Friday, October 14, 2005

DCCC @Stake - Winds of Change, the Stench of Scandal

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Winds of Change, the Stench of Scandal

October 14, 2005

Winds of Change

With the wholesale meltdown of Republican Leadership in Washington, it should be no surprise that serious discussion of a Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 is starting to take place in the media. Yesterday's New York Times had a front-page article describing the growing momentum for a changing of the guard in next year's mid-term elections:

Democrats See Dream of '06 Victory Taking Form
New York Times - 10/13/05

Suddenly, Democrats see a possibility in 2006 they have long dreamed of: a sweeping midterm election framed around what they describe as the simple choice of change with the Democrats or more of an unpopular status quo with the Republican majority.

That sense of political opportunity has Democratic operatives scrambling to recruit more candidates in Congressional districts that look newly favorable for Democratic gains, to overcome internal divisions and produce an agenda they can carry into 2006, and to raise the money to compete across a broader field. In short, the Democrats are trying to be ready if, in fact, an anti-incumbent, 1994-style political wave hits.

Reflecting that shift in assessments, Democrats are preparing for a midterm with broad, national themes and possibilities - like 1982, 1986 and 1994. Democratic leaders from the House, the Senate, the national party and representatives of mayors and governors have met periodically to try to produce their own campaign agenda for 2006, which they hope to unveil early next year, strategists and senators said.


On another front, Democratic campaign officials are racing to recruit more House candidates in places like Ohio and Kentucky. Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the Democratic whip and a leader in the recruitment effort, said he spent part of last week in Ohio with potential candidates, and his message is simple: "My basic premise is, I think this is the best context for Democrats to be running in for the House of Representatives since 1994."

Mr. Bush's approval ratings are, perhaps, the most closely watched political indicator at the moment. Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, said, "In every midterm election season, a president with approval ratings as low as President Bush's has had his party taking it on the chin."

Recent polling data confirms this downward trend for Republicans in Washington. Yesterday morning saw the release of the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which had several eye-catching findings: an all-time-low 39% approval rating for President Bush, and more than twice as many Americans feeling we are on the wrong track as on the right one (59% to 28%). But perhaps most worrisome for Congressional Republicans is the current preference for control of Congress: only 39% of poll respondents said they wanted the Republicans to retain control of Congress, whereas 48% want a change to a Democraticall controlled legislature.

NBC's Tim Russert summed up the general sentiment when interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today Show yesterday morning:

LAUER: Let's go right to the poll numbers. Approval rating for the president now 39 percent of the American people, the people polled at least, say he's doing a good job; 54 percent say he's doing a bad job. What's driving these numbers?

Mr. RUSSERT: Well, Matt, that 39 percent is the lowest number we have had for George Bush during his presidency. Independent swing voters now solidly disapprove of the president's job performance. And, Matt, the most astounding number in this, 2 percent, just 2 percent, of African Americans give George Bush a positive rating for his performance as president. The memories of Katrina very much in their minds.

LAUER: Is that--is that what this is all about? I mean, obviously, that is a--just a startling number, 2 percent of African Americans. Is this all about the aftermath of Katrina?

Mr. RUSSERT: Well, the imagery of that, along with the economy and fuel prices and Iraq, but that event, Matt, really did have a searing effect. George Bush and the Republican Party has tried very hard to reach out to African-American voters but this is a very dramatic setback. I cannot find a pollster who can remember any president ever getting just 2 percent approval from African Americans.

Today, another poll, this one from the Pew Research Center, found that in addition to dismal ratings for President Bush, Republican ethics problems are catching up with them...

By 40%-30%, more Americans see the Democratic Party, rather than the Republican Party, as governing in an honest and ethical way. This represents the largest Democratic advantage on this measure since the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994. The Democratic Party held a 37%-34% edge on honesty in July 2004.

The mid-term elections are still a year away, but the Republicans are already starting to get nervous. The events of the past few weeks have shown the American people the inability of the Republicans to truly lead our country in the right direction, and there is no reason to think that this trend will change anytime soon.

