Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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.

Okay, this is just for laughs, I guess. But how bad does the White House want the NASCAR dad vote?

The White House website has a section called 'Ask the White House.' It's basically a section where various administration officials do online Q&As about administration policy -- press secretaries, policy makers, appointees, etc.

Go look at the site right now and look who the most recent person to do a Q&A is.

P.S. Special thanks to TPM reader RG for the catch.

Late Update on the fate of H-Res 499 (noted earlier this afternoon), the Plame investigation resolution in the House. The House International Relations Committee has just voted it down on a party line vote, 24-22.

Committee Chairman Henry Hyde said it would be "redundant and irresponsible to pass the resolution and for Congress to initiate its own fact-finding, when there is an on-going criminal investigation under way led by a very reputable U.S. Attorney ... God forbid that this U.S. Attorney should investigate any of us."

Create the deficit with upper-income tax cuts; shrink the deficit with Social Security benefit cuts.

That sort of typifies the Bush-era Republican shell game on fiscal policy. And it's what Alan Greenspan said today on the Hill.

But Greenspan did the White House no favors with this one. McClellan will get asked about this tomorrow and it'll be hanging around their necks for some time.

Lest anyone forget, today is the deadline for the House Republican caucus to sign off on continued efforts to cover up what happened to Valerie Plame.

On January 21st, Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduced what's called a 'resolution of inquiry' (H-Res 499) requesting that the Justice Department, the State Department and the Department of Defense turn over to the Congress all relevant information or documents relating to how and why covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's name was leaked to the public.

Basically, this legislative tactic forced the House majority to go on record as to whether they were willing to allow any investigation of the Plame matter. It gave the Intelligence, Judiciary, Armed Services and International Relations Committees fourteen legislative days to decide whether to authorize the request for records from the three executive branch departments or refuse to do so.

Pretty quickly, the Intelligence Committee convened and voted 'no'. Presumably it was a party line vote but we actually don't know since the majority insisted that the vote and the debate over that vote be held in secret session.

Then this morning the Judiciary Committee met and voted it down on a straight party-line vote. And this afternoon or this evening Armed Services and International Relations are scheduled to vote too, and presumably they'll do the same.

The proffered excuse from the Republicans has been that they don't want to interfere with the on-going criminal investigation -- though that excuse is somewhat belied by the fact that countless congressional investigations have been carried out simultaneous with criminal probes.

Word is that the Republican members are under orders from their leadership and the White House to vote 'no'. Earlier this month, Holt told The Hill that Republican members of the relevant committees had told him that he is "doing the right thing." But, he said, they dare not say so publicly.

Over on his website, Atrios speculates as to why Tom DeLay delivered such a measured response to the president's call today for a constitutional ban on gay marriages. His take is that maybe this won't go over that well in the Republican caucus and so DeLay and Hastert and Frist are moving cautiously.

I think he's got it basically right.

Now, obviously, DeLay's relative caution in embracing the president's position (so to speak) doesn't stem from any new-found concern for gay rights. And I'm sure we'll hear him soon enough saying rancid things about how gay marriages will end western civilization, and so forth.

But I have real questions about how many Republican members of congress were excited to hear this from the president. I have no doubt that many members of congress from the South and other conservative parts of the country will happily vote in favor of it. And I have no doubt that many others will vote in favor of it, happily or not.

But I bet you there aren't that many senators and representatives outside of the South and perhaps the Mountain West who are looking forward to this coming to a vote at all.

Think about it this way.

If you're an incumbent, you're more than likely to be cruising towards a victory in November. Why do you need the headache? In most parts of the country any vote on this -- yea or nea -- will instantly make you a lot of enemies. Gordon Smith, Republican Senator from Oregon -- does he want to vote on this? Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, the two Senators from Maine? How about Pete Domenici, Mike DeWine, George Voinovich, Arlen Specter or Kit Bond?

Now, again, my point isn't that all these folks or even any of these folks will vote against this, if and when it comes to a vote. My point is simply that I think the great majority of them would greatly prefer the whole issue never come to them for a vote. And the same applies to many, many Republican reps in the House.

The truth is that this is all for the president. Most politicians see this as a highly-charged, divisive issue best left to states and localities to hash out amongst themselves until some sort of rough consensus emerges either nationally or from region to region. That doesn't mean it's a position based on principle or scruple. They just don't want it in their hands. It's a hot potato.

