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“The Carnage Will Continue…For Now”: This Is One Of Those Moments When It Is Tempting To Get Cynical

Sen. Chris Murphy’s filibuster was successful in pressuring Republicans to hold votes last night on whether or not to require background checks on all gun purchases and add terrorist suspects to the list of people who are barred from buying guns. But those measures failed to get the 60 votes in the Senate that are needed to pass.

In order to limit the damage voting against those common sense reforms will do in the upcoming election, Republicans offered their own versions of the bills to muddy the waters. In the end, the Senate voted on 4 amendments.

The Senate voted 47 to 53 to reject a measure from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to let the attorney general deny firearms and explosives to any suspected terrorists. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota was the sole Democrat to vote against the measure, while Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark Kirk of Illinois, both of whom face tough re-election contests, voted for it.

The Senate also rejected a Republican alternative from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), that would allow authorities to delay a gun sale to a terrorism suspect for three days or longer if a judge ruled during that time that there is probable cause to deny the firearm outright. The vote was 53 to 47, falling short of the 60 votes needed.

Two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, backed the measure. But three Republicans – Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Kirk and Susan Collins of Maine voted against Cornyn’s amendment…

The Senate also rejected, on a 44 to 56 vote, a measure from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would expand background checks for anyone trying to purchase a firearm, including at a gun show or online…

Both Manchin and Toomey refused to back Murphy’s more expansive measure. Democratic Sens. Heitkamp and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) – who is also running the Senate Democrats’ campaign operation this year – also voted against Murphy’s proposal…

Most Republicans backed an alternative from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would only increase funding for the government to run background checks without expanding them. It failed on a 53 to 47 vote, falling short of the 60 votes needed…

Republican Sens. Kirk and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) voted against the proposal; Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) voted for it.

Republicans offered an unworkable alternative to banning terrorist suspects from buying guns (Cornyn’s bill):

Democrats countered that the time limitations in Cornyn’s alternative would make it functionally impossible to actually prevent suspicious individuals from purchasing firearms.

They also voted for a measure that would increase funding to do background checks, but didn’t close the loophole of being able to purchase them without one at places like gun shows (Grassley’s bill). So even if the Republicans’ alternatives had passed – they would have accomplished nothing.

Meanwhile, they were able to keep the Democrats from passing their bills with assists from a few Democrats, including Senators Heitkamp, Manchin and Tester.

To put this is some perspective, yesterday CNN released a new poll showing that 92% of Americans favor a background check for any gun purchase and 85% support preventing people who are on the U.S. government’s Terrorist Watchlist or no-fly list from owning guns. A majority (54%) also support a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons as well as the sale and possession of equipment known as high-capacity or extended ammunition clips.

To be honest, what the Democrats offered yesterday in the Senate was pretty weak tea when it comes to gun safety measures. But they did so knowing that they had the overwhelming support of the American people. And still…Republicans obstructed.

This is one of those moments when it is tempting to get cynical. I suspect that is precisely what Republicans and the NRA are hoping for. When people give up – they score a permanent win. But this is when I remind myself of the years it took for women to get the right to vote and for the Civil Rights Movement to end Jim Crow. We have two choices at a moment like this: give up and allow the carnage to continue, or remain committed to the struggle and keep fighting.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 21, 2016

June 22, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Chris Murphy, Gun Control, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Albatross Around The Down-Ballot Races”: Could Donald Trump Deliver Congress To The Democrats?

With each preposterous new turn in the GOP presidential primary campaign, the chances of Hillary Clinton becoming president of the United States increase. The trouble is that a Clinton presidency has always promised to be largely an exercise in frustration. That’s not because she’s an incrementalist (true though that may be), but because she’ll likely be confronted with a Republican Congress—and one no more inclined toward compromise and pragmatism than the one Barack Obama faces.

But what if that weren’t true? Is there any chance Democrats might actually win back control of Capitol Hill and at least let a President Clinton (or a President Sanders, a possibility that remains real, if dwindling) do something that resembles governing?

