TPM News

We've told you in recent months about the Obama administration's disappointing tendency to mimic some of its predecessor's more troubling war-on-terror tactics. But is the administration's approach to public relations another area to add to the list?

Yesterday's aggressive push-back against the Daily Telegraph report on torture photos suggests it could be.

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With new legislation to overhaul America's health care system pending from two Senate committees, the liberal group MoveOn will radio ads starting this weekend in Delaware, Florida, North Dakota, Maine, Washington, and Oregon urging senators from those states to support a public insurance option when the reform debate begins in earnest.

"Now is the time that every Senator needs to get off the sidelines and let the America know where they stand: With President Obama and the American public who overwhelmingly want a high-quality public health insurance option or with the HMOs and insurance giants who are fighting real reform," said Nita Chaudhary, National Campaign and Organizing Director for MoveOn.org. "Accomplishing real reform is too important to let a few senators stand in the way of what needs to be done. MoveOn's 5 million members are mobilized and energized for the debate this summer."

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As you probably already know, right wing, anti-immigration extremist Tom Tancredo went on CNN yesterday and accused Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor of being a member of a "Latino KKK" (known to people like John McCain as the perfectly uncontroversial National Council of La Raza).

What you might have missed was that Tancredo claimed NCLR's motto (he actually called it a "logo") says, "All for the race. Nothing for the rest."

As it turns out, NCLR doesn't even have a motto. According to Lisa Navarrete, the group's vice president, the group has a mission statement--in English--which reads "to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans."

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After a week of escalating race and gender rhetoric from the right over the Sotomayor nomination, it's now looking like some in the Republican Party -- those concerned with actually getting elected -- have become alarmed by the political damage the more extreme members of their party may be doing and are moving to rein in the vitriol. It's the starkest example yet of an interesting division within the right, one that has been apparent for some time, but which the Sotomayor nomination has not only crystalized but accelerated: the right-wing bomb-throwers obsessed with ideological purity versus the right-wing pragmatists who want the party to actually win election again some day.

Make no mistake -- all of these people are staunch conservatives. While the bomb-throwers include folks like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and a colorful cast of other players, the practical folks include the likes of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), RNC chairman Michael Steele, and pundit Peggy Noonan.

Where you stand depends on where you sit: If your job is to whip up publicity and/or money, then haranguing on Sotomayor is the way to go. But if your job is to not alienate key groups of voters and to work to bring them back, it's a different story entirely.

Let's compare and contrast.

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Yesterday, the Service Employees International Union ran an ad in The Times-Picayune hitting Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) for his record on issues important to workers. You can see the ad here, but the gist is that Vitter has voted against an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the Obama budget, and the stimulus package.

In response (and without addressing the votes cited in the ad) Vitter seems to have protested a bit too much,"When it comes to attempting to buy elections and strong arm conservatives to accept outrageous bailouts and anti-business legislation, the SEIU is one of the most effective weapons the liberals have at their disposal," Vitter wrote in a fundraising email to supporters obtained by TPMDC. "I will not stand for this outrageous disposal of Louisiana's worker and employer rights, and I'm fighting against it with everything I've got."

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Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), in his role as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is now reaching out to right-wing activists upset with the national party's endorsement of moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, who supported the stimulus bill, against a more conservative candidate in the primary for the open GOP-held Senate seat.

In a new post at RedState.com, Cornyn sets out to explain that Crist represents the strongest chance for Republicans to hold this seat -- and to give a basic political science lesson in how the American two-party system works:

Some believe that we should be a monolithic Party; I disagree. While we all might wish for a Party comprised only of people who agree with us 100 percent of the time, this is a pipedream. Each Party is fundamentally a coalition of individuals rallying around core principles with some variations along the way. My job as Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee is to recruit candidates who have the best chance of winning and holding seats - and to do so in as many states as possible.

"To supporters, Judge Sotomayor's vigorous questioning of the Bush administration's position in the [torture case of Canadian Maher Arar], showcases some of her strengths," write the New York Times' Adam Liptak and Jo Becker, "But to detractors, Judge Sotomayor's sharp-tongued and occasionally combative manner -- some lawyers have described her as "difficult" and "nasty" -- raises questions about her judicial temperament and willingness to listen."

Late last month, in a case which may ultimately result in the elimination of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (which requires certain, mostly southern jurisdictions to pre-clear changes in electoral policy with the Justice Department), Justices Roberts and Kennedy went on quite a tear.

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As if to magnify what are already major differences between elected Republicans and conservative activists on the question of Sonia Sotomayor, check out what conservative senator (and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Judiciary Comittee member and former Texas State Supreme Court Justice) had to say on NPR yesterday.

"I think it's terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent."

Republican leaders may not have as much sway over their own interest groups as Democratic leaders do over their, so don't expect the attacks to stop. But it's a bold statement. He even lashed out at Newt Gingrich and the unassailable Rush Limbaugh.

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Bush: "The Information We Got Saved Lives" Former President George W. Bush spoke last night in Michigan, defending the legality of his administration's interrogation methods. "I made the decision, within the law," Bush explained, "to get information so I can say to myself, 'I've done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people.' I can tell you that the information we got saved lives." He later added that nothing he was saying was meant to criticize his successor: "I wish him all the best."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will be meeting with Vice President Biden at 9:45 a.m. ET, in addition to his regular daily meetings with advisers. He will be speaking on securing the country's cyber-infrastructure, where he is expected to announce the appointment of a new "cyber czar," at 10:55 a.m. ET from the East Room. At 2:30 p.m. ET, he will attend a hurricane preparedness meeting at FEMA Headquarters.

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Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) spoke last night at a dinner of the Foreign Policy Association, where he lambasted former Vice President Dick Cheney's speech last week for dishonestly claiming that the interrogation techniques he approved were not torture, and were not connected to Abu Ghraib -- saying that Cheney "bore false witness":



"I do so as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which recently completed an 18-month investigation into the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, and produced a 200-page bipartisan report, which gives the lie to Mr. Cheney's claims," said Levin. "I do so because if the abusive interrogation techniques that he champions, the face of which were the pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib, if they are once more seen as representative of America, our security will be severely set back."

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