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David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

Profile in courage:

Denver Clerk and Recorder Wayne Vaden resigned today amid chaos in the Denver Election Commission which he oversees.

Citing his belief "that accountability is the underpinning of honorable public service," Vaden said he was resigning from a "personal disappointment over my efforts" with the commission.


I don't know any of the backstory on this. But the election in Denver was a disaster, and I have long thought that the European model of falling on your sword when a disaster happens on your watch is noble, honorable, and should be emulated here in the States.

The New York Observer posted an interesting piece last night on Speaker-in-Waiting Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the leadership race between Jack Murtha (D-PA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

It raises some issues about how exactly the race for majority leader came down. So first, here's a sampling (but go read the whole thing), and then I want to place this in the larger context of what we've been hearing from up on the Hill:

If, as expected, Mr. Murtha does go down to defeat on Thursday, the press, and Ms. Pelosi’s political tormenters, will have all the ammunition they need to tell the world that she miscalculated and overreached—that the new House leader is in over her head and has a perilously weak hold on her flock.

No matter what they say, though, the internal fallout will be minimal for Ms. Pelosi. She spotted Mr. Murtha’s bid for the lost cause it was and shied away from investing any real capital in it. And it’s not like her personal loyalty to Mr. Murtha—or her distrust of Mr. Hoyer—is a secret among House Democrats.

The big secret here—at least outside the Capitol—is what an adept inside player the incoming Speaker actually is. Indeed, few seem to appreciate the singular position of dominance within the Democratic caucus into which she has masterfully maneuvered herself.


This account fits with what we've been hearing from multiple sources. Instead of pulling out all the stops to get Murtha elected, Pelosi had been content to sit on the sidelines, figuring that it was well known within the caucus that she preferred Murtha to Hoyer.

Then, apparently in response to Murtha's request, Pelosi sent out her letter of support over the weekend to newly elected Democratic House members. That letter set off a firestorm of news coverage, pegging the majority leader's race as the first test of Pelosi's leadership, all of which apparently came as a big surprise to Pelosi.

With the dynamics of the race suddenly shifted from simply Hoyer v. Murtha to a larger question of Pelosi's political strength and capabilities, she shifted her support for Murtha into overdrive, starting to make phone calls and twist arms. The problem is that it was probably too little, too late. (Actually, there are indications, as the Observer article suggests, that Murtha's candidacy had been a lost cause from the very beginning.)

Did Pelosi make a misjudgment?

Did she assume that her personal preference for Murtha and her long-standing personal rivalry with Hoyer was such common knowledge within the Democratic caucus that her letter for Murtha was only stating the obvious?

Did she not realize that, to a new crop of Democratic House members and to a public and press still getting acquainted with her, her support for Murtha would take on greater significance?

Few outside the Democratic caucus know of its inner workings, so all the public and press sees is Pelosi backing a losing candidate in her first act as Speaker. It's not a fatal misstep, but it does suggest that Pelosi is having to figure out that the talent she has for maneuvering inside the caucus, which has served her well, is a different skill set than the one required to lead the national Democratic Party, which is the position she is in now.

Here's hoping she gets that figured out soon.

Bitterness and recrimination at the Republican National Committee about the White House's choice of Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) to chair the RNC, according to the Washington Times:

Some RNC members, already dismayed by last week's election that swept Republicans from control of Congress, expressed anger at the way Mr. Rove leaked his choice of Mr. Martinez immediately after a conference call in which the Florida senator's name was floated for the first time.


The Martinez selection also signals that the White House intends to make another run at immigration reform, the paper reported, with Martinez as the point person.

House Republicans are really going to love the White House pushing immigration reform through a Democratic Congress that it couldn't get from a Republican Congress. This is the first and perhaps best example of how the interests of the White House will not always be aligned with congressional Republicans over the next two years.

A split among readers on the question of whether the confirmation hearings for Bob Gates should be held in December by a GOP Senate or after the first of the year by a Democratic Senate.

From TPM Reader JW:

I don't see the logic of waiting two months to confirm Gates just to use the hearings as a platform to talk about Iraq. The Democrats can do that using budget hearings, intelligence hearings, hell, whatever committee meetings they wish to. They can call Gates over to the Congress later if they want.

The fact is, they don't have anything on Gates that would prevent him from becoming Defense Secretary. It's pretty clear they're going to have to work with Gates; why make him the whipping boy from the outset? He hasn't done anything wrong yet and isn't likely to know very much more about Iraq right now than the senators do. I think it's better to take the high road with this nomination, since we all agree we want Rumsfeld out, let Gates get his feet, and ask him in January what he's come up with.

