“Adegbile’s Denied Confirmation Is Affront To Our Principles”: A Handful Of Democrats Help Launch The Explosives
Last week, the floor of the U.S. Senate was the scene of a bipartisan travesty, an affront to the principles of the Constitution, an assault on the notion of American exceptionalism. With the help of several Democrats, Republicans refused to confirm Debo P. Adegbile, President Obama’s nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.
The GOP’s resistance was expected since its senators oppose every nominee the president puts forward. But this time, Adegbile’s new job was torpedoed because a handful of Democrats stepped forward to help launch the explosives. They found objections in Adegbile’s résumé, despite his impeccable credentials, sterling reputation and years of advocacy in the causes associated with civil rights.
Indeed, it is precisely that advocacy that led to the assault on his qualifications. His alleged misstep? Adegbile, a lawyer, was tangentially involved in filing a court challenge on behalf of a former Black Panther named Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. Adegbile was litigation director for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when it filed a brief contesting the jury-sentencing instructions, an argument which resulted in commutation of Abu-Jamal’s sentence from death to life in prison in 2012.
That process is embedded in decades of case law. Defense attorneys are supposed to vigorously represent accused criminals — no matter the crimes with which they have been charged, no matter their guilt or innocence, no matter how radical their demeanor or vile their behavior — especially in capital cases.
Among the people who ought to understand that is Pennsylvania’s senior Democratic senator, Bob Casey. If he had any decency, any gumption, any courage, Casey would have helped to smooth Adegbile’s path.
He would have noted that American justice rests on the idea that each person stands equally before the bar, a credo that cannot be upheld without defense attorneys for the accused. The senator might have pointed out that in the U.S. armed forces, even the most heinous criminals are represented by competent defense counsel. And he might have reminded Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police that Adegbile did not spare Abu-Jamal’s life. A federal court did so because it agreed that instructions to the jury were unconstitutional.
Instead, Casey led the Democratic opposition. He explained his refusal to support the nominee with this statement:
“I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime. (But) it is important … citizens … have full confidence in their public representatives — both elected and appointed. The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the city of Philadelphia.”
That statement is confusing, contradictory and just plain dumb. Casey will ignore the system of law because of the awful grief borne by Maureen Faulkner? I cannot begin to imagine what her family has endured since her husband was gunned down shortly before his 26th birthday, but we don’t allow the anguish of families to dictate justice. If we did, they could serve as jurors, judges and executioners. But that wouldn’t be any different from a lynch mob, would it?
Similarly, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) explained his stick-in-the eye to Adegbile by speaking of the pain endured by the Faulkner family, even while acknowledging that “an attorney is not responsible for the actions of their client.” That wasn’t as outlandish as the rhetoric from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who claimed that Adegbile was “seeking to glorify an unrepentant cop-killer,” but it was a non sequitur.
In this shameful episode, the person who best represented American values was Adegbile, the son of a Nigerian father and an Irish immigrant mother. He clearly puts more faith in the fundamental principles of his homeland than the 52 senators who voted against him.
By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, March 8, 2014
Attentive readers will recall that among my many pet peeves (and being able to complain to a wide circle of people about your pet peeves is one of blogging’s greatest fringe benefits) is the candidate who proclaims that you should vote for him because he’s “a businessman, not a politician.” As though the fact that there are a lot of shady car mechanics out there means that when you need a new timing belt, the best person for the job would be a florist or an astronomer, because they’re not tainted by the car repair racket.
I’ve written at some length about why exactly success in business doesn’t prepare you to be a good senator or governor, but the short version is that the two realms are extremely different. So it isn’t too surprising that when businesspeople decide to run for office, most of the time they fail. They come in with a lot of money, flush it down the toilet on an overly expensive campaign, and quickly discover that there is a whole set of skills necessary for success that they don’t possess. When you try to think of business leaders who got elected, then used their business acumen to do things differently and really made a major impact, it’s hard to think of many names other than Michael Bloomberg. Here and there you’ll find someone like former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen who did pretty well, but more common is candidates like Ross Perots, or Meg Whitman, or Linda McMahon, or Al Checci (there’s a blast from the past for you political junkies). They think, “Sure I can do this better than those empty suits—I’ve made a billion dollars!” And then they lose.
Not every time, of course, but most of the time. Which is why Democrats should be pleased to hear this:
Republicans are banking on businessmen to help them retake the Senate in 2014.
A half-dozen top GOP candidates boast records as wealthy businessmen and entrepreneurs. If voters decide they’re successful job creators on Election Day, Republicans could be on their way to the six seats they need to win the upper chamber.
