“Boehner Still Can’t Get His Act Together On ISIS”: A House Speaker Who Keeps Expecting Everyone Else To Work Except Him
It’s been nine months since President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East. It’s been five months since the president publicly called on Congress to authorize the mission. It’s been four months since Obama used his State of the Union address to urge lawmakers to act. It’s been three months since the White House, at Congress’ insistence, provided draft legislative language to lawmakers.
But as The Hill reported this afternoon, House Republicans – who support the administration’s military offensive – still aren’t prepared to do any actual work.
President Obama should scrap his war powers request to fight Islamic terrorists and go back to the drawing board, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.
“The president’s request for Authorization of Use of Military Force calls for less authority than he has today. Given the fight that we’re in, it’s irresponsible,” Boehner told reporters after huddling with his rank-and-file members. Boehner said the president should withdraw the AUMF and “start over.”
It’s important to understand the nuances of Boehner’s whining on this issue. For quite a while, the Speaker said the legislative branch wouldn’t even try to authorize the war unless the executive branch did lawmakers’ work for them – Congress simply would not write its own bill, Boehner said, so it was up to the president to do the legislative work for the legislators.
Obama eventually agreed to write a bill for those whose job it is to write bills, only to discover that Congress doesn’t like his bill. The sensible, mature next move seems fairly obvious: if lawmakers don’t like the resolution the White House wrote, Congress can try writing its own version, agreed upon by lawmakers, and then voted on by lawmakers.
As of this morning, however, Boehner says he doesn’t want to. He wants the president to imagine what might make Republicans happy, then write another draft, at which point GOP leaders will let the West Wing know whether or not Congress is satisfied. If Boehner disapproves, presumably it’d be up to Obama to come up with a third.
This is quickly becoming a national embarrassment.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but the war, in effect, started nine months ago. Congress has a constitutional obligation to authorize the mission, but instead we have a House Speaker who keeps expecting everyone else to work except him.
I can appreciate the fact that this is not simply a matter of laziness. There are, as we’ve discussed before, significant policy disagreements – between Democrats and Republicans, between the House and the Senate – that are tough to resolve. Some lawmakers believe the draft resolution sent to Congress by President Obama goes too far, while some believe it doesn’t go far enough. Working out a resolution would be hard.
But here’s the fact that Boehner and his cohorts don’t seem to understand: it’s supposed to be hard. When lawmakers authorize the nation to launch a military offensive abroad, it’s difficult by design.
The Speaker, however, hopes to pass the buck, suggesting somehow it’s the White House’s job to write bills for Congress, and if Congress doesn’t like the president’s version, then Capitol Hill will just ignore the issue altogether. In effect, Boehner’s argument is that an ongoing war can just continue – indefinitely – no matter the cost or scope of the mission, and federal lawmakers are prepared to do literally no work whatsoever.
Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said today, “We may go down in history as the Congress that largely gave up its role in the war-making process.”
The irony, of course, is extraordinary. For years, Boehner and other GOP leaders have complained that Obama is an out-of-control tyrant, hell-bent on ignoring the Constitution and amassing excessive power in the executive. And yet, here we are, with the president pushing Congress to authorize a war that’s already started, and a Speaker content to sit on his hands.
Making matters worse, the more Obama tries to find a peaceful solution with Iran, the more Congress tries to intervene to derail the administration’s efforts. The more Obama wages war against ISIS, the less work Congress is inclined to do.
“It matters a great deal to the institution of the Congress what we do because future presidents are going to look back at this and they’re going to say ‘We can make war without a congressional vote,’” Schiff added. “It will have deep impact on our institutional role and our ability to serve as a meaningful check and balance on presidents’ ability to make war.”
Finally, evidence of Boehner’s legacy comes into focus.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 19, 2015
“A Reminder About Netanyahu, Iraq, And Iran”: George W. Bush Listened To Netanyahu And The Neocons. The Rest Is History
Just a few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked like a figure with huge influence in American politics. There he was addressing Congress, with Republicans practically carrying him into the House chamber on their shoulders. He was on every American television show he wanted, delivering his dark warnings of the second Holocaust to come if an agreement was signed with Iran. And now? Even after winning re-election, as Dan Drezner argues, Netanyahu has become irrelevant to the Iranian nuclear debate. There’s no one left for him to persuade.
