Category Archives: Domestic Policy

Long Live the King

This week was a thriller.

Bernie Madoff thought he was a smooth criminal. Turns out he’s just bad. Really, really bad.

SCOTUS says it don’t matter if you’re black or white.

The House has a bill it hopes will heal the world. Will the Senate tell them to beat it? (No one, after all, wants to be defeated.)

LGBT groups think Obama secretly wishes they’d just keep it in the closet.

And Mark Sanford is starting with the man in the mirror. He’s asking him to change his ways.

But we begin this week with a milestone in what’s become a millstone. American troops are withdrawing from Iraqi towns and cities today, effectively ending U.S. occupation of those areas.

The drawdown is part of a Bush Administration plan sketched out this time last year. Dick Cheney supported the plan at the time, but since the responsibility now belongs to the Democrats, he says it puts America in danger.

Iraq is the main course on a full foreign policy plate. President Obama condemned a weekend Honduran coup, and Iran is still wracked by fear—not to mention increasingly jittery about foreign interference.

Despite turmoil abroad, domestic issues take may top billing this week. Yesterday, two court verdicts set the tone. First, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling against New Haven, Conn. firefighters who claimed they were passed over for promotion because they are white.

The lower court ruling was issued by a panel of three judges including Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Will this ruling threaten her confirmation? Doubtful. Will it make the hearings more interesting? Darn tootin’.

The other verdict came from Manhattan, where convicted swindler Bernard Madoff got the maximum: 150 years in prison. Madoff cheated 8,000 investors out of hundreds of billions of dollars. His case has become a focus for Americans who’ve lost jobs, homes, and retirements to economic forces beyond their control. Madoff himself is now a symbol of greed and crookedness, and few people were sad to see him jailed.

Back in Washington, Congress turns its attention from the environment to healthcare, which is shaping up to be an ugly fight. Senate Republican leaders held a press conference today to declare a need for reform and a desire to block whatever Democrats come up with.

Speaking of the Democrats, President Obama has again turned the details of a major legislative priority over to a rudderless Congress (see this week’s Top 5). So far the strategy has worked, but eventually the House may need more direction from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Other loose ends may affect the balance of power in Washington. Mark Sanford isn’t quitting (yet), but his plans to run for the White House in three years are on indefinite hold. He’s the second potential GOP 2012-er to flame out in the last two weeks.

The aforementioned House climate change bill may face well-entrenched opposition in the Senate. President Obama showed praiseworthy resistance (in the Blog’s humble opinion) to the House version’s protectionist clauses. Do the Democrats know what they think about trade policy?

And Al Franken is finally a Senator, but illnesses still keep Dems short of 60 votes.

And so the chaos continues. One final note this week: the Blog will be out of the office for the next month. Dry your tears. If you want to keep track of the Blog’s travels, check our sister blog.

See you in August.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

CNN: “Jenny Sanford becomes the new political paradigm” by Gloria Borger.

The New York Times: “Baucus Grabs Pacesetter Role on Health Bill” by David Herszenhorn.

The Washington Post: “Despite Majority, Obama to be Tested” by Murray and Balz.

Real Clear Politics: “Alice in Medical Care” by Thomas Sowell.

TIME: “FDR: Getting it Right” by Bill Clinton.


Tied to the Rails

We begin this week with a tragedy. No, not Jon and Kate’s divorce. No, not Ed McMahon, either. A D.C. Metro train jumped its tracks yesterday. METAPOR ALERT!

Already, President Obama is keeping an eye on what else might derail.

Let’s start with healthcare. The hospitals, doctors, and insurers are all aboard, but the price tag has fueled a mounting GOP criticism of Team Obama. Is the tiny GOP remnant on Capitol Hill yet powerful enough to stop this speeding locomotive? You betcha.

Congress is slated to begin sifting the specifics this week. Enough blue dogs are on the fence that the White House will have to do some courting, even if the House bill little resembles his requests.

Here’s the Blog’s take: for decades, we have been committing fiscal child abuse. The debts we continue to grow have implications for the security and health of Americans yet unborn. But we gotta, hafta, needta fix the healthcare system. If Congress can’t come up with something that will do the job, we need a new Congress.

As pressing and dire as healthcare reform is, the primary topic at this morning’s presidential presser was the Islamic Republic. Iran’s ruling clerics (some of them, anyway) began blaming the U.S. last week for the continuing protests over their recent presidential election.

Here’s why: protesters were mainly using Twitter to organize rallies. Twitter was supposed to shut down for maintenance one night last week. The State Department—broken arm and all—called the Twitter folks and asked if they’d stay online to help out the protesters.

