NY-Sen B: Nothing to see here

Former Governor George Pataki has decided not to run for Senate against Kirsten Gillibrand this year, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

Instead, he said in an interview Tuesday that he would create a new national organization aimed at building support to repeal the recently enacted health-care overhaul.

Mr. Pataki's decision to bypass the Senate race marks another major coup for Ms. Gillibrand, who has been enormously successful in knocking out competition on both sides of the aisle despite appearing to be vulnerable politically.

I agree with Phillip Anderson of The Albany Project blog; it sounds like Pataki wants to run for president. He must be delusional if he thinks he has a chance in a GOP primary with his relatively moderate record as governor.

A year ago, Gillibrand seemed less than secure for the 2010 election, but various potential high-profile challengers have declined to take on this race. (New York's other U.S. Senate race has always been in the safe D category with Chuck Schumer.) Taniel of the Campaign Diaries blog noted yesterday that with Gillibrand no longer threatened, the last Senate seats that could still become competitive are Washington and Wisconsin. I think three-term incumbent Patty Murray would prevail even if the GOP's best candidate, Dino Rossi, got in the race. Ditto for Senator Russ Feingold against the GOP's dream recruit, former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.

UPDATE: Unintentional comedy alert as new Republican enters race against Gillibrand. He is David Malpass, who was chief economist for Bear Stearns from 2001 until the company collapsed in 2008.

New Supreme Court nominee speculation thread

MSNBC's First Read reported today:

Per NBC’s Pete Williams and Savannah Guthrie, administration officials say at least eight names are on President Obama’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Six are women and two men. The names: U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Merrick Garland of the DC Court of Appeals, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, former George Supreme Court Chief Judge Leah Ward Sears, Sidney Thomas of the 9th Circuit, and Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. Of these names, people outside the government but familiar with White House thinking say the serious contenders are Kagan, Wood, Garland, Napolitano, and Granholm. Guthrie adds that Obama is likely to meet next week with key senators to discuss the vacancy. Many of the new additions are about interest group appeasement. And note the growing concern in the liberal/progressive blogosphere about Kagan.

One person who doesn't sound concerned about Kagan is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina:

“I like her,” he said, quickly adding, “and that might hurt her chances.”

Graham, whose support for Justice Sonia Sotomayor last summer was a turning point in her confirmation process, said he liked Kagan’s answers about national security and the president’s broad authority to detain enemy combatants when she was going through her own Senate confirmation.

Both of President Bill Clinton's Supreme Court nominees had received a private stamp of approval from key Republican Senator Orrin Hatch. My hunch is that Graham's kind words for Kagan help her chances with President Obama. He loves to position himself as a moderate between the left and the right.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Chris Bowers made the case for Sears here.

SEIU president Stern to resign

Ben Smith broke the news yesterday at Politico: Andrew Stern is resigning as president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The SEIU has emerged as a central political player and has grown rapidly under Stern's tenure, and some close to him had expected him to resign during the first term of the president he helped elect, and after the achievement he'd spent years focusing on, widening access to health care. But he's also waged a series of bitter battles inside the labor movement, one of the nastiest of which turned in SEIU's favor with a California court ruling last week. Stern also won a victory when Obama named his union's lawyer, Craig Becker, to the National Labor Relations board over Republican objections in a recess appointment last month.

Stern, even without the union presidency, would remain on, among other things, the board of President Obama's deficit commission, to which he was appointed in February.

Change to Win executive director Anna Burger is widely viewed as Stern's heir apparent, and has been groomed for the post, though other union officials, including international executive vice presidents Mary Kay Henry and Gerald Hudson, are also sometimes mentioned.

Sam Stein reported at the Huffington Post,

Since his ascension to his current position, Stern was able to expand his union into a 2.2 million-member force. In the process, he became a major player on the political scene and a close ally of the Obama White House.

But those close to him say he wanted to tackle different, more personal activities at this stage in his career. The passage of health care reform presented a sound achievement from which to depart from his presidential post. And while he was currently in the process of launching a third-party initiative in North Carolina -- to challenge those House Democrats who voted against health care reform legislation -- he was also growing tired of the daily grind, a source close to Stern says. [...]

As is typical when powerful political figures abruptly leave their posts, Stern's departure has spurred speculation that he was compelled to leave by more than just a sense of proper timing. In an email statement sent to reporters on Monday evening, SEIU spokesperson Michelle Ringuette says, "Stern will address these rumors at the close of the SEIU Executive Committee meeting this week."

Your guess is as good as mine.

