Brian Beutler

Proof That the Koch Brothers' 'Ideology' Is a Scam to Make Even More Money

Would you believe me if I told you that the Koch brothers actively participate in, and benefit from, a healthcare system in which the government subsidizes private insurance; carriers are prohibited from discriminating against the sick; the young cross-subsidize the old; and qualified beneficiaries who opt out suffer a big financial hit?

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Confusion Plagues the Right: Why It Doesn’t Understand Liberal Views of the Hobby Lobby Case

Conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru wrote an interesting piece yesterday at National Review arguing that while liberals have constricted their views of the extent of religious liberty over the years, conservatives, though tactically divided, have been consistent on the issue.

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Why Paul Ryan’s Racism Controversy Is Much Worse Than It Looks

I spent a depressing amount of time this weekend trying to think up a scenario in which someone might say the following without being motivated, to at least some degree, by malign intent.

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How the GOP’s Bubble of Ignorance Keeps Leading Them to Humiliation

Looking back on the events of last week, I’m struck by how lucky Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was to be awarded the uncoveted early-Thursday speaking slot at CPAC Thursday morning.

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Self Pitying Christian Right: How Can We Practice Religion if We Can’t Discriminate?

When it became clear that conservatives were going to lose a fight in Arizona (and then elsewhere) to establish legal protections for anti-gay religious business owners and others, nobody on the left expected an immediate course correction.

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White America’s “Waiver Mania”: The Right’s Plot to Minimize Its Culture War Defeat

Decent people everywhere were treated to a nice surprise on Monday, when Arizona’s two Republican Senators both called on Arizona’s Republican Governor, Jan Brewer, to veto a bill that would systematize anti-gay discrimination — and untold other forms of discrimination — in businesses across the state.
That these tweets came as a nice surprise isn’t quite as revealing as the fact that Brewer obviously needs to be pressured by allies to do the right thing and veto the bill, rather than sign it or allow it to become law automatically.

Measures like these have emerged in a number of states out of a wellspring of conservative panic about the country’s abrupt legal and cultural evolution into a society that’s broadly tolerant of gay people. Rather than deny the shift, or stop at trying to reverse it in legislatures, the courts and at ballot boxes, conservatives are instead attempting to erect a legal architecture that will wall them off from the growing portion of American society that supports equal rights for gay people. The idea is to use their putative religious beliefs to exempt themselves from broadly-applicable laws when those laws reflect a zeitgeist that offends them — or, as former-Business Insider writer Josh Barro put it, to create “a special new right to discriminate on a particular basis.”

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GOP's False Claims About Obamacare Blow Up in Their Face

Late last year, when conservatives everywhere were grieving publicly for each American who’d received a cancellation notice from a health insurance carrier, the smartest among them realized they had a small problem on their hands.

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Angry Right’s Secret Revulsion: Why They Really Dodge Minimum Wage Questions

It’s no great secret that Republicans oppose increasing the minimum wage. They don’t pretend it’s something they want to do under any circumstances. They don’t even really bother disguising their opposition. They cloak their view in dated and oversimplified economic arguments about labor demand and economic growth when the real impediment is ideological, and so it’s a somewhat better kept secret that many Republicans oppose the minimum wage altogether.

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Why the Far Right Is Going Nuts About Obama's Minimum Wage Maneuvering

It’s no great secret that Republicans oppose increasing the minimum wage. They don’t pretend it’s something they want to do under any circumstances. They don’t even really bother disguising their opposition. They cloak their view in dated and oversimplified economic arguments about labor demand and economic growth when the real impediment is ideological, and so it’s a somewhat better kept secret that many Republicans oppose the minimum wage altogether.

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The Real Problem With the American Right: Aging, White Radicals

The Republican Party’s total failure to make even cosmetic changes to its image and policy agenda last year has at this point become the kind of cliché-cum-running joke that often attaches itself to accepted truisms in American politics. Like chucking about Bill Clinton’s inability to contain himself in the company of women, or noting that Dick Cheney actually ran the show during George W. Bush’s first term, observing that Republicans have failed to moderate or reinvent themselves after losing badly in 2012 is the kind of thing even sympathetic political wise men can say to signal that they get it. That in what was a tough year for President Obama, Republicans screwed up too.

