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A bipartisan group of senators including Iowa's Chuck Grassley sent President Barack Obama an open letter this week asking for access to "secret legal opinions outlining your authority to authorize the killing of Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations."
President Barack Obama announced today that his Chief of Staff Jack Lew is his pick to replace Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary. I have low expectations, since Lew has been a "central player in two failed attempts at a grand bargain on deficit reduction with House Republicans." The "grand bargain" would have paired token tax hikes on the wealthy with significant benefit cuts for middle-class and low-income Americans. Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama did not rule out filibustering Lew's nomination.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that the Department of Justice will no longer defend Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in court. Section 3 defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes. It has been challenged in court multiple times, and last July a federal judge ruled the provision unconstitutional. The DOJ appealed that ruling, but Holder announced yesterday that President Barack Obama
has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President's determination.
Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit. We will, however, remain parties to the cases and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation. I have informed Members of Congress of this decision, so Members who wish to defend the statute may pursue that option. The Department will also work closely with the courts to ensure that Congress has a full and fair opportunity to participate in pending litigation.
I've posted Holder's complete statement after the jump. It notes, "Much of the the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed DOMA." While some conservative commentators were outraged by the announcement, it's important to remember that the Obama administration hasn't stopped enforcing the DOMA despite the president's opinion of the law.
Linda Hirshman argues that Obama has laid a trap for Congressional Republicans, who will look foolish in federal court if and when they defend Section 3. I think she is way too optimistic that the federal appeals process will uphold last year's district court opinion. Hirshman and I may find the legal arguments supporting the DOMA weak, but it would not surprise me to see a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the constitutionality of Section 3.
I was surprised to see so little Iowa reaction to Holder's announcement. The outcome of this federal litigation will affect thousands of legally married Iowa same-sex spouses, who would be eligible for some federal benefits if the law is struck down. As far as I know, Senator Chuck Grassley is the only Iowan in Congress to issue a statement on yesterday's news. He's the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he criticized the Obama administration's decision as "clearly based more on politics than the law." He stopped short of promising to help with the DOMA legal defense, but presumably Congressional Republicans who are attorneys will handle that. I posted Grassley's complete statement after the jump.
A new bill, House File 330, would prevent Iowa county recorders from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples "until such time as an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa defining marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman is submitted to the electorate for ratification." The same bill would block the Iowa Supreme Court from considering its constitutionality. There are some pretty big problems with that idea, though:
That outcome: Iowa families could appeal a recorder's decision in trial courts but those decisions would not be able to be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.
It would make the lower courts ruling final and it would also set up the likelihood that Iowa would have pockets of the state were the law was recognized and others were it was thrown out.
"I think the result is that you would have a hodgepodge of rulings across the state," Bartrum said. "It would depend on whatever the local district judge thought because were would be no uniform appeal."
FRIDAY UPDATE: According to Troy Price of One Iowa, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen has communicated by e-mail that House File 330 is going nowhere. KCRG reports,
Top Republicans on Thursday said they have no plans to debate the issue, viewing it a nod to the party's social conservative wing. [...]
Backers say introducing the measure is one more opportunity to voice their displeasure with how the marriage issue has been handled.
Republican Rep. Betty De Boef says the issue has been handled badly and that some lawmakers want to take every opportunity to make that point.
In related news, Maryland is likely to become the sixth state to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples. A bill on marriage equality is advancing in the Maryland Senate and has substantial support in that state's House of Delegates. Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
Washington, DC has recognized same-sex marriages since December 2009. Some U.S. House Republicans are pushing a bill to reverse that policy. If a same-sex marriage ban for the nation's capital cleared the House and the U.S. Senate, Obama would probably veto it given his decision to stop defending DOMA.
Hawaii's new Democratic governor Neil Abercrombie signed a civil unions bill yesterday, bringing the number of states that recognize same-sex civil unions to seven. Republican Governor Linda Lingle vetoed a similar bill in Hawaii last year.
Some opponents of same-sex marriage said the administration's decision could end up helping to preserve the law in court.
"The previous efforts of the Obama administration and DOJ to defend the law were so inadequate as to raise the suspicion that the Justice Department was deliberately throwing the case," said Robert George, a political science professor at Princeton University who opposes same-sex marriage. "Chances are the law will get a robust defense, and I suspect it will withstand constitutional scrutiny." [...]
