President Obama hasn’t spent a lot of time with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), but the two leaders, joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), met at the White House this morning. The point, according to everyone involved, was to look for ways the policymakers can find some common ground and try to get things done in 2016.
To help set the tone, the Wisconsin congressman told reporters yesterday he was excited about the Iowa caucuses because “what it tells me is the days of Barack Obama’s presidency are numbered.”
He’s a real charmer, this one. You can just feel his enthusiasm for bipartisan policymaking in an era of divided government.
After the meeting in which the president tries to find areas of possible agreement with GOP leaders, Ryan will hold another vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act. The Washington Post reported:
The House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on overturning President Obama’s veto of legislation to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood. The vote, appropriately scheduled for Groundhog Day, is expected to fail, leaving conservatives to gear up for a final year of budget fights with the president.
Asked about today’s events, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, “Republicans are poised to host another vote in the United States Congress today for the 60th time to repeal Obamacare. It’s almost like it’s Groundhog Day, except today it is actually Groundhog Day and they’re doing it again.”
Earnest added, “So I’m not really sure that qualifies as the contours of a proactive legislative agenda but it does put some pressure on Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell, and other Republicans in Congress, to lay out what it is exactly they support and try to find some common ground with the administration.”
For the record, estimates vary on exactly how many times Republicans have tried to repeal all or part of the ACA, but the last time I checked, they were up to 62. In other words, Earnest might have been understating the case a bit.
Incidentally, shortly before the last repeal vote, Ryan was asked why he was moving forward with a bill to eliminate the Affordable Care Act before the Republican alternative is ready. The Republican leader told reporters with a smile, “Just wait.”
We later learned that this wait will continue past this year – because GOP lawmakers have already effectively given up on their plans to unveil a reform alternative in 2016.
As for today’s veto-override vote, there’s no chance of the bill succeeding. Paul Ryan and his team know that, of course, but they’re holding the vote anyway, just to go through the motions.
Postscript: In case anyone doesn’t get the reference, I should probably mention “Groundhog Day” was a classic movie from 1993 in which Bill Murray is stuck in a time loop, forced to live the exact same day over and over again. For those who haven’t seen the movie, I can assure you it’s far more entertaining than watching Republicans vote 63 times to take health care benefits away from millions of families for no particular reason.
Update: Reader F.B. emails, “In the movie, the character played by Bill Murray learns from each repetition how to live that day better. Unfortunately the Republicans show no similar improvement.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 2, 2016
There are still quite a few pundits determined to pretend that America’s two great parties are symmetric — equally unwilling to face reality, equally pushed into extreme positions by special interests and rabid partisans. It’s nonsense, of course. Planned Parenthood isn’t the same thing as the Koch brothers, nor is Bernie Sanders the moral equivalent of Ted Cruz. And there’s no Democratic counterpart whatsoever to Donald Trump.
Moreover, when self-proclaimed centrist pundits get concrete about the policies they want, they have to tie themselves in knots to avoid admitting that what they’re describing are basically the positions of a guy named Barack Obama.
Still, there are some currents in our political life that do run through both parties. And one of them is the persistent delusion that a hidden majority of American voters either supports or can be persuaded to support radical policies, if only the right person were to make the case with sufficient fervor.
You see this on the right among hard-line conservatives, who insist that only the cowardice of Republican leaders has prevented the rollback of every progressive program instituted in the past couple of generations. Actually, you also see a version of this tendency among genteel, country-club-type Republicans, who continue to imagine that they represent the party’s mainstream even as polls show that almost two-thirds of likely primary voters support Mr. Trump, Mr. Cruz or Ben Carson.
Meanwhile, on the left there is always a contingent of idealistic voters eager to believe that a sufficiently high-minded leader can conjure up the better angels of America’s nature and persuade the broad public to support a radical overhaul of our institutions. In 2008 that contingent rallied behind Mr. Obama; now they’re backing Mr. Sanders, who has adopted such a purist stance that the other day he dismissed Planned Parenthood (which has endorsed Hillary Clinton) as part of the “establishment.”
