Congress

Charles Krauthammer Is Making Sense! Almost.

If you asked a hundred conservatives which opinion columnist they most admire, I'm pretty sure Charles Krauthammer would come out on top. Unlike, say, George Will, Krauthammer is free of even passing heresies against conservative dogma. Unlike, say, Cal Thomas, Krauthammer doesn't paint conservative culture warring in explicitly religious terms, allowing everyone to join in the smiting of sinners. And, they'll tell you over and over again, he's brilliant! I can't say I've ever seen it that way—Krauthammer may not be a numbskull or anything, but I've never read anything he's written and said, "Wow, that's a really smart argument—I'm not sure how I'd counter it." And if you've seen him on television, you know that he's a particularly grim figure, usually looking like he's vaguely bored with whatever he's talking about and displeased with the fact that he has to be wherever he is. His columns, furthermore, are often driven by a particularly venomous attitude toward Democratic politicians...

The Rise and Fall of a "Scandal"

He never quite got what he wanted. (Flickr/stanfordcis)
Remember the IRS scandal? Haven't heard much about it lately, have you? Yet for a while, it was big, big news, and so often happens, the initial blockbuster allegations were everywhere, penetrating down to even the least attentive citizen, while the full story, which turned out to be rather less dramatic, got kind of buried. News organizations aren't in the habit of shouting, "BREAKING: That Thing We Said Was Huge Last Week? Eh, Not So Much." Brendan Nyhan has looked at how this "scandal attention cycle" played out with the IRS and turned it into some charts : What that means in practice is that while pretty much everybody heard that the IRS was "targeting conservative groups," far fewer people have learned that there is now lots of evidence that the IRS wasn't targeting conservative groups (see Alec MacGillis for a good explanation). In the news organizations' defense, one could argue that the allegations were pretty dramatic, so they reported on it a lot when they emerged. But then...

It's Hard Out There for a Minority Leader

To many people, a poll released today by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling probably came as a surprise. Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader in the Senate, is shown trailing his challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, by a point. But he's a Republican in a conservative state, and one of the leaders of his party. How could he be in danger of losing? For starters, Grimes looks to be a serious opponent. Her father is a well-known former state senator, she's already won a statewide campaign, and she's made some terrific videos with her grandmothers, tapping into Kentucky's substantial pro-grandma vote. But that's not the real source of McConnell's problems. While one might think that the more important and influential a senator is in national politics the easier time he'd have winning re-election, the opposite is true, especially at a time like this. Almost 40 years ago, political scientist Richard Fenno identified a curious phenomenon among voters: they hate...

Not Much, But Better than Nothing

President Obama yesterday in Chattanooga with Amazon workers. (White House photo/Chuck Kennedy)
President Obama offered a "grand bargain" yesterday, and although it wasn't particularly grand, it was a bargain: Republicans would get a lowering of the corporate income tax rate, something they've wanted for a long time, and Democrats would get some new investments in infrastructure, job training, and education. Inevitably, Republicans rejected it out of hand. "It's just a further-left version of a widely panned plan he already proposed two years ago, this time with extra goodies for tax-and-spend liberals," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. At this point, Obama could offer to close the E.P.A., eliminate all inheritance taxes, and rename our nation's capital "Reagan, D.C." if Republicans would also agree to give one poor child a sandwich, and they'd say no, because that would be too much big government. Just as inevitably, in-the-know politicos are wondering, why does he bother with this stuff if he knows what the result will be? Didn't we get enough of this I'm-the-...

Pray the Atheists Away

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
AP Photo/The Fayetteville Observer, Raul R. Rubiera Earlier this week, two Democratic representatives felt the sting of the old adage, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Earlier this summer, Colorado representative Jared Polis and New Jersey representative Robert Andrews tried to push through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act—a large defense budget bill—that would allow the Department of Defense to add nonreligious chaplains to the ranks of the military. Not only did the amendment fail, its opponents were so incensed that they introduced their own amendment, requiring any chaplain appointed to the military to be sponsored by an “endorsing agency,” all of which are religious. The new measure passed resoundingly, 253 to 173. Republicans seemed simultaneously baffled and horrified by the notion that nonreligious chaplains might have something to offer service members. “They don’t believe anything,” explained Representative Mike Conaway, a Republican from Texas, during a...

