Jamelle Bouie

Immigration Reform Won't Be a "Bonanza" for Democrats

Jens Schott Knudsen / Flickr
Jens Schott Knudsen / Flickr The big Politico story today is on the potential gains Democrats could reap from comprehensive immigration reform. But rather than go in a sensible direction—that Democratic support for reform will strengthen the party’s ties with Latino and Asian American voters, giving the latter a further stake in Democratic success— Politico argues that immigration reform will transform the electoral map by delivering millions of new votes to Democrats. Here’s the nut of the argument: If these people had been on the voting rolls in 2012 and voted along the same lines as other Hispanic voters did last fall, President Barack Obama’s relatively narrow victory last fall would have been considerably wider … Key swing states – [including] Florida, Colorado and Nevada - would have been comfortably in his column. And the president would have come very close to winning Arizona. Republican Mitt Romney, by contrast, would have lost the national popular vote by 7 percentage points...

The Gun Lobby's Raw Power

The Sunlight Foundation
The New York Times weighs in on the failed push for expanded background checks with a familiar take: Congress didn’t pass the Manchin-Toomey gun compromise because President Obama failed to “twist arms.” As with its columnist Maureen Dowd, the Times makes no mention of the GOP’s near-unanimous decision to filibuster the proposal; in this narrative of Washington, the choices made by individual lawmakers are irrelevant—only the president has any agency. As such, the Times —and various Beltway reporters—can focus their stories on why Obama failed to win GOP votes, and not on the calculations that led Republicans to oppose expanded background checks, even as they earned wide support from the public. For that, you have to look at the broader political landscape. President Obama won reelection by nearly five million votes, but he didn’t win a majority of congressional districts, and only won half of all states. For a large chunk of Congress, there’s no particular reason to support Obama’s...

Obama Is a Supporting Character

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) President Barack Obama makes an opening statement during his news conference yesterday in the East Room of the White House. The president says the economy cannot afford a tax increase on all Americans and is calling on congressional Republicans to support an extension of existing tax rates for households earning $250,000 or less. “Why couldn’t Barack Obama pass gun control?” is a bad question. Not because there isn’t a story to tell about the new push for gun regulations, but because Obama isn’t the main character. On broad questions like gun control and immigration reform, the president has a say, but the show belongs to Congress and all of its dysfunctions. The Manchin-Toomey plan for expanded background checks hit familiar barriers—the filibuster, near-unanimous Republican opposition, skittish red state Democrats—and failed as a result. The president can’t “pass” legislation—the most he can do is influence, pressure, and cajole. And even that depends on...

Why Did Gun Control Fail?

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Gage Skidmore/Flickr Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. With near-unanimous support from the public, how did President Obama’s plan for expanded background checks fail? The easy answer is it ran into the same barriers that have kept Democrats from passing any legislation over the last two years: Hyper-partisanship, joined with malapportionment in the Senate, routine filibusters, and a 60-vote threshold for cloture. Writing at Buzzfeed, Ruby Cramer and Evan McMorris-Santoro offer a more granular take , critiquing the particular political strategy pursued by the White House: But others said the White House’s campaign was encumbered by allowing urgency to fade; pursuing too many issues at once; overreaching in the early stages of the gun debate; and fundamentally failing to mobilize Obama’s legendary grassroots to pressure lawmakers. Each is a fair point, though it’s hard to see how they...

Conservatives: Boston Means We Shouldn't Do Immigration Reform

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
As soon as it was revealed that the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were immigrants from Chechnya—who had migrated as children, following conflict in the region—a predictable crew of conservatives pounced on that fact to disparage comprehensive immigration reform. Here’s Ann Coulter : It’s too bad Suspect # 1 won’t be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio, now. And also, conservative radio host Bryan Fischer : I think we can safely say that Rubio’s amnesty plan is DOA. And should be. Time to tighten, not loosen, immigration policy. On the other end of things, Iowa senator—and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee—Chuck Grassley issued a statement pointing to the situation as example of how the United States needs to improve its immigration laws : In his opening statement, Grassley also argued the Boston terror case can help strengthen immigration reform since “it will help shed light on the weaknesses in our system … [and] how can we beef up security checks on people who...

