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“The Logical Move Is To Make A Deal”: What Republicans Risk By Obstructing Obama’s Supreme Court Nomination

Conventional wisdom states that Republicans have every political reason to block anyone President Obama nominates for the Supreme Court.

Any Republican who voted for an Obama nominee could face a primary challenge. The people who care most about judicial battles are ideological base voters, so swing voters in a general election wouldn’t blame one party over the other. And if a Republican wins the presidency, then Senate Republicans would confirm a conservative, while if a Democrat wins, the person’s nominee would be no different from an Obama nominee. Nothing lost by holding out.

But there are reasons to question all of these assumptions.

First, the immediate electoral risk for Republicans is in the general election, not the primary.

There are 21 incumbent Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2016. (Three other Republican incumbents are retiring from the Senate.) Six of them, five of which are in “blue” states, are rated as “toss-up” or “lean Republican” (as opposed to “likely” or “solid” Republican) by the Cook Political Report.

These six – Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Richard Burr (N.C.) – were all elected to their first terms in the Tea Party-infused 2010 midterm. This time, they will be running in a presidential year in which Democratic turnout will be higher.

Kirk, Portman, Toomey and Burr have primary challengers. But none have gained traction yet, and the primaries for most are soon – all in March except for Toomey’s in late April. Any vote on a court nominee would likely come after that.

(The one probably worried the most about a primary challenge is New Hampshire’s Ayotte; her primary is not until September, the filing deadline is June and Trump’s presidential primary win showed an unruly anti-establishment GOP electorate.)

For the other 15 “safe” Republicans up for re-election, several face nominal primary challenges, 10 of them in June or later. These folks won’t want to take any unnecessary political risks.

That leaves 30 Republicans who don’t face any immediate electoral pressures.

They may have a reason to worry about future primaries; political scientist Dave Hopkins noted that longtime Sen. Dick Lugar was ousted in the 2012 primary after voting for Obama nominees in 2009 and 2010. But those were votes for nominees that were considered to be “liberal” picks. The political dynamic around a pick widely deemed to be a centrist would be an entirely different ballgame.

That brings us to the second assumption: only base voters care about judges.

It’s an understandable assumption. It has been true when we’ve had Senate scrums over lower court judges. It has been true when voices on one side of the spectrum futilely try to rally opposition to a judge on the other side. (Contemporaneous polls showed little public interest in the epic 1991 Clarence Thomas and 1987 Robert Bork battles, not to mention the less-remembered 2005 conservative kneecapping of Harriet Miers.)

But none of those episodes happened in the middle of a presidential election.

In fact, SCOTUSBlog checked the record going to back to 1900, and found no instance of a Supreme Court seat left vacant on Election Day. If Republicans refuse to approve anybody by November, we will be in a truly unprecedented situation.

The public won’t tune out of the judicial battle because a presidential election season is the one time when most people tune in. And no matter who Obama picks, barring a poor vet and unexpected scandal, Republicans will be on the losing side of the argument.

Obama is highly unlikely to pick a left-wing version of a Bork. He would either pick someone in the “mainstream liberal” mold of Sonia Sotomayor or Elana Kagan, or he would offer a compromise choice, a centrist swing vote – perhaps negotiated with some Senate Republicans – putting the Supreme Court in perfect ideological balance.

Either direction squeezes obstructionist Republicans.

Republicans would have a relatively easier time resisting a mainstream liberal, or more accurately, it would be a bigger risk for individual Republicans to cross the aisle and vote for a mainstream liberal. That could be used against a Republican in a primary this year or beyond.

Nevertheless, a general electorate majority would embrace a mainstream liberal since he or she would uphold rights that are widely embraced, including abortion rights under Roe v. Wade and equal rights for gay people. Putting those hot-button social issues on the line for Election Day is an clear-cut loser for Republicans. Not only would Republicans be more likely to lose the presidency, they would also be more likely to lose the Senate.

Naming an undisputed non-ideological judge would put Republicans in an even worse political bind. A nominee showered with praise from the legal establishment as an eminently qualified straight-shooter would isolate Republicans as hostages to ideological extremists. They would not be able to claim that they were protecting the court from a dramatic ideological shift; they would be exposed as holding out for their own ideological comrade at the expense of good governance.

And that brings us to the final assumption: that Republicans lose nothing by holding out. On the contrary, they could lose everything.

As it stands, Republicans have the ability to bargain with Obama and win that compromise pick, ticking the court a half-step leftward into exact ideological balance.

By refusing to bargain, Republicans weaken their general election prospects for both the White House and Senate. If Democrats take both, they could install a young liberal – as well as replace older liberals Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer – and create a five-person Court majority that would rule for a generation.

