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“Meekly Accepting GOP’s Extreme Premise”: As Obama Moves To Replace Scalia, The Press Enables Radical GOP Obstruction

In the wake of Antonin Scalia’s sudden death, the Beltway press almost immediately began to seamlessly frame the unfolding debate about the Supreme Court justice’s replacement along the contours of Republican talking points. To do so, the press continued its habit of looking away from the GOP’s stunning record of institutional obstructionism since 2009.

Immediately after the news broke of Scalia’s passing, Republican Senate leaders, GOP presidential candidates, and conservative commentators declared that the job of picking Scalia’s replacement should be performed not by President Obama, but by his successor.

Quickly suggesting that Obama was picking a “fight” with Republicans by signaling he plans to fulfill his constitutional duty by nominating Scalia’s successor, the press aided Republicans by presenting this radical plan to obstruct the president as being an unsurprising move that Democrats would likely copy if put in the same position during an election year. (Given the rarity of the situation precedents aren’t perfect, but it’s worth mentioning that during the election year of 1988, Democrats actually did the opposite, confirming Justice Anthony Kennedy unanimously.)

The framework for much of the coverage regarding the GOP’s radical demand that Scalia’s seat sit empty for a year is this: It’s Obama’s behavior that’s setting off a showdown, and of course Republicans would categorically oppose anyone Obama nominates. But journalists often don’t explain why: Why is it obvious Obama would have zero chance of getting a Supreme Court nominee confirmed when every president in the past has been able to fill vacancies?

Is it unusual for a president to face a Supreme Court vacancy his final year in office? It is. But there’s nothing in the Constitution to suggest the rules change under the current circumstances. (Obama still has 50 weeks left in office.) It’s Republicans who have declared that all new rules must apply. And it’s the press that has rather meekly accepted the extreme premise.

Note that Republicans and their conservative fans in the media aren’t telling Obama that a particular nominee he selects to become the next justice is flawed and will likely be rejected after hearings are held. Republicans are telling Obama that there’s no point in even bothering to make a selection because the Senate will reject anyone the president names. Period. The seat will remain vacant for an entire year. That is the definition of radical. But the press still looks away.

For instance, Politico reported the president “was facing the choice between setting off a nasty brawl with Congress by seizing the best chance in a generation to flip the ideological balance of the Supreme Court, or simply punting.” The Politico headline claimed Obama had chosen to “fight” Republicans.

But Obama faces no real “choice,” and he isn’t the one who decided to pick a “fight.” As president of the United States he’s obligated to fill Supreme Court vacancies.

The New York Times stressed Scalia’s death had sparked “an immediate partisan battle,” suggesting the warfare ran both ways. But how, by doing what he’s supposed to do as president, is Obama sparking a “partisan battle”?

If Obama eventually decided to nominate an extremely liberal justice to replace the extremely conservative Scalia, then yes, that could accurately be described as sparking a “partisan battle.” But what could be “partisan” about the president simply doing what the Constitution instructs him to do?

Meanwhile, the Associated Press framed the unfolding story as Obama’s announcement being “a direct rebuttal to Senate Republicans,” without noting the Republican demand that a Supreme Court justice’s seat sit empty for at least a year is without recent precedent.

And BuzzFeed suggested Scalia’s vacancy is different because the justice was, “as one Republican put it, ‘a rock solid conservative seat,’ and given the divisions on the court conservatives will be adamant that one of their own replace him.”

But that’s not how Supreme Court nominations work. Obviously, while the Senate has the responsibility to advise and consent on nominees, the party out of power doesn’t get to make the selection. So why the media suggestion that Republicans deserve a say in this case, or else?

Again and again, the press has depicted Obama’s expected action in the wake of Scalia’s death as being highly controversial or partisan, when in fact it’s Republicans who are acting in erratic ways by categorically announcing they’ll refuse to even consider Obama’s next Supreme Court pick.

The sad part is this type of media acquiescence has become a hallmark of the Obama era. Republicans have routinely obliterated Beltway precedents when it comes to granting Obama the leeway that previous presidents were given by their partisan foes in Congress.

Yet each step along the way, journalists have pulled back, refusing to detail the seismic shift taking place. Instead, journalists have portrayed the obstruction as routine, and often blamed Obama for not being able to avoid the showdowns.

Today’s Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP’s gun law obstructionism, the sequester obstructionism, the government shutdown obstructionism, the Chuck Hagel confirmation obstructionism, the Susan Rice secretary of state obstructionism, the Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstructionism, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

For years under Obama, Republicans have systematically destroyed Beltway norms and protocols, denying the president his traditional latitude to govern and make appointments. It’s sad that in Obama’s final year in office, the press is still turning a blind eye to the GOP’s radical nature.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, February 15, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Media, Press, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The President Decides”: The Difference Between Military Commanders And The Commander In Chief

The Washington Post reported overnight that when it comes to U.S. efforts to combat Islamic State terrorists, President Obama and military leaders aren’t necessarily on the same page.

