you see a threat? And members of both political parties looked at the same intelligence I looked at and came to the same conclusion we came to." Did they? Putting aside things like Presidential Daily Briefings, to which none of the members of Congress would have been privy, the president himself ensured that intelligence would be kept from Congress when he issued this presidential memorandum. And did members of Congress reach the same conclusions as the President? The New York Times (text also at Common Dreams) took issue with the part of the claim. As far back as 2002, Sen. Bob Graham was reaching very different conclusions from the intelligence before him than was the president. Here's Graham, not long after Congress approved the resolution authorizing force: Hussein may be...

By Emily Messner | December 5, 2005; 05:14 AM ET | Comments (49)

Notes From the First Gulf War

While the debate raged over whether to take on Saddam Hussein in 1990 and early 1991, several prominent politicians were offering serious warnings -- warnings that would have been just as apt 12 years later. Here's a sampling: In a Washington Post op-ed on Sept. 24, 1990, then-Sen. William S. Cohen predicted, "With the passage of time, American citizens may become increasingly disenchanted with the notion of their sons and daughters remaining at risk in the Persian Gulf. Budget cuts for domestic programs and higher taxes (sorry, I mean enhanced revenues) are likely to generate an animus that will not respect foreign policy boundaries." Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) asked in the Jan. 11, 1991 Washington Post, "When we win the war, what happens then? What happens to the balance of power in the Middle East, to the governance of Iraq, to the stability of friendly governments in Egypt and...

By Emily Messner | December 1, 2005; 01:46 PM ET | Comments (45)

What About the War Powers Act?

Blast from the past: On Sept. 24, 1990, then-Senator William S. Cohen (R-Maine, later to become Clinton's secretary of defense) wrote in the Washington Post [see page 14 of pdf] that Congress would be well advised to follow the rules of the 1973 War Powers Act in authorizing the first President Bush to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The Modern Tribune argues that although the 2002 authorization of force contained provisions making any subsequent action subject to the War Powers Act, the conditions of the act were never met, rendering the invasion illegal. I don't know enough about the enforcability of such an act to argue this point one way or the other, but that said, I definitely don't see the WPA the same way the author of the Modern Tribune piece does. The MT author interprets the act as requiring evidence of a "clear" and "imminent" threat in...

By Emily Messner | December 1, 2005; 05:43 AM ET | Comments (18)

Why Am I Still Getting E-mails from John Kerry?

I got an e-mail yesterday from John Kerry urging me to vote in the Virginia election today. Why am I still getting e-mails from John Kerry? You know at the end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off -- after the credits have rolled and a wounded Mr. Rooney has pulled off in the school bus with the gummy bear girl -- when Ferris comes down the hall and says, "You're still here? It's over! Go home. Go!" That's how I feel about John Kerry. It's time to go back to being the junior senator from Massachusetts. It's over. Go home. Go!...

By Emily Messner | November 8, 2005; 07:43 AM ET | Comments (77)

Will It Get Worse for Bush?

Adam Shpeen at the Agenda Gap predicts that "things will get worse before they improve." He anticipates the Republicans will "take some major hits" next week in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections. Knowing how off the mark some pre-election polls have been in Virginia in the past, I'm not so sure. Eric A. Hopp writes in his "Oh Well" blog that the poll numbers "are schitzoid. So 2/3rds of the public disapprove of the way Bush is handling Iraq, with almost 60% saying the U.S. should have never invaded Iraq in the first place.... If this war continues on over time with no resolution, that 18% of the public, who wants to withdrawal U.S. forces immediately, is going to start increasing. And the congressional midterm elections start next year." (Should Bush dip into his Strategic Approval Reserves?) The Ambivablog says: "I almost feel sorry for Bush now that...

By Emily Messner | November 4, 2005; 06:51 PM ET | Comments (25)

Low in the Polls: Are the Ethics Scandals to Blame?

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll points to erosion in the belief that Bush is "honest and trustworthy." Debaters, what do you think is behind the decline? The Edit Copy blog includes this possible "Moderate/Democrat weekend talking point: Doubts on personal integrity are in part a result of Karl Rove's continued presence in the White House." At FreeRepublic.com, JustaCowgirl posts a story about an AP-Ipsos poll that also shows Bush's numbers sinking. Her assessment: "AP is becoming worried that the Plame/Wilson witch hunt might not stretch to get Karl Rove after all. Must create a poll to fan the flames." Of course, that doesn't take into account the CBS News poll (results) and the Post-ABC poll (results) that also indicate a fairly substantial drop in Bush's popularity. But optimism is not in short supply: One of the comments to the post notes, "but when he makes a comeback, it will...

