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“An Albatross Around The Down-Ballot Races”: Could Donald Trump Deliver Congress To The Democrats?

With each preposterous new turn in the GOP presidential primary campaign, the chances of Hillary Clinton becoming president of the United States increase. The trouble is that a Clinton presidency has always promised to be largely an exercise in frustration. That’s not because she’s an incrementalist (true though that may be), but because she’ll likely be confronted with a Republican Congress—and one no more inclined toward compromise and pragmatism than the one Barack Obama faces.

But what if that weren’t true? Is there any chance Democrats might actually win back control of Capitol Hill and at least let a President Clinton (or a President Sanders, a possibility that remains real, if dwindling) do something that resembles governing?

The answer is yes, there is such a chance. And the reason is simple: Donald Trump.

We don’t yet know whether Trump will be the Republican nominee. But at the moment that’s the likeliest of all the possibilities for Republicans. And it also seems that having Trump as their leader will tear the party apart. Which could give Clinton not only the White House, but a chance for a presidency that accomplishes something.

Let’s start by considering the Senate, where Republicans currently enjoy a 54-46 majority. Because the senators running for re-election this year are the ones who got elected in the Republican sweep of 2010, they are defending many more seats—24, while Democrats are defending only 10. Most of those seats, however, are safely in Republican hands. They could nominate Martin Shkreli for president and they’d be unlikely to lose Senate races in Oklahoma or South Carolina. But they are vulnerable in other places like Illinois, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire, where Democrats have fielded strong candidates in states already leaning left.

Most forecasters have predicted that Democrats would net a few seats, but winning the four they need to push the Senate to 50-50 is a tough proposition. Until now, that is.

With Trump poised to win the nomination, some races that hadn’t previously been seen as competitive are beginning to look that way. Consider Iowa, where the curmudgeonly Chuck Grassley is running for his seventh term. No one thought Grassley would face a serious challenge this year, but then came Trump, and the death of Antonin Scalia—which resulted in a wave of stories about how Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, refuses to hold confirmation hearings on anyone President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court. Last week, Democrats got their wish when Patty Judge, a former lieutenant governor and state agriculture secretary, announced that she’ll run for the seat. Grassley may still be reasonably popular, but if turnout is high in a state that voted for Barack Obama twice, Judge has a strong chance to win.

Something similar could happen in other states: What had looked like seats where Republicans had a clear advantage could be up for grabs, particularly if Democrats come out in force, moved to the polls by the ghastly prospect of Donald Trump becoming president. Combine that with a potentially dispirited Republican electorate, and Democrats could win more seats than anyone predicted. “We can’t have a nominee be an albatross around the down-ballot races,” Senator John Cornyn recently told CNN. “That’s a concern of mine.”

That brings us to the House. Democrats need a net gain of 30 seats to take it back, which has looked all but impossible until now. And it’s still extremely difficult. But could it happen? It’s hard to tell from our vantage point today. We don’t know what kind of general election candidate Donald Trump would make, but the key to the outcome in the House could be how his candidacy affects turnout. If the #NeverTrump movement doesn’t lose steam and lots of prominent Republicans distance themselves from their party’s nominee, it could mean Republican voters staying home in large numbers, which would make it possible for Democrats to win back the seats they need to take control.

If Democrats take back both bodies, a Democratic president could actually have the chance to govern, including through passing legislation—imagine that. But even if Democrats took only the Senate, it would make a huge difference.

Back in 2013, Democrats then controlling the Senate got so frustrated with Republican obstructionism that they changed the body’s rules on confirmation of executive branch appointments and those of judges serving on lower courts, allowing those nominations to be confirmed with a simple majority vote and disallowing filibusters. The rule change didn’t apply to legislation or to Supreme Court nominees, and senators are still allowed to do talking filibusters, where they hold the floor for as long as they can (so Ted Cruz will still have something to do when he returns to the Senate next year).

So a President Clinton could continue to transform the federal courts simply by virtue of filling openings as they come up. There’s a bottleneck right now as Republicans refuse to confirm more of Obama’s judicial nominees, but if that were broken, after 12 or even 16 years of Democratic appointments, the lower courts would be firmly in liberal hands.

And what about the Supreme Court? Not only is there the matter of Scalia’s seat to deal with, but it’s almost certain that more seats will become vacant in the next president’s first term. On Inauguration Day, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 83, Anthony Kennedy will be 80, and Stephen Breyer will be 78. If and when Republicans decide to filibuster any Democratic nominee, you can bet that Senate Democrats will make another rule change to disallow filibusters of Supreme Court nominees. Republicans will decry it as a terrible power grab, but it will be exactly what they earned with their obstructionism.

