When It Comes to Holder, Specter Has Reservations

A plan by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold confirmation hearings Jan. 8 for Eric H. Holder Jr., the nominee for attorney general, is coming under fire from committee Republicans.

The panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), appeared on the Senate floor Wednesday to call for a delay of at least two more weeks to review Holder’s record as a local judge, federal prosecutor and then deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. Among other things, Specter reported that Holder’s extensive nominee questionnaire and FBI background check were not yet complete, our colleague Carrie Johnson reports.

“I am looking for a very constructive engagement to determine the qualifications of Mr. Holder,” Specter said.

Specter’s remarks ignited a tit-for-tat letter-writing exchange in which Leahy said he was “confounded” by his colleague’s position. “The need for new leadership at the Department of Justice is as critical today as it ever has been,” Leahy wrote, and he noted that the pre-inauguration hearing was standard operating procedure.

Prominent GOP advisers, including former White House aide Karl Rove, have criticized Holder for his role in a last-minute 2001 pardon that President Bill Clinton bestowed on fugitive financier Marc Rich. But more moderate Republicans say that the pardon issue alone will not be enough to jeopardize Holder’s confirmation.

We had assumed Specter’s request was the traditional ploy to draw things out so opponents would have more time to find dirt on the nominee.

But then Leahy delivered a shot, implying that Specter, one of the Senate’s best-traveled members, actually wanted a schedule change to accommodate an overseas trip over the holidays.

Leahy noted that he had asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to “facilitate your 14-day trip to 10 countries from December 25 through January 7.” He then asked Specter, “Please do let me know who the other Senators are who will be accompanying you.”

Hmmm. Leahy, as Judiciary chairman, probably authorized Specter’s congressional delegation, though it’s possible he didn’t know that the “delegation” was just Specter and his wife and an aide, who are taking a military jet to Europe and the Middle East over the holidays. The itinerary includes stops in England, Israel (his 26th visit), Syria (18th) and Austria. The Austria stop is for a chat with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

This sparring could get ugly come the confirmation hearing.

Transportation Shortlist

With President-elect Barack Obama rounding out his Cabinet, and most all nominees expected to be announced before Christmas, attention is turning to the race to become transportation secretary, a plum perch from which to influence an issue atop the new administration’s agenda: the economic stimulus infrastructure plan.

Obama is down to a small group of finalists, and Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which oversees transportation planning and financing in the nine-county San Francisco Bay area, is said to be in the rail position.
Sources said that Heminger, who declined to talk to In the Loop, has met with Obama. (He declined to talk yesterday.)

But the list is also said to include two transportation officials from the Clinton administration: Jane Garvey, who ran the Federal Aviation Administration, and Mortimer Downey, a deputy transportation secretary.

Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk is said to also be under consideration for this or another job in the administration. Reached yesterday at his Houston law office, Kirk said he did not know whether he would land the post. “As General [Colin] Powell said, if the president feels that there is a role that I can play in the administration, that is something I would have to consider,” Kirk said.

Heminger, a technical expert on infrastructure issues, has the backing of powerful members of California’s congressional delegation, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The Fix Is In

The Senate and the House, in voice votes Wednesday last night that left no fingerprints, quietly approved a measure to reduce the secretary of state’s pay to its 2007 level, from $191,300 to $186,600. The measure now goes to President Bush. The White House says he’ll sign it.

The resolution, popularly known as the “Saxbe Fix,” is an effort to deal with the Constitution’s quite explicit emoluments clause, which says that no member of Congress shall be named to any office “the emoluments whereof shall have been increased during his term.”

So Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was in the Senate when the pay last increased, will lose $4,700 a year when she takes the job, in an ploy to accommodate the Founding Fathers’ wishes. This could hurt, especially if Bill’s speechmaking income incoming takes a hit from possible future restrictions because of his wife’s post.

Madison wept.

An Addition to the Family

The Pentagon issued a 56-page report last week titled the “Joint Operating Environment 2008: Challenges and Implications for the Future Joint Force.” A real page-turner, you see, but our attention flagged somewhere between Page 8 and Page 9. After all, who reads this stuff?

The crafty North Koreans do. For there, on Page 32, was this sentence: “The rim of the great Asian continent is already home to five nuclear powers: China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Russia.”