Naturally, Iran’s leadership didn’t take kindly to that. Now, since we’re getting blamed anyway, the White House finally began putting direct pressure on Iran.

The past week’s events make Iran’s rulers look silly, and the U.S.—not to mention the Blog—doesn’t mind that one bit. This is a country that shoots protesters, tells women how to dress and what to do, that espouses bigotry and narrow-mindedness. But as always, dear reader, you must watch what Iran’s rulers do, and not heed what they say.

And despite tough talk, the Supreme Council is struggling with hard questions about democracy, human rights, and how government should work. They have ordered an official inquiry into the results and even admitted irregularities at the ballot box, atypical behavior for an autocracy.

So which will win out: popular sovereignty or religious pedantry? We’ll all have to stay tuned.

Beyond these major headlines, weird stuff keeps happening in politics. As previously mentioned, the Secretary of State has a boo-boo. The governor of South Carolina went missing, then found himself, and said he was just on a hike. And apparently shooting the messenger is now something we do.

It’s a mixed-up world, dear reader.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

International Herald Tribune: “Iran’s Chinese Lessons” by Philip Bowring.

The New York Times: “A Supreme Leader Loses His Aura as Iranians Flock to the Streets” by Roger Cohen.

Bloomberg News: “Gods in White Coats Hold Key to Health Care Reform” by Margaret Carlson.

The Washington Post: “Public Confidence in Stimulus Plan Ebbs” by Balz and Cohen.

RealClearPolitics: “Hysteria from Right and Left” by Cathy Young.

A Chill in the Air

Summer officially starts this weekend, but it’s getting cold out there.

The AMA reacted coolly to President Obama’s healthcare plan. Iran’s elections may have a chilling effect on its relations with the United States. Senate Republicans want to freeze the Sotomayor proceedings until fall. And Sarah Palin is going all ice queen on David Letterman.

Bundle up, dear reader.

The president addressed the American Medical Association’s annual convention yesterday, outlining his healthcare policy to a new level of detail. If doctors, hospitals, and insurers can cut care costs, the president offered, government will also work to lower medical liabilities (right now, a doctor’s greatest expense is malpractice insurance).

Here’s where it gets frosty: the president said his plan may cost $1 trillion. For a federal budget buckling under the weight of bailouts, bankruptcies, and decade-old tax breaks, another trillion-dollar program makes everyone shudder. Think spending may become a political problem for the Democrats? You ain’t the only one.

Congress will soon undertake healthcare reform, but this week, it’s focused on the environment and new financial regulations. And Sonia: the GOP is hoping to stall for time, but it’s running up against a concerted White House media strategy.

The president’s primary international concern is (still) west Asia. Iran’s presidential elections have been fascinating to watch.

The incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a bigot who thinks America sucks. The challenger, Mir Hossain Mousavi, quit politics 15 years ago to become an architect. Mousavi wasn’t supposed to be the main opposition, but former president Mohammed Khatami thought he had no chance this go-round, so he dropped out.

That’s because until recently, Ahmadinejad was very popular. He is a hero to rural conservatives and the urban poor, whose causes he championed. But 70 percent of Iran is under 30 years old, and many young people find Iran’s current brand of theocratic authoritarianism suffocating. They want freedom, and Mousavi is their man.

Ahmadinejad won, but it looks like he may have cheated. Mousavi supporters have taken to the streets, and Iran’s ruling clerics have opened an investigation into the election results. New elections, or even hard evidence of cheating, are unlikely. But it’s interesting to watch a government testing out the mechanics of democracy, especially a government at the center of the world stage.

Meanwhile, there may be “tough months” ahead for Afghanistan, according to Gen. David Petraeus, who oughta know. The Blog wonders: “tough” as opposed to what? All the easy living Afghanistan’s been soaking up lately?

Pakistan isn’t doing much better.

Even our allies are raising a ruckus. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Obama’s recent call for a Palestinian state with a big “pfff.” Actually, Netanyahu said the Palestinians could have their own country, so long as that country didn’t have an army and so long as Israelis could continue trying to take over Palestine one settlement at a time. The Palestinians—and the Blog—find his munificence overwhelming.

Twenty years ago, the New York Times’ Tom Friedman (see this week’s Top 5) wrote that Israel’s big problem is that it can only have two of the three things it wants: to be 100 percent Jewish, 100 percent democratic, and occupy 100 percent of all the territory of Old Testament Israel. It can have any two, Friedman argues, but not all three. Israel has still not chosen.

