The House passage of the omnibus spending act is on its face a defeat for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that fought to block it. In the end, though, risking a government shutdown over the bill’s ugliest provisions – restoring government protection to risky bank maneuvers and raising the cap on party contributions, astronomically – was probably too much to expect. According to Greg Sargent, Dem sources say that while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi fought it ferociously, in the end she signaled that members could vote their conscience.
And what did that vote tell us about the Democratic Party? Most of the departing Blue Dogs who lost their seats voted for the bill, predictably. In a break with President Obama, who lobbied for it, most of the Congressional Black Caucus did not. The remaining House Democrats are going to be more reliably critical of Wall Street, and less inclined to bow to the White House. 2015 is going to be interesting.
I admit, for a few hours on Thursday I thought Democrats might be able to win the public relations battle if they blocked the bill. Why should taxpayers protect risk-taking banks? The story of how Citigroup wrote the provision, and Wall Street’s friends snuck it in, is so outrageous I thought it had a chance to carry the day. So Republicans wouldn’t pass a spending bill without this giveaway to Wall Street? That would make them responsible for a government shutdown. But Sen. Ted Cruz and his allies may have thought the same thing about their message when they shut down the government last year.
We’ll never know if Democrats could have mustered populist outrage over Washington catering to Wall Street in the event of a new shutdown. But what else did we learn from the battle?
We now know that Nancy Pelosi is through guaranteeing the votes for ugly messes liberals hate (like the debt ceiling and sequester deals) but that House Speaker John Boehner can’t pass alone. In a new Congress where many Blue Dogs lost their seats, this sets the stage for House Democrats to block elements of the GOP agenda, especially when there can be left-right alliances. Tea Party defenders say it was partly inspired by outrage at the 2008 Wall Street bailout and corporate-government cronyism; it would be nice if House adherents remembered those roots.
We also know that Elizabeth Warren wasn’t tamed by her ascent into Senate Democratic leadership; she was emboldened. While her star turn may increase the pressure on her to run for president, I’m with Elias Isquith here: I still hope she doesn’t. A President Warren would lack a Sen. Warren protecting her left flank. Giving Warren more progressive Senate allies would be more politically productive than elevating her to the White House.
We’re also seeing a more clearly defined bloc of Wall Street critics emerge in the Democratic Party, just in time for 2016. The Warren-led battle over Treasury nominee Antonio Weiss is also heating up – and both fights pit the popular progressive against President Obama.
Many news accounts have depicted the spending bill battle as Warren vs. Obama, setting up an ongoing clash between the two Democratic leaders. But I think the Warren vs. Obama story line can be overblown. It’s probably too much to expect the president to veto the spending bill and effectively shut down the government – clearly he doesn’t share my optimism that Democrats could win that P.R. battle. But if the noxious measures hidden in the bill came to him as individual pieces of legislation, he’d be under a new level of pressure from congressional Democrats to veto them, and I expect he would. Obama made clear that while he wanted Democrats to support the spending bill he shared their opposition to both provisions.
In fact, the next two years will be a test of who the president really is: the change agent who inspired progressives, or the guardian of Wall Street power that his left-wing detractors claim he is. Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel makes the case that Warren, rather than being an Obama opponent, could be the best protector of his legacy that the president has. We’ll see.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 12, 2014
“Whose Civil War Is Worse?”: Personal Distrust Far More Intense Among Republicans. They Really Don’t Like One Another
For some reason that I should probably determine one day, I’ve always found internal disputes with the conservative movement/Republican party somewhat more interesting than internal disputes within the liberal movement/Democratic party. Perhaps it’s because, as a liberal, I get a little Nelson Muntzian charge out of watching the folks on the other side tear themselves apart. Or perhaps it’s because, immersed as I am in the liberal world, the disputes on the left make more sense to me and therefore plumbing their mysteries isn’t so compelling.
