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“A Fight Worth Having”: A Strategy On Judicial Nominees Takes Shape

For nearly five years, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — aka, the D.C. Circuit — has had seven sitting judges hearing cases, four from judges appointed by Republican presidents and three from Democratic presidents. Last week, President Obama finally saw one of his nominees confirmed to this bench, bringing some parity to the appeals court.

There are, however, three remaining vacancies, which Senate Republicans would love to keep vacant indefinitely. What does the White House plan to do about it? A plan has apparently come together.

President Obama will soon accelerate his efforts to put a lasting imprint on the country’s judiciary by simultaneously nominating three judges to an important federal court, a move that is certain to unleash fierce Republican opposition and could rekindle a broader partisan struggle over Senate rules. […]

White House officials declined to say who Mr. Obama’s choices will be ahead of an announcement that could come this week, but leading contenders for the spots appear to include Cornelia T. L. Pillard, a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center; David C. Frederick, who often represents consumers and investors at the Supreme Court; and Patricia Ann Millett, a veteran appeals lawyer in Washington. All three are experienced lawyers who would be unlikely to generate controversy individually.

For those hoping for a more progressive federal judiciary, there’s a lot to like in this plan. Indeed, it’s arguably overdue.

It’s a pretty straightforward exercise — Obama has to nominate jurists to fill these vacancies, and he’s apparently focused on three excellent, mainstream choices, who would ordinarily garner broad support. From the White House’s perspective, if Senate Republicans act responsibly, great — the nominees will be confirmed, the D.C. Circuit will be at full strength, and the bench will be less conservative.

If Senate Republicans act irresponsibly and block these nominees out of partisan spite, Democrats will have even more incentive to pursue the “nuclear option” and end this style of obstructionism altogether.

And just to reiterate a relevant detail, filling judicial vacancies is important everywhere, but the D.C. Circuit is of particular significance — not only is it often a proving ground for future Supreme Court justices, but the D.C. Circuit regularly hears regulatory challenges to the Obama administration’s agenda. Indeed, as the NYT report noted, this bench “has overturned major parts of the president’s agenda in the last four years, on regulations covering Wall Street, the environment, tobacco, labor unions and workers’ rights.”

With this in mind, it’s a fight worth watching.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 28, 2013

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Federal Courts | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Between A Rock And A Stupid Place”: The Medicaid Scandal Of State Level Republicans

As the reality of states refusing the insanely generous terms of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion (viz., the Texas legislature’s proactive legislation prohibiting the state from participating), begin to sink in, with it comes the realization that a completely perverse situation will now prevail in these states. The New York Times‘ Robert Pear explains for anyone who hasn’t heard:

More than half of all people without health insurance live in states that are not planning to expand Medicaid.

People in those states who have incomes from the poverty level up to four times that amount ($11,490 to $45,960 a year for an individual) can get federal tax credits to subsidize the purchase of private health insurance. But many people below the poverty line will be unable to get tax credits, Medicaid or other help with health insurance.

You will occasionally hear that people left exposed by states refusing to expand Medicaid are “covered” by Obamacare health insurances exchanges, and that’s true for what little it’s worth. The subsidies designed to make coverage affordable for the working poor (and a big chunk of the middle class), however, don’t kick in until a beneficiary’s income is above the federal poverty line. That’s because it did not occur to the Affordable Care Act’s sponsors that the Medicaid expansion provisions covering all Americans up to the poverty line would become voluntary for the states. And you know what? Had they known the Supreme Court was going to so rule, they probably would have thought no state would hate its own poor people enough to turn down the fiscal deal represented by the expansion (that was certainly the assumption a lot of otherwise smart observers made when the Court’s decision came down). Turns out as many as 25 states may in fact go in that stupid and malevolent direction, leaving up to 5.7 million Americans at the very heart of Obamacare’s intended coverage population without meaningful access to health insurance.

Now normally you’d think a Court-created “hole” in a legislative plan of this size would lead to a legislative “fix,” wouldn’t you? But that is for sure not happening until such time as Democrats regain control of the House and of 60 Senate seats–the temporary majorities that made enactment of the Affordable Care Act over the united opposition of the GOP possible in the first place.

The scandal of state-level Republicans leaving so much federal money on the table and so many poor people in the lurch may well become a campaign issue in 2014. But while this treachery is very likely to become a long-term political issue for Republicans in the affected states–particularly in the South, where its racial dimensions are impossible to ignore–the overall landscape going into the 2014 midterm election is hardly promising for Democrats there or nationally.

