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“But Everybody Swears He’s Running”: Biden 2016; A Bad Idea Gets Worse

Gossip started flying over the weekend that Joe Biden is about to say something. On Monday, CNBC tweeted: “Joe Biden to announce whether he is running for president in 2016 or not in the next 48 hours, sources tell @NBCNews.”

So there we are. The big moment is nigh. Generally speaking, insiders think he’s getting in. The folks in Clintonland certainly seem to think he’s getting in.

I don’t, however, know a single person I’m aware of who wants Biden to get in. And I’ve been asking. Journalists, activist types, policy wonks, political operatives—among them, the consensus is that he let all this dangle a little too long and that he doesn’t really bring anything to the table that isn’t already on offer from the existing candidates.

A Biden candidacy was always a bad idea, in part for reasons I wrote about back in early August: no real rationale, no major policy differences with Hillary Clinton, he’ll just end up attacking her trustworthiness if he wants to get anywhere.

In the 10 weeks that have passed since I wrote that column, it’s only become a worse idea. First of all, Biden’s polling performance isn’t so hot. He’s third, behind Clinton and Sanders. He’s been pretty steady for the last two months, at 15 to 20 percent. So it’s not as if he’s lost ground, but the general assumption in politics is that once a person announces, he slips a bit in the polls because he goes from being a neat hypothetical idea to someone whose warts the electorate actually begins to contemplate (and whom the press begins to scrutinize). He’s also third in Iowa, and a pretty distant third in New Hampshire. Oh, and third in South Carolina, too,  25 or 30 points behind Clinton. Polls can change of course, they often do. But there’s no obvious reason to think they’re going to change much here, for such a known quantity as Joe.

The second reason it’s become a worse idea is that Clinton seems to have stabilized. She topped everybody’s expectations in the debate. She showed life, zest for battle. (She’s a high-energy person!) She regained the lead over Sanders in New Hampshire—well, according to one poll anyway. And the Benghazi committee—oh Lord, what a pathetic clattering of jackdaws (yes, it’s a thing). Did you notice what a really, really, really bad weekend those people had? Andrea Mitchell schooled GOP committee member Mike Pompeo on Meet the Press. And the CIA shot down Trey Gowdy’s latest allegations about Clinton supposedly pushing out classified material.

But it’s even worse than that: As Mike Isikoff reported at Yahoo! News, Gowdy inadvertently revealed the identity of a “human intelligence” source in Libya whose name he (wrongly) accused Clinton of putting out there. An auto-goal of slapstick proportions. That committee should disband itself out of embarrassment.

But it won’t, and Clinton has to testify there Thursday. Maybe they’ll cross her up somehow, maybe Gowdy is sitting on some Clinton email where she wrote “Osama bin Laden had a point” or something, and it’ll all come crashing down on her. But, you know, probably not. She’ll probably do fine, and if she does, this cloud will also start to lift.

And finally, well, it still seems to me like a bad idea because he’s grieving, and that will need a lot of time. I shouldn’t presume to tell another (a parent, no less) how to process his grief, but man, it seems impossible that he’s operating at 100 percent, and to run for president, whatever else you are, you pretty much need to be that.

But everybody swears he’s running.

It’s hard to imagine why. Yeah, yeah, because Clinton might implode in scandal, and then he’s positioned to be The One the Party Turns To. But isn’t he already that? Yes. I mean, Bernie — you know as well as I do, the party is not going to turn to him in such an event. The immediate response of the party bigwigs in the event of a Clinton collapse would be “Dear God, we have to find someone who can beat Sanders,” and that person would be Biden. Some folks would want Elizabeth Warren (there remains no indication she has the remotest interest in being president). You’d hear a few John Kerrys. Maybe from Oakland would emanate a Draft Jerry Brown movement. But basically Biden is the guy—now, today. There’s that old concept in royal familydom of “the heir and the spare.” Biden is the spare. Already acknowledged. Doesn’t need to get in.

