Biden headed to Iowa for fundraiser

Vice President Joe Biden is headed to Iowa in November to speak at a major Democratic fundraiser, the Iowa Democratic Party announced today.

Biden will be the keynote speaker at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, an annual gathering of Iowa Democrats that often serves as a cattle call for potential Presidential contenders.

The announcement has fueled some rumors that Biden may be trying to keep hopes alive for a 2016 presidential bid.

And this wouldn't be the first time that Biden or his supporters have indicated that he's still interested in occupying the Oval Office.

Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press in June, Biden was very clear that he's still considering a third presidential campaign.

"I won't rule that out, no," the VP said.

And consider this passage from an LA Times profile in August:

Aides said he might go for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. He would be 74 upon taking office, but his staff insists that's not too old.

"He's incredibly fit, vigorous man of his age, and it's impossible for me to imagine that he won't be in public service in 2017 in some form," a Biden aide said.


Hoyer throws cold water on Dodd's telecom bill

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) threw cold water today on attempts to repeal immunity for telecom giants that participated in Bush-era warantless wiretapping.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and a handful of prominent Democrats said yesterday they would introduce legislation to strip telecom giants of immunity for possibly violating customer privacy by providing information to the government without a warrant. 

But Hoyer seems uninterested in pushing the legislation through the House.

"I don't think revisiting that issue is going to get us anyplace," Hoyer told The Hill today.

Congress had granted the companies liability last year to protect them from a potential onslaught of lawsuits.


Harkin hopeful for 'card check' vote this fall

Controversial "card check" legislation will hopefully make its way through the Senate this fall, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Tuesday.

Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said that he is pushing to bring up the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) for a vote this fall.

"I'm pushing for it," Harkin told the liberal Bill Press Radio Show. "I think it's something that we have to do."

Along with his bold assertion that he has the votes to pass a health bill including a public option in the Senate, Harkin's claims about EFCA's prospects in the Senate come after months in which some centrist Democrats have been reluctant to sign onto the union organizing bill.

The optimism may be rooted in negotiations on a compromise bill that has been crafted to win over centrist Democrats like Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who said he will support the latest iteration of the bill, which he'd previously opposed before switching parties to pursue reelection as a Democrat.

Those negotiations, along with the inclusion of interim Sen. Paul Kirk (D-Mass.), had Harkin hoping that Democrats will have the 60 votes necessary to get past a filibuster on the "card check" bill.

"Hopefully we're going to get the bill through sometime this fall, now that we hopefully have the 60 votes," he said.


Prostitution complaint filed against Vitter

A watchdog group has filed a complaint against Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) with the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel accusing Vitter of violating the state’s rules of professional conduct for lawyers by soliciting prostitutes.

The complaint, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), comes in response to Vitter’s support for an investigation into ACORN, a liberal community-organizing group. Two employees at ACORN’s Baltimore, Md., branch were caught on tape allegedly offering advice to a pair posing as a pimp and prostitute on setting up a prostitution ring and evading the IRS. The tapes were revealed in mid-September.

The Justice Department’s inspector general has launched an investigation into any DOJ grants ACORN has received and whether the money was properly overseen. Last week the Senate and the House both passed bills aimed at preventing ACORN from receiving federal dollars. Vitter has been a vocal critic of ACORN since the damaging tapes surfaced.

In 2007, media reports revealed that Vitter was included in the so-called “D.C. Madam’s” list of client telephone numbers. The senator subsequently expressed deep regret for his actions. In addition, another Louisiana based-prostitution ring also claimed Vitter was a client in the mid-1990s.

CREW filed a complaint against Vittter with the Senate Ethics Committee, which dismissed the matter without action in September 2008.

