Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Jack Abramoff, international man of mystery?

I must say, this Hastert transcript will be choice pickings for humor posts over the next day or so. Here's one question the Speaker got today at his press conference.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, if I could ask you a question, the Abramoff scandal is what has forced you into this position. A year ago, the things that you're proposing would not have been politically possible for you to talk about.

Why is the Congress reacting and why didn't it act initially if all these are good ideas?

HASTERT: Well, you know, a year ago most people around Congress couldn't tell you who Jack Abramoff was and didn't know who his associates were or what connections there are.

As this thing unrolls, people understand that we need to learn from what happened in the past and try to rectify that if we can.

That's great. People on Capitol Hill didn't know who Jack Abramoff was or who his associates were? The guy was one of the biggest lobbyists in DC, moved huge amounts of money around Capitol Hill, was close to most of the key Republican power-brokers in and out of Congress. But no one knew who he was. And no one knew who his associates were?

This is a deeper vein than it looks like on the surface. Denny Hastert is like the Mr. Magoo of DC Republican corruption. The DeLay Machine was the muscle and sinew of the House on his watch. The Abramoff clique ran deep tentacles all through the institution. But Hastert didn't know anything about it. It's all news to him.

Day Two of our TPMCafe Book Club on Peter Bergen's new bin Laden book is well underway. Stop by and join the conversation.

Sen Reid responds to today's GOP reformapalooza ...

“The idea of Republicans reforming themselves is like asking John Gotti to clean up organized crime. I thought I’d seen the last of corruption when I helped clean up Las Vegas thirty years ago. But, while its not quite the mafia of Las Vegas in the 1970s, what is happening today in Washington is every bit as corrupt and the consequences for our country have been just as severe.

“Some problems have no legislative fix, and the Republican culture of corruption is one of them. Today’s announcements by House and Senate Republicans should be taken at face value – minor wrist slapping and good public relation stunts by the same people responsible for this mess. Democrats will lead the tough reforms, because we owe it to the American people to stand up for their interests over special interests. Are we really going to believe that Republicans will stop answering the calls from their friends on K Street? Are they really going to put seniors ahead of drug companies when it comes reforming Medicare? Are they really going to help families over oil companies when it comes to gas prices? The answer to these questions is no, and that’s why the American people trust Democrats to clean up Washington and put their interests first.”

Criticisms below notwithstanding, I think Reid's hit on a key point. The Republican majorities in both bodies, but particularly in the House, have to start cooperating with the investigations of the criminals and corrupt officials in their midst before they get on to proposing bans of getting free meals. There's a major criminal investigation into the political operation that Denny Hastert is at least nominally in charge of. Has he pledged cooperation with that probe? Is he going to launch any sort of congressional investigation into the seemingly systemic corrupt practices that have evolved under his leadership? It's almost farcical. The mobsters want to join the Rotary Club without even passing 'go'. If Michael Corleone had only known ...

I think congressional Republicans will have to do a lot better than this to make up for the facts they face over the next year. But let's note, at least in passing, some not-ready-for-primetime planning. Speaker Hastert held a press conference today to announce his reform package. Sen. Santorum did the same over on the senate side.

Larry Margasak on the AP wire notes: "Democrats, who have begun a "culture of corruption" theme against Republicans in an election year, were to unveil their ethics reform package Wednesday."

Who does what first isn't the biggest deal in the world. But I think the Dems just got caught off guard on this.

Better planning please?

I was finally able to give a close read to the Al Gore's speech from yesterday. And I wanted to add my voice to all of those around the web who've been praising what the former vice president said. When I think about the Gore now, in the period since he left elected office, what stands out most about him is the way that he has become a standing rebuke to the shame and moral indolence of today's custodians of received opinion. You can see it in the sneering and bemused responses his speeches receive from the usual cast of characters.

These really aren't normal political times we're living in. And I think Gore is right to say that we're in the midst of a constitutional crisis, even though too few people are taking notice of it. Our constitution becomes the proverbial falling tree.

The point Gore makes in his speech that I think is most key is the connection between authoritarianism, official secrecy and incompetence.

