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“A Moral And Political Coward”: Speaker Ryan Can’t Reauthorize Voting Rights Act

Midway through his second term, President George W. Bush proudly signed the The Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, And Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization And Amendments Act Of 2006 which was sponsored by Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. It had been passed in the Senate with an unanimous 98-0 vote and in the House with a strong bipartisan 390-33 majority.

The Act needs to be updated because it was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. But they won’t. And they won’t because the Republican Party has become so racially hostile to blacks that they can’t overcome the resistance of their worst bigots. Speaker Paul Ryan met with the Congressional Black Caucus today and flat out said that he can’t get the Act fixed up and reauthorized.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told black lawmakers Wednesday that he supports new voting rights protections they’ve championed, but said he won’t bypass a committee chairman to move legislation, according to a Democrat who attended the gathering.

“He said it right in front of everybody — he said he supports the [Jim] Sensenbrenner bill,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said after Ryan met with the group on Capitol Hill.

“So somebody was saying, ‘Well, why don’t you go tell your committee chair to do it?’ ” Cleaver added. “And he said, … ‘Look, I can’t do that.’ “

Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a former chairman of the Judiciary panel, has sponsored bipartisan legislation to update the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in response to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a central provision of the 1965 law.

But Sensenbrenner’s proposal does not have the backing of the current Judiciary chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who maintains the Supreme Court left ample protections in the VRA, thereby making congressional action unnecessary.

I feel like Speaker Ryan could get this done if he wanted to, but I’m not sure what would happen if he rammed it through. I suspect that it would cause a major revolt, and perhaps even another coup like the one John Boehner just experienced.

I consider this important enough that Ryan should insist on principle and resign if his own caucus can’t live with it. It’s really a moral issue for me more than a political question. Ten years ago, it wasn’t even a partisan subject, but ten years ago we didn’t have a black president and a raging Tea Party revolt against the Republican Establishment.

Basically, I think Paul Ryan is a coward. He’s a political coward, but more importantly, he’s a moral coward.

P.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte has also used his position as Judiciary Chairman to prevent any legislative reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, kill comprehensive immigration reform and call for the deportation of DREAMers.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 3, 2016

February 4, 2016 Posted by | House Republicans, Paul Ryan, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Matter Of Routine”: The Republicans’ Lust For Impeachment

If you attack the president repeatedly for law-breaking, executive overreach and deceiving the public and Congress, do you have an obligation to impeach him? This is the logical question Republicans are now trying to duck.

There is a reason why impeachment is a big deal in Washington this week. It’s not just because a call to defend President Obama motivates the Democrats’ base, although it surely does. John Boehner is having trouble countering fears that House Republicans will eventually try to oust the president because the speaker’s colleagues have spent years tossing around impeachment threats as a matter of routine.

At issue are not merely the open demands for throwing Obama out from Sarah Palin, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) and many others on the right wing. The deeper problem lies in the proliferation of loose impeachment talk linked with one overheated anti-Obama charge after another.

As far back as May 2010, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the allegation that the White House had offered then-Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) a job so he wouldn’t oppose Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican-turned-Democrat, “is in fact a crime and could be impeachable.” (Sestak beat Specter in a primary and then lost to Republican Pat Toomey.)

During a hearing on “Operation Fast and Furious” in December 2011, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) accused the Justice Department of withholding information and said that “if we don’t get to the bottom of this,” Congress might have to resort to the “only one alternative” it had, “and it is called impeachment.” In this case, involving a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sting operation that went wrong, the impeachment threat was directed at Attorney General Eric Holder. Indeed, 20 House Republicans filed to impeach Holder.

In May 2013, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said that, because of allegations of a White House Benghazi coverup, “people may be starting to use the I-word before too long” about Obama. Also in 2013, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) said it would be his “dream come true” to author Articles of Impeachment against the president, while Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the nation was “perilously close” to circumstances that might require impeachment.

Only space limitations prevent me from multiplying such examples.

Boehner claims that “this whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president’s own staff and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill . . . trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year’s election.”

But if impeachment is a sudden Democratic invention, why did the New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer write a detailed news story in August 2013 under the headline: “Ignoring Qualms, Some Republicans Nurture Dreams of Impeaching Obama”? Why did my Washington Post colleague Dana Milbank publish an equally fact-rich column in December 2013 titled: “Republicans see one remedy for Obama — impeachment”?

Boehner’s other difficulty is that, in defending his lawsuit against Obama, which the House approved Wednesday on a near-party-line vote, the speaker has used arguments that could as easily be invoked to justify impeachment.

“In the end, the Constitution makes it clear that the president’s job is to faithfully execute the laws,” Boehner wrote on CNN’s Web site in early July. “And, in my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws when it comes to a range of issues, including his health care law, energy regulations, foreign policy and education. There must be accountability.”

