Congress

Vote Your Ossoff

Voters in a suburban Atlanta congressional district will decide today whether Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff will win outright a special election for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, in a district the Republican Party has held since 1979. The closely watched contest has drawn national attention as the first political bellwether of the Trump era, after the district nearly split its vote between the Republican leader and Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election. It even drew the president’s personal attention Monday, when the White House occupant criticized Ossoff in a tweet.

Clearly, Republicans are nervous — as Trump fired off two more tweets this morning:

In order to avoid a runoff, Ossoff must get more than 50%. Republicans hope he fails to reach 50%, thus placing him against a Republican around whom all the GOP will unite.

Nate Silver does not see this happening:

And his answer to that question? Ossoff will win the runoff by 4 percentage points, but that “win” has a large margin of error (8 points).

This is more than about one seat in the House obviously. It will show Democrats that they can win in 2018 — even take back the House.

I expect early returns to be misleading. Georgia 6th has early voting — and motivated Dems will have come out for that. That will be reflected in the early voting.  I don’t expect a win today for Issoff, just the runoff.  But if he gets the win sans runoff, that would be…. yuge.

SIDENOTE: I am a bit concerned about this and wondering why others aren’t:

COBB COUNTY, Ga. – Channel 2 Action News has learned that critical voting machines were stolen just days before polls will open for a special election.

State officials are investigating after equipment was taken from a Cobb County precinct manager’s vehicle. According to Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the equipment was stolen on Saturday evening while the vehicle was parked at the Kroger on Canton Road.

The Democratic Loss In Kansas That Was A Win

Yesterday saw the first special Congressional election since the November general election.

The district was Kansas 4th. It is a very strongly Republican district, “ruby red” as they say.  It last elected a Democrat in 1992 — and that Democrat an exception to its historical pattern.

In November, Mike Pompeo (now CIA Director) won with 60% of the vote, as did Donald Trump.  Trump’s victory was by a 27 point margin.

The Democrats’ House Campaign Committee made minimal effort this time.  (One last minute burst of get-out-the-vote calls.)  But mostly, the Democratic candidate was on his own — with whatever external funding he could raise on his own.

He should have gotten killed.

Before the vote, on of the DC political pundits (David Beard, Washington Post) gave this analysis:

KS-04 results:
>30: Good for Rs
20-30: Normal given Ds out party
10-20: Good for Ds,Trump a factor
0-10: Bodes well for 2018
Win: !!!!

And the actual results?  Republican win . . . with a 7% margin (52-46).

Very good news.  All eyes are on the Georgia 6th District election next week. In November, Tim Price (now HHS Director) won with 61.7% of the vote.  But Trump’s victory over Clinton was by a mere one percentage point. (In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney beat Democratic President Barack Obama in the district by 23 points.)

Could the Trump effect translate to a Dem win? The Democratic candidate is Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old political newcomer (former Congressional aide and film documentarian).  He has raised tons of money. The GOP slot seems to include competing candidates, who are likely to split the vote.  The winner must receive at least 50% of the vote. Otherwise, a runoff is held between the top two candidates, regardless of party.

How Is AHCA Doing?

Depending on which news organization you look at, if the Republicans lose 22 or 23 votes, the AHCA is dead in the House. The voting is taking place today, and the bill is changing with little giftees for certain districts.  Here is a wrap-up of where we are so far on the vote count, but pay close attention to the times below.  This is a VERY fluid thing.

And this just got tweeted:

I went to bed thinking they would make deals and get the votes.  But they failed to satisfy the Freedom Caucus last night, and I’ve seen a few confirmed no’s this morning.

On the other hand, there’s still more hours ahead. The Freedom Caucus is meeting with the President at 11:30 am today.

Ohhhhh…. if I had to guess, I would say it won’t pass the House.

UPDATE: Earlier today, the Freedom Caucus left the White House unmoved to change their NO vote.  And just now… this:

Some Leaks Are Illegal; Ours Aren’t

At a press conference today, House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes gave the following statement:

At our open hearing on Monday, I encouraged anyone who has information about relevant topics—including surveillance on President-elect Trump or his transition team—to come forward and speak to the House Intelligence Committee. I also said that, while there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower, I was concerned that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.

  • I recently confirmed that, on numerous occasions, the Intelligence Community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.
  • Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration—details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value—were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.
  • I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked.
  • To be clear, none of this surveillance was related to Russia or any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.

The House Intelligence Committee will thoroughly investigate this surveillance and its subsequent dissemination to determine:

  • Who was aware of it
  • Why it was not disclosed to Congress
  • Who requested and authorized the additional unmasking
  • Whether anyone directed the intelligence community to focus on Trump associates; and
  • Whether any laws, regulations, or procedures were violated

I’ve asked the Directors of the FBI, NSA, and CIA to expeditiously comply with my March 15 letter, and to provide a full account of these surveillance activities. I informed Speaker Ryan this morning of this new information, and I will be going to the White House this afternoon to share what I know with the President.

Nunes went on to say this was normal incidental collection, possibly including Trump’s communications. He said it was all obtained legally. He said the communications were collected in November, December, and January. He stated he was unsure whether these were wiretapped phone calls, or something else. He wondered why the identities of Trump people were unmasked (though his later statements suggested it may have been circulated in raw form) and said “it bothers me that that would have any foreign intelligence value whatsoever.”

Nunes said he saw dozens of reports and that the information he saw has nothing to do with Russia or the Russia investigation, or any discussions with Russians.

HOWEVER… before sharing all this to the press, he went over to the White House and shared it with Trump, whose team is the focus of the study.  (In fact, Nunes himself was on the Trump transition team).

“It’s all classified information,” Nunes explained.

He added: “”What I’ve read bothers me, and it should bother the President himself and his team, because some of it seems inappropriate.”

And Nunes so lacks any self-awareness, he seemed completely oblivious to the ways he had violated everything the Republicans were wailing about on Monday – the leak of classified information.

What’s worse… Nunes didn’t share this information with anyone else on his committee.  Just the Speaker Ryan and the President.  So much for checks and balances, huh?  So much for impartiality.

Legal, incidental collection of US officials’ communications is routine. It is odd for an Intel Chair to visit WH to emphasize that it occurred.  Guess he was trying to help out.

So wrong. The FBI and the intelligence community will be skittish sharing information now with the House Intel committee. Nunes clearly knows this. Maybe that was his goal, too.

UPDATE: And now they are campaigning off of it….

UPDATE #2: Nunes on Jake Tapper right now: “From the reports I have seen, it does appear that Trump could have been picked up.”  Also says other people associated with transition team were picked up.

He believes that Trump should have been informed “It’s only fair.”

The FISA warrant, he says, was legal, but was not directed toward Russia.

The First Test Should Be A Massive Infrastructure Bill

Trump promised it, Democrats have always loved it.  And Republicans hate it.

Trump promised a half-trillion dollar building program, about twice as much as even Hillary Clinton.  It certainly would put Americans to work (not that unemployment is a problem) AND more importantly, it is needed.

But will Trump get it?

It will be interesting to see how it plays out.  Will Republicans block him and risk the wrath of his supporters?  I’m betting some will.

The wedge will begin.  And if I’m wrong, then we get a nice infrastructure law.  Win-win.

Democratic House Sit-In Enters Day Two

Late last night, Ryan managed to adjourn the House until after the July 4th break:

After a chaotic, daylong occupation of the House floor, Republican leaders moved in the middle of the night to cut off House Democrats’ gun control “sit-in” by adjourning the House through the July 4 — without a vote on gun control.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sought to to quell the Democratic demonstration by having lawmakers vote at 2:30 a.m. on several bills they had to pass this week, including one to combat the Zika virus. After that, Republican leaders sent lawmakers home until July 5, starting their already-scheduled recess a few days earlier than planned.

All of this is ostensibly to pass a “no fly, no buy” bill — i.e., if you are on the “no fly” or any other government terrorist watch list, you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun.  This is the legislation offered by Senator Feinstein and now Representative Lowey.

And to be honest, there’s legitimate worry that these lists are not very good, that they deny people due process, and that they have a disparate impact when it is used to deny people rights, like the right to board an airplane or (as now proposed) to purchase a firearm. These are some of the reasons why the ACLU opposes the Feinstein/Lowey legislation. Republican opponents raise some of the same issues.

The question, then, is whether the sit-in the Democrats waged yesterday and the fuss they made in the Senate before that are in the service of bad legislation that would ratify a badly flawed system that is already being misused for the no-fly system. Would it grant even more power to the FBI which they could then expand or misuse?

If you restrict yourself to seeing this kerfuffle as about the merits of this proposed legislation, then the answer to those questions is surely ‘yes.’

But this is not a fully developed appreciation of what is going on.

To start with, the Democrats are responding to yet another massacre in which dozens of people were killed or injured in mere minutes by the use of a power semi-automatic rifle. In the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, 26 people were gunned down in approximately five minutes. In the 2012 Aurora massacre, seventy people were shot. In Aurora, the police arrived within 90 seconds of receiving a call. In Sandy Hook, the first police car was there four minutes after they were notified of a shooting situation. Congress has had no answer for how we might prevent or reduce the frequency and lethality of these types of attacks.

What the Democrats are trying to do is break grip the National Rifle Association has on Congress. The heart of that effort has been to leverage overwhelming public support for expanded background checks, but that legislation has gone nowhere. The effort to impose a “no-fly, no-buy” provision will likewise go nowhere in this Republican-controlled Congress, but it also enjoys overwhelming public support. By trying to force votes on these two issues, the Democrats are highlighting the Republicans refusal to address the problem of the ready availability of extraordinarily lethal firearms. Whether the Republicans cast votes or refuse to allow them (as they have done by recessing until after July 4th), this puts them badly on the wrong side of public opinion and heightens their vulnerability to electoral defeat.

It’s not a cynical ploy to gain power. It’s a recognition that all avenues are blocked except getting more power. So, the way this gambit should be judged is on whether it works politically, and not so much on whether the watch list is a flawed mechanism for restricting the rights of anyone for any purpose.

So, if nothing happens, the watch list will continue to have flaws and it will continue to expand. But, if the watch list were to actually be used to restrict gun ownership, the Republicans would suddenly care about those flaws and want to do something to make sure that folks have due process, the right to appeal, and that conservatives aren’t disproportionately impacted. Conservatives tend not to have empathy until they’re personally impacted. When Arlen Specter got sick, he became a champion of the National Institute of Health, and when Rob Portman discovered he had a gay son, he suddenly saw the light on gay marriage. If Republicans think the watch list only inconveniences Muslims from Dearborn, Michigan, they’ll never have any interest in fixing its flaws. But if it impacts one of their assault-rifle loving constituents who can’t figure out how to get taken off this list? That will interest them.

UPDATE (1:09 pm) — Aaaaand it’s over.

House Democrats are now hugging, shaking hands, and taking photos on the floor. The sit-in is now over, and they plan to address supporters outside the Capitol in the next few minutes.

Whether it was a “win” or not, everyone will have a different take.  No vote, of course, but that was pie-in-the-sky.  It raised the profile of the gun control issue, it heightened notice that the Republicans and the GOP leadership are controlled by the NRA.  That’s all good.

