Just before Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was confirmed yesterday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was making his case against her -- a case Democratic Sen. Al Franken seemed to find quite comical.
According to the Associated Press, Franken, who was presiding over the Senate at the time, whispered and made wild gestures as the minority leader laid out his argument.
It was distracting enough that McConnell approached Franken afterward to say, "This isn't 'Saturday Night Live,' Al."
Franken, a former comedian who used to work on the late-night comedy show, immediately went to McConnell's office following Kagan's confirmation in an attempt to apologize, but McConnell wasn't there. According to the AP, Franken delivered a handwritten apology instead, and issued a statement saying McConnell had a right "to give his speech with the presiding officer just listening respectfully."
This wasn't the first dust up Franken has had with another senator while serving as the Senate's presiding officer. Last year, he was chided for cutting off Sen. Joe Lieberman's comments during the health care debate.
Franken's past experience on SNL is unusual for a senator, but he has tried to tone down his comedic inclinations in Congress.
The drama surrounding the Russian spies arrested on June 28 has generated a series of breathless headlines about a story that many said is fit for a Cold War spy novel. But in the wake of the spy swap, it's worth asking: Just how important were these Russian spies, anyway?
"There was a great tendency, at least in mainstream media, to sort of make a joke out of these guys," Ward Sloane, senior producer for CBS Evening News, said on "Washington Unplugged" Friday. "And somehow over the weekend this turned into this huge deal and it was the administration fighting back...telling us 'you can't put too light a face on these people, they're very important.' And then all of a sudden...they're ready to send them back to Russia. What was the point?"
Sloane was joined by moderator Bob Orr and CBS News National Security Analyst Juan Zarate on "Unplugged" in discussing the spy swap. Zarate pointed out that although it's unclear why the spies were shipped off so quickly, the fact they were exchanged for four Russian prisoners is certainly significant. Yet he also said the discrepancy in the spies exchanged makes the situation even more puzzling.Continue »
Following the morning session of Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings today - where Kagan fought her way through some tough questioning and even managed to crack a joke every now and then -- Richard Socarides, a former White House senior advisor to President Clinton, said on "Washington Unplugged" that she looked as comfortable as can be for someone in the hot seat.
"This is definitely the Elena Kagan I know and I've worked with," Socarides told moderator Jan Crawford. "She seemed to me today to be in complete command. She did not make a single mistake, not even a small mistake. She was polite but very firm under a pretty sharp attack."
Much of that sharp attack came from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who pressed on Kagan's her decision as the dean of Harvard Law School to prevent military recruiters from entering the Harvard Law School's career services office. Socarides said she effectively handled the questions.
"On the 'don't ask don't tell' stuff, which I think was totally expected, it was a very sharp exchange," Socarides said. "But I think importantly, she said, 'I always followed the law, we were always in compliance with the law,' which I think was important for her to say and get out today."
Washington Unplugged asked viewers whether or not they thought Kagan deserved to be scrutinized for her decision to stop the military from entering the career services office. According to CBS News correspondent Kaylee Hartung, who was monitoring the poll numbers, before Kagan talked about the issue 56 percent of viewers believed she should be scrutinized. When the conversation was over, that number fell to 39 percent.
According to Socarides, that's because people could easily identify with her after hearing her speak. "For people who were watching, you'd have to be persuaded by her answers," he said. "The reason why she is doing this with such ease and such command is I really believe she is being completely honest with the committee."
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who sat down one-on-one with Crawford, was also pleased by what she saw at the hearing. She said she was impressed by Kagan's "bluntness, the fact that she has kept her energy level up."Continue »
Politics are a part of every war, but not always a part of the lives of those who fight them, according to Sebastian Junger, co-director, producer and videographer of the documentary "Restrepo," which details the lives of a platoon of soldiers over a 14-month-deployment in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.
"There's a larger conversation about the war, a political conversation," said Junger, who sat down with moderator Bob Orr on Washington Unplugged today along with Major Daniel Kearney, the commander of the men in the documentary. "It's a necessary one, but that happens here. The soldiers really don't think in those terms and we wanted to capture their reality."
Junger and his partner Tim Hetherington were extremely careful in making sure the documentary captured nothing outside of a soldier's life. That carefulness applied to everything from what they filmed to the questions they asked.
"The soldiers can't ask a general why they're in the Korengal Valley, so we didn't ask a general that question," Junger said. "We really stuck to this six-mile-long valley."
