Political Highlights: May 17, 2010: Questioning Kagan, Obama Campaigns for Arlen Specter

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 111TH CONGRESS:

The President Gives an Update on the Response to the Oil Spill

White House Photo, Chuck Kennedy, 5/14/1

IN FOCUS: STATS

  • Ratings Changes – Reid’s Included – Show GOP Momentum: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s persistent vulnerability in his Nevada re-election campaign is the top takeaway from the latest race rating changes by the CQ-Roll Call elections team – the subject of today’s and tomorrow’s columns.
    But after another strong Democratic year in 2008, the tides have turned sharply in favor of a Republican rebound, this time in reaction to the assertive but politically risky agenda pursued by President Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress. CQPolitics’ ratings in recent months have reflected this trend, as the newest changes drive home.
    Headlining the Senate ratings changes summarized below, Reid has been hurt politically by his central role as the Democrats’ point person in a series of highly partisan policy battles. With public polls continuing to show him struggling against much lesser-known candidates competing for the Republican Senate nomination in the June 8 primary, CQPolitics has changed its rating on the Nevada race to Leans Republican from Tossup…. – CQ Politics, 5-14-10
  • Voters Shifting to GOP, Poll Finds: Republicans have solidified support among voters who had drifted from the party in recent elections, putting the GOP in position for a strong comeback in November’s mid-term campaign, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
    Republicans have reassembled their coalition by reconnecting with independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters—all of whom had moved away from the party in the 2006 elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Those voter groups now favor GOP control of Congress.
    A big shift is evident among independents, who at this point in the 2006 campaign favored Democratic control of Congress rather than Republican control, 40% to 24%. In this poll, independents favored the GOP, 38% to 30%…. – WSJ, 5-13-10

THE HEADLINES….

