Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Drats! So close, and yet so far.

I had some hope that we might break through half a million unique visitors on TPM in February. But we came up just short.

Unique visitors 496,527; unique visits 2,077,729; page views 2,832,707.

There's always next month.

(As always, a sincere thank you to all the site's readers.)

Friends, I'm just checking my emails here late on Monday afternoon and I've noticed a number of them asking whether I'm okay and if anything is amiss since there've been no new posts for the last three days.

In brief, nothing is amiss.

At the moment, I'm hurtling down the Northeast corridor on an Amtrak train bound for DC and will be getting back to TPM world headquaters mid-evening.

It took me about thirty-five years to get around to it, but this weekend I went skiing for the first time in my life. Why I'd never done it before I'm not precisely sure, since I grew up in a part of Southern California where there were skiable mountains no more than a fifteen minute drive from my house. Maybe it was a family thing or that we just didn't have much money. But I'd just never given the idea too much thought until my girlfriend suggested it about a month or so ago.

In any case, before getting even my ski boots on the snow I had half sketched out in my head all manner of self-mocking riffs about spending the weekend falling down in place trying to stand on my skis, with some frustrated, hapless ski instructor trying to explain to me how it was all done.

But, improbably enough, I ended up being halfway decent at it and managed -- on my last run on the second day -- to go down the entire mountain without falling one time.

Now, having grown up in Southern California, it's a little hard to call this thing we were on a 'mountain' and, sure, the trails I made my way down on were the ones marked green for feeble beginners. But those are secondary details we really don't need to go into or concern ourselves with.

In any case, once I learned to control my rate of descent -- something which I heartily recommend to the president, by the way -- I found myself really liking it.

More later this evening on the turning tide on Capitol Hill, the latest intel revelations, and more.

So I guess that little 'president can't force Hastert's hand' charade didn't work out, did it? The Speaker has now agreed to allow an extension of two months for the 9/11 Commission to complete its work.

A few of my Republican friends on the Hill claim that there's more to it than I think, that perhaps there's some reason Hastert has, separate from the White House, to oppose the extension.

I don't buy that for two reasons.

First, I think it's pretty close to objectively true that the White House has more political vulnerability on this than Republican members of the House. So I really don't see why Hastert would hold on even after the White House relented or what his other reason for holding on would be. (I'd like to now dispute his nominal reason for opposing an extension. But he's candid enough to admit that this is his reason -- politics. They didn't even take the time to think up a fig leaf rationale.) Using Ockham's Razor, you get pretty quickly to the conclusion that Hastert was doing this to help the White House, acting either on explicit instructions or a tacit understanding.

Second, even if we posit some unknown and close to inexplicable reason why Hastert would have been holding out on this, I just don't think anyone believes that Hastert (a fairly pliable Speaker, by historical standards) would buck an explicit demand or request from a president of his own party on such a charged and politically consequential issue.

As much as you try to nuance it, tease it apart, chew on it, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt, the whole episode comes up the same way: it was a charade.

See this morning's gaggle to see the discussion with Scott McClellan.

Now let's get to why the president can only spend one hour with the two co-chairs of the commission.

In this morning's back-and-forth, Scott McClellan advanced the argument that there is a separation of powers issue at stake here, since the commission was created by Congress.

That's sounds questionable to me on several counts.

But even if you grant that argument, can there really be a separation of powers issue at stake in restricting the questioning to one hour rather than, say, five or six hours? Similarly, is there a separation of powers issue in play in allowing only the chairs to be present rather than all the members of the commission? That sounds like an awfully hard argument to make.

Get ready to gag on the gaggle. This from this <$NoAd$>morning ...

QUESTION: Scott, is there any movement on working out an arrangement with the 9/11 Commission for the President to be questioned? And is it accurate that he wants to restrict questioning to just a single hour?

McCLELLAN: Well, I think the way I would describe it is that, one, -- a couple of things. One, the President looks forward to meeting with the chairman and vice chairman and providing the commission with the necessary information for it to complete its work. We have great confidence that the chairman and vice chairman can share that information with the entire commission.

