Now that John Bolton’s nomination as ambassador to the United Nations is heading to the Senate floor, albeit without a positive recommendation from the Foreign Relations Committee, Democrats have a fresh and final chance to make a case against him that doesn’t reinforce every GOP-fed stereotype about whiny “global test” liberals whose first concern is to placate “world opinion.” I understand the “Mean Man” argument was dictated by Foreign Relations Committee politics, and especially the need to give Republican waverers like Chafee and Voinovich a reason for opposing the nomination that did not involve a broad attack on Bush administration policies. But now, on the floor of the Senate, Democrats need to understand that this debate has implications beyond the question of whether or not Bolton gets his job. As Kenny Baer and I, among others, have argued earlier in this process, Democrats need to make a national security case against Bolton, and fortunately, there is a clear case to be made.I strongly urge everyone interested in the Bolton nomination to read a report by Michael Hirsch and Eve Conant that appeared in Newsweek last week. Through extensive interviews with current and past Bush administration officials, they learned that Bolton completely botched preparations for a critical five-year review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. They also cast new doubts about Bolton’s involvement in the one (if inadequate) big advance the administration has made in preventing nuclear terrorism, the Proliferation Security Initiative. In other words, as the point man for what Bush and Cheney have repeatedly called the most important front in the war on terror–the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists–Bolton has done a dangerously lousy job. He’s not just a Mean Man–he’s a Mean Man blinded by ideology and ambition from promoting the steps we need to take internationally to prevent a nuclear 9/11, or for that matter, a fully nuclear Iran and North Korea. And the question Democrats need to finally start asking on the Senate floor is why this administration has entrusted Bolton with this crucial responsibility, and why it is now insisting on making him our country’s most visible representative in world affairs. If that’s not enough of an argument to make, then maybe Senate Democrats should also raise a question about U.N. reform that barely got mentioned in the Foreign Relations Committee: does Bolton, and does the Bush administration, support or oppose the Annan Commission recommendation to amend the U.N. Charter to make it clear “sovereignty” does not extend to the right to commit genocide within one’s own borders? Given Bolton’s much-expressed contempt for risking any U.S. lives or dollars in preventing ethnic cleansing in Kosovo or Rwanda, it’s a very pertinent question as the debate over Darfur continues.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Like most California political junkies, I’m already looking forward to a vibrant 2024 Senate race. I wrote up the latest development at New York:
In the conservative imagination, California is sort of an evil empire of leftism. It’s where white people have been relegated to a minority for decades; where tree-hugging hippies still frolic; where Hollywood and Big Tech work 24/7 to undermine sturdy American-folk virtues; where rampaging unions and arrogant bureaucrats make it too expensive for regular people to live.
But in truth California’s dominant Democratic Party has as many mild-mannered moderates as it does fiery progressives. One of them, Dianne Feinstein, has held a Senate seat for over 30 years. As the 89-year-old political icon moves toward an almost certain retirement in 2024 (though she now says she won’t announce her intention until next year), another ideological moderate has just announced a bid to succeed her. Los Angeles congressman Adam Schiff, though, has an asset most centrist Democrats (those not named Clinton or Biden, anyway) can’t claim: the rabid hatred of Donald Trump–loving Republicans, giving him the sort of partisan street cred even the most rigorous progressives might envy.
It’s why Schiff begins his 2024 Senate race with something of a strategic advantage. The first-announced candidate in the contest, Congresswoman Katie Porter (also from greater L.A.), is a progressive favorite and more or less Elizabeth Warren’s protégé as a vocal enemy of corporate malfeasance. Another of Schiff’s House colleagues, Oakland-based Barbara Lee, has told people she plans a Senate run as well; Lee is a lefty icon dating back to her lonely vote against the initial War on Terror authorization following September 11. And waiting in the wings is still another member of California’s House delegation, Silicon Valley–based Ro Khanna, who is closely associated with Bernie Sanders and his two presidential campaigns.
Obviously, in a Senate race featuring multiple progressives, the national-security-minded Schiff (who voted for the Iraq war authorization and the Patriot Act early in his House career) might have a distinct “lane,” particularly if he draws an endorsement from Feinstein. (Schiff is already suggesting his campaign has her “blessing.”) But he may poach some progressive votes as well by emphasizing the enemies he’s made. Indeed, his campaign’s first video is mostly a cavalcade of conservatives (especially Donald J. Trump) attacking him.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Schiff is announcing his Senate bid immediately following his expulsion from the House Intelligence Committee by Speaker Kevin McCarthy for his alleged misconduct in investigating Russia’s links with Trump and his campaign (and in making the case for Trump’s impeachment). Schiff was also a steady prosecutorial presence on the January 6 committee that McCarthy and most Republicans boycotted).
Complicating the contest immeasurably is California’s Top Two primary election system. Schiff and his Democratic rivals will not be battling for a party primary win but for a spot in the 2024 general election, given to the top two primary finishers regardless of party affiliation. The Golden State’s Republican Party is so weak that it might not be able to find a candidate able to make the top two in a Senate primary; two Democrats competed in two recent competitive Senate general elections in California (in 2016, when Kamala Harris defeated Loretta Sanchez, and in 2018, when Feinstein trounced Kevin DeLeon). If that’s the case, though, it’s unclear which Democrat might have the edge in attracting Republicans. Porter’s campaign is circulating a poll showing she’d beat Schiff in a hypothetical general election because Republicans really hate Schiff despite his more moderate voting record.
For all the uncertainties about the 2024 Senate field, it is clear that the two announced Democratic candidates will wage a close battle in one arena: campaign dollars. Both Schiff and Porter are legendary fundraisers, though Porter had to dip deeply into her stash of resources to fend off a tougher-than-expected Republican challenge last November. Big remaining questions are whether Lee can finance a viable race in this insanely expensive state with its many media markets, and whether Khanna, with his national Sanders connections and local Silicon Valley donor base, enters the contest. There are racial, gender, and geographical variables too: Until Harris became vice-president, California had long been represented by two Democratic woman from the Bay Area. With Los Angeles–based Alex Padilla now occupying Harris’s old seat, 2024 could produce a big power shift to the south and two male senators.
In any event, nobody is waiting around for Feinstein to make her retirement official before angling for her seat, which means a Senate race that won’t affect the partisan balance of the chamber at all (barring some wild Republican upset) will soak up a lot of attention and money for a long time. At this early point, Schiff’s positioning as the moderate that Republicans fear and despise looks sure to keep him in the spotlight.