Congress

The Bitter Twilight of John McCain

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh Senator John McCain of Arizona asks a question of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, center, President Barack Obama's choice for defense secretary, on Capitol Hill yesterday. Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, listens at left. T hat one,” John McCain famously snarled in a presidential debate four years ago, referring to his opponent who was a quarter of a century younger and who had been in the Senate 3 years to McCain’s 20. It’s difficult to imagine a better revelation of the McCain psyche than that moment, but if there is one, then it came yesterday at the meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee, convened to consider the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. The McCain fury is something to behold, almost irresistible for how unvarnished it is in all its forms. In the instance of the 2008 debate, McCain’s dumbfounded antipathy had to do with facing an opponent he so clearly considered unworthy. In the instance of the hearing...

Obama's Trump Card: Breaking the Filibuster

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster President Barack Obama announces that he will re-nominate Richard Cordray, left, to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a role that he has held for the last year under a recess appointment, January 24, 2013. D id a hack conservative judge just lay the groundwork for the end of the filibuster? It’s very possible. At least, if the Supreme Court goes along—and if Democrats, as they should, fight back. The road begins not with last week’s D.C. Circuit Court decision, which if upheld would knock out virtually all recess appointments, but with the Senate Republican plan that Brookings scholar Tom Mann has called “ a modern form of nullification .” That was a scheme to prevent some government agencies—the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), and others—from functioning by blockading any presidential appointments, using the filibuster to require 60 votes and then keeping the Republican Senate conference...

Did Republicans Lose the Election?

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Last November, Democrats seemed to be justified in believing that their party had won a victory of genuine significance. The ideological differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were clear-cut, and Obama was re-elected. Despite the advantage that Republicans initially enjoyed in Senate races, Democrats increased their majority to 55, and that new majority is more liberal than the old one. In races for the House, more voters cast ballots for Democratic than for Republican candidates, though Republicans kept their majority thanks in large part to gerrymandered districts. But if you step back now, look at government as a whole, and think about the likely course of politics in the next several years, things look different. In what was a bad year for Republicans, they emerged with enough power to stymie major Democratic legislative initiatives and to advance key items on their own agenda through the arms of government that they continue to control. In other words, the United States...

Chicken Hawk Ted Cruz Smears Kerry and Hagel

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Flickr/Gage Skidmore U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz Apparently every Democrat automatically despises the troops, even when those Democrats once volunteered to serve in the armed forces. It's a trope Republicans have pulled out ever since the Nixon years. The Obama era--replete with drone strikes, Libyan intervention, and the death of Osama bin Laden—has robbed Republicans of a bit of their bluster. But on Saturday Ted Cruz, the newly elected U.S. Senator from Texas, breathed new life into the old smear when he tarred two highly decorated former veterans. Cruz appeared in Washington, D.C., at a forum hosted by the National Review Institute, the non-profit arm of the conservative magazine. "We've got two pending nominations, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. Both of whom are very prominently [pause] less than ardent fans of the U.S. military," Cruz said to chuckles from the crowd. A quick refresher about the two men he claims somehow oppose the U.S. military. In 1966, secretary of state nominee John...

The Peak of Her Game

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, listens to questions from lawmakers during her testimony on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, January 23, 2013, before Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. W ith due respect to Barack Obama, his second inaugural address—containing not a single phrase likely to end up chiseled in stone, but a tactical masterpiece in its GOP-marginalizing, progressive redefinition of what the traffic will bear—wasn't the best political TV of the week. The best political TV of the week was Hillary Clinton's testimony in front of the Senate and then House Foreign Relations Committees on Wednesday. After licking their chops for weeks at the prospect, Republicans eyeing 2016—specifically, potential contenders Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, both of whom were among her quizzers—may be wondering why...

What Killed Filibuster Reform?

