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What to make of

What to make of this New York Times article which says Tom Daschle assured George Bush that he'd get his nominees approved?

Bush Press Secy. Ari Fleischer quoted Daschle to that effect; and Daschle's office, according to the Times, didn't dispute it.

This is very choreographed, isn't it?

There's obviously some complicated footwork taking place here, especially considering the growing anti-Ashcroft mood in the Dem caucus. (See the article linked above for harsh words from Judiciary Committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein re: Ashcroft.)

The clearest explanation of what's going on here is that Daschle is signaling to Dems in and out of congress not to get their hopes up that Ashcroft is going to get filibustered.

But this still isn't the final word. Look who we're dealing with.

Hey look The Ashcrometer

Hey, look! The Ashcrometer just took a tumble from 82% chance of confirmation to 69%. Okay, okay, I admit, it's still pretty damn likely he gets confirmed. But the last few days have not been particularly good ones for Ashcroft.

The big news of course is that Democrats have forced a delay of at least one week in a vote on Ashcroft. The New York Times came out strongly against the nomination. And there are some rumors swirling around Capitol Hill about possible surprises. But I don't expect anything on that front.

But the real issue is a simple hardening of resolve on the part of the Democratic caucus. Evan Bayh's stated opposition to the nomination probably brings with it most of the other Democrats who have even the slightest thoughts of running for president in four years. (Joe Biden was on Hardball this evening and left little doubt he was voting against.) The number of announced 'no' votes is currently six. But the actual number of assured 'no' votes is probably closer to 25. (One senate staffer told me yesterday that after the Democrats' caucus meeting yesterday his senator thought the Dems would do well to get 25 'no' votes against Ashcroft. But that doesn't sound right to me. Also, expect some high profile announcements next Tuesday.)

On the other hand several key Senators who seem inclined to vote against Ashcroft's nomination have stated publicly that they won't support a filibuster. Among others, these include Pat Leahy, Jean Carnahan and Tom Daschle.

So why the delay? Hard to tell. The best answer I can come up with is that you've got a number of senators who are truly undecided and find themselves in an extremely difficult position, namely - Tim Johnson, Max Cleland, Mary Landrieu, and a number of others. These are Senators who come from states where they have to downplay their party affiliation. The idea of getting dragged into a filibuster that has Teddy Kennedy's name all over it is very frightening for these guys (and gal) and for good reason. The last two, Cleland and Landrieu, also have the misfortune of serving with senior Senators who are signaling support for Ashcroft and thus making their situation that much harder.

(Note: Technically, Max Cleland is the senior senator from Georgia. But Cleland isn't particularly well liked back home among party regulars; he's in a heap of trouble in his reelection bid; and Miller is both chronologically older and a powerhouse of Georgia politics. So, in effect, Miller is the senior senator.)

Tom Daschle, both as Democratic Leader and as someone who himself comes from a conservative state, is very sensitive to the difficult spot these senators face and he's clearly trying to give them as much space and freedom as he can to make a decision they can live with.

So here's the question: If Dems are going to have a hard time getting to forty 'no' votes, and if even some of those 'no' votes won't support a filibuster, how exactly do you figure Ashcroft actually gets rejected?

Answer: If you assume all these contingencies then there's no way Ashcroft gets rejected. But my strong sense at this point is that these contingencies are far from locked in. A number of non-scandal, but possibly important, stories are bubbling to the surface (like this one) which touch upon Ashcroft's candor during the committee hearings. The mood seems to be gravitating strongly against Ashcroft in the Democratic caucus. And the delay itself shows that the Dems feel time is on their side.

It may just be.

By waiting, the Senate Democrats likely insure something close to an even partisan split on the Ashcroft vote which, politically, they feel works to their advantage. And with things so evenly they balanced, they figure, one more shoe drops and his nomination is sunk. So either way, they feel it's a win on partisan terms.

And one more thing. Daschle and the rest of the Democratic leadership clearly feels it's extremely important that the Democratic base not feel they caved, even if they're not able to block the nomination. So taking their time helps in that regard too.

So that's your utterly disorganized and formless Talking Points run-down of where we are on the Ashcroft nomination. And why the Ashcrometer stands at 69% likelihood of confirmation.

P.S. For those of you who feel disappointed that the Dems aren't fighting hard enough on this one, consider this: My sense is that Tom Daschle's hand is controlling the big picture here. And for what it's worth I've got immense confidence that Daschle has a very good sense of what is in the best medium and long term interests of the Democratic party and the principles and issues Democrats believe in. So just keep that in mind. Also, see this excellent recent article on Daschle for more info.

Is something brewing on

Is something brewing on the Ashcroft front?

Maybe so. Maybe so ... Check back this evening for a Talking Points update.

Okay what do Senator

Okay, what do Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) and William of Ockham have in common?

You know, William of Ockham ... As in Ockham's Razor? … What? You don't know what Ockham's Razor is?!?! Geeeeezz!!! Okay, okay, don't worry, Talking Points will hook you up.

William of Ockham was a fourteenth century scholastic philosopher most remembered as the originator of what came to be known as Ockham's Razor. The Razor is a logical principle which states that "plurality should not be posited without necessity."

And what the hell does that mean? Basically it means that when a question needs answering the simplest explanation which covers all the data is the preferable one. Albert Einstein had a more aphoristic way of stating this principle when talking about scientific hypotheses. "Everything should be as simple as possible," he said, "but not simpler." (Smart guy that Einstein!)

