One Night of Indigestion for Obama

By now you’ve heard that Obama risked indigestion just days before his inauguration to reach out to the other side.

Barack Obama took the next big step in his Republican charm offensive on Tuesday night, when he dined with several of the nation’s most prominent conservative pundits.

The president-elect arrived at the Chevy Chase, Md., home of syndicated columnist George Will shortly after 6:30 p.m., according to a press pool report. Greeting him at the residence were other luminaries of the conservative commentariat, including the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post.

Just two comments about this. First, remember that two out of three of these men sort-of endorsed Obama as the election came to a close (indeed Brooks was a fan from early on). Here’s Brooks, enthusing over Obama’s self-efficacy in October.

But other candidates are propelled by what some psychologists call self-efficacy, the placid assumption that they can handle whatever the future throws at them. Candidates in this mold, most heroically F.D.R. and Ronald Reagan, are driven upward by a desire to realize some capacity in their nature. They rise with an unshakable serenity that is inexplicable to their critics and infuriating to their foes.

Obama has the biography of the first group but the personality of the second. He grew up with an absent father and a peripatetic mother. “I learned long ago to distrust my childhood,” he wrote in “Dreams From My Father.” This is supposed to produce a politician with gaping personal needs and hidden wounds.

But over the past two years, Obama has never shown evidence of that. Instead, he has shown the same untroubled self-confidence day after day.

Here’s Will, attacking the Republican ticket’s shared inability to think with complexity, in October.

Palin may be an inveterate simplifier; McCain has a history of reducing controversies to cartoons. A Republican financial expert recalls attending a dinner with McCain for the purpose of discussing with him domestic and international financial complexities that clearly did not fascinate the senator. As the dinner ended, McCain’s question for his briefer was: "So, who is the villain?"

Read more

Orrin Hatch to Support Holder Yet the Delay and Kabuki Continues

Understand–this report that Orrin Hatch will support Eric Holder is not news.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), who chaired the panel for a decade beginning in 1995, told The Hill that he will support Holder.

I intend to,” said Hatch.

His decision could undermine GOP efforts to stall or block the confirmation. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Friday that Holder would be the only Cabinet nominee to face a tough confirmation fight.

Hatch said that Republicans should try to strike a cooperative tone with President-elect Obama during the first days of his administration.

“I start with the premise that the president deserves the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think politics should be played with the attorney general,” he said.

“I like Barack Obama and want to help him if I can.”

Hatch said he would support Holder way back in November. Which, even though the Senate Judiciary Committee is the committee most unfavorably positioned until the Senate reorganization (unlike SJC, most other committees have lost Republicans but not Democrats, giving us a bigger majority than we had last Congress), still means Holder’s nomination will pass the committee and the full Senate, even if by a one vote margin.

Now, maybe Arlen "Scottish Haggis" Specter will dig up something during Holder’s nomination hearing that will pick off Democratic support; but seeing as how he’s more interested in Elian Gonzales and less interested in Chiquita, I don’t see that happening.

Which means the drama surrounding the Holder nomination from the right is–and has always been–kabuki. 

Kabuki, an attempt to dredge up Republican greatest hits on Clinton, and–I suggest again–delay.

There are a number of reasons why they’d want to delay Holder’s confirmation and not–say–that of Hilda Solis, who will champion the EFCA legislation that will be an early focus in Congress. You see, EFCA will pass or fail regardless of whether Solis has been approved or not. EFCA’s passage comes down to the actions of a few conservative Dems and a few moderate Republicans. Republicans oppose EFCA, but they’re not going to delay or defeat it by delaying Solis’ confirmation.

But there are things that Republicans can delay or prevent by delaying Holder’s confirmation, first and foremost, any legal prosecution of George Bush for reauthorizing warrantless wiretaps over the objections of the acting Attorney General. Read more

Oh Noes! Lobbyists Standing in Line with Labor Leaders!!

standing-in-line.jpgThe really amusing part of this story–describing how a number of business interests who ran were warmly welcomed in the Bush White House are aghast that they have to stand in line in the same waiting room with labor interests–is behind a firewall (thanks to egregious for liberating it).

The extent of substantive interaction varies. Some lobbyists, particularly those representing industries Obama wants to promote, report numerous contacts and substantive meetings.