Breaking: Literally “On The House Floor”

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Dozens of House Democrats are staging a “sit-in” on the House floor until they are allowed a vote on a so-called “no fly, no buy” gun control bill. It is the most dramatic action by House Democrats on gun control since the Orlando shooting on June 12 that left 49 dead and 53 wounded.

Two weeks ago, in the Senate, there was a talking filibuster by Senator Murphy of Connecticut.  That ended when Senate Republicans agreed to allow a vote on various gun control proposals.  None of those proposals passed.

UPDATE:  You won’t see this on TV…

UPDATE #2:  This is simply amazing

And Elizabeth Warren is joining them

Meanwhile, the rep from NC white-splains to John Lewis what is a “sit-in”:

Democrats Filibuster For Gun Control

Props to Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut for starting and leading a filibuster to enact some sort of gun control measure, something the Republican Congress won’t even consider, even in the light of such massacres as Newtown and the Orlando Pulse Club shootings.

Senate Democrats ended a nearly 15-hour filibuster early this morning after Republican Party leaders reportedly agreed to allow votes on two proposed gun control measures.

Filibusters aren’t easy.  By Senate rules, Murphy had to stand at his desk to maintain control of the floor. When asked by another senator how he was feeling just before 7:30 p.m., Murphy said rehabilitation from a back injury in his 20s had helped him build up endurance.

It’s been nearly a decade since Congress made any significant changes to federal gun laws. In April 2007, Congress passed a law to strengthen the instant background check system after a gunman at Virginia Tech was able to purchase his weapons because his mental health history was not in the instant background check database. Thirty-two people died in the shooting.

After what happened in Orlando, there may be some movement.  Some Fox News people are even saying enough is enough.  Trump is meeting with the NRA, thinking he can move them.

Meeting with Trump is fine, but the NRA is already in favor of what Trump seems to be proposing.  In fact, the NRA formally backed an approach favored by Senate Republicans that would allow a judge to arbitrate people who mistakenly end up on the terrorism watch list and want to buy guns, while Democrats prefer giving the Justice Department such authority. Both bills were voted down by the Senate in December.

Meanwhile, back in the Senate, the chamber is likely to vote on two Democratic-backed gun measures: a proposal from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) meant to bar those on federal terror watch lists from obtaining firearms, and a plan from Murphy and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) mandating background checks for sales at gun shows and over the internet. Republicans are expected to put forward two of their own proposals for votes.\

I don’t expect anything significant to pass.  But I do think we can get people on the record, and hopefully get them out of office.

Breaking: Senate Democrats Engaging In Filibuster Re: Gun Control

About an hour and a half ago (around 11:30 am), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) started embarking on a talking filibuster in order to push the Senate to address gun control in the wake of the deadly mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) alternated speaking about gun control on the Senate floor, according to Fox 61 in Connecticut.

Democrats are signing up to speak — some as late as 10:30 pm.

Dems In The House: “Screw Moment Of Silence, Where Is The Bill?”

After pausing to observe a moment of silence to honor the victims in the Orlando mass shooting, Democrats in the House on Monday erupted in protest repeating the question “Where’s the bill?” Their emotional demand was directed at Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans to bring forth gun control legislation in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in American history in which 49 people were killed and 53 wounded.

As more Democrats joined in on the chanting, Ryan refused acknowledge the calls and instead attempted to bring order to the floor.

Watch:

The thing about the Orlando shooting is that it has so many elements – terrorism, homophobia, and even mental illness — that it allows the discussion to become diluted, and once again, our political leaders (well, the Republicans) can get away from having to do anything about the obvious problem…. guns.

Gun problem in US

It is a rather undeniable problem.

And Obama recently pointed out the insanity:

I just came from a meeting today in the Situation Room  in which I have people who know we have been on ISIL websites, living here in the United States, US citizens, and we’re allowed to put them on the no fly list when it comes to airlines, but because of the National Rifle Association I cannot prohibit these people from buying a gun. This is somebody who is a known ISIL sympathizer and if he wants to walk into a gun store or a gun show and buy as much, as many weapons and ammo as he can, nothing is prohibiting him from doing that even though the FBI knows who that person is. So sir, I just have to say respectfully that there is a way to have common sense gun laws, there is a way to make sure that lawful, responsible gun owners, like yourself, are able to use it for sporting, hunting, protecting yourself. But the only way we’re going to be able to do that is if we don’t have a situation where anything that is proposed is viewed as some tyrannical destruction of the second amendment. And that is how the issue too often gets framed

— President Obama, June 2, 2016

Two Million Pregnant Women At Risk For Zika Virus

So far, the GOP-controlled House has offered a mere $622 million in Zika funding — far less than what will be needed to meaningfully combat the virus. It’s unclear when Congress may reach an agreement on this issue before its long summer recess. And according to an analysis by the Center For American Progress, this delay could be putting about 2 million pregnant American women at risk.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here’s the think tank’s prediction for the number of pregnant women who might be affected by Zika this summer and fall, broken down by state:

Zika-webtable-620x804

We’ve known for months that Zika, which has been ravaging our neighbors to the south, was headed for the United States as warmer weather approached. In fact, it’s already here — there are currently 472 confirmed cases of Zika in the continental US, though so far they are all travel-related. Including U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, which is already being overwhelmed by the virus, so far 279 pregnant women have tested positive for the virus.

These new numbers, however, show just how great the risk is if the United States hits mosquito season unprepared. Preparation takes funding — which is necessary for basic research on the virus, to help develop a vaccine, and take preventative measures like providing mosquito nets and education campaigns about how to avoid getting bitten. Yet despite the clear and present danger, conservatives on Capitol Hill have dragged their feet, haggling over the finances.

Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, said, “The House of Representatives is three months late and more than a billion short of doing what’s necessary to protect the American people.”

This is typical of a Republican-led Congress.  They fail to do enough until it is too late, and then things get really expensive.

Watch As House Republicans Go Out Of Their Way To Discriminate Against LGBT

A chaotic scene unfolded on the floor of the U.S. House today as a measure to ensure federal contractors can’t discriminate against LGBT people was defeated by a single vote.

It initially appeared that the measure — an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would’ve nullified a Republican “religious liberty” provision allowing federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT employees — had enough votes to pass. But Republican leaders kept the vote open and persuaded a handful of members to change their votes, which ultimately resulted in the LGBT protection being defeated by a single vote.

As you can see in the clip below, Democrats could be heard booing and chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as seven Republicans changed their votes.

Following the fiasco, the author of the amendment, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), released a statement saying Republicans “literally snatched discrimination from the jaws of equality.”

“In the past day, House Republicans have gone out of their way to rig votes and block bills that prevent discrimination against LGBT people,” he added. “When they break their our own rules to make sure taxpayer dollars can go to folks who discriminate, they showed who they truly are – bigots and cowards.”

My cousin weighs in:

Short Takes

(1)  Trump likes to say that he is bringing enthusiasm to the GOP and people are voting in the Republican race in massive numbers, which means that Democrats should be worried about the general election.

Is he right?

He is not. As many have pointed out, voter turnout is an indication of the competitiveness of a primary contest, not of what will happen in the general election. The GOP presidential primary is more competitive than the Democratic race.  Historically, that has no bearing on the voter turnout, or the turnout of the parties, in the general election.

(2)  I get tired of journalists and pundits saying that “the people won’t understand” if Donald Trump goes into the GOP convention with the most votes, but doesn’t end up winning.   First of all, if that is true, then journalists and pundits need to explain the difference between a majority and a plurality, and that winning on the first vote requires a majority.  But more to the point, I think the people can understand the concept, and probably already do.  We need to stop being treated like we are idiots.  That’s how we GET candidates like Trump in the first place.

(3)  The attempt to suppress votes by Republicans in North Carolina seems to have worked.

(4)  I’m definitely the first to say this, but it is very very weird how Cruz has always been unpopular with Washington insiders, and he ran as being NOT a Washington insider, and now all the Washington insiders are trying to find a way to embrace him as the last resort to Trumpism.

(5) So if you are Hillary’s people, what is your attack point on Trump? Too conservative, or an unsteady unknown?  My sense is that you actually compliment Trump (say, in a debate) for a stance that conservatives hate (his kind words about Planned Parenthood, for example).  And then you bash him on his ignorance of the world, the Constitution, etc.  I don’t think you attack his temperament.  That seems to get people on his side.

(6) Some Republicans are caving on Mitch McConnell’s decision not to hold hearings:

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), one of just two Senate Republicans who have indicated an openness to even having a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, had a message for his GOP colleagues on Friday: give Garland a vote.

“We should go through the process the Constitution has already laid out. The president has already laid out a nominee who is from Chicagoland and for me, I’m open to see him, to talk to him, and ask him his views on the Constitution,” Kirk explained in a radio interview on WLS-AM’s Big John Howell Show.

 

Garland

Is it hard to do cartwheels over President Obama’s choice of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland today.  Professor Epstein seems to think he’s a good liberal…

Epstein

… but you always have to question the methodology of these things.

Merrick Garland is 63 years old and currently serves as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A former Justice Department official in the Clinton administration, Garland was nominated to the D.C. Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 76-23. Sen. Orrin Hatch remarked at the time that Garland was “not only a fine nominee, but as good as Republicans can expect from [the Clinton] administration.”  He’s actually pretty conservative on police issues and war on terror.  But he’s no threat to Roe v Wade.

Sure, Garland is smart.  And qualified.  But if the tables were turned, and it was a Republican president and a Democrat-controlled Senate, I don’t think the judicial candidate would have been so…. moderate.

I mean, I get it.  Everyone gets it.  Obama is picking a guy who has already been approved by the Senate for his current judicial gig, who is not an ideologue, etc.  This forces Senate Republicans to consider AND approve the nominee, or look like the reason why Washington sucks so bad.  Also, with a Clinton presidency looming, Republicans might just want to get Garland and not get someone far more liberal.  (In fact, a President Trump could pick a liberal judge for all anybody knows).

In other words. holding out for another Scalia just might get Republicans a lefty version of Scalia.

Over at 538, they did some quick calculations and determined what the future might look like:

chances

Facing those possibilities, confirming Garland, might just be the best thing the GOP could do.  You gotta play the cards you’re dealt.

And the other hand, I get annoyed at this (if it is true):

Why would Obama capitulate to the Republicans when he has them over a barrel?

In the end, it seems that Obama has made a pragmatic choice.  And let’s face it.  It saves the Court.  And if it doesn’t, it makes the GOP look horrible.

Early indications are that the right wing is bent on looking obstructionist, even in the face of a reasonable moderate candidate.  Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice issued a statement repeating his call for “no confirmation proceedings until after the election.” Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver similarly repeated that there should be “no Senate hearing on any Obama nominee.” Alliance Defending Freedom’s Casey Mattox offered no criticism of Garland himself but claimed that the Obama administration is untrustworthy and so Garland’s nomination should be blocked: “The Obama administration has demonstrated it cannot be trusted to respect the rule of law, the Constitution, and the limits of its own authority. So it should be no surprise that the American people would be highly skeptical that any nominee this president puts forth would be acceptable. Heritage Action, which was calling for an end to most judicial and executive branch confirmations even before Scalia’s death, declared that “nothing has changed”  with the nomination of Garland and that we areone liberal Justice away from seeing gun rights restricted and partial birth abortion being considered a constitutional right.”  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council similarly tried to paint Garland as a liberal, saying he is “far from being a consensus nominee,” although he offered no specifics on the
“serious questions” he said their were about Garland’s “ability to serve as a constitutionalist.”  And anti-abortion groups also doubled down on their opposition to any confirmation proceedings, although they struggled to find specific reasons to oppose Garland.

