"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Boehner Still Can’t Get His Act Together On ISIS”: A House Speaker Who Keeps Expecting Everyone Else To Work Except Him

It’s been nine months since President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East. It’s been five months since the president publicly called on Congress to authorize the mission. It’s been four months since Obama used his State of the Union address to urge lawmakers to act. It’s been three months since the White House, at Congress’ insistence, provided draft legislative language to lawmakers.

But as The Hill reported this afternoon, House Republicans – who support the administration’s military offensive – still aren’t prepared to do any actual work.

President Obama should scrap his war powers request to fight Islamic terrorists and go back to the drawing board, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.

“The president’s request for Authorization of Use of Military Force calls for less authority than he has today. Given the fight that we’re in, it’s irresponsible,” Boehner told reporters after huddling with his rank-and-file members. Boehner said the president should withdraw the AUMF and “start over.”

It’s important to understand the nuances of Boehner’s whining on this issue. For quite a while, the Speaker said the legislative branch wouldn’t even try to authorize the war unless the executive branch did lawmakers’ work for them – Congress simply would not write its own bill, Boehner said, so it was up to the president to do the legislative work for the legislators.

Obama eventually agreed to write a bill for those whose job it is to write bills, only to discover that Congress doesn’t like his bill. The sensible, mature next move seems fairly obvious: if lawmakers don’t like the resolution the White House wrote, Congress can try writing its own version, agreed upon by lawmakers, and then voted on by lawmakers.

As of this morning, however, Boehner says he doesn’t want to. He wants the president to imagine what might make Republicans happy, then write another draft, at which point GOP leaders will let the West Wing know whether or not Congress is satisfied. If Boehner disapproves, presumably it’d be up to Obama to come up with a third.

This is quickly becoming a national embarrassment.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the war, in effect, started nine months ago. Congress has a constitutional obligation to authorize the mission, but instead we have a House Speaker who keeps expecting everyone else to work except him.

I can appreciate the fact that this is not simply a matter of laziness. There are, as we’ve discussed before, significant policy disagreements – between Democrats and Republicans, between the House and the Senate – that are tough to resolve. Some lawmakers believe the draft resolution sent to Congress by President Obama goes too far, while some believe it doesn’t go far enough. Working out a resolution would be hard.

But here’s the fact that Boehner and his cohorts don’t seem to understand: it’s supposed to be hard. When lawmakers authorize the nation to launch a military offensive abroad, it’s difficult by design.

The Speaker, however, hopes to pass the buck, suggesting somehow it’s the White House’s job to write bills for Congress, and if Congress doesn’t like the president’s version, then Capitol Hill will just ignore the issue altogether. In effect, Boehner’s argument is that an ongoing war can just continue – indefinitely – no matter the cost or scope of the mission, and federal lawmakers are prepared to do literally no work whatsoever.

Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said today, “We may go down in history as the Congress that largely gave up its role in the war-making process.”

The irony, of course, is extraordinary. For years, Boehner and other GOP leaders have complained that Obama is an out-of-control tyrant, hell-bent on ignoring the Constitution and amassing excessive power in the executive. And yet, here we are, with the president pushing Congress to authorize a war that’s already started, and a Speaker content to sit on his hands.

Making matters worse, the more Obama tries to find a peaceful solution with Iran, the more Congress tries to intervene to derail the administration’s efforts. The more Obama wages war against ISIS, the less work Congress is inclined to do.

“It matters a great deal to the institution of the Congress what we do because future presidents are going to look back at this and they’re going to say ‘We can make war without a congressional vote,’” Schiff added. “It will have deep impact on our institutional role and our ability to serve as a meaningful check and balance on presidents’ ability to make war.”

Finally, evidence of Boehner’s legacy comes into focus.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 19, 2015

May 20, 2015 Posted by | Congress, ISIS, John Boehner | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“At What Cost Victory”: Bibi’s Ugly Win Will Harm Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu won a big election Tuesday, but he won ugly by staking out a new position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is likely to harm his nation in the months ahead.

A reckoning is coming—faster than expected—for Netanyahu, his Likud Party and maybe even for the State of Israel itself.