But as Mr. Obama himself found out as soon as he took office, transformational rhetoric isn’t how change happens. That’s not to say that he’s a failure. On the contrary, he’s been an extremely consequential president, doing more to advance the progressive agenda than anyone since L.B.J.
Yet his achievements have depended at every stage on accepting half loaves as being better than none: health reform that leaves the system largely private, financial reform that seriously restricts Wall Street’s abuses without fully breaking its power, higher taxes on the rich but no full-scale assault on inequality.
There’s a sort of mini-dispute among Democrats over who can claim to be Mr. Obama’s true heir — Mr. Sanders or Mrs. Clinton? But the answer is obvious: Mr. Sanders is the heir to candidate Obama, but Mrs. Clinton is the heir to President Obama. (In fact, the health reform we got was basically her proposal, not his.)
Could Mr. Obama have been more transformational? Maybe he could have done more at the margins. But the truth is that he was elected under the most favorable circumstances possible, a financial crisis that utterly discredited his predecessor — and still faced scorched-earth opposition from Day 1.
And the question Sanders supporters should ask is, When has their theory of change ever worked? Even F.D.R., who rode the depths of the Great Depression to a huge majority, had to be politically pragmatic, working not just with special interest groups but also with Southern racists.
Remember, too, that the institutions F.D.R. created were add-ons, not replacements: Social Security didn’t replace private pensions, unlike the Sanders proposal to replace private health insurance with single-payer. Oh, and Social Security originally covered only half the work force, and as a result largely excluded African-Americans.
Just to be clear: I’m not saying that someone like Mr. Sanders is unelectable, although Republican operatives would evidently rather face him than Mrs. Clinton — they know that his current polling is meaningless, because he has never yet faced their attack machine. But even if he was to become president, he would end up facing the same harsh realities that constrained Mr. Obama.
The point is that while idealism is fine and essential — you have to dream of a better world — it’s not a virtue unless it goes along with hardheaded realism about the means that might achieve your ends. That’s true even when, like F.D.R., you ride a political tidal wave into office. It’s even more true for a modern Democrat, who will be lucky if his or her party controls even one house of Congress at any point this decade.
Sorry, but there’s nothing noble about seeing your values defeated because you preferred happy dreams to hard thinking about means and ends. Don’t let idealism veer into destructive self-indulgence.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 22, 2016
“Misreading The Nature Of His Revolution”: Bernie Sanders Is Attacking The ‘Establishment.’ He’s Only Half Right
In the Republican race for president, there are few slurs more cutting than when one candidate says another is too close to “the establishment.” But we hadn’t heard that from the Democrats until yesterday, when Bernie Sanders tarred Hillary Clinton with the dreaded “E” word. The problem is that it isn’t so dreaded among Democrats, and if Sanders thinks it is, then he may be misreading the nature of his revolution and the voters who are rallying behind it.
This started last night on Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC, when Maddow asked Sanders about Clinton’s endorsements from Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign. Here’s what Sanders said:
“I would love to have the endorsement of every progressive organization in America. We’re very proud to have received recently the endorsement of MoveOn.org. We’ve received the endorsement Democracy for America. These are grassroots organizations representing millions of workers.
“What we are doing in this campaign, it just blows my mind every day because I see it clearly, we’re taking on not only Wall Street and economic establishment, we’re taking on the political establishment.
“So, I have friends and supporters in the Human Rights [Campaign] and Planned Parenthood. But, you know what? Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time. Some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment.”
This argument would be unworthy of note if it came from a Republican, but Clinton quickly criticized Sanders, tweeting, “Really Senator Sanders? How can you say that groups like @PPact and @HRC are part of the ‘establishment’ you’re taking on?”
