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“A Typical Republican Trick”: Gun Nuts Deploy Rand Paul And Ted Cruz For Cynical Political Scheme

Earlier this week the Senate voted 82-12 to open debate on the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, a measure introduced by Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan that “aims to preserve federal lands for hunting, fishing and shooting” and had over 20 Republican co-sponsors. It also would “amend the Toxic Substances Control Act, preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating ammunition and fishing equipment that may contain lead.” Sounds … lovely. What it really is, though, is a vehicle for an endangered red-state Democrat such as Kay Hagan to bring something home to brag about.

And that’s why it had to die on Thursday, in a spectacularly cynical yet all-too-common flameout during amendment.

Republicans, who agreed with the bill in spirit but, more pertinently, knew that it might help Kay Hagan win reelection, pulled off a typical trick: trying to attach a number of insane gun lobby amendments to the bill that would force Hagan and other red-state Democrats to cast difficult votes.

Sen. Tom Coburn’s amendment would limit “the circumstances under which veterans can be denied access to firearms because of mental illness.” Sen. Ted Cruz’s “would allow expanded interstate transport of ammunition and firearms.” And then, there’s beloved hero-Sen. Rand Paul, who thinks this hunting and fishing bill represents the latest perfectly reasonable opportunity to strip Washington, D.C., of all its gun laws.

Rand’s proposed amendment to the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act would repeal the registration requirement, end the ban on semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, expand the right to carry guns outside the home and protect the right to carry guns on federal land in D.C. and elsewhere in the country. In essence, the bill would eliminate the District’s local gun laws, leaving only federal firearms law to regulate gun ownership and use in the city.

(You’ve got to love the way Republicans casually introduce amendments to overhaul laws set by the local government of the District of Columbia. Oh, here’s a little amendment to get rid of all your gun laws. Oh, here’s a quick note I drew up to keep marijuana criminalized in your little town of sin. Non-voting Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, of course, is never consulted on these things, but members of Congress do seek her out when they want to bitch about the traffic. Anyway, this is an aside, which is why it’s in parentheses.)

Once Coburn et al. drafted their amendments, pro-gun control Democrats decided to retaliate. “If we open this to a gun debate, we’re going to hear both sides,” Sen. Dick Durbin said earlier in the week. And so he drew up an amendment to “stiffen the penalty for straw purchases of guns to 15 years in prison,” while Sen. Richard Blumenthal offered one that “would temporarily take guns away from people who commit domestic violence and have a restraining order placed against them.”

And so Harry Reid blocked amendments, Republicans withdrew their support, and the measure went down on a 41-56 cloture vote this morning. This is all well and good according to the Gun Owners of America, a lobby that had pushed for the Republican amendment flood to what it called “a do-nothing, reelection bill for Harry Reid’s cronies.”

We weep not, reader, for the demise of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014. The nation will survive without it. But if a bill that essentially says “WE LIKE HUNTING AND FISHING” gets bogged down in an amendment battle about whether or not to have any gun control laws anymore and then dies, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to begin the August recess right now and extend it through Election Day.


By: Jim Newell, Salon, July 11, 2014


July 13, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Lobby, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Todd Akin Is Ready For Another Close-Up”: His Problem Was That He Was Too … ‘Conciliatory’?

In 2012, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) was facing a tough re-election fight in Missouri, so she helped boost the Republican she assumed would be the easiest to beat: then-Rep. Todd Akin (R). The plan worked extraordinarily well.

Akin was an extremist by any measure, but the far-right lawmaker secured a spot in the Awful Candidates Hall of Fame when he famously said women impregnated during a “legitimate rape” have a magical ability to “shut that whole thing down.”

Akin soon after lost by 15 points.

All of this unpleasantness, however, was two years ago. Now the far-right Missourian is back and he wants the spotlight again.

Todd Akin takes it back. He’s not sorry.

Two years after the Missouri Republican’s comments on rape, pregnancy and abortion doomed his campaign and fueled a “war on women” message that carried Democrats to victory in the Senate, one of the few regrets he mentions in a new book is the decision to air a campaign ad apologizing for his remarks. “By asking the public at large for forgiveness,” Akin writes, “I was validating the willful misinterpretation of what I had said.”

Hmm. Todd Akin’s problem was that he was too … conciliatory?

Making matters worse, as Joan Walsh noted, Akin is not only retracting his 2012 apology, he’s also back to defending the comments that caused him so much trouble in the first place. “My comment about a woman’s body shutting the pregnancy down was directed to the impact of stress of fertilization,” Akin argues in his new book, adding that “this is something fertility doctors debate and discuss.”