Finally this week, the Blog presents a moment of absurdity. Guess who is conservatives’ newest worst enemy? This moment of absurdity has been brought to you by Sarah Palin, defender of all that is right.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

The Washington Post: “Muted Response Reflects U.S. Diplomatic Dilemma” by Scott Tyson.

The New York Times: “Winds of Change?” by Tom Friedman.

Economist: “Tehran Rising.

Newsweek: “The Micawbers and Mrs. Roosevelt” by Jon Meacham.

Wall Street Journal: “White House Sends Signals on Deficit” by Gerald Seib.

Meet Sonia

Say it loud and there’s music playing. Say it soft, and it’s almost like praying.


Suddenly that name will never be the same for us.

Her supporters and opponents are already eyeing one another like Jets and Sharks, and Dick Cheney says when you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way. But ABC News’ Rick Klein Notes the coming rumble isn’t “Democrats versus Republicans; it’s Republicans versus conservative interest groups.”

Before the confirmation song and dance begins, take a look at her biography and her qualifications, dear reader. And ask yourself this: if we cast Sotomayor as Maria, SCOTUS as Tony, and Obama as Bernardo, is who plays Officer Krupke? Wolf Blitzer?

Now consider the politics. Bench nominees must have sterling jurisprudential credentials, but politically, picking a justice is about which fights you want and which fights you don’t.

The fight Team Obama doesn’t want is with women. Since Justice O’Connor retired, there has been but one woman on the Bench. Candidate Obama was accused of sexism, by the left when he took a no-holds-barred approach to the primary, then again over his VP choice; and from the right, and their upholder of feminism.

Sotomayor allows the White House to bolster its credentials with the fairer sex. But Sotomayor’s nomination isn’t just good defense. It’s good offense.

Sotomayor puts the Republican Party in a bind. The GOP has struggled to attract women voters, as well as Latinos, who make up the nation’s largest ethnic minority and whose share of the population continues to grow. If the GOP shot down the first Hispanic woman Court nominee, women and Latinos might vote Democrat for a generation. The GOP might never recover.

But a Supreme Court nomination is a big deal, and conservative interest groups will expect GOP senators to vociferously oppose Sotomayor. Roll over, they will say, and you can forget about our campaign contributions the next time you run for re-election.

For now, the GOP may simply say there isn’t enough time to hold confirmation hearings before the August recess. A delay into the fall would allow the Republican caucus time to regroup. When the hearings finally come, expect more quotes like this one from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.): “She certainly stands in a good stead, but I do think it’s potentially a good teaching moment for the country.”

The Sotomayor announcement came at a welcome time for several folks. Take the junior senator from Illinois, for example. Roland Burris was caught promising a campaign contribution to Rod Blagojevich at the same time he was asking the now-deposed governor for the senate seat vacated by Obama.

Also, GM. n the 100 day anniversary of the stimulus package, GM has unveiled a plan to make the United States a 70 percent shareholder. If your broker advised you to buy 70 percent of General Motors, how long would he continue to be your broker?

And don’t forget Chris Dodd. The GOP hasn’t.

Finally this week, a study has found each family with health insurance pays $1017 each year to cover the uninsured. This may spur congressional action on the president’s healthcare plan.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

The New York Times: “Sotomayor’s Rulings are Exhaustive but Often Narrow” by Adam Liptak.

Politico: “Right Divided Over Court Fight” by Jeanne Cummings.

Real Clear Politics: “One Worthy Debate” by David Broder.

Newsweek: “They May Not Want the Bomb” by Fareed Zakaria.

Des Moines Register: “Father, an Old Soldier, in Spirit is Made Whole” by Nancy Dugan.

Diggin’ It

Crack open a newspaper this morning, and you’ll see plenty of CAFE coverage. But another question gurgles beneath the surface that may determine whether President Obama gets his new auto efficiency standards or any of his priorities.


Quick, who is more help to the Democrats these days: congressional leadership or Dick Cheney?


The Senate Majority Leader is in trouble. Today, a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll shows Nevada voters would show Harry Reid the door if his reelection were on the line today. That looks bad.


But it’s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that has neglected the first rule of holes, dear reader: when in one, stop digging.


First, she claimed CIA staffers never briefed her about EITs (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques), or waterboarding. Then she claimed the Agency said they had okayed waterboarding, but never told Pelosi they were actually waterboarding suspects. Then she claimed the Agency specifically said they were not waterboarding alleged terrorists.


Turns out none of that is exactly true. As Pelosi was campaigning for a Democratic majority in 2006 and 2008, she was arguing in part that Republicans had betrayed American ideals by torturing terrorism suspects. Problem is, it seems she knew torture was going on for years, but raised no objection until it was politically advantageous.


