“A Complete Lack Of Credibility On The Subject”: After Sabotage Letter, Cotton Wants US To ‘Speak With One Voice’
Congressional Republicans are unanimous in their opposition to the international nuclear agreement with Iran, but even among GOP lawmakers, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) stands out as unique. Arguably no American lawmaker has done more to undermine U.S. foreign policy than the right-wing freshman.
This week, as support for the diplomatic deal grows on Capitol Hill, opponents confronted the very real possibility that a Republican bill to derail the agreement may not even get the 60 votes it needs in the Senate to overcome a Democratic filibuster. This in turn led Cotton to issue a fascinating press statement (via Salon’s Simon Maloy).
“First, the president did an end-run around the Constitution by refusing to submit the Iran deal as a treaty requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate for approval. Now Harry Reid wants to deny the American people a voice entirely by blocking an up-or-down vote on this terrible deal. […]
“The Congress and the president should speak with one voice when it comes to dealing with the Iranians, but it seems that Harry Reid believes that only his and the president’s voices matter.”
Tom Cotton, in case anyone has forgotten, wrote a letter to Iranian officials in March, telling them not to trust U.S. officials, all in the hopes of sabotaging American foreign policy and derailing the international diplomatic talks. The Republican senator corralled 46 of his GOP Senate colleagues to join him in this dangerous stunt, which according to our allies, had the effect of helping Iran during delicate negotiations and embarrassing the United States.
Here’s a radical idea: maybe Tom Cotton should avoid lectures about the importance of Congress and the White House speaking “with one voice when it comes to dealing with the Iranians.” Unless the right-wing senator is deliberately trying to become a laughingstock, he should take a moment to acknowledge his lack of credibility on the subject.
As for Cotton’s affection for up-or-down votes, I’m tempted to ask the senator, “Are you new here?” The answer, as it turns out, is, “Yes” – the Arkansas Republican was only in the U.S. House for a year when he announced his Senate bid, and he’s only been in the upper chamber for seven months.
In other words, Cotton may not realize that his own GOP colleagues effectively created a new standard in the Senate, mandating that practically every bill of any consequence needs a minimum of 60 votes to advance. If Cotton disapproves, he can blame Mitch McConnell.
Of course, the Arkansan’s press release yesterday serves as a reminder of just how poorly the debate is going for the far-right. The Republican target in the Senate has always been 67 votes – in part because they saw 60 votes as a foregone conclusion. As of this week, however, even that goal is in doubt.
Cotton added yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “is obstructing because he is scared.” Someone’s scared, but I don’t think it’s Harry Reid.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 26, 2015
There’s some disagreement about how many times House Republicans have voted to repeal all or parts of the Affordable Care Act. I’ve seen some estimates of 56 separate votes, though some put the total a little higher.
But let’s not forget their friends on the other side of the Capitol. As National Journal reports, Senate Republicans are at least going through the motions to keep their repeal crusade alive, too.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed repealing Obamacare as part of the long-term highway bill currently being considered in the upper chamber.
McConnell’s office said Friday that the Senate would vote Sunday on an amendment to the highway legislation that would repeal the Affordable Care Act. The initial vote, which would cap debate on the repeal amendment, would need 60 votes.
Obviously, this is a ridiculous endeavor. The very idea of repealing an effective health care law is increasingly bizarre, and as Senate GOP leaders realize, there’s zero chance of the repeal measure passing. The fact that Mitch McConnell sees this as a necessary part of the debate over highway spending is itself quite sad.
So why in the world is the Republican leader doing this, announcing an ACA repeal vote out of the blue? Apparently because McConnell is looking for an adequate pacifier for his far-right flank and this is the best he could come up with.
This gets a little complicated, but McConnell appears to see Obamacare repeal as a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. The medicine, in this case, is the restoration of the Export-Import Bank. The Washington Post reported this morning on how the Senate Majority Leader hopes to get the highway bill through the chamber:
McConnell … set up votes on two controversial measures – a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States – and did it in such a way that will make it difficult for other amendments to be considered.
That move incensed [Sen. Ted Cruz] – who had announced his intention to offer other amendments, and who, like many conservatives, strongly opposes the bank’s reauthorization, though it enjoys support from a supermajority of his Senate colleagues. While McConnell has personally spoken against Ex-Im reauthorization, Democrats said in June he had agreed to schedule an Ex-Im vote in order to get highly divisive trade legislation passed.
Though McConnell said there was no deal, Cruz is now convinced that McConnell lied, which has apparently enraged the Texas Republican. Politico added:
Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor Friday and charged that Mitch McConnell told a “lie,” escalating his campaign against GOP leaders and challenging the traditions of the usually decorous chamber.