Aaaaand as I write this, it looks like the Senate Republicans are taking the bait and biting down hard:

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has called President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland, and explained that no action would be taken in the Senate on the nomination, Mr. McConnell’s spokesman said.

Mr. McConnell also informed Judge Garland that they would not be meeting in person at the Capitol.

“Rather than put Judge Garland through more unnecessary political routines orchestrated by the White House, the leader decided it would be more considerate of the nominee’s time to speak with him today by phone,” Mr. McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said in a statement.

“The leader reiterated his position that the American people will have a voice in this vacancy and that the Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the person the next president nominates. And since the Senate will not be acting on this nomination, he would not be holding a perfunctory meeting, but he wished Judge Garland well.”

“Political routines orchestrated by the White House”?  That’s a funny way to say “obligations placed upon the President by the U.S. Constitution”.

Hillary Clinton vs. Benghazi Committee

Before I get into this, if you’re not up to speed on what the whole Benghazi controversy is about, Vox has a really great primer on the issue.

As the primer states, the number of investigations and hearings into the Benghazi incident is unprecedented.  Check out these graphs:

investigations-02-816x487

investigations-03-816x438

Today, Hillary Clinton is appearing before the House Benghazi Committee to testify, and the media is playing it up like a wrestling match.  “What Hillary needs to do is blah blah blah”.  They keep saying the stakes are high for Hillary.  They say emotions are high, and if she slips up just once, that sound bite will be repeated over and over again.

I don’t think the stakes are high at all.  I think all Hillary needs to do is go in there and tell the truth.  If the Committee beats her up, she’ll look good, and they will look bad.

The Committee has been under fire because members within the Committee have basically revealed that their raisen d’etre is to ding Hillary, rather than investigate what happened in Benghazi.  In fact, a new CNN poll released today says that 73% of Americans think the Committee is politically motivated.

Is this political?  Listen to this NBC reporter:

Here’s a livefeed which obviously won’t be working once the whole thing is over:

I’ll be having live updates as the day goes on…. if anything happens.

UPDATES:

10:09 am:

Gowdy (the chair of Committee) seems to be launching into an impassioned defense of the Committee’s existence, stating the goals of the Committee.

He’s very much in a defensive crouch.  He strains to make the link between Hillary’s email and the “whole point” of the Committee — what happened in Benghazi.  Also, he uses the word “truth” a million times.

Oddly, he’s bashing all the other investigative committees (all led by Republicans) in order to justify his own committee.  Sounds like SOME Republicans were wasting taxpayer money.

10:20 am:

Elijah Cummings (D-Md), the Democratic ranking member.of the Benghazi Committee, is speaking now… and he has turned it up to 11.  A viscous attack on the Committee and its politically motivated investigation.  He points out that Trey Gowdy cancelled interviews with DoD and CIA officials in favor of interviews with Hillary Clinton campaign staffers.  Boom!  Says “Republicans are squandering millions of taxpayer dollars on this abusive effort to derail Sec. Clinton’s campaign.”  Pow!  He makes the point that all the Republican-led national security committees already exonerated the administration.  Bam!

As he wrapped up, Cummings mocked the accusation that Sidney Blumenthal was Clinton’s “primary foreign policy advisor on Libya” and noted that it been awarded four Pinocchios by the Washington Post.

The thing for Hillary to do now is be quiet, responsive and helpful.  Cummings is doing the fighting.

10:28 am:

Cummings is done.  I’m trying to be objective, but Gowdy just looks like a guy who got spanked publically.

Hillary is talking. “I am here to honor the service of those four men…and the work their colleagues do every single day all over the world.”  Unlike the two previous speakers, she talks about the people who died in Benghazi.  HUGE points.

Hillary Clinton on death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi: “I was the one who asked Chris to go to Libya as our envoy … after the attacks, I stood next to President Obama as they carried his casket”

Hillary Clinton on foreign policy post-2012 Benghazi attack: “America must lead in a dangerous world and our diplomats must continue representing us in dangerous places”

Hillary’s strategy is to rise above the din.  She’s the only one paying tribute to those who died in the Benghazi attacks.  She’s the only one talking about the history of embassy attacks.  Her strategy is very effective.  She’s coming off as the only grown-up.  She says she “took responsibility” and “launched reforms to better protect our people in the field.”

“There is more to do, and no administration can do it alone. Congress has to be our partner as it has been after previous tragedies.”

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10:45 am:

Gowdy pats himself on the back for not interrupting Hillary’s opening statement.

And now we’re into the Q&A.  Here’s the part where it get boring and everybody tunes out.  Because nobody cares about details.  In truth, THIS is how the an investigation SHOULD be.

9 more hours of this?  Yawn.  Don’t expect more fireworks or updates for a while.

11:05 am:

Cummings destoys a talking point.  He played a clip of Darrell Issa lying on cable television about Clinton denying requests for extra security in Benghazi. In truth, that decision was made without Clinton’s knowledge or input, as all previous investigations have already concluded.

Clinton clarified that all State Department cables carry a stamp with the secretary’s signature, so a signature stamp doesn’t indicate that she has seen something. She claimed that the State Department didn’t have enough money appropriated for their security requirements and so naturally they had to make decisions about priorities.

Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., presents piles of Hillary Clinton’s emails from 2011 and asks why so many from 2011 and so few from 2012 when Libya became a hot spot.  Weird GOP pivot from “How could you use email for such sensitive work?” to “Why are there not way more emails about this stuff?”  Is Sen Brooks upset that Hillary did NOT conduct classified business via email?? Clinton answers that she didn’t work primarily from e-mails (she didn’t even have a computer in her office, which to me is the biggest scandal to be revealed so far), and that she got classified briefings, met with staff, etc.  That was how she got informed.

12:15 pm:

Hillary Clinton blows back against myth that she denied security requests from our embassy in Libya:

12:30 pm:

Generally speaking, the questions are Benghazi-centric and not email-centric.  I’ve scanned a few popular rightwing blogs, and there seems to be little interest (other than repeating long-debunked talking points).  The few that are following it seemed discouraged and angry at the “feckless” Republicans on the Committee who are “incompetent” at bringing Clinton down.  These people just refuse to accept the possibility that Clinton didn’t do anything wrong.

12:45 pm:

Jim Jordan (R-Oh) is laying into Clinton (and not letting her respond) about why the attacks happened.  He openly states that Hillary was part of an administration lie saying that the attack was caused by a protest against a video, rather than a pre-planned terrorist attack.  His focus is on statements and emails coming from Clinton within the first 24 hours of the attack, when, of course, nobody was quite sure why. Clinton to Jim Jordan: “I’m sorry that it doesn’t fit your narrative, congressman. I can only tell you what the facts were.”  She points out that even today, you can’t get into the head of every attacker to determine why they attacked the embassy, and some were there because of the video.  And not for nothing, but the CIA initially thought it was the video as well.

1:15 pm:

Gowdy banging Secretary of State about emails from Sydney Blumenthal.  He’s saying that the Obama team rejected Blumenthal to work in State Dept., but that Hillary used information from Blumenthal anyway.  (Ironically, this is just after Gowdy insists that this isn’t a prosecution where you try to prove something).  Not sure what relevance this has to Benghazi, and Hillary says so. It will not help us understand security at the Benghazi mission or why we didn’t know an attack was imminent. It’s just an attempt to undermine Clinton’s reputation by linking her with Blumenthal. I think everyone watching this show understands that.

Fireworks at the end before the break as Cummings demands a recorded vote to release Blumenthal transcript.  He says that if Gowdy is going to ask questions about the Blumenthal emails, why not release his testimony so people can understand the context?  Cummings and Schiff accuse Gowdy of selective releasing of emails to make Hillary look bad. Gowdy adjourns. In a snit. He threatens more and bigger Blumenthal drama to come. I’m still not sure what this is all about or why it has anything to do with the Benghazi attacks.  I guess Gowdy is trying to say that Blumenthal advised Clinton on Libya, and he shouldn’t have been so important.  Yet, Clinton has already testified (today and many times before, as well as in her book) that Blumenthal was not her primary source on Libya. Actually, at one point Gowdy claimed Blumenthals emails are relevant because former Libya ambassador Chris Stevens, who died in the Benghazi attack, had to read them. As if to say, “well Chris Stevens read these emails, and just look what happened to him.” It doesn’t come close to passing the laugh test. And I assume Republicans know it. Or maybe the objection is that Clinton had more access to Blumenthal than Stevens?  No, that’s dumb too.   Anyway, if Blumenthal’s emails are so important, the Committee should release his deposition transcript.

Aaaaand why CNN is going downhill….

I like Josh Marshall’s take on how things are at halftime:

Listening to the questions from Republicans questioning Hillary Clinton, it’s hard not to step back and ask what it is they’re even trying to prove or what their point is. The lines of questions are disjointed and they’re pressing points she either freely concedes (yes, it was terrible and she’s ultimately responsible) or the point of which isn’t even clear (why did Sid Blumenthal send you so many emails?). It’s not going well for the committee at all. And what’s most revealing about the testimony so far is that they definitely get that: they know it’s going badly for them. And that’s led to a rather churlish and defensive tone to the whole proceeding that’s further deflated any sense that this is more than a clown show where the clowns are struggling. As I’ve now said several times, it’s a world of difference that this happening post-McCarthy and not pre-McCarthy. The questions wouldn’t necessarily have been different. The arguments from the GOP would not have been any better. But now the assumption from the press is that Hillary is on the upswing (both in her poll numbers and on the ‘Benghazi’ question) and the committee members are on the defensive. At least to a degree, she’s been vindicated in this whole drama and the committee has been discredited. *** Because of all this, Republican committee members just seemed pissed because this was supposed to be awesome – after all, a committee designed to bring down Hillary and circulate all those numskull conspiracy theories about Chris Stevens wearing a chest cam and how President Obama was watching everything happening live on his iPhone. Hillary’s yet to get at all flustered and has even had the opportunity to gently explain to Republican members how the State Department works. She looks poised; they’re radiating spittle.

But Gowdy hinted at some kind of Blumenthal-related bombshell in the next segment… is it something actually damaging?  Or is it one of those insinuation-if-you-read-between-the-line things that maybe could be damaging if you hold it up to the light at just the right angle?

3:30 pm:

Hearings restarted about an hour ago.  No flashbangs, a little more about Sid.  But we can all relax because Chuck Woolery has weighed in:

3:50 pm:

Peter Roskam (R-Il) is asking questions now and….

Very true.  And of course, this relates to security at Benghazi how?

Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam:

Let me tell you what I think the Clinton Doctrine is. [Reads from prepared card.]I think it’s where an opportunity is seized to turn progress in Libya into a political win for Hillary Rodham Clinton. And at the precise moment when things look good, take a victory lap, like on all the Sunday shows three times that year before Qaddafi was killed, and then turn your attention to other things.

