Calling Their Bluff On Health Care Reform

I just can’t get enough of this story.

This past weekend, in an attempt to derail health care reform, Republican Senators David Vitter (LA) and Tom Coburn (OK) introduced an amendment that would force all members of Congress to enroll in the public option.

As Coburn said at the time:

“It’s called leadership. If it’s good enough for everybody else, we ought to be leading by example.”

Obviously the GOP expected the Democrats to kill the amendment, thus allowing Republicans to portray Democrats as hypocrites for refusing to take part in the health care system they’re putting together on behalf of the American people.

Well, instead of voting down their amendment, Senate Democrats supported it–in fact, Senators Sherrod Brown (OH), Chris Dodd (CT), Barbara Mikulski (MD) and Al Franken (MN) actually signed on as co-sponsors.

Now the GOP is trying to extend their idiotic gamble by sponsoring another amendment that would force the President, his staff and his cabinet to also enroll in the public option.

Personally, I hope both amendments pass; I think such a large showing of faith in the public option would greatly help the cause of health care reform. What a great idea on the part of Sens. Vitter and Coburn.

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WATCH LIVE: Day 3 Of Judge Sotomayor’s Senate Confirmation Hearing (UPDATED X4)

The proceedings should begin at approximately 9:30 AM with questioning by Texas Senator John Cornyn.

[Live video moved to most recent thread]

UPDATE: Sure enough, Sen. Cornyn starts off by–again–asking Judge Sotomayor about her “wise Latina” remarks.

She’s been a federal judge for 17 years. She authored hundreds of decisions and participated on hundreds more on a wide variety of issues, yet the GOP is focusing on a single line from a speech more than her entire career as a judge.

The problem here is that no Republican can show that the sentiment she expressed in that speech in any way unfairly or unduly influenced her decisions.  Even if she does believe–as the GOP is implying–that minority judges will come to better decisions on discrimination cases than white judges, no Republican has been able to point to a single decision where that belief has unduly come through in her decision.

Some may point to Ricci v. DeStefano, but remember, one of the plaintiffs in that case was Hispanic.  That means that, by ruling the way she did, Judge Sotomayor ruled against a fellow Hispanic, which completely undermines the GOP’s inaccurate portrayal of her judicial philosophy.

UPDATE II: Right now, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin (D) is questioning Judge Sotomayor. After him, the last Republican on the Judiciary Committee–Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn–will question her, followed by the remaining Democrats: Sens. Whitehouse (RI), Klobuchar (MN), Kaufman (DE), Specter (PA) and Franken (MN).

Once questioning is completed, the Committee will take a break and then go into a closed session, which is routine for Supreme Court nominees.

After lunch–about 2:00 PM Eastern–there will be another round of questioning, but this time Senators will be restricted to 20 minutes each.

UPDATE III: Am I the only one who thinks the media coverage of the Sotomayor hearings are skewed?

It seems to me that the news networks are more likely to air a Republican Senator questioning Judge Sotomayor than a Democratic Senator. Whenever the GOP is questioning her, the media pays rapt attention; whenever a Democrat is questioning, they’re more likely to cut away to other things.

One justification I’ve heard for the disparate coverage is that there are more Democrats on the Committee, so the media is trying to balance things out. But the reason there are more Democrats on the committee is because the American people voted more Democrats into office; the partisan breakdown of the committee reflects the will of the American people.

It’s not the media’s job to compensate for the partisan disparity of the Judiciary Committee.  Their job is to cover these proceedings as completely and thoroughly as possible, not to handicap the GOP’s minority.

UPDATE IV: The closed session has ended and the second round of questioning has began; Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy is up first, and this time Senators only get 20 minutes for their questioning (though they can choose to use less if they would like).

And Then There Were 60…

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) was sworn in today as the 60th member of the Senate Democratic caucus.

Watch:

Sen. Franken was accompanied onto the Senate floor by Minnesota’s other Democratic Senator, Amy Klobuchar, as well as former Vice President Walter Mondale, also a Minnesotan.

He will now assume seats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.

BREAKING: MN Supreme Court: Franken Won (UPDATED X2)

It’s been nearly 8 months since Election Day.

It’s been more than 6 months since Inauguration Day.

And, finally, Minnesota’s outstanding Senate race has been decided.

Minnesota’s Supreme Court has affirmed [PDF] that Al Franken is the duly-elected junior Senator from Minnesota, having garnered more votes than former Senator Norm Coleman.

Of course, Franken still needs a certificate of election signed by his state’s governor, Republican Tim Pawlenty. But Pawlenty said that he would abide by the Supreme Court’s decision:

Minnesota law does not allow the governor to sign an election certificate until the state court process is complete. And when it is, and they direct me to sign the certificate, I’m going to sign it. There’s not going to be any undue delay or the like. But I’m going to follow the direction of the courts in that regard and we’re going to be having a decision here in the coming weeks … I have to follow the law. If the Minnesota Supreme Court says, “You sign the certificate” — and there’s not an appeal or some other contrary direction from a federal court — you know, that’s my duty. I can’t just ignore that or say I don’t feel like following a directive from the Minnesota Supreme Court. That would not be the responsible thing to do.

[Emphasis mine]

There’s a chance that Coleman could appeal this decision to the federal judiciary, which may give Pawlenty room to once again put off signing a certificate.