In a scathing floor speech, the Texas firebrand accused the Senate majority leader of breaking his word to him and the rest of the GOP conference over McConnell’s plans for the controversial Export-Import Bank, the country’s chief export credit agency.
C-SPAN posted Cruz’s entire harangue to YouTube. For a senator who claims to abhor “Republican-on-Republican violence” when the topic is Donald Trump, Cruz has no similar qualms when publicly expressing his scorn for Mitch McConnell.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 24, 2015
As I write these words on Monday, the South Carolina State Senate is poised to remove the Confederate battle flag from its capitol grounds entirely. These developments in the Palmetto State and elsewhere are all positive, and of course it’s high time for them. But Confederate battle flags on capitol grounds do not constitute the most conspicuous symbolic tribute to white supremacy in our political-architectural landscape.
No, the symbol I have in mind isn’t to be found in Columbia or Montgomery or Baton Rouge or Jackson. It’s right here in Washington, 2.6 miles from where I sit typing these sentences.
Hey, United States Senate: What in the world are you still doing with a building named in honor of Richard Russell?
As I trust you know, Richard Brevard Russell was a senator from Georgia from 1933 until his death in 1971. In his day, he was respected and revered. When you read about him you often read sentences like “the Senate was Russell’s mistress, his true and only love”; and indeed he never married, bore no children, and seems to have spent his waking hours thinking almost exclusively of how to bring honor and dignity to what we’ve long since stopped calling the world’s greatest deliberative body.
And sometimes, he did bring honor upon that body. His chairmanship of a special joint committee into President Truman’s firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur is considered a model of deliberative bipartisanship. It was a highly sensitive time that carried a Seven Days in May kind of whiff about it—MacArthur wanted to invade China and enjoyed a huge popular following. It was an easy situation to demagogue, and Russell did not. So yes, he did good.
But: He was a racist and a segregationist who, precisely because of the esteem in which he was held high even by Yankees for other reasons, may have done more to hold back civil rights and integration in this country than any other single individual, including Strom Thurmond and anyone else you care to name. Thurmond wrote the initial draft of the infamous 1956 Southern Manifesto, the resolution signed by Southern senators and House members stating their support for segregation and their refusal to obey Brown v. Board of Education. But Russell rewrote a lot of it and was a key or even the key figure in rounding up the votes against civil rights legislation.
He was a white supremacist—not a cross-burning white supremacist, but a white supremacist all the same. Does that sound harsh? Well, here (PDF) is something Russell said while campaigning in 1936, when his opponent was accusing him of supporting New Deal programs that would promote integration: “As one who was born and reared in the atmosphere of the Old South, with six generations of my forebears now resting beneath Southern soil, I am willing to go as far and make as great a sacrifice to preserve and insure white supremacy in the social, economic, and political life of our state as any man who lives within her borders.”
He opposed every piece of civil rights legislation that came his way. In fact, he had participated in his first anti-civil-rights filibuster the year before that 1936 election, when he helped block an anti-lynching law. He helped block another anti-lynching law in 1938. After the war, according to political scientist Robert D. Loevy in his To End All Segregation, Russell was the leader of the Southern bloc. Want to understand how committed he was to that position? In 1952, he could have become part of the Democratic Party’s Senate leadership structure. But going national in that way meant, as he knew, that he would have to soften his views on race. He refused.
On and on and on like this we could go. But here’s all you really need to know. In 1964, after his party finally succeeded in leading the push for civil rights legislation, what did Russell do? Decide to change a little? Throw in the towel just a bit? Nope. He refused to attend the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. And his racial views never changed.
He died in 1971, and they named the building after him the next year. Such were the times that his racism could be contextualized as an understandable and forgivable flaw. Maybe it’s still understandable, given the time and place of his birth and rearing. But it’s no longer forgivable to such an extent that one of only three Senate office buildings has to bear his name,
The other two Senate buildings, incidentally, are named after completely honorable men whose escutcheons carry no such stains. Everett Dirksen was a tad conservative for my tastes, but as the Republican leader in 1964, he did go along with LBJ and Senate Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield in support of civil rights. And Democrat Phil Hart of Michigan was one of the great public servants of his time. Yes, his politics were my politics, but it was his sense of honor that most defined him. He once learned that an aide in his Detroit office was taking a little honest graft. Aghast, Hart called a Detroit newspaper reporter to give him the story; to bust himself. The reporter didn’t run with it, telling Hart that no one would believe a Phil Hart-corruption story in the first place. This is what made his colleagues decide immediately that the new office building that was going up in the mid-1970s should be named in honor of their cancer-stricken colleague.
Sorry, a racist who spent 30 years making sure black children went to inferior schools and black adults couldn’t vote doesn’t deserve to be in their company. The Senate must change the name. But…to what?
