So how can Republicans who want immigration reform get conservatives to accept it, given that Obama also wants it?
Republicans pushing for reform have come up with a strategic answer to that question, one that isn’t really acknowledged openly. They are subtly making the case to their base that a defeat for immigration reform is actually a hidden victory for Obama, and that passing the Senate compromise is actually worse for the President than the alternative, i.e. doing nothing.
In this sense, the immigration reform debate is perhaps the ultimate test of what Obama referred to as the need to create a “permission structure” — that is, a way for conservatives to accept something Obama wants, too. The message — which is carefully couched – is that, yes, Obama wants immigration reform, but conservatives should accept the Gang of Eight compromise because the alternative is actually better for the President.
The basic idea here is that the status quo with its alleged weak border enforcement is as bad as or worse than legalizing the undocumented workers already here. There’s even a hint in Rubio’s op-ed that absent reform legislation, the radicals in the administration will find other, more devious ways, to legalize undocumented folk, even as they are inviting more to come in.
Perhaps understanding that this argument isn’t exactly open-and-shut, Rubio also invites conservatives to “toughen” the border enforcement language in the Gang of Eight bill–as he’s been doing in interviews for several days. I guess ideally he’d like Obama to play his part by yelling and screaming about any modifications before eventually caving in, because he’s so weak, you know.
Greg notices something else interesting about Rubio’s pitch: it doesn’t contain the usual political arguments that are actually the motive for virtually all the Republican interest in immigration reform:
There’s a key nuance here. As I understand the thinking, GOP base voters are turned off by the political argument that we must reform immigration because if we don’t, Obama will be able to screw Republicans over politically with Latinos. The reason the political argument doesn’t work is partly because many GOP base voters are persuaded that immigration reform will create a whole lot of Democratic voters — in purely political terms, rank-and-file members of the GOP base believe immigration reform is a net win for Democrats no matter how you slice it.
I’d add to that observation the equally important fact that a lot of Tea types are turned off by electoral arguments generally: they don’t want to hear about how the Republican Party might wrangle a few more Latino voters via a betrayal of principle–they want to pursue their ideological tenets to the ends of the earth. There’s just not a lot of openness to strategic or tactical thinking here; it’s fight-fight-fight, based to some degree on the iron conviction that all the strategery of the Republican Establishment of the past hasn’t worked while howling at the moon worked just fine in 2010.
In any event, it’s a tangled web ol’ Marco seems to be weaving, and if Greg and I can see through it, I’m reasonably sure a lot of his intended audience can see through it, too.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 3, 2013
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has released an important new report that details Barack Obama’s record on nominating judges during his first term. It’s no surprise: Republican obstruction against his selections was unprecedented. For example:
President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).
A quick look at the report’s summary confirms that Obama’s nominees have been treated more roughly than those of Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and the other Bush.
That’s only half the story. George H.W. Bush had to deal with an opposition party Senate for his entire first term, and Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had that during about half of their first terms. It’s at least plausibly legitimate for opposite party Senators, when they have the majority, to argue that they should have a larger role in filling judicial vacancies, and to act accordingly. At the very least, if they simply oppose some of those nominees, they will defeat them in “up or down” votes.
But Obama, like Ronald Reagan, had a same-party Senate majority during his first term. He should have had among the best results over any recent president, all things being equal.
What changed when Obama took office, however, was the extension of the filibuster to cover every single nominee. Republicans didn’t always vote against cloture (or even demand cloture votes), but they did demand 60 votes for every nominee. That’s brand new. It’s true that Democrats filibustered selected judicial nominations during the George W. Bush presidency, but only at the circuit court level, and not every single one.
That meant that despite solid Democratic majorities and solid support from those Democrats, Obama’s judicial approval statistics are basically the worse of any of the recent presidents. He doesn’t show up last on every measure — for example, George H.W. Bush had a lower percentage of district court nominees confirmed — but he’s fourth or fifth out of five of these presidents on almost every way that CRS slices the numbers, and it adds up to by far the most obstruction faced by any recent president.
