Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Boston Changed Nothing

Flickr/Pete Tschudy
We've all seen how the bombing in Boston, as so often happens with events like this, brought out the best in the people who were there. But it also—not surprisingly either—brought out the worst in some other people who were back in Washington. It gave them the opportunity to let loose their most vulgar impulses, the satisfaction they get from stoking fear, and their absolute disdain for so many of the things that make America what it is, has been, and continues to be. You'll recall that after September 11, the phrase "this changes everything" was repeated thousands of times. In too many cases, what that meant was, "This gives me the opportunity to advocate changes pulled from the darkest recesses of my imagination, the things I never would have dared suggest before. This is our chance." We can toss aside those pesky constitutional amendments that protect against unreasonable search and seizure or provide for due process, because we never liked them anyway. Hell, we can even torture...

Read Him His Rights

AP Photo/vk.com
AP Photo/vk.com Dzhokhar Tsarnaev T he capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev presents an important test for federal and state authorities: Can the United States resist the temptation to violate the civil liberties of people suspected of engaging in acts of terrorism? In some important respects, we seem to have avoided the systematic civil-liberties violations of the Bush administration. But when it comes to informing Tsarnaev of his Fifth Amendment rights, Obama is buying into the myth that ordinary police process is inadequate for dealing with domestic terrorism. It is not clear what the Obama administration will do with Tsarnaev, who has not been read his Miranda rights and who is engaging only in written communication from his hospital bed. But U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz has cited a "public-safety exemption in cases of national security and potential charges involving acts of terrorism" and indicated that Tsarnaev will be interrogated for at least a 48-hour period without being informed of...

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...

Ringside Seat: How Much Bull Could a Sen. Chuck Chuck?

When you learned that the suspects in the Boston bombing were ethnic Chechens who came to the United States as children, you may have had any number of thoughts. Chances are, though, that "I'm just glad Obamacare hasn't taken effect, otherwise they might have gotten health insurance subsidies" wasn't among them. But that seems to be where Chuck Grassley's mind went. The Iowa Republican senator said today that the Boston attack showed that we ought not pass comprehensive immigration reform too quickly. "How do we ensure," Grassley asked, "that people who wish to do us harm are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill before us?" Grassley was once considered reasonable and somewhat moderate, a legislator who would not only cross the aisle from time to time, but who could be counted on to at least go about the lawmaking business in a civil way. But somewhere along the line, Grassley went off the rails. When the Judiciary Committee was debating the...

Substituting Identity for Motivation

A religious right leader offering his insights.
Let's be honest and admit that everyone had a hope about who the Boston bomber would out to be. Conservatives hoped it would be some swarthy Middle Easterner, which would validate their belief that the existential threat from Islam is ongoing and that their preferred policies are the best way to deal with that threat. Liberals hoped it would be a Timothy McVeigh-like character, some radical right-winger or white supremacist, which would perhaps make us all think more broadly about terrorism and what the threats really are. The truth turned out to be … well, we don't really know yet. Assuming these two brothers are indeed the bombers, they're literally Caucasian, but they're also Muslim. Most importantly, as of yet we know absolutely nothing about what motivated them. Nothing. Keep that in mind. But for many people, their motivations are of no concern; all that matters is their identity. The sentiment coming from a lot of people on the right today runs to, "See! See! Mooslems!!!" Some...

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...

Immigration Reform: This Time It's Different

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, leads a "Gang of 8" news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington to discuss the group's immigration-reform legislation. W ednesday's release of the Gang of Eight's 844-page immigration-reform bill has taken a backseat to the coverage of the Boston bombings, currently hurtling toward a tense denouement. Immigration-advocacy organizations pushed back their press calls, and the senators behind the bill cancelled their press conference altogether. But the bill represents a sea change in the way the United States handles immigration. With a wide path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country and a major overhaul of the family- and employment-based immigration systems, it is a decisive shift away from the economic protectionism and anti-immigrant vitriol of the 2007-2008 immigration debate. "If you think of the 2007 bill as first- and second-generation thinking, this is...

Torture Report

Flickr/Shrieking Tree
As Americans grapple with the tragic bombings in Boston on Monday and the U.S. government works to track down those responsible, a new report on detainee treatment after 9/11 sheds important light on some of the measures adopted by the U.S. government in response to that attack. Issued by a panel convened by the Constitution Project , and chaired by two former members of Congress, Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat James R. Jones, the 577-page report looks at the broad range of policies and practices that were adopted by the U.S. to deal with detainees after the September 11 attacks. “Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel,” the report’s opening states , “is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture.” The new report states that in addition to methods that qualify as torture, “American personnel conducted an even larger number of interrogations that involved ‘cruel, inhuman, or degrading’ treatment. Both categories of...