On one level, Sanders is absolutely right: Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign are indeed part of the Democratic establishment. They’ve been around for a long time, they have deep ties with other left-leaning advocacy groups and Democratic politicians (not least the Clintons), and they’re the kind of place where you’ll find former and future members of Democratic administrations. They endorsed Clinton for a lot of reasons — because she has a history of supporting their issues and interests, because people within the organizations have personal ties with her and the people around her, and almost certainly because they see her as the most likely nominee, and they want as much access and influence in the next Democratic administration as they can get. That’s what advocacy groups do.
But Sanders is wrong if he thinks that significant numbers of Democratic voters look at groups like those and say, “Yuck, the establishment.” Or even that the dissatisfaction that is driving voters to him is directed at the Democratic establishment itself.
(A brief aside: There are some gay activists and intelligentsia who do indeed believe that the Human Rights Campaign is a bunch of sellouts. Without wading into the substance of that question, it’s safe to say that the proportion of Democratic voters who have any idea what that might be about is tiny).
This is where the difference with the Republican side is so stark, and where Sanders’s success is a product of a fundamentally different phenomenon than what’s fueling the campaigns of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. On the Republican side, anger at their elected officials, their party leaders, and the broader network of Washington-based organizations and individuals that make up that thing we call the establishment is intense. That anger almost constitutes its own ideology, even though it’s barely about issues at all, but is more concerned with tactics. It has been nurtured by “outsider” candidates, and by conservative media figures like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham who fancy themselves a kind of counter-establishment. It vilifies people like Mitch McConnell and the departed John Boehner who are supposedly too willing to knuckle under to Barack Obama without forcing dramatic and quixotic confrontations. It promotes intra-party revolts and primary challenges to Republicans, and promulgates a narrative in which everything that has gone wrong for them in the last seven years is because of that establishment’s weakness and betrayal.
There’s nothing like that on the Democratic side. Yes, Sanders voters are dissatisfied. But they’re drawn to Sanders because of his ideological purity, his frank discussion of fundamental progressive values, his big ideas unencumbered by any buzz-crunching pragmatism about the mundane realities of governing, and his focus on the pathologies of the political system, particularly the influence of big money. They don’t despise Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid the way so many Republican voters despise McConnell and Boehner. They certainly aren’t going to take Clinton’s endorsements from the likes of Planned Parenthood as a reason to vote against her.
There’s also nothing comparable on the left to what those on the right hear from their favorite media figures. To begin with, liberal media isn’t nearly as central to the progressive movement as conservative media is to the conservative movement, either in influence or audience size. But even if it were, people like Maddow aren’t on the air every day railing against the Democratic establishment the way Limbaugh, Ingraham, and others rail against the Republican establishment.
Sanders is right that the Democratic establishment isn’t going to support him, but the biggest reason for that is that they don’t think he’s going to win the nomination and they don’t think he could win the general election if he were the nominee. Now it may be that this is the last time he brings this up, and he’ll go back to talking about the things that actually draw people to his revolution. But if he thinks it’s because they want to fight the establishment, he may have been spending too much time watching what’s going on in the Republican race.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, January 20, 2016
“It’s Smart To Think About The Long Game”: Hillary Clinton Supporters; It Is OK To Care About Gender On The Ballot
When it comes to women in politics, the United States is pretty much the pits. Women make up half the population in this country but hold less than 20% of congressional seats and comprise less than 25% of state legislators. The numbers for women of color are even more dismal.
On the world stage, the US ranks 72nd in women’s political participation, far worse than most industrialized countries – and with numbers similar to Saudi Arabia’s. A United Nations working group late last year called attention to this disparity in a report that found massive discrimination against women across the board, an “overall picture of women’s missing rights”.
And so it seems strange that at a time when the country has the opportunity to elect the first female president, the idea that gender might be a factor is considered shallow in some circles.
Only in a sexist society would women be told that caring about representation at the highest levels of government is wrong. Only in a sexist society would women believe it.
