In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) spoke last night at a dinner of the Foreign Policy Association, where he lambasted former Vice President Dick Cheney's speech last week for dishonestly claiming that the interrogation techniques he approved were not torture, and were not connected to Abu Ghraib -- saying that Cheney "bore false witness":



"I do so as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which recently completed an 18-month investigation into the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, and produced a 200-page bipartisan report, which gives the lie to Mr. Cheney's claims," said Levin. "I do so because if the abusive interrogation techniques that he champions, the face of which were the pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib, if they are once more seen as representative of America, our security will be severely set back."

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Let's begin this post with the caveat that Sonia Sotomayor is overwhelmingly likely to be confirmed as the Supreme Court's next Associate Justice.

That said, it'll still be fun--and possibly educational--to watch those few conservative Democrats (particularly Democrats from states with small Hispanic populations) who often tack right for electoral reasons, or who seem, from time to time, to take great joy in their own obstinance.

Here's what they've said so far, in official statements:

  • Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK): Nothing.


  • Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT): Nothing.


  • Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT): Nothing.


  • Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN): Nothing.


  • Sen. Blanch Lincoln (D-AR): Amid a mostly positive statement, "I believe the people of Arkansas and our nation deserve a Supreme Court Justice who is able to interpret and apply the law fairly without political favor or bias."

  • Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR): Judge Sonia Sotomayor has impeccable credentials and an extraordinary American story. It is also critically important that she possess the proper judicial temperament and the ability to be fair and impartial. I believe this criterion is essential; activist judges have no place on the highest court of the land. That's why I plan to carefully review Judge Sotomayor's judicial record and philosophy as the Senate confirmation process advances."


  • Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND): After praising her credentials and her intellect, Conrad added, for unclear reasons, "We need justices who will impartially interpret the law and the Constitution and have a record of sound judgment."


  • Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE): Nelson--who's been a bit...curmudgeonly about another Obama nominee, says he seeks judicial nominees who, "follow the law, rather than manipulate the law to promote an activist agenda." He says, "My main test has always been and remains: Will the nominee follow the law and not make law to fit his or her views?"


Of the senators on this list, only Baucus and Conrad were around to vote on Sotomayor last time she was a judicial nominee--and both supported her. We'll pay attention as their views evolve.

I just got off the phone with Lisa Navarrete, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, getting her take on Tom Tancredo's assertion that the longstanding Hispanic civil rights group is the "Latino KKK" and that their slogan is "All for the race, nothing for the rest."

"It's not the first time for Mr. Tancredo when he doesn't know what the heck he's talking about," said Navarrete. "I don't know what he bases the assertion on, since he didn't provide any facts or evidence to that effect, as to why he calls us the Latino KKK. But I can assure you our motto or logo as he phrased it, is not what he says it is. It's not the motto of any Latino group."

"We've urged the [Republican] party to not allow people like Tom Tancredo to dominate the debate, as he has on the immigration issue," she added. "And he has, and it's cost them."

According to Ryan Grim of The Huffington Post, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told a gathering of labor and health care advocates that he's now open to the idea of a public health insurance option.

"The good news for all sides involved is that he's open minded," said Barry Rubin, the former Executive Director for the Nebraska Democratic Party, who was in the meeting. "He's not closed minded about a public option."

Jane Kleeb, a top Democratic powerbroker in Nebraska, said Nelson's openness to a public option was the biggest takeaway from the meeting.

"He made it clear that he is open to the public option. That's not a line in the sand where he says it must be off the table for him to move forward on health care reform," she said.


That's a pretty abrupt about face. Just a couple weeks ago, he was perhaps the only member of the Democratic caucus who said he outright opposed the idea, calling it a "deal breaker."

Of course, it would've been difficult for Nelson to say he'd foreclosed on the issue in front of this particular audience. But that doesn't mean he hasn't genuinely changed his position.

The right-wing fear-mongering against Sonia Sotomayor just keeps getting more and more comical. The latest grievance is her membership in the National Council of La Raza, a large national organization that bills itself as "the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States."



Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who spent his career in Congress calling for a moratorium on immigration, appeared on CNN to lambaste Sotomayor for belonging to a group whose name would translate as "The Race," made the false claim that La Raza has the motto, "All for the race, nothing for the rest," and bashed it as being "a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses."

The KKK without the hoods or the nooses? Um, those hoods and nooses do make a really important difference!

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The news of Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak's intent to primary Sen. Arlen Specter may still be settling in among most Democrats and Republicans, but Sestak himself seems pretty comfortable with his transformation from possible, to all-but certain candidate.

"As important as the President's endorsement is, and who wouldn't want President Obama's endorsement, at the end of the day I don't believe that most voters vote because someone else endorsed someone," Sestak told Greg Sargent.

He's equally undeterred by the possibility that Specter will cut a deal with major unions whereby he supports a compromise on EFCA, and they endorse him. Sestak says he plans to run regardless.

Greg also reports that, according to Sestak, "the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had commissioned a poll testing him running against then-Republican Specter in a general election -- and that it showed Sestak winning."

Of course, a Democratic primary is a much different animal than a general election--but it's still a noteworthy finding.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is now saying the confirmation process for Sonia Sotomayor will likely have to wait much longer than President Obama wants -- going into September rather than happening before the August recess.

"My guess is that if you apply the same general standards as were applied to the Roberts and Alito nominations that probably it goes into the first part of September," Kyl told Fox News.

Simply put, this is baloney on multiple levels. For one thing, John Roberts was first nominated for the Supreme Court in late July 2005, then confirmed as Chief Justice in late September 2005 -- a period of just over two months. Alito took a bit longer, being nominated in late October 2005, and confirmed in late January 2006 -- a period of three months. Kyl is using these two examples to justify a period of nearly four months.

And by the way, the process in those two examples was especially convoluted due to unique circumstances. Roberts was originally nominated for Sandra Day O'Connor's seat, then was switched over to the Chief Justice post after William Rehnquist died. A search then began anew for the O'Connor seat, and Alito's confirmation probably got more scrutiny after the misfire of the Harriet Miers nomination.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the conservative group Americans For Prosperity has launched a letter-writing campaign to pressure Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) to oppose Democratic labor, energy, and health reform proposals. Unfortunately, they seem to have misspelled his name.



How embarrassing. One reader writes in to tell us that AFP is robocalling Pennsylvanians in an attempt to increase the number of signatures on a petition they plan to send him. I'm sure Senator "Spector" will carefully consider AFP's objections.

If your only source of news was cable television, you might think that the Senate was gearing up for an historic fight over a Supreme Court hopeful so out of the mainstream that it might be worth questioning the sanity of the President who nominated her.

The reality on the Hill is much less exciting than that. Most Republicans, I'm sure, don't really care for Sonia Sotomayor, but they're nonetheless preparing themselves for her eventual confirmation. And, for the most part, they're actually pretty sanguine about it.

Not so in the land of conservative activism. For weeks, members of a number of co-ordinated groups have been trying desperately to assure anyone in earshot that, by replacing one moderately liberal Justice with another, slightly more liberal Justice, Obama will ruin the country.

The most prominent face of this campaign is the legal counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, Wendy E. Long.

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So with Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) now gearing up to challenge party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary, what happens now to his House seat?

A Pennsylvania Democratic source says that state Rep. Bryan Lentz, an Iraq War veteran who had briefly run for the seat in 2006 before yielding to Sestak, will be in the race for sure. A Republican source points to Steven Welch, founder of biopharmaceutical manufacturing company Mitos Technologies, as a prospective candidate.

National Democrats feel reasonably optimistic about retaining the seat, as the district voted 56%-43% for Barack Obama. On the other hand, my GOP source does point out that it was closer in 2004, with Kerry winning it 53%-47%, and Republican Rep. Curt Weldon held the seat for quite a while before Sestak's win in 2006.

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