“Ted Cruz’s A.G. Fight Already Misguided”: More So Than Usual, Cruz Has No Idea Of What He’s Talking About
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) does not believe in wasting time. Less than 24 hours have passed since Attorney General Eric Holder announced he’s stepping down, and at this point, no one seems to have any idea when the White House will announce a successor or who he or she will be.
But for Cruz, that just means now is a good time to start drawing battle lines.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) issued a political call to arms for conservatives, saying that outgoing senators should not vote on the nominee during the post-election lame-duck session. “Allowing Democratic senators, many of whom will likely have just been defeated at the polls, to confirm Holder’s successor would be an abuse of power that should not be countenanced,” Cruz said in a statement.
Perhaps more so than usual, Cruz has no idea what he’s talking about.
As Kevin Drum noted in response, “Unless Cruz is suggesting that they should be banned completely, then of course business should be conducted during lame duck sessions. What else is Congress supposed to do during those few weeks?”
Right. Members of the Senate are elected to serve six-year terms. The Constitution, which Cruz usually loves to talk about, is quite explicit on this point. Article I does not say senators’ terms end after 5 years and 10 months, with the final two months designated as goof-off time.
Indeed, if Cruz is still confused, he can look to very recent history to understand that nominating and confirming cabinet officials during a lame-duck session is the exact opposite of “an abuse of power.”
In November 2006, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced he was stepping down at the Pentagon. Almost immediately thereafter, then-President George W. Bush nominated Robert Gates as Rumsfeld’s successor, and during the lame-duck session, the Senate held confirmation hearings, a committee vote, and a confirmation vote on the Senate floor.
Gates was confirmed, 95 to 2, and he was sworn in the week before Christmas 2006. Some of the senators who voted in support of the nominee, to use Cruz’s language, had “just been defeated at the polls,” but it didn’t make a bit of difference.
Why not? Because they were still senators who had a job to do. Indeed, 2006 was an especially important year: the Republican majority in the Senate had just been voted out in a Democratic wave election, in large part because of the Bush administration’s national-security policy. And yet, the Senate still moved quickly and efficiently to consider and confirm a new Pentagon chief.
This wasn’t an “abuse of power.” It was just the American political process working as it’s designed to work.
The same is true now, whether Cruz understands that or not.
Of course, there’s another scenario the far-right Texan may also want to keep in mind: the longer Cruz and his cohorts delay the process, the longer Eric Holder will remain the Attorney General. Indeed, Holder made it quite clear yesterday that he intends to stay on until his successor is ready to step into the office.
Under the circumstances, and given the right’s uncontrollable hatred for the current A.G., shouldn’t Cruz want the Senate to vote on Holder’s replacement during the lame-duck session? Has he really thought his current posturing through?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 27, 2014
In their rush to blame the escalating violence in Iraq on President Obama, Republican critics brush off any suggestion that his predecessor may also be to blame, offering up some version of “Oh yeah, Democrats always want to blame Bush, but Obama has been in office for more than five years.”
As annoying as that theme may be (there is in fact a direct correlation between current events and Mr. Bush’s decision to destroy the Iraqi government, military, courts and police force and do too little, too late to rebuild them), the latest talking point on the right is even more irritating and absurd.
Mr. Bush, this line of “reasoning” goes, was prescient. He foresaw the unraveling of Iraq if the United States pulled out its military prematurely. As Igor Volsky reported this morning on Think Progress, Fox News obligingly explained “how the president who first invaded the country was also the region’s most clairvoyant analyst.” According to this narrative, Mr. Bush “pretty much laid this out as it is happening,” way back in July 2007.
Mr. Bush did say there would be more violence if the United States left too early. But he let military commanders set the timetable (as was reasonable) and military commanders suggested the end of 2011. Mr. Bush began the drawdown in September of 2008, at the tail end of his presidency.
After Mr. Obama took office the following January, he urged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to sign an agreement allowing America troops to stay on longer than Jan. 1, 2012. But those talks fell through and the military recommended withdrawing as scheduled.
In 2011, Defense Secretary Robert Gates (a Republican who served under both Bushes) said Iraq would face security problems after a U.S. withdrawal. But, he pointed out, “it’s a sovereign country. And we will abide by the agreement, unless the Iraqis ask us to have additional people there.”
