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Under increasing pressure from the White House, and to meet their self-imposed deadlines, leaders in both the House and the Senate recommitted yesterday to meeting their goal of passing separate health care bills before the looming August recess.

At an event anticipating today's release of House reform legislation, Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed, "We will be on schedule to do as we have planned to vote for this legislation before we leave for the August recess."

Later in the day, after a long meeting with President Obama, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid echoed the same sentiment. "We are going to do health care before we leave," Reid said.

Because of the peculiarities of the Senate, Reid will have a harder time matching word to deed than will Pelosi, despite the fact that the Senate isn't scheduled to adjourn until a week after the House does. For its part, the White House suggested yesterday for the first time that it would consider asking either or both houses of Congress to delay their recesses if they haven't prepared legislation for a conference committee by the time they're set to depart.

In a meeting that lasted slightly over an hour yesterday, President Obama upped the pressure on congressional leaders--but particularly on the Senate, and Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT)--to move a health care bill forward so that both chambers can individually complete work on legislation before the August recess.

Obama met with Baucus and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY)--chairman of the Ways and Means Committee--along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer yesterday afternoon, two days after returning from a long trip abroad. Specific details are scarce, but this account, provided by a knowledgeable official, dovetails well with better known facts, including that the Senate--particularly the Finance Committee--is significantly behind schedule, and that the White House appears to be turning up the temperature on Congress more generally as August recess approaches.

Obama also met yesterday with Blue Dog Democrats, who have successfully delayed the introduction of House health care reform legislation. More details on that meeting if and when they become available.


President Obama, along with his wife and two daughters, arrives for his first official visit in Africa at Ghana's Accra airport on July 10, 2009.
Newscom / Isaac Yeboah / Panapress




President Obama is greeted at Ghana's Accra airport.
Newscom / Isaac Yeboah / Panapress




A young child looks on as President Obama visits a former slave fort in Cape Coast, Ghana.
Newscom /The Times




Posters of Ghanain President John Atta Mills pictured alongside President Obama lined the streets of Accra ahead of Obama's visit.
Newscom /The Times




Women wear dresses printed with images of President Obama and Ghana's President Mills.
Newscom /The Times




A woman holds a bottle of water commemorating President Obama's visit to the town of Cape Coast, Ghana.
Newscom /The Times




President Obama addresses the Ghanaian Parliament in Accra, Ghana on July 11, 2009.
Chuck Kennedy / White House Photo





Chuck Kennedy / White House Photo




President Obama and the first family return home to the White House in the early morning after a trip overseas to Russia, Europe, and Africa.
Newscom / Brendan Smialowski / POOL-CNP-PHOTOlink





Newscom / Brendan Smialowski / POOL-CNP-PHOTOlink

TPMDC's round up of the biggest initiatives on Capitol Hill:

  • Health Care: House leaders delayed the release of their health care legislation for yet another day as they paper over differences with more conservative members of the Democratic party. Meanwhile, with President Obama back from abroad, the White House is wading in to the debate on the Hill like never before.


  • Nominations: Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the first day of her week-long confirmation hearing. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said her nomination could send the court down a "dangerous path". And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) lashed out at those who would dare criticize one of the New Haven firefighter's who's been recruited to testify against her. Read TPM's live blog of the hearings, where Andrew Pincus is cataloging and analyzing just about every key moment.

The drip-drip of the John Ensign sex scandal continues...

Today the Washington Post editorial board calls, in its well-mannered way, for investigations by the Senate Ethnics committee and the Federal Election Committee into the payments, totaling $96,000, that, according to a statement from Ensign's lawyer, were made last year by the Nevada senator's parents to the Hampton family.

Read More →

If you ask most people whether politicians should be in the business of providing Americans better services at lower costs they'd probably say yes. But Rep. John Kline (R-MN)--ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee--seems to believe just the opposite.