By Emily Messner | November 4, 2005; 10:42 AM ET | Comments (24)

Looking Back at the Leak

To review: Back in 2003, Valerie Plame was outed as a CIA agent as part of an attempt from within the Bush administration to discredit Joe Wilson's New York Times op-ed challenging the legitimacy of part of the case for the Iraq war. In the op-ed, Wilson disputed the infamous"16 words" in Bush's State of the Union address. Nevermind that those 16 words -- "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" -- could have been defended by the administration out in the open, using actual facts. Instead, the identity of Wilson's wife was leaked to a small group of journalists, one of whom, Robert Novak, published it in his nationally-syndicated column. Now we have one indictment, top presidential adviser Karl Rove still under investigation (Debaters: should he resign?) and the conversation has finally come full circle. After two years -- and...

By Emily Messner | November 3, 2005; 10:15 AM ET | Comments (106)

The Race to Spin Alito

It didn't take the liberals long to catch up to the conservatives in the race to paint a picture of Judge Samuel Alito for the consumption of their followers. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by pointing out that ThinkProgress seems displeased. Howard Dean proclaims that the nomination is a distraction from the administration's current troubles, and calls Alito an "extreme conservative" and an "activist judge." Given the clamor from the right insisting that Bush appoint a judge with an indisputably conservative track record, Kos says, "They wanted a showcase of conservatism they could shove down the throats of the likes of us liberals and the rest of America. They wanted one of those obnoxious touchdown dances." The trouble with this characterization is that it's premature, and quite possibly flat-out wrong. Alito is almost unfailingly conservative in his decisions, granted, but there are indications that his opinions...

By Emily Messner | November 1, 2005; 09:01 AM ET | Comments (116)

Will the Nomination Shift Focus from "Broader Problems"?

New Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito is on the scene. Back in June, even before John Roberts was nominated, the Supreme Court Nomination blog posted a useful compilation of some key Alito opinions. SCOTUSblog is on top of things, too. So far it looks like the groups likely to oppose Alito most loudly haven't updated their sites yet, but for the first hints of opposition, keep an eye on groups like People for the American Way and NARAL. (Do conservatives wake up earlier in the morning than liberals do?) On the front page of Sunday's Post was an analysis of a Washington Post-ABC News poll that found 55 percent of respondents believe the indictment of Scooter Libby on Friday is indicative of "broader problems with ethical wrongdoing in the Bush administration," while 41 percent say it's an isolated incident. Christopher of the Middle America Chronicle blog looked at the...

By Emily Messner | October 31, 2005; 08:26 AM ET | Comments (52)

Criminalization or Criminal?

Is the Libby indictment the beginning of the end for the Bush administration? Or is this the beginning of a successful shift toward "criminalizing politics," as Robert Novak and others on the right have suggested? (Speaking of Novak, will he now explain what the heck happened, as Slate hopes? Probably not.) James Moore, writing in the Huffington Post (which is having a field day, by the way) says it's not the criminalization of politics that we're wittnessing -- it's the criminalization of criminals: Leaking the names of CIA agents is not politics; it is a crime. Lying to congress about evidence for a war is not politics; it is a crime. Failing to tell a grand jury that you met with a reporter and talked about the CIA agent is not forgetfullness; it is a crime. Deceiving your entire nation and frightening children and adults with images of nuclear explosions...

By Emily Messner | October 28, 2005; 06:30 PM ET | Comments (81)

Republicans Try to Change the Subject

And that's the end of Scooter Libby being Cheney's top aide. (But will he continue on as Cheney's alterego?) Redstate.org did the only thing is could think of -- change the subject! Right now, this is the top entry on that prominent right wing blog: Economy Booming by Adam C. In case the Libby incident and the Supreme Court nominations are distracting you from other things in the world, let me remind you that the economy is booming. In spite of the rush to find something -- anything -- good to say about the administration today, it still doesn't look like there's a whole lot of support out there for Libby, or for Rove. Reddstaty at Redstate.org surprised the heck out of me with this diary entry earlier in the week. "Karl Rove and Scooter Libby should both resign immediately. In fact, they should have both resigned as soon as...