The Iraqis did not ask, and U.S forces withdrew. Mr. Obama did his best to clean up a huge mess left by his predecessor (and Iraq was far from the only one). To heap all the blame on him now is partisan hackery.
By: Andrew Rosenthal, Taking Note, Editorial Page Editors Blog, The New York Times, June 16, 2014
The words of the late Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) have been ringing my ears these past few days. The then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in 1947 that “partisan politics [must stop] at the water’s edge.” Translation: No matter the domestic battles with the president, international crises demand we speak with one voice. Those days are long gone judging by the cacophony of ridicule of President Obama because of the actions taken in Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on CNN, “We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) slammed Obama on Monday for having “a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.” And Sarah Palin, the person McCain saw fit to make his 2008 vice presidential running mate said later that night, “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”
My Post colleague David Ignatius’s column today was a needed tonic. He got former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the phone to talk about Republican bashing of the president over Ukraine.
Gates, a Republican himself, urged the GOP senators to “tone down” their criticism and “try to be supportive of the president rather than natter at the president.”
Not only that, Gates told Ignatius that Putin “holds most of the high cards” and that “considerable care needs to be taken in terms of what is said, so that the rhetoric doesn’t threaten what policy can’t deliver.” Ah, such reasonableness from the GOP. Pity Gates, now the chancellor of the College of William and Mary, isn’t in the Senate.
In the end, even he shared my lament. “It seems to me that trying to speak with one voice — one American voice — seems to have become a quaint thing of the past,” Gates told Ignatius. “I regret that enormously.” At least I’m in good company.
By: Jonathan Capehart, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 5, 2014
“The Doomed Wars”: In Afghanistan And Iraq Wars, No Amount Of Enthusiasm From President Obama Was Going To Change That
Washington loves few things more than a tell-all memoir. Even if a memoir doesn’t tell very much, the media will do their best to characterize it as scandalous and shocking. So it is with the book by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates which will soon be appearing in airport bookstores everywhere. From the excerpts that have been released, it sounds like Gates has plenty of praise for President Obama, and some criticisms that are not particularly biting. Sure, there’s plenty of bureaucratic sniping and the settling of a few scores, but his criticisms (the Obama White House is too controlling, politics sometimes intrudes on national security) sound familiar.
Gates’ thoughts on Afghanistan, however, do offer us an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve come in that long war. The quote from his book that has been repeated the most concerns a meeting in March 2011 in which Obama expressed his frustration with how things were going in Afghanistan. “As I sat there,” Gates writes, “I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” Well let’s see. Should Obama have trusted David Petraeus? I can’t really say. Hamid Karzai is corrupt, incompetent, and possibly mentally unstable. As to whether he believed in his own strategy (the “surge” of extra troops), by then there were plenty of reasons to doubt that it would work. The war wasn’t his—it had been going on for over seven years before he even took office. And “it’s all about getting out”? Well wasn’t that the whole point? The reason the administration undertook the “surge” in the first place was to create the conditions where we could get out.
Another thing Gates writes is, “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” and that that is a problem for the troops in the field. I’m sure it can be, to a degree, and morale can be undermined if you think the president doesn’t believe you’re going to succeed. I would also imagine that if you were a soldier in Iraq in 2005 or so and you saw George Bush on TV all the time talking about how great everything was going, you’d think your Commander in Chief was an idiot, and that might not be so good for morale either. But the real point is that in neither case was the president’s confidence going to make much of a difference. The problem was never the president’s disposition, or the particular decisions made in one year or one month. It was launching the war in the first place.
Let’s look at Iraq. Bush was nothing if not confident, and after about 4,500 American deaths and an expenditure of two trillion dollars, things finally quieted down enough for us to get out. Success! And two years after we left, the country is devolving into another civil war, or if you prefer, the latest inflammation of a civil war that never ended. We sure as hell aren’t going to re-invade to deal with it, not just because the American people would never stand for it, but because it wouldn’t make anything better there if we did. No sane person can look at the situation today and believe that it all could have been averted if the Americans had made some different decisions along the way.
As for Afghanistan, the predictions back in 2001 that the country was impossible to pacify, the war would inevitably become a quagmire, and we’d end up washing our hands of the place and leaving it to its own miserable existence just like the Russians and British before us, well they’re looking pretty prescient about now.