The journalists' ability to be down to Earth created a solid relationship between them and the soldiers.
"They got a camera but when they're talking to you, they're your friends," Kearney said. "They're not this person who's trying to draw something out of you that you've got to be cautious about. They're just talking to you as a normal human being, and you kind of just break down that barrier that might be there with some instances with the press."
With no barriers between them and the press, the two journalists were able to get to know the soldiers they were bunking with, all who lived at an outpost called Restrepo, named after a beloved platoon medic who was killed early in the deployment. He wants those who see the film will get to know the soldiers too.
"I really hope that people can see the movie, whether they were for or against the war, liberals or conservatives, doesn't matter," Junger said. "Leave your politics behind, sit and watch this movie and try to imagine what it's like for these guys. They chose to serve their country, they did it and they're coming home with this experience. We need to understand them."
Make sure to watch Friday's Washington Unplugged featuring CBS News National Security Analyst Juan Zarate and CBS' own Kaylee Hartung on World Cup fever in Washington DC.
"Washington Unplugged," CBSNews.com's exclusive daily politics Webshow, appears live on CBSNews.com each weekday at 12:30 p.m. ET. Click here to check out previous episodes.
Just a few paragraphs into "The Runaway General," President Obama had made up his mind, according to Mike Allen: It was time to part ways with General Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"The president's eventual decision was clear from the moment he read the first paragraph of that Rolling Stone article where the general is protesting going to a dinner with the French, where an aide to the general refers to the French as 'gay,'" said Allen, chief political correspondent for Politico, who joined moderator Bob Schieffer on Washington Unplugged today. "This is a NATO ally, someone that we're asking for more troops [from]. It was the effect on allies, the effect on lower level people in the military that made the president realize we're better off without him than with him."
Although Mr. Obama seemed intent on relieving the general from the outset, there was more than a day of debate amongst the president and his aides as to whether or not to dismiss McChrystal.Continue »
On Wednesday's Washington Unplugged, CBS News' Jan Crawford hosted a roundtable discussion on the negative message had General Stanley McChrystal not been replaced and the new spotlight on the struggling war effort in Afghanistan.
"If he [stayed] at this point you have to ask yourself 'what message does that send our allies?' said Craig Shirley, President of Shirley and Banister Public Affairs. "What message does that send President Obama's political opponents? What message does that send to other members of the military that they can break the chain of command, violate the code of justice and openly criticize the commander in chief?"
According to Richard Fontaine, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, it wouldn't have been a good one.
"You can be court-martialed for making certain comments or statements against the president, the vice president," Fontaine said. "There is a difference between the kinds of remarks that commissioned officers, General McChrystal and his aides, make and civilians who work for the government or frat boys or anyone else because of the civil military relations in this country where the military is subordinate to the civilian command."
McChrystal's departure puts a spotlight on a war in Afghanistan that is already under some scrutiny.Continue »
General Stanley McChrystal may be living out his final hours as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan following disparaging comments he made regarding several top Washington officials.
"The last thing that President Obama needs is for somehow the impression to get out there that he can be kicked around and disrespected by one of his generals," CBS Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer said today on Washington Unplugged. "I think General McChrystal has a real problem, and it's going to be very hard for him to survive."
This isn't the first time the general has been chastised by the president. Last year, McChrystal made negative comments regarding Vice President Joe Biden and received a tongue lashing, which won't make it any easier for him to get through round two, Schieffer said.
"You can't do this and get away with it, especially not more than once," he said. "[If] you're looking at Washington politics you have to say 'so who's going to be there to defend him now?' You kind of need a champion when you get into one of these kind of messes in Washington. He's got to find somebody who's going to be on his side, and right now I don't see anybody."
Allies may be tough to come by for McChrystal, who spoke negatively of the president, vice president, national security advisor and special envoy to Afghanistan in a Rolling Stone article. According to Schieffer, the last time a general spoke negatively of civilian leadership in public was when General Douglas MacArthur spoke out against former President Harry Truman's "limited war strategy" in North Korea. MacArthur's remarks were meant to influence strategy whereas McChrystal's remarks appear to have no purpose.
"This is like frat boys all going out and getting drunk and talking about the faculty advisor or something," Schieffer said.
Foreign Policy Managing Editor Blake Hounshell agreed there seemed to be no reason behind the comments. "When you read the article it's hard to discern what's the strategy here," he said. "Here's this guy who's supposed to be a master of counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, right? And he doesn't even seem to have mastered Washington politics."
