The Republicans have filibustered the nomination of David Hayes to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior. The move comes after Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) had put a hold on Hayes, supposedly because of the Obama Interior Department's decision to cancel oil and gas leases in Utah.
Holds, though, are informal--honored as a matter of courtesy within the Senate--and it seems like what happened is that the GOP blocked cloture in order to ensure that Bennett's hold wasn't ignored. We'll have more for you on that later today, but Bennett himself has said he'd lift the hold and vote for Hayes if and when the Interior Department addresses the cancellation of those leases.
The final tally was 57-39, with 60 votes required to end debate. CNN reported that if Hayes' nomination couldn't overcome this procedural hurdle, it would fail. But that's not necessarily true. Among the 39 senators voting to filibuster Hayes was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid--not, of course, because he opposes Hayes, but because it keeps Hayes' chances alive. That vote will allow him to bring the issue back to the floor at a later date when, presumably, the conflict is resolved.
The group American Rights at Work is targeting Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) with a new ad asking whether he'll stand "with Obama, Biden, and the working families of Pennsylvania, or with greedy CEOs and big business lobbyists" on Employee Free Choice.
"We hope Senator Specter will join the President and the majority of Congress who understand that if we truly wish to restore our middle class, workers must be able to bargain, not borrow their way to a better life," said Kimberly Freeman, Acting Executive Director of ARW.
The ad is among the first to target Specter on any issue since he switched parties last month, and by far the most explicit. In recent days, progressive groups have seemingly demonstrated a renewed willingness to target conservative Democrats. Earlier this spring a variety of campaigns aimed at pressuring House Blue Dogs and their Senate counterparts were scrapped (or all-but scrapped) after party leaders said the initiatives weren't helping.
Specter cosponsored the Employee Free Choice Act last Congress, but reneged that support this spring when, as a Republican, he faced a 2010 primary challenge from conservative Pat Toomey. Now, as a Democrat, he's supposedly working toward a compromise with the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA).
House Energy and Commerce chair, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), says he now has the votes necessary to move his climate change legislation out of committee next week. It has faced stiff opposition from--surprise!--industry, Republicans, and Blue Dog Democrats, and, after a momentous roll out, Waxman was ultimately forced to delay action on the bill for more than a week.
Now, thanks to a series of significant concessions, he says he's confident it will move forward after the committee holds a series of hearings starting this week. According to Roll Call, "Waxman had to compromise with Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) on one of his key goals --the overall level of carbon reductions by 2020."
Waxman had wanted a 20 percent cut; Boucher has worried such a steep cut would outpace the development of new technologies like carbon capture from coal-fired power plants. They settled on a 17 percent cut instead.
Waxman also agreed to give utilities free initial allocations on nearly all of their emissions. Boucher had sought to give utilities the credits to avoid rate hikes for consumers.
The Energy Committee chairman added that details have not yet been worked out on all of the allocations, including those for refineries, but said he expected that they would be reached quickly.
Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA), whose conservative primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter triggered Specter's switch from the GOP to the Democratic Party, has a new op-ed piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, arguing that the GOP is in fact a big tent for people who believe in freedom. But, he says, it's Arlen Specter who doesn't fit in with this overarching theme of freedom:
Arlen Specter never believed in limiting the power of government and defending the freedom of the individual. As long as he is wielding the levers of power, he wants that power to grow. His active cooperation with the current regime's massive expansion of government power was the straw that broke the camel's back for Pennsylvania Republicans. Or perhaps the last tearing of the fabric of freedom of the Republican tent.
That's the reason Mr. Specter fit so uncomfortably in the Republican tent. But for all of those out there who share the desire for more personal freedom and a less intrusive and growing government in Washington, the Republican Party's tent has the welcome mat out for you.
It's been clear for weeks now that Senate leadership hadn't brought the question of confirming Dawn Johnsen--the President's nominee to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel--to a vote on the floor because he hasn't had the votes. Sen. Harry Reid's office never said as much, but how else to explain that other, less critical nominations were moving and not hers?
Last night Reid made it explicit. "Right now we're finding out when to do that," Reid said, according to Roll Call. "We need a couple Republican votes until we can get to 60."