  • Kagan’s skills well-suited to Senate hearings: Standing before the nine Supreme Court justices, Elena Kagan is forceful, quick on her feet, admits error when necessary, then goes right back at the questioner — blunt yet polite. Her style as solicitor general is likely to serve her in confirmation hearings, but only to an extent, legal and political analysts say. Kagan has exhibited the dexterity necessary to respond to tough questions in a public forum, but a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is a more politically charged setting than the high court. “She can’t just show that she’s a super-duper lawyer for the president,” says Ken Duberstein, a chief of staff to President Reagan who handled several Supreme Court nominations. “She has to tell a life story and convey a temperament that shows she’ll be fair and impartial.”… – USA Today, 5-17-10
  • Senator says Kagan broke law at Harvard: While Senate Republicans acknowledge that they are unlikely to derail Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court, that hasn’t stopped them from testing potential lines of attack against her. Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, accused Kagan of violating the law when she was dean of Harvard Law School between 2003 and 2008. During her tenure, she continued the school’s restrictions on campus military recruitment because of the armed forces’ “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bans openly gay people from serving. Sessions blasted Kagan on ABC’s “This Week” for enforcing the recruitment restrictions during a time of war, which he called “no little-bitty matter.”… – WaPo, 5-17-10
  • Obama: Democratic clean up, GOP car crashes: President Barack Obama mocked Republicans with images of cars in ditches and mopping up messes. Determined to rally Democrats, Obama told donors at a fundraiser Thursday night in New York City that his administration and congressional Democrats have tried to repair a battered economy while Republicans have remained on the sidelines. “So after (Republicans) drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want the keys back,” Obama said. “You can’t drive! We don’t want to have to go back into the ditch! We just got the car out!”… – AP, 5-15-10
  • Personal ties bind Obama, Kagan President joins ranks of picking friend for court: If Elena Kagan is confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice, President Obama will have something that has become increasingly rare for presidents: a personal friend on the court. Indeed, when Obama introduced Kagan at the White House as his court nominee, it sounded almost as if he were talking about himself: a former Chicago law professor, Harvard graduate, and White Sox fan who eschewed the lucrative world of corporate law to focus on academia and public service. Obama brought her into his administration by nominating her to be solicitor general and now, after slightly more than a year in that job, he wants to elevate her to the Supreme Court. Boston Globe, 5-16-10
  • Pragmatism over partisanship? Kagan described as favoring a consensus-building, analytical style over a passion for her own ideas: Just after Election Day the fall of her senior year at Princeton, Elena Kagan published an opinion piece in the campus newspaper recounting how she had wept and gotten drunk on vodka at a campaign gathering for a liberal Brooklyn congresswoman who had unexpectedly lost a race for the Senate. Ronald Reagan was heading to the White House, and Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman — a champion for women’s causes for whom Ms. Kagan had toiled 14-hour days as a campaign press assistant — was leaving Capitol Hill. Ms. Kagan, then 20 and imbued with the liberal principles on which she had been raised, said she was flirting with despair that “there was no longer any place for the ideals we held. … I wonder how all this could possibly have happened and where on earth I’ll be able to get a job next year.”… – WaPo, 5-16-10
  • ‘General Kagan’ no newcomer to high court: Six times in the past nine months, Solicitor General Elena Kagan has come to the mahogany lectern in the hushed reverence of the Supreme Court to argue the government’s case before the justices she now hopes to join soon…. – AP, 5-15-10
  • Palin Warns NRA Obama Wants to Ban Guns: Palin, a potential 2012 presidential candidate, told National Rifle Association members during their annual meeting that the only thing stopping Obama and his Democratic allies from trying to ban guns is political backlash.
    “Don’t doubt for a minute that, if they thought they could get away with it, they would ban guns and ban ammunition and gut the Second Amendment,” said Palin, a lifelong NRA member who once had a baby shower at a local gun range in Alaska. “It’s the job of all of us at the NRA and its allies to stop them in their tracks.”… – AP, 5-14-10
  • Palin pushes abortion foes to form ‘conservative, feminist identity’ Network News: Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin told a group of women who oppose abortion rights that they are responsible for an “emerging, conservative, feminist identity” and have the power to shape politics and elections around the issue. Speaking to a breakfast gathering of the Susan B. Anthony List in downtown Washington on Friday, Palin urged more than 500 audience members to back only those candidates for public office who are uncompromisingly opposed to abortion. Palin, a potential 2012 presidential candidate, delivered calls to action to an audience dominated by women. “The mama grizzlies, they rise up,” she said, to laughter. “You thought pit bulls are tough. You don’t want to mess with the mama grizzlies. And I think there are a whole lot of those in this room.”… – WaPo, 5-14-10
  • Congressman to launch inquiry on how much oil is gushing into Gulf: A U.S. congressman said he will launch a formal inquiry Friday into how much oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico after learning of independent estimates that are significantly higher than the amount BP officials have provided. Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said he will send a letter to BP and ask for more details from federal agencies about the methods they are using to analyze the oil leak. Markey, who chairs a congressional subcommittee on energy and the environment, said miscalculating the spill’s volume may be hampering efforts to stop it. “I am concerned that an underestimation of the oil spill’s flow may be impeding the ability to solve the leak and handle the management of the disaster,” he said in a statement Thursday. “If you don’t understand the scope of the problem, the capacity to find the answer is severely compromised.” BP officials have said 5,000 barrels per day of crude, or 210,000 gallons, have been leaking for the past three weeks…. – CNN, 5-14-10