The comments seem to have no basis, and according to Schieffer, even if they did, there was no reason to go public with them. "Usually when military leaders have criticism they're much more adroit," Schieffer said. "They go and talk to maybe the ranking member of the other party on the Armed Services Committee and let him make the criticisms. The military is very good at getting their position out in ways that do not come back to them."
McChrystal has always been one to say what others won't, but these comments may be his final act as U.S. Forces commander in Afghanistan. Names such as General Jim Mattis, the commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, have already been thrown out in talks of replacing him. Although there is no official word on whether or not the general will keep his job, his outlook doesn't look good.
"The president is angry," said The New York Times' Jeff Zeleney. "He's furious about this because he thinks it sort of feeds into the narrative that he is not interested or does not understand the conflict in Afghanistan. It's not good if you're General Stanley McChrystal. We don't know yet at this point if he'll ask for his resignation, we'll find out.
Watch Tuesday's Washington Unplugged above."Washington Unplugged," CBSNews.com's exclusive daily politics Webshow, appears live on CBSNews.com each weekday at 12:30 p.m. ET. Click here to check out previous episodes.
When "Face the Nation" came to a close this past Sunday, moderator Bob Schieffer and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson weren't quite finished. The two continued talking about everything surrounding the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, first touching on Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP for the government "shakedown" they were enduring.
"I think some of the oil state representatives are so much an advocate for the oil industry that they lose judgment and perspective," the Florida Democrat said. "The oil industry has ruled the roost with the government...and as a result we're seeing, sadly, the tragedy that came out of that lack of government regulation. I think the president is beginning to turn that around, but now those of us on the Gulf and possibly the east coast are going to have to suffer the consequences for some time to come."
The CEO of the oil giant, Tony Hayward, received negative attention over the weekend for attending a yacht race, and Nelson did not approve.
"I think those guys are sensitivity challenged," he said. "They are just not in the real world to realize the suffering that is going on now. Appearances do matter, and words do matter, and they just don't get it."
Nelson says the oil hasn't affected Florida as much as it could have so far, but he knows the problem is just beginning.Continue »
When Washington Unplugged moderator Bob Orr sat down with political satirist and author P.J. O'Rourke on Friday, he paused briefly, not knowing whether or not he could say O'Rourke's latest book's title "Don't Vote: It Only Encourages the Bastards" on air. Orr might have been slightly worried, but O'Rourke didn't seem too concerned.
"I think when you call politicians bastards, considering the other things you could call them, I think we're safe," O'Rourke said.
O'Rourke is the author of 14 books, and his latest focuses in part on why Americans vote. "I'm trying to remind Americans that we don't vote to elect great men; they're not that great," O'Rourke said. "We vote to throw the bastards out."
Throwing "the bastards" out has been a common theme so far in the midterm election primaries, with many incumbents seeing their re-election dreams disappear. The former "Rolling Stone" writer approves. "I think it's a really healthy sign," O'Rourke said. He goes on to say that the book is not anti-incumbent, but more of a book against the growth of politicization in American society.
"We're making politics a part of everything," O'Rourke said. "And here's the danger in that. We've all been on committees. The minute somebody joins a committee...they immediately suffer from committee brain. They become wildly over-enthusiastic, over optimistic, over pessimistic. Committees turn people into idiots and politics is a committee."Continue »
President Barack Obama today followed up last night's Oval Office address by talking with BP officials about dealing responsibly with claims made by businesses and individuals affected by the oil spill.
BP will put $20 billion in a fund to be administered by an independent third party. Mr. Obama said the Britain-based company will continue to be liable for the environmental catastrophe -- and that his administration will make sure it follows through. Senior Politico reporter Ken Vogel sat down with moderator Bill Plante on Washington Unplugged to talk about the impact of today's events.
"It's an inflexion point," Vogel said. "They certainly hope it's one to the extent that they will no longer be talking about this sort of absence of leadership that critics have alleged that Obama has shown in the situation." Some critics compared Mr. Obama's response to the crisis in the Gulf to Bush's lack of response to Hurricane Katrina, but Vogel says that's an unfair comparison.
"His hands are tied," Vogel said. "There's not a lot that he can do so he's using the sort of avenues that are open to him. He's trying to appear to be on top of this by relaying new information to the American public, even if it is not information about anything that he has ordered or decreed."
Vogel also discussed the president's push for energy legislation in his speech last night.
