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“Crossing The Line”: Senate GOP Ponders Hagel Strategy

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to become the Secretary of Defense, struggled during his confirmation hearing last week, but that’s hardly derailed his chances. Thus far, Hagel has not yet lost the support of any Senate Democrats, and over the weekend, he picked up the backing of a second Senate Republican, Nebraska’s Mike Johanns.

With this in mind, when Hagel’s nomination is brought to the floor for an up-or-down vote, there’s no real doubt that a majority of the Senate will vote to confirmation him. The question for Republicans, then, is whether to allow the up-or-down vote to happen.

Since Hagel appears to enjoy the support of most, if not all, Democrats, Republicans would have to filibuster his nomination — something that has never been done to a Cabinet nominee since the advent of the 60-vote threshold nearly four decades ago, according to Senate records.

Several Cabinet nominees have failed to win the backing of a majority of senators — and others have withdrawn their names before reaching the Senate floor — but a filibuster would mark a serious breach in the unwritten protocol that governs the Senate.

I’ve been digging around for two weeks, trying to find an example of a cabinet secretary facing a filibuster, and my research is in line with Roll Call‘s findings — it just hasn’t happened. Not only has no nominee ever been defeated by a filibuster, no nominee (since the cloture threshold was moved to 60 votes) has ever even faced a filibuster.

The closest example I could find was Ronald Reagan’s nomination of C. William Verity to serve as the Secretary of Commerce in 1987. At the time, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) threatened to filibuster Reagan’s choice because Verity supported increased trade with the USSR. (Helms argued Verity supported “selling the Soviets the rope with which to hang the free world.”) But Helms eventually pulled back, dropped his threats, and the nominee was approved on an 84-11 vote.

In 2006, there was also a cloture vote on Dirk Kempthorne’s Interior nomination, but only eight Senate Democrats registered their opposition, there was no filibuster or attempt to block an up-or-down vote, and Kempthorne was confirmed with a voice vote.

So, in 2013, Republicans have to decide whether they’re prepared to break new ground.

From the Roll Call report:

No Republicans have said yet that they will demand Hagel clear that 60-vote hurdle, but the possibility has been bubbling below the surface in the Senate in recent days.

An aide to Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, who has been among the most vocal opponents of Hagel’s nomination, said Feb. 1 that “all options are on the table.” […]

Top aides insist there is no discord among leaders, but statements made in the wake of Hagel’s highly scrutinized appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee indicate there could be a difference in opinion. The consensus among leadership aides, however, is that if a filibuster is to happen, it likely would be staged by a junior member.

There is no formal head count on whether a filibuster would block Hagel or whether it would fail, but it would cross a line in the sand when it comes to Senate norms. And if you’re thinking it might reinvigorate the debate over reforming the institution’s filibuster rules, you’re not the only one.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 4, 2013

February 5, 2013 Posted by | Secretary of Defense | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rove Vs. King”: Don’t Be Fooled, Republican’s Have Every Reason To Exaggerate Their Differences

Yesterday Kathleen Geier noted the most interesting political story of the weekend: the rapidly escalating war of words on the Right between so-called “Establishment” Republicans led by Karl Rove and Tea Party “Conservatives” as represented by past and future Senate candidates deemed “undisciplined.” The immediate flash-point is a gratuitous slap at U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a potential candidate for Tom Harkin’s open Senate seat next year, by American Crossroads president Steven Law by way of explaining to the New York Times‘ Jeff Zeleny the purpose of a new Conservative Victory Project the group is unveiling:

The group’s plans, which were outlined for the first time last week in an interview with Mr. Law, call for hard-edge campaign tactics, including television advertising, against candidates whom party leaders see as unelectable and a drag on the efforts to win the Senate. Mr. Law cited Iowa as an example and said Republicans could no longer be squeamish about intervening in primary fights.

“We’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem,” Mr. Law said. “This is an example of candidate discipline and how it would play in a general election. All of the things he’s said are going to be hung around his neck.”