The Brothers Tsarnaev, Suspects in the Marathon Bombing

FBI
Late last night, a robbery at a convenience store in Cambridge, Massachusetts led to the shooting death of a police office on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Minutes later, an SUV was hijacked. The suspects drove that vehicle to Watertown in Boston, where they lobbed explosives and exchanged gun fire with police. As of early Friday morning, it was unclear if this was related to the Boston Marathon bombing. But soon, authorities released a photo of the suspect in the carjacking, noting the resemblance to one of the bombing suspects. By 7:30 this morning, a few facts had been confirmed. First, one of the suspects had been killed, an accomplice was in police custody, and the other suspect was still at large, the target of a manhunt by law enforcement. Second, the two are believed to be the suspects behind the marathon bombings. Finally, they have been identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, of Cambridge, and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed...

The Senate Kills Background Checks, and Obama Gets Angry

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza "The President reacts as John Brennan briefs him on the details of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Yesterday, a Republican filibuster killed the Senate compromise on expanded background checks, which had support from 54 senators, including its authors, Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Skittish red-state Democrats like Montana’s Max Baucus, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, Alaska’s Mark Begich, and Arkansas’ Mark Pryor joined the opposition, voting to uphold the filibuster and defeat the proposal. Lawmakers are risk averse, and congressional cowardice is the norm, but this was a particularly shameful instance of doing the wrong thing. No one expects red-state Democrats to vote for new gun regulations, but there’s no reason to support a filibuster and prevent a vote. As for arguments against the bill itself? Manchin-Toomey was a modest package designed to keep guns away from...

Presidential "Leadership" Doesn't Work

Intel Photos / Flickr
Intel Photos / Flickr One other thing about the death of background checks in the Senate. It’s further proof that the Beltway theory of presidential power—Obama needs to show “leadership” to move things forward—is wrong. Here’s what President Obama did in the service of passing new gun laws: He gave a widely-heralded speech after the Newtown shooting, demanding action from Congress. He held an event in January, announcing his new gun control proposals, with parents and children from Newtown in attendance. He followed up at the State of the Union, demanding that Congress put new gun laws to a full vote of the Senate. He held an event in early April, again demanding action on gun laws from the Senate. And just a few days ago , the mother of a Newtown victim gave Obama’s weekly address. None of this had any effect on the Republican senators who filibustered the Manchin-Toomey compromise, nor did it affect the red-state Democrats who feared political attacks for backing new gun laws. It...

The Filibuster Strikes Again!

Google
Earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brokered a “gentlemen’s agreement” on the filibuster with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Democrats wouldn’t try to seriously reform the filibuster if Republicans would limit use of the procedure on “motions to proceed” to legislation or nominations. The problem with this agreement is that there was never a political incentive for McConnell to keep his part of the deal. As we saw during President Obama’s first term, Republicans can filibuster legislation without consequence—the public is indifferent to the details of congressional procedure. And so, as soon as it became inconvenient, McConnell ditched the agreement. First with the filibuster of Caitlin Halligan’s nomination to the DC circuit court, and now, with the Manchin-Toomey compromise on gun control : The Senate plans to vote on nine proposed changes to a gun control bill Wednesday, with a centerpiece proposal on background checks appearing headed for defeat. The chief...

Obama's Failed Second Term?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
At the moment, President Obama is juggling three different legislative priorities—a gun control bill, a budget agreement, and comprehensive immigration reform. Of the three, only the latter has any chance at passing Congress, and that depends on whether Republicans see themselves as winning any advantage from agreeing to the legislation. At Bloomberg View , Ramesh Ponnuru looks at the situation , and—based on the scant odds for success in each case—concludes that Obama’s second term has already failed. He argues that “liberal policy gains have been sparse,” and that while liberals can “celebrate the rapidly increasing support for same-sex marriage,” it doesn’t have much to do with Obama. Ultimately, concludes Ponnuru, “It doesn’t look like he’s going to do much to advance” the “ambitious liberal agenda” presented in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses. All of this is correct on the facts, but it strikes me as a narrow view of Obama’s second term goals. Yes, the White House...