In his letter to [House Speaker John] Boehner, Holder criticized portions of the congressional debate leading up to the law's passage, saying they had undermined the prospects for defending the measure. "The record contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships - precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus that the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against,'' Holder wrote.
Monsanto has generated controversy because of its leading role in the biotech revolution in corn, soybean and cotton seeds since the mid-1990s. About 90 percent of the corn and soybean fields in the Midwest now are planted with seeds genetically altered to resist herbicides and pests.
"Biotech seeds have given farmers better yields and improved their lives," said farmer Pam Johnson of Floyd County.
Monsanto, Pioneer and other seed companies license their traits under the auspices of a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing life forms to be patented.
Iowa State University professor emeritus Neil Harl said that Supreme Court decision radically changed the seed business from a collaborative, collegial enterprise among land grant colleges, farmers and companies.
"Before 1980, seed germplasm was considered something in the public domain," said Harl. "Seed was developed in the field and everybody shared. Now seeds are developed in the laboratory and are patented and licensed."
Holder said the high court decision 30 years ago wouldn't block antitrust action, if it was deemed necessary.
"The antitrust authority is there," Holder said. "The question is what the patent holders are doing with their patents. If they are using it to preserve monopolies, that is unfair behavior."
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey noted that farmers are spending twice as much on seed as they did a decade ago, but also are getting better yields.
"There is tension about the cost of inputs," Northey said. "But we don't want to lose the innovation."
"Antitrust enforcement by the federal government has been ignored for so long that it will take Teddy Roosevelt-style trust busting to bring competitive markets back to agriculture," said Thicke, who plans to participate in the first of a series of five workshops planned by the two federal departments this Friday in Ankeny. [...]
"The effects of excessive market power by a few firms has been studied for years," said Thicke. "It has been shown that if four or fewer firms control 40% or more of a market, then it no longer functions as a competitive market." He pointed out that, as of 2007, four firms controlled 85% of the beef packing market, four firms controlled 66% of the pork packing market, four firms controlled 59% of the broiler market, and four firms controlled 55% of the turkey market.
"Clearly we are beyond the point of open competition in our agricultural markets," Thicke asserted. "When there are so few large firms in a market, controlling firms begin to act in concert whether or not they are directly communicating pricing with each other."
The focus of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation grant is to launch an Iowa Food Policy Council, a diverse statewide cooperative to develop and make research, program and policy recommendations for a food system to support healthier Iowans, communities, economies and environments. Over the next year, the Iowa Food Policy Council will conduct a comprehensive statewide assessment of food systems, food access and health indicators.
The focus of the Leopold Center grant is to convene key food security and public health stakeholders from across Iowa who will examine the disparities in food access and health among Iowans. The Food Access and Health Working Group will address programs and policies that increase access to fresh, nutritious and affordable local food for all Iowans, including vulnerable children and their families.
It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama's administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.
One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.
No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn't have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can't say I wasn't warned (and warned), though.
Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year's political events are welcome in this thread.
When Obama picked Sebelius I didn't expect her confirmation to become controversial, since she is a popular Democratic governor in a conservative state. (Both of the Republican senators representing Kansas voted to confirm Sebelius.) However, anti-abortion groups have been fighting the nomination because when asked how much money Dr. Tiller had donated to her, Sebelius initially reported only his contributions to her campaign funds and not his contributions to her political action committee.
Republicans did manage to hold up her confirmation vote for a while. The silver lining behind that obstructionist cloud was that Sebelius remained governor long enough to veto a bill that would have paved the way for two huge coal-burning power plants in Kansas.
Sebelius's 31 no votes in the Senate make her the second most-controversial Obama cabinet member. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was opposed by 34 senators, including both Grassley and Tom Harkin.
I haven't written anything yet about Senator Chuck Grassley's comments on the AIG bonuses. The whole episode was such an empty populist gesture. First he said the AIG no-goodniks should act like the Japanese and either offer a humble apology or kill themselves. Then he walked back his comments and said they should offer a sincere apology. That's all? I'd like to see more strings attached to the Wall Street bailout program, which Grassley voted for.
The Senate confirmed Eric Holder as attorney general today by a vote of 75-21. Both Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley voted yes, as expected. I always thought Holder would be confirmed, but I am pleasantly surprised that he was approved by a larger majority than Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. I believe Holder will turn out to be one of President Barack Obama's better cabinet appointments.
