Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Husband and wife physics team take up TPM faculty challenge to filibuster Frist, win glory and t-shirt!

According to our informants on the scene, this afternoon Edward Witten and Chiara Nappi approached filibuster organizers conducting their filibuster against Frist and informed them they were ready to take up the TPM challenge.

Photographs of their stints filibustering have been posted here.

By our interpretation of the faculty challenge rules, Witten and Chiara are entitled to two t-shirts. But apparently they only require one.

So two remain! Who will get them?

Late Update: We're told it's now started raining at the scene of the filibuster. So they're battening down the hatches. But the filibuster continues.

You can't stop fighting to save Social Security because he won't stop trying to phase it out.

According to afternoon wire reports, at the president's primetime press conference tonight, he will finally tell the public precisely what he does and doesn't support (aka, negotiating with yourself.)

Actually, in Scott McClellan's words, President Bush will "talk in more specific ways about his ideas for making Social Security permanently sound [and] some new proposals that he will talk about that he believes ought to be part of any solution." So, it's quite possible that we're just going to hear some more of the same mumbojumbo because he's still afraid to put something down on the table.

But clearly, with the failure of the Bamboozlepalooza Tour now conceded, the president wants to reshuffle the deck and force the debate on to some new phase.

So with that in mind, a few thoughts ...

First, you know what we'll hear. Democrats only say no. They don't have a plan. Wrong. Democrats do have a plan: it's called Social Security. And that's not mere rhetoric. It's an upfront, level-with-the-public statement of fact. What it means is that Democrats want to preserve Social Security as a defined-benefit system of social insurance. You can only say the Democrats have no plan if you take it as a given that the program must be radically restructured, like many of the talking heads in Washington. And Dems just don't agree.

Nor does this mean that they're flatly opposed to any changes. Social Security hasn't remained untouched for seventy years. Nor are the Democrats saying that every jot and tittle of all its complex tables of inflows and outflows are sacrosanct today. There are several quite detailed Democratic plans which have already been put forward, with mixes of minor benefits cuts and tax increases to bring the system into long-term solvency. What the Democrats oppose are radical cuts of the sort President Bush supports in order to fundamentally change the nature of the program, pay for his tax cuts and aide in not paying back the Treasury securities sitting in the Trust Fund.

The president was just reelected. He made phase-out his signature issue. His party controls majorities in both houses of Congress. It is not up to Democrats to do all his heavy-lifting for him and spell out every last detail. He was reelected. He said he wanted to lead. So lead.

So, as I said, Democrats have a plan: Social Security.

Second, and I'll be searchingly curious whether a reporter asks this at the news conference tonight: all of President Bush's scare-mongering about Social Security rests on the premise that the money borrowed from the Trust Fund either will not or cannot be paid back. If it is treated as a given that it will, little he is saying makes sense. So who will ask, specifically and on the point: Mr. President, will you guarantee that all the money that you and your predecessors (Clinton, Bush and Reagan) have borrowed from the Trust Fund will be repaid in full with interest, as prescribed by law? And if so, why are you trying to convince people that Social Security runs into any difficulties at the end of the next decade.

Third, keep your eye on the admittedly-much-diminished Fainthearted Faction. As we've said from the very beginning: this is in Democrats' hands to stop. Or, even a relative few of them, can start the ball rolling toward phase-out.

The long arm of Sen. Frist? Did Sen. Frist pull a little nuclear option (sort of a tactical nuke, I guess) on the students filibustering outside the Frist Campus Center?

Earlier this evening (or morning, whatever), we brought you word that the students on the Princeton campus were going into their second day of 'filibustering' outside the Frist Campus Center -- the building the senator's family paid a bunch of money to have named after him. And we linked to the impromptu, outdoor webcam they'd just set up to allow believers in constitutional government around the country to observe their on-going effort.

But at 2:52 AM this morning, just under two hours after we pointed to their webcam, we received a rushed email from one of our correspondents on the scene telling us that the campus police had arrived, trying to shut it down and asking to see paperwork showing they had permission to operate the webcam. Not long after, said protest webcam went dark. No word yet on whether the filibusterers have been taken to an undisclosed location or perhaps extraordinarily rendered.

Late Update: They're back online. When we find out what transpired, we'll let you know. (ed.note: Do you know what really happened? Believe me, not a clue.)

Truly Late Update: I'm told that as yet not a single member of the school's faculty has deigned to join the students in reading from the podium. A TPM Privatize This! T-Shirt for the first three faculty members to take a turn at the filibuster!

It all started on November 16th with the DeLay Rule and Shays Handful.

The DeLay Rule supporters then went out and tried to justify the rule to constituents. By way of example, here's how Rep. Dreier, Chairman of the Rules Committee justified the Rule to his constituents; here's page 1 and 2 of how Speaker Hastert did; and here's how the biggest single recipient in Congress, Rep. Ferguson of New Jersey explained what happened.

Eventually, the House Republican Caucus had to knuckle under on the DeLay Rule because of all the constituent outrage. But at the same time, figuring no one would notice, they eviscerated the House Ethics Committee so as to do everything in their power to protect the recidivist ethics rules violator DeLay.

A month later, just to make sure DeLay wouldn't be in any danger at all, Speaker Hastert purged the Ethics Committee of the three Republicans who had refused to vote for the DeLay Rule in the firt place (the so-called 'Night of the Long Gavels').

