Cecilia Muñoz has been named White House domestic policy adviser, making the move from the White House's Intergovernmental Affairs shop. IGA is more of a liaison position, while the DPC job is one of the most important policy positions in government. Before serving in the Obama White House, Muñoz worked at the liberal pro-immigration group La Raza, and she also has won a MacArthur "genius" award back in 2000 for her role as a "civil-rights-policy analyst." I don't ever recall a MacArthur winner securing so senior a governmental post in the Bush administration, but it is apparently quite common in the Obama administration, as other Team Obama MacArthur winners include: Surgeon General Regina Benjamin; White House Science Adviser John Holdren; Commerce Under Secretary Jane Lubchenco; and Science Advisory Committee Co-Chair Eric Lander.
Many of the articles on Muñoz's ascension, such as the ones by Elise Foley in the Huffington Post and Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico, focus on Muñoz's standing as a key liaison to the Hispanic community, and Obama's need to secure a large majority of the Hispanic vote for his reelection effort. This is a significant issue for the administration, as there has already been some grumbling about Obama's stance on immigration issues from Hispanic activists on the left. Foley cites Presente.org's Roberto Lovato's October warning that Muñoz is "the face of the Obama administration to the Latino community. So if they're going to put her out there to criminalize immigrants, then they shouldn't be surprised when the community starts fighting back to combat the lies."
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Muñoz appointment has nothing to do with Muñoz per se, but comes from this observation by Politico's Brown: "The White House is increasingly looking for ways to shape policy through executive actions and outside legislative channels, and Muñoz will play a role in that process." This planned circumvention of Congress is one reason you see President Obama continuing to make controversial recess appointments in powerful regulatory agencies that can make policy without going through that bothersome legislative process. According to a senior Republican Senate aide I spoke with, "Obama is looking for people willing to make active regulatory efforts. If they succeed, he gets his lefty policies; if they fail, he gets to paint Republicans as evil." In her new position, Muñoz will apparently be tasked with helping to direct those efforts.
The New York Times has an editorial today called "A Vacancy That Needs to Be Filled," which blames Republicans for the departure of Don Berwick from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. According to the Times, "Senate Republicans need to put aside their rancor and obstructionism and confirm [Marilyn] Tavenner" to replace Berwick at CMS. This editorial is misguided on several fronts. While it is true that Republicans have criticized Berwick's past statements and at least 42 of them still oppose his nomination, the primary fault for not getting him confirmed lies with the Obama administration and not the Republicans.
From the very beginning, the Obama administration mishandled Berwick's confirmation process. First, the administration delayed for 18 months before naming him for CMS, waiting until after the passage of the Obama health bill to put his name forward. This delay stemmed from administration concerns about the various controversial statements Berwick had made over the years, statements that Avik Roy lays out in his NRO piece on the subject.
Recess-appointed Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services head Don Berwick has announced his resignation, effective December 2. In stepping down, Berwick has officially recognized what everyone in Washington has long known — that he had no chance of Senate confirmation.
Berwick's problem was not that his health-care views were so different from that of President Obama, but that he was so open in his support of rationing that Democrats were too embarrassed to give him a hearing in which to air those views. His designated replacement, Marilyn Tavenner, probably does not differ greatly from him — or from Obama — from a policy perspective, but she is much quieter and lower-profile.
Berwick's unfortunate legacy will not be in the area of transforming CMS or of changing health-care policy, but in the continually problematic area of confirmations for presidential nominees. There has not been a confirmed CMS head since Mark McClellan left in 2006, and there is no guarantee that Tavenner will have a quick or easy confirmation. Ideology aside, a string of acting heads is no way to run a $700 billion agency.
As I wrote this past spring in National Affairs, the clunky way the Obama administration handled Berwick's entire nomination slowed down their efforts to implement the health-care law, increased mistrust with Senate Republicans on the already broken confirmation process, and even managed to alienate key Democrats, such as Finance Committee chair Max Baucus. Berwick may be going, but the problems caused by the poor handling of his nomination are likely to continue.
