Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) generated quite a few headlines in his interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep this week, but not necessarily for the right reasons.
The story that got tongues wagging inside the Beltway was hard to miss: the conservative senator dismissed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential future, arguing the nation is at a “generational, transformational crossroads,” and Clinton is “a 20th century candidate.”
Maybe it’s just me, but hearing a far-right lawmaker who opposes marriage equality, supports limits on contraception access, opposes reproductive rights, balks at ENDA, and fails to believe in climate science turn around and present himself as a forward-thinking leader for the future is a bit much. As Barbara Morrill joked, Rubio’s “the guy for a generational, transformational change. Assuming you’re talking about a transformation back to the 19th century.”
But just as interesting were the senator’s comments about comprehensive immigration reform, which Rubio co-sponsored in the Senate, which passed a bill fairly easily last year.
“I’ve been through this now, I was involved in the effort. I warned during that effort that I didn’t think it did enough on this first element, the [border] security front. I was proven, unfortunately, right by the fact that it didn’t move in the House.”
As the senator probably knows, this assessment doesn’t line up especially well with what’s actually transpired.
As Rubio now sees it, immigration reform died because the Senate bill – which is to say, Rubio’s bill – came up short on border security. We know this is wrong. To shore up GOP support in the upper chamber, the bill’s bipartisan sponsors agreed to a “border surge” that would nearly double the “current border patrol force to 40,000 agents from 21,000, as well as for the completion of 700 miles of fence on the nation’s southern border.”
It took border security so seriously that some reform proponents wavered, fearing it went too far in militarizing the border. One GOP senator conceded at the time that the legislation went so far on the security front that it was “almost overkill.”
Rubio now says he was right all along, warning senators that the bill wasn’t tough enough. But that’s plainly silly. Indeed, as Simon Maloy discovered, Rubio actually praised his bill’s security provisions at the time, boasting that it “mandates the most ambitious border and interior security measures in our nation’s history.”
So why did the House Republicans kill it anyway? Because the comprehensive solution required them to compromise, accepting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States. House GOP lawmakers refused to strike a deal – hell, they refused to even go to the negotiating table – so the legislation died, again.
The related question is, why would Rubio make such obviously untrue claims now? The answer, I suspect, is that the Florida Republican took a sharp hit from his party’s far-right base for supporting immigration reform, and as Rubio looks ahead to the 2016 race, the senator needs a way to distance himself from his own legislative handiwork.
This, apparently, is the argument he’s come up with. If you’re thinking the talking points aren’t going to persuade anyone, you’re not alone.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 23, 2014
Rand Paul has a little-discussed problem. Yes, he’s riding a wave. Yet another new poll brings happy tidings, putting him at the top of the GOP heap in both Iowa and New Hampshire (although still well behind “undecided”). He keeps doing these clever things that titillate the Beltway sages, like coupling with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker (ooh, he’s black!) on sentencing reform. All this, you know. He’s a shrewdie, we have to give him that.
But here’s what you maybe don’t know. Paul is up for reelection in 2016. One assumes that he would want to hold on to his Senate seat. If he ran for president, he would hardly be the first person hoping to appear on a national ticket while simultaneously seeking reelection, although the other examples from the last 30 years have all been vice-presidential candidates: Paul Ryan in 2012, Joe Biden in 2008, Joe Lieberman in 2000, and… trivia question, who’s the fourth?
For those, it hadn’t been a problem. But it is for Paul, because under Kentucky law, he cannot run for two offices at the same time. The law has been on the books in the Bluegrass State for a long time. Paul quietly asked that it be changed, and the GOP-controlled state senate acquiesced this past session. But the Democrats have the majority in the lower house, and they let the bill expire without voting on it. I would reckon, unless the Kentucky state house’s Democratic majority is possessed of a shockingly benevolent character unlike every other legislative majority I’ve ever encountered, it won’t be rushing to pass it.
Paul has said that he’d just ignore the law.
We should stop and pause to appreciate that: Rand Paul, of all people, arguing that states don’t have the authority to dictate the rules for federal elections. Yes, Mr. States’ Rights insists that this is the province of the federal government!
It gets even better. The tradition that states set the rules of their elections and always have was not handed to us by a bunch of pinko mid-century judges, but lo and behold, by the Framers themselves. I give you Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators.” So not only is Mr. States’ Rights backing the federal jackboot as long as it’s kicking on his behalf, but Mr. Tea Party Strict Constitutionalist is challenging the Constitution!
