Financial reform clears Senate, heads to conference

The U.S. Senate passed the Wall Street reform bill today by a 59 to 39 vote (roll call here). The vote was mostly along party lines, but Democrats Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Maria Cantwell or Washington voted no, while Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Chuck Grassley of Iowa voted yes. Earlier today, a cloture motion to end debate on the bill passed 60 to 40. Only three Republicans voted for the cloture motion (Snowe, Collins and Brown). In other words, Grassley voted against letting the bill advance before he voted for it.

Grassley typically wouldn't be the only conservative Republican voting with a handful of New England moderates. Like Howie Klein, I wonder whether Grassley was concerned about this bill becoming an election issue. Democrat Roxanne Conlin's campaign blasted Grassley yesterday for joining the Republican filibuster of the bill.

The financial reform now goes to a formal conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions. Annie Lowrey discussed that process and some of the contentious issues here. I'm not hopeful about the final product.

Lots of amendments to more strongly regulate the financial industry bill didn't get a vote in the Senate, including Tom Harkin of Iowa's proposed limit on ATM fees. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Carl Levin of Michigan were unable to get a vote on their amendment to reinstate the "Volcker rule" (banning proprietary trading by banks). There was a small silver lining in that opposition to Merkley-Levin scuttled a horrible idea. Earlier this week Merkley and Levin attached their amendment to a terrible Republican amendment, which would "[exempt] auto dealers from new consumer protection laws, even though auto loans are the biggest instances of financial malfeasance against consumers, especially military personnel." Today Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas withdrew his auto dealer amendment in order to prevent Merkley-Levin from getting a vote.

NC-Sen: Ken Lewis endorses Elaine Marshall

Elaine Marshall picked up a big endorsement yesterday in her campaign for the U.S. Senate from Ken Lewis:

Lewis said he was particularly impressed with the conviction and courage shown by Marshall, North Carolina's secretary of state, even as Democratic officials in Washington put their support behind the other remaining candidate, Cal Cunningham. He praised Marshall for her ability to organize grass roots support and to appeal to a broad range of voters.

"I believe that to win this fall, Democrats will have to do both," Lewis said, as Marshall and her supporters stood nearby. "And Secretary Marshall provides us with a demonstrably stronger opportunity to do just that." [...]

Lewis said during Wednesday's news conference that he has since [March] had more conversations with Marshall and believes she will be able to lead in Washington. He continued to pound on a message of insider politics by questioning the role the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee played in recruiting Cunningham instead of letting North Carolina voters choose a candidate, declaring that they had been "trying to exercise undue influence in our nominating process."

In the May 4 primary, Marshall won about 36 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Cunningham and 17 percent for Lewis. She was already favored going into the June 22 runoff election, and Lewis' support makes her the prohibitive favorite. The winner of the runoff will face first-term incumbent Senator Richard Burr, whose approval numbers are anemic. This isn't our best pickup opportunity in the Senate, but the race is winnable with a strong campaign and GOTV.

Of all the questionable moves made by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under Bob Menendez's leadership, meddling in the North Carolina primary looks like the worst. It's bad enough for the DSCC to blow money on Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter against challengers from the left, but you'd expect the committee to support incumbents. I see no reason for the DSCC to take sides in North Carolina. Cunningham doesn't poll better against Burr than Marshall does; in fact, Marshall does better in some polling. Most progressives in North Carolina favor Marshall over Cunningham (though Cunningham did get the Sierra Club's endorsement).

Without the DSCC's spending for Cunningham, Marshall might have won the primary outright on May 4. It's not as if we won't need the DSCC's money in at least 10 other Senate races this fall.

Any thoughts on this campaign or North Carolina politics generally are welcome in this thread.

KY-Sen: Paul's extremism coming into focus

Conservative Republicans exulted last night over Rand Paul's decisive victory in Kentucky's U.S. Senate primary. Today some of his far-out views are receiving national media coverage for the first time.

From an April 25 editorial in the Louisville Courier-Journal:

The trouble with Dr. Paul is that despite his independent thinking, much of what he stands for is repulsive to people in the mainstream. For instance, he holds an unacceptable view of civil rights, saying that while the federal government can enforce integration of government jobs and facilities, private business people should be able to decide whether they want to serve black people, or gays, or any other minority group. He quickly emphasizes that he personally would not agree with any form of discrimination, but he just doesn't think it should be legislated.

You can watch Paul answer questions on the Civil Rights Act here.