And remember: the losers here aren’t just the president and liberals who want to see his judges on the bench. Ordinary people who just want to get their legal matters taken care of promptly have suffered because of all the vacancies on federal courts.
It’s really a disgrace. Especially those picks that were delayed for months, only to wind up getting confirmed by unanimous votes. Especially the foot-dragging on district court nominees. Just a disgrace.
By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 3, 2013
“When Policy No Longer Has Value”: Pat Toomey’s Candor Sheds Light On The Post-Policy Republican Party
When Senate Republicans last week killed expanded background checks on firearms purchases, they were taking a political risk. After all, it was only four months after a massacre at an elementary school, and the bipartisan proposal enjoyed overwhelming support from the public. Some of the senators who supported the Republican filibuster are now paying a steep price.
So why did GOP senators put aside common sense and popular will? According to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who co-authored the bipartisan measure, it wasn’t just about the gun lobby — some of his Republican colleagues didn’t want to “be seen helping the president.”
“In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it,” Toomey admitted on Tuesday in an interview with Digital First Media editors in the offices of the Times Herald newspaper in Norristown, Pa.
Later, Toomey tried to walk that back a bit, saying he was referring not just to Senate Republicans, but also Republican voters, but I think in this case, Toomey’s original line was his honest assessment. Indeed, the clarification doesn’t even make sense — GOP voters “did not want to be seen helping the president”? C’mon.
I think the senator’s candor is important for a couple of key reasons. The first, of course, is that it puts the debate over gun reforms in a fresh light. You’ll recall that two weeks ago, much of the political commentary surrounding the Senate vote focused on holding President Obama responsible — he didn’t “twist arms” enough; he didn’t “lead” enough; he didn’t act like an Aaron Sorkin character enough. Blame the White House, we were told, for Republican intransigence.
According to Toomey — who presumably has a pretty good sense of the motivations of his own colleagues in his own party — the media’s blame game had it backwards. No amount of presidential arm-twisting can overcome the will of lawmakers who want to defeat the president’s agenda because it’s the president’s agenda.
The second angle to keep in mind is the post-policy thesis I’ve been harping on for weeks.
If you’re just joining us, Rachel used the phrase on the show two months ago, asking whether Republicans have become a “post-policy” party. This was the exchange between Rachel and Ezra Klein:
MADDOW: Does that mean that [Republican policymakers are] post-policy, that the policy actually — even some things that seem like constants don’t actually matter to them, that it’s pure politics, just positioning themselves vis-a-vis the president, and they’re not actually invested in any particular outcome for the country?
KLEIN: I would like to have an answer where that isn’t true. I really would.
In context, they were talking about budget issues, but note how well the thesis applies to just about every contemporary policy debate in Washington.
Indeed, according to Toomey, some Senate Republicans might have considered simple steps to prevent gun violence, but it was more important to them to play a partisan game — they were invested in pure politics, positioning themselves vis-a-vis the president, and the GOP was unconcerned with any particular outcome for the country.
This is unsustainable. The American system of government is dependent on a series of compromises — between the two parties, between the two chambers of Congress, between the executive and legislative branches — and governing breaks down when one party decides policy no longer has any value and there’s simply no need to consider concessions with those on the other side of the aisle.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 1, 2013
Here’s Senator Ted Cruz, Ted Cruzing it up, taking practically sole credit for killing gun background checks and trashing all his colleagues: http://youtu.be/geHPipl6mt8
The New York Times charitably says that “Friday’s speech was not the first time Mr. Cruz may have acted counter to some of the Senate’s norms,” before bringing up Cruz’s decidedly McCarthyite take on Chuck Hagel.
