Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin jumps on the "picking fights" bandwagon and writes that the nomination of Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary shows that Obama is "going to seek confrontation" in his second term. This is a problematic line of reasoning, given that the Republican Senate minority is doing everything it can to ensure confrontation, but Rubin teases out a broader criticism of Obama's nominations thus far, writing in her January 10 post:
It is not merely that President Obama has put up confrontational nominees. He is also replacing senior people with standing and reputations derived independent of his administration (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, Tim Geithner) with confidants who are like-minded, disinclined to question the president or rebut his (often erroneous) thinking.
This is utter hogwash. Let's run down Obama's second term high-level nominees thus far: Sen. John Kerry for State; former Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defense; John Brennan for CIA director; and Jack Lew for Treasury.
Both Kerry and Hagel have standing and reputations derived from a combined 40 years spent in the Senate. Kerry and Obama obviously see eye-to-eye on most issues, but Hagel is a Republican and on more than a few topics he and the president are not "like-minded." Before his name was put forth as a potential Obama nominee Republican senators were singing Hagel's praises as someone who "understands the world better than almost anyone," and John McCain said Hagel would make a "great Secretary of State" in 2006, as McCain was preparing for his own presidential run.
As for Brennan and Lew, both have spent the last four years in the administration, but Brennan's "standing" and "reputation" come from a career spent in the CIA. He was also the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Jack Lew is the only nominee for whom Rubin's criticism is even close to accurate, but it's still a stretch. Lew was Bill Clinton's director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1998 -2001, a job he held again under Obama.
There are still at least two nominations to go, now that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has tendered her resignation and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson has said she will step down. Given the trajectory of the commentary it seems likely that (for conservative bloggers at least) their replacements will be controversial and confrontational figures who owe their careers and reputations to Obama's largesse, no matter who they may be.
President Obama's forthcoming nomination of White House chief of staff Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary is not sitting well with the Wall Street Journal editorial board. The Journal, in an editorial headlined "Team of Liberal Loyalists," criticizes Obama's selection of a "loyalist" for Treasury who will "advance and implement his agenda," rather than a figure who will "offer independent advice."
President Obama is expected to name Jack Lew as his Treasury secretary on Thursday, continuing his cabinet's second-term makeover in his own image. He is assembling a team of personal and ideological loyalists whose job will be less to offer independent advice than to advance and implement his agenda for a larger, more redistributionist government.
What a difference an administration can make. Back in late 2004, as the newly reelected President Bush was mulling Cabinet replacements for his second term, the Journal editorial board weighed in on potential Treasury secretaries. Looking back at his first term, they praised Bush for dumping Paul O'Neill (because he "didn't agree with the President's agenda") and replacing him with John Snow, who "has been loyal and has served honorably."
More than Defense or State, and certainly more than Homeland Security, if there's a single Cabinet post that could ruin President Bush's second term, our choice would be Treasury. So we hope the White House is doing more thinking about the position than it has exhibited so far.
Mr. Bush's first choice, Paul O'Neill, was an unguided missile who didn't agree with the President's agenda and had to be fired. Second choice John Snow has been loyal and has served honorably, though no one we know would describe him as another Andrew Mellon, or even a Robert Rubin, in terms of his clout both inside and outside the Administration. If there was any doubt about this, the nasty recent leak from someone in the White House that Mr. Snow would only be around for a few more months hardly enhanced his stature. Whether he's leaving or staying, the Secretary deserved better treatment.
The Journal did want to see a Bush Treasury Secretary with "the stature to fight the White House tendency to make economic choices for short-term political reasons," but what sort of independent, agenda-free non-loyalist did they have in mind for the position? Donald Rumsfeld. They even wrote favorably of Andrew Card who, like Lew, was chief of staff and ran "a disciplined White House." (They also worried that Card "would be perceived as the choice of the weak-dollar lobby.")
As a bonus let's take a look at Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bret Stephens' November 29, 2004, column on the role of the Cabinet. Per Stephens, the Cabinet is there to be stuffed with loyalists and used as an instrument to enact the president's agenda:
This brings us back to the current administration. George W. Bush is accused of burying cabinet government for good with his appointments of close confidantes Rice, Alberto Gonzales and Margaret Spellings. Nonsense. Contrary to Andrew Sullivan, a cabinet is not something a president governs with; and contrary to Andrew Jackson, it is not something a president governs around. Ideally, a cabinet is what a president governs through. Now that Mr. Bush has moved his own people into the cabinet, he may at last be able to do just that.