Republican officials are clearly aware of Akin’s willingness to re-litigate whether women can “shut that whole thing down,” and they have a message for the former congressman: for the love of God, please stop talking.

No, really.

Todd Akin is back talking about rape in his new book and Republicans have a message for him: Shut up. […]

“Todd Akin is an embarrassment to the Republican Party and the sole reason Claire McCaskill is still part of Harry Reid’s majority,” said Brian Walsh, who served as communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2012 cycle.

“It’s frankly pathetic that just like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell in 2010, he refuses to take any responsibility for sticking his foot in his mouth, alienating voters and costing Republicans a critical Senate seat. Worse, he’s now trying to make money off his defeat. The sooner he leaves the stage again the better.”

The GOP has vowed to prevent the stumbles on social issues that plagued Republican candidates on the trail last cycle. So its overwhelming reaction to Akin: his five minutes of fame need to be over.

That may be little more than wishful thinking. Yesterday afternoon, Planned Parenthood Votes issued a report that not only detailed Akin’s disturbing record, but connecting Akin to 2014 candidates. From the materials:

“Todd Akin and his dangerous agenda for women were soundly rejected by voters in 2012, yet candidates like Thom Tillis, Cory Gardner and Greg Abbott continue to follow in his footsteps,” said Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Votes. “Todd Akin’s appalling beliefs about women and rape were too extreme for America’s women, and they represent policy positions shared by politicians like Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis and Greg Abbott – among others. Just as Todd Akin was held accountable for his beliefs, these candidates will have to answer for their opposition to basic access to medical care for America’s women, and especially their cold indifference to women who are survivors of rape and incest.”

While Todd Akin was best known for his comments about legitimate rape, he also supported a wide range of measures – such as redefining rape, wanting to ban emergency contraception for survivors of rape and incest, and supporting measures that could interfere with personal, private, medical decisions relating to decisions about birth control, access to fertility treatment, management of a miscarriage, and access to safe and legal abortion – that were far too extreme for the vast majority Americans.

Similarly, Abbott, Tillis and Gardner have used their positions to do things such as prevent rape survivors from suing those who negligently hire their attackers, trying to deny rape survivors from accessing emergency contraception, and forcing survivors of rape and incest to undergo an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound before accessing an abortion.

Under the circumstances, the more Akin talks, the happier many on the left will be.

Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood but played no role in this piece.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 11, 2014


July 13, 2014 Posted by | Todd Akin, War On Women, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“If Boehner Sues Obama, John Roberts Wins”: Enhancing Judicial Power At The Expense Of The Elected Branches

The story on House Speaker John Boehner’s lawsuit against President Barack Obama is pretty simple: regardless of whether the administration overstepped, what’s at stake is whether the courts are being empowered at the expense of the elected branches of government.

For starters, there’s zero evidence that Obama has been unusual in his use of executive powers. If he’s overdone it, then all the recent presidents have done so, too. The idea that he’s some sort of tyrant who acts differently than other modern presidents is nonsense.

In fact, It’s perfectly normal for presidents and executive branch departments and agencies to make broad interpretations of law that look a lot like legislating. It’s how the system works, and pretty much how it always worked. Thus Richard Neustadt’s famous claim that the system isn’t “separation of powers,” but separated institutions sharing powers.

Nonetheless, there are rules constraining how laws may be interpreted, and it is possible that in specific instances, the administration may have acted beyond what the law allows.

Indeed, experts have made the case that this kind of overreach occurred with the delayed implementation of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act (which, apparently, is going to be central to the House Republicans’ lawsuit), though other experts disagree.

In any case, it would be unprecedented, and in fact would constitute a significant change to the constitutional system, if the courts allowed Congress to sue the president over the ACA delay.

The technical issue is “standing.” For the courts to consider a lawsuit, the person or group bringing the suit has to show they were harmed in some direct way. So, for example, in the recent recess appointment case, Noel Canning Corp. was able to show that it had directly been harmed by an action taken by members of the National Labor Relations Board who had been recess-appointed. Generally, the courts have ruled (Vox has a good explainer on this) that Congress isn’t eligible to sue the president just because it doesn’t like what he’s done.

What Boehner is claiming now is that Congress, or the House of Representatives in this case, should be able to sue the president for not following the law if no one else would be able to do so.

If that succeeds, however, the big winner in the long run wouldn’t be Congress. It would be the courts.

By the logic of Boehner’s own action (despite what he says), this isn’t about a tyrannical president refusing to obey the law. If House Republicans believed that Obama was an out-of-control dictator, then they couldn’t also believe that a court ruling would be sufficient to constrain him.

