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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

April 22, 2005 PERMALINK
GOP Leaks Show Fracturing on Nuclear Option
(posted April 22 2 AM ET)

Speculation from the GOP regarding the nuclear option was all over the map yesterday.

Some of it indicates that the GOP is on the verge of caving.

The first bit of chum came in the morning. The Hill reported that internal GOP polls were so bad, that Sen. Rick Santorum had begun privately urging his colleagues to pull back on going nuclear.

Later in the day, Santorum denied the report.

But after the existence of the poll was leaked to The Hill by anonymous GOPers, more (or the same) GOPers leaked the specifics of the poll to the AP.

There’s no plausible reason for GOPers to do that other than sabotage.

Either from rebels dead set against the nuclear option, or from supporters who see the writing on the wall and want to prepare the base for defeat.

But also yesterday, another group of anonymous GOPers was whispering in the ear of Fox News’ Mort Kondracke.

Kondracke dutifully shared the gossip with his audience:

That Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid was trying to cut a deal with the GOP, where he’d end the filibuster on some of the controversial judges in exchange for scrapping the nuclear option.

Also, that Santorum had rejected any such deal (Kondracke didn’t share with the Fox audience the report that he may be behind a cave-in).

And that these GOPers claimed Reid’s attempts had a “certain frantic quality” which indicated that “the Democrats are showing weakness.”

Granted, there is some grains of plausibility to this gossip.

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Ken Salazar floated a similar compromise on Wed.

And Reid has talked vaguely of compromise, as has Majority Leader Bill Frist, though few have taken those words seriously.

But overall, Democratic actions have shown tenacity, not hesitancy, on protecting the filibuster and opposing right-wing judges.

For example, yesterday afternoon, Sens. Dick Durbin (Reid’s #2), Chuck Schumer (Dem point man on judges) and even Lieberman, participated in an anti-nuclear option rally.

And the top of the Minority Leader’s home page is a call to arms to defend the filibuster.

It’s more likely that this GOP gossip, fed to Fox, was not on the level.

And instead, was intended to plant seeds of doubt in Dems (particularly accommodationist Dems) in hopes that they would lose confidence in Reid and flinch.

But, things are a little murky out there, and you can never be too careful.

So if you have a GOP Senator, contact him or her and tell them to save the filibuster.

And if you have a Dem Senator, contact him or her and tell them: no deals, we got the GOP on the run.

(UPDATE 4/22/05 2:30 PM ET -- More evidence Reid is not flinching.

Here's an email statement from him, responding to today's pro-nuclear option comments from Dick Cheney:

"Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules.

"Now, it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.

"It is disturbing that Republicans have so little respect for the separation of powers established by our founding fathers.

"Based on his comments last week, I had hoped that the president was prepared to join Democrats in taking up the work of the American people, but it is clear this is no longer the case.

"If the White House and Congress insists on proceeding down this road, Democrats will do all we can to ensure that Congress pursues an agenda the American people can be proud of.")

April 21, 2005 PERMALINK
The Real Assault On The Church
(posted April 21 2 AM ET)

As the nation gears up for Family Research Council’s “Justice Sunday,” LiberalOasis would like to call attention to a nook of the Fringe Fundamentalist movement that gets only sporadic notice.

Organizers of “Justice Sunday,” are trying to use the event to pit all “people of faith” against Democrats and liberals.

FRC’s Tony Perkins, in his announcement of Sunday’s event, equated being liberal with being “anti-Christian.” Later, he told the NY Times that Democrats have “targeted people for reasons of their faith.”

But it’s standard practice for Religious Right leaders to pretend that they speak for Christianity, and any criticism of them or their views amounts to an attack on all religion.

Too often, the Washington press corps lets them get away with it, putting the onus on Dems to prove their religious bona fides, instead of giving voice to the millions of Christians whose views are not represented by the likes of the Perkins, Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

What’s interesting is that despite the attempts by the Fringe Fundamentalists to position themselves in the media as the spokespeople for all things Christian, there is an organization in their network that shows they know that’s not true.

The Institute for Religion and Democracy.

IRD is a secularly funded group (including money from the right-wing Scaife foundations) that attacks and smears clergy who voice interpretations of Christianity that it deems as insufficiently conservative.

(An Olin Foundation grant to IRD was once described as funding "Programs to counter the political influence of the Religious Left".)

One North Carolina pastor recently said, “It is my opinion (shared by many) that the institute's tacit agenda is to align mainline churches with the Republican Party.”

The New Zion’s Herald called IRD “the key organization involved in the assault on the church.”

