Despite his best efforts to distance himself from the Florida GOP's disgraced former chairman, Charlie Crist, governor and US Senate candidate, just can't shake off Jim Greer's long tail of controversy. The latest twist in Greer's saga, who as party chairman is alleged to have stolen $200,000 in GOP funds and was arrested in June, is this: A Florida lobbyist and state GOP member said she'd heard that, at a supposedly men-only fundraiser in the Bahamas for the GOP, "women were involved and paid," the St. Petersburg Times reported. Having attended the fundraiser, Crist called the claims "absurdly false." Regardless of who's right and wrong, the allegations are nonetheless a new nightmare for Crist.
Crist, an independent candidate for the US Senate, abandoned the Republican Party in April, saying the party had become too right-wing for him. Outsiders, on the other hand, saw Crist's jump as a move to avoid losing to conservative Marco Rubio in a Republican primary. Since becoming an independent, and looking for support (and money) from both Democrats and Republicans, Crist has opened a modest lead over Rubio and Democratic also-ran Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fl.). Nonetheless, revelations about Greer, who headed the Florida GOP from 2007 to 2010, continue to threaten Crist's run for the Senate.
Worse yet for Crist is the news that Greer's trial will open in October—just weeks before election day. If you're Charlie Crist, you couldn't ask for more unfortunate timing. We'll see in the coming months if Crist can raise enough money and run enough ads to fully distance himself from Greer and the walking ethics nightmare that's become the Florida GOP.
After more than a year of hand-wringing, negotiating, bickering, leaking, and (some) compromise, is financial reform about to crash and burn at the 11th hour? The chances of the Dodd-Frank bill failing to win the necessary 60 votes in the Senate, where the measure must pass before going to President Obama, are increasing by the day. Yesterday, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) reiterated his opposition to the bill, after having voted against it in May, and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), who didn't vote in May but would've backed the bill, passed away yesterday morning. (A position our own Kevin Drum simply can't understand.) Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who joined Feingold in opposing the bill, has yet to change her stance. A spokeswoman for Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who voted for the bill in May, told Mother Jones yesterday the senator was still digesting its contents, which means one of four GOP votes is up in the air.
And now, as Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler reports, another Senate Republican who'd backed the financial bill in May is on the fence:
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) joined Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) this evening, putting herself back into the undecided column on Wall Street reform legislation, after House and Senate negotiators added new fees on banks to the final bill late last week.
"It was not part of either the House or Senate bill and was added in the wee hours of the morning. So I'm taking a look at the specifics of that and other provisions as well," Collins told reporters this evening outside the Senate chamber.
That big bank tax, inserted by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) on the final night of the House-Senate conference process, is proving to be more of a headache than it's worth. As Beutler mentioned, Scott Brown, who supported financial reform in May, has threatened to join the rest of his party in opposing the bill because of the tax, which Frank added to make banks pay for implementing the Dodd-Frank bill.
This spells trouble for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the Senate's leader on financial reform. His 60-vote supermajority is crumbling, arguably through no fault of his own. It appears likely that the Senate will push back by a week the final vote on Dodd-Frank, so it can secure those 60 votes and avoid a catastrophic loss on the Senate floor.
The Wall Street reform fight, from day one, has been a nervewracking one, with close votes and backroom deals and narrow victories. The final step in the process is shaping up to be no less of a nailbiter.
Could Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, in what’s likely to be one of the last major votes of his 30-year career, cast the decisive vote on Congress’ long-awaited Wall Street reform bill? As Senate Democrats jostle behind the scenes to avert an embarrassing, late-round defeat of their legislation, the stage is set for one last highlight for the outgoing veteran-Republican-turned-Democrat.
Two final votes stand between Congress and passage of the Dodd-Frank bill. On the House side, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who deftly ushered the bill through the bipartisan conference process, looks to have the votes needed to pass the 2,000-plus-page reform bill. (The House's version of financial reform passed by 21 votes in December.) The Senate's picture, however, is far less certain.
Right now, Senate Democrats and their staffs are tight-lipped about the pending Dodd-Frank vote as they try to secure the support of at least 60 senators. A vote was slated for this week, but now the Senate is reportedly delaying its vote on the bill by a week or so due to doubts about whether the 60-vote supermajority is in place.
Early this morning, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), a longtime veteran of Congress who fought hard to combat poverty in his home state, died at the age of 92. The longest serving Senator before his death, Byrd's legacy is a mixed one, and his personal and political views has undergone a startling evolution over his 67 years in the House and Senate.
For his former Senate colleagues, Byrd's passing significantly complicates the political calculus on the biggest legislative item now in play: financial reform. Indeed, this morning's news possibly imperils the Senate's passage of the bill agreed to by House and Senate lawmakers last week. When the Senate passed its own version of Wall Street reform in late May, Byrd didn't vote and didn't need to; with four Republicans—Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and the Maine senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins—joining the Democratic majority, the bill passed, 59-39. (Pennysylvania Democrat Arlen Specter also didn't vote.)
Now, however, Scott Brown is threatening (again) to defect and switch his vote to "no," which he's been doing for weeks. During the conference process, Democrats slipped in a loophole to keep Brown happy, allowing big banks to invest a small percentage of their money in risky hedge funds and private equity funds. (The bill had previously called for banning these kind of investments.) But now Brown is crying foul about a $19 billion tax on banks to pay for the implementation of the bill—and he's mulling whether to vote against the bill when a vote occurs as early as this week.
That's trouble for Democrats. If the other three Republicans vote "yes" again, Democrats still need another vote to make up for Brown's loss. Before this morning, Byrd could've cast that deciding vote, and it's unclear how soon someone will replace Byrd in the Senate. That means Reid, Durbin, and the Dems must either win back Scott Brown, bring Arlen Specter into the fold and get him to vote "yes," or, in the unlikeliest of scenarios, convince some other GOPer to switch his or her vote. And this presumes that all three GOPers who supported the bill in May stick with the Dems—far from a given.
The bill's passage is far from assured. It's going to be a nailbiting week or two for the Democrats.
On Thursday afternoon, despite eight weeks of haggling and dealbrokering, the Senate rejected extending unemployment benefits amidst rising deficits but at a time when one in 10 people are jobless. The 57-41 vote against the tax extender bill, which would've also given tax breaks to small and large businesses, was the third time Democrats failed break a GOP filibuster, and the bill's failure leaves upwards of 1.2 million unemployed Americans still without help. "They have taken the filibuster and made the Senate dysfunctional," Sen. Dick Durbin, the majority whip, toldPolitico, referring to Senate Republicans.
Those GOPers who opposed the bill typically cited fears about the country's spiraling deficits, railing on the fact that the jobs bill would've cost $100 billion and added $33 billion to the deficit. Despite the obvious need for the extended unemployment insurance, it's not hard to see why GOPers, however wrongheaded or hypocritical, would vote against this.