Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Just a note for those of you looking for the latest news on the Valerie Plame story. Murray Waas's new blog 'Whatever Already' has been the source for the latest updates, all based on his extensive and continued original reporting on the subject.

David Broder and various other DC mandarins say that Democrats are asking for trouble if they bring the senate to a standstill over the nuclear option. They point to the fact that Newt Gingrich's Republicans took the blame for the government shutdowns in 1995-96, not Bill Clinton.

I should say first that I worry about the politics of the Democrats doing this too. But there's not nearly as much cause for worry as these worthies' imagine.

Some of their confusion stems from the fact that few of them could ever quite get their heads around the idea that the Republicans took the hit for Gingrich's government shutdown -- in part because most of them were secretly enraptured with Newt at the time.

Broder's reference to the power of the president's bully pulpit as the lever that will shift public opinion against the Democrats is just another example of his inability to grasp that the public turn against the Republicans in late 1995 and early 1996 was a reaction, on the merits, to Republican excesses, not the result of some inscrutable black magic Bill Clinton managed to pull off with a few press availabilities.

The more obvious flaw in Broder's reasoning stems from another bit of Washington myopia. What killed the Republicans on the government shutdown, in addition to the pure recklessness of the stunt, was that the government did shut down. National parks closed. Various government services and functions stopped operating. It had an immediate and direct effect on people's lives.

Shutting down the senate does nothing of the sort. The government and all its essential services will go right on functioning as usual. All that will change is that some not-particularly-popular Republican legislation might not pass. Or perhaps James Dobson won't be able to get an anti-SpongeBob bill shepherded through Congress by one of his favored legislators. To imagine that that will have an impact equal to that of shutting down the government's non-emergency services can only be called a uniquely Washingtonian view.

Don't get me wrong: shutting down the senate over judicial nominations is risky business. But parallels drawn by Broder and others show mainly how out of touch they are with what happens outside of the DC region.

David Broder's suggested compromise on the nuclear <$NoAd$> option ...

The Democratic Senate leadership should agree voluntarily to set aside the continued threat of filibustering the seven Bush appointees to the federal appeals courts who were blocked in the last Congress and whose names have been resubmitted. In return, they should get a renewed promise from the president that he will not bypass the Senate by offering any more recess appointments to the bench and a pledge from Republican Senate leaders to consider each such nominee individually, carefully and with a guarantee of extensive debate in coming months.

Why can't Broder just bite the bullet and make an argument on pure majoritarianism (a reasonable argument) rather than suggesting, as he does here, that the Democrats give up the lever of power represented by the filibuster in exchange for an unenforceable promise from the Republicans to be nice?

Perhaps we can all come together on a bipartisan basis and ask what Broder is smoking -- and whatever it is, that he at least smoke it in Washington, so he'll have some clue of what's been happening in the capital for the last five years.

TPM Reader DS chimes in: "All we need for ultimate confirmation is for Russert to call it the "constitutional nuclear option" tomorrow on MTP as he did with 'personal private accounts.'"

A unified Times theory of GOP bamboozlement!

The LA Times gets hoodwinked too. From yesterday's paper: "Frist is expected to try as early as next week to push the Senate to ban filibusters on judicial nominations — a move so explosive that Democrats are calling it the 'nuclear option.'"

(ed.note: Thanks to TPM Reader DW for catching the West Coast bamboozlement.)

As long as prestige press outfits like the Times and others are willing to embrace whichever self-serving phrase either political party demands as the debate on judges debate continues, certainly Democrats need to get into the act.

And TPM Reader RR makes an inspired suggestion which, I think, more faithfully captures what's in play than either 'nuclear' or 'constitutional'.

It's the Crybaby Option.

As he puts it, "Oh, boo-hoo, we only got 95% of what we wanted so we're changing the rules. Waaaaah!"

Sort of like at a seven-year-old's birthday party where they want the parent to change the rules of Pin the Tail on the Donkey because they're not winning every time.

They really are babies. So call them on it.

Collaborative research is a wonderful thing.

When last we spoke, we were telling you how Republican press operatives were fanning out to editorial rooms around Washington and New York, attempting to ban the phrase 'nuclear option' from print and airwave, unless it is duly noted as a Democrat-created smear phrase.

We also noted one first small success in this new Republican lexical jihad. Today's Times notes that when discussing the abolishing of the filibuster: "Democrats call this the nuclear option, while Republicans call this a constitutional option."

As we went on to explain, this is pure crap. Republicans call it the "nuclear option" all the time.

Or at least they did until a couple days ago when some as yet undocumented focus group showed it didn't poll well. Indeed, Republicans have seemed most to relish the term, gleefully relishing its aura of threat and intimidation. Such was the case for instance when the Rev. Jerry Falwell told Ralph Neas on Crossfire on February 16th that if the Democrats persisted in not approving all of President Bush's nominees "he [i.e., Sen. Frist] will in fact impose the nuclear option. And there will be a 51-vote necessity only. When that happens, you guys are dead in the water, and you ought to be."

But who actually came up with the term?

When I first heard yesterday about these latest Republican word game antics, I was pretty sure that it was the Republicans themselves who coined the phrase 'nuclear option', for the reasons I note above. But I wasn't sure of the details.

But, in fact, as many of you have now written in, it seems that the guy who came up with this notorious Democratic smear was none other than its prime proponent, Sen. Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi.

