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Bush's Other War: on the Courts

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, November 16, 2007; 12:14 PM

Long after the Iraq war is over -- in other words, a long time from now -- another of President Bush's legacies will still be very much with us: the profound rightward turn of the federal judiciary in general and the Supreme Court in particular.

So last night's 25th anniversary gala for the Federalist Society, complete with a keynote from Bush himself, was an orgy of self-celebration. Membership in (or at least affiliation with) the reactionary legal group is practically a requirement for Bush appointees to the bench or top legal jobs.

And despite Bush's low approval ratings in the general populace -- and even within certain conservative elements -- the president was greeted last night not just with a standing ovation, but with cheers and triumphalist hollering. Bush used his speech last night to pillory Democrats for failing to approve enough of his judicial candidates.

Robert Barnes writes in The Washington Post: "With 1,800 members crowding Union Station, the president of the United States on the dais and four Supreme Court justices singing its praises, last night might have marked the time for the Federalist Society to officially surrender its underdog persona. . . .

"Bush criticized the Democratic-run Senate, saying it is abusing its duty to confirm judicial nominees by rejecting or leaving in limbo those who will not 'guarantee specific outcomes.'

"'Senate confirmation is part of the Constitution's system of checks and balances. But it was never intended to be a license to ruin the good name that a nominee has worked a lifetime to build,' Bush said. 'Today, good men and women nominated to the federal bench are finding that inside the Beltway, too many interpret "advise and consent" to mean "search and destroy." '

"Democrats quickly fired back that they have moved more expeditiously on approving Bush's nominees than did the Senate when Republicans were in control."

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "Bush's swipe at the Democratic-run Senate comes amid mounting White House frustration over the president's stalled nominations to the federal courts. It also is part of a clear pattern by Bush to condemn Congress for not getting its work done, a strategy the White House believes gives it the upper hand.

"Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, said Bush's rhetoric was strong considering there still was hope for getting some nominees confirmed during the final year of Bush's presidency.

"'A war of words is not productive,' Specter said in a telephone interview.

"While he said he understands Bush's frustration, the White House must shoulder some of the blame, Specter said, noting that Bush ignored five recommendations to fill a vacancy on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals submitted to him by Virginia Sens. Jim Webb, a Democrat, and John Warner, a Republican.

"'It's pretty fundamental that you listen to Republican senators,' Specter said."

David G. Savage writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Since taking office in 2001, Bush has put 293 new judges on the federal courts, including [Chief Justice John] Roberts and [Justice Samuel] Alito on the Supreme Court. There are currently 47 vacancies in the federal court system, which has 875 judges. Bush has made nominations for 21 of those 47 seats."

Over at DOJ

Bush announced his nominees for five top Justice Department positions yesterday.

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "Justice Department officials said the White House had selected the nominees for deputy attorney general, associate attorney general and the other jobs some time ago, but the announcement was delayed until Mr. Mukasey, a retired federal judge from New York, had a chance to review and approve the list. . . .

"Looking over the list of nominees, Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal legal affairs group in Washington, said that 'this is hardly the fresh start that Americans had expected from Michael Mukasey -- it has all the signs of the perpetuation of the politicization of the department.'

Bush also announced a slew of new nominations to other judicial and law-enforcement posts.

Marisa Taylor writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Three of the nominees would replace U.S. attorneys who were fired by the administration in the controversy that provoked the resignations of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House political adviser Karl Rove. . . .

"In a report issued Thursday, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine notes that only three of the department's 11 assistant attorney general positions had been filled with Senate-confirmed lawyers as of Oct. 1. Twenty-three of the U.S. attorney positions are filled with interim or acting prosecutors, Fine says.

"'Vacancies in many key leadership positions have resulted in delayed decision-making or lack of decision-making,' Fine says in the report."

FISA Watch

Richard Willing writes in USA Today: "Congress appeared headed toward a confrontation with President Bush on Thursday over House and Senate plans to require that telecommunication firms that aided the administration's warrantless surveillance program be subject to lawsuits from American customers.