I would point out to you that it is extraordinary for a sitting president and vice president to appear before a legislative body such as the 9/11 Commission. The President has agreed to do so because of his support for the important work that the commission is doing. And so he has agreed to a private meeting with the commission. They are looking at an hour, as you pointed out.

And I would point out that Chairman Keane, earlier this morning, went on to talk about the unprecedented cooperation of this administration to the work of the 9/11 Commission. And Chairman Keane said, and this is from an interview on CNN earlier this morning, "We have gotten a lot of cooperation from the President. This is one of the first Presidents to agree to an interview." And he went on to point out, even during the Kennedy administration, Lyndon Johnson wouldn't give them an interview. And then he said -- he went on to talk about the cooperation from day one, "when they helped us get our clearances expedited. They have been helpful. We have now seen the most secret documents in the possession of the United States government. There hasn't been a" -- he went on to say, "There hasn't been a single" -- oh wait -- "we have been able to take notes and they will inform our report. There hasn't been a single thing we have asked for that some members of the staff hasn't seen, not a single person who has refused to be interviewed."

So he went on to talk about the kind of unprecedented cooperation that this administration has provided because the President believes in the important work that this commission is doing.

QUESTION: What's your response to those who suspect that Speaker Hastert is secretly --

QUESTION: Why did they --

McCLELLAN: Helen, I just pointed out the chairman of the commission and his comments. Why isn't that being reported?

QUESTION: But there are other members --

McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Mark. Mark was finishing up.

QUESTION: What's your response to those who say Speaker Hastert is secretly doing the White House bidding in refusing to bring up a two-month extension for the commission?

McCLELLAN: Silly, silly idea. I mean, the President supports extension -- supports the extension that the commission has requested. We've made that view known publicly and privately.

QUESTION: Can I follow on that --

QUESTION: Can you answer Mark's question. Can you answer what Mark asked about the one-hour limit --

McCLELLAN: I said, no. I said -- I confirmed that.

QUESTION: And can I just clarify that ...

McCLELLAN: You were thinking about service, I know, when I mentioned that.

QUESTION: What the commission is asking for in that one hour is the entire commission, not just the chair and vice chair. Are you not agreeing to that --

McCLELLAN: The request came from the chairman and vice chairman, and the President looks forward to meeting privately with --

QUESTION: I know. But they followed up by saying that they want --

McCLELLAN: -- looks forward to meeting privately with the chairman and vice chairman to provide them with the necessary information.

QUESTION: Why not all of them? What's the problem?

McCLELLAN: Helen, we have great confidence that the chairman and vice chairman can share all that information with the rest of the commission.

QUESTION: Why do they have to share it? The others have ears.

McCLELLAN: They're going to have a public report. I talked about how this is extraordinary for a President to sit down with a legislative body such as the 9/11 Commission.

QUESTION: What's the President's problem, really, with meeting all of them?

QUESTION: It's a legislative body? I'm sorry.

McCLELLAN: There are lots of ways -- one, I have always said that there are lots of ways -- it's legislatively created, that's what I'm referring to. There are lots of ways to provide the commission with the information they need to do their work. And we have worked -- we have bent over backwards to provide unprecedented cooperation to the commission.

QUESTION: Not from what we hear.

McCLELLAN: And all you have to do is look back at what the commission chairman said earlier this morning.

QUESTION: Scott, may I follow on that?

McCLELLAN: You may.

QUESTION: First, where the idea of a precedent is concerned, President -- sitting President Gerald Ford went up to Capitol Hill and actually testified before the House Judiciary Committee, so there is a greater precedent than what you're referring to.

My question is, in every speech he gives, President Bush invokes --

McCLELLAN: Keep in mind there are separation of powers issues involved when you're talking about a legislatively created body.

QUESTION: I'm sure President Ford was aware of those. In every speech he gives, President Bush invokes the atrocities of 9/11 and he talks about how that event has impressed on him a determination to always honor the victims of those atrocities in his daily conduct of his office. And I wonder if you could explain with some serious Texan straight talk here, Scott, how it is honoring the victims of 9/11 to restrict the questioning of the President on this subject to one hour?