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Aging White Radicals: The Real Reason the Republicans Are Completely Stuck

The Republican Party’s total failure to make even cosmetic changes to its image and policy agenda last year has at this point become the kind of cliché-cum-running joke that often attaches itself to accepted truisms in American politics. Like chucking about Bill Clinton’s inability to contain himself in the company of women, or noting that Dick Cheney actually ran the show during George W. Bush’s first term, observing that Republicans have failed to moderate or reinvent themselves after losing badly in 2012 is the kind of thing even sympathetic political wise men can say to signal that they get it. That in what was a tough year for President Obama, Republicans screwed up too.

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The GOP’s Sad, Pathetic “Replace Obamacare” Plan

One of the most consistent raps against Republicans over their four years of fevered anti-Obamacare advocacy is that for all the symbolic efforts they’ve undertaken to repeal the law, they haven’t been able to muster a consensus over how to replace it.

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GOP’s Next Moral Disgrace?: How Right-Wing Crazies May Kill a Voting Rights Fix

The 2012 elections were supposed to create the political space Republicans needed to make their agenda more welcoming to growing Democratic constituencies, but instead it pushed conservatives into a deeper defensive crouch, from which they intimidated GOP leaders into squandering just about every opportunity they’ve had to broaden the party’s appeal.

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GOP's Dishonest 2014 Strategy: Exploit People's Pain then Drum Up Faux Outrage

A quick look at the House and Senate vote calendars indicates that Congress did not in fact come back into session over the holidays to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which means that as of today (depending on how you count it) millions and millions of people who were previously uninsured now have comprehensive healthcare coverage.

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Obamacare’s Surprising New Best Friend... GOP House Speaker John Boehner

Word is out now that despite a plethora of good options for a 64-year-old smoker living in Washington, D.C., House Speaker John Boehner will pay higher premiums next year than he did for his Federal Employees Health Benefit Program plan in 2013.

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How to Silence GOP Nuts - and Stop the Obamacare Repeal Campaign

Nobody, not even President Obama, is pretending that the rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been anything but a debacle.

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Get Nervous: The Fate of the Country Is in John Boehner’s Hands

Minding the caveat that fluid events are fluid and thus subject to flowing to unexpected places, it looks like Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are a hair’s breadth from a deal to reopen the government and extend the debt limit for several months.

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Republicans Finally Confronting Reality: They’re Trapped!

After struggling for weeks and weeks in stages one through four, Republicans are finally entering the final stage of grief over the death of their belief that President Obama would begin offering concessions in exchange for an increase in the debt limit.

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The Government Shutdown is the Dumbest Extortion Attempt Ever

This is the fourth day of the GOP’s government shutdown and the sequence of events that will ultimately end it — the government can’t stay shut forever! — remains unclear.

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How Republican Idiocy Backfired - And Is Helping Obamacare

Tuesday could have been a great day for Republicans.

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The Humiliated, Bizarre Republican Party: What Happens Next

Back when the conservative campaign to defund Obamacare by threatening a government shutdown began a few months ago, almost nobody believed Republican leaders would be so cowed by it that they’d follow suit. Particularly given how aware they were of the dire political consequences for the GOP.

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New Test Could Expose GOP’s Pack of Charlatans

Conservatives in the Senate have spent weeks and weeks hectoring House Republicans to stand true to GOP principles and make funding for the federal government contingent upon Democrats agreeing to defund Obamacare.

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The Ted Cruz Effect: How One Man Destabilized the Government

Late in August, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, traveled to a private residence in Dublin, N.H., to headline a fundraiser for the state Republican Party. Cruz’s spiel lasted about an hour, and was packed with the mix of straw men and inflammatory nonsense we’ve come to expect out of the junior senator from Texas.

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What I Learned From Getting Shot and Almost Dying

I haven’t said or written much publicly about the shooting that nearly killed me in 2008. But a recent confluence of events — Trayvon Martin’s death, the Zimmerman trial and the public pronouncements of mostly privileged, mostly white people in the aftermath of the verdict — has left me feeling like I have something to share.

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Pathetic! Far Right So Powerful Mitch McConnell Can't Even Fire His Trash-Talking Staffer

Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to trash talk your boss and your company — particularly to someone who might expose your true feelings to the public. It’s a particularly bad idea to trash talk your boss and your company if you work in public relations and your boss is the company.

