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With the Senate expected to approve Attorney General nominee Eric Holder on Monday, one conspicuous opening remains in President Obama's Cabinet: Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) has yet to be confirmed as Secretary of Labor.

We reported last week on GOP concerns with how Solis addressed queries on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) during her confirmation hearing. It's worth repeating that the problem is not technically a Senate "hold," as some outlets have reported.

Chamber rules prevent official holds from being placed until a committee has released a nominee to the full Senate -- and a spokesman for Sen. Mike Enzi (WY), chief GOPer on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions panel, told me that Republicans are still awaiting answers to more written queries from Solis.

"Republicans are still doing our due diligence on this nomination," the Enzi spokesman said, noting that the latest round of written questions was sent to Solis on Tuesday. He declined to discuss the nature of the GOP's queries, but said that more than just the EFCA is at issue.

Late Update: TPM alum Greg reports at The Plum Line that the president will host labor leaders for a signing of executive orders tomorrow. One suspects that the Solis nomination will be much-discussed on the sidelines ...

A lot of attention has been paid lately to the idea of a "bipartisan" economic recovery bill. Clearly the House GOPers are happy to blame Dems while voting against the stimulus, but what about the Senate? Well, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) just distilled his side's notion of cooperation during a press conference on the recovery legislation:

How about the Senate? Well, there have been two committee meetings, the Appropriations Committee and the Finance Committee, in which I sit. Not a single one of our [Republican] amendments was voted up. Every one was rejected.

So essentially no changes as a result of those two markups on the bill that will come to the Senate floor next week. And if [the Ledbetter and SCHIP bills] are any indication, we'll get votes on amendments, they'll all lose, and the bill will then pass, and we end up with a totally partisan package. I don't think that's what the president had in mind when he talked about putting legislation together in a bipartisan way.


Okay ... so "bipartisanship" means not an exchange of ideas from both parties, or a chance to vote on proposals from both parties, but Democratic agreement on approving the GOP agenda? Good luck with that.

The list of Bush administration officials who could now face prosecution for their misdeeds over the last eight years doesn't only include those who authorized harsh tactics in the War on Terror.

Yesterday, Ken Salazar, the Interior Secretary, said at a White House briefing that he planned to reopen probes into a web of ethical misconduct at the department's Minerals Management Service, which included employees accepting gifts from, and having sex with, representatives of the oil and gas companies they were supposed to be regulating.

Reports by the department's Inspector General recommended that two MMS managers implicated in the scandal be prosecuted. But the Bush Justice Department declined to bring charges, a decision that the IG, Earl Devaney, publicly criticized, telling a congressional committee last September: ''I would have liked a more aggressive approach, and I would have liked to have seen some other people prosecuted here.''

Devaney also complained during his testimony that his report had been incomplete because Chevron -- one of the companies charged with giving gifts to the staffers -- had hired lawyers for six employees implicated in the scandal who later refused to cooperate with the IG' investigation.

One of those who escaped prosecution was Greg Smith, who ran the Denver office of MMS's Royalty in Kind (RIK) program, in which the government forgoes royalties and takes a share of the oil and gas for resale instead. Smith was accused in the reports -- including one special report focused on him -- of coercing two subordinates into sex, doing cocaine with a subordinate, suggesting to other employees that they should lie to investigators, and taking $30,000 from a private company for marketing its services to oil and gas companies.

One employee told investigators that "Smith directed her to purchase cocaine for him during normal MMS business hours, and Smith used the term "office supplies" when discussing cocaine while at work."

Here's another good excerpt:

The RIK employee recalled that on one occasion in late 2004, Smith telephoned her repeatedly asking for drugs. She said she provided cocaine to him early that evening, but he continued to call her. Eventually, she said, Smith traveled to her house and wanted her to have sex with him. She said he also asked her if she had more cocaine, and she stated that she did not but that someone who was staying with her might. She said Smith obtained crystal methamphetamine from one of these individuals and she watched him snort it off the toaster oven in her kitchen. The RIK employee also said she and Smith engaged in oral sex that evening.


The other official who Devaney recommended prosecuting is accused of less tabloid friendly -- but equally serious -- misdeeds.

Lucy Dennet, a top official of the Minerals Revenue Management office in Washington DC, is accused of helping another MMS employee, Jimmy Mayberry, to create a lucrative MMS contract that benefited him after he left MMS. Mayberry and another former MMS employee, Milton Dial, have already pleaded guilty to creating the deal. Mayberry faces up to five years in prison.

One of the IG reports found:
In the matter involving Ms. Dennet, Mr. Mayberry and Milton Dial, the results of this investigation paint a disturbing picture of three Senior Executives who were good friends, and who remained calculatedly ignorant of the rules governing post-employment restrictions, conflicts of interest and Federal Acquisition Regulations to ensure that two lucrative MMS contracts would be awarded to the company created by Mr. Mayberry - Federal Business Solutions - and later joined by Mr. Dial. Ms. Dennet manipulated the contracting process from the start. She worked directly with the contracting officer, personally participated on the evaluation team for both contracts, asked for an increase to the first contract amount, and had Mayberry prepare the justification for the contract increase. Ms. Dennet also appears to have shared with Mr. Mayberry the Key Qualification criteria upon which bidders would be judged, two weeks before bid proposals on the first contract were due.


