Political MoJo

Casey's Man

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 9:47 AM EST

The first key test for the new Democratic Majority in the Senate will be whether or not to confirm Robert Gates as new Secretary of Defense. It is too early to tell for sure, but with the relief at the firing of Rumsfeld, it seems unlikely anyone will seriously challenge Gates, a man who is often thought of as the creation of Reagan's CIA director William Casey. Senator Joe Biden, new chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that Gates has a much more "pragmatic and realistic view of the place we find ourselves."

In the media Gates is being hailed, along with the reappearance of Jim Baker, as a return to sanity. Both are members of the Iraq Study Group. It has all the appearances of a supra State Department for deciding what to do in Iraq. All thanks in large part to Bush senior who is thought to be sending in a rescue team to get his boy off the hook.

Gates faced rough confirmation hearings in 1991 when appointed CIA director by Bush senior. There was concern about his manipulation of intelligence back then, but more than that, official Washington didn't know whether to trust him because of his relationship with Ollie North in the secret Iran-Contra war. At the time, Gates brushed aside questions on Iran-Contra, saying he couldn't remember details, or apologetically stating that he should have given the whole situation closer attention. In the end, Congress attributed whatever errors were made to Casey, the CIA director at the time, who was long viewed as a strong, independent-minded anti-Communist of a somewhat bizarre sort. But as has been noted before, Gates often was thought of as Casey's man, and it was Casey who put him in a top job as deputy director and chair of the National Intelligence Council.

At Gates' confirmation hearings in 1991, the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee appeared weary of Iran-Contra. Warren Rudman, then a Republican congressman from New Hampshire, remarked, "I might say parenthetically that I hope someday I will never have to talk about this subject again. But I guess it just keeps coming up. It's almost like a typhus epidemic in that anybody within five miles of the germ either died, is infected, or is barely able to survive, so I guess we're back in that mode again."

That was 15 years ago. The memories of most people in Congress aren't likely to go back that far.

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Idaho's "Pro-Life" a Loser

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 9:13 AM EST

Idaho gubernatorial candidate "Pro-Life," ne Marvin Richardson, went down in defeat on Tuesday to Republican representative and millionaire Butch Otter. Back in August, Richardson officially dropped his first and last names in favor of "Pro-Life." He did so to make sure his views would be right there on the ballot...instead of his name. On the campaign trail Richardson, uh sorry, Pro-Life, called himself "the most conservative politician in Idaho," which is to say, pretty darned conservative given his state's track record. Still, even in this conservative stronghold, his gimmick fell flat; he ended up with only 2% of votes.

One other thing to note is that the candidate made the name change a family affair: Pro-Life's wife and son both took the term as their middle names. They are now, officially, Faith Pro-Life and Christian Pro-Life Richardson.

For more on the appauling trends in appellations check out "What's in a Name" in the current issue of Mother Jones.

High Court Hears Partial-Birth Abortion Cases, Kennedy Says Women "Might be in Serious Trouble"

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 1:28 AM EST

The day after what would have been the nation's most restrictive abortion ban was defeated by voters in South Dakota the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases involving challenges to the 2003 federal ban on so-called partial-birth abortion. With four conservative justices certainly against and four liberal ones for the decision seems to ride on Justice Anthony Kennedy who sits in the center of the court on abortion issues.

Today the court heard two hours of arguments full of exacting, graphic descriptions of abortion procedures and according to reports, throughout the session Kennedy appeared troubled by the potential implications of the law. Would it leave few legal alternatives in cases in which a pregnancy threatens a woman's life? How frequently is a late-term procedure medically necessary? Would doctors be held criminally liable for performing emergency late-term abortions when they had no other choice? Kennedy pressed both sides in the case on those questions, and hinted that he thinks the federal law may be too restrictive, saying:

If a woman in need of a lifesaving, late-term abortion were to rely on a court's quick action, she might be in serious trouble. I don't know if you could just go to a district judge and say, `I need an order.' The judge would take - would have to take - many hours to understand that.

The government says the law survives constitutional scrutiny because of Congress' fact-finding and its interest in preventing "infanticide," a word that came up several times during the hearings.

Newsweek Finds Jesus (Again)

| Wed Nov. 8, 2006 11:46 PM EST
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Newsweek goes for a twofer with this week's cover story, "The Politics of Jesus," featuring an image of a cross wrapped in the American flag. As we noted in our religion issue last year, the newsweekly has a long record of sticking J.C. on its cover to attract readers (according to one trade mag, Christ can boost magazine sales 45%). And when Newsweek finds religion, Time can't be far behind. Sure enough, its cover story this week is "God vs. Science," illustrated with a crucifix attached to a double-helix rosary. Predictions for next week's covers: Time—"How Would Jesus Win in Iraq?"; Newsweek—"Are You There, God? It's Me, Karl."