Blogger Chuck Currie called IRD “Just Another Right-Wing Group Working to Malign Christians Working For Peace and Justice”

And SF Weekly has reported on IRD’s efforts to attack pastors who support marriage rights for gays.

IRD has created three "astroturf" front groups that focus on specific denominations: Episcopal Action, Presbyterian Action and UM Action (Methodist).

IRD uses those groups to give the impression that it is grassroots members within each denomination that are rising up in disgust, not the right-wing elite.

Now, if liberalism was really antithetical to Christianity and people of faith, would there even be a need for such an insidious organization to eradicate liberal voices in the church? Of course not.

Deep down, the Fringe Fundamentalists know they don’t control all of Christianity.

They would like to. They created an entire organization to silence any Christian voices that get in their way and undermine their message.

But they have not succeeded yet. The voices are still out there.

“Justice Sunday” is not just about ending filibusters on judges.

It’s another “smoke and mirrors” attempt to con the media into thinking the Fringe Fundamentalists own Jesus Christ, and can state which party He supports.

QUICK HIT

Speaking of Fringe Fundamentalists...

Freshman Sen. Ken Salazar, who has been trying to position himself as a moderate Dem and describes himself as a “person of faith,” is under attack by Focus On The Family over the nuclear option.

And he’s not taking it sitting down. Scripps Howard reports:

"I do think that what has happened here is there has been a hijacking of the U.S. Senate by what I call the religious right wing of the country," Salazar told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday.

He singled out Focus on the Family by name, objecting to full-page newspaper ads the ministry's political arm recently placed, targeting 20 senators in 15 states.

"I think what has happened is Focus on the Family has been hijacking Christianity and become an appendage of the Republican Party," Salazar said in an interview. "I think it's using Christianity and religion in a very unprincipled way."

April 20, 2005 PERMALINK
After The Bolton Shocker, What Next?
(posted April 20 2 AM ET)
(minor edit April 20 11:15 AM ET)

The Dems on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pulled off a stunner yesterday.

With their backs literally against the wall, desperately trying to stall as Chairman Dick Lugar repeatedly tried to jam through a final party-line vote on John Bolton’s nomination, they lived to fight another day.

After making one impassioned plea after another -- verging on anger at times -- to look deeper into the allegations against Bolton, GOP Sen. George Voinovich dramatically changed his position in the middle of the session.

At one point, Sen. Joe Biden said:

In your heart, you know this guy doesn't deserve to go to the U.N....

...This time, follow your heart, not your head. Follow your heart on here, because your head's going to tell you to be really practical and don't screw around with the president's nominee.

And would you believe it, Voinovich actually listened, saying “I feel the passion” from the Dems.

(Is any other example in history where the “follow your heart” tack actually worked?!)

Lugar almost went ahead with the vote anyway (the nomination could have still reached the Senate floor with a tie vote in committee), but he wisely took the out Dems gave him and bought some time -- allowing a three-week delay so Bolton could be questioned further.

So the big question for the Dems is: now what?

Conventional wisdom would say that this failure in committee weakens the nominee so badly it would likely get pulled, either right away or after the additional investigation damages Bolton further.

And that’s probably what will happen.

But we know these guys don’t like to lose. And they’re not too shabby playing weak hands.

It’s possible that many GOPers may not be afraid of battling back and raising this story’s profile, thinking that Bolton’s tough guy attitude towards the UN is a political winner.

And a smear campaign against those making accusations is by no means out of the question, to say nothing about what Dem Senators might face, to say nothing about what Voinovich is already starting to get.

(Note that Voinovich is not a firm “No” vote.)

So how should Dems go forward?

So far, Dems did not approach this the way LiberalOasis suggested last month.

Instead of holding up Bolton as the embodiment of GOP foreign policy, Dems took a more non-ideological approach, zeroing in on Bolton’s abusive management practices and manipulation of intelligence.

(In fact, Sen. Dodd went out of his way yesterday to say, “this has nothing to do with substantive disagreement.”)

The ideological approach that LO preferred would have made it harder to snag a GOP vote and actually kill the nomination, although, it would have the long-term benefit of crystalizing Dem foreign policy principles, regardless of the fate of the nomination.

Of course, Dems need to stick with their present strategy (it is working after all).

But if there is pushback, a large component of it will be ideological (while the other large component will be smears).

While Dems understandably don’t want to get distracted from the points that are working for them right now, they shouldn’t feel any need to duck ideological attacks. They should address them head-on.

Dodd has made that harder by insisting this isn’t at all about Bolton’s views.

