Jonathan Strong, writing at National Review Online, explains that the Republicans are wary of doing anything that might distract people from their campaign against the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, Mitch McConnell doesn’t intend to engage in any high-profile retaliatory procedural actions in the Senate. That’s fine with me, but it calls to mind McConnell’s immediate response to the invocation of the Nuclear Option. He took to the Senate floor and declared not that Harry Reid had just done something historical or significant or even abominable, but that Reid was merely trying to distract people from ObamaCare.
I thought that was the oddest response in the world. I expected fire and brimstone and steaming wrath and promises of vengeance, or even impeachment. And I got a mild complaint about Reid trying to change the narrative.
This makes me think that the Republicans are truly on another one of their Moby Dick adventures, like Whitewater, like the White House Travel Office, like Vince Foster, like l’affaire Lewinsky, like Saddam’s WMD, like Fast and Furious, like Solyndra, like the New Black Panther Party, like Benghazi, and like the most recent government shutdown. More than anything, it reminds me of when they convinced themselves not that the presidential polling numbers could be oversampling blacks, but that they were oversampling blacks. It’s like their theory that systematically trying to make it harder for blacks to vote would result in reduced black turnout rather than a black community more determined than ever to cast their ballots.
It’s some variation of stupidity and delusion, with a little evil sprinkled into the mix. And this really is the only area where I find the Republicans unpredictable. I know what they won’t agree to, which makes it easy to offer it to them without fear that they will accept it. “Have some Chained CPI, boys, really, all we need in return is some revenue.”
What I have trouble predicting is their next obsession, and how absurdly far they will take it. These people are still talking about Benghazi. As long as I’ve watched them, I still have to admit that I didn’t see that coming.
Still, their greatest weakness is their predictability. They do not know how to adapt to changing circumstances, nor how to trim their sails when it would be to their advantage. As a result, they march into one well-prepared crossfire after another.
By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 23, 2013
If you care about reproductive rights, the environment or worker rights, the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the chamber’s Democrats – including courageous votes by this state’s senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet – Thursday to reform the filibuster on presidential appointments matters. A lot.
This is not just inside-the-Beltway jabberwocky. Invoking the “nuclear option” so that a simple, 51-vote majority is all that’s needed to confirm judges below the Supreme Court level and other presidential appointments will have a profound effect on the everyday lives of many Americans. Courts are missing judges thanks to an unprecedented refusal by Republicans to confirm the president’s nominees. This is purely political, not about qualifications: as Senate Republicans have bluntly admitted, all Obama nominees are bad.
And this obstruction has real world consequences both in terms of shorthanded courts and the decisions they make.
So, for example, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is located here in Denver and handles all federal court appeals for not only Colorado but also Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming, has two vacancies thanks to GOP filibustering. And as Colorado Ethics Watch has noted, 98 percent of all federal appeals are decided at the Circuit Court level, meaning that, “decisions of the 10th Circuit on important issues such as the environment and federal land policy, reproductive freedom, voting rights and money in politics, and civil rights are often final and binding for the states in the Circuit.”
In addition to refusing to act on qualified judges to the 10th Circuit, Republicans have repeatedly blocked qualified judicial nominees to the District of Columbia Circuit Court. Per Ethics Watch, “The D.C. Circuit is a traditional stepping-stone to the U.S. Supreme Court, with four of the current justices having previously sat on the D.C. Circuit. Currently, three of the D.C. Circuit’s 11 judgeships are vacant, including one that has been open since its previous occupant, John Roberts, was confirmed chief justice of the United States in 2005.”
Judicial vacancies and court rulings matter. Without fair courts that have diverse and impartial judges, we won’t have justice when it comes to women’s health and reproductive rights.
To wit, on November 1, with three judicial vacancies thanks to Republican obstruction and no Obama nominees on the bench, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraception in their health insurance plans violated religious freedom. Denver’s 10th Circuit, with two Republican-blocked vacancies, decided a similar case the same way, setting up a Supreme Court challenge on whether or not women have the right to birth control regardless of their employers’ religious beliefs. This has profound and dangerous implications even beyond reproductive rights: it threatens to upend the very notion of secular labor law. What if an employer decided their religious beliefs meant they didn’t have to pay Social Security taxes, follow wage and hour guidelines, or hire workers of a different race?
So this isn’t some arcane procedural maneuver by the Senate, it’s the end result of the Republican Party refusing to respect a Democratic president. As for the argument from the right that a future Republican majority will use this move against Democrats: Republicans have broken every deal they’ve made so far to avoid the “nuclear option.” There’s little doubt that they’d change the rules anyway if they magically got the majority.
At least this way a Democratic President, Barack Obama, sees that he, his judicial nominees and appointments, and the American people get a bit more justice.
By: Laura Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, November 22, 2013
Exasperated with repeated Republican stonewalling of President Obama’s executive and judicial nominees, Senate Democrats on Thursday went nuclear, striking down two centuries of precedent regarding the chamber’s arcane filibuster rules.