But other K Street veterans report a shocking new reality.

Top business officials accustomed to red-carpet treatment in the Bush White House say they must stand in line in the cold outside transition headquarters along with people they don’t recognize, waiting to be cleared to meet with Obama staffers they don’t know and who don’t always appear to understand their issues. One veteran business official lamented that the only Obama official he has recognized so far is former Environmental Protection Agency Director Carol Browner — along with lobbying foes for labor and environmental organizations he has seen milling around or standing in the queue.

"We were part of the team" during the Bush transition, reminisced another top K Street player. "The business lobby was not pro-Obama," he acknowledged. "And for good reason, if you look at the campaign rhetoric."

Several business representatives wondered whether they were involved in a "check the box" scam designed to show inclusiveness rather than practice it.

"You get your five-minute elevator presentation," said one top industry lobbyist who said his meetings have been devoid of meaty discussion. "They say nothing. It’s a pure note-taking exercise. Will they be able to say they reached out? Sure." [my emphasis]

And these poor lobbyists are also worried that the white papers they give the Obama Administration, which under the Jack Abramoff style system employed by the Bush White House would be printed out on White House letterhead and presented as Administration policy, will be released in original form on the net.

Obama appears so far to be sticking to his promise to shed daylight on the process, reversing Bush White House practices most famously exemplified by Vice President Dick Cheney’s secret meetings with energy lobbyists. Instead, business types huddling with Obama officials are immediately told that the position papers and other documents they are pushing across the table are going directly onto the Web. 

To be fair, the story describes the industries which Obama has welcomed warmly: Read more

Eric Holder's New Pardon Controversy: Oops He Did It Again

graphic by twolf

graphic by twolf

Hot off the presses, Tom Hamburger and Josh Meyer at the LA Times have an exclusive on new information detailing Obama Attorney General nominee Eric Holder’s involvement in the ugly and controversial clemency grants given to members of the violent Puerto Rican terrorist groups FALN and Los Macheteros.

"I remember this well, because it was such a big deal to consider clemency for a group of people convicted of such heinous crimes," said Adams, the agency’s top pardon lawyer from 1997 until 2008. He said he told Holder of his "strong opposition to any clemency in several internal memos and a draft report recommending denial" and in at least one face-to-face meeting. But each time Holder wasn’t satisfied, Adams said.

The 16 members of the FALN (the Spanish acronym for Armed Forces of National Liberation) and Los Macheteros had been convicted in Chicago and Hartford variously of bank robbery, possession of explosives and participating in a seditious conspiracy. Overall, the two groups had been linked by the FBI to more than 130 bombings, several armed robberies, six slayings and hundreds of injuries.

The entire Justice Department was vehemently against Holder’s inexplicable determination to force the clemencies against all reason and factual considerations. One has to wonder exactly what was motivating Holder’s shameful refusal to back up his prosecutors and case agents (probably one of the reasons Holder has never been a favorite of line level DOJ personnel).

Holder stiffed prosecutors, FBI case agents and victims:

* He reminded Holder that Holder had in previous cases given "considerable weight" to the recommendations of federal prosecutors, and that any clemencies would "contravene the strong negative recommendation of two United States attorneys."

* Adams also warned that the convicts’ release would undermine at least four pending Read more

Obama's DOJ Nominees through the Lens of Bush's OLC

Obama just announced several new nominations for DOJ. I thought I’d look at the two most notable appointments from the perspective of their response to Bush’s DOJ.

As expected, Obama nominated Elena Kagan to be Solicitor General, in what is almost certainly a stepping stone to a SCOTUS appointment for her.

Kagan, as Dean of Harvard Law School, is the person who hired Jack Goldsmith after he left Bush’s DOJ. Here’s what Kagan had to say about that appointment. 

 "Jack Goldsmith is a bold and creative thinker whose scholarship and teaching will enrich the Law School immeasurably," said Kagan. "His talents and energy will help to ensure that Harvard remains the premiere place to study international and comparative law."

Now, I’m not entirely opposed to hiring people like Goldsmith in academia; my sense is his scholarship–unlike that of John Yoo–is at least internally consistent, even if I disagree with it. One wonders, though, whether Kagan thought she was getting someone who approved of Bush’s torture and wiretapping, or someone who disapproved of it?

