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Friday, February 15, 2008

Black Leader, a Clinton Ally, Tilts to Obama


Representative John Lewis of Georgia with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Oct. 12, 2007, the day he endorsed her in the Democratic presidential race.

MILWAUKEE — Representative John Lewis, an elder statesman from the civil rights era and one of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s most prominent black supporters, said Thursday night that he planned to cast his vote as a superdelegate for Senator Barack Obama in hopes of preventing a fight at the Democratic convention.

“In recent days, there is a sense of movement and a sense of spirit,” said Mr. Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who endorsed Mrs. Clinton last fall. “Something is happening in America, and people are prepared and ready to make that great leap.”

Mr. Lewis, who carries great influence among other members of Congress, disclosed his decision in an interview in which he said that as a superdelegate he could “never, ever do anything to reverse the action” of the voters of his district, who overwhelmingly supported Mr. Obama.

“I’ve been very impressed with the campaign of Senator Obama,” Mr. Lewis said. “He’s getting better and better every single day.”

His comments came as fresh signs emerged that Mrs. Clinton’s support was beginning to erode from some other African-American lawmakers who also serve as superdelegates. Representative David Scott of Georgia, who was among the first to defect, said he, too, would not go against the will of voters in his district.

The developments came on a day in which Mrs. Clinton set out anew to prove that the fight for the Democratic nomination was far from over. Campaigning in Ohio, she pursued a new strategy of biting attack lines against Mr. Obama, while adopting a newly populist tone as she courted blue-collar voters.

Mrs. Clinton also intensified her efforts in Wisconsin, which holds its primary on Tuesday and where she and Mr. Obama now have the first dueling negative television advertisements of the campaign.

In the ads, Mrs. Clinton taunted Mr. Obama for refusing to debate her in Wisconsin. And she and former President Bill Clinton prepared for a new fund-raising blitz to try to counter Mr. Obama’s edge of several million dollars in campaign cash.

Yet even as the Democratic rivals looked ahead to the primaries in Wisconsin, Ohio and Texas, Mr. Lewis said he and other prominent African-American party leaders had been moved by Mr. Obama’s recent victories and his ability to transcend racial and geographic lines.

Though Mr. Lewis had praise for Mrs. Clinton and for her historic candidacy, he said he could decide within days whether to formally endorse Mr. Obama.

He also said he and other lawmakers would meet in the coming days to decide how they intended to weigh in on the nominating fight. If neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama receive enough pledged delegates to win the nomination, superdelegates like Mr. Lewis may play the deciding role in who wins.

“If I can be used as a mediator, a negotiator or a peacemaker, I’d be happy to step in,” Mr. Lewis said, adding that he intends to speak to both candidates in hopes of ending the race amicably in the next month. “I don’t want to see Mrs. Clinton damaged or Mr. Obama damaged.”

Jay Carson, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, said Thursday: “Congressman Lewis is a true American hero, and we have the utmost respect for him and understand the great pressure he faced. And Senator Clinton enjoys incredibly strong support from superdelegates around the country from all regions and races.”

The comments by Mr. Lewis underscored a growing sentiment among some of the party’s black leaders that they should not stand in the way of Mr. Obama’s historic quest for the nomination and should not go against the will of their constituents. As superdelegates, they may have the final say, which is something Mr. Lewis said he feared would weaken Democrats and raise Republicans’ chances of winning the White House.

Still, the Democratic nominating fight clearly has many turns ahead. On Thursday, Mrs. Clinton unleashed the most ambitious mobilization of her forces in weeks, reflecting the intense pressure she is under from Mr. Obama, the political necessity for her of towering performances in the delegate-rich primaries in Ohio and Texas on March 4, and her fresh hope of an upset victory in Wisconsin.

Specifically, Mrs. Clinton is hoping to gain political mileage by turning one of Mr. Obama’s attributes, his oratory, against him. She is warning voters about politicians who give great speeches and make big promises but ultimately do not deliver on them.

“Speeches don’t put food on the table,” Mrs. Clinton said at a General Motors plant in Warren, Ohio, on Thursday morning. “Speeches don’t fill up your tank, or fill your prescription, or do anything about that stack of bills that keeps you up at night.”

“My opponent gives speeches,” she added. “I offer solutions.”

Mrs. Clinton has been also criticizing Mr. Obama with populist language, saying she would “take on” insurers and credit card companies and “go after” drug companies. She portrayed Mr. Obama as untested on the battlefield against special interests.

If there was a sign of the imbalance in momentum between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama on Thursday, it could be gleaned from Mr. Obama’s travel itinerary. He took a respite from the campaign trail, aides said, so he could spend Valentine’s Day with his family in Chicago before returning to Wisconsin on Friday.

Clinton advisers said Thursday that it was unlikely they would broadcast “horrible nasty negative ads,” in the words of one adviser, and that they were wary of going too negative against Mr. Obama, given what the Clintons say is the news media’s tendency to coddle and protect Mr. Obama and portray the Clintons as an attack machine.

At the same time, Clinton advisers say that the stakes are so high — in Ohio and Texas in particular — that Mrs. Clinton cannot afford to let Mr. Obama gain momentum. In Wisconsin, for instance, Mrs. Clinton is hoping to stave off a blowout — and perhaps even pull off a surprise — by blasting Mr. Obama for refusing to debate her there.

“The last time we debated was in California, and I convincingly won California, which may be why Senator Obama doesn’t want to have a debate in Wisconsin,” Mrs. Clinton said in a telephone conference call with reporters.

Mr. Carson, her spokesman, said she would keep the debate issue alive until Tuesday.

“A refusal to debate one’s primary opponent is always seen by regular voters as being chicken,” he said. “And voters, especially Democratic voters hungry for a general election win, want a candidate who is tough and ready.”

Mr. Obama responded to the attacks with a television spot of his own in Wisconsin.

“After 18 debates, with two more coming, Hillary says Barack Obama is ducking debates?” the advertisement says, showing images from their debates over the last year. “It’s the same old politics, of phony charges and false attacks.”

As Mrs. Clinton was delivering her criticism of Mr. Obama in Ohio, a similar argument was presented to Wisconsin voters by Mr. Clinton, who referred to Mr. Obama as “the excitement of the now.”

“It’s about whether you choose the power of solutions over the power of speeches,” Mr. Clinton told a small gathering of voters in Milwaukee, ticking through a list of his wife’s platforms and accomplishments.

In New Mexico, one of the more than 20 states to hold contests on Feb. 5, the votes were finally counted Thursday, giving Mrs. Clinton a victory and providing more evidence that the contest was far from concluded. She continued to hold a lead among superdelegates, even as a New Jersey official, Christine Samuels, changed her support to Mr. Obama and at least two others went back to being uncommitted.

