Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The new States-Rights?

White House spokesman Scott McClellan refused to say whether he believes it would be appropriate for Homeland Security to be used to round up Texas Democrats.

"This is a matter that is being addressed in the state of Texas," McClellan said.

Courtesy of the Associated Press.

Some pretty ugly stuff and some pretty unconvincing non-denial-denials.

Let's go to the tape, or rather, to Christopher Lee's very clarifying piece in Friday's Washington Post.

It seems state law enforcement officials, working under orders from Texas state House Speaker Tom Craddick, went to a branch of the new Department of Homeland Security to try to track down a plane owned by one Texas state legislator. An odd use of the new Department of Homeland Security, especially since they seem to have put in the request for help at exactly the same time the new al qaida attack was going down in Saudi Arabia (Monday afternoon/evening).

Here, according to Lee, is what happened ...

On Monday, Craddick and other Republicans dispatched state troopers to round up the legislative fugitives and bring them back to the Texas Capitol.

State police officials, in turn, called in federal help as they pursued a rumor that Rep. James E. "Pete" Laney, a former Texas House speaker, had ferried fellow Democrats out of state aboard his Piper turboprop airplane. A state investigator called the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center in Riverside, Calif., part of the Homeland Security Department, to ask officials there to use their nationwide radar network to help locate the plane.

The call from the unnamed investigator came as an "urgent plea," describing a plane with state officials aboard that was overdue, according to a statement issued yesterday by the Homeland Security Department's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"We got a problem, and I hope you can help me out," the statement quoted the officer as saying. "We had a plane that was supposed to be going from Ardmore, Okla., to Georgetown, Tex. It had state representatives on it, and we cannot find this plane."

Believing they had an emergency on their hands, agency officials called the Federal Aviation Administration in Fort Worth, and airport officials in two other Texas cities, but were unable to find the plane.

(The Post piece implies the investigator was unidentified; but the Austin American-Statesman says he identified himself by name and rank.)

In any case, if Homeland Security's statement is to be believed, they got tricked into tracking down Laney's plane on the false pretense that they were investigating either a plane crash or a terrorist incident. Now, who ordered it? Craddick? Not so, says his flack:

"He called them [state police] in and let them do their job," said Bob Richter, the spokesman. "There was an effort made to find out if they could get some federal help in that. It was either turned down, or they found out they couldn't do it. By the end of the day Monday, it was a dead issue [because the lawmakers were found]. . . . I think Craddick is getting credit for a lot of things other people did. He may have said, 'Let's do what we can to find them.'"
What do Richter say exactly? I'm not sure either. 'There was an effort made ...' Passive voice is never a good sign in false denials. (Also, see this follow-up in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about Craddick's story.)

And DeLay?

DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said DeLay did not seek federal help in forcing the Democrats back to Austin. DeLay did pass along Craddick's inquiry to the Justice Department on whether federal law enforcement could assist in the manhunt, Grella said.
So DeLay never sought federal help, except when he did seek federal help.

Gives a whole new meaning to constituent service ...

"I am deeply troubled by recent news reports that the Department of Homeland Security wasted scarce resources to search for a Texas state legislator ..." I'd been thinking for the better part of the day that Tom DeLay's wild, wet-lipped zeal had gotten the better of him on this Texas redistricting issue, that he'd 'overreached' as the mushy Beltway phrase has it. Now the other shoe has dropped. Those lines are from a letter Joe Lieberman just sent to Tom Ridge. And since Lieberman's basically the canary-in-a-coalmine for safe consensus opinion, it's now official. It's now safe for Broder, Russert ... hell, maybe even Matthews to get into the act. Hopefully, the scary goon tactics employed by DeLay's minions will get people to take a second look at the underlying issue: upending at least half a century of established tradition in which redistricting takes place just once a cycle -- absent voting rights lawsuits. This is part of a much bigger story of which the redistricting power grab is only a part.

Postcards from the edge ...

"Once our wives tell them they don't know where we are, that should be the end of it and once they know where we are that should be the end of it," said Craig Eiland of Galveston, one of 51 Democrats holed up in an Ardmore, Okla., motel.

He and others there said state House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, used Texas Department of Public Safety officers to intimidate their families and staffs.

Eiland said a Texas Ranger questioned nurses late Monday night at the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston neo-natal intensive care unit, where Eiland's premature twins are patients. The Ranger later went to Eiland's home to question his wife.


Denise Pickett, the wife of El Paso Democrat Joe Pickett, said she received a call on her cell phone about 8 p.m. Monday from her 17-year-old daughter, who reported that officers were at the Pickett home questioning her about her father's whereabouts.

When she arrived back home, she said officers emerged from the front door.

"I have a lot of respect for police officers so I was just trying to answer their questions as well as possible," she said. "However, reflecting back I do wish I would have asked them, `What are you doing in my house without my being there?' "

Reports that federal law enforcement officials may have helped look for the missing Democrats led all but one of Texas' congressional Democrats to demand that Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and FBI Director Robert Mueller disclose whatever help was provided.