Time for fireworks and celebrations in Pyongyang. It’s long been the stated policy of the United States that it would never, never, never acknowledge that North Korea was a nuclear power. Yet here it was, baldly stated, in a Pentagon document, our colleague Glenn Kessler reports.

KCNA, the slightly loony news agency of the North Korean government, issued a triumphal statement noting the event. “It is the first time that the U.S. officially recognized [North Korea] as a nuclear weapons state and announced it in its government report,” KCNA said.

The Pentagon quickly backtracked, saying the whole thing was a mistake. “As a matter of policy, we do not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state,” a spokesman declared. Apologies were sent to U.S. allies.

Of course, allies all privately think the United States has decided to live with North Korea as a nuclear power, so this will simply further feed their paranoia.

Viva Las Vegas

The first report of the Congressional Oversight Panel for Economic Stabilization, which was set up to monitor the administration of the Troubled Assets Recovery Program (TARP), better known as the Wall Street bailout, is not riveting reading.

Then we came to Page 34 of the 38-page report, titled “Future Oversight Activities.” The panel said it “will hold a series of field hearings to shine light on the causes of the financial crisis, the administration of TARP, and the anxieties and challenges of ordinary Americans.”
And where’s the first hearing? Vegas!

In all fairness, Las Vegas is ground zero for home foreclosures, but still .....

With Philip Rucker

By Al Kamen  |  December 11, 2008; 7:40 PM ET
Previous: The Fix Is In | Next: The Cabinet: Who’s Next?


The stench of corruption hangs low over the Obama transition.

Posted by: georgejones5 | December 11, 2008 10:43 PM | Report abuse

Dear President-Elect Obama:

“Quiet Rockland” is an organization based in Pearl River, New York that has been fighting the “Bobby” Sturgell FAA and Mary Peters USDOT for the past year-and-a-half. Our organization acts consonant with the interests of thousands of citizens in Rockland County, NY and elsewhere: 47,000 in the Town Of Orangetown, NY; 300,000 in Rockland County, NY; and 30,000,000 in the Northeast.

1. Quiet Rockland asks that, once sworn-in, you please cause your re-configured USDOT and FAA to immediately withdraw the US$53,500,000+ failed boondoggle of the prior administration known as the “NY/NJ/PHL Airspace Redesign”. It never made sense to put between 200-600 new jumbo-jets per day over densely-populated and minority-laden neighborhoods in Rockland County. We need environmental justice, a restoration of sensibility, and peace. We need cancellation of the Sturgell/Peters Airspace Redesign.

2. The American people including Quiet Rockland call for your Administration to please treat and pay all Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) and Aviation Inspectors fairly; protect them from threat and harm; and listen to them. NATCA needs a real contract. The ATCS and Inspectors are the true aviation professionals. Their input is vital to the future of American aviation safety, and they have suffered to a wholly-unacceptable degree during the failed “Bobby” Sturgell FAA regime.

3. The American people including Quiet Rockland must have a federal government that restores, to quote Congressman Oberstar, a “Culture Of Safety” in aviation. An FAA “partnership program”, on the other hand, wherein the Agency abdicates its legally-mandated function as regulator and instead adopts a cozy economic pandering relationship unabashedly calling the airlines its only “customers” - is a grotesque, harmful, and abysmal dynamic, and an insult to the intelligence of the American people. The “customers” are, in point of fact, the passengers and the overflown people on the ground. Federal law requires consideration of both, a fact that the failed Sturgell aeromercantile FAA conveniently and consistently forgot.

4. The failed “Bobby” Sturgell FAA must immediately be re-populated with responsible federal officials for a change. We need government officials who tell us the truth.

5. Finally, we respectfully request that you please select a new FAA Administrator with ties to the Northeast who understands the complexities of this region and its airspace, and one who will carry out the 4-point agenda hereinabove.

Posted by: jtormey | December 12, 2008 12:14 AM | Report abuse

I'm a Democrat, but I would love to see GWB veto the Saxbe fix for Hillary citiing his opposition to Constitutional activism. It would be a great parting shot.

