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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Republicans have clearly settled on the party line regarding Jim Jeffords: his defection had nothing to do with ideology. Rather, he saw that Strom Thurmond might not make it much longer and he wanted to be the one to put the Dems over the top, with all the fanfare and preferment that would decision would entail.

For my part, I never thought the ideological and self-interest theories of Jeffords' defection were mutually exclusive. It makes sense to me that his motives were a mix of the two, that they flowed together.

But that aside, the Republicans' argument amounts to an admission which has yet to receive much attention.

For the sake of argument, let's assume Jeffords' move was entirely mercenary and self-serving.

If there were any real prospect of the Republicans winning back the Senate in 2002 then Jeffords' switch would make little sense. He'd just be trading a few months as a quasi-Democrat committee chair with no real chance of passing legislation for a return to minority status in eighteen months, and the prospect of mega-payback when the Republicans retook control.

Even if Thurmond did pass on to his great reward before 2002 the same logic would apply.

On the other hand, if the Democrats seemed likely to expand their majority in 2002, and again in 2004, then Jeffords' hop would make a lot of sense on self-serving grounds.

In other words, the Republicans' attack on Jeffords betrays their own unstated belief that time is not on their side.

Politics affords few examples of politicians whose predictions are always right or whose proposals always catch on with colleagues.

But for predictive purposes there's something almost as good: the politician whose predictions are always wrong and whose proposals are always immediately derided and/or ignored by his or her colleagues.

Which brings us to Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, who has just been appointed to serve as the first official token moderate in the Republican Senate leadership.

Specter used to be a pretty stand-up Senator. But in recent years he's become increasingly prone to unreliable predictions and bizarre proposals.

Let's review some of Specter's recent performances.

During the pardon scandal Specter says President Clinton could, and may well, be impeached again over the pardons. (Republicans privately -- and in some cases publicly -- say Specter is whacked.)

During the pardon scandal Specter proposes limiting or abolishing the president's veto power. The idea goes nowhere.

Two days before Jim Jeffords' defection Specter gives Dems agida and Republicans a sliver of hope when he tells The Chicago Trib's Jill Zuckman that Jeffords isn't going to bolt. "He indicated to me that he is not going to change parties," said Specter. Jeffords changes parties.

After Jeffords quit the GOP, Specter takes the Senate floor and accuses Jeffords and Harry Reid of possible ethical misconduct over the negotiations preceding Jeffords' defection and goes on to propose changing Senate rules to prevent the chamber from switching hands because of a defection like Jeffords. (Of course, one would think Republicans would really resist such a rule now, considering that another defection is their only hope of recapturing the chamber before 2002.) Predictably enough, according to the Washington Post, GOP leadership aides say they have no idea what Specter was talking about.

Harry Reid probably had it right when he told the Post: "It's a silly proposal and it has no chance. It's his [Specter's] way of of showing everyone he was a lawyer."

P.S. For more on Specter's political career you can buy his new book Truth, Justice, The American Way, and Arlen Specter from Amazon.

(The title is actually Passion for Truth : From Finding Jfk's Single Bullet to Questioning Anita Hill to Impeaching Clinton, but you get the idea.)

According to numerous columns and commentaries (echoed by grumbling Republicans), Tom Daschle really, really has his work cut out for him.

Yes, the Dems may have wanted the Senate leadership and they may be giddy at the moment. But now Daschle faces the challenge Trent Lott's been dealing with: how to run the Senate with a slender one vote margin, how to stop the opposing party from gumming up the works with procedural shenanigans, and most importantly how to get things done.

Simply put, this is a moronic analysis of the current situation.

Daschle will certainly find his task challenging. But several factors make it far easier for the Democrats to run the chamber than the Republicans.

First, are the Republicans really going to bring the chamber to a halt with procedural delays? That's what they seem to be threatening here unless all nominations are allowed to go to the full Senate whether or not they're passed out of committee.

But this is surely an idle threat: it's the Republicans who need the trains to run on time in the Senate, not the Democrats, because it's their president who's trying to move his agenda.

If the Democrats shut down the Senate with their majority control they might arguably be in for a backlash from angry, anti-gridlock voters.

But if Republicans are the ones doing the obstructing, would that really be such a bad thing for Dems? That shuts down the Bush agenda and leaves the Republicans taking the blame. That's not a threat; for the Democrats that's having their cake and eating it too.

On the 'getting things done' front, things are also very unequal. Democrats aren't really in a position to get much of anything done, period.

Anything they pass on their own votes in the Senate can easily be vetoed by the president. And the Republican House obviously isn't going to help much either. So 'getting things done' isn't really in the cards for the Democrats. Their effective power with control of the Senate is to bring up popular issues which Republicans and the president feel the need to opppose: minimum wage, campaign finance reform, a real patients' bill of rights, prescription drug coverage, etc.

In other words, don't believe the hype: for the Dems, taking control of the Senate is every bit as good a deal as it looks like.

P.S. Next up, just what the hell is up with Arlen Specter?