Cruz is at the FreedomWorks Texas Summit, and the news here is that he calls most of his colleagues “squishes” and gives a (quite self-aggrandizing) account of off-the-record Senate Republican caucus luncheons, which apparently involved a lot of people yelling at Cruz and Rand Paul and the other guy who also promised to filibuster the entire gun deal from start to finish. In this version of events, the three filibustering amigos were responsible for the failure of the entire proposal. As Dave Weigel points out, that’s not really how it happened. The bill failed — and was probably doomed to begin with — because a lot more than three senators opposed it, and the Cruz/Paul filibuster threat was worse politics for the party than allowing debate to proceed and then watching red-state Democrats cave. Which is what actually happened.
For starters, it’s just not smart to annoy colleagues whose cooperation and support you’ll need in the future. Second, as a conservative he should understand humility and grace are not incompatible with “standing on principle”; the absence of these qualities doesn’t make him more principled or more effective. Third, for a guy who lacks manners (see his condescending questioning of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) he comes across as whiny. They yelled at me! Boo hoo, senator.
Basically all of this analysis is dead wrong. At least it’s wrong in the specific case of Ted Cruz, who will not need anyone’s “support in the future” because he doesn’t care about legislating.
Look at the video: He’s in a room of adoring — swooning — admirers and he is basking in their adoration. This is why he got into politics. And everyone who gets confused about why this whip-smart attorney is acting like the dumbest Tea Party wingnut imaginable should probably watch this video. He’s acting like this because he’s smart. It’s great politics to be a Republican in Texas who purposefully pisses off his fellow Republican senators with his intransigence and extreme rhetoric. It’s sort of like how Susan Collins has to act the sensible moderate (while voting basically as a party-line conservative Republican) because she represents Maine, but in Cruz’s case there is no end goal at beyond advancing his own career. And legislative victories aren’t an important part of becoming a beloved Tea Party favorite. In this case Cruz may be taking credit for a legislative victory he really had little to do with, but it also doesn’t matter at all to this crowd that, for example, Cruz failed to stop Chuck Hagel from becoming Defense Secretary. What matters is that he was a huge dick about it, not whether he won or lost.
There is no way to way to stop or shame or embarrass or cajole a politician like this into following the established “norms” of political behavior. The bigger a controversial firebrand he is, the more he riles up both liberals and Republican Senate leadership, the better he’ll look in the eyes of the people who write him checks and made him the nominee for U.S. Senate to begin with. What Rubin (who is not remotely in touch with the actual activist conservative movement base) sees as whiny these people see as, you know, heroic martyrdom. Conservatives love it when their heroes whine about being persecuted!
A healthy disrespect for norms isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a legislator. Mitch McConnell doesn’t care about tradition and norms either, but he does actually care about winning political (and policy) fights for the Republican Party. But Cruz is explicitly and purely self-serving. Cruz wants to be the guy who never compromises because compromises are incredibly unpopular and exploiting activist conservative disdain for the party and for Washington is a can’t-fail maneuver. Jennifer Rubin’s opprobrium is going to be even less of an issue for him than John McCain’s was.
Just look at this political science survey of FreedomWorks Tea Party activists: They’re ultra-conservative Republicans who hate the Republican Party. They also value ideological purity over pragmatism, to the point where winning victories matters less to them than loudly saying the right thing. (Not great on strategy, these guys.) People like Ted Cruz are doing their best to establish their personal brands at the expense of the actual Republican Party and even the conservative movement. And there’s no mechanism the party can use to get him back in line, because he doesn’t care about results and there’s an entire media and activist infrastructure set up to reward him.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, April 30, 2013
So far, it doesn’t look like the story of the Tsarnaev brothers is killing Republican support for immigration reform. John McCain and Lindsey Graham insisted that their identity makes reform all the more important. But Boston aside, if you pay a little attention you see signs that the right is getting a bit restive about all this reasonableness. There’s a long and winding road from here to there, but if the GOP does drop immigration, then it will essentially be a party of nothing, the Seinfeld Party, a party that has stopped even pretending that policy is something that political parties exist to make.
