Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) generated quite a few headlines in his interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep this week, but not necessarily for the right reasons.
The story that got tongues wagging inside the Beltway was hard to miss: the conservative senator dismissed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential future, arguing the nation is at a “generational, transformational crossroads,” and Clinton is “a 20th century candidate.”
Maybe it’s just me, but hearing a far-right lawmaker who opposes marriage equality, supports limits on contraception access, opposes reproductive rights, balks at ENDA, and fails to believe in climate science turn around and present himself as a forward-thinking leader for the future is a bit much. As Barbara Morrill joked, Rubio’s “the guy for a generational, transformational change. Assuming you’re talking about a transformation back to the 19th century.”
But just as interesting were the senator’s comments about comprehensive immigration reform, which Rubio co-sponsored in the Senate, which passed a bill fairly easily last year.
“I’ve been through this now, I was involved in the effort. I warned during that effort that I didn’t think it did enough on this first element, the [border] security front. I was proven, unfortunately, right by the fact that it didn’t move in the House.”
As the senator probably knows, this assessment doesn’t line up especially well with what’s actually transpired.
As Rubio now sees it, immigration reform died because the Senate bill – which is to say, Rubio’s bill – came up short on border security. We know this is wrong. To shore up GOP support in the upper chamber, the bill’s bipartisan sponsors agreed to a “border surge” that would nearly double the “current border patrol force to 40,000 agents from 21,000, as well as for the completion of 700 miles of fence on the nation’s southern border.”
It took border security so seriously that some reform proponents wavered, fearing it went too far in militarizing the border. One GOP senator conceded at the time that the legislation went so far on the security front that it was “almost overkill.”
Rubio now says he was right all along, warning senators that the bill wasn’t tough enough. But that’s plainly silly. Indeed, as Simon Maloy discovered, Rubio actually praised his bill’s security provisions at the time, boasting that it “mandates the most ambitious border and interior security measures in our nation’s history.”
So why did the House Republicans kill it anyway? Because the comprehensive solution required them to compromise, accepting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States. House GOP lawmakers refused to strike a deal – hell, they refused to even go to the negotiating table – so the legislation died, again.
The related question is, why would Rubio make such obviously untrue claims now? The answer, I suspect, is that the Florida Republican took a sharp hit from his party’s far-right base for supporting immigration reform, and as Rubio looks ahead to the 2016 race, the senator needs a way to distance himself from his own legislative handiwork.
This, apparently, is the argument he’s come up with. If you’re thinking the talking points aren’t going to persuade anyone, you’re not alone.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 23, 2014
“If Boehner Sues Obama, John Roberts Wins”: Enhancing Judicial Power At The Expense Of The Elected Branches
The story on House Speaker John Boehner’s lawsuit against President Barack Obama is pretty simple: regardless of whether the administration overstepped, what’s at stake is whether the courts are being empowered at the expense of the elected branches of government.
For starters, there’s zero evidence that Obama has been unusual in his use of executive powers. If he’s overdone it, then all the recent presidents have done so, too. The idea that he’s some sort of tyrant who acts differently than other modern presidents is nonsense.
In fact, It’s perfectly normal for presidents and executive branch departments and agencies to make broad interpretations of law that look a lot like legislating. It’s how the system works, and pretty much how it always worked. Thus Richard Neustadt’s famous claim that the system isn’t “separation of powers,” but separated institutions sharing powers.
Nonetheless, there are rules constraining how laws may be interpreted, and it is possible that in specific instances, the administration may have acted beyond what the law allows.
Indeed, experts have made the case that this kind of overreach occurred with the delayed implementation of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act (which, apparently, is going to be central to the House Republicans’ lawsuit), though other experts disagree.
In any case, it would be unprecedented, and in fact would constitute a significant change to the constitutional system, if the courts allowed Congress to sue the president over the ACA delay.
The technical issue is “standing.” For the courts to consider a lawsuit, the person or group bringing the suit has to show they were harmed in some direct way. So, for example, in the recent recess appointment case, Noel Canning Corp. was able to show that it had directly been harmed by an action taken by members of the National Labor Relations Board who had been recess-appointed. Generally, the courts have ruled (Vox has a good explainer on this) that Congress isn’t eligible to sue the president just because it doesn’t like what he’s done.
What Boehner is claiming now is that Congress, or the House of Representatives in this case, should be able to sue the president for not following the law if no one else would be able to do so.
If that succeeds, however, the big winner in the long run wouldn’t be Congress. It would be the courts.
By the logic of Boehner’s own action (despite what he says), this isn’t about a tyrannical president refusing to obey the law. If House Republicans believed that Obama was an out-of-control dictator, then they couldn’t also believe that a court ruling would be sufficient to constrain him.
What’s actually happening is that the House doesn’t interpret the law in the same way as the president, and the question is how to resolve the variance. Normally, each branch has an opportunity to interpret the law (those separated institutions sharing powers again), but doctrines such as standing limit the courts’ ability to intervene.
