Obama press conference thread

I wasn't able to watch President Obama's press conference today, but wanted to put up this thread to discuss it. The consensus on Twitter seems to be that the White House press corps didn't ask very good questions. Read the Daily Caller's liveblog and judge for yourself.

Before taking questions, Obama confirmed changes in administration policy on offshore drilling reported earlier today:

President Obama also is expected to announce a suspension of upcoming lease sales in the western Gulf of Mexico, after receiving a 30-day review of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion that caused an ongoing massive leak.

The White House also will propose more rigorous oil development regulations and oversight as part of an effort to boost its response to the disaster as criticism has mounted of its handling of the worsening crisis.

Obama plans to extend the current moratorium on new deepwater drilling, put in place after the Gulf leak began, until the independent commission created to investigate the spill and to make recommendations for improvements can complete its work.

Any applications for exploratory drilling in the Arctic will be suspended until 2011, sources said. That includes suspending preliminary permits that had already been given to Shell to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska, which had been scheduled to start in less than 35 days.

A lease sale 50 miles off the coast of Virginia planned by 2012 also will be canceled.

Most of the questions related to the BP oil spill in the gulf. Obama said he was in charge and took responsibility for the damage caused and for not changing the culture at the Minerals Management Service quickly enough. He did not confirm whether that agency's head, Elizabeth Birnbaum, resigned or was fired.

Asked about our Afghanistan policy, Obama defended our military involvement. Responding to a question about Arizona's new immigration law, Obama said it's "the wrong approach" but didn't endorse any boycotts. He confirmed that the Department of Justice is reviewing the law. Fox News reporter Major Garrett asked about the allegations that the administration offered Joe Sestak a job to get him out of Pennsylvania's Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Obama said, "“There will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue, which I hope will answer your questions, [...] I can assure the public that nothing improper took place, but as I said, there will be a response shortly on that issue."

The floor is yours.

WA-Sen: Rossi will challenge Murray

Republican Dino Rossi, who narrowly lost two governor's races in Washington, announced today that he will challenge three-term incumbent Senator Patty Murray.

In a five-minute video posted to his web site, www.dinorossi.com, Rossi reaches out to voters upset with the direction the country is headed, citing rising unemployment, plummeting housing values, "wasteful" stimulus plans and "massive new debt as far as the eye can see."

In language straight out of Ronald Reagan's playbook, Rossi says "America's best days" lie ahead if we "unleash the power of the people" and restore government to its "proper, more limited role."

He says he decided to run because he couldn't look his children in the eye if he did nothing "while this fundamental redefinition of America continues unchecked."

"I believe the policies of being passed in Washington D.C. have put us on the edge of a fiscal cliff. If we enact much more of this stuff, whether it's cap and trade, energy taxes or a value-added tax, then all the work and sacrifice our parents and grandparents did to make this country great for us will have been squandered."

Rossi still has a Republican primary to get through. He has to be considered the favorite, but Sarah Palin has endorsed tea party candidate Clint Didier. Assuming he wins the nomination, Murray will need to run a strong campaign, because several recent polls have shown Rossi competitive with Murray.

Rossi's biggest problem, aside from being a two-time loser facing a veteran campaigner, is likely to be money. Murray's re-election campaign had nearly $6 million on hand at the end of the first quarter. Rossi will need to spend some money before the primary and may struggle to raise campaign funds with such a late start. The National Republican Senatorial Committee may help, but it will need to spread resources across several open-seat races, as well as other pickup opportunities stronger than Washington.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee clearly considers Rossi a serious challenger, because its executive director released a memo today raising "substantive questions on [Rossi's] ethical conduct." Swing State Project just moved this race into the "lean Democrat" column, and that rating sounds right to me. Murray can't take her re-election for granted, but she is favored to beat Rossi. If Didier wins the primary, we can move this seat back into the safe Democratic column.

Financial reform update

These thirteen senators have been named to the conference committee that will reconcile differences between the financial reform bills approved by the House last December and the Senate last week. They include eight Democrats and five Republicans, eight members of the Banking Committee and five from the Agriculture Committee. The House will also have 13 representatives on the conference committee; House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank has recommended these eight Democrats, but I haven't seen a list of the five Republican members yet.

On the key differences between the House and Senate versions of financial regulations, see Pat Garofalo's Wonk Room chart and this post by David Dayen. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who is one of the conferees, promised yesterday to

“do everything in my power to preserve the bill’s integrity, strengthen its consumer protections, and stop the reckless financial wheeling and dealing that destabilized our economy and threw millions of Americans out of work. And, given the dangers they pose if not properly regulated, I plan to focus on preserving the key reforms in the Senate-passed derivatives portion of the bill. The Restoring American Financial Stability Act is a step in the right direction, and I look forward to improving it in conference.”