This all may not sound like a recipe for an era of excellence in government. It will be terribly partisan, and if Republicans hold on to the House, it will mean almost no meaningful legislation outside of continuing resolutions funding the government to avoid shutdowns. But between the executive and judicial branches, you can accomplish quite a bit. Hillary Clinton would certainly hope for more, but it’s what she may have to settle for. And it could be a lot worse.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 7, 2016

March 12, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Donald Trump, GOP Obstructionism, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Done With Quiet Protest”: Republican ‘Takers’ Take Down The Establishment

Just as Donald Trump did a Super Tuesday stomp on the Republican establishment, the establishment showed why it deserved the rough treatment. The Republican Senate leadership yet again announced its refusal to consider anyone President Obama nominates for the Supreme Court until after the presidential election.

It is the job of the U.S. Senate to hold hearings on, and then accept or reject, the president’s choice. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said they will not take on the work — while showing no inclination to forgo their paychecks.

Talk about “takers.”

Yes, talk about “takers.” That’s how Mitt Romney described Americans benefiting from Medicare, Social Security, Obamacare and other government social programs during his failed 2012 run for president. Never mind that most of the “takers” have also paid for some of what they have received.

Working-class Republicans have finally rebelled against the notion that everything they get is beneficence from the superrich — and that making the superrich super-duper-rich would drop some tinsel on their grateful heads. They were done with quiet protest and ready to take down the Republican bastille, stone by stone. And the angrier Trump made the establishment the happier they were.

The Bastille was the symbol of France’s Old Regime. The storming of the prison in 1789 kicked off the French Revolution.

Republican disrupters from Newt Gingrich on down liked to talk about a conservative revolution. They didn’t know the first thing about revolutions. This is a revolution.

Back at the chateau, Republican luminaries were calmly planning favors for their financiers. They assumed their party’s working folk would fall in line — out of both hostility to Democrats and through hypnosis.

So you had Jeb Bush amassing an armory of campaign cash over bubbly and hors d’oeuvres at the family estate in Maine. You had Marco Rubio devising a plan to do away with all capital gains taxes — the source of half the earnings for people making $10 million or more. You had Ted Cruz concocting a plan to abolish the IRS. (Without the IRS, only the working stiffs would be paying taxes, the money automatically deducted from their paychecks.)

Not much here for the alleged takers, who actually see themselves as “taken from.” Unlike the others, Trump wasn’t going after their benefits. He even praised Planned Parenthood, noting it provides a variety of health services to ordinary women.

Trump would be a disastrous president, of course. But he knows how to inspire the “enraged ones.” In the French Revolution, the enraged ones were extremists who sent many of the moderate revolutionaries to the guillotine. (The enraged ones also ended badly.)

As the embers of Super Tuesday still glowed, The Wall Street Journal published the following commentary by one of its Old Regime’s scribes:

“To be honest and impolitic, the Trump voter smacks of a child who unleashes recriminations against mommy and daddy because the world is imperfect,” Holman Jenkins wrote. Take that.

No responsible American — not the other Republicans and certainly not Democrats expecting strong Latino support — would endorse Trump’s nasty attacks on our hardworking immigrants. But large-scale immigration of unskilled labor has, to some extent, hurt America’s blue-collar workers, and not just white ones.

Democrats need to continue pressing reform that is humane both to immigrants already rooted in the society and to the country’s low-skilled workforce. Do that and the air comes whooshing out of Trump’s balloon.

Back in Washington, the Republican leaders will probably continue to avoid work on this issue or a Supreme Court nominee or anything else Obama wants. They should enjoy their leisure. After Election Day, many may have to look for real jobs.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, March 3, 2016

March 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Presidential Candidates, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Malign Contempt Since Day 1”: GOP’s Unrelenting Campaign Of Obstructionism And Insult

This was three days before Antonin Scalia died.

President Obama had just spoken before the Illinois General Assembly. Now, he and some old friends, all retired from that body, were being interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. Obama was talking about the legislative gridlock that has marked his terms and how he might have avoided it.

“Maybe I could have done that a little better,” he said.

One of his friends wasn’t having it. “They were afraid of you for a couple of reasons,” said Denny Jacobs. “Number one, you were black.”