If, however, they can intervene whenever a house of Congress is unhappy, then the courts get a a much more active role in determining what the laws say. And why just a house of Congress? What if the president sued Congress, for example, if it failed in its obligation to produce appropriations bills on time? Instead of a government shutdown, would we get an injunction and then a judicial act of appropriations, with someone appointed by Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan making 302(b) allocations by judicial fiat? Or perhaps we’d wind up with individual senators jurisdiction shopping, looking for a friendly judge to overturn some fight they lost in committee or on the Senate floor. Those kinds of setbacks are common for senators and executive branch departments; the only thing that prevents the losers, or whole chambers that lost fights in conference, from directly appealing to the courts is that the courts have a doctrine against intervening.
So what can Congress do? If the problem were simply a president who failed to follow the law, then the only real choices would be either to live with it, or impeachment and conviction. But if the problem is merely that the president interprets a law in a way that Congress doesn’t like, then the obvious remedy, as presidency scholar Andrew Rudalevige said recently, is “for Congress to change the law to remove presidential discretion” (I argue the same here).
So put aside the question of whether the administration improperly interpreted the law (it might have). Put aside, too, the silliness of House Republicans attempting to force the president to impose a policy, the employer mandate, which no Republican actually wants to enforce. And put aside the reality that by the time this lawsuit is decided it may well be moot, at least if the mandate takes effect as currently planned. This is about enhancing judicial power at the expense of the elected branches, and it’s a very bad idea.
By: Jonathan Bernstein, Ten Miles Square, The Washington Monthly, July 12, 2014
“You Don’t Bring A Lawsuit To A Gunfight”: It’s Clear Republicans Have Found Yet Another Area For Intra-Party Arguing
When asked Wednesday by NBC News what he thought about the failed vice presidential nominee and half-term Alaska governor’s demand that Congress remove Obama from office, the Ohio Republican said, “I disagree.”
Boehner is leading a charge to sue the Obama administration over what he sees as an abuse of executive power, but the speaker has said the lawsuit is not a step toward impeachment.
Got it. The House Speaker is prepared to file a lawsuit against the president for reasons Boehner can’t explain, but presidential impeachment isn’t part of the House Republican leadership’s plan.
So, does that put the matter to rest? Not yet, it doesn’t.
Former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) told Fox News, “You don’t bring a lawsuit to a gunfight and there’s no room for lawyers on our front lines.” (One hopes that Palin was speaking metaphorically and that she doesn’t actually see political disagreements with the White House as a “gunfight.”) The comments came on the heels of a written piece in which the Alaska Republican said conservative voters should “vehemently oppose any politician” who “hesitate[s] in voting for articles of impeachment.”
What we’re left with is the latest wedge dividing the party. It’s not yet a litmus test for the right, but four months before the 2014 midterms, it’s clear Republicans have found yet another area for intra-party arguing.
The Hill ran an interesting piece yesterday noting that much of the disagreement is about tactics, not ideology.
Staunch House conservatives are quashing calls for President Obama’s impeachment.
They argue an impeachment trial would be a doomed effort, with a Democratic Senate, that could hurt Republicans in the midterm elections.
For those who see the far-right impeachment crusade as silly, this may seem reassuring, but I’d like to pause to note a relevant detail: rank-and-file GOP lawmakers aren’t balking at impeachment because it’s dumb and unnecessary; they’re balking because they doubt it’ll advance their broader political goals.
The piece in The Hill is filled with quotes from House Republicans who are sympathetic to the idea of impeachment, but who worry about the electoral consequences and/or have no hopes that the Senate would remove Obama from office.
I emphasize this because, at least so far, I haven’t seen any GOP lawmaker say something like, “I disagree with impeachment because the president hasn’t committed an impeachable offense.” For much of the Republican Party, that Obama is guilty of serious wrongdoing is apparently a foregone conclusion, for reasons only they understand.
Byron York, meanwhile, suggested yesterday that the Speaker, arguably the top Republican official in the federal government, may ultimately have to simply declare whether impeachment is on or off the table. It’s what Nancy Pelosi did in 2006, and it’s what Boehner may have to do in 2014.
That sounds about right, though it’s worth remembering that the weak Speaker isn’t necessarily the final word on the subject. As we talked about the other day, the Speaker didn’t want to create a debt-ceiling crisis, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along. The Speaker didn’t want a government shutdown, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along. The Speaker didn’t want to hold several dozen “repeal Obamacare” votes, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along. The Speaker didn’t want to kill immigration reform, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along.
Now the Speaker is cool to impeachment. Whether others in his party care about Boehner’s preferences remains to be seen.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 10, 2014
It’s more obvious every day that a certain element of the conservative movement is focused on achieving revenge for the humiliation suffered by George W. Bush during his second term, and wants Barack Obama to be understood as walking the same downward path to ignominy. And so any time the president has a public relations setback or a policy problem, it’s his “Iraq” or “Katrina.” The latter has unsurprisingly become the preferred label for the sudden surge in border crossings at the Rio Grande attributable to events in Central America, and now for the president’s refusal to do photo ops at the border.