See? This hearing is nothing more than a disinterested investigation into the events surrounding the Benghazi attacks of 9/11/2012. You partisan naysayers who think it’s just about attacking Hillary Clinton on national TV should be ashamed of yourselves.

And now we’re on another break.

GOP In Disarray: House Freedom Caucus Cools To Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced Tuesday night that he will consider a bid for House speaker as long as a few conditions are me and one of those conditions is that he doesn’t have to kiss ass to the House Freedom Caucus, the group of 40 far-right Republicans who don’t want to compromise, who want to shut down government, etc.  Basically, he doesn’t want to do what Boehner had to do, dealing with all the in-fighting and spending most of his time fundraising for people who are giving him problems.

You can’t really blame Ryan.  It’s not a great job, trying to lead the contentious and fractured GOP.

But political reporters suggest that the unbendable House Freedom Caucus may not be warming to Ryan today.

You know you’re in trouble when the voice of reason is Peter King.

King is right.  Anyway, the HFC is supposed to meet with Ryan later today.  Could be fireworks if they push Ryan too far and he says “screw it”.  I don’t think that will happen, but it could.

Benghazi Committee Gets Laughable

The House Benghazi investigation committee was supposed to be Hillary’s downfall, but it’s just turned out to be a huge ugly albatross around the GOP and the neck of the committee’s chair, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC).  Here’s the latest screw-up:

Dems In Disarray*

*If you don’t get the joke, there is a political meme out there known as “Dems In Disarray”.  It seems that certain columnists and websites every so often love to write what is known as a “Dems in Disarray” piece, usually when there is very little about the Democratic Party which is in disarray.  (I’ve even seen “Dems In Disarray” opinion pieces simply because Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are running against each other). My use “Dems In Disarray” as a post title here is tongue-in-cheek.  The story is that Republicans are in disarray.  It’s so bad that even conservative sites cannot deny it.

Anyway, what is clear in the fight for the Speaker of the House position is that nobody wants it, and the conservative House Freedom Caucus has a litmus test that nobody wants to try to meet.  However, a party turns its lonely eyes to one man: Paul Ryan.  It seems every Republican is hoping, begging, pleading with Paul Ryan to run for Speaker. And it seems clear he has the votes and then some.

I don’t really know why.  For a conservative, he is very practical and pragmatic.  I don’t think he is the type to shutdown the government and engage in hostage-taking over raising the debt limit or defunding Planned Parenthood.  Yet, that’s just what the HFC wants in a leader.   So why does everybody think Ryan will make the HFC happy?

In the meantime, this disarray gets disarray-ier. Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) dropped out of the conservative House Freedom Caucus yesterday, citing the caucus’ recent focus on the speaker race

Still, the HFC seems to hold all the cards.

UPDATE:

And why won’t Paul Ryan take the job as Speaker of the House?

The former 2012 vice-presidential candidate isn’t much more conservative that McCarthy, but he’s arguably the one Republican with the national stature to overcome the reflexive insurrection from the right. So far, no good. “While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a statement on Thursday.

Why not? A Ryan pal offered this explanation to me: “Because he’s not a f—ing moron.” Translation: Ryan has a real future. No speaker has ever been elected president (Since James Polk in the 1840s, anyway) — and no speaker dragged into ugly budget crises by his strife-stricken party is ever, ever going to be.

Breaking: Who Is The House Speaker?

As my Twitter feed suggests, something is happening with the GOP House.

Kevin McCarthy was expected to voted in as House Speaker.  But the rumor is he is out.  He dropped out.

Chaffetz is it.

Yup, not a rumor.  McCarthy, who admitted that the Benghazi investigation was politically motivated to get Hillary, dropped out.  Election postponed.

Remember, this person comes after the Veep in the line of succession.

It’s not clear why McC dropped out (or was allowed to “drop out” when he was actually forced out) or what forces are at work here.  Something in his past?  Are the uber-far righties rallying against him?  Have the moderates made a comeback?  To be continued….

UPDATE:  NBC News reports that US House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy recognized he had no path to get to 218 votes to claim the speaker’s chair. The House Freedom Caucus, which is believed to have about 40 members, announced it would back Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., to become the next speaker.  The conservative House Freedom Caucus is the group that thinks funds for Planned Parenthood should be blocked as part of a bill to keep the government open.

The HFC has received criticism among Republicans like Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), who publicly broke with the caucus last month. McClintock, a social and fiscal conservative, wrote in a letter to the HFC: “I know that every member of the HFC sincerely supports these (conservative) principles, but as I have expressed on many occasions during our meetings, I believe the tactics the HFC has employed have repeatedly undermined the House’s ability to advance them.”

Basically, this means that even Kevin McCarthy is not wingnutty enough for the far right.

Quote Of The Day

From former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, in his new memoir, The Courage To Act:

[I] lost patience with Republicans’ susceptibility to the know-nothing-ism of the far right. I didn’t leave the Republican Party. I felt that the party left me.

That’s a Reagan quote, except Reagan was talking about the Democratic Party.

Bernake was nominated for the job by president George W. Bush, for whom Bernanke served as head of the White House Council of Economic Advisors.

It’s not hard to see what Benanke feels this way. The know-nothing wing of the Republican Party rebelled against the TARP rescue package at the height of the economic meltdown. They howled that low interest rates would lead to imminent hyperinflation. They resolutely refused to consider fiscal stimulus despite Bernanke’s repeated pleas (see helpful illustration below from 2011). They wanted to audit the Fed. They wanted to end the Fed. They wanted to put us back on the gold standard. When Bernanke told them that spending cuts would lead to higher unemployment, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (who is about to become Speaker of the House) refused to believe him.

Shut Down The Benghazi Committee

The normally-unfriendly-to-Hillary New York Times has had enough of the Benghazi thing.  That’s pretty surprising since The New York Times has run one phony exclusive after another. First, her famous emails were illegal, except they’re not. Then they were contrary to regulations enacted, oops, 18 months after she left office. Next Hillary was the subject of an FBI criminal probe. Except that too turned out to be false. Now they’re making a big deal out of the exact date she changed email addresses. Seriously.

Well, welcome to the party, New York Times.  Some of us had enough of the Benghazi investigations a long time ago when other congressional committees turned up nothing.  But the McCarthy admission (explained below) seems to have been the last straw: there’s no question now that there is no “there” there, and the only Benghazi scandal is the committee itself, soaking up tax dollars on a political vendetta against Hillary Clinton.  The NYT editors:

House Republicans may be disinclined to disband the Select Committee on Benghazi with the presidential race heating up. But at the very least they should rename their laughable crusade, which has cost taxpayers $4.6 million, “the Inquisition of Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, a leading candidate to become the next speaker of the House, acknowledged last week that was the point of burrowing into the details of the 2012 attacks on government facilities in eastern Libya that killed the American ambassador and three colleagues.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” Mr. McCarthy said in an astonishing moment of candor that was clearly a gaffe, rather than a principled admission. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?”

Lawmakers have long abused their investigative authority for political purposes. But the effort to find Mrs. Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the Libya attacks, was personally responsible for the deaths has lost any semblance of credibility. It’s become an insult to the memory of four slain Americans.

The deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and his colleagues have been exhaustively investigated by several other congressional committees and an independent panel of experts commissioned by the Department of State. The reviews found systemic failings at the State Department. But they found no evidence that Mrs. Clinton was directly responsible for the security lapses, which, of course, is the goal of the Republicans who want to derail her presidential bid. The possibility that all those investigators have somehow missed a crucial, damning piece of evidence seems negligible.

>Led by Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a former federal prosecutor, the Benghazi committee has trudged on, summoning a seemingly endless list of witnesses who have offered little new substantive information about the attacks. Since it was impaneled in May 2014, the committee has spent more than critical congressional committees, including the House Intelligence and Veterans’ Affairs Committees, which have oversight over bureaucracies with multibillion-dollar budgets.

“There’s nothing to justify the committee’s long duration or expense,” said Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California who sits on the committee and has called for it to be disbanded. “We have nothing to tell the families and nothing to tell the American people.”

Mrs. Clinton is scheduled to testify before the committee on Oct. 22. The hearing will give Republicans another chance to attack the credibility and trustworthiness of the leading Democratic presidential candidate. It will do nothing to make American embassies abroad safer or help the relatives of the four killed in Libya.

The hearing should be the last salvo for a committee that has accomplished nothing. If the Republicans insist on keeping the process alive, the Democrats should stop participating in this charade.

For her part, Hillary is running this ad:

And then there is this….

Good for her.

CQUG_KTUYAA5orN

Say this about him, House Benghazi Czar Trey Gowdy has a knack for getting reporters to give him good coverage no matter how absurd his claims. For instance, the Washington Post gave him an uncritical platform for his some more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger pushback against Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s public admission—or, really, bragging—that the Benghazi Committee’s purpose is attacking Hillary Clinton. Gowdy’s response is just precious:

“It’s tough,” he says after a moment. “People should go by what we’ve done. How many people have we interviewed? How many of those people have been named Clinton?”

This is where reporter Elise Viebeck could have gone back to something she herself wrote the very same day:

During his deposition, [Sidney] Blumenthal was asked more than 200 questions related to the Clintons, significantly more than about Benghazi. A source who was in the room said the first time the word “Benghazi” was uttered in a question to Blumenthal was at 6:30 p.m. The deposition began at 10:30 a.m.

They did not ask him about Benghazi, which is supposedly their entire focus, until eight hours into the interview. That is … something of a tell.

Aid For Me And Not For Thee

What a jerk

Washington (CNN)Sen. Lindsey Graham is asking for federal aid for his home state of South Carolina as it battles raging floods, but he voted to oppose similar help for New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2013.

“Let’s just get through this thing, and whatever it costs, it costs,” Graham told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” on Monday of the devastating floods in his home state.

Graham was among the Republican senators who opposed a federal aid package in January 2013 to assist states hit by Hurricane Sandy, but now he doesn’t remember why.

“I’m all for helping the people in New Jersey. I don’t really remember me voting that way,” Graham said.

This is a pretty common thing with Republicans.  Cruz did it too.

The objection from Graham and other Republicans at the time was that the Sandy relief bill supposedly contained “pork”, i.e., helping people pay for flood insurance.  That’s supposedly “pork” — when you help taxpayers in need..

Departing Boehner Takes A Swipe At Tea Party Congresscritters

The exiting John Boehner is free from his shackles and can say anything he wants.  And boy, does he hate the rightwing extremists:

Outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) ripped into some of his Republican colleagues on Sunday for failing to be realistic about what the party can and cannot do, and took a jab at bombastic Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) to make his point.

Appearing on Face the Nation, Boehner said he that he had begun to make plans to step down after colleague Eric Cantor was primaried out in July of last year by a Tea Party backed candidate.

***

Speaking of his legislative accomplishments, Boehner became quite animated when noting opposition often came from within his own party.

“All [my legislation] done over the last four and a half years with a Democrat president and voted against by my most conservative members because ‘it wasn’t good enough,’” an incredulous Boehner said before asking sarcastically, “Really?”