Regardless, it has often been the case that one side is unified as the other is engaged in intramural battles; for many years, it was the Republicans who were together while the Dems were in disarray, while in the last few years the Democrats have been more united while the GOP has been riven by infighting. But could both sides now be at their own compatriots’ throats? And if so, whose internal battle is more vicious? Charles Krauthammer insists that it’s the Democrats who are on the verge of all-out civil war:
I grant that there’s a lot of shouting today among Republicans. But it’s a ritual skirmish over whether a government shutdown would force the president to withdraw a signature measure—last time, Obamacare; this time, executive amnesty…
It’s a tempest in a teapot, and tactical at that. Meanwhile, on the other side, cannons are firing in every direction as the Democratic Party, dazed and disoriented, begins digging itself out of the shambles of six years of Barack Obama.
To summarize him, congressional Republicans may be repeating the battles that led to a government shutdown, but Chuck Schumer made a speech that some other Democrats disagreed with, so obviously it’s the Democrats who are practically on the verge of dissolution.
Now let’s take a look at what conservative journalist Byron York is reporting:
A headline by Breitbart News—”Boehner Crafts Surrender Plan on Obama Executive Amnesty”—echoes the idea that GOP leaders will back down even when they have full control of Congress. It’s a view that is shared by many conservatives, from Twitter devotees to radio talk-show hosts.
Underneath it all is a toxic distrust among Hill Republicans. In conversations and email exchanges in the past few days—none of it for attribution and some of it completely off the record—GOP aides on both sides of the issue have expressed deep suspicion of the other side’s motives.
“Conservative Republicans believe leadership will cave to Obama because conservative Republicans are not stupid,” said one GOP aide. “Leadership is bound and determined to never have a funding fight on executive amnesty.”
“Ask them what their backup plan is after the government shuts down,” said another GOP aide, referring to the forces who want action now. “They don’t have one. They know their plan is a dead-end strategy, but they don’t care. All they care about is making themselves look good to the Heritage Action/purity-for-profit crowd.”
In both cases, there’s wide agreement on policy. There really isn’t any significant policy that Ted Cruz supports but John Boehner doesn’t, and you could say the same of almost any two major Democratic figures. Everybody’s arguing about tactics. But the differences seem much more meaningful on the Republican side, where the question is whether they should engage in a kamikaze mission to shut down the government, not whether some new phrasing to describe longstanding ideological values might yield a few more votes. And the personal distrust and dislike York describes seem far more intense among Republicans. They really don’t like one another.
The other major difference is that the GOP is actually divided into organized factions in a way that Democrats aren’t. As Joel Gehrke reports, there could be as many as 50 to 60 House Republicans who will vote against John Boehner’s plan to fund the government, which would mean Boehner would once again need to go on his knees to Nancy Pelosi asking for her help to avoid a shutdown. There’s nothing remotely comparable on the Democratic side.
But if it makes people like Krauthammer feel better to say, “We’re not the ones in disarray, they are!”, then I guess they should go right ahead.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 5, 2014
What does the death of Eric Garner, following a police chokehold, have to do with immigration? For House Speaker John Boehner, perhaps quite a lot.
Boehner has been trying to contain the Republican reaction to President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration. Boehner’s hopes of passing comprehensive immigration reform were dashed long ago. But he would still like to mute his conference’s most virulent anti-immigration voices — call it the Steve King caucus — to keep his party from becoming further identified with intolerance. (Thursday’s debate on the “Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014,” a bill sponsored by Republican Representative Ted Yoho, won’t help. It essentially puts the party on record in favor of mass deportation. And the House passed it.)
Republicans are quick to mount the barricades against Obamacare or taxes on high incomes. When it comes to protesting injustice against the poor and marginalized, their reflexes can be unnervingly slow.
