Tag Archives: Michael O’Brien

One Is The Loneliest Number

Josh Gerstein at Politico:

Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 13-6 vote Tuesday, with only Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) crossing party lines to vote in favor of the nominee.

Before the vote, however, Republicans and a few Democrats criticized Kagan for a lack of candor during her confirmation hearings earlier this month — despite a 1995 article she wrote calling the process vacuous. But Graham said his support for Kagan is a byproduct of his view that “the last election had consequences” and that senators ought to defer to President Barack Obama’s prerogative to pick judges in most circumstances.

“There’s plenty of reasons for conservatives to vote no, plenty of good reasons, but I also think there’s a good reason for conservatives to vote yes, and that’s provided in the Constitution,” Graham said of Kagan’s nomination. “I understood we lost; President Obama won. And I’ve got a lot of opportunity to disagree with him. But the Constitution, in my view, puts a responsibility on me, a senator, not to replace my judgment for his.”

Obama, in a written statement, applauded the committee’s “bipartisan affirmation” of Kagan, his solicitor general. He called her “one of this country’s leading legal minds” who would be “a fair and impartial Supreme Court justice” who understands that the law affects everyone.

Chris Cillizza at WaPo:

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham‘s (R) announcement that he will vote in favor of Elena Kagan‘s nomination to the Supreme Court is likely to further incite conservatives already unhappy with him and, according to close observers of the state’s politics, ensures he will face a serious primary challenge in 2014.

“I think there’s a good reason for a conservative to vote yes,” Graham said this morning.

Graham’s apostasy on Kagan comes after other high profile breaks with conservatives in his state (and nationally) over climate change and immigration reform and will likely make him a central target of those tea party Republicans who helped oust Utah Sen. Bob Bennett in his bid for renomination earlier this year.

“It’s no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘who’ and ‘how many’,” said one South Carolina Republican operative about a Graham primary challenge. The source added that Graham’s approach on high profile issues of late is “putting Lindsey’s friends and supporters in a really tough place.”

Steve Benen:

There wasn’t any doubt that the Senate Judiciary Committee would approve Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court today. There was interest, however, in how the vote would go.

The committee endorsed Kagan on a 13-to-6 vote, with every Democrat supporting the nominee. The surprise came when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), joined with the majority.

The South Carolina conservative delivered a fairly lengthy speech on the nomination, and conceded he could think of “100 reasons” to oppose Kagan. But he would back her anyway, because of her qualifications and character. “At the end of the day, after the hearing, it was not a hard decision for me to make,” Graham explained.

As for what’s next for Kagan, her nomination now heads to the Senate floor, where final confirmation is expected before members break for their summer recess.

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline:

Obama got to the heart of the matter when he added that Kagan’s work as a Justice would reflect that she “understands how decisions made by the Court affect the lives of everyday Americans.” This is Obama’s way of saying that Kagan’s decisions will be just as expansively leftist as Obama’s vision of what’s good for “everyday Americans.”

I’m pretty sure Obama is right. And, given Kagan’s sense of humor, that seems to be just fine with Lindsey Graham, who once again earned his title, “the Arlen Specter of the South.”

Graham is up for re-election in 2014. By then Elena Kagan (and for that matter Sonia Sotomayor) will have a substantial record through which South Carolina Republicans can assess the judgment of their senior Senator, assuming he runs for re-election. In the meantime, let’s hope that Kagan includes some good one-liners in her left-wing opinions.

But perhaps Graham is right in predicting that this whole Tea Party thing will blow over. Perhaps in 2014 South Carolina will return Graham to Washington because he too is funny and the Washington Post likes him.

