Who’s afraid of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? It may not only be the Obama administration, congressional Democrats and their allies. According to a new report from Time’s Zeke J. Miller, the ranks of people who are quietly rooting for Democrats to hold the Senate by the skin of their teeth include all manner of Republican presidential hopefuls. Miller writes:
Behind closed doors and in private conversations with reporters and donors, GOPers eyeing the White House in 2016 are privately signaling they wouldn’t mind seeing the party fall short in this year’s midterm elections. For all the benefits of a strong showing in 2014 after resounding defeat in 2012, senior political advisers to some of the top Republican presidential aspirants believe winning the Senate might be the worst thing that could happen.
Miller identifies GOP governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Perry of Texas as being the prime movers in this, as they are all likely to contrast their can-do problem-solving with the feckless gridlock of Washington – gridlock that they’d have a harder time dealing with if the GOP controlled all of Congress. GOP senators too (Florida’s Marco Rubio, Texas’ Ted Cruz and Kentucky’s Rand Paul) would have a greater expectations problem if people actually expected them to do more than inveigh against Obama. Miller continues:
For candidates from either category, a GOP-controlled Senate and House would mean having to answer for their party’s legislative agenda in both a primary and a general election. Whether it be new fiscal deals struck with Obama or continued votes to repeal Obamacare, aides to potential candidates fear that congressional action may put a damper on their boss’ future campaigns by forcing them to either embrace or break with specific legislative proposal as opposed to general policy ideals.
All of these points are good and Miller’s article is worth a full read. I especially like the detail where he notes that GOP governors don’t talk so much about the GOP Congress (honestly little wonder given that the reviled Obamacare is way, way, way more popular than congressional Republicans).
But there’s another reason why Republicans should be wary of excessive success and it has to do with the schizophrenic nature of the modern electorate. The midterm electorate tends to be older and whiter than the presidential electorate and the electorate’s increasing polarization (where parties tend to run up steep margins among specific demographic groups, like Republicans among whites and Democrats among minorities) has produced off-year collections of voters that lean Democratic (because they’re younger and less white) in presidential years and lean Republican (because they’re older and whiter) in off-years. The upshot has in recent cycles been parties that have struggled to succeed with the other side’s electorate.
So while Republicans swore up and down that they were going to learn the lessons of 2012 about growing their base, success in 2014 could kill any steps in that direction (which, in fairness, haven’t much been in evidence).
National Journal’s Ron Brownstein explicated this phenomenon last June:
The peril for Republicans is that a good 2014 election could provide a “false positive” signal about their prospects for 2016, much as the 2010 landslide did for 2012. … The GOP can thrive in 2014 without solving [its youth voter] problem — but not in 2016. The same dynamic holds for Republicans’ minority problems. The GOP attracted 60 percent of white voters in 2010 and enjoyed a landslide. But because minority turnout increased so much just two years later, Romney lost badly while winning 59 percent of the white vote.
At The American Conservative, Scott Galupo (a former U.S. News contributor) sees something more than a “false positive” danger; he argues that GOP poobahs understand their party’s problem full well but are trapped.
Republicans, or at least a good portion of those who matter, know full well that the party has a problem going into 2016, quite apart from what happens this fall. The crux of it is this: there’s nothing they can do to change it in the near term. The adjustments they need to make in order to recapture the White House—find some way to deal with undocumented immigrants; give up on tax cuts for the wealthy; acknowledge the painful trade-offs of any serious Obamacare alternative—would jeopardize their grip on Congress.
It’s possible that Republican leaders are merely biding their time until the Senate is in hand. Why rock the boat when you can win by default? I suspect, however, that the truth is more inconvenient: Rocking the boat will be no easier in 2016 than it is now.
The bottom line of course is that deep down no one is going to root against their side winning – you take the victory in the hand rather than hoping that a narrow loss will bank-shot you to greater success in the future. But these considerations are a useful reminder that allied political interests aren’t always perfectly aligned and that sometimes short-term success can mask and even exacerbate long term problems.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, April 9, 2014
“Stuck Between Obamacare And A Hard Place”: As A Massachusetts State Senator, Scott Brown Voted For Romneycare
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown will officially kick off his campaign to unseat New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen tonight, as he attempts to return to the world’s greatest deliberative body (or something) after being ousted from his Bay State Senate seat by Democrat Elizabeth Warren two years ago. According to leaked excerpts of the speech he plans to deliver tonight, Brown will be campaigning against Obamacare, just as he did in 2010 when he won an upset in the race to succeed the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
“Along with our money and our health plans, for a lot of us, it feels like we’re losing our liberty, too. Obamacare forces us to make a choice, live free or log on — and here in New Hampshire, we choose freedom,” Brown plans to say. (Get it? Because New Hampshire’s state motto is “live free or die.” But wait, if Obamacare is the major assault on freedom Republicans claim it is, do you have the choice to live free under it? Or is it just that “log on or die” didn’t send the right message? But I digress.)