Here’s what the Supreme Court has had to say on the matter. There are two cases that are most relevant, U.S. Term Limits Inc. v. Thornton and Cook v. Gralike. In those cases, the court held that Arkansas and Missouri’s respective term-limit laws added extra qualifications to seek office that weren’t found in Article I, Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution (the sections that state the qualifications for candidates for the House of Representatives and the Senate). That is, the court protected candidates who had served X number of terms and were thus, under those states’ laws, prohibited from seeking office again. You can’t do that, said the court to states; you’re in essence adding an extra-constitutional “qualification” for office (that a candidate can’t have served more than three terms). Sen. Paul can argue that Kentucky’s law imposes an extra-constitutional qualification on him—that if he wants to run for president, the state has added the “qualification” that he not also run for Senate.
I’m no lawyer, but that sounds like a reach to me. A term-limits law is a clear imposition of an added qualification. But a law requiring that a person seek only one office at a time seems to me like a perfectly reasonable thing for a state to decide, under the word “manner” in the relevant constitutional passage, if it wants to. States have had these laws for a long time. Florida has one, too, and Marco Rubio—also up for reelection in 2016 and also considering a White House run—has defended it and said of running for the presidency: “I think, by and large, when you choose to do something as big as that, you’ve really got to be focused on that and not have an exit strategy.”
Paul said in June: “Can you really have equal application of federal law if someone like Paul Ryan or Joe Lieberman can run for two offices, but in Kentucky you would be disallowed? It seems like it might not be equal application of the law to do that. But that means involving a court, and I don’t think we’ve made a decision on that. I think the easier way is to clarify the law.” Touching. I doubt Paul worries too much about the “equal application of federal law” for pregnant women who live in states where they’ve found ways to shut down every federally legal abortion clinic. And of course, historically speaking, there are the black Kentuckians and Southerners generally who weren’t soaking up much equal application of federal law until the passage of the Civil Rights Act that Paul so famously told Rachel Maddow in 2010 he would have opposed.
Paul is going to be in a political pickle over this. Remember, a presidential candidate has never done this in modern history, just vice-presidential ones (trivia answer: Lloyd Bentsen in 1988). Vice president—who really cares. But president? Even if he prevailed in court, can a person really run for president of the United States while also seeking another office? Rubio sounds right here to me. This is the presidency. It just seems cheesy. Plain and simple, Paul should have to choose.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 18, 2014
In the wake of a predictable GOP filibuster of a Senate bill seeking to reverse the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, Republicans are publicly complaining that Democrats are trying to “change the subject” from this or that issue (real or imaginary) they want to talk about, but are privately conceding the peril for their team of any extended conversation involving reproductive rights. At National Journal Sophie Novack reports they’d just as soon not go there:
Republican strategists who were around for [Todd] Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment in 2012 warn candidates to tread carefully on the issue. The GOP’s continued meetings on how to connect with women show the party is still haunted by his loss, and members have denounced his return to the political scene with the release of his new book.
“The fact that the Supreme Court made the decision—Republicans should let that stand and not engage in the debate. It will get them nowhere and take them off the message of real issue Americans are concerned about,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and former spokesman for House and Senate leadership. “I think Republicans saw what happened with Todd Akin—it was a stupid and bad campaign strategy. It would be political malpractice for Republicans to engage with that kind of conversation.”
This is another way of admitting that the effort begun in 2012 to reframe the GOP’s extremist position on reproductive rights as a defense of “religious liberty” hasn’t worked as well as party strategists had hoped. Indeed, by shifting the focus from abortion to “abortifacient” birth control, the “religious liberty”-driven attack on Obamacare’s contraception coverage mandate has actually increased opportunities for Republican pols to say things that sound stupid or crazy to a big percentage of the population.
Was Akin’s disastrous “legitimate rape” commentary really any farther from the mainstream than talk about IUDs being little Holocaust machines? Is there really any way to frame the unchanging extremist position on abortion (life begins when ovum fertilized; ban all abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest) most Republicans embrace in a way that doesn’t hurt the party with swing voters generally and single women in particular? I don’t think so. But I also think “don’t talk about it” demands like Bonjean’s will infuriate the antichoice activists who set the GOP’s position in the first place and convince them to demand even more demonstrations of loyalty.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 17, 2014
One year ago this week, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and took yet another step toward undermining our democracy. Since then, civil rights leaders have been hard at work trying to clean up the Court’s mess.