Allah Pundit:

WaPo’s already gaming out how many primary challengers Graham will face in 2014; among the possibilities is … Mark Sanford. A quote from one of Graham’s consultants: “He’s a thinking person’s conservative. I expect him to do well among voters with IQ’s in triple digits.” Thinking strategically, his vote here is potentially useful to Republicans down the line if/when another vacancy opens on the Court and The One decides to go for broke by appointing a lefty bomb-thrower. Because Graham’s now positioned himself as the principled moderate, willing to vote for both Kagan and Sotomayor in the name of deference to the president, a no vote on some future nominee would be a devastating judgment that he/she really is way out of the mainstream. Kagan’s not going to be filibustered — but the next one might be, especially if Grahamnesty signals to other moderates that it’s okay to do so by opposing him/her, so maybe he’s just keeping his powder dry. And, er, maybe Dick Durbin’s really had a change of heart. Exit question via Pat Leahy: Why does the GOP hate women?

Michael O’Brien at The Hill:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he planned a vote on Elena Kagan’s appointment to the Supreme Court before the August recess.

Reid said he planned to bring Kagan’s nomination up for a vote “before we leave for August recess.”

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice:

It was originally said by pundits that Kagan would sail through in what they predicted would be yawningly boring hearings with little opposition even from GOPers. Although hearings were relatively low-key, they weren’t boring.

And political skirmishes in the 21st century aren’t political skirmishes without the entry of over the top talk show political culture rhetoric.

In Kagan’s case, it recently came in the assertion of commentor Eric Ericson’s assertion that “Senators would be committing a high act of confirmation treason if they allow this nominee to go on the court without attempting to filibuster her nomination.”

As melodramatic and demonizing as some Supreme Court nominations have been in recent decades, no credible partisan has suggested that not filbustering a nominee named by another party would be an act of treason, no matter how it is argued or described. So now votes come down to treason (not just being RINOs or DINOs) for those who might dare not listen to talk show hosts and commentors?

But, then again, this is 2010 where the gut and the desire for readership or audience often trump the apparently atrophying logical part of the brain.

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OMG! He Touched The Third Rail!

Michael O’Brien at The Hill:

A Republican-held Congress might look to raise the retirement age to 70, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested Monday.

Boehner, the top Republican lawmaker in the House, said raising the retirement age by five years, indexing benefits to the rate of inflation and means-testing benefits would make the massive entitlement program more solvent.

“We’re all living a lot longer than anyone ever expected,” Boehner said in a meeting with the editors of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “And I think that raising the retirement age — going out 20 years, so you’re not affecting anyone close to retirement — and eventually getting the retirement age to 70 is a step that needs to be taken.”

David A. Graham at Newsweek:

In the face of plenty of demagoguing by both parties on deficits, Boehner’s stark statement is a welcome one. It’s a real policy suggestion, and it’s one that conveys to voters that they can’t get something for nothing: deficit reduction is going to be painful.

Some European countries are raising retirement ages as part of austerity measures: France’s decision to raise the age from 60 to the harrowing extreme of 62 years old practically caused riots, while Britain’s new government has announced plans to raise the retirement age from 65 to 66, with further increases likely. But in the U.S., there’s been little meaningful discussion on the topic.

That said, just making people work another five years probably isn’t quite the silver bullet Boehner suggests. For one thing, as Robert Reich and others point out, Social Security is a less serious problem than Medicare, the costs of which are growing faster. And liberal think-tankers wring their hands over such proposals, worrying that blue-collar workers, who are more likely to lose the ability to do their work at a young age, will bear the brunt of a retirement-age increase. No matter how overblown his rhetoric on the divisions facing the U.S., Boehner deserves credit for offering a serious, fiscally conservative suggestion, and openly discussing the sacrifices Americans will have to make.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake:

A month ago, John Boehner was warning that the commission planned to report its findings after the election, and that their plan could be passed by a lame duck congress with little fear of electoral accountability.

But in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Boehner is now publicly expressing support for the very same ideas Rivlin proposes.  And he wants to use Social Security benefit cuts to fund the wars:

Ensuring there’s enough money to pay for the war will require reforming the country’s entitlement system, Boehner said. He said he’d favor increasing the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement, tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than wage inflation and limiting payments to those who need them.

Boehner has a three-point plan here to get money for mo’ war: 1) raise the retirement age to 70, 2) adjust Social Security’s cost of living increases (COLA), and 3) reduce payments to those with higher incomes.