Flickr/theqspeaks
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator McConnell reached an agreement yesterday that will be called "filibuster reform" by some reports. But as The Washington Post 's Ezra Klein summarizes it , "The deal is this: The filibuster will not be reformed." There were some minor changes in the deal that will streamline the confirmation process for nominees to federal district courts (although not appeals courts), but overall the deal is a fizzle for supporters of filibuster reform. The failure to reform the filibuster is a very bad thing . The question is why so many Democratic senators—including some blue-state representatives like Vermont's Patrick Leahy and California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer—showed so little inclination to act in the interests of progressive values. One issue is that some senators may not accurately perceive the damage that the filibuster does to Democratic interests. One Senate staffer wrote Talking Points Memo to defend the non-reform: I have...

Republicans Puzzled as to Why They Didn't Slay Hillary Clinton Yesterday

Hillary Clinton making a point to Republicans at a hearing on Benghazi yesterday.
Today, Republicans are wondering why they didn't manage to make Hillary Clinton fall whimpering into a fetal position of the floor of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing room, then get up and admit that the Obama administration had engaged in a massive cover-up of their terrible crimes in Benghazi. Senator Ron Johnson, one of the most intellectually challenged members of that august body, with whom Clinton had an exchange that ran on all the news programs, triumphally told a reporter he had got "under her skin," and said, "I think she just decided before she was going to describe emotionally the four dead Americans, the heroes, and use that as her trump card to get out of the questions. It was a good way of getting out of really having to respond to me." Diabolical indeed, that she managed to evade your skillful cross-examination. John McCain, on the other hand, blamed an "adoring media" for not helping the Republicans stick it to Clinton. Could be. Or it could be that when...

Deficits: The End of an Obsession

AP Photo/Alan Diaz
The consensus around debt reduction is beginning to crumble. Some straws in the wind are more careful attention to the actual numbers, as well as public conversions by such key players as Larry Summers and Peter Orszag, two former top aides to President Obama, who only yesterday were key members of the deflate-your-way-to-recovery club. Summers wrote a piece in Wednesday’s Financial Times titled “End the Damaging Obsession with the Budget Deficit,” pointing out that the more serious deficits were in jobs, wages, and infrastructure. His former colleague Orszag wrote a piece pointing out that the rest of the budget is in decent shape—the huge outlier is federal health care costs, projected to rise from 5.5 percent of GDP now to 12 percent by 2050. President Obama, in his second inaugural address, had little to say about deficit-reduction as some kind of panacea and more about broadly-shared recovery. In the era of the Bowles Simpson Commission, the Peterson Foundation’s regular...

No, We Don't Need More Immigration Enforcement

AP Photo/Tuscaloosa News, Robert Sutton
AP Photo/Cliff Owen Members of immigration rights organizations, including Casa in Action and Maryland Dream Act, demonstrate in front of the White House in Washington, Thursday, November 8, 2012, calling on President Barack Obama to fulfill his promise of passing comprehensive immigration reform. I f you need proof that nothing short of a Soviet-style blockade along our Southern border will satisfy immigration hardliners, look no further than Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies—a think tank that, as the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, "has never found any aspect of immigration it liked." Krikorian has previously used his space at the National Review Online to grouse about the "unnatural" pronunciation of Sonia Sotomayor's name and to suggest that the United States slough off Puerto Rico to end the "gravy train." Last week, he used it to denounce a recent Migration Policy Institute report showing the United States spends approximately $18...

In the Three Branches, Sharing is Caring

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster O ne of the most misleading things that high school civics classes teach is that the United States government is based on strict separation of powers: Congress legislates, the executive branch carries out those laws, and courts judge. But as Obama’s announcement on gun regulation yesterday—in which the president laid out 23 executive actions he could take on gun safety without congressional approval—shows, that’s just not the system the framers of the Constitution gave us. In fact, as Richard Neustadt, the late founder of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, explained long ago , we have a system of separated institutions sharing powers. Yes, Congress legislates. But not only does the president have a direct role in the legislative process thanks to the veto; he signs executive orders and issues regulations through agencies that look an awful lot like making law. You won’t hear it from House Republicans and other conservatives, who are talking impeachment...