By Emily Messner | October 28, 2005; 01:41 PM ET | Comments (27)

Finally, Happy Indictment Day!

Note: I was robbed at knifepoint last night -- 8:27 p.m., to be exact -- so I'm feeling extra cynical today. I will attempt to keep my cynicism in parenthesis. From the AP: V.P. aide Libby indicted! WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice presidential adviser I. Lewis "Scooter' Libby Jr. was indicted Friday on obstruction of justice, false statement and perjury charges in the CIA leak case. Those are very serious charges -- but perhaps not as much so as a conspiracy charge would have been. A conspiracy could bring down members of the administration like dominos. Of course, the fact that the charges are against the man who's been called Dick Cheney's alterego is quite significant. Waiting on details and reaction from bloggers. Will Libby resign? What do you Debaters think? (FYI: Marion Barry was indicted today, too. His crime? Failing to file his tax return.) As we await more information...

By Emily Messner | October 28, 2005; 12:50 PM ET | Comments (19)

DeLay's Transaction: But Was It Illegal?

The right hemisphere of the blogosphere has been busy for a while now defending Republican leaders against all the charges coming their way. This doesn't mean there's widespread corruption, they cry, it just means that the heretofore impotent Democrats have somehow found a way to get even with them through the legal system. Using the law to take down political opponents is not a uniquely American phenomenon. Singapore, for example, has a particularly creative method: Bankrupting the opposition. Singapore has a loophole in its defamation law that leaves political speech without protection, making it particularly easy for members of the ruling party to sue their opponents. That the threat of a lawsuit creates a climate of fear around political speech is part of the problem. But more sinister is the large payouts awarded to the plaintiff; when the defendant can't pay quickly enough, the plaintiff petitions for that person to...

By Emily Messner | October 25, 2005; 09:26 AM ET | Comments (4)

DeLay and Redistricting (and More About the Mug Shot)

I never realized what gems these U.S. News and World Report Web extras are! This one, on how support has been for DeLay since the indictment, notes that the White House was "shell shocked," that even if DeLay is cleared allies fear his reputation could be severely tarnished, and that this is just one in a long line of embarrassments for the GOP. The Political Review blog makes no attempt to cover its contempt for DeLay as it does a rundown of his ethical lapses over the years. The Democrats are just loving this. These incidents were causing a "rising fear among GOP insiders that the Republicans could lose control of the House in November 2006," U.S. News reported. "Some party strategists now say up to 70 or 80 seats could be up for grabs, most of them now Republican, in contrast to the usual 30 or 40." This leads...

By Emily Messner | October 24, 2005; 06:14 AM ET | Comments (7)

Iraq's Election and the U.S. Elections

It's a given that the Iraq war will shape the next two elections, and will influence the choices of politicians for years, possibly decades to come. Right now, though, one of the key questions being pondered by Washington watchers is this: who's going to benefit politically from the war in the 2006 midterm elections and the 2008 presidential contest? That is, which party ideology will prevail -- conservative or liberal? And, and among conservatives, will limited-government conservatives or big-government conservatives gain influence? As I've said, I don't like to engage in prediction. But in wrapping up the week's Debate on Iraq's constitution, I'll take a look at how the political progress in Iraq stands to help the GOP in the coming elections, even as the ongoing violence and extended troop deployment works in the Democrats' favor. The Iraq constitution vote itself now seems likely to help the GOP. Iraqi Shiites,...

By Emily Messner | October 19, 2005; 09:17 AM ET | Comments (3)

Bush Nominees: "No Crony Left Behind"

I admit, when it comes to the Jefferson-Hamilton feud, I am a Jeffersonian through and through. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the Federalist Papers. As it happens, Federalist 76 is mighty popular right now among the blogs discussing the cronyism aspect of the Harriet Miers nomination. Alexander Hamilton, the author of Federalist 76, warned against the nomination of those "who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which [the president] particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him." The Legal Theory Blog also makes note of this key distinction in this post, in between two other meaty Miers-related posts. Olasky, a blogger at the World Views Christian news and opinion site, went off the record with a conservative Christian lawyer who worked with Miers. He quoted the lawyer as saying, "I never heard her take a...

