The Romney Interview

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I just finished my one-on-one exclusive interview with Governor Mitt Romney as we traveled between campaign stops in West Des Moines. The weather turned poor and we battled road noise, but in 15 minutes, Romney gave an impressive performance as a man with a solid grasp on policy — and of someone completely confident in his ability to master it.
This comes as no surprise, of course. Romney built a billion-dollar business, rescued the Salt Lake City Olympics, and won the governor’s race in Massachussetts as a Republican. Someone with that kind of resumé could be forgiven a little cockiness, but Romney comes across as completely grounded and accessible, even in the tight confines of a minivan, talking with a citizen journalist.
I asked Governor Romney some tough questions regarding his immigration stance. Readers of Heading Right have already learned of Romney’s specific issues with the current immigration proposal. When I asked him to reconcile his support of the 2006 McCain-Kennedy bill with his rejection of this year’s proposal, he quickly corrected me and insisted he never endorsed last year’s legislation. While he has been accurately quoted as calling its approach “reasonable”, the same interview also has him refusing to endorse it. His staffers emphasized the point with me later.
I pressed him on his insistence on Z-visas being temporary, and he put me off by saying that he didn’t want to write legislation as a candidate. He said that Congress should ensure that illegals do not get ahead of legal immigrant candidates, and that the proposed Z-visas do exactly that. It’s fundamentally unfair, and it damages the prospects for legal immigration.
Mostly, though, I concentrated on foreign policy. This is an aspect of Romney’s portfolio that hardly ever gets any serious attention, and I wanted to see how much depth Romney has in this area. I have to say, I’m impressed. Obviously the man knows global economics, but he actually placed that in a secondary position to security policy — and he has a lot to say about that topic.
He has some fresh ideas about how to organize trade, security, and military organizations along vertical lines for each region. While a free-trader by nature, he also thinks that trade agreements should benefit all sides, and to the extent that agreements with China have damaged us, they need review and change. In this, he appears sympathetic to Duncan Hunter, whom I interviewed last month. He recognizes that we let Latin America slip away from us after the end of the Cold War, and he has some interesting ideas about how to win it back.
I will be airing the interview tomorrow on CQ Radio, which will be on the air at 2 pm CT. In the meantime, stick around for a special live broadcast of the town-hall forum here in West Des Moines, which starts at 6 pm CT. Don’t miss this broadcast!

Working The Romney Beat

I’ll be trailing the Mitt Romney campaign today, reporting from a number of events that the Governor has scheduled for today in Iowa. I’ll be posting at Heading Right today on Romney events, so be sure to keep checking back. (I’ll probably post links to those articles here as well.)
Later today, I’ll get an exclusive interview with Governor Romney, where I’ll probe for some of the underreported aspects of his platform, especially foreign policy, which I think has mostly been ignored. We’ll have a later edition of CQ Radio with that taped interview at around 4 pm CT. At 6 pm, we’ll have an additional, live CQ radio show at the Hy Vee Conference Center, where you can hear the Governor handle questions from the Iowa audience in a town-hall forum.
Keep checking back here and at Heading Right for more!
UPDATE: I’m starting the first live-blog at Heading Right at this link. There will be plenty of this today, although it does appear that I will have to find my own food — they’re not feeding the press, and I’ll be too busy anyway.
UPDATE: My reporting on the press conference is here.
UPDATE III: The next event, an interview with Iowa public TV, is here. This will not air immediately, but instead will be broadcast on Friday and Sunday.
So far, I have to admit that the Romney campaign and Romney himself are impressive. He has the same ability to hold an audience as Rudy Giuliani, and also the same grasp of detail in his speaking. He’s even better off the cuff than with prepared remarks.

Sadr’s Militia Kidnapped Britons

Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army apparently masterminded the kidnapping of five Britons in Iraq. The abductions likely came as retribution for the death of Sadr’s lieutenant in a gunfight earlier this month between the Mahdis and the British:

Iraq’s most prominent Shia militia has emerged as the chief suspect in the kidnappings of five British nationals in Iraq.
Negotiations with the Mahdi Army are already under way after one of several spokesmen for the armed force under the command of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr claimed responsibility for the kidnappings at the finance ministry in Baghdad.
Hundreds of Iraqi and American troops raided Sadr City, Baghdad’s largest Shia neighbourhood, in an operation that ended early today. Residents said areas of Sadr City were sealed off and several arrests were made.
Iraqi forces have established a special battalion of soldiers and police officers to search for the kidnapped men. “We are conducting search operations near the site where the abduction took place,” said Brig Gen Qassim al Musawi, an Iraqi army spokesman.

