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WHY BROWN DIDN’T GET BLUE-SLIPPED! It’s an amazing tale of pious hypocrisy—a tale that your “press corps” won’t tell: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2005

ANOTHER DEM LEADER IN ACTION: How clueless can current Dem leaders be? We’ve marveled as they’ve understated the transition costs of Bush’s private accounts. We’ve marveled as they’ve repeatedly vouched for the SS trustees’ gloomy forecast. But just how bad does it sometimes get? Last Saturday, we got an e-mail under the heading, “Nancy Pelosi does it again.” You’ll assume our e-mailer, BL, was joking:
E-MAIL (5/22/05): I'm a student at Goucher College, and today was the senior class's commencement. The address was given by Nancy Pelosi, and she said the following: "When I graduated from college, many of the terms you use today had totally different meanings for me: Back then, chips were something you ate, Windows were something you washed, discs were something you played, and the Internet, well, let's just say, Al Gore hadn't invented it yet."
You’ll assume the mailer was joking. But no—the full speech is here, on Pelosi’s web site. Let’s enjoy the fuller context of the leader’s remarks:
PELOSI (5/22/05): All progress requires a faith in ourselves, our country, and the future. Today, you are stepping into a world in which new advances in science and technology are allowing us to explore vast new frontiers from a galaxy billions of light years away to the smallest genetic switch inside a human cell. These advances carry with them the prospect for incredible progress to strengthen us at home, and maintain the peace abroad.

When I graduated from college, many of the terms you use today had totally different meanings for me: Back then, chips were something you ate, Windows were something you washed, discs were something you played, and the Internet, well, let's just say, Al Gore hadn't invented it yet.

Pelosi instructs the grads to take advantage of the “new advances in science and technology are allowing us to explore vast new frontiers.” And what does she do in her very next breath? Like a vessel of medieval rumor, she repeats a six-year-old canard—a piece of utterly phony cant the RNC used to defeat her party’s candidate (and put George W. Bush in the White House). Six years later, Pelosi still doesn’t know the simplest facts about her party’s recent history. We can only imagine how Karl Rove must laugh when he observes such a gonzo performance.

Let’s be frank: It’s impossible to image a Republican leader behaving in such a remarkable way—getting a laugh before a large public crowd with a fake, mocking claim about President Bush. But there we see it—another Dem leader in action. As Al Franken said in an unrelated post, “What in God’s name is going on?”

DON’T MISS IT: By the way, Franken’s post is a don’t-miss—a successor to his greatest anecdote of the 90s, the story he told about Margaret Warner in Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/99, then click on “The Speaker’s new language.”) We’ve been meaning to link to it since it appeared. Today, we strongly recommend it.

CAN’T SHILL AND CHEW GUM AT THE SAME TIME: As we have incomparably noted, Kevin Drum does endless, superlative work. But what in the world is going on with his endless defenses of Newsweek? No, Thursday’s report in the Washington Post didn’t support what Newsweek reported—that an upcoming U.S. army report would confirm the Koran-in-the-toilet-bowl allegation. But Kevin glory-days over the fact that Newsweek isn’t as bad as the White House. And he makes a silly, un-Drum-like, sweeping assessment of “the state of American media criticism:”

DRUM (5/26/05): The American media certainly has its share of problems these days, but the state of American media criticism is little short of buffoonish. How is it possible that our press critics have spent two weeks clucking nervously over the fact that Newsweek's source made a mistake about which report he saw the Koran allegations in, thus providing the White House with exactly the cover they needed to avoid responsibility for the fact that it's their disastrous policies that are responsible for what's happening in Afghanistan? Who needs Paris Hilton to distract attention from reality when America's media critics will do it for free?
As scholarship, this is pathetic. Is he auditioning for Dan Okrent’s post?

In the first place, who exactly does Drum have in mind when he says “our press critics have spent two weeks clucking nervously” about Newsweek, “thus providing the White House with exactly the cover they needed to avoid responsibility” for their own gross misconduct? Who exactly has done this? For ourselves, we just spent an hour on public radio discussing these events, and we found it amazingly easy to state two things at the same time—that Newsweek bungled (then dissembled about) its report, and that the White House used this minor incident to try to distract attention away from its own massively larger misconduct. Surely some conservative pundits have tried to do what Drum describes. But why does he claim that “our press critics” in general have “buffoonishly” acted this way? Who does he have in mind?

