Grassley, Harkin split over CIA director, appeals court judge confirmation

The U.S. Senate confirmed John Brennan yesterday as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. A cloture motion on Brennan's nomination passed by 81 votes to 16. Senator Tom Harkin voted yes, as did all the Senate Democrats and most Republicans. Senator Chuck Grassley was one of the 16 Republicans who attempted to block Brennan's nomination from coming to a vote. Senators then confirmed Brennan by 63 votes to 34. Again, Harkin voted yes, like all but two members of the Senate Democratic caucus. Grassley voted no, as did most of the Senate Republicans. I am disappointed but not surprised that most of the Senate Democrats went along with one of President Barack Obama's worst cabinet appointments. If a Republican president had nominated someone with Brennan's record on civil liberties, Democratic senators would have raised more serious questions.

I will update this post if I see any public comments from Harkin or Grassley on the Brennan confirmation vote.

Earlier this week, Grassley and 40 other Republicans successfully filibustered the nomination of Caitlin Joan Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Senate Republicans previously filibustered her nomination in 2011; President Barack Obama renominated her for the same position. Halligan is highly qualified, having argued many cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the National Rifle Association has lobbied Senate Republicans to oppose her. Grassley has not released any comment explaining his vote against cloture (ending debate) on Halligan's nomination. After the jump I've posted a statement from the Iowa Fair Courts Coalition.

MARCH 22 UPDATE: President Obama withdrew Halligan's nomination, saying she had requested that action. In a written statement, the president commented, "This unjustified filibuster obstructed the majority of Senators from expressing their support. I am confident that with Caitlin's impressive qualifications and reputation, she would have served with distinction."

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Rand Paul filibuster discussion thread

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky delayed Senate business yesterday by launching a filibuster that lasted nearly 13 hours. The ninth-longest filibuster in Senate history and the longest since 1992 focused on the president’s power to order an American citizen killed on U.S. soil. Paul managed to delay a planned confirmation vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee for CIA director, John Brennan. Senators are likely to confirm Brennan today, but Paul’s tactic served two longtime historical purposes of the filibuster: slow down Senate business and call attention to an issue of national importance. To my knowledge, the last lengthy filibuster of this kind happened when Bernie Sanders talked for more than eight hours against the December 2010 deal to extend most Bush tax cuts.

Eight other senators joined Paul’s filibuster yesterday: seven Republicans and Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon. Iowa’s GOP Senator Chuck Grassley did not take part.

In related news, some Senate Democrats are warning that the majority may revisit filibuster reform because Republicans continue to demand a 60-vote majority for almost any kind of Senate business. That was entirely foreseeable. But Democrats missed their best chance to change the rules at the beginning of this year’s Congress. They should have listened to Senator Tom Harkin, who has been trying for years to curtail the abuse of the filibuster.

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New Obama cabinet discussion thread

Time for a new thread to discuss any Obama cabinet appointments. The Senate Intelligence Committee held a confirmation hearing today for John Brennan, President Barack Obama's nominee for CIA director. I didn't watch the hearing, but based on reports like this and this, it sounds like he didn't demonstrate that he deserves to be confirmed.

I loved this story in The Onion: "American Citizens Split On DOJ Memo Authorizing Government To Kill Them."

The president announced earlier this week that Sally Jewell will be his nominee as interior secretary. She's an interesting choice. I've posted some background after the jump.

The Hill discussed some of the names supposedly on the short list for transportation secretary. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have urged Obama to consider Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina for that job, but Clyburn doesn't sound interested in leaving the House.

Penny Pritzker, "who made her fortune building Hyatt Hotels" and has been one of Obama's powerhouse fundraisers, is reportedly the president's choice to run the Commerce department.

Gretchen Morgenson, one of the best reporters on the finance and banking industries, published a recap of Timothy Geithner's tenure as Treasury secretary.

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Worst Obama nominee ever?

The U.S. Senate is about to get bogged down in a debate over whether Chuck Hagel is pro-Israel enough to be President Barack Obama’s secretary of defense. An amusing sideshow will feature Republicans appalled by Hagel’s anti-gay remark about a 1998 nominee of President Bill Clinton. After much time is wasted, senators will confirm Hagel to run the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, there is likely to be little debate over Obama’s most appalling nominee yet: John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency. I don’t have much to add to concerns the American Civil Liberties Union and Glenn Greenwald raised yesterday. It’s bad enough that the Obama administration is still doing renditions, spying on Americans without a warrant, and escalating its use of drone strikes that kill many civilians. The president is promoting his top terrorism adviser, who’s deeply associated with those policies, and it’s not even a controversial appointment. The Senate should have a real debate about this policy but won’t. Greenwald noted, “the reason Obama needs a new CIA chief is because David Petraeus was forced to resign. Here we see the ethos and morality of imperial Washington: past support for torture and rendition does not disqualify one for a top national security position; only an extramarital affair can do that.”

Any comments about Obama’s cabinet appointments are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: Senator Chuck Grassley commented on Hagel’s nomination today but did not say whether he plans to vote for or against confirming him.

Apparently Brennan denies having supported torture as U.S. policy, but he is on record backing “coercive methods” of interrogation.

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

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.

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