And even though his argument always verged on the nonsensical—that any agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program “paves Iran’s way to the bomb,” whereas if we just walked away then Iran would abandon such ambitions and everything would turn out great—it is now becoming almost comical. He’s now demanding that Iran recognize Israel as a condition of any agreement, which as Josh Marshall notes would certainly be nice, but is completely irrelevant to the question of whether Iran has nuclear bombs or not. The agreement will succeed or fail, no matter what Benjamin Netanyahu thinks of it.
At the risk of piling on, I want to draw your attention to this piece by J.J. Goldberg of the Forward, which reminds us of just how spectacularly wrong Netanyahu has been on questions like this in the past:
In early January 2002, four months after the September 11 attacks, Israeli national security council director Uzi Dayan met in Washington with his American counterpart Condoleezza Rice. She told him—to his surprise, he later told me—that President Bush had decided to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. A month later Dayan’s boss, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, met with Bush in the White House and offered some advice, based on decades of Israeli intelligence.
Removing Saddam, Sharon said, according to three sources with direct knowledge, will have three main results, all negative. Iraq will implode into warring tribes of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. You’ll be stuck in an Iraqi quagmire for a decade. And Iran, a far more dangerous player, will be rid of its principal enemy and free to pursue its ambitions of regional hegemony. Bush didn’t agree.
Israeli leaders continued pooh-poohing Iraq all spring. Dismissal turned to alarm in August, when Iranian dissidents released evidence that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. In September Sharon told his cabinet to stop discussing Iraq. It was annoying the White House.
On September 12, however, a different Israeli voice visited Washington: ex-prime minister-turned-private citizen Benjamin Netanyahu. A longtime Sharon rival, closely allied with Washington’s neoconservatives, he’d been invited to address the Republican-led House as an expert on Iraq. Baghdad, he said, was hiding mobile centrifuges “the size of washing machines.” Moreover, “if you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.” Throughout the Middle East, including Iran, populations will be inspired to topple their own dictators.
Bush, of course, listened to Netanyahu and the neocons, not Sharon and his generals. Alas, Sharon was right. Iraq imploded. Iran surged. The invasion had reverberations, but hardly positive. The rest is history.
I sometimes feel like as a country we’re already beginning to forget what a spectacular catastrophe the Iraq War was. It was probably the single biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy, and part of what made it so maddening was the insistence of its boosters that it was going to be not just easy but the source of unending joy and happiness for the United States, the Middle East, and the world. They mixed their frenzied fear-mongering with the assurance that anyone who raised any doubts was a Saddam-coddler who didn’t really want our Arab friends to receive the blessings of democracy, prosperity, and peace that were sure to result from our invasion. They didn’t say, “This is going to be difficult and unpleasant, but we have to do it”; instead, they said, “This is going to be great!”
And today, the conservative narrative is that, sure, a couple of things went slightly wrong along the way, but if Barack Obama hadn’t come along and screwed everything up, today Iraq would be thriving and peaceful and it all would have turned out just as they predicted in 2002. That belief forgives them for their part in the calamity, of course.
Bibi Netanyahu wasn’t an “expert” on Iraq, and he isn’t an expert on Iran. Perhaps after the last couple of months, we can finally put to rest the idea that we should take his opinion on anything into account as we’re considering what we should do.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 7, 2015
“Why The House Republican Budget Plan Matters”: Predicated On The Assumption That Low-Income Families Have It Too Easy
“A budget is a moral document,” Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) said two weeks ago. “It talks about where your values are.”
Those comments from a conservative member of the House Budget Committee happen to be entirely accurate. Indeed, Woodall’s description serves as a reminder of why it matters that House Republicans passed their budget blueprint late yesterday.
Normally quarrelsome House Republicans came together Wednesday night and passed a boldly conservative budget that relies on nearly $5 trillion in cuts to eliminate deficits over the next decade, calls for repealing the health care law and envisions transformations of the tax code and Medicare.
There were a variety of competing plans, but the approach endorsed by the House GOP leadership narrowly prevailed – overcoming 26 defections from within their own ranks.
Republican leaders, who’ve had some trouble corralling GOP votes for GOP bills in recent months, breathed a sigh of relief, and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was seen hugging members of his whip team in celebration last night. It was a reminder of just how far expectations have fallen – House Republicans have their largest majority in generations; they struggled mightily to narrowly pass their own budget plan; and this is somehow seen as a great victory for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the rest of the GOP leadership team.