Complete returns showed that Netanyahu’s Likud Party won 29 seats in the Knesset to 24 seats for the Zionist Union (formerly Labor) Party headed by Isaac Herzog, who ran a more spirited campaign than expected but almost certainly fell short of the support necessary to form a government.

Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, whose job consists mostly of presiding over elections, said not long after the polls closed that he wants a coalition government and has given Netanyahu, Herzog and the other party leaders a couple of days to engage in a frenzy of (largely unconsummated) deal-making. But Herzog’s parliamentary math problem got worse as the evening wore on, and it’s hard to see where he finds the “mandates” (seats) to prevail.

One big surprise was the performance of the Joint List, a coalition of usually fractious Arab parties that won 13 seats and finished third, far better than Arab Israelis ever have in the past. But their influence will be limited because Arab parties traditionally refuse to join the government so as to avoid being complicit in official Israeli policy that they loathe.

As the returns came in, the center-left and other critics of Netanyahu held out hope that Moshe Kahlon—whose center-right Kulanu Party won 10 seats—would nurse his anger at Netanyahu (in whose government he once served) and side with Zionist Union. But even that would be unlikely to yield enough seats to oust Netanyahu. The small religious parties that often hold the balance of power faded amid Bibi’s last-minute panicky bid for right-wing votes.

That panic had a purpose. Netanyahu came back from the dead by doing something politicians almost never do—predicting his own defeat. He told base voters that he would lose if they didn’t abandon far-right-winger Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayeudi Party and flock back to Likud. Instead of trying to hide his desperation, he flaunted (or contrived) it, to great political effect, winning by several seats more than expected.

Like George W. Bush in his 2004 reelection campaign against John Kerry in the aftermath of 9/11, Netanyahu wielded security issues as a polarizing political weapon, overcoming personal unpopularity and a mediocre economic record with a campaign based largely on fear. It worked.

But at what cost? In the days before the election, Netanyahu accused the opposition of being manipulated by Americans, insulted Arabs for simply voting, doubled down on support for settlements in East Jerusalem and—most significantly—said there would be no Palestinian state on his watch, thereby confirming a view that critics always suspected he harbored.

Cynical about their politicians, some Israeli pundits predicted that Netanyahu would slip away from his new line, just as he this week repudiated his famous 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University in which he proclaimed, “Let us make peace,” and endorsed a two-state solution.

Bibi can try, but Monday’s comment set his feet in cement. “I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel,” Netanyahu told a website owned by his most generous supporter, American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Should he go back on this pledge, his right-wing supporters would desert him and he would be forced to call another election next year that he would likely lose.

Netanyahu knows that intransigence on the Palestinians is harmful to his purported security priority—confronting a nuclear Iran. He knows that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and other countries can’t ally with Israel against Iran until he makes peace with the Palestinians. But he was willing to do what it takes to win.

Now the rest of the world will do what it takes to punish his government. That means that the “BDS” movement (Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions) will likely move from the (sometimes anti-Semitic) fringe closer to the center of the debate on college campuses and in international forums. As the Palestinians pursue their case globally with more finesse than they once had, the Israeli policy—shorn of efforts to achieve peace—will look increasingly illegitimate.

And Bibi and Likud might be in for a rude shock at the United Nations. On Tuesday, moderate Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN that it was “hard to imagine” there would be no consequences from Netanyahu’s new one-state views.

Bibi has placed all his chips on the Republican Congress, which has no say over how the U.S. votes in the U.N. Schiff—who often reflects the view of the White House—hinted that the Obama administration might consider selectively lifting the American veto in the Security Council that has protected Israel for more than six decades.

While the U.S. will no doubt continue to veto the most obnoxious U.N. resolutions, others (like those based on comments of U.S. officials about the need for a two-state solution) are now more likely to pass with the tacit support of the U.S., opening a new chapter in international pressure on Israel.

Beset by European boycotts, rebuked by international tribunals, estranged from the president of the United States—it’s not a pretty picture of the fate of America’s closest ally in the region.

But that might be the fallout from the most bruising and consequential Israeli election in many years.


