Saturday, January 24, 2009

The First 5 Days, Senate Update

It is now Day 5 of the Obama Administration.

Let's review the latest news:

Cabinet Picks
Reconfirmation Not Required:
Robert Gates, Defense

Approved Jan 20th:
All approved by Senate voice vote, without objection
Ken Salazar, Interior
Arne Duncan, Education
Tom Vilsack, Agriculture
Stephen Chu, Energy
Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security
Eric Shinseki, Veterans Affairs

Approved Jan 21st:
Hillary Clinton, State (94-2 senate vote)
Ray Lahood, Transportation (by voice vote, without objection)
Shaun Donovan, Housing & Urban Development (by voice vote, without objection)

Selected, But Not Yet Confirmed:
Eric Holder (Justice) -- appointment being "held" by one or more Senate Republicans -- this tactic can delay a confirmation vote by up to a week.
Tim Geithner (Treasury) -- approved by Senate Finance committee. Full Senate vote scheduled for Monday.
Hilda Solis (Labor)
Tom Daschle (Health & Human Services)

(Bill Richardson originally nominated but withdrew his nomination on January 4th, no replacement named as of yet)

Clearly, Obama's "easy wins" are the ones who have already been confirmed. Holder still faces lingering questions from Senate Republicans about the Mark Rich pardon when he was undersecretary in the Clinton administration. Geithner faces questions on taxes he failed to pay (although he ultimately paid along with IRS penalties) on international income. Solis faces opposition from Republicans because of her strong pro-union views, including support for card check. Daschle faces questions about ties to lobbyists, although he does meet the Obama administration's new rules.

Key Non-Department Heads Confirmed
Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator
Nancy Sutley, Council on Environmental Quality
Mary Schaprio, Head of SEC
Susan Rice, UN Ambassador
Peter Orzag, Office of Management and Budget

Other Key Non-Department Heads To Be Confirmed:
Leon Panetta, CIA Director
Denny Blair, Director of National Intelligence

Obama also needs to nominate a FEMA director.

Of other note, the Obama adminstration has waived its new lobbying rules for William Lynn, a former Raytheon lobbyist, to be nominated for #2 at defense. I think this is a mistake. I have no reason to doubt Mr. Lynn's integrity, but as we all know, ethics rules are about the appearence of conflicts of interest, and this one doesn't look good. Granted, no other President had such strict rules, but if you are going to set a high standard, you need to hold to it.

All in all, Obama's top team is generally winning confirmation quickly and the administration is getting right to work.

More Executive Orders
Obama has issued an order reversing the so-called "Mexico City Policy" which restricts US funding of birth control as part of international aid. Good riddance to a bad policy.

This adds to a firestorm of executive orders issued this week, including the order to close Gitmo within one year, the new lobbying rules, the cabinet pay freeze, banning torture in interrogations, greater complaince with the Freedom of Information Act and a hold on regulations issued in the last 30 days of the Bush administration.


President Obama continues to press for an $825 billion economic stimulus package that includes upgrades to roads, health care facilities, government buildings and tax cuts for lower and middle-income Americans.

Obama met with congressional leaders from both parties Friday to try to broker a deal. Republians are still very wary of the level of spending and are pushing for more tax cuts (Tax Cuts represent about $300 billion of the Obama package, new spending about $525 billion.)

This is a big test for both Obama and the new congress. The need to broker a deal and get this bill signed into law and working is huge. Every day the economic news is horrible. Unemployment surged to 7.2% in December and new unemployment claims so far in January indicates that it will rise to at least 7.5% when the January numbers are reported.

Fire From Women's Groups

Groups such as the National Organization of Women are now protesting Obama's cabinet picks, saying that 6 women in the top 21 spots is insufficient. How silly. Yes, if statistically, all else being equal, women should be 10 to 11 of the top spots, but I'll put Obama's diversity record up against any Fortune 500 corporation, he has put women in some of the most choice roles (State Department, UN Ambassador, EPA Administrator, Labor Secretary) and no one yet has articulated a single case where a more qualified woman was turned away for a man. NOW appears to be struggling to remain relevant.

Senate Update

New York Governor David Patterson has named Kirsten Gillebrand to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. Gillebrand is a blue dog Democrat who is economically moderate, anti-abortion and anti-gun control. A suprisingly conservative pick for a state as liberal as New York. She is certainly FAR more qualified than Caroline Kennedy would have been and is probably well poised to be elected in a 2010 special election, but I have to say I would have personally preferred Andrew Cuomo for the role. But, good for Patterson for going his own way and congratulations to Sen. Gillebrand. More moderates in congress can't be a bad thing.

In Minnesota, the saga drags on as the seat remains vacant. Following the certification of Al Franken as the winner, Norm Coleman's legal challenge is being heard beginning Monday. Even if the district court grants a decisive order, either party can still appeal to the State Supreme Court or take the issue to federal court. Few believe Coleman has a credible chance to ultimately prevail, but this thing could drag on until sometime in March if he exhausts all his options. Meanwhile, the seat will remain vacant.

Media Bias

All throughout this year, I have heard complaints from conservative friends, with some validity, that so-called "mainstream" media have been soft on Obama and overly tough on the GOP. There was some credibility to the argument, as I do feel Obama got favorable treatment.

But whatever favorable treatment Obama got from MSNBC, CBS News, etc. it pales in comparison to the blatant, unrepentent bias being displayed on Fox News. They have behaved like the country has ended since Obama won, raising false controversies, showing more footage of ex-President Bush then President Obama on inauguration day and generally trying to undermine his agenda from day one.

I'm a big first ammendment guy. Fox News can present whatever bias it wants and people can judge for themselves. I vote with my remote control. It's just the hypocracy of complaining about bias while blatantly displaying it that annoys me.

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