As several readers have noted, the new importance of Bob Torricelli's continued tenure in the Senate probably makes an indictment ever-so-slightly less likely. Because an indictment of a sitting Democratic senator by a Republican Justice Department, under these circumstances, couldn't help but be seen as highly questionable, even if the decision was made entirely on the merits.

But none of this seems to be getting the ever-feisty New Jersey senator down.

At a DC fundraiser for New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Jim McGreevey on Tuesday night, Torricelli made a few remarks.

After praising McGreevey, recalls one attendee at the event, Torch said, "I'd like to thank everybody who I encouraged to come for being here. You're probably going to be rewarded with a subpoena. But they're a dime a dozen nowadays. I'll autograph them if you're interested."

Brass, I tell you! All brass.

P.S. Senator Torricelli's press office declined to comment on the Senator's remarks at the McGreevey event.

There are a host of wire stories out this morning with quaking Bushies pleading how little warning they had of Jim Jeffords' imminent departure from the Republican party.

In fact, both Karen Hughes and Andy Card say they didn't know anything was really up until they got a call from Maine Senator Olympia Snowe on Monday night and/or Tuesday morning.

Card looks especially vulnerable in all this. After all he's a New Englander, a Washington hand, a moderate. You'd think he'd have known better, maybe would have had antennae for this.

Card added rather feebly that no one tried to muscle Jeffords or treat him badly. And that it's not true that moderates have no place in the GOP today. (Of course, in a sense this is true: if you're willing to squelch your already wishy-washy political views in the interests of absolute fealty to the Bush clan you can even become White House Chief of Staff!!!)

Anyway, enough about Andy Card. I take Card and Hughes at their word: that they really had no advance warning that this was going to happen. And frankly, that's astonishing. Because this possibility was being pretty widely discussed almost a week before they say they found out about it. Olympia Snowe apparently needed to sidestep the machinery of legislative liaisons and the Senate leadership and get on the horn and tell Hughes, Card, et.al. just what hell was going on.

A little while back Jake Weisberg wrote a piece in Slate in which he canvassed several different possible explanations for the very conservative tack of Bush's governance in the early days of his administration. One possibility was the effect of the White House echo chamber, the cocoon. For all the many streams of information which pour into the White House, it's very easy (as Bill Clinton showed in 1993-94) to lose touch with what's actually going on, how the political winds are blowing, and so on.

Presidents and their major advisors are surrounded, frankly, by lots of yes-men. And perhaps more important, they're almost inevitably clothed in a triumphalist reading of their own recent political triumph. (This may be especially so with the Bushies since, as I've noted before, the Rove crowd has a history of getting hoodwinked by its own spin.)

In any case, this development points strongly toward this White House echo chamber conclusion.

Zell Miller now seems like a long-shot as a potential Democratic defector. And other moderates like John Breaux simply aren't going to jump ship, period. Not gonna happen.

But there's more than one way to skin a cat.

What about Bob Torricelli?

No, I'm not saying he's going to switch parties. But what if he gets indicted? One of the first things a prosecutor does in a plea negotiation with a crooked pol is try to force the pol to resign his or her office. (The acting Governor of New Jersey is a Republican.)

And who do the US Attorneys work for? Right, John Ashcroft. And who does he work for ... ? Well, you get the idea.

I grant you this may sound a touch conspiratorial. And if the Bush folks were inclined to play hardball at that level they'd have to build in a lot of "deniability."

But you don't have to believe in the possibility of any shenanigans to realize that the possibility of Torricelli's indictment has just become a very, very weighty issue with immense and immediate political consequences. And even if such a decision were made by the straightest arrow career prosecutor the decision couldn't help but be seen in a deeply political light.

It's hard not to sit back and savor the recriminations and finger-pointing among Republicans over Jim Jeffords' imminent defection from the GOP -- expected in less than an hour. At a moment like this, good reporters can unpack such a family feud and get everyone to gripe about everyone else. This article in today's Post by Mike Allen and Ruth Marcus is a good example.

It discusses various dopey, heavy-handed moves from the Bush White House -- like Chief of Staff Andy Card (one of Bush's New England cronies) calling a Vermont radio station to muscle Jeffords into supporting Bush's tax cut.

(That would be the same Vermont that has a moderate- to-liberal governor, an independently-minded liberal senior senator, and a socialist congressman.)

Anyway, it's a good read. (Here's Frank Bruni's more analytical look at the same question in the Times.)

But a few points come to mind. First is that Trent Lott is the most immediate, big-time loser here. Not just because he's losing his job as Majority Leader -- but because he was already quite unpopular in his caucus to start with. And he is the most clearly expendable person who has his fingerprints on the Jeffords screw-up.

All the reporting seems to agree that Lott (and thus the Bush White House) really didn't know Jeffords might be serious about leaving until the beginning of this week, perhaps not until Tuesday. That's weird -- really weird -- because a lot of other people seemed to have a pretty clear sense this was in the works late last week. How they got blind-sided by this deserves a lot of scrutiny.