Run, Women, Run!

Rebecca D’Angelo
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite S usannah Shakow's first impression of high-school junior Tristana Giunta was that she was awkward. "Like, couldn’t-look-you-in-the-eye kind of awkward," Shakow says. Giunta was attending the first annual Young Women's Political Leadership conference in Washington, D.C.—the flagship program offered by Running Start, which Shakow, a lawyer with experience pushing women into politics, started to get girls excited about governing; excited enough to run for office. The Young Women’s Political Leadership conference is a boot-camp where high-school women learn the ingredients that make a great politician. They take Networking 101, Fundraising 101, and Public Speaking 101. They get first-hand knowledge of how Washington works from women who have been playing the game for ages. Girls learn there are dozens of people their age just as ambitious and as hungry to run for office as they are. Despite her shy demeanor, Giunta soaked up an impressive amount of campaign...

Congress Tells NSA to Keep Up the Good Work

National Security Agency headquarters.
What with the important news of a baby being born in England and the further adventures of Anthony Weiner's penis dominating our attention, you probably didn't notice the failure yesterday of an amendment in the House to end the NSA's program collecting phone records on you, your neighbors, and every other American. Keep in mind that, as Sen. Ron Wyden has intimated , there are almost certainly other NSA surveillance programs that we would also be shocked to hear about, but remain secret. That this amendment, sponsored by Republican Rep. Justin Amash, got a vote at all is somewhat surprising, but from all appearances , Speaker John Boehner saw it as a way to allow the more libertarian members of his caucus to let off some steam and take a stand against government surveillance. It may not have ever had much of a chance of passing both the House and Senate, but the Obama administration pushed for a no vote and General Keith Alexander himself went to Capitol Hill to lobby against it, and...

Rhode Island’s Small Victory

AP Photo/Susan E. Bouchard, File
AP Photo/Mel Evans W hen Governor Lincoln Chaffee signed the Temporary Care Giver’s Insurance law last week, Rhode Island became the third state—along with California and New Jersey—to grant paid time off to care for a sick loved one or a new baby. Rhode Island’s law, which goes into effect in 2014, will not only provide most workers with up to four weeks off with about two-thirds of their salaries (up to $752 a week), it will protect employees from being fired and losing their health insurance while they’re out. Workers will be able to use the time to care for a broad range of people, including children, spouses, domestic partners, parents, parent-in-laws, grandparents, and foster children. And, though the maximum single leave is four weeks, each parent can take four weeks off to bond with a new baby. A mother recovering from birth could combine that with an additional six weeks paid through an existing state program, bringing her total paid time off to ten weeks. An entire family...

Liz and Dick

With the help of her powerful father, Liz Cheney is running for Senate and setting off the next round of an intra-GOP fight over foreign policy. 

AP Images/Cliff Owen
AP Images/Cliff Owen It’s not much of a surprise that Liz Cheney has decided to run for office, as she announced yesterday. With the help of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and access to his considerable network of donors and supporters, she’s been building a national profile herself, mainly on national security issues, for several years. What is surprising is that she would challenge a sitting Republican Senator in Wyoming, rather than the state in which she’s spent most of her time over the last decade. “When I heard Liz Cheney was running for Senate I wondered if she was running in her home state of Virginia,” said Senator Rand Paul in response to the news that Cheney would challenge incumbent Mike Enzi. The problem isn’t that a primary fight could weaken the GOP in Wyoming. As Jonathan Chait noted yesterday, there’s little real danger of a Democratic upset in reliably-red Wyoming. The problem, Chait continued, is that “Cheney is nuts—a spokesman of the deranged wing...

Semantic Innovation in Immigration Reform

An immigrant inspects her new green card. (Flickr/Daniel Hoherd)
Greg Sargent gets the skinny from a House aide about a potential new immigration proposal in that body, which would include some new triggers and deadlines, but what caught my eye was this part: The new plan would take the provisional legal status and right to work granted to the undocumented at the outset and reconfigure it as "probation." The plan would require undocumented immigrants to admit having broken U.S. laws and admit guilt (in a civil sense), and enter into a probationary phase, during which they’d have very similar legal rights to the ones they would have under the provisional legal status in the Senate bill. This concession is designed to help Republicans embrace comprehensive reform. It is meant to give Republicans a response to the charge of "amnesty" — the claim that a path to citizenship will reward lawbreakers — by instead requiring the undocumented to take themselves out of the shadows, admit wrongdoing, and put themselves on a species of probation. Genius!...

