Souter Out (UPDATED)

After nearly twenty years on the nation’s highest court, Supreme Court Associate Justice David Souter is retiring according to numerous news outlets. His retirement gives Barack Obama the first Supreme Court appointment of his Presidency.

The Democrats have a 59-member caucus in the Senate, making it very difficult for the GOP to try to block a SCOTUS appointment. If I were President Obama, I would nominate a young, staunch progressive to the bench- someone who will change the course of the court, not simply maintain its current ideological balance.

This is the first appointment of the Obama presidency, but it probably won’t be the last- both John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are rumored to be near retirement, too. I just hope that Obama makes a lasting–and progressive–mark on the court while he’s in office.

UPDATE: Expect this:

[Mike] Allen on GOP response to possible replacements for Souter: “[I]t doesn’t matter what name is out there, you’re going to hear that they’re a ‘liberal’ and ‘activist’ “

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KY-SEN: Bunning Out?

It seems like Republican Senator Jim Bunning will not run for re-election in 2010:

In a move that signals a retirement announcement from Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) is imminent, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) has formed an exploratory committee to run for Senate.

I won’t say Bunning is actually retiring until he makes it official, since there have been a lot of rumors about him stepping aside that turned out to be false.

Mitch McConnell and much of the GOP establishment wants Bunning to step aside, mostly due to his age, erratic behavior on the campaign trail and his anemic fundraising.  The establishment could simply be encouraging Grayson to run and feeding this story to the DC press in order to put some pressure on Bunning to step aside.

If Bunning is the candidate, it’s likely that Lt. Gov Dan Mongiardo will be able to take him out, thus making this a relatively-easy Democratic pickup.  But if he does step aside–or get defeated by Grayson–then it becomes significantly harder for Democrats to win here.

So I’m reporting the rumor, but taking it with a huge grain of salt.

100 Days Of Mr. Popularity

100 days into his Presidency, Barack Obama is still Mr. Popular:

Washington Post-ABC News (4.24.09)

APPROVE: 69% / DISAPPROVE: 26%

On the economy: 58% / 38%

On the budget deficit: 51% / 43%

On international affairs: 67% / 27%

On the situation in Iraq: 71% / 21%

On global warming: 61% / 23%

On health care: 57% / 29%

On U.S. relations with Cuba: 61% / 28%

On the situation in Afghanistan: 63% / 26%

On immigration: 48% / 35%

On taxes: 54% / 35%

Pew Research Center (4.23.09)

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You read that right–Obama is more favorable than both Bush and Clinton were 100 days in, and he’s second only to Ronald Reagan in job approval.

And just so I don’t get accused of cherry-picking, here are the Pollster composites:

National Job Approval

APPROVE: 61.2% / DISAPPROVE: 32.4%

Favorability

FAVORABLE: 62.8% / UNFAVORABLE: 26.5%

What does this tell us? Well, despite the tea partays, despite the full-tilt pace of the conservative outrage-a-day machine, despite all the right-wing sound and fury over Obama, he is one of the most popular, well-liked and broadly supported Presidents in modern American history.

The GOP really does oppose Obama at their own peril–the more vehemently they fight against him, the more they alienate the American people.

BREAKING: Arlen Specter To Switch Parties, Run As Democrat In 2010 (UPDATED X5)

Welcome home, Arlen.

Welcome home, Arlen.

The Washington Post has it:

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to sources informed on the decision.

Specter’s decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next Senator from Minnesota. (Former Sen. Norm Coleman is appealing Franken’s victory in the state Supreme Court.)

“I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,” said Specter in a statement. “I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.”

[Emphasis mine]

This changes everything.

UPDATE: First, there’s the question of what Specter’s switch puts back on the table–since he doesn’t have to pander to the right wing of his party anymore, will he vote more liberally? Will it be easier for the Democrats to win him over on key votes now?

Second, this puts even greater pressure on Norm Coleman to step aside in Minnesota–Al Franken would give the Democrats a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority, thus making the resolution of MN’s Senate contest even more important.

Third, this throws the entire PA-SEN race into disarray. Will more Republicans join Pat Toomey in vying for the GOP nod? Will any Democrats challenge Specter in the Democratic primary?
If a Democrat challenges Specter from the left, could he be pressured to vote more liberally–like how Toomey’s challenge from the right pressured Specter to vote more conservatively?

We have no answers yet, but this is undeniably good news for the Democrats and bad news for the GOP. I wonder how small the Republicans’ tent can get–it’s already looking pretty tiny from where I’m standing.

UPDATE II: MSNBC is reporting that one of the conditions of Specter’s switch is that nobody is allowed to challenge him for the Democratic nomination. I’m not exactly happy about that, but I guess I’ll accept it.

And I want to remind everyone that Specter won’t be a party-line vote–in fact, I predict there will be a number of times he votes against the Democratic caucus, just as he voted against the GOP caucus. He won’t be a reliable 60th vote, but he will be a 60th vote, and that’s what matters.

UPDATE III: The entire conservative movement is currently having a sour grapes party; you can practically smell the vinegar from here.

Even though Specter’s switch puts the GOP’s Senate caucus at 40 members, the fewest they’ve had since January of 1979, they’re still pretending that Specter’s departure is a good thing.

Because sitting by and watching all the moderates abandon your party in droves has done wonders for the GOP since 2005, right?