As Washington Post columnist David Ignatius notes (see today’s Top 5), Pelosi is putting self-preservation above her congressional oversight responsibilities. That doesn’t just look bad. It is bad.


So the President’s friends on the Hill aren’t pulling their weight. That’s important, because Republicans aren’t going to sit idly while Democrats try to accomplish their legislative objectives. The GOP can’t outvote the Dems, but they can alter legislation to make it so unappealing that no reasonable legislator of either party would vote for it.


If America likes congressional Democrats, voters are likely to view Republican roadblocks as cynical obstructionism. But if the Dems appear incompetent, or self-serving, or on the way out, the same roadblocks become bulwarks against liberal connivances.


The Blog is tracking several other stories. Today the president will, as noted above, announce new federal standards for auto emissions. The aim is threefold: curb greenhouse gasses, increase American energy independence, and nudge automakers to produce cars of the future. It’s kind of a big deal.


The White House reversed one (er, one and a half) policy last week. It decided to withhold CIA photos of detainee abuses and reopen the detainee tribunal system. The former is something of a disappointment to the Blog. The president campaigned on open government and honest reckoning with our mistakes. This seems to be a flip-flop.


On the other hand, as James Carville recently said, Obama’s decision on the photos would either alienate the ACLU or Muslim moderates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Alienate the ACLU, and they file a complaint. Alienate Muslim moderates, and they may decide to plant IEDs near American troops.


As for the tribunals, there has to be some way to process these suspects—they can’t languish untried forever. The president had said he would stop the tribunals altogether. But now, Obama has given detainees more access to proper legal protections and representation, and has thrown out evidence gained by torture. These look substantially less like kangaroo courts. We haven’t heard the last of the tribunals or the photos, dear reader. Count on it.


Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…


The Washington Post: “Speaker vs. Spies: A Test for Obama” by David Ignatius.


National Journal: “Business Climbs Abroad” by Ron Brownstein.


Newsweek: “A Highly Logical Approach” by Jon Meacham.


The New York Times: “Conservatives Map Strategies on Court Fight” by Charlie Savage.


Economist: “Phoney War.


On Deck

This week’s stories may become next week’s stories. Flaps over Pelosi, CIA photos, cap and trade, healthcare, and an open seat on the bench show no signs of letting up; both Republicans and Democrats see a reason to keep these storylines going. As they continue to develop, you can count on the Blog to bring you the skinny.


Politics, dear reader, is a thinking person’s game. For example:


Barack Obama thinks Egypt would make a good setting for a much-anticipated statement to the Islamic world. Would-be assassins may think so, too.


Dick Cheney thinks Rush Limbaugh is a better Republican than Colin Powell. The White House thinks every time Cheney (or Limbaugh) opens his mouth, re-election becomes just a little easier.


Sec. Gates thinks Stan McChrystal will do a better job in Afghanistan than David McKiernan. The Blog thinks Gates wishes McKiernan’s ouster was still the biggest news at the Pentagon.


GOP boss Michael Steele thinks former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney’s Mormonism might be a turn off for GOP base voters. Romney thinks Steele should stick it where the moon don’t shine.


Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist thinks being a senator might be fun. So (still) do Al Franken and Norm Coleman.


But the problem with thinking is it usually produces more questions.


Did Nancy Pelosi think silence was a good idea when she found out about torture? Did she think at all?


What will Congress think of the administration’s renewed healthcare push? And what will the president think of the bill congress eventually presents to him?


What was Wanda Sykes thinking when she called Karl Rove the 20th hijacker?


Of the events planned by the White House in the past week, none went better than the healthcare rollout (with the possible exception of the Tar Heel visit). But few policy proposals will face tougher challenges in coming weeks. As the NYT’s Robert Pear wrote, “There was something in [a revamped healthcare plan] for Mr. Obama, and something for the industry—though not necessarily the same thing. Their interests overlap but do not coincide.” Once Congress gets into it, Obama will need all his chips to control the stakes.


Obama’s control may be needed elsewhere first. Though the administration continues to project sunshine on the economy, many economists aren’t buying it. Nobody seems to dispute this: next year, the government will borrow 50 cents of every dollar it spends. Zoinks.


It’s not as simple as cutting waste from the budget. Obama will do that, but he must also fight tooth-and-nail for policy initiatives like carbon emissions, bank reorganization, and the aforementioned healthcare reform to keep his balance sheets in tact. If any one of those fails, the budget will have to be rewritten.