I am mystified by this gambit from Rove’s hireling. Yes, Steve King is crazy as a sack of rats. But the man is an excellent retail politician back home with an intensely loyal following. If the idea of Law’s macho posturing was to intimidate King from a Senate race, it is very likely to backfire. The Iowa Republican‘s Kevin Hall explains:

Steve King is beloved by Iowa conservatives and if you go to war with him, we will go to war with you …

Telling Steve King he can’t do something is also a surefire way to get him to prove you wrong. I’m sure people like me saying he can’t win a statewide general election was enough to rile up the good Congressman. But having a so-called “conservative” group spending big bucks to attack him is likely to spur King to fight back … And he’ll have a few hundred thousand Iowa Republicans fighting alongside him …

And this is from a guy who has all but endorsed Tom Latham–the presumed Rove favorite to represent the GOP in the Iowa Senate race.

More generally, I will issue an early warning about how the MSM will once again turn this kind of intra-GOP battle over strategy and tactics–and power–into some sort of ideological struggle, with the Rovians treated as “moderates” and the Steve Kings of the world as plain old average-white-guy conservatives–you know, sort of the conservative equivalents of Barack Obama.

My own ultimate test for “extremism” is whether the person in question would be perfectly happy with a one-party dictatorship for his or her “team,” with the “other team” being silenced or perhaps hauled off to prison. Every single thing about Karl Rove’s history tells me that he would cheerfully, giddily endorse that scenario. He may consider Steve King a poor instrument for achieving that happy destination, but I doubt a country ruled by either would feel a bit differently.

So while we can all enjoy a power battle between these two men on King’s own turf, let’s don’t get fooled into calling it a “struggle for the soul of the GOP” or any such thing. That struggle ended with the final conquest of the Republican Party by the conservative movement in 2009, and won’t reemerge until they lose at least one more national election. But you will never hear that from folks on the Right, who have every reason, internal and external, to exaggerate their differences as they jockey for position.

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 4, 2013

February 5, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Brag Wall”: The President Is Not There To Massage The Fragile Ego’s Of Capital Hill

If you walked into the home of an acquaintance and found yourself facing a wall of dozens of pictures of him shaking hands with powerful people, you’d probably think, “What a pompous ass. And how insecure do you have to be to put these things up on your wall? I get it, you’re important. Sheesh.” In Washington, however, these “brag walls” can be found all over town, particularly on Capitol Hill, where nearly every member of Congress has one.

Maybe some offices do it just because that’s what everyone else does, but you’d think that if you’re a senator or member of Congress, the fact that you’re an important person would be self-evident, and it wouldn’t be necessary to make sure everyone who comes into your office knows that you’ve been in the same room as presidents and other high-ranking officials. There are some commercial establishments, like your local deli, that might put up pictures on their walls with the celebrities who have stopped in, but that’s an understandable marketing effort. But when it comes to individuals, the only other place I can think of that I’ve seen that sort of thing outside of Washington is on MTV Cribs, in the homes of athletes, actors, and musicians, who often have displays of them with other celebrities. And they, I imagine, are also desperately insecure about their importance, forever fearful that it could evaporate at any moment and they’ll wind up the next Corey Feldman. So they put up the pictures of them hanging out with Tom Brady or Usher to assure themselves that they really are as big a deal as the people around them are contractually obligated to tell them.

I raise this because of an absolutely pathetic article in Politico today, detailing how Democrats on Capitol Hill aren’t feeling enough love from President Obama:

The topic of Obama’s relationship with his own party in Congress invariably draws raised eyebrows and did-you-hear-this-one stories.

One of the most well-connected Democrats in the capital said he came away from a recent meeting with Hill Democrats “astonished at the contempt they have for our president.” The members made clear that, after largely backing Obama in his first term, they would oppose him if he tried to make cuts to entitlements in the name of deficit reduction.

Obama and his top aides generally get along well with the Senate’s Democratic leadership — though there were real tensions over the fiscal cliff compromise – but while the likes of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer are in frequent contact with the White House, rank-and-file Democratic senators rarely hear from the president.