The Washington Post has reported that the Supreme Court will take up the question of the constitutionality of the Obama health-care law. This is unquestionably good news for conservatives and opponents of the law. First, there is the obvious point that if they didn't take up the case, the challengers would be out of legal options. As long as the case is proceeding, there remains the real chance that the Supreme Court, which does have a 5–4 conservative — albeit unreliable — majority, can overturn it.
The fact that the oral arguments will be heard, and the court decision will be made, ahead of next November's election is good news as well. If the Court overturns the individual mandate, such a decision will highlight the unconstitutional basis of the Obama law and bolster the political case for its full repeal. If the Court upholds the law, that would certainly be unfortunate, but it would also serve as a stark notification that an Obama win in 2012 could cement the health law in place for the foreseeable future. This closing of the option for judicial repeal would galvanize conservatives and all opponents of the law in advance of the 2012 election. Either way, today's acceptance of the case by the Supreme Court allows the law's opponents to continue the struggle for repeal and the eventual movement towards a workable kind of health reform.
Jonah noted last night that we would be hearing more about Obama and Sarkozy agreeing in their disdain for Bibi Netanyahu, and he was right. Jay Carney tried to duck the issue in a press conference today, saying three separate times some version of "I don't have any comment on the specific conversation." He even tried to spin out of it by pointing to the U.S.'s disagreement with France on France's recent vote granting the Palestinians UNESCO membership. This, I suspect, will not fly.
As Jackson Diehl wrote on the Washington Post site, Obama's and Sarkozy's disregard for Netanyahu is not really justified by Netanyahu's actions. As Diehl put it, Netanyahu "has been an occasionally difficult but ultimately cooperative partner" whereas Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas "has gone from resisting U.S. and French diplomacy to actively seeking to undermine it." The anti-Netanyahu comments of course provide more proof of Obama's coldness towards Israel, but they also demonstrate that Obama still does not grasp the essential foreign-policy principle of rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior.
James Frazier has a piece in today's Washington Times on the favorite movies of our presidential candidates. For what it's worth, the choices, in the order in which they appear in the article, are:
Herman Cain: The Godfather
Michele Bachmann: Braveheart, "or maybe Saving Private Ryan"
Newt Gingrich: "Probably" Casablanca
Rick Santorum: Field of Dreams
Ron Paul: "I don't watch many movies"
Gary Johnson: Dr. Zhivago
Mitt Romney: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Rick Perry: Immortal Beloved
Barack Obama: Casablanca, The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
I am not sure how much we learn from this, other than that Perry's pick is the most unexpected and that Paul, typically, is playing a different game than everyone else. I have written before on the movies presidents watch, and found that presidential movie selections are both unpredictable and not necessarily indicative of a president's public persona. I doubt that anyone would have guessed that Jimmy Carter watched an astounding 480 movies during his one term in office. Still, it is a fun exercise, and good to know that Gingrich and Cain each share a favorite movie with Obama. It will give them something to talk about if they ever run into each other on the campaign trail.
Back in June, I pointed out the importance of Ed Koch in Democratic presidential politics, making the case that when Koch deserts the Democratic presidential candidate, it often spells bad news for the Democrats. Koch tortured Carter in 1980, particularly over Carter's stance on Israel, and he backed Bush over Kerry in 2004, largely because of Bush's strong positions on national security issues, including Israel and the War on Terror.
Shortly afterwards, Koch urged Jewish Democrats to vote for Bob Turner in the special election in heavily Democratic NY-9 to send a message to Obama regarding Israel. The New York Times sniffed that Koch's efforts were "the least helpful contribution to this race," but Koch turned out to be on to something. He not only smelled a winner in Turner, but he also helped put Turner over the top. As Newsmax put it, Koch was "arguably the one single factor in helping the GOP win the battle to succeed disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner in the U.S. House." Tablet's Marc Tracy observed that, "Age has not dimmed Hizzoner's savvy" when it comes to politics.
With respect to 2012, Koch has said he will not back Obama in 2012, and his continued involvement should send a loud warning Obama to watch his base, even in unexpected places. Robert Costa's good piece today notes that one of the lessons of the race is that Republicans should not ignore New York in 2012. He's right. With Ed Koch's help, as we have just seen, stranger things have happened.