If this is true, it challenges the status of Sadr as a politician to a degree not seen since his capitulation in Najaf in 2004. It also highlights the problem of Sadr’s influence on the Interior Ministry, controlled by one of his allies and reportedly infiltrated to a high degree by Mahdis and other Shi’ite militias. The kidnapping took place at a government building, the first time Westerners have been abducted from such a facility.
The abduction itself was a complicated, well-planned event. The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, told the BBC that he suspected the Mahdis of the kidnapping. He said it took a number of people to seal off the building, get inside, and abduct four private security contractors and the computer expert they were protecting. Zebari said that local police almost certainly were involved in the “sophisticated” operation.
The big worry is that the Mahdis will sell the hostages to another group, perhaps even al-Qaeda. The commandos of the SAS have been put on alert in case they are needed for rescue and extraction. In the meantime, the UK and the US have to pressure the Maliki government to either take care of Sadr or to stand by while we do so. The raids on Sadr City this week sent a message, but as we have seen with Sadr in the past, that message needs to be personal — and final, this time.

Fred Takes The First Step (Updated)

Fred Thompson will take the first step towards declaring himself a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, according to Ryan Sager at the New York Sun. After reportedly meeting with campaign-finance advisors, Thompson will launch a presidential pre-exploratory committee, in a move that will delight Republicans and satirists in equal measure:

Speculation over whether Fred Thompson is serious about running for president just went toes-up. Mr. Thompson’s not-yet-a campaign has confirmed: He’s dipping his toes in.
Specifically, a Thompson adviser told The New York Sun yesterday, he will announce the formation of a presidential “testing-the-waters” committee early next week — possibly as early as Sunday.
A “testing the waters” committee is a step before the more familiar presidential exploratory committee. It allows the former Tennessee senator to raise money and hire staff. But it also prevents him from doing a number of other things: advertising his candidacy, referring to himself as a real candidate (presumably just in public, he can say whatever he likes in front of the bathroom mirror), raising money that could be transferred to another candidate, or raising money to get on the ballot.

This reminds me of corporate processes for meeting preparation. At two companies for which I worked in management, efficiency training implemented a set of requirements for meetings which eventually forced “pre-meetings” in order to set the agenda for the real conferences. Eventually people tired of these requirements and went back to actually doing work. A “testing the waters” committee seems like an absurd extension of the same process, especially since an exploratory committee doesn’t commit a potential candidate to much of anything, at least on paper.
I’m looking forward to a Thompson candidacy. As Sager notes, it will shake up the field and finally clarify the roster. Thompson began hinting that he would run in March, and the polling has clearly shown that he has a ready-made constituency, based primarily on those who feel that the current crop of candidates does not reflect the conservative nature of the party.
Unlike Sager, though, I believe that Thompson has made several serious moves towards his candidacy — just nothing official. He has managed to make himself very relevant by delivering much-anticipated speeches to various Republican groups. Thompson has also written a series of essays, erudite and sensational, on various hot issues as well as explaining and expanding on his federalist beliefs. It’s almost a philosopher’s campaign for the White House, an approach that may not have a parallel since Woodrow Wilson.
Rumor has Fred entering the race officially over the Fourth of July holiday. Meanwhile, he’s collecting a staff and making plans while still remaining able to use the media to his advantage. That’s the real story behind the dipped-toes approach, and it’s not Fred’s fault that the mechanism exists. Like this primary season, though, it seems like election laws keep extending the degrees in which a candidate is or is not running for office, and the additional stages are bordering on the comical.
UPDATE: The Washington Post has caught up to the story now:

Thompson, who has been fueling speculation of a Republican presidential bid by traveling the country and making speeches, urged a group of donors in a conference call Tuesday to begin raising $46,000 from 10 couples each, starting on June 4, according to two participants in the call. Once the money begins flowing, Thompson will begin to hire a campaign staff and set up his headquarters in Washington and Nashville, his advisers said.
In addition, the nascent campaign is planning to launch a website in the next 10 days, according to one person familiar with campaign planning. Thompson will give a speech in Virginia this weekend and is scheduled to appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno next month.
The papers Thompson intends to file on Friday with the Federal Elections Committee will allow the former Tennessee senator to “test the waters” by raising money that could be used once he declares officially, several sources said. The committee will be called “Friends of Fred Thompson.”