Yesterday in Salon, political scientist Jonathan Bernstein wrote up the following little discovery, which has to do with the numbering of bills. Historically, the party that controls the House of Representatives reserves for itself the first 10 slots—HR 1, HR 2, and so on. Usually, the majority party has filled at least most of those slots with the pieces of legislation that it wants to announce to the world as its top priorities. When the Democrats ran the House, for example, HR 1 was always John Dingell’s health-care bill, in homage to his father, a congressman who pushed for national health care back in the day.
Today, nine of the 10 slots are empty. Nine of the 10. The one that is occupied, HR 3, is taken up by a bill calling on President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Even this, insiders will tell you in an honest moment, is completely symbolic and empty: the general expectation among Democrats and Republicans is that Obama will approve the pipeline sometime in this term, but that eleventy-jillion lawsuits will immediately be filed, and the thing won’t be built for years if at all, and nothing about this short and general bill can or is designed to change that. One other slot, HR 1, is provisionally reserved for a tax-reform bill, so at least they have settled on a subject matter, but if you click on HR 1, you will learn that “the text of HR 1 has not yet been received.”
This wasn’t true of even the GOP in earlier vintages. Newt Gingrich had an aggressive agenda, as we remember all too well, and even Denny Hastert filled most of the slots. (The Democrats of 2009 didn’t, for some reason, but obviously the Democratic Congress of 2009 was the most agenda-heavy Congress since 1981 or arguably 1965.) Today’s GOP can’t be bothered to pretend.
I became a grown-up, to the extent that I am one, right around the time Ronald Reagan took office. Lots of people say things like, “Gee, the Republican Party was really a party of ideas then.” I argue that that assertion is vastly overaccepted today. The central conservative “idea,” after all—supply-side economics—was and remains a flimsy and evidence-free lie that has destroyed the country’s economic vitality and turned our upper classes into the most selfish and penurious group of people history has seen since the Romanovs. Other conservative ideas of the time were largely critiques of extant liberalism or gifts to the 1 percent dressed up in the tuxedoes of “liberty” and “freedom.” I’ll give them credit for workfare and a few other items. But the actual record is thinner than most people believe.
Still, there was some intellectual spadework going on. And still (and this is more important), there were people in the Republican Party who tried to bring those ideas into law. The Orrin Hatch of the 1980s and 1990s was a titan compared with the Orrin Hatch of today. When I look at Senate roll-call votes and see that immovable wall of nays on virtually everything of consequence that comes before them, I wonder what someone like Hatch really thinks deep down, but of course we’ll never know. He is doing what the party’s base demands of him, and those demands include that he clam up and denounce Obama and not utter one sentence that could be misinterpreted as signaling compromise.
This brings me back to immigration. The Tsarnaevs may not have derailed things, but other cracks are starting to show. Last Thursday—before we knew who the Boston bombers were—Rush Limbaugh speculated that immigration reform would constitute Republican “suicide.” A Politico article yesterday made the same point—an analysis showed that if 11 million “undocumented residents” had been able to vote in 2012, Obama might have won Arizona and would even have made a race of it in Texas. This did not go unremarked in right-wing circles yesterday. The Big Bloviator himself weighed in: “Senator Schumer can taste this. He’s so excited. All the Democrats. Why would we agree to something that they are so eager to have?”
Immigration is the one area today on which a small number of Republicans are actually trying. Limbaugh’s position last week is a change from a couple of months ago, when Marco Rubio had him admitting that maybe the GOP needed to embrace reform. It’s not hard to imagine him and Laura Ingraham and others turning surlier as the hour of truth on the bill approaches.
I will be impressed and more than a little surprised if the day comes and a majority of Republicans back an immigration bill. Passing such a bill is undoubtedly in their self-interest, as everyone has observed. What fewer have observed is that doing so is just not in their DNA. And life teaches us that genes usually get the better of reason.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 24, 2013