Slick Drives: Oil spill makes messy politics stickier

By Jonathan Blakely

May 14, 2010 7:38am

By Rick Klein: Where can we drive this car, anyway? There’s a bumpy back road ahead for Sen. Arlen Specter, who’s already taken the fork available to him. There’s a smooth expressway for Elena Kagan, lined by enough GOP fans to keep this ride from getting too far off-track. It’s plenty slick — and getting slicker — on the road to clean-up for the Obama White House, down in the Gulf. And then there’s the bigger map, showing few good routes for Democrats that don’t end somewhere they don’t want to go. Next week marks perhaps the most intensive week in national politics until November. The storylines are disparate, but there’s enough to unite them — particularly in the anti-incumbent/establishment fervor that stretches from Kentucky to Arkansas to Pennsylvania — to bake in some assumptions that will last a while. All this while President Obama takes a more aggressive tack to address the oil spill, with the administration — yes, his administration — under renewed scrutiny. Your storyline for the next week: “What do Joe Sestak, Bill Halter and Colleen Hanabusa have in common? The left loves them,” Kim Strassel writes in her Wall Street Journal column. “Given the obsessive coverage of the Republican ‘civil war,’ you may not realize Democrats are also feuding. Angry and disappointed that their president and Congress has not done more, the party's liberal base is throwing itself into the primaries, pushing the party to the left even as the country moves right.” From the other side: “The Tea Partyers and the ouster of Charlie Crist and Robert Bennett have sucked up most of the media oxygen, but it's very possible that a similarly dramatic upheaval is about to happen on the left,” writes Greg Sargent, at The Plum Line blog. The bigger picture: “House Democrats soon may be hearing the blue-collar blues. Again,” Ron Brownstein writes for National Journal. “In 2010, those lunch-bucket districts again appear to represent the Democrats’ point of maximum vulnerability. The challenge is symbolized by the party’s struggle in next week’s special election in the rusting blue-collar southwestern Pennsylvania district that Rep. John Murtha represented from 1974 until his death in February.” “No matter whether the Democrats maintain control of the House, after November their caucus could increasingly mirror the electoral coalition of better-educated whites (especially women), young people, and minorities that enabled Barack Obama to win the White House in 2008 despite attracting just two-fifths of the vote among white voters without a college education.” Campaign mode — from President Obama, at the DCCC fundraiser in Manhattan Thursday night: “After they drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want to keys back,” the president said, per ABC’s Sunlen Miller. “No! You can’t drive.” That other message: “We can say beyond a shadow of a doubt today we are headed in the right direction,” the president said. From Main Street to…. “Wall Streeters in attendance at the DCCC fundraising dinner, which was expected to raise at least $1.3 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, included Richard Debs, advisory director of Morgan Stanley, Maurice Sonnenberg, senior international adviser for JP Morgan, Jack Bendheim of the Berkshire Bank in NY and director of Empire Resources in Fort Lee, NJ, according to an attendee,” Politico’s Carol E. Lee and Maggie Haberman report. In Pennsylvania — remember that labor and the Rendell machine are working for Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa.: “In the final days of the Spandex-tight Senate Democratic primary race, ground operations focusing on voter turnout are crucial. And that's one area in which Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., despite his flagging poll numbers, will have a likely advantage over his rival, Rep. Joe Sestak,” Daniel Malloy reports in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Newsweek’s Howard Fineman: “I just checked with the White House to make sure there had been no last-minute changes of plan, and in fact there had not: President Barack Obama will NOT be going to the state — even to Philly, where he is popular — to campaign for the beleaguered Specter.” “Pennsylvanians were slammed by the establishment of the last decade under George Bush, and they're not about to have someone from Washington, DC or Delaware or somewhere else begin to tell us who we can pick,” Sestak said on ABC/Washington Post’s “Top Line” Thursday. In PA-12 — a lot of money, in a little media market: “Tuesday’s high-stakes Pennsylvania special election to replace the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha has emerged as a proving ground not only for the two parties but also for their allied special interest groups — all of whom view the race as a unique opportunity to send a statement,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin and Alex Isenstadt report. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., among those who won’t say they want President Obama ion the trail: “Just two years ago, not a single Republican stepped forward to run against Representative Niki Tsongas, a Democrat, whose late husband, Paul, was a senator from Massachusetts and a presidential candidate,” Katharine Q. Seelye writes in The New York Times. “Now, 11 people are lining up to challenge her, seven of them Republicans and four independents.” Michael Dukakis, on the mood of the electorate: “People are upset, and they ought to be.”  New developments in the oil spill — yes, this would be an Obama administration agency: “The federal Minerals Management Service gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency that assesses threats to endangered species — and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf,” The New York Times’ Ian Urbina writes. “Those approvals, federal records show, include one for the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the gulf each day.” Who’s counting, anyway? Justin Gillis, in The New York Times: “Two weeks ago, the government put out a round estimate of the size of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico: 5,000 barrels a day. Repeated endlessly in news reports, it has become conventional wisdom. But scientists and environmental groups are raising sharp questions about that estimate, declaring that the leak must be far larger. … The figure of 5,000 barrels a day was hastily produced by government scientists in Seattle. It appears to have been calculated using a method that is specifically not recommended for major oil spills.” Doug Suttles, BP chief operating