So it looks like Smith and Dennet may not be out of the woods yet.

Salazar also suggested that he'd re-open the investigation into the activities of Steven Griles, the former Deputy Interior Secretary who was convicted of obstructing justice in connection with the Jack Abramoff investigation. More on that to come...

In the Minnesota election trial this afternoon, Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg continued to lay out the campaign's reasoning for why their previous decisions in the recount shouldn't be an issue here under the doctrines of estoppel and invited error: The voters of Minnesota should not be bound by Coleman's prior agreement to arrangements that were illegal to begin with.

While exploring the issue of whether some absentee ballots were improperly copied and double-counted, Friedberg asked Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann how he had come to arrive at his office's directives on how to handle this issue during the recount -- and why he asked the campaigns for approval.

"The interested parties, the parties that have a stake in the outcome of the hand recount," Gelbmann said, "if you can get an agreement from both parties that the process you're going to use is acceptable to the parties, you would assume you would not have an issue before the final outcome."

Read More →

Rod Blagojevich is on a roll in his 90-minute speech to the Illinois state Senate, the chamber that is poised to remove him from office as early as today, lambasting them for removing him with no evidence that he did anything wrong.

Blago is taking particular pride in his decision to circumvent the legislative process during his first term in order to help Illinoisans get prescription drugs from Canada, teaming up with governors from other states. Blago pointed out how national Democratic leaders like Rahm Emanuel have actively promoted this issue.

So if you're going to throw him out of office, Blago argued, "let's demand that President Obama fire Rahm Emanuel, because Rahm Emanuel is the one who gave me this idea."

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is one of the rising stars in the GOP, constantly prodding Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) from the right while feeling the love from conservative think tanks and bloggers.

And DeMint gave some love back today at the Heritage Foundation, delivering a speech that encapsulates the emerging Republican strategy for dealing with the popular president. He plays nice early on ...

I like President Obama very much. We were elected to the Senate at the same time and we've worked together on a number of common goals. I believe he wants to do what is best for our country ...


... and then he gets nasty.

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The Minnesota election trial is continuing today, after the Franken campaign spent the morning laying out their claim that Norm Coleman's legal arguments at this point cannot be taken at face value.

Specifically, Franken attorney David Lillehaug reviewed rejected absentee ballots that were vetoed by the Coleman campaign, under the state Supreme Court's controversial decision that gave the candidates a veto power over improperly-rejected absentees. The presentation made an interesting display of the Coleman camp's reasons for rejecting ballots then -- and though Lillehaug didn't directly say it just yet, it provides a contrast to Coleman's positions now:

• A ballot was rejected because the witness failed to fill in their address. This past Monday, Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg was arguing that a lighter standard should be used to include ballots such as these.

• A ballot was affirmed by the Coleman camp as being properly rejected because the voter failed to sign their absentee application, but were given the ballot anyway. Yesterday, Friedberg was saying this sort of state negligence wasn't a specific legal reason to throw out a vote.

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At this very moment, President Obama is preparing to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. It's an admirable bill that remedies a regrettable 2007 Supreme Court ruling which had constrained the time limit for women to file pay-discrimination claims against their employers.

Media coverage of today's White House ceremony depicts the Ledbetter signing as a major victory for gender pay equity. But a much broader bill addressing pay discrimination -- the Paycheck Fairness Act -- faces a mysteriously uncertain future in the Senate, where it has yet to receive a floor vote despite approval in the House last year and again this year.

What's the holdup? And will the (well-deserved) hoopla over the Ledbetter victory obscure the facts behind the inaction on Paycheck Fairness?

Read More →

You may not have known this, but before former Team Abramoff lobbyist Todd Boulanger got indicted for bribing government aides, he was something of a fashion icon -- at least for the staid city he lived in.

In October 2006, he appeared in Washingtonian magazine's "Men with Style" package. Some gems:

How would you describe your style? Savile Row meets Thrasher magazine.

Favorite labels? Duncan Quinn, Paul Smith, Theory, John Varvatos, and Ralph Lauren. But nothing beats a custom suit.

Biggest splurge? It probably wasn't for me--I work to support my wife's Christian Louboutin addiction.


There are a lot of places we could go here, snark-wise. Better to leave it, maybe.

Still, given Boulanger's apparent love of fine fashion, we couldn't help noticing the fact that, during his once-thriving career as a Republican talking-head on cable TV, he once opined: "Barack Obama is a total diva."

It's in this Daily Show segment (Boulanger appears at the 3:15 mark), which fingers Boulanger as one of the many no-name political pundits who appear above fancy-sounding but meaningless titles like "GOP strategist."

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