"There are some things in this legislation that I find particularly troublesome," Kline told Minnesota Public Radio. Specifically, he was thinking of the public option. "[O]ur fear is that if you actually get in there looking at the legislation that it's set up in a way that employers would increasingly opt to letting their employees move over to the public, to the public option. And because it is cheaper, it's designed to save money, which the government-run program has some very clear advantages, and the claims that it's gotta pay for itself that through the first three years of this there would be government subsidies."

Ummmmm...yeah. Sounds terrible. You can listen to the whole thing here, but the key moment begins at about 3:35.



Early indications suggest that the public option will much more than pay for itself. But no matter. I assume that public opinion polling must show overwhelmingly that Americans want to pay more for health care so that insurance companies don't have to contend with a superior, cheaper competitor. Otherwise it's hard to understand Kline's statements anything other than a call to subsidize insurance companies--and no elected official would ever stand for that.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) isn't generally considered a friend of organized labor. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce may be trying to fence her in anyhow.



Lincoln has opposed EFCA in the past, and has said she could not support it now without significant concessions, and the Chamber--pleased with her position--seems to be trying to make a "no" vote on robust worker protections legislation a fait accompli. That's not how her Arkansas opponents see things, though. When he saw the ad, Arkansas Rep. Davy Carter--a one-time potential Lincoln opponent--took to twitter.

Read More →

Earlier today, we raised a few questions about the notion that the secret CIA program that Dick Cheney reportedly withheld from Congress concerned an effort to kill or capture al Qaeda leaders. And now a top counter-terror expert is doing the same.

Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief, told TPMmuckraker that because we've been in a state of war against al Qaeda since just after September 11, there would have been no need for a secret CIA program that received special legal authorization.

Read More →

OPENING STATEMENT ON JUDGE SOTOMAYOR'S NOMINATION HEARING Senator Al Franken

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is an incredible honor to be here. Less than a week into my term as a United States Senator, my first major responsibility is here, at this historic confirmation hearing.

I am truly humbled to join the Judiciary Committee, which has played, and will continue to play, such an important role in overseeing our nation's system of justice. Chairman Leahy, for several years now I have admired your strength and integrity in leading this Committee. I'm grateful for the warm welcome and consideration you have given me, and I am honored to serve alongside you.

Ranking Member Sessions, I want you to know that I plan to follow the example of my good friend and predecessor, Paul Wellstone, who was willing and ready to partner with his colleagues across the aisle to do the work of the American people. I look forward to working over the years with you and my other Republican colleagues in the Senate to improve the lives of all Americans.

To all the members of this committee, I know that I have a lot to learn from each of you. Like so many private citizens, I have watched at least part of each and every Supreme Court confirmation hearing since they have been televised. And I would note that this is the first confirmation hearing that Senator Kennedy has not attended since 1965. We miss his presence.

These televised hearings have taught Americans a lot about our Constitution - and the role that the courts play in upholding and defending it. I look forward to listening to your questions and to the issues that you and your constituents care about.

To Judge Sotomayor, welcome. For the next few days, I expert to learn from you as well. You are the most experienced nominee to the Supreme Court in 100 years. And after meeting with you in my office last week, I know that aside from being a fine jurist, you are also an exceptional individual. Your story is inspiring and one in which all Americans should take pride.

As most of you know, this is my fifth day in office. That may mean that I am the most junior Senator, but it also means that I am the Senator who has most recently taken the oath of office. Last Tuesday, I swore to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States" and to "bear true faith and allegiance" to it. I take this oath very seriously as we consider Judge Sotomayor's nomination.

I may not be a lawyer, but neither are the overwhelming majority of Americans. Yet all of us, regardless of our backgrounds or professions, have a huge stake in who sits on the Supreme Court and are profoundly affected by its decisions.

I hope to use my time over the next few days to raise issues that concern people in Minnesota and around the country. This hearing will help folks sitting in living rooms and offices in Winona or Duluth or the Twin Cities to get a better idea of what the court is, what it does and what it is supposed to do, and most importantly, how its actions affect the everyday lives of all Americans.