Second, note the absurdity of Drum’s assertions about Newsweek. How does he know that “Newsweek's source made a mistake about which report he saw the Koran allegations in?” Does he know this because Michael Isikoff said so? Please! In presenting this story, Newsweek dissembled about its number of “sources,” then dissembled about the way it allegedly checked its story with two officials. (“One declined to give us a response,” editor Mark Whitaker later acknowledged. Then why was he mentioned in the first place?) And the magazine has never explained its odd “fact-checking” procedure, in which an official allegedly didn’t say “no,” so Newsweek decided that he had said “yes.” But none of this seems to bother Drum; having been misled once or twice already, he politely believes what he’s told the third time! And he’s angry that others are less inclined to gulp down every word Newsweek says. In general, Drum is much smarter than this—except when Darling Newsweek comes around.

Finally, a note about Isikoff and Newsweek in general. Michael Isikoff and Newsweek’s editors should not be considered automatically credible, certainly not by liberals and Democrats who remembers the wars against Clinton and Gore—the wars which put Bush in the White House. No one crawled through the bushes in pursuit of Clinton any more than Isikoff did, and yes, there were serious “problems” with his credulous work with the discredited single source, Kathleen Willey. Meanwhile, did anyone work any harder than Howard Fineman to make a complete joke out of Candidate Gore? To see him clown (for two seeks) about Gore’s polo shirts, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/11/01, with links to earlier reports. To see him invent “Gore’s next makeover,” see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/7/00 and 11/19/02. It’s hard to be a bigger clown—and yes, this put George Bush in the White House. Why in the world should liberals and Democrats go in the tank for these men?

No, we wouldn’t suggest assuming the worst about the crew at Newsweek. But none of us know the actual facts about the way the toilet-bowl tale was assembled. It’s embarrassing to see someone as bright as Drum recite the scripts Darling Isikoff hands him. What did Newsweek’s alleged source really say? What did he say on his alleged second go-round? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t really know. But neither do the mag’s willing cheerleaders.

It’s isn’t hard to say two things at once. Here’s how easy it actually is: Newsweek bungled the toilet-bowl tale. And then, the Bush Admin sought advantage, trying to distract the public’s attention away from its own much greater misconduct. It’s easy to state both parts of this story. Drum does endless superlative work—so why in the world won’t he do it?

EASY FOR E.J.: This morning, E. J. Dionne also makes it look easy. How easy? Go ahead—just click here.

Special report: A passion for up-or-down votes!

PART 4—WHY BROWN DIDN’T GET BLUE-SLIPPED: Forget about her up-or-down vote; why did throwback nominee Janice Rogers Brown ever get out of committee? After all, despite recent hallelujahs from the GOP about the wonders of up-or-down votes, Republican senators snuffed endless Clinton nominees by the use of those devilish “blue slips.” In Idaho, Dirk Kempthorne used a blue slip to eliminate Tait (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/23/05); in Colorado, Wayne Allard tamed a Lyons (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/24/05). Meanwhile, Jesse Helms licked every (black) man in the house; Texas tyros Gramm and Hutchison slayed a string of dragons too (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/05). In Missouri, John Ashcroft snuffed one nominee for a very good reason; “I just don’t like him” he reportedly said. “We're making business as usual impossible,” said an Ashcroft spokesman. Repeatedly, Republicans solons used their slips to snuff nominees they didn’t favor. The up-or-down-vote thrills their spirit today. But back then, all was different.

So why in the world did Justice Brown ever get out of committee? She comes from California, after all, and the state is patrolled by two Dem senators, Boxer and Feinstein. Why didn’t one of the pair blue-slip Brown? Why isn’t Brown off playing golf somewhere with Jorge Rangel and Eugene Morenos?

The answer to that is quite instructive, and it’s been almost wholly ignored by your cowering “press corps.” In January 2001, George W. Bush entered the White House. And a few months later, Republican senators began to think that cool new rules might be in order. In April, the AP’s Jesse Holland told Part 1 of this remarkable story. “Republicans seek to weaken Democrats' ability to stop nominees,” the AP headline said:

ASSOCIATED PRESS (4/24/01): Senate Republicans are being accused by Democrats of trying to make it easier for President Bush to fill the federal bench with conservatives by doing away with a practice that allows a single home-state senator to easily defeat any nomination...

