TPM News

Dem Lobbyists Hired To Align With New Congress "Washington's $2.3 billion lobbying industry is undergoing one of its periodic adjustments to shifts in government power — the first since the White House changed hands in 2001.

"Accustomed to dealing with Republicans and at times discouraged by Republican lawmakers from hiring Democrats, lobbying firms and business groups are now filling their ranks with policy experts and lobbyists more closely aligned with the new leadership on Capitol Hill.

"'Nobody on our side is telling them fire the Republicans, but they certainly understand they need to have a bipartisan team if they want to get anything done,' said Steve Elmendorf, a top adviser to former Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., who took up lobbying with Bryan Cave Strategies last year and opened his own shop after the election." (AP)

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The Justice Department has declined to provide documents on the CIA's detention and interrogation of terror suspects that were requested by a Democratic Senator.

In a letter to incoming Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Justice Department said it "was not in a position" to give him copies of the the two documents he had requested in November.

"We remain committed to continuing these discussions," the Dec. 22 letter stated. "We must do so, however, in a manner that protects classified information and the confidentiality of legal advice and internal deliberations within the Executive Branch."

In a statement e-mailed to reporters, Leahy said he was disappointed by the administration's decision to "brush off" his request, but wasn't dropping the matter. "I have advised the Attorney General that I plan to pursue this matter further at the Committee’s first oversight hearing of the Department of Justice."

Leahy's full statement, after the jump.

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Two of the sharpest-toothed hunters among House Democrats are also among the longest-serving: Reps. John Dingell (D-MI) and John Conyers (D-MI). Combined the two men have over 95 years of service in Congress, yet their instincts for oversight remain sharp.

Player: Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) Position: Chair, House Energy & Commerce Committee

"You're the biggest pain in the ass on Capitol Hill," President Bush reportedly told Dingell in 2005 as the two fought over health care legislation. It's a reputation the senior lawmaker does little to diminish. He's claimed his share of scalps from the executive branch, including at least one jailing mixed in with the forced resignations. Rove pal Ken Tomlinson quit the Corporation for Public Broadcasting board under Dingell's pressure. (Tomlinson couldn't stay out of trouble, however.)

Since it became clear he would retake his committee's chairmanship, Dingell has held his list of executive-branch targets close to the vest. Natural targets would include the administration's trade policies, and its ties to Big Oil. He's made no secret of his appetite for investigating the private sector. So far, he's tipped his hand enough to show plans to investigate Medicare and Medicaid fraud involving big pharmaceutical companies, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the dietary supplement industry.

Player: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) Position: Chair, House Judiciary Committee

Convers, in his fifth decade on Capitol Hill, has emerged as one of the Democrats' most vocal critics of the White House. After holding hearings on the topic in 2005, he's held tenaciously to questions from the Downing Street Memo that were never answered to his satisfaction. The memo is a British government document from 2002 which alleged the Bush White House was "fixing" the intelligence about Iraq to make a case for war.

Last August, Conyers' staff produced a report detailing at least 26 violations of law on the part of the Bush administration, mostly involving pre-war intelligence, the NSA domestic spying program, and the CIA's black sites operations. Despite producing a list of potential criminal charges against President Bush, Conyers has repeatedly denied allegations that he seeks to impeach the president. He has called for "Watergate-style hearings" to learn the details of many of the administration's questionable programs.

"[W]e are leaving ourselves vulnerable to infiltration by those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion, rather than working within the Judeo-Christian principles that have made us a beacon for freedom-loving persons around the world."

-- Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA), in an op-ed published in today's USA Today, explaining why he believes the United States should refuse immigrants from the Middle East.

Republicans aren't yet an official minority in the House, but they're already beginning a campaign to portray themselves as victims of a heartless Democratic majority.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated to fellow Republicans, three House GOPers are trying to push a "Minority Bill of Rights" -- based on a two-year-old proposal by then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). You can read the letter here.

"Unfortunately, as you are well aware, the Democrats' forty-year reign over the House was plagued by consistent, systematic efforts to usurp the rights and privileges of the Republican minority," write Reps. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Tom Price (R-GA).

They don't mention their party's own strongarm tactics -- which is striking, given that since 2002 Cantor himself was a member of the House GOP leadership, which was known for ruthlessly engineering legislative victories. "[R]eveling in the power they have, [Republicans] are using techniques to jam bills through even when they don't have to . . . simply because they can," is how congressional expert Norman Ornstein characterized the GOP's screw-the-minority tactics from 1994 to the present, according to a 2004 Washington Post article.

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Iraq Govt to Probe Filming of Saddam Hanging "The Iraqi government launched an inquiry on Monday into how guards filmed and taunted Saddam Hussein on the gallows, turning his execution into a televised spectacle that has inflamed sectarian anger.

"A senior Iraqi official told Reuters the U.S. ambassador tried to persuade Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki not to rush into hanging the former president just four days after his appeal was turned down, urging the government two wait another two weeks.

"News of the ousted strongman's death on Saturday and of his treatment by officials of the Shi'ite-led government was blamed by one witness for sparking a prison riot among mainly Sunni Arab inmates at a jail near the northern city of Mosul." (Reuters)

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In a ruling handed down today, a Florida judge denied access to voting machines' source code by experts for Democrat Christine Jennings and others.

Jennings, along with the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, People for the American Way Foundation and others, had asked the court to allow them access to the source code on voting machines used in Sarasota County, where they allege 18,000 votes were not counted.

Judge William L. Gary called their request "nothing more than conjecture and not supported by credible evidence," and said that making the secret code available for scrutiny "would result in destroying or at least gutting the protections afforded those who own the trade secrets."

A senior attorney on Jennings' side of the suit called Gary's ruling "an order without any legal basis whatsoever."

The judge "denied the voters of Sarasota County the ability to look inside the ballot boxes, essentially, that they're using to cast their ballot," David Becker, attorney for the People for the American Way Foundation, told me. "We're going to use every available avenue to see that this order is overturned."

Update: Here's the ruling.

Florida Democrat Christine Jennings said today she won't try to block Republican Vern Buchanan from being sworn in to represent the state's 13th District, despite her efforts to have that election declared unconstitutional.

In November's elections, Buchanan beat out Jennings by fewer than 400 votes to win the seat, but Jennings has contested the election both in Florida courts and before Congress.

"Christine is not conceding," her deputy campaign manager Robert Kellar explained to me by phone. After consulting with constituents, her staff and Democratic leadership, she "decided it would be best for the district to allow [Buchanan] to be seated temporarily," until the election disputes are sorted out.

Kellar said Jennings had the option of filing an official challenge to seating Buchanan in the 110th Congress, but opted not to. "If a constituent has a problem with Social Security or something, they need someone to go to," Kellar explained. She has, however, "contested" the election with Congress, which is a different process.

Kellar said that staffers for the House Administration Committee have received Jennings' formal contest and are currently investigating the matter. More on that soon.

Update: An earlier version of this post reported that election results showed Buchanan beat Jennings by 18,000 votes. That was incorrect; results showed Buchanan won by 369 votes. At issue in the dispute are an estimated 18,000 votes that may not have been properly registered.