Forcing Bush's Hand on Recess Appointments

As I forecasted a few days ago, posting from me has been light -- well, nonexistent -- since late last week given my relocation from Portland to Berkeley over the weekend. Now that I at least have my furniture in place, though not all my dishes and tchatchkes, I have a chance to sit down and write for a bit. Thanks for bearing with me.

Via the now nearly ubiquitous Steve Benen, writing today over at The Carpetbagger Report, comes a report from Roll Call's Erin P. Billings that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has effectively forced President Bush's hand over recess appointments.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has quietly shelved plans to hold the Senate in pro forma session this month after the White House agreed to refrain from making any executive appointments during the Senators' August break.

Sources in both parties said the two parties reached an understanding whereby Reid agreed to move a series of outstanding White House nominations -- 42 in total -- before the Senate left town on Aug. 3. The Bush administration, meanwhile, agreed to refrain from making any surprise recess appointments over the break.

"Our leadership and their people sat down and decided it's in nobody's best interest to have this fight play out over August," a senior Democratic Senate aide said. "Ultimately, no one wins."

Benen reads this news with a skeptical eye, noting that the Democrats are giving in on some of their positions (for instance Reid pledging to hold a vote on the nomination of former GOP Congressman Jim Nussle to serve as OMB director) for only a pledge from the White House to refrain from making recess appointments, which would effectively allow President Bush to place subordinates without any congressional oversight. Indeed, Democrats on Capitol Hill who have placed too much faith in the President in the past have found themselves burned subsequently, so the concern is very palpable.

But at the same time, the Democrats are not giving up their leverage. Though they have pledged to hold a vote on the Nussle nomination once Congress comes back into session at the beginning of September, presumably that pledge would not have to be fulfilled were the President to reneg on his end of the agreement by making a recess appointment. What's more, the Democrats are getting what they want -- no recess appointments -- without actually having to follow through on their threat to keep the Senate in session sporadically throughout the August recess.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think that this is the best deal in the world for the Democrats. "A senior Democratic Senate aide" conceded as much in the article. But it does seem to me that this isn't a terrible deal for the Democrats either but rather an example of the party leadership forcing the President's hand without actually having to follow through on their threats of creatively using Congressional rules to achieve their ends.

There's more...

Running an Open House of Representatives

For a long while I've tried to debunk the myth that the Democrats are not running a significantly more open House of Representatives than did the Republicans when they were in office. Whenever Republicans were able to inject this false meme into the media, I have tried to rebut it with facts, such as the fact that the Democrats, already in February, had allowed more open rules than the Republicans had during the entirety of the 109th Congress. Now it looks like The Politico, which had previously peddled this trash, is somewhat inadvertently undercutting the GOP contention. Check out the 15th paragraph of an article posted today by Martin Kady II on the culture of the current Congress (which he says, despite his reporting on House rules, is not entirely different from that of the previous Republican Congress).

Statistically speaking, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has given Republicans a stronger voice in the minority -- allowing more amendments under so-called "open rules" on the House floor than her GOP predecessors did. Midway through the 2007 session, Democrats had allowed eight open rules compared with two under Republicans last year. And the majority allowed 60 GOP amendments, compared with 51 Democratic amendments authorized by Republicans halfway through last year.

The Republicans, both in the House and the Senate, are playing extremely poorly, not only falsely complaining about Democrats abusing the rules but also themselves abusing the rules of both chambers. Whether it is Republicans increasingly desperate attempts at delaying progress in the House or the Senate GOP's destruction of all records in terms of filibusters, the Republicans have done all they can to make Congress not work.

Congressional Democrats, however, have been affording the GOP more opportunities than the GOP ever gave the Democrats. Perhaps there's a partisan argument that the Democrats should be running a more closed Congress in able to ram through their agenda. But this is certainly not what they are doing. They have been able to pass a great deal of their platform in remarkably quick order even as the Republicans have abused the system. So Kady, and others, may argue that the current Congress is being run no different than previous Republican Congresses, which set records for partisan excesses, the fact is the Democrats are running a tight, but fair ship and should be given significant credit for doing so.

There's more...

The 41 House Democratic Enablers For FISA

41 House Democrats voted for the "Protect America Act of 2007" tonight, and of these 41, 32 are from "red" districts.  Only 4 are from even what could be called "blue" districts.  

I certainly would rather have these 41 in Congress than the Republicans who would usually represent them, and this may very well be a case of voting with the constituents, but it's certainly something to think about whether these guys are adding to conservative credentials to win conservative districts. It could very well add to an idea of "playing politics with the Constitution".

