WASHINGTON -- He wasn't vocal about promoting his work on civil liberties and intelligence. But over time, astute national security wonks learned to watch him.
His statements sometimes seemed abstract, but were often signposts pointing to something deeper. He wrote letters, he asked questions and he left hints on the public record signaling major intelligence community abuses. Many times, it was his clues that helped shake those stories loose.
But in January, Colorado's Mark Udall (D) will pack up his Hart Senate Building office -- located just a few floors above the headquarters of the Intelligence Committee, where he made himself a thorn in the side of the nation’s clandestine leaders -- and return to Boulder, depriving the critical task of intelligence oversight of one of its most viable leaders.
On Tuesday, Udall was defeated 50 percent to 45 percent by Republican challenger Rep. Cory Gardner. Gardner, a two-term congressman, announced in May that he would make a run at Udall's seat, throwing a previously comfortable Democrat into the race of his political life. Gardner's aggressive, media-savvy campaign, combined with his marketing as a new kind of Republican, made a nail-biter out of a race that wasn't supposed to be much of a contest in the first place, and ultimately scored Republicans one more seat towards a Senate majority.
With Udall's departure, civil liberties organizations are losing one of their most critical allies on Capitol Hill. Udall has consistently broken with his own party leadership to criticize a number of the Obama administration's national security policies as well as the tactics of the White House’s leading spy agencies.
Rather than toeing the party line on intelligence issues, Udall instead found a comfortable home in a bipartisan group of lawmakers -- commonly called the “Checks and Balances” caucus -- who fought civil liberties infringements and championed greater government transparency.
But the Democrat's willingness to split from party leaders on national security and privacy was not enough to overcome Gardner’s consistent, calculated attacks tying Udall to the Obama administration on issues like health care and the economy. With national security largely absent from the campaign, Udall had a difficult time defending himself against the charge that he has frequently voted with President Barack Obama, whose unpopularity hurt a number of Democrats this election cycle.
Udall’s role as one of the Hill’s chief intelligence critics was heralded by supportive colleagues and chastised by intelligence defenders, many of them members of his own party. Along with fellow Intelligence Committee colleagues Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Udall played a key role in uncovering this year’s revelation that the CIA had spied on Congress, a feud that panel chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) desperately wanted to keep under wraps.
Some advocates say that Udall was able to become a key proponent of civil liberties largely because of unspoken Senate rules that allow lawmakers to carve out specific issues for themselves.
“That has a lot to do with courtesy and deference toward another senator who has made something a 'signature issue' … If an issue is being vocally and energetically addressed by a colleague, senators tend to move on to other issues where that is not true,” said Steven Rickard of the Open Society Foundation.
“There are a lot of Democrats –- and some independents and Republicans -– who care a lot about these issues,” he said, referring to civil liberties, intelligence and national security. Someone, Rickard predicted, will eventually pick up Udall’s torch.
But it's not likely to be Gardner.
The Senate rookie isn’t expected to inherit Udall’s spot on the Senate’s intelligence panel. Beyond that, Gardner hasn't amassed a substantial record on civil liberties and national security issues in the House.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has clearly aligned itself with Udall on many of the senator's civil liberties battles, rates Gardner at a dismal 7 percent, in contrast to Udall’s 100.
Gardner has voted consistently to extend certain provisions of the Patriot Act. He voted in 2012 to extend provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which ultimately gave way to the massive data collection programs that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed last year.
To his credit, Gardner did vote for a bipartisan amendment that would have ended the NSA's bulk collection programs. The amendment, which was introduced in the months following Snowden’s revelations, is commonly referred to as the “Amash Amendment" after its chief sponsor, the libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.). The measure was defeated by a narrow 217-205 margin.
That vote, which a number of Republicans voted for, is arguably the highlight of Gardner’s civil liberties track record.
Gardner’s House site has very little to say about national security and civil liberties. The page dedicated to those issues focuses narrowly on military engagement and U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and appears to be outdated.
His campaign website has even less to say on the topic, instead focusing on his reputation as a leader on energy and a leading opponent of Obamacare, which will no doubt be his focus once he fills Udall’s Senate seat.
No one quite knows what's next for Udall, who is a career politician. But there's no doubt that his imminent absence from the Intelligence Committee, along with Gardner's pending entrance into the Senate, has the White House and its favorite spy agencies breathing a little easier -- for now.
BEFORE YOU GO
11/05/2014 8:27 AM EST
Christie: GOP Wins Show Focus On Leadership
The AP reported Wednesday:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says Republican victories in governor's races across the country show voters want leaders who will "get things done," rather that fighting over ideology.
Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a possible 2016 candidate for president, said he was gratified by GOP wins in Democratic-leaning states such as Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, as well as victories in key swing states like Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio.
Christie said voters "elect and re-elect governors to get things done."
Christie, who campaigned for GOP candidates across the country, said the winners deserve the credit, not him. He said elections are "always about the candidate."
Christie spoke Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show, ABC's "Good Morning America" and Fox News Channel.
11/05/2014 7:46 AM EST
President Obama To Address Midterm Results In Afternoon Press Conference
President Barack Obama will speak to the press Wednesday afternoon to address his party's resounding loss in the 2014 midterm elections, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest. He is expected to strike a tone of compromise and accountability following a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate and many of the nation's gubernatorial offices.
Obama tried reached out to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is widely expected to be the next senate majority leader and who also won re-election Tuesday night, and left a message, CNN reported.
The president's press conference will take place at 2:50 p.m. Eastern time from the East Room of the White House.
11/05/2014 6:57 AM EST
Indictment, Dog Killing, Infidelity Overcome By GOP Candidates
How bad was it for Democrats? Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican facing a 20-count indictment won in New York and another known for outbursts of rage and killing a beagle, Mike Bost, won a seat in President Barack Obama's home state of Illinois that had been Democratic for 70 years.
Down in Tennessee, Rep. Scott DesJarlais' past infidelities and pushing of abortion on a mistress continued to not matter to voters, who handed him a landslide victory.
There were a couple of bright spots for Democrats, or at least the more moderate crowd. Florida Rep. Steve Southerland lost to Democrat Gwen Graham after holding an all-male fundraiser and joking about Graham in lingerie. And in Louisiana, GOP Rep. Vance McAllister, dubbed the "Kissing Congressman" after he was caught on tape smooching a staffer, finished far back in the field in his contest.
-- Michael McAuliff
11/05/2014 5:24 AM EST
Expect A Delay In Results
AP not calling these races until the number of outstanding votes can be verified: Va. gov.; Conn. gov.; Colo. gov.; Alaska gov, Senate.— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) November 5, 2014
11/05/2014 5:07 AM EST
Alaska Becomes 4th State To Legalize Recreational Marijuana
In yet another major pushback against the war on drugs, Alaska legalized recreational marijuana on Tuesday, joining Oregon and Washington, D.C. -- both of which legalized cannabis only hours before. Alaska becomes the fourth state in the U.S. to legalize retail marijuana, along with Oregon, Colorado and Washington state.
Voters approved Measure 2, which legalizes the possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana. Adults, age 21 and older, may possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (with no more than three being mature) for personal use. The measure also legalizes the manufacture, sale and possession of marijuana paraphernalia, such as devices used for smoking or storing the plant.
“The folks trying to keep marijuana illegal are relying on the same scare tactics today that they have relied on for decades, but voters just aren’t falling for it anymore," Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement early Wednesday morning. "The results are particularly encouraging since voter turnout during a midterm election is typically smaller, older, and more conservative. Clearly, support for ending marijuana prohibition spans the political and ideological spectrums."
Read more here.
-- Matt Ferner
11/05/2014 4:28 AM EST
Ah, Politics... Chicago-Style
11/05/2014 3:40 AM EST
Sarah Palin To GOP: You Didn't Build This
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin took to Facebook last night to issue a hearty congratulations -- and warning -- to her GOP brethren:
Thank you, wise voters! Tonight is a big victory for We the People! Credit is due to the victorious candidates. Your message to President Obama is undeniably received, though he'll try to ignore it.
The Democrats got mauled today, deservedly so. To prohibit that from happening to the GOP in 2016, it must learn the lesson from the last time Republicans held the Senate majority. This time they must not retreat, and it's our responsibility to hold them accountable. Will they fight for reform that aligns with the limited government planks of the Republican platform, or will they return to the big government cronyism and status quo favored by the permanent political class? Will they drain the swamp or decide the D.C. cesspool is really just a jacuzzi they can't wait to jump on into and shake us off?
If GOP leadership returns to business as usual, then this majority will be short lived, for We the People say, “once bitten, twice shy.”
Click here to read the full statement.
11/05/2014 2:55 AM EST
Alaska Approves Minimum Wage Increase
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Alaskans have voted to raise the minimum wage.— Becky Bohrer (@beckybohrerap) November 5, 2014
11/05/2014 2:39 AM EST
Alaska Rep. Don Young Projected To Win 22nd Term
The Associated Press is projecting that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) will win re-election as Alaska's only member of Congress.