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“A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy”: Cruz Opposes Lame Duck Sessions Of Congress, But He Has Some Responsibility For Them

The Hill reports that Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz is leading an effort to ensure that Congress does not convene for a “lame duck” session at the end of the year. According to the publication, Cruz and “right-leaning groups see huge dangers in having a session after the November elections, which they think could be used to move legislation backed by President Obama or even to confirm his Supreme Court nominee.” As a rationale for the push, a letter organized by the Conservative Action Project states, “By promising now that there will be no lame duck session of Congress … the Republican-led Congress can take an important first step in restoring the American people’s trust in their government.”

The lame duck session of Congress has become a Washington, D.C. tradition. It takes place during election years after the votes are cast in November. Often the sessions are used to wrap up business that Congress didn’t get to before leaving to campaign for reelection, but the relative political vacuum of that time period can also provide members of Congress with the cushion necessary to take difficult votes they otherwise wouldn’t be able to cast. For those reasons, lame duck sessions of Congress often see the passage of large, sometimes expensive, and many times controversial pieces of legislation. Per The Hill, Cruz and his cohort seem to be concerned this year about the passage of trade legislation, the confirmation of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and passage of an omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government.

In some respects Cruz is right. Lame duck sessions of Congress are not the ideal way to legislate. The significant time constraints of these sessions mean that legislation is often rushed through without due time for consideration or amendment. Legislative packages that have been negotiated months ahead of time behind the scenes are presented to members of Congress as a fait accompli, leaving the legislators little choice but to vote for them or lose the opportunity for their consideration altogether. The situation is especially tenuous for omnibus spending bills, which contain the funding necessary to keep the federal government operating for the rest of fiscal year and are often considered “must pass” legislation (think the controversial 2014 “cromnibus” spending bill which narrowly averted a government shutdown). Other high profile examples have over the years included the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund environmental cleanup law and, in 2010, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Given a choice, I think we’d all prefer that Congress consider these bills through regular order, with ample time to understand what’s in them, debate the merits and discuss necessary changes. It’s certainly the way the rules of both the House and the Senate envision the legislative process would take place.

However, the reason there often isn’t regular order in Congress is because of people like Ted Cruz, which makes his current crusade kind of ironic. The obstinacy of the hard right and obstructionist tactics, like Cruz’s drive to shut down the government over health care policy in 2013, have made it increasingly difficult for Congress to either consider policy in a substantive way or find ways to compromise and move bills forward. Thus, the lame duck sessions and the political shield they provide have become necessary to pass some key pieces of legislation. And often, it is only because of the possibility of a lame duck session and the ability to resolve matters without a political glare that federal spending hasn’t been altogether halted and the government completely shut down.

Bringing the legislative process out into the light of day is a laudable goal, but really that’s not the goal of Cruz or his colleagues here – they want to close off an alternative to their obstruction. And even if they were sincere in their intentions, shutting down the lame duck session of Congress is not the way to achieve it. As things stand right now, that session will probably be necessary for Congress to accomplish anything at all this year. Cruz and his fellow conservatives talk order and transparency in Congress but if they were serious about that they could change the role they play in it. By showing a willingness to negotiate on policy rather than blocking everything they don’t agree with, they would significantly lessen the need for lame duck sessions. By far, that would be the best thing they could do to restore Americans’ trust in their government.


By: Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, April 15, 2015

April 17, 2016 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Lame Duck Congress, Ted Cruz | , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Pitfalls Of Self-Righteousness”: The Sanders Campaign Needs More Self-Reflection And Less Self-Righteousness

Brooklyn was home to the debate heard ’round the world on Thursday evening, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders finally clashed on stage after weeks of increasing hostilities.

The tension was as thick as the candidates’ voices were loud. But while both presidential contenders were fiery, Sanders came off looking particularly irascible. Rather than seizing the opportunity to atone for his campaign’s recent bout of unforced errors, his performance gave weight to the concern Paul Krugman articulated last week: “Bernie is becoming a Bernie Bro.”