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Dems Lead in Counterattack to Stop Iran Conflict

In the past month, President Bush and his allies in the Congress have set Washington once again buzzing with speculation about the administration's end game for Iran -- having accused the Iranians of stoking a third world war and dubbed the Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. But as everyone from antiwar activists to military insiders wring their hands over the White House's intentions, a lonely handful of Democratic legislators are working to wedge Congress between the administration and Tehran.

Massachusetts Rep. John Tierney and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb have emerged as early leaders. With a few exceptions, their efforts have drawn tepid support from their colleagues, in both parties. But Tierney points to hopeful signs of a groundswell -- and sources say influential Democratic donors have begun demanding that party leaders match Bush's saber rattling with an equally vocal chorus of caution.

In 1998, during a politically fraught moment in United States history, the Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed into law, the Iraq Liberation Act, which made ending Saddam Hussein's regime an official U.S. policy goal. The legislation said as much explicitly: "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq."

Nine years later, Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., introduced an eerily similar amendment to the 2008 Department of Defense spending bill, which passed with overwhelming support and will soon be U.S. law. "It should be the policy of the United States," the Kyl-Lieberman amendment reads, "to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies." This should be accomplished, according to the language, with the "use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments."

Two, in this case, doesn't make a coincidence. It makes a pattern. But one of the key differences between 1998 and 2007 is that some on Capitol Hill -- including senators who voted against Kyl-Lieberman, and members who have opposed similar measures in the House -- see the writing on the wall. And unlike those who have been through this before -- people like Rep. Barbara Lee of California and Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin -- today's voices of caution can point to their Iraq war predecessors, who spoke out against the invasion before it was popular to do so, and were ignored.

"It was the escalating rhetoric from the Bush administration," Tierney told me on Thursday when I asked him about his new focus; a fear that "the administration may be more concerned with regime change than with behavioral changes from the Iranian government."

Tierney sits on the House Select Committee on Intelligence and chairs a National Security and Foreign Affairs subcommittee, beneath the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Two weeks ago, he initiated a series of subcommittee hearings, inviting experts to teach the Congress about Iran -- what the Iranian people support, how their government works, how they can be engaged diplomatically, and what the costs of military action against Iran would be. At Thursday's hearing, the second in the series, five former diplomats and national security experts -- four of whom sat in staunch opposition to military action -- placed the chances of an American strike against Iran at between 20 and 50 percent over the next nine months.

After the hearing, I asked Tierney which of his congressional colleagues were most concerned about the situation and most interested in participating in an effort to prevent the administration's rhetorical volleys from being supplanted with bombs. He noted members‚ heightened engagement at both hearings. But Tierney demurred on the question of naming allies -- members of a potential anti-escalation caucus. That may be because the total numbers are still too low, particularly in the Senate. And therein lies the problem.

Steve Clemons, who directs the American Strategies program at the non-partisan New America Foundation, argues that, in the wake of Kyl-Lieberman, powerful Democrats, even ones who voted for the browbeating amendment, should support Webb's efforts. "Forget about Constitutional questions. Those went out the window with Kyl-Lieberman. What the Senate can do, if it wants to stop an attack or an accidental war, is get Hillary Clinton and more powerful Democrats to get 50 votes for something -- even if it's not binding, even if it's 50 signatures on a letter -- showing that a majority of the Senate opposes a conflict."

Emily Blout, acting legislative director for the National Iranian American Council, echoes Clemons. "First and foremost, in the short term, we need more activity along the lines of what Tierney and Webb are doing," says Blout. "Ultimately we should move to legislation -- to something like Webb's bill." And that's exactly what most activists, experts, and donors would like to see as well. Some propose the possibility of interparliamentary meetings between Iranian politicians and members of the United States Congress.

And that's exactly what many activists and donors would like to see as well. According to Capitol Hill sources who asked not to be named, influential Democratic donors are planning, in the coming days, to push senior Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee and in the Senate leadership to invite Admiral William Fallon--the Commander of U.S. Central Command, who has cautioned against military action in Iran and criticized the continued drumbeat--to testify. They believe Fallon's views -- well known, but never attested to before the government -- could snowball Webb's efforts into something more meaningful.

