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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

“How America Was Lost”: Maybe We Should All Start Wearing Baseball Caps That Say, “Make America Governable Again”

Once upon a time, the death of a Supreme Court justice wouldn’t have brought America to the edge of constitutional crisis. But that was a different country, with a very different Republican Party. In today’s America, with today’s G.O.P., the passing of Antonin Scalia has opened the doors to chaos.

In principle, losing a justice should cause at most a mild disturbance in the national scene. After all, the court is supposed to be above politics. So when a vacancy appears, the president should simply nominate, and the Senate approve, someone highly qualified and respected by all.

In reality, of course, things were never that pure. Justices have always had known political leanings, and the process of nomination and approval has often been contentious. Still, there was nothing like the situation we face now, in which Republicans have more or less unanimously declared that President Obama has no right even to nominate a replacement for Mr. Scalia — and no, the fact that Mr. Obama will leave soon doesn’t make it O.K. (Justice Kennedy was appointed during Ronald Reagan’s last year in office.)

Nor were the consequences of a court vacancy as troubling in the past as they are now. As everyone is pointing out, without Mr. Scalia the justices are evenly divided between Republican and Democratic appointees — which probably means a hung court on many issues.

And there’s no telling how long that situation may last. If a Democrat wins the White House but the G.O.P. holds the Senate, when if ever do you think Republicans would be willing to confirm anyone the new president nominates?

How did we get into this mess?

At one level the answer is the ever-widening partisan divide. Polarization has measurably increased in every aspect of American politics, from congressional voting to public opinion, with an especially dramatic rise in “negative partisanship” — distrust of and disdain for the other side. And the Supreme Court is no different. As recently as the 1970s the court had several “swing” members, whose votes weren’t always predictable from partisan positions, but that center now consists only of Mr. Kennedy, and only some of the time.

But simply pointing to rising partisanship as the source of our crisis, while not exactly wrong, can be deeply misleading. First, decrying partisanship can make it seem as if we’re just talking about bad manners, when we’re really looking at huge differences on substance. Second, it’s really important not to engage in false symmetry: only one of our two major political parties has gone off the deep end.

On the substantive divide between the parties: I still encounter people on the left (although never on the right) who claim that there’s no big difference between Republicans and Democrats, or at any rate “establishment” Democrats. But that’s nonsense. Even if you’re disappointed in what President Obama accomplished, he substantially raised taxes on the rich and dramatically expanded the social safety net; significantly tightened financial regulation; encouraged and oversaw a surge in renewable energy; moved forward on diplomacy with Iran.

Any Republican would undo all of that, and move sharply in the opposite direction. If anything, the consensus among the presidential candidates seems to be that George W. Bush didn’t cut taxes on the rich nearly enough, and should have made more use of torture.

When we talk about partisanship, then, we’re not talking about arbitrary teams, we’re talking about a deep divide on values and policy. How can anyone not be “partisan” in the sense of preferring one of these visions?

And it’s up to you to decide which version you prefer. So why do I say that only one party has gone off the deep end?

One answer is, compare last week’s Democratic debate with Saturday’s Republican debate. Need I say more?

Beyond that, there are huge differences in tactics and attitudes. Democrats never tried to extort concessions by threatening to cut off U.S. borrowing and create a financial crisis; Republicans did. Democrats don’t routinely deny the legitimacy of presidents from the other party; Republicans did it to both Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama. The G.O.P.’s new Supreme Court blockade is, fundamentally, in a direct line of descent from the days when Republicans used to call Mr. Clinton “your president.”

So how does this get resolved? One answer could be a Republican sweep — although you have to ask, did the men on that stage Saturday convey the impression of a party that’s ready to govern? Or maybe you believe — based on no evidence I’m aware of — that a populist rising from the left is ready to happen any day now. But if divided government persists, it’s really hard to see how we avoid growing chaos.

Maybe we should all start wearing baseball caps that say, “Make America governable again.”

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 14, 2016

February 16, 2016 Posted by | GOP, Governing, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What’s The Deal With Cruz And Kids?”: Twas The Night Before The Shutdown And All Through The House

Is there any limit to Senator Ted Cruz’s willingness to exploit small children – his own and now others – in embarrassing and peculiar ways to further his bid for the Republican presidential nomination? Based on his latest TV ad, “Playing Trump,” which features three kids playing with a Donald Trump doll and robotically mouthing Cruz campaign talking points, the answer is clearly “No.”

“Look, I got the Trump action figure,” says one adorable child, holding the doll. “What does he do?” asks another. “He pretends to be a Republican,” says the first.

The child goes on to pretend that the Trump doll is saying that he gave money to Nancy Pelosi and Anthony Weiner. Then, when one of the others calls attention to a dollhouse, the first child says in his Trump voice: “That’s a lousy house. I’m going to take your house through eminent domain.”