During the debate, Sanders repeatedly interrupted Clinton, at one point even throwing out a long “excuuuuse me” while wagging his finger. When not interrupting, he often smirked and made faces while Clinton spoke, at one point appearing to mumble a sarcastic “OK.” He laughed out loud as she prepared to answer a question on gun control legislation after Sandy Hook.

In sum, Bernie’s performance oozed acrimony and self-righteousness – the same pitfalls behind his campaign’s controversial blunders of late.

When Sanders said he didn’t consider Clinton “qualified” to be president last week because of her ties to super PACs, a low-blow to the former senator and secretary of state that he’s since walked back, Sanders justified his attack by claiming Clinton had said the same of him. She hadn’t, though – Sanders’ campaign seemingly got that impression from a headline and ran with it without checking Clinton’s actual remarks.

A careless attack, yet one that strikes at the heart of the quest to become the first female president. As Clare Malone and Julia Azari wrote at FiveThirtyEight, “Sanders’s remarks and their interpretation play into discussions of the subtle, pernicious forms of sexism that women in positions of power must deal with. At the core of Clinton’s candidate packaging is the idea that she has for decades been the competent woman behind the scenes a workhorse – not a show pony.”

To be clear: Sanders is a man of impeccable integrity and I have no doubt that he would never intend to use coded language on gender. But he was so confident that he was justified that he didn’t stop to consider the implications of his rhetoric.

This wasn’t the first time. Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager, made a similar misstep with sexist overtones when he complained that Clinton’s “ambition” could tear the Democratic Party apart. By definition anyone who runs for president is ambitious – Sanders is calling for a revolution! – but somehow it’s the woman’s ambition that’s dangerous.

Also recall the constant refrain about Clinton’s being too loud, a complaint rarely if ever leveled against the ever-yelling Sanders. And just this week, a Sanders surrogate contrasted Bernie with not simply, say, corporate sell-outs but with “Democratic whores” at a campaign rally.

The Sanders campaign laid the groundwork for these problematic statements by presenting themselves (and apparently believing it) as the campaign that always holds the moral high ground: From Wall Street to small donors, Sanders, unlike Clinton, isn’t spoiled by establishment ties. With this frame of mind, the campaign can dismiss as illegitimate any attempt by Clinton to take Sanders off his high horse. You’re apt to be less careful with potentially tricky topics if you view any critique as by definition illegitimate.

Protected by self-righteousness, there’s little need for self-reflection. Sanders doesn’t seem to realize he’s “starting to sound like his worst followers,” as Krugman wrote. His debate performance showed that the senator is starting to act like them too.

The Republican contest provides a cautionary tale about the importance of self-reflection in the midst of a campaign. A lack of self-awareness lead several GOP candidates to morph into the caricatures of themselves created by critics.

Jeb Bush kicked off his ‘joyful’ presidential bid in June with so much enthusiasm that it was incorporated into his official logo.(!) But then Donald Trump slapped him with the “low energy” label a few months later, and Bush was so consumed with disproving Trump’s critique that he didn’t notice the life evaporating from his campaign. Attempts to show passion at rallies came off as annoyance, while rehearsed debate zingers bumbled even when they hit their mark.

Similarly, Ben Carson entered the race after years of urging from conservatives impressed by his inner-city-to-neurosurgeon pedigree and bold remarks at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. Yet as whispers of ineptitude began to swirl around his campaign, Carson himself became increasingly nonsensical as he struggled to prove his depth. He seemed confused by his own alleged life story and baffled by basic foreign policy and economics. He spent his final GOP debates practically catatonic, blissfully unconcerned by his lack of knowledge. Now he’s just a sideshow, providing comic relief as a disastrous Trump campaign surrogate.

Donald Trump, of course, has built his entire brand around a lack of self-awareness. He defends himself against claims that he’s sexist by treating women like objects and dismisses critics who call him a racist by doubling down on race-baiting rhetoric.

Sanders’ campaign has little in common with this Republican circus, of course. But Bernie isn’t impervious to valid criticism, and his campaign must accept this fact and give more thought to the implications of the rhetoric it chooses or risk turning Sanders into a caricature himself – the quintessential Bernie bro.


