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For the last decade or so, Washington has indulged Pat Buchanan as a sort of crazy political uncle. Everyone, it seems, has agreed to forget about his long track record of racially questionable commentary and writing, and to look kindly on his continued nativist leanings, because he's an entertaining and surprisingly insightful TV performer, and it's fun to watch him argue with Rachel Maddow.

But every now and then, the centrality to Buchanan's worldview of racial difference rises to the surface. In addition to his frequent MSNBC appearances, where he plays a mostly well-mannered, if hardline, conservative, Buchanan also writes a column for the far-right web magazine, Human Events. And that's where he gets himself into trouble.

His most recent effort, "The Rooted and The Rootless," takes as its premise the notion that there's a "blood-and-soil, family-and-faith, God-and-country kind of nation" that's competing with a minority represented by the "rootless" Obama and his "aides with advanced degrees from elite colleges who react just like him."

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Congressional Quarterly and The New Republic are reporting that House and Senate negotiators, along with members of the Obama administration, have determined that the final budget will include reconciliation instructions for health care.

As I detailed in this post--already outdated--that's a huge deal. Keep the date October 15 in mind. If the House and Senate don't agree on a comprehensive health reform bill by that date, this tactic will be operative.

Now the conferees will smooth over other discrepancies between the House and Senate budgets and then both bodies will vote on a final resolution.

Jumping off of this post, I just got some data on Ben Nelson's voting history--and it's certainly interesting. Nelson opposed the filibuster on the confirmation of two extremely controversial Bush appointees--EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, and, twice, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton (if you'll recall, Bolton was ultimately not confirmed, but became ambassador anyhow via recess appointment).

I've got a more complete history below the fold. The record tells a pretty convincing tale--Nelson generally opposes the filibuster on nominees, even if he doesn't like the candidate. Of course, if he decides to break with his own tradition and filibuster Dawn Johnsen, he'll have to explain to a lot of angry, senior Democrats why Bolton was worth an up and down vote but Johnsen is not.

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Just as a quick addendum to this post: The Senate agreed last night to send Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NH)--the chair and ranking member of the Budget Committee--and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to the budget conference committee. There they will hash out all the differences between the Senate's budget and the House's.

So what does this mean for reconciliation? Recall that reconciliation is a process that allows Congress to circumvent a filibuster, and, potentially, an avenue for passing major reform with little room for obstruction or debate. It's a potentially huge deal and, at the very least, a tool that could provide Democrats tons of leverage in their pursuit of health reform through the standard legislative process. The House budget includes reconciliation "instructions", but the Senate bill does not, and the crucial question--will the final budget include reconciliation instructions?--will be settled in the conference committee.

Conrad and Gregg have made their opposition to the process known (though according to The Hill, "Conrad told reporters that he doesn't want to use reconciliation rules to pass healthcare reform but that he is feeling pressure to include the option in the budget resolution from House members and the Obama administration").

But what about Murray?

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The DSCC has just unveiled a new online illustration of the Minnesota Senate dispute: The "Coleman Obstruction Timeline," laying out the Senate votes that Minnesota has missed during the time they've been without a full two Senators.



"The people of Minnesota deserve their second Senator and it is time to for Republicans to stop holding the seat hostage to pursue an ideological agenda," DSCC chairman Robert Menendez said in a statement promoting the new Web page. "We have always said Norm Coleman deserved his day in court - he got two months. It is now time to move on, and let Senator-elect Al Franken get to work for the people of Minnesota."

Former Clinton Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, has decided that he is not running for the Illinois Senate seat currently held by Roland Burris and formerly held by Barack Obama.

It had been reported a month and a half ago that Daley was likely to run, but he has now changed his mind. "I was gung-ho, and hired pollsters and talked to fund-raisers and planned to make an announcement in mid-April," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "But I'm getting remarried in June and decided I want to take a new tack in my life."

This appears to leave the Democratic field for now to state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who has raised over $1 million -- and perhaps Roland Burris, who thus far has only raised less than $1,000, and has not made a decision yet.