“This the part that I really don’t understand,” he continued before being asked if the hard liners were “unrealistic.”

“Absolutely, they’re unrealistic!” he exclaimed. “You know the Bible says beware of false prophets. And there are people out there, y’know, spreading noise about how much can get done. I mean this whole idea about shutting down government to get rid of Obamacare in 2013 — I mean, this plan never had a chance.”

Asked if Cruz was one of the “false prophets,” Boehner smirked and became coy, saying, “I’ll refer you to a remark I made at a fundraiser in August, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado,” where the GOP leader called the Texas senator a “jackass.”

Good on you, Boehner.  A reasonable Republican gets forced out…. again.

Breaking: Boehner To Resign From Congress End of October

I wonder if this has anything to do with his rift with others on the right — in particular, the pressure from the far right to shut down the government in order to defund Planned Parenthood.

Boehner is also facing two difficult, and interrelated, challenges right now: many House Republicans want to shut the government down over defunding Planned Parenthood, and some House conservatives want to use an unusual parliamentary maneuver to launch a coup against Boehner. The problem for Boehner is that a shutdown would likely be a disaster for the Republican Party, but stopping a shutdown would make a coup against him more likely to succeed.

In a statement to reporters, a Boehner spokesman said:

Speaker Boehner believes that the first job of any Speaker is to protect this institution and, as we saw yesterday with the Holy Father, it is the one thing that unites and inspires us all.

The Speaker’s plan was to serve only through the end of last year. Leader Cantor’s loss in his primary changed that calculation.

The Speaker believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution.

He is proud of what this majority has accomplished, and his Speakership, but for the good of the Republican Conference and the institution, he will resign the Speakership and his seat in Congress, effective October 30.

That seems a little hasty and thrown together.

I never cared for Boehner, but I respect the fact that he warded off dangerous factions within his party. We are much worse off without him.  Whoever replaces him is going to face the same pressures, and is more likely to cave I think.  Which means more government shutdowns in Washington (or threats of it) and gridlock.

Rep. Pete King (R-NY) has reacted to the news of Speaker John Boehner’s resignation on Friday by telling Politico reporter John Bresnahan it was a “victory for the crazies.”  Yup.

UPDATE:  Some blogs are reporting that Boehner wanted out a while ago, but he wanted to bring the Pope to Congress, which he did.  He reportedly said last night that after bringing the Pope to Congress, he has “nothing more left to do”.  So as to the question of “Did Boehner jump, or was he pushed?”, the best answer seems to be “a little of both.”

UPDATE #2:  The conservatives rejoice.  Here is video of Rubio announcing the resignation at the Value Voters Summit this morning:

The Pope’s Speech To Congress (And By Extension, The American People)

He reminds us that “America” is more than the United States, and that we are all immigrants.  He calls out the black/white-good/evil mindset in politics and promotes pragmatism in resolving problems.  He reminds us of the Golden Rule in calling for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty (as well as a subtle nod to banning abortions).  He speaks of the environment, but does not mention the phrase “climate change”.  Perhaps a nod relating to gay marriage as he says that “fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.”

With the exception of immigration and the death penalty, most of his speech is understated, with vague and passing references.  The spinners are going to spin wildly to try to make bread out of the flour droppings.

Full text of the prepared speech is below the fold.

Despite Charleston Mass Murders, GOP Doesn’t Want To Address Guns… Or Even Gun Murder Research

A GOP-led panel just blocked a proposal that would have reversed a nearly 20-year-old ban on funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research on gun violence.  The House Appropriations Committee voted 32-19 against ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey’s (D-N.Y.) amendment to a bill that would fund health, education and labor programs in the next fiscal year.

“When it comes to gun violence, my friends, this committee won’t give one dime for the CDC to conduct research on something that is killing Americans by the thousands,” Lowey said.

Lowey attempted to undo the 1996 congressional ban that was first proposed by then-Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.). She noted that Dickey later supported lifting the prohibition on the CDC.

So.. the problem continues

 

Response To Amtrak Train Crash: Let’s Gut Amtrak

TrainCrash-816x511On Tuesday, an Amtrak train — the Northeast Regional train, No. 188 — was traveling from Washington to New York when it derailed around 9:30 p.m., just outside Philly. The National Transportation Safety Board has confirmed that the train was traveling at more than 100 miles an hour or twice the speed limit in that part of the corridor.  More than 200 people, including eight now in critical condition, were taken to hospitals, officials said.  Seven are dead, including a college dean at Medgar Evers College, and officials have not accounted for everyone on board.

Naturally, early focus is on the 32 year old engineer, who was slightly injured and has not spoken to the NTSB yet.  According to the engineer’s attorney (yes, he’s lawyered up), his client has no recollection of the accident.

But let’s move off the engineer and note that technology that could have remotely slowed the train, which the president of Amtrak has called “the most important rail safety advancement of our time,” has been installed on much of the Northeast Corridor, but not the section where the train derailed — and if some in the Senate have their way, it may not be in place for another five years.

For decades, the National Transportation Safety Board has urged the the nation’s railroads to implement a technology called positive train control systems (PTC). This technology would allow railroads to use GPS to stop or slow trains in cases of driver emergencies, switches left in the wrong position, hijacking, natural disasters, or other human error. In 2008, Congress enacted the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which required the nation’s busiest railroad operators to have these technologies fully in place by December 2015.

Knowing all that, the House decided it was a good time to… wait for it…. cut our infrastructure spending:

A House panel approved a measure Wednesday that cuts funding for Amtrak, less than a day after a train derailment left at least seven people dead and many more injured.

The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee voted 30-21 to reduce grants to Amtrak by $252 million — a drop of about 15% from last year’s level. The cut would apply only to Amtrak’s capital spending and wouldn’t touch funding levels for safety and operations. The measure still needs to clear the full House and Senate before it would go into effect in October.

Democrats on the panel fought unsuccessfully to boost Amtrak funding by $1 billion, to $2.4 billion. But Republicans argued that such a spending increase would need to be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, and they admonished Democrats for pointing to the derailment in an effort to increase funding for the passenger rail service.

“Don’t use this tragedy in that way. It was beneath you,” Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said to Democrats.

 

Our Polarized Congress

What the pictograph below is saying is nothing new — we all know that Congress is more polarized now than ever before.  But it is a startling visual representation of that fact.

This is from a group of researchers recently in a paper published in PLOS One.  They’ve drawn dots for each representative, and lines connecting pairs of representatives who vote together a given number of times. Finally, the dots for each representative are placed according to how frequently the Representatives vote together overall.

What we’re left with is a picture of political mitosis. Similar voting between Democrats and Republicans was fairly common up through the 1980s. But starting in the 1990s the parties began pulling apart from each other, like a single cell dividing into two.

Not only that, but within parties Representatives are voting more similarly too — that’s illustrated with the dots in each party’s cluster becoming more tightly packed together over time. Starting in the 2000s, there are hardly any links between the parties at all.

imrs

No more liberal Republicans or conservative Democrats.  And no more working across the aisle.

The Proposed GOP Budget

“A budget is a moral document; it talks about where your values are,” said Representative Rob Woodall, Republican of Georgia and a member of the Budget Committee. “

Okay, Rep. Woodall.  Then let’s see where the Republicans values are, by looking at its proposed budget:

Without relying on tax increases, budget writers were forced into contortions to bring the budget into balance while placating defense hawks clamoring for increased military spending. They added nearly $40 billion in “emergency” war funding to the defense budget for next year, raising military spending without technically breaking strict caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The plan contains more than $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to programs like food stamps and welfare. To make matters more complicated, the budget demands the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the tax increases that finance the health care law. But the plan assumes the same level of federal revenue over the next 10 years that the Congressional Budget Office foresees with those tax increases in place — essentially counting $1 trillion of taxes that the same budget swears to forgo.

And still, it achieves balance only by counting $147 billion in “dynamic” economic growth spurred by the policies of the budget itself. In 2024, the budget would produce a $13 billion surplus, thanks in part to $53 billion in a projected “macroeconomic impact” generated by Republican policies. That surplus would grow to $33 billion in 2025, and so would the macroeconomic impact, to $83 billion.

“I don’t know anyone who believes we’re going to balance the budget in 10 years,” said Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado. “It’s all hooey.”

So let me get this straight.  It adds to war spending, cuts food stamps and welfare for the needy.  Guns, not butter.  AND…. it assumes an increase in federal tax income without actually raising taxes, because….. magic, I guess.

Hooey, indeed.

 

Schock Out

It wasn’t the Dowton Abbey-themed office, or the private jets to the Taylor Swift concerts, or the $5k custom-made “Presidential” lectern that finally sent Rep. Schock scrambling for the exit — it was a classic sales grift. According to Politico:

Schock billed the federal government and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car from January 2010 through July 2014. But when he sold that Chevrolet Tahoe in July 2014, it had roughly 80,000 miles on the odometer, according to public records obtained by POLITICO under Illinois open records laws. The documents, in other words, indicate he was reimbursed for 90,000 miles more than his car was driven…

The OCE probe —and any potential Ethics Committee investigation — will disappear with Schock’s resignation. However, federal law enforcement could still look into Schock’s actions…

“Isn’t This The Ultimate Degree of the Collapse of Political Ethics and the US System’s Internal Disintegration?”

That’s a direct quote from the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, in reference to letter written to Iran and signed by 47 Republican senators essentially trying to sabotage negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

Thanks, GOP, for showing how divided and unreliable and unresolute America is.

47 Traitors Get Schooled By Iranian Foreign Minister, Who Understands The US Constitution

A GOP letter from Senate Republicans to Iran about the pending nuclear deal warns Iranian leaders that any agreement between Washington and Tehran could be voided by Congress and simply not upheld once Obama leaves the White House in 2017.  The letter was spearheaded by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

Naturally, it received some backlash.  White House press secretary Josh Earnest was unusually blunt in ripping the Senate GOP, saying “it’s surprising to me there are some Republican senators who are seeking to establish a backchannel with hardliners in Iran to undermine an agreement with Iran and the international community.”

Earnest said Republicans have a “long and rather sordid history” of putting military options ahead of diplomatic ones, and called the letter, signed by 47 GOP lawmakers, “the continuation of a partisan strategy to undermine the president’s authority.”

NYDNIt’s not just the president, the vice president, and fellow Senate Republicans appalled at the open letter to Iran. The New York Daily News, for instance, endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012, but ran the cover you can see at the left.

The Wall Street Journal is … the Wall Street Journal, but it editorialized that “The problem with the GOP letter is that it’s a distraction from what should be the main political goal of persuading the American people.”

But it’s worth remembering that, for Tom Cotton at least, this letter wasn’t the first step off the deep end on Iran. In 2013, Cotton offered an amendment that would have harshly punished people violating sanctions on Iran. Actually, Cotton wouldn’t have stopped at harshly punishing the violators themselves.

Cotton also seeks to punish any family member of those people, “to include a spouse and any relative to the third degree,” including, “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids,” Cotton said.