Obama parried the suggestion, saying what he always says when asked about race and his presidency. “I have no doubt there are people who voted against me because of race … or didn’t approve of my agenda because of race. I also suspect there are a bunch of people who are excited or voted for me because of the notion of the first African-American president. … Those things cut both ways,” he said.

Jacobs, who is white, was unpersuaded. “That’s what they were afraid of, Mr. President,” he insisted.

Some might say his point was proven after the sudden death of the Supreme Court justice. The body was not yet cold when Republicans threw down the gauntlet. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the president should not even nominate a replacement and should leave it instead to his successor. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley seconded this, saying his panel would not open confirmation hearings, although Politico reported Tuesday that Grassley told Radio Iowa he would not rule them out.

Understand: It’s not uncommon for the opposition party to warn that a nominee better be to its liking. However, to declare before the fact that no person put forth by the president will receive even a hearing is not politics as usual, but rather, a stinging and personal insult without apparent precedent. It is simply impossible to imagine another president being treated with such malign contempt.

But then, GOP contempt for Obama and his authority have been manifest since before Day One. McConnell’s refusal to do his job is just the latest example. On Twitter, a person who tweets as @bravee1 put it like this: “Mitch McConnell just needs to admit that he thinks President Obama was elected to three-fifths of a term.”

It’s a great line, but what is happening here is more subtle than just racism. To be, as McConnell is, a straight, 73-year-old white male in America is to have come of age in a world where people like you and only people like you set the national agenda. One suspects, then, that people like him see in Obama their looming loss of demographic and ideological primacy in a nation that grows more multi-hued and, on many vital social issues, less conservative every day.

Some people can handle that. Others would rather cripple the country, leaving it without a functioning Supreme Court for almost a year, and never mind the will of the people as twice expressed in elections: Barack Obama is our president. He has the right and duty to nominate a new justice.

It’s grating to hear Obama act as if the GOP’s unrelenting campaign of obstructionism and insult were the moral equivalent of some African-American grandmother or young white progressive who were proud to cast their ballots for the first black president. Moreover, his attempt to shoulder blame for the hyper-partisanship of the last seven years suggests a fundamental misreading of the change he represents and the fear it kindles in some of those whose prerogatives that change will upend.

It’s well and good to be even-handed and reflective, but there is a point where that becomes willful obtuseness. Obama is there. “They were afraid of you for a couple of reasons,” said his friend. “Number one, you were black.”

It’s interesting that a white man in his 70s can see this, yet a 54-year-old black man cannot.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The New Republic, February 17, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Congress, GOP Obstructionism, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“It’s A Question Of Legitimacy”: Both Democrats And The Media Need To Be Clear About What Is Happening

It was only an hour after reports had confirmed that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was dead that Mitch McConnell declared “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” Of course that statement completely ignores the fact that almost 66 million people had used their voice to elect President Barack Obama to a four year term back in 2012. But it wasn’t long before people like Sen. Grassley – chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee – and all of the Republican presidential candidates weighed in to agree with McConnell.

As I watched all this unfold on Saturday night, this is the tweet that captured it for me:

The word “before” is carrying a lot of weight in that statement. It wasn’t long before much of the media had bought the underlying premise. Notice the word “technically.”

What this means is that Republicans are not even going to wait and question President Obama’s nominee on the merits. They are directly challenging his legitimacy to nominate anyone. That goes to the heart of a case they have been making for seven years now (starting with the whole “birther movement”). It is what Doug Muder referred to as the Confederate worldview.

The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries…

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

It is also reminiscent of Grover Norquist’s response back in 2003 when talking about how the GOP would handle a Democratic presidency in the “permanent Republican majority.” He said, “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.”

That is what we are seeing played out right now with respect to a nomination to the Supreme Court. Republicans are questioning the very legitimacy of our current President to perform his Constitutional duties. That’s because the social order is changing (both in terms of cultural issues and demographics) and, for them, any form of resistance is justified.

Both Democrats and the media need to be clear about what is happening. Regardless of how often Republicans try to don the mantle of defending the Constitution, they are in the midst of attempting to undermine our democratic processes.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 15, 2016

February 17, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Mitch Mc Connell, U. S. Supreme Court, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Unprecedented ‘Precedent'”: What Kind Of Dictator Must Obama Be To Oppose 80 Years Of “Standard Practice”?