By Emily Messner | October 11, 2005; 03:40 PM ET | Comments (14)

The Miers-Roberts Double Standard

In the last post, we looked at the double standard that supporters and opponents have applied to the religious views of John G. Roberts and Harriet Miers. But the double standard also extends to Miers's and Roberts's judicial thinking. Michael Kinsley points out that it was only a couple weeks ago that Republicans were up in arms over Democrats' demands to know more about Roberts's views. Now that Miers is up, conservatives are the ones clamoring for more information. They don't know Miers -- and this reinforces some liberals' suspicion that conservatives knew something about Roberts that liberals didn't. (Then there's the extra suspicious liberals who think maybe the GOP doesn't want a judicial revolution after all, since Roe has been so good for them politically.) Eric Folley, a former DNC Internet Operations guru-type, looks at the fact that conservatives are demanding Miers' history where they didn't for Roberts before...

By Emily Messner | October 11, 2005; 12:27 PM ET | Comments (9)

Religious Test for Harriet Miers

With no judicial opinions to examine, supporters of the Harriet Miers find themselves arguing for the nomination on religious grounds -- not always comfortably and in sharp contrast to the debate over John G. Roberts. Prominent conservative James Dobson of the evangelical organization Focus on the Family is one of a number who support Miers at the behest of the president in part because of Bush's assurances that she is a devoted evangelical. Liberal E.J. Dionne is quick to note that there is an element of hypocrisy to the conservatives' newfound appreciation for the religious beliefs of the nominee, since many Republicans argued strenously against bringing up Roberts religion during the Chief Justice's nomination battle. John Dickerson writes in Slate about how the Miers nomination has made the rift between the religious right and the secular-intellectual right all the more obvious. And there are clearly some on the right who...

By Emily Messner | October 10, 2005; 10:45 AM ET | Comments (14)

Harriet Miers: The Recusal Question

Charles Krauthammer raises a key question in his column today that is likely to get a lot of attention during the Miers confirmation hearings. Wouldn't she be morally obligated (and possibly legally obligated?) to recuse herself from matters that she worked on as White House counsel? Writes Krauthammer: "For years -- crucial years in the war on terrorism -- she will have to recuse herself from judging the constitutionality of these decisions because she will have been a party to having made them in the first place. The Supreme Court will be left with an absent chair on precisely the laws-of-war issues to which she is supposed to bring so much." Back in February 2004, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick wrote about the vague rules governing recusal of judges. She was writing in light of the controversy over whether Justice Scalia should have recused himself in a case involving duck-hunting buddy Dick...

By Emily Messner | October 7, 2005; 09:00 AM ET | Comments (20)

Global Warming: U.S. Policy Goes International

Ed in Spain responded to last week's post about Kyoto with this explanation of why the U.S. claim that Kyoto would be too expensive doesn't fly: The USA is the world's greatest economy. It is also by far the world's largest polluter, and the most responsible for the global warning situation we are now facing. On the other hand, it is the one country most capable of dealing with any costs that might be generated by working to meet the Kyoto protocol. The United States is not the only powerful economy to reject Kyoto. Australia was quick to follow the U.S. lead, and now British Prime Minister Tony Blair has started echoing the Bush line about economic viability. At the Clinton Global Initiative opening meeting (see page 14 of the pdf), Blair said, "I would say probably I'm changing my thinking about this in the past two or three years....

By Emily Messner | October 4, 2005; 05:32 AM ET | Comments (2)

Global Warming: Bush vs. Clinton on Kyoto

You may be surprised to learn that the Bush administration is in line with its predecessor in acknowledging that the problem of global warming exists. From the fact sheet on President Clinton's India Trip, March 22, 2000: "There is broad scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions -- primarily in the form of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels -- are at least partly responsible for an increase in global temperatures over the last century." From the fact sheet on President Bush and the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development, July 27, 2005: "We know the surface of the Earth is warmer and an increase in greenhouse gases caused by human activity is contributing to the problem." The Bush/Clinton consensus ends, of course, when it comes to doing something about the problem and especially when it comes to the Kyoto Protocol....

By Emily Messner | September 29, 2005; 09:08 AM ET | Comments (14)

Operation Offset: Best Way to Pay for Rebuilding the Gulf Coast?