Yes, Cotton thinks that the great grandchildren of people who violate Iran sanctions should be imprisoned. Which, by the way, is completely unconstitutional. But this is someone who got the vast majority of his Republican colleagues in the Senate, including leadership, to sign onto a letter to Iran trying to torpedo American diplomacy. Congressional Republicans listen to this man. That’s terrifying—but if this open letter has helped discredit him publicly, it may be one good outcome of the whole mess.

Perhaps my favorite criticism comes from Iran itself. Asked about the open letter, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy. It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.”Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration.

He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.Foreign Minister Zarif added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.”The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran`s peaceful nuclear program.” He continued “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.

Zarif expressed the hope that his comments “may enrich the knowledge of the authors to recognize that according to international law, Congress may not modify the terms of the agreement at any time as they claim, and if Congress adopts any measure to impede its implementation, it will have committed a material breach of US obligations.”

The Foreign Minister also informed the authors that majority of US international agreements in recent decades are in fact what the signatories describe as “mere executive agreements” and not treaties ratified by the Senate.

He reminded them that “their letter in fact undermines the credibility of thousands of such mere executive agreements that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments.

Zarif concluded by stating that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has entered these negotiations in good faith and with the political will to reach an agreement, and it is imperative for our counterparts to prove similar good faith and political will in order to make an agreement possible.”

He’s right about all that of course.  What’s particularly odd about the letter is that the reasoning there would apply to ANY international treaty, not just the current one being negotiated.  Basically, Republicans are hanging out a sign to ALL countries saying, “Don’t enter into any treaties or trade agreements of anything like that with the current president, because we Republicans might not honor it”.

Scary.

Senate Republicans Overstepping Their Authority

Can you imagine if this was 2006 and the Democrats did this to Bush?

A group of 47 Republican senators has written an open letter to Iran’s leaders warning them that any nuclear deal they sign with President Barack Obama’s administration won’t last after Obama leaves office.

Organized by freshman Senator Tom Cotton and signed by the chamber’s entire party leadership as well as potential 2016 presidential contenders Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the letter is meant not just to discourage the Iranian regime from signing a deal but also to pressure the White House into giving Congress some authority over the process.

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” the senators wrote. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Arms-control advocates and supporters of the negotiations argue that the next president and the next Congress will have a hard time changing or canceling any Iran deal — — which is reportedly near done — especially if it is working reasonably well.

It appears from the letter that the Senators do not understand our constitutional system or the power to make binding agreements.

The letter states that “the Senate must ratify [a treaty] by a two-thirds vote.”  But as the Senate’s own web page makes clear: “The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification” (my emphasis).  Or, as this outstanding  2001 CRS Report on the Senate’s role in treaty-making states (at 117):  “It is the President who negotiates and ultimately ratifies treaties for the United States, but only if the Senate in the intervening period gives its advice and consent.”  Ratification is the formal act of the nation’s consent to be bound by the treaty on the international plane.  Senate consent is a necessary but not sufficient condition of treaty ratification for the United States.  As the CRS Report notes: “When a treaty to which the Senate has advised and consented … is returned to the President,” he may “simply decide not to ratify the treaty.”

So, Republicans — in telling a foreign country not to trust the Unites States — are wrong on the law (not to mention condescending — eleven members of the Iranian government’s cabinet were educated in the United States and are probably smarter than your typical GOP senator).  But more importantly, they are actively impeding the negotiation — clearly and exclusively in the executive branch’s domain — and attempting to subvert the foreign policy of the country they allegedly represent.

Be Careful What You Wish For….

Republicans seemed bitter that the State of the Union Address wasn’t some kowtow by Obama, crying in his cups about the Republican Party’s success in the midterm elections.  But now that they control Congress, they don’t seem to know what to do.  This is a party that gets its energy from the rage machine, not from leadership. .At the Plum Line, Paul Waldman sums it up this way:

Ironically, the Republicans had a lot more power when they were in the minority than they do now. With a Democratic Congress, the administration set out an ambitious legislative agenda, which Republicans were able to obstruct and subvert as long as they stayed unified, which they did very well. But once they took control, the administration all but gave up on legislating (apart from unavoidable tasks like passing budgets to keep the government open), which leaves Republicans with no fights to wage apart from the meaningless ones they manage to concoct on their own. And they can’t even figure out how to win those. Winning Congress has put Republicans in a position where they have little choice other than to make things worse.

The Cantor Earthquake

The House Republican leadership, so solid in its opposition to President Obama, was torn apart yesterday by the defeat of its most influential conservative voice, Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader.  Cantor, with a 96% conservative rating, was defeated by a tea party candidate, David Brat.

Brat spent a total of $200,000 on his campaign; Cantor spent that much just on steakhouses (actually, he spent $168,637 on steakhouses; overall, he spent $5 million).  And yet, this morning, the results show that Brat beat Cantor 55.5% to 45.5%.

What does it mean?  Well, everybody has an opinion.  There's a lot of gleeful talk on the left, and in the center, about the GOP "eating its own".  The GOP loves to have purity tests so pure that nobody is safe.  What you end up with is a circular firing squad; it is no wonder that an occasional Cantor might fall.

Cantor lost for three reasons: first, he made the error of suggesting that maybe possibly he could work with Obama on immigration reform.  Rule No. 1 of conservative politics is that you never work with the "enemy", even if it is reasonable to do so.  Brat exploited this rare vulnerablility in Cantor. His megaphone was conservative radio show host Laura Ingraham, who criticized Mr. Cantor’s positions on immigration.

Secondly, Cantor ran a bad campaign.  He attacked Brat as a "liberal professor" which didn't ring true to constituents.  Towards the end of the political campaign, Cantor tried to rally the GOP establishment.  Rule No. 2 of conservative politics is that the "establishment" — even the GOP establishment — is bad.  So there was a last minute backlash.

Finally, Cantor was a Jew.  Yup, that always worked against him in those conservative districts.

So what does it all mean?  Well, it's not good news for moderate Republicans — that's for sure.

Most on the left are treating this as good news, since most tea party candidates aren't electable.  Or so is the conventional wisdom.  The thinking goes that some Cantor supporters will stay home, allowing a Democrat to win.  But….. that is unlikely in this district.  Still, disarray in the GOP is good for the left, and most are taking this as something good.

Then And Now

53 years ago today, an outgoing President Eisenhower said:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

He went on:

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

That was the famous military-industrial complex speech, and how it posed a potential threat to democracy.

Below the fold is Obama's speech today, about how national security measures pose a threat to democracy, and some of the changes needed to ensure privacy.

Day 7 And We’re Still Shutdown

And here's good commentary on why:

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Also….

Disapproval of congressional Republicans’ budget wrangling after a weeklong shutdown has shot up to 70 percent, with 51 percent disapproving “strongly,” according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

At the same time, President Obama’s approval rating has ticked up due to improved marks among moderate Democrats and independents. No group, however, earns positive marks for their handling of budget negotiations overall.

Washington Post-ABC News poll

 

Um, Okay

These procedural rules make no sense, but whatever:

House Democratic leaders believe they have hit on a new way to potentially force House Republican leaders into allowing a vote on a “clean CR” funding the government without any defunding of Obamacare attached.

At last count, as many as two dozen House Republicans appear prepared to vote for a clean CR. With Democrats included, that means a majority of the House of Representatives would vote right now to reopen the government. But the House GOP leadership won’t allow such a vote.

Dems have hit on a way to use a “discharge petition,” which forces a House vote if a majority of Representatives signs it, to try to force the issue. Previously, it was thought this could not work, because a discharge petition takes 30 legislative days to ripen, so if this were tried with the clean CR that passed the Senate, this couldn’t bear fruit until some time in November.

But now House Democrats say they have found a previously filed bill to use as a discharge petition — one that would fund the government at sequester levels.

The bill in question is the “Government Shutdown Prevention Act,” which was introduced in March by GOP Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma. As the Congressman’srelease describes it:

If Congress fails to approve a budget by the end of each fiscal year, the Government Shutdown Prevention Act would ensure that all operations remain running normally without any interruption of services by automatically triggering a continuing resolution (CR) or short-term, stop-gap spending device. The bill creates an automatic CR for any regular appropriations bill not completed before the end of the fiscal year. After the first 120 days, auto-CR funding would be reduced by one percentage point and would continue to be reduced by that margin every 90 days.

This afternoon, Dem Reps. Chris Van Hollen and George Miller will announce that they are introducing a discharge petition for the Lankford bill. They will discuss the procedural ins and outs of this move. The upshot: Once the petition is filed, they will begin rounding up signatures from both Democrats and Republicans. If they can get 218 signatures, a House vote to reopen the government will happen.

Dems say that if they get enough signatures, they’d be able to force a vote by October 14th. Given that House Republicans are now talking about letting the government shutdown battle spill into the fight over the debt limit — which expires on October 17th — it’s very possible the government could still be closed at that point.

Sounds like a bit of a Hail Mary to me.

Republicans Applaud Capital Police But Prevent Them From Being Paid

Speaker John Boehner tweeted how everyone owes a debt of gratitude for the way DC police handled the crazy woman who tried to run into the White House yesterday.

They police do indeed deserve the praise they are getting.

One thing Capitol police are not getting, though—at least not while Boehner lacks the professionalism and bravery to stand up to the most extreme elements in his caucus and hold a vote on a clean continuing resolution—is their paychecks.

Capitol Police officers aren’t subject to furloughs, so they’re still on the job. But – like all federal workers who are deemed essential and are working during the shutdown — their next paycheck won't be until the shutdown ends.

Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget says that workers who are exempt from furloughs will receive pay for their time at work. But that can only happen after Congress passes and the president signs a new appropriation or continuing resolution.

As Sen. Bernie Sanders says, this is "a national disgrace":

“I suspect at the end of the day they will get paid, but they have mortgages to meet, they have college loans to meet,” Sanders said. “These are not millionaires. They are struggling people who have families and kids.”

Yup

Hot Mic Conversation Shows This Is About Optics And “Winning”, Not About Americans

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) were caught on a hot mic Wednesday night while discussing their party's messaging on the government shutdown. 

 

Paul ran into McConnell, who was wired for an interview, in front of a camera after wrapping his own interview with CNN, according to Western Kentucky news station WPSD

"I just did CNN and I just go over and over again 'We're willing to compromise, we're willing to negotiate.' I think — I don't think they poll tested 'we won't negotiate.' I think it's awful for them to say that over and over again," Paul said of the Obama administration's stance on the shutdown.

"Yeah, I do too, and I just came back from that two hour meeting with them, and that was basically the same view privately as it was publicly," McConnell said.

President Barack Obama met with congressional leaders Wednesday night to discuss opening the federal government and raising the debt ceiling, but the meeting brought the two sides no closer to ending the budget impasse.

In the video recording, Paul was confident that the GOP's pivot from demanding Obamacare be defunded to seeking out compromise would succeed.

"I think if we keep saying 'We wanted to defund it. We fought for that but now we're willing to compromise on this,' I think they can't — we're gonna, I think — well I know we don't want to be here, but we're gonna win this I think," he said.

Cruz Taken To Woodshed

TPM:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took heat from his Republican colleagues Wednesday in a closed-door meeting to discuss the government shutdown, Politico reported.

