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“Worried About The Right Wing”: Marco Rubio Threatens To Betray His Allies On Immigration Reform

As we discussed in April, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spent a few months playing an awkward game on comprehensive immigration reform. On the one hand, Rubio has been a high-profile member of the “Gang of Eight,” helping negotiate the details of the legislation. On the other hand, the Florida Republican signaled his willingness to oppose the legislation he’s ostensibly helping write. Rubio would say he likes his own bill, but wouldn’t commit to it.

Many of those involved in the process grew weary of Rubio straddling the fence. It was common to hear Capitol Hill insiders joke that the senator thought he could be “a little bit pregnant” on the policy.

But all that changed in mid-April, when Rubio got off the fence and began championing the legislation he helped craft. And all of that changed again late yesterday when Rubio said he’s prepared to reject his own legislation.

Speaking with radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday, Rubio said the Senate should “strengthen the border security parts of this bill so that they’re stronger, so that they don’t give overwhelming discretion to the Department of Homeland Security.” He said he was working with other senators on amendments to do just that.

Then Hewitt asked: “If those amendments don’t pass, will you yourself support the bill that emerged from Judiciary, Senator Rubio?”

Rubio answered, “Well, I think if those amendments don’t pass, then I think we’ve got a bill that isn’t going to become law, and I think we’re wasting our time. So the answer is no.”

Even for Rubio, this is bizarre. The Florida Republican had concerns about provisions related to border security, which he worked out through the “Gang of Eight” negotiations — his colleagues made the changes he wanted to see, which in turn led Rubio to endorse the bipartisan legislation.

But now the senator is moving the goalposts, saying the changes that have already been made aren’t good enough, and unless he’s able to move his bill even further to the right, Rubio is prepared to reject his own legislation.

Well, maybe Democrats can once again give Rubio what he wants, keeping the larger effort intact?

I’m afraid not — Rubio is asking far too much.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn intends to introduce a sweeping amendment to the immigration bill when it goes on the floor next week, seeking to replace an entire section devoted to border security and tweak the national security and criminal justice titles.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), one of the members of the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight, has been working with Cornyn on the amendment “for weeks,” a Rubio aide said.

The Texas Republican wants stricter border patrol provisional “triggers” before registered immigrants are allowed to apply for green card status. His amendment would require 100 percent operational control of the Southern borders and that 90 percent of illegal border crossers be apprehended. It would also require 100 percent border surveillance, or situational awareness, of each one-mile segment of the Southern border and installment of a national E-Verify system before registered immigrants can pursue green cards.

No serious person involved in the negotiations believes this is a responsible approach. Indeed, no one even thinks these standards are realistic — it’s exactly why the Gang of Eight considered and rejected these measures during their negotiations. Rubio said they weren’t necessary to earn his support for the legislation, and now he’s saying they are.

He is, in other words, apparently prepared to betray his allies.

And why would Rubio do this? Because the Republican Party’s radicalized base opposes comprehensive reform, and Rubio’s support for the bill will undermine his future career ambitions, including a likely run for national office in 2016. [Update: Adam Serwer notes this is ultimately pointless, since the right will still resent the fact that he helped write a bill they hate, and the left will resent the fact that he walked away from a deal reached in good faith.]

There is an important caveat to all of this: Rubio has waffled before. I don’t recall him going as far as he did with Hugh Hewitt, but the Florida Republican occasionally waffles, only to be brought back into the fold. Reform proponents can hope that McCain and Graham will give him a call this morning, Rubio will walk back his comments from yesterday, and the process will move forward. Rubio isn’t a policy guy, so it’s possible he got rattled yesterday and said what he didn’t entirely mean.

But if we take his words at face value, Rubio has put the future of immigration reform at great risk, basically because he’s worried right-wing activists won’t like him anymore.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 5, 2013

June 8, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama Hatred And The IRS”: Republicans Rage At The Continued Existence Of Barack Obama

So now we know a little more officially than we did before that the Republican Party higher-ups know or at least suspect that there’s likely no actual political scandal in the IRS matter, and that they’re letting Darrell Issa have his fun and make a fool of himself just for the sake of doing whatever random damage to Barack Obama they can in his remaining time in office. An article by Shane Goldmacher in National Journal yesterday, when read properly between the lines, says as much. And if they can’t get him while he’s in office, by ginning up some flimsy reason to open impeachment hearings, they’ll hound him on his way out the door and afterward, trying to add words like “corrupt” and “tarnished” to the first paragraphs of historical summations of his tenure. That’s all this is really about—their base’s rage at the continued existence of Barack Obama, and their own twisted craving to acknowledge and stoke it.