UPDATE IV: Whether or not you think this is good news for the GOP depends on whether or not you think Pat Toomey can beat Arlen Specter.

Problem is, PA has been trending bluer for a long time. For instance, compare the results of the 2000 Senate election to the 2006 Senate election:

2000

Rick Santorum: 52.4%

Ron Klink: 45.5%

2006

Rick Santorum: 41.3%

Bob Casey: 58.6%

Or look at how many Congressional seats have changed hands in the past 4 years alone:

2005

GOP: 12

DEM: 7

2009

GOP: 8

DEM: 11

Or look at the popular vote shift between the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections:

2004

Kerry: 51%

Bush: 48%

2008

Obama: 54%

McCain: 44%

No matter how you look at it, PA has been trending bluer in the past few years; it isn’t particularly fertile ground for Republicans, let alone far-right Republicans like Pat Toomey.

Plus, Specter has the advantage of being a longtime incumbent, is regarded as a well-respected Senate moderate, and his party switch is already being spun as him putting his beliefs ahead of partisanship.

Toomey won’t win. He might be more popular than Specter among Pennsylvania Republicans, but Pennsylvania Republicans haven’t been the majority in Pennsylvania for a good long time.

UPDATE V: More proof that PA has been getting more hostile toward Republicans:

1998

Arlen Specter: 61%

Bill Lloyd: 35%

2004

Arlen Specter: 52.6%

Joe Hoeffel: 42%


The Party Of Fail (UPDATED X2)

When Congress was debating the economic stimulus package a few months ago, the GOP turned into the party of Beavis and Butthead (as Paul Krugman put it), mocking parts of the bill they didn’t like without bothering to prove that those particular expenditures weren’t stimulus.

For instance, LA Gov. Bobby Jindal mocked funding for volcano monitoring, and the GOP had a good laugh about it–that is, until AK’s Mount Redoubt erupted and lives were saved thanks to those very volcano monitoring programs. Whoops.

In addition, Susan Collins, Arlen Specter and Karl Rove–among others–mocked funding for “pandemic flu preparations.” But, as it turns out, that $900 million would probably have come in pretty handy right now, considering that we’re on the brink of a pandemic flu outbreak. Oops.

And to top it all off, the GOP is filibustering Obama’s nominee to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, meaning that there’s nobody heading up that department even though we’re in the midst of a serious pandemic flu outbreak. Heckauva job, guys!

This is why the American people don’t trust Republicans anymore–even when they’re out of power, they’re still messing everything up. Hey guys–there’s a reason why Obama’s approval ratings are up there and your approval ratings are down here.

UPDATE: Of course, I log onto my favorite right-wing blogs this morning and they’re all playing the same tune– something along the lines of “Liberals are saying swine flu is all the evil GOP’s fault!”

No, we’re not saying the outbreak of the swine flu is your fault. We’re saying that we could have done more to prepare for a pandemic flu scenario–in fact, were going to do more to prepare for it–except you all kept whining about the cost.

And we’re criticizing you for filibustering the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services because you dislike her position on abortion, since we really, really could use a Secretary of Health and Human Services right now.

So no, nobody’s saying the flu outbreak is your fault. But we are criticizing you for sitting there and playing politics while we’ve been trying to prepare for something like this.

Our country is dealing with some major problems right now. Either grow up and help us fix them or get out of the way and let us take care of things. Once again, Republican obstinace is causing major problems and it’s getting really, really tiring.

UPDATE II: And Chuck Schumer, my former Senator, deserves criticism for this:

All those little porky things that the House put in, the money for the [National] Mall or the sexually transmitted diseases or the flu pandemic, they’re all out.

Bad call, in retrospect.

Of course, there wouldn’t have been an impetus for lawmakers to strip out expenditures for things such as pandemic flu preparation if the right hadn’t spent weeks screaming at the top of their lungs, calling the stimulus package things like “spendulus,” “porkulus,” and “the generational theft act of 2009” and pushing lawmakers to strip out as many expenditures as possible.

But since the right can’t take responsibility for anything, the right will just keep gibbering that “Chuckie Schumer opposed pandemic flu funding, too!!”

Because politics always happens completely within a vacuum, right?

Michael Steele, Loser

He couldn’t even pull off a win in the heavily-Republican NY-20. I wonder how long the members of the RNC will let him keep running their party into the ground– I bet a lot of them have some pretty serious buyer’s remorse right now.

And, of course, congratulations Congressman-elect Murphy.

Torture Apologists (UPDATED X2)

In order to defend the indefensible, conservatives are turning to their old standby: lying.

Right now, some of them are claiming that, because the United States waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a terrorist attack on L.A.’s Library Tower was thwarted.

Well, except for the fact that Bush administration documents claim that particular plot was thwarted in 2002, and KSM wasn’t apprehended by the United States until 2003.

So, we waterboarded KSM 183 times and what did we get? Useless intelligence on a terror plot that we had already thwarted.

Totally worth it, right?

UPDATE: And for those conservatives out there who say waterboarding isn’t torture–Christopher Hitchens had himself waterboarded, and he says it is. Until I see any of you guys strapped down with former Special Forces members pouring water down your throat, I’m going to trust his word over yours.

UPDATE II: Also, this:

One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.

[Emphasis added]

So, instead of preventing another 9/11, torture may actually be contributing to the next 9/11.

Heckuva job and all that.