At issue is the so-called "blue slip" tradition, referring to the blue-colored approval papers that senators are asked to submit on nominees for filling vacant federal judgeships in their state.

When Democrats controlled the Senate, they allowed judicial nominees from Republican Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush to move forward if just one senator from a state submitted a blue slip.

After Republicans took control of the Senate in 1994, new Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, refused to move a nomination from Democrat Clinton forward unless he had blue slip approvals from both senators. Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina used the tactic to block all of Clinton's court nominees from his state.

Democrats say Hatch wants to eliminate that policy so they can't block the new Republican president's nominees.

Huh! Hatch had played by one set of rules under Clinton. But now, with a straight-talking Texan in town, he decided he wanted to play by another. Under Clinton, a single senator from a given state could block a home-state nominee with a blue slip. Now, the solon had a better idea. Bush’s judicial picks would proceed unless both senators iced them.

The battle over Hatch’s better idea raged through several iterations. (Indeed, Dems briefly retook control of the Senate when Jim Jeffords became a “runaway I.”) (For “Independent.”) But the GOP was back in charge after the 2002 elections. And Senator Hatch had done even more thinking about the fairest way to proceed:

ASSOCIATED PRESS (1/23/03): With Republicans in charge and President Bush calling for quick action on his judicial choices, Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch says he will make it harder for Democratic senators to block home state nominees for federal judgeships.

At issue is the so-called "blue slip" tradition, referring to blue-colored approval papers that senators are asked to submit on nominees to fill vacant federal judgeships in their state. For the last few years, both home-state senators had to submit a positive blue slip for a nominee to be even considered by the Judiciary Committee.

But Republicans now fear Democratic senators will use negative blue slips to block Bush nominees. There are Democratic senators in 31 states who could end a nominee's chance by just submitting a negative form.

Under Hatch's plan, a single negative blue slip from a senator won't be enough to stop a Bush nominee, something that former Democratic Judiciary Chairmen Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Joseph Biden of Delaware did as well. Fourteen states have sent one Democrat each to the Senate.

"I'll give great weight to negative blue slips, but you can't have one senator holding up, for instance, circuit nominees," said Hatch, R-Utah.

Imagine! Republicans “now fear[ed]” that Democratic senators would “use negative blue slips to block Bush nominees”—the very thing they themselves had done to a long string of Clinton nominees! Suddenly, Hatch saw how wrong the practice had been. And the pious man wasn’t afraid to speak his mind about the abomination. “You can't have one senator holding up, for instance, circuit nominees,” he piously said. One hand on his heart—one hand on his Bible—Hatch expressed the philosophical foundations behind his party’s new passion for up-or-down votes. And by the way, Hatch is a man who will act on his principles! All of a sudden, he knew it—those blue slips were wrong. And by God, he was willing to act:
ASSOCIATED PRESS (7/21/03): Sen. Orrin Hatch says he will schedule judiciary committee hearings for six Michigan judges despite the protests of Michigan's Democratic senators.

Hatch, a Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter Friday to Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow saying he will schedule hearings for four nominees to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and two nominees for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. All six were nominated by President Bush.

Levin and Stabenow said Monday they hope Hatch will reconsider. They have been blocking the hearings using a measure known as the "blue slip," referring to the blue paper senators use to tell the Judiciary Committee whether they approve of a nominee.

The Michigan senators were blocking the hearings because former Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., blue-slipped two of President Clinton's nominees, including one who went four years without a hearing. They want the White House to establish a bipartisan committee to nominate judges.

"We hope that Senator Hatch will consider the negative impact of moving forward on a partisan basis and join our effort to resolve the situation in a bipartisan manner," Levin and Stabenow said Monday in a joint statement.

Hatch said Levin and Stabenow are misusing their authority.

"To my knowledge, at no time during these extensive consultations have you articulated any specific objections to any of the nominees for the Michigan vacancies," Hatch wrote.

So now, two slips wouldn’t be enough! Clinton’s nominees for these seats had been snuffed by a single blue slip. But now, both Michigan senators turned in their slips—and Hatch, a man of deep moral bearing, said they were “misusing their authority.” Indeed, they hadn’t “articulated any specific objections to any of the nominees,” he thoughtfully said. And it’s true—Stabenow and Levin had failed to say, “I just don’t like them,” when they blue-slipped the Bush nominees. How could a pious man like Hatch fail to note such a deep problem?