What’s actually happening is that the House doesn’t interpret the law in the same way as the president, and the question is how to resolve the variance. Normally, each branch has an opportunity to interpret the law (those separated institutions sharing powers again), but doctrines such as standing limit the courts’ ability to intervene.

If, however, they can intervene whenever a house of Congress is unhappy, then the courts get a a much more active role in determining what the laws say. And why just a house of Congress? What if the president sued Congress, for example, if it failed in its obligation to produce appropriations bills on time? Instead of a government shutdown, would we get an injunction and then a judicial act of appropriations, with someone appointed by Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan making 302(b) allocations by judicial fiat? Or perhaps we’d wind up with individual senators jurisdiction shopping, looking for a friendly judge to overturn some fight they lost in committee or on the Senate floor. Those kinds of setbacks are common for senators and executive branch departments; the only thing that prevents the losers, or whole chambers that lost fights in conference, from directly appealing to the courts is that the courts have a doctrine against intervening.

So what can Congress do? If the problem were simply a president who failed to follow the law, then the only real choices would be either to live with it, or impeachment and conviction. But if the problem is merely that the president interprets a law in a way that Congress doesn’t like, then the obvious remedy, as presidency scholar Andrew Rudalevige said recently, is “for Congress to change the law to remove presidential discretion” (I argue the same here).

So put aside the question of whether the administration improperly interpreted the law (it might have). Put aside, too, the silliness of House Republicans attempting to force the president to impose a policy, the employer mandate, which no Republican actually wants to enforce. And put aside the reality that by the time this lawsuit is decided it may well be moot, at least if the mandate takes effect as currently planned. This is about enhancing judicial power at the expense of the elected branches, and it’s a very bad idea.


By: Jonathan Bernstein, Ten Miles Square, The Washington Monthly, July 12, 2014

July 13, 2014 Posted by | Federal Courts, John Roberts, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Limits Of Presidential Photo-Ops”: A Bipartisan Hunger For More Political Theater, Just For The Sake Of Symbolism

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), this week, on a presidential photo-op at the U.S/Mexico border:

“If it’s serious enough for him to send a $3.7 billion funding request to us, I would think it would be serious enough for him to take an hour of his time on Air Force One to go down and see for himself what the conditions are,” Cornyn told reporters.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), three years ago, on a presidential photo-op at the U.S/Mexico border (via Chris Moody):

“What Sen. Cornyn is looking for, President Obama cannot deliver with another speech or photo op, and that’s presidential leadership. Words matter little when there is no action,” said Kevin McLaughlin, a Cornyn spokesman.

I’ll confess that this is one of the unexpected political hullabaloos of the week. It’s not at all surprising that policymakers in both parties are taking the border crisis and the plight of these poor children seriously, but it was hard to predict that much of the political conversation would focus less on a proposed solution and more on whether or not the president literally, physically makes a symbolic gesture by going to the border itself.

Much of the overheated rhetoric has come from the far-right – Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) inexplicably said the president “disrespects our military” by not going to the border – but it’s not entirely partisan. Some congressional Democrats have added to the criticism.

“I hate to use the word ‘bizarre,’ but … when he is shown playing pool in Colorado, drinking a beer, and he can’t even go 242 miles to the Texas border?” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell yesterday.

As best as I can tell, no one in either party has said exactly what they want Obama to do at the border, other than just go there for some undefined period of time before leaving. It appears to be a bipartisan hunger for more political theater, just for the sake of symbolism.

President Obama, at least so far, is pursuing a very different approach.

After meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and a variety of officials in Dallas yesterday, the president held a press conference in which the very first question was on this topic. “There are increasing calls not just from Republicans, but also from some Democrats for you to visit the border during this trip,” the reporter noted. “Can you explain why you didn’t do that?” Obama replied:

“Jeh Johnson has now visited, at my direction, the border five times. He’s going for a sixth this week. He then comes back and reports to me extensively on everything that’s taking place. So there’s nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on.

“This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops; I’m interested in solving a problem. And those who say I should visit the border, when you ask them what should we be doing, they’re giving us suggestions that are embodied in legislation that I’ve already sent to Congress. So it’s not as if they’re making suggestions that we’re not listening to. In fact, the suggestions of those who work at the border, who visited the border, are incorporated in legislation that we’re already prepared to sign the minute it hits my desk.”

For the president’s critics, this wasn’t good enough. I’m not sure why.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 10, 2014

July 13, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama’s Understated Foreign Policy Gains”: Leadership, Painstaking Diplomacy And Understanding America’s Limitations

It’s been a pretty good couple of weeks for American foreign policy. No, seriously.

