Kevin Drum

When Is a Climate Bill Not a Climate Bill?

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 6:27 PM EDT

As I noted earlier, I was at the White House for President Barack Obama's remarks on the pending energy bill. The fact that he held this event was widely seen as a sign that the White House is worried about tomorrow's vote in the House on this cap and trade measure. Actually, this wasn't really an event. Obama just came out to a podium set up in the Rose Garden and spoke into a television camera. There were a couple dozen reporters standing and watching. But we were not the audience. Viewers at home probably thought the president was speaking before an important group of legislators or citizens who had been assembled at the White House. But no, he was talking to those viewers themselves, trying to gin up support for the bill.

What was noticeable was the number of times he used the phrase "climate change": none. Or the number of times he referred to the bill as cap and trade legislation: none. He depicted the legislation as a jobs bill--using "jobs" nine times in the short statement. He was explicit:

Now, make no mistake -- this is a jobs bill.  We're already seeing why this is true in the clean energy investments we're making through the Recovery Act.  In California, 3,000 people will be employed to build a new solar plant that will create 1,000 jobs.  In Michigan, investments in wind turbines and wind technology is expected to create over, 2,600 jobs.  In Florida, three new solar projects are expected to employ 1,400 people.

The list goes on and on, but the point is this:  This legislation will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy.  That will lead to the creation of new businesses and entire new industries.  And that will lead to American jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced.

Everyone knows, I suppose, this is also a climate change bill, and that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary. But in the face of opposition from GOPers and others who claim this "cap and tax" measure will wreck the economy, Obama stayed away from an overly enviro-ish argument for the legislation. It's not about saving the planet; it's about getting you or someone you know a job.

Perhaps this is a politically savvy tactic. It is worrisome a bit, since scientists say that greater reductions than prompted by this bill will be needed to redress climate change. Obama is hardly teeing up the ball for that sort of debate.

When the president was done, he quickly trotted off, without taking questions from the correspondents. ABC News' Jake Tapper did shout at him: Are you satisfied with a bill that auctions off only 15 percent of the carbon credits, not 100 percent? (On the campaign trail, Obama supported the 100 percent mark.) The president didn't acknowledge the question. He kept on walking back to the Oval Office.

******

Meanwhile, it was not all serious policy and political stuff at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue today. Tonight is the annual congressional picnic, which has been turned into a luau on the South Lawn. One feature at this party will be a dunk tank--with Rahm Emanuel as the to-be-dunked prize. Good marketing. Plenty of House members probably want to try to hit that target. But at the afternoon press briefing, Robert Gibbs managed to talk his way into being dunked by the press corps. presuming any of the reporters could throw a good pitch.

So at 5:30, before the official festivities were to begin, reporters were escorted to the backyard of the White House for the potential dunking. As we walked through the rear of the Rose Garden, I spotted Obama at the other end of the garden, sticking his head out a door to the West Wing. "Come on," I shouted at him. "Join us. Take a throw." He smiled, shook his head. "Just one pitch!" I said. "Show us your arm." He waved and said, "They won't let me take a shot at him."

We proceeded to the South Lawn, and there was Gibbs perched in the tank. Four reporters got the opportunity to dunk him. Bill Plante of CBS scored. So did an AP reporter. Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times threw hard but missed, as did a Fox News correspondent. Gibbs laughed his way through the ordeal, as TV camera people and photographers recorded the event. It was a great PR move for him: what a good sport.

Then our minders quickly rushed us away, as preparations for the luau continued--and White House aides, no doubt, went back to worrying about the pending vote on the cap and trade bill.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

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Obama vs. CAP on DADT

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 4:22 PM EDT

Shortly after writing a post on a new Center for American Progress report that proposes a five-step plan for ending the Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy banning out-in-the-open gays and lesbians from the military (Step No. 1: the president signs an executive order imposing a temporary suspension), I strolled over to the White House to see President Obama deliver a Rose Garden statement in support of the cap and trade legislation due for a vote in the House tomorrow (more on that in a coming post) and to attend press secretary Robert Gibbs' daily briefing.

At the briefing, when it was my turn to pose a query, I cited the CAP report--quoting that first step--and asked Gibbs why the White House disagreed with the group's proposal. Gibbs replied that Obama has held assorted meetings with staff, legislators, and Pentagon officials on ending DADT. "This requires," he said, a "durable legislative" remedy.

It was the usual line: we need a law to overturn DADT for good. But there's an obvious follow-up, and I asked it: Why not issue an executive order that suspends DADT while this legislation is being pursued?

