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“The No-Mandate Election”: No Matter What Happens In November, Don’t Expect The Gridlock To Go Away

Usually when there’s an election cycle full of passionate intensity and near-universal perceptions of high stakes, the compensation for the teeth-grinding angst is a sense of resolution, with voters answering big questions and providing something of a policy mandate. Yes, 2000 was a muddle because the results themselves were hotly disputed (not that this kept the new Bush administration from behaving as though it had a mandate to cut taxes massively and look for excuses to topple Saddam Hussein to avenge that plot to kill Poppy). But usually we know more about the direction of the country after rather than before Election Day. And we could sure use some public guidance after six years of a Republican Congress making the total obstruction of a Democratic president its central, holy mission.

But the closer we get to November 8, the more that hope seems forlorn. Brian Beutler explains part of the problem:

Trump has completely upended the platonic notion of elections as tools to settle public policy debates. His agenda, such as it is, either can’t or won’t be implemented, even if he wins. Mexico is not going to pay for a wall along the border, and the U.S. government is not going to expel 11 million unauthorized immigrants, much less ban Muslims from entering the country. It is altogether more likely that were he to win, the movement conservatives who still control Congress would present him the kind of plutocrat-friendly legislation that alienated their voters and drove them to Trump in the first place. His supporters would be rewarded for their triumph with a vision of change they don’t share and didn’t vote for.

In the likelier event that Clinton wins, but does not secure majorities in both the House and Senate, the public will have rejected Trump’s ugly vision of a resentful, bigoted America, but will not see that verdict translated into any policy changes that reflect Clinton’s vision of a more inclusive, cosmopolitan society.

But it’s actually worse than that. If Trump loses, what Barack Obama used to call “the fever” of conservative extremism won’t “break,” for the simple reason that the keepers of the ideological flame loathe Trump as a heretic and won’t for a moment accept responsibility for anything about his campaign. The lesson many of them would “learn” from a Trump loss is the same they “learned” from McCain’s loss in 2008 and Romney’s in 2012: Only a rigidly orthodox conservative GOP can win national elections.

If, somehow, Hillary Clinton loses, it’s unclear Democrats will “learn” much of anything, either, other than the peril of going into a competitive election with a nominee who has high unfavorable ratings fed by decades of conservative attacks. There is no way a defeated Hillary Clinton runs again in 2020, and the most obvious alternative this time around, Bernie Sanders, will be pushing 80 by then. And there’s nothing about this campaign that suggests Democrats would be open to much cooperation with President Trump.

Now, should things go the opposite way with a solid or spectacular Clinton win and a Democratic conquest of both houses of Congress, there’s a chance things would open up. But as Barack Obama’s experience in 2009 demonstrated, it would almost certainly require not only a workable majority in the House but a majority in the Senate willing to undertake radical filibuster reform (at least for Supreme Court nominations, though possibly for regular legislation). And the window for accomplishing anything would be narrow: If Democrats hang on to the White House this year, 2018 would likely shape up as another GOP midterm landslide (especially in the Senate, where the landscape will be insanely pro-Republican then).

The kind of atmosphere we are more likely to see was, interestingly enough, described by Hillary Clinton herself in her recent interview with Ezra Klein:

“A lot of governing is the slow, hard boring of hard boards,” she says. “I don’t think there’s anything sexy, exciting, or headline-grabbing about it. I think it is getting up every day, building the relationships, finding whatever sliver of common ground you can occupy, never, ever giving up in continuing to reach out even to people who are sworn political partisan adversaries.”