Before the practice gets too far out of hand, TNR’s Alec MacGillis offers a brisk refutation of the meme:
[T]here is the failure to consider even the most basic differences in context between the crisis in New Orleans and the Gulf coast in 2005 and what has been unfolding on the border. In the former instance, we were presented with an administration that willfully downplayed both the immediate threat of the approaching storm and the broader threat that, if the climatologists are to be believed, was represented by the storm.
In the latter instance, we are presented with an administration struggling to contain one particularly dramatic manifestation of a problem—a broken immigration policy—that the administration itself has been trying to fix, has indeed made its chief priority for the remainder of the president’s term, but has been stymied in comprehensively addressing by the identity crisis-driven obstructionism and indifference of the party that controls the House of Representatives. Other than that, yes, this is just like Hurricane Katrina. And the women and children lingering on the border, and the overwhelmed Border Patrol personnel trying their best to manage their presence, will be awaiting the magic word of whether the president’s caravan will be arriving on the horizon, which will surely solve everything.
I’d say there’s one more pretty big difference between Bush’s handling of Katrina and Obama’s handling of the “border crisis.” Bush was criticized by liberals for failing to take quick compassionate action to save lives threatened by flooding. Obama’s being criticized by conservatives for failing to immediately ship children back across the border in cattle cars; some seem to think they should simply be shot on sight. The ethical merits and demerits don’t quite match up.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 9, 2014
The more America’s job market improves, the tougher it is for Republicans to explain what’s happening. According to GOP talking points, tax hikes, regulations, and “Obamacare” are dragging down the economy, making it impossible for employers to create jobs.
And yet, the unemployment rate is at a six-year low, we’re on track for the best year for jobs since the Clinton era, and we just broke the record for the most consecutive months of private-sector job gains. For the right, this just shouldn’t be possible.
So how do Republicans reconcile the reality and their rhetoric? At least at Fox News, the answer is to ignore the inconvenient truths. Dylan Byers noted:
We won’t do the screen shots this time, but per usual FoxNews.com is the one major news site downplaying Thursday’s positive employment report. CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post are all leading their sites with the news (in large fonts, no less). Fox News has it buried in fine print on a sidebar.
It’s hard to argue that such a decision is a matter of unbiased editorial judgment.
Given recent history – good news is ignored, bad news is trumpeted – it’s probably safe to assume the right’s not-so-subtle approach is intended to keep the bubble intact for conservative audiences.
But even funnier was House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) unintentionally hilarious statement in response to the new jobs report.
The headline clearly says the press released relates to the “June 2014 Unemployment Report,” but remarkably, the Speaker of the House managed to issue a statement that ignores the June 2014 Unemployment Report.
“The House has passed dozens of jobs bills that would mean more paychecks and more opportunities for middle-class families. But in order for us to make real progress, the president must do more than criticize. From trade to workplace flexibility, there’s no shortage of common ground where he can push his party’s leaders in the Senate to work with us. Until he provides that leadership, he is simply part of the problem. For our part, we will continue to listen to and address the concerns of Americans who are still asking ‘where are the jobs?’”
Look, it’s the day before a major national holiday. It’s quite possible that Boehner never even saw the job numbers and this statement was written days ago and released to the media by some poor intern stuck in a largely empty office.
But given the importance of jobs to the American public, is it really too much to ask that Boehner put a little effort into this? Let’s unpack the response to jobs data that managed to ignore jobs data:
* “The House has passed dozens of jobs bills.” Actually, it hasn’t. If you look at Boehner’s list of “jobs bills,” it’s primarily a bunch of bills written for and by the oil industry, encouraging drilling everywhere. Here’s the challenge for the Speaker’s office: put together a jobs bill, subject it to independent scrutiny, find out how many jobs it would create, and get back to us. We’ve been waiting for three years. It hasn’t happened.
* “[T]he president must do more than criticize.” Well, he has. Obama has sent real, independently scored bills that would create jobs. The House Republican majority has so far failed to even vote on them.
* “Until he provides that leadership, he is simply part of the problem.” Boehner is practically allergic to leadership, unable to convince his own far-right caucus to listen to him on most issues, making this a curious line of attack. Regardless, the president, unlike the hapless Speaker, has lowered unemployment and has presented real plans to expand on this progress. Can Boehner say the same?
* “For our part, we will continue to listen.” To whom? I can think of a whole lot of measures that Americans have urged Congress to pass, which Boehner has ignored entirely. Who exactly does the Speaker think he’s listening to?
* “[A]ddress the concerns of Americans who are still asking ‘where are the jobs?’” They’re right here. If the Speaker’s office looked at the jobs report before commenting on the jobs report, this would have been obvious.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 3, 2014