Gibbs said that "there could be differences in strategies." I wasn't sure what he meant by this. That it's best not to arouse (anti-gay) passions with a stop-gap measure, because this could interfere with a permament solution? He continued: the "best way to do it is through a durable and comprehensive legislative process." Perhaps that's the best way. But in the past months, hundreds of US military members have been kicked out of the service because of DADT. For these people--and others scared of a similar fate--a temporary suspension would certainly be much better than a long wait for congressional action. Whatever happened to the fierce urgency of now?

You can see my Twitter feed from the Gibbs briefing here.

An Inconvenient Report for Obama

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 12:40 PM EDT

Every few days at the White House press briefings, press secretary Robert Gibbs is grilled by a reporter (or several) on what President Barack Obama is doing to keep his promise to gay and lesbian Americans--particularly his pledge to deep-six the military's Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy and to press for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the awarding of federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples.

Earlier this month, Obama did sign an executive order to extend benefits to unmarried domestic partners of federal workers, including same-sex partners. But gay rights advocates are still grumbling that he's not been more proactive on the DADT and DOMA fronts--especially while hundreds of gay service members have been booted from the military since Obama became commander in chief. Obviously sensitive to the complaints, the White House has invited gay rights leaders to an East Room reception on Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the New York City protests that birthed the gay rights movement.

Responding to these queries about DADT and DOMA, Gibbs usually gives a version of the same reply: we're waiting for the Pentagon and/or Congress. He essentially has been suggesting that Obama cannot do much on his own.

Well, the Center for American Progress--the policy shop run by John Podesta, who oversaw Obama's presidential transition, says that's not so. This week, CAP released a report proposing a rather simple 5-step program for dumping DADT.

1. Signing an Executive Order banning further military separations based on DADT and sending a legislative proposal on DADT repeal to Congress.
2.  Forming a presidential panel on how to implement the repeal
3. Repealing DADT in Congress and changing the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, or UCMS
4. Changing other necessary military guidelines to conform to the new policy
5. Following-up to ensure that the armed forces implement the policy changes

Obama cannot do all of this on his say-so. But he sure could get the ball rolling by inking an executive order and creating a presidential panel.

Clearly, the White House is not eager to leap into this particular foxhole, perhaps recalling how Bill Clinton's early days as president were undermined by a DADT controversy. So the White House, for now, is hiding behind the process. And that's why CAP's report is rather inconvenient for Obama, for it shows that the president could take swift and unilateral action to start undoing DADT. His hands aren't tied. He's just sitting on them.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.
 

Sympathy for Sanford? Nah.

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 10:44 AM EDT

I was feeling sort of sorry for Mark Sanford. His emails to Maria indicate he was deeply in love with her, and, thus, he was in a difficult situation. These things happen--even to conservatives. And, yes, he was a blazing hypocrite, voting for the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and claiming that he knew the true meaning of marriage:

As Jenny and I are the parents of four little boys, we've always taught our kids that marriage was something between a man and a woman.

Still, I wondered how tough we should be on a fellow caught in these circumstances. Until I watched the video of Sanford's speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference last March.

His address was red meat for empathy-free conservatives. Sanford, taking a Palinesque view, proclaimed to the crowd of conservative activists that the United States has reached a historic moment in which the "battle line" is between "government on one side" and "liberty...on the other." In what now comes across as a poignant observation, Sanford noted that the toughest problems to contend with are "internal problems," such as "your personal life." His contention was that the United States now has a serious internal problem:

We literally do live at one of the most pivotal points in American history. Every one of our threats, or pretty much all of our threats, have been external in nature. I mean, what were the British going to do to us? Or what were the Germans going to do to? Or what were the Japanese going to do? It was always what was somebody going to do to us. But the real quesiton of our times is, what are we going to do to us? I mean, it is a very different question, because as we all know external problems at times aren't all that difficult to deal with. Internal problems--whether in your personal life, whether in business, whether in government--are the real problems that are hard to get your arms around. And what we have right now is a problem of internal. [sic] And the question is, what do we do about it?

Sanford defined this internal problem as too many Americans depending on government for guidance and assistance. He pointed to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy and asked, "Did you see people who saw themselves as lions or gazelles?" His point: too many of the Louisianan residents clobbered by Katrina and the failure of the levies viewed themselves as needy gazelles, not strong and independent lions, and actually expected government to help them. For Sanford, this sums up the "internal problem": Americans have become weak and unable to assist themselves because government has become too big.

