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“The Disappointment Must Be Crushing”: ‘He’s Wanted To Be A Historically Significant Speaker’

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who’s unlikely to face a credible opponent when he seeks another term early next year, will soon lead a massive majority. The current House GOP caucus is pretty significant, but thanks to some modest gains in this year’s midterms, Boehner will soon sit atop a party with 247 House seats, the most for Republicans since the Great Depression.

But the New York Times noted the other day that there’s uncertainty lurking behind the numbers.

[W]hat he is able to do with that power will determine whether he is remembered as something more than the House leader during a stretch of frustrating gridlock and deep partisanship.

“He’s never wanted to just be Speaker,” said Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and a close ally. “He’s wanted to be a historically significant Speaker.”

The quote surprised me a bit. Several years ago, before the Ohio Republican was elevated to his current post, a friend of mine who works on Capitol Hill told me, “John Boehner cares about three things: cutting taxes, playing golf, and smoking cigarettes – and not necessarily in that order.”

Boehner, the argument went, didn’t have grand ambitions about becoming a historically significant figure. He welcomed promotions and leadership posts, but it was widely assumed that he saw the stature and prestige as their own rewards. In this vision of Boehner, we see a guy who didn’t intend to leave an imposing legacy – there would be no buildings named after him following his tenure.

But Tom Cole, one of Boehner’s closest allies, suggests this perception is all wrong. This Speaker actually does care about his place in history and he wants to be seen as a success.

Which in some ways makes the last four years something of a tragedy.

If Boehner set out to be a historically significant Speaker, he succeeded in the worst possible way: Congress, at least since the Civil War, has never been quite this dysfunctional. Congress has never failed quite so spectacularly to complete routine tasks. Congress never, in rapid succession, threatened to trash the full faith and credit of the United States, then repeatedly threatened to shut down the government, following through in one ridiculous case.

The most notable aspect of Boehner’s record is a complete inability to lead his own members and govern effectively. When this Speaker manages to pass spending measures that keep the government’s lights on, much of the country considers it a minor miracle, thanks entirely to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

After four years with the gavel, Boehner’s total of major legislative accomplishments remains stuck at … zero. Simon Maloy noted yesterday, “His record of leadership to date is defined almost entirely by its reflexive opposition to the president, and in the process he’s helped turn Congress into a dysfunctional morass in which elected representatives don’t actually know how to do their jobs.”

It didn’t have to be this way. There have been any number of opportunities for Boehner to tackle real legislative initiatives – up to and including immigration reform, which the Speaker promised to act on before he broke his word – and just as many chances to sit down with President Obama to strike meaningful compromises.

But Boehner, fearful of far-right revolts and members who ignore his attempts at leadership, has generally been loath to even try. If he genuinely “wanted to be a historically significant Speaker,” the disappointment must be crushing.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 2, 2014

December 4, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From Dysfunction To Malfunction”: Mitch McConnell And The Limits Of Scorched-Earth Obstructionism

As the Senate Republicans’ leader, Mitch McConnell launched an experiment of sorts during the Obama era. It was a strategy without precedent in the American tradition, and it was arguably a historic gamble that wasn’t guaranteed to work. But the Kentucky Republican and his allies did it anyway.

And as the calendar turns from November to December, it’s worth appreciating that last month was arguably the most informative to date when it comes to the results of this experiment – it was a month that crystallized the ways in which the GOP gambit was an extraordinary success and the ways in which it failed in ways McConnell didn’t expect.

McConnell’s master strategy was elegant in its simplicity: after his party was soundly rejected by voters in 2006 and 2008, McConnell came to believe recovery was dependent on unprecedented obstructionism. Republicans, the GOP leader decided, would simply say no to everything – regardless of merit or consequence, even when Democrats agreed with them.

The point, as McConnell has acknowledged many times, was to deny President Obama and his allies the all-important cover of bipartisanship – when an idea enjoys support from both parties, it’s effectively the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the American mainstream. But if Republicans embraced blanket opposition to literally every Democratic proposal, the public would assume Obama was failing to bring the parties together behind a sound, moderate agenda. The gridlock would be crushing, but McConnell assumed the media and much of the electorate would simply blame the White House, even if that didn’t make any factual sense.

