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“The Senate’s Most Endangered Incumbent”: A Republican Senator And His Beloved Conspiracy Theory

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who’s up for re-election this year, has an incentive to appear as moderate and level-headed as possible. He is, after all, a Republican running in a pretty blue state, sharing a ballot with Donald Trump in a presidential election year. The circumstances have made Kirk arguably the Senate’s most endangered incumbent.

And yet, the GOP senator just keeps making bizarre comments. Politico reports today:

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk hasn’t let up on his insistence that President Obama is using his power as president to lash out at a political enemy.

At a fundraising event last month in Chicago, the Illinois Republican can be heard on audio defending indicted New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat, while accusing Obama of targeting Menendez because of his stance on Iran.

According to a recording Politico obtained, Kirk told his audience, “And let me say something about Bob Menendez. I believe that Bob Menendez was indicted solely on the crime of opposing the president on Iran.”

It wasn’t an off-hand comment: the Illinois Republican has pushed the same conspiracy theory over and over again.

To the extent that reality matters, we know that Kirk is completely wrong. The corruption investigation into Menendez’s work initiated long before the Iran deal negotiations even began, and the indictment was issued before the Iran deal was finalized. Besides, Menendez’s opposition to the international agreement was inconsequential, so the White House has no incentive to punish him.

But even if we put that aside, what Kirk is arguing is that the White House orchestrated an elaborate conspiracy, involving multiple federal prosecutors and investigators over the course of several years, to seek retribution against a senator from the president’s own party, who generally agrees with the administration’s position on most issues.

As proof, Kirk points to … nothing. The Illinois Republican believes the White House is guilty of an impeachable offensive, manipulating federal law enforcement to execute a partisan retribution scheme, as a result conspiracy theory that doesn’t make sense. The senator is comfortable throwing around this accusation, repeatedly and in public, despite having literally no evidence whatsoever.

Senators generally aren’t supposed to behave this way. Senators worried about their re-election bids never behave this way.

And circling back to a report from last summer, there’s also the larger pattern of Mark Kirk’s bizarre rhetoric as the election draws closer. When congressional Republicans threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security last year, it was the Illinois senator who got a little hysterical, urging the GOP to “build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office.”

A few months prior, during an ugly fight over Loretta Lynch’s attorney general nomination, Kirk suggested Democrats were defending slavery. A month later, he said people drive faster through black neighborhoods.

In isolation, these bizarre incidents might be easier to dismiss as regrettable slip-ups, but taken together, a pattern emerges of a senator who once claimed moderation, but not anymore.

If there’s an electoral strategy that explains such behavior, I can’t think of it. Kirk should be going out of his way to appear sensible, but for reasons no one seems able to explain, the GOP senator is doing the opposite.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 13, 2016

May 14, 2016 Posted by | Bob Menendez, Conspiracy Theories, Mark Kirk | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hardly Unprecedented”: On Immigration, Law Is On Obama’s Side

The legal controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement policies will soon come to a head when the Supreme Court justices hear the case United States v. Texas on Monday. Texas claims that the president’s executive decisions lack legal sanction by Congress and have injured the state.

But whether or not you like President Obama’s actions, he has operated under longstanding provisions of law that give the executive branch discretion in enforcement. This presidential prerogative has been recognized explicitly by the Supreme Court. Moreover, the nature of immigration enforcement and the resources (or lack thereof) appropriated by Congress necessitate exactly the type of choices that the president has made.

Congress has repeatedly granted the executive branch broad power in enforcing immigration laws. The 2002 law creating the Department of Homeland Security explicitly said the executive should set “national immigration enforcement policies and priorities.” The Supreme Court has recognized the leeway Congress gives the executive branch in deportations. In a 2012 majority opinion written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court noted that “a principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials,” including the decision “whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all.”

Setting enforcement priorities is vital to the effectiveness of our immigration laws. Congress can’t anticipate every situation. This is why the Supreme Court recognized in 1950 that immigration law is an area where “flexibility and the adaptation of the congressional policy to infinitely variable conditions constitute the essence of the program.”

The immense moral and legal consequences of a deportation campaign targeting up to 11 million undocumented immigrants are obvious. Even Americans whose frustration has overcome their compassion and led them to support the harshest immigration enforcement would be likely to reconsider if they actually saw such an operation in action.

A huge roundup like that would require an extraordinary expansion of federal law enforcement capabilities and resulting intrusions into American society. But in reality, there is no prospect for such a campaign because Congress has not made available more than a small fraction of the necessary money and manpower.

This is why, by its nature, immigration enforcement requires executive discretion.

The administration’s initiatives allow Homeland Security officials to forgo deportation, on a case-by-case basis, of undocumented residents who came here as children before June 15, 2007, and of certain undocumented parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents. Both are in keeping with similar programs put in place by both Republican and Democratic presidents dating from the Eisenhower administration.