Under Louisiana law, it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to “commit a criminal act especially one that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”

“Sen. Vitter’s zeal to see ACORN criminally investigated for offering advice in setting up a prostitution ring reminded me he has yet to be held accountable for his own role in a prostitution ring,” Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, said in a statement. “While ACORN’s conduct is indefensible, so is Sen. Vitter’s and what is good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Vitter spokesman Joel DiGrado fired back at CREW, arguing that Sloan is a former Democratic staffer who is trying to shift the focus away from ACORN’s misdeeds with this complaint. In the mid-1990s Sloan has served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee’s crime subcommittee, chaired at the time by then-Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“ACORN has been under investigation for a series of felony criminal offenses - most prominently voter fraud,” he said. “It’s no surprise that CREW, an organization run by a former Democratic Senate staffer, is trying do anything possible to shift the light off the fact that ACORN has stood hand in hand with the Democratic Party for a long time as it misused taxpayer dollars.” 

Sloan responded that Vitter is trying to deflect attention from his criminal behavior by targeting ACORN.

"Sen. Vitter is right on one count: CREW does want to shift focus," she said. "This so-called 'family values' politician wants the public to ignore his record of criminal sexual encounters with prostitutes while he feigns outrage over ACORN’s admitted misdeeds (and my resume). Even in Washington, this level of hypocrisy is unparalleled – and that’s saying something."


McCain says U.S. should advocate regime change in Iran

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Monday urged the United States to advocate an "overthrow" of embattled Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime.

The senator's suggestion — which he stressed could be done without military force — differs greatly from the tone taken by both White House officials and numerous other lawmakers, who have recently exhorted Iran to offer "immediate and unfettered access" to international inspectors.

"[T]he solution, I think, not only lies with an attempt to impose sanctions on Iran ... I have very serious doubts as to whether Russia and China will be able to cooperate with sanctions that have significant effect on Iran," McCain told Fox News.

"But I think you left out something, and that is our advocacy for regime change in Iran," the senator added. "And I don't mean through military action, [but] by helping, supporting, assisting in a variety of ways, including Internet access and other encouragement of elements within Iran, to overthrow the regime."

McCain might be the first lawmaker this week to suggest Ahmadinejad's ouster, but he is hardly the only member of Congress clamoring to punish Iran for its clandestine nuclear program.

Soon after evidence surfaced on Saturday that Iran constructed a secret uranium refinement facility in the city of Qom, lawmakers began demanding a new round of sanctions on Tehran. Their calls grew more strident just two days later, after Ahmadinejad authorized a series of medium- and long-range missile tests — a move the White House quickly condemned as "provocative."

Despite this latest diplomatic row, the Obama administration still plans to engage Iran during a meeting of the P5+1 — a coalition of British, Chinese, French, German, Russian and U.S. negotiators — scheduled for Oct. 1. McCain, however, expressed doubt on Monday that the meeting would do any good.

"The talking that's going to take place on the first of October, I'm not optimistic, obviously," McCain said. "But I also think we have to sit down and talk turkey to the Russians and the Chinese and try to make them understand that if there is conflict in the Middle East, it's not in Russia or China's national security interest either in the long run."


Mich. prison may still receive Gitmo prisoners

Conflicting reports have come out of Michigan regarding the proposed transfer of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay to a maximum security prison in the Wolverine State.

The offices of Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and Rep. Bart Stupak (D) told the Detroit News that the soon-to-be-shuttered federal prison in Standish is still on the table as a possible site to house the detainees should the Guantanamo prison be closed.

Stupak's district contains the Standish prison.

But Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Select Intelligence Committee, said that based on conversation with the Defense Department he is "95 percent convinced" that the Standish site is off the table.

Hoekstra is strongly opposed to the proposal, which was reported last month.

A federal and a state official both maintained that the Michigan site still remains a possible destinaiton for the terror suspects.

This month, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) lifted his hold on former Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) as Army Secretary after he became convinced Guantanamo Bay prisoners would not be sent to the Fort Leavenworth Army base in his state.

Reports surfaced in early August that the Obama administration was considering transferring prisoners to the Michigan and Kansas sites. The White House, however, is currently reconfiguring its plan to shut down the Guantanamo military prison.

Administration officials indicated this weekend that the facility would not be closed before its self-imposed January deadline.


McDonnell's thesis could fuel Dem turnout

Bob McDonnell's (R) controversial thesis isn't scaring away his supporters, but it might be galvanizing his opponents.

