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“The Budget Blitz”: Boehner And McConnell Get A Move On To Approve A Deal Before Conservatives Can Counter-Mobilize

Well, you have to credit John Boehner and Mitch McConnell with some chutzpah. On the very eve of Paul Ryan’s planned accession to the House Speakership via a deal with House conservatives to treat their views with more respect and avoid deals with Democrats, the GOP leadership is unveiling the largest bipartisan budget deal since 2011, a measure that would preempt any debt default or government shutdown threat until well after the 2016 elections. Moreover, even as Ryan pledges renewed fealty to the Hastert Rule and promises not to behave imperiously towards other Republicans, this deal was negotiated semi-secretly and will be sprung on Congress for a quick vote, perhaps as early as tomorrow, and is projected to get through both chambers via a minority of Republicans voting with most Democrats. It would indeed make it easier for Ryan to keep his promises because it would take the most contentious issues right off the table.

A lot of the details of the deal are unknown or hazy at this point, but it’s clear the main objective was to set aside sequestration and give Democrats some domestic spending increases and Republicans more defense spending. In that and other respects it resembles the budget deal Ryan himself cut with Patty Murray in December of 2013, not long after the last government shutdown, which constitutes one of the grievances conservatives harbor against the Wisconsin Ayn Rand acolyte.

I suspect the air today will be filled with squawking about this deal, and it could also prove to be a big fat target for the GOP presidential candidates who are debating economic and fiscal policy in Colorado tomorrow night. So yeah, Boehner and McConnell had best get a move on to get the deal approved before conservatives can counter-mobilize, and Paul Ryan should probably remember some pressing appointments back home in his district.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 27, 2015

October 27, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Exposed Their Own Ignorance Of Basic Government”: Benghazi Hearing; While Republicans Barked And Snarled, Hillary Smiled

To watch Hillary Clinton’s Republican antagonists during Thursday’s public hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi was to wonder how they could possibly behave the way they did. As representatives of the American people, they not only failed miserably to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them, but exposed their own blithering ignorance of basic aspects of government.

Determined as they were to encourage doubt about Clinton’s presidential candidacy, they instead elevated her and raised hard questions about their own knowledge, character, temperament, and intellectual capacity to serve in Congress. After months of “investigating” Clinton, the Republican committee members have developed only a dim understanding of simple phenomena — like the many and varied sources of information, beyond emails, that are available to the Secretary of State. Only someone very dense, very poorly informed, or both, would believe, for instance, that she had received “most of her intelligence about Libya,” or any other subject, in unclassified email traffic.

Often the sheer mindlessness of their inquiries was stunning: Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) asked Clinton whether she had been alone “all night” at home on Sept. 11, 2012, while the tragic events in Benghazi occurred. Rep. Mike Pompeo inquired whether the late Ambassador Chris Stevens had ever visited Clinton’s home or possessed her “fax number.” Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) demanded that Clinton admit that as Secretary of State she had overseen American policy toward Libya. Several of the Republicans interrupted her rudely, upbraided her for looking at notes, even while they read from their own notes, and demanded that she give “Yes or No” answers to their queries, as if they were prosecutors grilling a perp.

The lines of inquiry that the Republicans pursued were muddled, directionless, and confusing, seemingly even to them. As the Democrats repeatedly pointed out, after all the tumult over Clinton’s emails, the proceedings of this committee so far — following several legislative and administrative investigations — revealed nothing new about the terrorist attack on the US compound in Benghazi, its prelude, or its aftermath.

So what might American taxpayers have gleaned from those 11 hours of hearings, the culmination of an expenditure of 17 months and $4.8 million? They learned that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the committee chair, is obsessed with someone named Sidney Blumenthal, a friend of Clinton who sent her emails about Libya and other topics. He’s not just weirdly preoccupied, as anyone could see, but truly obsessed to the point of choking rage.

Those who have followed Gowdy’s conduct during the months leading up to this moment will find this Blumenthal business all too familiar. Having discovered that Blumenthal sent some emails to Clinton about Libya, largely incorporating information he had gathered from retired intelligence personnel, the chairman and his colleagues sought to fabricate a conspiracy theory of the Benghazi attack that somehow involved him.