The Post is more cautious about the July 4th launch date. Michael Shear reports that those plans are “in flux” and could change. I’m not sure why, unless organizationally he thinks he won’t be ready for it. It would make a great backdrop for a presidential announcement, and would almost certainly wind up being the political story of the entire holiday.
Also, just to clarify, I’m not criticizing Fred for using the toe-dip committee procedure to keep all his options open. I’m criticizing the fact that the option exists at all. I’d prefer to see just the exploratory committee and the actual campaign, not some pre-exploratory stage where nothing changes at all. It’s a reflection of the absurdity of campaign finance reform, as practiced in recent years.

Judicial Modesty In Action

The Supreme Court decision yesterday to reject the pay-equity lawsuit brought by a Goodyear Tire supervisor shows that the Bush administration will have a lasting legacy of judicial modesty, thanks to its appointments on the Court. Instead of rewriting a poor law, the Court followed it — and pushed the mess Congress created back in its own lap:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it harder for many workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay, insisting in a 5-to-4 decision on a tight time frame to file such cases. The dissenters said the ruling ignored workplace realities.
The decision came in a case involving a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., the only woman among 16 men at the same management level, who was paid less than any of her colleagues, including those with less seniority. She learned that fact late in a career of nearly 20 years — too late, according to the Supreme Court’s majority.
The court held on Tuesday that employees may not bring suit under the principal federal anti-discrimination law unless they have filed a formal complaint with a federal agency within 180 days after their pay was set. The timeline applies, according to the decision, even if the effects of the initial discriminatory act were not immediately apparent to the worker and even if they continue to the present day.
From 2001 to 2006, workers brought nearly 40,000 pay discrimination cases. Many such cases are likely to be barred by the court’s interpretation of the requirement in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that employees make their charge within 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.”
Workplace experts said the ruling would have broad ramifications and would narrow the legal options of many employees.

Does the decision ignore workplace realities? Probably. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent, salary increases do not get published, so any apparent inequity would take quite some time to discover. Further, it would take a long time to prove a pattern of such discrimination for an employer, especially one (like Goodyear) with many facilities in many jurisdictions. In fact, even for one employee, it would likely take more than one review cycle to determine whether discrimination exists or just one poorly-executed review.
And the response to that for the Court should be: Write better laws. It is not the job of the Supreme Court to rewrite poorly-constructed legislation. Congress obviously intended for a short window of opportunity for these complaints, for whatever reason they had. The Supreme Court follows the law, unless the law is expressly unconstitutional. Fine-tuning dumb laws and badly-written legislation isn’t the purview of the Court, but rather the responsibility of Congress.
Obviously, Congress needs to revisit this piece of legislation. Thankfully, we now have a Court which forces America’s elected representatives to do their job, primarily by refusing to legislate from the bench. This gives hope that the last fifty years of judicial legislation have come to an end.

Immigration Bill Blues, Or, How I Derailed The Compromise

The Hill reports this morning that conservative Republicans in the House have plans to derail the Senate immigration compromise based on a procedural matter. The bill includes tax policy, which according to the Constitution, has to originate in the House, and some Republicans have lined up to issue a “blue slip” stop to the legislation on that basis.
And, I have to tell you, this is my fault:

House conservatives are ready to stop the Senate immigration bill in its tracks with a potent procedural weapon should the contentious measure win passage in the upper chamber.
The trump card conservatives may hold is a constitutional rule that revenue-related bills must originate in the House. The Senate immigration measure requires that illegal immigrants pay back taxes before becoming citizens, opening the door to a House protest, dubbed a “blue slip” for the color of its paper.
House Republicans used the same back-taxes mandate for a blue-slip threat that derailed last year’s immigration conference. The new Senate bill still must survive two more weeks of voter scrutiny and contentious amendments, but several conservatives already are lying in wait for the Senate to “make the same mistake twice,” as one House GOP aide put it.
“If we get an opportunity to do it, believe me, we’ll do it,” the aide said. “I think it’s going to be a matter of who will get there first. A number of people in the House are dying to be fingered as the person who killed [the Senate bill].”