Harkin has his work cut out for him if he wants to preserve the Senate language on derivatives. Dayen wrote last week,

Everyone expects the 716 provision, which forces the mega-banks to spin off their swaps trading desks, to be excised in conference. But Michael Greenberger believes something like it will be retained. The House’s derivatives piece is a mess and nearly useless, but [conference committee chairman] Barney Frank has admitted a mistake on that front, and wants to preserve strong rules against derivatives, like in the Senate bill.

The smart money is on the conference committee dropping the strong derivatives language after the Arkansas Democratic primary runoff election on June 8. Until then, corporate hack Senator Blanche Lincoln needs to be able to brag about standing up to Wall Street lobbyists.

Another important battle in the conference committee relates to auto loans. On Monday the Senate passed a non-binding instruction to the conference committee supporting "a special exemption to shield automobile dealers from the oversight of a new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection." The House bill already contains that exemption. All Republicans present and about half the Senate Democrats were among the 60 votes for limiting the oversight of the new consumer protection unit, while only 30 senators voted against that instruction (roll call here). Of the 13 senators named to the conference committee, six voted against the instruction on automobile dealers, four voted for it, and three did not vote on Monday.

According to the White House blog,

The President has been clear on this issue, repeatedly urging members of the Senate to fight efforts of the special interests and their lobbyists to weaken consumer protections. The fact is, auto dealer-lending is an $850 billion industry, which is larger than the entire credit card industry and they make nearly 80 percent of the automobile loans in our country.

Is there any question that these lenders should be subject to the same standards as any local or community bank that provides loans?

Auto dealer-lenders sell auto loans to working families every single day, and while most dealers are no doubt above board, some cannot resist the bigger profits that come from inflating rates, hiding fees, and tacking on over-priced add-ons.

In this kind of situation, President George W. Bush would make his demands clear and tell members of Congress to send him "a bill I can sign." We'll see how far President Obama is willing to go to keep consumer protection provisions in the Wall Street reform bill.

CT-Sen: Sky not falling

Looks like I overreacted in last week's post about how Connecticut Attorney General Dick Blumenthal has spoken about his Vietnam-era service record. The original New York Times account was damning, but some local media have pushed back on the story. Colin McEnroe of the Hartford Courant posted a long list of "flaws" in the New York Times piece, which McEnroe characterized as "weak journalism with very little meat on its bones." If you watch the whole video excerpted by the New York Times, you'll see that Blumenthal describes himself as "someone who served in the military during the Vietnam-era in the Marine Corps" before saying later, "we have learned something very important since the days that I served in Vietnam." Also, Blumenthal was indeed on the Harvard swim team in college (though not the team captain). The Times piece had suggested Blumenthal embellished his resume by wrongly claiming to have been on that team.

On Friday Connecticut Democrats held their state convention and nominated Blumenthal by acclamation after primary opponent Merrick Alpert withdrew his name from consideration.

Yesterday Blumenthal apologized again, telling the Hartford Courant,

"At times when I have sought to honor veterans, I have not been as clear or precise as I should have been about my service in the Marine Corps Reserves,'' Blumenthal said in a statement emailed to the Courant late Sunday by his spokeswoman, Maura Downes. "I have firmly and clearly expressed regret and taken responsibility for my words.

"I have made mistakes and I am sorry. I truly regret offending anyone,'' Blumenthal said. "I will always champion the cause of Connecticut's and our nation's veterans."

Today Blumenthal's campaign released an internal poll showing him ahead of likely Republican nominee Linda McMahon 55 percent to 40 percent, even though 91 percent of respondents had heard about the controversy regarding his statements about Vietnam. Last week the Republican-leaning pollster Rasmussen found Blumenthal ahead of McMahon 48 percent to 45 percent and leading former Representative Rob Simmons 50 percent to 39 percent. Not only could Blumenthal still win this race, he may still be favored to win. Charlie Cook declared this race a "tossup" just after the New York Times story broke.

What do you think, MyDD readers?

IA-Sen: Conlin (D) launches first tv ad

Roxanne Conlin, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, begins television advertising across Iowa this week. I'm not able to embed the commercial, but click here to watch. The Conlin campaign released this transcript:

“I’m Roxanne Conlin. Taking on the special interests has been the cause of my life. Like taking on the big banks to help family farms at risk of foreclosure. I took on corrupt politicians and corporations who violated the public trust. I’m running for U.S. Senate to take this fight to Washington. Fight for relief on Main Street, not more bailouts for Wall Street. Because the special interests have had their turn. Now, it’s our turn. I’m Roxanne Conlin and I approved this message."