Seeing the madness that is the Republican presidential primary, one could see why the Republican Party’s first instinct is to reflexively obstruct. But after making a cold calculation, clear-headed Republicans will see that the logical move is to make a deal.

The only question remains: How many clear-headed Republicans are left in the Senate?

 

By: Bill Scher, Campaign for America’s Future, OurFuture.org; February 17, 2016

February 22, 2016 Posted by | GOP Base, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Clinton Escapes Nevada, Licks Chops For Next Round”: She’s In Great Shape With Friendlier States Ahead

The HUGE UPSET hype machine that’s on stand-by every time election returns come in was being cranked up noisily when the initial entrance polls from today’s Nevada Caucuses were released, showing a dead even race and Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton among Latinos, an important voting demographic in the Silver State and part of Clinton’s nonwhite voter “firewall.”  And had the returns stood up to the initial impressions, you might have seen political reporters parachuting into South Carolina this very night to look eagerly for signs that young African-Americans and blue-collar rednecks were feeling the Bern and making the next stop on the nominating contest trail another dicey proposition for the former Secretary of State.

But alas for the dramatics, it looks like Hillary Clinton’s going to win the popular vote by roughly 6 percent and the national delegates awarded by more than that. And while Sanders probably did better among Nevada Latinos than Barack Obama did eight years ago, multiple analysts are suggesting the entrance poll numbers for this demographic showing Clinton losing big may be off, which has certainly happened in the past.

Turnout seems to have been robust, though not as high as in 2008, when the Culinary Workers endorsement of Obama (and Clinton counter-measures) boosted participation in Clark County (Las Vegas); this time that pivotal union was neutral. And putting aside Latinos, the demographic splits in the returns look very, very familiar (again, relying on entrance polls that seem to have underestimated Clinton’s vote): Sanders winning under-30 voters 82/18; Clinton winning over-65 voters 74/24. The non-college educated electorate that seemed to be trending towards Sanders in New Hampshire was dead even here. And however well Sanders ultimately did with Latinos, it’s clear the cavalcade of African-American rappers and writers in his corner isn’t making a lot of progress just yet, with HRC winning that demographic (an estimated 12 percent of the vote here) about three-to-one.

And that’s what may matter most in terms of the road just ahead, with South Carolina (where a solid majority of primary voters will likely be African-American) and 12 March 1 primaries coming up where (with the exception of Texas and Colorado) black voters have more weight than Latinos.  If the New Hampshire blow-out shifted the pressure from Sanders to Clinton to show her campaign (not to mention her “firewall”) wasn’t melting down, now the pressure shifts back to Sanders to show he can win in states without big white liberal voting populations.

The best news for Sanders may be, as Nate Silver pointed out today, that later Caucuses are mostly in heavily white states (Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Washington and Wyoming–only Hawaii is very diverse) where he could, like Obama in 2008, win some serious delegate totals.  And if he can duplicate today’s Latino performance–pretty good even if it falls short of a majority–it will eventually help him in states down the road, including Illinois and Florida on March 15.  It should be noted that Nevada’s Latino voting population is reportedly youth-heavy, in part because many of their parents aren’t citizens or just aren’t registered or live somewhere else.  That may be a dynamic to watch down the road, particularly in states with older Latino voting populations.

All in all, Robby Mook and company can exhale a bit and look forward to some relatively good news the next couple of weeks.  The idea that Bernie would burn out after New Hampshire went out the window in the gusher of contributions he harvested after Iowa and then New Hampshire.  But it might be awhile before eager journalists write too many more headlines about “panic” in Hillaryland.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 20, 2016

February 22, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Nevada Caucus | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Marco Rubio Administration During A Recession? Depressing”: A Rudderless Economy Drifting Onto The Rocks

Since the seventh anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the “stimulus” – was this week, it was a good time to ask, “Who Do You Want In The White House When The Next Recession Comes?”

On Friday, Ed Dolan, writing in Nouriel Roubini’s EconomMonitor, answers: Definitely not Marco Rubio.

Dolan fleshes out the argument that our post made earlier this week about the kind of economic decision-making any rational person would want to have in the White House in the event of an economic downturn. And he concludes that in the case of Rubio (and other Republicans, for Dolan notes Rubio’s views are “widely shared” within the GOP), “the federal government would be legally bound to allow the economy to drift rudderless onto the rocks.”

That’s because Rubio – and for that matter all of the Republican presidential candidates – don’t have a firm grasp of Economics 101.

