June 7, 2010: Obama, Clinton, Issa & the Sestak & Romanoff Job Offers

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 111TH CONGRESS:

IN FOCUS

  • White House admits job offer to Sestak to clear Senate for Specter: President Barack Obama’s embarrassed White House acknowledged Friday it had enlisted Bill Clinton to try to ease Rep. Joe Sestak out of Pennsylvania’s Senate primary with a job offer. For Obama, the revelations called into question his repeated promises to run an open government that was above backroom deals. Sestak stayed in the race and eventually defeated Specter to become the Democratic nominee, ending Specter’s 30-year Senate tenure. – Detroit News wire services

THE HEADLINES….

  • Obama under fire for election tactics with Sestak, Romanoff: The White House on Thursday dismissed charges that President Obama’s top aides have breached his pledge to run the most ethical and open administration in history by trying to entice Democrats in Pennsylvania and Colorado to skip races against favored incumbents. Some Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, are demanding an independent investigation of what they call inappropriately heavy-handed politics…. – USA Today, 6-4-10
  • California Rep. Darrell Issa takes on role as Obama’s chief antagonist: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the man who radically changed California politics by helping fund the 2003 recall effort that lead to the removal of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and the election of fellow Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, has become one of President Obama’s chief antagonists. From his perch as the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa has spent the last 15 months constantly blasting the Obama administration on nearly every controversy and calling for countless investigations that the Democratic-controlled committee refuses to order. But Issa is finally starting to hit some of his targets. He was one of the leading Republicans in pushing the White House to reveal more details about its discussions to persuade Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) to forgo a Senate primary run against Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in return for a possible government job. Sestak won the primary, and now another Senate candidate challenging an incumbent Democrat, Andrew Romanoff in Colorado, has acknowledged having similar discussions with White House officials. Issa has suggested the White House violated the law and may have offered Sestak “a bribe” in the process, assertions that have not been proved…. – WaPo, 6-4-10
  • Obama under fire for election tactics with Sestak, Romanoff: The White House on Thursday dismissed charges that President Obama’s top aides have breached his pledge to run the most ethical and open administration in history by trying to entice Democrats in Pennsylvania and Colorado to skip races against favored incumbents.
    Some Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, are demanding an independent investigation of what they call inappropriately heavy-handed politics.
    Press secretary Robert Gibbs countered that the White House has every right to try to avert expensive and divisive intraparty primaries between Democrats, something it did by encouraging potential candidates to consider other options, including government jobs or appointments.
    “The president has an interest in ensuring that supporters don’t run against each other in contested primaries,” Gibbs said…. – USA Today, 6-3-10
  • White House: President Obama was unaware aides floated job offers to Andrew Romanoff: Hammered by accusations of playing politics, the White House claimed Thursday President Obama was unaware aides floated job offers to get a second lawmaker to quit a Senate race. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied the White House had engaged in any wrongdoing or secret back-room deals, contending the administration has not hidden the fact it doesn’t like Democratic Party primaries. “I do believe we’ve been transparent,” he said. But Gibbs sidestepped and evaded repeated questions on details of the contacts…. – NY Daily News, 6-4-10
  • White House defends using job prospect to sway Romanoff to quit Colorado Senate race: White House officials Thursday defended their effort to use a job prospect in the administration to entice Democrat Andrew Romanoff out of the Senate race in Colorado last September, while trying to recast Romanoff’s version of events, pointing out that he came to them looking for employment, albeit 10 months earlier…. – Denver Post, 6-4-10
  • LBJ and Sestak/Romanoff: Obama’s defenders have fastened on a case where LBJ’s White House offered a job to Congressman Joe Kilgore to get him out of a senate primary against Sen. Ralph Yarborough. Fair enough. This shows that this kind of horse-trading has a long pedigree. It’s also a sign of what’s become of Obama’s promises of a new kind of politics that his supporters are running back to LBJ for precedent. Here’s an interesting passage in one of the conversations between Kilgore and LBJ aide Walter Jenkins that shows they didn’t consider such a deal entirely appropriate, even back then: National Review, 6-4-10
  • Assessing the political fallout of the Andrew Romanoff revelationWaPo, 6-3-10
  • Sestak Job Offer Grounds for Impeachment?: SEAN HANNITY, HOST: There is big breaking news tonight in the Joe Sestak affair that has gripped Washington all week. And after months of questions, denials and finger-pointing the White House version of events basically comes down to this: Bill Clinton did it.
    Now White House counsel Bob Bauer who is married to former White House communications spin doctor Anita Dunn released a report this morning detailing what happened. Now it reads in part, quote, “Efforts were made in June and July of 2009 to determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a presidential or other senior executive branch advisory board which would avoid a divisive Senate primary, allow him to retain his seat in the House, and provide him with opportunity for additional service to the public in a high-level advisory capacity for which he was highly qualified. The advisory position discussed with Congressman Sestak, while important to the work of the administration, would have been uncompensated. White house Staff did not discuss these options with Congressman Sestak. The White House chief of staff enlisted the support of former President Clinton who agreed to raise with Congressman Sestak options of service on a presidential or other senior executive branch advisory board. Congressman Sestak declined the suggested alternatives, remaining committed to his Senate candidacy.”… – Fox News, 6-1-10
  • Clinton-Sestak-White House Connection: Was There a Crime?Fox News, 5-29-10
