TPM News

Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, just told reporters that Barack Obama's nominee for deputy defense secretary, Bill Lynn, may need a waiver from the administration's one-day-old executive order curbing lobbyist involvement in government.

Lynn's confirmation vote is on hold, Levin said, "unless and until this is resolved ... until there's a decision on a waiver." As Mother Jones points out, the Obama team certainly knew when they nominated Lynn that he was a longtime lobbyist for a major defense contractor, Raytheon. When you couple that with the following language from the executive order ...

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Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Senate environment committee, just confirmed to TPMDC that Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) is the culprit behind the slowdown in confirming to of Barack Obama's senior environmental policy nominees, Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley. (The Journal outs Barrasso here.)

"We'll break it," Boxer said of the Republican logjam. "Once we go public with it, it should go away."

But will it go away without satisfying Barrasso's call for a way to ensure Browner can answer to Congress as well as the president who appointed her?

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The experts' verdicts on the potential impact of President Obama's executive order on presidential records are starting to come in. And they're bolstering our initial take that Obama's move could significantly boost efforts to release crucial records that the Bush administration has fought to keep secret.

Doug Kmiec, a constitutional law professor at Pepperdine law school and expert on executive privilege, told TPMmuckraker that the order makes it harder for former presidents to block the release of their documents.

And, crucially, he said it could impact current high-profile struggles over Bush's records, "whether it be the dismissal of US Attorneys, whether it be other assertions of executive privilege dealing with White House emails and the like."

Congress and the Bush White House have been struggling over a key memo that details the level of White House involvement in the US Attorney firings of 2006. And open-government groups have sued the Bush administration to gain access to White House emails on a range of subjects, including the Valerie Plame leak probe and the decision to invade Iraq.

Kmiec, a noted conservative legal scholar who nonetheless supported Obama's campaign, said he had done some work with the Obama transition team, and had offered his assistance to the new administration.

Kmiec said the order appears to shift power from former presidents to the current administration, and to the National Archivist. Under an order issued by President Bush, former presidents and vice presidents could compel the Archivist to keep documents secret. Under the new order, former presidents can still ask the Archives to do so. But the burden of proof is squarely on the former president to prove that secrecy is in the nation's interest, and the Obama administration can decline the request if it's not convinced. That approach reorients things toward the original intention of the Presidential Records Act, passed in the wake of Watergate.

"If the Archivist were to make a determination that those materials would be made public," explained Kimiec, "then holding it back would take something extraordinary," in terms of an argument from the former president.

Kmiec's view is supported by open-government advocates. Scott Nelson of Public Citizen believes, in the words of the Associated Press, that "researchers should find it easier to gain access to records under the new order."

And yesterday, Anne Weissman of CREW, which unsuccessfully brought a lawsuit against Dick Cheney's office to compel him to hand over records to the Archives, told TPMmuckraker that the order "does have the potential to impact ongoing litigation," including over the US Attorney documents.

So when might we see those documents? If the Archivist and the Obama administration agree to it (in practice, the Archivist would likely defer to the administration), they could be made public as soon as the Archivist has prepared them for public display. Of course, President Bush could sue to stop the move -- but it looks like he'd face an uphill climb in convincing a court that there's a pressing need to keep them secret.

It really is a new day.

While we're on the subject of climate change today ... Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) just announced that Al Gore will be testifying before his panel next Wednesday on the need for carbon emissions regulation.

"America must act decisively in order for the nations of the world to reach agreement on a climate change treaty at the December 2009 meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark. The timeline is short for us to respond to the threat of climate change, and this hearing will examine what America must do to lead the world in crafting a truly global solution," Kerry said in a statement on the hearing.

President Obama moments ago signed an executive order closing the Guantanamo detention facility within a year.

The move makes good on a key Obama campaign promise.

Obama also signed two other orders, reviewing military trials of terror suspects, and banning the harshest interrogation methods.

After signing, Obama said:

The message we are sending around the world is that the US intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly, we are going to do so effectively, and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals ... We intend to win this fight, and we intend to win it on our terms.

Here's the video:

The order to close Guantanamo can be found here.

