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“The Obstructionists”: Congress Can Still Mess Up The Iran Deal

“Now, Congress takes up the matter” are words that are ensured to send shudders down the spine, so shudder away: We’ve just entered the congressional phase of the Iran talks, with a Senate hearing next Tuesday, after which it’s up to Mitch McConnell to decide how fast and aggressively to move with the bill from Tennessee Republican Bob Corker that would bar the administration from making any changes to U.S. sanctions against Iran for 60 days while Congress reviews and debates any Iran agreement.

There are, as the Dude said, man, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous here. It’s all quite complicated. But here, it seems to me, is your cut-to-the-chase question: Is there enough good faith in this United States Senate for something to be worked out? Or is it just impossible?

One proceeds from the assumption that the Senate will do whatever it can to kill a deal. It’s a Republican Senate, by a pretty wide margin (54-46); history would suggest that these Republicans simply aren’t going to hand President Obama a win like this. It hardly matters what the details are, about what Iran can or can’t do at Fordow, about the “snapback” provisions of the sanctions, about the inspections regime, or about what precise oversight role Congress has. It’s just basically impossible to imagine that this Republican Party, after everything we’ve seen over these last six years, and this Republican Senate majority leader, who once said it was his job to make Obama a one-term president, won’t throw up every roadblock to a deal they can conjure.

Once again, we’re left separating out the factors the way scientists reduce compounds to their constituent elements in the lab. How much of this is just Obama hatred? How much is (this is a slightly different thing) the conviction—quite insane, but firmly held—that he doesn’t have the best interests of the United States at heart? How much is a genuinely paranoid, McCarthy-ish world view about the intractably evil nature of our enemy and the definitional Chamberlainism of ever thinking otherwise?

And how much is just self-interested politics, as it is bequeathed to us in its current form? Which is to say—if you are a Republican senator, you simply cannot cast a vote that can be seen as “pro-Obama” under any circumstances. You just can’t do it.

I asked in a column last week whether there would be one Republican officeholder in Washington who might say, “Hey, upon examination of the details, this looks like a decent deal with risks that are acceptable, and I’m going to support it?” It’s still a good question. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is conceivable. He called that noxious Tom Cotton letter “not appropriate.” But Flake is pretty new to the Senate and doesn’t carry a lot of weight on these matters.

Some suggest Corker himself. Corker has this reputation, in part earned, as one of the reasonable ones. He gets articles written about him like this one,  from The New York Times a couple of days ago, which limned him as a Republican of the old school, a sensible fellow who still wants to horse-trade.

And he is—but only up to a point, at which the horses return to their stalls. The most notable example here is the Dodd-Frank bill. This is all detailed at great and exacting length by Robert Kaiser in his excellent book about how financial reform became law, Act of Congress. Then, Corker talked for hours and hours with Chris Dodd about the particulars—derivatives reform, oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, more. He wanted to play ball, even thought he might deliver some votes. But as time passed, it became clear to Corker that the base just wasn’t standing for it. He faced reelection in 2012. Not tough reelection—he won with 64 percent of the vote. But reelection campaigns are great excuses for senators to do nothing, and nothing is what Corker did. He withdrew from all participation with Dodd and Frank, and he ultimately voted against the bill.  When it mattered, he caved to the extremists, in other words, among his colleagues and in his base. Why that means he should be getting credit for a spirit of compromise now in New York Times articles is something that, to my obtuse mind, requires further explanation.

“He’s not Tom Cotton.” Uh, okay. Wonderful. But that’s where we’ve come, celebrating a guy because he doesn’t want to start World War III. Happily, though, all is not lost. It’s far from clear that Corker or Cotton (and yes, they are different) can block a deal. There are, I’m told, three categories of senators on this question. The first is our own mullahs—no deal no how. The second is a group of mostly Democrats and independents—Virginia’s Tim Kaine, who is a close ally of the White House, and Maine’s Angus King—who basically wants a deal but wants to be sure that it’s good, and want to influence the shape of any legislation the Senate might pass.

