I mentioned earlier that we'd be closely following today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of Harold Koh to be State Department Legal Adviser. But then--well, you know. I haven't forgotten, though, and here's a bit of an update.
You can read the prepared statements from committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), ranking member Richard Lugar (R-IN), and Koh himself (all PDFs) here. However, if you're in the mood for some slightly denser, but more interesting reading, check out this Q&A. Lugar asked Koh a bunch of questions for the record (including on such hot-button issues as "transnational justice") in advance of the hearing and Koh responded in full last week.
A committee source says Lugar set a cordial and laudatory tone in his opening statement, and suspects that he will vote to move Koh's nomination out of committee when it meets to discuss business a week from today.
Al Franken's campaign seems to be playing it cool regarding the ramifications for them of Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party -- that if Franken is seated, he would officially be the 60th Dem in the Senate, seriously raising the stakes of this whole fight.
I asked Team Franken for comment about Specter's switch, and the prospects of being that 60th Democrat. Spokesman Andy Barr told me: "Sen.-elect Franken looks forward to working with Senators of both parties to make progress on President Obama's agenda and move our country forward."
Al Franken might be looking forward to working with Senators of both parties, but chances are the Senators of the other party aren't looking forward to working with him -- or too eager to even let him have that chance.
In a very interesting moment at his press conference today, Arlen Specter showed that he remains in many ways a small-c conservative -- it's just that he's not a complete and utter right-winger.
Specter railed against his former compatriots in the Republican Party for not supporting moderates, and being in the thrall of the Club For Growth, the right-wing group that was working to defeat him in the 2010 primary:
Republicans didn't rally to Wayne Gilchrest in Maryland -- he was beaten by the Club For Growth and the far right -- and lost the general election. Republicans didn't rally to the banner of Joe Schwarz in Michigan -- he was beaten by a conservative and the Club For Growth -- and they lost the general election. Republicans didn't rally to Heather Wilson in New Mexico last year, and she was beaten in a primary, and lost in the general election. The Club For Growth challenged Linc Chafee -- remember Linc Chafee? -- they made him spend all his money in the primary, and he lost the general. And had Linc Chafee been elected in 2006, the Republicans would have controlled the Senate in 2007 and '8, and I would have been chairman of a committee.
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) has released on official statement on the news that Sen. Arlen Specter has become a Democrat. To wit:
This shows the principle rule of politics: tomorrow is always another day -- as today was. This may be good for Arlen, politically; however, two key questions need to be answered. First, after 31 years in the military, I learned that you run for something, not against someone. Arlen has made a decision to leave a race because he could not win against someone. What needs to be known is what he is running for. Second, I watched then-Gov. Clinton and then-Sen. Obama take a leadership position in the Democratic Party and shape it. The leadership that would have been most impressive would be if Arlen had used his role to reshape the Republican Party that he said he had entered when it was a 'big tent,' but now is leaving because it has gotten too small. In short, I believe that the principles of what he is running for and his commitment to accountable leadership are questions that still need to be addressed.
Tomorrow's another day indeed. Specter's indicating that nothing will change about his politics now that he's a Democrat. It remains to be seen whether that will be reflected in his voting record from this point forward. But Sestak's statement is a warning that he oughtn't rest on his Republican laurels.
In recent weeks, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) has become one of the most visible figures in Pennsylvania politics, and his star is still rising. We noted a couple weeks ago that, in a number of ways, Sestak would be well positioned to run for Senate in 2010, but he's said all along that he's happy serving in the House and has no intention of attempting a switch.
Now, of course, the landscape is completely changed. And whether Sestak throws his hat in, or stays in the House, Pennsylvania Democrats will have to decide whether or not to embrace Democratic Senate candidate Arlen Specter. On that question, Sestak's saying 'not'--at least for now. Watch:
Sen. Joe Lieberman (Democrat-turned-Independent Democrat, Connecticut) put out this statement welcoming Sen. Arlen Specter (Republican-turned-Democrat, Pennsylvania) to the Dem caucus:
"I enthusiastically welcome my good friend Arlen Specter into the Democratic caucus. It will be very good to have the company of yet another independent minded Democrat in the caucus!
"I have always admired Arlen as a man of deep principle who has been a bridge builder to get things done in the Senate. Arlen understands that we get things accomplished when we listen to the vital center of American politics. I know that Arlen will continue to make a major contribution to the Senate and the nation as an effective independent leader and problem solver."
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), ranking member on the Budget Committee, has an interesting position on the question of passing legislation through the budget reconciliation process. That is to say, he unequivocally opposes the procedure in all circumstances (unless those circumstances involve Republican agenda items like tax cuts). We've tracked his swings here pretty thoroughly, and noticed that he was at it again today on Fox News. Watch:
At his press conference just now, Sen. Arlen Specter (RD-PA) had a brief answer to the question of whether he now supported Dawn Johnsen's nomination to be chief of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. In short, no.
Now, there's a familiar vagueness to the question, and therefore to the answer. Specter said he "opposes" Johnsen, but, as with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), that doesn't mean he'll vote to filibuster her nomination. We'll get a clearer answer on that question as soon as possible.
Late update: Specter's staff has no updates on the senator's position on cloture, but more details could be forthcoming soon.
At his press conference just now, Arlen Specter said bluntly that he was switching parties because of the serious prospect of losing his primary and he also said he will not be voting for cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act.
Specter said he supported the stimulus bill because he did not want to risk another 1929-style depression. And afterwards, he said he travelled his state -- and looked at poll data with his campaign staff -- finding that his chances in the GOP primary were "bleak."
"I'm not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate," said Specter, "not prepared to have that record decided by that jury."
And he stressed his personal independence. "I note that some of the news stories since my statement was released this morning are taking a look at the 60th vote -- and I will not be an automatic 60th vote," said Specter. "And I would illustrate that by my position on employee's choice, also known as card check. I think it is a bad bill, and I'm opposed to it and would not vote to invoke cloture."
As I hinted at in my previous post, it will be interesting (and important) to see what happens to Specter vis-a-vis the Judiciary Committee. Will he simply move on to the other side of Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and become the committee's senior Democrat? Or will there be more complicated machinations. Did leadership offer him a sweet deal that hasn't yet been revealed? And what does this mean for, among other issues, the nomination of Dawn Johnsen?
We'll try to get answers for all of those questions for you, but for now, here's Leahy's statement on the news of the day.
Senator Specter called me this morning. He and I have been friends for 40 years. We first met when we were both young prosecutors. We have a particular friendship, and he wanted me to know before it became in the press.
In talking with him, I had the impression that he went through much the same that Jim Jeffords of Vermont did. I had the impression that Senator Specter had a feeling that the Republican Party, a great party in this country, had left him - not the other way around.
I know how hard he has agonized. I believe he's going to be happier.