Senate poised to extend unemployment benefits

The U.S. Senate defeated a Republican attempt to filibuster another month-long extension of unemployment benefits today by a vote of 60 to 34. Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and George Voinovich of Ohio voted with all of the Democrats present (even Nebraska's Ben Nelson!) on the cloture motion (roll call here).

Republicans claim they simply want the unemployment benefits to be "paid for" (though they never objected when supplemental spending for the war in Iraq, or tax cuts for the wealthy, added to the deficit). Senator Chuck Schumer of New York countered,

"Unemployment extensions have always been considered emergency spending, and there's a reason for that. [...] Unemployment insurance is a form of stimulus, but offsetting the extension of this program would negate the stimulative impact. It would be robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Extending unemployment benefits doesn't just help the jobless and their families, it helps businesses in virtually every community. The bad news is that the bill the Senate is poised to pass this week is not retroactive, meaning that unemployed Americans whose benefits expired on April 5 won't get back the money they would have received this month had the Senate passed this bill before the Easter recess. It was a big mistake for Democrats to go home without taking care of this business in March.

Weekend open thread

What's on your mind this weekend?

I am horrified by the plane crash that wiped out so many influential past and present citizens of Poland. If you're wondering why the Polish elite were flying on a Soviet aircraft, apparently it was faster than the planes other countries use for similar purposes.

Many prominent Iowa Republicans and candidates are attending Representative Steve "10 Worst" King's "Defenders of Freedom" dinner, featuring Representative Michele Bachmann. King grabbed the blogosphere's attention this week by slamming the Humane Society as "vegetarians with an agenda."

I've been reading some clips on the Southern Republican Leadership Conference this weekend. Although the event is in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina was very much off the radar. Sarah Palin electrified the crowd yesterday, but the presidential straw poll ended up nearly tied between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. I was amused to read this snapshot of Republican family values:

just overheard a mom tell her young daughter at #SRLC, "No, we don't support Medicaid. Medicaid is for losers."

Michael Steele seems secure in his job as Republican National Committee Chairman for now. 58 RNC members are publicly supporting him, "a tally that makes it mathematically impossible for Steele to be removed from his job before his term expires next year, barring some unforeseen implosion."

For the record, I wouldn't rule out an unforeseen implosion.

The floor is yours.

White House dumps Dawn Johnsen

Dawn Johnsen withdrew her nomination yesterday for head of the Office of Legal Counsel, saying in a statement,

Restoring OLC to its best nonpartisan traditions was my primary objective for my anticipated service in this administration. Unfortunately, my nomination has met with lengthy delays and political opposition that threaten that objective and prevent OLC from functioning at full strength. I hope that the withdrawal of my nomination will allow this important office to be filled promptly.

Sam Stein posted the full text of Johnsen's statement and commented,

The withdrawal represents a major blow to progressive groups and civil liberties advocates who had pushed for Johnsen to end up in the office that previously housed, among others, John Yoo, the author of the infamous torture memos under George W. Bush.

But the votes, apparently, weren't there. Johnsen had the support of Sen Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) but was regarded skeptically by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) -- primarily for her positions on torture and the investigation of previous administration actions. A filibuster, in the end, was likely sustainable. Faced with this calculus, the White House chose not to appoint Johnsen during Senate recess, which would have circumvented a likely filibuster but would have kept her in the position for less than two years.

A White House statement said the president is searching for a replacement nominee and will ask the Senate to confirm that person to head the Office of Legal Counsel quickly. I still think the Obama should have included Johnsen in a group of recess appointments he made last month. Jake Tapper quoted an unnamed Senate source as saying the White House "didn't have the stomach for the debate" on her nomination. It doesn't reflect well on Obama or on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that Johnsen never got a vote in the Senate, even after it was clear there were 60 votes in her favor last year (before the Massachusetts Senate special election).

UPDATE: From a must-read post by Glenn Greenwald:

What Johnsen insists must not be done reads like a manual of what Barack Obama ended up doing and continues to do -- from supporting retroactive immunity to terminate FISA litigations to endless assertions of "state secrecy" in order to block courts from adjudicating Bush crimes to suppressing torture photos on the ground that "opennees will empower terrorists" to the overarching Obama dictate that we "simply move on." Could she have described any more perfectly what Obama would end up doing when she wrote, in March, 2008, what the next President "must not do"? [...]I don't know why her nomination was left to die, but I do know that her beliefs are quite antithetical to what this administration is doing.

Justice Stevens confirms plans to retire this year

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will retire this June, as court observers have anticipated for some time. According to the Washington Post,

Aides and Democrats close to the process named three people as likely front-runners for the job: Solicitor General Elena Kagan, whom Obama appointed as the first woman to hold the post, and two appellate court judges, Diane Wood of Chicago and Merrick Garland of Washington.