The third group is senators who also basically would like to see a deal but want the Senate to serve as a backstop against a deal they see as bad. I’d put Chuck Schumer in that third camp. So when these people say they back the Corker bill, as Schumer did this week, it doesn’t mean they’re against the administration or a deal per se. Democrats aren’t going to be Obama’s problem here. A few, the ones from the deep red states, may be boxed in. But most will stick with the administration, if a deal is finalized along current terms.

I don’t think our mullahs have the numbers right now. But Obama is going to have to sell this to more parties than Tom Friedman and Steve Inskeep. He has, or should have, Friedman’s readers and Inskeep’s listeners already. The way to get someone like Corker to play ball is to sell it in Knoxville. Public opinion still influences foreign policy, as Obama knows from his Syrian experiences. Put it to work.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Iran, Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card”: Boehner Offered Free Pass Out Of Shutdown Mess, But He Doesn’t Want To Take It

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen’s Monday night ruling temporarily blocking President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program provided a political lifeline for congressional Republicans. But whether or not they’re smart enough to take it remains unclear.

For weeks, Republicans have been hurtling towards another catastrophic shutdown debacle. Furious over President Obama’s immigration action, congressional Republicans devised an illogical scheme to fight back: They would separate the Department of Homeland Security from December’s government funding bill, and then use it as a hostage. Unless President Obama abandons his policy by February 27, DHS would enter a partial shutdown.

The strategy never had a prayer of working, for several reasons. President Obama has long since proven that he is done giving in to Republican ransom demands. Shutting down DHS would not actually do anything to stop President Obama’s deferral plan. And the American public was always going to blame the GOP for any shutdown crisis. (This was confirmed by a CNN poll released Tuesday, which found that 53 percent of Americans would hold Republicans responsible, while just 30 percent would blame the president, and 13 percent would blame both.) Unless they planned to never pay DHS workers again, the only possible outcome for the GOP was embarrassing defeat.

But still, Republicans went all in. One month ago, the House passed a bill linking DHS funding with blocking DAPA. Although it repeatedly failed to pass the Senate, House Speaker John Boehner insisted that “the House has done its job,” and has flatly refused to consider a clean funding bill. Meanwhile, even if the Senate somehow does pass a bill limiting Obama’s authority, the president would veto it. A politically catastrophic shutdown seemed increasingly inevitable.

So one might think that House Republicans would welcome Judge Hanen’s ruling as a get-out-of-jail-free card. With DAPA blocked, pending appeal, they could pass a clean DHS funding bill with a clean conscience, tell their constituents that the matter is in the courts’ hands now, and save the fight for another day.

But it’s never that easy with the Republican caucus.

Speaker Boehner’s reaction to the ruling suggests that he’s still committed to taking this all the way.

“The president said 22 times he did not have the authority to take the very action on immigration he eventually did, so it is no surprise that at least one court has agreed,” Boehner said in a statement. “We will continue to follow the case as it moves through the legal process. Hopefully, Senate Democrats who claim to oppose this executive overreach will now let the Senate begin debate on a bill to fund the Homeland Security Department.”

In case there was any doubt, Democrats are still not ready to begin debate on forcing a maximum-deportation policy on the White House.

“It’s perfectly appropriate to take this issue to court, but it is completely unacceptable for Republicans to hold up funding for the Department of Homeland Security while the case wends its way through the legal system,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. “This procedural ruling, in our opinion, is very unlikely to be upheld, but regardless of the outcome Democrats remain united in our belief that funding for the Department of Homeland Security should not be used as a ransom by Republicans, period.”

Republicans clearly learned the wrong lessons from their last government shutdown, which they overcame at the ballot box in November. They are extremely unlikely to be so lucky again in 2016, when the elections will be fought on a much friendlier terrain for Democrats. On Monday night, Judge Hanen threw the GOP a lifeline; they’d be wise to grab it.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, February 17, 2015

February 18, 2015 Posted by | Andrew Hanen, DAPA, John Boehner, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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