Capital Briefs January 25, 2010

BIG DEMOCRAT EXODUS AHEAD? That was the most-discussed subject on Capitol Hill last week after Republican Scott Brown’s dramatic capture of Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat. With Rep. Vic Snyder (D.-Ark.) becoming the 11th Democratic House member so far to announce he is not seeking re-election in 2010 and Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd (Conn.) and Byron Dorgan (N. D.) recently saying they were stepping down, Congress-watchers expect a flood of “no-goes.” Political analyst Charlie Cook predicts that Democrats are now in danger of losing 20 to 30 House seats this fall and that number could rise. Of the 50 House seats Cook considers most vulnerable this year, 39 are in Democratic hands. Democrats presently hold a 40-seat majority in the House.

SUPREME COURT MAKES CAMPAIGN FINANCE CHANGES: The Supreme Court last Thursday struck down the provision of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that prevented unions and corporations from paying for issue ads mentioning candidates in the final days of election campaigns. The court also ruled that corporations and unions can spend as much as they want on independent campaigns in support of candidates for Congress or President. In a 5-to-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the court overturned a 20-year-old ruling that prohibited corporations from using money from their general treasuries to pay for independent campaign ads. Under last week’s ruling, corporations and unions are still prohibited from giving direct contributions to candidates. The majority opinion fell in line with those who argued stricter limits on campaign finance amounted to an unconstitutional muzzling of free speech. “The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion, joined by conservative colleagues Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and John Roberts. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Paul Stevens wrote that, “The court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation.” Liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined the Stevens’ dissent.

: According to a just-completed poll by the Wall Street Journal in 11 states, support for Republican Senate candidates is closely related to voter opposition to the Senate health care bill. In North Dakota and Louisiana, for example, opponents of the bill outnumber supporters by around 30%, the poll found, and GOP Senate candidates lead Democrats handily. With Sen. Byron Dorgan (D.-N.D.) retiring this year, Republican Gov. John Hoeven holds a lead of 58% to 30% against Democratic former State Atty. Gen. Heidi Heitkamp and in Louisiana, Republican Sen. David Vitter leads Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon by 20 percentage points statewide. Although 49% of Delaware voters support the bill, Republican Rep. Mike Castle leads Democratic State Atty. Gen. Beau Biden (son of VP Joe) by 49% to 37%.

NEW ‘CONTRACT WITH AMERICA’ COMING? The day after Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio.) named the man who put together the promotion campaign for the first “Contract with America” as his new chief of staff. The choice of Barry Jackson, who later served in the Bush White House, has sparked speculation that Boehner and fellow House GOP leaders will be crafting another “Contract” — the ten-point statement of conservative principles organized by Newt Gingrich through which Republicans nationalized the 1994 midterm elections and won a majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. “By bringing the promoter of the Contract with America back to the Hill at this important time for the nation,” Boehner told reporters, “We’re sending a message that Republicans are serious about building a principled and lasting majority, and renewing the drive for smaller, more accountable government.”

FIGHT OVER FELDBLUM: Apparently looming in the Senate is a battle over Georgetown University Law Prof. Chai Feldblum, President Obama’s nominee for a spot on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who has come under fire for some controversial opinions. Among the Feldblum views that have raised eyebrows is his statement that society should “not tolerate” some “private beliefs.” In the Brooklyn Law Review in 2006, Feldblum wrote: ‘Just as we do not tolerate private racial beliefs that adversely affect African-Americans in the commercial arena, even if such beliefs are based on religious views, we should similarly not tolerate private beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity that adversely affect LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] people.” Feldblum’s nomination moved forward in the Senate Labor Committee before Congress adjourned last month and is soon expected to get committee approval and be taken up by the full Senate.

For more Capital Briefs from Jan. 25, 2010, click here.