Senator Rand Paul shrewdly (and even bravely, despite some dissembling) has tried to shift perceptions that Republicans don’t care about racial minorities, speaking before black audiences and citing his belief, however unreal, that the Republican coalition can bring in a substantial number of black voters in 2016. Confronted by the news of a grand jury’s refusal to bring charges against a police officer who put Garner in a chokehold, however, Paul whiffed. In effect, he focused his outrage on the supreme injustice of New York’s cigarette taxes rather than the loss of a man’s life in police custody.
Boehner’s reaction was both smarter and more humane. Asked about the grand jury decision, Boehner said, “The American people deserve more answers about what really happened here.” Significantly, Boehner also “hasn’t ruled out holding congressional hearings on the matter,” according to BuzzFeed.
Hearings chaired by Republicans would be good for the country and good for Republicans. They would establish precisely what protesters say they are fighting for: an assertion that “black lives matter” to the nation’s leaders and political institutions. At the same time, they would show that Republicans know how to be a party of all Americans, not just the white parts. And they would showcase Republicans grappling with a complex problem instead of unleashing the party demagogues on Benghazi for the umpteenth time.
The timing is auspicious. The Republicans’ aggressive turn against immigrants is highly unlikely to sit well with Hispanics and Asians. Black voters already shun the party by embarrassingly large margins.
It’s not all about political opportunism. Plenty of conservatives are genuinely appalled at the circumstances of Garner’s death. Thursday’s Department of Justice report on the Cleveland police department, released in the wake of a police officer’s fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy there, underscores the need for a serious federal inquiry. Hearings would be good for everyone. Go for it, Mr. Speaker.
By: Francis Wilkinson, The National Memo, December 5, 2014
“Obama Calculates The Human Cost Of Deportations”: It’s Past Time To Stop The Stupidity And The Lack Of Humanity
The commemorations of the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall have thrust into the public spotlight the border guard who ordered the gates opened. The subject of both a new German-language book and film, one-time Stasi Lt. Col. Harald Jäger has recounted why he defied his orders. And his story couldn’t be more relevant to the debate consuming our own nation.
On the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, prompted by an erroneous announcement from an East German Politburo spokesman that his compatriots would be free to cross the border, thousands of East Berliners flocked to the checkpoint Jäger supervised. His superiors told him to keep the gates closed, though he could let a few people through, provided he marked the passports of those he determined were activists and blocked their reentry when they came back.
When one such young couple returned from the West, going home to their small children, Jäger saw that while the wife could reenter, her husband’s passport had been stamped, forbidding his return. Jäger faced a choice. “My responsibility was clear — enforce the law and split the couple,” he recalled to the Financial Times. “But at that moment it became so clear to me . . . the stupidity, the lack of humanity. I finally said to myself, ‘Kiss my arse. Now I will do what I think is right.’ ” He let the couple in. Then he commanded the guards to throw open the gates. The rest is history — and a lesson to a nation now embroiled in a different, but not that different, contest between the imperatives of custom and law, as some construe it, and those of keeping families together.
Of the thousands of words written lately on President Obama’s impending order to exempt some undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation, most have dealt with the politics of the issue, not the humanity behind it. What the media have largely failed to emphasize is that Obama’s order will be shaped almost entirely by the imperative of keeping parents with their children. The administration is planning to allow the undocumented parents of children born here (and who are, thus, U.S. citizens) to stay and receive work permits. Unfortunately, this will not include parents of the “dreamers” who are already protected by executive order from deportation.
What the pundits have tended to overlook, as well, is the humanity behind Obama’s apparent willingness to act without congressional approval. Every year since Obama became president, the government has deported roughly 400,000 undocumented immigrants, with little regard to whether they’ve broken any law save crossing the border without papers or overstaying their visas — or whether their kids are wondering where their parents have gone. On Tuesday, the Pew Research Center reported that in 2012, some 13 percent of schoolchildren in both Texas and California had at least one undocumented parent. That’s a lot of parents, a lot of kids.