Obama's Second-Term BFD Agenda

Victor Juhasz
J ust after Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, Joe Biden came up to him and, thinking they were out of range of the microphone, said to the president, “This is a big fucking deal.” If I understand the concept of a BFD in the technical sense that Biden must have had in mind, it’s a historic reform that changes America in a fundamental way. Presidents have other imperative responsibilities, such as upholding the Constitution, keeping the nation safe from foreign threats, and promoting a strong economy. As critical as those are, they are not BFDs; a president who does all those things will probably get re-elected yet receive only brief mention in the history books. To be celebrated by future generations requires the accomplishment of substantial change with enduring benefit. In the language of the political scientist James MacGregor Burns, that is the work of a transformational leader, not merely a transactional one. Illustration by Victor Juhasz This...

Hagel Faces Down the Neo-Cons

Rex Features via AP Images
It’s terrific news that the neo-conservatives like Bill Kristol and Elliott Abrams, who have been peddling the slander that Chuck Hagel is an anti-Semite, got no traction with leading pro-Israel senators. The announcement by New York senator Chuck Schumer and California senator Barbara Boxer that they will support Hagel signals that the mainstream Jewish community wasn’t buying it, and even that the Israel lobby is split. Well placed sources tell me that the full-page ad in yesterday’s New York Times created by Kristol and company, under the name “The Emergency Committee for Israel” actually backfired. In the ad, Alan Dershowitz is quoted as saying that Hagel speaks the language of “the bigots of Tehran.” The ad evidently failed to sway leading legislators. The Committee’s entire board is Kristol, Gary Bauer (a prominent rightwing Christian supporter of Israel) and Rachel Abrams, a neo-con married to Elliott Abrams. Schumer’s support now makes it safe for other Democrats and moderate...

How Boehner Can Bypass Tea Party Republicans, and Prevent Default

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
When push came to shove, and Congress had to approve legislation to avert the fiscal cliff, House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t rely on his conference to provide the necessary votes. The final agreement—crafted by Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden—passed the House with just 85 Republican votes. The remaining 172 came from Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats, for a final count of 257 to 167. To avert economic disaster Boehner had to seek votes from a overall majority of the House, rather than just a majority of his caucus. Which has raised an important question: Would Boehner try to build majorities with pragmatic Republicans and Democrats, or would he continue the Sisyphean task of wrangling Tea Party Republicans into a governing coalition. We’re still waiting on an answer, but if last night’s vote on Hurricane Sandy aid was any indication, we may see more of the former over the next year than the latter. First the facts: Last night, the House approved $50 billion in additional relief for...

The Last Four Years, and the Next Four

Tonight, PBS's Frontline will be broadcasting a documentary called "Inside Obama's Presidency," about the President's first term. The story told in this preview is about a now-somewhat-famous dinner that a bunch of Republican muckety-mucks held on the night of Obama's inauguration, during which they made the decision that the best way to proceed was implacable, unified opposition to anything and everything the new president wanted to do. As we all know, this plan was then carried out almost to the letter. Watch: Watch Facing a Permanent Minority? on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE. The story of this inauguration-night dinner was told in Robert Draper's book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the House of Representatives , which came out eight months ago. Seeing the story retold, what's striking is that beforehand, one would have considered the participants—Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Jim DeMint, John Kyl, Tom Coburn—to be extremely, sometimes infuriatingly, conservative. But...

White Districts and White Sensibilities

Joe Heck, a conservative white guy with a difference.
You may have heard that in the incoming Congress, white men will constitute a minority of the Democratic caucus for the first time. That's an interesting fact, but it's only part of the story. At National Journal , Ron Brownstein and Scott Bland have a long, Brownsteinian look at how "the parties glare across a deep racial chasm" not only in the members of Congress themselves, but in the people they represent. "Republicans now hold 187 of the 259 districts (72 percent) in which whites exceed their national share of the voting-age population. Democrats hold 129 of the 176 seats (73 percent) in which minorities exceed their national share of the voting-age population. From another angle, 80 percent of Republicans represent districts more heavily white than the national average; 64 percent of House Democrats represent seats more heavily nonwhite than the national average." The implications for the GOP of the fact that most of their members represent mostly white districts are profound,...

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