November 5th, 2010
Pelosi stunned many Democrats on Friday with the announcement that she will run for leader of the new Democratic minority in the House. If her colleagues and the smart money in Washington thought she would retreat and resign after the Democrats' 60-seat loss Tuesday, Pelosi reminded them that she didn't become the first female speaker in history through timidity.
The question is whether she has significantly complicated life for Obama as he prepares to deal with the Republican majority in the House and Senate Republicans led by someone who spent the week hurling thunderbolts at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. From outside reports, the White House was conflicted about whether it wanted her to stay or go, torn between loyalty to the speaker for all she did during the past two years and its own political needs in the wake of Tuesday's loss.
Pelosi will be a symbol of resistance and liberal opposition to the Republicans. If Obama wants a House leader who will help draw bright lines of distinction with the new House majority, Pelosi may be exactly the right person to lead House Democrats. If he wants more room to maneuver, to make deals with Republicans as well as confront them, she may not be at all what he wants.
Memories are short in Washington, which is why there was such widespread expectation that Pelosi would resign. Former Republican speaker Newt Gingrich stepped down days after his party's embarrassing performance in the 1998 midterms (though the party did not lose its majority). Former Republican speaker J. Dennis Hastert decided not to seek a leadership position after his party lost the majority four years ago, and later quit Congress entirely.
For Pelosi, who may have looked farther back in the history books, the role model may be Sam Rayburn, the legendary Democratic speaker from Texas. Rayburn's party lost its majority in the 1946 midterms but he stayed on, running successfully for minority leader - although he never liked the term.
Rayburn's persistence was rewarded when Harry S. Truman's 1948 campaign against the "do-nothing" 80th Congress not only resulted in the president's unexpected victory but the election of a Democratic majority in the House to boot.
Pelosi may not believe House Democrats will return to the majority that quickly, but she sounds determined to defend what has happened on her watch.
If Rayburn was one of the strongest speakers in history, Pelosi is the strongest of modern times. Fighting the kind of prejudice that all women in politics face, she emerged as a shrewd, savvy and, above all, tough-minded speaker. Under her leadership, the House passed historic legislation and accumulated a record of significant productivity. Without her political skills, Obama would not be able to count health care as one of his achievements.
The other side of the story is that Pelosi became as polarizing a figure as there was in Washington - much more than Obama. The health-care law has divided the country and come to symbolize Democratic overreach. She pushed House Democrats to pass the cap-and-trade energy bill and many paid the price for it.
By Election Day, her image was upside down, with 29 percent viewing her favorably and 58 percent unfavorably. Only among liberal Democrats did her image hold up during the four years she has been speaker. Among all other groups - Republicans, independents, moderate and conservative Democrats - her numbers declined.
Republicans made Pelosi their favorite target in campaign commercials this fall, and Democrats who used her did so to make the point that they would keep their distance and independence if the voters rewarded them with another term. Most of them lost anyway.
That is why Republicans greeted Pelosi's announcement as good news for them and bad news for the president. "If Obama wants to be a one-term president, this is great for him," said John Feehery, a former top aide to Hastert. "Pelosi is going to keep the progressive flames alive and make it a lot harder for him to cut deals with Republicans and move to the center."
A Democrat with wide experience in the House agreed that Pelosi's decision to stay on could cause problems for the president. "The problem for the party and the president is that Obama needs someone in Congress who can help him get things done and reposition himself," this Democrat said. "She will be there to stoke up the left, and that's what he doesn't need."
Pelosi's announcement denies House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer the opportunity to become minority leader, unless he decides to challenge her directly. But he may not even remain as No. 2 in the House leadership, given the announcement by Rep. James Clyburn that he will seek another term as Democratic whip. Hoyer might run for whip also, creating a potentially divisive contest that would split Democrats racially and geographically.
"A Pelosi-Clyburn team, with Steny Hoyer out, would mean a click to the left by a caucus already perceived as too liberal," former Republican representative Vin Weber said. "I don't think this president can triangulate against his base. If this is what happens, it will be the same as stimulus and health care. The progressive Democrats are doubling down once again."
That is a huge risk for Obama, given what the voters seemed to be saying Tuesday. If the vote was not a clear embrace of the Republican agenda, it was at a minimum a call to check the Democrats' impulses to keep enlarging government's cost and reach. With Pelosi still at the helm in the House, voters may wonder what's changed with the Democrats.
