Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan faced her first day of questioning Tuesday in her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In an exchange with Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Kagan admitted defining her political views as "generally progressive" but said they remain separate from her legal decisions.
Elena Kagan: "Senator Sessions, it’s absolutely the case that I have served in two Democratic administrations, and I think —"
Sen. Jeff Sessions: "No, but I’m asking, do you agree with the characterization that you’re a legal progressive?"
Elena Kagan: "Senator Sessions, I honestly don’t know what that label means. I’ve worked in two Democratic administrations. Senator Graham suggested yesterday, and I think he’s right, that you can tell something about me and my political views from that. But as I suggested to you, that my political views are one thing —"
In other testimony, Kagan said she respects legal precedent upholding the right to gun ownership and said she backs the denial of habeas corpus rights to foreign prisoners. The confirmation hearings continue today.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has voted to approve the nomination of General David Petraeus to command US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The unanimous vote capped a one-day confirmation hearing for Petraeus, who was tapped last week to replace the ousted General Stanley McChrystal. During his testimony on Tuesday, Petraeus affirmed recent Obama administration statements that a proposed July 2011 drawdown deadline is in fact a goal that could be ignored.
Gen. David Petraeus: "It is important to note the President’s reminder in recent days that July 2011 will mark the beginning of a process, not the date when the US heads for the exits and turns out the lights. As he explained this past Sunday, in fact, we will need to provide assistance to Afghanistan for a long time to come."
Later in the hearing, Petraeus also vowed to review directives limiting US bombings that were billed as an attempt to reduce Afghan civilian casualties. Critics from within the military have argued the restrictions have endangered US lives.
Gen. David Petraeus: "I mention this because I am keenly aware of concerns by some of our troopers on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive. They should know that I will look very hard at this issue."
Petraeus’s nomination now goes before the full Senate.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Taliban fighters have launched an attack on a NATO base in Jalalabad. Several fighters reportedly stormed the base after a suicide bomber blew himself up at its gate. NATO says eight fighters were killed in the attack. Al Jazeera reports the Taliban called the operation "a message to David Petraeus" that it can attack the US military at will.
In other news from Afghanistan, the top Afghan prosecutor has accused US ambassador Karl Eikenberry of threatening to have him fired unless he laid fraud charges against an Afghan banker. Attorney General Mohammad Is’haq Alko says Eikenberry told him, "If you don’t jail him, you must resign." In a statement, the US embassy didn’t deny Alko’s account, saying it had no comment.
The bipartisan sponsors of the main Senate climate and energy bill say they’re now willing to further weaken their measure to win Republican support. Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman made the pledge Tuesday following a meeting with President Obama and other lawmakers at the White House. Kerry said he and Lieberman are prepared to scale back their bill on top of initial compromises.
Sen. John Kerry: "We believe we have compromised significantly, but we’re prepared to compromise further. And we are looking for some Republicans, and perhaps even some members of our caucus, who will meet us at that place of compromise. We are prepared to scale back the reach of our legislation in order to try to find that place of compromise, because we believe, and I think the President believes very strongly, what is important is for America to get started."
The Kerry-Lieberman measure calls for reducing US emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels, which equals just four percent of the 1990 levels adopted by the rest of the world. One so-called "compromise" under discussion would limit emissions caps to major utilities, as opposed to all polluters. In a statement, the group Friends of the Earth said, "Capitulate, then compromise is not a strategy that will produce a real climate bill. It’s time for senators to stop caving to corporate polluters and start listening to the people they represent who are demanding clean, safe energy and jobs."
Large Wall Street firms have scored a key victory on Capitol Hill with the removal of a major tax from the financial reform bill. On Tuesday, Democrats stripped the $17.9 billion fee on large financial institutions as part of efforts to win the support of Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Democrats are scrambling to win Brown’s support following the death of Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Byrd’s death has left Democrats one vote short of the sixty needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
Two environmental groups have announced plans to file suit to prevent BP from burning alive endangered sea turtles in the cleanup of the Gulf Coast. In a widely circulated video, Gulf Coast boat captain Mike Ellis says BP has prevented rescuers from saving turtles trapped in the middle of controlled burns.
Catherine Craig: "So when they’re burning the oil, they’re burning whatever gets caught in them."
Mike Ellis: "Well, yeah, they drag a boom between two shrimp boats, and whatever’s caught between the two boats, they circle it up and catch it on fire. Once the turtles are in there, they can’t get out. I mean, they come up, it looks — they look like they’re chocolate-covered."
The Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network say they’ll file suit against BP as well as the US Coast Guard under the Endangered Species Act.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has criticized the arrest of eleven people accused of involvement in a Russian spy ring on the United States. The suspects were detained in recent days following a reportedly decade-long investigation. Prosecutors have claimed the suspects were directed not to infiltrate US agencies or steal secrets, but to gather information on individuals and issues that could affect US-Russia relations. At a meeting with former President Bill Clinton in Moscow, Putin said he thinks the arrests were heavy-handed but downplayed speculation of a diplomatic fallout.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin: "Back at your home, the police went out of control and are throwing people in jail. But that’s the kind of job they have. I hope that all the positive gains that have been achieved in our relationship will not be damaged by the recent event."
Meanwhile, in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Philip Gordon said the arrests won’t harm US-Russia ties.
Philip Gordon: "We are beyond the Cold War. I think our relations absolutely demonstrate that. But, as I say, I don’t think anyone was hugely shocked to know that some vestiges of old attempts to use intelligence are still there."
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israel’s Foreign Minister has dismissed the prospect of Palestinian statehood within the next two years. Avigdor Lieberman made the comment to reporters in Jerusalem.
Avigdor Lieberman: "As an optimistic person, I see absolutely no chance of reaching a Palestinian state before 2012. One can imagine and dream, but the reality is that we are still a long way from reaching an accord regarding establishing an independent state by 2012."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due in Washington next week for talks with President Obama.
The Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to reconsider an appeal from former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman in his quest to overturn his conviction. Siegelman was found guilty in a 2006 corruption case but is free on bail pending an appeal. Critics say Siegelman was the target of a political witch hunt, in part orchestrated by former Bush administration deputy Karl Rove. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to revisit its decision upholding five of the seven charges against Siegelman. The Supreme Court cited its ruling last week in favor of the former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling that threw out a law criminalizing the denial "of the intangible right of honest services."
A new survey says the current recession has adversely affected more than half the nation’s working adults. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of respondents reported being in worse financial shape than they were before the economic crisis hit over two years ago. More than six in ten say they’ve cut down on borrowing and spending. At a meeting with Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke on Tuesday, President Obama said he hopes to see millions of unemployed Americans put back to work.
President Obama: "There is a great concern about the eight million jobs that were lost during the course of these last two years, and that we’ve got to continually push the pace of economic growth in order to put people back to work. That ultimately is the measure for most Americans of how well the economy is doing."
In Washington state, an Olympia peace activist has won over $400,000 in damages for government surveillance and interference with his political activism. Three government agencies have agreed to pay Phil Chinn for monitoring and then obstructing him as he tried to participate in lawful antiwar protests at the Port of Grays Harbor in 2007. Over half of the damages will cover Chinn’s legal fees.
And in media news, the television personality Larry King has announced he’ll end his CNN talk show this fall after twenty-five years on the air.