In 1990, for example, under President George H.W. Bush, the immigration service, relying in part on authority dating from the Reagan administration, offered extended voluntary departure and work authorization to the spouses and children of aliens who had previously been granted legal status.

President Obama’s actions, therefore, are hardly unprecedented. There are two major differences. First, he gave speeches advocating for explicit programs with names, rather than relying on subtler agency direction.

Second, immigration policy has been caught up in today’s hyper-partisanship, where a strident anti-immigration tide within the Republican Party overwhelms all bipartisan compromise. All 26 state officials who have challenged the administration’s executive actions in the Supreme Court case are Republicans, and last month the G.O.P.-led House of Representatives voted to file an amicus brief on behalf of the entire House.

From these howls of outrage, you wouldn’t know that the Obama administration has vastly exceeded the deportations under President George W. Bush. And Mr. Bush vastly exceeded those of President Clinton. President Obama’s directives to focus enforcement efforts on those who have committed crimes in the United States and recent border crossers are a rational executive prioritization, given the resources and the realities.

These facts undercut Texas’s argument that it is unduly burdened by the president’s decisions. With deportations aimed at criminals and new border crossers, we would seem close to an optimal state-friendly federal immigration policy.

When the president took his executive action on immigration, he was not flouting the will of Congress; rather, he was using the discretion Congress gave him to fulfill his constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

 

By: Richard G. Lugar, Represented Indiana in the United States Senate from 1977-2013, President of the Lugar Center;  Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, April 18, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Immigration Reform, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“So Impressed With Trump”: Patrol Agents Union Endorsement Raises Troubling Questions

Far be it from me to suggest that any American ought to be penalized for his or her choice of presidential candidate. One of the many things that make this democracy worth fighting to preserve is its premise of one person, one vote — a radical notion that gives the poorest citizen the same franchise as the wealthiest.

Furthermore, the secret ballot is designed to protect that fundamental right from bribery or coercion, intimidation or blackmail. You get to go into the voting booth and choose whoever you believe will best represent the national interest — and your own. You don’t have to worry about losing your job or your home or your livelihood because of the choice you’ve made.

Nevertheless, I have to wonder about the 16,500 members of the National Border Patrol Council, a union that has endorsed the candidacy of Donald Trump. Its members are federal law enforcement agents, charged with securing the country’s borders in a manner that respects the rights of those it may need to apprehend. Border Patrol agents should be evenhanded, prudent and circumspect, unflagging in upholding basic human rights.

But Trump hasn’t shown even a simple decency toward those who have entered the country illegally, especially Mexicans. Last June, he announced his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination in a speech laced with stunning bigotry.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” he said.

Since then, the real estate mogul has only ramped up the racism. He insists that he would build a wall on our southern border — forcing Mexico to pay for it — and he’d ban entry to all Muslims. Further, he has said, he’d round up the estimated 11 million undocumented workers already here and deport them. That’s not only imprudent, but it’s also irrational.

Yet, the Border Patrol union is so impressed with Trump that it has chosen to, well, trumpet its endorsement, breaking with union history in its first-ever official support for a presidential candidate during the primaries.

“We need a person in the White House who doesn’t fear the media, who doesn’t embrace political correctness … who won’t bow to foreign dictators, who is pro-military and values law enforcement, and who is angry for America and NOT subservient to the interests of other nations. Donald Trump is such a man,” the union said in a statement.

It’s not unusual for law enforcement officers to lean to the right; they often support Republican political candidates. But the union’s statement endorsing Trump is a hodgepodge of anti-Obama, ultra-right-wing memes shot through with a healthy dose of paranoia.

Claiming its members protect the country in “an environment where our own political leaders try to keep us from doing our jobs,” they paint President Obama’s tenure as a mistake. “America has already tried a young, articulate freshman senator who never created a job as an attorney and under whose watch criminal cartels have been given the freest border reign ever known,” the statement says. Really? These people represent federal law enforcement?

That Trump has tapped into a deep reserve of xenophobia among the Republican base is no great surprise; a GOP establishment that is now panicked by his rise spent years pandering to that xenophobia. But it is surprising that a union representing more than 75 percent of the nation’s Border Patrol agents has gone into league with that base, unveiling, in the process, a dangerous hostility toward Mexicans that hardly befits the agents’ status as law enforcement representatives. Their endorsement will only undermine confidence in their ability to carry out their duties fairly.

In 2011, an Arizona-based human rights organization, No More Deaths, published a report, “A Culture of Cruelty,” alleging systematic abuse of migrants and detainees by Border Patrol agents. Further, activists with No More Deaths contend that the Homeland Security hierarchy ignores or whitewashes those abuses.

With its endorsement of Donald Trump, the National Border Patrol Council has simply given those claims even more credibility.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, April 1, 2016

April 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Mexico, National Border Patrol Council | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Getting To The Source Of The Lies”: The Fabricated Story About Tashfeen Malik’s Public Facebook Postings

A theme emerged at Tuesday night’s Republican debate that went something like this: because of political correctness, the Obama administration has failed to keep us safe from terror attacks. It was applied in reference to the shooting in San Bernardino by several candidates, including Ted Cruz.