In the grand debate over how exactly we're going to come up with the couple hundred billions of dollars to pay for post-Katrina rebuilding, one plan that's been taking a lot of heat is the Republican Study Committee's Operation Offset. The total presumed savings of making all the cuts in the plan would be about $100 billion dollars next year, projected to be around $950 billion over the next decade. ThinkProgress.org offers an alternative plan that would cut $688 billion in unnecessary federal spending over five years, with $327 billion of that coming just from rolling back the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers. Perhaps if I were in that wealthiest 1 percent, I would feel differently, but the idea sounds good to me. That said, even the liberalist of liberals must admit that Operation Offset isn't all bad. There is certainly plenty of...

By Emily Messner | September 28, 2005; 06:09 AM ET | Comments (4)

Rebuilding After Katrina: Pork and Tax Cuts

The figure being bandied about is $200 billion, but it's not just hard dollar figures that are at issue here. What will the cost be to education? To our children and grandchildren? To key social programs from Head Start to Medicare? To the troops in Iraq who already don't have enough armor (among other vital resources)? Sen. Robert Byrd makes the case forcefully in the Baltimore Sun that, with the added financial strain from Katrina reconstruction, it's time for America to get out of Iraq. In addition to needing our Guardsmen here at home to be first responders in the event of a disaster, the bottom line, Byrd argues, is that we simply cannot afford to keep spending billions on the conflict. But is that realistic? At least among lawmakers, Byrd probably won't be able to make that sale. So where will the money come from? Editorials and op-eds --...

By Emily Messner | September 22, 2005; 10:11 AM ET | Comments (3)

We're Spending Billions on Katrina Rebuilding -- How About a Few Million for Disaster Preparedness?

In an edtorial today titled The Anthrax Metaphor, the Post confronts a fact that is most uncomfortable for those of us who live here in the Washington area: We're underprepared for a disaster of Katrina's magnitude. With the exception of the Capitol buildiing, the White House and perhaps a few other select federal buildings -- which have mini armies and established evacuation plans for all their occupants -- Washington is no safer from terrorist attack than it was four years ago. The scramble after the anthrax attacks was huge, with thousands if interviews conducted to try to find the culprit, but nothing came of it. Same with the scramble to protect Washington after 9/11. If there's a large-scale terrorist attack on Washington, we're likely to see the same kind of bedlam we saw in New Orleans, the editorial argues. At least one local leader has suggested we throw out all...

By Emily Messner | September 22, 2005; 06:05 AM ET | Comments (5)

Roberts: What Have We Learned?

We're two days from the vote on Roberts's confirmation, and in case it wasn't obvious enough before, it is now: Unless something really unlikely happens -- like kinky Polariods of Roberts turning up on the Drudge Report -- the confirmation is all sealed up. Here's a quick review of some of the most contentious questions about Roberts's suitability for the role of Chief Justice. Will Roberts be too permissive of presidential overreaching? Law professors are split on this one. Prof. Yale Kamisar cautions Democrats not to assume Roberts's positions are fixed; a nominee's ideas about executive power can change the further away he gets from his time within the executive branch. Prof. Peter Shane and former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, writing in the Post, aren't convinced. Where does Roberts stand on issues of civil rights? Ann Marie Tallman, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, wrote in...

By Emily Messner | September 20, 2005; 02:00 PM ET | Comments (4)

Democrats, Scalia and Roberts

Another blast from the past, this from the New York Times, Sept. 18, 1986: While the debate on Justice Rehnquist took five days, the debate, if it could be called that, on Judge Scalia consumed barely five minutes. The 50-year-old Court of Appeals judge was praised as thoughtful and fair by several senators, including Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who ... led the opposition to Justice Rehnquist. Senator Kennedy said that although Judge Scalia was a conservative, ''he is clearly in the mainstream.'' Justice Antonin Scalia was confirmed by a 98-0 vote in the Senate. What has changed in the last 20 years?...

By Emily Messner | September 20, 2005; 05:07 AM ET | Comments (24)

Editorial Endorsements: Most Favor Roberts

Here's a quick sampling of some of the yays and nays from other editorial boards around the country. In the Yes column: Chicago Tribune (doing the editorial equivalent of rolling its eyes at the senators' gratuitous grandstanding) Ft. Worth Star Telegram (beating the baseball metaphor to death) Hartford Courant (hoping Roberts surprises his critics) Minneapolis Star-Tribune (convinced enough that he's not an ideologue) New York Daily News (a Roberts lovefest) Orlando Sentinel (impressed with his resume and intellect) Philadelphia Inquirer (figuring Roberts for Rehnquist is an even tradeoff) Rocky Mountain News (an over-enthusiastic yes -- he's referred to as "Chief Justice John Roberts" in the first sentence) St. Petersburg Times (suggesting Dems ammunition would be better spent on the next nominee) Wall Street Journal (sarcastic and biting, as usual, complete with comments like, "Nowadays, Oliver Wendell Holmes would struggle to get Democratic votes.") Washington Post (understanding they're probably not going...