So why would he? Sure, his son’s dying wish, and his belief (which he must harbor) that he would actually be a better president than Clinton or any of the rest of them. But does he really see a path to victory—that is to say, to beating a non-imploding Clinton? That just doesn’t seem possible. What seems more possible instead is that a Biden-Clinton contest ignites a gender war inside the Democratic Party.

No, the smart play is for Biden to give a big speech saying how painful all this has been for him, how he respects all the candidates but Hillary Clinton in particular has been a great friend and is an amazing lady, and he’s going to sit it out. And if he does that right, he locks down his status as the spare even more. He goes out a hero. He has everyone’s gratitude and esteem.

But everybody swears he’s running.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 19, 2015

October 21, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Taking Stock Of The Global Dysfunction On The Right”: Raising The Debt Ceiling Won’t Prove House Republicans Are Sane

After House Speaker John Boehner announced his decision to resign at the end of October, and then more urgently when the Treasury Department alerted Congress that the deadline to increase the statutory debt limit had advanced to the beginning of November, a sense of dread momentarily overwhelmed official Washington.

Budget experts, economists, and anyone with a political memory going back at least four years were abruptly consumed with the likelihood that the responsibility for increasing the debt limit would fall to an untested new speaker—and, more troublingly, a speaker whose election would require him to placate House hardliners with dangerous promises.

The solution to the dilemma was obvious at the time, and remains so: An unencumbered Boehner could place legislation to increase the debt limit on the House floor, and it would pass. But until this week it was unclear how aggressively he intended to clean house before his departure, or whether he’d leave multiple obligations to his successor.

Though the speakership crisis and the debt-limit crisis remain unresolved, the sense of alarm has drained out of the story almost as rapidly as it emerged. Cooler heads have seemingly rescued the debt limit from conservative hostage-takers. And that has created a temptation to celebrate averted catastrophe as a triumph of political reality over right-wing fanaticism.

Succumbing to that temptation would be a huge mistake. It is crucial at this point to take stock of the global dysfunction on the right, and appreciate just how badly it has imperiled our system of government.

We owe the prospect of an uneventful debt limit resolution to a deus ex machina. Boehner’s heir presumptive, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, abandoned the race for speaker to the tune of Yakety Sax, denuding the House Benghazi Committee along the way and compelling Boehner to consider increasing the debt limit—either without precondition, or as part of a genuinely bipartisan agreement—before he leaves Congress.

Despite rumblings from the other chamber, this should go down fairly smoothly in the Senate. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s chief deputy, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said in a recent CNN interview that he’s “ready to raise the debt limit ‘until 2017’ in order to get the matter off the table during an election year. McConnell, sources say, feels the same way, and the two sides are discussing the possibility of raising the debt limit until March 2017, just two months after a new president and Congress are sworn in.” Crisis deferred.

Debt-ceiling dramas like this aren’t borne of necessity. They’re concocted to appease reactionaries in the House. In this way, they’re an artifact of the Tea Party insurgency five years ago, and the untenable promises GOP leaders made to conservatives after President Obama was first elected. The legislative landscape is littered with such artifacts—past hostage crises, consensus immigration legislation, even the Benghazi committee itself—and it’s our good fortune that several of them are now at the forefront of U.S. politics simultaneously.

The fact that Republicans revealed the Benghazi Committee to be an elaborate farce, just in time for Hillary Clinton to testify before it, and that the’re likely to extend the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority without incident, can both be construed as side-effects of overreach—a natural political check on extremism that prevents the legislature from becoming completely weaponized. “Whether or not Boehner actually ends up sparing us the needless drama of a protracted confrontation,” writes Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, “the fact that he’s looking to resolve this without one itself confirms how this will ultimately end, no matter what has to happen along the way. And there’s no need for anyone to pretend otherwise.” 

There’s something comforting about that interpretation, and at a general level, it’s basically correct. But it doesn’t account for the enormous role coincidence played in saving the country from another near-catastrophe, or outright default, in this particular instance.