It’s not a lack of competence that is preventing the Obama administration from stopping these attacks. It is political correctness. We didn’t monitor the Facebook posting of the female San Bernardino terrorist because the Obama DHS thought it would be inappropriate. She made a public call to jihad, and they didn’t target it.

That is the story that has become embedded over the last week in the right wing mindset. But as FBI Director James Comey said yesterday, it’s not true.

So far, in this investigation we have found no evidence of posting on social media by either of them at that period in time and thereafter reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom. I’ve seen some reporting on that, and that’s a garble.

There was no major breakdown in security at DHS as a result of political correctness. It’s all about a couple who were inspired by ISIS to go on a killing spree – much as Robert Lewis Dear was inspired to go on a shooting spree at Planned Parenthood by the anti-abortion movement and Dylann Roof was inspired to kill African American church-goers by white supremacists.

But as Kevin Drum reports, there’s more to the story. The question becomes: what was the source for the story about Tashfeen Malik’s public Facebook postings? It was an article in the New York Times titled: U.S. Visa Process Missed San Bernardino Wife’s Zealotry on Social Media. And not only that. As Drum says:

The story was written by Matt Apuzzo, Michael Schmidt, and Julia Preston.

Do those names sound familiar? They should. The first two were also the authors of July’s epic fail claiming that Hillary Clinton was the target of a criminal probe over the mishandling of classified information in her private email system.

Is it merely a coincidence that these two NYT reporters have been fed stories by their sources that are fabricated lies about the dyad the Republican candidates blamed consistently with such disdain Tuesday night – Obama/Clinton? I’m not a conspiracy theorist. But you don’t have to be one to understand why it is important to get an answer to that question.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 17, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | Journalism, Journalists, Reporters | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“McConnell Decries ‘Obstructionism’, Irony Dies”: How Perspectives Can Change When One Moves From The Minority To The Majority

On literally the first day of the new Congress, Politico asked Don Stewart, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) spokesperson, what McConnell sees as his biggest challenge. “Democrat obstruction,” Stewart replied.

Putting aside the fact that he probably meant “Democratic obstruction,” the response was striking in its irony. McConnell, arguably more than any senator in the nation’s history, mastered the art of obstructionism, taking it to levels with no precedent in the American experiment. For his office to suddenly decry McConnell’s own practices was a reminder of just how much perspectives can change when one moves from the minority to the majority.

A month later, the posturing is almost amusing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats Wednesday of knee-jerk obstructionist tactics, flipping a script that Democrats used many times in recent years.

McConnell criticized Democrats for filibustering a motion to debate a House-passed bill funding the Department of Homeland Security that contained language blocking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

“And now Americans are wondering: What could possibly lead Democrats to filibuster Homeland Security funding?” he said on the Senate floor.

I suspect Americans aren’t really wondering that at all – the question is actually pretty easy to answer, as the Majority Leader probably realizes – but it’s the broader context that’s truly amazing.

If we were to create some kind of electronic mechanism to measure hypocrisy on a dial, and we had the machine analyze Team McConnell’s whining, the box would have very likely caught on fire yesterday.

To be sure, when it comes to filibuster hypocrisy, there’s plenty of bipartisan chiding to go around. When a party is in the majority, its members discover the remarkable value of majority rule, a sacrosanct principle that senators ignore at the nation’s peril. When that same party is in the minority, its members magically conclude that tyranny of the majority is a scourge that must be tempered with overuse of “cooling saucer” metaphors.

It’s therefore quite easy to dig up quotes from Democrats and Republicans contradicting themselves quite brazenly as they transition between minority, majority, and back.

But McConnell is nevertheless a special case. In recent years, specifically after President Obama took office, the Kentucky Republican turned obstructionism into an art form. He abused institutional norms and rules in ways his predecessors never even considered, filibustering everything he could, as often as he could. McConnell operated with a simple principle: If a bill can be blocked, it must be blocked.

Following his lead, Senate Republicans not only spent six years refusing to compromise or accept any concessions on any issue, it also imposed filibusters on every key piece of legislation to reach the floor. Before the so-called “nuclear option,” the GOP minority even routinely filibustered nominees they actually supported.

It was all part of a deliberate (and occasionally successful) strategy in which McConnell would obstruct everything he could, making Democratic governance as impossible as he could make it, without regard for the consequences.

Some reflexive complaining from McConnell and his allies is to be expected – their own medicine apparently has a bitter taste – but self-awareness is an under-appreciated quality. If the Majority Leader wants to be taken at all seriously, he can either avoid complaints about “obstructionism” or he can hope for mass amnesia to sweep the political world.

I’d recommend the former over the latter.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, February 6, 2015

February 7, 2015 Posted by | Filibuster, GOP Obstructionism, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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