From Public Policy Polling's (D) new poll on the Virginia governor's race today:

"Bob McDonnell's thesis is having a mixed impact on the race. Only 2% of people who say they supported him a month ago now say they're going to vote for (Democrat Creigh) Deeds, so the extent to which the thesis is changing people's minds is limited. But it may be playing a role in increasing Democratic turnout. In our last poll those planning to vote this year had voted for John McCain by a 49-45 margin. Now the likely electorate voted for Barack Obama by a 48-45 margin, indicating intended Democratic turnout is now pushing closer to what it was last year. The thesis may not have turned McDonnell votes into Deeds votes, but it looks like it is helping to turn non-voters into Deeds votes."

The polls seem to be settling on about a 4-5 point deficit for Deeds, with just more than one month to go.

PPP's survey concurred with a Washington Post poll from two weeks ago that had McDonnell up four -- the same margin by which he led an Insider Advantage poll last week.

PPP had Deeds trailing by 14 points two months ago, but he has clearly closed that gap significantly and is now within striking distance of McDonnell. Much of that appears to have to do with the fact that McDonnell's favorability has dropped from plus-22 to plus-5. Deeds has gone from plus-12 to plus-1.


Steele hits Obama for Olympics pitch trip

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele is criticizing President Barack Obama for going to Copenhagen, Denmark, to pitch his hometown of Chicago as a host site for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“I think that this trip, while nice, is not necessary for the president,” Steele said on a conference call. “I think the first lady should have been the lead here, to let her go and sell Chicago. But the goal should be creating not job opportunities seven years from now, but today.”

Steele cited the economic troubles and the current healthcare debate as more pressing issues for Obama to deal with.

“If [healthcare] is that important, Mr. President, then stay home and get it done,” Steele said, declining to say whether he thought it was a mistake for the president to make the trip.


Nelson: Split health reform bill in two parts

An influential centrist Democrat says Congress should tackle healthcare reform in two parts, one before the 2010 midterm elections and one after.

Speaking to a constituent meeting in Scottsbluff, Neb., Nelson said lawmakers should implement cost-saving measures this year but delay any action on extending coverage until after the midterms.

Voters should be able to evaluate "what's been done and what remains to be done" before they go to the polls, Nelson said.

"Public debate can occur in the context of an election," he added.

Democrats will almost certainly need Nelson's vote — as well as that of every other member of the caucus — to garner the 60 votes needed to pass reform without using budget reconciliation.

But Nelson said 60 votes isn't enough. The Nebraska Democrat said he'd only feel comfortable voting for a bill that he knows can get at least 65 votes.

"I think anything less than that would challenge its legitimacy," he said.


Harkin says he has the votes to pass public option bill in the Senate

The Senate has the votes to pass a healthcare reform bill including a public option, a key Senate chairman said Tuesday.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said that the Senate "comfortably" has a majority of votes to pass the public plan, and that he believes Democrats can muster 60 votes to break a filibuster.

"I have polled senators, and the vast majority of Democrats — maybe approaching 50 — support a public option," Harkin said told the liberal "Bill Press Radio Show." "So why shouldn't we have a public option? We have the votes.

"I believe we'll have the 60 votes, now that we have the new senator from Massachusetts, to at least get it on the Senate floor," Harkin later added. "But once we cross that hurdle, we only need 51 votes for the public option. And I believe there are, comfortably, 51 votes for a public option."

The Iowa lawmaker's statements mark a bold claim that Democrats have the votes to pass a health bill in the Senate including the prized public (or "government-run") plan after signs for weeks now that centrist Democrats and virtually all Republicans would not support a bill including the provision.

Citing the three House committees' and his own Senate committee's bills including the public plan, Harkin asserted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should include the public plan when merging the HELP bill and the Senate Finance Committee's proposal — which doesn't include the public option — for debate on the floor.

"I would hope — assume — that in the bill we send to the floor, it will have a public option," Harkin said. "Then let the minority offer amendments to take it out, and we'll see where the votes are."

"Bring it out there, let's vote on it," he added.

That maneuver could become moot, however, if the Finance Committee passes an amendment from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) bill that would include the public plan.