“Here in the House,” Speaker John Boehner announced after meeting with his caucus Wednesday morning, “Republicans are going to continue to stay focused on jobs.”
It’s true. Technically, House Republicans are focused on jobs: Eric Holder’s and President Obama’s. They want to put both men out of work.
Tying up this administration is Job One for the opposition party, and never more so than this week. Republicans have been awaiting with giddy anticipation a Supreme Court decision Thursday that they expect will overturn Obamacare, the signal achievement of Obama’s presidency. “If the court does not strike down the entire law, the House will move to repeal what’s left of it,” Boehner vowed.
At the same time, Republicans decided to dedicate Thursday to a spectacle on the House floor: voting to hold Holder, the attorney general, in contempt of Congress for declining to hand over certain documents related to the Operation “Fast and Furious” guns program on the Mexican border.
Fox News Channel’s Chad Pergram asked Boehner (R-Ohio) whether he thinks “the American public is buying the narrative that you’re here to talk about jobs, when in the next 24 hours . . . everything emanating from the House floor is about contempt of Eric Holder?”
“We’re going to continue to focus on jobs,” Boehner repeated.
After that, the next jobs-related activity for House Republicans was to hold a meeting of the Rules Committee to determine procedures for Thursday’s vote on Holder.
Republicans rushed the contempt citation to the floor — the first time in history that the body has taken such action against a sitting attorney general — under “emergency” procedures. They did so even though Boehner had not yet met with Holder and even though the committee handling the investigation had not allowed a single witness whom Democrats wanted to testify publicly. Had they worked with such alacrity to create jobs, the economy would probably be booming.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the panel investigating Holder, told the Rules Committee that the attorney general has been “uncooperative at every step of the way” and that the Justice Department “lied” to Congress, and he suggested that Justice officials are “covering up a crime.”
Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on Issa’s committee, said the inquiry is “one of the most highly politicized congressional investigations in decades.” The reason for the contempt vote, he said, “is plain and simple: politics.”
It was but an appetizer for Thursday’s food fight, but even this session, in a small, ornate hearing room at the Capitol, got nasty and personal, as lawmakers addressed one another by their first names. A trio of Republicans maintained that, as Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) put it, “this is not something that is desirable for any of us.” But Issa seemed to be enjoying himself as he mixed it up with the Democrats on the panel.
“It has all the trappings of a witch hunt,” charged Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the rules panel’s ranking Democrat.
“Looks and smells like a witch hunt,” agreed Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
Issa retorted: “That’s been the Democratic talking point all along.”
At another moment, McGovern said Republicans “keep on moving the goal posts” in their requests of Holder.
“Not just moving the goal posts, moving the stadium,” Cummings added.
Responded Issa: “We keep moving the goal posts closer, but he can’t kick a two-yard field goal.”
Democratic complaints continued at great length: “You absolutely did not answer the question!” “Hold on, just a minute!” “A cynical maneuver.” “A disservice to the American people.” “A scripted sideshow.” “A dark, dark day.”
In response, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) shared with the panel lessons she had learned during her morning Bible study, and Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) shouted about serving as “stewards of the United States Constitution.” Issa taunted the Obama administration: “You own that mistake.”
Democrats did get Issa to admit that “I’ve never said Eric Holder knew anything specific” about the Fast and Furious program and that his contempt action “isn’t even about the program. It’s about the failure to tell us the details of post-lying events.” He further acknowledged that he didn’t call a George W. Bush administration attorney general to testify because he was “narrowly focused” on Holder and that he didn’t call other Democratic witnesses to testify because he was concerned about grandstanding.
“That’s the new definition of irony,” McGovern said, pleading for “the speaker to approach this in a more rational way.”
Unlikely. “I have no role in it,” Boehner said when reporters asked about the Holder vote.
Remember? He’s focused on jobs.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 27, 2012
Justice Antonin Scalia needs to resign from the Supreme Court.
He’d have a lot of things to do. He’s a fine public speaker and teacher. He’d be a heck of a columnist and blogger. But he really seems to aspire to being a politician — and that’s the problem.
So often, Scalia has chosen to ignore the obligation of a Supreme Court justice to be, and appear to be, impartial. He’s turned “judicial restraint” into an oxymoronic phrase. But what he did this week, when the court announced its decision on the Arizona immigration law, should be the end of the line.
Not content with issuing a fiery written dissent, Scalia offered a bench statement questioning President Obama’s decision to allow some immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children to stay. Obama’s move had nothing to do with the case in question. Scalia just wanted you to know where he stood.
“After this case was argued and while it was under consideration, the secretary of homeland security announced a program exempting from immigration enforcement some 1.4 million illegal immigrants,” Scalia said. “The president has said that the new program is ‘the right thing to do’ in light of Congress’s failure to pass the administration’s proposed revision of the immigration laws. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of federal immigration law that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind.”