By: Jonathan Alter, The Daily Beast, March 18, 2015

March 19, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, United States | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Know Nothing, See Nothing, Do Nothing”: Boehner Waits For Obama’s Orders On War Authorization

For weeks, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been confronted with an awkward dynamic. He’s repeatedly expressed public support for U.S. military intervention against Islamic State militants, but he’s been lost as to how, or whether, Congress should meet its constitutional obligations in authorizing strikes on ISIS targets.

Would Congress act before giving itself another 54 days off? Boehner said no. Would Congress interrupt its pre-election break to do its duty? From Boehner, another no. Would Congress tackle the national-security crisis after the elections, during the lame-duck session? Last week, Boehner gave that a thumbs-down, too.

Yesterday, however, the beleaguered Speaker sat down with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and took a slightly different posture. The host asked why Boehner doesn’t simply vote on a war resolution now, and the Speaker replied he’d be “happy to” to do just that.

“The president typically in a situation like this would call for an authorization vote and go sell that to the American people and send a resolution to the Hill. The president has not done that. He believes he has authority under existing resolutions. […]

“I think he does have the authority to do it. But the point I’m making is this is a proposal the Congress ought to consider.”

Boehner added, I believe for the first time, that he’s prepared to “bring the Congress back” into session, presumably before the elections, if President Obama presented lawmakers with a resolution authorizing the use of force.

Around the same time, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Fox News that President Obama “has an obligation to call [lawmakers] back” into session to “start this debate” over ISIS.

This argument has been working its way through Republican circles for a couple of weeks, but it’s apparently become the semi-official GOP line at this point: Congress will meet its obligations, but it’s up to Obama to ask first. The “obligation,” to use Barrasso’s term, falls on the White House, which apparently is responsible for writing Congress’ to-do list.

I can appreciate the appeal of the talking point – it’s a creative way to blame the White House for Congress ignoring its responsibilities – but the argument’s repetition isn’t improving its quality. Indeed, there are two main flaws.

The first should be obvious: Congress is a co-equal branch of government. For leading lawmakers to say it’s up to the executive branch to send over a draft resolution for the legislative branch – a resolution lawmakers are perfectly capable of writing on their own given their basic job description – is very hard to take seriously.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but writing bills is what members of Congress are paid to do. They’re called “lawmakers” for a reason. Neither Boehner nor anyone else who’s pushed the argument has even tried to explain why the legislative branch should just sit around, doing literally no work, waiting for presidential instructions, except to say this is “typically” how the process works.

This is obviously unpersuasive, but it’s also on weak factual ground. When President Clinton used military force in Kosovo, for example, congressional Republicans voted on a resolution that they, not the White House, wrote. The same is true when President Obama launched strikes in Libya. In fairness, these were not measures authorizing force, per se, but they were lawmakers weighing in on the scope of a U.S. military operation by voting on a resolution lawmakers authored.

What’s more, when President Reagan deployed U.S. troops to Lebanon, the White House accepted a congressional resolution, but it came from lawmakers, not the West Wing.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said about Congress’ duties, “We’re not a suitor that has to wait to be asked to dance.” That’s exactly right. Even if lawmakers “typically” waited for a president to tell them what to do, that’s not how the American system is supposed to work, and upon further inspection, that’s not exactly how the process has “typically” worked, anyway.

Boehner told ABC yesterday he’s ready to “bring the Congress back” into session, but only if Obama does their work for them. Only the first half of that sentence makes sense.

Postscript: It’s worth noting that, on an institutional level, no one in Washington is performing brilliantly. The White House has launched a military offensive, but has struggled to connect the mission to previous resolutions authorizing force. Congressional Democrats, who aren’t all reading from the same script, haven’t exactly clamored en masse for a vote, either. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, see ISIS as an existential threat to the nation, but they remain indifferent about doing real work, and worse, they’re trying to blame Obama for their inaction.