Right now there are 59 Democrats in the caucus. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) has said he's "concerned" about her nomination, but his office strongly suggested to me that he'd vote for cloture on her confirmation. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) has said he "opposes" Johnsen, but hasn't answered the cloture question thusfar. Republican Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), though, says he supports her. Assuming Nelson's cloture vote really will be there, but that Specter will continue his...unpredictable streak, that means Democrats need one more Republican to get behind her.
For what it's worth, the Senators from Maine haven't responded to my repeated requests for comment on this question.
Judiciary Subcommittee Holding Torture Memos Hearing Today
Capitol Hill is set to hold the first hearing on the torture memos today, with a 10 a.m. ET hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts. The meeting is entitled, "What Went Wrong: Torture and the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush Administration," and witnesses will include former FBI supervisory special agent Ali Soufan, former State Department counselor Phillip Zelikow, and others.
Obama's Day Ahead
President Obama and Vice President Biden will meet at 9:30 a.m. ET with some top House Democrats: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Reps. Charlie Rangel (NY), Henry Waxman (CA) and George Miller (CA). Obama will deliver a statement at 10 a.m. ET. At 11:15 a.m. ET, Obama and Biden will meet with top Senators of both parties to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy: Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, and ranking Judiciary Republican Jeff Sessions. Obama and Biden will have lunch at 1 p.m. ET. Obama will depart the White House at 4:15 p.m. ET, and at 9:10 p.m. ET he will deliver the commencement address at Arizona State University.
I wrote a bit skeptically about yesterday's White House health care event. In a broad sense, even if the administration did move the ball forward, it was a small advancement through the legislative minefield comprehensive health reform will no doubt prove to be.
But could the event, in and of itself, have actually been a setback? When the health care fight kicks off on the Hill, one of the major points of friction will be the issue of a public insurance option. Commercial health care interests oppose it. Republicans oppose it. Several Democrats oppose a serious version of it. But, in the minds of reformers, it's a crucial element of real progress. Without a public option--an affordable health care plan, run and subsidized by the government--insurers and other interests will have little incentive to cut costs and waste such that private plans will be affordable to all consumers.
Yesterday, those interests came together and pledged to shave 1.5 percent a year off the approximately six percent a year annual growth in health care costs. That's not unsubstantial--if they really follow through they'll save people about $2 trillion over the next 10 years. (More accurately, if they follow through, health care costs will grow by $2 trillion less than they would have in absence of any reforms.)
Appearing on Fox News with Neil Cavuto, former Vice President Dick Cheney strongly responded to those who have criticized him for his public campaign against the Obama administration's decisions about interrogation/torture programs.
"Well, I don't pay a lot of attention to what the critics say, obviously," said Cheney. "I - from my standpoint, the notion that I should remain silent while they go public, that I shouldn't say anything while they threaten to disbar the lawyers who gave us the advice that was crucial in terms of this program, that I shouldn't say anything when they go out and release information that they believe is critical of the program, and critical of our policies but refuse to put out information that would show the results that we're able to achieve -- bottom line is we successfully defended the nation for seven and half years against a follow-on attack to 9/11. That was a remarkable achievement, nobody would have thought that was possible, but it was. I believe it was possible because of the policies we had in place, which they're now dismantling."
Former Gov. Jesse Ventura (Independence Party-MN) appeared on Larry King Live last night, and he had some choice words for former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), the man that he defeated in the race for governor back in 1998:
Ventura said that the legal process in Minnesota is working out as it's supposed to be -- but at the same time it looks like Al Franken is the winner, and any federal appeal by Coleman should be thrown out.
King asked whether Ventura criticizes Coleman: "Well I criticize him only that Coleman's always been a hypocrite. He never does what he says," Ventura responded. "He said Election Night, when he won, that Franken should drop out, and he should be the Senator. Well, then the same should hold true after the recount."
Former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is running a conservative primary challenge in the Republican Senate primary against moderate Gov. Charlie Crist, is all set to use Crist's support for the stimulus bill against him. Rubio now has this new Web ad, tying Crist directly to President Obama:
As Greg Sargent says: "It isn't every day that a politician seeks to turn a race into a referendum on his opponent's support for a President with an approval rating in the 60s, but these aren't ordinary times for today's GOP."
Obama might be popular with most Americans right now, but he's unpopular with the people who count in this race: The folks who will be voting in that Republican primary.