November 3, 2007

Schumer Finds A Wingman

Chuck Schumer had pressed the Bush administration to nominate Michael Mukasey as Attorney General after the departure of Alberto Gonzales, only to see his fellow Democrats rip Mukasey apart over waterboarding. With leading Democrats insisting that they would oppose Mukasey, everyone waited to see whether Schumer would disavow the man on whom he had insisted, or find the courage to stand on his own to support the man he championed. In the end, Schumer found a third way -- by finding a wingman:

The nomination fight over attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey effectively came to an end yesterday, as two key Senate Democrats parted from their colleagues and announced their support for the former judge despite his controversial statements on torture.

The orchestrated announcements by Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) virtually guarantee that Mukasey will be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, to be followed by his likely confirmation in the full Senate later in the month.

The developments mark an important political victory for President Bush, who mounted a spirited and aggressive defense of Mukasey in recent days. They also underscore the pitfalls facing Democrats as the party struggles to stake out an independent policy on national security issues during a presidential campaign season. ...

Schumer -- a Democratic stalwart who had recommended Mukasey to the White House as a consensus candidate -- said Mukasey told him in a private meeting yesterday that he would enforce any anti-waterboarding law passed by Congress. Current law explicitly bans the practice within the Defense Department but not elsewhere.

Schumer had kept his own counsel of late on Mukasey. He did not choose to defend the former judge during the controversy over the waterboarding technique, even when an obvious defense presented itself. Schumer chose to use it only after finding Dianne Feinstein and convincing her to serve as his wingman -- to share the criticism he would receive from his base in supporting Mukasey.

It's less than courageous, but at least it gets this important post filled. Schumer came within an ace of making an ass out of himself, after shooting off his mouth about Mukasey not once but twice as a "consensus" nominee. Schumer also tried to get Mukasey nominated for the Supreme Court when Bush nominated Samuel Alito. It would have been pretty hard to explain how Schumer would have endorsed Mukasey for a lifetime appointment on the highest court but not supported him for a 16-month gig as Attorney General.

It also puts the onus for waterboarding back on Congress. Mukasey had it exactly correct when he told the Judiciary Committee that he would have to wait and see whether any interrogative techniques broke the law as Congress wrote it. If Congress wants to make that technique illegal, they have the power to do so. Where it is explicitly illegal and used anyway, then Mukasey has already said he would pursue charges. The AG doesn't make the law, Congress does, and the spectacle of the Judiciary Committee demanding from an AG nominee an interpretation that they themselves did not choose to make explicit in the law is nothing short of pathetic.

By mid-week, Mukasey will assume his new duties at the Department of Justice. Perhaps now we can ask Congress to do the same, and to quit passing the buck.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Please note that unverified Disqus users will have comments held in moderation. Please visit Disqus to register and verify your account. Comments from verified users will appear immediately.