  • Clinton’s Role in Sestak Controversy Stirs Questions About His and White House Motives: Like an aging sports star who can’t stay away from the game, Bill Clinton’s direct role in the firestorm over President Obama’s job offer to a lawmaker for a political favor has raised questions about whether the former president was used and abused by a cynical administration or whether he took advantage of the White House to burnish his legacy…. “It’s very clear that President Clinton doesn’t want to leave politics but more importantly that the White House wanted some sort of plausible deniability,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who is calling for an FBI investigation, told Fox News on Friday. Issa added that President Nixon had deniability from the plumbers in the Watergate scandal that ultimately brought down his presidency until he became part of the coverup. “At this point, 10 weeks later, lots of witness tampering, or at least witness interrogation by people who are self serving, we’re beginning to go down that same road,” he said. “It’s now time for the president to say enough is enough, I promised to have higher integrity and that will include having someone on the outside tell us what we did right or wrong.”… – Fox News, 5-29-10
  • Sestak Case Puts Rahm Emanuel’s Backroom Politics Back in Spotlight: The White House official behind the controversial offer to Rep. Joe Sestak is no stranger to hard-nosed political horse trading. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who enlisted the help of his former boss Bill Clinton to approach a congressman about sitting out a Senate primary race, has been involved in several political controversies during his 20-year-plus career in Washington. And the current controversy is only the latest for Emanuel in the past 16 months, since he joined the Obama administration…. – Fox News, 5-29-10
  • Joe Sestak job offer? White House says it did nothing wrong: The GOP isn’t buying the White House assertion that it offered Rep. Joe Sestak only an unpaid position on an advisory board if he’d drop his effort to unseat Pennsylvania’s Sen. Arlen Specter.
    After months of speculation, the White House has released an explanation of its effort to lure Rep. Joe Sestak (D) of Pennsylvania away from running for the US Senate. The two-page memo from White House counsel Robert Bauer, issued Friday, states that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had enlisted former President Bill Clinton to approach Congressman Sestak last summer to discuss the possibility of unpaid service on a presidential advisory board, while retaining his seat in the House… – In his own statement, Sestak laid out the same scenario. “I said no,” he said of the advisory board offer. CS Monitor, 5-28-10
  • Bill Clinton has evolved into Obama’s Mr. Fix-It Network News: After Barack Obama won the White House, he and his aides wrestled for weeks over what to do about Bill Clinton if his wife joined the administration. They worried that the irrepressible former president might overshadow Hillary Rodham Clinton, or even Obama himself. That didn’t happen. Now, 18 months later, he has become indispensable in a way the new president probably did not anticipate. Clinton has become the “Michael Clayton” of the Obama White House, a roving, always on-call fixer who lends his political skills to help Obama and the Democrats in tough situations. Clinton is campaigning and raising money in places where Obama is less (or less than) welcome. And, as was revealed Friday, he has been an intermediary on sensitive, off-the-grid conversations with candidates such as Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), whom he tried — on behalf of the White House — to talk out of running for the Senate…. – WaP, 5-28-10
  • White House Used Bill Clinton to Ask Sestak to Drop Out of Race: President Obama’s chief of staff used former President Bill Clinton as an intermediary to see if Representative Joe Sestak would drop out of a Senate primary if given a prominent, but unpaid, advisory position, people briefed on the matter said Friday.
    Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, asked Mr. Clinton to explore the possibilities last summer, accordingto the briefed individuals, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the politically charged situation. Mr. Sestak said no and went on to win last week’s Pennsylvania Democratic primary against Senator Arlen Specter. NYT, 5-28-10
  • Obama Promises Response on Question of Job Offer: President Obama refused to say Thursday whether his White House offered a job to Representative Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania to drop out of a Democratic primary but promised that the administration would respond soon. “There will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue, which I hope will answer your questions,” Mr. Obama told reporters at a White House news conference. “I can assure the public that nothing improper took place.” – NYT, 5-27-10
  • Sestak says his brother, White House met about alleged job offer: Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) said Thursday his brother has spoken with White House officials about the congressman’s allegation that he was offered an Obama administration job if he would stay out of a Democratic Senate primary… He told reporters Thursday that he would not expand upon his prior statements until the White House releases its report on the matter. President Obama said in his news conference such a report would come “shortly.” Richard Sestak, who has served as his brother’s top political adviser and campaign lawyer, spoke with administration officials Wednesday, Joe Sestak said.
    “They got ahold of my brother on his cellphone, and he spoke to the White House . . . about what’s going to occur,” said Sestak, who said he expects the White House will release its information Friday. He declined to elaborate on his discussions with his brother…. – WaPo, 5-27-10
  • Dig into alleged Joe Sestak job offer, GOP tells Justice Department: The White House backed Rep. Joe Sestak’s opponent in the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania. The GOP wants to know whether it offered Mr. Sestak a job to drop out of the race.
    “The allegations in this matter are very serious and, if true, suggest a violation of various criminal laws intended to safeguard our political process from the taint of bribes and political machine manipulation,” said Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee in a Wednesday letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
    Those who signed the letter include Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma…. – CS Monitor, 5-26-10
  • Did the White House offer Joe Sestak a job?: Rep. Joe Sestak is in a tough primary race against Obama-backed Senator Arlen Specter. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs for the first time responded to questions about whether the White House offered Sestak a post to lure him out of the race…. – CS Monitor, 3-16-10

