Lee accepts Reid’s apology over racial comments

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, today said Republicans’ calls for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to step down due to offensive comments he made about then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama are a distraction from real issues facing the nation.

Game Change,” a new book about the 2008 campaign by Time magazine reporter Mark Halperin and New York magazine writer John Heileman, said Reid in private conservations said the country was ready for a black president — particularly one who’s “light-skinned” with no “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Obama has accepted Reid’s apology.

Lee today said she also has spoken with Reid about it “and he apologized for his unfortunate remarks concerning the President and he understands the gravity of such remarks. There are too many issues like the economy, job creation and energy for these regrettable comments to distract us from the work that must be done on behalf of the American people.

“Over the years, I have had an opportunity to work with Majority Leader Reid. Senator Reid’s record provides a stark contrast to actions of Republicans to block legislation that would benefit poor and minority communities – most recently reflected in Republican opposition to the Health Bill now under consideration. I look forward to Senator Reid continuing to serve as Majority Leader to guide this important agenda through the Senate,” Lee continued.

“The Congressional Black Caucus believes that thoughtful engagement and civil discourse on race is needed, as our first ‘Dialogue on Race’ in November 2009 demonstrated. There is a deep unease about race which cannot be swept under the rug. I appreciate Senator Reid’s apology and look forward to our continuing work.”


Betcha DiFi isn’t running for governor

Why? Because she just stepped up to an important job, that’s why.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., today nominated U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to chair the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the 111th Congress, replacing U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., as he moves over to lead the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. (U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would succeed Feinstein in her current chairmanship at the Rules and Administration Committee.)

The Intelligence Committee oversees the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies, authorizes the nation’s intelligence budget, and writes the laws for the conduct and management of intelligence operations. Its 15 members are selected by the Senate leadership; Feinstein has served on it for eight years, would be the first woman to chair the committee in its 32-year history, and said today she’s “honored to be nominated.”

“I look forward to working with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle,” she said in her news release. “This is a critical task at a critical time in our nation’s history. With the United States fighting two wars, and facing multiple threats around the globe, it’s essential to the nation that our intelligence agencies gather reliable information, and do so in a manner that comports with our laws and our national values.”

Feinstein thanked Rockefeller for his service, saying “oversight of the intelligence community improved under his leadership” she she’s glad he’ll stay on as a committee member. She also announced that David Grannis, her Intelligence Committee designee since March 2005, would become the new staff director; Grannis used to work for the House Select Committee on Homeland Security and for Rep. Jane Harman, D-El Segundo.

This isn’t final yet; this is Reid’s recommendation to the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, and final approval will be ratified with an organizing resolution when the Senate returns to session in January. That said, it seems unlikely it won’t go through.

Feinstein’s statement said her first priorities would include “working with the Obama Administration to end the practice of coercive interrogations and creating a uniform standard for interrogations throughout the U.S. government; ending the use of contractors in interrogations; granting the International Committee of the Red Cross access to detainees; and closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year.”

Expect outcries from all those who blasted Feinstein late last year for her crucial Judiciary Committee vote supporting Michael Mukasey’s confirmation as Attorney General, despite what many heard as his waffling statements on the legality of using torture techniques such as waterboarding as interrogation methods. Ditto from those who blasted her vote this past July on granting immunity to telecommunications companies that had cooperated with the Bush Administration’s secret domestic wiretapping operations.

On the California political front, I’ve heard many pundits say the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nomination would be Feinstein’s if she wanted it, and most likely Jerry Brown‘s otherwise; no offense to Gavin Newsom, John Garamendi and the rest of the Democrats said to be in the race, but it’s hard to see how any of them hold a candle to Feinstein’s or Brown’s name recognition and fundraising ability, no matter her past votes. But I never thought she’d want it; even without this news, there was a lot to keep her in the Senate (and a lot to dissuade anyone from wanting to be governor of California). Today, I think I hear champagne corks popping from the direction of Jerry Brown’s house…


Boxer mum on what should happen to Lieberman

With Democrats having widened their U.S. Senate majority this week, the political fate of U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is up in the air.

