Archive for March, 2010
A couple of weeks ago Senator Judd Gregg was one of the more vocal Republican Senators objecting to the Democratic majority’s planned use of reconciliation to pass health care reform. It didn’t take long for Senate Democrats to pull this video from the C-Span archives:
The internet’s an amazing thing, eh?
Anyway, once this video surfaced, Gregg took hits from all over… Rachel Maddow and the liberal blogosphere simply eviscerated him. The Senator has always been approachable and amenable to questions when I had them, and since I hadn’t seen any kind of response from his office re: the hypocrisy charge, I thought I’d ask him what his thoughts were. Here’s his response:
The Miller Center invited infamous torture memo author John Yoo to speak. I documented the atrocities (no pun intended).
The crowd was mixed. If I had to guess, I’d suggest that 15-20% of the audience was there to protest his presence. About 50-60% seemed to be “big fans”. The rest seemed ambivalent or just plain curious.
My impression of Yoo was that he is probably quite brilliant, he harbors a deep contempt for the drecks of society (many of which adore him) that is matched only by his loathing of those that take issue with his “work,” and he is triumphant that his pedigree and station in life have earned him legal immunity (at least here in the US) for his war crimes. Moreover, he really doesn’t care about strange people in far-away places.
His was there to talk about his book. The problem was, a lot of people were there to talk about morality vs. his justification for torture. His fan-boys didn’t care what he came to talk about; they just wanted his critics to shut the hell up.
Yoo promised to spend a significant amount of time answering questions. Well, he did that, but ultimately, he ended up answering very few. Instead, he filibustered and evaded the tough questions he was asked and seemed to enjoy doing it. For those of us waiting for something of substance, it was pretty tiresome, then frustrating and ultimately, infuriating.
I left the conference feeling like I had just spent hours with a rich-kid rapist who knows he’s going to get away with it. “Smarmy” doesn’t seem to be a sufficient descriptor of Yoo’s demeanor when you realize that his torture victims provided much of the false intelligence that Cheney and crew used to push the country into the war in Iraq. If you’ve seen Inglorious Basterds, call to mind the German Jew-Hunter’s disposition. That’s John Yoo. No shame, no regrets, and a sick way of reveling in his immunity from judgment. It’s cliche, but after sitting across from him and watching him answer questions, the thought that kept repeating in my head was, “the banality of evil”.
Here are the videos I recorded from the event. For the most part, I’ve skipped over his whimsical speech about strong Presidents and their seizing of executive power; the argument falls apart when you realize that that kind of power in the hands of an incompetent President like George Bush is the greatest existential threat to the well-being of the Republic. The founders provided a strong system of checks and balances for some pretty damned good reasons.
One thing that isn’t found in the videos below is Yoo’s treatment of Jon Stewart. He ridiculed Stewart’s (young) audience for getting their news from a comedy show and, with a wink and a nod to the elders in the crowd, all-but suggested that the liberal streak running through today’s foolish youth (that voted for Obama) can be attributed to their less than serious approach to informing themselves. Of course, he doesn’t mention that Stewart’s viewers are better informed than Fox News viewers (that filled his audience) or most other news consumers.
Anyway, here are the videos:
I didn’t do much with Republicans. It just wasn’t their day.
I had heard a rumor that since the world was coming to an end if health care passed, Republicans were going to try to avoid all the drama by holding a mass-suicide event immediately after the vote. I asked Jason Chaffetz about that.
A while later, I was standing near the tunnel that leads from Cannon to the Capitol when Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, a very liberal Democrat and (former?) pastor, walked by. He ran into Rep. Hensarling, a conservative’s conservative. I witnessed them speak for about 3-4 minutes and wondered if they were talking about the spitting incident (Cleaver had been spat upon by a tea-partier the day before). I decided to ask about it:
Everybody knows by now that the House passed health care yesterday. I spent the evening, beginning at around 8 PM, speaking with a number of Reps from both sides of the aisle. Here are the Democrats in the order I interviewed them:
Jerry Nadler, a leader amongst progressives:
Donna Edwards (a rising star in the progressive caucus):
Kathy Castor, from Tampa Bay, Fl:
John Garamendi, former insurance commissioner, energy expert and strong progressive from California. When I was stringing for FDL, Garamendi made a point to stop and thank me for the work FDL was doing to whip on health care.