So putting things right and holding the happy architects of this wildly unfair situation may take a good long while. But payback’s hell.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 28, 2013

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Care | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Footnote”: Sorry, Atheists Can’t Go To Heaven After All

A Vatican spokesperson is walking back remarks Pope Francis made last week suggesting that atheists and people of other faiths who do good deeds are also redeemed “with the blood of Christ,” a statement that seemed to contradict Catholic teaching that “outside the church there is no salvation.”

After lauding Francis’ ability to speak in a “language that everyone can understand,” the Rev. Thomas Rosica issued a corrective to the pope’s homily and suggested that, basically, people misunderstood the pope.

In a message delivered on Vatican Radio last week, the pope said: “The Lord has redeemed all of us… not just Catholics. Everyone!” Adding, in case there was any confusion: “Even the atheists. Everyone!” In response to the homily, Rosica wrote that, while the pope is a gifted speaker, Francis was not rewriting theological doctrine when he made his inclusive remarks:

Pope Francis has no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation through his homily or scriptural reflection when he stated that “God has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” […]

This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.

By: Katie McDonough, Assistant Editor, Salon, May 28, 2013

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Pitiful Reformers”: Those Who Falsely Deny The GOP Is Off Its Rocker Are Lying To Themselves And Their Readers

Over the weekend, Bob Dole delivered the opinion that he couldn’t make it in today’s Republican Party. And not just him: “Reagan couldn’t have made it. Certainly Nixon couldn’t have made it, ’cuz he had ideas. We might have made it, but I doubt it.” His words put me in mind, as a disturbing number of things do these days, of the so-called conservative reformers, the half-dozen or so male pundit-intellectuals on the right who have, through some clever prestidigitation that I have yet to comprehend, come to be known as reformers. They are very smart fellows, and they can be interesting to read. But they are “reforming” the Republican Party in about the sense that Whitney Houston’s hairdresser was helping her by giving her a great coif. Houston’s problem in life wasn’t her hair, and what’s wrong with today’s GOP—what Dole was talking about—isn’t going to be fixed by figuring out exactly what kind of “base-broadening” the tax code needs.

The men often named in this group include David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru, Yuval Levin, Reihan Salam, Avik Roy, and a few others. Josh Barro is sometimes included, as are David Frum and Bruce Bartlett. But these are errors: Frum and Bartlett have been so outspoken—courageously so, I note—in their contempt for today’s GOP that they have sort of taken themselves off the roster. Barro, a young Bloomberg View columnist, is (it seems to me) more than halfway down the Frum-Bartlett path.

There has been lots of interesting writing on my side of the fence about these men lately. Ryan Cooper wrote a big Washington Monthly piece with short bios of all of them and a rating system assessing their zeal for reform and access to power. Jon Chait profiled Barro in The Atlantic. Policy analyst Mike Konczal assessed whether their policy proposals really constitute something new that isn’t being said by elected officials within the party. Paul Krugman has weighed in as well.

The general verdict among these writers is that there isn’t much there there. Konczal takes them seriously as policy analysts but concludes that much of what they say “is actually a defense and potential extension of already-existing policies against people further to the right” and is ultimately “more gestural than substantive.” If you read through Cooper’s rating system, you will be struck by the consistency with which those he deems most committed to reform are the ones with the lowest juice quotient, while the one with the lowest reform rating—Levin, who just won some big quarter-million-dollar right-wing prize of some kind (wish we had those!)—has a perfect-10 insider score.

Just yesterday, Avik Roy responded to these and other articles by lamenting that we liberals just don’t understand what Al Haig might have called the “nuance-al” genius of the new breed. It seems liberal critics have missed the “important philosophical difference between the liberty- and opportunity-oriented conservatives.” Further, these con-reformers believe in equality of opportunity, not of outcomes, and therefore liberals (who support the latter, you see) couldn’t possibly grasp the depth of their insights.

Here’s what Roy says he wants: to “orient the GOP agenda around opportunity for those who least have it, to offer these individuals a superior alternative to failed statist policies.” Please. You get a lot of this from Republicans. Paul Ryan says things like this all the time. Rick Santorum did. Even Mitt Romney did, though to a lesser extent. But it’s all nonsense because they have invented a straw-man version of liberalism in their heads that isn’t anything like the liberalism that actually exists.

