Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

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Photo of the Day, Live Long and Prosper Edition

Leonard Nimoy passed away today at the age of 83. It's just impossible to overstate what a fantastic and enduring character he created in Mr. Spock. As Charlie Jane Anders writes today, before Spock, that kind of character—the emotionless alien—was a one-note character, but he managed to imbue him with a terrific range and depth, squeezing a tremendous amount out of a raised eyebrow or a single word ("fascinating"). The fact that everyone knows Mr. Spock, whether you've seen the original Star Trek or not, is a tribute to what he created. They don't come any cooler than Leonard Nimoy.

Republicans Trying to Fool Themselves into Thinking They Have a Solution to the Nightmare 'King v. Burwell' Will Unleash

For years now, Republicans have been saying they're about to unveil their alternative to the Affordable Care Act, the "replace" in "repeal and replace." And while every now and again one or a few of them comes out with a plan (of varying levels of seriousness), none of them get much support, and they quickly get put back on the shelf. But now that the King v. Burwell lawsuit threatens to take insurance subsidies away from millions of Americans, some believe they have to do something to avoid the massive political fallout that will result. Byron York reports:

"We're worried about ads saying cancer patients are being thrown out of treatment, and Obama will be saying all Congress has to do is fix a typo," said one senior GOP aide involved in the work. In recent private polling for the conservative group Independent Women's Voice, a huge majority of respondents said it would be important to "do something to restore the subsidies" in the case of a Court decision striking them down.

Hill Republicans fear such a scenario would create huge pressure on Republican governors, who originally declined to create Obamacare exchanges in their states, to change course and set up state exchanges. The result could ultimately be an Obamacare that is even more firmly rooted and difficult to repeal than it is now—all because of a Republican "victory" in court.

To avoid all that, GOP lawmakers have decided to keep the money flowing. Maybe the payments won't be called subsidies, but they will be subsidies. The essence of Obamacare—government subsidizing the purchase of health insurance premiums—will remain intact.

But York says they haven't decided on a specific plan, which makes me a bit skeptical. Whenever this group does come up with something, conservatives are going to say that it gives in to Obama and they shouldn't bail him out. There are probably even some who think that if the subsidies get taken away, Americans will realize once and for all how awful the law is.

But even putting those deluded lawmakers aside, the fact that Republicans are just now getting around to thinking about this is remarkable in itself. When they all stampeded to support the lawsuit, what did they think would happen?

If the Court rules in their favor, we're going to go through another version of the argument Republicans are now having over funding for the Department of Homeland Security. The pragmatic ones will say, "Let's just take care of this now to avoid disaster, and we'll live to fight another day." The conservatives will say, "We will not abide anything that aids Obamacare! Let it collapse of its own weight!" And then someone will try to come up with a compromise that extracts a pound of flesh from the law as the price of fixing the typo. Obama will say no dice, just fix the damn thing. Republicans will say, "See, it's Obama's fault your subsidies got taken away by the lawsuit we filed and supported!" No one will buy that, it'll drag on for a while with all the polls showing Republicans are getting the blame they deserve, and eventually they'll give in and fix it.

The Real Problem With What Scott Walker Said About ISIS

Scott Walker is learning that when you want to play in the big leagues, things move pretty fast. And when you're a governor without foreign policy experience, sometimes you can get a little tripped up trying to show how what you've done in your state prepares you for dealing with international challenges. So today Walker getting criticism for saying, in his speech to CPAC yesterday (it was actually in the Q&A session) that he can handle terrorists the same way he handled public sector unions in Wisconsin. Even some conservatives criticized him for it, but what's alarming isn't that he "compared" a bunch of Wisconsinites to ISIS, which of course he wasn't trying to do. What's alarming is that he thinks that you need the same skills and approach to dealing with unhappy constituents as you do with terrorists.  

Here's what he actually said:

"I want a commander-in-chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists do not wash up on American soil. We will have someone who leads and ultimately will send a message not only that we will protect American soil but do not take this upon freedom-loving people anywhere else in the world. We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on a 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world."

Then later he tried to walk it back:

"Let me be perfectly clear: I'm just pointing out the closest thing I have to handling this difficult situation is the 100,000 protesters I had to deal with," Walker told reporters. Asked if he regretted the statement, he said, "No."

"You all will misconstrue things the way you see fit," he said. "That's the closest thing I have in terms of handling a difficult situation, not that there's any parallel between the two."

