Political malpractice

Tim Kaine, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, speaks during their summer meeting in St. Louis on August 20, 2010. St. Louis is in the running for the 2012 Democratic Presidential Convention. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

The issue of Senate recruitment is in the news again, as Jim Webb decides to retire and the Democrats are now praying that Tim Kaine will enter the race for Senate in Virginia. We’ll see if President Obama can convince him, but as Ezra Klein points out, this administration has been very bad in the area of Senate recruitments.

But the White House hasn’t always taken the recruitment of challengers that seriously. In 2008, they brought Iowa’s Tom Vilsack, Arizona’s Janet Napolitano, Kansas’s Kathleen Sebelius, and Colorado’s Ken Salazar into the administration. The payoff? They almost lost Salazar’s Senate seat and Democrats had to find weaker candidates in Iowa, Arizona, and Kansas. It stands, to me, as the administration’s single most baffling set of political decisions. There were plenty of other people capable of running the various cabinet agencies. There were no other people capable of replacing the threat Vilsack would have posed to Chuck Grassley or that Napolitano would’ve posed to John McCain, and thus no one who could’ve done as much to convince them that cooperating a bit on initiatives like health-care reform would be in their interest. Similarly, Sebelius was the only Democrat in Kansas who even had a chance of winning the state’s open Senate seat. Why pull her to Washington in a different capacity?

I think the Obama administration has been unfairly attcked by many on the left, but when it comes to politics after the 2008 election, this administration clearly made some huge mistakes. It’s stunning when one considers that Rham Emanuel was helping to run things.

Frankly, I think the Obama team got way overconfident in the political situation immediately after the 2008 election. They knew they had tough fights ahead, but they had such big majorities they probably felt they didn’t have to worry to much about a handful of Senate seats.

That proved to be a disaster. McCain would have been vulnerable against Napolitano, particularly after he swung way to the right in the primary. Grassley was also vulnerable in Iowa. They plucked some of their best candidates, and none of them are critical in their current roles.

Hopefully they have learned their lesson and they will push Kaine hard to run in Virginia.

  

Do Republicans really want to oppose Sebelius over abortion?

This might be a case of CNN predicting a fight that won’t take place, but conservatives and Republicans are crazy if they pick this fight now.

Analysts suspected that Obama would face a battle over abortion if and when he makes a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, but religious conservatives could use Sebelius as a warm-up for the seemingly inevitable fight.

Calling Sebelius an “enemy of the unborn,” Catholic League President Bill Donohue said the Kansas governor’s nomination is particularly disturbing because the health and human services secretary is one of the few members of the administration who can directly affect abortion policy.

“Sebelius’ support for abortion is so far off the charts that she has been publicly criticized by the last three archbishops of Kansas City,” Donohue said in a statement. Video Watch why filling the Cabinet post is urgent task ยป

The liberal group Catholics United has come to Sebelius’ defense, saying the Kansas governor has taken several steps to lower the abortion rate in her state. The group also has posted excerpts of a 2006 speech in which Sebelius said she opposed abortion.

“My Catholic faith teaches me that all life is sacred, and personally I believe abortion is wrong,” she said then. “However, I disagree with the suggestion that criminalizing women and their doctors is an effective means of achieving the goal of reducing the number of abortions in our nation.”

In May, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, said that Sebelius’ stance on abortion had “grave spiritual and moral consequences.” He asked that Sebelius no longer receive Communion until she repudiated her stance and made a “worthy sacramental confession.”

Naumann was reacting to Sebelius’ veto of state Senate Bill 389 and the subsequent House version, titled the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act, either of which would have tightened abortion regulations in Kansas.

In shooting down SB 389 in April, Sebelius wrote that the bill was problematic because it included no exceptions for pregnancies that endanger a woman’s life and it allowed for individuals to seek court orders preventing a woman from obtaining an abortion, even if the procedure was necessary to save her life.

“I am concerned that the bill is likely unconstitutional, or even worse, endangers the lives of women,” Sebelius said in a statement.

She further said that Kansas had striven to lower its abortion rates through adoption incentives, extended health services for pregnant women, sex education and support services for families.

Another lightning rod for Sebelius is a 2007 reception she held for Dr. George Tiller at the governor’s mansion in Topeka. Tiller, who specializes in late-term abortions and who once received the National Abortion Federation’s highest honor, is presently facing charges relating to his practice.

Last month, a district judge denied a motion to dismiss the case, meaning Tiller will go to trial on 19 misdemeanor counts relating to how he procured second opinions for late-term abortions, according to The Wichita Eagle.

Though Sebelius is dogged by many on the religious right, GOP Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts of Kansas seem willing to give her a pass on her stance on abortion.

Brownback, who sought the GOP presidential nomination and is one of the leading anti-abortion voices in the Senate, recently released a statement with Roberts, congratulating Sebelius and expressing an eagerness to work with their fellow Kansan on health issues.

The reactions from Brownback and Roberts suggest that cooler heads will prevail, and that we won’t get a sideshow on abortion at a time when both sides will be debating health care reform.

  

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to lead HHS

I’m a little disappointed with this pick. She will be excellent at HHS, and health care reform is very important, but Sebelius had a real chance of winning a Senate seat in Kansas in 2010 if she decided to run. This probably means the Democrats are pretty confident of getting over 60 without her, and taking Kansas would probably happen only if the Dems win in a rout.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius yesterday accepted President Obama’s request to become his secretary of health and human services, stepping into a central role in the new administration’s ambitious effort to overhaul the nation’s health-care system.

Sebelius’s nomination comes just days before the White House is scheduled to convene a summit on health reform, an early step in the president’s bold plan to vastly expand the reach of the health-care system. A formal announcement of her nomination is scheduled for tomorrow.

The summit, which is expected to be the first in a series of open meetings across the country, is intended to spotlight the challenges presented by the nation’s balkanized health-care system — including soaring costs and gaping holes in coverage. It is also aimed at rallying public support for an overhaul certain to draw ideological and industry opposition. The health session, similar to last week’s “fiscal responsibility” summit, will open with remarks by Obama. Participants will then split into working groups led by administration officials.

In his budget proposal unveiled last week, Obama set aside $634 billion for a new reserve fund that over the next decade would serve as a substantial down payment on the cost of moving the country closer to universal health-care coverage. About 46 million Americans lack coverage, a number likely to grow as the economic downturn puts more people out of work.

Now that she’s nominated, however, I expect her to be a respected and competent voice behind the push for health care reform.

  

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