Tom Perriello: widely percieved to be one of the most threatened Democrats in the country; his distinction is his strong claim to “conviction politics”. A few months ago he told his supporters and opponents alike that he didn’t run for office to be re-elected. Instead, he’s there to make a difference by doing the right thing. His district is one of the “reddest” House seats held by a Democrat, but don’t tell him that!
BTW, that’s a cheering crowd you hear in the background – they weren’t protesters!
Immediately after I spoke with Congressman Perriello, we walked back to the House office buildings. Earlier, the Congressman told me that he had taken a lot of heat from protesters and it wasn’t much fun. So when I heard a crowd chanting, I assumed it was more protesters and tried to walk the Congressman to the other side of the street. But then I heard what they were saying: “Yes we did! Yes we did!” Hundreds of people were cheering the passage of health care! We ended up crossing the street again and walking through the folks whose support was so crucial throughout the process. For once, Congressman Perriello (and other Democrats, including Alan Grayson!) got to hear a lot of “Thank You”s and “You Rock”s:
Yesterday I wrote about the procedural obstruction in th Senate as it pertains to the confirmation of judges. In a nutshell, I pointed out that forming a new “Gang of 14″ would be useless; that the only thing that would help get Obama’s nominees confirmed in a timely manner would be to deploy the nuclear option.
That’s because one Senator, as we saw with Jim Bunning, can shut down the entire chamber for almost a full week if they oppose a vote. The Senator refuses to join a “unanimous consent” motion and triggers a thirty hour period of debate before the Senate can vote to have a vote. Once that hurdle is cleared, there’s another 30 hours of debate before the final up or down vote can occur. So one judge, not counting committee hearings, etc, can take up 60 hours of Senate floor time. And since Republicans have been in the minority, that has been the norm.
Well, after nearly a year of this, Democrats are growing pretty tired of it. For a while now, we’ve been hearing things about filibuster reform, but for the most part, the calls have come from more liberal Senators like Harkin, Durbin and Schumer.
Well… Filibuster reform is not just for “radicals” anymore. Kent Conrad, a conservative Democrat by any measure, joins the chorus:
LA Times has the story:
An early chance for the Obama administration to reshape the nation’s judiciary — and counter gains made in the federal courts by conservatives — appears close to slipping away, due to a combination of White House inattention and Republican opposition.
During President Obama’s first year, judicial nominations trickled out of the White House at a far slower pace than in President George W. Bush’s first year. Bush announced 11 nominees for federal appeals courts in the fourth month of his tenure. Obama didn’t nominate his 11th appeals court judge until November, his 10th month in office.
Moreover, Obama nominees are being confirmed at a much slower rate than those of his predecessor, largely because of the gridlocked Senate.
Key slots stand without nominees, including two on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the body that reviews decisions by federal agencies and a court that is considered second in importance only to the Supreme Court. Federal judicial vacancies nationwide have mushroomed to well over 100, with two dozen more expected before the end of the year. To date, the Obama administration has nominees for just 52 of those slots, and only 17 have been confirmed.
Judge confirmations have become like any other piece of legislation on the Hill. Democrats argue that the GOP leadership is requiring time-consuming cloture votes — motions to cut off debate that need 60 votes to pass and then often require hours of floor time to be spent before a final vote can be taken — on judges that are unopposed.
Earlier this month, Republicans required a cloture vote on Barbara Keenan, a nominee to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. After that vote, Keenan was confirmed by a 99-0 tally.