Lieberman, you’ll recall, lost his state’s 2006 Democratic primary to a more progressive challenger, Ned Lamont, whose victory was attributed in large part to Lieberman’s support of the Iraq war. But Lieberman ran in the 2006 general election as an independent, and kept his seat.

This put Democrats in something of a bind – they needed Lieberman, along with Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, to hold onto their 51-49 Senate majority. So Lieberman, who agreed to keep caucusing with the Democrats on most matters, was allowed to keep his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

But since then, Lieberman endorsed John McCain in this presidential election; spoke at the Republican National Convention; and trash-talked Barack Obama on several occasions. Now that Democrats don’t need his help to keep control of the Senate anymore, the calls for his political head are mounting – see here, here and here.

Rumor has it Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Lieberman yesterday the price of his remaining in the caucus would be relinquishing his committee chair. Lieberman reportedly balked, perhaps hoping to convince the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee – which helps guide the caucus’ decision-making on committee chairmanships – that he should keep his post.

And that brings us right here to California, for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is a Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee member.

Boxer was among several Senators who stumped for Lieberman in the 2006 primary – incurring some of her constituents’ wrath, since she’s been so staunchly against the war and Lieberman thought it was a good idea – but then supported Lamont in the 2006 general election. Now, it seems, Boxer may once again have a role to play in Lieberman’s fate.

I asked Boxer’s spokespeople today what she believes should be done about Lieberman, and whether her office has been receiving phone calls on this issue. “Senator Boxer feels that what Sen. Lieberman did was extremely hurtful, but beyond that, we aren’t going to comment at this time,” communications director Natalie Ravitz replied.


Debate delay unpopular with Dems, public

Everyone’s getting a piece of the action on Republican presidential nominee John McCain‘s call to delay Friday’s presidential debate so he and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama can go back to the U.S. Senate to take part in hashing out the financial-market bailout package.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.: “The American people expect their President to be calm in a crisis, not engaging in political theater, which is what John McCain is doing today. He is desperate to change the subject — everyone knows that a deregulation fever led to this crisis and John McCain helped lead the way. This is certainly the right time for the American people to see these two candidates talk about the serious challenges our country faces both here and around the world. We need a President who can handle more than one challenge at a time. In life, when times get tough, you don’t get time-outs.”

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez: “With all due respect, Sen. McCain is wrong to suggest Congress is not making progress on legislation to rescue the economy. It would be very damaging to our efforts now to inject partisan politics into this critical effort. The American people need to learn more about the person who is going to be their next president and his plan for a stable economic future. Therefore, it is vital that Senators Obama and McCain go forward with the debate Friday as scheduled. Meanwhile, Congress will continue working on economic legislation that will have strong protections for taxpayers, homeowners and consumers.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.: “This is a critical time for our country. While I appreciate that both candidates have signaled their willingness to help, Congress and the Administration have a process in place to reach a solution to this unprecedented financial crisis. I understand that the candidates are putting together a joint statement at Senator Obama’s suggestion. But it would not be helpful at this time to have them come back during these negotiations and risk injecting presidential politics into this process or distract important talks about the future of our nation’s economy. If that changes, we will call upon them. We need leadership; not a campaign photo op. If there were ever a time for both candidates to hold a debate before the American people about this serious challenge, it is now.”

Even Libertarian presidential nominee Bob Barr and independent candidate Ralph Nader got into the act, issuing a joint statement: “The fact that a candidate can call for changing the date of the debate only two days before it is scheduled indicates how easy it would be for the candidates to also call for the inclusion of the leading third party and independent candidates, which would bring fresh ideas to the table on how our country can truly tackle this heavy challenge.”

And apparently, the American public isn’t hot on a delay either: Survey USA did a quick poll today which found only 10 percent support postponing the debate.

UPDATE @ 3:47 P.M.: More!

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: “The economic crisis facing this nation is gravely serious. The stakes are high. The foreclosure crisis has spread to Wall Street and is affecting the entire economy. Congress is moving quickly. A process is underway, the House and Senate Banking committees are negotiating and working to come up with a plan that makes sense, protects the taxpayers, ensures oversight, and limits executive compensation for those who accept public dollars. Senator McCain’s announcement today won’t help find a solution. It is a distraction, at a time when sober reflection is needed. Simply put, we must not inject Presidential politics into this process.”

