Congress

What's Next for Immigration Reform?

pamhule/Flickr
Jens Schott Knudsen / Flickr For the first time since 2007—and arguably, for the first time in decades—a comprehensive immigration-reform bill stands a good chance of passing the Senate. Built over the last seven months by a bipartisan group of senators (the “Gang of Eight”), the 867-page proposal comes to the floor of the Senate this week, where lawmakers will debate its provisions, and Republicans will have to decide if passing reform is more important than avoiding the political consequences of working with President Obama (and thus becoming a target for conservative activists). In the Senate, we’re almost there. On Saturday , New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte—a conservative favorite—announced her support for the bill, praising its pathway to citizenship as “tough but fair,” saying that immigrants would “go to the back of the line, pay taxes, pass a criminal background check, learn English.” “Our immigration system is completely broken,” she said on CBS’s Face the Nation , “This...

How All Three Branches Conspired to Threaten Your Privacy

WikiMedia Commons
The recent revelations about the court order issued to Verizon asking them to hand over data about the calls made by millions of customers were chilling not so much for the specific information the government was asking for, but for what the order likely portended. Given its massive scope, the potential for spying into electronic communications made much more disturbing revelations inevitable. It didn't take long for the other shoe to drop. In a blockbuster story , Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras of The Washington Post have revealed the existence of a more comprehensive spying program with the code name PRISM involving the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as at least nine telecommunications giants. It's a classic case of how checks and balances have not worked in the way the framers envisioned. Far from checking executive overreach, Congress has authorized dangerous expansions of power while various levels of the judiciary break out their rubber...

The Verizon Data Order and Why It Matters

WikiMedia Commons
G lenn Greenwald of The Guardian had a major scoop yesterday, revealing a court order requiring the communications giant Verizon to hand over information about all the calls in its system, domestic or international. As Greenwald explains, this means "the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing." This is a major story that reveals glaring flaws in the current rules governing surveillance and national security—p articularly since, as Atlantic Wire 's Elspeth Reeve points out , it's unlikely that Verizon is the only company being required to turn over records of the calls made by its customers, or that this is the only type of information being sought by the government To be clear, the potential legal and policy problems of this policy are not the same as those of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping, which went ahead without the approval of the special...

Is the GOP's Tragedy of the Commons Problem Undoing Immigration Reform?

Marco Rubio may be getting thirsty again.
For some time, everyone in Washington assumed that if any major piece of legislation had the chance to pass this year, it was going to be immigration reform. At last it seemed Republican and Democratic interests had come into alignment! Democrats have wanted reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, for a long time. Republicans have finally realized that telling Latino voters "We don't like your kind" every couple of years is very bad politics. So with bipartisan "gangs" in both houses of Congress working on reform packages, it appeared that things were moving toward passage. Until the last couple of days, that is. Things are starting to look bleak. First we heard about an amendment coming from John Cornyn and Marco Rubio that sets almost impossible conditions on any path to citizenship; as Politico described it , the amendment "would require 100 percent operational control of the Southern borders and that 90 percent of illegal border crossers be apprehended...

Once Upon a Time, There Was a President ...

flickr/United States Government Work
AP Photo L ast week I wrote about why the myth of the magical hero-king — what others call the "Green Lantern" presidency—just won’t die. The reason? Because it seems the myth is in the interest of the presidents themselves! In some ways, however, this particular myth is only one of the many ideas of the presidency that were essential in the institution’s development. Many of the things that presidents do, after all, aren’t explicitly in the Constitution, and many of the things we associate with the presidency weren’t done for years and years after the Constitution was adopted. A president just set a precedent, and it stuck. For a minor example, there’s the president’s Saturday radio address, invented by Ronald Reagan and then copied by everyone since, although Barack Obama added a twist with YouTube versions. There’s more: Everything from cabinet meetings to press conferences to “pardoning” Thanksgiving turkeys is part of the slowly built-up White House job requirements. Congress, on...