Recently, Webb sent a letter to President Bush emphasizing his belief "that offensive military action should not be taken against Iran without the express consent of Congress." It was signed by 29 other members. But 60 votes would be needed if any binding legislation is to make it to the Oval Office. And with more extreme measures, like closing the purse, off of the Democratic leadership's table, the best shot may be for more of the most respected, influential figures in the country -- who see the threat before them -- to follow the leaders and raise their voices loudly.

Wiretapping at Its Worst

It seemed like shocking news last week when the telecommunications giant Verizon admitted it has readily allowed warrantless national security investigators to browse customer records on thousands of occasions. But given the revolving door between the telecom industry and federal government, no one should be surprised by their cozy relationship.

According to OpenSecrets.org, a website run by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., the worlds are well-connected: There is no shortage of government officials who once worked in the telecommunications industry, and no shortage of telecommunications industry execs who once worked for the government.

Many of the men and women who have hopped the fence -- sometimes more than once -- between government and telecom have done so via predictable channels. It's not uncommon, for instance, for aides and commissioners to the Federal Communications Commission to come from or move on to careers in telecommunications. It's arguably not even that surprising. But there are also the executives -- like those who fill Verizon's ranks -- who have spent years fighting for the government's right to pry into consumer data.

In an Oct. 12 letter to Democratic lawmakers, Randal S. Milch, senior vice president and general counsel to Verizon, admitted that, in tens of thousands of instances over the last two years, his company has provided government officials with subscriber information without court orders. According to the letter, that information has included subscriber names and addresses, local and long-distance telephone connection records, and methods and sources of payment.

Milch serves alongside William P. Barr, who is executive vice president and general counsel to Verizon. In Barr's past life, he was an analyst for the CIA who went on to serve as a domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan and as the attorney general of the United States under President George H.W. Bush. Throughout his esteemed government career, and well after he'd moved into the telecommunications industry, Barr has shown a voracious appetite for government surveillance.

In 1995, after he'd made the switch, he told the House Judiciary Committee that "emergency wiretap authority exists under current law with respect to a range of criminal activity. Existing emergency authority has been sparingly used, and I am not aware of any indication of abuse. It is clearly appropriate that the same emergency authority that applies with respect to Mafia conspiracies also applies to terrorist conspiracies."

He argued that, when conducting surveillance, a single subpoena issued by the government should be sufficient to cover multiple telephones registered to an individual target. "It is impractical to identify a particular phone. This is perfectly in line with constitutional protections. After all, the right to privacy guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment is an individual's right to privacy; it is not an inanimate object's right to privacy. Roving wiretaps targeted at particular suspects rather than specific phones should not cause alarm."

Barr's testimony was cited in the House Report on the Comprehensive Antiterrorism Act of 1995 as justification for an expansion of federal wiretapping authority. The following year, he advocated on behalf of the use of intelligence information in domestic law enforcement proceedings in cases of suspected terrorism.

And that was all before Sept. 11, 2001. After the terrorist attacks, Barr re-emerged on Capitol Hill to lend his support to controversial measures such as beefed up executive privilege, broadened Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authority, and both the use of military tribunals in specific and the USA PATRIOT Act more broadly.

Barr represents perhaps the most overtly wiretap-friendly liaison between the telecom industry and the government of the United States, but he's far from alone at Verizon. Peter Davidson, Verizon's chief lobbyist, was once a staffer in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and served as general counsel to former Texas Rep. Dick Armey when Armey was House majority leader.

Additionally, a former senior vice president at Verizon, Edward Whelan, was from mid 2001 to 2004 the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel. He clerked as well for Justice Antonin Scalia and, later, wrote an article defending Justice Samuel Alito who, in memos that eerily presage the current FISA debate, argued “an executive branch official who authorized the illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens without a warrant should be immune from lawsuits,” according to Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe. The Alito memos were written in his Justice Department days, before he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

None of this necessarily means Verizon and other telecom firms can't be trusted to honor our privacy and the law. But it does show that if the executive branch wants access to nominally protected information, or the Congress wants to expand the legal framework in which surveillance is allowed, the doors are wide open and their friends are eagerly waiting.