The Senate Republican majority will now try to wrap up work on its budget blueprint – which will include key differences – before members eventually head to a conference committee to hammer out a bicameral agreement.
Note, budgets cannot be filibustered and are not subject to a presidential veto. In fact, much of this process is symbolic – a congressional budget does not lock in spending levels for policymakers; the appropriations process does. The entire budget fight is a less case of understanding what will happen and more a case of appreciating what congressional Republican would like to see happen if all the power were in their hands.
But if the practical effects are limited, why should people care? Because “a budget is a moral document; it talks about where your values are.”
This recent analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities struck a chord.
The budgets adopted on March 19 by the House Budget Committee and the Senate Budget Committee each cut more than $3 trillion over ten years (2016-2025) from programs that serve people of limited means. These deep reductions amount to 69 percent of the cuts to non-defense spending in both the House and Senate plans.
Each budget plan derives more than two-thirds of its non-defense budget cuts from programs for people with low or modest incomes even though these programs constitute less than one-quarter of federal program costs.
Right. If “a budget is a moral document” that reflects lawmakers’ “values,” the House Republican budget approved yesterday tells us, in frightening detail, that GOP morality is predicated on the assumption that low-income families have it too easy – and high-income families have it too tough.
It matters, of course, that Republicans had to rely on ridiculous budget tricks to give the appearance of responsibility. It also matters that they prioritized increased spending on the issue they care about (the military) over fiscal concerns they sometimes pretend to care about (the deficit).
But as the dust settles on yesterday’s floor drama, what remains are GOP “values” on full display. In 2015, Republican members of Congress believe in taking families’ health care benefits away. And scrapping Medicare altogether. And slashing food stamps. And making it harder for young people to go to college. And eliminating environmental safeguards. And freeing Wall Street of pesky oversight and layers of accountability.
In this “moral document,” GOP lawmakers spelled out their priorities for all the world to see. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters yesterday that when he talks to voters about the specific provisions of the Republican budget plan, the public balks – Americans assume he’s exaggerating, because the idea that GOP officials would actually vote for such a radical scheme seems “absurd.”
But the truth is, the Republican budget is real, it is cruel, and as of yesterday, it has passed.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 26, 2015
“Tom Cotton And The GOP’s Wimpy Fear Of Iran”: The Republican Party’s Judgment Has Been Grossly Distorted By Fear
When did the Republican Party become such a bastion of cowards?
That’s what I wondered the moment I heard about the letter to the Iranian government, signed by 47 Republican senators, that aims to scuttle U.S.-led negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.
Oh, of course the letter is meant to look like the opposite of cowardly. It’s supposed to serve as the latest evidence of the GOP’s singularly manly swagger, which the party has burnished non-stop since George W. Bush first promised to track down Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.” (Or maybe it goes back to Ronald Reagan insinuating that Jimmy Carter lacked the resolve to stand up to Leonid Brezhnev. Or to Barry Goldwater indicating that he alone had the guts to use atomic weapons against the godless Commies of North Vietnam.)
But it’s actually a sign that the Republican Party’s judgment has been grossly distorted by fear. That’s why critics who are railing against the letter for its supposedly unconstitutional subversion of diplomatic protocol miss the point. The problem with the letter isn’t that it broke the rules. The problem with the letter is that it’s gutless.
The ringleader of the senatorial troublemakers, freshman Tom Cotton of Arkansas, wants us to believe he and his colleagues have seen through Barack Obama’s dangerous willingness to capitulate to the mullahs in Tehran, and that they alone are tough enough to derail the bad deal the president is prepared, and even eager, to make.
But really, who’s wimpier? A party so terrified by the prospect of normalizing relations with a vastly less formidable foreign power after 36 years of rancor and distrust that it engages in unprecedented acts of diplomatic sabotage, thereby crippling the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy? Or that president himself, who believes that after those 36 years of rancor and distrust this vastly less formidable foreign power can be negotiated into delaying its nuclear ambitions for a decade?
I think the answer is obvious.
As The Week‘s Ryan Cooper has cogently argued, the GOP’s position seems to be based on the assumption that if Iran produced one nuclear device or a handful of them, it would launch them at the United States. I’ll admit, that’s a scary thought. But it’s also completely deranged. In the time it would take for an Iranian nuclear missile to reach its target, the United States could launch dozens if not hundreds of vastly more powerful and accurate retaliatory strikes that would leave Persian civilization in ruins.