I'm relieved to know that the Senate will be able to confirm a successor while Democrats still have a sizable majority. We are likely to lose 3-8 Senate seats this November. Any comments or predictions about the upcoming SCOTUS nomination are welcome in this thread.

There's more...

Is Larry Summers on the way out?

Joshua Green thinks so:

I think Summers is going to leave sooner rather than later, possibly before the mid-term elections, and if not then, soon afterward.

Why? Because Summers is frustrated by his role, and his colleagues are clearly frustrated with him. Alexis Simendinger had a devastating item in last week's National Journal suggesting that Summers's "legendary self-regard" and "ego the size of the national debt" had gotten out of control. Some of Summers's frustration no doubt stems from his wanting to be Treasury secretary. When that plum went to Geithner, Summers cast his eye on the Fed chairmanship and agreed to bide his time until Ben Bernanke's term ended at the NEC--a staff position well below his old job as Clinton's Treasury secretary. Most administration officials tactfully avoid pointing this out, because Summers has a fragile ego. But that's why Joe Biden is so great. "How many former Secretaries of the Treasury would come in not as Secretary of the Treasury?" Biden blurted out to the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza last fall.

But Summers didn't get the Fed job either. Apparently that didn't sit well. Administration insiders told Simendinger that Summers demanded a series of perks as compensation, including cabinet status, golf dates with the president, and a personal car and driver. In the "No Drama" Obama administration, such behavior stands out. [...]

Summers always seemed a bad fit for NEC director because the job entails dispassionately presenting the president with the counsel of his competing economic advisers. Summers doesn't do "dispassionate" and he didn't want to limit himself to fielding others' advice--he had plenty of his own to offer. In other words, he was supposed to be the referee, but he also wanted to play power forward.

Summers was one of President Obama's worst appointments, in my opinion, but I wouldn't expect the president to reshuffle his economic team unless a mostly-jobless recovery continues, or the worst-case scenario of a douple-dip recession develops. Anyway, Summers' departure wouldn't make much difference if Green is right about Timothy Geithner being "ever more secure at Treasury."

What do you think?

High-ranking officials leaving RNC

Jonathan Martin has the story at Politico:

Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Ken McKay resigned Monday, becoming the highest-ranking official to depart the committee after revelations that the national party spent nearly $2,000 at California sex club.

McKay’s departure in turn prompted one of RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s closest advisers to cut ties to the party – an indication that a full-scale bloodletting is under way at the troubled committee [...]

“Leadership requires that I can safely assure you, our donors, and the American people that our mission is what drives every dollar we spend, every phone call we make, every email we send and every event we organize,” Steele wrote in the email [sent to RNC members and donors on Monday], obtained by POLITICO. “Recent events have called that assurance into question and the buck stops with me. That is why I have made this change in my management team and why I am confident about going forward to November with renewed focus and energy.”

McKay didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

But his apparent firing has roiled the close-knit world of GOP operatives and Monday night longtime Republican strategist and Steele adviser Curt Anderson said his consulting firm would no longer be working with the RNC.

“Ken McKay’s departure is a huge loss for the Republican Party,” Anderson said in a statement to POLITICO. “Ken steered the party through very successful elections last fall that have given us tremendous momentum. He’s a great talent. Given our firm’s commitments to campaigns all over the country we have concluded it is best for us to step away from our advisory role at the RNC. We have high personal regard for the Chairman and always have; we wish him well.”

It's hard to see how the turmoil at the RNC won't end with Steele's departure, although Josh Marshall argued today that Steele

can't be fired, in significant measure, because he's black. Because canning Steele now would only drive home the reality that Republicans were trying to paper over, fairly clumsily, when they hired him in the first place. So Republicans are stuck with his myriad goofs and #pressfails and incompetent management and all the rest because of a set of circumstances entirely of their own making.

Meanwhile, RNC spending will likely face continued scrutiny. With any luck, that will drive more large donors away.

Iowa marriage equality anniversary thread

One year ago today, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that our state's Defense of Marriage Act violated the equal protection provision of the Iowa Constitution. From the day that ruling went into effect through the end of 2009, at least 1,783 same-sex couples received marriage licenses in Iowa. The real number is probably higher, because about 900 marriage licenses did not specify the gender of the couple involved.

Follow me after the jump for a review of news about marriage equality in Iowa, stories featuring happy couples, and thoughts about the future politics of this issue.

There's more...

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