The Return of Herman Cain

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect Herman Cain, the Georgia-based talk show host who used the Republican presidential primaries to propel himself to national fame, has returned to the public stage with a new organization of black conservatives—the appropriately named American Black Conservatives. Here’s The Washington Post : His news conference is held in a room named for progressive Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. In attendance: three cameramen and three reporters, including one from the conservative publication NewsMax and another from CNN who is visibly disappointed when told that Carson had skipped the Monday event. Beneath a gilded chandelier, Cain explains the rationale behind the ABCs. “When black conservatives are attacked, they sometimes are more viciously attacked than white conservatives,” Cain says. “One of the themes of this meeting is: We will not be silenced; if anything, our voice collectively will be stronger.” Of course, no one is trying to silence black...

Reminder: Mass Unemployment is Terrible

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This line from David Brooks’ most recent column has stuck with me since I read it: “Right now, America faces two giant problems: social unraveling today and cataclysmic debt tomorrow.” Reasonable people can disagree about the long-term problem of debt, but it’s hard to argue that we haven’t seen some form of “social unraveling” over the last decade. As Brooks notes: We’re living in a country where 53 percent of children born to women under 30 are born out of wedlock, according to government data. Millions of people, especially men, are dropping out of the labor force. Nearly half the students who begin college are unable to graduate within six years. The social fabric for people without college degrees is in shambles What’s frustrating about this diagnosis is that, like most elite discussion, it ignores the huge elephant looming over all areas of American life—mass unemployment. If you lived on a diet of Beltway pundits, you’d have no idea that we’re facing an crisis of joblessness,...

Has Obama Forgotten that Republicans Want to Shrink Government?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect He still doesn't care about poor people. The lead Politico story today is on President Obama’s rhetoric of “class warfare” and its implications for showdowns on guns, immigration, and budget politics. Politico takes an odd tone throughout, treating Obama’s push for higher taxes on “millionaires and billionaires” as opportunistic rhetoric, and not as a (half-hearted) response to yawning income inequality and tax policies skewed to favor the wealthiest Americans. More interesting than that, however, is a line from David Axelrod, Obama confidante and senior strategist for the president’s reelection campaign. Responding to liberal discontent over Obama’s proposed cuts to Social Security (and to a lesser extent, Medicare), Axelrod offers a choice—liberals can accept mild cuts from a Democratic administration, or fight deep, destructive cuts from a Republican one: “There’s no doubt that there are some members of Congress who see Medicare and Social...

Marco Rubio Commits to Immigration Reform

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Florida Senator Marco Rubio has been involved with immigration-reform talks since the beginning of the year, but there’s always been a question of his commitment—does Rubio want to pass a bill, or does he just want the political benefits of advocacy without the substantive trouble of legislating? If this sounds cynical, recall that—at almost every turn over the last few months—Rubio has threatened to derail talks over a series of non-issues, accusing Democrats of supporting amnesty and rushing negotiations, though neither has happened. But with the announcement of a bill from the Senate “Gang of Eight,” Rubio has moved from wavering critic to straightforward ally. As Pema Levy reports for Talking Points Memo , Rubio took center stage on several talk shows yesterday, making a full-throated pitch to his fellow Republicans on the need for a comprehensive bill, and the advantages of the one on the table: To Sen. Lee’s preference for a piecemeal approach, Rubio argued that the...

Did Obama Lose Votes Because of His Race?

Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect
Most observers, with the exception of those who fervently believe in a “colorblind” America, accept the role race plays in perceptions of Barack Obama. His blackness influences supporters—generating enthusiasm for his candidacy—and detractors, from right-wing provocateurs like Rush Limbaugh. to left-wing critics like Cornel West. If there’s still an open question, it’s to what extent has Obama’s race played a part in his vote share . Presidential voting is influenced by a wide range of factors, from partisanship and economic conditions, to ideology and wealth. And since Obama won a majority of the vote in both of his elections, it seems like a stretch to say he somehow lost votes as a result of his race—he’s the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to win two terms with a majority of the popular vote. Who else could he have lost? Two years ago, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz—a Harvard economist—tried to answer this question. Of course, quantifying racial bias—to say nothing of its...

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