Actually, “conspiracy theory” is too coherent a description of their aimless maundering on the topic of Sidney (who also happens to be my friend).

Gowdy appeared to believe – or perhaps pretended to believe – that if only the Secretary of State had ignored Blumenthal’s emails, the Benghazi attack might somehow have been prevented. According to this theory, she was paying too much attention to him, and not enough to Stevens.

In fact, as Clinton patiently attempted to explain over and over, she naturally delegated decisions about the safety of the Benghazi compound and personnel — and all perilous diplomatic posts — to the State Department’s security staff. Moreover, her communications with Blumenthal were, and are, entirely irrelevant to the matters that Gowdy purports to be investigating. Should Gowdy ever really wish to know why it is difficult to protect our embassies, consulates, and foreign service officers abroad, he might investigate himself and all the other Republicans who – as Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) acknowledged on Thursday – voted repeatedly to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s security budget.

As I noted in Politico months ago, back when Gowdy first embarked on the Blumenthal trail, this isn’t the first time that the former Washington Post and New Yorker journalist has driven Republican politicians to manic distraction. Like Clinton herself, he is a demonized figure in certain circles – but every time they go after him, they risk humiliation or worse.

Among the many low points of the Clinton hearing was the moment when Gowdy first refused a committee vote on releasing Blumenthal’s deposition before the committee, and then whipped a party-line vote to keep it under seal. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member who led his fellow Democrats in eloquently protesting the committee’s many abuses, asked Gowdy what he is hiding.

But of course Cummings already knows the answer: In that closed deposition last June, Gowdy and company asked Blumenthal dozens of questions about wholly irrelevant but highly political matters, such as his employment by the Clinton Foundation, Media Matters, and Correct the Record – even though Gowdy has publicly claimed that he had no interest in those subjects. To release Blumenthal’s testimony would risk exposing the committee chairman’s bad faith and clumsy deceptions.

By the time Rep. Trey Gowdy finally gaveled the hearing to a close, there was little doubt that Hillary Clinton’s composed, dignified demeanor – and the contrast between her and the Republicans — had notched another political victory for her. She had movingly recounted the events of that awful night in Benghazi, explained her actions in detail, firmly defended the honor of Accountability Review Board chairs Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, and pleaded for a return to statesmanship. Her strong performance rallied skeptical liberals to her side, while furious conservatives whined in despair.

And when it was over she rose from the witness chair, smiling and greeting friends, while Gowdy stalked out, stone-faced and perspiring, as if he had seen his own demise.


By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, October 23, 2015


October 24, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Privileged Motion To Vacate The Speakership”: If Paul Ryan Thinks His Demands Will Control Right-Wingers, He’s Fooling Himself

Paul Ryan won’t agree to be the next speaker of the House of Representatives unless the reactionary conservatives who comprise the House Freedom Caucus agree to meet his terms, most of which are agreeable or vague enough to pose no serious problems. He wants to avoid the dull but exhausting fundraising responsibilities that come with the job, so he can enjoy weekends with his family, and make his speakership more ideological than managerial.

But one condition is meant to bring the rowdy caucus that deposed John Boehner to heel. This is the sticking point that could put an end to the Ryan-for-speaker clamor. And the irony is that, though this central demand is extraordinary, it’s probably also inadequate to the task of isolating and neutralizing the members making the Republican Party ungovernable.

Before he’ll agree to enter the race, Ryan wants the rule that made the coup threats against Boehner credible to be changed. Right now any member can introduce a privileged motion to vacate the speakership. If you know you can deny the current speaker the 218 votes he needs to keep his job, you can control him. Ryan wants to erect unspecified obstacles to effectively deweaponize the motion.

The existence of this arcane maneuver is the source of most of the Freedom Caucus’ power. Under the status quo, any Republican speaker who crosses the Freedom Caucus is in jeopardy. That’s why Boehner was never able to control his conference or lead House Republicans in a unified front of opposition. It’s also why members of the Freedom Caucus are reluctant to accept Ryan’s terms.

