- The transformation of congressional procedure into a knife fight as the session nears an end was typified by the maneuvers of Democratic leaders this week. They attempted to fold the controversial Labor/Health and Human Services (replete with earmarks) and Education appropriations bills into the non-controversial Military Construction bill (including Veterans benefits). The outcome is unclear.
- In the midst of maneuvers over appropriations, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) rose Tuesday to offer a privileged motion for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. Democratic leaders don’t want this divisive debate, but Republicans do and prevented the Kucinich resolution from being tabled. The motion was finally referred to committee, preventing a bitterly divisive battle among Democrats.
- Democrats are showing a little “buyer’s remorse” about Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) as their presidential candidate even before they have “bought” her. Her waffling on New York Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer‘s bid to give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens led some Democrats to describe her as somebody interested only in power. But she looks to be headed for the nomination.
- Republicans are in a presidential quandary after the performance of former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday (see below). There is no party favorite, and Republican insiders are still waiting for somebody to step forward.
- Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) may have seriously wounded himself with his handling of the abortion issue on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” Thompson unequivocally stated he opposed a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution, which is a plank in the Republican platform. Without prompting, he then attacked the idea of “criminalizing” abortion and locking up mothers who procure abortions — images that are used as scare tactics by the pro-choice lobby. Throughout the long discussion of the topic, Thompson was incoherent at best and thoroughly objectionable to his party’s pro-life base at worst. He backed away from his firm opposition to the platform, but he never quite set himself right on the whole issue.
- While abortion might not have the weight this election that it has in the past, the pro-life base is still one Thompson cannot afford to upset. Many conservative activists who put the abortion issue near the top of their priorities would be ready to embrace Thompson as their nominee. His “Meet the Press” performance will, at the very least, make it very difficult for pro-life activists to campaign for Thompson.
- This leaves the GOP field without a real anti-abortion leader since the withdrawal of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). Some pro-lifers trust the conversion of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), but many doubt it. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has a 100 percent pro-life record, but he has never been a leader on the issue, though he did pick up a Brownback endorsement this week. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a doctor, has also consistently voted against abortion, but to date, he hasn’t made it much of an issue. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) has assuaged the fears of some pro-life voters, but he will never win over the hard-core abortion foes who go to church parking lots on the Sunday before Election Day campaigning for Republicans in many races. The most pro-life candidate remaining may be former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), possibly the least broadly conservative candidate in the field.
- Rep. Ron Paul set fundraising records on Monday, pulling in $4.2 million in online donations in one day. This is the largest single day of online fundraising in political history, and the largest single day of donations for any Republican candidate ever. The donations, averaging a little more than $100 each, reflect the unmatched enthusiasm of Paul’s supporters, who range from anti-war activists to libertarians to fed-up Republicans.
- Interestingly, it was volunteer supporters with no affiliations to Paul’s campaign who organized the fundraiser. For all the talk of candidates’ using the Internet in 2008, Paul’s campaign is the only one that is really doing it — and he is doing it mostly by stepping back and letting his enthusiastic backers form their own networks of support.
- Raising this sort of money could increase Paul’s support. First, it suggests that he is a legitimate candidate and not the Dennis Kucinich of the GOP. This might make some potential supporters less wary about “throwing away their vote.” Also, going into the early states, he will have a huge cash-on-hand advantage over everyone but Romney and McCain.
Appropriations: Democrats in Congress are finally sending spending bills to President, nearly six weeks into the new fiscal year.
- House-Senate negotiators approved a $471 billion Defense spending bill that could set up a fight over Iraq policy. Later this week, House appropriators plan to push a “bridge fund” that would keep Iraq War funds flowing to next year but would make the money contingent on a change in policy. To date, Democrats have backed away from really trying to compel the President to change things in Iraq. If the appropriations scuffle follows form, Democratic demands will be more rhetoric than substance.
- The House passed the final version of a spending bill combining funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Veterans Affairs as well as funding for Military Construction. Combining the military and veterans funding with a beefed-up bill on social spending is a Democratic trap, and Republicans objected to this move. A Bush veto would reinforce the Democratic theme from 2006 that the GOP doesn’t care for the veterans it has sent off to war.
- Three other spending bills should be finalized later this week, and it is not clear yet how Democrats will package them, or if they will try to use them as wedges, too.
Attorney General: After a brief Democratic uproar, Bush’s attorney general nominee is on the path to confirmation.
- Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Michael Mukasey‘s nomination to the Senate floor, with two Democrats siding with all nine Republicans in support of Mukasey. Barring any unexpected developments, he should pass the full Senate with a substantial majority (but also with a good number of nay votes).
- Democrats’ public objections to Mukasey centered on whether water-boarding fit the definition of torture. Raising these objections allowed them to turn the Mukasey nomination into another flashpoint for rallying their base against the Bush Administration’s conduct of the War on Terror, but their eventual capitulation also followed their pattern on this issue area: Raise a cry, attack the White House and then give the White House what it wants.