By Emily Messner | September 19, 2005; 08:45 AM ET | Comments (4)

London's 'The Guardian': A Chief Justice Confirmed

Here are some excerpts from a news story in London's The Guardian newspaper: WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 -- The Senate has confirmed [the] President['s] arch-conservative nominee as ... Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, after the most fiercely disputed confirmation hearings this century. Critics, who included Senator Edward Kennedy ... were unrepentant and said he would prove 'too extreme' for the country's good. During the three-month debate, on his appointment, old memos surfaced about his attitudes towards civil rights, women's rights and the rights of Americans as a whole in relation to the state. Personal ethics as well as candour became an issue. Suggestions were made that he failed to debar himself from sitting on at least one ... case involving ... suspected subversives .... The distinction between the judiciary and the executive and their respective powers goes to the heart of the American constitutional settlement the court is empowered to...

By Emily Messner | September 19, 2005; 05:52 AM ET | Comments (1)

Worthy of Note: Tom Coburn Laments Bitter Politics

If you watched the opening of the Roberts confirmation hearing on Monday, you might have seen Sen. Tom Coburn fight back tears as he talked about the damage caused by all this hateful partisan bickering. It was a moving speech. (More details at the Campaign for the Court blog.) Dana Milbank notes that not long before said speech was made, Coburn was in his seat in the hearing room, working intently on a crossword puzzle. Quick reminder: Mr. Coburn is probably not the best person to be scolding politicians who thrive on divisivenes. At the beginning of a Salon.com story from a year ago is this mystifying quote from the senator: "The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country, and they wield extreme power ... That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today. Why do you think...

By Emily Messner | September 15, 2005; 10:38 AM ET | Comments (11)

Roberts: A Good Lawyer Can Argue Just About Anything

Time for another confession: I was a debater in college.* I spent pretty much every weekend at different universities, verbally abusing my peers. Parliamentary style. Please don't laugh. O.K., go ahead and laugh, but please, no rolling around on the floor. It's not that lame. The parliamentary debate format often requires participants to argue for a position they oppose or against a position they favor, and the best debaters can do this with strong logic and lots of passion. In practice, so can most skilled lawyers -- which is why it's not that difficult for me to believe that John G. Roberts's early writings aren't necessarily the best litmus test for his beliefs. As a lawyer working for the conservative Reagan administration, it would not be surprising if he tailored his memos to the stances of those for whom he was writing. Is it possible that he really did firmly...

By Emily Messner | September 15, 2005; 05:45 AM ET | Comments (4)

Voting for the Next Nominee

As Senate Democrats weigh the pros and cons of voting for John Roberts, one thing they'll have to consider is what ramifications their opposition might have on Bush's next Supreme Court nomination -- the one to fill Justice O'Connor's seat. Mark Tushnet argues that means they should vote no in order "to signal that the President ought to move toward the center with his nominees." Oh really? I'm not convinced. The president has a majority, so it's not as though he really needs the Democrats' votes. Further, if this confirmation process convinces Bush that the Democrats will not give him the satisfaction of being a consensus-builder, why should he bother to attempt to build a consensus over his second nominee? If he figures they will oppose anyone he puts up for O'Connor's seat, he might as well nominate someone who's as far to the right as his base desires. The...

By Emily Messner | September 14, 2005; 12:15 AM ET | Comments (13)

The Hearings: Party-Line Differences Without Partisan Rancor

Former Solicitor General Ted Olson writes in the Wall Street Journal that judicial confirmation hearings "now tend to combine the worst features of reality TV, professional wrestling and celebrity criminal trials." That's world-class sound bite material, but it seems a bit overblown, does it not? After watching the opening statements, I've yet to see a chair thrown. Did Sen. Schumer bodyslam John Roberts while I was away from my desk? As far as I know, nary a curse word has been bleeped. Or have I missed something? Olson laments that "prospective judges are probed, humiliated, scolded and scorned." The last three may happen when there are serious questions about a nominee's fitness for the position, and as for probing, isn't that only reasonable, when deciding whether to grant an individual a lifetime appointment? Yes, it is true that the Democrats are hoping to get more specific answers out of Roberts....