Republicans Mad that President They Despise, Obstruct, and Lie About Doesn't Call More Often

And not only that, he unfriended me on Facebook! (Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
Iowa senator Chuck Grassley is something of an odd character. As I've said before, he used to be considered a reasonable moderate, but in the last couple of years he has basically turned himself into a Tea Party wingnut, combining the ideological extremism, face palm-inducing stupidity, and general craziness that makes that political movement so charming (although I was recently informed that even a couple of decades ago, before Grassley began publicly yelling at clouds , people in the Senate privately considered him kind of a nut). Today, The Hill reports that Grassley, who has spent the last five years floating conspiracy theories, impugning Barack Obama's motives, and telling truly vicious lies about his policies, is upset that Obama doesn't call him more often. Seriously. In 2009, Obama basically had Grassley on speed dial, calling him frequently during negotiations over an overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system. Grassley at the time was one of three Republicans on the Group...

Let's Talk about Tax Reform

Flickr/tolworthy
A few Republicans out there, struggling to put the IRS scandalette in a larger context, are now saying it shows we need tax reform. It doesn't really, unless their argument is that we've been letting shamelessly political 501(c)(4) organizations get away with a scam and we ought to clarify the law on what such organizations can do. But that's not what they're saying. What they're saying is that the IRS matter shows we need to change the tax code to reflect the same policies they've advocated forever. It wasn't as though this particular scandal arose because filing your personal income taxes is too complicated or because the corporate tax system is riddled with loopholes. It was something very specific, the law regarding how certain kinds of non profit organizations are allowed to operate. Frankly, there's no part of the tax code conservatives care less about. What they're interested in is changing personal and corporate taxes. Ted Cruz, for instance, says, "We ought to abolish the IRS...

Why Republicans Can't Destroy Obama

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Over the past few years, liberals like me have pointed out countless times that the Republican party was being (or would be soon, as the case might have been) terribly damaged by the ideological extremism and general nuttiness of the faction that took over the party between 2009 and 2010. But we have to be honest and acknowledge that it didn't always work out that way. They were able to win a number of tangible victories despite the fact that the public doesn't look favorably on the things they wanted to do. In many cases, an extremist Republican ousted a perfectly conservative Republican in a primary, and now the extremist Republican is in possession of a safe seat. And of course, they won a huge victory in the 2010 elections. For all the fun we've had at the expense of people like Michele Bachmann, the damage they did to the GOP wasn't always as serious as we thought it would be. But I think we're seeing the limits that the House Republicans' extremism imposes on their ability to...

Regular Order, Meet Schadenfreude

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak R egular order. For the past few months, it’s been a Republican byword, the potential cure to all that ails Washington. “The right process is the regular order,” Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, said in a statement this past January. “A second term presents the opportunity to do things differently, and in the Senate that means a return to regular order,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor earlier this year. “I believe that it’s time to do regular order,” House Speaker John Boehner told ABC News in March. The ceaseless parade of commissions, super committees, and gangs of six and eight could be traced back to the lack of a Democratic budget for these regular-order evangelicals. After all, Senate Democrats hadn't even managed to propose a budget since the first year of Barack Obama's presidency. For the latest issue of the Prospect , Jamelle Bouie and I profiled Patty Murray , the senior...

Michele, Our Belle

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
AP Photo/Eric Gay W hat she knows about the culture of the country she claims to represent wouldn't fill an action toy's gym sock. That's why Michele Bachmann—who announced she was retiring from Congress a couple of days ago—probably has no idea that she was played by one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history two years before her own birth. I mean, of course, Mercedes McCambridge—the witch-hunting villainess of Nicholas Ray's 1954 Johnny Guitar. In later life, she also voiced Satan in The Exorcist, but let's not stoop to such low-hanging fruit. McCambridge was a formidable performer, and she understood the hysterical roots of Bachmann's political persona better than our own Michele ever will. Frustrated at most ordinary human contact, McCambridge's character comes into her own when she foments a lynch mob. Her shriek of "I'll give ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS!" when her posse balks at the hanging is one of the most indelible line readings in American movies. The closeup of her excited...