- The liberal blogs, prominent in rallying liberals behind the Democrats in 2006, were angry at Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (R-N.Y.), whose defections gave Mukasey a majority in committee. Will two years of Democratic retreat on Iraq and anti-terror issues depress the base?
- While conservative activists saw Democrats’ opposition to Mukasey as disingenuous or destructive, Mukasey saw nothing like the support from the movement that John Ashcroft received when nominated to the spot in 2001, or even the support John Bolton saw when his nomination was derailed after the 2006 elections. This reflects conservative worries about Mukasey’s qualifications but also general conservative dissatisfaction.
Kentucky: For the second straight election, the party in the governor’s mansion lost thanks to the incumbent’s record of scandal. Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), who had risen to the governor’s mansion in the wake of the scandal-filled administration of Gov. Paul Patton (D), lost badly yesterday to former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear (D).
Fletcher survived a bruising GOP primary, surprisingly beating multiple serious challengers without needing a runoff, but from the first day of the general election campaign, he trailed Beshear badly in the polls. Fletcher never caught up, and he lost 59 percent to 41 percent. Beshear effectively ran a safe campaign, not totally avoiding the issues, but also acting like a front-runner and counting on Fletcher’s own record of indictments and guilty pleas to bring him down.
Statewide turnout was 37 percent, reflecting the sense that Beshear had the race won, but also reflecting the disdain towards Fletcher of the majority of GOP voters who opposed him in the primary earlier this year. The race was mostly about Fletcher, but there are some broader implications. The state has shifted towards Democrats in recent years, as has much of the neighboring region along the Ohio River. In 2004, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) almost lost his re-election here and a Democrat won Fletcher’s House seat. In 2006, Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.) was knocked off by a Democrat.
This Midwestern realignment is key for the Democrats, but unlike the suburban realignment (see Virginia, below), it is not permanent, and Republicans can undo it.
Mississippi: Gov. Haley Barbour (R) rolled to an easy victory, 58 percent to 42 percent, over trial lawyer John Arthur Eaves (D). Barbour, in contrast to neighboring Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) of Louisiana, benefitted from his handling of Katrina. With Barbour’s and Jindal’s wins, all five Gulf Coast governors are now Republican — an irony, considering how Katrina hurt the GOP nationwide.
The GOP took a step towards domination of the state, but it still has a way to go. After yesterday, six of the seven statewide positions in Jackson — and both U.S. Senate seats — will be held by Republicans. In the legislature, however, Democrats could take back the state Senate and preserve their state House majority.
Turning Mississippi fully red will be one of the final stages of the permanent Southern realignment. It is only within the past decade that South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama have elected GOP governors and started trading out their Democratic congressmen for Republicans. Even in 2006, when Democrats nationwide gained 30 seats in the House, they scored only three pickups in the South — and two of them were the direct result of GOP scandals.
New Jersey: Gov. Jon Corzine (D) suffered a setback yesterday when his proposal to borrow $450 million to fund cloning and embryonic stem-cell research failed at the ballot box. Corzine personally spent nearly $200,000 lobbying for the measure, which went down 53 percent to 47 percent. It was the first time New Jersey voters have defeated a ballot initiative in 17 years.
In the legislative races, Democrats maintained their majorities in both chambers with neither party’s gaining much ground.
Ohio-5 Special Election: State Rep. Bob Latta (R) edged out State Sen. Steve Buehrer (R) in the GOP primary to fill the seat vacated by the death of Rep. Paul Gillmor (R). In the December 11 general election, Latta, son of former Rep. Del Latta (R), is the favorite over Democratic nominee Robin Weirauch (D), who lost to Gillmor in 2004 and 2006.
Virginia: Democrats picked up at least four seats in the state Senate to retake control of that chamber while cutting in half the GOP’s lead in the House of Delegates. The Democratic pickups in both chambers — resulting from defeating incumbents or winning the seats of retiring Republican lawmakers — were entirely in suburban areas, either just outside Washington, D.C., or down in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk area known as Hampton Roads.
The gains are a victory for Gov. Tim Kaine (D) who had pinned his tenure on taking over the state Senate (and the longshot hope of taking over the House of Delegates). It also puts a feather in the cap of former Gov. Mark Warner (D), who stumped for many of the victorious Democrats in key races. Warner’s likely opponent next year for the U.S. Senate, former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R), tried to help Republicans in those same races.
Northern Virginia, one of the wealthiest regions of the country, has long been a key Democratic stronghold in the commonwealth, but the near-sweep of the region has broad implications. First, it further demonstrates that the shift to Democrat of rich, white suburbia is a national phenomenon and a permanent realignment — the counterpart to the GOP’s Southern realignment. Second, the near-defeat of Republican State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (he leads by 91 votes with only absentee votes left to be counted) in the outer suburbs of Loudon County suggests that the Democratic trends are sprawling with the suburbs — an ominous sign for the GOP’s future.
Notably, State Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R), the wife of Rep. Tom Davis (R), lost her Fairfax County seat, boding well for Democrats eyeing Davis’s congressional seat if he retires next year.