If you remember your basic college econ course, you’ll know that the first line of defense against a recession is fiscal policy. When the economy goes into a slump, spending rises on unemployment compensation, food stamps, and other benefits. At the same time, tax receipts, which are linked to income, decrease. Because the spending increase plus the tax decrease automatically cushion the slump, economists call them automatic stabilizers.

If you’re a true Keynesian, automatic stabilizers aren’t enough. You add some discretionary fiscal stimulus in the form of road projects and maybe a temporary tax rebate. If the timing is right, that softens the recession even more and speeds the recovery.

But Rubio, as Dolan notes, is a staunch supporter of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. (So is Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and John Kasich.)

It sounds like a sensible idea, until you think about it. But then, you see that the idea of balancing the federal budget every year is nuts. It would mean that when the economy went into a slump, pulling tax revenues down, Congress would have to enact across the board emergency spending cuts to keep a deficit from emerging. The cuts would quickly hit jobs and household budgets. Consumer spending would fall, firms would cut output to fight ballooning inventories. Without the automatic stabilizers, a mild recession would turn into a tailspin.

But Rubio would not stop there, Dolan goes on to write. Rubio also wants to constrain the ability of the Federal Reserve to stimulate job creation – one half of its dual mandate to keep both unemployment and inflation low.

Here is what [Rubio] said about the Fed in this week’s South Carolina town hall:

That’s not the Fed’s job to stimulate the economy. The Fed is a central bank, it is not some sort of overlord of the economy. They’re not some sort of special Jedi Counsel that can decide the best things for us.

The Fed is a central bank. Their job is provide stable currency and I believe they should operate on a rules based system. They would have a very simple rule that determines when interest rates go up and when interests rates go down.

So just what is this “simple rule” Rubio is talking about? He provides the details elsewhere. His rule would replace the Fed’s dual mandate with a single mandate to prevent inflation. The Fed would be required to raise rates to stop inflation during a boom, but it would be barred from doing anything when unemployment soars during a recession.

That is why it behooves us to ask pointed questions of the presidential candidates about what they would do if the U.S. faced an economic downturn on their watch. Chances are, if they are reading from the same economic playbook that Marco Rubio uses, they would turn the next recession into the next Great Depression.

 

By: Isaiah J. Poole, Editor of OurFuture.org, Campaign For America’s Future, February 19, 2016

February 22, 2016 Posted by | Balanced Budget Amendment, Economic Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

”People At The Far Ends Of The Economic Ladder”: Why Are Poor Americans Dying So Much Earlier Than Rich Americans?

For a poor woman born in the Roaring Twenties, getting to age 50 was something of an accomplishment. She had to contend with diphtheria and tuberculosis, hookworm and polio, not to mention childbirth, which killed about 800 women for every 100,000 births at the beginning of the decade. Widespread use of penicillin to treat infections was still 20 years away; Medicaid, four decades. If she did make it to 50, on average she would live to be 80 years old. That sounds pretty good, until you consider that the richest women born at the same time lived about four years longer.

Americans have become much healthier since then, generally speaking, thanks to scientific advances, higher living standards, better education, and social programs. Life expectancy hit a record high in 2012. But as with economic prosperity, gains in physical health haven’t been spread equally. Instead, they’ve been increasingly skewed towards the wealthy—and a new analysis from the Brookings Institution indicates gaps in lifespan between the rich and the poor are getting worse, not better.

Using data from the Social Security Administration and other government records, the report compares the lifespan of people born in 1920 and in 1940 who were in either the top or bottom ten percent of wage earners. It turns out that rich men born in 1940 can expect to live 12 years longer than the poorest, compared to a six-year gap between rich and poor men born in 1920. The disparity in life expectancy between women at the top and bottom more than doubled, growing from four to ten years. In fact, women at the bottom saw no increase at all in their life expectancy. The difference continued to grow between rich and poor people born in 1950.

The Brookings analysis “adds to a growing body of evidence that there is a widening gap in health between the haves and have-nots in the country,” said Steven Woolf, director of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. It’s been clear for some time that how long Americans live depends on how much money they have, even their zip codes. What the Brookings study adds is evidence of the problem getting steadily worse.

As for how socioeconomic inequalities translate into inequities in life span, “It’s rather mysterious,” said Lisa Berkman, the director of the Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard University. One answer is that low-income people tend to be sicker in the first place, because the neighborhoods they can afford to live in are more polluted; because they can’t afford to adopt and maintain healthy behaviors; because they can’t afford health insurance premiums, copayments, and prescription drugs.