There is another view, however. In the minority, Pelosi will have a lower profile. She can concentrate on some of the things she does superbly, including helping to raise money for Democrats for the next election.
She also could be the point person for picking fights with Republicans, relieving Obama of the role of both conciliator and aggressor. If her fights were to gain traction, as House Democrats' did when they went after the GOP's cuts in the growth of Medicare spending in 1995 before the White House signed on, Obama could still reap the political benefits.
That, however, is months into the future. On this first weekend after the Democrats' shellacking, Pelosi still sees herself as the party's leader in the House and, if she wins the job, Obama will have to accommodate to that unexpected reality.
November 5th, 2010
MSNBC has suspended star anchor Keith Olbermann following the news that he had donated to three Democratic candidates this election cycle.
"I became aware of Keith's political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay," MSNBC president Phil Griffin said in a statement.
Politico reported Friday that Olbermann had donated $2,400 each to Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, and to Kentucky Senate contender Jack Conway. While NBC News policy does not prohibit employees from donating to political candidates, it requires them to obtain prior approval from NBC News executives before doing so.
In a statement earlier Friday, Olbermann defended his donation, saying, "I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level."
Griffin's statement underscores that it was Olbermann's failure to obtain approval, and not the actual political donations, that prompted the suspension.
The move is doubly significant in that it represents a major development in the relationship between Griffin and Olbermann, who once told the New Yorker, "Phil thinks he's my boss."
"Keith doesn't run the show," Griffin told New York Magazine recently. "I do a lot of things he doesn't like. I do a lot of things he does."
In recent months, Griffin has taken several bold steps to declare his authority over the network and its sometimes unruly talent: he sent a stern memo warning hosts to not publicly fight with each other, he suspended David Shuster indefinitely for filming a CNN pilot, suspended Donny Deutsch, banned Markos Moulitsas from the network, and reprimanded Ed Schultz for threatening to "torch" the network.
The New York Times' Brian Stelter and Bill Carter report that, according to one NBC executive, Friday's suspension is "not a step toward firing" Olbermann, though a source also told the New York Observer that there was "no time frame" for Olbermann's potential return. The Nation's Chris Hayes will host "Countdown" Friday night, the network said (according to a tweet from Yahoo's Michael Calderone). (UPDATE: Stelter later tweeted that Hayes will not host Friday's show after all. MSNBC has not announced who would be replacing him.)
November 5th, 2010
Former President George W. Bush says it was a "huge mistake" to let himself be photographed looking from Air Force One down at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Bush reflected on the iconic photograph during an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer to promote his forthcoming memoir, "Decision Points." The photo was published widely and only reinforced the view that the Bush administration didn't act quickly enough or fully grasp the severity of the problems on the ground in New Orleans after the levees broke.
|[Photos: Iconic images of Katrina's aftermath]|
"Let's get to the picture that we may have seen more of you in the last couple years of your presidency than any other picture," Lauer said. "You're sitting in Air Force One, flying back toward Washington. You fly right over New Orleans and you look out the window."
"Yes," Bush responded. "Huge mistake."
The full Lauer interview airs 8 p.m. Monday night, with Bush's book hitting shelves the following day. But NBC released the following excerpt Friday:
LAUER: Yeah. And in comes the press and they take that picture. And it made you look so out of touch.
BUSH: Detached and uncaring. No question about it.
LAUER: Whose fault was it?
BUSH: It's always my fault. I mean I was the one who should have said, A, don't take my picture, B, let's land in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, C, let's don't even come close to the area. Let's -- the next place to be seen is in Washington at a command center. I mean, it was my fault.
LAUER: When the picture's released you write, "I immediately knew it was a problem."
BUSH: Of course. I'd been around long enough to know that when it was released. And the reason why we didn't land in Louisiana is because I was concerned that first responders would be pulled off their task and I'd be criticized. In retrospect,Â however, I should have touched down in Baton Rouge, met with the governor and walked out and said, "I hear you. We understand. And we're going to help the state and help the local governments with as much resources as needed." And then got back on a flight up to Washington. I did not do that. And paid a price for it.
[Then and now photos: New Orleans, five years later]
It's likely that most of the revelations in Bush's book will be covered before the title becomes available in stores.
