Goodbye Eric Holder, hello to a new partisan war

     Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the Voting Rights Brain Trust event, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, during the 2014 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in Washington. On Thursday, Holder announced he would be stepping down as attorney general. (Molly Riley/AP Photo)

    Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the Voting Rights Brain Trust event, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, during the 2014 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in Washington. On Thursday, Holder announced he would be stepping down as attorney general. (Molly Riley/AP Photo)

    Oh man. Just what we needed, another Washington crapstorm.

    You don’t need a PhD in politics to understand why Eric Holder timed his resignation for right now. Holder’s friend and ally in the Oval Office clearly has no confidence that the Democrats will hold the Senate in the ’14 midterms. Therefore, from President Obama’s perspective, it’s imperative that a new attorney general be confirmed by the lame-duck Democrat Senate during the narrow window that runs from mid-November to the new Senate startup in January.

    Even in the best of times (when were those times, pray tell?), an attorney general confirmation fight is rarely decorous. Whoever serves as top federal cop is compelled to juggle hot-button issues – from civil liberties to civil rights, from voting rights to national security – which means that the hearings are typically laced with polarizing ideological fervor. The job has long been a hot potato, especially since the ’80s, when Ronald Reagan gave it to Ed Meese.  He took all kinds of partisan hits. So did Janet Reno during the Clinton era. So did John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales during the Bush II era. So did Holder.

    And now Obama wants to confirm a new hot potato during a lame-duck Senate session, while he still has a Democratic majority. What are the odds that the Republicans will zip their lips and roll over for that? Suffice it to say, these are not the best of times. 

    We can already see how this plot arc is going to play out. Just to give you a flavor, Ted Cruz is already on the rhetorical scoreboard. Yesterday, the tea-partying Texas freshman declared that if a lame-duck Democratic Senate tries to confirm Holder’s successor, it “would be an abuse of power that should not be countenanced.” Actually, it’s completely legal for a lame-duck session to do such a thing. And only a majority vote would be required, because, under the new Senate rules, top presidential appointees can’t be filibustered into limbo anymore.

    Senate Republicans could theoretically slow down the confirmation process – in the hopes of delaying the vote until their presumed takeover in January – by asking a zillion questions during the hearings, thereby gumming up the vetting of Obama’s nominee. But at least three of Obama’s likely candidates have already been vetted and confirmed by the Senate for other top jobs (including the current U.S. solicitor general, and two U.S. attorneys), which basically means that they could be fast-tracked toward confirmation.

    The GOP’s best weapons are probably rhetorical, but those could be potent – particularly during a midterm election season. If I was a gun for hire, I could easily write the Republican script. Something like, “Obama is trying to ram through another partisan hack with votes from lame-duck Democratic losers, rather than wait until the will of the voters becomes law in January. That kind of illegitimacy cannot stand.” A message like that would likely rile up a conservative base that’s already stoked for November.

    Actually, at this point, the Democrats still have a decent shot at keeping the Senate in ’15. Despite all the talk all year long about a Republican wave, a number of red-state Democratic incumbents – including Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Begich in Alaska – are quite viable in their tight races. Plus, there’s the wild card in Kansas, where independent Greg Orman could knock off unpopular Republican Pat Roberts and wind up caucusing in ’15 with Senate Democrats. And if the chamber winds up tied at 50-50, Joe Biden gets to cast the tie-breakers.

    But the urgent timing of Holder’s resignation is the best proof we have that Obama is anticipating the worst possible election outcome. Which is why he has no choice but to wage an AG battle now, during a lame-duck window, infuriating his haters even further.

    I’ll just paraphrase Bette Davis in the classic film All About Eve: Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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    Speaking of Kansas, imperiled Senator Pat Roberts wielded the tarbrush this week. While trying to gin up conservative voters, he said that, thanks to Obama, “our country is headed for national socialism.” Presumably, he intended to tar Obama as a leftist (“socialism”) rather than as a rightist (“national socialism” is short-hand for Nazis), but who knows. It was just fresh proof that whenever a Republican feels desperate and cornered, he instinctively taps his inner ugly.

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    Climate change was in the news again this week – on the streets, at the United Nations – and trolls everywhere retreated to their keyboards. But this satirist has their number.

     

     

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

     

     

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