The Second Explosion

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
AP Photo/Elise Amendola One of the blast sites on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon I n the 21 st century, American malevolence comes in twos. Just as people couldn’t begin to grasp what was happening until a plane hit the second of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, the full impact of what took place Monday in Boston didn’t sink in until, 13 seconds after the first explosion, another immediately confirmed the true implications of this particular horror. Tellingly and understandably, the initial response by all of us was to wrestle with the word “terror,” because as much as any word “terror” has become the rorschach of our modern rhetoric, a characterization that transforms the dimensions of an event even as the facts remain the same, when instead we might call what happened merely a “crime.” Was the explosion that took place at the Atlanta Olympics in the summer of 1996 less an act of terror because it came not in twos but ones? For many, long after...

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...

Ringside Seat: Limbaugh vs. Rubio

It's one thing to fight for something when you know the base of your party is behind you. You may not succeed, but you only have to face fire from one direction, and it's the one you're used to. But when your own core supporters are opposing you, things can get very complicated. That's what many Republicans are now facing as they try to pass immigration reform, the sine qua non of repairing their abysmal image among Latino voters. Republicans in both houses of Congress are working with Democrats to come up with a plan, but Republicans aren't sure they can get their own base to support it. As the misinformation begins to fly (don't ask about the mythical " MarcoPhone "), GOP members are trying desperately to convince conservatives that comprehensive immigration reform is a good idea. Today, Marco Rubio went on Rush Limbaugh's show to defend the proposal he and the other "Gang of Eight" members came up with, facing off against the right's most powerful media figure. "The Republican...

Obamacare's Delicious Ironies

We don't have health insurance, suckers! (Flickr/Elvert Barnes)
As the various "gangs" in the House and Senate were writing their immigration proposals, it became clear that to win the support of Republicans, the provisional legal status undocumented immigrants were going to get had to be punitive. No coddling those law-breakers; if they're going to get on a path to citizenship, it had better be an unpleasant path. It had to last for a long time—ten years, in the end. And there had to be a requirement that during that time, you couldn't get any federal benefits like food stamps or welfare. But this has produced a rather amusing irony. Republicans insist that one of the benefits those with provisional status must be barred from receiving is the subsidies that people of moderate incomes will get through Obamacare to buy insurance. As you'll recall, Republicans also believe that Obamacare's individual mandate is the most oppressive, liberty-destroying policy in the history of the republic; for instance, Wisconsin senator and Ayn Rand acoloyte Ron...

When Fear Threatens Freedom

AP Images
Throughout American history, whenever the United States has felt threatened, our response has been repression. In hindsight we come to realize that the nation was not made any safer from the loss of civil liberties. This is a crucial lesson to be remembered as the country deals with the terrible tragedy of Monday’s bombings in Boston. The impulse to take away constitutional rights to gain security must be resisted because, in reality, complying with the Constitution is not an impediment to safety. If history repeats itself, there are likely to be calls to make it easier for police to search people and their possessions without warrants or probable cause or even reasonable suspicion. Once more, there will be proposals to allow the authorities to detain individuals, even indefinitely, on suspicion of their supporting terrorism. There are sure to be calls to allow law enforcement to more easily intercept electronic communications, even of those conducted entirely within the United States...

Marco Rubio's Life Is about to Get Complicated

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Marco Rubio has had a pretty charmed political life. He rose quickly through the ranks in the Florida legislature, won a Senate seat without too much trouble at the tender age of 39, then suddenly found himself the " Republican savior " a mere two years after arriving in Washington. At a time when the GOP is desperate to appeal to Latinos, he's a young, smart, dynamic Latino who could be their presidential nominee in 2016. What could go wrong? Immigration reform, that's what. Many elite Republicans feel, and not without reason, that while supporting comprehensive reform might not win them the votes of Latinos, opposing it will pretty much guarantee that those votes will be lost to them. And Rubio almost has no choice but to be one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the party in that effort. He can't be the Great Latino Hope if he isn't. Trouble is, lots and lots of rank-and-file Republicans, particularly the kind who vote in presidential primaries, don't much like reform the way it...

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