It worked. The American legislative progress has turned from dysfunction to malfunction over the last four years, creating a Congress that fails to complete even routine tasks, and those responsible for creating the worst governing conditions since the Civil War were broadly rewarded by voters. Obama went being from the popular, post-partisan leader who would repair the nation’s ills – an FDR for the 21st century – to the president with a meager approval rating who hasn’t signed a major bill into law since 2010.

As the results came in on Election Night, made a compelling case that described Mitch McConnell as “the greatest strategist in contemporary politics.”

It’s tough to disagree, right? Republicans intended to destroy the American legislative process, and they did. Republicans set out to exacerbate partisan tensions, and they did. Republicans hoped to make Obama less popular by making it vastly more difficult for him to get anything done, and they did. Republicans hoped to parlay public discontent into electoral victories, and they did. Republicans made a conscious decision to prevent the president from bringing the country together, and they successfully made the national chasm larger.

There’s just one thing McConnell & Co. forgot: a gamble like this can be a strategic success and a substantive failure at the same time.

Consider this report, which ran on Thanksgiving.

President Obama could leave office with the most aggressive, far-reaching environmental legacy of any occupant of the White House. Yet it is very possible that not a single major environmental law will have passed during his two terms in Washington.

Instead, Mr. Obama has turned to the vast reach of the Clean Air Act of 1970, which some legal experts call the most powerful environmental law in the world. Faced with a Congress that has shut down his attempts to push through an environmental agenda, Mr. Obama is using the authority of the act passed at the birth of the environmental movement to issue a series of landmark regulations on air pollution, from soot to smog, to mercury and planet-warming carbon dioxide.

It seems counterintuitive, but President Obama simply doesn’t need Congress to advance one of the most sweeping and ambitious environmental agendas in generations.

With this in mind, McConnell’s strategy worked exactly as intended, producing the precise results Republicans were counting on, but the plan failed to appreciate what an ambitious president can still do with the powers of the presidency.

It’s not just the environment, of course. McConnell’s plan was also intended to destroy immigration reform, which was effective right up until Obama identified a legal way around Congress, helping millions of families in the process. Jon Chait added:

The GOP has withheld cooperation from every major element of President Obama’s agenda, beginning with the stimulus, through health-care reform, financial regulation, the environment, long-term debt reduction, and so on. That stance has worked extremely well as a political strategy. […]

The formula only fails to work if the president happens to have an easy and legal way to act on the issue in question without Congress. Obama can’t do that on infrastructure, or the grand bargain, and he couldn’t do it on health care. But he could do it on immigration.

And the environment. And in addressing the Ebola threat. And in targeting ISIS.

The irony is, had McConnell pursued a different approach, he could have advanced more conservative policy goals. If Republicans had worked with Democrats on health care, the Affordable Care Act would have included provisions with the right. If McConnell were willing to deal on immigration, Obama would have endorsed a more conservative approach than the executive actions announced two weeks ago. If the GOP made an effort to work with the White House on energy, Obama’s environmental vision would almost certainly have more modest goals.

Republicans might have been better off – which is to say, they would have ended up with a more conservative outcome – if they’d actually compromised and taken governing seriously in some key areas.

But McConnell thought it’d be easier to win through scorched-earth obstructionism.

Again, as of next month, he’ll be the Senate Majority Leader, so maybe he doesn’t care about the substantive setbacks. But for all the GOP gains at the ballot box, it’s Obama, not Republicans, moving a policy agenda forward.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 1, 2014

December 2, 2014 Posted by | Midterm Elections, Mitch Mc Connell, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hell Bent On Creating Chaos And Crisis”: How Republicans Are Learning To Love The Shutdown

Conventional wisdom is malleable, and it appears that conventional wisdom on the wisdom of shutting down the government is shifting, at least within the Republican party. While the old CW was that it was a terrible idea that Republicans suffered for, and it would be foolish to do it again, the new CW seems to be, “Hey, didn’t we shut down the government and win the next election?”

The other day, influential conservative journalist Byron York began pushing this line, writing that the 2013 shutdown “so deeply damaged GOP prospects that Republicans exceeded expectations in 2014, winning control of the Senate in spectacular fashion and making unexpected gains in the House.” And now, as Dave Weigel reports, Republicans are taking it up:

In [conservative] circles, it’s clear that the president can be stared down on immigration. And it’s clear that a fight, even if it led to shutdown, would be either rewarded or forgotten by voters when they returned to the polling booths in November 2016. The reality of the Affordable Care Act had, after all, ended up winning elections for them in 2014. Why wouldn’t the reality of Obama’s new blunders elect the Republicans of 2016?