So what will Boehner do on behalf of “accountability” if the suit fails? Is it any surprise that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), when pressed on Sunday by Fox News’s Chris Wallace, declined to rule out impeachment?

Yes, Democrats are happy to use the danger that the House will go there, by way of dramatizing the GOP’s refusal to work with Obama on issue after issue and the right wing’s open hatred for a president they cast simultaneously as a power-hungry lawbreaker and a weak steward of the nation’s interests. But the underlying cause is a breakdown among conservatives of the norms and habits that governing requires in a system of separated powers.

The last time the country reelected a Democratic president, House Republicans impeached him despite strong public opposition. With many in the ranks already clamoring for a replay of those glory days, it’s fair to wonder if Boehner will hold fast and resist the impeachment crowd this time. His record in facing down his right wing is not encouraging.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 31, 2014

August 1, 2014 Posted by | GOP, House Republicans, Impeachment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Partisan Axe To Grind”: An ‘Unfortunate Political Stunt’ Goes Awry

Earlier this year, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) thought he’d come up with a great idea: he’d file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act in the hopes of making coverage more expensive for Capitol Hill staff. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Johnson’s home state of Wisconsin, conceded the senator’s lawsuit was “frivolous” and an “unfortunate political stunt.”

Yesterday, in a development that was arguably even more important than it appears at first blush, a federal judge threw out the case.

A federal judge based in Green Bay has tossed a Sen. Ron Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit targeting the health benefits for members of Congress and their staff.

The court dismissed the lawsuit, which contended the Obama administrations decision to grant employer contributions for health plans purchased through the District of Columbia’s Obamacare health exchange ran afoul of the law.

Chief Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Johnson and fellow plaintiff Brooke Ericson lacked standing, siding with the argument made by the government’s lawyers.

The hurdle for Johnson’s lawyers was always going to be difficult to clear: how would the Republican senator demonstrate he’d been harmed by the health care policy he doesn’t like? Remember, when filing a lawsuit challenging the legality of a law, plaintiffs can’t just say, “I don’t like it.” They need to show how they’ve been adversely affected by it.

Johnson couldn’t, so his case was dismissed. But this is more than just a setback for one Republican senator with a partisan axe to grind; this is also likely the start of things to come for the GOP’s anti-Obama litigation.

Let’s not forget that in April, Johnson not only had high hopes for his case, he also had the enthusiastic support of his Republican colleagues. As we talked about at the time, 38 GOP senators signed onto a legal brief, urging the courts to rule in Johnson’s favor.

As these lawmakers saw it, they were fighting for the preservation of the republic. “The unlawful executive action at issue in this case is not an isolated incident,” the brief said. “Rather, it is part of an ongoing campaign by the executive branch to rewrite the Affordable Care Act on a wholesale basis.”

The courts must side with Johnson, the GOP lawmakers’ brief added, because the administration’s campaign “threatens to subvert the most basic precept of our system of government.”

It was, to be sure, a dumb and overdramatic argument. But more important, it also failed miserably – a federal judge ruled late yesterday that without standing to argue the case, far-right lawmakers will have to pursue their preservation of the republic in some other way.

One wonders if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took note of the developments.

As for the underlying policy issue, a little background is probably in order. Johnson argued that Democrats came up with a congressional subsidy in the ACA “once members realized how harmful Obamacare actually was.” That was brazenly false.

In reality, the law includes a provision that says members of Congress and their staffs have to sign up for coverage through an exchange. This became tricky because the exchange marketplaces were designed primarily for the uninsured, but Republicans said they wanted this in the law, so it’s in there.

But the story got a little more complicated when the Office of Personnel Management had to decide whether lawmakers and their staffs should also receive the same employer subsidy as everyone else, or whether everyone on Capitol Hill should face higher costs just because they work on Capitol Hill. OPM, with the blessing of the House Republican leadership, said lawmakers and aides can keep the same employer subsidy and play by the same rules as everyone else.

And that’s why Johnson sued – he wanted Capitol Hill employees to pay more for health care because it would make the right feel better. As of yesterday, the argument is a bust.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 22, 2014

July 23, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Ron Johnson | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not In This Lifetime”: Republican Jim Sensenbrenner Asks Attorney General Holder To Back Off In Texas

As we discussed yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder is challenging new voting restrictions imposed by Texas Republicans, hoping to use the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act to protect Texans’ access to the ballot box. GOP officials, not surprisingly, weren’t pleased with the move, but there was one reaction in particular that I found interesting.

But Mr. Holder’s moves this week could endanger that effort, said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, who led the latest reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006.

“The lawsuit would make it much more difficult to pass a bipartisan fix to restore the heart of the VRA that the Supreme Court struck down earlier this year,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

He said he had spoken with Mr. Holder and asked him to withdraw the lawsuit.