Among the three, it’s the House GOP that keeps pushing incoherent arguments in public, but no one is earning plaudits here.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 29, 2014

September 30, 2014 Posted by | Congress, ISIS, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scandal Envy Is An Ugly Thing”: Republicans Have Prioritized Keeping The Far-Right Base In A State Of Perpetual Rage

It’s been a few days since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that what Benghazi conspiracy theorists really need is yet another committee to complement the seven other congressional committees that have already investigated the deadly 2012 attack. This time, however, it’ll be special select committee, which will presumably do what’s already repeatedly been done.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a House Intelligence Committee member, appeared on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday to dismiss the Republican obsession and to make a little news. “I don’t think it makes sense, really, for Democrats to participate” in this latest investigation, Schiff said. “I think it’s a tremendous red herring and a waste of taxpayer resources.”

That’s a fair assessment, though this election year, red herrings and wasting taxpayer resources on discredited conspiracy theories appear to be high on the House Republicans’ list of priorities.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced that the House will vote on May 7 on whether to ask Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to appoint a special counsel to look into allegations the IRS illegally targeted conservative organizations for extra scrutiny.

The action comes the same day House Republicans announced that Secretary of State John Kerry has been subpoenaed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to testify on the 2012 Benghazi attack and Speaker John A. Boehner said he plans to call for a select committee to begin a new probe into how the administration handled the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attack.

As a matter of substance, we appear to be quickly approaching a point of genuine partisan madness. As the Benghazi conspiracy theory evaporates, House Republicans create a select committee for no particular reason. As the IRS conspiracy theory unravels, House Republicans demand a special prosecutor for imaginary reasons.

But as a political matter, the fact that GOP lawmakers are going all in – embracing a self-indulgent, all-conspiracy-all-the-time agenda with reckless enthusiasm – tells us something important about how Republicans perceive the state of play against the White House.

For example, the focus on the Affordable Care Act and the economy has obviously shifted. Indeed, the very idea of House Republicans legislating has become something of a punch-line – the GOP-led House won’t pass immigration reform, won’t come up with a health care plan, won’t consider a credible jobs bill, won’t raise the minimum wage, won’t consider background checks, won’t touch pay equity, won’t vote on ENDA, won’t create infrastructure jobs, and won’t extend unemployment benefits, but by golly, they still love their discredited conspiracy theories.

And at first blush, we know why: this election year, Republicans have prioritized keeping the GOP’s far-right base in a state of perpetual rage for the next five-and-a-half months. This is what they’ve come up with. I guess it beats governing.

But taking a step further, it’s important to remember a phenomenon Paul Waldman once labeled “scandal envy.”

It must be incredibly frustrating for the right that after five years, the near-constant search for a legitimate White House scandal has produced bupkis. Of all the various incidents that have popped up, the only thing that arguably rises to the level of a real controversy is NSA surveillance, but on this, the program started under Bush/Cheney and most Republicans like the administration’s policies and whine incessantly when the president even talks about scaling back the surveillance state.

Republicans thought they had something with the job offer to Joe Sestak (remember the calls for an FBI special prosecutor?). Then maybe the “Fast & Furious” story. Or maybe Solyndra. Or Benghazi. Or the IRS. The new Watergate will turn up eventually, if only the GOP keeps digging.

As we talked about a couple of years ago, part of the underlying cause for the right’s apoplexy is that they’re absolutely convinced that President Obama is a radical criminal up to no good, which means there must be some kind of scandal somewhere.

And when the “scandals” unravel into nothing and the various investigations point to no actual wrongdoing, two things seem to happen. First, Republicans see the lack of proof as proof – if it appears that Obama is running a scandal-free administration, it necessarily means he’s hiding something awful. Second, some in the GOP make the transition to delusional thinking, convincing themselves that discredited controversies remain viable, evidence be damned.

In other words, the lack of proof to substantiate what Republicans believe appears to have driven some in the party a little crazy.

Nixon had Watergate; Reagan had Iran-Contra; Clinton had Lewinsky; Bush had more scandals than he knew what to do with (Plame, the U.S. Attorney purge, torture, etc.). There’s an expectation that every White House will invariably have to deal with its share of damaging controversies.

In reality, however, Obama just isn’t cooperating in the scandal department. His critics aren’t wearing their desperation well.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 5, 2014

May 6, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Conspiracy Theories, House Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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