By Emily Messner | September 13, 2005; 05:00 AM ET | Comments (6)

Lessons and Blame

The Debate will be moving on to a new issue Monday -- the Roberts confirmation battle -- even though the debate over Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is clearly going to continue for a long, long time. Before we turn to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the complex politics of the Supreme Court. it's worth trying to briefly sum up what lessons are starting to emerge from the Gulf Coast disaster, as well as who at this point seems most deserving of blame for making things worse. Many columnists, editorial writers and bloggers are still grappling with one key Katrina question: Why did it take until the Friday after the storm had passed for substantial federal aid to arrive in hurricane devastated New Orleans, in spite of the fact that the president declared a state of emergency for Louisiana the Saturday before? An editorial in the Post points out that...

By Emily Messner | September 9, 2005; 07:00 PM ET | Comments (146)

Dealing With Disaster: When Optimism Makes Things Worse

When President Bush said he didn't think the New Orleans levees would give way last week, White House Briefing columnist Dan Froomkin promptly pointed to several reasons why the president should have known better. Bush's belief wasn't exactly surpising -- after all, this administration is nothing if not optimistic. (Remember the whole "Mission Accomplished" thing a couple years back?) [Update: Looks like the sunny outlook runs in the family.] But while I totally dig optimism, when it comes to disasters, governments must plan for the worst. Assuming the best can endanger people, a point made in a Saturday Toronto Globe and Mail editorial....

By Emily Messner | September 6, 2005; 09:00 AM ET | Comments (192)

Hurricane Katrina's Aftermath: Not the President's Finest Hour

Lots of comments this week. Some of you wrote with a sense of deep sadness, others wrote with anger, still others expressed a feeling of helplessness in the face of this overwhelming disaster. And then there were the few readers who inexplicably felt it necessary to post their thoughts on the color of my hair. (Seriously, guys, have you nothing better to do?) The issue that seemed to spark the most debate -- judging by my unscientific perusal of the comments -- involved the preparations for and initial response to this deadly hurricane. Because this subject is so huge, I'm going to break it up into four posts. This one takes a political perspective, jumping off from several readers' comments that President Bush has not taken the catastrophe seriously enough. Then comes a reality check: Why optimism and disaster response planning don't mix. Next up is a question: Are we...

By Emily Messner | September 5, 2005; 05:00 AM ET | Comments (59)

Hurricane Katrina:Terrorism! The View From Washington

If you haven't already read Eric Holdeman's op-ed in Tuesday's Post, I promise it's worth a look. I mentioned it in this week's main entry, but I think the piece raises a key issue that deserves a post of its own. America, Holdeman argues, is not well enough prepared for natural disasters because much of the funding and attention has been shifted to preparing for a terrorist attack. He contends that things really started going downhill after 9/11 when the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security subsumed the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (Holdeman likens DHS to the Borg collective; I can't help but picture Tom Ridge, stomping from agency to agency, pointing his robotic arm at various undersecretaries and barking, "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated." That's an image that won't leave me any time soon.) At a subcommittee hearing in March of last year, when the House was debating...

By Emily Messner | September 1, 2005; 09:00 AM ET | Comments (61)

Bush Takes Time Off From Vacation to Respond to Hurricane

A quick review: Saturday: Katrina is a Category 3 hurricane. President Bush declares a state of emergency for Louisiana. Sunday: It's becoming clearer by the minute that this hurricane is going to be big, big trouble. It has strengthened to Category 5 and covers a big chunk of the Gulf of Mexico. Traffic is jammed for miles as residents flee the coastal areas. The word "catastrophic" is being used without any trace of hyperbole. Monday: The hurricane hits. Homes turn to rubble. Curtains billow out of skyscrapers' shattered windows. Streets flood. Millions lose power. Approximately 10,000 people are holed up in the Superdome, which is losing chunks of roof as the storm swirls. Police report looting in Gulfport. A break is found in a New Orleans levee. At least 50 are confirmed dead in Mississippi alone and the toll is expected to rise. Tuesday: Two levees have been breached. Floodwaters...

By Emily Messner | September 1, 2005; 05:00 AM ET | Comments (162)

 

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