Flashes of disagreement over how to fight the Islamic State are mounting between President Obama and U.S. military leaders, the latest sign of strain in what often has been an awkward and uneasy relationship.

Even as the administration has received congressional backing for its strategy, with the Senate voting Thursday to approve a plan to arm and train Syrian rebels, a series of military leaders have criticized the president’s approach against the Islamic State militant group.

It’s hard to say with confidence just how widespread the disagreements really are. For that matter, even among those military leaders voicing disagreement, there’s a variety of opinions.

For his part, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday that Pentagon leaders are in “full alignment” and in “complete agreement with every component of the president’s strategy.”

And that’s fine, but let’s not forget that it’s not really their call. Pentagon leaders don’t actually have to be in “complete agreement with every component of the president’s strategy.”

NBC’s First Read noted yesterday, “Remember the battle cry of some Democrats during some of the darkest days of the Iraq war – that Bush and Cheney were not listening to the commanders? Well, given where all the military leadership is on this strategy, it is now Obama, the Democrat, who is open to criticism that he is not listening to his commanders.”

But there’s no reason to necessarily see that as “criticism.”

I understand the political dynamic. In theory, many may like the idea of military decisions being made by military leaders with military expertise.

But the American system is designed a specific way for a reason. As NBC’s First Read went on to say, “Of course, again, it is Obama that is commander-in-chief. Not anyone at the Pentagon.”

That’s exactly right. The fact that the president and some military leaders disagree is fine. The fact that elements of this debate are unfolding in public is healthy in a democracy. The fact that Congress has heard different positions from various officials within the executive branch is valuable as part of a broader debate.

All of this should be seen as a feature, not a bug, of a nation exploring the possibility of war. Military leaders can bring the president options, and in response, the president will give those leaders orders. When our system is working well and as intended, the scope of those orders will be shaped in part by Congress, which is supposed to be directly involved in authorizing the use of military force.

The fact that some military leaders may disagree with Obama is not a sign that Obama is wrong – or right. The president in this case may not be listening to his commanders, but in our system, they’re required to listen to him.

As Rachel explained on Tuesday’s show, “The military makes military recommendations to the president and the president decides whether to accept them or not. That is not a scandal. If they recommend something to him and he says no to that, that’s not a scandal. That’s actually a America. That is our system of government. It’s one of the best things about it. That’s sort of a whole civilian-control-of-the-military thing and how that works…. This is like first day of What’s America Class.”

It’s a fair point to say Democrats were critical of the Bush/Cheney White House for failing to listen to commanders during the height of the crises in Iraq, but it seems to me those criticisms were based on (a) the fact that some of these military were giving the White House good advice that wasn’t being followed; and (b) the fact that Bush said he was listening to his commanders, even when he wasn’t.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 19, 2014

September 20, 2014 Posted by | Commander In Chief, Pentagon | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Armchair Warriors”: The Syria Question That Congress Must Answer

Congress is asking the wrong questions about Syria. The issue can’t be who wins that country’s civil war. It has to be whether the regime of Bashar al-Assad should be punished for using chemical weapons — and, if the answer is yes, whether there is any effective means of punishment other than a U.S. military strike.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey showed the patience of Job this week as House and Senate members grilled them about the impossible, the inconceivable and the irrelevant.

At Wednesday’s hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I thought for a moment that Kerry was going to blow. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) launched into a self-righteous soliloquy about Benghazi, the IRS, the National Security Agency and what he portrayed as Kerry’s longtime aversion to using military force.

Kerry, you may recall, is a highly decorated Vietnam combat veteran. Duncan is an armchair warrior.

“I am not going to sit here and be told by you that I don’t have a sense of what the judgment is with respect to this,” Kerry said.

But he held it together and gave Duncan a more civil answer than he deserved. “This is not about getting into Syria’s civil war,” Kerry explained. “This is about enforcing the principle that people shouldn’t be allowed to gas their citizens with impunity.”

For Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the question is why President Obama hasn’t been doing more to shape the outcome of the war. As the price of his vote to authorize a strike, McCain insisted that the resolution approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee include language calling on Obama to “change the military equation on the battlefield.”

I respect McCain’s knowledge and experience on military matters, even when I disagree with him. In this case, I think he’s hallucinating.

In Iraq, with U.S. forces occupying the country and a compliant government installed, it took a huge troop surge and a long counterinsurgency campaign to beat back the jihadists who threatened to take over part of the country. In Syria, with no boots on the ground and a hostile regime clinging to power, how is Obama supposed to ensure that the “good” rebels triumph over the “bad” ones? Why does McCain think we have it in our power to favorably change the equation now?