President Obama is busily nominating replacements for the various Cabinet officers and Cabinet-level officials who aren't sticking around for his second term. The emerging consensus in the media is that in doing so, the president is "picking fights" with the Senate GOP minority that will have to vote for or against the nominees. Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel's nomination for Defense Secretary has been cast as an especially provocative move by the White House. It's a curious way to frame the story -- if indeed Obama can be said to be "picking fights" with Cabinet nominees, that's only because Senate Republicans have made clear they'll fight anyone Obama picks. And casting Obama as the disruptive force masks the Republican obstructionism underlying the confirmation fights.
Here's The Hill from January 7:
Obama nominates Hagel for Pentagon, picking fight with Senate Republicans
President Obama on Monday nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be the nation's next Defense secretary despite warnings of a tough confirmation fight from some Senate Republicans.
Here's the Washington Post, also from January 7:
President Obama picks a confirmation fight. Can he win it?
When President Obama formally nominates Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense later today, he can be certain of one thing: The former Nebraska Republican Senator will face a major fight to win confirmation.
And here's Politico from this morning:
Why President Obama is picking fights with Congress
Barack Obama is looking for a few good fights.
Obama, the same president who campaigned twice on breaking the cycle of conflict in Washington, sees the utility -- even the necessity -- of rattling Republican cages as he plunges into a succession of upcoming battles over the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, the debt ceiling, $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts, immigration reform and gun control.
Fox News contributor Bill Kristol has recently headed a relentless attack campaign against former Sen. Chuck Hagel after President Obama nominated Hagel to be the next defense secretary. However, Kristol used to speak favorably towards Hagel, only changing his opinion when Hagel voted in favor of a withdrawal timeline for the Iraq War in 2007.
Kristol's opposition to Hagel was on full display today when he took to Fox's America's Newsroom to smear the nominee as anti-Israel.
However, as Think Progress noted, back in 2000, Kristol spoke in favor of Hagel, at one point describing him as an "impressive and attractive first-term senator" with a "decent shot" at becoming the VP for George W. Bush.
What changed? As The New York Times reported on March 28, 2007, Hagel shocked both Republicans and Democrats by voting in favor of a military spending bill that included a withdrawal date for troops in Iraq -- something Republicans were emphatically against. From the Times:
By a vote of 50 to 48, with a few crucial votes shifting in favor of the Democratic position, the Senate rejected a Republican effort to strip from the military spending bill any mention of a withdrawal date. The legislation will now move forward with a provision to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from Iraq within 120 days of the measure's enactment, with a nonbinding goal of pulling out by March 31, 2008.
The outcome of the Senate vote took both parties by surprise. Republicans were stung by the defection of Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has not supported a timetable for withdrawal before although he is his party's most outspoken critic of the war in Congress.
"There will not be a military solution to Iraq," Mr. Hagel declared. "Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. It doesn't belong to the United States. Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost."
Watch as Kristol turned on the former Senator he once called "impressive and attractive," instead describing him as "irresponsible," during the March 27, 2007, edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
The Wall Street Journal argued in an editorial that the National Labor Relations Board, which is charged with protecting workers' right to organize, has overstepped its authority to do unions' bidding regardless of the law--particularly in its approach to employers' social media policies. A review of the NLRB Office of the General Counsel's memos, however, demonstrates that the WSJ's characterization of the body's policies is without merit.
The January 6 editorial, titled "Another NLRB Power Grab," accused the body of becoming "a wholly-owned subsidiary of Big Labor, rather than a neutral arbiter of fair labor practice." In support of this claim, the WSJ presented blatantly false statements about the NLRB's approach to employers' social media policies:
Also insidious is the NLRB's effort to regulate how companies handle social media. In the Facebook and Twitter age, employers have an obvious interest in rules that prohibit their employees from defaming colleagues, or broadcasting confidential information. The NLRB has nonetheless decided that even reasonable restrictions impinge on concerted activity.
In fact, both the NLRB's Office of the General Counsel (OGC) and the Board itself have explicitly stated that employers may set certain limits on their employees' social media activities as long as they do not prohibit activities protected under the National Labor Relations Act. Three OGC memos provide guidance about what types of employer policies pass muster under the NLRA.
In the most recent memo, dated May 30, 2012, the OGC examined seven cases about employer social media policies and concluded that one of the employer policies was lawful in its entirety, while some provisions of the remaining six policies "are overbroad and thus unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act."
Although the OGC concluded that some aspects of a confidentiality policy were invalid, it also recognized that a policy that "admonishes employees to '[d]evelop a healthy suspicion[,]' cautions against being tricked into disclosing confidential information, and urges employees to '[b]e suspicious if asked to ignore identification procedures' " is lawful.
Nor did the OGC state that all social media posts are "concerted activity" that is protected under the NLRA. In fact, although it concluded that employees' Facebook posts can be protected if they meet the requirements applicable to communications outside of social media, it defined such posts narrowly. In a January 2012 memo, the OGC restated the NLRA requirement that protected activity must be "concerted," meaning that it seeks to involve other employees in a discussion of the terms and conditions and employment, and advised that an employee's online discussion would not be protected just because fellow employees "liked" a post.