How can you tell the seemingly unanimous position of the Republican Party that President Barack Obama should not be permitted to select the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s successor is motivated by something other than apolitical concern for the republic? You can start by looking at the ways that their main talking point – that such an election-year nomination hasn’t been confirmed in 80 years – is both factually incorrect and more broadly intellectually dishonest and a novel reinterpretation of “precedent.”

Eighty years has become a truly magical number in the day since Scalia shuffled off this mortal coil. “The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year,” Republican Senate Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley said. Standard practice! What kind of dictator must Obama be to oppose 80 years of standard practice? “It has been over 80 years since a lame duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in the Republican presidential debate Saturday night; “We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz echoed.

Flim-flam and jiggery-pokery.

Just as a factual matter, as has been widely noted, Reagan nominee Anthony Kennedy was (unanimously) confirmed to the court in February 1988 – not only an election year but a year in which Reagan was term-limited and could not run again. So just right off, the talking point is wrong. (Grassley, by the way, broke with his own self-professed “standard practice” and voted to confirm Kennedy.)

But! But! But Kennedy was nominated in 1987, so he doesn’t count, right? When was the last time in history that a president nominated someone for the court in an election year and the Senate confirmed them? That would be Franklin Roosevelt nominating Frank Murphy, then the attorney general, on Jan. 4, 1940, and the Senate confirming him 12 days later. So that was 76 years ago, which is still less than the enchanted “80” benchmark.

So where does the 80-year figure come from? So far as I can tell – through a cursory bit of Googling – it originated with a National Review post from Ed Whelan at 5:32 p.m. yesterday, some minutes after the news of Scalia’s untimely demise started to spread around the country. Points to Whelan for quick research but note how he phrased his item: “It’s been more than 80 years since a Supreme Court justice was confirmed in an election year to a vacancy that arose that year, and there has never been an election-year confirmation that would so dramatically alter the ideological composition of the Court.” He was referring to Benjamin Cardozo, “confirmed in March 1932 to a vacancy that arose in January 1932,” 84 years ago.

Note the rhetorical evolution from Whelan’s careful phrasing (“… in an election year to a vacancy that arose that year”) to the more widely promulgated talking point as expressed by, say, Grassley (“standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during an election year,” period) or Cruz (“80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year”).

Details, details, right? Do they matter? Well, yes, they do. Cruz, Grassley and anyone who repeats the assertion that there’s 80 years of precedent against confirming nominees in an election year is, in fact, wrong.

And the difference is important for a couple of reasons: First, imprecision reflects the questionable logic of the alleged precedent: that Obama’s “lame duck” status – lame duck traditionally means that his successor has been chosen, not that at some point in the future he’ll definitely be out of office – should deprive him and relieve senators of their constitutional duty. How better to justify this notion than by invoking tradition. But this is not a tradition of nonconfirmation in an election year (Kennedy was confirmed) or of presidents not nominating in an election year (Lyndon Johnson nominated Abe Fortas and Homer Thornberry in 1968) or of only confirming in an election year if the nomination came in the previous year (Murphy), but of not confirming in an election year when the vacancy occurred in that year.

That’s a much narrower standard than is being broadly bandied about. But it has to be or else the 80-year “standard practice” becomes less impressive: 76 years, or 48 years or 26 years.

The beauty of 80 years is that it sounds like an awfully big number – saying that the GOP is merely abiding by the “standard practice” of 80 years makes it sound routine, as if this is something that’s come up time and again over eight decades and is a settled matter. But since Cardozo was confirmed this narrowly drawn set of circumstances has arisen … once. Once! One instance in eight decades does not “standard practice” make.

Neither does it make 80 years of precedent. In fact it’s the opposite of precedent: The fact that 84 years ago Cardozo was nominated and confirmed to an opening that arose in an election year is actually precedent for – wait for it – considering an Obama nominee.

So if not respect for venerated precedent, what is going on here? Simple: The GOP neither wants to put another Obama nominee on the court nor allow its ideological balance to tip – especially when there’s a nontrivial chance that a year from now they’ll be able to replace Scalia with someone of like philosophy.

Does anyone think that if Scalia had died in December – before the election year – that the GOP reaction would be at all different? Or that in an alternate reality Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is telling President Mitt Romney that a Supreme Court nomination won’t be considered because he’s in the last year of his term?

The party is putting governing on hold in the name of political calculation. Republicans should own up to it and drop both the “80-year” talking point and the larger pretense of principle.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, Managing Editor for Opinion, U.S. News & World Report, February 14, 2016

February 17, 2016 Posted by | GOP, Mitch Mc Connell, Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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