No wonder so many Democratic primary voters thrilled to Bernie Sanders’s talk about a grassroots-driven “political revolution” that would make this “hard boring of hard boards” unnecessary. It would be nice if an election cycle or two could mobilize a previously hidden majority and sweep away all of the gridlock. Ideologues of both flavors (Ted Cruz along with Bernie Sanders) endlessly fantasize about this magic solution; the fact that it’s equally plausible for people in both parties is a pretty good sign it’s an illusion. So any way you slice it, 2017 is likely to feel familiar, and frustrating.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 13, 2016

July 13, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Election 2016, Gridlock, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Meaningful Deterrent”: Senate Republicans Rediscover The Value Of ‘Pinata Politics’

Almost exactly 10 years ago, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was concerned about Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito facing “attacks” from Senate Democrats. Eventually, the Texas Republican said at the time, senators “will need to come to terms with our confirmation process.” Cornyn added that treating nominees “more like pinatas than human beings” is “something none of us should be willing to tolerate.”

That was when there was a Republican president in the White House. Now that President Obama is the one doing the nominating, Cornyn is apparently less concerned about Pinata Politics.

Even though Senate Republicans have no intention of holding hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, that doesn’t mean he or she won’t be dragged through the mud.

And the chamber’s No. 2 Republican made that clear to a small cluster of reporters Monday, saying he believed the nominee, “will bear some resemblance to a pinata.”

A decade ago, Cornyn characterized this as “something none of us should be willing to tolerate,” but this year, one gets the impression that the Senate Majority Whip not only tolerates the same practices he denounced, he also intends to be one of the lawmakers holding the stick, swinging for candy.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was unimpressed with the rhetoric. “Senator Cornyn has now taken the next step and suggested – without knowing who this nominee is, without considering what their record is, what their experience is, how qualified they are for the job – he is suggesting that they’ll be subjected to bashing by Republicans,” Earnest told reporters yesterday. “It’s unclear for what reason, other than the president of the United States has chosen to fulfill his constitutional responsibility to nominate someone to fill a vacancy.”

That said, if Cornyn and the GOP’s tolerance for Pinata Politics is intended to intimidate potential nominees – “It’s a nice career you have there, it’d be a shame if we had to beat you with a stick” – it might be working.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s (R) was floated as a possible choice for the Supreme Court, though he soon after withdrew his name from consideration. Yesterday, as MSNBC reported, a high-profile member of the president’s cabinet did the same thing.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has “asked not to be considered” for nomination to the Supreme Court to take the spot formerly occupied by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Today, The Hill reported that another possible contender also bowed out.

Federal Appellate Judge Adalberto Jordan has taken himself out of consideration to become President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, CNN reported Wednesday.

 The Miami-based judge was reportedly a contender to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and would have been the first Cuban-American to sit on the high court.

Of course, people may have all kinds of reasons to withdraw from consideration, but it’s easy to imagine Republican rhetoric about pinatas serving as a meaningful deterrent.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 9, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | John Cornyn, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Assessing The Threats We Face”: Which Candidate Has Most Accurately Defined Those Threats And Offered A Way Forward

Obviously, Hillary Clinton’s firewall held – at least in South Carolina – where she beat Bernie Sanders by almost 50 points on Saturday. In doing so, she won 86% of the vote from African Americans. But perhaps even more importantly:

Black voters in South Carolina cast 6 in every 10 Democratic primary votes, according to CNN’s exit poll data. That ratio is huge — and sets a record-high in South Carolina black voter participation rate. The previous high was 55 percent, set in 2008, when the first black president was on his way to being elected.

For a while now, the question has been whether or not people of color – particularly African Americas – would turn out for the Democratic candidate in the numbers we saw when Barack Obama was on the ballot. At least in the South Carolina primary, they actually exceeded that benchmark.

That was surprising to some people. But perhaps a quick walk down memory lane explains what happened.

First of all, I’ve already noted how the nomination and election of Barack Obama was greeted with both hope and terror in the hearts of many African Americans. The hope was the culmination of something most thought they wouldn’t see in their lifetimes. Beyond that, the way this President and his family have handled themselves in office has been a great source of pride, while his accomplishments will give him a place of honor in our history. Therefore, in many Black homes he has been adopted as part of the family.