Let me clarify: I believe that a U.S. strike of the kind being discussed, involving cruise missiles and perhaps other air-power assets, can make it more likely that Assad loses. But I also believe that — absent a major commitment of American forces, which is out of the question — we cannot determine who wins.

For some skeptics on Capitol Hill, the question is why we don’t wait for others to act — the United Nations, perhaps, or some of the 188 other nations that have ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention outlawing atrocities such as those committed in Syria.

I guess hope springs eternal, but that’s how long the wait will be. Russia has vetoed every attempt by the U.N. Security Council to act. Britain’s House of Commons has said no. France is willing but won’t go it alone.

Maybe all this reluctance is a warning that we, too, should demur. But let’s at least be honest with ourselves: If we don’t act, nobody will. The clear message to Assad, and to other tyrants, will be that poison gas is frowned upon but not prohibited.

There is no way that Assad can be shamed into contrition and atonement; at this point, he’s fighting not just for power but for his life. He has to believe that if he loses the war and is captured by rebels, be they the “good” ones or the “bad,” he will be tried and executed like Saddam Hussein — or perhaps killed on the spot like Moammar Gaddafi.

If someone has a workable plan to snatch Assad and his henchmen, haul them before the International Criminal Court and put them on trial, I’m all ears. As things stand, however, the possibility of someday facing charges in the Hague must be low on the Syrian dictator’s list of worries.

If Assad and his government are ever to be held accountable for the use of forbidden weapons to murder hundreds of civilians, the only realistic way for that to happen is a punitive, U.S.-led military strike. This is the question that Obama put on the table — and that too many members of Congress seem determined to avoid.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 5, 2013

September 6, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Syria | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Dwelling In Sequesterland”: Once The Sequester Is Solved, Rand Paul Will Go Back To Being An Oddball

This is a weird moment in American politics. The sequester has just chopped $43 billion out of this year’s defense budget and Republicans are pretending not to care. Now Senator Rand Paul is winning kudos for conducting an old-fashioned talking filibuster against drone warfare from Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (“I think it was completely awesome”). (Click here in the unlikely event you want to watch all 13 hours of Paul’s filibuster, and here for a video abridgement from the Washington Post.) With Politico‘s Lois Romano gushing that the filibuster has abruptly “vaulted [Rand] into the top tier of Republican power players,” Paul now says he’s “seriously” pondering a 2016 run for president. “I think our party needs something new, fresh and different,” Paul told Romano.

We have to figure out how to appeal to the West Coast, New England [and] around the Great Lakes area. We need to figure out how to appeal to the blue-collar voters that voted—that were Democrats that voted for Reagan and I think are drifting back because they see us as the party of the wealthy. … I do want to be part of making the Republican Party again more of a national party, less than a regional party, which I think we’re in danger of becoming.

Paul’s specific objection to drones is that they might be used to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. His apparent preference for civil liberties over civil rights is one problem he’ll likely have running for president. (Paul recently voted against the Violence Against Women Act largely on states-rights grounds, and as recently as last year he argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a cruel imposition on property rights.) Paul inhabits approximately the same niche as Haley Barbour, another seemingly strong candidate with a civil rights problem who ultimately decided not to run in 2012. But that isn’t the biggest obstacle to a plausible Paul candidacy. The larger problem is Paul’s opposition to the U.S. national-security establishment.

In ordinary times, it would be unwise for a Republican seeking the presidential nomination to deny this establishment the right to kill an enemy combatant on U.S. soil—even if that combatant were a U.S. citizen. But these aren’t ordinary times. We dwell in Sequesterland, a Brigadoon-like place where the GOP feels free not to define itself though toughness on defense. Even here in Sequesterland, Paul didn’t escape condemnation from the Wall Street Journal editorial page (“If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms”) and from Sens. John McCain (“totally unfounded”) and Lindsay Graham (“To my party, I’m a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we’re at war”). But since this is Sequesterland, most other Republicans gave Paul a pass lest they give the public occasion to wonder why, if they’re so darned desperate to defend national security, they’re bleeding the Pentagon.

They are bleeding the Pentagon, incidentally. As Fred Kaplan has argued forcefully in Slate, the mere likelihood that $43 billion could be sliced out of the Pentagon budget without compromising national defense does not mean that this $43 billion cut is a breeze. As with the civilian cuts, the sequester cuts are across the board and don’t really give managers any leeway to prioritize this at the expense of that. Here’s Kaplan:

What about the $179 million allotted for modifications to the AH-64 Apache helicopter? How do the Army’s managers parse that? And how does anyone, whether in Congress or the Pentagon’s comptroller office, perform oversight of that feat, this year and in the near future? Not only is the exercise disruptive and in some cases absurd, it also creates excuses for contractors to bilk the Pentagon after the budget crisis is over, claiming that they suffered cost overruns as a result of inefficiencies brought on by sequestration.