"They're hoping to...turn the page and talk more about the energy legislation that democrats have put forward in Congress," he said, arguing that Mr. Obama is making the case that energy legislation "should now be a priority because this oil leak has shown that our dependence on oil, in particular foreign oil, deepwater drilled oil, it is not healthy; potentially catastrophic."Continue »
South Carolina Republican candidate Tim Scott sat down with "Washington Unplugged" on Monday, and moderator John Dickerson asked him why he would be different from other candidates. Scott replied with a verbal offensive on Obamacare.
"The way you stop the madness is you have a record, a consistent record of fighting for the issues that will salvage America's future," Scott said. "I have a voting record in the state House of Representatives in South Carolina where I am the lead sponsor of a bill that nullifies Obamacare."
"My bill...is the first bill in South Carolina written to nullify Obamacare," Scott said. "This is a great example of limiting the size of government. If we are going to win our country back, if we are going to make sure that we don't look like Greece on a financial crisis standpoint, we have to stop spending money. We cannot ascribe to ourselves new entitlements that some unborn Americans will have to pay for."Continue »
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) says there are "too many cooks in the kitchen" when it comes to who is in charge of cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico.
As gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico continue to creep closer to the Florida coast, Nelson said today on "Washington Unplugged" that he is becoming increasingly frustrated with the chaos surrounding the cleanup. He and members of the media were about to get a closer look at the spill when their plans were suddenly halted by a phone call, Nelson told moderator Bill Plante.
"We had it all set up for several network cameras to go with me with the Coast Guard to look at that patch of oil that was off of Pensacola," Nelson said. "And late the night before, suddenly the Department of Homeland Security calls and says 'you can't take the media.' Now that's just somebody not understanding what's going on and too many cooks in the kitchen, and one hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing."
Nelson wrote a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano outlining his complaint, but it's not just that issue that's got him flustered. According to Nelson, there is no clear person or organization in control of the cleanup effort. "We've got to have somebody in charge, and that's the problem," Nelson said.Continue »
The first thing Kevin Costner did when he testified before lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, June 9th was assure them there was a reason he had shown up at all. "I know there must be a question as to why I'm here," Costner said. "I'd like to assure everyone in the room that it's not because I heard a voice in a cornfield."
Costner then told lawmakers that the oil filtering machine he helped finance should play an important role in cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico. "I believe this machine, made over 12 years ago with all the care and science and money that I could throw at it, is one major solve in this giant puzzle," Costner said.
The concept is simple. Once the machine is in the ocean, polluted water goes in, the oil is separated from the water, and clean water goes out. The largest models can filter up to 200 gallons per minute.
Despite the fact that Costner put $20 million of his own money into this machine, he insists making money off the product is not the point.
"Am I up here hocking my product? I guess, I don't know," said Costner. "Don't take mine take somebody else's. I've been to all these oil response conventions around the country and around the world and...I've never seen one machine that deals with getting the oil out."Continue »
Philippe Cousteau, grandson of oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, is spearheading the cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. He sat down with CBS News' Kaylee Hartung on Wednesday's Washington Unplugged as part of the weeklong series "Disaster in the Gulf."
Cousteau said he was "disappointed" in media's initial coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and has worked hard to show people just how grave of a disaster the spill is. "The whole idea was to try and help people understand, and I was disappointed in the media at the time," he said. "I didn't feel like they were really covering the spill enough."
Cousteau added, "I wanted to open people's eyes to the magnitude of this disaster. What I had recognized is that no one had ever really been diving in an oil spill before and filmed it."
Cousteau was the first person to ever dive into water affected by an oil spill and film it, and did so in an effort to further publicize the damage done in the Gulf.
But Cousteau's disappointment in the media coverage of the spill paled in comparison to his anger at how unprepared the country and oil companies were to deal with a spill of this magnitude. Cousteau told Hartung, "We need to put a moratorium on all drilling, first and foremost. If Congress is not willing to do that, then at the very least we should conduct no more drilling until this type of disaster cannot happen and we're prepared with the technology and the ability to prevent or clean-up a spill immediately."
To Cousteau, this kind of disaster is "absolutely unacceptable" in 2010.
Watch Wednesday's Washington Unplugged above, also featuring CBS News Political Consultant John Dickerson with a wrap-up of Tuesday's primaries.
"Washington Unplugged," CBSNews.com's exclusive daily politics Webshow, appears live on CBSNews.com each weekday at 12:30 p.m. ET. Click here to check out previous episodes.
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