So what’s going to happen when we leave? I’m hardly an expert in internal Afghan politics, but from this vantage point it sure looks like there’ll be a government in Kabul that isn’t capable of holding the country together, and there will quickly be a violent struggle for power whose outcome is hard to predict. In other words, pretty much exactly what would have happened if twelve years ago we had said, “We kicked out the Taliban, so we’ve extracted what revenge we can on this particular spot on the earth for September 11. Now we’re going to install a provisional government and get the hell out.”
That isn’t to say there weren’t plenty of mistakes along the way and things that could have been done better by both the Bush and Obama administrations. And the question of our moral responsibility to Afghanistan’s future is one we’re going to have to grapple with—though if Iraq is any indication, our response to future death and misery there is likely to be, “Wow, that’s unfortunate. Now put on American Idol.” The awful reality is that the Afghanistan war, like the Iraq war, was doomed from the start, and no amount of enthusiasm from President Obama was going to change that.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 8, 2014
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants to cut taxpayer funding for non-military elements of the Defense Department, starting with making retired, uninjured service members pay more for what he described as “extremely low-cost health care for life” for themselves, their wives and dependents under the Tricare Prime system.
For military retirees eligible for Medicare, he also wants to raise the co-payments that they are charged to be in Tricare for life, the second payer for health care after Medicare. In addition, he wants to increase low fees that Tricare beneficiaries pay for pharmaceuticals purchased at their local drugstores.
Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates proposed raising Tricare Prime enrollment fees for single retirees from $230 a year to $260 a year and fees for retiree families from $460 a year to $520 a year. Coburn wants the fees to be much higher and more in line with private-sector health plans.
Part of his concern is fairness, first for uninjured veterans who, for example, served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan but “leave the military without serving 20 years [and] are not entitled to any of these health-care benefits.” They represent some 70 percent of those serving, according to Pentagon officials.
Another comparison he makes is to other federal government workers whose plans are not as cheap. A medical doctor, Coburn told reporters last Monday: “Nobody in the country, as a single person working 20 years for the government, should be able to get health care for $250 a year. Nobody was ever promised that, and nobody should be able to do that.”
Instead, he wants to increase the enrollment fee for single retirees to “approximately $2,000 per year and $3,500 for a family.” At the same time he would limit out-of-pocket expenses at $7,500 for those retirees with families. He thinks these changes could save $11.5 billion a year.
His Tricare for life would require retirees to pay up to $550 for half the initial cost not covered by Medicare and then up to $3,025, after which all costs would be paid by Tricare. This change could save $4.3 billion a year.
Coburn wants to reduce the $8 billion annual government share of the cost of drugs that Tricare beneficiaries purchase from their local private retail pharmacies rather than buying them at lower cost by mail order or at military base facilities. Where the price is now $3 for a 30-day supply of a generic drug and $9 for a brand-name from private pharmacies, Coburn would raise that to$15 for generic and $25 for brand names and save some $2.6 billion a year.
Coburn told reporters he has no doubt about the reaction to his Tricare ideas.
“There’s no question,” he said, “. . . retired military, they won’t like what I’ve done. But the fact is is nobody’s going to like what we’ve done, because everybody gets a pinch — everybody. ”
Beyond health care, Coburn has several other proposals that will rattle the Pentagon. He wants to eliminate most of the $1.3 billion-a-year subsidy that supports the Defense Commissary system of 252 grocery stores on military bases worldwide. Prices at commissaries are much lower than at civilian supermarkets; they are listed at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge. That money goes to offset costs of new commissaries or to repair and maintain old ones. It does not pay for salaries and benefits of the roughly 18,000 people who work at the commissaries.
Coburn supports a Congressional Budget Office proposal that would reduce the taxpayer subsidy over five years and see a gradual raise in prices so commissaries could become self-sufficient. The increase in cost, according to the CBO, would amount to $400 per service family per year and save the government about $900 million annually.
He also wants to close down the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, which for more than 20 years has added around $200 million a year primarily for breast, lung and prostate cancer projects that have to be managed primarily by contractors. Coburn’s option is to “transfer funding for cancer research that affects the general population back to [the National Institutes of Health] and reduce the administrative costs of administering this research for savings.”
By: Walter Pincus, The Washington Post, July 24, 2011