At the meeting that was hosted by the Senate’s conservative Steering Committee, one GOP senator after another pressed Cruz to offer a proposal to end the shutdown, according to Politico. The junior senator from Texas reportedly had no solution nor could he explain how he would defund the Affordable Care Act – an effort led by Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) that served as the impetus for the current shutdown.

“It was very evident to everyone in the room that Cruz doesn’t have a strategy – he never had a strategy, and could never answer a question about what the end-game was,” an unnamed senator told Politico. “I just wish the 35 House members that have bought the snake oil that was sold could witness what was witnessed today at lunch."

At one point in the meeting, Republicans pressed Cruz to tell them what he would have done had the party united behind his call to filibuster a House-passed continuing resolution to keep the defunding hopes alives. Only 19 Republicans backed Cruz's attempt to block the bill.

“He kept trying to change the subject because he never could answer the question,” the anonymous senator said. “It’s pretty evident it’s never been about a strategy – it’s been about him. That’s unfortunate. I think he’s done our country a major disservice. I think he’s done Republicans a major disservice."

The meeting turned quite heated when Cruz was asked if he would renounce the attacks lobbed at Republicans by the Senate Conservatives Fund, a powerful organization that targets moderates in the party.

"I will not," Cruz reportedly said. 

The Senate Conservatives Fund has marched in lockstep with Cruz on the defunding campaign, even expanding its scope to target House Republican incumbents.

I hear rumblings from some corners that this shutdown stunt is the beginning of the end for the Tea Party conservatives.  I'm not that optimistic, but it really does look like their brand is hurting.

Government Shuts Down; Obamacare Begins

(1)  I have to start with one crazy lady Bachmann said to crazy website outlet, World Net Daily:

Pulling no punches, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told WND exactly why she thinks President Obama and Democrats are unwilling to negotiate with the GOP over Obamacare’s well-documented problems.

“I think the reason is because President Obama can’t wait to get Americans addicted to the crack cocaine of dependency on more government health care.

“Because, once they enroll millions of more individual Americans, it will be virtually impossible for us to pull these benefits back from people,” the congresswoman explained.

“All they want to do is buy love from people by giving them massive government subsidies,” Bachmann summed up.

I have a question for Ms. Bachmann — is giving people what they want a BAD thing?  Isn't that what representatives are supposed to do?  If people LIKE those benefits, doesn't that mean they are, you know, a good thing?  

And what the hell is wrong with giving people something for their money?  People pay taxes for the betterment of themselves and their country — so what's wrong with something that does just that?

(2)  Who said that government was the problem, not the solution?

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(3)  They really are idiots at Fox & Friends:

 

(4)  The Vitter Amendment would put congressional staffers on the hook for their entire health insurance.  That puts them in a worse position than the rest of the work force, because for most employees, their employers help pay for the plan.

Oh, don't get me wrong.  I hope it passes.  Because then you'll have a LOT of pissed of GOP staffers.

(5)   “It’s kind of an insult to lemmings to call them lemmings…”

–  

Rep Devin Nunes (R-Ca.) on the far right members of his party who pushed for a government shutdown. 

(via New York Times)

 

 

(6)  Rockin' Shutdown:

 

 

 

 (7)  Rightwing bloggers have been mocking the Obamacare websites which started today — both the federal and state exchanges where people can sign up for health insurance.  It seems that many of the websites aren't working.  "Ha, ha" say the rightwing bloggers.  "Typical Obamacare stuff.  Doesn't work".

Keep laughing.  The reason they're not working is because they are so popular:

Heavy volume contributed to technical problems and delays that plagued the rollout Tuesday of the online insurance markets at the heart of President Obama’s health care law, according to state and federal governments, with officials watching closely for clues to how well the system will work and how many people will take advantage of it.

On Tuesday morning, people trying to shop for coverage athealthcare.gov, the federally run exchange that serves as the marketplace for residents of most states, met with messages citing high traffic and advising, “Please wait here until we send you to the login page” or “The system is down at the moment.” A state-run exchange in Maryland also posted a message saying it was “experiencing connectivity issues” and asking visitors to try again later. Other states reported scattered problems.

New York State’s exchange began operating at 8 a.m. and received 2 million visits in the first hour and a half, “which far exceeds what we were expecting,” said James O’Hare, a spokesman for the state Department of Health. Though some consumers encountered error messages or delays, the site was functioning and processing applications, though how many was not known, he said.

By 9:30 a.m., Kentucky’s exchange, which went live at midnight, had received 24,000 visitors and processed more than 1,000 applications, said Gwenda Bond, a spokeswoman for the state’s health care agency. “The high volume of traffic is causing a few technical glitches,” presenting problems for people who want to apply but not for those who are just browsing, she said.

Most predictions had been for a trickle of new customers at first, rather than a flood, on the online exchanges, where people can shop for competing health plans and see if they qualify for federal subsidies. Polls show that many Americans remain uncertain about the purpose of the exchanges and unconvinced that the law will help them.

 

Remember Ashleigh Banfield?

She fits became well-known as a reporter for MSNBC, who happened to be in downtown Manhattan on 9/11.

But a few years later, she gave a speech that basically lambasted Bush and the way the news covered (or failed to cover) Bush and the impending wars.  She was demoted and eventually, quietly, let go.

She's clawing her way back — now on CNN.  More like this please:

 

An Honest GOP Town Hall Discussion

I've had my fun poking at Republican Congresscritters returning to their home states, holding town hall meetings, and bringing up birth certificates and other dumb stuff that would normally get them laughed at if they were on TV.

But I have to give credit where credit is due.

In the clip below, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) gets questioned by a yokel who thinks the Republicans should go back to D.C. and simply shut down the government unless Obamacare is defunded.  Cole, to his credit, explains why this is a terrible idea, and in doing so, explains why government is important:

 

CONSTITUENT: If you fund the government with everything except [Obamacare], Democrats are going to yell and scream all that, “the Republicans are shutting the government down!” […] You can take it to the American people, they will support it.

COLE: […] We’ll see what happens in September when we get back, but my instinct is, you won’t win that fight. It won’t be popular. Never polls popular. What do you tell the people you’re inconveniencing? Most of the people that argue this point are not thinking, why would you shut down the National Weather Center that just saved a whole lot of lives in central Oklahoma by giving us 16 minutes of warning instead of two. Why would you put 15,000 families — that’s families — out of work at Tinker Air Force Base. There are four million important national defense workers. Why would you go to Sulphur, where there are guys in their 80s and 90s who gave this country everything they possibly had in its darkest moment, and say, “sorry, there’s not going to be anybody here showing up to fix your meals or look after you or do the commitments we made.” I don’t think it’s smart politics. Anytime you hurt millions of people, and inconvenience tens of millions more, I don’t think you usually achieve your end. I think they wonder why you did that to them.

 

Repubicans Put Out A “Yes” Ad

This is pretty bizarre.

 

For those of you who can't play video, it is an ad from the National Repubican Senatorial Committee.  The thrust of it can be summed up from this narration within the ad:

"It might not always seem like it, but we say yes a lot. We say yes on jobs for you. On opportunity. We say yes on the future. It's what we do — to make things better. By saying yes. A simple word, a powerful concept."

Now, there are several intersting things about this ad, but probably the most interesting is that the Republicans see the need for it in the first place.  They've been branded as the party of "No" and apparently their focus groups are telling them that the "Party of no" perception has taken root.

Of almost equal interest to me is the extremely lame push-back.  They say yes, they claim, and to back that up, they say "we say yes on jobs for you, on opportunity, we say yes on the future."

That's it?  Those are the best examples?  "We say 'yes" to the future"?  Good to know that you're the party of not destroying the world today.  I think I'll vote for you.

I hope someone has the time to take this ad and run subtitles over it to show all the things Senate Republicans have voted "no" to.  Including preventing gun violence, health care, economic growth, climate change, education, civil rights, reproductive rights, infrastructure investments, Wall Street safeguards, diplomacy, and allowing the president to choose members of his own administrative team. Much of the party is also reluctant to "say yes" to immigration reform and judicial nominees, too.

Do Republicans think this ad will change perceptions?  Are Americans really that stupid?

House Republicans Will Vote Tomorrow — For The 43rd Time — To Unsuccessfully Repeal Obamacare

They know it is an exercise in futility, because even if (for some reason) the House Republicans manage to pass a vote to repeal Obamacare, the Senate won't take it up OR pass it, and even if THAT happened, Obama will never sign the repeal into law.

So it's a symbolic thing.

That's okay.  Symbolism has its place.  But this is ridiculous.  They want to be able to go home and say, "I voted 17 times against Obamacare" or (for members who have been there longer), "I voted 43 times against Obamacare."

That makes it dumb.

And unfortunately, these repeal votes might become a stain.  Why?  Read this from the New York Times:

The repeal vote, which is likely to occur Thursday, will be at least the 43rd day since Republicans took over the House that they have devoted time to voting on the issue.

 To put that in perspective, they have held votes on only 281 days since taking power in January 2011. (The House and Senate have pretty light legislative loads these days, typically voting only three or four days a week.)

 That means that since 2011, Republicans have spent no less than 15 percent of their time on the House floor on repeal in some way.

That's right.  With a dicey economy, terrorism, etc., the Republicans spent almost one-fifth of their time on the House floor voting for repeal.

Waste of time.  Waste of House seats.

UPDATE: Last year, CBS News calculated that the number of hours spent on 33 repeal votes — then roughly 80 hours, or two full work weeks — cost taxpayers an estimated $48 million. Since then, Republicans have held three more votes (another $4.5 million) to repeal ALL of Obamacare and will add another $1.5 million with their latest.

Benghazi Joke Continues

Yesterday's jokester was Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Cal), who is heading up the Committee To Get To The Bottom of Benghazi Dammit Because We Know Something Is Being Covered Up But We Don't Know What But It's Impeachable That's Fer Darn Sure Dammit.

In fact, Issa gave us two yucks yesterday.

First he said, on Fox News, this (starting at 0:59):

 

[A]n act of terror is different than a terrorist attack.

 

Listen, if even a part of your outrage and theory depends on the semantic difference between "an act of terror" and "a terrorist attack", then you've lost the debate,  Stop digging.  Put down the shovel.  Go home.

But Issa didn't.  He then went on to say:

 

They began being attacked, and were attacked for more than seven hours and we're to believe that no response could even be started that could have helped them seven hours later? Quite frankly, you can take off from Washington, DC on a commercial flight and practically be in Benghazi by the end of seven hours. You certainly can take off from areas in the Mediterranean and bring at least some support in less than seven hours.

Really? DC to Benghazi in seven hours on a commercial flight?

Hmmmm.  Dum-de-dum-de-dum.  Clik-clak-clik-clik-clik.

Expedia to libya

Nnnnnope.

Darrell.  Stop.  Now.  You're embarrassing yourself.

Yes, This Is An Actual Scandal

WaPo:

At various points over the past two years, Internal Revenue Service officials singled out for scrutiny not only groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names but also nonprofit groups that criticized the government and sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution, according to documents in an audit conducted by the agency’s inspector general.

The documents, obtained by The Washington Post from a congressional aide with knowledge of the findings, show that the IRS field office in charge of evaluating applications for tax-exempt status decided to focus on groups making statements that “criticize how the country is being run” and those that were involved in educating Americans “on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

The staffers in the Cincinnati field office were making high-level decisions on how to evaluate the groups because a decade ago the IRS assigned all applications to that unit. The IRS also eliminated an automatic after-the-fact review process Washington used to conduct such determinations.