A few years ago, Santorum published his book It Takes a Family, his response to Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village. He said the book was about poverty. As Mark Schmitt noted in a merciless review in The American Prospect, Santorum kept announcing that he was advancing brave new proposals that the “village elders” (the liberal establishment) would never countenance. The only problem was that every one of Santorum’s brave new ideas—helping poor families build wealth—were old liberal ideas. Asset-building as an idea has existed since about 1990, and it wasn’t conservatives who invented it.

The journal I edit (also not conservative!) just published a big symposium on asset-building. We did that in conjunction with a group called the Corporation for Enterprise Development, which has been working on the issue for 20 years. They’re a nonpartisan group, so they are not political with a big P, but let’s just say I don’t think there are many Atlas Shrugged readers roaming CFED’s halls. Put more simply, it’s liberals who have led the way on asset-building for years, in the academy and on Capitol Hill. But Santorum has, and all conservatives have, a liberal demon in their heads who wants poor people to remain dependent on big-daddy government. It’s a lie, and a really lame and stupid one.

And let’s say an asset-building-related piece of legislation—there are several, and they’re just sitting there—became the subject of attention and controversy. Who would be for it, and who would be against it? We know very well who. At the first syllable Obama uttered in its favor, the Republicans practically to a person would oppose it. And now, finally, we get to the real problem with the GOP, a problem these people all just ignore, and why the opening analogy to Whitney’s stylist is apt.

The big problem with today’s Republican Party isn’t its policies. Certainly, those policies are extreme and would be deeply injurious to middle-class and poorer Americans should they be enacted. But Bob Dole wasn’t thinking, I don’t believe, just of policies. He was talking about the whole package—the intolerance, the proud stupidity, the paranoia, the resentments, the rage. These are intertwined with policy of course—indeed they often drive policy. But they are the party’s real problem. And where these “reformers” fail is that they never, ever, ever (that I have seen) criticize it with any punch at all.

Hey, Avik! Would you like to know why 90 percent of black people aren’t listening to your message? Because you don’t want them to vote! Not you personally (at least I assume), but your party. I know that you think black people are victims of false consciousness (how Marxist of you!), but do you also think they are stupid? If you and your wonderful Arthur Brooks want to develop a program to attract black voters, you might start by trying to change your party’s position on the question of attempting to pervert the law to deny them their franchise.

But they’ll never do that. And these people never call out the crazies. I’m sure that Louie Gohmert and Steve King probably embarrass them. Or maybe they don’t; Ponnuru recently penned a pretty sprightly defense of Ted Cruz. This is actually an interesting question, and I suppose the answer varies from person to person. But either way the result isn’t flattering. Those who falsely deny that the current GOP is off its rocker are lying to themselves and their readers, while those who genuinely don’t think it is are by definition out to lunch themselves. And the bottom line is that if they don’t say anything about all this, then they’re simply not reforming the Republican Party in any sense that is worth taking remotely seriously.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 28, 2013

May 29, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let The Excitement Begin”: Virginia GOP Continues Its Sprint From The Mainstream

E.W. Jackson, the Republicans’ candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia this year, is on record saying quite a few nutty things. Late last week, however, Jackson effectively said his bizarre rhetorical excesses shouldn’t be held against him.

The comments, he said, “were spoken in my role as a minister, not as a candidate.”

I don’t mean to sound picky, but when someone seeks elected office, the things he or she did before becoming a candidate still count.

Meanwhile, Bob FitzSimmonds, a former aide to gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli and a top official in the Republican Party of Virginia, said last week, “I’m not a big fan of contraception, frankly. I think there are some issues, we’re giving morning-after pills to 12-year-olds, and pretty soon I guess we’ll hand them out to babies, I don’t know.”

Why would anyone give emergency contraception to a baby? I don’t know, but apparently this GOP official and close Cuccinelli ally is concerned about it. (FitzSimmonds also made headlines last fall for talking about his belief that President Obama is going “to hell.”)

So, let’s take stock. Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate is a fierce culture warrior; Virginia’s Republican candidate for lieutenant governor is an unusually strange right-wing activist; Virginia’s Republican candidate for state attorney general once sponsored a bill that would have required women to report their miscarriages to the state; and Virginia’s Republican Party is led in part by someone who still opposes contraception.

Oh, and Virginia’s current Republican governor is embroiled in a scandal.

All of this is important when considering which party will have greater success reaching out to independents, moderates, and swing voters with no real party allegiance, but there’s also the matter of waking up the Democratic base. It’s an off-year cycle, and Democratic Party leaders have long wondered how they’ll generate sufficient levels of excitement among progressive voters to show up.

It appears GOP activists in the commonwealth are taking care of that problem.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, May 28, 2013

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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