It’s all deeply frustrating to Democrats. Virginia Representative Gerry Connolly, whose district’s contractors and federal employees recoiled at the shutdown, had subsequently watched his state reelect its Republican congressmen and nearly knock off its popular Democratic senator. There clearly was no shutdown hangover for Republicans.

“From their point of view, frankly, while it had a temporary impact on their polling numbers, they fully recovered from that and paid no price at all on Nov. 4,” said Connolly as he headed into a vote. “Politicians are all Pavlovian at a very elemental level. What’s rewarded, what’s punished. They look at that, and they think it seems to have been rewarded. It certainly wasn’t punished.”

This is entirely true. Approval of the Republican party took a nose dive in the wake of the shutdown, and though it is still viewed negatively by most Americans, that didn’t stop Republicans from having a great election day. Because as at least some within the GOP understand, you can create chaos and crisis, and large numbers of voters will conclude not that Republicans are bent on creating chaos and crisis but that “Washington” is broken, and the way to fix it is to elect the people who aren’t in the president’s party. That in this case that happened to be precisely the people who broke it escaped many voters. The fact that the electorate skewed so heavily Republican in an election with the lowest turnout since 1942 also helped them escape the consequences of their behavior.

One of the things that interests me here is Weigel’s observation, which I’ve heard from others before, that conservatives believe “that the president can be stared down on immigration.” The fact that they’ve lost these showdowns again and again doesn’t seem to register. They simultaneously believe that Barack Obama is a tyrant in the grip of a mad obsession to destroy America, and that he’s a wimp who will back down if they show some spine.

If that’s what you think, a shutdown becomes a win-win scenario. If you threaten to shut the government down and Obama relents, then you’ve won. If he doesn’t relent and the government does shut down, you’ll win anyway, because that’s what happened before.

It now looks like Obama is going to announce his new immigration policy this week, at which point Republicans will freak out. And we may be seeing the front end of an evolution in their thinking, not just from “Shutting down the government would be bad for us” to “We could shut down the government and be just fine,” but from there all the way to “Shutting down the government would be genius.” Just you wait.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 19, 2014

November 20, 2014 Posted by | Election 2016, Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Same Old Issues”: Why The Media Are Ignoring The Dangerous Ideas of Joni Ernst And Other Extremists Now On The Cusp Of Power

Joni Ernst, who may become Iowa’s next senator, denies climate change, supports a personhood amendment and says she’d use her “beautiful little Smith & Wesson” to defend herself “from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.” She’s also seriously flirted with a John Birch Society–backed conspiracy theory about an evil plot called Agenda 21.

But all you’d know from the corporate media is that Ernst made a really catchy ad about castrating pigs and that she is supposedly (but not really) the victim of a sexist remark made by outgoing Democratic senator Tom Harkin.

Norman Ornstein, the pundit who was once quoted all over until he dared to say that Republicans are the real obstructionists, explains such grand omissions brilliantly:

The most common press narrative for elections this year is to contrast them with the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. Back then, the GOP “establishment” lost control of its nominating process, ended up with a group of extreme Senate candidates who said wacky things—Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle—and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in races that should have been slam dunks. Now the opposite has happened: The establishment has fought back and won, vanquishing the Tea Party and picking top-flight candidates who are disciplined and mainstream, dramatically unlike Akin and Angle.

It is a great narrative, a wonderful organizing theme. But any evidence that contradicts or clouds the narrative devalues it, which is perhaps why evidence to the contrary tends to be downplayed or ignored. Meantime, stories that show personal gaffes or bonehead moves by the opponents of these new, attractive mainstream candidates, fit that narrative and are highlighted.

Of course, this does not mean that the press has a Republican bias, any more than it had an inherent Democratic bias in 2012 when Akin, Angle, and Mourdock led the coverage. What it suggests is how deeply the eagerness to pick a narrative and stick with it, and to resist stories that contradict the narrative, is embedded in the culture of campaign journalism. [My italics] The alternative theory, that the Republican establishment won by surrendering its ground to its more ideologically extreme faction, picking candidates who are folksy and have great resumes but whose issue stances are much the same as their radical Tea Party rivals, goes mostly ignored. Meanwhile, there was plenty of coverage of the admittedly bonehead refusal by Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes to say she had voted for Obama—dozens of press references to NBC’s Chuck Todd saying it was “disqualifying”—but no stories saying that references to Agenda 21 or talking about terrorists and drug lords out to kill Arkansans [as Republican senatorial candidate Tom Cotton does] were disqualifying.