Business As Usual For House Republicans

If anyone thought that Republican abuse of power would abate with the indictment of Tom DeLay and his removal from Leadership, they were quickly proven wrong. Last Friday, the Republican Leadership added another chapter to their sorry history of holding open House votes until they could strong-arm a majority, leaving the vote on the cynically titled "Gasoline for America's Security Act" vote open for nearly fifty minutes, three quarters of an hour longer than the announced five minute voting period.

Of course, this bill will do nothing to lower gas prices, but rather will only serve to give more handouts from the American taxpayer to the profitable oil industry, while at the same time allowing for increased pollution. Of course, that should be expected given that the bill was written by DeLay and his fellow Texan Joe Barton.

Suffice it to say, it was just another day at the office for DeLay, Inc. and the Republican Congress:

In Raucous House Vote, G.O.P. Oil Refinery Bill Squeaks By
New York Times - 10/8/05

It took more than 40 raucous minutes of pleading and cajoling, bargaining and begging on Friday. But House Republican leaders managed to squeeze through an oil refinery bill in a tumultuous floor vote that severely tested a leadership team rocked by the indictment of Representative Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas.

After teetering on the verge of an embarrassing defeat, desperate party leaders managed to persuade enough of their members to switch positions to win narrow 212-to-210 approval of a measure that its backers said would expedite refinery construction and crack down on price gouging.

"House Republicans have taken the lead in providing America with price stability and a bold plan for this nation's energy future," said Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who along with Mr. DeLay and other senior lawmakers buttonholed and browbeat resistant Republicans as the clock ticked on the vote.

Democrats attacked the substance of the bill and the process that the Republicans employed to force it through. The Democrats accused the majority of abusing House rules by stretching what should have been a five-minute vote to deliver a bill that Democrats said would benefit profitable oil companies but do little for American drivers.

"It took that long for the indicted leader of the House of Representatives to twist the arms necessary to get a vote against the American people, against the consumer, against the taxpayer and against the environment - in favor of the energy companies," said the minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California.

Despite his nominal demotion from the House Leadership, guess who was on the floor leading the attempt to force weak-willed Republicans to change their votes? That's right, "backbencher" Tom DeLay:

GOP Leaders Win on Energy Bill: DeLay Twists Arms Over Measure to Increase Refining Capacity
Washington Post - 10/8/05

And if rank-and-file Republicans wondered what role DeLay (R-Tex.) would play after his indictments last month on money-laundering and conspiracy charges, Friday's theatrics provided the answer. Even without a leadership title, DeLay made it clear that he will still wield power. Just as he did when he was part of the leadership, he was present for the whole vote, pressing dissenting Republicans, especially Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.), who fidgeted with his voting card as DeLay pressed for his assent.

"It was a heck of a performance to turn this around," said Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), one of 13 Republicans who joined 196 Democrats and one independent to nearly defeat the Gasoline for America's Security -- or GAS -- Act. "The lesson was that nothing's changed."

"I saw DeLay come out of retirement," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) "I saw him twisting the arms of at least three of my colleagues. . . . I saw a lot of unhappy Republicans."

Nothing's changed, and the Republicans in Congress have nobody to blame but themselves.

Update: Republican Power Trio Investigations

Reams of newsprint continue to get eaten up reporting on the continuing legal problems of three of the most powerful Republicans in Washington: White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Senate Leader Bill Frist, and "former" House Leader (but still clearly in charge) Tom DeLay.

Let's begin with Rove, who went back before the grand jury for a fourth time today as part of the Valerie Plame leak investigation. According to reporting from several sources, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wanted to ask him about previous discrepancies in his testimony:

Rove Failed to Tell Grand Jury Information
UPI - 10/9/05

A discrepancy between the grand jury testimony of Karl Rove and Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper is the reason Rove will testify again.

Newsweek reports investigators have found an e-mail confirming a meeting between Cooper and Rove, President Bush's top political adviser.

Rove failed to disclose the meeting both during a 2003 FBI interview and during his first appearance before a federal grand jury investigating the leak to the press of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

With the contempt order on New York Times reporter Judy Miller having been lifted on Wednesday, the newspaper is due to publish a full account of Miller's role in the investigation, which could spell more bad publicity for the administration. With Miller's testimony complete, Rove is reportedly the last individual still due to come before the grand jury. The current grand jury's term ends next Friday, so by the time of the next @Stake we should finally have some answers as to what will come out of this investigation.