Jed Lewison at Daily Kos:

This is a big deal. It’s not just that he wants to cut Social Security, it’s that he says cutting Social Security would be at the center of the GOP’s fiscal policy if Republicans win the November elections.

And not only is Boehner saying he wants to raise the retirement age to 70, he also is proposing to ban Social Security recipients from earning “substantial” amounts of outside income. That’s a truly radical notion: John Boehner thinks people who have paid Social Security taxes their entire life should be denied Social Security if they earn outside income above a certain level.

So in Boehner’s view, everybody should pay for Social Security, but only some people should get it, and they shouldn’t get it until they are 70. And he’s pledging to push that agenda as Speaker. I think his ideas are ridiculous but he’s right on one thing: they do deserve to be at the center of the debate. Voters deserve to know that Republicans will try to gut Social Security if they win the elections this fall.

Jake Sherman and Simmi Aujla at Politico:

Democrats are attacking House Minority Leader John Boehner for his comments to a Pittsburgh paper about how America is in “revolt” similar to 1776 and Wall Street reform is like “killing an ant” with a nuclear weapon.

Boehner also touched on the third rail of politics, claiming that Social Security should raise the retirement age to 70.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a statement blasting Boehner, as did the Democratic National Committee and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Operatives are blasting his statements to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review all over the blogosphere.

But the reality is that Boehner’s comments are hardly out of line with what his own party has said – especially on Social Security and financial reform.

Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), while noting he didn’t see Boehner’s comments, said that he wasn’t going to vote for the financial regulatory bill because “it’s going to hurt small banks, community banks…that weren’t doing the collateral debt obligations, collateral debt swaps and derivative trading.”

On Social Security, Sullivan seems to be in lock-step with Boehner.

“If we want to really get our debt down and really truly reform spending and what we do here in Washington all entitlement programs need to be looked at,” he said. “I think Social Security should be on the table. Whether we raise the age or not, that should be looked at.”

And the reality is that even House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) may even find some agreement with Boehner on Social Security – in a recent speech Hoyer said raising the retirement age needs to be on the table.

Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said “we need a national dialogue about how we make Social Security solvent” – but he wouldn’t touch Boehner’s words, saying he hadn’t read them and wasn’t familiar with the context.

“When you look at the fact that we’re blessed that we’re living so much longer with fewer workers, because of those kind of things, I believe it’s going to take the president, both houses of Congress, the American people buying whatever we do,” Boozman said Tuesday.

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Mad Max Beyond US Attorneys: The Girlfriend Edition

John Stanton at Roll Call:

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ office confirmed late Friday night that the Montana Democrat was carrying on an affair with his state office director, Melodee Hanes, when he nominated her to be U.S. attorney in Montana.

According to a source familiar with their relationship, Hanes and Baucus began their relationship in the summer of 2008 – nearly a year before Baucus and his wife, Wanda, divorced in April 2009. The Senator had informally separated from his wife in March 2008 and they were living apart when he began dating Hanes, according to Baucus’ office.

Hanes ended her employment with Baucus in the spring of this year.

Hanes, who is divorced and now lives with Baucus in the Eastern Market neighborhood of Washington, D.C., ultimately withdrew her name from consideration for the U.S. attorney position in order to move to Washington, and she now works in the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention as a counselor to the administrator.

Baucus spokesman Tyler Matsdorf said the relationship was not the cause of Baucus’ divorce and that Baucus did not arrange for her current position with DOJ.

“In no way was their relationship the cause of their respective divorces. When Senator Baucus and Melodee Hanes, his former state director, realized that their relationship was developing beyond a purely professional nature, Melodee began the process of resigning her Senate employment,” Matsdorf said.

“After withdrawing from consideration for U.S. Attorney, Ms. Hanes independently applied for her current position at the Department of Justice. Having extensive experience and qualifications in the field, Ms. Hanes was awarded the position based solely on her merit. Since then she has excelled in her role,” he added.