Oil Companies Are Using a Simple Trick to Bilk Consumers out of Billions

It's probably intuitive to most people that the gasoline in their fuel tank expands in the heat -- just like doorframes and cookware and everything else on the planet. What's probably less intuitive is that, in the United States, this physical phenomenon pumps a nearly $2 billion annual windfall out of consumers' pockets and into oil company coffers, according to numerous calculations, including a recent House of Representatives study.

The North Carolina-based company Gilbarco Veeder-Root manufactures a device -- a temperature-sensitive chamber for fuel -- that, if affixed to gasoline pumps across the country, would return that money to consumers and help relieve some of our storied gas-price pressures. The device -- and others like it -- is simple, functional and, in fact, already in widespread use at gas stations all across Canada. Last month, Democratic presidential hopeful and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, chair of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, held the second in a series of hearings to investigate why the technology has never made it into the American market.

Temperature is just one of the many variables that determine how much energy one tank of gasoline contains, and therefore how many miles it will pull your car. But the effects of temperature change are easier to calculate than, say, ethanol content or petroleum grade -- and are therefore also easy to correct for. Here's how it works.

A gallon of gasoline contains a certain number of molecules, which combust in your car's engine to provide it with energy. If you heat up that gallon of gasoline it will expand, leaving you with a larger volume of gas than the gallon with which you started. But your new volume will contain the same number of combustible molecules and therefore will provide the same amount of energy as it did prior to the heating. That means a tank full of "hot" gas will provide a car with less energy than will the same tank full of "cool" gas, which is why you've probably been advised (correctly) not to buy gasoline when it's hot outside. Simple, right?

It is if you live in Canada, at least. There, gasoline retailers install metering systems in their pumps to determine how much the fuel they sell has cooled or heated from its standardized refinery temperature, and then adjust the price accordingly. If the fuel has become warmer, it also becomes cheaper. If it has cooled, it becomes more expensive. Which is to say that Canadians -- to a greater extent than Americans -- pay for the energy they get out of the gasoline and not for the volume of liquid fuel they purchase.

Of course, on average, Canada is pretty cold and the United States is pretty hot. So it benefits both retailers and oil companies to correct for temperature in Canada, but to price by volume in the United States But the idea of correcting price for temperature has deep roots in the industry: oil companies have done so for gasoline wholesalers for nearly a century. The only ones in the North American energy chain who pay by volume rather than by energy value are U.S. consumers.

Kucinich's hearings were designed to shed light on this and other double standards. Oil company executives, testifying under threat of subpoena, told the subcommittee that gas retailers in the United States don't use heat meters -- known as "automatic temperature compensation" -- because state regs don't let them. "State weights and measures regulations have not adopted temperature correction," said Hugh Cooley, a Shell Oil Company vice president, in answer to Kucinich's inquiries. Ben Soraci, Director of General Sales for ExxonMobil, echoed Cooley, insisting that "across the U.S. a gallon is still defined as 231 cubic inches by law."

But Kucinich offered evidence to the contrary. His subcommittee asked the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to survey all 50 states and the District of Columbia about their weights and measures rules. "Most states permit the use of temperature compensation at both the wholesale and retail level," Kucinich said the survey found. "In fact, NIST could find that automatic temperature compensation is only expressly prohibited in nine states for retail."

Further, Kucinich found that Gilbarco Veeder-Root sought certification for its automatic temperature compensation equipment in California. Gilbarco was responding to what it has said was the stated interest of California gas retailers, but it found no buyers when the state gave its product the OK.

Cooley and Soraci say that's unsurprising because the cost for implementing devices like Gilbarco's, an investment estimated to be about $2,500 per unit, would be borne by retailers -- the majority of which are affiliated only loosely with big oil companies -- and then ultimately passed on to the consumer. The oil execs' contention is true as far as it goes, but belies the fact that oil companies maintain funds -- called "image" and "development" funds -- meant to help so-called arms-length retailers pay for modifications and improvements to their gas stations. The money is there to extend to consumers the same fair deal wholesalers get, but the companies don't particularly want to spend it.

Kucinich's subcommittee is now also investigating whether that's the reason California retailers balked when given the chance to use Gilbarco Veeder-Root's system, and whether states should be encouraged to mandate pricing by amount of energy bought rather than volume of gas sold.