The Goldmacher piece makes the commonsensical and nonideological observation that you might think that Issa, who has been out there throwing unproven allegations against the wall like Oscar Madison did Felix Unger’s linguine, would be reined in a bit by his party. This is especially so after calling Jay Carney a “paid liar” and backing it up with nothing specific. In fairness, a couple of Republicans—interestingly, Lindsey Graham and John McCain chief among them—did urge a holding of the horses after that one.

But by and large, Republicans are perfectly happy for Issa to keep stirring the pot. Eric Cantor—this happened after the “paid liar” remark—singled Issa out for praise at a closed-door meeting of the House GOP on Tuesday. At a press conference the same day, Cantor twice refused to criticize Issa even mildly.

I would love to know what someone like Cantor really thinks about this IRS thing. My guess about him and most top Republicans: they’d love for some unexpected nugget of political gold to turn up, of course, but they surely know very well that this scandal is almost certainly a bureaucratic one. With luck, they might land proof that someone in the Obama reelection campaign knew about the IG probe into the matter, but then the question will be how much detail this person or persons knew. The likelihood would be simply that they knew of the existence of the probe but nothing about the details.

On the other hand, there may be even less to all this than that. Issa once promised that he would release all the transcripts of his closed-door proceedings. He has not done so, and I gather he is stonewalling reporters on the question. Could it be that there’s something in the full transcripts that would more or less end this whole thing? I’m sure we can trust him, though, because Republican staffers never doctor docum—oops, never mind.

Whatever. Nothing would stop the GOP from trying to turn this thing into another Watergate. Their base will demand it, because to them, Obama is capable of all manner of evil. Ted Cruz’s recent McCarthy-esque comparison of Obama to Nixon (because the IRS matter somehow proves that Obama has an “enemies list”) is, to the base, soft-pedaling the situation if anything, and undoubtedly insulting to Nixon to boot.

Over the years since Obama arrived on scene, right-wingers have believed and circulated and peddled the following about him (and this is just a very partial list from, putting aside the ones you already know about the birth certificate and his “Muslim” heritage): that he refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; that his campaign was funded by Hugo Chávez; that he wanted to replace “The Star Spangled Banner” with the less martial “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”; that he must have used a non-U.S. passport to travel to Pakistan in 1981; that he plans to ban recreational fishing in the United States; that he had to surrender his law license; has banned the National Day of Prayer; stopped wearing his wedding ring in observance of Ramadan; and once kissed David Cameron, smack on the lips.

All that is to say nothing of the racist invective that is the constant background music of this presidency. We in the media never discuss this (go Google “chat board Obama n—-r,” except use the actual word, and just see what you get), but it is a daily diet in this country—yes, daily—and nothing said about any president in history that I can think of comes close to matching its relentless and savage sickness.

This is the rage the Republicans are feeding—and conservative intellectuals are doing their best to ignore. And no, it’s not this way when the situation is reversed. The Democrats specifically did not embark on these political fishing expeditions, and while much of the base wanted them to, a lot of liberal commentators did not. (I was against pursuing impeachment charges against Bush and Cheney, which you can read about here; I did urge Democrats to hold war-profiteering hearings, on which they vexingly ignored me.) The liberal base hated George Bush all right, but the hate wasn’t quite as existential, wasn’t quite as drenched in the same kind of suppurated derangement one finds in quarters of the right.

Besides which, Bush discredited himself through his uniform incompetence. Obama, clearly competent, has not done that and is unlikely to do it. So the Republicans have to do it to him. Tarnishing Obama is the only way they can emerge from these eight years not completely humiliated by him, so we’re just going to have to endure it.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 6, 2013

June 8, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“HOAP Hypocrisy”: Republicans Who Want To Repeal The Health Law Are Still Taking Money From It

House Republicans are launching a coordinated campaign against Obamacare, hoping to emphasize the negative effects of the health law to their constituents at upcoming town hall meetings. At the same time, however, they’re fully prepared to tell those same constituents to enjoy all the benefits available to them under health reform — ultimately taking advantage of Obamacare funding in their home districts.

As Politico reports, several of the GOP members of the new coalition — called the “House Obamacare Accountability Project,” or HOAP — went on the record to confirm they will help their constituents figure out how to get the benefits funded through the health reform law. The Republicans said that if they’re asked, they will help people get access to the insurance premium subsidies or the Medicaid coverage that’s available to them under Obamacare. “That’s an important part of constituent services,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) explained.

They’re not the only lawmakers who have advocated for getting rid of the health law even while simultaneously enjoying its benefits. As Lee Fang reports in the Nation, several anti-Obamacare Republicans like Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have requested grants funded through the health reform law for their districts. GOP lawmakers who decry Obamacare in public have requested Obamacare money to bolster their states’ health clinics, extend health services to uninsured residents, and launch public health campaigns.