Original here


Exodus of Clinton’s Superdelegates Not About Black and White


The talk of politics this afternoon is an AP story reporting that some Democratic National Convention “superdelegates” that had been supporting Clinton are moving into the “undecided” category or now supporting Obama.

It’s a great story, so why does the AP’s David Espo have to screw it up by trying - inaccurately - to make it about race?

Two of the superdelegates cited by the AP are US Representatives from Georgia - David Scott, who has defected to Obama and civil rights pioneer John Lewis, who is talking about the possibility of doing the same - and the story, titled “Black Lawmakers Rethink Clinton Support,” notes that they’re members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

But the story cites other superdelegates from other parts of the country that AP reports have also defected:

Two other superdelegates, Sophie Masloff of Pennsylvania and Nancy Larson of Minnesota, are uncommitted, having dropped their earlier endorsements of Clinton.

Let me introduce you to Masloff, who turned 90 last month, who was a delegate at the last two Democratic National Conventions and is the former mayor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

sophiemasloff.jpg

And Nancy Larson, former Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor and State Auditor, is from Minnesota:

NancyLarson.jpg

So what gives with the AP headline?

Original here

Obama camp cries foul over Clinton stance in Florida

Barack Obama's campaign criticized Hillary Clinton for wanting Florida and Michigan delegates to be included.


breinhard@MiamiHerald.com

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks at a campaign stop at Saint Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008.
LM Otero / AP Photo
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks at a campaign stop at Saint Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008.

After eight losses in a row and no victories in sight this month, Hillary Clinton's campaign renewed calls Wednesday for the votes in Florida and Michigan to count toward delegates that would help her catch Barack Obama.

Obama's camp said her demand was a blatant attempt to ignore the ground rules set when the national party stripped both states of their delegates for breaking early-primary rules. Last summer, all of the major candidates agreed to boycott the two renegade states.

''Now, when they believe it serves their political interests, they're trying to rewrite the rules,'' Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, told reporters in a telephone call. ``Now, at the 11th hour, the Clinton campaign is trying to rewrite rules that were firmly established, and I don't think there's a lot of appetite for that in the country or a lot of appetite for that at the DNC.''

In fact, when the national party inflicted its punishment on Florida in August, Clinton's campaign did not protest. And on Sept. 1, Clinton went along with the boycott urged by four smaller states authorized by the DNC to hold the earliest contests.

PREVIOUS STANCE

About one month later, her chief rivals took their names off the Michigan ballot. Clinton did not, but said during an interview on public radio, ``It's clear, this election they're having is not going to count for anything.''

But when Michigan voted on Jan. 15, Clinton stood up for voters there and in Florida -- states she expected to win handily. ''The people of Michigan and Florida have just as much of a right to have their voices heard as anyone else,'' the campaign said in a statement as the Michigan results came in.

Since then, as Obama has racked up more victories and nudged ahead in delegates, Clinton and her supporters have repeatedly called for the two states to count. On Wednesday, the day after her defeats in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, top advisors said she was entitled to 178 delegates from Florida and Michigan.

`HAS TO BE RESOLVED'

''We believe those should be counted at the convention,'' Clinton's field director, Guy Cecil, told reporters in a telephone call. ``The issue of the votes in Florida and Michigan -- that has to be resolved.''

That demand is welcomed by Democratic activists anxious about the party alienating voters in the nation's largest battleground state. In recent days, three prominent civil-rights leaders, including the chairman of the NAACP, have argued that the national party's punishment amounts to disenfranchising voters in Florida and Michigan.

''I don't understand why Barack Obama's side would be against Florida voters counting,'' said U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, a senior advisor to Clinton's campaign. ``I understand they may feel strongly about the momentum and all, but there were 1.7 million Democrats who voted on the 29th.''

But Clinton's appeal on the states' behalf rings hollow to her critics and even to some Democrats who have stayed neutral in the race, though they want Florida to participate in the Democratic convention in August.

`DISINGENUOUS'

Clinton's move to count Florida is ''absolutely very disingenuous now that Obama is ahead in delegates,'' said Ann Zucker, president of the Broward County Council of Club Presidents, who has not endorsed a candidate.

Clinton faces what could be a three-week drought until votes on March 4 in Ohio and Texas, states she needs to dominate in order to regain momentum. Obama is favored to win next week in Hawaii and Wisconsin.

But neither candidate is expected to clinch the 2,025 delegates needed to claim the nomination. Obama is counting on building a lead that is big enough to pressure Clinton to bow out. Clinton is banking on keeping the race tight while pushing for Florida and Michigan.

And both candidates are wooing about 800 elected officials and DNC members across the country, called ''superdelegates,'' who can support whomever they like at the convention, regardless of how their states voted.

''Neither campaign is in a position to win this nomination without the support of superdelegates,'' said Clinton's communications director, Howard Wolfson. ``We are looking right now at essentially a tied contest.''

That's not how the Obama campaign sees it.

''We have a large pledged-delegate lead,'' said campaign manager Plouffe, pointing to more than 100 extra delegates won in primaries and caucuses. ``The only way she can overcome this pledged-delegates lead is to win most of the remaining contests in blowout form.''

One option still open to Florida and Michigan is to organize party-run elections that count toward delegates.

Miami Herald staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report.

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Matthews Calls Clinton Press Shop "Lousy," "Kneecappers"

Chris Matthews fired a salvo at the Clinton campaign this morning after both he and his MSNBC colleague were privately and publicly rebuked for recent comments deemed misogynistic or inappropriate.

Appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe, the Hardball host went off on the Clinton press shop, calling them "knee cappers" who were "lousy" and delve in the business of "intimidation."

"What she has to do is get rid of the kneecapers that work for her, these press people whose main job seems to be punishing Obama or going after the press, to building a positive case for her," said Matthews. "Her campaign slogan right now is don't get your hopes up. That won't work in America. You can't diminish Obama and hope that you will rise from the ashes."

Asked why he believed Clinton had gone negative, Matthews again struck an antagonistic chord about the campaign's media operation.

"The kneecapping hasn't worked. Her press relations are lousy," he said. "If all you do is intimidate and punish and claim you'll get even relentlessly, people of all kinds of politicians -- and in all fairness, the press -- human reaction to intimidation is screw you. That's the human reaction. Don't tell me what to say, and that has been their whole policy. We're going to win this thing. Get out of the way."


Animosity between the Clinton campaign and MSNBC has been intense and well documented. Last week, for the first time, it bubbled to the surface, when the Clintons pressed for correspondent David Shuster to be suspended (and, perhaps, fired) for claiming that they had "pimped out" Chelsea Clinton to help secure the support of super delegates. Schuster offered an on-air apology and has since been suspended by the network.