The nature of these terms suggests Ryan sees this single, far-reaching one as a panacea, or if not that, then the only thing that’ll allow him to run the House successfully, without sacrificing the conservative bona fides he’ll need to win a future GOP presidential primary. This thinking is probably incorrect.

Assuming conservatives are willing to bite—an unsafe assumption—the Freedom Caucus’ leverage won’t disappear. It’ll shrink, yes, but then it’ll migrate to other avenues of mischief. If they continue banding together, conservatives would still be able to spoil the party’s legislative agenda. This alone would damage Ryan’s longer-term prospects, by forcing him into regular governing coalitions with Democrats. Unable to depose the speaker, they could take aim at other powerful Republicans (like, perhaps, those on the rules committee who will enable Ryan and help him advance legislation), becoming more like a third party than they already are. New opportunities for troublemaking would spring up everywhere, overlooked in the past because they weren’t necessary.

Late Tuesday, several Republicans speculated that Ryan intentionally devised his demands to be rejected, so that he could escape the onus of the speakership, and blame the Freedom Caucus for driving him away. If that’s his endgame, he’d better hope conservatives don’t call his bluff.


By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, October 21, 2015

October 21, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Asked And Answered A Thousand Times”: This Week Marks The End Of The Benghazi ‘Scandal’

Hillary Clinton will be testifying before the Select Committee on Benghazi on Thursday, and by the time she walks out of that hearing room, chances are that all the Republicans’ hopes of using this issue to bring Clinton down will be officially gone.

The timing of Clinton’s testimony couldn’t have worked out better for her, coming as it is after a string of revelations and embarrassments for the committee. First, then-presumptive Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy said on Fox News that the committee’s purpose was to bring down Clinton’s poll numbers, a “gaffe” that had an extraordinary impact, especially when you consider that he was only acknowledging what everyone in Washington already knew. Then we learned that the Select Committee has all but abandoned investigating Benghazi to focus on Clinton’s emails (and that committee staffers are so busy they’ve formed a wine club and a gun-buying club).

Then we learned that a former staffer for the committee is suing them, alleging that he was fired because he wanted to keep investigating Benghazi and not Clinton. Over the weekend, we learned that Democrats are questioning committee chair Trey Gowdy’s accusation that Clinton recklessly used the name of a secret CIA source in an email. According to Democrats, the CIA says the information isn’t sensitive. “I would say in some ways these have been among the worst weeks of my life,” Gowdy told Politico. No wonder.

And what’s going to happen on Thursday? Understand that most of the time, congressional testimony makes the witness look much better than the questioners. There are exceptions here and there, but a well-prepared witness who knows the facts will usually look almost heroic when posed against a bunch of grandstanding blowhards trying in vain to trip her up. The Republicans on the committee will be trying so, so hard, but their main problem is that they just don’t have the thing they hoped they would find: evidence that Clinton committed some act of malfeasance or corruption that led to the deaths of four Americans on that night in Benghazi three years ago.

Which is why, when they originally began negotiating over this testimony, Gowdy wanted it to be in private. If it was, then committee members could do what they’ve been doing all along: selectively leak out-of-context snippets of her testimony to the press in an attempt to make her look bad, while keeping the full context secret. Clinton insisted on testifying publicly, and so she will.

The discussion about this committee has changed profoundly in the last couple of weeks, and not because the committee itself suddenly changed what it was doing. Don’t forget that there have been seven separate investigations into Benghazi, most of them run by Republicans, and all have failed to deliver the shocking revelation that would destroy Clinton’s presidential hopes. From the beginning, Democrats belittled the Select Committee as one more desperate attempt to do what the other investigations couldn’t, while the Democrats on the committee itself, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings, regularly criticized how the committee was doing its work, including the selective and misleading press leaks and the focus on Clinton. Today those committee Democrats released a new report documenting yet again the committee’s failure to substantiate any of the spectacular claims Republicans have made about the administration’s alleged misdeeds and Clinton’s in particular, from the imaginary “stand-down order” to the fictional cover-up.