For reasons I cannot fathom, Obama appears ready to appoint Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a conservative Republican, as Secretary of Commerce. Chris Bowers concisely explains why this is an awful choice:
So, for some reason, in the wake of total Republican intransigence on the stimulus bill, the Obama administration will respond by putting a Republican in charge of one the federal departments overseeing the economy. Judd Gregg himself has said he will oppose the stimulus package. That is certainly an, um, interesting way for the Obama administration to incentivize Republican opposition. Oppose President Obama, and he will reward you by giving you a cabinet position.
Senate Republicans continue to hold up Hilda Solis's confirmation as Labor Secretary, and Obama responds by appointing Gregg to the cabinet?
Democrats won't even get a Senate seat out of the deal, because the Democratic governor of New Hampshire has promised to appoint a Republican to serve out Gregg's term. The only upside is that the appointee may be easier to beat in 2010 than longtime incumbent Gregg would have been. But that's not worth handing over control of the Commerce Department to a conservative, in my opinion.
All I can say is, Gregg better not screw around with the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Senator Chuck Grassley voted to confirm Eric Holder yesterday as the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination by a lopsided 17-2 vote. Thomas Beaumont's report for the Des Moines Register noted that Grassley
has been vocal in his concern about Holder's role in advising former President Bill Clinton about his pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich and his granting clemency to members of a Puerto Rican nationalist group convicted on weapons and conspiracy charges.
"It gives me a great deal of caution," Grassley said during a conference call with reporters before the vote.
Grassley said ranking judicial committee Republican Arlen Specter's support for Holder was influential in his own decision.
"Specter has worked on these pardons harder than I have," Grassley added. "And if he's willing to forgive on that and accept the explanations, that would lead me to as well."
Harkin voiced concerns about Geithner's failure to pay some income taxes several years ago, amounting to about $34,000. [...]
Harkin also said Geithner was at fault for how some of the $700-billion financial rescue money, authorized by Congress in October, was spent. Harkin voted for the bailout, but said later he would have voted against it had he known the money would go to banks, rather than to buy bad loans.
Geithner was a key figure in the crafting and administering of the money as the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In the post, Geithner also was partly to blame for the financial meltdown, which stemmed from inadequate regulation, Harkin argued.
"Mr. Geithner made serious errors of judgment in failing to pay his taxes, and he made serious errors in his job as chief regulator of the financial institutions at the heart of the current financial crisis," Harkin said in a statement released after the vote.
I am surprised that so many senators voted against Geithner. I stand by my opinion that if he were not a white male, the tax problems would have sunk his nomination.
Speaking of Senate confirmations, some Republican has reportedly put an anonymous hold on the nomination of Hilda Solis as Labor Secretary. I called Grassley's office today, and a staffer told me it wasn't him.
Will President Barack Obama go to the mat to get Solis confirmed? Will the Republicans filibuster this strong supporter of workers' rights and the Employee Free Choice Act?
I had assumed that Attorney-General designee Eric Holder would be the cabinet appointment most fiercely opposed by Republicans, but perhaps it will be Solis.
We can't have another let sleeping dogs lie race here. A weak candidate here breaks the straight ticket at the very top, and hurts everyone below. Every election cycle there's one contest that comes out of nowhere, and we need to be in position for it. Sometimes that out of nowhere candidate doesn't fit the conventional mold (like Dave Loebsack); the key is being able to make a strong, credible, well-funded case. Sure, it could fizzle, like, say, Jim Slattery did in Kansas this cycle. But it could sizzle, like Tom Carper knocking off Bill Roth in Delaware in `96. The thing is, we don't know-Grassley hasn't has a serious challenge since he was the challenger.
With the Senate Republican caucus down to 41 members, and the GOP defending quite a few vulnerable Senate seats in 2010, it's a good time for long-serving Republicans to call it a day. The odds are their party will remain in the minority for the rest of their careers.
we need to know what the relationship is with Governor Blagojevich. And I don't say that in denigrating in any way except Governor Blagojevich's recent troubles raises questions with anybody that's had a relationship with him.
Imagine that--Barack Obama is hiring an Energy Secretary who knows a lot about energy. Dr. Steven Chu is a Nobel prize-winner in physics who heads the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (which employs 4,000 people). Click the link to watch a YouTube of Chu.
In his own words: New houses could be made energy efficient with an investment of an extra $1,000, "but the American consumer would rather have a granite countertop." (At a lecture in Washington on energy options, June 25, 2008)
The president-elect has selected [...] Lisa Jackson for EPA administrator, Carol Browner as his energy ''czar,'' and Nancy Sutley to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Democratic officials with knowledge of the decisions said Wednesday. [...]