But the terror indicated that those who felt it were very aware of the fact that we had not reached a post-racial America. Almost immediately during the 2008 election Obama was accused by those on the right of “paling around with terrorists,” saw vicious attacks on his pastor and had his citizenship in this country questioned. Once he was elected, we witnessed unprecedented obstruction and disrespect of – not just his policies – but his very personhood. This country’s first African American president consistently faced an opposition that challenged his legitimacy in office.

Meanwhile, the courts and Republican legislators all over the country have been attempting to roll back the voting rights that so many African Americans fought and died for, and they are watching their sons and daughters be killed at the hands of police officers and vigilantes.

We are now witnessing a Republican presidential primary where the candidates are racing to outdo each other in their contempt for people of color. The field is being led by someone who has been embraced by white supremacists and just yesterday refused to disavow the support he is receiving from KKK groups – claiming he needs to do research to understand who they are.

With all of that, is it any surprise that African Americans would assume that this country is facing the threat of a confederate insurgency?

Into that mix comes the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, whose campaign is based on the idea that we are living in an oligarchy where both Parties have been captured by the forces of Wall Street. That defines the threat very differently than what many African Americans see and feel right now.

In addition, Sanders has a history of calling President Obama naive and suggesting that he should be primaried in 2012. One of his most prominent surrogates in the African American community once said that the President had a “fear of free black men” and just recently suggested that civil rights heroes like Rep. John Lewis and Jim Clyburn have been bought off by Wall Street.

Compare that to Hillary Clinton, who has embraced President Obama and promised to build on his legacy. Not only that…she recognizes the challenges we face in breaking down the barriers that divide us and keep people marginalized.

Clinton and Sanders have assessed the threats we face very differently. Voters are faced with a choice of which candidate has most accurately defined those threats and offered a way forward. It should come as no surprise to anyone why African Americans are vigorously aligned with Clinton’s vision.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 29, 2016

March 1, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Stew Of Resentment And Hatred”: Republicans Say Obama Has Been Historically Divisive. That’s Very, Very Revealing

There’s no doubt that when historians assess the Obama presidency, they will pay a great deal of attention to the deep political divisions within the country, and how those divisions shaped political events. There are racial divisions, class divisions, and, most of all, political divisions. Within Congress, for instance, the parties have been moving apart for the last 40 years, as fewer and fewer moderates get elected and the median of both parties moves toward the edge. But the reality is that while Democrats have moved left, Republicans have been moving right much more sharply — a fact not only established by political science but evident to anyone remotely familiar with Capitol Hill.

Yet Republicans are sure that the fault for all this — long-term trends and recent developments alike — can be laid at the feet of Barack Obama, who is terribly, appallingly, despicably divisive.

If we are divided, it’s only because Obama has divided us. “We have not seen such a divisive figure in modern American history” as Barack Obama, Marco Rubio said in 2012. Four years later, his opinion hasn’t changed; last week he tweeted, “This president has been the single most divisive political figure this country has had over the last decade.” After Obama’s recent State of the Union address, Ted Cruz fumed, “He lectures us on civility yet has been one of the most divisive presidents in American history.” Or as one Republican congressman said last week, “There probably has not been a more racially-divisive, economic-divisive president in the White House since we had presidents who supported slavery.” You won’t find too many Republicans who would disagree.

Yet if you spend some time investigating what evidence Republicans offer when they call Obama divisive, what you find is not actually evidence at all, but their own skewed interpretations of events. “He says ‘It’s my way or the highway’ on legislation!”, they charge — although he doesn’t actually say that. It’s just that he has a different legislative agenda than they do. “He crammed ObamaCare down our throats!” — this is a sentence that has been written and spoken a thousand times (just Google it for yourself). Back on Planet Earth, the Affordable Care Act spent over a year going through endless hearings, floor speeches, and debates, and in the end passed the House and Senate and was signed by the president, which you may recall is how a bill becomes a law.