But you can still make the ideological point in a more subtle way, in a way that’s rooted in what the Dems have already been saying.

Simply put, that such a dishonest and abusive person is not the person who should be the face of America at the UN.

Such a person cannot advance democracy, promote global stability or help improve the UN bureaucracy.

By putting it in those terms, you are subtly making the case that the UN matters.

That it is an institution we want to support, not demean and diminish, for our national security as well as for global security.

QUICK HIT

Committee Highlights

You can watch the entire Foreign Relations Cmte meeting with this C-Span link.

Key moments:

At the 7:20 mark, Dems lose it when Lugar abruptly calls for a quick vote on whether or not to move to closed session (Dems thought they needed to go to closed session to fully air the allegations.)

Dems wanted to explain in more detail why they wanted to do so, while Lugar wanted to ram a party-line vote through.

Over the clerk’s calling of the roll, see Sen. Paul Sarbanes lament, “What kind of procedure is this?” See Sen. Boxer desperately trying to make a “point of order.”

And see Sen. Kerry say in disgust, “This place has lost every bit of … [voice trails off]. Stunning…Shocking.”

(For those who think Voinovich’s mind was made up going into the meeting, note that he voted with his party here. He also did not pipe up at other points where a final vote seemed imminent.)

At 24:05, Sen. Dodd gives an intense presentation laying out some of the case against Bolton.

And at 39:15, Sen. Biden gives one of his patented self-indulgent stemwinders, but this one was good! And effective!

Then Sen. Kerry further shames his GOP peers at the 1:00:00 point.

At 1:13:00, GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel seemingly sealed the deal for Bolton, by saying he would vote Yes in committee, but might vote No later on the Senate floor (this was a total cop-out, a way for him to nominally vote his conscience without killing the nomination.)

Then Voinovich blows everyone’s mind at 1:16:20.

April 19, 2005 PERMALINK
Putting On Your Game Face
For The Supreme Court Showdown
(posted April 19 12:45 AM ET)
(edited April 19 12 PM ET)

Last week, LiberalOasis offered the following about the upcoming Supreme Court nomination battle:

When we fight Bush nominees this summer, we must do our best to avoid getting bogged down in technical, procedural matters.

And we have to find a way to explain how each Bush nominee is part of a larger conservative agenda to take rights away from the people in order to satisfy their fat cat and fringe fundamentalist backers.

Most importantly, we’ll have to show how that agenda will directly harm people’s lives.

By establishing such narrative, it would give Dems an broad, substantive basis for opposing several nominees, as opposed to having a litmus test on a couple of issues, or having to dig up unique bits of salacious info for each nominee.

Easy to say, hard to do.

The first attempt to establish such a narrative came this past Sunday in the New York Times Magazine.

Jeffrey Rosen’s cover story detailed the history of the “Constitution In Exile” movement, which is seeking to appoint judges that will strip the government’s ability to recognize and protect the civil rights of Americans.

Rosen writes:

The ''Constitution in Exile” [means] to identify legal doctrines that established firm limitations on state and federal power before the New Deal...[it] encourage[s] judges to strike down laws on behalf of rights that don't appear explicitly in the Constitution...

...[Law prof Cass] Sunstein, [said] success, as the movement defines it, would mean that[:]

[“M]any decisions of the Federal Communications Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and possibly the National Labor Relations Board would be unconstitutional.

[“]It would mean that the Social Security Act would not only be under political but also constitutional stress.

[“]Many of the Constitution in Exile people think there can't be independent regulatory commissions, so the Security and Exchange Commission and maybe even the Federal Reserve would be in trouble.

[“]Some applications of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act would be struck down as beyond Congress's commerce power.''

In what Sunstein described as the ''extreme nightmare scenario,'' the right of individuals to freedom of contract would be so vigorously interpreted that minimum-wage and maximum-hour laws would also be jeopardized.

That doesn’t even get into everything, but it’s a lot of what is at stake, what the conservative movement wants to accomplish by remaking the judiciary.

(Any pundit who claims it’s all about abortion is a hack.)

But there still is a major challenge ahead of us, between now and (most likely) June.

Part of it is taking the above litany and translating it from government-speak into language that will better resonate with the public.

Talk of specific government agencies, not to mention phrases like “Constitution In Exile,” will get you nowhere.

Part of it is crafting a message that’s a “credible scare,” as opposed to a hysterical “scare tactic.”

It may be that these guys want stop the government from ever cleaning up the nation’s rivers and streams, but without extremely good back-up, people may well roll their eyes and shrug off your overheated rhetoric.