Matthews, himself, was long thought to be at the center of the Clintons' ire, for critical coverage and remarks that attributed the senator's success to her husband's infidelities. And indeed, yesterday, Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent reported that "Hillary's advisers" have "repeatedly taken their grievance with Matthews directly to the network."

Original here

McCain Fears Obama

It seems that John McCain will do what he has to to pump up a Hillary Clinton nomination, sparing himself from having to face Barack Obama in the fall. With his nomination on the Republican side a near certainty, McCain has trained his focus on Obama as he hopes to tilt that race in Clinton’s favor. Yesterday the attacks began in earnest as the Arizona senator derided Obama’s soaring rhetoric for lacking specificity.

”There’s going to come a time when we’re going to have to get into specifics. I have not observed every speech he has given obviously, but they are singularly lacking in specifics…To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people is not a promise of hope, it is a platitude.”

The attacks continued when McCain’s economic adviser, Kevin Hasset, alleged that Obama “plagiarized” Hillary Clinton’s economic stimulus package. The wording was harsh. The full text of the attack along with the Obama camp’s response can be found here. McCain’s attacks hold little water as he has been painfully vague himself in his policy proposals.


Why is the Senator bothering to inject himself into this as yet undecided fight? The polls consistently show that McCain runs stronger against Clinton than Obama by anywhere from 6-11 points. Obama runs very strong among independents and some moderate Republicans, the same constituency that McCain is courting. But McCain’s biggest fear is that the conservative wing of his party, jaded by what they see as liberal tendencies of their nominee, simply stays home in November. With Hillary Clinton on the ballet this is far less likely as she is a most reviled figure in conservative circles and would surely drive Republican turnout in a way that Obama would not.


Obviously if the McCain camp sees Obama as a more formidable opponent than the Democratic establishment in the form of super delegates are seeing the same thing. There is nothing this core group of Democratic loyalists want more than to take the White House this fall and if they believe Obama offers them the better shot you can be sure they’ll be abandoning Clinton in droves in the coming weeks.

Original here

Mark Penn Tied To Controversial Nuclear Firm

Even as Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign was blasting Sen. Barack Obama for his ties to the Exelon Corporation, the firm of Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, was earning hundreds of thousands of dollars from the very same nuclear energy giant.

This past week, Burson Marsteller, Penn's powerhouse consulting agency, was paid more than $230,000 by Exelon to help renew a nuclear energy license in New Jersey, the Huffington Post has learned. The payment was for work that took place over several months, and Burson is still employed by the company.

"They did some work for us in New Jersey between June and November," said Craig Nesbit, vice president of communications for Exelon Generation, a subsidiary. "That bill was invoiced on December 12 and it just took that long to pay these things... We still are paying them a little bit but it is ramping down."

It has been public knowledge that Exelon is a client of Burson. But news of the recent payment comes less than two weeks after the Clinton campaign, and Penn himself, took Obama to task for what they implied was preferential treatment for the company.

On February 3, 2008, the New York Times reported that Obama had backed away from criticism of Exelon following revelation that the company had not disclosed radioactive leaks at one of its nuclear plants. The Illinois Senator, the paper noted, chose to push legislation that offered guidance, rather than mandates, for prompt reporting of leaks. Moreover, the Times added, Obama's senior adviser David Axelrod worked as a consultant to Exelon, and "since 2003, executives and employees of Exelon, which is based in Illinois, have contributed at least $227,000 to Mr. Obama's campaigns for the United States Senate and for president."

Following the article's publication, the Clinton campaign pressed the notion that Obama had succumbed to pressure from his donors, even though Clinton had supported the bill. In a radio ad before the Nevada primary, the campaign used Obama's Exelon ties to cast doubt about his opposition to Yucca Mountain, a proposed nuclear waste depository. And in a memo to "interested parties," Penn himself highlighted the Times story, arguing that what Obama says is often contradicted by what journalists find "when they dig into the facts."

Nine days later, Penn's firm, Burson Marsteller, received $230,627.05 from Exelon -- roughly $3,000 more than the sum of Obama's campaign donations from Exelon employees -- for work deemed "Public Affairs."

Representatives from Burson confirmed the payment. While Howard Wolfson, a spokesperson for the Clinton campaign, said there were no political ties between Sen. Clinton and the company: "I dont recall Exelon sitting in Senator Clinton's office watering down legislation designed to protect people from nuclear leaks," he said.

The information about Penn's financial links to Exelon was not provided by any political campaign.

Burson, it should be noted, is not technically working for the Clinton campaign. But a subsidiary Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates is, having been paid more than $4.3 million so far. Moreover, Penn is Clinton's highest-ranking adviser and continues to hold the title of "worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller."

That he would have financial ties to Exelon, watchdog groups say, is of political significance.

"I think it is not that unusual to see advisers to all of the candidates also advising various interests and it is undoubtedly a tough thing for the candidates to be able to filter whether or not the advice they get from people who also lobby is going to be truly impartial advise," said Josh Israel, a senior researcher for the Center for Public Integrity's "Buying of the President 2008."

"Hopefully, the candidates will take it with a grain."

According to Nesbit, the work Burson undertook on Exelon's behalf was primarily to generate local political support for nuclear energy. In August 2007, the New Jersey Affordable, Clean, Reliable Energy Coalition (NJ ACRE) was created to help secure the renewal of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant's operating license. Around that time, Burson set up speaking engagements and events for Patrick Moore, a Green Peace founder who now supports nuclear energy, to advocate on the plant's behalf. They also conducted at least one poll on the subject.

Criticism of renewing the Oyster Creek license has not been absent. Local officials and residents have worried that the nuclear station did not have a clear evacuation route in case of an accident, and was hazardous for local water life.

During the presidential campaign, Obama has said the he would like to explore nuclear power as an energy option while Clinton says she's "agnostic" on the issue.

Original here

Black Leader, a Clinton Ally, Tilts to Obama

MILWAUKEE — Representative John Lewis, an elder statesman from the civil rights era and one of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s most prominent black supporters, said Thursday night that he planned to cast his vote as a superdelegate for Senator Barack Obama in hopes of preventing a fight at the Democratic convention.

“In recent days, there is a sense of movement and a sense of spirit,” said Mr. Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who endorsed Mrs. Clinton last fall. “Something is happening in America, and people are prepared and ready to make that great leap.”

Mr. Lewis, who carries great influence among other members of Congress, disclosed his decision in an interview in which he said that as a superdelegate he could “never, ever do anything to reverse the action” of the voters of his district, who overwhelmingly supported Mr. Obama.