All Hail Harry Reid!

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
The United States Senate and the nation it so imperfectly represents both had a good day today, thanks to something that’s been in short order around here lately: A Democrat who knows how to play hardball. By threatening Republicans with ending their right to filibuster presidential executive-brand nominees, Majority Leader Harry Reid ensured that President Obama’s appointments to departments and agencies that Republicans don’t much like would nonetheless be approved. It’s important to note that the Republicans’ real objections have been less to the individual nominees and more to the bodies they were supposed to lead: The Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Workers, consumers and the environment rate a big “Feh” from Republicans, but unable to muster the votes to put their respective bureaus out of business, the GOP has used their power to filibuster to cripple them. Harry Reid...

Three Things You’ve Got Wrong about the Filibuster

AP Photo/Columbia, File
AP Photo/Henry Griffin W ith the Senate showdown on executive branch appointments—and eventually filibuster rules—moving towards the moment of truth, it’s a good time to revisit some of the myths surrounding one of the hallowed chamber’s most perplexing procedures. Here are three: 1. Filibusters ≠ Cloture Votes Really: Filibusters are not the same as cloture votes. All those charts and fact sheets you’ve seen showing the explosion of filibusters in 2009? Well, it happened, but the explosion was due to an increase in cloture votes, which are—get it now?—not the same as filibusters. Cloture—or cutting off debate on a bill, nomination, or motion, which by rule in the Senate requires three-fifths of all Senators—is one way the majority can end a filibuster. But it’s not the only way. Filibusters can end through attrition (that is, the minority tires of doing it); through cutting a deal on some minority demand, such as allowing one nomination to go through while another is withdrawn; or...

Ending Minority Rule

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
The first test vote that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is scheduled to bring before the Senate this morning is that of Richard Cordray, President Obama’s pick to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Reid decided to lead off with Cordray for a very good reason: The Republicans’ insistence on filibustering him makes clear their real intent is to throttle the Bureau. They are using a filibuster of an appointment to effectively repeal legislation they don’t otherwise have the votes to repeal. Nothing could better make Reid’s case that the filibuster has been twisted into a vehicle for minority rule. Republicans have openly acknowledged that their opposition to Cordray isn’t to Cordray himself. Rather, they say, they oppose giving the bureau’s director the power to direct the bureau. Instead, they’d like a bipartisan board to run the bureau. Their reasoning is straightforward: A single director might just advocate for consumers. If there were a bipartisan board, however, it...

If Republicans Want to Govern, They Should Try Winning Elections

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Gage Skidmore/Flickr Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. To understand Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s renewed push for filibuster reform, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s angry reaction to the proposal—he declared that Reid’s “tombstone” would say that he “presided over the end of the Senate”—you have to look at the last four years of Senate dysfunction. Norms matter as much as rules in governing the conduct of Congress, and the most important norms change of the last decade happened at the beginning of Barack Obama’s first term, when Republicans adopted the filibuster as a routine tool of opposition. Rather than reserve the tactic for consequential or controversial pieces of legislation, Republicans—led by McConnell—invoked it on everything from judicial and executive branch nominations, to small-scale legislation with wide support, like the DREAM Act. By the second...

Making Laws No Longer Part of Lawmaking Process

Flickr/KP Tripathi
Reading through some headlines today, I came across one link that began, "House Votes To..." and I realized that no matter what the end of the headline was, you can almost always insert, "...Make Pointless Statement As Sop to Conservative Base" and you'll be on target. In this case it happened to be a vote to block energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs, but it could have been any of a thousand things. You could argue, as Jonathan Chait does , that Republican lawmakers have basically given up on lawmaking altogether, and you wouldn't be far off. But it's more than that. They've reimagined the lawmaking process as a kind of extended ideological performance art piece, one that no longer has anything to do with laws in the "I'm Just a Bill" sense. It's not as though they aren't legislating, it's just that laws have become beside the point. Granted, the lawmaking process has always involved a lot of grandstanding and occasional votes taken more to make a statement than to alter the...

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