Policies that are sufficiently clear and not limited in scope can pass muster in their entirety. The OGC advised that policies "that clarify and restrict their scope by including examples of clearly illegal or unprotected conduct, such that they would not reasonably be construed to cover protected activity, are not unlawful."
In short, the WSJ's characterization of the NLRB's positions on social media bears no resemblance to the guidance it has publicly shared.
CNN distorted former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel's positions on potential U.S. negotiations with Hamas and sanctions on Iran to privilege the bogus argument that the senator is anti-Israel. In fact, Hagel's positions on these issues are not out of the mainstream and are not anti-Israel.
During a report that President Obama is going to nominate Hagel to be secretary of defense, CNN host Zoraida Sambolin played a clip of Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) saying that a Hagel nomination is an "in your face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel." CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty followed up that clip by asserting that Hagel's critics "would question his devotion to anything that would help Israel. He, for instance, believes in talking to Hamas." Dougherty also highlighted the argument that Hagel's views on sanctions against Iran show that he is not sufficiently pro-Israel.
But the position Hagel has taken on Hamas is well within the mainstream and the position he has taken on Iran is not an anti-Israel position, but part of his long-held view that unilateral sanctions do not work. Furthermore, Hagel is supported by high-profile pro-Israel commentators.
Regarding Hamas, in 2009, Hagel co-signed a bipartisan letter suggesting steps the United States could take to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. One of the recommendations in the letter was that the United States should take "a more pragmatic approach toward Hamas and a Palestinian unity government." The United States has a policy of not negotiating with Hamas, which won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and is the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip, due to its support of terrorism.
The letter stated: "Direct U.S. engagement with Hamas may not now be practical." But it added that Israel has acknowledged Hamas "is simply too important and powerful to be ignored." It recommended that the United States shift its policy "from ousting Hamas to modifying its behavior, offer it inducements that will enable its more moderate elements to prevail, and cease discouraging third parties from engaging with Hamas."
This is far from an extreme or anti-Israel position. The letter was co-signed by two former U.S. National Security Advisers, Zbigniew Brezinski, who served in the Carter administration and Brent Scowcroft, who served in the Ford, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations. Other signers include former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum-Baker (R-KS), former 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton, and former Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen also endorsed the position on Hamas taken by the letter.
Furthermore, the Israeli government itself has said it is willing to talk to Hamas under certain conditions. The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli President Shimon Peres said that "Israel would be willing to talk to Hamas, if Hamas complied with the three conditions set down by the Mideast Quartet, namely renunciation of terrorism, recognition of Israel and willingness to negotiate with Israel." The Post also reported: "There's nothing wrong with talking to Hamas, Peres clarified, but Hamas won't talk to Israel."
Fox News is continuing its hunt for "pork" in a Hurricane Sandy relief bill blocked by House Speaker John Boehner, claiming that the bill included $600 million for the Environmental Protection Agency to address climate change. But the funds in question actually focused on ensuring affected states' access to clean water, a crucial issue in the wake of the storm - and emblematic of future consequences of climate change.
Rep. Boehner recently canceled a vote on a Sandy relief bill, prompting heavy criticism from some members of his own party. He later reversed course and called for a vote on $9 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program, with another $51 billion in relief spending to be voted on later.
Continuing Fox News' attempts to find "pork" in the bill, Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer proclaimed lawmakers "were just chucking everything" including "$600 million for climate change for the EPA" into the bill, and "that's where the resistance" from Rep. Boehner came:
But the previous day, Rep. Carolyn Maloney had explained to Fox Business that the "money is for wastewater treatment," which she pointed out is "very much needed" in many areas hit by Sandy. Indeed, The New York Times reported that sewage from storm-battered treatment plants had flowed into New York and New Jersey waterways after the storm, "a sign of an environmental and public health disaster that officials say will be one of the most enduring and expensive effects of Hurricane Sandy."
Fox News continually mocked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for having to postpone her testimony on the attack in Benghazi, Libya, because of health problems relating to a concussion. Clinton was recently hospitalized due to a blood clot in her head, which ABC News reported was "potentially 'life-threatening.' "
As The Wall Street Journal noted, the New York Post originally editorialized that Clinton's concussion was a "head fake." But after news of the blood clot came to light, the Post, also owned by Fox News parent company News Corp., reversed its tone and declared that "a full recovery is what's important now." Will Fox News follow suit?
Here is a video of Fox News figures ridiculing Clinton's health problems over the past several weeks:
From the December 19 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Nearly all of Fox News' evening news shows ridiculed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for having to postpone her testimony on the Benghazi attack because of a concussion she suffered after fainting due to dehydration. Their mockery was an attempt to downplay the concussion and suggest Clinton was faking injury to avoid giving testimony, a notion the State Department has called "wild speculation based on no information."