Democratic nominee Jack Conway plans to make this an issue:

"To say in an interview with your editorial board that the marketplace would take care of that, we don't need a Civil Rights Act, or we don't need an Americans with Disabilities Act, or we ought to do away with the Federal Reserve or Commerce or the Department of Education, I don't think that's where Kentuckians are, so I'll focus on that," Conway said.

He repeated that charge in an appearance on Chris Matthews' "Hardball" program on MSNBC late Wednesday afternoon, going so far as to say that Paul favors repeal of both the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But a review of video of Paul's interviews shows that Paul never specifically called for a repeal of either.

Even in a conservative state like Kentucky, I don't think opposing the Civil Rights Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act will be a popular stand. Paul may need to walk back some of those comments.

Be under no illusions: it won't be easy to win this Senate election, but Conway hasn't been polling that far behind Paul, and according to a recent survey by Public Policy Polling, "53% of likely [Trey] Grayson voters for today have an unfavorable opinion of Paul to only 23% with a positive opinion of him. More importantly though just 40% of Grayson voters say they'll support Paul in the general election if he wins the Republican nomination with 43% explicitly saying they will not."

In other Kentucky news, losing Democratic candidate Daniel Mongiardo wants a recanvass of yesterday's vote, but with Jack Conway just under 4,000 votes ahead, there is no real chance of a recanvass changing the outcome.

UPDATE: Cliff Schecter: "Rand has a dream. That 1 day sons of former slaves & slave owners 'll be able 2 sit down 2gether..as long as restaurant theyre in allows it."

UPDATE: Sounds like Paul didn't help himself during his appearance on last night's Rachel Maddow show.

Financial reform update

The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the many primary elections this month have drawn much of the media's attention away from the Senate debate on financial reform. That's too bad, because this bill will affect the future stability of our financial system and the ability of financial institutions to fleece consumers. I've been catching up with David Dayen's superb coverage of the financial reform debate, and most of the news isn't encouraging.

Senate Republicans voted several times in early May to block the bill from coming up for debate, but they soon decided that was not a viable strategy. In the early days of Senate debate, some decent amendments were adopted to strengthen the bill. For example, one amendment sponsored by Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, which passed last week, would ban some deceptive practices by mortgage lenders.

This week Republicans have been trying to "run out the clock" on more strengthening amendments. By denying unanimous consent to bring these amendments to a vote, they have been able to keep the Senate from voting on an amendment by Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, which would ban naked credit default swaps. Republicans have also blocked a vote on Tom Harkin of Iowa's amendment to cap ATM fees at 50 cents. In addition, a measure backed by Merkley and Carl Levin of Michigan, which would impose the so-called "Volcker rule," has been denied a vote. Merkley-Levin "would ban proprietary trading at banks and require the Federal Reserve to impose tougher capital requirements on large non-banks that engage in the same type of trading". I have a sense of deja vu reading about the Merkley-Levin amendment; like the public health insurance option, Merkley-Levin has the stated support of the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And as with the public option, these Democrats won't do what's necessary to get Merkley-Levin into the bill.

Meanwhile, many Senate Democrats are doing Wall Street's bidding by watering down key provisions of the financial reform. Most of the Democratic Senate caucus backed an amendment from Tom Carper of Delaware, which "would block class-action lawsuits by state Attorneys General against national banks" and "would allow the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to pre-empt regulation at the state level of consumer financial protection laws." Chris Dodd of Connecticut got an amendment through last night that eliminates real derivatives reform from this bill. Now, instead of forcing some large banks to spin off their businesses in trading derivatives, Dodd's amendment delays that move for two years so the issue can be further studied.

Dayen concludes, "Overall, we have a bill that got less bad through the Senate process, but is generally as mediocre as the House’s version, better in some ways, worse in others. And there’s a whole conference committee to go." Looks like we'll be stuck with a bill that only gives the appearance of solving key problems, as opposed to a bill that would solve the key problems.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Dodd withdrew his derivatives amendment today, Merkley and Levin are trying a new tactic to get their amendment considered, and Reid's cloture vote failed today, 57-42, despite two Republicans yes votes (Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine). Reid voted no at the last minute so that he could bring up the matter again tomorrow. Two other Democrats voted no: Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Maria Cantwell of Washington. Like several other Senate progressives, Feingold wants votes on more strengthening amendments, and Cantwell isn't happy with "a loophole in the derivatives piece".

Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Arkansas, Hawaii election day thread

Conventional wisdom says Senator Arlen Specter needs relatively high turnout today to prevail against his Democratic challenger Joe Sestak, who has gained a lot of support in the last month and has a narrow lead in the polling average. It's been rainy today in the Philadelphia area, which isn't good for turnout, but many people may vote after work if it clears up a little. I learned from Michael McAuliff that there's a large ethnic Slovak population in the Pittsburgh area, which could give an edge to Sestak if turnout is high. I hope Sestak will win, but I don't feel confident about that at all.