His ideology-driven lack of sympathy for these people was not charming. After viewing this video, I lost any empathy I might have had for Sanford. If he's going to judge others so harshly on the basis of what he considers to be their weaknesses, then he deserves similar treatment. Yes, "internal problems" in one's personal life are hard to handle, but try dealing with 20 feet of water on your block.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

About Those Sanford Emails to Maria

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 11:23 PM EDT

On Wednesday evening, The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, published a series of steamy but well-written and mature-sounding emails between Republican Governor Mark Sanford and his gal-pal in Argentina. The paper also reported it had received these emails six months ago from an anonymous tipster. Why hadn't the paper rushed this hot stuff to press? It could not confirm the emails were real, and Sanford had no rep as a philanderer. So the paper sat on the hot docs all this time. Apparently, the newspaper did not ask Sanford about the material.

Journalists and others can--and will--debate whether the paper ought to have approached the governor. But this part of The New York Times report on The State's actions was particularly odd:

But with one mystery solved, another endures: Mr. [Leroy] Chapman [the political editor of the paper] said he still did not know who sent the e-mail to the paper in the first place. “It’s kind of a moot point,” he said, “but I’m still curious.”

A moot point? Not at all. Whoever had those emails had been in a position for six months to pressure--or blackmail--Sanford. An enquiring newspaper person might want to know more about that. Had Sanford even been aware that someone possessed these emails? If so, did he take any actions based on that realization? The State engaged in great traditional reporting to get the scoop on Sanford's secret trip to Argentina. But now it seems it's ready to turn the story over to bloggers.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Journos Whine, Sanford Cries, and Ensign Sighs (with Relief)

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 3:23 PM EDT

Boy, did I pick wrong. The Gibbs presser was damn tame compared to the Sanford meltdown. The hottest issue—or non-issue—at the White House was HuffPo's Nico Pitney's question at Tuesday's presidential press conference. This topic did lead to a somewhat interesting display. The front-row journos—who usually get called on during presidential news conference—complained that the Pitney set-up created the impression that reporters (like themselves) are in cahoots with the White House. Robert Gibbs pushed back by noting that he believed that CBS and other Big Media are certainly in the position to disabuse viewers of that notion. He then called on practically every reporter in the first two rows and asked each one if he or she had ever told the White House what he or she intended to ask at a press conference. Each one dutifully said no. Still, they were upset by the HuffPo episode.

At the same time, reporters in the lesser rows—those who don't tend to be called on by the president and who are not always afforded questioning opportunities during Gibbs' briefings—tried to exploit Nico-gate to raise another issue: how does the White House decide who makes it on to the prepared list of journalists President Obama will call on at a news conference. Gibbs ducked that query. For my money, that's the more important matter—but, not surprisingly, not for the guys and gals in the front rows. (You can read my Twitter feed for the details.)

Back to Mark Sanford. After his sad, wife-less press conference, during which he admitted an extramarital affair and stated he would resign as chair of the Republican Governors Association (not from his governor's post), Senator John Ensign, no doubt, said, "Thank you, Governor."

And that's no joke. Two hours before Sanford cried on TV, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a public interest group that chases after government wrongdoing, sent out a notice that it has filed complaints against Ensign with the Senate ethics committee and the Federal Elections Committee.

The group explains that Ensign's actions during his own extramarital escapade might have violated Senate ethics rules and campaign law:

First, Mr. Hampton has alleged Sen. Ensign terminated him and his wife for reasons related to the affair. If true, the senator likely engaged in discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII, and Senate Rule 42, which incorporates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Senate employees and prohibits discrimination based on sex. At least two members of Congress previously have been investigated for sexual harassment, including former Sen. Bob Packwood (R-OR) and former Rep. Jim Bates (D-CA).

Second, Ms. Hampton apparently received a severance payment directly from Sen. Ensign when she was terminated from the campaign committee and PAC, but neither committee reported any in-kind contribution by the senator. In addition, if Sen. Ensign paid Ms. Hampton more than $5,000 he may have made an illegal excessive contribution to the PAC. Knowingly failing to report a contribution of over $25,000 is a violation of criminal law.

Mr. Hampton apparently was paid $6,000 upon his departure, purportedly for vacation time. If this actually was some sort of severance payment, Sen. Ensign’s office may have misused official funds.

CREW has alleged Sen. Ensign violated the rules prohibiting improper conduct that reflects upon the Senate by abusing his authority as the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to hire and pay the Hampton’s son as an intern at the NRSC and by claiming to have been blackmailed by Mr. Hampton, without reporting the alleged crime to law enforcement authorities.

