TPM News

Will the Republican senator who objects to confirming Barack Obama's two top environmental nominees please stand up?

We've been looking all day at the mysterious delay in the confirmations of Lisa Jackson, nominated to lead the EPA, and Nancy Sutley, who will head the Council on Environmental Quality. Two Republican senators, John Barrasso (R-WY) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK), had been making noise about the appointment of White House climate adviser Carol Browner -- a forceful advocate for tackling climate change who will not require Senate confirmation.

Raising questions about Browner's role in Obama's environmental chain of command is certainly a clever way to presage Republican opposition to any future regulation of carbon emissions. The environment committee chairman, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), also told us she believed Barrasso was gumming up the works.

The only problem? Barrasso says his objection is all a big misunderstanding.

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Here's something we haven't seen in a while -- a White House statement praising Roe v. Wade:

Statement of President Obama on the 36th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose.

While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.

On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere.

The wages of Madoff continue to grow...

A new bill being introduced by Senators Chuck Schumer and Richard Shelby would aim to crack down on financial fraud by adding hundreds of new prosecutors and investigators to the Department of Justice -- including the FBI -- and the Securities and Exchange Commission, at a cost of $110 million.

A press release explains:

In recent months, amid the financial crisis that has roiled the U.S. economy, a rising number of securities and accounting fraud cases have surfaced, accounting for billions of dollars in losses for investors. But the agencies on the front lines of policing the Wall Street's top financial institutions and investment managers have been hamstrung by a lack of resources.

And it quotes Schumer:
Our white collar crime divisions are under-staffed, under-funded, and overwhelmed," Schumer said. "When a wave of violent crime sweeps through a city, the immediate response is to beef up the police forces, putting more cops on the beat, extending overtime, and making sure the city returns to safety. Our reaction to the financial crisis and the massive and complex financial fraud investigations that loom should be no different.

In recent weeks, there has been talk of re-structuring the financial regulatory system, of which the SEC is a major pillar, in response to the current financial crisis. So we'll see how this new effort fits in.

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Assuming that Al Franken is finally declared the winner of the Minnesota Senate race after the current litigation, exactly which committees could he end up serving on?

Harry Reid's office last night released the "final" list of Democratic committee assignments. They couldn't have been truly final, though, because there are currently three Dem vacancies: Minnesota, Colorado and New York. And so several committees had some "To Be Announced" slots still open:

• Special Committee on Aging - 3

• Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry - 2

• Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs - 1

• Environment and Public Works - 1

• Foreign Relations - 1

• Health, Education, Labor and Pensions - 1

• Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs - 1

• Indian Affairs - 1

It would appear that all three incoming Senators could end up being put on the Aging Committee. After that there will be eight slots to go around.

Reid's office told TPMDC that no decisions have yet been made on specific committees for either Franken, Senator-designate Michael Bennet from Colorado, or Senator TBD (D-NY).

Franken spokesperson Jess McIntosh told TPMDC that she wasn't there for Franken's conversation with Harry Reid yesterday about committee assignments, and wasn't aware of the specific details. Said McIntosh: "Given his wide range of interests, I'm sure he'll be thrilled with whatever the selection is."

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.