As for our good friend Tom DeLay, his legal trevails continue to bump along. When faced with several indictments, DeLay decided to follow the suggestions of the modern Republican playbook and spend his efforts attacking the prosecutor, rather than actually trying to win the case on the merits. This week, his lawyer issued a subpoena to District Attorney Ronnie Earle's office and accused the proseuctor of partisan conduct - despite the fact that Earle has indicted four times as many Democrats as Republicans in his career.

DeLay went further still. After the foreman of the grand jury told reporters that not only did he stand behind the indictments, but that he believed there was enough evidence to convict, DeLay accused Earle of improperly urging the foreman to talk.

And what does the second grand jury foreman, 76-year-old retired Sheriff's deputy William Gibson, have to say about that?

The foreman, William Gibson, gave media interviews after the grand jury finished its work but told The Associated Press that Earle did not ask him to discuss the case.

"That's a bunch of (expletive) there," Gibson said. "That man did not talk to me."

He said Earle advised him and other grand jurors to keep an open mind as they considered evidence and cautioned them, "What goes on behind closed doors is secret."

While this appears to be just an attempt to muddy the waters and discredit Earle, it should be noted that this attempt to attack the messenger is the modus operandi of the Bush admistration over the past five years. Remember Richard Clarke?

Newsview: Cross Bush, Face Payback
AP - 3/27/04

President Bush is playing supercharged hardball in going after his own former anti-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke. It's a risky strategy that shows the single-mindedness of Bush and his re-election team in trying to deflect politically damaging criticism.

Loyalty is a hallmark of Bush's administration, with the president and his top lieutenants quick to turn on those who stray from the fold.

A week after a broadside that questioned Democratic rival John Kerry's commitment to U.S. troops and fitness to be president - standard operating procedure for the general election campaign - Bush's re-election machine unleashed a shock and awe campaign designed to discredit Clarke.

...But Bush and his chief political adviser, Karl Rove, are essentially following the same game plan that the late Lee Atwater - an early political mentor of Rove's - used to get the first President Bush elected in 1988: define and undercut an opponent early with a fusillade of negative attacks.

"This team is tough. You cross them and they go after you and raise questions about you and your credibility rather than what you have to say," said Thomas Mann, a scholar with the Brookings Institution.

Others who have fallen out of favor over Iraq include former economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni and former Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki. All voiced concerns about either the expense or number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. All were treated dismissively by the White House. All are gone, but their estimates proved accurate.

Note especially that last sentence; this is a tactic that Republicans like Tom DeLay and Karl Rove typically turn to when they can't win the argument on the merits. There is still a long way to go in this case, but given DeLay's reaction thus far, he appears to be very worried indeed and has not had many substantial reactions to the charges. For Tom DeLay loyalists in the House, that can't be a good sign. Nor can the fact that on Thursday, he had his home and office phone records subpoenaed.

And then there's Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist, who had a rather rough week himself, but we'll save him for another day...

News From the Blog

NY-19: Game On
Republican Sue Kelly gets a new opponent ready to hold her accountable.

NC-10: The Future of the Republican Party?
A profile of Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry, and the loyalty he has shown to the likes of Rove and DeLay in his hopes of a rapid ascent to power.

CA-11, CT-02: Return of the Double Dealing Caucus
Republicans Richard Pombo and Rob Simmons show us once again what made them part of the "Double Dealing Caucus" in the first place.

CT-04: Shays Under Fire on FEMA
Once again, faux-moderate Chris Shays shows us how to speak out of both sides of one's mouth.

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A Conversation During the Much-Extended Vote on the Republican Energy Bill:

Mr. Dingell (D-MI): Parliamentary inquiry. I have a plane to catch in about one hour. Am i going to be able to do it?

The Speaker Pro Tempore: That is not a proper parliamentary inquiry.

Mr. Dingell: Will my colleagues be able to do it? Will the vote end in time?

The Speaker Pro Tempore: not a proper parliamentary inquiry.

-- Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) trying desperately to get the Republican Speaker Pro Tempore to announce when the vote on the GAS act will finally come to a close. The vote was held open until Republicans had forced enough of their colleagues to switch sides as to pass the bill, which took 45 minutes longer than the announced 5 minute vote was expected to take.

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