By: Emily Arrowood, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, April 15, 2016

April 17, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Bros, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“United In Our Loathing For Trump”: Why Donald Trump Is Probably Praying For An Amnesia Epidemic

There are a few unfortunate people in the world who, because they experienced a brain trauma, are unable to form new memories. They exist in a combination of the distant past and the present moment, unable to contextualize what they see right now with what happened yesterday or the day before. If Donald Trump is to become president of the United States, he needs a majority of the American electorate to experience this cruel brand of amnesia.

To understand what I mean, let’s start with where Trump is right now. While the contest for delegates is in a phase of uncertainty, it’s still likely that Trump will become the Republican nominee. And Trump is not just unpopular, but spectacularly unpopular. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll showed 67 percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of him. Not only has no presidential candidate with negatives that high ever won, no candidate has ever had negatives that high, period, with the sole exception of KKK leader David Duke. Trump is disliked by majorities of men and women, whites, blacks, and Latinos, young people and old people, rich people and poor people, Southerners and Northerners, liberals and conservatives. America may be a divided country, but we’re united in our loathing for Trump.

Even a candidate with the evident weaknesses of Hillary Clinton would not just beat Trump, but destroy him. Based on the polls as they are now, not only could Clinton win the states Barack Obama won four years ago — enough to give her a comfortable victory in the Electoral College — but some Republican states, as well. One poll even shows her beating him in Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country.

But not to worry. Trump promises everything is going to change, just as soon as he has pulverized Ted Cruz and John Kasich. “When I take them out, I will be so presidential you won’t believe it,” he said earlier this week. He goes on: “And then, of course, I’ll start on Hillary, and then I’ll be a little bit less presidential. But assuming I win, I will be very, very — the country will be very proud of me and we will make America great again.”

One can’t help but wonder what being “presidential” means to Trump, besides not being a jerk. He has said more than once that when it’s necessary, he’ll transform into someone completely different. And if he’s going to have any chance at all to win, he’ll have to. But once he does, will the public forget the person he is now?

Sure, every presidential candidate adapts when moving from the primaries to the general election. But most of the time, that involves a change in emphasis, highlighting a different set of issues to appeal to a broad electorate with different priorities from your party’s faithful. For instance, if Cruz becomes the nominee, he’ll probably talk less about building border fences and repealing the Affordable Care Act, and more about creating jobs and fighting terrorism. Wholesale flip-flops are exceedingly rare; instead, candidates seek to alter the ingredients of voters’ decision-making, putting their more widely popular positions nearer to the top of voters’ agendas.

The problem for Trump, however, isn’t just the positions he’s taken but the way he’s taken them. Try to imagine, for instance, that he stopped talking about his border wall and deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants, and instead made some kind of push to woo Latino voters. To succeed, he’d need one of those little memory-wiping devices from Men in Black. According to that Post-ABC poll I mentioned, only 15 percent of Latinos view him favorably, while 81 percent view him unfavorably. It’s going to take an awful lot to change their minds, given Trump’s extreme and vivid rhetoric about immigrants.

Or what about women, 75 percent of whom view Trump negatively at the moment? Are they going to forget his long history of misogyny? What could he possibly say to change their minds?

Trump is counting on Americans having not just short attention spans, but incredibly short memories. He’s planning on giving a series of policy speeches, which is presumably supposed to make voters say, “Huh, I used to think he was the biggest ignoramus ever to run for president, but I guess he’s actually pretty wonky and really knows his stuff.” I have no doubt that once the primaries are over and he’s won the nomination, Trump will alter his tone. But for such a shift to be successful, millions upon millions of voters will have to get temporary amnesia on election day.

Are our memories really that short? It looks like we’re probably going to find out.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, April 15, 2016

April 17, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, General Election 2016, GOP Presidential Nominee | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“In For An Awfully Rude Awakening”: Why The GOP Establishment Simply Cannot Win At The Cleveland Convention

Americans love a happy ending.