By a 52-48 vote, the Senate voted to allow confirmation of federal judge and Cabinet nominees with a simple majority vote. The move did not, however, change the filibuster rules regarding legislation and Supreme Court nominees.
For Republicans, it was the latest defeat to come as a result of the party’s refusal to engage with their Democratic colleagues on even minor issues. The GOP has earned a reputation under Obama as the “party of no” for its intransigence, which in recent months has proven self-defeating more than once.
Take the filibuster.
For a full year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) threatened the nuclear option to circumvent Republican inaction. Most recently, Republicans blocked three nominees to the powerful U.S. District Court of Appeals, not because of any qualms with the candidates’ credentials, but merely because they didn’t want Obama filling vacancies on an influential court that tilts conservative.
With the GOP refusing to back down, Reid finally dropped the bomb, ensuring Obama’s nominees could get an up-or-down vote — and, as a bonus, handing liberals a procedural reform they’ve long sought.
“The American people believe the Senate is broken,” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday, “and I believe the American people are right.”
Outraged Republicans vowed retribution, saying they would use the process to stack future courts in their favor once they’re back in control. Except to do that, they would need to first retake the Senate and White House, which may not be so easy by 2016.
In the meantime, Democrats have a little extra muscle to help Obama staff his administration as he sees fit (which, let’s remember, used to be common practice). That could be immensely important, since House Republicans have shown no interest in dealing with the president on anything substantive like immigration reform.
As New York‘s Jonathan Chait detailed more thoroughly here, “Obama has no real legislative agenda that can pass Congress,” so his “second-term agenda runs not through Congress but through his own administrative agencies.”
With the filibuster tweak, Obama can now more readily advance his administrative agenda — and Republicans allowed that to happen by forcing Reid’s hand on the filibuster. At that point, he didn’t have much choice: Had he set the precedent of allowing the minority party to prevent judicial vacancies from being filled, Republicans would only have been encouraged to do it again.
“Eventually this escalation would have become untenable,” wrote Salon’s Brian Beutler, “and somebody would have had to go nuclear.”
That’s the same argument Democrats made during the government shutdown, another instance of GOP obstinacy backfiring spectacularly. Had Democrats and President Obama acceded to the GOP’s hostage-taking, it would have established a precedent that government shutdowns and threats of debt default were the norm for legislative negotiations.
And by letting Republicans dig in, Democrats reaped the political benefits of seeing the GOP’s approval ratings tank.
The same dynamic could soon play out on health care, too.
ObamaCare face-planted out of the gate, and Republicans have rightly criticized the administration’s extensive failings in implementing it. However, the GOP has yet to offer a credible alternative health-care plan. The party’s playbook for winning the PR battle over the law, outlined Thursday by the New York Times, is heavy on strategy but light on substance.
“Rather than get out of Obama’s path of self-destruction and focus energy on creating and promoting a positive, forward-looking health-care agenda” wrote National Journal’s Ron Fournier, “the GOP has chosen to cement its reputation as the obstructionist party.”
Republicans will keep stepping on rakes if they opt merely for “no” instead of “no, but instead.” And with ObamaCare possibly set to make something of a comeback in the coming weeks, the clock is ticking.
By: John Terbush, The Week, November 22, 2013
Yes, the headline is rather hyperbolic. It’s as over-the-top as some of President Obama’s most unhinged critics, who believe he is running the nation without care or concern for the Constitution. But when you look at the actions of the Republican Party, particularly its members in Congress, my headline seems appropriate.
Three different pieces highlighted how the GOP is grinding just about every sector of the federal government to a halt. And it is doing it through a cynical combination of obstruction, saying no and failing to have viable alternative proposals worthy of national debate. Whatever political gains Republicans achieve in the short-term come at the long-term expense of the country. That’s simply unacceptable.
Even though the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) is much more than a Web site, the disastrous roll out of Healthcare.gov has done a number on the president’s standing with the American people. According to the latest Post-ABC News poll, Obama’s overall approval rating sits at 42 percent. His 55 percent disapproval rating is the highest of his presidency. This would be the perfect time for the opposition to step forward with those alternative proposals. But the GOP is “The Party of Zilch,” as Ron Fournier so accurately described.
Rather than be the party of solutions in a gridlocked capital, appealing to a leadership-starved public, the GOP is the party of obstruction, ensuring that its putrid approval ratings nose dive apace with Obama’s.
The country needs sensible immigration reform that brings 11 million or so undocumented residents out of the shadows. No, says the GOP
The country needs to tame a massive debt that will be 100 percent of the gross domestic product by 2038 unless Congress raises revenue and trims entitlements. No, says the GOP.
The country needs fair debate and compromise around existential issues such as climate change, income inequality, and a deteriorating 20th century infrastructure. No, says the GOP.
“Other than hard partisans on the left and right, the majority of the public—moderate, fix-it Americans who simply want a sensible government—now have nowhere to turn, because the GOP is the party of nothing,” Fournier correctly concludes.