“I’ve been very impressed with the campaign of Senator Obama,” Mr. Lewis said. “He’s getting better and better every single day.”

His comments came as fresh signs emerged that Mrs. Clinton’s support was beginning to erode from some other African-American lawmakers who also serve as superdelegates. Representative David Scott of Georgia, who was among the first to defect, said he, too, would not go against the will of voters in his district.

The developments came on a day in which Mrs. Clinton set out anew to prove that the fight for the Democratic nomination was far from over. Campaigning in Ohio, she pursued a new strategy of biting attack lines against Mr. Obama, while adopting a newly populist tone as she courted blue-collar voters.

Mrs. Clinton also intensified her efforts in Wisconsin, which holds its primary on Tuesday and where she and Mr. Obama now have the first dueling negative television advertisements of the campaign.

In the ads, Mrs. Clinton taunted Mr. Obama for refusing to debate her in Wisconsin. And she and former President Bill Clinton prepared for a new fund-raising blitz to try to counter Mr. Obama’s edge of several million dollars in campaign cash.

Yet even as the Democratic rivals looked ahead to the primaries in Wisconsin, Ohio and Texas, Mr. Lewis said he and other prominent African-American party leaders had been moved by Mr. Obama’s recent victories and his ability to transcend racial and geographic lines.

Though Mr. Lewis had praise for Mrs. Clinton and for her historic candidacy, he said he could decide within days whether to formally endorse Mr. Obama.

He also said he and other lawmakers would meet in the coming days to decide how they intended to weigh in on the nominating fight. If neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama receive enough pledged delegates to win the nomination, superdelegates like Mr. Lewis may play the deciding role in who wins.

“If I can be used as a mediator, a negotiator or a peacemaker, I’d be happy to step in,” Mr. Lewis said, adding that he intends to speak to both candidates in hopes of ending the race amicably in the next month. “I don’t want to see Mrs. Clinton damaged or Mr. Obama damaged.”

Jay Carson, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, said Thursday: “Congressman Lewis is a true American hero, and we have the utmost respect for him and understand the great pressure he faced. And Senator Clinton enjoys incredibly strong support from superdelegates around the country from all regions and races.”

The comments by Mr. Lewis underscored a growing sentiment among some of the party’s black leaders that they should not stand in the way of Mr. Obama’s historic quest for the nomination and should not go against the will of their constituents. As superdelegates, they may have the final say, which is something Mr. Lewis said he feared would weaken Democrats and raise Republicans’ chances of winning the White House.

Still, the Democratic nominating fight clearly has many turns ahead. On Thursday, Mrs. Clinton unleashed the most ambitious mobilization of her forces in weeks, reflecting the intense pressure she is under from Mr. Obama, the political necessity for her of towering performances in the delegate-rich primaries in Ohio and Texas on March 4, and her fresh hope of an upset victory in Wisconsin.

Specifically, Mrs. Clinton is hoping to gain political mileage by turning one of Mr. Obama’s attributes, his oratory, against him. She is warning voters about politicians who give great speeches and make big promises but ultimately do not deliver on them.

“Speeches don’t put food on the table,” Mrs. Clinton said at a General Motors plant in Warren, Ohio, on Thursday morning. “Speeches don’t fill up your tank, or fill your prescription, or do anything about that stack of bills that keeps you up at night.”

“My opponent gives speeches,” she added. “I offer solutions.”

Mrs. Clinton has been also criticizing Mr. Obama with populist language, saying she would “take on” insurers and credit card companies and “go after” drug companies. She portrayed Mr. Obama as untested on the battlefield against special interests.

If there was a sign of the imbalance in momentum between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama on Thursday, it could be gleaned from Mr. Obama’s travel itinerary. He took a respite from the campaign trail, aides said, so he could spend Valentine’s Day with his family in Chicago before returning to Wisconsin on Friday.

Clinton advisers said Thursday that it was unlikely they would broadcast “horrible nasty negative ads,” in the words of one adviser, and that they were wary of going too negative against Mr. Obama, given what the Clintons say is the news media’s tendency to coddle and protect Mr. Obama and portray the Clintons as an attack machine.

At the same time, Clinton advisers say that the stakes are so high — in Ohio and Texas in particular — that Mrs. Clinton cannot afford to let Mr. Obama gain momentum. In Wisconsin, for instance, Mrs. Clinton is hoping to stave off a blowout — and perhaps even pull off a surprise — by blasting Mr. Obama for refusing to debate her there.

“The last time we debated was in California, and I convincingly won California, which may be why Senator Obama doesn’t want to have a debate in Wisconsin,” Mrs. Clinton said in a telephone conference call with reporters.

Mr. Carson, her spokesman, said she would keep the debate issue alive until Tuesday.

“A refusal to debate one’s primary opponent is always seen by regular voters as being chicken,” he said. “And voters, especially Democratic voters hungry for a general election win, want a candidate who is tough and ready.”

Mr. Obama responded to the attacks with a television spot of his own in Wisconsin.

“After 18 debates, with two more coming, Hillary says Barack Obama is ducking debates?” the advertisement says, showing images from their debates over the last year. “It’s the same old politics, of phony charges and false attacks.”

As Mrs. Clinton was delivering her criticism of Mr. Obama in Ohio, a similar argument was presented to Wisconsin voters by Mr. Clinton, who referred to Mr. Obama as “the excitement of the now.”

“It’s about whether you choose the power of solutions over the power of speeches,” Mr. Clinton told a small gathering of voters in Milwaukee, ticking through a list of his wife’s platforms and accomplishments.

In New Mexico, one of the more than 20 states to hold contests on Feb. 5, the votes were finally counted Thursday, giving Mrs. Clinton a victory and providing more evidence that the contest was far from concluded. She continued to hold a lead among superdelegates, even as a New Jersey official, Christine Samuels, changed her support to Mr. Obama and at least two others went back to being uncommitted.

Jeff Zeleny reported from Milwaukee, and Patrick Healy from Ohio.

Original here

New Mexico Clinton Endorser "Borrowed" Ballot Boxes Full o' Votes

Holy voter fraud, Batman!

New Mexico results from Super Tuesday have yet to be tabulated. Currently, at 99% reporting, the race sits at:

Clinton 68,654 49%
Obama 67,531 48%

This race becomes even more interesting with the new revelation that half the ballots from Rio Arriba County spent the night at a state legislators home that had endorsed Senator Clinton. From New Mexico Politics:

The New Mexico Democratic Party caucus may be tainted by three ballot boxes that spent the night in the home of the Rio Arriba County party chair or the homes of other local election officials instead of being reported to the state party.

Those ballots still haven’t been counted, but they have been retrieved by the state party.