POLITICAL QUOTES

  • Andrew Romanoff Breaks Silence on White House Job Talks: On Friday’s Washington Unplugged, Bob Schieffer, moderator of CBS’ “Face the Nation,” spoke with Andrew Romanoff, the latest Senate candidate to acknowledge that he was contacted by the White House for discussions about various administration positions should he drop out of his primary race.
    Sestak: “I Stood Up to My Party”
    Romanoff said he “received a call from (White House Deputy Chief of Staff) Jim Messina. He informed me that the White House would support my opponent, Sen. (Michael) Bennet. I told Mr. Messina that I had decided to run for the Senate nonetheless. He told me three positions might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race and e-mailed me descriptions of the positions. I told him that I would not change course. That’s the last time I had any communication on this matter with Mr. Messina or anyone else in the White House.”
    “A number of folks have done their best to keep me from running for the Senate and similar efforts to prevent primaries that took place in Pennsylvania,” said Romanoff. “Those efforts did not have any effect on me.”
    Romanoff added, “The White House’s efforts made no impact on my decision to run.”… – CBS News, 6-4-10
  • Steele: DOJ should examine White House dealmaking: The Department of Justice should examine the White House dealmaking in Senate primary races with “an impartial referee” who can sort out the facts, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Saturday.
    The agency should assign “a special investigator or an independent counsel, who can sort out the facts and answer the burning question — what did the White House offer … , who authorized the offer, who else knew about it and what was the expected trade-off for accepting the offer?” Steele said in his party’s weekly radio and Internet address.
    “It’s one thing to keep that promise when you think it’ll help you politically,” Steele said. “The real test of a man’s word is if he keeps it when it’s inconvenient, embarrassing or potentially damaging. On this test, the president and his people have failed.”…. – AP, 6-4-10
  • Statement released by White House Press Secretary on Andrew Romanoff: STATEMENT FROM THE PRESS SECRETARY ON COLORADO SENATE RACE Andrew Romanoff applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition. He filed this application through the Transition on-line process. After the new administration took office, he followed up by phone with White House personnel.
    Jim Messina called and emailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the US Senate. Months earlier, the President had endorsed Senator Michael Bennet for the Colorado seat, and Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.
    But Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the Administration, and that ended the discussion. As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job. Denver Post, 6-3-10
  • Andrew Romanoff details contacts with White House over potential jobs: Andrew Romanoff statement:
    I have received a large number of press inquiries concerning the role the White House is reported to have played in my decision to run for the U.S. Senate. I have declined comment because I did not want – and do not want – to politicize this matter.
    A great deal of misinformation has filled the void in the meantime. That does not serve the public interest or any useful purpose.
    Here are the facts:
    In September 2009, shortly after the news media first reported my plans to run for the Senate, I received a call from Jim Messina, the President’s deputy chief of staff. Mr. Messina informed me that the White House would support Sen. Bennet. I informed Mr. Messina that I had made my decision to run.
    Mr. Messina also suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race. He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions. At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina’s assistance in obtaining one.
    Later that day, I received an email from Mr. Messina containing descriptions of three positions (email attached). I left him a voicemail informing him that I would not change course.
    I have not spoken with Mr. Messina, nor have I discussed this matter with anyone else in the White House, since then. WaPo, 6-3-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Myths and falsehoods about the Sestak and Romanoff controversies: Media Matters for America has compiled a list of the myths and falsehoods about the White House’s conversations with Democratic Senate candidates Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff concerning those candidates taking positions in the administration…. – Media Metters, 6-3-10
  • Clinton’s Role in Sestak Controversy Stirs Questions About His and White House Motives: “This is the way politics operates and almost all former presidents, key public leaders, party leaders do this for the president,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told Fox News.
    “Also keep in mind, this is an unusual administration,” he said. “It’s a merger of the Obama wing and Clinton wing. We’ve seen that since the Cabinet was formed. Yes, former President Clinton does political duties for Obama and Rahm Emanuel.”… – Fox News, 5-29-10
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Political Highlights May 27, 2010: Obama Press Conference on BP Oil Spill & Joe Sestak Job Offer

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 111TH CONGRESS:

President Obama offered Doug Mills/The New York Times President Obama was also asked about Arizona’s new immigration law, as well as whether the White House offered Representative Joe Sestak a job in the administration.

IN FOCUS: STATS

  • Poll: Wide Majority See Spill as ‘Disaster’: A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds most Americans rating the president’s response to the oil spill negatively. More than half of Americans, 53 percent, say the president’s response to the spill has been “poor” or “very poor,” the poll finds. Negative ratings rise to 60 percent for the job the federal government has done in responding to the spill, and rise to 73 percent for the efforts by BP, the company whose well exploded.
    Most Americans, moreover, envision deep, long-term consequences. More than 7 in 10 say the impact of the oil spill in the long run will be a disaster, including almost 4 in 10 who say it will be the worst environmental disaster in the United States in at least 100 years. Just 26 percent hold a more positive view, seeing the spill as a problem but not a disaster…. – NYT, 5-27-10

THE HEADLINES….