To bring up the topic of Obama and his old colleagues with members of Congress themselves, not a class of people lacking in pride, is often to get stared back with daggers. Hemming and hawing often take place, good-sport recollections of always hearing back from staff are brought up and occasionally come requests to go off the record. But, among some Democratic senators, there’s a willingness to put their names with their statements.

“I think they might have done more,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) when asked about the president’s outreach to the Hill in the first term. “I think they might have learned more by doing more.”

Now, I understand that building personal relationships with members of Congress is important, but it’s not important as an end in itself, it’s important because it helps the president accomplish his policy goals. To paraphrase the line spoken by a thousand reality show contestatnts, the president isn’t in Washington to make friends. Are there policy implications to Obama’s alleged indifference to congressional Democrats? Was there a critical bill that failed because some senators felt they weren’t being massaged enough? Provisions in big bills that Obama didn’t get because he couldn’t fend off a fit of pique from a member of his party over the lack of invitation to a late-night poker game up in the residence? You won’t find the answer in the story, because this is Politico, and they find policy questions like that to be dullsville.

In fact, a better question for a piece like this might be, if Obama does so little to massage the fragile egos on Capitol Hill, how was it that he got so much legislation passed? He did more legislatively in his first term, even with an unusually intransigent opposition, than any president since Johnson. Could it be that the non-personal factors end up being much more important than how many members of Congress get to utter the phrase, “As I told the president when I was at the White House the other day…” on a regular basis?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 4, 2013

February 5, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Just Another GOP Liability”: Biting The Hand That Feeds Them

Paul Krugman noted on ABC’s This Week yesterday that the GOP’s problem is that their “base is old white people.”

This is largely true. Exit polls show that Mitt Romney won all voters 65 and older by 12 percentage points, and white older voters by 22 points. Barack Obama won all voters under thirty by 23 points, and nonwhite young voters by 36 points.

Such numbers are a big problem for the GOP amid fast changing demographics, as we’ve heard often in recent months.

But here’s an interesting question raised by the same data: If the GOP leans so heavily on older white voters, then why is it leading the charge to cuts entitlements for seniors?

Politics is supposed to be about who gets what, but things often don’t work that way. In 2011, the New York Times ran a fascinating chart about the percentage of personal income that comes from government benefits in different states. It showed that hardcore Republican states—where a lot of those older white coservative voters live—relied most heavily on benefits, with Social Security the largest form of assistance. In a previous post, I looked at John McCain’s margin of victory in 2008 in those states with the highest reliance on government benefits:

West Virginia: 28 percent of all personal income in this state come from government programs. McCain won the state by 13 points.

Mississippi: 26.2 percent of personal income from government benefits; McCain margin: 13 points.

Kentucky: 24.8 percent income from benefits; McCain margin: 17 points.

Arkansas: 24.5 percent income from benefits; McCain margin: 20 points.

South Carolina: 23.4 percent income from benefits; McCain margin: 9 points.

Alabama: 23.4 percent income from benefits; McCain margin: 22 points.

These numbers make you wonder: Do older GOP voters really understand that the conservative assault on government “handouts” may end up reducing their standard of living? And, if they do get better clued into that fact, will the GOP face pushback against entitlement cuts from their own base?

Entitlements aren’t the only area where Republicans aren’t doing a good job of serving the narrow financial interests of their base. As I have noted often, the U.S. tax system disprortionately raises revenue from affluent people in coastal blue states and keeps taxes low on Americans of more modest means in the red states. You’d think heartland Republicans would be okay with this arrangement; instead they have relentlessly fought proposals that would shift even more of the tax burden to residents of Manhattan and Malibu.

Likewise, one big feature of the reviled Affordable Care Act is that the law taxes rich people—which just started happening this month with the Medicare payroll surtax—and subsidizes health insurance for low-income people. The states I mentioned above, with high concentrations of poor rural residents, will benefit from this arrangement. Connecticut will not.