What boggles the mind is that Scalia thought it proper to jump into this political argument. And when he went on to a broader denunciation of federal policies, he sounded just like an Arizona Senate candidate.
“Arizona bears the brunt of the country’s illegal immigration problem,” the politician-justice proclaimed. “Its citizens feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy. Federal officials have been unable to remedy the problem, and indeed have recently shown that they are simply unwilling to do so.
“Arizona has moved to protect its sovereignty — not in contradiction of federal law, but in complete compliance with it.” Cue the tea party rally applause.
As it happens, Obama has stepped up immigration enforcement. But if the 76-year-old justice wants to dispute this, he is perfectly free as a citizen to join the political fray and take on the president. But he cannot be a blatantly political actor and a justice at the same time.
Unaccountable power can lead to arrogance. That’s why justices typically feel bound by rules and conventions that Scalia seems to take joy in ignoring. Recall a 2004 incident. Three weeks after the Supreme Court announced it would hear a case over whether the White House needed to turn over documents from an energy task force that Dick Cheney had headed, Scalia went off on Air Force Two for a duck-hunting trip with the vice president.
Scalia scoffed at the idea that he should recuse himself. “My recusal is required if . . . my ‘impartiality might reasonably be questioned,’ ” he wrote in a 21-page memo. Well, yes. But there was no cause for worry, Scalia explained, since he never hunted with Cheney “in the same blind or had other opportunity for private conversation.”
Don’t you feel better? And can you just imagine what the right wing would have said if Vice President Biden had a case before the court and went duck hunting with Justice Elena Kagan?
Then there was the speech Scalia gave at Switzerland’s University of Fribourg a few weeks before the court was to hear a case involving the rights of Guantanamo detainees.
“I am astounded at the world reaction to Guantanamo,” he declared in response to a question. “We are in a war. We are capturing these people on the battlefield. We never gave a trial in civil courts to people captured in a war. War is war and it has never been the case that when you capture a combatant, you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts. It’s a crazy idea to me.”
It was a fine speech for a campaign gathering, the appropriate venue for a man so eager to brand the things he disagrees with as crazy or mind-boggling. Scalia should free himself to pursue his true vocation. We can then use his resignation as an occasion for a searching debate over just how political this Supreme Court has become.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 27, 2012
“Legally Challenged”: Judge Allows Florida Voter Purge To Move Forward Despite Federal Law Forbidding It
Federal Judge Robert Hinkle rejected the Justice Department’s request for a temporary order suspending Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) effort to purge tens of thousands of names from his state’s voter roles. According to the AP, Judge Hinkle relied on highly questionable reasoningin order to do so:
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit earlier this month to halt the purge, saying it was going on too close to a federal election. U.S. officials also said the list used by Florida had “critical imperfections, which lead to errors that harm and confuse voters.”
Hinkle in ruling from the bench said federal laws are designed to block states from removing eligible voters close to an election. He said they are not designed to block voters who should have never been allowed to cast ballots in the first place.
If this AP report is accurate, then Judge Hinkle is simply wrong. Here is the text of the federal law at issue in this case:
A State shall complete, not later than 90 days prior to the date of a primary or general election for Federal office, any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters.
Although the law does include exceptions for voters who ask to be removed, felons, the mentally incapacitated and dead voters, none of those exceptions apply to this case. The law says that no state may engage in a Florida-style voter purge seeking to remove ineligible voters within 90 days of an election. Period.
Judge Hinkle’s apparent decision is not simply wrong as a matter of statutory text, it also defies common sense. No state should ever purge eligible voters from its voter rolls for reasons that should be obvious. The purpose of the federal law preventing purges of ineligible voters within 90 days of an election is to avoid a situation where a state wrongly flags an eligible voter as someone who cannot lawfully vote without providing that voter enough time to demonstrate that the state made a mistake. Hinkle’s apparently misreads this law to suggest that Florida is perfectly free to kick legal voters off its voter rolls so long as it does so more than three months before an election.
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, June 27, 2012
The House is due to vote Thursday on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress — setting up a protracted, unnecessary and expensive court battle between coequal branches of government about the extent of executive privilege. To say this is a terrible misuse of Congress’s power is an understatement.
The dispute stems from a botched federal investigation into firearm trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border. In an operation named after a blockbuster movie, “Fast and Furious,” federal law enforcement used the scandalous tactic of letting guns “walk” in hopes of tracking them to cartels. Unfortunately, federal officials failed to follow the guns across the border. We have learned that the Bush administration tried the same tactic in an operation called Wide Receiver — with similar results. Some guns from Fast and Furious were among those found where a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, tragically lost his life.
This certainly merits vigorous congressional oversight. But after 16 months, 7,600 documents and nine hearings with the attorney general, the investigation has become unmoored. It is no longer an examination of what went wrong in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives under both administrations. Rather, it has devolved into the latest partisan attack on the Obama presidency.