Several sources told me the ballot boxes spent the night at the home of Rio Arriba County Democratic Party Chair Theresa Martinez, whose state-lawmaker husband, Sen. Richard Martinez, endorsed Hillary Clinton. But Richard Martinez told Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Kate Nash that the boxes actually spent the night in the homes of three polling-place managers. He gave Nash no explanation for why the results from those ballots weren’t reported to the state party last night and why they were instead kept overnight in officials’ homes.

Would it be too much for me to question whether Ms. Martinez might've taken a sneak peak at some of those ballots? It gets worse.

The three ballot boxes from Rio Arriba County and a fourth from Sandoval County account for the 2 percent of precincts that haven’t yet reported results from Tuesday’s caucus. With about 200 votes separating Clinton and Barack Obama, that’s huge. We’re talking about the ballots from half the polling places in Rio Arriba County.

I want to make sure this point is emphasized: Roughly half the votes from Rio Arriba County spent the night in the privacy of the home or homes of one or more election officials in boxes those officials may have had the ability to open. All the county party chair had to do last night to report the results was make a phone call. That never happened.

This process has apparently sparked both the Obama and Clinton campaigns to send lawyers in to resolve the debate.

Now I guess the only question is which Clinton endorsee gets to store ballots in their home in Ohio.

Original here

Riding Momentum, Obama Cuts Deep Into Clinton’s Base

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton’s crushing losses in Maryland and Virginia highlight an erosion in what had been solid advantages among women, whites and older and working-class voters. While this week’s results can be explained by those states’ relatively large numbers of blacks and well-educated residents — who tend to be Barack Obama supporters — her presidential campaign could be doomed if the trends continue.

Clinton is holding onto some of her supporters who are largely defined by race and often by level of education, such as low-income white workers and older white women, exit polls of voters show. She’s been losing other blocs, again stamped by personal characteristics, such as blacks, men and young people both black and white, and better-educated whites.

The latest defeats have slowed the one-time favorite’s political momentum at a bad time. With Obama winning eight straight contests and easily outdistancing her in money raising, she must now endure three weeks until primaries in Texas and Ohio that she hopes will resurrect her campaign.

Clinton’s losses have also enabled Obama to take a slight lead in their crucial fight for convention delegates. With 2,025 needed to clinch the nomination at the party’s Denver gathering in August, Obama has 1,275 delegates to Clinton’s 1,220, according to the latest count by The Associated Press.

Before this year’s presidential contests began, Obama was running consistently behind his rival in the polls. The Illinois senator was mostly attracting upper-echelon whites, young people and about half of black voters — resembling the coalitions that sealed defeat for past non-establishment Democratic candidates such as Gary Hart and Bill Bradley.

Things have changed since the voting has started, especially after bitter exchanges during the Clinton-Obama contest in South Carolina highlighted their racial differences and, subsequently, former Sen. John Edwards exited the race.

Now, virtually all blacks support Obama, significant since they make up about a fifth of Democratic voters overall.

And while last year’s polls showed Clinton leading among men, Obama now leads her among males by 11 percentage points, according to exit polls of voters in 20 competitive Democratic primaries.

Before Tuesday’s voting, the two were even among white males this year. Obama defeated her among that group by 18 percentage points in Virginia — his first win with white men in a Southern state — and they divided white men about equally in Maryland. Obama has done especially well with men who are college educated.

Tuesday’s voting highlighted the ground Clinton has lost with groups that have been strongholds of her support.
In both Virginia and Maryland, she got the backing of only about four in 10 women and three in 10 men. Obama narrowly edged her among whites in Virginia, while she won among Maryland whites by 10 points.

In each state, she got 45 percent of voters 65 and over, and just over one-third of people earning under $50,000 annually or with high school degrees or less.

At the same time, Obama won huge margins among blacks, young voters, higher-income and better-educated people, leaving Clinton nowhere to turn for support.

She had the misfortune of Democratic primaries in two states in which about one-third of voters were black and about two-thirds of voting whites were college-educated, exit polls showed. Both are unusually high numbers, an all-but inevitable recipe for Obama triumphs.

A closer look shows more about the voters Clinton was losing and keeping, and underscores the importance of race and education in the contest.

While Clinton lost among people making less than $50,000 annually, she got six in 10 votes from whites in both states making that amount. The same was true for people over age 65 and those with no more than high school degrees — she lost both groups overall, but was backed by about six in 10 whites in those categories.

Nationally, 54 percent of college-educated white men voting in Democratic primaries have supported Obama, compared with 33 percent of those without college degrees.

Maryland’s figures on Tuesday were virtually identical to that, while in Virginia 62 percent of college-educated white men backed Obama, compared with 48 percent who are not graduates.

The figures from Tuesday’s voting came from an exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International in 30 precincts each in Maryland and Virginia for the AP and television networks.

Those interviewed included 1,245 Democrats in Virginia and 1,324 in Maryland, with a margin of sampling error for each of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Also, 719 Virginia Republicans and 690 in Maryland were interviewed, with sampling error margins of 5 points for Virginia and 6 points for Maryland. Margins of sampling error for subgroups were larger.

National figures come from earlier exit polls conducted by the two companies.

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The SEIU Picks Obama


The national executive board of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) endorsed Barack Obama Thursday evening. The members of the board voted electronically following a conference call that was scheduled for 6 p.m. A high level union official tells Mother Jones there was "overwhelming support" for Sen. Obama during the call. The endorsement doesn't become official until union locals representing 60 percent of the SEIU's members actually email in their vote, the official said. The locals have until 7:00 a.m. on Friday to do so, but given the results of the conference call any change in course seems highly improbable. An email from the union confirmed it will make a "major political announcement" on Friday at 1:00 p.m.

The SEIU has stayed neutral in the national contest until now, allowing its state affiliates to endorse any candidate. Many of the state organizations backed former Sen. John Edwards. But Edwards dropped out of the race shortly after a poor showing in South Carolina, where where he was born.

The SEIU's endorsement comes at a crucial time. Hillary Clinton, who has lost eight straight contests since Super Tuesday, is leading in the polls in Ohio and Texas, two delegate-rich states that will vote on March 4. Wins there could conceivably help her narrow the lead Obama has recently opened up in the delegate count. But the SEIU endorsement could alter the balance.

With nearly two million members, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America. It is also perhaps the most politically influential. A November 2006 National Journal ranking (PDF) placed the SEIU first among 20 major national interest groups in terms of political clout. The candidates the union supported had a win-loss record of 10-4 in "competitive" races during the 2006 election cycle. It registered over 4 million new voters and its members knocked on 10 million doors during the 2004 election cycle. It has won battle after battle organizing janitors in Texas, gaining 5,300 members in Houston alone in the past two years. And it has about 27,000 members-cum-potential-door-knockers in Ohio and around 100,000 total in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. That's a lot of political action.

