The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Morning Plum: Obama administration may release drone memos. Good.

Let’s hope this report from Time magazine is true, and that the administration follows through and releases the drone memos:

Under pressure from liberals and libertarians that threatens to sink a judicial nomination, the Obama Administration is moving closer to releasing a classified legal justification for the use of drone strikes against Americans fighting for al-Qaeda, Administration officials tell TIME.

The author of the drone memos is David Barron, Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Senate Democrats — and Rand Paul — are pressuring the administration to release at least two memos authored by Barron that justified the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and senior al-Qaeda operative. The administration has granted Senators access to the memos, which probably ensures that Barron will be confirmed. But last month, a federal appeals court ordered the administration to release the memos, and the administration has the option to not appeal this decision.

According to Time, this has prompted a vigorous debate inside the administration, pitting the U.S. intel community and the Office of Legal Counsel against “administration liberals who make the case for releasing the document on the basis of increased transparency.” Those who want the memo released are reportedly also arguing that the administration’s repeated public statements about the drone strike undercut the argument for keeping the legal justification for it secret.

Questions linger about how many drone memos Barron has authored. White House spokesman Eric Schultz tells me that the administration has made available to Senators “all written legal advice issued by Mr. Barron regarding the potential use of lethal force against U.S. citizens in counterterrorism operations.” Since Senators have been granted access to two memos, that would seem to mean Barron has only authored those two. Schultz also says the decision is up to the Justice Department.

As Adam Serwer has reported, some liberal groups want Dem Senators to vote to confirm Barron anyway, on the grounds that those Senators have been granted access to the memos. That is a step in the direction of more oversight, and it’s true that the question of access is separate from Barron’s qualifications as a judge. The other side of this coin, however, is that the question of whether to release the memos is separate from the question of whether Barron should be confirmed. The case for more transparency was spelled out recently by the New York Times, which argued: “the government has the right to secrets about its operations, but not secrets about its legal reasoning.”

If there is a convincing rebuttal to that argument, I haven’t heard it. Indeed, one person who may agree with it is President Obama, given that in his big national security speech last May, he said he’d tasked his administration to “extend oversight of lethal actions outside of war zones that go beyond our reporting to Congress.” What is the rationale for keeping the legal justification secret?

* TEA PARTY CHALLENGER GAINS ON ERIC CANTOR: The Post has a nice piece on the Tea Party challenger who appears to be “gaining momentum” on the House Majority Leader. Nationally prominent conservatives are taking notice, which promises to draw still more attention to the race in the days ahead, and while many Republicans think Cantor is safe, this is nonetheless “rattling GOP leaders at a time when the party is trying to unify its ranks.”

Cantor had positioned himself as a pro-business, establishment type, but this sort of thing will make it harder still for immigration reform (which the business wing of the party wants) to happen. Maybe tales of the GOP establishment vanquishing extreme elements within the party are a tad premature…

* SENATE DEMS MAY SCUTTLE OBAMA COURT PICK: Top Senate Democrats are threatening to withhold support for Obama District Court nominee Michael Boggs over his support for anti-abortion measures, opposition to gay marriage and a vote in favor of keeping the Confederate Flag in Georgia. It remains unclear how many Senate Democrats will back him if and when the vote comes to the floor.

It will be particularly interesting if Senate Dems do confirm Boggs after a number of them helped scuttle Civil Rights Division nominee Debo Adegbile over his role in representing convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal, another culture war-oriented furor.

* OBAMA MOVING FORWARD ON IMMIGRATION: The Los Angeles Times reports that pro-immigration reform Republicans want Obama to hold off on unilateral actions on immigration reform, because that would kill the possibility of legislation, but White House aides say they are loath to order a delay.”

The Senate reform bill passed nearly a year ago. At what point are folks allowed to conclude that House Republicans have no intentions of ever acting? By the way, it’s very likely that whatever actions Obama does pursue won’t be very ambitious and will fall well short of what advocates want.

* WHY MARK PRYOR IS NOW LEADING TOM COTTON: Caitlin Huey-Burns has some good on-the-ground reporting that explains Mark Pryor is now leading Tom Cotton in Arkansas because of the campaign’s success in appealing to seniors, who disproportionately lean Republican and turn out in midterms:

A series of Pryor television ads focus on Medicare and Social Security, hitting his opponent for supporting Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which would alter the structure of the programs and increase the eligibility age…Pryor’s campaign also often highlights Cotton’s votes against the Farm Bill, which the rest of the GOP delegation backed, and relief funding for Hurricane Sandy, which could now hold more significance in light of deadly tornadoes that hit areas outside Little Rock late last month.

Republicans tell Huey-Burns they’re certain to win the race by tying Pryor to Obamacare and Harry Reid.

* A CONSERVATIVE THAW ON MINIMUM WAGE? The Wall Street Journal, noting Mitt Romney’s recent declaration of support for a minimum wage hike, reports that there are now “small signs of a conservative thaw” on the issue, noting this crucial bit of history:

The issue…hasn’t always been so partisan. In 2007, when Congress last passed a wage boost, 116 House Republicans and all but three Senate Republicans voted in favor.

Now the data points offered in favor of the idea of a thaw cited by the Journal are that Mitt Romney and a handful of conservative economists are now open to the idea. If anything, this underscores that when it comes to GOP lawmakers, opposition to any minimum wage hike remains frozen solid.

* CLIMATE CHANGE AS NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT: Nothing to see here, folks. Coral Davenport reports:

The accelerating rate of climate change poses a severe risk to national security and acts as a catalyst for global political conflict, a report published Tuesday by a leading government-funded military research organization concluded…Pentagon officials said the report would affect military policy.

Secretary of State John Kerry plans a speech this summer on the links between climate and national security, which looks like it will figure in efforts to build support for Obama’s coming executive actions to rein in carbon emissions from existing power plants, probably the major political battle of the summer.

* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, BENGHAZI DERANGEMENT EDITION: The Daily Beast reports that top Republicans opposed the creation of a new Benghazi select committee, partly on the grounds that keeping this drumbeat going could ultimately backfire on the GOP. This, concerning Intelligence Committee chief Mike Rogers’ private advice to fellow Republicans, is key:

“He was saying this could be a rabbit hole,” one House member told The Daily Beast. “He was warning us that we should not let this investigation get into conspiracy theories.”

Great advice, but isn’t this rabbit already pretty deep in its hole?