"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“What Is The GOP Thinking?”: The Nation Will Have To Stand By Until Realists And Ideologues Reach Some Sort Of Understanding

There they go again. Given control of Congress and the chance to frame an economic agenda for the middle class, the first thing Republicans do is tie themselves in knots over . . . abortion and rape.

I’m not kidding. In a week when President Obama used his State of the Union address to issue a progressive manifesto of bread-and-butter policy proposals, GOP leaders responded by taking up the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” — a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But a vote on the legislation had to be canceled after female GOP House members reportedly balked over the way an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape was limited.

The whole thing was, in sum, your basic 360-degree fiasco.

At least there are some in the party who recognize how much trouble Republicans make for themselves by breaking the armistice in the culture wars and launching battles that cannot be won. It looks as if the nation will have to stand by until GOP realists and ideologues reach some sort of understanding, which may take some time.

It’s important to understand that the “Pain-Capable” bill was never anything more than an act of political fantasy. The only purpose of the planned vote was to create an “event” that the annual antiabortion March for Life, held Thursday in Washington, could celebrate.

You might think the demonstrators already had reason to cheer. The abortion rate is at “historic lows,” having dropped by 13 percent in the decade between 2002 and 2011, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The main reason is that there are fewer unwanted pregnancies, which suggests logically that if Republicans really want to reduce abortion, what they should do is work to increase access to birth control.

More to the point, according to the CDC, only 1.4 percent of abortions take place after 20 weeks. This means the bill, if it somehow became law, would have minimal impact.

But it won’t become law, as everyone in Congress well knows. The White House has announced that Obama would veto the measure, if it ever reached his desk. To get that far, the bill would have to pass the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would have to win over enough Democrats to cross the 60-vote threshold, which is highly unlikely.

Theoretically, though, any ­reasonable-sounding antiabortion measure should at least be able to make it through the House, with its expanded GOP majority. But even in the context of today’s far-right Republican Party, the “Pain-Capable” bill struck many House members, particularly women, as unreasonable.

At issue, apparently, is that, in making exceptions for abortions of pregnancies resulting from rape, the bill specifies that the rape must have been reported to law enforcement. This restriction cannot help but bring to mind the grief Republicans suffered in 2012 over Senate candidate Todd Akin’s appalling attempt to distinguish between “legitimate rape” and some other kind of rape.

Although the House leadership maintained that all was sweetness and light, reporters heard rumblings Wednesday that the bill was in trouble with moderate Republicans, especially women. Then an unusual number of female GOP House members was seen leaving the offices of the majority whip. Then the bill was pulled and a different antiabortion measure — prohibiting federal funding for abortions — was substituted.

I should note that there is no generally accepted scientific basis for the premise of the “Pain-Capable” bill. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said there is no legitimate research supporting the idea that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks.

I understand that, for those who believe in their hearts that abortion is murder, there is an imperative to do something, anything, to stop it. Some people have similar moral passion about capital punishment or the thousands of lives lost each year to gun violence.

Given that the Supreme Court has decided abortion is a legally protected right, the antiabortion movement has done what it could — made abortions very difficult to obtain in some states where the pro-life position has sufficient support. Hooting and hollering on Capitol Hill do nothing for abortion opponents except fleece them of campaign contributions.

People, we are in an economic recovery whose fruits are not reaching the middle class. We have a crucial need to address U.S. infrastructure and competitiveness. We face myriad challenges abroad, including Islamic terrorism and global warming.

If a renewal of the culture wars is your answer, Republicans, you totally misheard the question.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 22, 2015


January 27, 2015 Posted by | Abortion, Culture Wars, GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Herein Lies The Problem”: Can Antonin Scalia Actually Read The Constitution?

Antonin Scalia:

“I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over nonreligion,” Justice Scalia said.

“That’s a possible way to run a political system. The Europeans run it that way,” Justice Scalia said. “And if the American people want to do it, I suppose they can enact that by statute. But to say that’s what the Constitution requires is utterly absurd.”


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I suppose a very pro-religious reading might suggest that an elected official might be able to place a religious icon on public property under the argument that it’s free exercise and not technically a law establishing religion. I would disagree with that assessment, but it wouldn’t take a crazy person to make that judgment.

But Scalia is saying that the Constitution doesn’t prevent the government from favoring religion over non-religion. That’s crazy. The Constitution is actually very clear on that point. It doesn’t say that Congress can’t establish one religion over another. It says that Congress shall make no law establishing religion. Period.

