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Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy

Saxby Chambliss declares himself neutral in brewing constitutional fight

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Saxby Chambliss on Wednesday declared himself an island of neutrality in a building constitutional controversy between the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee and the chief agency it oversees, the CIA.

After remaining tight-lipped about the dispute, Chambliss “reluctantly” took to the Senate floor to declare his non-involvement – and hint that all parties should stop talking about it.

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blogSen. Dianne Feinstein of California has publicly accused the CIA of breaching the constitutional separation of powers by spying on computers used by the committee’s Democratic staff to compile information about the agency’s enhanced interrogation program under President George W. Bush.

The CIA accused the Senate staffers of stealing documents and has referred the matter to the Department of Justice.

Said Chambliss:

 “The Republican committee members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and staff were not involved in the underlying investigation of the detainee and interrogation report. We do not know the actual facts concerning the CIA’s alleged actions or all of the specific details about the actions by the committee staff regarding the draft of what is now referred to as the Panetta internal review document.

Both parties involved have made allegations against one another, and have speculated as to each other’s actions. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions that must be addressed. …

“Eventually, we will get to the bottom of this, but today I cannot make any statement that will reflect what actually occurred, and therefore what recommendations we ought to make as we move forward. Right now, our committee members are conducting an internal assessment of the facts and the circumstances involved in both of these matters. This will be an ongoing process that should not be described or discussed in the public domain.”

The Washington Post today adds this bit of essential background:

Feinstein, who had recently become chairman of the committee, envisioned the investigation as a way to answer one of the most contentious questions: whether harsh interrogation measures, including the simulated-drowning technique known as waterboarding, worked.

In March 2009, the committee voted 14 to 1 to open its formal probe. Only Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), who later became the ranking Republican on the panel, voted against it.

***

We are picking up word of some head-butting between lawmakers and Gov. Nathan Deal’s office – which has cryptically raised the possibility of a legislative session that won’t end on March 20.

The session’s final day scheduled for next Thursday, and lawmakers are eager to hit the campaign trail ahead of record-early May 20 primaries. But Deal’s top aide Chris Riley hinted that the governor’s suite wouldn’t object to a longer stay by lawmakers.

“The flowers at the state Capitol are beautiful when they bloom in April,” Riley said.

We hear one of the main points of contention involves a Senate push to require that Georgia health insurance policies cover behavioral therapy for children 6 and under who have been diagnosed with autism. Facing tough odds in the House, the bill’s Senate sponsors tied it to a popular medicinal marijuana bill yesterday to try to assure its passage.

***

Remember how, earlier this year, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed seemed rather cool toward Jason Carter’s Democratic candidacy for governor? Not so with Michelle Nunn and her U.S. Senate run.

While Republicans scramble to close down the Legislature next Thursday, Reed will be hosting a fund-raiser for Nunn. As usual, the press is not invited:

nunnreed2

What’s interesting is a pricing schedule that appears to include a $500-a-plate children’s table.

***

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball today takes a look at U.S. Senate races, giving Georgia’s contest a “lean Republican” rating. But writer Kyle Kondik includes this note:

A post-November runoff if no one gets over 50% here in the general election is possible. Imagine if Georgia and Louisiana went to overtime, with the Senate in the balance? Georgia’s runoff wouldn’t be until Jan. 6, 2015 — after the new Congress will be seated. Hmm…

***

Augusta Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow has signed on to House Democrats’ effort to force a vote on a minimum wage hike. His party is counting on the popular measure to draw a contrast in this year’s elections, and Barrow is one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents in the country. Most Republicans and business groups oppose a higher minimum wage, citing evidence that it would destroy jobs.

The measure would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. Republicans control the agenda in the House, but if Democrats can peel away enough centrist GOPers to form a majority on a “discharge petition,” they can force a vote. They’re trying the same tactic, without success so far, on immigration reform and an extension of unemployment benefits.

Here’s what Barrow had to say, via a spokeswoman:

“There’s a time and a place for everything, and it’s been a long time since we raised the minimum wage. As we work to improve the economy and get folks back to work, there needs to be a conversation with folks on both sides of the aisle about how to raise the minimum wage in a responsible and pragmatic way, and this is the only way we can get that conversation started.”

***

After Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, led lawmakers from both parties on a civil rights pilgrimage last weekend, Roll Call asks: Whither the Voting Rights Act rewrite? Majority Leader Eric Cantor is the key, and the Capitol Hill paper reports that he and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer will meet about the bill this week:

“The majority leader has made a major, personal investment in connecting to the civil rights movement — something that ultimately could prove important for a GOP that regularly polls in the single digits among African-Americans and poorly among other minorities.

But translating participation in the Faith and Politics Institute’s annual pilgrimage into legislative text that can win support from the bulk of the Republican Conference isn’t an easy task.

And so far, Cantor hasn’t laid out a clear path for a bill nine months after declaring his support for a congressional response to the Supreme Court decision striking down the VRA’s core enforcement mechanisms.”

***

When we ran into Republican John McCallum last week, as he formally signed up for the First District congressional race to replace Jack Kingston of Savannah, we asked if his old boss would be campaigning for him. He was coy then – but gives his answer today:

***

One of the more interesting press releases on Wednesday came from the campaign of state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan of Austell, the Democrat running for superintendent without her party’s backing.

Morgan claimed credit for the House Education Commitee vote that effectively halted the much-maligned Common Core legislation from reaching a vote. Said Morgan:

“We listened, and because of their work we stopped the anti-Common Core legislation. Most importantly, I can go back to my daughter’s 1st grade teacher and tell her not to worry – that we’re going to keep the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards because we believe in having high standards and doing what’s best for kids.”

Business types this morning were more willing to spread the plaudits around. From the press release:

“We appreciate the attention this issue has received as it is key to ensuring our children’s future success,” said Georgia Chamber of Commerce President Chris Clark.  “The Chamber thanks the members of the House Education Committee for listening to the concerns of educators, parents, local school boards and most importantly, our students.”

***

When their two House districts in Atlanta were pushed together, Simone Bell already beat fellow Democrat Ralph Long. Now Bell is facing Long’s wife, Erica, in one of the more interesting legislative primary races.

Bell, one of three openly gay women in the Legislature, has quite a history with the Longs. Earlier this month she posted on Facebook that Ralph Long threatened to run against her if Bell supported one of his opponents in a Fulton County Commission race (She did, but he never qualified for that race).

Ralph Long took to Facebook this week to urge support of his wife. “She is my better everything,”  he wrote. Watch this one closely, people.

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