Swing State Project previews the other Pennsylvania races here. The special election to fill Jack Murtha's seat in PA-12 will attract the most attention. it's the only House district in the country that voted for John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. Jeffmd posted pretty district maps and analysis here.

In Kentucky's Senate race, it looks like the Republican primary will end with a humiliating defeat for the establishment candidate, Trey Grayson. Rand Paul is the very likely winner there. In the Democratic primary, the more progressive and probably more electable Jack Conway has been gaining on Dan Mongiardo in the polls, but it looks too close to call.

In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln had to fill out a provisional ballot at her polling station, because she had requested an absentee ballot and not returned it. Oops! Unfortunately, she seems to have a comfortable lead over Bill Halter. The main question today is whether she will be kept under 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff election. Also unfortunately, Congressman John Boozman, the strongest potential Republican candidate, looks set to win the GOP primary easily.

The special election in Hawaii's first district is just a disaster. Ed Case should not have jumped into this race when most of the locals had already backed Colleen Hannabusa. As a result, those two are going to split the Democratic vote, and Republican Charles Djou will win a plurality. DavidNYC is also right; Neil Abercrombie should not have resigned from this seat, which forced the special election. He should have either held the seat while running for governor or declined to seek re-election in 2008. Let's hope we can win this seat back in November with the Democratic vote united behind one candidate.

Post any comments, predictions or tips on election results sites in this thread.

CORRECTION: Ballots for the Hawaii special election will count if they arrive in the mail by Saturday, May 22.

UPDATE: Conway leads in Kentucky with more than two-thirds of the precincts in, but his strongest areas appear to have reported already. The number crunchers at Swing State Project predict he will win narrowly, but it's too early to know.

UPDATE: Politico is continually updating results here. Conway leads by about 20,000 votes (46 percent to 41 percent) with nearly 80 percent of precincts reporting. Rand Paul easily won the Republican primary with nearly 60 percent of the votes that have been counted.

UPDATE: The Kentucky Democratic primary has been called for Jack Conway, who leads by about 5,500 votes. It's been a while since Democrats won a U.S. Senate election in Kentucky, but the Conway/Paul matchup is the most favorable one we could have hoped for.

The Pennsylvania Democratic primary has been called for Joe Sestak, who leads 53 percent to 47 percent (about 44,000 votes) with 74 percent of precincts reporting. Specker didn't get the turnout he needed in Philadelphia.

With about 21 percent of precincts reporting in Arkansas, Lincoln leads Halter 45 percent to 41 percent. If those numbers hold, the race is headed to a runoff. I have no idea what part of the state has already reported.

UPDATE: Conservative Democrat Mark Critz has beaten Tim Burns in the special election to serve out the remainder of Murtha's term in PA-12. The same two candidates won their parties' respective primaries, so will face off in November. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will be very pleased to have won this one, especially given the likely outcome in HI-01.

MORNING UPDATE: With almost all the votes counted in Arkansas, Lincoln leads Halter by 44.5 percent to 42.5 percent, with D.C. Morrison taking in 13 percent. (Boozman avoided a runoff on the Republican side.) The next three weeks will be tricky for Lincoln to navigate. I also have to wonder whether the president will cut more ads for her or make a campaign visit. Toward the end of the Pennsylvania race Obama didn't do much for Arlen Specter despite earlier promises from the White House.

Critz's margin over Burns was 53 percent to 45 percent in an R+1 district where Obama's approval is only around 33 percent. I have to agree with Matt Lewis, who said last night, "Republicans should be very concerned about the margin of defeat in PA-12. NRCC has major questions to confront." I also think we'll see President Bill Clinton campaigning for Democratic candidates in a lot of rural and/or working-class districts this fall. Stumping for Critz on Sunday, Clinton told the crowd, "Maybe [Burns] should move to California, if he wants to run against Nancy Pelosi."

IN-03: Souder (R) resigning over affair

Eight-term incumbent Mark Souder of Indiana's third district is resigning today because he had an affair with a staffer, Politico reported. Naturally, Souder is a married man who promotes "family values" such as abstinence education.

Two weeks ago, Souder defeated three Republican primary challengers. It's not clear who will replace him on the general election ballot. I wouldn't give Democrats hope of winning this R+14 district, though Swing State Project user nonpartisan argued here that the Democratic nominee, Dr. Tom Hayhurst, has a slim chance. However, Souder's downfall will certainly feed the media narrative about Republicans as a party for family-values hypocrites, like George "rent boy" Rekers.