But the Minnesota Supreme Court should be the final say in this case, and they have resoundingly affirmed that Al Franken is the junior Senator from Minnesota.

UPDATE: I should note that the decision was unanimous–the court ruled 5-0 in Franken’s favor.

Here’s the key part of the ruling:

For all of the foregoing reasons, we affirm the decision of the trial court that Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled under Minn. Stat. § 204C.40 (2008) to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota.

UPDATE II: Norm Coleman just conceded; congratulations to Senator Al Franken!

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%


Throwing In The Towel (UPDATED)

Former Senator Norm Coleman has found himself a new job:

Last session’s senior senator from Minnesota Norm Coleman, still battling Al Franken to be seated in the Senate, has taken a paid job as a consultant to the Republican Jewish Coalition, which harshly attacked Obama last fall, its executive director, Matt Brooks, said.

Coleman will join the group as a “consultant and strategic advisor,” and will also travel the country fundraising on the group’s behalf, Brooks said.

“It’s an opportunity for him to, now that he’s got some down time on his hands, to really help us while this case is being adjudicated,” Brooks said. “He hasn’t given up at all” on retaking the Minnesota seat.

That’s not the behavior of a candidate who won his last election; it’s the behavior of a candidate who packed up his office and is moving on.

Coleman knows he lost, that much is obvious.  The question is, how long will it take him to officially give up the ghost? Now that he has endeared himself to the Republican establishment by keeping Al Franken out of the Senate–landing himself a nice right-wing welfare job in the process–how long will he keep the charade up? When will he finally let the people of Minnesota enjoy their right to full representation in the Senate?

I can’t imagine the people of Minnesota are too happy that their former Senator won’t let their duly-elected representative take office. And I can’t imagine the people of Minnesota will be very forgiving to the Republican Party in the future after this gambit is all said and done.

UPDATE: More from Nate Silver:

But what is Coleman’s angle here? Increasingly, I think this is being driven by John Cornyn and the [NRSC], and that they’ve given up on beating Franken but merely want to bloody him, casting doubt over the legitimacy of his election in order to make him a focal point for Republican angst. If this were a generic Democrat instead of Franken, in other words, I think the Republicans might already have given up. But because Franken has the potential to be a polarizing figure, there is more incentive for them to fan the flames a little bit; the recount merely provides the pretense for them to do so.

MN-SEN: Endgame

Recently, both Governor Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie refused to certify Al Franken as the winner of the Minnesota Senate race, citing a state statute that supposedly prevents a certification from being issued until Norm Coleman is finished challenging the election in court.

Now the Franken campaign is suing in order to force Pawlenty and Ritchie to issue a certification, citing a different part of the aforementioned state statute that appears to say something different:

Al Franken’s lawyers really don’t mess around. In a conference call with reporters just now, lead Franken attorney Marc Elias announced that the campaign is filing a lawsuit at the state Supreme Court to force GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to issue Franken a certificate of election, and send him to the Senate.

Elias placed a request with Pawlenty and Ritchie yesterday, which was promptly rejected, arguing that Franken was entitled to a certificate contrary to the conventional wisdom that state law blocks the issuing of a certificate until after Norm Coleman’s lawsuit to overturn the result is settled.

Not so, Elias argues, saying that a different section of the same law would actually require the issuing of a certificate in a legislative contest, with its discussion of revoking an already-issued certificate if the contest concludes with the original loser now on top. “So there is a tension between these two provisions,” Elias said. But he thinks the provision he’s relying upon will trump the other because it is the more specific of the two.

Elias also cited the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that a legislative chamber is the arbiter of a disputed election, as opposed to courts.

[Emphasis mine]

I have no idea whether or not the case has any chance of succeeding, but I do know it’s ridiculous that Norm Coleman can deny the people of Minnesota their right to full representation in Congress just because he doesn’t want to concede an election he fairly lost.

On a related topic, Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats just scored an epic win over Mitch McConnell and the Republicans:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have reached a tentative agreement that would give Democrats a three-seat advantage on most committees during the 111th Congress.

That is a big change from the 110th Congress, when the party held only a 51-49 operating majority in the full Senate and a one-seat edge on most committees.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow , head of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, said Democrats negotiated a larger, four-seat advantage on the Appropriations and Armed Services committees. By statute, Democrats will have only a one-seat edge on the Intelligence Committee and a two-seat advantage on the Joint Economic Committee. On all other committees — except the Ethics panel, which always includes three members of each party — there will be three more Democrats than Republicans, Stabenow said.

[…]

The major sticking point of the lengthy and sometimes difficult ratio negotiations — whether to count the still-unresolved Minnesota Senate election as a Democratic pickup — appears to have been resolved in Democrats’ favor.

Stabenow said the ratios she disclosed Tuesday assume Democrats will enjoy an effective 59-41 edge in the Senate as a whole, a margin the party would achieve only if they win Minnesota.

[Emphasis added]

In other words, the Senate will be organized as if the Democrats won in Minnesota, giving them a bigger majority on nearly every committee.

It looks like the Republican rats are deserting Norm Coleman’s sinking ship.  Or perhaps they just threw him under the bus.  No matter which cliche you prefer, Senate Republicans just showed that they have no longer have any confidence in Norm Coleman.