Slate: The Coalition of the Swilling Gabfest
Listen to Slate's review of the week in politics.
Updated Friday, July 31, 2009, at 6:47 PM
John Dickerson, David Plotz, and Emily Bazelon talk politics. This week: That's Sen. Franken, if you please; Sarah Palin is back; and the Supreme Court rules on the New Haven firefighters case.
More than seven months after Election Day, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled 5-0 that Al Franken defeated incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman by the thinnest of margins, 312 votes out 2.9 million cast. Coleman quickly conceded the election, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the certificate required to seat Franken, a process that will likely occur on July 6 when the Senate reconvenes. Franken will hit the ground running after being named to two committees with looming responsibilities: judiciary, which will handle the confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor; and health, education, labor, and pensions, one of two Senate committees tasked with health care reform. His victory also gives the Democratic caucus 60 votes (two independents—Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut—caucus with the Democrats), the minimum number necessary to overcome a filibuster. However, this will not give the Democrats carte blanche to pass legislation—although many conservatives would like the public to believe otherwise—as the party leadership must still corral moderate and conservative members. Democratic leaders may push for all 60 votes to overcome procedural challenges like the filibuster before freeing members to vote differently on the substance of the bill. However, two members of the Democratic caucus, Sens. Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, face serious medical problems that have recently prevented them from casting votes. Kennedy and Byrd could enter the Senate in a scene reminiscent of former Sen. Pete Wilson's appearance on the Senate floor via ambulance and wheelchair. But short of such drama, the Democratic total stands at 58 votes present.
A Vanity Fair article and a Runner's World interview and photo spread kept Sarah Palin in the news this week. The Vanity Fair feature reignited Republican internecine warfare, particularly between former McCain staffer Steve Schmidt and prominent Republican columnist Bill Kristol. Kristol accused Schmidt of being the anonymous staffer who suggested that Palin might be suffering from postpartum depression, setting off a volley of recriminations. Stories following the Vanity Fair piece highlighted tensions between Palin and Schmidt that began on the campaign trail and indicate that, despite his denials, Schmidt may indeed be the leaker. The spitball fight between former candidate and staff put the lie to Newt Gingrich's recent claim that the country would have been better off with McCain and Palin in the White House; even conservatives have begun to doubt that.
Another GOP luminary received negative press this week, as South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford rejected calls for his resignation amid additional juicy revelations of his marital infidelities. Sanford admitted during an interview with the Associated Press that he had "crossed the line" with women other than his Argentinean mistress and is now trying to fall back in love with his wife, even though he calls the mistress his soul mate. The admissions were part of Sanford's new strategy of laying it all on the table, but they may just add to the calls for his resignation.
The Supreme Court wrapped up a term in which it moved incrementally to the right with a 5-4 ruling against the city of New Haven in the Ricci case. The decision weighed two concepts of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, disparate treatment and disparate impact, against each other, concluding that the white New Haven firefighters suffered unacceptable disparate treatment when their promotions were denied. Emily and Nicole Allan's series in Slate about the history of racial disputes within the New Haven Fire Department and the bad facts of the Ricci case demonstrates why this is such a controversial ruling. The ruling does seem to leave New Haven and other cities free to use other types of tests to determine promotions. Similar questions will reappear during the confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor, but the 5-4 split shows that Sotomayor is not out at the legal extreme on this issue. However, polling suggests that the Supreme Court reversal may have reduced her public support.
David chatters about a correction that the New York Times issued to a recipe for infused oils. After the recipe, produced by Mark Bittman, was published and appeared online for three days, the Times adjusted the cooking time and the period for which the oil could be stored. Apparently, insufficiently simmering the oil or storing it for too long carries a risk of botulism, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls "a rare but serious paralytic disease." This oversight led witty observers to quip that the Times cannot afford to lose any more readers.
Emily chatters about a case, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, that the Supreme Court chose not to decide this term but instead pushed back to the fall. At issue is a film called Hillary: The Movie that was produced by corporate backers who wanted to show it as an on-demand movie and on cable. However, the Supreme Court indicated in delaying hearing the case that it wants to address two key precedents governing campaign finance, leading to speculation that the court may open the floodgates to unlimited corporate campaign contributions.
John chatters about the busy congressional calendar following the Fourth of July recess. In 25 work days before adjourning for the August recess, both houses will continue to work on health care reform; the Senate will hold hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court; cap-and-trade legislation will face a tough fight in the Senate; and the United States and Russia will attempt to negotiate a new strategic weapons treaty.
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Posted on July 3 by Jefferson Pestronk at 8:24 a.m.
Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family, and kids. Her forthcoming book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character. Find her at email@example.com or on Facebook or Twitter.
John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his series on the presidency and his series on risk. Follow him on Twitter.