The New York Times editorial board delivered its own party-of-zilch disquisition using opposition to the ACA as the jumping off point.
What is the Republican alternative to this government program, flawed as it is right now? There is none. Party members simply want to repeal the health law and let insurers go back to canceling policies at the first sign of a shadow on an X-ray. They have no immigration policy of their own. They have no plan that will stimulate job growth. They are in favor only of shutdowns and sequesters and repeals, giving the public no reason to believe they have a governing vision or even a legislative agenda.
That congressional Republicans have no “governing vision or even a legislative agenda” was proven in a Politico story on Sunday. The headline said it all: “House GOP 2014 agenda starts with blank slate.”
Last Thursday, a group of House Republicans filed into Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s Capitol office suite and received a blank piece of paper labeled “Agenda 2014.”
The blank slate just about sums up where Republicans find themselves after a year marked by the first government shutdown in 17 years, futile efforts to repeal Obamacare and the inability to pass spending bills at the levels set by Republican leaders.
As bad as that is, what a Republican aide said is worse. “What we have done so far this year clearly hasn’t worked,” the GOP aide involved in the planning sessions told the Politico reporters. “Cantor wants to take us in a new direction, which is good. The problem is we don’t know where we are headed, and we don’t know what we can sell to our members.” This no way to run an enterprise as large and as important as the United States.
The judicial branch is crippled as qualified nominees go unconfirmed due to “unfair hurdles in the Senate.” As a result, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the nation’s second-highest court, has three vacancies on the 11-seat court that handles cases involving federal regulations and national security. Half of the legislative branch is in thrall to a band of right-wing zealots unmoved by facts as much as they are motivated by hatred of the president. As a result, the threat of government shutdowns and default is constant. Inaction on pressing issues is now routine. And the executive branch finds its agenda held hostage by an opposition that schemed against it since before its inauguration in 2009, even though said agenda was approved by the American people — twice.
That the Obama administration has been able to get as much done as it has speaks to the president’s determination to move this nation forward. Yet it’s not enough. Ours is a government that requires two functioning parties that produce good public policy through the necessary friction of governing. Neither party is perfect nor has all the ideas or the answers. But no good comes from a party that gives up completely on governing.
At the end of its editorial, the Times noted, “Democrats may be stumbling right now, but at least they are trying.” Would that Republicans did the same. It is long past time they did.
By: Jonathan Caphart, The Washington Post, November 20, 2013
The big mystery of today’s majority-imposed rules change in the Senate is: What happened to the deal-making Republicans?
There’s nothing much to figure out on the Democratic side. It was clear to most observers that the three-seat blockade of the D.C. Circuit Court was solidly over the line separating Democratic senators’ individual preference for maintaining the filibuster and their party interest in seating a Democratic president’s choices for the federal bench. Democrats believed that they had no choice but to proceed.
Republicans, however, certainly did have a choice. After all, in the short run, they’re clearly worse off by this change than they would be had they used the filibuster far more selectively. That was enough to get them to compromise the last time this happened. So why didn’t they hold back again?
One possibility is that they simply miscalculated, believing that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was bluffing. If that was the case, however, they could have backed off at the last second.
A second possibility is that they really wanted to eliminate the filibuster, and that they believed that the cost to the Democrats for pulling the trigger was great enough that it was worth the potential three years of majority-confirmed President Obama nominees. That’s possible, although it’s very hard to believe that voters will care at all, and Republican arguments (court-packing!) did not appear designed to appeal to those who might have been willing to condemn Democrats for a “power-grab.”
So here’s a third possibility. The problem with the summer compromise is that it was horrible for deal-making Republicans. The deal essentially said: Republicans will continue to filibuster nominations, but will supply enough votes for almost all of them so that the filibusters will be defeated. But that meant that in practice a handful of Republicans were forced to tag-team their votes, making sure that Democrats always had 60. What’s more, the shutdown fight — which began right after the Senate deal was struck — revealed that radical Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) were eager to scapegoat those same deal-making Republicans. That raised the cost of the executive branch nominations agreement for tag-teamers such as Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). In other words, the summer deal might or might not have been stable, but it certainly couldn’t hold in a world in which the majority of Republican senators are looking for ways to separate themselves from mainstream conservatives, and then using that separation to attack them.
Those deal-making Republicans did have another option; They could have just abandoned the radicals. But over what principle? After all, the situation here is that it’s the radicals, not the mainstream conservatives, who want to hold up all these nominations. One way to look at what happened today is that the deal-makers were getting out of the way and allowing the radicals to lose. If the outcome is the same — Obama’s judicial picks get confirmed — then why should the deal-makers ask for the blame for it?
We don’t know yet, and perhaps we won’t, but my guess is that the way Cruz and other Republican radicals acted during the shutdown is what explains the difference between a successful deal in the summer and today’s nuclear action.
By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Washington Post, November 21, 2013