There is no other word for this: it's wrong. It's wrong when it's done against people on the left — or, as here, done against those on the right.

This is a scandel — one that Republicans (if they want) can jump on.  But somehow, I don't think they will.  Why?  Because even the president is outraged by it.  There's no political capital to be gained.  With the supposed "Benghazi" scandel-which-isn't, Republicans have a clear target — get Hillary.

But they can't turn this IRS scandal into a victory.  It is what it is.  And that's why it won't be news a week from now.

Benghazi Debunked

A nice summary from Think Progress of scandals-that-aren't:

1. F-16s could have been sent to Benghazi

Part of the prevailing theory surrounding the events the night of the Benghazi attacks is that the Obama administration did not do enough militarily to respond to the crisis. Gregory Hicks — a Foreign Service Officer and the former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya — claimed during his pre-hearing testimony that fighter jets could have been flown over Benghazi, preventing the second wave of the attack from occurring.

Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) questioned that statement, asking Hicks whether he disagreed with Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey’s assessment that no air assets were in range the night of the attack. Hicks didn’t disagree, saying he was “speaking from [his] perspective” and what “veteran Libyan revolutionaries” told him, rather than Pentagon assessments.

2. Hillary Clinton signed cables denying additional security to Benghazi

House Republicans came to the conclusion in their interim report on Benghazi that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lied to them about what she knew and when during her testimony this January. This includes her statement that at no time was she aware of requests for additional security at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi prior to the attack.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) used her time to take issue with this claim, asking all three witnesses about standard protocol for cables leaving the State Department. All three agreed with Maloney, that the Secretary of State’s name is placed at the bottom of all outgoing cables and telegrams from Foggy Bottom, whether the Secretary has viewed them or not, shooting down the GOP claim.

3. A Special Forces Team that could have saved lives was told to stand down

One of the most shocking reveals in the lead-up to today’s hearing was that a team of Special Forces in Tripoli were told not to deploy to Benghazi during the attack. That decision has led to an uproar on the right, including claims of dereliction of duty towards Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey for not taking actions that could have saved lives.

During questioning, Hicks confirmed that the team was ready to be deployed — not to join the fighting at the CIA annex — but “to secure the airport for the withdrawal of our personnel from Benghazi after the mortar attack.” Hicks also confirmed that it was the second such team to be readied for deployment, with the first having proceeded to Benghazi earlier. Despite the second team not deploying, the staff was all evacuated first to Tripoli, then to Germany, within 18 hours of the attack taking place.

4. The State Department’s Accountability Review Board isn’t legitimate

Republicans have been attacking the State Department’s official in-house review of the shortcomings seen before, during, and after the assault in Benghazi. That criticism prompted House Republicans to write their own report. When asked point blank about the recommendations of the Board, however, the witnesses didn’t cooperate with the GOP narrative. “Absolutely,” Eric Nordstrom, the Regional Security Officer for Libya prior to the assault in Benghazi, answered when asked if he believes implementing the recommendations would improve security. “I had an opportunity to review that along with other two committee reports. I think taken altogether, they’re fairly comprehensive and reasonable.” Hicks, when questioned, said that while he had some issues with the process by which the Board gathered its information, he demurred on criticizing the report itself.

Ambassador-Sparkle

Why Benghazi Isn’t, And Never Will Be, A Scandal

Balloon Juice nails it:

Here’s the one thing I don’t get about the whole Benghazi Snark hunt: fucking up a government job, and trying to paper it over,  is not now and has never been the basis of a scandal. The formula for a scandal is simple: crime + cover-up = scandal:

  • Watergate was a scandal because Nixon authorized a break-in (crime) to make sure he was re-elected, and then covered it up.
  • Iran-Contra was a scandal because it was arming contras was illegal, and Ollie North destroyed documents to cover it up. Eleven people were convicted of crimes – even though some were pardoned, it was a real scandal.
  • Whitewater was at least a candidate for a scandal because the Clintons were alleged to have gotten a sweetheart loan as a form of bribe (crime) and then Bernie Nussbaum supposedly removed documents from Vince Foster’s office after his suicide (cover-up). No convictions (of Executive Branch employees), but it had the raw materials for a scandal, even though it didn’t grow into a full-blown one.

Fucking up, which is all that is alleged in Benghazi, is not against the law (sadly). Covering up a fuck up is what DC insiders call “spinning” or “another day at the office”. I haven’t been paying close attention, but has there ever been a hint of a crime worthy of an alleged cover up here?

Obviously, the Benghazi witchhunt isn’t about a crime, or cover-up.  It’s trying to taint Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee of 2016.

Steve Benen weighs in:

So what was the point of yesterday’s theatrics, beyond giving far-right activists a morale boost and giving Fox News a ratings boost? What do we know now that we didn’t know 24 hours ago? Eight months after the attack itself, I know Republicans think there’s been a cover-up, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what it is they think has been covered up. For all the talk of a political “scandal,” no one seems capable of pointing to anything specific that’s scandalous. For all the conspiracy theories, there’s no underlying conspiracy to be found.

Kevin Drum:

Was Benghazi mishandled? Maybe. Are there lessons to be learned? Probably. Is there a scandal or a coverup? There’s never been any evidence of it, and there still isn’t. This is a show that goes on and on without end, but it never delivers a payoff. Issa and his colleagues need to start paying more attention to stuff that actually matters, and give up on the Fox-friendly conspiracy theories that never pan out. Enough’s enough.

Indeed.

Why The Background Check Bill Failed

Ezra Klein nails it:

The gun vote didn’t fail because a couple of red-state Democrats bolted, or even because too many senators are afraid of the National Rifle Association, or even because Sen. Pat Toomey couldn’t bring along more Republicans. Those factors help explain why the gun vote didn’t clear the extraordinary bar set for it to succeed. But they’re not the main reason it failed.

The gun vote failed because of the way the Senate is designed. It failed because the Senate wildly overrepresents small, rural states and, on top of that, requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass most pieces of legislation.

The Manchin-Toomey bill received 54 aye votes and 46 nay votes. That is to say, a solid majority of senators voted for it. In most legislative bodies around the world, that would have been enough. But it wasn’t a sufficient supermajority for the U.S. Senate. Of the senators from the 25 largest states, the Manchin-Toomey legislation received 33 aye votes and 17 nay votes — a more than 2:1 margin, putting it well beyond the 3/5ths threshold required to break a filibuster. But of the senators from the 25 smallest states, it received only 21 aye votes and 29 nay votes.

It’s typical to say that this is how the Senate’s always been. It’s also wrong. The filibuster didn’t emerge until decades after the first congress, and its constant use is a thoroughly modern development.

The Senate is horrible undemocratic.

Bachmann’s Ethic Troubles Get Worse

Last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) participated in a press conference about Medicaid reimbursement, but reporters had some questions about the right-wing congresswoman's ethics troubles. Instead of responding, Bachmann literally ran away, while some aides "physically blocked reporters" to keep them at bay, and other aides were seen "pushing reporters out of the way as Bachmann left the room."

It would seem that Bachmann and her team are concerned about something. Or in this case, perhaps more than one thing.

Yesterday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that congressional ethics investigators continue to examine whether Bachmann improperly used campaign funds. What's more, two former staffers for the Republican lawmaker suggested that the ethics review "has widened beyond initial allegations that Bachmann improperly mixed funds between her campaign and her independent political organization."

Today, another Minneapolis Star Tribune report highlights a separate ethics issue for Bachmann.

GOP operative Andy Parrish, a former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, is expected to tell an Iowa Senate ethics panel that her 2012 presidential campaign made improper payments to its state chairman.

Having maintained a public silence so far, Parrish referred questions Wednesday to his attorney, John Gilmore, who said his client will corroborate allegations from another former Bachmann aide, Peter Waldron.

Waldron, a Florida pastor, claims that the campaign hid payments to Iowa Sen. Kent Sorenson, in violation of Iowa Senate ethics rules that bar members from receiving pay from presidential campaigns.

Parrish, who had not previously been identified, will reportedly provide an affidavit bolstering Waldron's accusations.

The story can get a little convoluted — Bachmann allegedly paid a Republican state lawmaker $7,500 a month, funneling the money through a business owned by a Bachmann fundraiser — but it's serious enough to do lasting damage to the congresswoman's career.

What The Texas Explosion Reveals

I was reading an analysis of last night's fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, and came upon this paragraph:

This explosion is nothing at all like what happened in Oklahoma City back in 1995. That was a mixture of ammonium nitrate, a dry solid, and diesel fuel. Ammonium nitrate is made from ammonia, but the United States banned it after that attack. It was a common method of application, but now we use liquid UAN (urea/ammonium nitrate) or solid urea. Neither can be used to make explosives.

The author was referring to the bombing by Timothy McVeigh.

And it occurred to me that we had a national tragedy, and Congress did something in response to it: they banned ammonium nitrate. [UPDATE: Hmmmm… I can't confirm that outside this one blog.  Still, the point is that Congress responded.  Read on (and hat tip to Brett)]

Congress did more than that though.  They passed a law which require that dynamite and other commercial explosive materials contain tagging agents that would aid investigators in tracing bombs.

And that's what our government is supposed to do.  It's bad enough that the government doesn't act proactively, but at least it does something after a tragedy has occurred.

Except with Newtown.  It failed.  It failed because of the NRA.  Because of fear of the NRA.

Ironically, the law that included tagging of explosive materials only passed when an exemption was granted for gunpowder.  Gunpowder is not tagged.  And who opposed that?  You guessed it.  The NRA.

This is an evil organization, and its impact must be stopped.  Next electin cycle, it is important that a high NRA approval rating be deemed a negative.  Only then can this country become safer.

But the Texas explosion reveals something else: this is what happens with "freedom from government".  The plant had not been inspected in five years.

Not Following Reibus’s Advice

Just a week ago, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was talking to Politico about how his party "has divorced itself from the American culture," and he hopes to change that. Priebus specifically talked about the pointless rhetorical shots at President Obama who does care about the culture: "[We] would make fun of the president for going on 'The View' — and you've heard me say these things — you know, talking hoops for half an hour on ESPN. That's where a lot of America is at, and I think we've got to get with it."

It appears Republicans are choosing to ignore Priebus' suggestion.

 

It's worth noting that spending bills originate in the House, not the White House. So this talk about "White House budgets" is nonsense from the beginning. Those "budgets" that the White House comes up with  don't have the force of law. They are just blueprints for negotiations over actual appropriations bills. And remember, those are Constitutionally tasked to the House.

In short, this is their way to try and get Obama to own entitlement cuts that they themselves are pushing for. The White House doesn't need to fall for that nonsense.

Rand Gets His Answer

No

You have to appreciate the opening line: "It has come to my attention….."
So here's the breakdown:
Rand Paul asks “whether the president has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil.”
Holder responds "It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate…"
Rand Paul freaks out and filibusters, asking a different question: "Does the president have the power to use a weaponized drone on an American citizen not engaged in combat on American soil?"
"No".