The president's critics are always accusing him of law-breaking or unconstitutional acts and then also berating the incompetence of his governance. And it's often treated as, well ... he's power-hungry and incompetent to boot! Imagine that! The point though is that they are directly connected. Authoritarianism and secrecy breed incompetence; the two feed on each other. It's a vicious cycle. Governments with authoritarian tendencies point to what is in fact their own incompetence as the rationale for giving them yet more power. Katrina was a good example of this.

The basic structure of our Republic really is in danger from a president who militantly insists that he is above the law.

It's not easy being Bob Ney. But someone's got to do it. That and other news in today's Daily Muck.

I'm always on the look out for new literary forms cropping up in our daily press roundabouts. And the one I'm keyed into now is the most creative, the most outside-the-box disassociation with Jack Abramoff.

Today's prize may go to Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), aspirant to the Majority Leadership ...

"I've got 11 brothers and sisters, and my dad owned a bar," said Boehner, R-West Chester, who said he met Abramoff at a fund-raiser for then-Sen. Don Nickles. "It's great training for what I do every day. You stand behind a bar, and it doesn't take long to sort of size people up. Some you like, and some you don't, and he just wasn't someone I liked. I knew it the moment I met him."

Neighborhood bar, school of character and ethics.

Late Update: This final note probably left the impression that I don't think tending bar can give you a lot of insights into human nature. Quite the opposite. I just think it's a stretch for Boehner to hang his hat on this as a way of explaining his alleged aversion to Jack Abramoff.

More for the bonfire.

Former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) was one of the "principal authors" of the Medicare prescription drug bill, according to the Washington Post. And a mere two months after the bill passed, PhRMA (the drug industry trade association in Washington) offered to make him their chief lobbyist in a deal that "would [have been] the biggest deal given to anyone at a trade association," one source told the Post.

There was such an outcry over this that Tauzin did the right thing and delayed taking the gig until later in the year.

TPM Reader J on the Medicare prescription drug law debacle ...


I have been surprised by the amount of silence on Medicare Part D in the blogosphere. A fiasco of this magnitude deserves the same sort of deafening response that the FEMA response received. This has become a big, big story this month which has given many likely voters a significantly negative personal experience with Republican corruption.

Public health emergencies have now been declared in twelve states. There will be political consequences for the party responsible. There is already a wide popular conception among the affected portions of the public that the drug benefit was designed not in good faith, but to enrich insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry.

Arbitrary drug classes like benzodiazepenes and barbiturates are specifically excluded from coverage. Congress left no clue as to the legislative intent of the exclusion. Someone seems to have decided that these two drug classes are incompatible with some Biblical teaching. Or maybe the competing drug classes are much more profitable for someone's campaign contributors (as both benzodiazepines and barbiturates are cheap and produced as generics, unlike their likely treatment alternatives). As a result the nation's psychiatrists are going batshit right now, trying to figure out what to do with patients on drug regimens for things like seizures.

Just like Katrina, and Iraqi reconstruction difficulties, this is an unfolding disaster that could be seen approaching from a mile away beforehand. The government took little or no preparation before the deadline to make sure things would run smoothly. As usual, someone in charge seems to have assumed that the invisible hand of the markets would take care of everything, or something. As a result, phone lines are clogged, web sites are down or inaccessible, pharmacists and doctors have no idea what is going on after being kept out of the loop, and seniors themselves are panicked, confused, and freaking out.

Last year's Social Security discussion was abstract for most senior citizens. They were specifically told it "would not affect them" and yet they were instrumental in destroying the Bush privatization attempts.

Medicare Plan D isn't like that at all- it's right in their faces. Old people (and their adult children trying to help them) are getting hit with nasty surprises at pharmacies everywhere this month. And they are MAD. They are being snowed under by the confusing paperwork and tricky decisions they are being forced to make. Many have yet to find out that the plan they're in won't cover the drugs they're on, or that they were automatically and quietly disenrolled from superior private coverage. And later in the year, say around November, a significant portion of beneficiaries will have entered their Part-D "doughnut-holes" and will be paying a monthly premium to receive zero benefits! How do you think that will go over? Might a surprise jump in monthly expenses affect voting behavior around then, if it can easily be associated with the party that calls Medicare Part D their "signature domestic achievement"?

Yes, yes and I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks later to say yes again.