I doubt there are many limits to Walker's contempt for people who want to bargain collectively, but obviously he didn't mean to say they're like terrorists. What he did mean to say, I'm fairly certain, is that he can bring the same kind of uncompromising toughness to combatting ISIS that he brought to his successful attempt to crush the public sector unions. The unions were his enemy then; ISIS will be his enemy if he gets to be president.

And this is what we need to explore, not only with Walker but with all the Republican candidates. They'll all be eager to tell you that on this problem, Barack Obama is weak and indecisive, whereas if you're sufficiently tough, the problem can be solved. But you know who was tough, uncompromising, and brimming with the "confidence" Walker cites? George W. Bush. When it came to terrorists, you couldn't get much tougher than that guy. Heck, not only did he invade two countries, he even started a program to torture prisoners. Super-tough, am I right?

But you may have noticed that when Bush left office, there were still terrorists. Al-Qaeda had been transformed from a centrally-run organization into a network of franchises, all of which are potentially dangerous. And then out of the ashes of the Iraq War grew ISIS. For some unfathomable reason, toughness wasn't quite enough to solve the problem.

So that's how I'd pose the question to these candidates if I had the chance: You talk a lot about being strong and tough and showing resolve, and "sending messages" of strength and toughness and resolve, but George W. Bush did all those things, and yet the problem remains. So what do we do now?

Photo of the Day, CPAC Edition

What's that you say? There's a biology teacher at your local high school trying to indoctrinate students into believing that the earth is 4.5 billion years old? Not to worry—AmericaMan is on his way! Good thing I wore the Sweatband of Liberty today!

John Boehner Can't Bring Himself to Rip Off the Band-Aid

Mitch McConnell knows what John Boehner doesn't, namely that when you have to do something painful, it's best to get it over with quickly. Rip off the Band-aid, chop the zombie-bite-infected leg off with one blow, just do it and move on. But we're a day away from a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, and Boehner can't bring himself to do it.

So here's the current status. McConnell decided that the Senate would take two votes, one on a "clean" DHS funding bill—i.e., one without a rider reversing President Obama's executive actions on immigration—and one addressing just those executive actions. That way DHS stays open, Republicans get to cast their symbolic vote against Obama, and everybody goes home. The funding bill is already moving through. And of course, Tea Partiers are outraged (here's one colorful post from Erick Erickson entitled "Eunuch Mitch McConnell Squeals Like a Pig"). Which, I'm pretty sure, doesn't bother McConnell all that much, because he knows what's in his party's interest and what isn't.

Boehner is still saying "nuh-uh!" But to what end? What does dragging this out actually accomplish for him? Here's a report from Politico:

Boehner is playing a game of political survival. Most of his inner circle knows that the House will be forced to swallow a clean DHS funding bill at some point. But if the speaker wants to keep conservatives from launching a rebellion, it may be too early to capitulate. Boehner is aware of the perilous situation he's facing—which is why, in private conversations with lawmakers, he's telling them to "stay tuned" without tipping his hand on his next move.

Speaking to his caucus Wednesday, Boehner said he hadn't spoken to McConnell in two weeks, an apparent attempt to distance himself from the Senate GOP leader's plan. It seemed to highlight what will likely be an unfolding dynamic in the coming Congress, particularly over fiscal matters: The Senate will be forced to cut deals on politically toxic issues, and Boehner will ultimately be forced to accept them in order to avoid potential crises.

So the outcome is inevitable, but Boehner seems to be operating on the assumption that if he holds out a while longer, the crazy caucus will be less angry with him. And when has that ever worked? We've been through this multiple times now, and at the end of it they dislike him just as much as they did at the beginning.

There are three things Boehner could be thinking. The first is that if there's a partial shutdown, the administration will give in and undo Obama's executive actions. No one is dumb enough to believe that. The second is that he or someone else will have an extraordinary flash of insight and devise a clever stratagem that will get the Republicans everything they want. That's possible in theory, but highly unlikely to say the least. The third is that this shutdown fight will end the same way all the other shutdown fights ended: with Boehner giving in and allowing a vote on a bill to end the crisis, a bill that passes with the support of Democrats. He will be decried as a capitulator and a RINO, and nothing will have changed.

But is Boehner really in a "perilous situation"? The reason he's still the speaker isn't that he's done such a masterful job of keeping Tea Partiers happy. It's that nobody else wants the job. When he retained the position in January, 25 Republicans voted for somebody else, but the votes were entirely symbolic. There's no other candidate, there's no rebellion planned. He's secure in his miserable position.

So really, Mr. Speaker, just rip off the Band-aid. Hold the vote to fund DHS. We all know how this ends.

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