The Washington Post reported on December 15 that Clinton sustained a concussion after she fainted due to dehydration while at home a week prior. After the incident, the State Department explained that Clinton would have to postpone her testimony about the attack on Benghazi due to the concussion.
Following the State Department's announcement, Fox News contributor John Bolton, appearing on On The Record, suggested Clinton was faking "diplomatic illness" to avoid testifying about Benghazi. The State Department's Victoria Nuland lashed out at Bolton for his remarks, labeling them "wild speculation based on no information."
Now Fox News' evening shows have decided to join Bolton in accusing Clinton of faking her condition and make it seem she is trying to avoid giving her testimony. Co-host of Fox News' The Five, Kimberly Guilfoyle, accused Clinton of running "a duck and cover" after suffering the concussion. Co-host Greg Gutfeld went on to ask, "How can she get a concussion when she has been ducking everything [related to Benghazi]?"
From the December 19 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the December 19 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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Fox News figures accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of faking an illness when she suffered a concussion after fainting due to dehydration. The State Department has criticized Fox News contributor John Bolton for engaging in "wild speculation based on no information."
A Wall Street Journal op-ed pushed discredit smears to claim that Senator John Kerry is anti-military and not fit for a possible cabinet post.
President Obama is reportedly considering Kerry to be Secretary of State or Defense. In response, former Journal editorial board member Seth Lipsky asked in his op-ed "why in the world" the president would consider Kerry for either position. Lipsky claimed nobody did more than Kerry to "besmirch the name of the GIs who fought in Vietnam." As evidence, Lipsky cited 1971 testimony by Kerry that members of the military had committed war crimes in Vietnam. Lipsky suggested this claim was unfounded aside from the massacre at My Lai. But as FactCheck.org stated in 2004, "ample evidence of other atrocities has come to light" since Kerry's 1971 testimony.
In 1971 Mr. Kerry related to the Senate accusations that he said had been made by veterans testifying before an antiwar group called the Winter Soldier Investigation.
The conviction of Lt. William Calley for his role in the massacre at My Lai is a reminder that our side did commit some war crimes in Vietnam. But they were, as Mr. Obama suggested, the misdeeds of a few. According to the website wintersoldier.com, which is sympathetic to Mr. O'Neill and the Swift Vets, the allegations raised by the Winter Soldier investigation were examined by the Defense Department and either did not hold up or could not be proved and no one was ever prosecuted for the allegations made by Mr. Kerry's group. Allies of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, sponsor of the antiwar hearings at which veterans testified, dispute critics of the investigation.
But Factcheck.org debunked the claim that Kerry was making unfounded charges, pointing out that Kerry was relating stories he had heard from fellow members of the armed forces and that stories of wartime atrocities by U.S. troops have been documented in a book by Marine Corps veteran Gary D. Solis, a Pulitzer Prize winning series by the Toledo Blade, and by a Columbia University doctoral student who said she found evidence of hundreds of atrocities in government archives.
Fox News mischaracterized a new proposal to set emissions limits for existing power plants, suggesting that Environmental Protection Agency regulation would make electricity rates increase and likely draw the opposition of "carbon state Democrats." In fact, the plan is expected to lead to lower power bills through improved energy efficiency, and allows states with carbon-intensive power to make cost-effective and realistic steps toward sustainable power.
Laying out a plan for President Obama to address climate change in his second term, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a proposal to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants under the Clean Air Act using a flexible approach that can be tailored for each state and would minimize economic impacts. William Reilly, a former EPA administrator under President George H.W. Bush, stated of the plan: "This is an imaginative proposal that addresses some real needs. It deserves to be carefully analyzed and taken seriously by all the affected interests."
But Fox News' America Live claimed that "this kind of proposal would obviously have huge economic impact that could spread across industries." Fox News Digital Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt said that under any EPA regulation of existing power plants, Americans "may see their power bills go up and they may see scarcity down the road." He offered that "there are enough carbon state Democrats" that could try to prevent the EPA from acting.
But EPA regulations could actually lower power bills. The NRDC proposal gives plant owners credit for energy efficiency increases, which, according to the analysis from a widely-used modeling firm, would lead to lower power bills. Grist's David Roberts explained:
The fact that energy efficiency counts as compliance is crucial to the economics of NRDC's proposal. If avoided carbon counts toward reducing average fleet emissions, then every utility, in every state and region, has access to inexpensive compliance measures.
Remember: Efficiency saves ratepayers money. According to modeling of the NRDC proposal done by ICF International, by complying through efficiency measures, utilities could achieve the proposed carbon standards while slightly reducing power bills. And every dollar not spent on power is a dollar of annual economic stimulus.