There’s definitely a danger for Brown in taking this approach. Yes, the health care law has, according to a recent WMUR Granite State poll, a less than stellar approval rating in New Hampshire, with only 34 percent saying they approve of it while 53 percent say they oppose it. (Let’s add the caveat that the poll doesn’t say what portion of the opposition thinks the law goes too far and what portion thinks it doesn’t go far enough.) But Brown will have a hard time getting around the various problems other Republicans are running into when it comes to making Obamacare a focal point of a campaign.
For starters, the law may be unpopular in theory, but in practice, signups under Obamacare’s New Hampshire exchange have exceeded expectations. Does Brown have a plan for providing for those folks? Or how about the estimated 50,000 people who are going to receive health insurance under New Hampshire’s recently approved Medicaid expansion, which was made possible by Obamacare and on which Brown has thus far been mum? Those are real people who are experiencing real benefits from the law.
And therein lies the problem for Republicans, which Brown is eventually going to run into as well: Providing the benefits of Obamacare requires something that looks like Obamacare. Just look at this quote a Republican aide gave to Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur (emphasis added):
As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act. … To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA. You have to have a participating mechanism, you have to have a mechanism to fund it, you have to have a mechanism to fix parts of the market.
And Brown knew this once upon a time. As my former colleague Igor Volsky noted, as a state senator Brown voted for the Massachusetts health reform law that looks a whole lot like Obamacare.
This is exactly why the long awaited Republican health care alternative never actually comes to fruition. (Sure, some individual lawmakers have proposed plans, but the party hasn’t coalesced around one bill.) To actually craft an alternative, the GOP would either have to admit that Obamacare is a pretty darn conservative measure or admit, like House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan did the other day, that the popular provisions and benefits of Obamacare have to go away as well in order to enact a more Republican-y plan.
Will that latter approach work in still quite blue New Hampshire? Or will Brown try to get away with hand waving about an Obamacare alternative that will never materialize? Either way, spouting “live free or log on” will be no slam dunk.
By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, April 10, 2014
Up until fairly recently, Wisconsin’s Bill Kramer was the Republican Majority Leader in the state Assembly. As Rachel noted on the show on Friday, that changed when the state lawmaker was charged with two counts of felony second-degree sexual assault – charges that cost Kramer his GOP leadership post
The charges were not, however, enough to compel Wisconsin lawmakers to throw Kramer out of the state Assembly all together. He’s no longer the Republican Majority Leader, but he’s still a voting member of the legislative body. Some in the party have called on Kramer to quit, but for now, he seems to be determined to stay in office, and his colleagues aren’t prepared to force the issue, at least not yet.
Perhaps they’ll be interested to know that the recent sexual-assault allegations are not the first time Kramer has been accused.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, his chief of staff and a Waukesha County GOP official were all told three years ago of allegations that a then-aide to the senator had been sexually assaulted by state Rep. Bill Kramer, but none of them took the matter to the police or Assembly leaders.
The woman told her supervisor in Johnson’s office and a number of other people, but decided at the time to have her attorney send a letter to Kramer rather than go to the police, records show. Last month – nearly three years after the alleged assault outside a Muskego bar – the woman learned of Kramer’s alleged mistreatment of other women and filed a complaint with Muskego police that has resulted in two felony charges of second-degree sexual assault.
According to the weekend report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a woman who worked for Ron Johnson was allegedly assaulted by Bill Kramer in 2011, who then quickly informed several people, including her supervisor in Johnson’s office, Tony Blando, the senator’s chief of staff, who informed the senator himself.
But they didn’t tell anyone and remained silent when Republican state lawmakers elevated Kramer to the Majority Leader’s office. The aide in the 2011 incident only came forward after the 2014 allegations against Kramer came to public light.
So why didn’t the senator say something at the time? Initially, Johnson and his office didn’t want to comment, but after the Journal Sentinel was published online, the senator’s office changed its mind
…Johnson’s office issued a statement saying that when the woman spoke with Johnson and his chief of staff, Tony Blando, she already had an attorney. “Senator Johnson and Mr. Blando conveyed their commitment to be 100% supportive of any actions she chose to pursue on the advice of her legal counsel – up to and including the filing of criminal charges,” the statement said. “She requested that Senator Johnson and Mr. Blando keep the matter confidential and take no further action. Senator Johnson and Mr. Blando fully honored her request.”
U.S. Senate policies do not appear to directly address cases in which employees are assaulted by individuals from outside the Senate but do require internal reporting of sexual harassment. Each senator establishes his or her own employee policies. […]
According to the criminal complaint, the woman decided not to go to police at the time of the incident because she didn’t want to embarrass her family, the Republican Party, Kramer and Johnson as her employer. Instead, she had her lawyer send Kramer a letter saying she had been assaulted, that Kramer needed to seek treatment for drinking and that she would reconsider her decision not to report the incident to law enforcement if she learned of him acting inappropriately toward others in the future.