How is this my fault? During a blogger conference call with Senator John McCain, one of the bill’s architects, I mentioned a Boston Globe story that reported the removal of a requirement to pay back taxes before entering either the Z-visa or Y-visa program. The White House reportedly requested that section be removed, and I asked the Senator why illegal immigrants would get a pass on paying back taxes when American citizens don’t get that privilege.
McCain was surprised by this question; he hadn’t heard about the removal of the requirement. According to The Hill, McCain went back and reinstated the provision after my question:

The back-taxes provision that could trigger the blue slip came from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who continues to take heavy fire on the presidential hustings for supporting the immigration deal. McCain introduced a back-taxes amendment after a conference call in which Republican bloggers mentioned reports that the Bush administration had asked that this year’s bill not force the very costly process of tax collection among illegal immigrants.
“I’d not heard that proposal on the part of the president,” McCain said, according to a transcript of the call. “I would resist that.”

Some CQ readers (and some of the bloggers on the call) questioned McCain’s sincerity, but he apparently meant what he said. He put that provision back into the bill — and inadvertently provided a hook for House Republicans to at least delay the bill’s consideration. While any Representative can blue-slip a revenue-producing bill from the Senate, it takes a majority to enforce it. Given the heat from both sides of this debate, that may not be difficult to arrange, and it would require the Senate negotiators to start from Square One.
So, it turns out that I may have killed the bill, or at least unknowingly provided the means to kill it. Sorry about that ….

Media Embarrassment Over Socialist Rhetoric?

Hillary Clinton announced that she would campaign on a platform that would emphasize the need for collective economics and move away from individual performance and success. It could be called an extension of “It Takes A Village,” and it might have been — had the newspapers bothered to cover it:

The Democratic senator said what the Bush administration touts as an ownership society really is an “on your own” society that has widened the gap between rich and poor.
“I prefer a ‘we’re all in it together’ society,” she said. “I believe our government can once again work for all Americans. It can promote the great American tradition of opportunity for all and special privileges for none.”
That means pairing growth with fairness, she said, to ensure that the middle-class succeeds in the global economy, not just corporate CEOs.
“There is no greater force for economic growth than free markets. But markets work best with rules that promote our values, protect our workers and give all people a chance to succeed,” she said. “Fairness doesn’t just happen. It requires the right government policies.”

A lot of nations have tried “all in it together” economic policies over the last century. Some used “government policies” to force all economic activity under government management, and places like the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites all collapsed. Others, such as France, have belatedly discovered that collectivism results in economic stagnation and an entitlement mentality that deflates the will to innovate and invest.
This kind of rhetoric isn’t new for Hillary. She has promoted collectivist economics for two decades now. Her effort to nationalize health care reflected the same kind of thinking, and this statement shows that she hasn’t learned much from that debacle. Almost three years ago, she promised that she would “take things away from [Americans] for the common good,” back when the economy had just started its latest expansion. That’s collectivism, and it’s not limited to Hillary among Democratic candidates.
However, what I find most interesting about this statement is the complete lack of coverage it received in today’s newspapers. She made the statement in the early afternoon, and it was meant to be part of a major series of speeches on economic policy. Yet, none of the major newspapers covered it in their political or national sections today. It’s missing from the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. The NY Times only carried the part of her message that mentioned “shared prosperity”, and then only on its blog, The Caucus.
Why didn’t they mention the main thrust of her economic vision? Could it be that the editors of these publications have a better ear for politics than Hillary — and acted to protect her from criticism?

Dry Run Confirmed

A declassified report confirms that Annie Jacobsen accurately recounted suspicious activities on a Northwest flight from Detroit to Los Angeles in the summer of 2004, and that a number of Syrians attempted a dry run for a terror attack. Eight of the 12 had already been flagged for criminal or suspicious behavior, and the apparent leader was involved in a similar incident later as well:

A newly released inspector general report backs eyewitness accounts of suspicious behavior by 13 Middle Eastern men on a Northwest Airlines flight in 2004 and reveals several missteps by government officials, including failure to file an incident report until a month after the matter became public.
According to the Homeland Security report, the “suspicious passengers,” 12 Syrians and their Lebanese-born promoter, were traveling on Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles on expired visas. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services extended the visas one week after the June 29, 2004, incident.
The report also says that a background check in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, which was performed June 18 as part of a visa-extension application, produced “positive hits” for past criminal records or suspicious behavior for eight of the 12 Syrians, who were traveling in the U.S. as a musical group.
In addition, the band’s promoter was listed in a separate FBI database on case investigations for acting suspiciously aboard a flight months earlier. He was detained a third time in September on a return trip to the U.S. from Istanbul, the details of which were redacted.