For more on this we listen in on Jeffrey Toobin's piece from March 7th issue of The New Yorker ...

Changing the Senate’s rules on judicial filibustering was first addressed in 2003, during the successful Democratic filibuster against Miguel Estrada, whom Bush had nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Ted Stevens, a Republican Senate veteran from Alaska, was complaining in the cloakroom that the Democratic tactic should simply be declared out of order, and, soon enough, a group of Republican aides began to talk about changing the rules. It was understood at once that such a change would be explosive; Senator Trent Lott, the former Majority Leader, came up with “nuclear option,” and the term stuck.

You might have thought getting gamed on 'privatization' might have led some of these newshounds to a greater skepticism the next time those RNC operatives came calling. But it seems we have not yet plumbed the depths of the 'spank me, spank me' journalistic ethic.

Are things going even worse for the GOP on judges than I thought?

If you're conversant with the Republican national political debate taxonomy, you know that there is a point at roughly 15 to 16 days after the GOP starts losing a debate that crack teams of specially trained GOP spinmeisters are sent out to bamboozle gullible newspaper editors and TV producers into changing their vocabulary to make it conform to the latest findings of GOP focus groups.

And it seems they've found their first easy mark.

At the tail end of David Kirkpatrick's piece in Saturday's Times is this graf (emphasis added) ...

Current Senate rules require 60 votes to close debate on a confirmation, allowing Democrats to thwart the action by mustering 41 votes. Republicans want to lower the threshold for closing debate on all nominations to a simple majority. Democrats call this the nuclear option, while Republicans call this a constitutional option.

Now, maybe I'm just selective in my memory. But I seem to remember Republicans and Democrats using this phrase all the $%*#%&@ time. Needless to say, what's <$Ad$> happened now is that Republicans are getting bad results in the polls. So they've come up with a new smiley-face vocabulary and they're hitting all the newsrooms telling editors that it's an example of bias to use the phrase 'nuclear option' since that's a slur devised by Democrats.

So is it really true that only Democrats use this phrase?

Well, setting aside that everyone who's listened to this debate for more than ten seconds knows that most Republicans used this phrase as their preferred one until about ten days ago, I still wanted to go back to the records and check. And I needed some way to narrow down the search. So I tried searching the Weekly Standard for any articles which included the word 'filibuster' and 'nuclear option'.

I came up with four hits, the first of which was from September 2004.

In the first article you don't have to go too far beyond the title: "Full Court Press; Will Senate Republicans 'go nuclear' over judges?"

Down into the article, author Duncan Currie writes, "With 10 nominations now blocked by filibuster, many GOP senators say it's time to use the 'nuclear option'--or, as they prefer to call it, the 'constitutional option.'" But even Currie seemed unable to keep a straight face for this early example of GOP word game bamboozlement since he continued to use the 'nuclear option' phrase through the rest of the article.

In December of last year, Currie was again writing about the subject and again using the phrase "nuclear option."

Then less than two weeks ago, on April 7th, Currie used this as the third line of yet another judges article: "Republicans talk of a 'nuclear option' to break the impasse."

The fourth example seems particularly apt since it actually takes place in the future -- the publication date is April 25th. In an editorial penned for the editors Philip Terzian, the first graf reads ...

THE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER, Bill Frist, and his Republican colleagues, face a momentous decision: Do they allow the Democratic minority to prevent the Senate from voting on judicial nominees, or do they invoke the "nuclear option"--that is, change the rules so a simple majority of 51 can force a vote?

Now, let's be frank. There's no intrinsic reason why banning filibusters for judicial nominations should be called the 'nuclear option'. And if Republicans want to start referring to it as the 'judicial act of love' they can do that. But one side in a debate shouldn't be able to order the refs in the game to rewrite the lexicon just because people don't like what's happening. And yet that's just what's happening. Republicans are now making a concerted push at a whole slew of news organizations, trying to convince them to stop using the term in their coverage, on the argument that it's an attack phrase concocted by the Democrats. And it would seem the editors and producers are either too ignorant or too lily-livered not to let them have their way.

Perhaps we can just call ending filibusters 'privatization'.

TPMCafe Fundraiser Update!

First, again, thank you. We've now had over 500 readers contribute. And we're well on our way to raising the funds we'll need for the new site.

We've had more people asking this. So just to repeat: if you don't want to send a contribution via PayPal, you can find instructions here on how to send a check by mail. We'll be changing the page that the graphic on the right links to so that we won't have to keep pointing this out in posts. We'll also be adding a brief FAQ to that page that should cover the most frequently asked questions about our fundraiser. (I guess that's why they call it a FAQ.)

Finally, in addition to these public thanks above, you'll be hearing from us individually by email to express our appreciation. But there are already over 500 contributors. And the emails are not automated, but sent individually. So we're a tad behind. I appreciate your patience and you'll be hearing from us shortly.

Andrew Sullivan nails this point so dead-on in this post, that I'm going to quote <$NoAd$> the post in toto ...

QUOTE FOR THE DAY I: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference ... I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials." - president John F. Kennedy. At the time, the speech was regarded as an attempt to refute anti-Catholic prejudice. Today, wouldn't the theocons regard it as an expression of anti-Catholic prejudice? Wouldn't Bill Frist see president Kennedy as an enemy of "people of faith"? Just asking.

Clarifies where we are, doesn't it?