The New York Times already snagged a copy of the book and revealed Tuesday that Bush once considered replacing Vice President Dick Cheney before running for re-election in 2004. Also, NBC released a previous excerpt in which Bush said that rapper Kanye West's criticism of him after Katrina—that he "doesn't care about black people"—was "one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency."
(Photo of Bush overlooking New Orleans on Aug. 31, 2005: AP/Susan Walsh)
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November 5th, 2010
November 5th, 2010
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, November 5, 2010
For all the turmoil, the spectacle, the churning - for all the old bulls slain and fuzzy-cheeked freshmen born - the great Republican wave of 2010 is simply a return to the norm. The tide had gone out; the tide came back. A center-right country restores the normal congressional map: a sea of interior red, bordered by blue coasts and dotted by blue islands of ethnic/urban density.
Or to put it numerically, the Republican wave of 2010 did little more than undo the two-stage Democratic wave of 2006-2008 in which the Democrats gained 54 House seats combined (precisely the size of the anti-Democratic wave of 1994). In 2010 the Democrats gave it all back, plus about an extra 10 seats or so for good - chastening - measure.
The conventional wisdom is that these sweeps represent something novel, exotic and very modern - the new media, faster news cycles, Internet frenzy and a public with a short attention span and even less patience with government. Or alternatively, that these violent swings reflect reduced party loyalty and more independent voters.
Nonsense. In 1946, for example, when party loyalty was much stronger and even television was largely unknown, the Republicans gained 56 seats and then lost 75 in the very next election. Waves come. Waves go. The republic endures.
Our two most recent swing cycles were triggered by unusually jarring historical events. The 2006 Republican "thumpin'" (to quote George W. Bush) was largely a reflection of the disillusionment and near-despair of a wearying war that appeared to be lost. And 2008 occurred just weeks after the worst financial collapse in eight decades.
Similarly, the massive Republican swing of 2010 was a reaction to another rather unprecedented development - a ruling party spectacularly misjudging its mandate and taking an unwilling country through a two-year experiment in hyper-liberalism.
A massive government restructuring of the health-care system. An $800 billion-plus stimulus that did not halt the rise in unemployment. And a cap-and-trade regime reviled outside the bicoastal liberal enclaves that luxuriate in environmental righteousness - so reviled that the Democratic senatorial candidate in West Virginia literally put a bullet through the bill in his own TV ad. He won. Handily.
Opposition to the policies was compounded by the breathtaking arrogance with which they were imposed. Ignored was the unmistakable message from the 2009-10 off-year elections culminating in Scott Brown's anti-Obamacare victory in bluer-than-blue Massachusetts. Moreover, Obamacare and the stimulus were passed on near-total party-line votes - legal, of course, but deeply offensive to the people's sense of democratic legitimacy. Never before had anything of this size and scope been passed on a purely partisan basis. (Social Security commanded 81 House Republicans; the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 136; Medicare, 70.)
Tuesday was the electorate's first opportunity to render a national verdict on this manner of governance. The rejection was stunning. As a result, President Obama's agenda is dead. And not just now. No future Democratic president will try to revive it - and if he does, no Congress will follow him, in view of the carnage visited upon Democrats on Tuesday.
This is not, however, a rejection of Democrats as a party. The center-left party as represented by Bill Clinton remains competitive in every cycle. (Which is why he was the most popular, sought-after Democrat in the current cycle.) The lesson of Tuesday is that the American game is played between the 40-yard lines. So long as Democrats don't repeat Obama's drive for the red zone, Democrats will cyclically prevail, just as Republicans do.
Nor should Republicans overinterpret their Tuesday mandate. They received none. They were merely rewarded for acting as the people's proxy in saying no to Obama's overreaching liberalism. As one wag put it, this wasn't an election so much as a restraining order.
The Republicans won by default. And their prize is nothing more than a two-year lease on the House. The building was available because the previous occupant had been evicted for arrogant misbehavior and, by rule, alas, the House cannot be left vacant.
The president, however, remains clueless. In his next-day news conference, he had the right demeanor - subdued, his closest approximation of humility - but was uncomprehending about what just happened. The "folks" are apparently just "frustrated" that "progress" is just too slow. Asked three times whether popular rejection of his policy agenda might have had something to do with the shellacking he took, he looked as if he'd been asked whether the sun had risen in the West. Why, no, he said.