Nor am I saying that gay marriage is popular. Far from it. I have no doubt that a substantial majority of the population is against allowing marriage rights for gays. But opposing gay marriage isn't the same as wanting to tear the country apart by trying to put this into the constitution -- where I think even many opponents of gay marriage don't think it belongs.

That is why I'm not sure this will even end up being good politics for the president. On the straight issue of gay marriage, yea or nea, I think there's little doubt a sizeable majority opposes this. But there is rising cynicism about the president's motives -- or rather, rising cynicism about the president's cynicism. And I think it's possible that more than a few voters who are uneasy about gay marriage or downright opposed to it won't appreciate the president's willingness to trash the country and the constitution just because his domestic and international policies are in a shambles.

It all reminds me of a line from a famous, or rather infamous, memo Pat Buchanan, then a White House staffer, wrote for Richard Nixon in, I believe, 1972 when their idea of the moment was what they called 'positive polarization'.

At the end of this confidential strategy memo laying out various ideas about how to create social unrest over racial issues and confrontations with the judiciary, Buchanan wrote (and you can find this passage on p. 185 of Jonathan Schell's wonderful Time of Illusion): "In conclusion, this is a potential throw of the dice that could bring the media on our heads, and cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half."

And there you have it. Tear the country apart. And once it's broken, our chunk will be bigger.

Only this time I'm not sure it will.

I'm just not sure swing voters will fall for the president's opportunism.

What does President Bush's announcement today tell you about whether he thinks he can win reelection based on the record he's compiled over the last three years?

Look at the picture which leads this column in Newsweek on gay marriage. I think it helps explain what this issue is about.

What does it tell you when House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) isn't sure he wants to be as reckless, extreme and divisive on gay rights as President Bush? This from a late story on the Associated Press newswire ...

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said he appreciated Bush's "moral leadership" on the issue, but expressed caution about moving too quickly toward a constitutional solution, and never directly supported one. "This is so important we're not going to take a knee-jerk reaction to this," Delay said. "We are going to look at our options and we are going to be deliberative about what solutions we may suggest."

As I said earlier, like a cornered, wounded animal. What won't they do on the way down?

I don't think I really have anything to add to what Andrew Sullivan said with great eloquence and fury this morning about the president's decision to put the full weight of his office behind a constitutional amendment banning not only gay marriage but even the right of states to allow their citizens to enter into civil unions which would provide the legal benefits, protections and obligations of marriage.

(Scott McClellan seems to have fudged a bit on the civil unions issue. But my understanding is that the specific amendment the president is backing clearly rules out civil unions too.)

I'm a pretty big small-'c' conservative on all matters of amending the constitution. In almost all cases it should be reserved for structural revisions to the architecture of the state, not as a means to hardwire policy changes or litter it with silliness about congressional pay raises. But it really is a sad day when we consider using the amendment process to turn back the widening gyre of equality and emancipation which has always been this document's role in the American state.

(The White House will try to say that this is in response to what is happening in San Francisco. But I don't think that will pass close scrutiny since, if recollection serves, they started signalling this before that happened.)

We should also note a few things about what this means about the president.

The White House didn't want to have the president out last night making a slashing campaign speech in late February. They also didn't want to start hitting the airwaves this early with their campaign commercials. And they definitely did not want the president jumping off the high dive into a gay rights culture war.

The strategy was to bank the president's rock solid support from Republicans and spend the year above the political fray with soft sounding proposals aimed at the political middle.

But it hasn't worked out that way.

The support among conservatives has taken some real hits. The White House has decided that the long-predicted rising economy won't float them through this election. The situation in Iraq looks wobbly and likely to get worse before it gets better. So deprived of the ability to run on his record he's decided to save his political hide by trying to tear the country apart over a charged and divisive social issue which is being hashed out through the political process in the states.

It's his dad and the flag burning amendment all over again. Is there really anything that tells you more about a man's character than this?

A couple weeks ago I said we should be on the look out for stuff like this -- not just the move on gay marriage, but the whole descent into scurrilous attacks and divisive wedge politics as the president's popularity drifts downward. (Isn't the White House a bit worried that their line about the Democrats being negative and haters will be a little undermined by these tactics on their part?)

One might suggest that the idea we should have in mind here is that old line about judging a man's character and mettle by what he does when the seas get stormy rather than what he does when they're calm. But I think the real metaphor to keep in mind is how dangerous and unpredictable an animal becomes when he's cornered.