It’s true of our movies, our religion, and our seemingly unshakable quasi-providential civic faith in historical progress. (Have you heard that the arc of history bends toward justice?) It’s also true of our politics. But for Republicans hoping for a happy ending to the 2016 presidential campaign — well, they are in for an awfully rude awakening.

Just listen to the fantasies gripping the beleaguered Republican establishment and some of its conservative-movement cheerleaders about the likely outcome of a contested convention in July. Sure, the candidate with the most popular votes is a know-nothing populist-authoritarian real estate mogul with few ideological ties to the mainstream of the party. And yes, the candidate with the second most popular votes is a one-term senator who’s spent the past four years playing a high-stakes game of chicken with GOP leadership. But that’s okay: No worries! The party will somehow manage to engineer events in the remaining primaries and on the floor of the Cleveland convention hall so that the first option (Donald Trump) fails to reach the required 1,237 delegate votes on the first ballot and the second option (Ted Cruz) falls short on the next. And then, somehow, a candidate more amenable to the GOP establishment — a Mitt Romney or a Marco Rubio or a Chris Christie or a Condi Rice — will emerge and prevail on a subsequent ballot.


This would be a very happy ending for the GOP establishment. It also is definitely not going to happen.

The idea that in this of all years, with an anti-establishment insurgency roiling the Republican Party (and not just the Republican Party), the leadership of the GOP is going to be able to herd 1,237 cats in the direction of its choosing is flatly ridiculous.

The most likely scenario remains that Trump will either reach 1,237 delegates by the time the last votes are counted in California at the end of primary season or he’ll come close enough (within 50 delegates or so) that he’ll be able to persuade a few dozen uncommitted delegates to come on board before the start of the convention six weeks later. If either of those things happen, Trump will be named the nominee on the first ballot, all the ballyhoo about a contested convention will have come to nothing, and the establishment will have gotten screwed.

But let’s say it doesn’t happen — that Trump falls something closer to 100 or more delegates short of 1,237. In that case, Trump will likely lose on the first ballot (while still coming far closer than anyone else). Then we’ll get to see just how formidable the Cruz campaign’s arm-twisting and delegate-list stacking really is. Because just as lots of Trump’s delegates will be freed up after the first ballot, so will Cruz’s. That means Cruz needs to hold on to as many of his own bound delegates as he can, while also hoping that a sizable chunk of Trump’s (and Kasich’s and Rubio’s and Carson’s) defect to him, while also hoping that lots of unbound delegates come on board, too. If everything goes Cruz’s way, he’ll get to 1,237 on the second ballot, and the contested convention will settle down relatively quickly — with the establishment still getting screwed, though a little less so than it would by a Trump victory.

It’s the futile hope of avoiding this frustrating fate that’s leading some establishment types to work behind the scenes to ensure that things don’t go Cruz’s way on the second ballot.

That’s where the magical thinking really kicks in. And promptly falls flat on its face.

Keep in mind: If neither Trump nor Cruz — the two candidates who earned the most popular votes in the primaries by far — hit the 1,237 threshold, the delegates are effectively free to choose anyone. What is the mechanism that will get them to rally around one option rather than another? There isn’t one.

And this, dear reader, is a consensus-forming problem from hell: 2,472 free agents forming and joining factions however they want and jostling for advantage with no overarching authority imposing discipline on the whole.

Imagine it: There will be lingering Trump supporters; a big faction of Cruz partisans; a group of Kasich enthusiasts in the Ohio delegation and from some Northeastern and Midwestern states; Rubio dead-enders scattered throughout the arena; die-hard Romney fanatics from Utah and elsewhere; Paul Ryan fan-boys from Wisconsin and any place with a big free-market think tank who simply will not take no for an answer. And don’t forget the surrogates from all of these political operations prowling the convention hall, whipping votes for each in a hall filled with members of the 2016 GOP — a party riven by deep, rancorous ideological disagreements that fueled the populist insurgencies that got us to this point in the first place.

If that isn’t chaos, I don’t know what is.