The Shelby decision was a devastating loss, especially for those who fought to see the original Voting Rights Act enacted. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the sole surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington and a leader of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, accused the Supreme Court of “stab[bing] the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart.” Civil rights advocates mourned the naïve assumption that Selma had been relegated to ancient history and that racial discrimination in voting went with it. People For the American Way’s director of African American religious affairs noted on the day of the decision: “Those who sided with the majority clearly have not been paying attention, reading the paper, attending community meetings, living in America.”
Indeed, anyone who has been paying attention knows that voting discrimination is far from ancient history. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found nearly 150 documented instances of voting rights violations since 2000, with each case affecting between hundreds and tens of thousands of voters.
Happily, reform is finally underway in the Senate. On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on legislation to put the VRA back together again. It’s a critically important first step in getting our country’s laws back to where they need to be on voting rights protections. But so far House Republican leadership has refused to move forward. Maybe they think that if they pretend a problem doesn’t exist, they won’t have to fix it.
The push for voting rights protections isn’t the only effort underway to clean up the mess the Supreme Court has made of our democracy. With the 2012 election the most expensive in history, this week the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC, the infamous 2010 ruling that paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending. Like Shelby, Citizens United was a contentious 5-4 decision with a strong dissent. Also like Shelby, it set our democracy back dramatically. Citizens United let corporate bank accounts overwhelm the voices of everyday Americans. Shelby made it easier for state and local governments to create barriers to voting.
But Americans know that the answer to attacks on our democracy isn’t despair — it’s action. Sixteen states and more than 550 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics like the one moving forward in the Senate, and that number is growing rapidly.
National leaders are also speaking out. President Obama has expressed his support for an amendment to overturn Citizen United multiple times since the decision. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens are just a handful of other high-profile amendment supporters. And earlier this month, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not hold back her disdain for the recent democracy-harming decisions coming from the Supreme Court’s majority: “Like the currently leading campaign finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I regard Shelby County as an egregiously wrong decision that should not have staying power.”
The Supreme Court has made some very bad calls when it comes to protecting the rights of all Americans to participate meaningfully in our political system. But Justice Ginsburg is right: These wrong-headed decisions shouldn’t have staying power. And if the American people have anything to do with it, they won’t.
By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Huffington Post Blog, June 25, 2014
North Carolina State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) fairly easily won his party’s U.S. Senate nomination this year, after presenting himself as the most electable center-right candidate to take on Sen. Kay Hagan (D) in November.
He may have oversold his electoral qualities a bit.
We learned a month ago about remarks, first aired by msnbc’s Chris Matthews, in which Tillis argued in 2011, “What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance.” The Republican lawmaker described a vision in which policymakers pit those in need against one another, in order to cut off benefits for those on the losing end of the fight.
This morning, TPM reports on another striking quote from Tillis’ recent past.
State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC), the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in North Carolina, said that the “traditional” voting bloc of his home state wasn’t growing like minority populations in an interview he did in 2012.
In context, the host of the Carolina Business Review television program asked why the Republican Party was struggling with minority voters, most notably Hispanics. Tillis responded that he believes the GOP’s message is “appealing to everybody.” As for his party’s demographic challenges, he added, “The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It’s not growing. The African-American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers.”
It sounded an awful lot like Tillis sees the “traditional population” as the white population.
The Republican’s campaign manager said this morning that Tillis was referring to “North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations” when he used the word “traditional.”
That’s one way of looking at it. But the words themselves are hard to ignore.
Tillis wasn’t talking about migration or new populations that have recently arrived in North Carolina. Rather, he described three demographic groups by name: the African-American population, the Hispanic population, and the “traditional population.”
NBC News’ First Read added, “It appears North Carolina GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis stepped into it,” which seems more than fair under the circumstances.
Tillis was already likely to struggle with minority-voter outreach, especially given his support for some of the nation’s harshest voting restrictions. It’s safe to say his “traditional population” comment won’t help.
The next question, of course, is whether remarks like these also alienate a broader voting base. In 2006, for example, then-Sen. George Allen’s (R-Va.) “macaca” comments were offensive not just to minority voters, but also to anyone concerned with racism. It’s not hard to imagine Tillis running into a similar problem, alienating anyone uncomfortable with the notion of white people being some kind of “traditional” default.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 17, 2014