Actually, that’s not true. There would be no ruins. Just uninhabitable, radioactive dust.
And here’s the thing: Iran’s leaders know this.
It’s one thing for a single terrorist to embrace suicide for what he takes to be a noble ideological goal and the promise of heavenly reward. It’s quite another for the leaders of a nation of 77 million people to act in such a way that every last inhabitant of the country and every product of its culture would be instantly incinerated. That, quite simply, isn’t going to happen.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fears about Iran’s intentions aren’t quite as pusillanimous as Tom Cotton’s. Iran, for one thing, is much closer to Israel than the U.S., which means that it can be targeted with much less sophisticated rockets that would reach their destination much more quickly. Moreover, one or two nukes is all it would take to wipe out Israel’s major population centers, making the country far more existentially vulnerable. And then there’s the burden of Jewish history, which understandably inspires more than a little paranoia.
But just because something is understandable doesn’t make it sensible. Paranoia, after all, is an irrational fear — and reason tells us that while Iran would very much like some day to succeed in building a single nuclear device, Israel already possesses dozens of nuclear warheads, as well as something even more valuable: its status as a staunch ally of the United States. Iran has every reason to believe we would respond to a nuclear strike on Israel just as severely as we would respond to an attack launched against us. That means that no such suicidal assault against Israel is going to happen either.
As usual, The Onion may have conveyed the absurdity of the situation more effectively than anyone, in a satirical headline from 2012 that’s gotten renewed play in recent weeks: “Iran Worried U.S. Might Be Building 8,500th Nuclear Weapon.”
When leading politicians in the most militarily powerful nation on the planet believe they see a mortal threat in a country with a GDP roughly the size of Maryland’s and lacking even a single bomb — well, that’s a sign of world-historical spinelessness.
Democrats should be saying so. Loudly and repeatedly.
By: Damon Linker, The Week, March 11, 2015
“No More Immunity From Punishment”: At Last, Violence Against Women Act Lets Tribes Prosecute Non-Native Domestic Abusers
Two years after Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, Native American tribes can finally take advantage of one of the law’s most significant updates: a provision that allows tribal courts to investigate and prosecute non-Native men who abuse Native women on reservations.
Starting Saturday, tribes can claim jurisdiction over non-Native men who commit crimes of domestic violence, dating violence or who violate a protection order against a victim who lives on tribal land. Until now, that jurisdiction has fallen to federal or state law enforcement, who are often hours away from reservations and lack the resources to respond. The result has effectively allowed non-Native abusers immunity from punishment.
For the first time, tribal law enforcement will now have the ability to intervene.
“I want to encourage all tribal governments to get this law on their books,” said Juana Majel of the National Congress of American Indians. “On most reservations, there are a handful of bad actors who have figured out how to slip between jurisdictional boundaries. They need to get the message. If they continue to assault our women, we will prosecute and put them in jail.”
There are epidemic levels of domestic violence on tribal lands. Three out of five Native women have been assaulted in their lifetimes, and 34 percent will be raped, according to the National Congress of American Indians. Getting to the heart of the VAWA provision, 59 percent of assaults against Native women take place at or near a private residence, and, as of 2010, 59 percent of Native women were married to non-Native men.
On some reservations, Native women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average.
House Republicans nearly torpedoed the entire VAWA bill in 2013 because they opposed the new protections for Native victims of abuse. Vice President Joe Biden, an original Senate sponsor of the 1994 law, stepped in and negotiated directly with then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Congress ultimately reauthorized VAWA, but with Democrats providing the bulk of votes for it.
Three tribes have already been granted the new jurisdiction as part of a 2014 pilot project authorized by VAWA. Those tribes — the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and the Tulalip Tribes — had to submit applications laying out their proposed codes and procedures, and were approved by the U.S. attorney general. To date, they have charged a total of 26 offenders.
As of Saturday, tribal courts may take advantage of the new authority with only the approval of their tribal council. The courts must provide people with the same rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.
“This is a major step forward to protect the safety of Native people, and we thank all members of Congress for passing the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 and recognizing tribal authority,” said Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians.
In related news, Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery on Friday gave the green light to two tribes to move forward immediately with the new jurisdiction. The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, are both large tribes in rural areas with larger populations, which means they can be a model for other large rural tribes interested in rolling out the new authority.
By: Jennifer Bendery, The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 6, 2015