I noticed a small omission from that transcript: in the commercial, Conlin says, "As a prosecutor I took on corrupt politicians..." That's important, because many Iowans may not remember that she served as U.S. attorney for Iowa's southern district from 1977 to 1981.

This ad is a shorter version of the introductory video Conlin's campaign released last fall, which I discussed here. It's a fairly basic message for Iowans who haven't heard of Conlin, and it makes sense for her to raise her profile just before the June 8 primary. Though this ad doesn't mention five-term Republican incumbent Chuck Grassley, it starts building the case Conlin will make later in the campaign: Grassley has stood up for special interests throughout his career. I believe Grassley voted for the financial reform bill last week in order to undercut the narrative Conlin will build against him.

Iowa's primary election takes place on June 8. Two other Democrats are challenging Grassley: Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen. Most people expect Conlin to win the primary easily. She began the race with more name recognition and has campaigned in all 99 counties since the start of the year. Conlin has already raised more money than all of Grassley's previous challengers combined. She out-raised Grassley in the first quarter and had about $1 million cash on hand as of March 31, while the Krause and Fiegen campaigns had less than $1,000 on hand between them.

Late last week Conlin called on Grassley to denounce Kentucky Republican Rand Paul's comments about civil rights. Paul suggested that private businesses should be allowed to discriminate. Without mentioning Paul's name, Grassley's spokesperson told Iowa Independent,

Sen. Grassley’s position is that if a place is open for business it should be open for everyone. You may know that Grassley was a co-sponsor of the 1982 and 2006 reauthorizations of the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 companion to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was in the middle of the agreement reached on the 1982 legislation. Grassley also supported the 1991 extension of the Civil Rights Act. That was the last major amendment to the Civil Rights Act. It was broadened in 1972, after its passage in 1964.

Grassley is wise to put some distance between himself and Paul's views. As Assistant Iowa Attorney General in the 1970s, Conlin prosecuted the first cases under our state's civil rights law.

HI-01: Political malpractice leads to Republican victory

A few quick thoughts on the special election in Hawaii's first Congressional district. Voting ended Saturday evening, and Republican Charles Djou won this D+11 district with 39.4 percent of the vote, because Democrats Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case won 30.8 percent and 27.6 percent, respectively.

First, this outcome makes a strong case against the "jungle primary" system for a special election. If some process had been used to select just one Democrat to face Djou, that Democrat would almost certainly have held the seat.

Second, Neil Abercrombie should have declined to run for re-election in 2008 if he was already planning to run for governor this year. We could have elected a new Democrat at that time and avoided this debacle.

Third, the White House and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were wrong to (covertly) get behind Case and try to pressure Hanabusa into dropping out. I don't mind competitive primaries, but this wasn't a primary. Hanabusa got in first and locked up local support. Case, who is too conservative for a D+11 district anyway, got in late and split the vote. The DCCC supposedly had polling that showed Case doing better than Hannabusa against Djou, but she had support from most local activists, Hawaii's two senators, and labor unions.

Republicans are crowing about picking up a House seat in a district Barack Obama won with 70 percent of the vote, but Djou will face only one Democrat in November. Tim Sahd reported for Hotline On Call, "GOPers had hoped Djou would cross the 40% threshold tonight, thus proving he had a path to victory in the fall." It appears that Hanabusa's relatively strong performance in the special gives her the edge going into the September 18 Democratic primary, but that's a long way off.

Some Republicans are claiming that Djou will hold the seat because Hawaii loves to re-elect incumbents, but Djou is only the 12th federal office-holder Hawaii has ever had, and most federal elections have not been competitive.

Final thought: I didn't realize until I checked the Hawaii Office of Elections website on Saturday that ballots and other election materials are available in four languages there. Can you guess which ones before clicking over?

Share any thoughts about the Hawaii race or its implications in this thread.

UPDATE: Nate Silver's take on this special election is worth a read.

CO-Sen: Romanoff will have top line on Dem primary ballot

Colorado Democrats held their State Assembly today, and just over 60 percent of the 3,500 delegates picked former State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff over incumbent U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. Clearing the 60 percent threshold means Romanoff will have the top line on the ballot for the Democratic primary in August. Bennet also qualified for the primary ballot, because more than 30 percent of the delegates supported him today.

Bennet has led the early polling of the Democratic primary, but he's been under 50 percent in every poll against Romanoff. In addition, Romanoff has much more campaign experience than Bennet, who has never won an election. (Bennet was appointed to the Senate seat after President Obama named Ken Salazar Secretary of the Interior.) The biggest advantages Bennet has going into the primary are superior fundraising and support from Obama. Romanoff said today that "some fundraisers had told him they were waiting for good results Saturday before committing money to him. He believes he will raise enough to be on television, a key feature in combating Bennet's multimillion-dollar fundraising operation." I don't know how involved Obama will be in Bennett's campaign. He recorded ads supporting incumbent Blanche Lincoln before the Arkansas Democratic primary and was featured in Arlen Specter's commercials before the Pennsylvania Democratic primary.