The three children demolish the dollhouse with the “aid” of the Trump doll, and at the end, two adults, presumably playing parents, peek in the door, shocked. Shocked! “We wouldn’t tolerate these values in our children,” the narrator says. “Why would we want them in a president.”

Well, the obvious answer is, none of those children actually have those values. They are just pretending to. And no one under the age of 10 is running for president, even though the campaign is enough to make you think so.

The kids in this ad are, I fervently hope, professional actors. But Mr. Cruz is not above using his own children in equally chilling ways to advance his candidacy.

Last year, the Cruz campaign posted a lot of “b roll” footage of the candidate and his family, intended for use by super PACs. The point was to help the groups make ads on behalf of Mr. Cruz but act as if they were not coordinating with the campaign, to avoid running afoul of the very few campaign finance laws still in effect.

In that footage, we are all privileged to watch Mr. Cruz try, with increasing impatience, to get his older daughter to say grace at a dinner table, with minimal success, until he finally does it himself.

Then, the brains of American voters were violated with an ad in which Mr. Cruz cuddled up with his wife and daughters on a couch and read them a twisted version of a Christmas favorite.

“Twas the night before the shutdown and all through the House,” Mr. Cruz says in a very creepy tone of awe. “Not a bill was stirring, not even to fund a mouse.”

There ought to be a rule against taking beloved children’s stories and ruining them for your own children and the rest of America. What did he do when the camera was turned off? Tell his daughters there was no such thing as Santa Claus?

 

By: Andrew Rosenthal, Taking Note, The Editorial Page Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, February 10, 2016

February 12, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Advertising, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Take The Less Risky Path”: The Budget Passes! Has The GOP Congress Come To Its Senses?

The news that the House passed a budget that will fund the government through next fall, and the Senate quickly followed suit, is in and of itself a big deal. But the fact that the bill passed so easily — on a vote of 316-113 in the House, with Republicans voting in favor of it by a margin of 150-95 — may be the really interesting story here.

Is the GOP Congress not what we thought it was? Is the way liberal commentators (myself included) have characterized the Republican caucus in the House over the last couple of years, as a group dominated by extremists who are willing to burn down everything in their path, an oversimplification?

It just may be. But let’s look at some competing explanations for why this budget passed so easily:

Paul Ryan is a genius. Perhaps this is all Paul Ryan’s doing, so deftly did he work his members to corral support for this bill. There’s something to that — there were specific steps he took to make all his members feel like they had a voice in the process, and even some of the most conservative members have praised his openness to their input.

But there are a couple of reasons to think that this explanation is incomplete at best. First, it suggests that the crises and intra-Republican battles of the last few years occurred only because John Boehner was inept at managing the more restive parts of his caucus. While no one is going to suggest that Boehner was some kind of legislative sensei, the members who forced those crises weren’t doing it just because they disliked Boehner. They were acting out of their own ideological and electoral interests, many because they saw their political fortunes in their own districts tied to the idea that they would be uncompromising in fighting both Barack Obama and their party’s leadership.

Second, this bill really was a compromise. It doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood, it doesn’t reduce the size of government, and it gives Democrats plenty of other things they wanted as well. Republicans in the House weren’t going to go along with it for no reason other than the fact that they got to sit down with the new Speaker and voice their complaints. So while they may feel better about Ryan than they did about Boehner, that can’t be the whole story.

They realized that making a fuss only raises expectations. The key dynamic in Republican politics these days comes from voter dissatisfaction with the party’s leaders, who have repeatedly promised to fight President Obama to their dying breath but has been unable to deliver on any of their substantive goals, like repealing the Affordable Care Act. Smarter Republican members may realize that shutdown crises only serve to increase this dissatisfaction, because they inevitably end in defeat for the conservatives. Even the angriest tea partier could eventually face a primary challenger who points out that the congressman didn’t succeed in stopping the march of socialism, no matter how often he shook his fist at his party’s leadership. So the less risky path might be to let the bill pass, keep the government running, and hope that nobody takes much notice of it.

There’s a silent (or at least relatively quiet) majority of Republicans in the House. Let’s not forget that 95 Republicans did vote against the bill, including the most conservative ones. In the past, the conservatives (or the tea partiers, or the Freedom Caucus, or however you want to refer to them) were only able to create crises and shutdowns because they were able to bring slightly less crazy members along with them. So it isn’t that the extreme conservatives have gotten any less extreme; what made the difference this time is that the merely very conservative members were no longer willing to set fire to the Capitol.

Those members in the ideological middle of the caucus (which, to be clear, is a very conservative place) can sound like tea partiers when the situation demands, but they are also realistic enough to know that some battles aren’t worth fighting. They certainly feel pressure from their right, but they may have learned from the mistakes of the past. And right now, as we move into 2016, the calculation of which risks are worth taking has changed. Which leads us to the final explanation:

The presidential race has changed everything. As I’ve been arguing since the last midterm election, congressional Republicans didn’t really need to “show they can govern.” What they needed to do was avoid screwing things up for their eventual 2016 presidential nominee. The reason is simple: if a Republican wins the White House next year, 2017 will see a bacchanal of conservative legislating that will leave no Republican desire unfulfilled. Trying to extract a few concessions from Barack Obama today is spectacularly foolish if it makes Republicans look bad and thereby reduces the chances of electing a Republican president by even the tiniest amount. The best strategy for congressional Republicans is to do no harm, and be patient.