The endorsement could also have an effect on SEIU members from demographics that have been voting for Clinton. The union likes to trumpet the fact that it is the "most diverse" union in the United States. Fifty-six percent of SEIU members are women, and it represents more immigrant workers—who are often Latinos—than any other union in the United States. Its members also include many working-class whites. All three groups—women, Latinos, and working-class whites—have tended to vote for Clinton this year. If the SEIU's political muscle helps turn those groups toward Obama, especially in Ohio and Texas, this endorsement could prove decisive.

All this positive news for Obama comes with an important caveat: the huge California State SEIU (656,000 members) endorsed Obama five days before that state's primary. Sure, there wasn't much time before the election to get out the vote, but Clinton still won the state by around 10 points. By endorsing much earlier this time, the national board seems to have learned from the California state council's mistake. (Of course, the Washington state SEIU also endorsed Obama just days before that state's Democratic caucus, which Obama won handily.)

Another boost for Obama will come from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union's endorsement, which was also decided today. That group has 69,000 members in Ohio and another 26,000 in Texas, according to the AP, and its political organization could do just as much as the SEIU to help Obama rally supporters and get out the vote in those battleground states.

The SEIU and UCFW endorsements should serve as a counterweight to Clinton's AFSCME endorsement, which she obtained in late October. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees is another labor powerhouse. By going with Obama, the SEIU and UCFW ensure that Clinton will not have a monopoly on major labor endorsements.

In its endorsement, the UFCW says: "We have the utmost respect for Senator Clinton and her tireless efforts on behalf of working people. And while both Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have a vision to change America, we believe that Senator Obama is the best candidate to build a movement to unite our country that will deliver the type of change that is needed - for good jobs, affordable health care, retirement security and worker safety."

Will that movement of Obama's be able to deliver the nomination? We'll see, but these two big endorsements can't hurt.

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Cost of Removing Body Thetans [PIC]

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Congressman fires back against warrantless wiretaps on Americans

On Feb. 13, New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt took to the House floor to excoriate the president for supporting warrantless wiretaps.

During his speech, Holt specifically attacked the Bush administration for showing what Holt considered a lack of respect for the American people.

"There has been a fundamental shift under the Protect America Act in the relationship between the people of this country and their government. It is whether or not the government regards the ordinary American with suspicion first," Holt said.

"Think about it. The reason this country and our liberty have survived so well is because the government understands they are subservient to the people."

The Protect America Act just recently passed the Senate by a 68-29 margin.

The act includes a warrantless wiretapping provision for foreign-to-foreign communications and retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.

The bill also states that the government would not have to obtain a warrant for foreign-to-American communications and would allow the government to install monitoring stations in telephone and internet facilities inside the United States without obtaining a warrant.

Conversely, the Restore Act Holt mentioned in the clip does not grant immunity for telecoms or give the government the authority to wiretap American-to-foreign communications without a warrant.

However, the Restore Act does include a provision that would allow the Bush administration to wiretap foreign-to-foreign communications without a warrant.

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Rep. Wexler Confronts Condoleezza Rice On Iraq War Lies; Demands Contempt Vote

From an email sent by Wexler’s office:

Today, in hearings on Capitol Hill, I confronted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her role in the lies, exaggerations, and misdirection that led us into the Iraq war.

During my questioning, Secretary Rice falsely stated that she never saw intelligence casting doubt on the Bush Administration claims that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. This unbelievable statement is flatly contradicted by numerous government reports and CIA testimonials.

Secretary Rice’s responses demonstrate once and for all that we need aggressive oversight over this out of control Administration. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has ignored the constitutional right of Congress to provide such oversight.

It is time Congress took aggressive action to assert our rights on behalf of the American people.

The House of Representatives must immediately hold former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in contempt of Congress for their failure to respond to congressional subpoenas.

I have been aggressively lobbying Members of Congress to support a vote on contempt, and I am thrilled to report that Speaker Pelosi told me directly that she agrees it is well past time to vote on contempt. I am anticipating that the House will shortly vote on resolutions of both civil and criminal contempt for both Miers and Bolten.

No one should be immune from accountability and the rule of law.

I think it’s wonderful that Wexler is showing more spinal fortitude than almost all of his House colleagues. The one thing that bothers me in this exchange was Rice’s continued defense that “other countries believed it” and that the intelligence on Iraq was the consensus of various intelligence agencies when we know that isn’t the truth and was cherry picked and weighted from questionable sources like Ahmad Chalabi and “Curveball”. I don’t know if there’s an enterprising C&Ler out there that would like to put together for Wexler’s benefit a fact sheet that can cite sources that show Rice’s continued lying on this, something like this great piece by A Tiny Revolution. If there is one, let us know and I’ll make sure to get your work to Wexler’s office.

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Olbermann says Bush a fascist who uses terrorism

n a scathing commentary against President George W. Bush, MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann declared Bush guilty of terrorism for playing what he sees as the fear card in an attempt to get the House to pass retroactive immunity for telecommunication companies that illegally helped the US government in its warrantless wiretapping program Thursday evening.

"You are a liar, Mr. Bush, and after showing some skill at it, you have ceased to even be a very good liar," he declared.

"The lot of you," he said, speaking of those who sought to pass immunity, "are the symbolic descendants of the despotic middle managers of some banana republic, to whom 'Freedom' is an ironic brand name, a word you reach for, when you want to get away with its opposite."

Mocking the president, he said that Bush is predicting "plagues of locusts and stuff" should the House fail to reauthorize his warrantless eavesdropping program.

The Senate passed immunity for the telecommunications' companies participation in the program earlier this week by 68-29 -- they are facing myriad lawsuits -- though the House appears less likely to support the provision and has stalled on reauthorizing the bill. The bill had been reauthorized under a temporary basis.

Olbermann called Bush a "liar" several times during his broadcast.

He also called Bush a 'fascist.'

"If you believe in the seamless mutuality of government and big business — come out and say it!" he said. "There is a dictionary definition, one word that describes that toxic blend. You’re a fascist — get them to print you a t-shirt with “fascist” on it! What else is this but fascism?"

"It is bad enough, sir, that you were demanding an Ex Post Facto law, which could still clear the AT&Ts and the Verizons from responsibility for their systematic, aggressive, and blatant collaboration with your illegal and unjustified spying on Americans under this flimsy guise of looking for any terrorists who are stupid enough to make a collect call or send a mass e-mail," he added.

Speaking of AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein, who alleged secret call centers where the firm funneled data to the National Security Agency, he noted Klein's declaration of Bush as "Big Brother."

