A Tough Week for the White House

Rich Galen

3/6/2014 9:40:00 AM - Rich Galen

In addition to Vladimir Putin's strutting and fretting his hour upon the world stage, the big news out of the U.S. Senate yesterday was that seven Democrats voted with all 44 Republicans on a test vote on the confirmation of a guy named Debo Adegbile to be the head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

It was a nomination put forward with some vigor by President Barack Obama.

As reported by Burgess Everett wrote in Politico.com

"The 47-52 vote marks the first time that the Senate has thwarted one of Obama's nominees since Democrats changed filibuster rules in November - a historic change that was supposed to make it easier for the majority party to move nominations."

Take your finger off the SEND key.

I know that 44 Republicans plus 7 Democrats = 51 votes. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) changed his vote from "Aye" to "Nay" after it was clear it had failed so he could, if warranted, later move to reconsider the vote.

According to Robert's Rules of Order "the motion to reconsider may be made only by a member who voted on the prevailing side in the original vote."

So, Reid had to change his vote to be on the prevailing ("Nay") side.

The issue with Mr. Adegbile (pronounced Ah-DEG-bohl-eh) is his spirited defense of a man named Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Adegbile was a lawyer with the NAACP and was heavily involved in overturning Abu-Jamal's death sentence.

Both Pennsylvania Senators, Pat Toomey (R), and Democrat Bob Casey voted against Adegbile's nomination, as did next-door-neighbor Delaware's Chris Coons (D) - who is a Senator by virtue of having won a special election to replace the current President of the Senate, Joe Biden. Ironic, huh?

The whip count was so dicey, that the White House sent Vice President Joe Biden up to Capitol Hill to assume the chair. According to Article I, Section 3, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution,

"The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided."

Meaning, the Veep can vote to break a tie. He cannot, by the way, vote to create a tie which might come into play following the November Midterm elections.

When you miss counting noses by seven votes in the Senate, you have missed by a mile. I assume that Biden took his seat as President of the Senate as a gesture, more than as a back-up vote.

Without re-litigating the Abu-Jamal case, the prosecution had three eyewitnesses to the shooting and two additional witnesses who testified he confessed to the crime at the hospital.

Later appeals commuted his death sentence to life in prison without parole, but the Civil Rights community has been adamant that Abu-Jamal was railroaded.

It seems to me that President Obama through he could use the new Senate filibuster rules on nominations (51 votes moves the nominee along, not 60) to push Adegbile through.

He was wrong.

As my Democratic friends reminded me time and time again during the shutdown fight last fall "elections matter" and President Obama won re-election despite Obamacare.

I would remind them, today, that with the President's approval rating stuck in the low 40's - Fox News released a poll yesterday showing his approval at an all-time low 38 percent - the elections coming up in seven month matter a very, very lot to the men and women on the ballot.

Should Debo Adegbile be, in essence, punished for professionally representing a client?

USA Today quoted Attorney General Eric Holder saying,

"It is a very dangerous precedent to set for the legal profession when individual lawyers can have their otherwise sterling qualifications denigrated based solely on the clients that their organizations represent."

On the other hand, a hundred years ago, during the Monica Lewinsky time, I was on MSNBC with attorney Gerry Spence. You will remember him for wearing a western fringe jacket when he was on TV.

I don't remember about whom we were speaking, but I remember that Spence said he would not represent the guy if asked.

"The Constitution guarantees everyone deserves legal representation," he said. "But not everyone deserves me."

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the Politico piece and to the Wikipedia page on the Abu-Jamal case, as well as to Gerry Spence.

Also a Mullfoto from Austin last night.