The big question in the 2010 Florida Senate race, where moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist has just declared his candidacy for his open GOP-held seat, is just how much of a frontrunner he is -- and whether the GOP primary could get messy.
For example, the conservative blog RedState.com is already telling readers to not give any support to the NRSC because of their immediate endorsement of Crist: "We can disagree with the NRSC on many things, but this one is a bridge too far." And the Club For Growth is calling on Crist to reject a state budget plan that includes tax and fee increases.
A Florida Democratic source confidently predicted to me that Crist, who supported the stimulus bill and has taken other moderate positions, will face a divisive primary against former state House speaker Marco Rubio, running on the right. "It's already happening," the Dem source said. "Before he [Crist] was even in the race, his last campaign manager and former chief of staff was already taking shots at Rubio, and Rubio obviously took a lot of shots at him yesterday. So it's already ugly. They're not even waiting."
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) has just announced via press release that she is running for governor of this big swing state in 2010.
Sink had previously a top choice of national Democrats to run for the Senate seat now held by retiring GOPer Mel Martinez, but she passed up the race in January. Now with Gov. Charlie Crist (R) running for Senate, Sink has thrown her name into the governor's race.
There is going to be a whole lot of movement in Florida's statewide offices now, with a Senator retiring, a governor running for Senate, and the other statewide officers running for governor or other state positions.
As I reported below, Senate Republicans have blocked, for now, the confirmation of David Hayes as Undersecretary for the Interior. The vote was 57-39, with Reid voting with the minority for procedural reasons. Here's the roll call. Sixty votes were required to move the nomination forward.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) voted for cloture. Presumably for procedural reasons, so did Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Senate Minority Whip. But Sens. Kerry (D-MA), Kennedy (D-MA), and Mikulski (D-MD) didn't vote at all. If they'd been around this morning, the Democrats might have had the votes. Kennedy has missed a number of votes for health reasons, but where were Kerry and Mikulski?
Late update: Kerry is apparently in Massachusetts at the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq.
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.)