McCLELLAN: I hope you'll talk about the unprecedented cooperation that we're providing to the commission when you report this, James. Because if you look back at what we've done, it is unprecedented. We have provided more than 2 million pages of documents. We provided more than 60 compact discs of radar, flight and other information; more than 800 audio cassette tapes of interviews and other materials; more than 100 briefings, including at the head-of-agency level; more than 560 interviews. So this administration is cooperating closely and in an unprecedented way with the 9/11 Commission, because their work is very important.

QUESTION: That would have been a very pertinent answer had I asked you about the administration. But, in fact, I asked you about the President’s cooperation.

McCLELLAN: And the President is pleased to sit down with the chairman and vice chairman to provide them with the information they need to do their job. And we believe …

QUESTION: Why only one hour? Why only one hour?

McCLELLAN: -- we believe that he can provide them the necessary information in this private meeting.

QUESTION: In 60 minutes, that’s all it will take?

McCLELLAN: Well, the 9/11 Commission -- look back to what the chairman said earlier this morning. He talked about cooperation and the extraordinary commitment of the President to sit down with the commission.

QUESTION: Can you define legislative body? Why is this --

McCLELLAN: Legislatively created. Congress created the 9/11 Commission.

QUESTION: Scott, did the President ask Hastert, during his meetings this week, to extend the deadline?

McCLELLAN: I’m sorry? We’ve made our views known to Speaker Hastert, yes.

QUESTION: The President, personally, asked him?

McCLELLAN: And they did discuss it, as well. And Chief of Staff Card also spoke to him about our support for an extension.

QUESTION: What’s the response that you’ve been getting?

McCLELLAN: Well, we continue to urge Congress to extend it for two months.

QUESTION: So you’ve got a nowhere so far?

McCLELLAN: Well, you’ve heard Speaker Hastert's comments. You’ve heard other leaders comment on it, as well. And we continue to urge Congress to grant an extension.

QUESTION: The President -- we know Andy Card called Hastert, but the President, himself, as well?

McCLELLAN: They spoke about it earlier this week, as well. The Speaker was here a couple of times this week.

So, run on the 9/11 attacks; stonewall the 9/11 commission.

Is that the real Bush Doctrine?

Busted! This morning NPR did a follow-up fact-check on that interview Juan Williams did with Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot, in which Racicot claimed -- contrary to the evidence -- that President Bush volunteered for service in Vietnam, but wasn't selected.

As we noted on Monday, not only is there no evidence this is true, but President Bush said it wasn't true only two weeks earlier. The reporter walked through the evidence about the check box and rest of it, and also noted his instructor's claim (seconded by some of Bush's fellow pilots from the time) that Bush once asked about a program that sent Guard pilots on short tours overseas.

The reporter didn't go into all the contradictions in the story about the president's asking about the program in question. But all told, it's a good run-down of the facts and NPR deserves credit for not letting Racicot's false statement stand.

This is gratifying.

According to this post on the Democratic Underground website, there are already at least 34 senators on record opposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages.

And if that's true, then it's game, set, match, since the amendment would require supermajorities in both houses of Congress unless the president wants to have the states call for a constitutional convention on banning gay marriage.

Now, I haven't fact-checked each name on the list. But I did a quick spot-check of a few names that I was surprised (and gratified) to see on the list, and they all checked out.

What most caught my eye is that, according to the list, there are eight Republicans who have already come out against: Alexander, Chafee, Collins, Hagel, Lugar, McCain, and Snowe. John Breaux (D-LA) -- one name that I confirmed -- is down as opposing as well.

Late Update: My own research seems to show that at least one of the Republicans noted, McCain, has left some room for possibly supporting an amendment, but appears to be signalling opposition.

Here's what the Arizona Republic said today about McCain's stance ...

"Marriage should be limited to a man and a woman," Sen. John McCain said after President Bush's announcement Tuesday that he backs such an amendment.

But McCain, a Republican, said, "My preference is for the states to resolve the issue," and "I will reserve judgment on a constitutional amendment until I am able to carefully review the language."

Sounds like he's against. But we'll see.

On the other hand, even Senator George Allen (R-VA), who's generally considered to be allied with the religious right, seems to be expressing some skepticism. "I am going to listen to all the analyses of why the statute we have on the books will not hold up," he tells the Times in Thursday's paper.