Jules Crittenden:

Montana Dem Max Baucus put his girlfriend/underling up for U.S. Attorney of Montana. She withdrew to move in with him in DC and take a DOJ job, which Baucus’ people say he had nothing to do with. She had extensive qualifications … and a resume with his name all over it

Digby:

The last thing I want to think about before I’ve had my coffee is Max Baucus’s sex life, but I had no choice since the scandal de jour seems to be that he stepped out on his wife with an also married staffer and then nominated that staffer for US Attorney (and later withdrew the nomination.)Now they are both divorced and live together. Whatever. I really don’t care who these people sleep with and they seem to have thought better of the US Attorney business. He’s a cad. She is too. I’m shocked, simply shocked.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

There is something hilariously outlandish about the disgrace of Montana Senator Max Baucus having nominated his girlfriend to be a candidate for the position of United States Attorney for Montana. David Bernstein captures the relevant details in “Baucus scandal.”

Bernstein quotes the helpful explanation of Baucus’s spokesman on the withdrawal of Baucus’s girlfriend from consideration for the position: “Mr. Baucus and Ms. Hanes…decided that she should withdraw her name from consideration because the couple wanted to live together in Washington, [Baucus spokeman Tyler] Matsdorf said.” Bernstein comments” “Matsdorf, it should be noted, is Baucus’s spokesman, and that’s the best he could do!”

Bernstein also comments on Ms. Hanes’s qualifications to serve as United States Attorney: “[S]pending the last six years working as a Senator’s field office and state office director (i.e., not even working as a lawyer) hardly seems like the kind of credentials one expects from a U.S. attorney candidate, and certainly not one purportedly recommended ‘solely on the basis of her credentials.'”

Bernstein credits Main Justice with breaking this story and with securing this testimonial from Ms. Hanes’s ex-husband: “She was recommended for the position because of a very close and personal relationship with Max Baucus and she withdrew because of a very close and personal relationship with Max Baucus.”

UPDATE: I should have noted that Hanes currently holds down a position at the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Perfect!

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

Now, it is pretty bad form to nominate your mistress to be your state’s top federal prosecutor. Though Baucus and Hanes did withdraw that nomination (I wonder whether their relationship would have been considered in the White House’s not-quite crack vetting process?). I also wonder whether they withdrew her nomination because it was bad form, or because Montana’s recent history with Bill Mercer makes the state very sensitive to US Attorneys who don’t actually live in Montana. And there’s the detail that Baucus was carrying on an affair with one of his staffers, though that seems to be the default in DC.

But while we’re getting all scandalized about Baucus’s bad judgment, let’s talk about the bad judgment that did hurt taxpayers, rather than the one that almost did: the way in which the revolving door on his committee staff made it very easy for the insurance industry to write the Senate’s health care reform bill. I’m much more offended–and directly affected–by the fact that former Wellpoint VP Liz Fowler wrote the Senate health care bill than I am that Baucus nominated, then withdrew, his mistress for a plum job.

Max Baucus apparently has really poor judgment, across the board, on personnel issues. But it’s not the almost-scandal of Hanes that is the most damning.

Michael O’Brien at The Hill:

Republicans seized on revelations that Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) nominated his girlfriend to a U.S. attorney position, calling for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation.

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele called for an official investigation into Baucus, who allegedly flagged Justice Department lawyer Melodee Hanes for a U.S. attorney nomination while engaging in a romantic relationship with her. Hanes eventually withdrew her name from consideration.

“Today’s report that Senator Max Baucus used his Senate office to advance a taxpayer funded appointment for his staff-member girlfriend raises a whole host of ethical questions,” Steele said in a statement. “This issue demands the attention of the Senate Ethics Committee.”

Senate Republicans have refrained so far from issuing statements condemning Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee whose position has made him an integral figure in both healthcare and climate change legislation before Congress.

UPDATE: Max Fisher at The Atlantic

UPDATE: Gail Collins in NYT

UPDATE #3: Megan McArdle

Ed Morrissey

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