The air marshals and the gate personnel for Northwest knew at the beginning of the flight that these passengers presented a threat. Before the men had even boarded the plane, they started acting suspiciously enough that the air marshals signaled each other about the group. Twenty minutes into the flight, well before Jacobsen contacted a flight attendant, the crew had contacted the air marshals about their concerns. One flight attendant took the unusual step of entering the cockpit an hour into the flight to discuss the concerns with the pilots; cockpits have been locked and barred ever since 9/11.
After all of this, the FBI did not open an investigation into the incident until Jacobsen appeared on MS-NBC’s Scarborough Country. The Homeland Security personnel involved did not pass the irnformation along to their Operations Center, even though the leader of the group had been involved in a similar incident in January of that year, on Frontier Airlines. It didn’t get logged into the HSOC database until the Washington Times reported it on July 26, 2004. By that time, all 12 Syrians had left the country.
TSA, for its part, said that the matter did not merit a referral since all of the passengers could be “cleared”. It’s fuzzy about why they thought that, since the DHS found a pattern of suspicious activity for eight of the men involved, including a “similar” incident involving the leader five months earlier. His third time, on a trip back from Istanbul, the FBI finally detained him. DHS rejects the TSA excuse, stating categorically that the incident should have been logged into the HSOC and merited further investigation.
A look at the seating chart shows another reason for suspicion. Despite traveling together (they all supposedly worked as a musical group), they pretended not to notice each other. They got seats that literally put them all over the plane.
Without a doubt, this vindicates Jacobsen and shows that either these men intended to conduct a terrorist dry run, or that they wanted someone to think that they were. It could have been a probe, a test to see just how far they could go without provoking a response. That could explain why the same man was involved in three such incidents. The official line that nothing happened on Flight 327 should embarrass everyone in the Homeland Security system, and someone owes Annie Jacobsen an apology.

Another Reason To Question The Tenet Regime At Langley

NBC has received a declassified report from the CIA which states that the agency considered Valerie Plame a “covert agent” at the time her identity was revealed to Robert Novak and other journalists in July 2003. The CIA declassified her status in order to pursue the criminal investigation into the leak, according to other documents from Patrick Fitzgerald’s independent counsel probe:

An unclassified summary of outed CIA officer Valerie Plame’s employment history at the spy agency, disclosed for the first time today in a court filing by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, indicates that Plame was “covert” when her name became public in July 2003.
The summary is part of an attachment to Fitzgerald’s memorandum to the court supporting his recommendation that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former top aide, spend 2-1/2 to 3 years in prison for obstructing the CIA leak investigation. …
The unclassified summary of Plame’s employment with the CIA at the time that syndicated columnist Robert Novak published her name on July 14, 2003 says, “Ms. Wilson was a covert CIA employee for who the CIA was taking affirmative measures to conceal her intelligence relationship to the United States.”

They were? Plame drove into the office in Langley. She traveled abroad under her own name. She helped arrange for her husband to do some fact-checking on a sensitive intelligence matter. Her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, then came home and leaked his observations to two nationally-known journalists, and then wrote his own op-ed in the New York Times under his byline.
And her husband managed to list her in Who’s Who, where any journalist could look up the entry — and where Robert Novak did just that.
If that’s keeping an agent covert, it speaks volumes about the agency’s competence during the George Tenet years.
So now we have confirmation that Plame did get her cover blown. I suppose the only reason that Fitzgerald didn’t bother to indict Richard Armitage for the crime was that it would have meant explaining how the CIA tried to hide its NOC asset in plain sight.

CQ Radio: John McCain

Update: We got a chance to continue the conversation past the end of the live stream. Be sure to download the podcast in order to hear Senator McCain’s full interview!
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Today, on CQ Radio (2 pm CT), we’ll talk live with Senator John McCain regarding the immigration bill, his campaign for President, and the Iraq War. Senator McCain will join us in the second half of the show, and before that, we’ll tackle the stories of the day. Be sure to call in at 646-652-4889 to join the conversation!
Don’t forget that tomorrow will be our all-day coverage of Mitt Romney and his campaign tour through Iowa, capped by a live show at his open forum in Des Moines. You can only hear it live on CQ Radio, starting at 6 pm CT!