Posted by: Snidely1459 | December 12, 2008 5:54 AM | Report abuse

Well, if anyone is to be the judge of Eric Holder's integrity, it should definitely be someone who pulled off the greatest rhetorical scam of the ages -- Arlen Specter -- with his infamous Magic Bullet Theory explanation of JFK's assassination.

Everyone remembers that clunker -- the one that Specter pulled out of his asss one day -- that says a nearly pristine bullet found on the gurney next to JFK, was the same one that struck him in at least 2 different places THEN went on to hit Gov. Connelly, all while changing course in midair!!!!!!!

Yeah, that's the kind of guy I want as a judge of someone's character -- a guy who's made his whole career out of one big lie.

Posted by: thesuperclasssux | December 12, 2008 6:31 AM | Report abuse

Arlen Specter and Carl Rove object to Eric Holder... GIVE ME A BREAK!

This is why a greater majority of Republican needed to be voted out of Congress. There can be no working together when you have folks like Specter. Going on vacation funded by tax payers does not surprise me!

Posted by: ohreallynow1 | December 12, 2008 7:39 AM | Report abuse

man, you gotta love it. arlen specter, after sitting on his @ss for eight friggin years while the constitutional protections for the citizens of this country were eviscerated; while he oversaw the implementation of kidnapping, rape and torture as tools of the executive; while he oversaw the corruption of the department of justice staffed with religious fundamentalists whose fealty was to the bible and not this country; while democratic politicians were framed and imprisoned for not toadying to the gop line -- this is what finally gets arlen specter aroused.

and i bet old arlen hasn't been this aroused since monica's blue dress days.

Posted by: mycomment | December 12, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

The repugnicans are just trying to flex their muscles after getting spanked in the election. it's time for these old geezers to get out of the way.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | December 12, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

That's okay. Plenty of us have reservations about Mr. Specter as well. I have never forgiven Specter for his behavior with Anita Hill and his duplicity in pretending to be in favor of certain bills then voting the other way.
I am on Holder's side in this one, though I do regret the pardon for Marc Rich. Rove et al have a lot of nerve getting huffy about other people's morality!

Posted by: bghgh | December 12, 2008 3:12 PM | Report abuse

We need another Casey-like Democrat to get rid of Specter like we did that nut case Santorum. Rove is just trying to ensure that another Mukasey-stooge gets the AG post so that there is less chance the Dems will seek indictment of criminals from the Cheney administration.

Posted by: AD11 | December 12, 2008 6:52 PM | Report abuse

As a resident of Pennsylvania (Arlen Specter's state), I am disgusted with Specter. He flaps his jaw in opposition to some outrageous crime (e.g. torture, wiretapping, spying, kidnapping, murder) of the Bush Administration and then quickly crawls back under his rock and votes the (criminal) party line. Now he actually takes some seriously obstructionist action because of his claimed concern about Holder not opposing the President's granting of a single pardon. What a crock of sh*t. Either your priorities are completely out of whack, Arlen, or you are simply trying to avoid interference with your holiday.

Posted by: law1 | December 12, 2008 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Will the southern republican senators also vote to stop all farm subsidies? This would be consistent with their opposition to the auto loan bill. Last time I checked, we are still subsidizing sugar, cotton, rice, and tobacco. And after the next hurricane, let Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Lousiana bail themselves out.

Posted by: dreeck | December 12, 2008 10:49 PM | Report abuse

Time to end cotton subsidies. Did you know that:
Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, California, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Louisiana were the top cotton-producing states in the U.S. in 2003, accounting for 80 percent of total production.The top 10 percent of cotton producers receive the majority—78 percent—of U.S. cotton subsidies.
U.S. farmers receive a subsidy of $230 per acre of cotton farmland, which is five times what they receive for cereal crops.
Despite a 2006 drought across much of the "cotton belt," U.S. cotton farmers harvested the third-highest yield average on record for that year, in part due to genetically modified crops and other improvements in technology.
Last year, 68 per cent of U.S. cotton was exported at prices substantially below true production costs.

Posted by: dreeck | December 12, 2008 11:02 PM | Report abuse

We can only hope to read about the kind of diva-like antics from the Specters that they exhibited in their European junket a couple of years ago.

Posted by: Rivery | December 16, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

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