"And if there’s one thing we know about Big Brother, Mr. Bush, is that he is — you are — a liar," Olbermann averred.

Later, he added, "You are a liar, Mr. Bush, and after showing some skill at it, you have ceased to even be a very good liar."

Olbermann noted that President Bush has promised to veto any bill that did not include telecom immunity. He asserted that Bush was siding with "terrorists" if he vetoed his own bill.

"You would not merely be guilty of siding with the terrorists," he said. "You would not merely be guilty of prioritizing the telecoms over the people… You would not merely be guilty of treason, sir… You would be personally, and eternally, responsible."

He concluded by accusing Bush of being a terrorist himself, in his alleged fealty to violating civil liberties under the guise of protecting Americans from terrorist attacks.

"We will not fear the recognition of the manipulation of our yearning for safety — we will call it what it is: terrorism," the MSNBC host said.

This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast February 14, 2008. Quotes compiled from a transcript by Crooks and Liars.

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House Republicans Stage Walkout, Refuse To Vote On Contempt Charges

Today, House Democrats attempted to hold a vote on contempt charges for White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, who refused to respond to subpoenas in Congress’s investigation of the U.S. attorney scandal.

On the House floor today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) led Republicans in a walkout in protest of the contempt vote, alleging it is a “partisan fishing expedition.” The GOP is pushing for the House to approve the Senate’s version of the Protect America Act, which includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications firms. Boehner declared:

We will not stand for this, and we will not stay for this. And I would ask my House Republican colleagues and those who believe we should be protecting the American people, to not vote on this bill. Let’s just get up and leave. (Applause)

Watch Boehner’s remarks and the walkout:

Boehner led the GOP outside to the steps of the Capitol, where he held a press conference. He continued President Bush’s fearmongering by bellowing that the “number one objective as members of Congress is to protect the American people and if the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were to expire, Americans would be at risk.” Watch it:

Boehner never mentions that his caucus voted against an extension of the Protect America Act yesterday, even though he is now threatening that “Americans would be at risk” if it expires.

UPDATE: Read House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) statement regarding the House Protect America Act vote here. Pelosi is also currently holding an alternate press conference.

UPDATE II: Even without the Republicans, the House contempt vote against Miers and Bolten passed, 223-32.

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Intel chair's letter to Bush on FISA: I will not back down


Congressman Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to President Bush regarding the ongoing battle over warrantless wiretapping.

Text of the letter follows below.

#

President George W. Bush

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The Preamble to our Constitution states that one of our highest duties as public officials is to "provide for the common defence." As an elected Member of Congress, a senior Member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I work everyday to ensure that our defense and intelligence capabilities remain strong in the face of serious threats to our national security.

Because I care so deeply about protecting our country, I take strong offense to your suggestion in recent days that the country will be vulnerable to terrorist attack unless Congress immediately enacts legislation giving you broader powers to conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans' communications and provides legal immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in the Administration's warrantless surveillance program.

Today, the National Security Agency (NSA) has authority to conduct surveillance in at least three different ways, all of which provide strong capability to monitor the communications of possible terrorists.

First, NSA can use its authority under Executive Order 12333 to conduct surveillance abroad of any known or suspected terrorist. There is no requirement for a warrant. There is no requirement for probable cause. Most of NSA's collection occurs under this authority.

Second, NSA can use its authority under the Protect America Act, enacted last August, to conduct surveillance here in the U.S of any foreign target. This authority does not "expire" on Saturday, as you have stated. Under the PAA, orders authorizing surveillance may last for one year – until at least August 2008. These orders may cover every terrorist group without limitation. If a new member of the group is identified, or if a new phone number or email address is identified, the NSA may add it to the existing orders, and surveillance can begin immediately. We will not "go dark."

Third, in the remote possibility that a new terrorist organization emerges that we have never previously identified, the NSA could use existing authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor those communications. Since its establishment nearly 30 years ago, the FISA Court has approved nearly every application for a warrant from the Department of Justice. In an emergency, NSA or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may begin surveillance immediately, and a FISA Court order does not have to be obtained for three days. The former head of FISA operations for the Department of Justice has testified publicly that emergency authorization may be granted in a matter of minutes.

As you know, the 1978 FISA law, which has been modernized and updated numerous times since 9/11, was instrumental in disrupting the terrorist plot in Germany last summer. Those who say that FISA is outdated do not understand the strength of this important tool.

If our nation is left vulnerable in the coming months, it will not be because we don't have enough domestic spying powers. It will be because your Administration has not done enough to defeat terrorist organizations – including al Qaeda -- that have gained strength since 9/11. We do not have nearly enough linguists to translate the reams of information we currently collect. We do not have enough intelligence officers who can penetrate the hardest targets, such as al Qaeda. We have surged so many intelligence resources into Iraq that we have taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, you have allowed al Qaeda to reconstitute itself on your watch.

You have also suggested that Congress must grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies. As someone who has been briefed on our most sensitive intelligence programs, I can see no argument why the future security of our country depends on whether past actions of telecommunications companies are immunized.

The issue of telecom liability should be carefully considered based on a full review of the documents that your Administration withheld from Congress for eight months. However, it is an insult to the intelligence of the American people to say that we will be vulnerable unless we grant immunity for actions that happened years ago.

Congress has not been sitting on its hands. Last November, the House passed responsible legislation to authorize the NSA to conduct surveillance of foreign terrorists and to provide clarity and legal protection to our private sector partners who assist in that surveillance.

The proper course is now to conference the House bill with the Senate bill that was passed on Tuesday. There are significant differences between these two bills and a conference, in regular order, is the appropriate mechanism to resolve the differences between these two bills. I urge you, Mr. President, to put partisanship aside and allow Republicans in Congress to arrive at a compromise that will protect America and protect our Constitution.

I, for one, do not intend to back down – not to the terrorists and not to anyone, including a President, who wants Americans to cower in fear.

We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won.

Sincerely,

Silvestre Reyes
Member of Congress
Chairman, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

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Superdelegates get campaign cash

Many of the superdelegates who could well decide the Democratic presidential nominee have already been plied with campaign contributions by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, a new study shows.

"While it would be unseemly for the candidates to hand out thousands of dollars to primary voters, or to the delegates pledged to represent the will of those voters, elected officials serving as superdelegates have received about $890,000 from Obama and Clinton in the form of campaign contributions over the last three years," the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reported today.

About half the 800 superdelegates -- elected officials, party leaders, and others -- have committed to either Clinton or Obama, though they can change their minds until the convention.

Obama's political action committee has doled out more than $694,000 to superdelegates since 2005, the study found, and of the 81 who had announced their support for Obama, 34 had received donations totaling $228,000.