  • Live Blogging Obama’s News Conference: From Jeff Zeleny: So did President Obama accomplish his task of demonstrating to America that he – and his government – are in control of the crisis on the Gulf?
    During a full hour of questioning, he illustrated that he has a grasp of the technical challenges at work in the oil spill. He said the government was calling the shots, the buck stopped with him and the ultimate responsibility rested in the Oval Office.
    But it remains an open question whether the measured tone that has become the soundtrack of Mr. Obama’s presidency – a detached, calm, observational pitch – served to drive the point home that he is sufficiently enraged by the fury in the Gulf Coast…. – NYT The Caucus, 5-27-10
  • Obama Open to Ideas on How to Plug Oil Leak, Defends Administration Response: President Obama said the federal government is open to ideas from anyone and anywhere on how to plug the oil leak on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, but rejected the notion that Washington has been sitting on the “sidelines” and pledged to fix the problem. “We are relying on every resource and every idea,” he said Thursday, at his first full-blown press conference since July. “We will take ideas from anywhere, but we are going to stop it.” Obama said that the federal government is “in charge” of the efforts to contain the damage from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He called the leak his administration’s “highest priority” and said anyone claiming otherwise doesn’t know the facts…. – Fox News, 5-27-10
  • Fixing oil disaster my responsibility, Obama says: On the defensive more than five weeks into the nation’s worst-ever oil spill, President Barack Obama insisted Thursday that his administration, not oil giant BP, was calling the shots in the still-unsuccessful response. “I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down,” Obama declared at a news conference in the East Room of the White House. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill dominated the hour-long session… – AP, 5-27-10
  • ‘Top kill’ stops gulf oil leak for now, official says: Officials are cautionary but say drilling fluid has blocked oil and gas temporarily. Engineers plan to begin pumping in cement and then will seal the well…. – LAT, 5-27-10
  • Gulf spill surpasses Valdez; plug try going well: An untested procedure to plug the blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico seemed to be working, officials said Thursday, but new estimates showed the spill has already surpassed the Exxon Valdez as the worst in U.S. history. A team of scientists trying to determine how much oil has been flowing since the offshore rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and sank two days later found the rate was more than twice and possibly up to five times as high as previously thought…. – AP, 5-27-10
  • Obama: “Nothing Improper” in Alleged Sestak Job Offer: President Obama said at his press conference today that he “can assure the public that nothing improper took place” in conversations between the White House and Rep. Joe Sestak, who suggested earlier this year he was offered a White House job in exchange for dropping his primary challenge against Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter. CBS News, 5-27-10
  • The Early Word: The President Answers: It’s been awhile, but President Obama will hold a formal news conference at the White House this afternoon. With oil still leaking out of a well in the Gulf of Mexico, Mr. Obama plans to announce at today’s question-and- answer session that he will extend a moratorium on deepwater offshore drilling permits for six months and will delay or cancel specific projects off the coasts of Alaska and Virginia and in the western Gulf of Mexico, The Times’s Peter Baker and Anahad O’Connor report. The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty gives her fellow reporters some ideas on what to ask the president, who is scheduled to visit the Gulf Coast on Friday. One of her five proposed questions: “Should anyone in the government be fired as the result of this disaster?”… – NYT, 5-27-10
  • Obama to speak on Gulf spill in first news conference since summer ’09: President Obama will face the cameras and take questions from reporters Thursday about the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, giving him another chance to finesse, and perhaps even ratchet up, his rhetoric on the crisis. The president’s news conference in the East Room is scheduled for 12:45 p.m., and it will take place even as BP’s dramatic “top kill” operation to halt the flow of leaking oil continues deep below the Gulf surface. This will be Obama’s first full-fledged news conference in more than 300 days. It is the latest attempt by the White House to calibrate the presidential message about the oil catastrophe with the anxiety captured on television screens…. – WaPo, 5-27-10
  • Gulf oil spill now nation’s worst: As crews pumped mud at a furious rate into the damaged blowout preventer that sits on the uncapped well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, a group of scientists said the amount of oil spewing into the ocean is much greater than originally believed…. – WaPo, 5-27-10
  • Obama fires MMS chief Elizabeth Birnbaum: President Obama has fired the head of the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, according to the Associated Press. The news agency, citing unnamed sources, says Obama will announce later today that Elizabeth Birnbaum has been taken off the job. She’s been head of the MMS since July 2009. Her agency, which grants leases to oil companies and monitors offshore drilling, has come under criticism for lax oversight since the BP well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20…. – USA Today, 5-27-10

POLITICAL QUOTES

We can always do better, the president said.Doug Mills/The New York Times “If the question is are we doing everything perfectly out there, then the answer is absolutely not, we can always do better,” the president says.
  • Defending Spill Response, Obama Expresses Frustration: President Obama declared on Thursday that he is “angry and frustrated” over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and ordered a further moratorium on new permits to drill new deepwater wells as he tried to address deepening public frustration.
    “Every day I see this leak continue, I am angry and frustrated as well,” the president told reporters in the East Room. He acknowledged that not every decision has been perfect, and “we can always do better.” But he added: “Those who think we were either slow in our response or lacked urgency don’t know the facts. This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred.”
    “But make no mistake, BP is operating at our direction,” he said. “Every key decision and action they take must be approved by us in advance.”
    Mr. Obama said that the government has made “the largest effort of its kind in U.S. history” to address the oil leak, deploying 20,000 people, 1,300 vessels and 3 million feet of boom in the region to contain and clean up the spill.
    “We are relying on every resource and every idea, every expert and every bit of technology to work to stop it,” the president said. “We will take ideas from anywhere but we are going to stop it. I know that doesn’t lessen the enormous sense of anger and frustration felt by people on the Gulf and so many Americans.”
    “Absolutely, I take responsibility for that,” he said. “There wasn’t a sufficient urgency.” Although the regulators were in some instances constrained by law from being more thoroughgoing, he added, “We should have busted through those constraints.” – NYT, 5-27-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Thomas Schwartz: Up from the deep sea: a nightmare for Obama: Presidential historian Thomas Schwartz, a Vanderbilt University professor, said presidencies are often defined by the crises encountered. He said the oil spill could prove to be a defining crisis but he cautioned against comparing the leak to Katrina, for instance. “This one has been slowly developing and could have those qualities, but if BP were to suddenly get it capped, things could be defused very quickly. The air could go out of the balloon,” Schwartz said. Reuters, 5-27-10
  • Douglas Brinkley: Obama could pay “huge price” for spill response: “I think that the President has to get control over this situation,” historian Doug Brinkley said on CNN’s Campbell Brown Monday night. “Right now there is a feeling in the country that BP’s in charge but BP is the one that has been grossly negligent,” Brinkley said. Brinkley, a longtime resident of New Orleans, offered Brown suggestions about what President Obama needs to do: Address the American people on television within 48 hours, tell them what’s happening in the Gulf and talk about what’s being lost. Brinkley also believes the White House must consider freezing BP’s assets in the United States and called for the Justice Department to speed up its probe into BP. When asked by Brown what price the President could pay for a slow response, Brinkley told Brown “It’s a huge price.”… – CNN.com (5-24-10)