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the driving force behind the Texas redistricting effort, said Tuesday that he consulted an attorney in his office to determine for the Texas House speaker whether FBI agents and U.S. marshals could be used to arrest the Democrats.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said Monday he wants federal authorities to pursue Texas Democrats dodging a vote on a plan he authored to increase Republican seats in Congress.

The Sugar Land Republican told reporters that bringing in either U.S. marshals or FBI agents is justified because redistricting is a federal issue, involving congressional seats.

One federal agency that became involved early on was the Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, based in Riverside, Calif. -- which now falls under the auspices of the Homeland Security Department.

The agency received a call to locate a specific Piper turboprop aircraft. It was determined that the plane belonged to former House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center.

The location of Laney's plane proved to be a key piece of information because, Craddick said, it's how he determined that the Democrats were in Ardmore.

Hopefully we can democratize Iraq quickly enough that they can come back and democratize us ...

As longtime readers of the site know, well before all the messiness of the lead-up to the Iraq War, I wrote a number of columns and articles on the Democrats' fundamental incoherence and lack of seriousness about national security issues. Here's an example I wrote last year in The New York Post. Bill Clinton began, briefly, to turn this around. But the last two years have shown a sorry regression. The key to solving this problem is to recognize that it is not a cosmetic problem, but one woven into fabric of the contemporary Democratic party and center-left. (If you want to know more about what I think the problem is, take a look at this column.) This evening I'd like to point you to a new website from a new organization: Democrats for National Security. I don't know if they'll be the group that will help bring change. But they're identifying the problem and beginning an effort to grapple with it.

Paul D. Wolfowitz said something extraordinary, and deeply controversial, on Turkish television ten days ago. He essentially said that bringing democracy to Iraq was so important that the Bush administration wished the Turkish military had subverted Turkish democracy to achieve it. I explain the details in my new column in The Hill.

Say what you will about looted nuclear sites, ransacked government ministries, mullahs calling for an Islamic Republic, it's not like Hezbollah is setting up a branch office in Baghdad or anything, right?

Well, guess what ...

I'll be posting the link to the story tomorrow when it goes online.

There's clearly a lot more to say about this re-redistricting controversy. For the moment, a couple quick points.

First, Texas and Colorado may not be the only states where this happens. New Mexico, where the Dems are in charge, is considering doing more or less the same thing.

Second, this re-redistricting is every bit as unprecedented as it seems. As noted yesterday, states sometimes redistrict because of voting rights law suits. And there were a spate of court-ordered redistrictings during the middle 1960s, growing out of the so-called one-man-one-vote cases (see Baker v. Carr, 1962). But doing a second redistricting for partisan reasons during one census cycle hasn't been the norm since the 19th century. The last instance of it, according to a redistricting expert I spoke to today, was in Washington state in the 1950s -- and the tactic was unheard of even then.

This post will have to be a preliminary one, as I'm working on editing an article and haven't yet had time to track down all the details. But as nearly as I can tell, almost all the reporting about the legislative logjam in Texas is missing what I think is clearly the real story. It's a telling sign actually of the priorities of most commentators and journalists.

There is a longstanding tradition in this country --- amounting to a firm political precedent --- that redistricting happens once every ten years. There are exceptions in voting rights cases, where districts are changed. But outside of that specific case, the established norm is quite clear. There's a census, a redistricting, and then that's it until the next census.

Sometimes, the state legislature -- or the mix of the legislature and the executive -- can't come to a decision. In that case it falls to the courts, which devise a redistricting plan. This is quite common. And those court-imposed plans are similarly not revisited until the next census.

It wasn't always like this. In the 19th century, redistricting could happen every cycle,as party control shifted back and forth from election to election. But in the 20th century that became increasingly uncommon. And in the last half century or more the 'one redistricting per census' rule has become firmly established. It's not a matter of law, but of one of the many political norms upon which our system is based.

As I said, for the moment I have to leave these points above as preliminary, since I still need to do more reporting to nail down the details. But everything I've seen so far supports this basic history. And I think it's important to raise this issue now.

Now what we have are two states --- Colorado and Texas --- in which state governments newly-unified under Republican control are taking a second bite at the apple, after settled, court-imposed redistricting had taken place. In both cases, the new redistricting laws are being rushed through at the end of a legislative session. And in both cases there is clear evidence that the direction for the move comes from Washington. In one case from Karl Rove, in another from Tom Delay.

This deserves much more attention. And I'll be returning to it when I find out more.

Thankfully, a lower figure -- one in the high twenties or low thirties -- now seems a more probable death toll from the Saudi bombings than that nearing a hundred which was briefly announced today by US officials. But here's another question I have ...

Several days ago a friend who is renowned for his expertise on al-qaida and Islamist terrorism generally told me that there had been a wave of shootings of Westerners in Saudi Arabia recently. But the Saudis had dismissed them as simply criminal incidents arising out of disputes over the illicit trade in liquor. I don't know the precise numbers. I don't think we're talking about that many people. But it seemed to make him wonder whether these might actually be low-level terror attacks which the Saudis were simply covering up, by deceptively categorizing them. Perhaps they were a prelude to what happened yesterday?