Dawn Johnsen, whom Obama has appointed to head OLC, has been much more critical of Bush’s own OLC. After the Yoo memo was leaked in 2004, she was one of a number of former OLC lawyers who signed the Principles to Guide the Office of Legal Counsel, an attempt to prevent similar misuses of the OLC advisory process. More recently, Johnsen testified before Russ Feingold’s "Secret Law" hearing. Here’s her criticism of the way the Bush Administration used secrecy to bypass statute:

The Bush Administration has not complied with this public notice standard and has operated in extraordinary secrecy, generally and with regard to its interrogation policy. Again, the Administration kept secret OLC’s determination that the President had the constitutional authority to violate a federal statutory ban on torture, in an opinion that did not evaluate Congress’s competing constitutional authorities or the most relevant Supreme Court precedent. The public learned of this determination only through a leak almost two years after OLC issued its written opinion and after the Administration began engaging in unlawful interrogations.

Rather than acknowledge it is asserting the authority to act contrary to a federal statute, the Bush Administration often claims it is simply “interpreting” the statutory provision—sometimes inconsistent with the best reading of the text and legislative intent—to avoid a conflict with the Administration’s expansive view of the President’s powers. The Administration cites for support to the Read more

Rahm and “that 5th CD Thing”

At his shiny new shack out back of the Big Orange Satan, Kagro X links to this article describing how Rahm is uninvolved (publicly at least) in the fight to replace him.

Rahm Emanuel’s role in attempting to influence Gov. Blagojevich’s choice of a U.S. Senate replacement for President-elect Barack Obama could impact the heated race to fill another important vacancy: Emanuel’s own seat in Congress.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Daley’s unofficial City Council floor leader, had hoped to emerge from the crowded field of candidates in the 5th Congressional District by winning Daley’s support and by persuading Emanuel to use his formidable powers of persuasion to clear the field.

But now that the Chicago Sun-Times has lifted the veil on Emanuel’s efforts to persuade Blagojevich to appoint Obama family friend Valerie Jarrett to the U.S. Senate, Emanuel has — as one veteran ward boss put it — "gone underground."

The new White House chief of staff is reluctant to get involved in the 5th District race, which has attracted more than two dozen candidates.

Of course, the Sun-Times presents this as a reaction to the news that Rahm was involved in discussions over Obama’s seat.

But I would suggest that it’s one more piece of evidence that suggests Rahm was involved in discussions–real or imagined–over his own seat.

After all, aside from calling the Special Election, Blago is not involved in this election: Richard Daley is the kingmaker here, not Blago. So why would Rahm’s involvement in discussions about the Senate seat prevent him from getting involved in discussions about his own seat?

As I’ve discussed, there’s evidence that Rahm and Blago (or Rahm and Blago’s flunkies) talked about more than the Senate seat.  The only mention of Rahm in the complaint, after all, includes this passage:

On November 13, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH talked with JOHN HARRIS. ROD BLAGOJEVICH said he wanted to be able to call “[President-elect Advisor]” and tell President-elect Advisor that “this has nothing to do with anything else we’re working on but the Governor wants to put together a 501(c)(4)” and “can you guys help him. . . raise 10, 15 million.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH said he wanted “[President-elect Advisor] to get the word today,” and that when “he asks me for the Fifth CD thing I want it to be in his head.” Read more

Rick Warren and Invoking Teh Inauguration

As you may have noticed, a small war has erupted at the mothership over the nature of the invocation at Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009. Specifically, whether or not it is appropriate for Obama to have Rick Warren participate. The general FDL position is that it is not appropriate to have Warren participate because he is a discriminatory bigot, to the LGBT community, and others.

I agree wholeheartedly with this position. But I have a more fundamental question.

Why is any of this, Warren, Lowery, or any other religious figure, an official part of the inauguration? If a religious aspect is desired for private parties later etc., fine, but why should overt religion be sanctioned as part of the official initiation of a Presidency? No matter how it is configured, it is going to be offensive to many groups inherently; i.e. those whose religions are snubbed, and those such as the LGBT community, for instance in relation to Warren. Probably some groups somewhere will be similarly put off by Joe Lowery; and, of course, the non-believers and/or atheists don’t like any of it.