A first grader could tell Scalia that. I choose not to believe that Scalia is a fool or insane. That would be too terrifying. It’s easier to simply believe that Scalia is an ideologue, a dishonest broker who is willing to say anything to serve his preconceived ideas about right and wrong.


By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 5, 2014

October 6, 2014 Posted by | Antonin Scalia, Constitution, Religion | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“McCain’s Descent Into Self-Pity”: Oh Please Mr. President, Say To Me, You’ll Let Me Hold Your Hand!

At a fundraiser this week, President Obama told supporters, “I’d love nothing more than a loyal and rational opposition, but that’s not what we have right now.” Apparently, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wasn’t amused.

“The self-pity that Obama continues to exhibit is really kind of sad, really,” McCain said on Wednesday during Fox News’ “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.” […]

“You know, I can’t work with him at all,” McCain said. “When is the last time he really called leaders of both parties together over at the White House, say, for a dinner, a social event.”

The failed presidential candidate added that Obama “does not have this desire to have social interface with people.”

I don’t mean to be picky, but when a politician accuses a rival of “self-pity,” and then in the next breath, he whines that the rival hasn’t invited him over for dinner, the politician probably hasn’t thought his argument through.

As Jed Lewison joked, “If President Obama would just call me up for dinner or a social event, and ask me to have social interface with him, then everything would be better and the world would be a fantastic place, but he won’t do that, so please excuse me while I go drown myself in a pool of tears shed over his self-pitying ways.”

But let’s go a step further with this, because McCain isn’t just confused about the nature of self-pity; he’s also wrong on the merits.

I’m reminded of an anecdote from last year when Obama invited several congressional Republicans to the White House for a private screening with the stars of the movie “Lincoln.” The president extended the invitation in secret, so the GOP lawmakers wouldn’t face any pressure from the right to turn Obama down.

It didn’t matter. None of the Republicans accepted the invitation to go and watch the movie at the White House.

Indeed, as we’ve discussed before, Obama has hosted casual “get-to-know-you” gatherings; he’s taken Republicans out to dinner on his dime; he’s taken House Speaker Boehner out golfing; and he’s held Super Bowl and March Madness parties at the White House for lawmakers.

Now, reasonable people can debate whether this outreach should have been even more aggressive, but for McCain to tell a national television audience the president “does not have this desire to have social interface with people” is obviously ridiculous.

But let’s go a step further still. If the lack of schmoozing isn’t the problem, what is? As we’ve discussed many, many times, traditional governing dynamics are largely impossible given that the Republican Party has reached an ideological extreme unseen in modern American history. It’s a quantifiable observation, not a subjective one.

The result is a situation in which GOP lawmakers refuse to compromise or accept concessions, partly due to partisan rigidity, partly out of fear of a primary challenge, partly out of their contempt for the president, and in many instances, all of the above.

Indeed, the parties sharply disagree with one another – there is no modern precedent for partisan polarization as intense as today’s status quo – and presidential outreach won’t change that. Congressional Republicans tend to fundamentally reject just about everything the White House wants, believes, and perceives as true. “Social interface” changes nothing.

Let’s return to the thesis presented a while back by Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein: “[W]e have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

 “Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

The notion that schmoozing will lead to progress rests upon the assumption that congressional Republicans are responsible officials, willing to negotiate and work in good faith, and prepared to find common ground with Obama. All they need is some face-time and presidential hand-holding. Once they can get along on a personal level, a constructive process will follow.

It’s a pleasant enough fantasy, and I wish it were true, but everything we’ve seen points in the opposite direction.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 25, 2014

July 28, 2014 Posted by | GOP, John McCain, Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Instincts Fail Him Again”: John Boehner Is Weak In The Face Of Pressure From Right-Wing Ideologues

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), two months ago:

Republicans’ efforts to undo President Barack Obama’s health care reform law appear to have come to an end, as House Speaker John Boehner described it Thursday as the “law of the land.”

In an interview with ABC News, the nation’s top elected Republican seemed to indicate that Congress wouldn’t engage in the type of repeated repeal votes the way it had in the past two years.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), three days ago:

“This week, the House passed Republicans’ balanced budget that fully repeals and defunds ObamaCare to protect families, workers and seniors from its devastating consequences. The House will continue working to scrap the law in its entirety….”

Note the amount of time that’s elapsed: we’re not talking about Boehner changing his mind over the course of three years; we’re talking about taking wildly different positions over two months. In January, the Affordable Care Act is the “law of the land,” and Congress has better things to do than to waste time trying to repeal a law that isn’t going anywhere. And in March, Boehner reversed course entirely — congressional Republicans have already voted several dozen times to repeal the reform law, and the Speaker sees no reason to become more constructive now.