Justice Souter, whom you will replace if you're confirmed, once said: "The first lesson, simple as it is, is that whatever court we're in, whatever we are doing, at the end of our task some human being is going to be affected. Some human life is going to be changed by what we do. And so we had better use every power of our minds and our hearts and our beings to get those rulings right." I believe he had it right.

In the past months, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the court's impact on the lives of Americans and reading and consulting with some of Minnesota's top legal minds. And I believe that the rights of Americans, as citizens and voters, are facing challenges on two separate fronts.

First, I believe the position of Congress with respect to the Courts and the Executive is in jeopardy. Even before I aspired to represent the people of Minnesota in the United States Senate, I believed that the Framers made Congress the first branch of government for a reason. It answers most directly to the people and has the legitimacy to speak for the people in crafting laws to be carried out by the executive branch.

I am wary of judicial activism and I believe in judicial restraint. Except under the most exceptional circumstances, the judicial branch is designed to show deep deference to Congress and not make policy by itself.

Yet looking at recent decisions on voting rights, campaign finance reform, and a number of other topics, it appears that appropriate deference may not have been shown in the past few years - and there are ominous signs that judicial activism is on the rise in these areas.

I agree with Senator Feingold and Senator Whitehouse that we hear a lot about judicial activism when politicians talk about what kind of judge they want in the Supreme Court. But it seems that their definition of an activist judge is one who votes differently than they would like. Because during the Rehnquist Court, Justice Clarence Thomas voted to overturn federal laws more than Justices Stevens and Breyer combined.

Second, I am concerned that Americans are facing new barriers to defending their individual rights. The Supreme Court is the last court in the land where an individual is promised a level playing field and can seek to right a wrong:

• It is the last place an employee can go if he or she is discriminated against because of age, gender, or color. • It is the last place a small business owner can go to ensure free and fair competition in the market. • It is the last place an investor can go to try to recover losses from securities fraud. • It is the last place a person can go to protect the free flow of information on the internet. • It is the last place a citizen can go to protect his or her vote. • It is the last place where a woman can go to protect her reproductive health and rights.

Yet from what I see, on each of those fronts, for each of those rights, the past decade has made it a little bit harder for American citizens to defend themselves.

As I said before, Judge, I'm here to learn from you. I want to learn what you think is the proper relationship between Congress and the Courts, between Congress and the Executive. I want to learn how you go about weighing the rights of the individual, the small consumer or business-owner, and more powerful interests. And I want to hear your views on judicial restraint and activism in the context of important issues like voting rights, open access to the Internet, and campaign finance reform.

We're going to have a lot of time together, so I'm going to start listening. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Kaufman Opening Statement at Supreme Court Nomination Hearing of Judge Sonia Sotomayor

Welcome, Judge Sotomayor, and welcome also to your family and friends. Like my colleagues, I want to congratulate you on your nomination.

We are now beginning the end of an extraordinarily important process. Short of voting to go to war, the Senate's constitutional obligation to "advise and consent" on Supreme Court nominees is probably our most important responsibility.

Supreme Court justices serve for life, and once the Senate confirms a nominee, she is likely to be affecting the law and American lives much longer than many of the Senators who confirmed her.

The "advise and consent" process for this nomination began after Justice Souter announced his intent to resign and President Obama consulted with members of both parties before making his selection. It has continued since then, with help from an extensive public debate amongst analysts and commentators, scholars and activists, both in the traditional press and in the blogosphere.

This public vetting process, while not always accurate or temperate, is extremely valuable both to the Senate and to the public. One of the great benefits of a free society is our ability, collectively, to delve deeply into an extensive public record. We've seen a wide-ranging discussion of the issues, in which anyone can help dissect and debate even the most minute legal issue and personal expressions of opinion.

