Obama Could Push for Lame-Duck Approval of Attorney General

Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

Good morning from Washington at the end of a very newsy week.

With Eric H. Holder Jr. departing the attorney general's office, a question is now captivating Washington: How big a fight is the president willing to wage over his replacement?

President Obama's selection of a nominee – and his decision on how quickly to push the Senate for approval – will reveal much about how he envisions his relationship with Republicans in his final two years in office.

Democratic leaders seem open to pushing a new attorney general through the Senate in the coming lame-duck session, a provocative move that would anger Republicans and potentially undermine the new head of the Justice Department.

While no timetable has been set or a candidate even named, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said on Thursday that any nominee deserved "swift and fair" consideration — a statement that could be read as laying the groundwork for a quick confirmation fight.

Republicans warned Democrats to slow down, with Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, cautioning Democrats against trying to rush a nominee through. Other Republicans said such an effort would be seen as a hostile strong-arm tactic that the party would not take lightly.

They said it would be more poisonous if the Democrats acted after losing the Senate in the midterms, as is quite possible. They would essentially be using their few remaining weeks of power and a change in Senate rules to install one of the most important figures in the cabinet, with oversight of some of the most polarizing issues separating the two parties, like immigration, guns and voter identification laws.

The White House declined to say on Thursday whether the president would make a choice in time for consideration in the lame-duck session that begins Nov. 12. But the administration appears to be preparing to do so.

The confirmation process is not short: It requires that the nominee complete an extensive questionnaire and undergo an F.B.I. background check. Then there are hearings, written questions, and answers. And, of course, Republicans retain the ability to delay committee and floor consideration.

Both sides said that, even on an accelerated timetable, it would probably take well into December before a vote.

A decision by Mr. Obama to wait until the new Congress is seated in January to seek confirmation could signal the president's eagerness to have a consensus attorney general, embraced – or at least accepted – by both parties. A decision to rush would show that the president and Senate Democrats have decided that they want the president to have his pick, despite the anger it would set off among Republicans.

After Holder: The Guessing Game Begins

Administration officials were firm that President Obama was only beginning to think about a new attorney general, but many in Washington are already focusing on Kathryn Ruemmler, the former White House counsel, who recently returned to private practice.

Ms. Ruemmler, 43, is known to be highly trusted by the president, and she helped guide his thinking on gay rights, the health care law and the reach of executive authority.

She is one of only three women to serve as White House counsel.

Ms. Ruemmler, who grew up in Washington State and studied law at Georgetown, also has a history of winning over skeptical Republicans. "You never had to question where she was coming from, and she never volunteered something she didn't know," said Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia. "She is very precise but very firm also, and held her own well."

She also won admirers as a lead prosecutor on the Enron task force. But if Ms. Ruemmler is nominated, the advice she dispensed to the White House about the I.R.S. scandal and the attacks on Benghazi, Libya, will certainly draw scrutiny.

– Carl Hulse

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Supreme Court Edition

Back when he was a young lawyer in the Reagan White House, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was tartly dismissive of the Supreme Court's long summer break.

"Only Supreme Court justices and schoolchildren," he wrote, "are expected to and do take the entire summer off."

There are emergency matters, of course, and petitions for review keep piling up. But the justices themselves are seldom seen in Washington from the end of June to the first Monday in October, when the new term begins.

Chief Justice Roberts leaves town as soon as the court finishes its work to teach a course in Europe.

Justice Antonin Scalia also taught abroad this summer, in Galway, Ireland. He was so eager to get started that he missed the last day of the term, when the court announced its decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

As he has for 25 years now, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy taught in Salzburg, Austria. Conservative critics say he has picked up dangerous ideas in the Alps, and they have criticized his tendency to cite foreign law in his opinions, including on gay rights and the death penalty.

The other justices kept busy "with writers' conferences, state bar luncheons, award ceremonies and more," according to an interactive map prepared by Victoria Kwan and Jay Pinho, two Supreme Court obsessives.

That includes Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who attended the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, N.Y., and spoke to the Women's International Study Center in Santa Fe, N.M.

There is an upside to all of this activity, the young Mr. Roberts wrote in 1983. With the justices off teaching and speaking, he said, "we know that the Constitution is safe for the summer."

– Adam Liptak

The Upshot: G.O.P. Retains Upper Hand in Senate Races



With 39 days until the election, the Upshot Senate model gives the Republicans a 61 percent chance of retaking the Senate. Thursday's polls improved the party's chances in Colorado and Alaska, two states Democrats will probably need to hold to retain control of the chamber.

– Nate Cohn

What We're Watching Today

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. may be moving on, but he is not leaving town just yet. At 7 p.m. he will speak at the Voting Rights Brain Trust, the annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Stars of the Republican Party are in Washington for the Values Voter Summit this weekend. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas will be headlining sessions Friday morning, while Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Sarah Palin will be speaking Friday afternoon.

President Obama is back from the United Nations General Assembly, and the spread of Ebola remains top of mind. At 11:40 a.m. he will be speaking at the Global Health Security Agenda Summit at the White House.He'll also be sitting down with CBS's Steve Kroft for an interview that will air on "60 Minutes" on Sunday night.

A Wikipedia Vandal With an Address on Capitol Hill

There's a Wikipedia vandal in the House of Representatives.

Someone with access to the House's internal network has been making anonymous changes to the online encyclopedia that violate its guidelines. The user was blocked on Monday from making any changes for three months.

The edits themselves, which include adding a line to the page on Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, about his arm-wrestling match with Vladimir V. Putin, are mostly forgettable. But the discussion among Wikipedians is not.

A Wikipedia community member, JohnValeron, wrote that the anonymous user's work "(a) reinforces the public perception of the U.S. House of Representatives as a laughing stock and (b) cements Wikipedia's reputation as a playground for fools masquerading as editors."

The edits, which normally don't get much attention, have won notice through the Twitter account @congressedits, which tracks Wikipedia changes that originate from computers within the House and Senate networks.

The edits aren't even the first go-round for the IP address involved this time: It was first temporarily banned from making changes to Wikipedia in 2008.

– Derek Willis

What We're Reading Elsewhere

Gov. Chris Christie has spent almost one-third of his second term outside New Jersey, The Star-Ledger reports.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, have already spent $50 million on advertising, and The Miami Herald shows in graphic form who spent what, and where they spent it.

Gary Segura, one of the authors of a new book on Hispanics' political impact, tells The New Republic that the Republican Party cannot "undo" its poor reputation among Latino voters this fall.

Seth Mandel at Commentary magazine says Iran is outwitting President Obama in the Middle East.

Environmentalists and climate scientists are hurting their cause by repeatedly trying to "rebrand" what many people still call global warming, Michael Howard writes at Esquire.