"The House of Representatives approved Thursday night a Democrat-sponsored foreign surveillance bill that would block retroactive immunity from lawsuits for telecoms that facilitated wiretapping or shared customer information with the federal government from the Sept. 11 attacks until this past January. The bill passed 227-189.

"Bush has promised to veto any measure that does not include such immunity. In a statement, the White House said, 'House Democrats passed legislation that would dangerously weaken our ability to protect the Nation from foreign threats.'"

James Risen writes in the New York Times: "Reflecting the deep divisions within Congress over granting legal immunity to telephone companies for cooperating with the Bush administration's program of wiretapping without warrants, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a new domestic surveillance law on Thursday that sidestepped the issue.

"By a 10 to 9 vote, the committee approved an overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that dropped a key provision for immunity for telecommunications companies that another committee had already approved. The Senate leadership will have to decide how to deal with the immunity question on the Senate floor."

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "The outcome in the Senate represents a procedural defeat for lawmakers and outside groups that opposed giving the companies immunity from lawsuits alleging privacy violations, but it leaves open the possibility of a bruising floor fight on the provision."

'Busharaff' Watch

Emily Wax and Imtiaz Ali write in The Washington Post: "Inside call centers and in high school social studies classes, at vegetable markets and in book bazaars, Pakistanis from different walks of life here say that ever since President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule two weeks ago, he's been the most unpopular figure in the country. But running a close second, many say, is his ally: President Bush.

"'We used to love America. Give me Tom Cruise and a vacation in Florida any day,' said Parveen Aslam, 30, who like many Pakistanis has relatives in the United States. 'But why isn't the U.S. standing up for Pakistan when we need it most? Is America even listening to us? We are calling them Busharraf now. They are the same man.'

"While many Pakistanis lament that the Bush administration is involved in their country's politics, they also see the United States as the only force strong enough to do what they say is necessary to temper the crisis: pressure the military-led government to restore the constitution, release thousands of political prisoners and lift restrictions on the news media. . . .

"'We are a banana republic, and nothing here happens without orders from the Americans,' said Danish Yazdani, an artist who sends her children to the American School in Islamabad. 'At the end of the day, we know the U.S. can make Musharraf change, not the people of Pakistan.'"

Paul Richter and Laura King write in the Los Angeles Times: "Fearing the collapse of a friendly government, the Bush administration has begun a concerted public effort to salvage the embattled presidency of Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf by pushing him to compromise with political opponents and abandon emergency rule, U.S. officials said Thursday.

"U.S. envoys intend to warn their longtime ally that they believe his power is quickly ebbing, and that he must lift the 2-week-old emergency decree and work with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and other opposition figures to stabilize the country. Underscoring the warning will be an implied threat that if he doesn't take such steps, Washington is ready to work with others who will, officials said.

"The new tack reflects the Bush administration's belief that even a weakened Musharraf remains their best bet, but that greater pressure and appeals to others within Pakistan are needed to elicit his cooperation."

Budget Watch

Elizabeth Williamson writes in The Washington Post: "House Democrats were unable to override President Bush's veto of a key domestic spending bill yesterday, forcing the party back to the drawing board on some of its most important domestic initiatives, including early-childhood education and heating-bill payments for the elderly."

Williamson describes the various concessions that Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (Wis.), wrote into the bill in an attempt to win GOP support. "The effort at compromise lured 54 consistent Republican supporters and had a dozen more on the fence. But in the end, White House allies proved reluctant to buck Bush on a bill that was equally symbolic to him as an opportunity to demonstrate to skeptics in his party that he is willing to hold down federal spending.

"On the House floor yesterday, Obey chastised Republicans for following 'the president's budget priorities like lemmings.'"

E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "Bush's approach to Iraq is the classic case of a politician arguing that a problem will be solved if only we keep throwing large sums of money at it. . . .