Via ThinkProgress, I see Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is taking a sanguine and, dare I say, democratic, view of the budget reconciliation process.

"It's their right. They did win the election," said Ryan, R-Wis. "That's what I tell all my constituents who are worried about this. They won the election. They did run on these ideas. They did run on nationalizing health care. So, you're right about that. They have the votes with reconciliation. They nailed down the process so that they can make sure they have the votes and that they can get this thing through really fast. It is their right. It is what they can do."


One can quibble with some of this rhetoric. Democrats won the election on a platform of universalizing health care through a combination of private and public insurance, and government subsidies. But this is certainly a more realistic assessment than that of, say, Ryan's Senate counterpart Judd Gregg (R-NH) who supports the reconciliation process when Republicans use it to pass tax cuts and ANWR drilling, but compares it to "running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River," when the Democrats so much as propose it for health reform.

But has Ryan always been so fair? Let's go to the tape:

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One of the big revelations to come out of the Senate Armed Services Committee report on so-called aggressive interrogation techniques is an early July 2002 training session where officials from the military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA)--the agency that oversees the SERE training program--provided "assistance to another government agency." Much of this section of the report is blacked out, so I'll connote blacked out sections with asterisks [***], but the report says JPRA was assisting this agency "on topics such as '*** deprivation techniques,' 'exploitation and questioning techniques,' and 'developing countermeasures to resistance techniques.'" According to the report, "[t]he training was intended to "prepare *** officers for rotations in Afghanistan and elsewhere."

Spencer Ackerman reported on this section in detail when the report was first released, noting what has long been reported, but never officially acknowledged. Spencer writes, "a JPRA team assisted a squad from 'another government agency' during the first six months of 2002 that would be 'sent to interrogate a high level al Qaeda operative.'"

"'Another government agency'," Spencer writes, "is a widespread euphemism for the CIA."

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Most of the focus on the obstruction of Dawn Johnsen has been on Republicans. They're the ones who might hold up her nomination, or stage a filibuster (i.e. file for cloture) so there's some good reason for that.

But what about pro-life Democrats? A Congressional Quarterly report this morning suggests that one pro-life Democratic senator--to wit Ben Nelson (D-PA)--might not support her nomination.

"Senator Nelson is very concerned about the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, based on her previous position as Counsel for NARAL. He believes that the Office of Legal Counsel is a position in which personal views can have an impact and is concerned about her outspoken pro-choice views on abortion," said spokesman Clay Westrope.


Ah, but there's an important technical distinction between "not supporting" a nominee and "actively filibustering" her. The question comes down to how Nelson would vote if Republicans subject Johnsen to a cloture vote. I spoke with a Nelson staffer myself just a moment ago and he didn't officially take the option off the table.

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The Minnesota Supreme Court has just issued its order establishing a schedule for Norm Coleman's appeal of the Senate election result -- and even though this schedule has been expedited by the standards of normal civil litigation, it's going to be a while by political standards.

The court adopted the proposed briefing timeline from the Coleman campaign, allowing them more time to formulate their arguments: Coleman's brief is to be submitted by next Thursday, April 30; Team Franken will submit its brief by May 11, and a reply brief from Coleman is to be submitted by May 15.

On top of that, oral arguments have been scheduled for June 1 -- a month and a week from today.

Team Franken had called for a much quicker schedule, on the grounds that greater speed was needed in order to seat a second U.S. Senator from Minnesota, and that Coleman had already had plenty of time to come up with his arguments. But the court didn't go for it.

Indeed, by any normal measure this timeline is itself a quick one for a state Supreme Court to be taking an appeal. But for the political world, this is not a normal case.

Late Update: Lead Franken attorney Marc Elias gives us this comment: "We are grateful that the court has issued an expedited scheduling order, and we look forward to the process continuing to move forward so that Sen.-elect Franken can be seated as quickly as possible."

Late Late Update: Coleman legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg released this statement: "We're pleased with the timetable the court has granted to prepare for this historic and consequential case to enfranchise thousands of Minnesota citizens who still wait for their voices to be heard, and their votes to be counted."

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