So amid all the talk of the GOP’s grim long-term prospects, let’s add another liability to the list: Congressional Republicans aren’t attuned to one of the most basic responsibilities of elected leaders—putting more money in the pockets of their constituents and getting somebody else’s constituents to pick up the tab.

 

By: David Callahan, The American Prospect, February 4, 2013

February 5, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The NRA’s Tone-Deaf Rhetoric”: Powerful But Not Omnipotent, The NRA Is Seriously Overplaying Its Hand

The moment that most deserves to be remembered from Sunday’s thrilling Super Bowl came before the game, when Jennifer Hudson joined students from Sandy Hook Elementary School in singing “America the Beautiful.” It was a heart-rending elegy for the fallen — and a stirring call to action.

The brave students, in khakis and white polo shirts, survived the unspeakable massacre in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 of their schoolmates dead, riddled with bullets from an assault rifle fired by a madman. Hudson, the acclaimed recording artist and Oscar-winning actress, lost her mother, brother and nephew to Chicago’s endemic gun violence in 2008 when a troubled relative went on a murderous rampage; she had to identify all three bodies at the morgue.

The performance brought tears to the eyes of some of the players — and, surely, many television viewers. It was a reminder that life goes on but also that we must not lose sight of unfinished business: reducing the awful toll that barely regulated, insufficiently monitored commerce in powerful weapons takes on innocent victims, day after day after day.

Despite the best efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and like-minded groups to make sure this business remains unfinished, reducing gun violence remains stubbornly high on the nation’s agenda.

This is partly due to the ravings of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president and spokesman, who almost single-handedly, or single-mouthedly, is making the pro-gun argument sound even crazier and more irresponsible than it is. And that’s saying something.

This weekend, LaPierre treated viewers of “Fox News Sunday” to some of his lunacy. Anchor Chris Wallace gave him the opportunity to disavow the NRA’s shameful ad accusing President Obama of hypocrisy for supporting gun control while his own family is protected by armed Secret Service agents. LaPierre stuck to his guns, such as they were.

The president’s daughters “face a threat that most children do not face,” Wallace pointed out.

“Tell that to people in Newtown,” LaPierre replied. He was about to continue in this vein before Wallace interrupted: “Do you really think the president’s children are the same kind of target as every school child in America? That’s ridiculous and you know it, sir.”

LaPierre then went into an absurdist rant about how “all the elites and all the powerful and privileged, the titans of industry,” have armed security and — in LaPierre’s fantasy — send their children to schools that are veritable bunkers. Wallace noted that he sent his children to the same school the Obama daughters attend, and there were no armed guards on campus.

“The idea of an elite class,” Wallace said, “it’s just nonsense, sir.”

When Obama unveiled his far-reaching proposals on gun violence, it appeared initially that the NRA was willing to compromise. NRA President David Keene seemed to indicate that the organization would accept universal background checks for gun purchases while strongly opposing proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. But LaPierre declared Sunday that that the NRA will resist any new legislation.

In Senate hearings last week, LaPierre portrayed life in the United States as one long horror movie. “What people all over the country fear today is being abandoned by their government,” he said. “If a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a riot occurs, that they’re going to be out there alone, and the only way they’re going to protect themselves, in the cold, in the dark, when they’re vulnerable, is with a firearm.”

He left out the zombies.

With so many members of Congress already bought and paid for, it’s understandable that the NRA would feel a measure of confidence. But I believe the pro-gun lobby is seriously overplaying its hand, and that the wind has shifted.

Former representative Gabrielle Giffords also testified at last week’s hearings; she spoke only briefly, because it is still difficult for her to form words after being shot in the head two years ago. The gunman was wielding a semiautomatic pistol with a 33-round magazine. No one can convince her that if we lived in the world the NRA would like to see — in which everyone is armed to the teeth with military-style guns and ammo — we would be safer. Nor can anyone convince the children of Newtown. Or Jennifer Hudson’s family.

The NRA is powerful but not omnipotent. Polls show that Americans favor sensible gun control; if Obama and other proponents of sanity keep the issue alive, we can achieve it. From sea to shining sea.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 5, 2013

February 5, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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