And now, here we are, almost three months later, and the Republican Caucus has once again been forced to repeal the DeLay-protecting rules they voted for and justified to their constituents only weeks earlier. By a vote of 406 to 20, the House today repealed all the rules passed in early January which deep-sixed the Ethics committee to protect Rep. DeLay from more scrutiny, admonishment and sanction.

Tonight, Rep. Chris Shays may not have the whole world in his hands. But he's sure got the whole House Republican Caucus.

Predicted Broder-Fineman-Russert co-spin: "Sure the DeLay Rule was unpopular. But what new ideas do the Democrats have? All they can do is say 'no'."

Bug Man Blues, performed by Jeff Birnbaum of the Post: "Now that it's clear that his controversial private-paid trips abroad will be put under a microscope in Congress, Tom DeLay is in serious danger of being declared in violation of House ethics rules, legal experts say. Lawyers who specialize in ethics cases believe that the Republican House majority leader from Texas might be in technical breach of at least a few congressional regulations. According to published reports, a registered foreign agent paid for one of DeLay's overseas trips and a registered lobbyist used his credit card to pay for another foreign airfare -- actions the rules prohibit. DeLay may also have accepted gifts that exceeded congressional limits, taken an expense-paid trip overseas for longer than the rules allow and not disclosed all of the benefits he received."

They won't stop!

Bill Frist may have given their school a lot of money to put his name on a building. But these students at Princeton won't stop filibustering Frist.

They've been going now for going on two days and much of it has been done in the rain.

As we told you on Tuesday, students at Princeton University are holding their own filibuster outside the campus's Frist Campus Center, reading from phone books, judicial nomination dossiers, Dante, the Bible, whatever they can get their hands on, all to protest Sen. Frist's effort to abolish the filibuster with the transparently ridiculous claim that the judicial filibuster is unconstitutional.

In fact, with some shoe-leather and handiwork and by begging for back-up batteries from fellow students, they've managed to put up an outdoor Frist filibuster webcam.

I'm watching them right now and so can you.

As of about 1:17 AM, I'm watching and one student has just handed off the megaphone to another. And now she's reading from some unknown document, putting her voice on the line to say that there are some things more important than Bill Frist's desperate desire to run for president in 2008.

Well, I'll try not to let the emotion of the moment get the better of me as I watch these idealistic young worthies talk all night long. But stop by the webcam and see what they're doing. And maybe somebody should send them some batteries. Or a long cord. Or some sandwiches ...

Who'll be the first pol to stop by the podium and get in on the act? Is Rush Holt in the district?

There's a fascinating article (sub. required) in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal about the state of the Bolton nomination. All the parliamentary niceties aside, the upshot is that Republicans may bring Bolton's nomination to a vote even if he doesn't get approved by the Foreign Relations committee.

TPM Reader TS dropped me a line this evening, noting the article and asking me, in essence: can they really do that?

The answer, I told him, is that if they really want to, a majority, or rather a Majority Leader backed by 51 senators (or 50 with Cheney) can really do anything he wants. They can abolish the filibuster. They can bring Bolton to a vote. Whatever. The senate has no referees or rulemakers who don't work at the pleasure of the majority.

There is a certain logic to the proposition that anything that comes to the senate should go to a vote of the entire senate. The only problem is that both Houses of the United States Congress have operated for more than 200 years by the committee system, which says that that logic isn't the one we follow. Nominations and laws die in committee all the time. Just ask Bill Weld. It's happened, literally, for centuries.

Don't get me wrong. Individually, these rules have been bent or broken here and there. The WSJ article itself notes that something similar happened with Ken Adelman's nomination in 1983. But when you take together the nuclear option business, this new part of the Bolton drama, and other recent developments, you see a leadership (and really, because that's who's controlling this, a White House) which wants to win every time at any cost and is pretty much indifferent to the existing rules if they get in the way.

(Note that the constitutional interpretation at the heart of the nuclear option is ridiculous on its face. But if Cheney will say it that's all they need. We'll get to this point in a subsequent post.)

In a sense this shouldn't surprise us since it is precisely the same mentality and approach that's informed what they've done in the country at large -- the Schiavo case being the textbook case.

It's like I said a couple weeks ago, the Republican party is becoming an anti-constitutional party. They're not comfortable with the rule of law -- inside the Capitol or out.

Late Update: I've gotten a number of emails about this post, each along the lines of, no you can't change the rule on filibusters with a mere 51 votes. You need a super-majority to amend senate rules. In this case, I think my meaning has been misconstrued, though I thought I was clear. This comes down to a difference between can and may. By the rules, the Republicans can't pull the nuclear option. The whole effort is based on a ridiculous argument about constitutionality -- the idea that the constitution requires a vote by the entire senate on every judicial nominee. And they're making that argument to get around the impossibility of getting 67 votes to get rid of the filibuster, as the senate rules dictate. But clearly they can do it. And they just might do it. The simple fact is that there is no outside authority that does or can pass judgment on how 51 senators choose to interpret the rules or how Dick Cheney chooses to interpret the constitution. So, I stick to my assertion that so long as they are not bound by a good faith interpretation of the rules or the constitution, 51 senators and/or a vice president of their own party, pretty much can do anything they want. When you push past the soft tissue of law, almost anything becomes possible.