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
“Tom Cotton And The GOP’s Wimpy Fear Of Iran”: The Republican Party’s Judgment Has Been Grossly Distorted By Fear
When did the Republican Party become such a bastion of cowards?
That’s what I wondered the moment I heard about the letter to the Iranian government, signed by 47 Republican senators, that aims to scuttle U.S.-led negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.
Oh, of course the letter is meant to look like the opposite of cowardly. It’s supposed to serve as the latest evidence of the GOP’s singularly manly swagger, which the party has burnished non-stop since George W. Bush first promised to track down Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.” (Or maybe it goes back to Ronald Reagan insinuating that Jimmy Carter lacked the resolve to stand up to Leonid Brezhnev. Or to Barry Goldwater indicating that he alone had the guts to use atomic weapons against the godless Commies of North Vietnam.)
But it’s actually a sign that the Republican Party’s judgment has been grossly distorted by fear. That’s why critics who are railing against the letter for its supposedly unconstitutional subversion of diplomatic protocol miss the point. The problem with the letter isn’t that it broke the rules. The problem with the letter is that it’s gutless.
The ringleader of the senatorial troublemakers, freshman Tom Cotton of Arkansas, wants us to believe he and his colleagues have seen through Barack Obama’s dangerous willingness to capitulate to the mullahs in Tehran, and that they alone are tough enough to derail the bad deal the president is prepared, and even eager, to make.
But really, who’s wimpier? A party so terrified by the prospect of normalizing relations with a vastly less formidable foreign power after 36 years of rancor and distrust that it engages in unprecedented acts of diplomatic sabotage, thereby crippling the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy? Or that president himself, who believes that after those 36 years of rancor and distrust this vastly less formidable foreign power can be negotiated into delaying its nuclear ambitions for a decade?
I think the answer is obvious.
As The Week‘s Ryan Cooper has cogently argued, the GOP’s position seems to be based on the assumption that if Iran produced one nuclear device or a handful of them, it would launch them at the United States. I’ll admit, that’s a scary thought. But it’s also completely deranged. In the time it would take for an Iranian nuclear missile to reach its target, the United States could launch dozens if not hundreds of vastly more powerful and accurate retaliatory strikes that would leave Persian civilization in ruins.
Actually, that’s not true. There would be no ruins. Just uninhabitable, radioactive dust.
And here’s the thing: Iran’s leaders know this.
It’s one thing for a single terrorist to embrace suicide for what he takes to be a noble ideological goal and the promise of heavenly reward. It’s quite another for the leaders of a nation of 77 million people to act in such a way that every last inhabitant of the country and every product of its culture would be instantly incinerated. That, quite simply, isn’t going to happen.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fears about Iran’s intentions aren’t quite as pusillanimous as Tom Cotton’s. Iran, for one thing, is much closer to Israel than the U.S., which means that it can be targeted with much less sophisticated rockets that would reach their destination much more quickly. Moreover, one or two nukes is all it would take to wipe out Israel’s major population centers, making the country far more existentially vulnerable. And then there’s the burden of Jewish history, which understandably inspires more than a little paranoia.
But just because something is understandable doesn’t make it sensible. Paranoia, after all, is an irrational fear — and reason tells us that while Iran would very much like some day to succeed in building a single nuclear device, Israel already possesses dozens of nuclear warheads, as well as something even more valuable: its status as a staunch ally of the United States. Iran has every reason to believe we would respond to a nuclear strike on Israel just as severely as we would respond to an attack launched against us. That means that no such suicidal assault against Israel is going to happen either.
As usual, The Onion may have conveyed the absurdity of the situation more effectively than anyone, in a satirical headline from 2012 that’s gotten renewed play in recent weeks: “Iran Worried U.S. Might Be Building 8,500th Nuclear Weapon.”
When leading politicians in the most militarily powerful nation on the planet believe they see a mortal threat in a country with a GDP roughly the size of Maryland’s and lacking even a single bomb — well, that’s a sign of world-historical spinelessness.
Democrats should be saying so. Loudly and repeatedly.
By: Damon Linker, The Week, March 11, 2015