Woolf accounts much of the disparity in death rates to what he calls “stress-related conditions.” People who aren’t secure economically are likely to experience high levels of stress, which studies have linked to shorter lifespans and a heightened risk of death from strokes, heart attacks, and other illnesses. “We’re seeing a dramatic increase in deaths from opioids, whether we’re talking about prescription painkiller or heroin, but also from suicides, liver disease, and other conditions that I personally feel come from different ways that people are coping, in an unhealthy way, with the stresses that they’re facing in their daily lives,” Woolf said, particularly since the recession. Smoking, the leading cause of preventable death, takes a particularly costly toll on low-income people.

Berkman traces at least some of the stress load on lower-income Americans to changes in the workplace. The 1920s cohort analyzed by the Brookings researchers had their greatest earnings in the 40s and 50s, a time of economic growth and greater equality across the income spectrum. While low-income people born in the 1940s entered a labor market that was less demanding physically, they may also have experienced greater insecurity as wages stagnated, and difficulty balancing work and family life as more women entered the workforce. Unlike many other peer countries with more robust family support, the United States didn’t do much to accommodate the increased challenges facing working parents, Berkman noted. “The second wave of occupational risk are sets of working conditions that are hugely stressful,” she said. “They aren’t so physically stressful, but they’re socially stressful. They’re insecure, they’re inflexible, or they have no ability to balance work and family issues. We need to rethink what occupational health and safety is.”

The point of the Brookings study was to examine how the redistributive impact of Social Security benefits were impacted by lifespan gaps. The report’s authors concluded the disparity

means that high-wage workers will collect pensions for progressively longer periods, even as low-wage workers see little improvement in life expectancy. That gap, when taken together with the rise in average retirement ages since the early 1990s, means the gap between lifetime benefits received by poor and less educated workers and the benefits received by high-income and well educated workers is widening in favor of the higher income workers.

In other words, one of the programs that’s specifically intended to help poor Americans through retirement isn’t really working to their benefit anymore. To Berkman, that suggests the need for reform tailored to different groups—people who’ve worked physically demanding jobs, for instance, need a different sort of retirement security than wealthier people who are in good health able to work longer.

“It’s sort of amazing that people haven’t stood up and said, ‘Oh my god, what are we doing?” Berkman said. “What are we doing to not a small part of our country, but the bottom third, maybe even the bottom half?”

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, February 18, 2016

February 22, 2016 Posted by | Life expectancy, Lifespan Gap, Poor and Low Income, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“5 Down-And-Dirty Tricks Ted Cruz Uses To Fool Voters”: Trusted, As Transparent A Ploy As The Rest Of His Campaign

Ted Cruz is nasty. Ted Cruz is mean. Ted Cruz is “a huge asshole.”

Ted Cruz is a pretty horrible human being.

That’s the consensus, at least, from notables like former President George W. Bush and and Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, commander of the coalition against ISIS.

Cruz has had to wheedle his family to get them to acquiesce – on camera! – that he’s a good guy, even though everyone from his former college roommate to his senatorial colleagues have whispered and shouted that the American public should stay far, far away from this loathsome, odious creature. (Even his “friends” in the Senate don’t want him to be president.)

Now, he’s tasked with saving us from The Donald — a role that, though potentially heroic, has managed only to force Cruz into a spotlight under which his seediness seems to have adopted a new shine. If Donald Trump is America’s premier insult comic, Ted Cruz is its greatest scoundrel. He lies, deceives, and swindles some more. To wit:

He lied about Ben Carson exiting the race
Dr. Ben Carson decided to not to campaign in New Hampshire and South Carolina after the Iowa Caucus, preferring to return to Florida to (yes, really) get a change of clothes. The Cruz campaign, as detailed by Politifact, took this nugget – that Carson was taking “a very unusual” travel detour – and spun it so that Carson was “taking some time off” from the campaign.

In a series of tweets, emails and voicemails  (and with some assistance from Iowa Congressman Steve King) the campaign inferred and then explicitly stated that Carson had dropped out of the race, which was not the case, and urged caucus-goers to “not waste a vote” on Carson, but instead to vote for Cruz.

Although Cruz apologized, his campaign did acknowledge that “it made a coordinated effort to spread the story.” He ended up winning Iowa, leaving Donald Trump to accuse him of stealing the election.

He used false data and social pressure to trick Iowa residents into voting for him
In another play for Iowa Caucus voters, the Cruz campaign sent out mailers meant to look like official documents warning voters that their participation – or lack thereof – would be recorded and sent to their neighbors, in addition to assigning a grade that matched up with their alleged voting history. Using well-known political science research, the mailers (as seen below), preyed upon voters’ fears of social pressure to get them to vote.