The answer is yes, there is such a chance. And the reason is simple: Donald Trump.

We don’t yet know whether Trump will be the Republican nominee. But at the moment that’s the likeliest of all the possibilities for Republicans. And it also seems that having Trump as their leader will tear the party apart. Which could give Clinton not only the White House, but a chance for a presidency that accomplishes something.

Let’s start by considering the Senate, where Republicans currently enjoy a 54-46 majority. Because the senators running for re-election this year are the ones who got elected in the Republican sweep of 2010, they are defending many more seats—24, while Democrats are defending only 10. Most of those seats, however, are safely in Republican hands. They could nominate Martin Shkreli for president and they’d be unlikely to lose Senate races in Oklahoma or South Carolina. But they are vulnerable in other places like Illinois, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire, where Democrats have fielded strong candidates in states already leaning left.

Most forecasters have predicted that Democrats would net a few seats, but winning the four they need to push the Senate to 50-50 is a tough proposition. Until now, that is.

With Trump poised to win the nomination, some races that hadn’t previously been seen as competitive are beginning to look that way. Consider Iowa, where the curmudgeonly Chuck Grassley is running for his seventh term. No one thought Grassley would face a serious challenge this year, but then came Trump, and the death of Antonin Scalia—which resulted in a wave of stories about how Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, refuses to hold confirmation hearings on anyone President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court. Last week, Democrats got their wish when Patty Judge, a former lieutenant governor and state agriculture secretary, announced that she’ll run for the seat. Grassley may still be reasonably popular, but if turnout is high in a state that voted for Barack Obama twice, Judge has a strong chance to win.

Something similar could happen in other states: What had looked like seats where Republicans had a clear advantage could be up for grabs, particularly if Democrats come out in force, moved to the polls by the ghastly prospect of Donald Trump becoming president. Combine that with a potentially dispirited Republican electorate, and Democrats could win more seats than anyone predicted. “We can’t have a nominee be an albatross around the down-ballot races,” Senator John Cornyn recently told CNN. “That’s a concern of mine.”

That brings us to the House. Democrats need a net gain of 30 seats to take it back, which has looked all but impossible until now. And it’s still extremely difficult. But could it happen? It’s hard to tell from our vantage point today. We don’t know what kind of general election candidate Donald Trump would make, but the key to the outcome in the House could be how his candidacy affects turnout. If the #NeverTrump movement doesn’t lose steam and lots of prominent Republicans distance themselves from their party’s nominee, it could mean Republican voters staying home in large numbers, which would make it possible for Democrats to win back the seats they need to take control.

If Democrats take back both bodies, a Democratic president could actually have the chance to govern, including through passing legislation—imagine that. But even if Democrats took only the Senate, it would make a huge difference.

Back in 2013, Democrats then controlling the Senate got so frustrated with Republican obstructionism that they changed the body’s rules on confirmation of executive branch appointments and those of judges serving on lower courts, allowing those nominations to be confirmed with a simple majority vote and disallowing filibusters. The rule change didn’t apply to legislation or to Supreme Court nominees, and senators are still allowed to do talking filibusters, where they hold the floor for as long as they can (so Ted Cruz will still have something to do when he returns to the Senate next year).

So a President Clinton could continue to transform the federal courts simply by virtue of filling openings as they come up. There’s a bottleneck right now as Republicans refuse to confirm more of Obama’s judicial nominees, but if that were broken, after 12 or even 16 years of Democratic appointments, the lower courts would be firmly in liberal hands.

And what about the Supreme Court? Not only is there the matter of Scalia’s seat to deal with, but it’s almost certain that more seats will become vacant in the next president’s first term. On Inauguration Day, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 83, Anthony Kennedy will be 80, and Stephen Breyer will be 78. If and when Republicans decide to filibuster any Democratic nominee, you can bet that Senate Democrats will make another rule change to disallow filibusters of Supreme Court nominees. Republicans will decry it as a terrible power grab, but it will be exactly what they earned with their obstructionism.