Polling of the Senate race in Colorado indicates that Bennet and Romanoff fare comparably against the likely Republican nominee, former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton. If Norton loses the Republican primary, which is possible, Democratic chances of holding this Senate seat would improve.

Any thoughts about Colorado politics are welcome in this thread.

NY-Gov: Cuomo officially in

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced his plans to run for governor today, releasing this video about his plan for New York:

The Plan from Andrew Cuomo on Vimeo.

Four Republicans are running for governor, but Rick Lazio (whom you may remember as Hillary Clinton's opponent in the 2000 Senate race) is favored to win the nomination. It hardly matters, since Cuomo beats Lazio and other potential Republican opponents easily. We are fortunate that current Governor David Paterson decided against seeking another term. The Democratic Governors Association won't have to spend money defending the New York seat now. We will need the DGA for several other tough governor's races around the country.

Defense authorization bill blocks moving Gitmo detainees to U.S.

In December, the Obama administration signaled its intention to move some federal prisoners as well as detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois.

However, on May 19 the House Armed Services Committee "unanimously approved a defense bill for 2011 that bans spending money to build or modify any facility inside the United States to house Guantánamo detainees," the New York Times reported. These are the 61 members of the House Armed Services Committee. I don't know who was absent from Wednesday's meeting, where the defense authorization bill passed by a 59 to 0 vote.

At TalkLeft, Jeralyn posted an excerpt from the bill summary:

The Committee firmly believes that the construction or modification of any facility in the U.S. to detain or imprison individuals currently being held at Guantanamo must be accompanied by a thorough and comprehensive plan that outlines the merits, costs, and risks associated with utilizing such a facility. No such plan has been presented to date. The bill prohibits the use of any funds for this purpose. Additionally, the bill requires the Secretary of Defense to present Congress with a report that adequately justifies any proposal to build or modify such a facility in the future.

Last fall prominent Iowa Republicans fanned fears about terrorists in the heartland as a political weapon against President Obama and Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01), who represents the Iowa counties closest to Thomson, Illinois. At the time, Braley expressed support for the plan to convert the Illinois facility, saying his constituents "have told me with a resounding voice they want these jobs to come to their area." But presumably many Democrats on the Armed Services Committee didn't want to deal with the politics of this issue during an election year.

The federal government still plans to purchase and renovate the Thomson Correctional Center to use for federal prisoners, with or without detainees from Guantanamo.

AR-Sen: The state of play

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will spend $1.4 million in Arkansas before the June 8 runoff Democratic primary election between Senator Blanche Lincoln and Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter.

The union is sending about 50 staffers to Arkansas for the race's last three weeks, with a particular focus on rallying African-American voters behind Halter, the president, Gerald McEntee, said, describing an independent expenditure campaign on a scale likely to dominate the state's airwaves.

McEntee also told Ben Smith that AFSCME wants to send "a shot across the bow of other Democrats" who may be considering voting against labor interests the way Lincoln has. (To cite one example, Lincoln is among several Senate Democrats who voted for the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007 but backed away from it under a Democratic president.)

Lincoln's biggest weapon in the runoff campaign is President Bill Clinton, who plans to return to Arkansas to campaign for her on May 28. She will also tout the strong language on regulating derivatives that she pushed as part of the financial reform bill just approved in the Senate.

Halter finished only slightly behind Lincoln in the May 18 primary, with 43 percent of the vote to Lincoln's 45 percent. Conservative Democrat D.C. Morrison won about 13 percent and has said he won't endorse a candidate in the runoff. Halter gained rapidly on Lincoln in the past month:

Momentum is with Halter, and even with Bill Clinton behind her, it won't be easy for Lincoln to turn things around. That said, I wouldn't get too excited about the overnight survey Democracy for America commissioned from Research 2000, which showed Halter ahead of Lincoln among likely runoff voters. Over at Pollster.com, Mark Blumenthal argues that the question wording and order in that poll may have "primed" respondents to support Halter. Markos Moulitsas says Daily Kos will commission another Research 2000 poll of the Arkansas race next week, presumably asking the vote preference question before any issue questions.

Any thoughts on the Arkansas race are welcome in this thread. I'm supporting Halter not only because he is a better Democrat, but also because he polls better against Republican John Boozman. Even with Halter as the nominee, Boozman would be favored to win this seat, though.

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