Sitting where I do on the ideological parking lot, I turn naturally toward a figure like Hubert Humphrey. He was a giant of the Senate, and I rather like the symbolism of erasing a racist’s name and replacing it with the Senate’s most forward-thinking and courageous integrationist.
But I’ll tell you what. Let’s not make this a partisan thing. So I say, give it to a Republican. How about the Robert Dole Senate Office Building? He’s not exactly my dish of Kansas corn on a number of issues, but by cracky, as a young member of the House of Representatives, he voted for the civil rights bill in 1964. And then of course there was his later work on civil rights for the disabled. That’s reversal enough of Russellism for me. And he’s still alive, and it would be a nice thing for him, and into the bargain the Senate could make up for that shameful slap it administered to Dole’s face three years ago over that UN disabilities treaty.
Mitch McConnell, get on it. You once worked for a great moderate Republican, John Sherman Cooper, one of the few Southerners who voted for the civil rights bill. Harry Reid, this ought to be a no-brainer for you. Senators Pat Leahy, Patty Murray, Kirsten Gillibrand—you feel proud giving out your Washington address to your constituents? Somebody make a play here. Try to keep pace with South Carolina, will you?
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 7, 2015
“The Hypocritical Folly Of Congress’ Capricious Interest In Foreign Policy”: Exclusively In The President’s Domain — Except When It Isn’t
Senate Republicans want to get involved in President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, as they demonstrated when the vast majority of them signed Tom Cotton’s forceful letter. Senate Democrats want to get involved, too — including Ben Cardin, Robert Menendez, and Chuck Schumer, the likely successor to Harry Reid as Senate Democratic leader.
Congress has some legitimate prerogatives here. And the framework of the nuclear deal is risky, even by the United States’ reading. These senators are not wrong to demand oversight.
At the same time, a large contingent of these senators don’t really want a deal that could be realistically achieved by diplomatic means in the foreseeable future. Some want to condition meaningful sanctions relief on Iran becoming a “normal” country. But the reason we’re pushing to restrict and inspect Iran’s nuclear program in the first place is precisely because Iran is not a normal country.
But here’s the particularly striking thing: The GOP-controlled Senate demands some say in the Iran nuclear deal, but is content to allow Obama to wage war against ISIS in Iraq without a congressional vote, the second such unauthorized war of his presidency. And here, Congress’ prerogatives are unmistakable: The Constitution gives the legislative branch the power to declare war.
Forty-seven Republican senators signed a letter asserting that Congress must have a role in the Iranian negotiations. They’ve merely debated authorizing the ISIS war — after the bombing was well underway.
Congress has largely abdicated its clearest role in foreign policy, its voice on matters of war and peace. Half the Democrats in the Senate deferred to George W. Bush on Iraq. But at least he sought congressional approval for his wars. The last two Democratic presidents have gone to war without such approval, though at least congressional Republicans tried to restrain Bill Clinton. They have been derelict in this duty with Obama in the White House.
Republicans were willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to defend the view that the president can’t decide when the Senate is in recess. Some Republicans sued Clinton over Kosovo. And now Republicans are clamoring to have final say over any deal with Iran. But there are few Republicans who seem to think it’s bad that Obama is bombing ISIS without congressional approval, except insofar as it involves working with Iran. (See newly declared presidential candidate Marco Rubio on this point.)
In fact, many lawmakers now argue that foreign policy is exclusively in the president’s domain — except when it isn’t.
A lot of these questions do really turn on the merits. If the Iran deal detracts from American national security, Republicans are right to try to subvert it. If the deal enhances national security, it’s a bad thing to undermine it. And it’s at least understandable that Republicans will be less angry about a president bombing jihadists who have killed Americans in gruesome fashion, even if there was no congressional vote.
But the process matters too — especially if you claim to be the party of constitutionally limited government. If presidents usurp the power to declare war, it is inevitable that not all of the wars of their choosing will be wise or just. And conservative critiques of the imperial presidency lose some of their force when coupled with arguments that the president is an emperor when it comes to going to war.
At minimum, some of the reasonable arguments made against executive power grabs begin to look like partisan posturing — which, in turn, makes it easier for presidents to successfully grab power. Why? Because some voters and opinion leaders will take the arguments against these executive actions less seriously.
That includes arguments against the Iran deal. While the final details will ultimately be the result of work done by the administration and our allies, the diplomatic process itself is a product of bipartisan policies pursued by two administrations.
Republicans would be more convincing in their arguments against Obama’s Iran framework if they demanded he come to Congress before using military force, not just when he is clearly trying to avoid the use of force.
By: W. Jamees Antle, III, The Week, April 17, 2015