Republicans Looking Sheepish On Obama Court Nominees

Flickr/NCinDC
One of the biggest criticisms activist liberals have had of the Obama administration is that they have not moved aggressively to put their stamp on the federal judiciary. While there has certainly been Republican obstruction of Obama nominees, in many cases the administration hasn't even bothered to nominate anyone to open seats. There are currently 82 vacancies on the federal bench, and in 58 of those, the administration has offered no nominee. So it's good news that they have announced that they are about to offer nominations for the three vacancies on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, widely considered the second most important court in the nation, since it hears many critical cases involving the scope of government power. It looks like the administration is betting that the more nominations they put up at the same time, the more attention the issue will get if Republicans try to block them, and the more attention it gets, the more difficult Republican filibusters will be...

Republican Overreach, Coming Soon

You can bet hey'll be hearing from these folks. (Flickr/SS&SS)
A number of people have asked whether the Republicans will overreach in their reaction to the current collection of scandal-ish controversies (by the way, someone really needs to come up with a name that encompasses them all). The answer to that question is, of course they will. Try to remember who we're talking about here. Overreaching is their thing. Congress will be going home this weekend, and I'll bet the Republicans are going to come back from their recess reassured that their constituents really, really want them to pursue Barack Obama to the ends of the earth. I'll explain why in a moment, but in the meantime the National Journal has details on their strategy: Congressional Republicans head into next week's Memorial Day recess armed with a strategy designed to keep the controversies that have consumed Washington in the news back home. Both House and Senate Republicans will focus on the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny as well as the...

Mr. Smith Is Vaporized in the Fire of a Thousand Suns

It hasn't gotten too much attention given the other things that are going on, but there is a battle looming this summer over the filibuster, one that could be a significant milestone in the already poisonous relationship between the parties on Capitol Hill. As Republicans have moved from filibustering every significant piece of legislation to also filibustering cabinet nominees (something that was extraordinarily rare until now), Democrats' frustration on the filibuster has grown. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening to use the "nuclear option," forcing a vote to change Senate rules to circumvent the filibuster (though probably only on presidential nominations). Reid would no doubt be cheered by many on the left if he did so, but others will warn to be careful what you wish for. After all, once you remove the filibuster, doesn't that open the door to Republicans running roughshod over the Democrats if and when they get the majority back in the Senate? Let's be realistic...

Patty Murray in 19 Takes

Steve Moors
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster No. 1: The Fixer Patty Murray may be the dullest, most unremarkable member of the United States Senate. Two decades in, she lacks any major legislation to her name, isn’t associated with an issue, rarely appears on television, almost always speaks in gray generalities, and seems to have spent the bulk of her time focused on sending earmarks back to Washington state. As one staffer puts it, the most interesting thing about Murray is how uninteresting she is. She’s also the most important politician you’ve never heard of. As conference secretary, she’s the fourth-ranking Democrat in the Senate, which makes her the highest-ranking woman in the chamber. Last year, she chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), spearheading the party’s surprising string of victories in the November elections. Thanks to her efforts, the Senate now has 20 women, the most ever. And as chair of the powerful Budget Committee, she is going up against Paul Ryan, the...

Do Drones Work?

AP Images/Eric Gay
Last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus hosted an ad hoc hearing on the implications of U.S. drone policy. It was a follow-up of sorts to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April examining the counterterrorism implications of drone strikes. The two hearings mark the first time Congress has explicitly scrutinized drones as a stand-alone issue; previous discussions were wrapped up in confirmation hearings and Rand Paul’s dramatic filibuster in March. But in narrowing the focus of the debate over drones to encompass only the moral gray areas of the Obama administration’s targeted killings policy, Congress is failing to ask more important questions. There’s no doubt that drone strikes can have horrific consequences. Beyond the disputed numbers of noncombatants killed, there are psychological consequences to consider as well. In the Senate hearing, Farea al-Muslimi, an American-educated Yemeni writer and activist, spoke eloquently of the heartbreak and fear that drones cause...

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