Having said that, I think it's right to see this whole situation less as a matter of bruised egos (or poor strategies) than the result of the structural changes in the capital's politics in recent months. (Not that I want to cut Bush slack or anything, but ...) Jeffords had never been in a situation where his party was in the majority in the Senate and had a conservative Republican president in the White House. This just brought out the contradictions of his position in the party to a degree he couldn't ignore.

Many Dems still blame Bill Clinton bitterly for decimating the congressional Democrats in 1994. But this critique, though valid in some respects, was always a shallow and unsophisticated reading of the political history of the 1990s. The Democratic congressional majorities of the 1980s and early 1990s -- particularly its underpinnings in the South -- would never have survived the incumbency of a Democratic president. It was like a great old piece of furniture which would do well enough if left in place and used gingerly. But try to move it and it would fall to pieces.

As it did.

It's hard not to fear that something is going to come along and jinx this for the Dems -- given how tremendous their good fortune will be if Jim Jeffords gives them control of the Senate tomorrow, as expected. I mean, for all the hyperbole we so often hear about political happenings in Washington, this really is a huge deal.

You almost have to feel sorry for the Senate Republicans, offering Jeffords a bogus new leadership position as official Republican moderate. But I'm going to wait until Jeffords actually pulls the trigger to start making fun of them about it.

The one question I have is just when Jeffords' switch, and thus the transfer of power, will become effective -- and specifically whether it will happen before or after conferees are chosen for the budget/tax cut conference committee.

Of course, it's not like Dem conferees are going to wrestle this thing down to $500 billion or something. But they could markedly change the final product and possibly generate all sorts of contention and heartache for House Republicans and the White House.

Maybe not such a Grand Old Party after all?

I can't tell you whether James Jeffords is going to announce he's switching to the Democratic party tomorrow. But it's pretty hard to imagine he'd call a press conference to announce he's staying a Republican.

One senate staffer suggests the interesting possibility that Jeffords could become an independent but vote for Daschle for Majority Leader -- much like his fellow Vermonter Bernie Sanders does in the House. But I think that's just clever speculation -- not a hint of what will happen tomorrow.

It's hard to overstate the significance of Jeffords' switch, if it happens. But if it does, what about Zell Miller?

P.S. Late Update ... Between about 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM, the word circulated on the Hill that it's a done deal. Jeffords is making the switch.

At least now we've settled the question of whether Ted Olson lied about his involvement with the Arkansas Project.

Haven't we?

Even his official surrogates now concede the point. Their new gambit is simply to diminish the importance of the underlying question.

"What if he [Olson] did have an involvement in the Arkansas Project? Is there something illegal about that?" Trent Lott said yesterday on Meet the Press.

Or how about Ken Starr, on This Week, who dismissed complaints about Olson's evasiveness as "flyspecking"? "This [the Arkansas Project controversy] is an awfully narrow part of a man who's 60 years old, [with] a very long career."

So let's just review where we are on the Olson nomination.

As information in this article and many others have made abundantly clear, Ted Olson lied when he told Pat Leahy that he was not involved in the Arkansas Project, and had in fact been instrumental in shutting it down. (That his defenders now concede the point amounts to what the lawyers call a stipulation.)

And this is actually the second time Olson has intentionally deceived a congressional committee. In the first instance, an independent counsel found that Olson's statements were technically true, and thus incapable of sustaining a perjury prosecution.

As I once wrote in a profile of Maureen Dowd, "there was always something odd and paradoxical about Dowd's endless array of anti-Clinton zingers: if Clintonism was defined by an abundance of talent, appetite, and ambition at the expense of any real purpose or direction, then Dowd was the ultimate Clintonite."

So too with Ted Olson. If 'Clintonian' is now shorthand for lawyerly evasion or lying to achieve a greater purpose, then Ted Olson was Clintonian long before they coined the term.

Trent Lott and company want to say: "So what if he's lying. Look at the underlying question. It doesn't matter."

To which I can only say: hey, that's our comeback to having our guy get caught fibbing. Get your own!

And besides, with Bill Clinton the question was whether he'd get indicted or removed from office -- very high standards to meet. Ted Olson's trying to get confirmed by Senate. He's got no similar presumptions in his favor.

And, finally, let's not forget about Ken Starr. Much of the justice of Ted Olson's current predicament is seeing him hoisted on his own petard, skewered by his own sharp knife -- on multiple levels. And so too with Mr. Starr.

The best defense for Starr's zealousness during the independent counsel investigation was that he was a sort of truth fanatic. The mere hint of evasion or deceptiveness under oath was just too much for him to handle. And it drove him on a crusade for revelation.

Clearly that's not true.

For Ted Olson, this may simply be 'live by the sword, die by the sword.' Play rough and your enemies hit back. Starr is a different matter. He's defending Olson with an argument more or less identical to that which Clinton's defenders used to defend him. Before you could say that Starr was just a prig, or an obsessive, or a hidebound moral absolutist. But no more. He's now revealed himself as the rankest sort of hypocrite.

And that's rather satisfying to see.

It almost makes up for the tax cut.

Almost.

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