And part of it is knowing what is specifically in the records of the prospective nominees, and using it to your best advantage.

It may be that possible candidates want to scrap minimum wage laws, but you can’t assume they’ve ever put it down that explicitly on paper.

So accusing them of it may not only come across as wildly off-the-mark, but may give nominees an opportunity to play off of the super-radical right-wingers and position their merely radical views as “mainstream conservative.”

(Note that Rosen makes a distinction between the “Constitution In Exile” radicals and “originalists” like Antonin Scalia, who come across in the piece as more reasonable and restrained, even though originalism is pretty radical in its own right and shares similar goals.

Also note that there are several conservatives that Rosen, in The New Republic, said Dems should not oppose, including some that Rosen appeared to put in the CIE camp.

This is just to say that despite the importance of Rosen’s NYT Mag piece, and his deep knowledge of the subject, Rosen’s political views and strategic advice are not gospel.)

(UPDATE 4/19 12 PM ET -- This op-ed piece from NYT's Adam Cohen shows the farce of Scalia's so-called originalism.)

Keep in mind that in the first 24 hours after any nomination, the whole ballgame will be whether or not the GOP can successfully portray the pick as a “mainstream conservative.”

It will be our job in those 24 hours – on the blogs, on talk radio, in letters to the editor -- to argue that the views of him or her are far too extreme and harmful to Americans to merit a lifetime appointment.

To do that effectively means doing some homework on the prospective nominees, and talking about these issues now, in the run-up to the nomination, not waiting until the nomination drops.

Because at that point, things will move so fast, if you’re not prepared, you’ll never catch up.

Check out these links to get a sense of who is being speculated as possible nominees.

And go to Alliance For Justice, People For The American Way, Save Our Courts, and the National Council of Jewish Women for research on current judges and past Bush nominees.

Also, read this recent newsletter article from women’s rights group Legal Momentum, reviewing the women’s rights and civil rights records of possible nominees (full disclosure: LO’s executive editor had a role in the writing of this piece.)

April 18, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted April 18 1:30 AM ET)

DeLay Scandal Kicked Up A Notch

Tom Delay’s web of scandals crossed another threshold yesterday, as it was a featured topic on every major TV talk show yesterday.

Bipartisan debates over DeLay were held on NBC’s Meet The Press, Fox News Sunday, ABC’s This Week and CBS’ Face The Nation.

The Dems largely handled things well, preventing the GOP from reframing the story.

In particular, they were fully prepared to undercut the pro-DeLay talking point – that DeLay wants the Ethics Cmte take up the matter – by pre-emptively attacking the GOP for ridding the committee of independents in favor of DeLay loyalists.

On MTP, Rep. Barney Frank said it best:

...let me be very straight forward here.

I, 15 years ago, had a problem because I behaved inappropriately. The Ethics Committee stepped in.

Newt Gingrich had a problem. He was reprimanded [when] the Ethics Committee stepped in.

The difference between us and Mr. DeLay is, I think, we changed our behavior.

Mr. DeLay changed the Ethics Committee.

They also did a decent job of connecting the scandals to the party in general, with both Sen. Chuck Schumer on ABC and Rep. Steny Hoyer on Fox talking about “abuse of power.”

(Hoyer was about to smartly take the line farther, showing how DeLay’s actions impact issues that broadly affect Americans, when Fox’s Chris Wallace cut him off by saying “I don't want to get into a political speech with all due respect.”)

Still, this is a tough story for TV – complicated story lines, no visuals.

Hosts had a difficult time explaining the basic story (or didn’t really try). And debates between congresspeople often debilitated into procedural minutia.

To the extent this story is breaking through to the public, the message that’s getting through probably isn’t much more than “Tom DeLay Bad”.

Why he’s bad, and why people should care – that’s probably not getting through just yet.

So while Dems should be heartened that DeLay’s profile keeps elevating, and that the story appears to have plenty of juice left in it, they shouldn’t think there isn’t more they could do to crystallize it.

Hagel: No on Bolton? No on Nuclear Option?

On CNN’s Late Edition, GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel opened the door a crack to voting against the nomination of John Bolton to be Amb. to the UN (video at Crooks and Liars):

At this point, I will [vote for Bolton] but I have been troubled with more and more allegations, revelations, coming about his style, his method of operation.

We need a uniter. We need a builder. We need someone who will reach out to our friends and our allies at the United Nations.

No question the United Nations needs reform. It badly needs reform.

But we need someone who will go up there and develop confidence with the other ambassadors...