So there you see the remarkable story—a remarkable story that’s easy to tell. Why didn’t Justice Brown get blue-slipped? Because the GOP kept changing the rules once George W. Bush came to power. First, they said it would take two slips; then they said even two slips weren’t enough! Today, an endless string of pious fakers describe their passion for up-and-down votes. These men and women are hypocrites—complete, total fakes. And your “press corps,” huddled beneath its desks, simply refuses to confront them.

Let’s add one more part of the story. Nicholas Confessore limned it in the American Prospect, back at the start of this disappeared gong show. We’ll highlight the most potent part of his spot-on piece:

CONFESSORE (6/4/01): During the Clinton years, any one senator could block any candidate from his or her home state (by refusing to return a memo of approval printed, literally, on a blue slip of paper); under George W. Bush, Hatch informed the Democrats, a veto would require the opposition of both home-state senators—a substantial dilution of a treasured prerogative of office.

He might as well have declared war. When NPR reporter Nina Totenberg confronted Leahy (who had been absent from the hearing) with Hatch's statement, Leahy reportedly swore, informed Totenberg that "we'll follow the rule the same way Senator Hatch followed it for the last six years," and stalked off to find his Republican colleague. During two closed-door meetings that followed, the committee's Democrats threatened to filibuster all of Bush's nominees if Hatch denied them blueslip privileges.

"We'll follow the rule the same way Senator Hatch followed it for the last six years?" Leahy had a lot to learn—about the way pious Hatch would proceed, and about the milquetoast ways of modern Dem party leaders. (One of them is currently off telling jokes about her party’s presidential nominee!) But note the key part of Confessore’s report. Why have Dems ended up running filibusters against the likes of the kooky-con Brown? Because pious Republicans changed all the rules—eliminated the prior procedures by which Brown would have been deep-sixed. Under Clinton, deeply pious Republican solons blue-slipped nominees who were “out of the mainstream.” Hatch refused to let Dems do the same—and now he bellows, deeply offended, when they try to do something else.

Yes, this story is easy to tell—and it’s a classic of pious hypocrisy. But your fearless press corps refuses to tell it. At the risk of sounding “buffoonish,” we’ll ask a slick question: Why is that?

FOR ONCE, A TALKER IS SILENT: Let’s give Senator John Warner (R-VA) some well-deserved credit. When he played some Hardball this week, he gave the following capsule account of his own party’s misconduct:

CHRIS MATTHEWS (5/25/05): Give me an estimate of your confidence level. Are you confident, optimistic, hopeful that this [Gang of 14 agreement] will hold and you will be able to have an up-or-down vote on any Supreme Court nominee this summer?

WARNER: I would say that I`m optimistic. No one can be absolutely confident, because I think the institution went through a wrenching experience, beginning in the 108th Congress, where the Democrats, under their leadership, had a series of clear filibusters, a precedent never before in the United States in 214 years at that time. And prior to that, in the committee structure, when Clinton was president, we, the Republicans, put aside quite a few nominees that never saw the light of day on the floor. So, both hands don`t come to this debate clean.

Give Warner credit. No one made him do it, but he told both parts of this story—said his own party’s hands weren’t clean in the fight over these nominations. But guess what? Although this is a remarkable story—a world-class tale of pious hypocrisy—Hardball’s Matthews hasn’t told it. That’s because he too is a pious hypocrite—a man who understands (and panders to) power, a man who knows that everyone else in his millionaire “press corps” will take a dive on this striking tale too.

Having said that, let’s note a couple of obvious points. We realize that, in telling you this, we are only being buffoonish. In fact, we’ve “enabled the right wing's agenda” by explaining how this whole thing has worked. And yes, our conduct is especially strange, because the big mainstream organs which are ducking this tale represent “the current state of the art in human perfectibility.” This weekend, everything’s right in the garden—except for our own oddball howls.

AS USUAL: For the record, the Washington Post published one short version of this remarkable story, back on January 31. As usual, though, it was an op-ed; as usual, you had to turn to an opinion column to get even a few basic facts about one of the day’s central issues. We link you here to this short account. The person who wrote it does superlative work. It’s too bad the bulk of the mainstream press doesn’t rise to his high standards. We marvel as he keeps heaping praise on those who are his inferiors.