In another, less public part of the process, Judge Sotomayor has met with close to 90 percent of the Senate. Those meetings, too, are extremely useful. I know I learned a great deal in my meeting, and I'm confident that my colleagues did as well.

For me, the critical criteria for judging a Supreme Court nominee are the following: A first-rate intellect, significant experience, unquestioned integrity, absolute commitment to the rule of law, unwavering dedication to being fair and open-minded, and the ability to appreciate the impact of court decisions on the lives of ordinary people. Based on what we've learned so far, this is an impressive nominee.

Judge Sotomayor, I am confident that this hearing will give this committee, and the rest of the Senate, the information we need to complete our constitutional duty. As senators, I believe we each owe you a decision based upon your record and your answers to our questions. That decision should not turn on empty code words like "judicial activist," or on charges of guilt by association, or on any litmus test. Instead, we should focus on your record and your responses, and determine whether you have the qualities that will enable you to serve well all Americans, and the rule of law, on our nation's highest court.

As my colleagues already have noted, your rise from humble beginnings to extraordinary academic and legal achievement is an inspiration to us all. And I note that you would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in over 100 years.

You also have incredibly valuable practice experience, not only as a prosecutor but also as a commercial litigator. In terms of your judicial record, you appear to have been careful, thoughtful, and open-minded. In fact, what strikes me most about your record is that it seems to reveal no biases. You appear to take each case as it comes, without predilection, giving full consideration to the arguments of both sides before reaching a decision.

When Justice Souter announced his retirement in May, I suggested that the Court would benefit from a broader range of experience among its members. My concern at the time wasn't the relative lack of women or racial or ethnic minorities on the Court, though that deficit is glaring. I was pointing to the fact that most of the current Justices, whether they be black or white, women or men, share roughly the same life experiences.

I am heartened by what you would bring to the Court, based on your upbringing, your story of achievement in the face of adversity, your professional experience as a prosecutor and commercial litigator, and, yes, the prospect of your being the first Latina to sit on the high court.

Though the Supreme Court is not a representative body, we should hold as an ideal that it broadly reflect the citizens it serves. Diversity serves many goals. Outside the courtroom, it better equips our institutions to understand more of the viewpoints and backgrounds that comprise our pluralistic society. Moreover, a growing body of social research suggests that groups with diverse experiences and backgrounds simply come to the right outcome more often than do non-diverse groups that may be just as talented. I believe a diverse Court will function better as well.

Another concern I have about the current Supreme Court is its handling of business cases. Too often it seems to disregard settled law and congressional policy choices.

Based on my education, experience, and inclination, I am not anti-business. But whether it's preempting state consumer protection laws, striking down punitive damages awards, restricting access to the courts, or overruling 96 years of pro-consumer antitrust law, today's court gives me the impression that in business cases the working majority is outcome-oriented and therefore too one-sided.

Given our current economic crisis, and the failures of regulation and enforcement that led to that crisis, that bias is particularly troubling. Congress can and will enact a dramatically improved regulatory system.

The President can and will make sure that the relevant enforcement agencies are populated with smart, motivated, and effective agents. But a Supreme Court resistant to federal government involvement in and regulation of markets could undermine those efforts.

A judge, or a court, has to call the game the same way for all sides. Fundamental fairness requires that in the courtroom, everyone comes to the plate with the same count of no balls and no strikes.

One of the aspirations of the American judicial system is that it is a place where the powerless have a chance for justice on a level playing field with the powerful. We need Justices on the Supreme Court who not only understand that aspiration, but also are committed to making it a reality.

Because of the importance of business cases before the Supreme Court, I plan to spend some time asking you about your experience as a commercial litigator, your handling of business cases as a trial judge and on the court of appeals, and your approach to business cases generally. From what I've seen in your record, you seem to call these cases right down the middle, without any bias or agenda. That is very important to me.

Very soon, those of us up here will be done talking, and you'll have the chance to testify, and then to answer our questions.

I look forward to your testimony.

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