...So, right now, if there's nothing more that comes out, I will vote for Bolton.

Sunday’s LA Times also reported that Hagel’s support was weakening:

According to testimony and interviews conducted by the committee, Bolton tried to have three intelligence analysts removed after they disagreed with him.

[One] analyst, Rexon Ryu, was a State Department Middle Eastern proliferation specialist now on temporary assignment working for Hagel. Ryu was transferred from his State Department assignment at Bolton's request.

Hagel's support for Bolton had been seen as assured until the senator learned Friday about the transfer, according to a Hagel aide.

On CNN, when asked about Ryu’s case, Hagel said:

...the allegation itself...is a disturbing pattern of things that have come out about Bolton's management style, this intimidation.

We cannot have that at the United Nations. That should not be anywhere in our government.

Over at Fox, Sen. Joe Biden pushed another fresh allegation about Bolton’s behavior:

WALLACE: Have you come up with any other cases or witnesses, and are you going to ask for more hearings?

BIDEN: Yes, and maybe.

Yes, in that we have not -- they've come to us.

For example, a woman, a former AID worker in Kyrgyzstan wrote an open letter to the committee that we received, I guess, Thursday or Friday, saying that she'd been essentially harassed by John Bolton.

And [she] said that, "He claimed I was under investigation for misuse of funds and likely to be facing jail time to undermine me.”

Biden is referring to allegations by Melody Townsel, who was interviewed on Air America’s The Majority Report Friday night (LiberalOasis participated in the interview).

Her story was also reported in the LA Times on NY Times on Sunday

As this is a new development, it potentially gives Dems justification to ask for a second postponement of a committee vote on Bolton.

But Sen. Foreign Relations Chair Dick Lugar indicated on Fox that he still plans to hold the vote on Tuesday.

Back to CNN, Hagel also signaled he was leaning against voting with his party on implementing the nuclear option and ending any filibusters on judicial nominations:

I have not made a decision. If I have to make one, I will. But I've said to both sides, don't include me in your count right now.

I do not like this approach. It's a dangerous approach. It's an irresponsible approach.

And it further erodes the constitutional minority rights element of the Senate.

On Face The Nation, Chicago Trib reporter Jan Greenburg said Sen. Maj. Leader Bill Frist has already lost three GOPers on the nuclear option – Chafee, Snowe and McCain.

(McCain has solidified his position since last Sunday.)

If Hagel’s the fourth, then Frist can only afford to lose one more if he wants to push the button.

Daily Kos has the list of wavering Senators to contact.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Majority Report Radio: "a woman named Melody Townsel came on the show to tell Sam a personal story of her bizarre and harassing run-in with John Bolton, George Bush's nominee to be U.N. Ambassador. The run-in took place in 1994, when Bolton worked for a private law firm. Melody has spoken with minority council to the Foreign Relations Committee, and may be called to testify next week. She suspects, unfortunately, that her expirience with John Bolton may not be unique. Interview clip here. Full 6 minute interview here."

Tom Delay's House of Scandal graphically explains all the angles of DeLay's many transgressions, including how they hurt you

Body and Soul: Mr. Zoellick Goes To Fallujah

W. Post WH Briefing: "Behind closed doors at the Ft. Hood army base on Tuesday, President Bush got an earful from some Iraq-war widows, who told him that the way the government is treating them is disgraceful."

Tapped: "There's a pretty clear distinction here between Rhonda Rohrabacher getting paid a non-extraordinary sum of money to perform the genuine job of campaign manager [for her husband] and what Christine DeLay seems to be into, which is getting a very large sum of money to perform an ill-defined task."

Oliver Willis offers a print ad to stop the "Paris Hilton Tax Cut"

War and Piece: "I've gotten ahold of some documents that show that a speakers association is currently offering some prominent neoconservatives $15,000 a pop to speak at a pro-MEK rally Thursday ... The speakers' bureau says this year, the Iranian organizers flew down to Texas to meet with former House Majority leader Dick Armey, and he has assured the speakers' bureau that the Iranian American group is ok."

Chico Town: Put Dr. King on our Moolah

The Washington Note shreds Sen. Chafee's logic on the Bolton nomination

Abu Aardvark: If I don't write about Jordan, who will?

Al Franken Show Blog: Kerry did not blow CIA operative's cover

Baghdad Burning: "One wonders what has changed in this last year. The same faces of April 2004, but now they have differing positions in April 2005. The chess pieces were moved around and adjusted and every one is getting tired of the game."

MyDD: Chris Shays Is a Liar

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