Now maybe these candidates are all going to turn out to be just aces. But if history is any guide, more than a few of them are likely to be terrible at running for office. For many of them it’s their first time, which is often a disaster, and it’s particularly hard to have your first run for office be a high-profile Senate race with lots of pressure and press scrutiny. (The list of highly successful politicians who had a loss in their first run for office, or one of their first runs, is a notable one. It includes Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, among many others. It seems that early loss is a highly edifying experience.)
It’s easy to see why this is happening. These candidates are attractive to party leaders because they bring their own money. Republicans have also spent years creating a cult of the businessman, trying to convince others, and no doubt convincing themselves, that those who succeed in business are the most virtuous, brilliant, and generally admirable of all human beings. And that may extend to primary voters, to a degree anyway. Which gives them a good shot to make it to the general election, and which also means that we’re going to have to endure a lot more of that “I’m no politician, so I can clean up Washington!” crap in this election. But what else is new.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 26, 2014
What’s the worst-case scenario for Republicans in November? Maybe victory.
A Republican takeover of the Senate is somewhere between plausible and very likely. (If you want more exact predictions, you have to provide a less volatile political climate.) So for argument’s sake, let’s assume Republican candidates roll to victory from Alaska to North Carolina. The Democrats’ 54-46 Senate majority is supplanted by a narrower Republican majority, with Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell or someone of nearly equal skill installed as majority leader.
The Republicans would then control both the House and the Senate. In the Senate, the most enthusiastic partisans in the new majority would be eager to dispense with the filibuster on legislation, allowing bills to pass on party-line Republican votes. Let’s assume that happens, too.
What exactly would they do with these newfound powers?
They wouldn’t pass a jobs bill because they don’t want President Barack Obama to gain credit for an improving economy. Besides, they’ve convinced themselves that jobs bills don’t work — at least until a Republican occupies the White House.
What about health care legislation? Jonathan Bernstein parses the prospects on his blog. According to a CBS News poll in January, only 34 percent of Americans support repealing Obamacare; it would be a nonstarter even if the health care and insurance industries weren’t already too far down the Obamacare road. If Republicans took the plunge to create legislation, the real-world impacts of their proposals would be scored by the Congressional Budget Office and outside policy groups. It’s hard to imagine what Republicans could devise that would satisfy their ideological needs without undermining health security for millions while increasing the deficit. There’s a reason they keep talking about health care but never get around to doing anything.
How about immigration? Senate legislation drafted by Republicans would look nothing like the bipartisan immigration bill passed by the Senate last June. Senate Democrats would have little incentive to support a vastly more conservative bill, which would rely even more on employment enforcement and militarization of the border while offering far-less-generous terms to undocumented immigrants. Under such circumstances, House Democrats would surely abandon House Republicans to their own devices, as well.
Without Democratic votes, the House cannot pass anything more comprehensive than an immigration crackdown. The fate of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. would be unresolved at best. The political failure would be a fiasco, further undermining Republicans among Hispanic and Asian voters while simultaneously opening the door to another round of nativist big-talk among Republican presidential hopefuls. (The U.S. Chamber of Commerce would express its heartfelt disappointment, then funnel millions of dollars to Republican incumbents.)
The party’s internal conflicts would all be exacerbated by a Senate takeover. Imagine, for example, how much leverage a narrow Republican majority would grant to Senator Ted Cruz — and the chaos that could ensue.
In its current incarnation, the party is more or less an anti-tax lobby grafted to a Sons of the Confederacy chapter. Genuine areas of policy consensus among Republicans are few — spending cuts for the poor, tax cuts for the rich and promotion of incumbent dirty energy industries at the expense of Obama’s green agenda. None of these is popular. (Although in coal and oil states the energy reversal would be welcome. Keystone, too, if its construction is not already underway in 2015.) All would face probable Obama vetoes.
What’s left? Entitlement reform? The Republicans’ elderly base is not eager for changes in Medicare or Social Security. That leaves culture warrior stuff, mostly. New abortion restrictions, perhaps? One last lunge against gay rights? Not much electoral magic there.
The party’s capacity to please its right-wing cultural base, its anti-tax, anti-regulatory donor base and a slim majority of American voters is almost nonexistent. Democratic control of the Senate has shielded Republicans both from their own divisions and from the unpopularity of their causes.
Indeed, it’s possible that the Boschian hellscape over which John Boehner presides in the 113th Congress could actually get uglier and more bizarre if Republicans win the Senate in the 114th. I’m not sure even these Republicans deserve that.