UPDATE: Unintentional comedy alert: the staffer Souder had an affair with co-starred in a video he recorded to promote abstinence.

CT-Sen: Big trouble for Blumenthal

Since Senator Chris Dodd announced that he would not seek re-election, it has seemed that Democrats no longer had to worry about defending our U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has comfortably led every Republican opponent in every poll.

That was then, this is now:

“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

There was one problem: Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate, never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war, according to records. [...]

But what is striking about Mr. Blumenthal’s record is the contrast between the many steps he took that allowed him to avoid Vietnam, and the misleading way he often speaks about that period of his life now, especially when he is speaking at veterans’ ceremonies or other patriotic events. [...]

In an interview on Monday, the attorney general said that he had misspoken about his service during the Norwalk event and might have misspoken on other occasions. “My intention has always been to be completely clear and accurate and straightforward, out of respect to the veterans who served in Vietnam,” he said. [...]

But the way he speaks about his military service has led to confusion and frequent mischaracterizations of his biography in his home state newspapers. In at least eight newspaper articles published in Connecticut from 2003 to 2009, he is described as having served in Vietnam. [...]

And the idea that he served in Vietnam has become such an accepted part of his public biography that when a national outlet, Slate magazine, produced a profile of Mr. Blumenthal in 2006, it said he had “enlisted in the Marines rather than duck the Vietnam draft.”

It does not appear that Mr. Blumenthal ever sought to correct those mistakes.

I don't get it. By many accounts, Blumenthal has been planning to run for Senate for a long time. Why would he use misleading language about his wartime service and never correct reports that described him as a Vietnam veteran?

At least the New York Times broke this story when there is still time to nominate a different Democrat.

UPDATE: Here are competing videos: Republican candidate Linda McMahon is pushing one of Blumenthal claiming in 2008 that we've learned things "since the days that I served in Vietnam." Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is pushing this video from this year, in which Blumenthal clearly says he did not serve in Vietnam.

Weekend open thread

Share whatever's on your mind this weekend.

I watched Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter on CNN this morning. Sestak did well except when he refused to say whether he would endorse Specter if Specter won the U.S. Senate primary (he refused to speculate about something he said would never happen). Specter answered the same question unambiguously, saying of course he would endorse the Democrat to keep Pat Toomey from winning. It's a joke for Specter to present himself as more of a Democratic team player, but in this case Sestak played right into Specter's talking point.

Speaking of Pennsylvania, the special election to fill John Murtha's old seat (PA-12) looks too close to call. The special election in Hawaii's first district unfortunately looks like it will go to the Republican, Charles Djou.

Iowa Department of Public Health having trouble with marriage equality

When some Republicans tried to convince Iowa county recorders not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples last April, Iowa Department of Public Health officials made clear that ignoring the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v Brien ruling was not an option. Unfortunately, the IDPH has determined that marriage equality does not require equal treatment for married gay couples who become parents. Now IDPH Director Tom Newton has foolishly decided to fight a lawsuit brought by a married lesbian couple seeking to have the non-birthing spouse listed on their child's birth certificate. Heather and Melissa Gartner sued senior IDPH officials on behalf of their daughter this week, having tried and failed to resolve the matter through administrative channels.

Based on advice from the Iowa Attorney General's Office, the IDPH contends that the non-birthing spouse must complete the adoption process in order to be listed as the second parent on a child's birth certificate, even if the child was born after the parents were legally married. I'm a big fan of Attorney General Tom Miller, but his office blew it on this one.

There's more...

IN-Sen: Ellsworth officially the Democratic nominee

No big surprise, but Representative Brad Ellsworth officially became the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Indiana today. The former sheriff elected to the House twice from Indiana's "bloody eighth" district will face former Senator Dan Coats.

Early polling of this match-up gives a clear advantage to Coats, but the Republican has an enormous amount of baggage:

"The only thing he's an outsider to in this race is Indiana, since he didn't even have a residence in Indiana until he decided he would run for the U.S. Senate," said Adam Elkington, a spokesman for the Indiana Democratic Party.

"Hoosiers have a clear choice in this race for Senate: a Washington, D.C., lobbyist who represents Wall Street banks, foreign nations and corporations that ship Hoosier jobs overseas, or a former sheriff from Evansville, Indiana, who will represent Hoosier families."

Democrats have hammered Coats over his lobbying for, among other clients, major Wall Street interests. His firm has done work for Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and the New York Stock Exchange.

 

There's also a chance that gun advocates including the National Rifle Association will endorse Ellsworth over Coats. Any comments or speculation about this race are welcome in this thread.

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