And… David Letterman! (per Drudge):

David Letterman tells audience that McCain called him today to tell him he had to rush back to DC to deal with the economy.

Then in the middle of the taping Dave got word that McCain was, in fact just down the street being interviewed by Katie Couric. Dave even cut over to the live video of the interview, and said, “Hey Senator, can I give you a ride home?”

Earlier in the show, Dave kept saying, “You don’t suspend your campaign. This doesn’t smell right. This isn’t the way a tested hero behaves.” And he joked: “I think someone’s putting something in his metamucil.”

“He can’t run the campaign because the economy is cratering? Fine, put in your second string quarterback, Sara Palin. Where is she?”

“What are you going to do if you’re elected and things get tough? Suspend being president? We’ve got a guy like that now!”



Stark, Baucus turn up the heat on Medicare bill

The only reason why a Senator might vote against a Medicare improvement bill later this week is because he or she puts corporate profits above senior citizens’ health, House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark, D-Fremont, said on a conference call a few minutes ago.

“The bill is modest, it’s far less than we passed in the house a year ago in the CHAMP Act,” Stark said. “It’s a compromise that addresses the current need in Medicare, and that is the pay cut… for the primary care docs.”

That’s a 10.6 percent pay cut, which already has taken effect; because there’s a two-week delay in doctor reimbursements, it’s going to start hurting physicians soon. The pending bill would delay the pay cut for 18 months; advocates say it also would improve Medicare for seniors, people with disabilities, rural residents and pharmacists.

“Time has run out, doctors are facing payment cuts, other medicare programs have expired. Seniors’ care is in jeopardy, plain and simple,” U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said on the same conference call. “If we pay doctors properly, seniors get to see their doctors when they need to.”

The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act, H.R.6331, passed the House with a whopping, veto-proof margin of 355-59, but Senate Republicans managed to block it June 26 with a 58-40 cloture vote. The Senate will revisit the bill this week; Baucus said the schedule is up to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., but with Tuesday’s funeral for former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms likely to put the Senate out of commission for the day, the vote on this bill likely will come Wednesday or Thursday.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, but Baucus said he thinks there’s “some daylight” there should the Senate pass the bill with a stronger vote while seniors’ and doctors’ groups turn up the heat on the White House.

“We don’t always get a second chance in life, but this week senators will get a second chance to do the right thing on Medicare,” Baucus said.


What’s left for the Democrats

With the Florida and Michigan delegates seated with half-votes, the new threshhold to clinch the Democratic nomination is 2,118. The Washington Post says Obama has 2,052 (66 short) while Clinton has 1,877 (241 short).

Puerto Rico votes today, with 55 delegates; Clinton is expected to do well there. Montana and South Dakota vote Tuesday, with 16 and 15 delegates respectively; Obama is expected to do well there.

And so it’ll go to the superdelegates. Politico says the superdelegate count now stands at 324.5 for Obama, 279.5 for Clinton and 163 undecided. The undecideds include 86 Democratic National Committee members; 48 House members and 15 U.S. Senators. And of the undecideds, 14 are from California:

  • Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego
  • Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel
  • Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego
  • Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose
  • Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton
  • DNC member state Sen. Carole Midgen, D-San Francisco
  • DNC member and state Democratic Party campaign advisor Bob Mulholland
  • DNC member, attorney and author Christine Pelosi of San Francisco
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco
  • DNC member and labor union political director John A. Perez of Los Angeles
  • DNC member and retired chemical worker Robert Rankin of Carson
  • DNC member and state party chairman Art Torres
  • DNC member and state official Keith Umemoto of Sacramento
  • DNC member and attorney Steve Ybarra of Sacramento
  • U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday in San Francisco that he, Pelosi and DNC chairman Howard Dean have agreed to try to end the race by the end of this week by urging the remaining uncommitted superdelegates to weigh in.