Miers and Bolten Facing Contempt Charge

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday voted 22-17 along party lines to refer to the full chamber a report that recommends holding former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in statutory contempt of Congress. Citing the Bush administration's assertion of executive privilege, Miers and Bolten have ignored House subpoenas concerning their role in the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys last December.

Laying the groundwork for Wednesday's action has been a long and complicated process for House Democratic leaders. To avoid a possible loss in the courts as well as charges of partisanship, they have spent weeks establishing a pattern of White House obstructionism, built a detailed legal argument against the assertions of executive privilege on this issue, and structured a narrow case based upon the flouting of committee subpoenas. If the contempt charge passes the House, the case will be referred to Jeff Taylor, the U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C., who was appointed by Bush.

On Tuesday, Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) circulated a 52-page memo to all members of the House Judiciary Committee. Intended to serve as a compendium of the offenses that warrant the subpoenas, the memo details just about every facet of the scandal: It includes the apparent motives for the attorney firings, the seemingly false statements White House and Justice Department officials have made about the case, and legal arguments against the executive privilege the president has cited as justification for blocking the investigation from moving forward.

It remains unclear how far Congress can proceed in the long term. A July 25 Associated Press article indicated that the House will likely wait until after Congress' August recess to rule on the contempt citations. If they eventually pass the citations, it would be up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to refer the case to Taylor. The administration has insisted that Congress cannot force the U.S. Attorney's office to pursue contempt charges, and Taylor, like all U.S. Attorneys, serves at the pleasure of the president.

But Democrats argue that if they don't pursue contempt proceedings against Bolten and Miers, they'll create a perverse set of incentives for future presidents to block Congressional oversight. Republicans responded that a loss in court might actually make that situation worse. "Our failure is not here," said Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) at the hearing. "You have the votes here. If we fail in the courts ... that's when we make the imperial presidency."

Several Democrats responded that a worse incentive is created when the president believes that Congress will not vigorously attend to its oversight duties. "Some may argue that the stakes in this confrontation are so high we cannot afford the risk that we might lose," said Conyers, "I would say to them that if we countenance a process where our subpoenas can be readily ignored, where a witness under a duly authorized subpoena doesn't even bother to show up, where privilege can be asserted on the thinnest of bases and in the broadest possible manner, then we have already lost."

Other Republicans advanced a less technical argument against the citations. Rep. Ric Keller (R-FL) suggested that the Judiciary Committee accept an offer of an off-the-record, closed-door meeting with White House officials in lieu of escalating the Constitutional crisis.

"There has been no attempt to gather this information through alternative means," Keller said. "For example, the White House has made Harriet Miers available to talk about any communications that she had with DOJ officials, members of Congress or outside sources on an informal basis. They've turned down that interview opportunity. Similarly they're seeking the documents for Josh Bolten. Josh Bolten said, 'I will provide you with any documents regarding this situation between the White House and DOJ as well as any documents between the White House and Congress or other third parties.' They've turned down that ... as well."

Though no Democrat at the hearing specifically questioned his assertions on this point, Keller ignored the fact that the president's offer is contingent upon a host of restrictions, including a refusal to provide the committee with any internal White House correspondence and a refusal to participate at all thereafter. Conyers addressed those restrictions in the 52-page memo.

"On March 20, 2007, White House Counsel made a 'take it or leave it' proposal, under which the Committee was offered limited availability to some documents and limited access to witnesses, but without any transcripts and under severe limitations as to permissible areas for questioning," the memo read. "The White House also insisted that a condition of its proposal was that the Committee commit in advance not to subsequently pursue any additional White House-related information by any other means, regardless of what initial review of documents and informal discussions should reveal."

If the court does not overrule the executive privilege claims and hold Miers and Bolten in contempt -- or if it refuses to hear the citation in the first place -- House Democrats will face some difficult choices. One option would be to pursue citations of inherent -- as opposed to statutory -- contempt of Congress, and try Bolten and Miers before the full House of Representatives. That would require dispatching the House Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest the pair and holding them in jail, an option House aides have suggested Democrats have little appetite for. Failing that, they could begin impeachment proceedings against the president himself, or any Senate-approved appointee involved in the obstruction. Or they could do nothing at all. If that happens, it may well end the congressional inquiry into the U.S. Attorney scandal forever.

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