I don’t know Boehner personally, but I suspect what he said in January was sincere — the guy probably doesn’t want to be known as the Speaker who pointlessly spun his wheels, voting repeatedly on health care for no particular reason, so as the new Congress got underway, he envisioned a more productive session for governing. And then the Speaker was reminded what party he’s in and how little his caucus cares about constructive legislating.

But the larger point gets back to something we talked about on Thursday: I suspect Boehner’s instincts aren’t as ridiculous as his caucus’.

Pressed for an answer, before he has time to do the full political calculation, Boehner reflexively takes a sensible line on everything from taxes to energy to immigration. Even in 2011, during the debt-ceiling crisis he didn’t want to instigate — his instincts told him this was a bad idea — Boehner’s gut told him to take President Obama’s offer for a “Grand Bargain.” He had to reverse course when his allies balked.

When the Speaker’s followers tell him to change his mind, he puts his head down, and does what he’s told to do.

The problem isn’t necessarily that the House Speaker is a right-wing ideologue, but rather, that he’s weak in the face of pressure from right-wing ideologues. It might help explain why Boehner struggles in his post — he’s not allowed to follow his own instincts, which would otherwise serve him well, because of the radicalization of his caucus.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 25, 2013

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Are Not A Deadbeat Nation”: Do Your Duty Congress, Or We’ll All Suffer The Consequences

By the time the president was making his case for the fourth time, the responses started getting a little repetitious, but Obama’s line didn’t change: we’ve already made enormous progress on debt reduction, he’s willing to do more, but a hostage strategy based on the debt ceiling isn’t acceptable.

In fact, the president spent a fair amount of time trying to explain to the public what some reporters occasionally overlook:

“The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already committed to.

“These are bills that have already been racked up, and we need to pay them. So while I’m willing to compromise and find common ground over how to reduce our deficits, America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up. […]

“So to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd…. And Republicans in Congress have two choices here: They can act responsibly and pay America’s bills or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip.”

It doesn’t sound like he’s ready to cave. On the contrary, it sounds like the president is issuing a not-so-subtle challenge to congressional Republicans: do your duty or we’ll all suffer the consequences.

The president went on to say:

“[T]he issue here is whether or not America pays its bills. We are not a deadbeat nation. And so there’s a very simple solution to this. Congress authorizes us to pay our bills.

“Now if the House and the Senate want to give me the authority so that they don’t have to take these tough votes, if they want to put the responsibility on me to raise the debt ceiling, I’m happy to take it. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, had a proposal like that last year, and I’m happy to accept it.

“But if they want to keep this responsibility, then they need to go ahead and get it done. And you know, there are no magic tricks here. There are no loopholes. There are no, you know, easy outs. This is a matter of Congress authorizes spending. They order me to spend. They tell me: You need to fund our Defense Department at such-and-such a level. You need to send Social Security checks. You need to make sure that you are paying to care for our veterans.

“They lay all this out for me, and — because they have the spending power. And so I am required by law to go ahead and pay these bills.

“Separately, they also have to authorize a raising of the debt ceiling in order to make sure that those bills are paid. And so what Congress can’t do is tell me to spend X and then say, but we’re not going to give you the authority to go ahead and pay the bills.”

Obama added that he’s ready to negotiate on debt reduction, and he’s even open to entitlement changes, but he doesn’t intend to reward Congress for doing what it must do anyway.

What’s more, of particular interest was the president highlighting Republicans’ philosophical goals, which have less to do with debt reduction, and more to do with undermining public institutions.

“[I]t seems as if what’s motivating and propelling at this point some of the House Republicans is more than simply deficit reduction. They have a particular vision about what government should and should not do. So they are suspicious about government’s commitments, for example, to make sure that seniors have decent health care as they get older. They have suspicions about Social Security. They have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat or whether we should be spending money on medical research. So they’ve got a particular view of what government should do and should be.

“And that view was rejected by the American people when it was debated during the presidential campaign. I think every poll that’s out there indicates that the American people actually think our commitment to Medicare or to education is really important, and that’s something that we should look at as a last resort in terms of reducing the deficit, and it makes a lot more sense for us to close, for example, corporate loopholes before we go to putting a bigger burden on students or seniors.”

I’m glad Obama reminded the political world of this basic truth; I get the sense folks sometimes forget what the driving motivations are behind many of our ongoing partisan fights.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 14, 2013

January 15, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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