Because this can’t possibly last, it won’t. One way or another, the GOP will be transported out of Sequesterland, and when that happens Paul will lose his get-out-of-jail-free card.

Remember Chuck Hagel? Former Republican senator from Nebraska? Just before the sequester hit Hagel was confirmed as defense secretary, but his margin was historically narrow because nearly every Senate Republican opposed him. (Paul was one of only four GOP yeas.) The president named a Republican to be secretary of defense, and Senate Republicans (including, for very foggy reasons, Paul) actually gave serious thought to filibustering the nomination. Much of the Republican resistance to Hagel was based, childishly, on the mere fact that Obama wanted him. But much of it was based on Hagel’s having taken positions on national security issues that his fellow Republicans judged unacceptably dovish—and Hagel isn’t nearly as dovish as Paul is. If Hagel proved unacceptable to the GOP, it’s inconceivable that Paul—who less than one month before the 2012 election published an op-ed condemning Mitt Romney for being too hawkish in the Middle East and too willing to increase Pentagon spending—will ever pass muster. And by “the GOP” I don’t just mean GOP politicians. I mean voters, too. Those Reagan Democrats whom Paul thinks he can woo in California, New England, and the Great Lakes? They’re pretty hawkish. They won’t vote for a candidate who’s weaker on defense than Barack Obama is.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes that Paul’s libertarianism on national security issues “will remain cool with his party only as long as the GOP remains out of the White House.” I disagree. I think it will remain cool with his party only as long as the GOP dwells in Sequesterland. Once that little matter gets resolved, Paul will go back to being an oddball. I’m not saying he won’t try to get elected president—after all, it runs in the family—but he will never inhabit the “top tier of Republican players.” That it looks like he might right now is just a quirk of circumstance.

 

By: Timothy Noah, The New Republic, March 10, 2013

March 11, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A High Tech Filibuster”: Congressional Hazing Of Chuck Hagel Was A Waste Of Time

Chris Dodd was a new, young senator in 1982, when C. Everett Koop was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to serve as the nation’s surgeon general. A lot of liberals like then-Senator Dodd didn’t like Koop, who was anti-abortion, and saw him as the embodiment of the Moral Majority conservatism they despised. Dodd, who was then in the Senate barely a year, voted against Koop’s nomination. The surgeon general was approved by the Senate anyway, 60-24.

Dodd matured as a legislator, and Koop developed into a surgeon general Democrats had not expected him to be. Despite heavy pressure from social conservatives, Koop refused to declare that abortions performed by a qualified medical doctor were bad for a woman’s health. He was a leader in the battle against AIDS—a no-brainer now, but in the considerably more conservative ’80s, when it was seen as a gay man’s disease, something of a scandal. Koop, who died this week at 96, also was aggressive in the fight against tobacco use, particularly among children.

Koop may have forgotten Dodd’s vote against him. Dodd didn’t. Years after the confirmation, Dodd wrote a letter to Koop apologizing for his “no” vote. “He did a wonderful job as Surgeon General of the country, and I voted against him over issues that I didn’t really think through very carefully. And I regretted that,” Dodd told an NBC interviewer.

Fast-forward to this week, and the world of the U.S. Senate looks much different. Threats to hold up nominees for a slew of offices, from cabinet secretary to U.S. Marshall, are appallingly common. Sometimes the filibuster threat is a means to another end, a way to pressure Democrats or the Obama administration to give in on an unrelated topic. And sometimes the holdup hinges on an argument that is difficult to defend: The nominee isn’t who the minority party would have picked, so he or she can’t have the job. It’s remarkable that anyone in the Senate could presume to tell the president who he should hire to advise him, even when the paychecks come from public funds. It would be wrong for a Democratic senator to attempt to withhold funding, say, for the payroll of a GOP colleague who hired like-minded staffers to advise him or her. So why can’t President Obama pick his own cabinet, short of selecting someone corrupt or blatantly incompetent?

Chuck Hagel has been on both sides of the equation, serving in the U.S. Senate, where he had to vote on numerous nominations, and facing a battle to be confirmed as defense secretary. Hagel is a Republican, he won two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, and served two terms in the U.S. Senate. But he was nominated by Obama, which is enough to taint any nominee in the eyes of some Republicans. They grilled him in the Armed Services Committee, which was to be expected. Some questioned whether he was anti-Semitic, based on a cheap and pejorative interpretation of comments Hagel had made about a pro-Israel lobby. And one senator, Ted Cruz of Texas, had the audacity to suggest, with zero evidence, that Hagel had received income from North Korea.

Hagel went through a high-tech, waste-of-time hazing before he was finally confirmed Wednesday evening, 58-41. In coming years, will any senator write a note of apology to the new defense secretary?

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, February 27, 2013

February 28, 2013 Posted by | Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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