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May 12, 2005

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RonK is right that Voinovich and Luger gave Bush a way to pull Bolton. But this article by Ron Brownstein shows why that won't happen...

And as he has many times before, Bush won the legislative fight by the narrowest of margins — maintaining just enough support from Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio and other conflicted Republicans on the committee to overcome uniform Democratic opposition and move the nomination to the floor on a party-line vote.

In that way, the vote demonstrated again Bush's willingness to live on the political edge — to accept achingly narrow margins in Congress and at the ballot box to pursue ambitious changes that sharply divide the country.

"This is their style of governing," said Marshall Wittmann, a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), now serving as a fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council. "You build upon the base and pressure the middle and you ignore the other side. You push across the finish line and you move on. In their mind a win is a win, regardless of how narrow or polarizing it is."

So far, this hardheaded approach has allowed Bush to move more of his agenda into law than appeared possible for a president twice elected with narrow majorities. But it has also bitterly divided the country over his presidency and so alienated congressional Democrats that Bush often needs virtually lock-step Republican support to pass his key priorities.

I like this article because one of our favorites, Steve Clemons is quoted [and, of course because it agrees with me ;-) ]:

"What Voinovich did was reframe the issue back on the big issues, create the space for people to oppose him and bolster the Democrats," said Steven C. Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, who opposed the nomination.

But several Capitol Hill aides from both parties said they believed a narrow confirmation for Bolton now appears likely unless Democrats mounted a filibuster against him, which they may be reluctant to do amid the judicial fight.

Although Voinovich indicated he would oppose Bolton on the floor, one senior Democratic Senate aide said that "based on what I have seen so far," he did not believe enough Republicans would join him to block confirmation.

The committee vote on Bolton provided a textbook case of the gambles that Bush takes in devising his agenda — and the forces that have allowed him, more often than not, to collect on those bets.

What are those forces?

1. Borg Republicans who can not vote against Bush lest they get primaried by someone more conservative than they.
2. "A defeat on the floor would be seen as a sign that Bush's power, early in his second term, is already encountering its limits, despite Republican control of Congress."

Bottom line?

Several Republicans strongly endorsed Bolton, with Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) the most enthusiastic. But Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island also voiced unease with the choice, echoing earlier complaints from Nebraska's Chuck Hagel (though Hagel struck a more neutral tone today).

Yet after all the doubts from Voinovich and his fellow GOP skeptics, all supported the party line vote that kept Bolton's nomination alive by sending it to the floor without a recommendation

...

But today's committee vote to advance Bolton underscores the powerful impulse among most congressional Republicans to side with the president even when he pushes ideas beyond their ideological comfort zone. More than anything, the refusal by committee Republicans to sink Bolton — even after expressing so much skepticism about him — should send a cautionary signal to Democrats counting on GOP defections to derail the filibuster ban and other White House priorities.

The vote, said one senior Republican Senate aide, showed that GOP moderates "are willing to bend things, but not break them. Overall, it's a good sign for the majority and the administration, even as unpleasant as it was today."

I don't care how 'torn' they are. I care how they vote. The CW is still that Bolton wins on the Senate floor (George S has already announced Bolton will win, on tonite's ABC World News). OTOH, by forcing Bolton down their throats, Bush gives every reason for Dems to filibuster. Wouldn't that an be interesting development?

This is actually rather fun, with you, RonK, and I all betting on different outcomes. Like I said, I'm the least-wise optimist here. But I think at some point the moderates will break. And I think, depending on HOW MUCH the field changes in the next week (it may change drastically, depending on how poorly Fristie plays the nuclear option, it may change only slightly), I think Bolton might be the breaking point.

We'll see as we go forward...

I do have to say, I had more fun watching the damn hearing today than I have had watching DC politics in a while.

I agree entirely. RonK, you and I have presented three entirely plausible scenarios. With three different POTUS/VPOTUS, each of the three would come to pass.

And that CSPAN3 broadcast was the most fun since Ted Stevens had to eat his gavel over the Istook amendment on the House side.

I'm not at all sure that Democrats are less inclined to filibuster Bolton in the face of the nuclear option fight. I think there are at least a few who think it's an excellent idea. On the other hand, I'm just as sure that there are some who don't. The question will be whether they think they can provoke a nuclear response that strays outside the self-imposed boundary of judicial nominations.

On the other hand, I think it's possible that the Bush team is prepared to lose on Bolton. There's been every opportunity, up until today's revelations, to sell his nomination under the general "people of faith" umbrella. Even without explicitly trying to pass him off as "one of them," he was still salable as Bush's guy (even though he's Cheney's), and I doubt they would have had a hard time getting fundies to carry water for them on this nomination, too. No, there's no connection between their "faith" and the UN, per se, but the judge thing is bogus, too. Plus, they don't give a shit.

So I've been wondering over the last couple hours whether this is a free one for moderate Republicans -- a chance that Rove will offer them to show their "independence," without actually stirring the fundamentalist hornet's nest.

I don't think there's really any evidence that that's the case, but it was fun to think about.

So I've been wondering over the last couple hours whether this is a free one for moderate Republicans -- a chance that Rove will offer them to show their "independence," without actually stirring the fundamentalist hornet's nest.

