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May 27, 2006
A Cheer For Bill Frist

We have not shied away from offering criticisms of the Republican leadership in Congress when they have failed to deliver on the GOP agenda. Fairness dictates that we recognize their effort in delivering victories as well. Senator Bill Frist deftly navigated a large amount of hostility towards two Bush appointees while getting them confirmed. Brett Kavanaugh heads to the 4th Circuit and General Michael Hayden will take over the CIA after Frist pushed their nominations through the Senate. On Kavanaugh, Frist managed to avoid the filibuster than some had threatened:

White House aide Brett M. Kavanaugh won Senate confirmation as an appeals judge yesterday after a three-year wait, a new victory for President Bush in a drive to place a more conservative stamp on the courts.

Bush said Kavanaugh who was confirmed 57 to 36, will be "a brilliant, thoughtful and fair-minded judge."

Kavanaugh had been praised by Republicans but opposed by Democrats who briefly threatened to filibuster his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He was opposed by Maryland Democrats Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski and approved by Virginia Republicans John W. Warner and George Allen.

Kavanaugh had plenty of problems getting through an obstructionist Democratic minority in the Senate. His work with Kenneth Starr on the Clinton impeachment guaranteed a high level of animosity from Democrats, and they did not disappoint. Other Democrats resented his participation in the Florida recount in 2000, a strange objectuin considering that the Democrats filed lawsuits first; did they expect Bush not to hire attorneys to represent his campaign in response, and did they expect him to hire bad ones? For these rather petty reasons, Kavanaugh got caught up in the obstructionist spree of the first Bush term, and his status remained unclear after the Gang of 14 deal that appears to have thrown Henry Saad under the bus. Frist made sure that the same fate did not befall Kavanaugh, and it could not have been easy.

The second nominee had an easier time passing through the Senate, and that is a story unto itself. Hayden's nomination had generated a lot of anger and opposition from some Democrats, who wanted to use Hayden as a whipping boy for George Bush and the NSA programs he ordered Hayden to conduct. After polling showed that Hayden as well as his programs had solid majorities in approval, they seem to have changed their mind. The New York Times, however, puts its own unique spin on these results:

The 78-to-15 vote showed that General Hayden's popularity on Capitol Hill as an articulate advocate for the spy agencies outweighed doubts about the legality of the eavesdropping program he ran as director of the National Security Agency. The only Republican to vote against confirmation was Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who has said he believes the program violates the law.

Some senators suggested that they had set aside concerns about the program in part because they believed that General Hayden could restore morale and purpose at the C.I.A. after the tumultuous 19-month directorship of Porter J. Goss. Mr. Goss, a former Republican congressman, was forced to resign after failing to recover from a rocky start in 2004, when his top staff members clashed with agency veterans.

By the time of the vote, the propriety of having an Air Force general on active duty take charge of the civilian spy agency, while initially questioned by several Republicans, had virtually disappeared as an issue.

Rubbish. The 78-15 vote showed that the Democrats not only discovered that the programs had a solid legal basis, but that beating up a man whose only crime in most eyes was successfully defending the nation from further terrorist attacks would do significant damage to them in November. Besides Arlen Specter, the Nay votes mostly comprise the far left of the Democratic caucus, a minority unto a minority:

Bayh (D-IN)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Clinton (D-NY)
Dayton (D-MN)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Harkin (D-IA)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Obama (D-IL)
Specter (R-PA)
Wyden (D-OR)

That list includes some presidential hopefuls, who may have to do some explaining about their opposition to a man of Hayden's stature and experience. Hillary Clinton needed to cast this vote to appease the Left, which has started to stridently oppose her nomination. Feingold could not afford to alienate his only national constituency, and with the exception of Barack Obama and Byron Dorgan -- whose red-state constituency may have the last word on this in 2010 -- the rest were never expected to vote any differently.

Frist did manage to corral some senior Democrats for Hayden, including Pat Leahy, Joe Biden, Robert Byrd (who has voted more often in support of controversial Bush nominees now that he faces a GOP challenge this fall), Carl Levin, and Chuck Schumer. Schumer's inclusion is a big surprise, considering the sputtering he has done about the NSA programs and their invasion of privacy. That puts a bright red bow on Hayden's confirmation and shows just how badly the Democratic objections dissipated in the face of strong argumentation from the White House and GOP leadership, excepting the perpetual exception of Arlen Specter.

Even the New England contingent of RINOs (Chaffee, Snowe, and Collins) voted for Hayden. How much arm-twisting did Frist have to do to get that?

Yesterday was a big victory for the Senate Majority Leader, one he should savor and one which we all should note. Hopefully it leads to more and larger victories for the Republican agenda.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 27, 2006 7:16 AM

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