By contrast, more than half of Bush’s judicial nominees were confirmed by voice vote or unanimous consent. Democrats consented to their confirmation without requiring time to be spent on a roll-call vote on the Senate floor.
Republicans counter that if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House believed judges to be a priority, they would use their clout to push them through. Reid controls the Senate calendar.
But a spokesman for Reid, Jim Manley, rejected that notion, saying the necessary cloture votes would chew up time on a Senate calendar already under duress from healthcare and jobs bills.
So the idea here is that Republicans are filibustering virtually every nomination. When that occurs, Harry Reid has to invoke cloture, which tolls a 30 hour clock, during which no other Senate business can be done. Once the thirty hours is expired, the Senate has a cloture vote and if there are 60 votes, cloture is invoked and the filibuster is ended. But ending the filibuster tolls another 30 hour clock which also keeps the Senate from doing other business. At the end of that 30 hours the Senate finally moves to an up-or-down vote.
So what’s happening is that Republicans are using this process to stall everything. An incredible number of votes – on nominees and substantive legislation – have been stalled in this way. That forces Harry Reid to prioritize. He can use 60 hours of floor time to pass a single judge, or he can use it to pass health care and jobs bills. And given that there are scores of judges awaiting confirmation, it probably won’t be possible to get more than a couple of dozen confirmed before Obama’s term expires. Unless…
Remember the “nuclear option” Majority Leader Frist threatened back in 2005? It would have done away with the minority party’s right to filibuster judicial nominees. In response to the threat, 7 Senators of each party joined to form the “Gang of 14″ and put out a statement saying they wouldn’t support filibusters of judges absent extraordinary circumstances. The agreement lasted for one session; it expired after the 2006 elections.
Could a new “gang of 14″ work today? Actually, no, a new agreement wouldn’t be helpful here; only pressing the nuclear option button could break the logjam. The reason for that is that all the gang did was promise to vote for cloture on judges (absent “extraordinary circumstances”). And as far as I know, none of Obama’s judges have been successfully filibustered; they’ve just faced cloture votes which, as previously explained, require 30 hours of dedicated floor time both before and after the cloture vote. A promise not to filibuster means only that the cloture vote would be overcome; the 60 votes would be there to get the judge an up-or-down vote. But there’d be nothing to stop, say, Jim Bunning (or any other single Senator), from filibustering and triggering the cloture vote process.
That’s why the nuclear option – taking away the filibuster for judges – is crucial to moving nominees.
I’m going to start asking about this in the coming days.
I went to the Hill because I often witnessed things that were simply inexplicable to me. How could Republicans vote against armor for our troops in Iraq? How could they vote to cut their pay while they were in the middle of a war? How could they vote against Senator Franken’s anti-rape amendment?
This is another of those issues.
THE PREVENTING HARMFUL RESTRAINT AND SECLUSION IN SCHOOLS ACT…. H.R. 4247, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, seemed like the kind of legislation that would enjoy broad support.
It focuses on school safety, and seeks to protect children from “physical or mental abuse,” and would ensure that “physical restraint and seclusion” of children would be limited to instances in which “a student’s behavior poses an imminent danger of physical injury” to the student or others. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), co-chair of the House Republican Conference, which should have bolstered the bill’s bipartisan appeal.
You’d expect something like this to breeze through the House, but you’d be wrong. In the age of the Tea Party, even the most uncontroversial of legislative proposals are attacked by many Republicans in order to shore up their anti-statist bona fides. The majority of the Republican caucus voted against H.R. 4247 on the premise that issues of school safety is best left alone for the states to decide.
Here’s Roe on his vote against the bill:
Honestly, I thought it’d be in his best interest to settle the outstanding questions, and I told him as much. He disagreed with me.
I simply do not understand this. If there is nothing to hide… if there is “no there there”, why wouldn’t he embrace the chance to answer his critics charges? As it is, he’s under a cloud of suspicion.
He’s not gay.