With the presidential primary campaign now in full swing, that reality may be hitting home for more and more members of Congress. So even the most conservatives ones aren’t going to try to force a shutdown. Instead, they’ll vote against the budget bill, and when a reporter asks they’ll say, yes, of course it’s a surrender to Obama and a betrayal of conservative values, blah blah blah. But in their hearts, they probably realize that at this particular moment, passing the budget is the smart move.

So which one of these explanations is the right one? The answer may be different for different members, but I’m pretty sure they all played a role.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 18, 2015

December 21, 2015 Posted by | Budget, GOP Establishment, House Freedom Caucus, Senate | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The GOP’s Self-Inflicted Wounds”: Keep One Thing In Mind; The Party Establishment Brought This Plague Upon Itself

As the leading Republican presidential candidates rant and rave about deporting 11 million immigrants, fighting some kind of world war against Islam, implementing gimmicky tax plans that would bankrupt the nation and other such madness, keep one thing in mind: The party establishment brought this plague upon itself.

The self-harming was unintentional but inevitable — and should have been foreseeable. Donald Trump and Ben Carson didn’t come out of nowhere. Fully half of the party’s voters didn’t wake up one morning and decide, for no particular reason, that experience as a Republican elected official was the last thing they wanted in a presidential candidate.

The insurrection that has reduced Jeb Bush to single-digit support while Trump and Carson soar is nothing more than the understandable reaction of the jilted. Republican leaders have spent the years of the Obama presidency inflaming GOP base voters with extreme rhetoric and wooing them with empty promises. The establishment won its goal — electoral gains in Congress and many statehouses — but in the process may have lost the party.

Unrest was brewing among true-believer conservatives even before Barack Obama took office as the first African-American president. George W. Bush had angered the base with his budget-busting expenditures for Middle East wars and a new prescription drug benefit under Medicare. What had happened to the party’s commitment to fiscal responsibility?

The final straw for many came when the financial crisis hit in 2008 and Bush, in his final days, won authorization of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program — a massive bailout for the big Wall Street banks. It was a wholesale violation of conservative principles that helped inspire the birth of the tea party movement.

With the economy still in crisis, Obama took actions that further riled conservatives — pushing through Congress a messy economic stimulus package and rescuing General Motors and Chrysler. And then the president turned to health care, ultimately winning passage of the Affordable Care Act.

The GOP saw a golden political opportunity. Rather than work with Obama toward compromise, Republicans positioned themselves as implacable foes of the president and all he stood for.

As the tea party increasingly came to demonize Obama for being an alleged Muslim or socialist — and even to delegitimize him as supposedly having been born in Kenya — the Republican establishment shamefully played along despite knowing that none of this rubbish was true.

The result was a sweeping victory in the 2010 election. Republicans captured the House by electing dozens of tea party-backed candidates, who came to Washington with revolution on their minds.

Experienced GOP politicians who should have known better allowed this insurgency to push the party into a series of showdowns with Obama that Republicans could not possibly win. Having told the base that great things could be accomplished by shutting down the government or threatening default on the national debt, the establishment had to say, in effect, never mind.

Voters began to realize that they’d been had. The Republican leadership talked a good game at election time, but never delivered.

Is it any wonder, then, that 51 percent of Republican voters (according to the Real Clear Politics poll average) say they favor Trump, Carson or Carly Fiorina, none of whom has ever held public office? Or that another 11 percent support Ted Cruz, whose career in the Senate has consisted of vehemently opposing his own party’s leadership as a bunch of weak-kneed quislings?

If you add it up, roughly six of 10 GOP voters tell pollsters they reject any candidate the Republican establishment likes. That amounts to a party in open revolt.

There are those in the Republican establishment who look at prior elections and predict the outsider candidates will eventually fade. There are those who believe the fear of terrorism, post-Paris, will lead voters to choose safety over adventure. Perhaps this is something other than whistling past the graveyard, but that’s what it sounds like to me.

Are voters who have been on the raucous, anything-goes Trump bandwagon for months going to fall meekly in line behind someone like Bush or Marco Rubio? It gets harder and harder to imagine such a thing.

Meanwhile, the whole field is being pulled so far to the right on issues such as immigration and taxes that any of the likely nominees will have a hard time winning the general election. This is a fine mess the Republican Party has gotten itself into, and we won’t know until the early primaries whether there’s any hope of a way out.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 26, 2015

November 29, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Base, GOP Establishment, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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