Party Like It's 1999
The efforts by the right-wing to derail the nomination of Eric Holder is an object lesson in how they will press every advantage, use every trick, and enlist every argument to deliver defeats to their adversary, simply because they treat politics like the sports section, charting wins and losses. They are very effective in the minority, and with a dreadfully bumbling majority as their opponent, that effectiveness will be magnified.
Watch Arlen Specter paint Holder as a cross between Nixon and Idi Amin:
The senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Holder’s support of the White House’s stance on three contentious issues when he was deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration suggested that he was too willing to do the president’s bidding.
“He’s had an outstanding academic and professional record, and I acknowledge that early on,” Mr. Specter said of Mr. Holder in a 25-minute speech on the Senate floor. “But aside from these qualifications on Mr. Holder’s résumé, there is also the issue of character, and sometimes it is more important for the attorney general to have the stature and the courage to say no instead of to say yes.”
Before Tuesday, Mr. Specter had been mildly critical of Mr. Holder’s role in President Bill Clinton’s pardon of the fugitive financier Marc Rich. He said Tuesday that he would wait until the hearing next week to decide how he would vote, but in the Senate speech he let loose on Mr. Holder, comparing him with Mr. Gonzales in his ability to maintain independence from the president.
Mr. Specter raised questions about Mr. Holder’s role as deputy attorney general on a range of issues that included an investigation into the 1993 federal siege in Waco, Tex., that left David Koresh and about 80 of his Branch Davidian followers dead, and an espionage investigation involving a nuclear scientist, Wen Ho Lee.
Neat switch there, huh? It's Holder who is the toady for the new President, as Specter exactly the same criticisms that were launched at Abu Gonzales. What's more, Specter decided to employ the fresh "I was not consulted" criticism, much like Dianne Feinstein used to criticize the selection of Leon Panetta.
Specter said in prepared remarks Tuesday that Obama did not consult with him before choosing Eric Holder Jr. to be attorney general, and he tells Legal Times that Obama also did not consult with him or notify him before announcing four other Justice Department nominees Monday.
“History demonstrates that presidents who seek the advice of members of the Senate prior to submitting a nomination frequently see their nominees confirmed more quickly and with less controversy than those who do not,” Specter (R-Pa.) said. “A recent example is that of President Clinton who consulted with then-Chairman [Orrin] Hatch prior to nominating Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Justice Stephen Breyer to the Supreme Court. Both nominees were confirmed with minimal controversy.
“In contrast, on the nomination of Mr. Holder, President-elect Obama chose not to seek my advice or even to give me advance notice in my capacity as Ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which is his prerogative.”
Be prepared to hear that story about Orrin Hatch and Bill Clinton over and over, by the way. The new rule is that all judicial nominees, maybe all nominees, from Obama must get clearance from Republicans before going forward. That's how things work now.
And as long as we're throwing in the Feinstein/Panetta spat, why don't we connect the dots from Holder to Rod Blagojevich?
In a conference call this morning, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) continued the assault, saying that “it’s not going to be a smooth confirmation” for Holder. He evoked Holder’s very tenuous ties to embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as reason to be suspicious of the nominee:
GRASSLEY: It signals that it’s not going to be a smooth confirmation. It doesn’t signal that he may not be confirmed. … [H]e was a counsel or at least Governor Blagojevich had sought to have him involved with something with race tracks in Illinois and casinos, I think. And so we’re trying to get freedom of information on that because we need to know what the relationship is with Governor Blagojevich. And I don’t say that in denigrating in any way except Governor Blagojevich’s recent troubles raises questions with anybody that’s had a relationship with him. … [I]t’s not going to be smooth sailing.
Ironically, just minutes before asserting that “anybody that’s had a relationship” with Blagojevich “raises questions,” Grassley insisted that the Senate must seat Blagojevich-appointed Roland Burris. “He’s got a perfect right to have that seat,” Grassley said.
Consistency is the hobgoblin of little Democrats.
It's just a matter of time before all the Justice Department nominees are called out for being insubstantial yes-men with ties to corrupt cronies. And if that doesn't work, conservatives can always play the Terri Schiavo card.
Conservatives are now brushing off the Schiavo case to use it against Thomas Perrelli, President-elect Obama’s pick for the no. 3 spot at the Justice Department. Right-wing websites are outraged at Obama’s association with Perrelli, since he was one of the lawyers who represented Michael Schiavo, who wanted his wife’s feeding tube removed. The Washington Times today reports that these conservatives are now gearing up to fight Perrelli’s nomination:
Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, derided Mr. Perrelli’s selection as “just another death-peddler Obama has added to his list of nominees.” She said he’s earned the nickname among pro-lifers of “Piranha Perrelli” for his work on the case.
Tom McClusky, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, said several end-of-life issues could make their way to the federal level in the next four years and having Mr. Perrelli at the department means pro-life causes would have a tougher time winning those debates.
“If the Justice Department isn’t going to do anything about it, the states, what’s to stop them from cases like Schiavo and even worse cases,” Mr. McClusky said.
Now, not all of these are cause for alarm - if the right wants to relitigate the deeply unpopular Schiavo case, by all means, they should go ahead. And I cannot say with certainty that Holder's actions with respect to Marc Rich or any of these other golden oldies was completely laudatory - I would suspect it was less than that. But that's hardly the point, even for conservatives - in the end, their strategy is to chip away at Obama's legitimacy and the legitimacy of his cabinet appointments, in particular Holder. And even if it doesn't pay off until months or even years into the future, it will be a success. Eric Lotke has a good piece on this today.
Losing the election, lacking ideas about how to fix the Bush-era mess, and unsure how or even whether to attack Obama personally, the conservatives are digging into the old bag of tricks. Karl Rove is the point man. The 1990’s are the time frame.
Conservatives are practiced at this attack. The talking points have long since been written and mastered. Talk radio needs the exercise. The Holder nomination represents a pathetic attempt to relive the glory days of the past [...] the Republicans are complaining about an eight year old pardon. The same republicans who sat around while George Bush turned the Department of Justice into a political tool, including hiring his white house counsel as Attorney General and firing US Attorneys who refused to undertake political prosecutions. Now they’re worried that this well proven civil servant, who earned his stripes on public corruption, might have made a mistake eight years ago.
Maybe he did. Or maybe he didn’t. But the world has moved on since then. We have other things to think about. Don’t fall for the distraction of litigating this long-dead case. Resist even the temptation to point out Bush’s own dubious pardons. Our people need doctors, our bridges need building, and the economy needs fixing. There’s work to do.
Politics here count for more than anything. If the conservatives win, it energizes the base for future battles. If the conservatives lose, they are driven farther into their corner. That’s why Karl Rove chose the battleground here, on fertile Clintonian soil.
This is all about picking a fight, trying to "play offense" instead of defense, all of the little petty nonsense that the media sucks up like cats to milk, precisely what can derail an agenda as irrelevancies take priority. Lotke thinks the answer for progressives and Democrats is to play this like a team. Indeed, Patrick Leahy today threw the Gonzales statement back in the face of every Republican who voted to confirm him. I would just be wary that Democrats don't ignore this. It's really quite toxic.