Capital Briefs May 18, 2009

PRIMARIES FOR OPEN GOP SENATE SEATS: At a time when it appears Al Franken will soon be seated as Minnesota’s senator and thus give Democrats “the magic 60” seats needed to shut off filibusters in the Senate, Republicans are poised for some intense infighting over two Senate seats their incumbents are relinquishing next year. Last week, Florida’s centrist GOP Gov. Charlie Crist made it official that he will seek the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Mel Martinez. But stalwartly conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio says he’s in the GOP Senate primary to stay, telling HUMAN EVENTS he will make major issues of Crist’s support of the Obama stimulus package and tougher emissions standards for business. In Missouri, Rep. Roy Blunt was thought to have clear sailing for the GOP nod to succeed Republican Sen. Kit Bond. But last week, Tom Schweich, former special envoy to Afghanistan and former chief of staff for the U.S. mission at the U.N., said he was also considering the Senate race. Schweich is regarded as moderate on social issues and is expected to have the backing of his onetime law partner, former Sen. John Danforth (R.-Mo.).

PULL JOHNSEN, SAYS PITTS: Republican efforts to derail support for the nomination of onetime National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) lawyer Dawn Johnsen to be assistant attorney general for legal counsel (and thus have a big hand in the selection of judicial appointees) spread to the House last week. Although House members have no vote on presidential appointments, Rep. Joe Pitts (R.-Pa.) took to the House floor to call on President Obama to withdraw Johnsen’s nomination. Calling the nominee “truly from the radical fringe” and citing quotes from Johnsen likening pregnant mothers to “no more than fetal containers,” Pitts noted Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) recently said he did not have the votes needed to bring Johnsen’s nomination to the Senate floor. “The President should take a cue from the Senate and withdraw this mistaken nomination,” Pitts declared.

GENDER, RACE, ETHNICITY DON’T MATTER FOR COURT, SAY VOTERS: For all the clamoring in the liberal media for President Obama to name a woman or minority member to succeed Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court, the public doesn’t appear to agree. According to a just-completed Gallup Poll, only 6% of Americans nationwide say it is “essential” for him to name a woman, 26% say it “would be a good idea but not essential,” and 64% say it doesn’t matter whether Obama appoints a woman or not. The same survey showed 1% saying it was “essential” to appoint a Hispanic to the court, 21% called it a “good idea,” and 68% said it didn’t matter. As for a black appointee, Gallup found that 1% said it was “essential,” 21% thought it was “a good idea,” and 74% said it did not matter.

WAGE JUDGE WARS OR ELSE, GOP PAC WARNS SENATORS: The best-funded Republican committee that is independent of the national party organization wrote GOP senators telling them to fight President Obama’s nominees to the federal bench or face retribution. Urging the senators to “stay true to your Republican conservative values and beliefs as you anticipate potential nominees put before you by this administration,” Scott Wheeler, executive director of the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee, also warned that constituents would “hold you accountable” for support of a nominee, and recalled the trust’s media broadsides against then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) when he voted for the Obama stimulus package. Last year, the trust spent $7.5 million on anti-Obama spots and sank $1 million into the recent special U.S. House race in New York’s 20th District.

HARD ROAD TO HUD FOR SIMS: The President’s nominee to the No. 2 slot at the Department of Housing and Urban Development came under fire last week. According to documents reviewed by the Washington Times, former King County (Washington State) Executive Ron Sims’ office was found to have kept from the public information about cheaper alternatives to the $430 million Seattle Seahawks stadium. In January, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the withheld documents would have allowed voters to challenge the “veracity” of the county’s request for $300 million in public bonds for the proposed stadium. In a harshly worded ruling, the court went on to recommend that a lower court penalty of $123,780 against the county executive’s office be upped to as much as $825,000 — “the largest ever assessed in a public records case,” according to the Times. “Given President Obama’s commitment to transparency, there can be no place for officials who do not share that value,” Melanie Sloan, head of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, told the Times, adding that Sims owes the public an explanation for his actions.