White House Neutral on Ensign NIE Panel Proposal

Less than twenty-four hours after Sen. John Ensign (R.-Nev) called for creation of a panel of both House and Senate Members to probe the findings of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear prospects, the White House reacted with neutrality.

When I asked White House Press Secretary Dana Perino about the Ensign proposal at the gaggle (early morning briefing for White House reporters) yesterday, she told me she “had not checked in on that.  I did see him on one of the news programs yesterday talking about that.”

She went on to say the White House thought it was “appropriate” that the Department of Justice and the CIA are “jointly working on a preliminary inquiry” as well as both intelligence committees in Congress working on an inquiry as well.

The President’s top spokeswoman did hint, however, that the Administration feels Congress might just as well do without a probe into the NIE as Ensign suggested.  In Perino’s words, “The President respects sixteen of the intelligence agencies got together to produce the National Intellligence Estimate.  I don’t believe that there’s any need to have an additional one [sic].”  She did say, however, that she would get back to me with the Administration’s official position.
…And Concerned About More Judge Wars

At the same press session, Perino did voice Administration concerns about a stepped-up effort from Senate Democrats to stop Bush nominees to the federal bench.

With twelve nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals cooling their heels in the Senate Judiciary Committee, there have been strong signs recently hat the so-called “judge wars” between the White House and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D.-VT.) had extended to the U.S. District Court.  
Since January, the President’s nomination of former Rep. James Rogan (R.-Cal.) to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has languished before the Leahy’s panel.  What is keeping the Rogan nomination from moving forward is the opposing of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Cal.), who has used home state privileges to block the appointment of her fellow Californian.  Although Boxer spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz told the Washington Post that opposition is based on Rogan’s conservative voting record which the senator feels is “completely out of sync” with California, more than a few pundits and pols suspect it also has to do with Rogan’s past as an unapologetic manager in the 1999 impeachment trial of Bill Clinton.  Other well-known liberal Democrats — among them former California Senate President John Burton and former Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis — have strongly weighed in for the nomination of Rogan, now a superior court judge in California.  

With the President recently sending the Senate a string of nominations to U.S. District Courts — among them Missouri Supreme Court Justice Stephen Limbaugh, cousin of Rush — there is mounting speculation that the Rogan case may well portend similar stalling on other District Court nominees.  (One top Missouri Republican private told me last week that “we don’t expect they will ever give Steve Limbaugh a hearing because of who his cousin is”).

When I asked Dana Perino about this, she said “we remain concerned that the judicial nominees have not moved forward on the pace the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said that they would.”  Perino also noted that Leahy intends to move forward with a first order of business action on a contempt citation against the President’s former deputy chief of staff and former advisor (Karl Rove) over removal of U.S. Attorneys.  “Clearly, the Senate Judiciary Committee needs to get its priorities straight and move forward on our nominees,” she said.