Political Highlights: May 24, 2010: Obama Doctrine, New National Security Plan – Super Primaries Day Roundup

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 111TH CONGRESS:

IN FOCUS: STATS

  • The Obama effect — Are you with him or against him?: Halfway through the 2010 primary season, the fundamental tension in the American political system is becoming more clear: A liberal government is struggling to impose its agenda on an electorate increasingly responsive to an activist conservative movement operating inside the Republican Party…. – WaPo, 5-21-10

THE HEADLINES….

  • White House: Justice Dept. has been to Gulf spill: The White House says the Justice Department has been gathering information about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Press secretary Robert Gibbs isn’t saying whether the department has opened a criminal investigation. He would only tell CBS’ “Face the Nation” that department representatives have been to the Gulf as part of the response to the BP oil leak…. – AP, 5-24-10
  • Obama seeks to force votes on spending cuts: President Barack Obama on Monday is sending legislation to Congress that would allow him to force lawmakers to vote on cutting wasteful programs from spending bills. The legislation would award Obama and his successors the ability to take two months or more to scrutinize spending bills that have already been signed into law for pet projects and other dubious programs. He could then send Congress a package of spending cuts for a mandatory up-or-down vote on whether to accept or reject them. Senate Democrats killed the idea just three years ago, and so Obama’s move would seem like a long shot. But the plan could pick up traction in the current anti-Washington political environment in which lawmakers are desperate to demonstrate they are tough on spending…. – AP, 5-23-10
  • Obama Outlines National Security Strategy: President Obama outlined a new national security strategy rooted in diplomatic engagement and international alliances on Saturday as he repudiated his predecessor’s emphasis on unilateral American power and the right to wage preemptive war. Eight years after President George W. Bush came to the United States Military Academy to set a new course for American security in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Obama used the same setting to offer a revised doctrine, one that vowed no retreat against American enemies while seeking “national renewal and global leadership.” “Yes, we are clear-eyed about the shortfalls of our international system,” the president told graduating cadets. “But America has not succeeded by stepping outside the currents of international cooperation. We have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice – so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities, and face consequences when they don’t.” Mr. Obama said the United States “will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well” while also trying to “build new partnerships and shape stronger international standards and institutions.” He added: “This engagement is not an end in itself. The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times.” – NYT, 5-22-10
  • Results of Kandahar offensive may affect future U.S. moves: The Obama administration’s campaign to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan’s second-largest city is a go-for-broke move that even its authors are unsure will succeed. The bet is that the Kandahar operation, backed by thousands of U.S. troops and billions of dollars, will break the mystique and morale of the insurgents, turn the tide of the war and validate the administration’s Afghanistan strategy. There is no Plan B…. – WaPo, 5-22-10
  • Clinton says North Korean attack on ship will not go ‘unanswered’: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned North Korea on Friday for a deadly attack on a South Korean warship and vowed that it would not go “unanswered,” but senior U.S. officials stressed that neither side on the Korean Peninsula seems to be heading toward war….
    In a blunt statement after meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, Clinton said the United States “strongly condemns” the North Korean attack and that both countries would seek an international response. “Let me be clear,” Clinton said in her first public comments since South Korea released a report on Thursday formally blaming the North for the torpedo strike. “This will not be and cannot be business as usual.”… – WaPo, 5-22-10
  • As financial overhaul takes shape, it’s crunch time for lobbyists: Few differences exist between the Senate and House bills, leaving little time to push for changes. Obama says his administration will keep the rules tough… – LAT, 5-21-10
  • Pentagon’s Clapper may lead intelligence agencies: The Pentagon’s top intelligence official emerged as the leading choice Friday for what’s fast becoming known as one of the most thankless jobs in Washington — director of national intelligence. The position has a great title, but the office has just claimed its third victim. James R. Clapper, now the defense undersecretary for intelligence, is the White House’s leading candidate to replace retired Adm. Dennis Blair, who is resigning, two current U.S. officials and one former military official say. Another candidate is Mike Vickers, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for special operations, officials say, but a Defense Department official says he has not been contacted for an interview. With three previous intelligence directors all saying the same thing — the job description itself is flawed — who would want it?… – AP, 5-21-10
  • Senate Passes Finance Bill Biggest Regulatory Overhaul of Wall Street Since Depression Moves Closer to Law: The Senate on Thursday approved the most extensive overhaul of financial-sector regulation since the 1930s, hoping to avoid a repeat of the financial crisis that hit the U.S. economy starting in 2007. The legislation passed the Senate 59 to 39 and must now be reconciled with a similar bill passed by the House of Representatives in December, before it can be sent to President Barack Obama to be signed into law. The controversial measure, supported by the Obama administration, sets up new regulatory bodies and restricts the actions of banks and other financial firms. It is designed to try to make order of the cascading regulatory chaos that ensued in 2008 when mammoth banks and some unregulated financial firms collapsed, and public funds were used to save them…. – WSJ, 5-21-10
  • Senate Passes Massive Financial Regulation Bill: In its broad sweep, the massive bill would touch Wall Street CEOs and first-time homebuyers, high-flying traders and small town lenders…. – AP, 5-20
  • National intelligence director resigning: National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair is resigning under pressure from the White House, ending a tumultuous 16-month tenure marked by intelligence failures and spy agency turf wars. Blair, a retired Navy admiral, is the third director of national intelligence, a position created in response to public outrage over the failure to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. His departure underscores the disorganization inside the Obama administration’s intelligence apparatus, rocked over the past six months by a spate of high-profile attempted terror attacks that revealed new national security lapses. And it comes two days after a stark Senate report criticized Blair’s office and other intelligence agencies for new failings that, despite a top-to-bottom overhaul of the U.S. intelligence apparatus after 9/11, allowed a would-be bomber to board a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day. In a message Thursday to his work force, Blair said his last day would be May 28…. – AP, 5-21-10
  • Oil spill scrutiny turns to Obama administration: Last week, it was oil executives who faced the wrath of lawmakers eager to find blame for the massive oil spill spreading in the Gulf of Mexico. On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other federal officials will come under questioning for what the government did — or did not do — to prevent the oil spill, and how they have responded since oil started streaming into the Gulf last month…. – AP, 5-18-10
  • Lincoln loses leverage on financial reform bill: Senator Blanche Lincoln, a key voice for financial reform, was forced on Tuesday into a Democratic runoff election in Arkansas and lost leverage for her plan to force big banks to spin off swaps desks. She was expected to be the vote-leader in the primary and possibly win the nomination outright. Instead, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter ran neck-and-neck with her in a race colored by anti-Washington sentiment. Her swap reform proposal would cost a handful of big U.S. banks billions of dollars in revenue. It is one of the final issues in a mammoth Wall Street reform bill pending in the Senate. The swaps-desk language was a hallmark of Lincoln-authored legislation to bring the $615 trillion market in over- the-counter derivatives under federal regulation. While Lincoln said her proposal would “ensure that banks get back to the business of banking,” there was broad opposition to the idea within the financial industry and among some Obama administration officials. Analysts said she probably would not prevail on the issue, even if she won the three-way Democratic primary. They expected efforts to strip the language would begin immediately after the primary. One alternative would be the so-called Volcker language to restrict derivatives trading by banks…. – Reuters, 5-19-10