I don't think Bush, Rove or Cheney can afford to lose anything, anywhere, anytime. That would get the moderates to thinking they have power (and the press to thinking, period), and that's anathema to the WH playbook.

I'd be nice for a change if they'd all tell Bush to Cheney himself, but not likely to happen just yet.

"But I think at some point the moderates will break."

I don't see this happening until/unless the electorate delivers a rebuke in November 2006.

All the forces in the GOP right now are centripetal, not centrifugal. Everyone has decided that they must all hang together, or assuredly they shall all hang separately.

Assuming there isn't a filibuster over Bolton, 50 votes will be found. If they were one vote short, Voinivich himself would reverse course and provide it.

Waiting for GOP moderates to save the day in this environment is false hope. Only losses at the ballot box will change the dynamic.

DemFromCT's post is right - very unfortunately.

In my book, the vote today proved there are no "good Republicans" - people who would put principle and country before party - left in the Senate.

Voinivoch gets to be "independent" painlessly, and the "lockstep lemurs" give Bush his victory.

Sorry, futher proof my great-uncle who worked for Harry Truman was right when he said "the only good Republicans are pushing up daisies."

Filibuster? My gut says Democrats' interests are better served by moving the Republicans toward a vote (after extended, attended, and dramatically suspenseful debate).

First, the vote is uncomfortable for just about half of all GOP senators. For some there's a downside at the polls. Some see Bolton as a public and diplomatic embarrassment now and later. Some are appalled by his conduct as a manager, or messenger, or subordinate. Some suspect he'll deliver uproar where reform is in order. Some have reservations rooted in conservative decency, "family values", and simple norms of adult behavior. Some nurse genuine concerns tied to intelligence failures. Some resent Bolton's lack of candor and the Administration's contempt for Senate prerogatives. Some simply recognize Bolton as an element of uncontrolled and unnecessary "project risk" in the larger GOP/conservative enterprise.

Not all uncomfortable votes are reluctant votes, not all reluctant votes can be peeled off ... but there's always a price to pay for an uncomfortable "Aye". Lugar had trouble enough in the 10-seat universe of his Committee majority.

Voinovich's candid opposition -- and Hagel's evident lack of enthusiasm -- creates cover for reluctant R's and any wavering D's.

So this is the kind of vote we'd wish on our worst enemies. Bush/Cheney will have to spend political capital to win, and there's no payoff if they score. It's a vote they risk losing, and one that leaves them spent, wounded and vulnerable if they lose.

The first "showdown" loss marks the beginning of the post-Bush era. This could be it. And it's an unnecessary engagement on their part -- high stakes only because they choose to make it high stakes.

Ideally, we'd stage this ahead of the judicial confirmation showdown, to emphasize the impression that Bush makes bad appointments. Probably won't get that chance ... but we should try.

Bolton's win (see Petey) will be a pyrrhic victory as RonK says... (see new post). Bush's political capital is now deficit spending.

Petey

Oh, I don't think we should "wait" to let moderates save the day. I think they're begging us to force their hand. I was struck by how much more cogent Voinovich's speech was yesterday than anyone else but Obama (probably Obama's best so far). If the Dems can be clear about the reasons why Bolton is BAD FOR THE US (rather than bad for his subordinates) and if they can get some press doing so, then I do think we can win this.

And I'm with RonK. Let's move this to a vote, no filibustering. In any scenario, it will produce some good for the Dems. Plus, if Bush is really ready to recess appoint (as is rumored), then we might as well extract our pound of flesh before we get the inevitable result.

There's definitely some untapped value in letting the Bolton nomination move ahead. It's a longshot, but less so than the longshot of trying to provoke a nuclear response to a Bolton filibuster.

I'm thinking here of the small number of moderate voters who may see it as a sign that it's time to awaken from their slumber. I spoke to a number of people, as I'm sure we all did, who, though they were perhaps voting for Kerry, ultimately did not fear a second Bush administration because "things never fall completely apart -- the government just isn't designed that way."

I wouldn't want to have to be the guy who makes the odds on it, but there's some chance that people see the one-two punch of Bolton and the nuclear option (combined with plummeting approval numbers, continued "corner turning" in Iraq, etc.) as the kind of wheels-coming-off they thought was beyond comprehension.

But keep your bets small.

keep your bets small

Ah nuts. Evidence that you, RonK, AND DemFromCT are all wiser than I!

Someone once said you could never go broke underestimating the intelligence (or something like it) of the American people.

Or maybe I have the idea of the quote entirely wrong. Who knows? If so, it's just more evidence that that's what the quote should be.

Excepting the Nuclear Option, our bets are small, and time is on our side ... but it looks this Texan with the big hat is pot-committed, and determined to go all in.

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." - H.L. Mencken
http://www.quotedb.com/quotes/2199

The Senate Democrats have canny old wolf Robert Byrd to show them any possible parliamentary maneuvers for next week and the next 3 weeks. Byrd will keep his eye on several prizes. Judicial nominees, Bolton, preservation of the appearance of power in the filibuster, diminution of Republican hold on the Senate come to mind. If it were the 1950's about now is when there'd be compromising photos of a few Republican senators appearing in the main state papers of those senators.

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