I have to give some credit here to Tim Johnson (IL-15) and Walter Jones (NC-3) of voting against this.

Listed below are the 41 who voted for it, and their Cook Partisan Voting Indices for their district.

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More than Half of GOP Sens Up in 2008 Vote Against SCHIP

Last night the Senate took up legislation that would expand the SCHIP program, marginally raising the federal tobacco tax so that millions more American children would be able to receive healthcare coverage. The bill is basically a no-brainer -- it's good policy and it's widely and wildly popular. Yet that didn't stop more than half of the Republican Senators up for reelection in 2008 voting against the bill. Take a look through the roll call:

SCHIP "No" Votes Up in 2008

Barrasso (R-WY)Chambliss (R-GA)Cochran (R-MS)
Cornyn (R-TX)Craig (R-ID)Dole (R-NC)
Enzi (R-WY)Graham (R-SC)Hagel (R-NE)
Inhofe (R-OK)Isakson (R-GA)McConnell (R-KY)
Sessions (R-AL)

Looking through this list, there are a number of potential problems for the Republicans. Remember, more than 80 percent of Americans (including more than 70 percent of Republicans) support expanding SCHIP to cover every child in this country, and a large majority of Americans (including a sizable majority of Republicans) support such an expansion even if it meant that their own taxes would be raised. So the fact that a number of potentially vulnerable Republican Senators like Liddy Dole, Mitch McConnell, Jim Inhofe and John Cornyn -- and even potentially John Barrasso, who might face some real trouble in Wyoming should Gary Trauner (who's here in Chicago at Yearly Kos) opts to run for the Senate rather than the House -- are voting against this measure could be a problem for their hopes of securing reelection.

And of course this issue isn't just a problem for Republicans in the Senate. A day earlier the House also took up similar legislation expanding the SCHIP program and just five blue state Republicans voted aye -- a figure that clearly does not gibe with the public's sentiment on this issue.

I won't argue that this is the most salient issue for the voting public at this juncture. I wouldn't have the data to prove such a claim either way, though I'm fairly certain that it's not the case. That said, I do have the sense that children's healthcare is an issue that a great deal of voters care about and a number will at least in part base their vote on. And in this case, the fact that so many Republicans have entrenched themsleves on the wrong side of this issue could help upend their hopes of regaining control over one or both champbers of Congress this fall.

The Move to Impeach Alberto Gonzales Begins

The move to impeach Attorney Alberto Gonzales is heating up. Now that Gonzales is on the record making statements that appear to be at odds with documentary evidence, Washington Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee is introducing a resolution that would direct the House Judiciary Committee to open up impeachment hearings into the embattled head of the Department of Justice. National Journal's Jane Roh has the details.

Washington Democrat Jay Inslee plans to introduce articles of impeachment against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Tuesday, House sources confirmed.

[...]

It was not clear whether Inslee consulted with the Democratic leadership. A spokeswoman for the House Judiciary Committee said she could not comment on the impeachment push, and calls to Inslee's and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's offices were not immediately returned.

[...]

The House needs only a simple majority to impeach Gonzales -- an entirely probable scenario. In order to convict, or expel, Gonzales, a two-thirds vote is required in the Senate. That's a little trickier to predict, but judging by the AG's performance on the Hill last week, certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

[...]

Impeaching Gonzales would not only hand Bush a major professional failure -- the removal of the nation's first Latino attorney general -- but could actually hit the infamously loyal president where he lives. Bush has barely flinched at the constantly swelling tidal wave of anger and outrage directed at him. The forced removal of Gonzales could be the first blow that he actually feels.

Think Progress was among the first to pick up this story, which seems to have been broken by MSNBC earlier this afternoon.

I think that, at least in part, Roh's reading of this story is correct -- that the removal of Gonzales would not be entirely out of the realm of possibility. While I don't think it's likely that there would be the 17 Republican votes in the Senate necessary to convict Gonzales, it would not be surprising to see at least some Republicans support the removal of Gonzales (though it's always possible that at least one of those now seemingly opposed to Gonzales will simply vote "not proven" in the case of a Senate trial...).

Update [2007-7-30 19:49:49 by Jonathan Singer]: I gave Arlen Specter a bit of a jab towards the bottom of the post with the "not proven" line, but it looks like perhaps -- and I'm not holding my breath here -- but perhaps he's ready to get tough on the Bush administration. The Hill's duo of Elana Schor and Susan Crabtree have the story.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, Arlen Specter (Pa.), emerged from a crucial Monday briefing and gave the Bush administration 18 hours to resolve the controversy over apparent contradictions in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s congressional testimony.

There's more...

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