AP: Dems Take Senate

| Wed Nov. 8, 2006 9:01 PM EST

The AP reports:

An adviser to Allen, speaking on condition of anonymity because his boss had not formally decided to end the campaign, said the senator wanted to wait until most of canvassing was completed before announcing his decision, possibly as early as Thursday evening.

The adviser said that Allen was disinclined to request a recount if the final vote spread was similar to that of election night.

The victory puts Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in line to become Senate majority leader. He has led the Democrats since Tom Daschle, D-S.D., was defeated two years ago.

Evidence of Latino Voter Intimidation in California, Colorado, Virginia and Arizona

| Wed Nov. 8, 2006 7:04 PM EST

The letter sent to 14,000 voters with Spanish surnames in California's 47th district last month wasn't the only episode of voter intimidation targeting Latino voters this election cycle.

In Colorado, Latino voters received phone calls on Monday (similar to calls in Virginia), where callers told them they that if they voted they would go to jail, prompting Democratic senator Ken Salazar to make a call of his own own telling them that they could.

In Tucson, legal observers with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund witnessed Latino voters being targeted outside a polling station. Staff attorney Diego Bernal told the Arizona Republic:

"As one man was going up to the voter with the clipboard, another man was videotaping the interaction. At the same time, the third man was walking around with a gun on his waist. They were being provocative. They would have conversations with each other, where they were using mock Spanish accents. It was upsetting."

Clearly things are getting worse for Latinos in Arizona, where voters yesterday overwhelmingly passed four anti-immigration propositions. But in California there was at least some justice yesterday. Tan Nugyen, whose campaign was behind that now infamous letter (and who is also an immigrant, yeah, go figure) got trounced at the polls, losing 62% to 38% to Rep. Loretta Sanchez.

—Amaya Rivera

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An Update on Washington's Shadiest Shoo-Ins

| Wed Nov. 8, 2006 5:45 PM EST

In the latest issue of the magazine, Josh Harkinson and I detailed the 5 shadiest members of Congress, who, despite their ethically-challenged ways, were bound to be reelected. Well, last night the people spoke and reelected all five, all by more than 60 percent of the vote. Due to last night's shake-up, the Republicans on our list will lose some measure of clout and (hopefully) some of their ability to game the system. Not so the lone Dem on our list, whose power will only grow.

Here's where things stand now:

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the former oilman and climate change denier, is reportedly jockeying for a post in the House minority leadership. He'll no longer be the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, though.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) will soon lose his chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee, where, most recently, he axed 60 investigators "charged with closely monitoring defense contracting and intelligence spending," according to OMBWatch.

Come January Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) will no longer serve as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and thus will no longer be able to shut down hearings when he doesn't like the topic of conversation.

Rep. Roy (the "midnight rider") Blunt (R-Mo.), currently the House Majority Whip, will reportedly seek another term as the second most powerful House Republican.

The "prince of pork," Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), will ascend to the chairmanship of the House Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, Commerce and Related Agencies, a position he will likely use to take his earmarking bonanza to new and outrageous levels.

Affirmative Action Goes Down in Michigan

| Wed Nov. 8, 2006 5:43 PM EST

Ward Connerly has just won another victory in his crusade to wipe out affirmative action programs. Yesterday Michigan voters passed Proposition 2, 58% to 42% with 99% of precincts reporting.

Despite the fact that both Republican and Democratic officials in Michigan had come out against the Connerly-backed proposal, the Mitchell Research Group found that people under the age of 40 were the only group to oppose the proposition (and thus support affirmative action) in large numbers. But Connerly's fight in Michigan may not be over yet. University of Michigan President Sue Coleman announced today the University is looking at its legal options.

—Amaya Rivera

Webb Announces Three Members of Transitional Team

| Wed Nov. 8, 2006 4:48 PM EST

In a press release issued at 4:30 p.m. EST today, Democrat Jim Webb announced three members of his transitional team.

The three are former Virginia Second District Congressman Owen Pickett; Virginia House of Delegates member and 2001 Democratic nominee for Virginia Attorney General, Donald McEachin; and former Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Chuck Robb, Tom Lehner.

Rock the Senate (Youth Vote Swings Key Races)

| Wed Nov. 8, 2006 4:46 PM EST

Over at Rolling Stone, former MoJoer Tim Dickinson reports:

A sample of exit polling from close Senate races around the country shows that the youth vote was key to the Democratic victory. "Young voters increased their turnout over 2002 and favored Democrats by large margins," said Hans Riemer, Rock the Vote's political director. "They played a major role in the Democratic victory."

Among voters 18-29 years old, here's how they cast their votes in the key Senate races. The first column is for Democratic candidates, the second for Republican.

Virginia 52% 48%
Rhode Island 65% 35%
Pennsylvania 68% 32%
Ohio 57% 43%
Missouri 49% 48%
Montana 56% 44%