It’s worth noting for context that Sensenbrenner may be a conservative Republican, but he’s also earned a reputation as a long-time supporter of the Voting Rights Act. Indeed, among GOP lawmakers, it’s probably fair to say the Wisconsin Republican is the VRA’s most reliable ally. When Sensenbrenner says he’s working on a legislative fix in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, I’m inclined to believe him.

That said, for Holder to back off now would be crazy.

Look, I don’t blame Sensenbrenner for this, but literally every indication suggests congressional Republicans intend to block efforts to pass a new-and-improved Voting Rights Act. The Attorney General has a simple calculation to make: protect Americans against discriminatory voter-suppression tactics or wait for the House GOP to work in a bipartisan fashion on voting rights.

Can anyone seriously blame Holder for preferring the former to the latter? It seems far more realistic for the A.G. to turn Sensenbrenner’s request around and say, “When Congress passes the Voting Rights Act, I’ll stop filing these lawsuits, not the other way around.”

Remember this story from July?

If House Republicans are interested in patching the Voting Rights Act, they aren’t showing it.

“Historically I fully understand why they addressed the situations they did,” Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, who chairs the House judiciary subcommittee that would handle new voting rights legislation, said to reporters after the hearing. “I am just of the opinion today that we should do as the court said and that is to not focus on punishing the past but on building a better future.”

As we talked about at the time, most of the Republican members of the panel apparently didn’t think the hearing was especially important — which is to say, they didn’t show up — and the witnesses GOP lawmakers called reinforced fears that the party simply isn’t interested in a constructive debate.

The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, for example, was called by Republicans to offer his “expert” testimony on voting rights, despite the fact that von Spakovsky is best known for the loathsome voter-suppression tactics he championed during his tenure in the Bush/Cheney Justice Department. If this is the guy GOP lawmakers are turning to for guidance, the future of the Voting Rights Act is bleak.

Indeed, von Spakovsky assured the Judiciary Committee panel that the “the systematic, widespread discrimination against blacks has long since disappeared” — a claim we know to be ridiculously untrue.

Sensenbrenner’s worthwhile efforts notwithstanding, those waiting for House Republicans to do the right thing on voting rights are going to be waiting a very, very long time.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 23, 2013

August 26, 2013 Posted by | Voting Rights, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Racist Undertone”: Nobody Likes To Talk About It, But It’s There

Talking about race in American politics is uncomfortable and awkward. But it has to be said: There has been a racist undertone to many of the Republican attacks leveled against President Obama for the last three years, and in this dawning presidential campaign.

You can detect this undertone in the level of disrespect for this president that would be unthinkable were he not an African-American. Some earlier examples include: Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “you lie” at one of Mr. Obama’s first appearances before Congress, and House Speaker John Boehner rejecting Mr. Obama’s request to speak to a joint session of Congress—the first such denial in the history of our republic.

More recently, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, in a conversation overheard at Reagan National Airport in Washington, said of Michelle Obama: “She lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself.” He offered a lame apology, but as Mary C. Curtis put it on the Washington Post’s new blog She the People: “Can you imagine how the incident would play out if an African American congressman made a crude remark about First Lady Laura Bush’s body? It certainly would have taken more than an insincere apology to wash that sin away.” This ugly strain was crudely evident in the “birthers” and their ridiculous demands that Mr. Obama produce his birth certificate to prove that he was American, and not secretly an African Muslim.

Just the other day here in Iowa, Mitt Romney’s son, Matt, said his father might release his tax returns “as soon as President Obama releases his grades and birth certificate and sort of a long list of things.” The younger Mr. Romney later backtracked, either because he was sincerely chagrined, or, perhaps more likely, because he recognized that it could hurt his father.

Sometimes the racism is more oblique. Newt Gingrich was prattling on the other day about giving “poor children” in “housing projects” jobs cleaning toilets in public schools to teach them there is an alternative to becoming a pimp or a drug dealer. These children, he said, have no work ethic. If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t get that poor kids in housing projects is code for minorities, he or she hasn’t been paying attention to American politics for the last 50 years. Mr. Gingrich is also fond of calling Mr. Obama “the greatest food stamp President in American history.”

Is Mr. Romney playing the same chords when he talks about how Mr. Obama wants to create an “entitlement society?” The president has said nothing of the sort, and the accusation seems of a piece with the old Republican saw that blacks collect the greatest share of welfare dollars.

Mr. Obama’s election in 2008 was a triumph of American democracy and tolerance. He overcame incredible odds to become the first president of mixed race, the first brown-skinned president. It’s pathetic that some Republicans are choosing to toss that milestone into the garbage in their blind drive to destroy Mr. Obama’s presidency.

 

By: Andrew Rosenthal, The Loyal Opposition-The New York Times, January 3, 2011

January 4, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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