On June 23, the last of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile was loaded onto a Danish freighter to be destroyed. The following day, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia asked his Parliament to rescind the permission that it had given him to send troops into Ukraine. Meanwhile, there is still cautious optimism that a nuclear deal with Iran is within reach.

What do these have in common? They were achieved without a single American bomb being dropped and they relied on a combination of diplomacy, economic sanctions and the coercive threat of military force. As policy makers and pundits remain focused on Iraq and the perennial but distracting discussion about the use of force, these modest but significant achievements have, perhaps predictably, been ignored. Yet they hold important lessons for how American power can be most effectively deployed today.

Nine months ago, President Obama eschewed military means to punish Syria for its use of chemical weapons and instead negotiated an agreement to remove them. Critics like Senator John McCain blasted it as a “loser” deal that would never work. By refusing to back up a stated “red line” with military force, Mr. Obama had supposedly weakened American credibility.

In Damascus, however, the threat of military engagement by the United States was taken more seriously. And when given the choice between American bombing or giving up his chemical weapons, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria chose the latter.

Four months ago, some pundits confidently declared that Mr. Putin had “won” in Crimea and would ignore a Western response of toothless sanctions. But Russia has paid a serious price for its actions in Ukraine: diplomatic isolation and an economic downturn spurred by capital outflows, declining foreign investment and international opprobrium.

Mr. Putin’s recent effort to tamp down tensions appears to be a response, in part, to the threat of further sanctions. In trying to operate outside the global system, Mr. Putin found that resistance to international norms came at an unacceptable cost.

While it is far too early to declare success on the nuclear talks in Vienna, that the United States and Iran are sitting down at the negotiating table is a historic diplomatic achievement. When Mr. Obama spoke during the 2008 election campaign of his willingness to talk with Iran’s leaders, it led to criticisms that he was naïve about global politics. But his efforts as president to extend an olive branch, even as Iran continued to pursue its nuclear ambitions, enabled America to build support for the multilateral economic sanctions that helped make the current negotiations possible.

While one should be careful in drawing expansive judgments from disparate examples like these, there are noteworthy commonalities. The most obvious is that military force is not as effective as its proponents would have Americans believe. Had the United States bombed Syria or hit Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, it would almost certainly not have been as successful as the nonmilitary approaches used.

Yet, at the outset of practically every international crisis, to bomb or not to bomb becomes the entire focus of debate. That false choice disregards the many other tools at America’s disposal. It doesn’t mean that force should never be considered, but that it should be the option of last resort. Force is a blunt instrument that produces unpredictable outcomes (for evidence, look no further than Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya).

What did work in these three situations was the patient diplomatic effort of building a global consensus. The success of international sanctions against Iran and Russia respectively relied on the support of both allies and rivals. Acting alone, the United States would never have achieved the same results.

It wasn’t just Americans who were outraged by the seizure of Crimea — so, too, were nations that had few interests in the region. The reason is simple: When countries invade their neighbors with impunity, it puts every country at risk. A similar global consensus against chemical and nuclear proliferation, backed by international treaties, also served as the foundation for American diplomacy toward Iran and Syria.

Critics will fairly argue that these outcomes hardly justify great celebration. Mr. Assad has relinquished his chemical weapons, but the bloody civil war in Syria continues. Mr. Putin has backed off in eastern Ukraine, but he’s keeping Crimea. Iran may agree to a nuclear deal, but it will remain a destabilizing power with the potential to upgrade its nuclear capacity.

This speaks to the limitations of American power. The United States cannot stop every conflict or change every nefarious regime. Any foreign policy predicated on such ambitions will consistently fail.

What the United States can do is set modest and realistic goals: upholding global norms and rules, limiting conflicts and seeking achievable diplomatic outcomes. With China flexing its muscles in the Far East, these lessons are more important than ever.

But they are not transferable to every international crisis. Sanctions don’t mean much, for example, to radical nonstate actors like the jihadists of the Islamic State. And unilateral pressure from the United States cannot, for example, bring about the political reforms in Iraq that are needed to stabilize the country. Sometimes, America has no good answer for disruptive events like these.

All too often, though, our foreign policy debates are defined by simplistic ideas: that force is a problem-solver, that America can go its own way and that mere application of American leadership brings positive results. But the results with Syria, Russia and Iran remind us that when American foreign policy is led by painstaking diplomacy, seeks multilateral consensus and acts with an understanding of its own limitations, it can produce positive results. More often than not, boring is better.


By: Michael A. Cohen, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, July 9, 2014

July 13, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Media, Middle East | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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