The Obama Administration

King of the Playground

President Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray shows Republicans who's boss.

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Since Barack Obama took office, the Republican minority in the Senate has abused the institution's anti-majoritarian procedures and "advise and consent" role to prevent President Obama from filling dozens of important executive-branch positions. The unwillingness to hold a vote on the appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a particularly striking example of this. The Republicans do not object to Cordray specifically; they object to the idea of having a watchdog with any teeth acting on behalf of consumers at all and have refused to consider any appointment for the position.

Voting Wrongs

When Barack Obama entered the White House, liberals hoped that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice might return to its proper mission. The agency had been gutted during the Bush years, litigating individual cases of bias without tackling the systematic levers of discrimination that affect a far larger share of the population. Obama beefed up the agency's staff and DOJ started hiring actual civil rights attorneys (unlike the strict ideological conservatives without civil rights experience who entered during the Bush administration).

House GOP's White House Stocking Stuffer: The Payroll Tax Cut

The cave-in by the House Republicans on the payroll tax is on terms that keeps this conflict going well into the election year--and on terms very favorable to Barack Obama and the Democrats. For the GOP, the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut is the worst possible politics.

First, they look weak (because they are weak); and second, the same drama will be replayed next year with the same outcome. Raising taxes on millionaires rather than cutting Social Security or Medicare, or hiking payroll taxes, wins every time.

The Arpaio Effect

Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a report saying that under Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s leadership, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) has violated the Fourth Amendment and Title VI through a consistent “pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing.”

“MCSO, through the actions of its deputies, supervisory staff, and command staff, engages in racial profiling of Latinos,” the report found. One expert quoted in the report said it was “the most egregious racial profiling in the United States that he has ever personally seen in the course of his work, observed in litigation, or reviewed in professional literature.”

The War on Terror Comes Home

Passage of the NDAA brings issues of indefinite detention and military trials to American shores.

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

It is usually difficult to find an issue, particularly in the form of current legislation, that unites retired generals and admirals, civil libertarians, Tea Party activists, retired intelligence officers, current Obama administration national-security officials, and former Bush administration officials. But this year's defense authorization bill, which passed both houses of Congress this week, did just that.

The 666-page bill is a vast document that authorizes $662 billion in defense spending for the fiscal year. Nestled in in this overarching bill are a series of controversial provisions that authorize the president to indefinitely detain terror suspects and require the military to take custody of anyone deemed to be a member of al-Qaeda.

Conflict's Resolution

The end of the Iraq War marks a victory for progressives, but tough work lies ahead.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama stood with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the South Court Auditorium of the White House to announce that “a war is ending.” Two days later, the president visited Fort Bragg to offer an encomium to post-9/11 veterans. “Your service belongs to the ages,” he told the assembled troops.

By the end of the year, all U.S. combat troops in Iraq will have slipped across the border into Kuwait, and America’s war in Iraq will be over.

Crash Diet

Obama still has time to redeem his food-production policy.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

In October 2008, Michael Pollan, a food writer and critic of American agriculture policy, wrote a letter in The New York Times Magazine addressed to the president-elect, whom everyone then assumed would be Barack Obama, on how to make our food more healthful. Obama wouldn’t win the election for another month, but the lithe, urbane candidate had earned a reputation for eating well on the campaign trail; he eschewed hot dogs for salmon, arugula, and Honest Tea. Food policy had not been at the forefront of the campaign, Pollan argued, but was key to a number of policy goals Obama had raised: “Unless you [reform the food system], you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change.

Republicans' Governing Glossary

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Agencycide noun – The effective killing of a statutorially established agency of government by legislative refusal to confirm the nominees required to lead that agency. The term dates from December 2011, when Senate Republicans killed (by exploiting Senate rules requiring a supermajority to bring up votes) President Barack Obama’s nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray for the position of director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which had been created by the Dodd-Frank Act passed by the previous Congress.

Rip It Up and Start Again

Democrats were fed up at the start of the year. They had held 59 seats in the Senate for most of the previous two years, their largest majority since the 1970s. But that near-supermajority wasn't enough to overcome a Republican fillibuster. A 60-vote hurdle became a common deathtrap for every Democratic bill or Obama nomination confirmation, leaving the executive branch understaffed and the federal bench depleted.

Elizabeth Warren: Bailout Queen

Karl Rove’s latest ad has to set an all-time record for hypocrisy and factual inversion. The ad actually manages to blame Elizabeth Warren for the bank bailouts.

As anyone who hasn’t spent the past three years in a cave must know, Warren has been the nation’s single most effective, relentless, and brave critic of the bailouts. It was that service as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel that made her one of America’s most admired public leaders.

B Is for Betrayal

At a time when women's reproductive rights are under attack on many fronts, the last thing we need is for the Obama administration to join in.

Less than a day after President Barack Obama’s soaring speech on restoring the American middle class, progressives who felt that the administration was finally heading in the right direction stumbled back to reality Wednesday with a baffling decision from Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius overruled the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) on its recommendation to make the contraceptive Plan B—a morning-after pill that reduces the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex—available over the counter alongside contraceptives like condoms. Even girls younger than 16 would have had access to Plan B under the FDA's recommendation.

Starving Homophobia

Is it right to deny foreign aid to countries that discriminate against gays and lesbians?

AP Photo

Yesterday the Obama administration brought LGBT rights to the top of its foreign-policy agenda, announcing it would tie the receipt of foreign aid to a country’s treatment of gay and lesbian citizens. “Gay rights are human rights,” Hillary Clinton said in a rousing speech to the United Nations in Geneva. “It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave.” As one would expect, the GOP quickly jumped on the opportunity.

Will Latinos Help Re-Elect Obama?

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama greets the crowd after speaking about immigration reform at Chamizal National Memorial Park in El Paso, Texas, Tuesday, May 10, 2011, during his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pardon Me

Instead of forgiving cronies and crooks, the president should use his executive authority to pass the DREAM Act.

One of the little joys of teaching a presidency class in the fall is that my session on presidential pardons falls around Thanksgiving so I can lead off with video of the leader of the free world pardoning a turkey.  However, one of the interesting things about the pardoning power is that, with the exception of impeachment charges, “the President’s authority to grant pardons [for federal offenses] is essentially unfettered” as this CRS report explains.  Presidents can pardon individuals or classes of people, with or without conditions.

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