-- Jackson, who would be the first black person to lead the EPA, is a former New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection commissioner who worked at the federal agency for 16 years, including under Browner when she was Bill Clinton's EPA chief. Jackson is a co-chairman of Obama's EPA transition team, and currently serves as chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine. A New Orleans native, she grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward, the area stricken by Hurricane Katrina. She holds chemical engineering degrees from Tulane University and Princeton University.
-- Browner, who served as EPA chief for eight years under Clinton, will become Obama's go-to person in the White House overseeing energy issues, an area expected to include the environment and climate matters. Now chair of the National Audubon Society and on the boards of several other environmental groups, Browner has been leading the Obama transition's working group on energy and environment.
-- Sutley, the deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles and the mayor's representative on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is the first prominent gay to earn a senior role in Obama's new administration. She was an EPA official during the Clinton administration, including being a special assistant to the EPA administrator in Washington. She also previously served on the California State Water Resources Control Board and was an energy adviser to former Gov. Gray Davis.
SECOND UPDATE: Rumor has it Obama will go with a compromise choice for Secretary of the Interior, rejecting environmental groups' favorite Raul Grijalva as well as Blue Dog Mike Thompson. If true, this is an example of why it's useful to kick up a fuss when a bad choice is floated for an important job.
Obama's introductory remarks are remarkably poetic. "America's values are our country's greatest export to the world."
He's announced his nomination of Hillary Clinton for secretary of state ("I am proud that she will be our next secretary of state...She will help restore our reputation around the world,") Robert Gates at defense ("responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control",) Eric Holder for Attorney General ("The Attorney General serves the American people...I have no doubt he will uphold the constitution,") Janet Napolitano as head of Homeland Security ("she insists on competence and accountability,") Susan Rice as Ambassador to the UN and Jim Jones as National Security Advisor.
"We will shape our times instead of being shaped by them." [...]
As for his choice of Clinton at state, "it was not a lightbulb moment...she shares my core values and the values of the American people. I was always interested after the primary was over in finding ways to collaborate...It occurred to me that she could potentially be an outstanding secretary of state, I offered her the position and she accepted."
On whether he still intends to remove troops from Iraq in 16 months: "Remember what I said during the campaign. I said that I would remove our combat troops from Iraq within 16 months keeping in mind that it might be necessary to maintain a residual force...As I said consistently, I will listen to the recommendations of my commanders."
Harkin said he was confident that former President Bill Clinton would not pose conflicts, as he's agreed to make public the donors to his foundation and clear his travel schedule and speeches with the Obama administration, should his wife become secretary of state.
"If he's willing to do whatever the Obama team and the president wants - and he should understand it, he's a former president - that would be fine," Harkin said.
He also said Obama naming her would be a demonstration of unity to the world. Sen. Clinton and Obama waged an intense, six-month campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination this year.
"I think it would send a good signal to the world if Hillary Clinton were secretary of state," Harkin said. "The signal it sends to the world is we can have big fights politically here in the United States and yet after the election's over, we pull together."
Where does that leave Bill Richardson? I hope he ends up in the cabinet. UPDATE: ragbrai08 has heard rumblings Richardson might become Secretary of the Interior, which would be a decent fit for him.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict when, where and from whom leadership will emerge. The book on Tom Vilsack is not complete, and perhaps that is a good thing. He does not get a perfect score on my litmus tests. But, when I disagree with him in the future I will continue to engage him, just as I always have, whether he is a private citizen or the Secretary of Agriculture. And he will engage me, just as he always has.
I hope that, at the end of the day, our next Secretary of Agriculture is the kind of leader that can help create a future for rural America with thriving family farms and ranches and vibrant rural communities. I believe Governor Vilsack can provide that leadership. Perhaps he just might get the chance.
James L. of Swing State Project is concerned that Obama might choose either Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin or Representative Collin Peterson for the USDA job. Both are from Republican-leaning districts that would be hard for a different Democrat to hold.
Haven't heard much about a possible secretary of transportation. Obama supports greater investment in core infrastructure as well as high-speed rail and public mass transit, so I am hopeful he will put someone with vision in charge of this department. The highway bill comes up for reauthorization in 2009 and is sure to be one of the major battlegrounds in Congress.