By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, November 3, 2014

November 4, 2014 Posted by | Joni Ernst, Media, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitch McConnell’s 47 Percent Moment”: There For Millionaires And Billionaires, They Know They Can Count On Mitch

A year ago, President Obama convulsed the White House Correspondents Dinner when he responded to complaints that he wasn’t meeting enough with the Republican leaders in the Congress: “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really?” Obama asked the audience incredulously. “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”

The Kentucky senator, continuously partisan and mean spirited in public, earned the jab by leading a record number of filibusters as Senate minority leader during Obama’s tenure, forcing more than a quarter of all cloture votes in the history of the Senate since the beginning of the Republic.

Now, many political bookies, however prematurely, have made Republicans favorites to win the Senate majority. What will McConnell do if he must go from opposition to governing? Last week, the Nation Magazine, which I edit, along with Lauren Windsor of the Undercurrent, released an audiotape of McConnell’s revealing remarks to a private June strategy session of deep-pocket Republican billionaire donors, convened by the Koch brothers.

Introduced by the general counsel of Koch Industries, McConnell begins by paying tribute to his patrons, thanking the Koch brothers personally “for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you . . . rallying, uh, to the cause.”

So what is the cause? Putting Americans to work? Rebuilding the middle class? Unleashing free market answers to catastrophic climate change?

No, McConnell can’t seem to get himself to address a positive agenda. He envisions only more obstruction. If he is majority leader, he promises, “we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage . . . extending unemployment . . . the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse.”

With Republican majorities, McConnell tells the fat cats, “We own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And . . . we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or do that”

So what parts of government would McConnell starve of funds? Although many Republicans are campaigning as faux populists against crony capitalism, McConnell doesn’t suggest that he’ll cut subsidies to Big Oil or the lard-filled budgets of the Pentagon. No, McConnell pledges to his millionaire funders “We’re going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board [inaudible].”

For all his posturing about Obama’s dictatorial usurpations, McConnell reassures the millionaires that “we now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times.” Why? Because in the Citizens United decision, the conservatives on the Supreme Court overturned established precedents to give corporations the right to spend unlimited funds in elections. This is a victory for “open discourse,” McConnell argues, making clear just how he expects the corporations to make their opinions known:

“The Supreme Court allowed all of you to participate in the process in a variety of different ways. You can give to the candidate of your choice. You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government.” (Americans for Prosperity is the right-wing Koch funded political vehicle that has been called the “third-largest political party in the United States.”)

For McConnell, the court’s decision to unleash corporate contributions helped heal the pain from what he described as the “worst day of my political life.” Not the 9/11 terrorist bombings or the disastrous vote to invade Iraq. No, according to McConnell, the worst day of his political life was when a Republican congress passed and George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms, that put some limits of big money in our politics.

Mitch McConnell is surely a man for these times. Big money dominates our politics and corrupts our politicians (including, most recently, McConnell’s campaign manager, who resigned because of his possible involvement in bribing an Iowa state legislator to change his support from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in the 2012 Iowa Republican presidential primary). Legislators like McConnell openly serve “the private sector,” currying their donations while serving their interests.

As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said while campaigning for Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell’s underdog challenger: “Mitch McConnell is there for millionaires and billionaires. He is not there for people who are working hard playing by the rules and trying to build a future for themselves.”

Voters aren’t stupid. Given his views and his record, it is not surprising that McConnell is one of the most vulnerable of Republican incumbents, with Grimes running only a few points behind him. Nor is it surprising that more than $100 million may end up being spent on the race, making it one the most expensive contests in Senate history. Millionaires know they can count on McConnell.

McConnell ended his talk by repeating the Republican mantra against taxes and regulation, arguing, “If we want to get the country going again, we need to quit doing what we’ve been doing. Was it Einstein that [sic] said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?” Let’s hope the voters of Kentucky come to the same conclusion about reelecting a senator who represents donors far better than voters.


By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 3, 2014

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Mitch Mc Connell, Plutocrats | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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