ELECTIONS 2010, 2012….

  • Cuomo joins race in first As governor, the Democrat pledges he’d put an end to “national disgrace” of state government in Albany and to usher in a new era of reform: Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced his candidacy for governor on Saturday, slamming Albany corruption and promising to build a coalition to help him drive priorities ranging from freezing public employee salaries to support for a constitutional convention to bring about change.
    Cuomo enters the race as an overwhelming front-runner with no Democratic challengers, Republicans in disarray and a hefty campaign account of at least $16 million.
    In a polished speech rehearsed privately before groups all year, Cuomo launched a gubernatorial effort in which he will be campaigning all summer while three Republicans seeking to oppose him try to knock each other out in a primary battle.
    The announcement came first with a 21-minute online video as slick as a Madison Avenue presentation. He later made his case for governor before the Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan, criticizing abuses of 19th-century Democratic leader William “Boss” Tweed, who was convicted of stealing from taxpayers during a scandalous reign.
    “Our state government in Albany is disreputable and discredited . . . a national disgrace,” Cuomo said. “The corruption in Albany could even make Boss Tweed blush.”… – Albany Times-Union, 5-22-10
  • Rand Paul and the Perils of Textbook Libertarianism: When Rand Paul, the victor in the Republican Senate primary last week in Kentucky, criticized the Civil Rights Act of 1964, singling out the injustice of non-discriminatory practices it imposed on private businesses, the resulting furor delighted Democrats and unsettled Republicans. Mr. Paul hastened to state his abhorrence of racism and assert that had he served in the Senate in 1964, he would have voted for the measure. On the surface Mr. Paul’s contradictory statements might seem another instance of the trouble candidates get into when ideological consistency meets the demands of practical politics… – NYT, 5-22-10
  • GOP wins House seat in Obama’s home district: Republican Charles Djou (duh-JOO’) has won a Democratic-held House seat in Hawaii in the district where President Barack Obama grew up. The special election is the latest triumph for the GOP as it looks to take back control of Congress. Djou’s victory was also a blow to Obama and other Democrats who could not rally around a candidate and find away to win a congressional race that should have been a cakewalk. The seat had been held by a Democrat for nearly 20 years and is located in the district where Obama was born and spent most of his childhood. Djou received 67,274 votes, or 39.5 percent. He was followed by state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case — both Democrats…. – AP, 5-22-10
  • ZEV CHAFETS: The Limbaugh Victory: THERE are many theories for why very conservative Republicans seem to be doing so well lately, taking their party’s Senate nominations in Florida, Kentucky and Utah, and beating Democrats head-to-head in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia. Some attribute this to a generalized anti-incumbent mood. Others say it reflects the tendency of parties in power to falter in midterm elections. Recently it has been fashionable to ascribe right-wing success to the Tea Party movement. But the most obvious explanation is the one that’s been conspicuously absent from the gusher of analysis. Republican success in 2010 can be boiled down to two words: Rush Limbaugh…. – NYT, 5-20-10
  • After Explaining a Provocative Remark, Paul Makes Another: Rand Paul, the newly nominated Republican candidate for Senate from Kentucky, touched off more controversy on Friday by calling the Obama administration “un-American” for taking a tough stance with BP over the company’s handling of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico…. “What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'” Mr. Paul said, referring to a remark by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about the oil company. “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it’s part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.”… – NYT, 5-22-10
  • ‘Tea party’ candidate faces civil rights controversy: Rand Paul, winner of Kentucky’s Republican nomination for the Senate, is working to tamp down the controversy over his statements criticizing nondiscrimination laws… – LAT, 5-21-10
  • Obama endorsements don’t seem to help Democrats: Voters rejected one of President Barack Obama’s hand-picked candidates and forced another into a runoff, the latest sign that his political capital is slipping beneath a wave of anti-establishment anger. Sen. Arlen Specter became the fourth Democrat in seven months to lose a high-profile race despite the president’s active involvement, raising doubts about Obama’s ability to help fellow Democrats in this November’s elections. The first three candidates fell to Republicans. But Specter’s loss Tuesday to Rep. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania’s Democratic senatorial primary cast doubts on Obama’s influence and popularity even within his own party — and in a battleground state, no less. Of course, it’s possible that Democrats will fare better than expected this fall. And there’s only so much that any president can do to help other candidates, especially in a non-presidential election year…. – AP, 5-19-10
  • Blogging the Primaries: One incumbent, Senator Arlen Specter, lost in a tough primary against Representative Joe Sestak, who surged in the last few weeks. The outcome in Pennsylvania ended the five-term Senate career of Mr. Specter, who switched parties last year to avoid what he believed was a certain defeat as a Republican.
    Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas faced an uphill battle against the popular lieutenant governor, Bill Halter. Neither reached the 50-percentage threshold, so they’ll got to a runoff on June 8…. – NYT, 5-18-10
  • House Republicans: “We’ve Got a Lot of Work To Do”: “Mark Critz’s victory demonstrates that Democrats can win in a tough political environment,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s spokesman Brendan Daly. “The Republicans have been boasting that they can win 50 or even 100 House seats, yet they could not win a seat that independent analysts called a ‘must win’ for them in a district that John McCain won in 2008.”
    When the outcome was still unclear, House majority leader Steny Hoyer was not so sure. “If he wins will that mean the Democrats are going to sweep? I don’t think so,” Hoyer said yesterday. “These special elections are, you know, they are what they are.”
    Republican Whip Eric Cantor said this morning that he thinks Americans still want to vote for some kind of check and balance to Democrat’s power in Washington. “Obviously, I’m disappointed as a Republican that Tim Burns did not win the seat,” Cantor said in an interview for CBSNews.com’s “Washington Unplugged.” “What is pretty indicative was that the Democratic candidate refused to get anywhere near the policy agenda promoted by Speaker Pelosi and President Obama,” Cantor said. That said, Cantor acknowledged that “last night is evidence of the fact that we’ve got a lot of work to do.”… – CBS News, 5-19-10
  • Today’s Primaries Offer New Clues: It’s decision day for voters in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky, where the outcome of Senate primary contests on Tuesday will deliver more clues to the puzzle that is the midterm election of 2010. Two Democratic senators, with combined Washington experience of nearly 50 years, will discover if they have assembled strong-enough coalitions to withstand an anti-incumbent surge or if their careers will effectively end. And an open Senate seat in Kentucky will help show whether Tea Party advocates can produce an electoral victory. The contests, taken together, offer the biggest trove of information so far this year about the mood of the electorate…. – NYT, 5-17-10
  • Primaries in 4 states, 1 House election: President Barack Obama is not on the ballot in this week’s primaries, nor is Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican Senate leader. But both have a stake in intensely competitive Senate races in three states, contests testing the strength of the tea party among Kentucky Republicans and the durability of incumbent Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas and Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. In a fourth race of national significance, Republican Tim Burns and Democrat Mark Critz battled to fill out the term of the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha in a congressional district in southwestern Pennsylvania. Both political parties reported spending roughly $1 million to sway the race, turning it into a laboratory for the fall campaign, when all 435 House seats will be on the ballot… – AP, 5-18-10
  • Obama’s Midterm Strategy: Blame the GOP: The only people more unpopular than Democrats are congressional Republicans, so President Obama is reminding us of what Republican rule was like….
    Two years later the president is tentatively unveiling the strategy he and fellow Democrats will pursue in this fall’s election season, and it has a heavy dose of … looking backward. It’s going to be as much about history as hope, and more about attacking Republicans than promoting his own vision. The goal is to give pause to independent voters eager to punish Obama for their economic insecurity by voting for GOP candidates. The message: we can’t return power to the very people who gave us the catastrophic Great Recession to begin with…. – Newsweek, 5-17-10
  • McCain shakes up campaign; Pa. Senate race tight: Sen. John McCain’s re-election bid lost its campaign manager and another veteran Republican official, part of a shake-up for the Arizona lawmaker locked in a tight primary race with radio host and former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. The pair of GOP hands — who started before Hayworth entered the race — will instead work on the Republican National Committee’s effort in Arizona. Campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said neither Shiree Verdone nor Mike Hellon, a former Arizona GOP chairman, was fired. “Senator McCain is very grateful for all that Shiree and Mike have done to launch the re-election campaign and establish it on a firm footing and looks forward to working closely with them for victory in November,” Rogers said in a statement. AP, 5-17-10
  • Senate primaries today may give hint of voters’ mood: In Pennsylvania, Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican turned Democrat, is trying to hold off US Representative Joe Sestak for the party’s nomination. Sestak has spent much of the campaign painting Specter as a political opportunist for switching parties last year. In Kentucky, Rand Paul, who has strong backing from Tea Party activists, is seeking the Republican nomination in a race against Trey Grayson, the secretary of state. Grayson is backed by Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader and Kentucky’s senior senator. In Arkansas, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter will try to oust the incumbent Democrat, Senator Blanche Lincoln, who has been criticized by her opponent for failing to support the health care overhaul legislation. A poll released yesterday shows the Pennsylvania race is too close to call, the latest of many tough election challenges for Specter, 80…. – Boston Globe, 5-18-10