It would thus behoove us to be mindful of how badly things could have gone if events had transpired slightly differently—if the debt limit deadline hadn’t budged, if McCarthy had succeeded Boehner, by promising confrontation with the White House—before moving on to the next big story. Republican dysfunction has never caused the U.S. to default, but it does create a much higher-risk environment. One plausible remedy lies in the hope that the confluence of events—the speakership crisis, the debt-limit drama, the Benghazi admissions, the Republican primary meltdown—will, in James Fallows’ words, eliminate “the discomfort of reporters, old and young alike, with recognizing that the United States doesn’t currently have two structurally similar political parties approaching issues on roughly comparable terms [but] one historically familiar-looking party, and another converting itself into something else.”

In an interview with Bloomberg View, the political scientist Thomas Mann—who, along with his coauthor Norm Ornstein, has been at pains for years to awaken the press to the reality of modern American politics—explained that “the solution … must focus on the obvious but seldom acknowledged asymmetry between the parties.”

Under quieter circumstances, that would be a pipe dream. Under the extreme circumstances of the moment, it’s a little more plausible. First, though, everyone must resist the temptation to disaggregate these stories and chalk them up individually to dramatic, but ultimately normal, politics.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, October 16, 2015

October 18, 2015 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, House Freedom Caucus, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Clinton’s Debate Dominance May Change The 2016 Race”: A Timely Reminder Of Just How Formidable Clinton Really Is

Even Hillary Clinton’s most ardent supporters would concede the last few months have not gone according to plan. Relentless media criticism, coupled with a surge of excitement surrounding Bernie Sanders and his progressive agenda, have weakened Clinton’s standing as the campaign has unfolded.

But just as importantly, it’s shaken Democrats’ confidence. To be sure, Democratic insiders and loyalists are an easily panicked bunch, but in recent months, certainty over the strength of Clinton’s candidacy evolved into doubt – a dynamic that created a vulnerability that has nearly lured Vice President Biden into the race.

With this in mind, Hillary Clinton not only dominated last night’s debate in Las Vegas, it arguably changed the direction of the race.

Going into last night, the former Secretary of State was confronted with headwinds: Clinton was perceived as the faltering frontrunner, burdened by a “scandal” no one can identify. Over the course of two impressive hours, however, Clinton emerged as a sure-footed, quick-witted, presidential-level powerhouse.

There’s simply no credible way Biden or any of his boosters watched the debate and saw an opportunity for the V.P. to seize. For that matter, Republican officials, increasingly confident about their general-election odds, received a timely reminder of just how formidable Clinton really is.

The intra-party argument over debates also took a turn last night. For months, a variety of Democratic insiders and candidates have complained that the DNC has scheduled too few debates, probably in the hopes of shielding the frontrunner. Last night turned the whole argument on its head – Clinton is easily the best debater, in either party, running in this cycle.

I was generally sympathetic to the Clinton campaign’s strategy – likely nominees always want fewer debates – but if I were her campaign manager, I’d start exploring the possibility of scheduling as many of these events as humanly possible. A one-debate-per-day plan through the fall of 2016 would probably be beneficial.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how last night could have gone much better for Clinton. She effectively went on the offensive over guns; she adeptly used President Obama to inoculate herself against criticism of her 2002 Iraq vote; she crushed a question about big government by slamming Republicans on reproductive rights; and she even turned a comment about a bathroom break into a charming moment.

And what of the emails? Clinton knew the question was coming, and she took full advantage of the opportunity Republicans created for her.

“I’ve taken responsibility for it. I did say it was a mistake. What I did was allowed by the State Department, but it wasn’t the best choice. And I have been as transparent as I know to be, turning over 55,000 pages of my e-mails, asking that they be made public. And you’re right. I am going to be testifying. I’ve been asking to testify for some time and to do it in public, which was not originally agreed to.

 “But let’s just take a minute here and point out that this committee is basically an arm of the Republican National Committee. It is a partisan vehicle, as admitted by the House Republican majority leader, Mr. McCarthy, to drive down my poll numbers. Big surprise. And that’s what they have attempted to do.

 “I am still standing.”

As effective as this was, moments later, Bernie Sanders brought down the house with this memorable line: “Let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”

The entire “controversy,” such as it was, unraveled before our eyes into a manufactured, partisan, faux-scandal.