"Interest costs on Iraq-related debt will be more than $23 billion for fiscal 2008. That sum is almost exactly the amount separating Bush and Congress on spending levels for the entire budget now being debated. . . .

"So it comes down to this: Bush can bust the budget for Iraq, but God forbid that we spend a little more on education.

"In the way that he's managing the Iraq and budget debates, the president is trying to evade the essential questions. By focusing on the surge, Bush avoids responsibility for explaining where we might be in Iraq at the end of his term. And by picking symbolic budget fights, he never has to explain how his own policies -- his ludicrous initial assumptions about the costs of the war, his refusal to ask for the taxes to fund it -- have created the fiscal mess he now decries."

Bush's Sudden Interest in Aviation

Matthew L. Wald writes in the New York Times: "A week before the peak Thanksgiving travel period, the White House got involved at an unusually detailed level with air traffic on Thursday."

Kendra Marr writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush yesterday announced measures intended to curb airline delays during the Thanksgiving travel frenzy, including freeing up military airspace for commercial use. . . .

"Such arrangements are not new. The FAA coordinates daily with the Defense Department and seeks same-day clearance to use military airspace if, for example, weather conditions are better in the military's part of the sky. The scheme announced by the president, however, was unusual because the administration was asking for a large chunk of airspace in advance, FAA officials said. . . .

"Industry critics said the measures laid out by Bush don't address the root of the problem of airline delays: the nation's outdated air traffic control system. The airline industry continues to use radar and radio to guide planes, and a program to upgrade the system to make use of satellite positioning technology is not expected to be finished until 2025."

From yesterday's White House briefing by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters:

"Q. I want to go back to the airspace along the eastern seaboard again, There are hundreds of north-south routes now, and you're adding two?"

Peters: "We're adding two."

Contempt Watch

The New York Times editorial board writes: "White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, showed their utter disregard for Congress, the Constitution and the American people when they defied Congressional subpoenas in the United States attorneys scandal. The House Judiciary Committee rightly voted to hold them in contempt, and now the matter goes to the full House.

"Speaker Nancy Pelosi should schedule a vote quickly, the House should hold them in contempt and Attorney General Michael Mukasey should ensure that they are punished for their defiance of the nation's law. . . .

"The Bush administration's days are numbered. But the damage it has done to the balance of powers could be long-lasting. If Congress wants to maintain its Constitutional role, it needs to stand up for itself. A good place to start is by making clear that its legitimate investigative authority cannot be defied, and any who choose to do so will pay a heavy price."

Rove Watch

Howard Kurtz writes for The Washington Post that Newsweek has signed Karl Rove as a commentator "who will turn out several columns on the 2008 campaign through inauguration day. The move is not likely to prove popular among liberals who believe the mainstream media have been too soft on the Bush administration.

"'We want to give readers a feel for what it's like to be on the inside,' says Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham. 'Our readers are sophisticated enough to know that what they get from Karl has to be judged in the context of who Karl is... Readers will have to decide if he's simply an apologist.'"

Kurtz reminds us: "In a speech last year, Rove said that journalists often derided political professionals, perhaps because 'they want to draw attention away from the corrosive role their coverage has played focusing attention on process and not substance.'"

Andrew Malcolm blogs for Tribune: "You might think after being the architect of so many political campaigns, including the two successful presidential election runs by George W. Bush, few things would surprise Karl Rove, recently retired as a top White House advisor.

"But this week, in an unusual and long, ruminative interview with C-SPAN's Distance Learning Class and Steve Scully with dozens of college students hooked up at universities around the country, Rove admitted he was surprised by several things in the current election campaign.

"One was the ability of Rudy Giuliani to stay atop the Republican field as long as he has and to draw the support of Republicans such as Pat Robertson 'that I would not have expected him to draw.' Another: That Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois hasn't fared better than he has."

Cartoon Watch

Steve Sack and Pat Bagley on Bush's spending priorities.

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