On the Prowl

On the Prowl

By From the June 2009 issue

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Hatching a Plot

Given that Justice David Souter made his seat on the Supreme Court a liberal one, Republicans are raring for a fight on principles and for political points, if not blocking a nominee. So while Democrats prayed for a great liberal successor to Souter, Republicans and conservatives were all about who will be fighting for them on the Senate Judiciary Committee now that Sen. Arlen Specter has left his ranking seat open on the committee.

At press time, ranking Senate Finance Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley was negotiating with Sen. Orrin Hatch (currently the most senior GOPer on the committee, but barred from taking the ranking slot due to term limitations for the post), to see if the Ute would be willing to seek a waiver from the Senate Republican Conference to allow Hatch to take the ranking slot until the end of the 111th congressional session.

Hatch would then step aside, giving the ranking slot to Grassley. At that point, thanks to seniority, Hatch would take Grassley’s empty ranking chair on the Senate Finance Committee. “They would essentially flip ranking positions,” says an adviser to Grassley.

What’s been overlooked is that these two old GOP warhorses are also attempting to cut a deal that would block the younger and more conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions from taking the ranking Judiciary Committee seat that under complicated Senate Republican Conference rules should be his for the upcoming confirmation battle.

“Neither Grassley nor Hatch wants to surrender a prime ranking committee seat to a younger man who could hold it and potentially be chairman within the next eight years,” says a Senate Judiciary aide. “These old dogs don’t want to go quietly.”

It may be that Grassley—who hopes to remain on Finance long enough to see landmark health care reform legislation passed— and Hatch will work their deal and get their colleagues’ approval, but their actions, some believe, will have a far greater impact on the Senate and the Republicans than either man realizes. Inside the conference, where neither man is particularly popular, their actions have raised quiet alarm. “Every member is looking at Hatch’s request and Grassley’s proposed deal and wondering when it will be their time to be in Sessions’s position, and that’s a position they don’t want to be in,” says a senior Republican leadership aide.

“[Hatch and Grassley] are so out of touch with the base of the party and the grass roots that they don’t realize that by screwing Sessions, they are creating the kind of ill will among supporters that won’t necessarily personally hurt them politically, but will hurt the broader party,” says a longtime conservative activist and a board member of the American Conservative Union. “Conservatives want a fighter in that ranking seat for a major confirmation battle. They are tired of Republicans rolling over for Obama nominees. Sessions would be that kind of fighter.”

At press time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office was being inundated with calls demanding that he step into the GOP Conference and block a Grassley-Hatch deal. But there isn’t much McConnell can do. “He’s not going to pick a side; that’s not what this is about,” says a McConnell aide.

But if the outcome is anything other than Sessions sitting in the hot seat, Republicans in the Senate may rue the day they gave in to the “past generation” instead of the “next generation.”

Mitt’s Off

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney continues to look for ways to cozy up to conservatives in his ongoing reclamation project after many conservatives rejected his credentials during the 2008 presidential primary run.

Romney is believed to have committed hundreds of thousands of his own money, as well as family foundation money, to support the National Council for a New America, which will largely be fronted in Washington by House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, who is less known for policy and more for fundraising for the party.

The group, which also has Govs. Bobby Jindal and Haley Barbour signed on, is expected to focus on conservative policies that can be adopted on the state or federal levels, and to serve as a platform for almost all of those signed on who aspire to higher national office.

Flying High and Low

Americans for Limited Government filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all documents, including the flight manifest, related to the Air Force One New York flyover in late April.

At least one other entity, believed to be a news outlet, filed a FOIA request for information related to the incident. The requests were made to determine if any Obama donors or other interested parties were on board the flight, which caused a panic in the area around Ground Zero and Wall Street. The suspicion that civilians— or high-ranking White House officials— may have been on the flight is the result, in part, of the involvement of Louis Caldera, the Obama administration’s director of the White House Military Office.

Caldera authorized the New York City flyover, and was brought into the administration, say Obama donors and transition team members, for his understanding of the Pentagon’s inner workings, his relationship with high-powered donors with backgrounds in the defense industry, and his ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Caldera served two years as Bill Clinton’s secretary of the Army. During Caldera’s tenure at the Pentagon, his choice for deputy inspector general, Maj. Gen. Larry G. Smith, was scuttled after it was revealed that an alleged sexual harassment complaint against him had been removed from his personnel record.

Caldera, who served in the California state assembly, also served as a vice chancellor of the California state university system. It was this background that allowed Gov. Richardson to press for Caldera to be brought on as president of the University of New Mexico. Caldera was not considered a top-tier candidate for that post until Richardson’s staff inserted a requirement that the president must have a top security clearance. According to former Clinton administration sources, that requirement almost ensured the only qualified candidate would be Richardson’s friend Caldera. In the end, he stayed in the post for only about two years.

Caldera’s controversial background doesn’t end there. In 2002, Caldera was placed on the board of IndyMac, before its failure and placement in receivership due to its poor capitalization as a result of poor mortgage investments. IndyMac Bank was the largest savings and loan in Southern California and the seventh- largest mortgage originator in the United States.

“This was a Rahm Emanuel hire,” says a former Obama transition team member. “And the thing about Rahm is that he’s not afraid to push a guy like this out the door. I’d be surprised if Caldera is there to remind anyone of this boneheaded decision six months from now.”  

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