.@TedCruz campaign mailed #IowaCaucus voters misleading “violation” https://t.co/PayPAJ84aR https://t.co/StcKy2N0F8 pic.twitter.com/hlzXJV8fIT

— Alex Howard (@digiphile) January 31, 2016

Of course, the “grades” listed on the mailers were all low scores — most of them “F”s:

Man, @TedCruz is such a scumbag (and so is his campaign staffer who thought this was a good idea) #iacaucus pic.twitter.com/5ybjhbZdA5

— super delegator (@LoganJames) January 30, 2016

The mailers used fraudulent “data” – the Cruz campaign made up percentages – and erroneously attributed this “data” to the Iowa Secretary of State and county election clerks, which prompted Iowa’s Secretary of State, Paul D. Pate, to correct the record:

Accusing citizens of Iowa of a “voting violation” based on Iowa Caucus participation, or lack thereof, is false representation of an official act. There is no such thing as an election violation related to frequency of voting. Any insinuation or statement to the contrary is wrong and I believe it is not in keeping in the spirit of the Iowa Caucuses.

Additionally, the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office never “grades” voters. Nor does the Secretary of State maintain records related to Iowa Caucus participation. Caucuses are organized and directed by the state political parties, not the Secretary of State, nor local elections officials. Also, the Iowa Secretary of State does not “distribute” voter records. They are available for purchase for political purposes only, under Iowa Code.” – Paul D. Pate, Iowa Secretary of State

While the tactic has been used before – and an online version of it is being used in China – Cruz takes it to another level. And it’s not something he apologizes for.

He mailed pre-filled “checks” and asked recipients to match them
According to the Huffington Post, the Cruz campaign mailed fake checks across the country to prospective voters meant to entice them to donate money by saying their contribution would be “matched” by “a group of generous supporters.” It was misleading enough for one group to file a complaint with the state attorney general for allegedly violating state law.

The Intercept reports that this tactic “is either impossible, illegal, or a scam,” since individual donations are legally capped at $2,700 for both the primary and general elections ($5,400 total) and the Cruz campaign would need a lot of “generous supporters” willing and able to “match” donations.

That means that the Cruz campaign either disregarded campaign finance law or is funneling all of the money they receive into a super PAC – which would also be illegal. “Super PACs … are allowed to accept unlimited contributions as long as they don’t coordinate directly with campaigns,” reporters Dan Froomkin and Zaid Jilani wrote. The law is explicit in what that means: Candidates running for national office “are not allowed to solicit more than $5,000 in Super PAC contributions from any one person.”

The Cruz campaign, however, is relentless. One mailer with a fake check isn’t enough – there are followups upon followups upon followups – post-its and emails and emails and emails and emails. Cruz tries to come across as casual: The sender’s line is doctored to make it appear that the message was quickly sent from his iPhone. But the barrage of emails instead comes off as desperate, edging on creepy.

His app takes your data and tries to sell your friends onto the “Cruz Crew”
Ted Cruz knows how to work Big Data. On his app, available on both the App Store and Google Play, users have to opt-out of sharing sensitive data, which includes their contact information and their location. This makes it easy for the campaign to amass a trove of sensitive and lucrative information, which it shares with other organizations and analytics companies to better finesse the messages it sends to potential supporters and voters.

The analytics company behind the Cruz operation, Cambridge Analytica, is funded by Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund investor, computer scientist, and the fourth-largest Republican donor in 2014 – and a major backer of Cruz. Mercer has donated at least $11 million to Cruz-related super PACs.

The campaign also uses sophisticated gaming techniques to entice app users to participate, allotting points for specific actions, like sharing messages on social media.

Cambridge Analytica’s formidable system analyzes billions of data points – from voter rolls to Facebook likes, keychain reward programs to Amazon purchases – and then sorts users into one of five personality types, which they use to target messages to the user’s lifestyle, interests, and backgrounds. These discoveries are shared among different departments within the organization, so that a canvasser knocking on doors already knows what the little old lady in the pink house on the corner really purchases at Target.

He photoshopped a beaming Marco Rubio shaking hands with Barack Obama
The Cruz campaign published a website targeting rival Marco Rubio with a doctored photo of him shaking hands with President Obama, captioned with text suggesting it was related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

When challenged, the Cruz campaign merely shrugged their shoulders, saying it was no big deal; they even gave away their process: “We googled ‘two people supporting amnesty,’” said campaign spokesperson Brian Phillips in an email to Politico.

Ted Cruz is sneaky and smart, and he’s using all the techniques and terabytes he can to stomp his way to the presidency. He likes to stand behind banners that say Trusted. But to those paying attention, the phrase is as transparent a ploy as the rest of his campaign.

 

By: Stephanie Schwartz, The National Memo, February 21, 2016

February 22, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Finance Laws, Iowa Caucuses, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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