I think the "use nomination hearings as a bully pulpit" logic shows that the Democrats are still thinking like a minority party. They got the subpoena power, they got the committees, they can open any can of worms any they want to and don't have to snipe at the Administration from the bushes. Let the rabbits through now and hunt elephants in January.

If they really feel the need to fight a rearguard in the lame-duck Congress, try to keep Bolton out of the UN. That nomination is genuinely dangerous and distressing.


Then again, TPM Reader EC:

I have to agree with David, and I wanted to add something.

It really is important to maintain that the problems with Iraq don't simply go away with Rumsfeld's departure. The administration OWNS this one, and whether Rumsfeld leaves immediately or lingers until a successor is confirmed should not matter. Beyond that, I think delaying the hearings can be a win for Democrats in another sense. Stress that Democrats simply want a full airing of Gates' qualifications and his plans for Iraq. After all, Iraq is one of the big reasons Democrats are now the Majority party. If there's a mandate in any of this, it's that the American people don't trust a Republican Congress to run things...and that should certainly include the relatively important decision of who replaces Rumsfeld. Democrats should support an extensive, reasonable examination of any nominee for any position; that can't and won't happen if they appear too timid to challenge the administration on the timing.

The Democrats won...and they'll be endlessly scrutinized by the not-so-liberal media. It's time to worry less about appearances and more about doing the right thing. It's by "doing the right thing" that Democrats will ultimately preserve and grow their majority. Not by kow-towing to a media that isn't and won't be on their side, ultimately lending weight to Republican claims of weakness.

TPM Reader BM responds:

I think you raise important points about hearings on Gates' nomination. I'm all in favor of such. However, I can see a relatively simple logic for the Democrats moving cautiously here. The real reasons are public perception and speed. Remember, Bush is still pretending to be contrite and bipartisan (despite pushing Bolton for UN Ambassador). The Dems would like to make Bush eat the cost of being the first one to go partisan (though I doubt they are likely to win that particular point in the media).

More importantly, if the Republicans are saying the want Gates in and Rumsfeld out next week, how do the Dems respond? Should they say they want hearings delayed until they take over in January, then a month or more of hearings and a final vote in March? That is basically saying they want 5 more months of Rumsfeld. It's not a winning position. Further, it allows the Republicans to blame the next 400 American deaths on the Dems by pointing out they kept Rumsfeld in even after the "realist Republicans" wanted him out. I'm not sure if that is a good argument for avoiding important hearings or not, but it needs to be considered and the perceptual ramifications dealt with.


I agree that these are political considerations that need to be addressed. But they strike me as relatively easy to dispense with. Bush is responsible for the first six years of Rumsfeld's reign of terror at the Pentagon, and nothing says Rumsfeld has to remain until his successor is chosen. Ultimately, though, the focus should be on the President. Iraq is his policy, not Rumsfeld's. If he's worried about how long it will take to replace Rumsfeld, he shouldn't have waited until now to start the wheels in motion.

In his interview last night with Larry King, Jim Webb adriotly sidestepped the question of whether he thought Rumsfeld should have resigned. His point, which is a good one, was to avoid making Rumsfeld the issue when our policy in Iraq is the Administration's policy.

Update: Webb's appearance on Larry King Live was actually last week.

Senator-elect Jim Webb (D-VA) made it clear last night on Larry King Live that he wants the opportunity to vote on the confirmation of the new secretary of defense, rather than leaving it to the lame-duck GOP Senate.

Update: Webb's appearance on Larry King Live was last week.

There is another thing I would point out about the importance of a Democratic-led confirmation hearing on Bob Gates. The point of such a hearing would not be to torpedo his nomination, but rather to put down some markers on Iraq and attempt to define the parameters within which the Administration will operate going forward.

I'm talking about big picture items. What is victory? What is the strategic objective? Are we spread too thin militarily and how do we address that? What will troop rotations look like going forward? What should our force strength be? How much repair and replenishment of materiel is required and what will it cost? What resources do we need to commit in Afghanistan? What are the relative priorities?

I don't have much confidence that those questions will be addressed in GOP-led hearings. The thrust of Republican questioning will be, You're not Don Rumsfeld, right? End of story.

The temptation will be--already is--to dump the Iraq disaster in Rumsfeld's lap and be satisfied that just about anything and anyone will be better than Rumsfeld. First, that ignores the continuing role of the President and Vice President. Second, it seems to me that we are at a crossroads, with many options before us. Simply saying any road is better than the one we just came down is irresponsible. There are real choices to be made at this juncture. After the 1968 elections, not many Americans would probably have guessed that we would be in Vietnam for another six and a half years. We're at a similarly decisive moment now.

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