The State Department (finally) has a new legal adviser. Harold Koh was confirmed by the Senate this afternoon by a vote of 62-35.
That's actually a slightly narrower margin than he received on the cloture vote that ended the filibuster on his nomination. That vote was 65-31, indicating that a small handful of senators didn't support the filibuster, but then voted against confirmation. We'll track down who those senators are once the roll call goes live. Their precedent is one that supporters of Justice Department nominee Dawn Johnsen have been hoping for for months. But at least for the time being it seems as if very few of her opponents are willing to at least support giving her an up or down vote.
Late update: Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Judd Gregg (R-NH) voted to end the filibuster on Koh, and then voted against his confirmation.
Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie was called of the campaign trail today, where he is the Republican nominee for Governor of New Jersey and is running ahead of the Democratic incumbent in the polls, for a special engagement in Washington -- to be grilled by House Democrats in a committee hearing over his having awarded a contract to former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
At issue here is Christie's negotiation of what are called "deferred prosecution agreements" (DPAs), under which corporations who got in trouble could avoid prosecution by agreeing to hire special monitors to force corrective actions and provide oversight. For example, a medical device company would make restitution to consumers for liability cases, without going through the sort of more grueling legal processes that would potentially hurt business and cost jobs.
At a hearing today of the House Judiciary Committee's Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee, Democrats aired e-mails from one company, Zimmer Holdings, complaining that John Ashcroft's firm was demanding an exorbitant amount of money. Christie and the GOP, meanwhile, charged that the whole thing was a political stunt.
Speaking moments ago to a large and animated crowd of union organizers and health reform advocates in a brewing house just North of the Capitol, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) said he supports a public insurance option.
"Schumer has it right about having a public component," Specter said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has taken a lead role on negotiations over the public option in the Senate Finance Committee, and earlier this year proposed a compromise: the committee's health care bill should include a public plan, he said, but one that competes on a level playing field with other insurers. Such an entity wouldn't be able to use its sheer size to set prices the way Medicare does--but it could nonetheless incur savings in a host of other ways, and in so doing drive down the cost of health insurance in the private market.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the Schumer proposal is in line with the principles of the major reform campaign Health Care for America Now--and, as such, just about every major health care and labor organization in the country.
Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA), whose conservative primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter triggered the incumbent's shocking party switch, is building up further momentum towards the GOP nomination, with this campaign announcing the endorsement of Congressman Joe Pitts.
"Pat Toomey is the right candidate. No one else comes close," Pitts says in the press release, later adding: "A lot of politicians have lost credibility in recent years. Pat Toomey isn't one of them. Pat has good ideas that he actually believes in, and he will work hard to make people's lives better."
The Republican Party establishment briefly went looking for other possible candidates, but prospective recruits like former Gov. Tom Ridge or Rep. Jim Gerlach all bowed out. As it now stands, Specter is facing a Democratic primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak -- but we can be pretty sure that the winner of the Dem primary will have Pat Toomey as his general election opponent.
On his radio show today, Rush Limbaugh offered his own explanation for the Mark Sanford scandal: That Sanford flew out of the country to have an affair because President Obama drove him over the edge:
"This is almost like, 'I don't give a damn, the country's going to Hell in a handbasket, I just want out of here,'" said Limbaugh. "He had just tried to fight the stimulus money coming to South Carolina. He didn't want any part of it. He lost the battle. He said, 'What the Hell. I mean, I'm -- the federal government's taking over -- what the Hell, I want to enjoy life.'"
"The point is," he added, "there are a lot of people whose spirit is just -- they're fed up, saying to Hell with it, I don't even want to fight this anymore, I just want to get away from it."
A new InsiderAdvantage poll finds that 50% of South Carolina's registered voters want Gov. Mark Sanford (R) to resign, in the wake of his disappearance to Argentina and his subsequent admission of an extramarital affair, with 42% opposed.
The option of impeachment by the legislature gets a little less support, with 45% in favor to 46% against, within the Â±3.2% margin of error.
Republicans oppose impeachment 63%-32%, Democrats favor it 71%-21%, and independents oppose it 49%-35%. Republicans oppose resignation by a 56%-38% margin, Democrats favor it 70%-20%, while independents narrowly oppose it by 45.3%-44.7%.
A new Franklin & Marshall poll shows that Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), who switched parties in late April in order to avoid a likely defeat in the Republican primary, has low ratings with both parties' voters now.
The numbers: Only 28% of registered voters say he deserves another term, to 57% who say it's time for a change. Back in March, before there was any widespread notion that he would switch parties, this question yielded a much healthier (though still not great) answer of 40%-46%.
In a Democratic primary between Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak, the big winner is... "undecided," with 48%, while Specter is at 33% and Sestak has 13%.
"I think what he's got going is the worst of both worlds," said pollster Terry Madonna. "Republicans have fallen away from him because he left his party, and Democrats are unhappy with him for lots of different reasons."
Former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is running a conservative insurgent campaign for U.S. Senate in the Republican primary against moderate Gov. Charlie Crist, just picked up an endorsement from Florida Congressman Jeff Miller.
The GOP establishment, from the national party in Washington to most of the major elected officials in Florida, have all lined up behind Crist. The governor has a big lead in all the polls and is viewed as a more electable candidate, but some conservatives are trying to mobilize support for a more right-wing choice -- particularly in light of Crist's endorsement of the stimulus bill, and moderation on other issues.
"This race has tremendous implications for the future of Florida and the very foundation of conservatism in America," Miller said in a statement -- making it clear that this race will pit a GOP establishment that hopes to field more electable candidates, as they perceive it, against some in the party base who want to take a harder and harder line.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is taking her refusal to fully fill out her Census form, which is a crime punishable by a $5,000 fine, to a whole new level: Invoking the memory of the Japanese internment during World War II, and the evil role that the Census played in it!
During an interview this morning on Fox News, Bachmann mostly focused on the danger of her personal information falling into the hands of the dreaded menace ACORN. But at one point, she made a very interesting appeal to history:
"Take this into consideration. If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that's how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps," said Bachmann. "I'm not saying that that's what the Administration is planning to do, but I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up, in a violation of their constitutional rights, and put the Japanese in internment camps."
At this point even Megyn Kelly, who had been gladly dishing out the anti-ACORN talk along with Bachmann, had to take a step back and raise the point that the Japanese internment was a long time ago and we haven't had such abuses since then.
For some context on how this fits into Bachmann's overall worldview, keep in mind that she's previously warned of the threat of "re-education camps" where young people would be indoctrinated into the government's official philosophy.
As I noted on Tuesday, MoveOn.org is pointing its cannons at Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) for remarks she made over the weekend, calling the prospects for a broad health care overhaul into doubt. Now the group is airing a television ad in California criticizing her statements and calling on her to stop "dragging her heels" on the issue.