By: Francis Wilkinson, The National Memo, February 11, 2014
Liz Cheney, who was trailing in polls by somewhere between 30 and 50 points, announced today that she is ending her Senate primary campaign against Republican Mike Enzi, a campaign that had been launched on the premise that Enzi, a man with a 93 percent lifetime American Conservative Union score, was a bleeding-heart liberal whose efforts in the upper chamber were not nearly filibustery enough. Cheney cited “serious health issues” in her family, implying that it has to do with one of her children, though she couldn’t help wrapping it some gag-inducing baloney: ” My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign and their health and well being will always be my overriding priority.” In any case, if one of Cheney’s children is ill, everyone certainly wishes him or her a speedy recovery. But what can we make of the failure of Cheney’s campaign?
For starters, it’s a reminder that celebrity comes in many forms, and guarantees almost nothing in electoral politics apart from some initial attention. Sure, the occasional coke-snorting TV anchor can parlay his time in front of the camera into an election win, but having a familiar name isn’t enough. If you look at all the sons, daughters, and wives (not too many husbands) of politicians who went on to get elected, the successful ones chose their races carefully, not challenging a strong incumbent in a state they hadn’t lived in since they were little kids.
As my friend Cliff Schecter tweeted, next on Liz Cheney’s agenda is moving back to Virginia next week, then getting on Meet the Press. After all, Wyoming is a nice place to run for office from, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Or at least, you can’t live there if you want to be part of the action in Washington, and it sure seemed that Wyoming Republican voters sensed that Cheney was just a tourist in their fine state.
This is something I’ve been going on about for a long time, that so many conservatives wax rhapsodic about small towns and The Heartland, yet they live in big cities on the East Coast, one in particular. Now of course, it’s difficult to have a career as a pundit if you live in Buford, WY (population: 1, seriously). But that’s kind of the point. Liz Cheney grew up in Virginia because her dad was an important guy doing important things in government. It would have been ridiculous for him to keep his family back in Wyoming, all the fine opportunities for fly-fishing not withstanding, so for the Cheneys it became the place they’re from, not the place they live.
Your average conservative Republican congressman spends his time in office railing against the Gomorrah on the Potomac and extolling the virtues of the common folk back in Burgsville, but what happens when he retires or loses an election? He buys a nice townhouse in the Virginia suburbs and becomes a lobbyist, electing to live out his days in the very place he told his constituents was a hellhole he couldn’t wait to get out of.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 6, 2013
Just over the last few months, we’ve seen reports from the New York Times, Bloomberg News, and the Washington Post on the simmering tensions between Corporate America and Tea Party Republicans, driving a wedge into the GOP coalition. With party primaries looming, talk of a “Republican civil war” abounds.
Some of the party’s major players are even putting their money where their mouths are. This Wall Street Journal piece yesterday was circulated far and wide in Republican circles.
Republican leaders and their corporate allies have launched an array of efforts aimed at diminishing the clout of the party’s most conservative activists and promoting legislation instead of confrontation next year. […]
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce early next year plans to roll out an aggressive effort – expected to cost at least $50 million – to support establishment, business-friendly candidates in primaries and the general election, with an aim of trying to win a Republican Senate majority.
“Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates,” said the business group’s top political strategist, Scott Reed. “That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket.”
Though Reed did not specify who would qualify as a “fool,” it’s not hard to look back at major Senate races from the last couple of cycles and know exactly the kind of candidates he’s referencing (O’Donnell, Akin, Mourdock, Angle, et al). In other words, when Reed and the Republican Party’s Chamber of Commerce wing talk about “loser candidates” and “fools,” they’re obviously talking about right-wing Tea Party favorites.
Also note, there’s been ample analysis this year noting that Corporate America may want to overcome extremist candidates in GOP primaries, but if this wing of the party doesn’t commit real resources, Tea Partiers will prevail. It’s worth acknowledging, then, that $50 million in support of establishment candidates is a considerable sum.
But as word of the Chamber’s intentions spread, the backlash soon followed. “Special interests in Washington will do whatever it takes to protect big government Republicans,” Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins told TPM yesterday. “Their ability to get future bailouts, kickbacks, and other favors depends on it.”
Club for Growth senior fellow Tom Borrelli added, “This is a battle between the outsiders and insiders and insiders include big bucks and establishment Republicans.”
Remember, primary season hasn’t really begun in earnest, which means these disputes are likely to intensify very soon. For many Democrats, hoping to see Republicans at each other’s throats during an election year, the popcorn is already being popped.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 27, 2013