"America" should not have a preacher. If individuals wish to consider religion vis a vis their government, that is most excellent, but it should be and by individual choice only. God is not for a nation to possess, nor claim the mantle of; that is the province of the individuals in the nation to do, or not do, on their own.

Why is this part of the official inauguration? There is no need to have the new government sanctioned by religion from the get go. The new President, President Obama, will serve and represent all Americans, of all stripes, colors and beliefs; excluding and alienating so many at the outset seems antithetical to the spirit, even if not the letter, of Constitutional separation of church and state, equal protection and inclusion.

Invoke the spirit of the Constitution instead of of having an invocation at the Inauguration.

WaPo: Labor, Transportation Not “Major” Issues

In its story this morning on Obama’s appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education, the WaPo said this (in its lede paragraph, no less!):

President-elect  Barack Obama will nominate Chicago schools executive Arne Duncan as his education secretary at an event in the city today, transition aides said, and is expected to tap Sen.  Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) later this week to serve as secretary of the interior, all but finalizing his selections for major Cabinet posts. [my emphasis]

I’m triple checking, but according to this list from the AP last night, Obama has not yet named his Secretaries of Labor or Transportation. (Rumors have Sanford Bishop’s appointment as Secretary of Agriculture to be close, but I wonder whether his "pee in a cup" mini-scandal will give Obama pause; also Interior and Education are not technically official.)

Now, I realize that it has been eight long years since anyone in the White House gave a damn about our nation’s workers. But here’s a hint for Kornblut and Rucker. Obama is a Democrat. Democrats, you see, actually care about the issues of the men and women who make stuff in this country. Democrats care about whether Americans make a fair wage. Democrats care about whether people get injured or poisoned while at their workplace. Democrats realize that you can’t sustain the vitality of our nation’s economy without making sure that the workers share in prosperity. In a Democratic administration–particularly one that relied on organized labor to win the election–the Secretary of Labor is not a minor post.

And how about Transportation? I’m not sure if Kornblut and Rucker have heard about this, but Obama has plans to put through a massive stimulus package as one of his first acts. And a big chunk of that stimulus package–maybe $150 billion–is going to go to infrastructure. You know, roads, bridges, public transportation. See that word there–"transportation"? That’s a hint that maybe Obama’s Secretary of Transportation is going to be doling that money out. I would suggest that if one of Obama’s immediate goals is to dole out a bunch of money to support our nation’s transportation infrastructure, then maybe the Secretary of Transportation shouldn’t be regarded as a minor flunkie. 

Like I said, I’m going to assume that the WaPo believes that Ag and Interior, along with this Ed pick, are done deals. Read more

Fitz to Obama: Twas a Week before Fitzmas

I’ve been saying that the wingnut calls for Obama to release all the gory details of what Rahm said to Blago (it went something like: fuck fuck fuck shit asshole fuck) probably didn’t account for Fitz’ well-known desire that witnesses in his investigations remain silent until he can complete the investigation.

Now, Obama has made it clear that Fitz has asked for a delay.

"At the direction of the President-elect, a review of Transition staff contacts with Governor Blagojevich and his office has been conducted and completed and is ready for release.  That review affirmed the public statements of the President-elect that he had no contact with the governor or his staff, and that the President-elect’s staff was not involved in inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff over the selection of his successor as US Senator.

"Also at the President-elect’s direction, Gregory Craig, counsel to the Transition, has kept the US Attorney’s office informed of this fact-gathering process in order to ensure our full cooperation with the investigation.

"In the course of those discussions, the US Attorney’s office requested the public release of the Transition review be deferred until the week of December 22, in order not to impede their investigation of the governor.  The Transition has agreed to this revised timetable for release," said Obama Transition Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. [my emphasis]

If nothing else, that gives us a good idea of how much longer Fitz thinks he might need before he gets an actual indictment. 

Axelrod: Obama Wouldn’t Even TALK to that Corrupt Guy

Last month, David Axelrod told reporters that Obama had talked to Blago about his replacement in the Senate.

The transition team just sent out a statement saying that is incorrect.

I was mistaken when I told an interviewer last month that the President-elect has spoken directly to Governor Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy. They did not then or at any time discuss the subject.

I guess the operative phrase there is "spoken directly."

At least that means we won’t hear Obama on tapes introduced at Blago’s trial.