What’s liable to be the result? I have no idea — and neither does the Republican establishment. But I do know that the establishment isn’t going to be able to control it after Cruz has taken his stand on the second ballot and the delegates have untethered themselves from the constraints imposed by the popular vote totals. From that point on, anything can happen.

Which means the party better hope that Cruz prevails. Because after him, the whirlwind.


By: Damon Linker, The Week, April 15, 2016

April 17, 2016 Posted by | Brokered GOP Convention, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Most Dangerous Blot On Our Constitution”: How The House Of Representatives Can Steal The Election For The GOP

While Republicans are busy trying to deny Donald Trump their party’s nomination, another group of conservative strategists is surely developing a more draconian backup plan: call it the Steal It In the House Option.

What might have once seemed inconceivable is now entirely possible this fall: a presidential election decided not by the voters, not even by the Electoral College, but by as few as 26 state delegations in the House of Representatives. If no general election candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes—270—the Constitution requires that the House of Representatives will elect the president.

And if that anti-democratic process isn’t bad enough, consider this perverse clause in the Constitution: each state would receive one vote regardless of population. California, with nearly 40 million citizens, gets one vote. Wyoming, with fewer than 600,000, gets one vote. Go figure.

Each House delegation would caucus and cast that state’s vote. How would that work out this fall? Thirty-two state delegations are controlled by Republicans, 15 by Democrats, three evenly split. The District of Columbia and the territories cannot vote.

Not since the tumultuous election of 1824 has this outcome occurred. Andrew Jackson won both the popular vote and a plurality of electoral votes over John Quincy Adams, but two other candidates won enough electors to deny Jackson a majority. Subsequently, the House of Representatives threw the election to Adams. Jackson’s supporters nearly rioted, and the Tennessean swept Adams out of office four years later.

That’s ancient history, but two scenarios could create a similar electoral mess this year. While an independent presidential candidate is highly unlikely to win the election, there is a growing likelihood that such a campaign could prevent either party nominee from winning outright.

1. Hillary Clinton wins a plurality of electoral votes over Republican nominee Donald Trump, but falls short of the necessary 270. An independent candidate (Rick Perry?) wins a large state such as Texas. House Republicans, repelled by both Trump and Clinton, throw the election to Perry or whoever the independent candidate is—and who finished a very distant third in the voting. (The House can choose from any of the top three vote getters.)

2. The Stop Trump movement succeeds in denying him the nomination, instead choosing Ted Cruz or John Kasich in a brokered convention in Cleveland. Trump launches an independent campaign and wins one or more states, a distinct possibility. Clinton wins a large plurality but fails to reach 270 electoral votes. The House elects Cruz or Kasich.

In either case, the Republican-controlled House, utilizing an arcane provision in the Constitution, subverts the will of American voters and prevents Hillary Clinton from winning the presidency. Farfetched? It’s not hard to imagine a deeply partisan House doing whatever it takes to deny Mrs. Clinton the presidency.

In 1968 George Wallace won five states and 46 electoral votes. It’s not a reach to envision Trump racking up a similar total in 2016, including typically tossup states such as Michigan or Florida.

Texas A&M scholar George Edwards, in Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America, writes, “…it is virtually impossible to find anyone who will defend the selection of the president by the House of Representatives, with each state having one vote. Even the most ardent supporters of the electoral college ignore this most blatant violation of democratic principles.”

There are other, even more bizarre possibilities lurking in November. In more than 20 states electors are not bound to vote for the candidate who wins their state. Could pressure be exerted to convince a few ”faithless” electors to switch to another candidate? While unlikely, in this election cycle anything seems possible.

Should such a political apocalypse occur this year, there is a silver lining. Perhaps Congress would then move to abolish an anachronistic system of filling the most powerful office in the world. That would certainly please the ghost of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote after surviving the first contingency presidential election:

“I have ever considered the constitutional mode of election…as the most dangerous blot on our Constitution, and one which some unlucky chance will some day hit.”


By: Roy Neel, The Daily Beast, April 16, 2016




April 17, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, House of Representatives, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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