In their letters requesting Obamacare funds, Republican lawmakers have praised the positive long term effects of the health reform law’s initiatives. Cornyn wrote that a grant from the Affordable Care Act would “improve the health and quality of life of area residents.” In reference to the same grant, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) called the effort a “crucial initiative to achieve a healthier Houston/Harris County.” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) praised a local nonprofit for winning Obamacare funds that will help give “people the tools to live healthier and longer lives.”

That reflects a larger trend when it comes to Obamacare: Although Americans may say they oppose the health law as a whole, they support its individual provisions. That seeming contradiction may partly be thanks to GOP-led initiatives like HOAP. Since political controversy has swirled around the health reform law for the past three years, Americans remain confused about what Obamacare actually does — and over 40 percent of the public isn’t even sure whether it’s still law.


By: Tara Culp-Resseler, Think Progress, June 7, 2013

June 8, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paranoid Concerns”: Making A Mountain Out Of A Digital Molehill

The revelations this week that the federal government has been scooping up records of telephone calls inside the United States for seven years, and secretly collecting information from Internet companies on foreigners overseas for nearly six years, have elicited predictable outrage from liberals and civil libertarians.

Is the United States no better than those governed by repressive dictators who have no regard for individual rights? Could President Obama credibly raise human rights issues with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at a summit meeting on Friday, if America is running its own vast surveillance state? Has Mr. Obama, for all his talk of ending the “war on terror,” taken data mining to new levels unimagined by his predecessor, George W. Bush?

Hold it just a minute.

From what has been made public, we know that the F.B.I., under the Obama administration, used its powers under the Patriot Act to seek these records; that judges with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved these searches; and that members of Congress with oversight powers over the intelligence community were briefed about the searches. Some of them, like Senators Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, and Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, were uncomfortable with the scope of the data gathering and made their disapproval public, even though secrecy rules prohibited them from being more specific about their concerns, until now.

It is evident, then, that all three branches of government were involved in the records search afoot at the telecommunications carriers and Internet companies. Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which Congress passed after 9/11, governed the executive branch’s search authority. Oversight committees were kept in the loop, as Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, has confirmed. And the authorizations were approved by life-tenured federal judges who are sworn to uphold the Constitution, including the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. On the surface, our system of checks and balances seems to be working.

We cannot rule out the possibility that the voluminous records obtained by the government might, some day, be illegally misused. But there is no evidence so far that that has occurred.

First, no contents of phone conversations are being provided to the government. Indeed, the Patriot Act precludes provision of call contents.

Second, the two senators who complained in public, Mr. Wyden and Mr. Udall, apparently were in a minority on the committee. Otherwise, the bipartisan committee could have held hearings, either in closed or open session, to seek further details and prepare legislation to limit the F.B.I.’s data-gathering powers.

Third, unlike you and me, federal judges on the surveillance court, established in 1978, reviewed the government’s request for information and the reasons provided to support the request. We do know that the search requests have required periodic renewal. And we know that, for reasons the judges thought sufficient, the contents of the order were sealed, with special mention that it was not to be available to foreign entities. Judge Roger Vinson, who signed the July order extending the requirement that Verizon furnish phone logs, struck a balance: he put a time limit on the data-gathering, to ensure executive accountability, but also issued a secrecy order, to protect national security.

But shouldn’t I be concerned that F.B.I. agents are trampling my rights, just like the I.R.S. might have trampled the rights of certain organizations seeking tax-exempt status? As it turns out, the answer is no. The raw “metadata” requested will not be directly seen by any F.B.I. agent.

Rather, a computer will sort through the millions of calls and isolate a very small number for further scrutiny. Perhaps one of the numbers was called by one of the Tsarnaev brothers before the Boston Marathon bombings. Or perhaps a call was placed by a Verizon customer to a known operative of Al Qaeda. The Supreme Court long ago authorized law enforcement agencies to obtain call logs — albeit on paper rather than from a computer database — without full probable cause to believe a crime had been committed.

To listen to the contents of any particular call or to place a wiretap on a particular phone, the F.B.I. would have to go back to a judge for a more detailed order, this time showing probable cause sufficient to meet stringent Fourth Amendment standards. Otherwise, the evidence from the call could not be used to prosecute the caller or call recipient. Privacy rights, in short, have been minimally intruded upon for national security protections.