Here’s the truth: You might like Barack Obama or you might not; you might think he has been a good president or a bad one. But the idea that blame for the political divisions we confront lies solely or even primarily at his door is positively deranged.

Let’s just remind ourselves of how Republicans have treated Obama over his seven years in office, with a few of the greatest hits. You can start right on the day of his inauguration, when congressional Republicans gathered for a dinner at which they decided that rather than seek areas of cooperation with the new president, they would employ a strategy of maximum confrontation and obstruction in order to deny him any legislative victories.

They followed through on this plan. As Mitch McConnell explained proudly in 2010, “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny Barack Obama a second term.”

At Obama’s speech in front of Congress in 2009, a Republican member of the House, acting like a drunk frat boy in a comedy club, decided to heckle him, shouting “You lie!” In the time since, conservative Republicans have regularly acted as though Obama is presumptuous for even acting like the president; they’ve suggested things like not inviting him to deliver the SOTU, or depriving him of the use of Air Force One.

And then there’s the question of how they explain it when Obama does things they don’t like. Before you protest that Obama himself sometimes questions his opponents’ motives, it’s important to realize that when he does so, it’s in a narrow way focused on the issue at hand — they really want to cut taxes for the wealthy, they don’t think women ought to have access to abortion, they’re too eager to start a new war, and so on — to explain their behavior at a particular moment. What he doesn’t do, and what he has never done, is accuse them of hating their country. But this is something Republicans have done constantly — not once or twice, not a dozen times or even a hundred, but constantly for seven years.

“I do not believe that the president loves America,” said Rudy Giuliani last year, in a statement notable only for being a tad more explicit than the way Republicans usually talk about this question.”He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” Often they will argue that the policies they disagree with are part of a secret plan of Obama’s to hamper, diminish, or even destroy the country. Among the things said in the last debate by Marco Rubio — supposedly the reasonable establishment candidate — were that Obama “believes that America is an arrogant global power that needs to be cut down to size,” that when elected in 2008 he “didn’t want to fix America,” that he “doesn’t believe in the Constitution,” and that he “doesn’t believe in the free enterprise system.”

In fact, any time you hear a Republican begin a sentence with “Barack Obama believes…” it’s an absolute guarantee that what follows will be an utter lie about how Obama doesn’t accept the basic values nearly all Americans agree on, that his ideas are alien and threatening. As Newt Gingrich said in 2010, “What if he is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

Their voters believe it — indeed, many if not most of them believe that Obama is not American at all. A recent poll by the Democratic firm PPP found that only 29 percent of Republicans would grant that the president is an American citizen. A majority of Republicans also believe he is a Muslim; in other words, that when he goes to church or talks about his Christian beliefs, he’s just lying. Polls have shown similar findings for much of his presidency. A poll by the same firm just after the 2012 election showed 49 percent of Republicans saying ACORN stole the election for Obama (which would have been quite a feat, since the organization ceased to exist in 2010).

They don’t get these ideas from nowhere. They get them from the leading lights of the GOP, the politicians and media figures who tell them day in and day out that Obama hates them and hates America, and that he is a black nationalist whose policy proposals are about exacting reparations from whites for imaginary racial sins of the past.

If you’re even a marginally aware conservative, you’ve been marinating for seven years in this toxic stew of resentment and hatred. So no one should be surprised that this year Republican voters are angry. But that’s Obama’s fault too, of course — you might have heard many of them blame the fact that their party has been taken over by a xenophobic blowhard on, you guessed it, Barack Obama.

Yes, it was terribly poor manners of him to make them hate him so, to bring out such ugliness in Republicans. But what choice did they have? And this is the best explanation for their argument that Obama is so terribly divisive: it’s projection. They’re blaming him for their own shortcomings, their own misdeeds, the political divisions that they have worked so hard to exacerbate.

“It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency,” Obama said in his State of the Union address this year, “that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide.” Maybe, but probably not.