The thing I most remember about 9/11 was how confused and unprepared everyone was — government officials and ordinary citizens alike. Cellphone service was gone very quickly, and very few officials, even at the senior levels, had Blackberries at the time. The streets of D.C. were filled with people who were wandering home, with very little information and high levels of anxiety. Rumors about a car bombing at the State Department and an attack on the White House heightened the tension.
In the decade since, the U.S. government has spent enormous sums of money aimed at making sure nothing like 9/11 ever happens again, and I am confident that we won't see the same type of attack again. But our enemies are both evil and resourceful, and we must remain vigilant and nimble to prevent other types of attacks. What we learned on 9/11 is that we were not ready for that kind of attack, and we have acted to address that vulnerability. Unfortunately, there are other modes of attack, and the confusion I saw that day makes me wonder if we can ever be fully ready.
Robert Costa has already mentioned that Politico's Jonathan Martin summarized some of the juiciest parts of Dick Cheney's as-yet-unavailable book. One of the most interesting tidbits Martin mentions is Cheney's clashes in the Ford White House with speechwriter Robert Hartmann. According to the excerpt, Hartmann was a leaker, who once took "an internal memo whose drift he had not cared for" and "conveyed its contents straight from the president's desk to the appreciative hands of Washington's most-read columnists," Rowland Evans and Robert Novak. Cheney came up with a way to clip Hartmann's wings by "suggesting to Rumsfeld that Ford take Hartmann's office space and make it a private space he could use away from the more formal Oval Office."
After the last GOP debate, I noted that the candidates were wearing kid gloves, and would need to get tougher in preparation for an eventual showdown with President Obama. Well, the kid gloves came off at last night's Republican presidential debate, thanks in large part to some tough questions from the panel assembled by Fox News and the Examiner. Even Fox critics, like the Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik, were impressed with the job Fox did. The panelists asked tough, focused, well-researched questions, and dispelled any notion that Fox might take it easy on the GOP. In doing so, the panelists may have harmed their chances at being asked to participate in one of the bipartisan debates in the fall of 2012, as I can't imagine Obama's handlers wanting to subject him to any of last night's questioners.
In terms of the candidates, who are the reason we pay attention to the debates (to the extent that we do), they are past the stage where preparation is a problem. At this point, it is much more about presentation, and here, Mitt Romney once again won by maintaining his front-runner status. He appeared to be above the fray, and avoided getting hit by any tough blows. Tim Pawlenty had a somewhat funny shot about willing to mow anyone's lawn, except Mitt Romney's huge one. Unfortunately for Pawlenty, the crack evoked an image of Pawlenty mowing Romney's lawn, which is not the image Pawlenty is seeking.
Pawlenty had other problems as well. He seemed to be dragged down by his mano-a-mano on Minnesota legislative history with Michele Bachmann, who remains admirably cool under fire. Newt Gingrich rehabilitated himself somewhat with a strong showing, reminding me of the Gingrich idea machine of yore. With Gingrich, it is important to remember that the last debate came immediately after his top staff had deserted him, and it is not surprising that he turned in a better performance tonight.
In the second tier, Rick Santorum was a missing man for much of the debate, even noting at one point how little attention he was getting. Herman Cain was slammed with a lengthy question from Chris Wallace detailing a series of gaps in his knowledge. The question seemed to be asking: do you know your stuff? Cain had a good response about only getting a minute to answer all that, but the question reinforced his long-shot status. Ron Paul showed again that he was out of the mainstream of GOP foreign policy thinking by appearing to be blasé about Iran acquiring a nuclear arsenal.
I leave Huntsman for last, as he seemed to be on a stage of his own, with perhaps the least interaction with his rivals of any of the candidates. I was pleased that he raised school choice as an issue, thought he lucked out on getting asked why he served the Obama administration as Ambassador to China — cue the patriotism response — and noticed that he ducked the question about Huntsman Corporation creating more jobs abroad than in the U.S.
Overall, the candidates need to keep their eyes on the prize. Obama remains the issue, and after the terrible month he has had, it is more important than ever to make sure that his 2012 opponent is someone who can take tough shots and keep on coming. Last night's debate put the candidates to the test in that regard.