officer, on “Good Morning America” Friday: “What we’re focused on is stopping the flow and minimizing the impact… Ourselves, people from NOAA and others believe that something around 5,000 barrels a day is the best estimate. … We think that’s probably a reasonable number, but we know it’s highly uncertain.” Response… President Obama will address efforts in the Gulf at 11:50 am ET, after meeting with administration officials on the subject. “President Obama will make remarks to reporters in which he expresses his ‘anger and frustration’ with the companies responsible for the spill, a senior White House official tells ABC News,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “The president, the official said, is chagrined not only with the fact that the leak has yet to be plugged, but at the fingerpointing and blame-shifting seen during a Congressional hearing earlier this week by executives of BP, Transocean, and Halliburton.” On the Hill — not moving as quickly as a certain spill: “Democratic legislators Thursday failed to speed through legislation to raise liability caps from $75 million to $10 billion,”the Los Angeles Times’ Richard Simon and Margot Roosevelt report. “Their effort was thwarted by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a key oil industry ally who said that the bill would end up empowering only the ‘biggest of the big oil’ companies to drill for American's offshore resources.” Closing out an interesting first week for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan… Keeping it smooth: “Key Republicans signaled a willingness Thursday to back President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, New York native Elena Kagan,” the New York Daily News’ Michael McAuliff writes.  Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.: “I do not feel that her judicial philosophy will be hurting the men and women who are serving.” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine: “It’s possible something new will come out, but at this point I do not see any grounds for a filibuster.” Specter, laying some groundwork for his own race: “It was a very good meeting, and I think she was very forthcoming.” Kagan’s real world: “The White House she belonged to between 1995 and 1999 took a view of government as a tool to improve people's lives. But it also had a keen sense of limits; it had been reined in after the Clinton health-care plan failed and Republicans won control of Congress in 1994 and was, with exceptions, keeping in check its ambitions even before the distraction in 1998 of the Monica S. Lewinsky affair.” Kagan’s other world: “What she almost certainly won't be asked, based on decades of precedent and confirmation hearings, are questions about her sexuality,” ABC’s Devin Dwyer reports. “But that hasn't stopped a mixed cast of gay and conservative bloggers from doing it instead, sparking a boisterous debate about a nominee's personal life never seen before.” “Why the White House chose to engage on this question at all is telling of the currency and the potency of the innuendo,” The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty writes. “Administration officials asked Kagan directly about her sexual orientation when she was being vetted for her post as solicitor general, [Anita] Dunn said in response to a question that she protested was inappropriate. But she insisted that it was not a relevant factor in determining who was named to that job or this one.” Flashback to David Axelrod, on the Supreme Court selection process: “It wasn't … an avenue of inquiry on our part and it shouldn't be on anybody else's' part.” Tribune Co.’s David G. Savage and James Oliphant: “A controversy over military recruiting at Harvard Law School while Elena Kagan was dean may say less about her views on the military than it does about her strong belief in equal rights for gays and lesbians, one of the foremost unsettled issues before the Supreme Court. … It marks one of the few times during her career in which she voiced a strong and deeply held view on a matter of legal controversy. It is also one of the issues sure to come before the high court in the years ahead.” Coming up on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, with Jake Tapper: Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. And the roundtable: George Will, Helene Cooper of the New York Times, Glenn Greenwald of, former Obama White House Counsel Gregory Craig and Ed Gillespie, former counselor to President George W. Bush. A glimpse of what’s to come? “The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of Goodwin Liu to be a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sending him to the full Senate for consideration after a party-line vote of 12 Democrats in favor to 7 Republicans opposed,” Charlie Savage writes in The New York Times. The money (and don’t forget the “teammates” argument…): “As a professor and dean at Harvard Law School, Solicitor General Elena Kagan contributed $12,300 to federal politicians and committees, more than half of which went to Barack Obama,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “This includes $2,000 to then-state senator Obama during his 2004 Senate campaign and the legal maximum of $4,600 to then-Sen. Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.” In Florida — Gov. Charlie Crist, happy, and blunt: “I'm very happy. I really am. Listen, I don't know if I've ever enjoyed being a public servant as much as I have the past few weeks because I feel really in touch with where the people are,” Crist told the St. Petersburg Times in an editorial board meeting. On Kagan: “I think she'd do a great job. … Isn't that fun?” (Crist opposed Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination.) In South Carolina — first Jenny Sanford, now Sarah Palin… From the e-mail out to Nikki Haley’s, R-S.C., campaign e-mail list: “I have some very exciting news to share with you today:  Former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin is endorsing our campaign! It is incredibly exciting to have Governor Palin involved with the campaign and this builds on our momentum.” Erick Erickson, at “This is huge news. We at RedState have pushed for this for months and it is finally happening. Internal polling in South Carolina shows the momentum is seriously with Nikki Haley and she is moving into second place rapidly toward first place.”
The Kicker: “You're a hottie with a smokin' little body.” — Luann Haley, to President Obama, in Buffalo, winning herself a presidential hug. “I want it. I need it. I want to win.” — Gov. Charlie Crist, I-Fla., on why he’s not issuing refunds to Republicans.
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