Finally, let’s consider the alternative some activist groups and media organizations seek: more narrowly tailored gathering of records, and full transparency after the fact about what kinds of records have been obtained. There are obvious problems with this approach. Let’s say the judicial order leaked to The Guardian this week had specified the phone numbers about which the F.B.I. had concerns. Releasing those numbers would surely have tipped off the people using those numbers, or their associates, and caused them to change their mode of communicating. Already, there is a real probability that individuals planning terrorist activities are using channels of communication that will not show up in the databases of service providers. If the order revealed more expansively the standards the F.B.I. used to seek broad sets of records, again those seeking to avoid detection for terrorism-related activities could simply change their methods of doing business.

In short, I think I will take my chances and trust the three branches of government involved in the Verizon request to look out for my interest. Privacy advocates, civil libertarians, small-government activists and liberal media organizations are, of course, are welcome to continue working to keep them honest. But I will move back to my daily activities, free from paranoid concerns that my government is spying on me.


By: Charles Shanor, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, June 7, 2013

June 8, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Spite Club”: Driving Home The Fact Of Just How Little The GOP Cares About Your Well-Being

House Republicans have voted 37 times to repeal ObamaRomneyCare — the Affordable Care Act, which creates a national health insurance system similar to the one Massachusetts has had since 2006. Nonetheless, almost all of the act will go fully into effect at the beginning of next year.

There is, however, one form of obstruction still available to the G.O.P. Last year’s Supreme Court decision upholding the law’s constitutionality also gave states the right to opt out of one piece of the plan, a federally financed expansion of Medicaid. Sure enough, a number of Republican-dominated states seem set to reject Medicaid expansion, at least at first.

And why would they do this? They won’t save money. On the contrary, they will hurt their own budgets and damage their own economies. Nor will Medicaid rejectionism serve any clear political purpose. As I’ll explain later, it will probably hurt Republicans for years to come.

No, the only way to understand the refusal to expand Medicaid is as an act of sheer spite. And the cost of that spite won’t just come in the form of lost dollars; it will also come in the form of gratuitous hardship for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Some background: Obamacare rests on three pillars. First, insurers must offer the same coverage to everyone regardless of medical history. Second, everyone must purchase coverage — the famous “mandate” — so that the young and healthy don’t opt out until they get older and/or sicker. Third, premiums will be subsidized, so as to make insurance affordable for everyone. And this system is going into effect next year, whether Republicans like it or not.

Under this system, by the way, a few people — basically young, healthy individuals who don’t already get insurance from their employers, and whose incomes are high enough that they won’t benefit from subsidies — will end up paying more for insurance than they do now. Right-wingers are hyping this observation as if it were some kind of shocking surprise, when it was, in fact, well-known to everyone from the beginning of the debate. And, as far as anyone can tell, we’re talking about a small number of people who are, by definition, relatively well off.

Back to the Medicaid expansion. Obamacare, as I’ve just explained, relies on subsidies to make insurance affordable for lower-income Americans. But we already have a program, Medicaid, providing health coverage to very-low-income Americans, at a cost private insurers can’t match. So the Affordable Care Act, sensibly, relies on an expansion of Medicaid rather than the mandate-plus-subsidy arrangement to guarantee care to the poor and near-poor.

But Medicaid is a joint federal-state program, and the Supreme Court made it possible for states to opt out of the expansion. And it appears that a number of states will take advantage of that “opportunity.” What will that mean?

A new study from the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan research institution, examines the consequences if 14 states whose governors have declared their opposition to Medicaid expansion do, in fact, reject the expansion. The result, the study concluded, would be a huge financial hit: the rejectionist states would lose more than $8 billion a year in federal aid, and would also find themselves on the hook for roughly $1 billion more to cover the losses hospitals incur when treating the uninsured.

Meanwhile, Medicaid rejectionism will deny health coverage to roughly 3.6 million Americans, with essentially all of the victims living near or below the poverty line. And since past experience shows that Medicaid expansion is associated with significant declines in mortality, this would mean a lot of avoidable deaths: about 19,000 a year, the study estimated.

Just think about this for a minute. It’s one thing when politicians refuse to spend money helping the poor and vulnerable; that’s just business as usual. But here we have a case in which politicians are, in effect, spending large sums, in the form of rejected aid, not to help the poor but to hurt them.

And as I said, it doesn’t even make sense as cynical politics. If Obamacare works (which it will), millions of middle-income voters — the kind of people who might support either party in future elections — will see major benefits, even in rejectionist states. So rejectionism won’t discredit health reform. What it might do, however, is drive home to lower-income voters — many of them nonwhite — just how little the G.O.P. cares about their well-being, and reinforce the already strong Democratic advantage among Latinos, in particular.

Rationally, in other words, Republicans should accept defeat on health care, at least for now, and move on. Instead, however, their spitefulness appears to override all other considerations. And millions of Americans will pay the price.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 6, 2013

June 8, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Care | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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