Remember what the Republicans used to say. It's not about the sex, it's about the deceit. Does that hold true for Ensign? Will GOPers support an investigation of these allegations?

The Republican Senator from Nevada—like Sanford, once a 2012 presidential propsect—did get a lucky break with the Sanford press conference. But he's now part of an even bigger narrative: what's with these guys who represent the party of family values? And what's next? Newt Gingrich leaving his wife for another woman? Oh yeah, been there, done that. Twice.

 

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Mark Sanford or Robert Gibbs: What Would You Do?

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 1:13 PM EDT

Robert Gibbs' daily press briefing is scheduled for 1:45 at the White House. Recently MIA South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is holding a televised press conference at 2:00 pm. What to do? I usually attend the White House briefing, but....Okay, I'll stick to routine. I'm off to the White House to Twitter the briefing. I suppose any major Sanford meltdown will be on YouTube.

Cap and Trade in the Dark?

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 1:01 PM EDT

Here's some disturbing info on the climate change bill moving through Congress. From a press release put out by the Sunlight Foundation:

Washington, DC - This Friday, Congress plans to vote on a bill that could fundamentally alter the American economy, dramatically affect the climate, and have huge implications for our national security. But, right now no one knows what's in the bill or how it came to be.

Last week, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (the "Cap and Trade Energy Bill"), or H.R. 2454, was 946 pages long. Over the weekend, it ballooned to 1,201 pages with no explanation for how or why. It is currently only available online at the House Rules Committee, and is reported as "text of the bill to be introduced." This legislative maneuvering reminds us of the failure of Congress to make bills properly available before consideration.

In a statement today, Sunlight Foundation Engagement Director Jake Brewer said, "The fastest speed-readers and the most intelligent minds can't make informed decisions with that much time. How can Congress?" He continued, "The problem here is the bill wasn't developed in the open in a committee, so no one--including those members of Congress not on the Energy Committee-knows how this latest version was created."

It's very likely that even many of those advocating for or against this legislation won't know what was inserted or what the final bill will be, since changes will be accepted right up until 9:30am on Thursday morning before an intended vote on Friday....

Without proper public and journalistic oversight, it may be too late for the cap and trade energy bill. It will likely become another case study in Sunlight's hall of shamefully rushed bills.

Earlier today, I noted that Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, the two lead authors of the bill, are honorable legislators and passionate about redressing the negative consequences of climate change. Still, folks on and off the Hill ought to know--and understand--what's in the bill before it reaches a vote.

Spinning Health Care Reform

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 11:14 AM EDT

How does the health care industry spin the media to protect its turf? Columbia Journalism Review's Trudy Lieberman interviews Wendell Potter, a former head of corporate communications for CIGNA, the country’s fourth-largest insurer (and the insurer of the Corn household). And Potter tells all. He shares an insider's perspective we rarely get:

Trudy Lieberman: Why did you leave CIGNA?

Wendell Potter: I didn’t want to be part of another health insurance industry effort to shape reform that would benefit the industry at the expense of the public.

TL: Was there anything in particular that turned you against the industry?

WP: A couple of years ago I was in Tennessee and saw an ad for a health expedition in the nearby town of Wise, Virginia. Out of curiosity I went and was overwhelmed by what I saw. Hundreds of people were standing in line to get free medical care in animal stalls. Some had camped out the night before in the rain. It was like being in a different country. It moved me to tears. Shortly afterward I was flying in a corporate jet and realized someone’s insurance premiums were paying for me to fly that way. I knew it wasn’t long before I had to leave the industry. It was like my road to Damascus.

Mick Jagger and the Climate Change Bill

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 10:31 AM EDT

It's not a big surprise that John Podesta, who heads the Center for American Progress and who ran President Barack Obama's transition, has endorsed the imperfect Waxman-Markey climate change legislation. Podesta, who has long worked on climate change, writes

Once again, Mick Jagger is right: “You can’t always get what you want/ But if you try, sometimes you just might find/ You get what you need.” The House of Representatives is poised for its first ever floor debate on legislation to reduce global warming pollution. This landmark bill is revolutionary in its intent and, while imperfect in its means, deserves the support of progressives.

Podesta is a smart fellow, but he has this Rolling Stones reference backward. If you believe the scientists—and I believe them—then we need a greater and faster reduction in greenhouse gas emissions than we would get from this bill. Unlike, say, the public health plan option, this is not a matter of obtaining merely what progressives want.