As for the bigger picture, Republicans must have been discouraged by Clinton’s strong showing, but I hope they also noticed how much better last night’s debate was than anything the GOP candidates have shown in their events. On every front, the exchanges in Las Vegas showed Democratic candidates better prepared, more substantive, and more knowledgeable than their far-right counterparts.

During the debate, Politico’s Glenn Thrush noted on Twitter, “The level of discourse – nuance of discussion – compared to the GOP debates? Not even close.” The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel added soon after, “[W]atching this debate after slogging through all the Trump debates is like moving from kindergarten into grad school.”

Hillary Clinton won big last night. Republicans lost.

 

By; Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 14, 2015

October 14, 2015 Posted by | Democratic Presidential Primaries, GOP Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“It’s All Benghazi”: Many In The Media Consider It Uncouth To Acknowledge The Fraudulence Of Political Posturing

So Representative Kevin McCarthy, who was supposed to succeed John Boehner as speaker of the House, won’t be pursuing the job after all. He would have faced a rough ride both winning the post and handling it under the best of circumstances, thanks to the doomsday caucus — the fairly large bloc of Republicans demanding that the party cut off funds to Planned Parenthood, or kill Obamacare, or anyway damage something liberals like, by shutting down the government and forcing it into default.

Still, he finished off his chances by admitting — boasting, actually — that the endless House hearings on Benghazi had nothing to do with national security, that they were all about inflicting political damage on Hillary Clinton.

But we all knew that, didn’t we?

I often wonder about commentators who write about things like those hearings as if there were some real issue involved, who keep going on about the Clinton email controversy as if all these months of scrutiny had produced any evidence of wrongdoing, as opposed to sloppiness.

Surely they have to know better, whether they admit it to themselves or not. And surely the long history of Clinton nonscandals and retracted allegations — remember, there never was anything to the Whitewater accusations — should serve as a cautionary tale.

Somehow, though, politicians who pretend to be concerned about issues, but are obviously just milking those issues for political gain, keep getting a free pass. And it’s not just a Clinton story.

Consider the example of an issue that might seem completely different, one that dominated much of our political discourse just a few years ago: federal debt.

Many prominent politicians made warnings about the dangers posed by U.S. debt, especially debt owned by China, a central part of their political image. Paul Ryan, when he was chairman of the House Budget Committee, portrayed himself as a heroic crusader against deficits. Mitt Romney made denunciations of borrowing from China a centerpiece of his campaign for president. And by and large, commentators treated this posturing as if it were serious. But it wasn’t.

I don’t mean that it was bad economics, although it was. Remember all the dire warnings about what would happen if China stopped buying our debt, or worse yet, started selling it? Remember how interest rates would soar and America would find itself in crisis?

Well, don’t tell anyone, but the much feared event has happened: China is no longer buying our debt, and is in fact selling tens of billions of dollars in U.S. debt every month as it tries to support its troubled currency. And what has happened is what serious economic analysis always told us would happen: nothing. It was always a false alarm.

Beyond that, however, it was a fake alarm.

If you looked at all closely at the plans and proposals released by politicians who claimed to be deeply worried about deficits, it soon became obvious that they were just pretending to care about fiscal responsibility. People who really worry about government debt don’t propose huge tax cuts for the rich, only partly offset by savage cuts in aid to the poor and middle class, and base all claims of debt reduction on unspecified savings to be announced on some future occasion.

Debt, it seems, only matters when there’s a Democrat in the White House. Or more accurately, all the talk about debt wasn’t about fiscal prudence; it was about trying to inflict political damage on President Obama, and it stopped when the tactic lost effectiveness.

Again, none of this should come as news to anyone who follows politics and policy even moderately closely. But I’m not sure that normal people, who have jobs to do and families to raise, are getting the message. After all, who will tell them?

Sometimes I have the impression that many people in the media consider it uncouth to acknowledge, even to themselves, the fraudulence of much political posturing. The done thing, it seems, is to pretend that we’re having real debates about national security or economics even when it’s both obvious and easy to show that nothing of the kind is actually taking place.