Obama could have invited more Republicans to play golf with him, or invested more time trying to convince them that the Affordable Care Act was a good idea. But would those things — or anything he might have done — really changed how they acted? The party who wouldn’t work with him on any legislation, who shut down the government, who vilified him from the moment he took office, who literally made him show his birth certificate to prove he’s an American? Not a chance.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, January 19, 2016

January 22, 2016 Posted by | Congress, GOP, Racism, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Congress Largely On The Sidelines For Paris Deal”: Mitch McConnell Is Powerless To Block Obama’s Climate Change Deal

One of the few times countries around the world have reached a climate change deal to cut global greenhouse gasses was the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which required binding cuts from industrialized nations. Top Republicans told the press it was “dead on arrival” and would never gain approval from the Senate. And that was, more or less, the end of Kyoto—other countries pointed to the U.S. never ratifying it as reason enough to ignore their own commitments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has now pledged to kill the latest emerging global consensus to act on climate change. His strategy is to obstruct a deal at the next major conference in Paris at the end of the year. As Politico reported earlier this week, congressional Republicans have returned from their August recess with every intention of derailing a deal long before we get to December. An aide to McConnell is reaching out to foreign embassies to detail how the GOP-controlled Congress plans to stop President Obama’s climate plan from moving forward.

But this won’t be another Kyoto, because McConnell just isn’t a credible threat to the global negotiations. Well aware that Republicans have not changed their minds on UN climate treaties—and have in fact gone to a greater extreme—negotiators have put together a different kind of deal for a Paris conference at the end of the year, one that looks nothing like Kyoto. Republican obstinacy is so predictable, it’s already baked into the structure, politics, and messaging ahead of a deal in Paris.

At Paris, countries are responsible for putting forward their own emissions plans. Though it’s not clear what structure the final deal will take—including which elements are binding and which are not—the emissions cuts proposed at Paris probably won’t require Senate approval because they won’t be binding, as they were in Kyoto. Obama has pledged U.S. climate action through executive authority. (Of course, that also means that many of his pledges in Paris will rely on the commitment of his successor.)

McConnell’s strategy is clear: Send the world some very mixed messages on what the U.S. intends to do about its own greenhouse gas emissions. He’s emphasizing Republican plans to block the Clean Power Plan, a key part of Obama’s strategy to cut the U.S.’s carbon footprint by reducing emissions from electricity 32 percent by 2032. The GOP’s likely tool will be the Congressional Review Act, which requires only a majority vote to repeal a law—but it’s still subject to Obama’s veto, which makes repeal unlikely. The Senate may also take up a bill passed by the Environment and Public Works Committee that delays the Clean Power Plan until court challenges are resolved, a process that could take years and years—but though the Supreme Court could send the regulation back to the Environmental Protection Agency, defenders insist it is on sound legal ground. One tactic might work in the short term: Congress’s control over appropriations gives the GOP the ability to withhold the $3 billion Obama promised to the Green Climate Fund, an international fund to help poorer nations adapt to climate change. But it’s unlikely that alone would be enough to blow up broader negotiations.

Despite the largely hollow threats from McConnell, the Obama administration has been conducting its own outreach to large polluters like China to explain how the U.S. can deliver on its promises in good faith without Congress’ input—as long as a Democrat is in office, that is. In March, the U.S. submitted its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent by 2025 over 2005 levels. When negotiators ask State Department climate envoy Todd Stern about the “solidity of U.S. action,” he says he assures them that “the kind of regulation being put in place is not easily undone,” signaling that the White House is confident its Clean Power Plan and other EPA regulations can survive court battles and congressional opposition.

All this means mixed news for Paris: The bad news is that a single Republican is powerful enough to undo the deal—but not until long after December, and only if the GOP wins the White House in 2016. The good news, though, is this means Congress is largely on the sidelines for Paris and won’t make or break the negotiations. It won’t be Mitch McConnell who sinks a deal.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, September 9, 2015

September 10, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Mitch Mc Connell, Paris Climate Conference | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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