It’s not as if Obama hasn’t waited for Congress to address the immigration conundrum. Nearly 18 months ago, a bipartisan majority of 68 senators passed an Obama-backed bill that would have significantly augmented our border security forces and provided a long and tortuous pathway to legalization for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. The Republican-controlled House refused to take up the bill, however, though it likely would have passed. Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders declined to risk the ire of the nativists in their ranks.
So long as Republicans — many of them from heavily gerrymandered districts with few Latino voters — continue to control the House, that chamber isn’t likely to enact any serious immigration reform. It is likely, however, that the House will stay in Republican hands until at least the first election following the next decennial redistricting — that is, until 2023. Should the wave of deportations without regard to family status continue until then, the number of broken families could easily rise into the millions.
Obama has no doubt calculated the political risks and advantages of acting alone; he could be sued for political malpractice if he didn’t. He believes, rightly, that the president has the authority to direct immigration officials to exempt particular groups from detention and deportation. But beyond the political and legal calculations are those that are simply human.
None of this is to equate the legitimacy of our laws and policies to those of the late, unlamented East Germany. But even democracies can, and not infrequently do, violate the most elemental human rights. Stripping children of their parents is such a violation. It’s time — past time — to stop the stupidity, the lack of humanity.
By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 19, 2014
“We’ve gone to the president and said, ‘Give us time to do immigration reform, to work on the issue this year. We want to get this done.’ And this is the reaction he has to that?” said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the 2012 vice presidential candidate. “He had two years with a super-majority of his own party, and he didn’t lift a finger. And now he won’t give us a few weeks?”
It takes a truly talented individual to pack in this many falsehoods into a single paragraph.
“Give us time to do immigration reform”? Well, Republicans have controlled the House for four years, during which time they haven’t even held so much as a hearing on a piece of legislation. More to the point, the Senate passed a popular, bipartisan immigration bill 512 days ago, and soon after, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised the lower chamber would act on the issue. The Republican leader then broke his word and killed the reform effort.
In other words, Obama gave Republican lawmakers “time to do immigration reform,” and the GOP did nothing. Does Ryan not remember this?
“He had two years with a super-majority of his own party”? Actually, no, Democrats had a super majority in the Senate for four months, not two years. It’s a big difference.
“He didn’t lift a finger”? Actually, Democrats tried to pass the DREAM Act, which used to be a bipartisan policy, when they controlled Congress. Republicans killed it with a filibuster.
“And now he won’t give us a few weeks?” Well, President Obama not only gave Republicans all kinds of time, he also received no guarantee – from Ryan or any other GOP leader – that another delay would lead to real legislation. So what in the world is Ryan talking about?
It gets worse. Ryan also complained this week that Obama’s decision to govern on immigration policy means Republicans won’t govern on their own priorities.
Lori Montgomery reported on Wednesday on Ryan’s plans, now that he’ll be chairing the House Ways & Means Committee.
An overhaul of the nation’s tax laws will also rank high on the agenda when Ryan (R-Wis.) takes the helm of the tax-writing panel in January.
“We’d like to do it sooner rather than later, but we don’t control everything,” Ryan said in an interview. He cited Obama’s longstanding refusal to roll out his own tax plan as well as the president’s recent decision to forge ahead with a unilateral ban on the deportation of some undocumented immigrants – a move that has inflamed Republicans.
Again, comments like these suggest Ryan just doesn’t remember current events very well. In reality, Obama presented a blueprint for tax reform and asked lawmakers to work on details that could pass both chambers. A bipartisan tax-reform plan came together, at which point, House Republicans killed it.
That’s not opinion. It’s just what happened.
Complicating matters, Ryan prefers a more right-wing version of tax reform than the one outgoing Ways & Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) unveiled, with Ryan’s version focused primary on – you guessed it – tax breaks for the wealthy.
Chait’s conclusion rings true: “It’s just bizarre for Ryan to lament that Obama’s plans to make immigration enforcement more humane is costing him the chance to cut taxes for the rich.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 22, 2014