But turning our eyes away from political fakery, pretending that we’re having a serious discussion when we aren’t, is itself a kind of fraudulence. Mr. McCarthy inadvertently did the nation a big favor with his ill-advised honesty, but telling the public what’s really going on shouldn’t depend on politicians with loose lips.

Sometimes — all too often — there’s no substance under the shouting. And then we need to tell the truth, and say that it’s all Benghazi.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 9, 2015

October 12, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Federal Debt, Political Media | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Disturbing Events From ‘Behind The Scenes'”: “Criminal Referral Smear”; What Trey Gowdy Knew — And When He Knew It

Suspicion grows that the leaks behind the bungled New York Times “criminal referral” story came from the Republican side of the House Select Committee on Benghazi chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC). First Times public editor Margaret Sullivan hinted that the original “tip” came from “Capitol Hill.” Over the weekend, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking Democrat on the select committee, revealed proof that Gowdy knew of the (utterly non-criminal) referrals by the inspectors general for the intelligence community and the State Department to the Justice Department, in advance.

Criticizing the stumbling scramble to publish without checking what turned out to be inaccurate information, Cummings complained in an article on the Huffington Post of “a series of inaccurate, partisan leaks designed to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Many of these attacks rely on anonymous sources to describe – and often mischaracterize – documents reporters have not seen.” The Maryland Democrat’s post ought to have received much more attention than it has received so far. It offers a disturbing perspective on events from “behind the scenes,” on the day that the Times broke its ill-fated scoop:

On Thursday morning at 10:27 am, my staff received a copy of a letter sent from Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy to FBI Director James Comey. To the best of my knowledge, that letter has never been made public.

Chairman Gowdy’s letter warned the FBI Director that the Chairman was aware of a “formal referral” that was made to the FBI “by impartial officials within the Executive Branch” related to “classified information.”

I had no idea then — and still have no idea today — how Chairman Gowdy knew about this referral before everyone else, and his office has refused to respond to my staff’s inquiry.

At 12:03 p.m., the office of the State Department Inspector General (IG) sent an email to staff on several committees with a copy of a memorandum describing its joint work with the Intelligence Community IG reviewing the FOIA process for Secretary Clinton’s emails. This memo did not mention any sort of referral to the Department of Justice.

At 2:30 p.m., my staff and I had a previously scheduled meeting with the State Department IG, so we asked him about Chairman Gowdy’s letter and whether he was aware of any referral.

He told me he never asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton’s email usage. Instead, he said officials from the Intelligence Community IG — not the State Department IG — notified the FBI and Congress that they had identified information they believed was classified in several mails that were part of the FOIA review.

Importantly, the State Department IG made clear that none of those emails had been marked as classified when Secretary Clinton received them.

At 5:44 p.m. that evening, the Intelligence Community IG’s office sent a notification to the Intelligence Committees describing — for the first time — its referral to the FBI. This notification detailed a counter-intelligence referral, not a request for a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton.

When I woke up on Friday morning and read the news, I was stunned. I immediately issued a public statement and released the congressional notification from the Intelligence Community IG.

I then got on the phone with both IGs from the State Department and the Intelligence Community. They confirmed that they never asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton’s email usage. Instead, they said this was a “routine” referral, and they said they had no idea why the Times story was so flawed.

But Cummings has his own ideas about that problem — and wonders why the Times reporters never checked with him or other Democrats on the committee, who could have corrected the ruinous mistake before publication. Combined with the timeline posted last week by the Clinton campaign’s Jennifer Palmieri, the Cummings post indicates just how irresponsibly this story was handled by the paper of record. Yet so far, the Times‘ editors and proprietors have offered nothing much beyond that public editor’s note — no apology for smearing Clinton, no accountability for any reporter or editor. Just an implausible excuse or two and a deflection of responsibility to those naughty sources, whose identities will of course remain protected. So why shouldn’t they perpetrate more inaccurate smears? They will.

Meanwhile, reporters covering the House might start asking some tough questions of Gowdy and the man who appointed him, Speaker John Boehner. Most likely, they never will.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, The National Memo, August 3, 2015

 

 

 

 

August 5, 2015 Posted by | Elijah Cummings, Hillary Clinton, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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