Holder has bent over backward to comply with all the requests from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The attorney general only refused when Issa asked for materials such as internal deliberative communications, which the Justice Department is prohibited by law and privilege from providing.
GOP leadership has now made the absurd claim that assertion of executive privilege establishes that the White House was involved in the planning and aftermath of Fast and Furious. This fantasy shows a complete disregard for the well-established facts of this case and the law as argued by administrations from both parties. The White House assertion is backed by decades of precedent that has recognized the need for the president and his senior advisers to receive candid advice and information from their top aides.
So why is the House moving forward with this vote to hold the attorney general in contempt? Because the GOP leadership won’t take yes for an answer. It wants — and needs — a fight.
This contempt vote is over documents produced after February 2011 — a month after Fast and Furious reached its ignominious end. The papers could not shed light on what DOJ officials were thinking years earlier. It’s clear that this has morphed into an election-year hunt for a senior administration official’s scalp.
This is the type of politics that makes the American people fed up. It’s a lamentable distraction from the work we should be doing to get at the real problem — the mutually destructive trade of guns and drugs that has made our southern border less safe, resulted in the deaths of Americans and killed tens of thousands of Mexicans.
Pressing forward with the ATF rules requiring reporting when an individual buys more than one high-powered rifle along the border, as the administration is pursuing, or passing legislation to crack down on gun traffickers and those that provide them with weapons, as I have proposed, would give investigators and prosecutors the tools they have asked for and need.
It is difficult for Americans to grasp the scale and the brutality of the violence in Mexico — the battle against the drug cartels is a literal war for the Mexican authorities. But it’s a war fought with U.S. weapons. The cartels use the U.S. as their armory because of the easy availability of high-powered firearms.
For all the talk about Fast and Furious, Issa has been loath to discuss the steps we must take to stop the flow of weapons to some of this hemisphere’s most violent criminals.
The irony of this Republican plan to push ahead with a contempt citation is that it can only play out in a predictable scenario. The House will most likely pass the resolution on a party-line vote Thursday. The GOP majority will then go to court to obtain the documents. It will settle after months, or years, of costly litigation — and get exactly what Holder offered it last week.
But we will have lost an opportunity to put the politics aside and finally do something meaningful to fight the traffickers flooding Mexico with guns.
By: Rep Adam Schiff, Politico, June 26, 2012
Predictions are always hazardous when it comes to the economy, the weather, and the Supreme Court. I won’t get near the first two right now, but I’ll hazard a guess on what the Court is likely to decide tomorrow: It will uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) by a vote of 6 to 3.
Three reasons for my confidence:
First, Chief Justice John Roberts is — or should be — concerned about the steadily-declining standing of the Court in the public’s mind, along with the growing perception that the justices decide according to partisan politics rather than according to legal principle. The 5-4 decision in Citizen’s United, for example, looked to all the world like a political rather than a legal outcome, with all five Republican appointees finding that restrictions on independent corporate expenditures violate the First Amendment, and all four Democratic appointees finding that such restrictions are reasonably necessary to avoid corruption or the appearance of corruption. Or consider the Court’s notorious decision in Bush v. Gore.
The Supreme Court can’t afford to lose public trust. It has no ability to impose its will on the other two branches of government: As Alexander Hamilton once noted, the Court has neither the purse (it can’t threaten to withhold funding from the other branches) or the sword (it can’t threaten police or military action). It has only the public’s trust in the Court’s own integrity and the logic of its decisions — both of which the public is now doubting, according to polls. As Chief Justice, Roberts has a particular responsibility to regain the public’s trust. Another 5-4 decision overturning a piece of legislation as important as Obamacare would further erode that trust.
It doesn’t matter that a significant portion of the public may not like Obamacare. The issue here is the role and institutional integrity of the Supreme Court, not the popularity of a particular piece of legislation. Indeed, what better way to show the Court’s impartiality than to affirm the constitutionality of legislation that may be unpopular but is within the authority of the other two branches to enact?
Second, Roberts can draw on a decision by a Republican-appointed and highly-respected conservative jurist, Judge Laurence Silberman, who found Obamacare to be constitutional when the issue came to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The judge’s logic was lucid and impeccable — so much so that Roberts will try to lure Justice Anthony Kennedy with it, to join Roberts and the four liberal justices, so that rather than another 5-4 split (this time on the side of the Democrats), the vote will be 6 to 3.
Third and finally, Roberts (and Kennedy) can find adequate Supreme Court precedent for the view that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives Congress and the President the power to regulate health care — given that heath-care coverage (or lack of coverage) in one state so obviously affects other states; that the market for health insurance is already national in many respects; and that other national laws governing insurance (Social Security and Medicare, for example) require virtually everyone to pay (in these cases, through mandatory contributions to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds).
Okay, so I’ve stuck my neck out. We’ll find out tomorrow how far.
By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, June 27, 2012