In other words, based on this reporting, Johnson and his team kept quiet because the alleged victim asked them to.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 7, 2014
Senate Democrats had originally planned to move forward this week on legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10, but it was delayed in part so the chamber could tackle extended unemployment benefits, which may pass later today.
The delay, however, also carried an unintended consequence: the prospect of a “compromise” on the issue, spearheaded by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Democratic leaders so far are sticking to the $10.10-an-hour wage they’re proposing, while many Republicans, including more moderate lawmakers, say they are likely to filibuster the bill.
But the moderate Maine Republican says she’s leading a bipartisan group of senators hoping to strike a deal.
Collins hasn’t released the details of her proposal, which makes sense given that the talks are still ongoing, but Roll Call’s piece suggests she’s open to a minimum-wage increase, so long as it’s smaller. By some accounts, the Maine Republican is eyeing a $9/hour minimum wage, up from the current $7.25/hour, which would be phased in slowly over three years.
But Collins also hopes to trade this modest minimum-wage increase for a partial rollback of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act and some small business tax cuts.
The senator is calling her plan “a work in progress.”
One might also call it “something that won’t happen.”
Greg Sargent had a good piece on this yesterday, noting that Dems don’t seem to have much of an incentive to drop their target minimum-wage threshold.
For one thing, Democratic aides point out, the idea of such a compromise may be fanciful. Even if it were possible to win over a few Republicans for a lower raise, you’d probably risk losing at least a few Democrats on the left, putting 60 out of reach (Republicans would still filibuster the proposal).
Indeed, the office of Senator Tom Harkin – the chief proponent of a hike to $10.10 – tells me he’ll oppose any hike short of that…. Labor is already putting Dems on notice that supporting a smaller hike is unacceptable.
Even the balance of the so-called “compromise” is off. As Collins sees it, Republicans would get quite a bit in exchange for Democrats making important concessions on their popular, election-year idea.
That’s not much of a “deal.”
Complicating matters, even if Dems went along with Collins’ offer, there’s no reason to believe House Republicans would accept any proposal to increase the minimum wage by any amount.
It sets Senate Democrats up with a choice: fight for the $10.10 minimum-wage increase they want (and watch Senate Republicans kill it) or pursue a $9 minimum-wage increase they don’t want (and watch House Republicans kill it).
Don’t be too surprised if the party sees this as an easy call.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 3, 2014
Senate Democrats are moving forward with their election-year “Fair Shot” agenda, including popular bills intended to make life a little more difficult for the Senate Republican minority. First up is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which GOP policymakers have already killed twice – once in 2010 and again in 2012.
For those who may need a refresher, the bill would “enhance the remedies available for victims of gender-based discrimination and require employers to show that wage differences are job-related, not sex-based, and driven by business necessity. The measure would also protect employees from retaliation for sharing salary information, which is important for deterring and challenging discriminatory compensation.”
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was an important step forward when it comes to combating discrimination, but it was also narrowly focused to address a specific problem: giving victims of discrimination access to the courts for legal redress. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a broader measure and Dems consider it an important part of their agenda.
It’s not surprising that Republican opposition will likely kill the bill for a third time, but I am struck by the arguments some in the GOP have come up with.
Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander is worried that the Paycheck Fairness Act – a bill designed to ensure equal pay – will hurt men.
“Take me through exactly what would have to happen, with a specific example of a man and woman, where a man is being paid less than the woman,” Alexander asked during a Senate hearing. “Because this law is not just about women – it’s about men and women.”
Under the status quo, women receive unequal pay for equal work – for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes 77 cents. Alexander isn’t just opposed to a legislation intended to address wage discrimination, he also wants to know what men will get out of it?
The answer isn’t complicated: men will get a more just society for all. Isn’t that enough?
Perhaps the more salient point to consider is why pay equity has become such a problematic issue for much of the Republican Party.
Two weeks ago, Cari Christman, the executive director of a political action committee for Texas Republican women, got the ball rolling when she struggled to explain her party’s opposition to pay-equity laws. She said women don’t need measures like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, in part because “women are extremely busy.”
Soon after, Beth Cubriel, the executive director of the Texas Republican Party, said women are to blame for receiving unequal pay for equal work. She argued that if women “become better negotiators,” the problem will take care of itself.
Last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) appeared on msnbc and seemed annoyed by the entire subject, calling the debate “nonsense,” and urging Democrats to focus on “substantive issues” – as if this issue isn’t substantive at all.
And now Lamar Alexander is worried about men facing gender-based wage discrimination.
Don’t be too surprised if pay equity becomes a key element of Democrats’ 2014 strategy. Not only are they on the right side of public opinion, but it seems the GOP is struggling badly to address the issue coherently.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 2, 2014