Clinton's political action committee has distributed about $195,000 to superdelegates, and only 13 of the 109 who had announced for her have received money, totaling about $95,000.

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House finally considering contempt charges for Bush aides


Republican walk-out to protest vote

Democrats passed contempt of Congress citations against two Bush administration figures Thursday after the charges had spent months in limbo.

On a vote of 223-to-32 House Democrats succeeded in passing the contempt charges against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers, after Republicans walked out in protest.

House Republicans staged a walk-out Thursday afternoon to protest the contempt vote and the failure by the chamber's majority members to bow to President Bush's demands on a controversial spying law. (Video below)

"We will not stand here and watch this floor be abused for pure political grandstanding at the expense of our national security. ... Let's just get up and leave," Republican Leader John Boehner advised his colleagues as they dramatically left the floor Thursday afternoon.

The walkout followed a series of GOP disruptions Thursday, including a vote scheduled in the middle of a memorial service for Rep. Tom Lantos, who passed away this week.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer took the floor to rebut Boehner's actions, chastising the Republicans for voting en mass against a measure to give the House more time to work on updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And he took aim at President Bush for trying to stoke national security fears to force quick action from the House.

"Every one of us wants to keep America and Americans safe," he said, eliciting applause from Democrats remaining in the chamber. "Not one of us wants to subject America or Americans to danger. The president's assertion is wrong."

Hoyer noted that the House has only had since Tuesday night to consider the final surveillance law passed by the Senate, and he accused the president of creating a false sense of urgency to provoke quick action and preclude the full legislative process.

"It is somewhat ironic that on the one hand they say we ought to be doing something, and on the other hand they walk out to preclude us from doing our business," Hoyer said after the GOP walkout.

As much satisfaction as Bush administration critics will get out of the contempt citations, which were approved by the Judiciary Committee last July, finally getting the endorsement of the full House, it is unlikely that they would lead to prosecution any time soon. Attorney General Michael Mukasey recently told Congress he would not prosecute the contempt charges because Bolten and Miers were following Bush's order that they not appear.

Speaking before he had led his GOP colleagues from the floor, Boehner accused the Democrats of playing political games by considering contempt citations before passing a long-term FISA update.

A House bill to update FISA passed in October, but it did not include a provision to give legal immunity to telecommunications companies. Bush has said he would veto anything without telecom immunity. The Senate took him seriously enough to include the "amnesty" provisions in its bill, which passed Tuesday.

The contempt citations against Bolten and Miers resulted from their failing to respond to congressional subpoenas for information on the 2006-2007 firings of federal prosecutors.

"This is not a confrontation we have sought, and is one we are still hoping to avoid," Rep. John Conyers, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said earlier Thursday. "However, I believe on the merits our case is quite strong. Unlike other disputes involving executive privilege, the President has never personally asserted privilege, the Committee has never been given a privilege log, and there is no indication the President was ever personally involved in the termination decisions."

The action, which Democrats have been threatening for six months, was the latest wrinkle in a more than yearlong probe. The citations charge Miers with failing to testify and accuse both her and Bolten of refusing Congress' demands for documents in the investigation.

Thursday's vote was the first time in 25 years that a full chamber of Congress has voted on a contempt of Congress citation.

(with wire reports)

This video is from C-SPAN 1, broadcast February 14, 2008.



This video is from MSNBC's News Live, broadcast February 14, 2008.

GOP House Leader John Boehner speaks about FISA legislation

This video is from MSNBC's News Live, broadcast February 14, 2008.

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GOP walks out after House rejects 21-day wiretap extension (updated)

Update

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and fellow Republicans walked out of the House of Representatives midsession earlier today to protest the Democratic leadership's refusal to schedule an immediate vote on the Senate bill. A statement issued by the White House press secretary contended that the House's failure to act "damages our national security," though as noted below, the president had rejected an offer to further extend the Protect America Act for three weeks while the House and Senate bills were brought into accord, pledging to veto any such legislation.


Original story

The Bush administration and the House of Representatives are locked into a game of chicken over surveillance reform, and the White House has just torn off its steering wheel.

Earlier this week, the Senate passed White House-approved legislation that would expand intelligence agencies' power to acquire communications between Americans and persons overseas without warrants. It would also grant telecom firms immunity from civil suits stemming from their cooperation with the program of warrantless wiretaps approved by President George W. Bush shortly after September 11, 2001. The new law is meant to replace the Protect America Act, a temporary stopgap passed hastily in August and due to expire at the end of this week. House Democrats sought a 21-day extension of the current law in order to provide time to reconcile their own bill with the language approved by the Senate, but under a presidential veto threat, that extension was defeated on Wednesday.

"There's no reason why Republicans and Democrats in the House cannot pass the Senate bill immediately," President Bush told reporters Wednesday. "The House's failure to pass the bipartisan Senate bill would jeopardize the security of our citizens." The House actually did pass its own legislation, the RESTORE Act, back in October, but it lacked the grant of amnesty for telecom companies, and contained a variety of oversight provisions the White House regards as excessively burdensome.

House Republicans are also playing hardball, hoping to force Democrats to either deliver a bill that meets White House specifications or face accusations of weakening national security. "Given no other option," read an e-mail sent to Republican Hill staffers from the office of the minority whip, "Republicans will not allow any legislation to be considered today until the Democrats bring the Senate's bill to the floor."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has signaled that she may be prepared to face down the threat. "Even if the Protect America Act expires later this week," Pelosi said in a statement, "the American people can be confident that our country remains safe and strong. Every order entered under the law can remain in effect for 12 months from the date it was issued." Since many observers believe that the surveillance authorizations under the PAA are likely to be couched in quite broad terms, it is likely that intelligence agencies will be able to continue most surveillance without further authorization even if the bill does lapse. The ACLU has urged Congress to simply allow the PAA to expire.

The longer-term effects of allowing the PAA to expire remain unclear. The law was passed after a secret FISA court ruling purportedly required intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant before intercepting any communications passing through US switches, even those between two overseas parties, acquisition of which had traditionally been unrestricted. But the ruling itself remains secret, as the FISA court has rebuffed a request by the ACLU to release a redacted version of the decision. And many analysts familiar with the law simply do not find the characterization of the ruling that has been offered publicly credible. Among the questions that have been raised about its contents: if this ruling delivered such a crippling blow to intelligence acquisition, why has the administration declined to appeal it?

Many speculate that the actual intent of the new legislation is to prevent disclosure of information about the extrajudicial wiretap program by cutting short civil suits that have been brought against complicit telecoms, and to license broad, "vacuum-cleaner" style acquisition of huge swaths of telecom traffic.

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