  • Senate panel approves money for Afghan, Iraq wars: A Senate committee on Thursday approved another $33.5 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq this year, although some members said they did so reluctantly. The action by the Senate Appropriations Committee is the first step toward congressional approval of the extra war spending that President Barack Obama requested in February to support his surge of 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan…. Chairman Daniel Inouye said he hoped the Senate would act on the legislation by the end of May. The money comes on top of about $130 billion that Congress already approved for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars through September 30 of this year…. – Reuters,
  • President’s visit makes impression at Industrial Support: After President Obama and his White House entourage left, when the television cameras were off, David Sullivan and managers at Industrial Support Inc. gathered in his office late Thursday and cracked open a few beers to celebrate one heck of a day. “Unbelievable,” said Sullivan, founder and president of Industrial Support. “The man is incredible — sharp, funny, personable. People were crying talking to him. The thing couldn’t have gone better.”… – Buffalo News, 5-13-10
  • Swipe this card; shopping could be cheaper: Striking at a lucrative bank business, the Senate on Thursday voted to force credit card companies to reduce fees for debit card transactions and permit merchants to offer customer discounts based on their payment method. The 64-33 vote inserted the fee requirement in a package of new financial rules the Senate is considering to ward off a repeat of the financial crisis. The vote was a major defeat for banks, which lobbied hard against it. But the measure attracted heavy bipartisan support and surpassed a 60-vote threshold for passage. Seventeen Republicans voted for the amendment; 10 Democrats voted against it. The measure from Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., would force credit card companies to charge businesses less for debit card transactions than for credit card payments…. – AP, 5-13-10
  • Kagan’s Link to Marshall Cuts 2 Ways: In the spring of 1988, Justice Thurgood Marshall assigned a clerk, Elena Kagan, to write a first draft of his opinion in a case considering whether a school district could charge a poor family for busing a child to the nearest school, which was 16 miles away….
    Because Ms. Kagan has never been a judge and has produced only a handful of scholarly writings, clues to her philosophy are rare. In that vacuum, liberals and conservatives alike are attributing special significance to her clerkship year with Justice Marshall, who led the civil rights movement’s legal efforts to dismantle segregation before becoming a particularly liberal Supreme Court justice.
    But while Ms. Kagan, a former board member for the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, clearly relished the experience and admired the justice as a historic figure, she appears to have had a far more ambivalent attitude toward his jurisprudence, according to a review of his papers at the Library of Congress, her comments over the years about him and interviews with her fellow clerks and colleagues…. – NYT, 5-13-10
  • Other border states shun Arizona’s immigration law They don’t see the illegal flow of people as problematic: U.S. Border Patrol vehicles patrol near the San Ysidro port of entry, late Monday in San Diego. Arizona’s sweeping new law empowering police to question and arrest anyone they suspect is in the U.S. illegally is finding little support in the other states along the Mexican border….
    Among the reasons given: California, New Mexico and Texas have long-established, politically powerful Latino communities; they have deeper cultural ties to Mexico that influence their attitudes toward immigrants; and they have little appetite for a polarizing battle over immigration like one that played out in California in the 1990s…. – Salt Lake Tribune, 5-12-10
  • Climate change bill has critics from both sides: Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Kerry, D-Mass., unveiled their long-delayed climate change bill Wednesday and immediately encountered liberal and conservative critics who said the measure was either an energy bailout or a danger to the American economy.
    “Those who’ve spent years stalling need to understand something: Killing a Senate bill is not the measure of success or victory, because if Congress can’t legislate a solution, the EPA will regulate one,” Kerry said, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency. “And it will come without the help to America’s businesses and consumers that is in this bill.”… – Houston Chronicle, 5-13-10
  • Big oil to get more grilling as oil gushes in Gulf: Oil execs to be grilled again by U.S. lawmakers * BP stock value drops $30 billion, underscoring uncertainty * Protests planned in several U.S. cities * Oil starting to wash up on shore, BP says…
    Top oil executives face a second day of grilling by U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday over a deadly well rupture that unleashed a huge oil slick and the specter of environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico… – Reuters, 5-12-10
  • As Clinton Aide, Kagan Recommended Tactical Support for an Abortion Ban: Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, once recommended to President Bill Clinton that he support a Democratic-sponsored ban on some late-term abortions as a way to defeat a stronger measure gaining momentum in the Senate.
    As a White House domestic policy aide, Ms. Kagan sent Mr. Clinton a memorandum urging him to endorse the ban sponsored by Senator Tom Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota. The memo anticipated that the Daschle plan would fail but suggested that it would provide political cover for enough senators to stick by the president when he ultimately vetoed the tougher bill sponsored by Republicans.
    “We recommend that you endorse the Daschle amendment in order to sustain your credibility on HR 1122 and prevent Congress from overriding your veto,” Ms. Kagan and her boss, Bruce Reed, said in the memo on May 13, 1997…. – NYT, 5-12-10