So what changed? McCarthy’s comments gave people in the media permission to talk about the committee in a different and more realistic way, one that accorded with what they already understood to be true. Before, the story was framed by Republican allegations about Clinton, but now the committee itself has become the issue. The operative question is no longer, “What is Hillary Clinton guilty of?”, because that has been asked and answered a thousand times. Whether you think she ought to be president or not, there’s simply no evidence that she committed any misdeeds before or after the Benghazi attack. The question is now, “What the heck is going on with this committee?”

It’s possible that Clinton could perform terribly in her testimony on Thursday, just as it’s possible that the committee will discover some shocking new information that none of the prior investigations managed to find. But it’s more likely that the committee’s Republicans will seem more angry about their inability to catch her in a crime than about whatever awful thing she was supposed to have done, while she succeeds in making the whole investigation look like a farce.

Her testimony will be the big story in the news on Friday. Then it will be the subject of a hundred think pieces over the weekend. By next week, the only real question Republicans will be asking themselves is, how did we screw this up so badly?


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, October 19, 2015

October 21, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Take Goodwill Where You Can Find It”: Americans Already Like Boehner More Now That He Is As Tired of Congress As They Are

House Speaker John Boehner still has to cross a few things off his to-do list before he’s allowed to say good-bye to Congress forever: (1) Find replacement. (2) Save economy. However, many Americans already seem to like him better now that they know the Ohio Republican is as sick of dealing with Congress as they are.

According to a new Gallup survey, Boehner’s approval rating has jumped from 23 percent in August — the lowest point it ever reached during his tenure — to 31 percent, heights he hasn’t seen since the beginning of last year. His approval rating remained unchanged among the nation’s Republicans, but independents and Democrats are suddenly much more fond of him.

Now, 45 percent of the country still has an unfavorable opinion of the soon-to-be-retired elected official, but when many of your colleagues have spent months griping about how much they hate you, you take goodwill where you can find it. However, the shiny-happy forgiveness of the American people may not last if Congress fails to raise the debt limit in the upcoming weeks — the last big vote that Boehner will have to force-feed his fractious party before he lets it all go, turning away and slamming the door, realizing that distance makes everything seem small.

If that wasn’t difficult enough on its own, a Cutthroat Kitchen–style handicap has been thrown at Congress. Treasury secretary Jack Lew warned Congress today that the U.S. is set to hit the debt ceiling two days earlier than he expected. Now Congress has only until November 3, taking away valuable time to wait until the last minute before rushing to stave off the “political equivalent of a dumpster fire” that awaits us if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the federal government won’t be able to pay bills, its workers, or soldiers and Social Security checks. Raising the debt ceiling doesn’t give the federal government a thumbs-up to start spending money on new things — it only makes sure that the federal government is able to fulfill its obligations and pay for things it has already approved.

In case that didn’t sound scary enough, Lew wrote a letter to Boehner, who planned on leaving D.C. on October 30, noting that “In the absence of congressional action, Treasury would be unable to satisfy all of these obligations for the first time in the history of the United States.” Or, translated out of bureaucrat-ese, “Dude, this would be a historically bad way to end your career.”

Congress is on recess this week, but Politico reported yesterday that Boehner is planning to quickly do something about the debt limit next week. A few GOP politicians think the debt-limit deadline, growing ever closer, is just the Obama administration’s way of forcing legislators to do what it wants. Senator Susan Collins told Politico, “It is interesting, which is a polite word, that all of a sudden the administration moved up considerably the timing of when the debt limit needs to be extended. What I’ve found over the years is that the date on which the debt limit truly has to be increased seems to be a very squishy date that often changes depending on the political winds.”

Congressional Republicans usually try to get a few spending decreases legislated along with a debt-limit increase, but there may not be time for that this year — which is not going to make his conservative colleagues happy. A Boehner spokesperson told the AP yesterday, “the Speaker has made it clear that he wants to solve some outstanding issues before he leaves. No decisions have been made, but a resolution on the debt ceiling is certainly possible.”

The Wall Street Journal asked 64 economists whether they thought the government was screwed and definitely on the verge of default. “Not enough wackos to do that,” one said, another added, “They are not THAT irresponsible.”

With only a few weeks left for things to be resolved, we’ll see if they’re right.


By: Jaime Fuller, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, October 15, 2015

October 20, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Debt Ceiling, John Boehner | , , , , , , | 3 Comments


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