Anyway Talking Points thinks Ockham's Razor rocks and he uses it all the time to find clarity through the muck of political obfuscation. Ockham's Razor helped Galileo demonstrate that his simple heliocentric model of the solar system was better than the weird-ass Ptolemaic system which the Middle Ages had inherited form Antiquity. And today you yourself can use Ockham's Razor to show that Evan Bayh is voting against John Ashcroft and Russ Feingold may vote for him because Evan Bayh wants to run for president and Russ Feingold doesn't. (Get that last one?)

Now you are probably asking yourself: where the hell is Talking Points going with this William of Ockham crap?

Bear with me!

Let's go back to our original question. What do Senator Zell Miller and William of Ockham have in common?

Answer? Not a damn thing. Because even with the clarifying magic of Ockham's Razor there's nothing that can explain why the new Georgia Senator is practically falling over himself to carry water for George W. Bush.

Last week Miller was the first Senate Democrat to officially announce he'd be voting to confirm John Ashcroft. That at least was understandable on political grounds. In a state like Georgia you get points for standing up to liberal, Washington-based interest groups. But yesterday Miller announced he was cosponsoring George W.'s megalithic tax cut with Phil Gramm.

Even a lot of Republicans are telling Bush that that just ain't gonna happen. Most people didn't even think Miller wanted to run for another term in the Senate. But if he does, he won't be up again till 2004. Bush's tax cut isn't even all that popular in Georgia. So it's hard to figure why Miller needs to back it to cover his right flank. And certainly he doesn't need to cosponsor it.

So why is he doing it?

That's what I mean: no one knows! Talking Points checked with some conservative Southern Dems today and some other folks from Georgia and even they can't figure out what Miller's up to. He couldn't find anyone to defend Miller's course. And it's not even like Miller was all that conservative during his two terms as governor of Georgia. By Southern standards he was pretty progressive.

The only thing Talking Points could come up with was this: When Miller was appointed to serve out the term of the late Paul Coverdell, a Republican, he kept on some of Coverdell's staff. (Miller and Coverdell were actually close friends.) In particular, he kept on Coverdell's Senior Policy Advisor, Alex Albert. In December, after Miller had won election in his own right, he appointed Albert his Chief of Staff. Coverdell was very tight with Phil Gramm and pretty much all the rest of more partisan Republicans.

Maybe Albert's just got Miller's ear. But it's hard to Zell.

When Talking Points first

When Talking Points first fired up his computer this morning he saw all the articles about the new ethical standards Bush is putting in place for his team. It's a bit of a slap at the Clinton folks. But it's also become something of a ritual for incoming administrations. Clinton instituted a bunch of new ethics guidelines when he came in too.

But then he looked a little closer. There don't appear to be any new ethical guidelines. Bush just told his crew "to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct.''

Why hasn't anyone pointed this out?

Basically Bush got the ball rolling with a gratuitous, but contentless, slap at the outgoing administration.

Imagine that.

Hows this for a

How's this for a description of Bush's bipartisanship and 'reaching out'?

For Bush, bipartisanship means something like this: Here's our program, here's what we want to do, here's what we're going to do. We're not shunning you. We invite you to come join us.

The Bush line on race is much the same: Here's us. These are our programs and our people. But we're not shunning you. We invite you to join us.

Look how this works. Bush is outlining a down-the-line conservative legislative agenda - but he welcomes Democratic support. He appointed an attorney general who is anathema to most African-Americans - but he is also "reaching out" to them.

Not being shunned is certainly preferable to being shunned. But in everyday life we have another name for this kind of attitude: We call it condescension.

Want more? See the whole thing in today's New York Post.

Say it aint so.

Say it ain't so. But it is so. The Ashcrometer, sadly, jumps up to a perilous 82% chance of confirmation. And, truth be told, it may warrant being higher than that.

It's not that Zell Miller of Georgia has announced he'll vote for Ashcroft that's such a big deal. The Dems don't need 50 votes on this one, just forty. And a surprising number of the Senators who are inclined to vote against Ashcroft's nomination seem just as willing to vote to sustain a filibuster. The only problem is that there don't seem to be forty of them out there. At least not quite.

Talking Points talked to staffers in the offices of a number of centrist Dems today and quite a few are still unwilling to say what they're going to do - even way off the record. Apparently they still want to see how these last few days sink in before sticking their neck out on Ashcroft.

Tom Daschle's stated unwillingness to participate in a filibuster is going to be key for a lot of these wavering members. And some speculate that Daschle's unwillingness to go to the mat on Ashcroft may have at least tacitly been a part of the very successful negotiations he carried out with Trent Lott over power-sharing in the Senate.

Having said all that, the Senate Dems whom one might expect to vote for Ashcroft are Zell Miller, John Breaux, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Tim Johnson, Evan Bayh … in the very possible category Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and Max Cleland. Obviously that doesn't get you under forty. But, hey, that's just what Talking Points is hearing.

People of Earth we

People of Earth, we come in peace …

(Translation: Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.)

More news soon from the scene of the festivities.

Ya know. From the

Ya know. From the sound of it, John Ashcroft is going to be such a staunch defender and enforcer of gun-control laws, abortion rights, and civil rights, that you sorta wonder why right-wingers want him so bad.

Is Ashcroft a lib now? Or is there some disconnect here? Or is Ashcroft just completely full of crap - and Senate Dems aren't doing a lousy job catching him out on it?

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