The order to review detention policies can be found here.

The order revising interrogation policies can be found here.

And the order for a review of al Marri's detention can be found here.

In the race for the RNC chair, it's becoming difficult to figure out which candidate is the most problematic in terms of party outreach to minority voters and adjusting to the political realities or our times.

The Politico reports that South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson has publicly traced his political coming of age to the civil rights movement -- that is, opposition to 1960's busing policies. "Government reached into my life and grabbed me and shook me at the age of 15," Dawson told a University of South Carolina audience in 2003.

The star of this particular show has been Chip Saltsman, who sent out a CD to committee members containing a song called "Barack the Magic Negro." But some more attention is also being paid to Dawson, who has faced scrutiny for his membership in an all-white country club -- which he only resigned shortly before starting his current campaign. And now there's this, too.

Now that Caroline Kennedy is out of the running to be appointed for the senate seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it's worth asking a few questions. First, is more just eye-rolling: How could the appointment of four vacant senate seats become such a mess. First, there was the Blagojevich scandal to replace President Obama's seat followed by the mini-scandal over whether to seat Roland Burris. In Delaware, the appointment of Joe Biden's long time top aide was an obvious attempt to keep the seat warm for his son, Beau. And in New York, it's become an unholy mess. Only Bill Ritter in Colorado seemed to have come through this thing unscathed with his appointment of Michael Bennet.

My guess is that if Caroline had remained Greta Garbo, she might have gotten the job. Traditionally, Senate appointments were given to clean, respectable types who got the job in part by not showing any political aspiration to keep it and seemed to take the seat only with reluctance and out of duty. Thus you wound up with Nicholas Brady in New Jersey. Had Kennedy not said anything, I think there's a decent chance she could have gotten the seat. Instead, her mini-candidacy became a nectar for swarms of political consultants, Bloomberg allies, and others who wanted a piece of the action. I don't mean to suggest that she's a victim in all of this. She chose this odd path and has now suffered the biggest defeat of a Kennedy since Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost her bid to be Maryland's governor. She allowed the handlers in and they made a mess of it. Sometimes, silence is golden.

It seems like ancient history now, but there was a time when Democrats were focused on Pentagon procurement, not just the scandal of $600 toilet seats and blunderbuss calls to cut the defense budget but a serious debate about the weapons systems we really need and how to avoid paying too much for them. Sen. Gary Hart was a leading advocate of this new thinking on defense and so was James Fallows whose book, National Defense, was the Bible of the movement.

My starting home in journalism, The Washington Monthly, long ran articles on topics of why the Air Force placed too small a priority on the small, but effective A-10 Warthog aircraft which is great at busting enemy tanks and was in love with vastly overpriced stealth bombers. Can President Barack Obama put an end to a procurement system that's only gotten worse over the years?

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Norm Coleman has signed on as a consultant with the Republican Jewish Coalition, a surprising development from somebody who has insisted he won his election and will be seated when the Minnesota legal battles are over:

RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said, "We are thrilled and honored to have Norm Coleman join us at the RJC at this critical time. We look forward to having the benefit of his experience and wise counsel to help the RJC plot its future course. We are confident that in a few months Senator Coleman will return to his seat in the Senate, but until that time, we are eager for him to travel across the country on our behalf and to be an important voice within the organization."

During his visit to Capitol Hill yesterday, Coleman continued to project optimism even as he was busy cleaning out his desk. "We have got a good shot at this and so I proceed with that in mind," said Coleman. "But logistically you have to move out of the office."

It happened so quietly that few media outlets noticed. But Republicans are already rolling out their strategy to delay -- and perhaps even stave off -- congressional action to combat climate change.

The Journal's blog relays the basic fact: an anonymous senator has placed one of those pesky "holds" used prerogatives to slow down action on the nomination of Lisa Jackson, the president's pick to head the EPA, as well as the nomination of Nancy Sutley, future head of the Council on Environmental Quality.

Jackson told the Senate environment committee last week that she would quickly re-examine California's request, backed by more than a dozen other states, to strictly regulate auto emissions. But this isn't really about Jackson or Sutley ...

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