Let's follow up on Gary Bauer's argument -- noted below -- that gay marriage shouldn't be allowed because "homosexual behavior is fraught with adverse health affects."

Now, clearly what Bauer is talking about is increased mortality due primarily to sexually transmitted diseases. And it's pretty transparent that he's appealing to fears that gays are scary leprous freaks. But let's examine the Bauer argument on the merits.

Given the fact (controversial, but generally considered to be true) that lesbians have a lower incidence of sexually trasmitted diseases than either gay men or heterosexuals, by this logic, Bauer should be pushing to ban straight marriages too and only allow lesbian marriages. Perhaps he already is. He certainly wouldn't be the first straight-laced middle-aged man to have a thing for lesbians.

However that may be, this little reductio ad absurdum leads to the big absurdum at the center of Bauer's silly argument: namely, that if you're really serious about reducing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases among gay men -- rather than just bashing them -- presumeably you'd want to encourage monogamy, and thus marriage, rather than fight against it.

In fact, when you try to wrestle Bauer's foolishness and sexual authoritarianism down to some measure of reality, you realize that what he should really be calling for is something like mandatory gay marriage, ambivalence about straight marriage and more or less letting the lesbians just run wild.

Bauer should really stick to tried-and-true homophobia rather than trying to dress this one up with science, since it's clear he trips himself up pretty quickly.

And one more thing. This study in the International Journal of Epidemiology seems to the 'Oxford study' Bauer is referring to. And here's a follow-up from the authors of the study lambasting homophobes for using the results of their data as a weapon to bash gays.

So many arguments pro- and con- on the gay marriage debate. Now Gary Bauer comes forward with a helpful Q&A on the issue in which he notes, inter alia, the critical public health dimension of the debate. "Tobacco use," says Bauer, "is heavily regulated by the state and smoking is strongly discouraged. A major study conducted by Oxford University demonstrated that homosexual conduct is three times more deadly than smoking. Homosexual behavior is fraught with adverse health affects. Again, this is not opinion, but documented medical fact. Public policy must not be ignorant of medical facts associated with this lifestyle and from a public policy perspective, the behavior should not be encouraged by affording it the status of marriage."

Good to know we're going to have a high-minded debate on this.

Can we see that Oxford University study?

Oh Andy, you're breaking my heart.

This from Reuters ...

In a blow to the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has told the White House and fellow Republicans that he will not bring up legislation to extend its May 27 deadline, officials said on Wednesday.

President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, personally had appealed to Speaker Dennis Hastert to reconsider, and the Illinois Republican met on Wednesday with Bush at the White House.

But the speaker's spokesman, John Feehery, said Hastert told the White House and members of the House Republican conference that "it's a bad idea to extend the commission and ... that we're not going to bring any legislation up."

The commission wants a 60-day extension through July 26 to complete its final report on the attacks. Despite initial objections, Bush backed the extension and the Senate is moving forward with legislation

Now, I know the president's <$Ad$>poll numbers are falling. And I know congressional Republicans aren't quite as eager as they were to line up behind him.

But I must say I'm genuinely surprised that the White House believes that anyone is stupid enough to believe that their fortunes have dipped so low that the House leadership tells them to go jump in a lake when they say they want something done.

(There seems to be bipartisan support for an extension in the Senate; but the more manageable House is where the White House usually goes to get this stuff done.)

Wouldn't you have just loved to have been a fly on the wall at that brutal moment when long-time Bush family retainer and current White House Chief of Staff Andy Card begged Speaker Hastert to let the commission keep investigating the administration, and Hastert replied, "Buddy, your word just doesn't carry the weight it used to in this town," and then walked out the door?

I really think the folks at the White House must be out of touch with how quickly their credibility with the public and the media is falling if they think that anyone will buy this stuff.

A few days ago the president sends out his campaign manager to peddle a wholly unsubstantiated claim that the president tried to go to Vietnam, when the president himself said this wasn't true not two weeks before.

Now, after the president had said he would get behind extending the deadline for the 9/11 commission's report, they whip up this dingbat kabuki with Hastert to get them off the hook.

It's like they're losing touch.