Most people seem to think Robert Gates will stay on as Defense Secretary. I don't see why Obama can't appoint a Democrat for that position. We have plenty of qualified people in our party. Keeping the Republicans in charge of defense supports their propaganda that the GOP is best for defending the country.
Share your opinions or predictions in the comments.
UPDATE: Why does Obama want to reinforce Republican stereotypes about how they're the only ones who can handle national security? Now General Jim Jones, a supporter of the Iraq War and John McCain, is tipped to run the National Security Agency. That is just crazy. Put some Democrats in charge, please. It's not as if we don't have people who could do this job well. I would not be surprised if Jones undermines Obama in this position.
NBC News says Bill Richardson will be Commerce Secretary. I don't like him nearly so much for that job as I would like him for Secretary of State, Transportation, or Interior. Richardson's a corporate Democrat, judging from his record in the 1990s. He ran the whip to get NAFTA through the House during Bill Clinton's first term.
Still no progressives in Obama's cabinet.
UPDATE 3: My brother, who works in the investment field and is much more of a moderate Democrat than I am, is "sick" about the prospect of Geithner running Treasury. His other comment about Geithner is not printable at this blog.
Credit derivatives have contributed to dramatic changes in the process of credit intermediation, and the benefits of these changes seem compelling. They have made possible substantial improvements in the way credit risk is managed and facilitated a broad distribution of risk outside the banking system. By spreading risk more widely, by making it easier to purchase and sell protection against credit risk and to actively trade credit risk, and by facilitating the participation of a large and very diverse pool of non-bank financial institutions in the business of credit, these changes probably improve the overall efficiency and resiliency of financial markets.
With the advent of credit derivatives, concentrations of credit risk are made easier to mitigate, and diversification made easier to achieve. Credit losses, whether from specific, individual defaults or the more widespread distress that accompanies economic recessions, will be diffused more broadly across institutions with different risk appetite and tolerance, and across geographic borders. Our experience since the introduction of these new instruments-a period that includes a major asset price shock and a global recession-seems to justify the essentially positive judgment we have about the likely benefits of ongoing growth in these markets.
Despite the benefits to financial resilience, the changes in the credit markets that are the subject of your conference have also provoked some concerns and unease, even among those on the frontier of innovation and the most active participants in these markets.
These concerns are based in part on uncertainty-a candid acknowledgment that there is a lot we do not yet know about how these instruments and the increased role of nonbank institutions in these markets will affect how the financial markets are likely to function in conditions of stress. [...]
Let me conclude by reiterating the fundamental view that the wave of innovation underway in credit derivatives offers substantial benefits to both the efficiency and stability of our financial system.
Hmmm, he didn't seem to have seen any of the current problems coming. Also, he apparently was involved in the bailout negotiations. So it seems like this is a very status quo pick for Obama.
Looks like the Guardian jumped the gun; Hillary Clinton has not accepted the Secretary of State position and is reportedly still weighing Barack Obama's offer.
Apparently Senator Ted Kennedy wants Hillary to lead the efforts to get health care reform through Congress. That's where I'd like to see her as well, though the cynic in me wonders whether Kennedy is primarily trying to clear the path for his friend Senator John Kerry to become secretary of state.
isn't it weird that cabinet appointments are basically subordinate to White House staff positions? It's like, when did 'czar' become a laudable title?
Obama is said to have decided on Eric Holder for attorney general. Holder was deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton but supported Obama during the Democratic primaries. He also helped lead Obama's vice-presidential search team. He is still being vetted, but if selected and confirmed, Holder would become the first black U.S. attorney general.
It's notable that no hero of Obama's progressive supporters seems to be in the running for any job. I admit that part of me is amused to watch heads explode among those who really believed Obama would bring transformational change. It's been clear for many months that there was little daylight between Hillary and Obama on policy. Some people bought into the Clinton demonization project a bit too much in the winter and spring.
This is huge news, and the clearest evidence yet that Obama means to pursue comprehensive health reform. You don't tap the former Senate Majority Leader to run your health care bureaucracy. That's not his skill set. You tap him to get your health care plan through Congress. You tap him because he understands the parliamentary tricks and has a deep knowledge of the ideologies and incentives of the relevant players. You tap him because you understand that health care reform runs through the Senate. And he accepts because he has been assured that you mean to attempt health care reform.
UPDATE 2: CNN reports that Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, an early Obama backer, will be named Homeland Security secretary. I want her to run against John McCain for Senate in 2010.