The president’s popularity remains high, which (as the Blog has argued before) is critically important. The president muted his reaction to Wanda Sykes’ out-of-line joke at last week’s White House Correspondents Association dinner, then gave a great speech of his own.


After the laughter comes tears (usually). Obama’s trek is as tenuous as it has ever been. He shoulders many heavy burdens, each tied to the other. Drop any one, and the rest may follow.


But he’s made it this far with a smile on his face, and for now, he trudges on.


Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…


The Washington Post: “Lawmakers Balk at Holding Guantanamo Bay Detainees in U.S.” by Perry Bacon Jr.


TIME: “Healthcare: Industry Steps Up. Maybe” by Joe Klein.


The Washington Post: “The Reticence in Broadcasting Network” by Dana Milbank.


Los Angeles Times: “Obama’s big bet on Pakistan” by Doyle McManus.


Real Clear Politics: “Catholic Political Divide Over Obama at Notre Dame” by Beth Fouhy.


On Deck:

You know you’re in trouble when…


…Democrats and Republicans agree you’re crooked.


…your best defense is “I thought it would be best if someone else wrote a strongly worded letter.”


…you face 29,000 counts of murder charges two weeks after the leader of the free world called genocide a global security threat.

Human Resources

It was a busy week in the Blog’s HR department. Let’s take a peek at the ol’ inbox.


Item One: Justice Souter served his two-weeks notice. That’s no real surprise—he’d told friends he would retire if Obama won last year’s election—but Souter’s departure has implications wide and deep. Everything that happens in Washington this summer will be affected by a new pick for the bench. Don’t expect the GOP to stand blithely by. Their new ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee is Jeff Sessions, a veteran of nasty confirmation fights.


Obama will likely choose a moderate-to-liberal jurist to replace the moderate-to-liberal Souter. Asked what he’s looking for in the next SCOTUS associate justice, Obama replied, “Empathy.” Interpret as you will, dear reader.


Here’s a list of likely candidates.


Item Two: Senator Specter filed a party-change application. This isn’t the first time. Specter began his career as a Democrat, but switched to the GOP to win a Philadelphia district attorney race. Now he’s switching back to hold his Senate seat.


The real significance of Specter’s re-conversion? It (plus Al Franken’s eventual accession) puts the Democrats at 60 votes in the Most Deliberative Body, a filibuster-proof margin over their Republican counterparts.


For Democrats, the 60 vote margin means they can legislate as they please, so long as they maintain party unity. The defection also allows them to cast the GOP as, like James Carville recently said, “a church that’s chasing out heretics” as opposed to “a church that’s trying to bring in converts.” The Republican Party is beholden to its far-right wing, Democrats will argue.


But it also means Democrats have no more excuses. Anything that goes wrong will be their fault. There’s almost no chance everything will go right, which is how the GOP can win back a few seats in next November’s midterm elections. And while Specter will likely support Dems on healthcare and environment issues, he’ll likely buck his new party’s line on foreign policy and spending.


Ultimately, the Specter switcheroo gives Democrats the image of total control, but it’s nearly impossible Democratic orthodoxy will prevail.


Item Three: A stack of applications for sick leave due to Swine Flu, a.k.a. H1N1. While the threat is still growing, the many diagnoses and relatively few fatalities has seemingly convinced health officials the crisis is containable.


Item Four: Chrysler is asking for unemployment benefits. Again. The automaker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week with the blessing (read: encouragement) of the White House. Fiat will be a partner to the company’s rebuilding efforts, and while the move generates more bad headlines for a company already drowning in ink, it’s probably the only road to recovery.


So HR’s been putting in overtime. Check this week’s “On Deck” to read why the pace will only quicken from here.


Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…


The Washington Post: “Quiet N.H. Home is Where Souter’s Heart Has Always Been” by Philip Rucker.


The Wall Street Journal: “Progressive Vision Likely in Next Jurist” by Jess Bravin.


Los Angeles Times: “It’s all on Obama now” by Peter Nicholas.


Newsweek: “The Slippery Side of 60” by Howard Fineman.


U.S. News and World Report: “Death of Newspapers Could Kill Communities, Civic Values, Too” by Mark Dunkelman.



On Deck: More to Come

The real problem for the Blog’s HR department? Each change above means more changes down the road. A new justice may be nominated as early as this week. Specter’s switch means new committee assignments for members of both parties. Will Specter be rewarded with a plum post at the expense of a fellow Dem, or will he be told to wait his turn, something he’s never especially enjoyed?


Final note: the John Edwards comeback tour is officially underway. Ugh.