POLITICAL QUOTES

The President delivers the Weekly Address

White House Photo, Samantha Appleton, 5/14/10

  • Weekly Address: President Obama “Wall Street Reform Will Bring Greater Security to Folks on Main Street” Remarks of President Barack Obama Saturday, May 15, 2010 Weekly Address Washington, DC: The way the system is currently set up, these banks are at a disadvantage because while they are often playing by the rules, many of their less scrupulous competitors are not. So, what reform will do is help level the playing field by making sure all our lenders – not just community banks – are subject to tough oversight. That’s good news for our community banks, which is why we’ve received letters from some of these banks in support of reform….
    That’s why Wall Street reform is so important. With reform, we’ll make our financial system more transparent by bringing the kinds of complex, backroom deals that helped trigger this crisis into the light of day. We’ll prevent banks from taking on so much risk that they could collapse and threaten our whole economy. And we’ll give shareholders more of a say on pay to help change the perverse incentives that encouraged reckless risk-taking in the first place. Put simply, Wall Street reform will bring greater security to folks on Main Street….
    Next week, we have a chance to help lay a cornerstone in that foundation. The reform bill being debated in the Senate will not solve every problem in our financial system – no bill could. But what this strong bill will do is important, and I urge the Senate to pass it as soon as possible, so we can secure America’s economic future in the 21st century…. – WH, 5-15-10
  • Obama pushes Wall Street reform with populism: President Barack Obama on Saturday called for swift Senate action on a sweeping overhaul of Wall Street rules to “secure America’s economic future” as a reform bill moves into the decisive stage next week. With months to go before November’s pivotal congressional elections, Obama pressed a populist theme of helping the “folks on Main Street” as he urged approval of tighter regulations to prevent a repeat of the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
    Obama’s Democrats and opposition Republicans are continuing to haggle over a slew of amendments, but the bill could come up for a vote in the U.S. Senate by the end of next week and is widely expected to pass.
    “The reform bill being debated in the Senate will not solve every problem in our financial system — no bill could,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. “But what this strong bill will do is important, and I urge the Senate to pass it as soon as possible, so we can secure America’s economic future in the 21st century.”… – Reuters, 5-15-10
  • Palin to Obama: ‘Do your job, secure our border': Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin joined the national battle over Arizona’s controversial new immigration law Saturday, appearing with Gov. Jan Brewer in Phoenix to denounce the Obama administration’s criticism of the law. “It’s time for Americans across this great country to stand up and say ‘We’re all Arizonans now and, in clear unity, we say Mr. President, do your job, secure our border,'” Palin said, standing beside Brewer at a Saturday afternoon press conference…. – CNN, 5-16-10
  • Sarah Palin speaks in Rosemont: Only moments after taking the stage Wednesday at the Rosemont Theatre, former Alaska governor and conservative firebrand Sarah Palin took on officials of Highland Park High School for cancelling a trip to Arizona for its girls basketball team because of opposition to the state’s controversial new immigration law. “Keeping the girls basketball team off the court for political reasons? Those are fighting words,” Palin said. Noting the school has allowed student trips to China, Palin questioned whether school officials knew “how they treat women in China.”
    “An economic and political boycott of one of our sister states is not a way to secure our borders,” Palin said, using the title of her first book to encourage the team members to “go rogue, girls.”… – Chicago Tribune, 5-12-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Matthew Dallek “History warns Obama on primaries”: President Barack Obama is deeply enmeshed in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary….
    Obama is entangled in other Democratic primaries, as well. His White House has endorsed incumbent moderate Democrats in a handful of key midterm races. It has actively intervened in support of Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.
    Obama’s political team has pressured potential rivals to bow out of some races. The president has raised funds for his preferred candidates. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs argued, for example, that Lincoln is the president’s favored candidate because she’s the incumbent.
    Obama is not the first president to be involved in intraparty fights during midterms. Ideology and political disputes have sparked squabbling in Democratic primaries throughout the past century.
    While Obama’s efforts seem motivated by a desire to retain Democratic majorities in Congress, his predecessors often had larger policy issues that spurred them to purge their Democratic foes. But in virtually every case, the results were never good for the president… – Politico, 5-11-10

The President tours Industrial Support Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y.

The President tours Industrial Support Inc. in Buffalo, N.Y., White House Photo, Samantha Appleton, 5/13/10

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