There has been an extraordinary amount of scorn – both from the right and from Bernie Sanders supporters – around the notion that Hillary Clinton and women planning on voting for her are playing the “gender card”. The criticism comes in part from Clinton’s unabashed embrace of women’s issues as a central part of her presidential campaign, and in part – let’s be frank – simply because Clinton is a woman.
The absurd conclusion these detractors are making is that if gender plays any role in a woman’s vote, it must be her sole litmus test. (If that were the case, you’d see throngs of feminists supporting Sarah Palin or Carly Fiorina.) As author and New York magazine contributor Rebecca Traister has written, “Somehow the admission of gender as a factor in support for her creates an opportunity to dismiss not only enthusiasm for Clinton as feminized and thus silly, but also a whole body of feminist argument that concerns itself with the underrepresentation of women in politics.”
One could argue that, gender aside, Clinton’s policies are better for women than Sanders’s – Naral Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood’s endorsements speak to that some, as does Clinton’s vocal emphasis on repealing the Hyde Amendment, which denies poor women the ability to obtain reproductive healthcare. But there is also nothing untoward about pointing out that the groundbreaking first of a female president would also benefit women.
After all, while Barack Obama’s tenure hasn’t led to any “post-racial” utopia, the symbolism of the first black president forever changed the way this nation thinks and talks about race. The first female president, while certain to bring misogynists out of the woodwork at proportions that will make GamerGate look tame, would likely do the same for gender.
There is nothing wrong or foolish in thinking about a candidate’s gender in an election. It is politically savvy to vote for your interests. It is smart to think about the long game for women’s rights. And for those of us with our bodies literally on the line, it is wise to cast a vote that you believe will be the most likely to ensure women won’t be forced into pregnancy, arrested for having miscarriages or any other of the horrifying consequences that anti-abortion Republican leadership would surely pursue.
For some people, even weighing gender heavily in their political decision-making still won’t mean a vote for Clinton. But if it does, their vote should be respected as a well-informed one. Dismissing those who want to take gender into account is turning your back on the basic democratic principle that people have the right to be politically represented.
Electing women into office is important for women’s equality, and it’s also crucial for our country’s health. Considering that truth in the election booth is not caring about a “single issue” – it’s voting smart.
By: Jessica Valenti, The Guardian, January 15, 2016
Just when Speaker Ryan was probably thinking he’d mollified them with another symbolic vote to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood, the Republican lunatic caucus in the House speaks up to remind him that he’s on a short leash.
“It’s too early to judge the speakership of Paul Ryan and I think it is fundamentally unfair to try and judge the speakership of Paul Ryan over the last month or so. But, as I have also said, the honeymoon is over,” said Labrador, an Idaho Republican. “I think he needs to start putting up real conservative reform in the House and doing the things that are necessary to show the voters that he is a different speaker than John Boehner because frankly, everything he has done so far is no different than what John Boehner would have done.”…
He added, “The question is will Ryan be a good speech-maker or a good policy-maker…The question is not just can you deliver on the speech but can you deliver on the substance. The question is whether the Republican party is a conservative party or not. I’m afraid that so far we’ve shown that [the Republican Party] is not a conservative party.”
The implied threat contained in the statement, “everything he has done so far is no different than what John Boehner would have done,” is crystal clear. Labrador wants Ryan to know that unless they get what they want, they’ll do the same thing to him that they did to Boehner.
But if Ryan was actually paying attention for the last few years, what he’ll also know is that the lunatic caucus is famous for making unreasonable demands that no one in their right minds would ever go along with – and they don’t have a majority of votes in the House to get what they want. The only thing they DO have is the ability to threaten to blow shit up. Eventually Speaker Ryan will face the same thing Boehner did – you’ll never please them. And then what?
It’s too bad that a Republican Speaker can’t/won’t tell these lunatics to bugger off. But then, that’s exactly the same problem the Republican establishment is facing with the candidacy of Donald Trump, isn’t it? They created this monster as an alternative to actually governing after the 2008 election and it just keeps turning on them.
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 8, 2016