Political quick hits (4): Who's out of the new administration, who's in, and who's in between?
1. No room at the inn for Governor Dean
"Howard Dean was never afraid to challenge the established ways of the Democratic Party in Washington. That doesn't win you many friends in this town."
-- Joe Trippi, campaign manager for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid
Howard Dean always knew his time as chairman of the Democratic National Committee was going to end after this election. I find it hard to imagine that he would want to do such a thankless job any longer.
I guess the job hasn't been entirely thankless. Even washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza managed to come up with an impressive list of accomplishments in his "The Fix" piece today on Governor Dean's curious position as the Inauguration approaches: on the outside looking in. His 50-state strategy really did lay the groundwork for the resurgence of the party in places where it had been invisible as far back as anyone can recall, and in both concept and execution his 2004 presidential bid surely provided a framework for the Obama campaign. And Chris gave us the above quote from Joe Trippi.
Dean, it turns out, pitched himself for secretary of health and human services, and it seems to me that he was splendidly suited to the job. But there's that nasty current that he's not a "team player," in presumed contrast with HHS Sec'y-designate Tom Daschle, who is likely to team-play us into a corporatist version of health-care reform that Dean would never have stood still for. (He's not a team player, after all.)
Similarly, when we hear that Rahm Emanuel scorned Dean's refusal to engage in fund-raising, when all accounts I've heard indicate that he did a smashing job raising money for the DNC, isn't it likely that what we're really being told is that Dean didn't like fund-raising the way Master Rahm does it, in cahoots with the corporate bribers he's shaking down? And maybe that in distributing those funds Dean worried about the good of the party and the country rather than his own personal benefit and aggrandizement?
Of course, as we know, and let's say it all together now: Governor Dean isn't a team player. Am I the only one thinking it's maybe kind of a shame that it isn't his team the others are being recruited to play on?
2. Ray LaHood has President-elect Obama's, er, confidence -- or something
It turns out that we haven't been the only ones waiting to find out just what qualifications retiring Rep. Ray LaHood brings to the office of secretary of transportation -- beyond the nice things he has said about trains. Certain trains, anyway. (We know, for example, that he has no interest in the high-speed rail systems that are a transit mainstay in other parts of the world.) Our pal Al Kamen has been wondering too.
LaHood for Transportation? It Wasn't That Long a Stretch.
There was much surprise last week when President-elect Barack Obama selected outgoing Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) for secretary of transportation. After all, LaHood isn't an expert on transportation matters.
His district is pretty rural and not known for having great transportation problems -- save for when Capponi's Restaurant in Toluca closes on the weekends and diners head down the road to Minonk. Won't hardly see a traffic light for miles.
And okay, so maybe his congressional district isn't a passenger rail hub. (If you ask Amtrak for an itinerary from Washington to Peoria, the largest city in his district, you're offered a 17 1/2 -hour train ride to Indianapolis and then a four-hour wait for a bus to take you on a four-hour trip to the bus station at the Peoria airport.)
On the plus side, LaHood is on the House Appropriations Committee, so he knows how to spend money, he defends earmarks, and he's no doubt been to O'Hare Airport, so at least he's got air travel experience.
Still, there had been chatter for a while that LaHood was thinking of setting up shop at a law firm here in Washington when his term ends next month. So when word spread last week that incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had called LaHood on Tuesday to offer him the job, the cognoscenti were taken aback.
But maybe they shouldn't have been. Obama did, after all, pledge to put Republicans in his Cabinet. We're told that when Obama and LaHood ran into each other on the House floor this past spring, LaHood went over to him and Obama said, "You're at the top of my list." Earlier, after Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004 and was planning to visit Peoria, he reached out to LaHood, who helped set up his schedule. Then there were those bipartisan lunches with Emanuel.
In retrospect, seems pretty obvious that LaHood was a solid contender for a top Cabinet post.
3. Why are the wingnuts targeting Hilda Solis?
People who pay attention to such things are chattering today about how Labor Secretary-designate Hilda Solis, an outspoken liberal from California, has been drawing fire from the Drum-Beating Right like no other Obama appointee this side of Attorney General-designate Eric Holder.
It's worthy of note that neither Solis nor Holder has the kind of political base that political "players" might be afraid to outrage. What's more, by coincidence no doubt, neither is what you would call a white male. Still, this doesn't explain why they would be automatic targets -- just why the Right wouldn't have much apprehension about targeting them.
The best guess in Solis's case seems to be her strong support for the Employee Free Choice Act. As Howie and I have noted frequently, EFCA, which if passed would greatly increase the opportunity of workers who want union representation to have it, not only enrages the hard-core anti-union Right but actually scares them. The fear is that a dramatic upsurge in union organizing (and I'm hearing "conservative" estimates of adding 20 million union workers to the rolls in the first year), which would likely produce large-scale infusions of cash into Democratic coffers. As Nevada Sen. John Ensign famously put it, "It would make Republicans the minority party for the next 40 to 50 years."
A more general theory I'm hearing is that the targeting of Solis is simply another stage in the Right's all-out war on labor unions.
4. And speaking of Eric Holder --
The wingnuts will have to work just a bit harder to obstruct his nomination. David Ingram reports on BLT (The Blog of LegalTimes):
Prosecutor in Marc Rich Case Endorses Holder
One of the prosecutors in the criminal case against commodities trader Marc Rich says that Eric Holder Jr. shouldn’t be disqualified from the job of attorney general because of his involvement in Rich’s pardon.
In a letter released today by the Senate Judiciary Committee, James Comey endorses Holder as President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for the nation’s top law enforcement official. Comey was in charge of the Rich case from 1987 to 1993 when he was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
Comey later served as a U.S. attorney and then deputy attorney general -- two positions that Holder has also held -- and Comey wrote that his Justice Department service reinforced his opposition to the Rich pardon.
“From that experience, I have come to believe that Mr. Holder’s role in the Rich and [Rich co-worker Pincus] Green pardons was a huge misjudgment, one for which he has, appropriately, paid dearly in reputation,” Comey wrote to Judiciary’s Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).
The letter continues:Yet I hope very much he is confirmed. I know a lot of good people who have made significant mistakes. I think Mr. Holder’s may actually make him a better steward of the Department of Justice because he has learned a hard lesson about protecting the integrity of that great institution from political fixers. I’m not suggesting errors of judgment are qualification for high office, but in this case, where the nominee is a smart, decent, humble man, who knows and loves the Department and has demonstrated his commitment to the rule of law across an entire career, the error should not disqualify him. Eric Holder should be confirmed as Attorney General.
Jim Comey, you'll recall, is one of the legal good guys -- possibly the only person to serve with honor in a position of authority in the Bush Justice Dept. He actually came out of his service with his reputation not only intact but actually enhanced.
Let me add a reminder that the charge against Rich in connection with the Rich pardon is almost always incorrectly made. He did not in fact give a "neutral leaning towards favorable" recommendation. What he said was that he was "neutral, learning towards favorable if there were foreign policy benefits that would be reaped by granting the pardon," based on information he had that the Israeli prime minister was supporting the pardon. The colleague who provides this reminder comments, "That strikes me as a big 'if,' especially since the GOP has spent the last eight years telling us that the President's view of foreign policy is ultimate trump card in policy debates."