POLITICAL QUOTES

  • Weekly Address: President Obama Establishes Bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling:
    Names Former Two-Term Florida Governor and Former Senator Bob Graham and Former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency William K. Reilly as Commission Co-Chairs
    Remarks of President Barack Obama Saturday, May 22, 2010 Weekly Address Washington, DC: One month ago this week, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded off Louisiana’s coast, killing 11 people and rupturing an underwater pipe. The resulting oil spill has not only dealt an economic blow to Americans across the Gulf Coast, it also represents an environmental disaster. In response, we are drawing on America’s best minds and using the world’s best technology to stop the leak. We’ve deployed over 1,100 vessels, about 24,000 personnel, and more than 2 million total feet of boom to help contain it. And we’re doing all we can to assist struggling fishermen, and the small businesses and communities that depend on them….
    One of the reasons I ran for President was to put America on the path to energy independence, and I have not wavered from that commitment. To achieve that goal, we must pursue clean energy and energy efficiency, and we’ve taken significant steps to do so. And we must also pursue domestic sources of oil and gas. Because it represents 30 percent of our oil production, the Gulf of Mexico can play an important part in securing our energy future. But we can only pursue offshore oil drilling if we have assurances that a disaster like the BP oil spill will not happen again. This Commission will, I hope, help provide those assurances so we can continue to seek a secure energy future for the United States of America…. – WH, 5-22-10
  • At West Point, Obama offers new security strategy: …In a commencement speech to the graduating class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the president outlined his departure from what Bush had called a “distinctly American internationalism.” Instead, Obama pledged to shape a new “international order” based on diplomacy and engagement.
    “Yes, we are clear-eyed about the shortfalls of our international system. But America has not succeeded by stepping outside the currents of international cooperation,” he said. “We have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice — so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities, and face consequences when they don’t.”
    “The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times,” he said in prepared remarks. “Countering violent extremism and insurgency; stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials; combating a changing climate and sustaining global growth; helping countries feed themselves and care for their sick; preventing conflict and healing its wounds.”
    And yet, as he calls for global cooperation, Obama has intensified the U.S. war in Afghanistan. And his administration has repeatedly confronted the dangers of Islamic terrorism on U.S. soil, including unsuccessful attempts to down a Detroit-bound airliner and explode a car bomb in New York’s Times Square…. – WaPo, 5-22-10
  • Obama Tells Ohio, ‘Our Economy Is Growing Again’: President Obama came Tuesday to this area long synonymous with economic distress to take a few strides on a victory lap for the policies he credits with helping create jobs and to knock Republicans for standing in the way. “Despite all the naysayers in Washington, who are always looking for the cloud in every silver lining, the fact is our economy is growing again,” Mr. Obama told an audience of several hundred workers in a cavernous — and expanding — pipe-making plant, citing four months of job growth…. “If the ‘just say no’ crowd had won out,” he said, “if we had done things the way they wanted to go, we’d be in a deeper world of hurt than we are right now.”… – NYT, 5-19-10
  • Citing Affair, Congressman Souder Resigns: Representative Mark Souder, a conservative Indiana Republican, said Tuesday that he was resigning as of Friday after having an extramarital affair with a staff member in his district office, as events continued to roil the midterm election landscape. “I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff,” Mr. Souder said in a statement. “In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain. I am resigning rather than to put my family through that painful, drawn-out process.” … – NYT, 5-18-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Thomas Schwartz: Up from the deep sea: a nightmare for Obama: Presidential historian Thomas Schwartz, a Vanderbilt University professor, said presidencies are often defined by the crises encountered. He said the oil spill could prove to be a defining crisis but he cautioned against comparing the leak to Katrina, for instance. “This one has been slowly developing and could have those qualities, but if BP were to suddenly get it capped, things could be defused very quickly. The air could go out of the balloon,” Schwartz said. Reuters, 5-27-10
  • The end of the Specter era: Something seems off-kilter in Philadelphia… After five decades as a towering figure in the public life of his city, state, and nation, Sen. Arlen Specter is in the strange position of counting the days until the likely end of his political career…. “He’s one of the most complicated people in public life today,” said Randall Miller, a political historian at St. Joseph’s University. “He defies easy characterization. For that matter, he defies political science. . . . He just doesn’t do what you expect him to do.”… – Philadelphia Inquirer, 5-19-10
  • Julian E. Zelizer Professor of History and Public Affairs, Princeton: Those kinds of comments are always a problem for Gingrich. The former speaker, an intelligent and sometimes highly effective politician, often can’t help himself in making these kind of statements. If Gingrich wants to make a run he has to demonstrate that he can be a disciplined leader. While he might want to appeal to the tea party movement, it is a mistake to adopt their rhetoric. That will alienate many suburban voters not win them over. Republicans are looking for a serious candidate who looks like someone with big ideas and who can govern. They don’t need someone who imitates Joe the Plumber. – Politico Arena, 5-21-10
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