This all may not sound like a recipe for an era of excellence in government. It will be terribly partisan, and if Republicans hold on to the House, it will mean almost no meaningful legislation outside of continuing resolutions funding the government to avoid shutdowns. But between the executive and judicial branches, you can accomplish quite a bit. Hillary Clinton would certainly hope for more, but it’s what she may have to settle for. And it could be a lot worse.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 7, 2016

March 12, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Donald Trump, GOP Obstructionism, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Unlike Anything Ever Tried In American History”: The ‘GOP Gamble’: Voters Won’t Care About Court Blockade

As far as Senate Republicans are concerned, the fight over the Supreme Court vacancy is now officially over. They’ve declared themselves the winner.

Every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel responsible for evaluating judicial nominees in detail, met in private this morning with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Soon after, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a longtime committee member, told the Associated Press the GOP group came to an agreement: there would be no hearing, no vote, and no confirmation of any nominee, regardless of merit or qualifications.

A partisan blockade, unlike anything ever tried in American history, is the only course the Republican majority is willing to consider. Period. Full stop.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), another member of the Judiciary Committee, said today he wouldn’t even speak to a Supreme Court nominee if he or she showed up at his office. Soon after, McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the same thing.

So, is the fight over an unchosen, unknown nominee finished before it begins? Well, maybe.

President Obama and his team are no doubt aware of the developments on Capitol Hill, though it’s unlikely West Wing officials are going to simply quit, telling each other, “Well, we tried.”

What’s probably going to happen is that the president will nominate a qualified official for the high court; he’ll encourage senators to do their job while honoring the constitutional process; and then Democrats hope for the pressure to change the politics.

The next question, of course, is whether such pressure is going to exist.

Last week, a Fox News poll found a clear majority of Americans agreeing that the Supreme Court’s vacancy should be filled this year, not next. This week, a Pew Research Center survey found similar results.

In the high-stakes battle over replacing Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a majority of Americans (56%) say the Senate should hold hearings and vote on President Obama’s choice to fill the vacancy. About four-in-ten (38%) say the Senate should not hold hearings until the next president selects a court nominee.

Of course, while independent and Democratic voters agree on senators doing their duty, the same poll found that 66% of GOP voters want the blockade to continue – and those are very likely the only voters Senate Republicans care about right now.

It sounds cynical and undemocratic, but by all appearances, GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill just don’t buy into the notion that there will ever be a public backlash against them – on practically anything. Cycle after cycle, their antics are rewarded, even after a government shutdown, a debt-ceiling crisis, and a complete unwillingness to govern on practically any issue.

Periodically, someone will say, “The public won’t stand for this,” to which Republicans respond, “Of course they will. Voters don’t pay much attention anyway.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 23, 2016

February 24, 2016 Posted by | Mitch Mc Connell, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Shall We Choose Poison?”: A Choice Between Being Shot Or Poisoned To Death

The National Review has just come out with an entire issue dedicated to convincing Republicans not to nominate Donald Trump to be their presidential candidate. It wasn’t a painless decision. It cost them the right to cohost (along with Salem Radio and Telemundo) a Republican debate with CNN.

The magazine is more conflicted about Ted Cruz. Writing for The Corner, for example, David French accuses the Republican establishment of being petulant in their refusal to contemplate serving under a Cruz presidency.

What’s remarkable about Mr. French’s position is that he places absolutely no weight on the idea that a person who belongs to a 100-person organization and manages to make about 98 of the members detest and despise them, probably is not the kind of person you want to make the leader of anything.

French was responding to a report at CNN in which Senator Dan Coats of Indiana said that the wounds Cruz has created with the Republican caucus are so deep that they’d find it nearly impossible to work with him. And Coats was hardly alone in expressing that opinion. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina likened a choice between Trump and Cruz to a choice between being shot and poisoned to death. Most strikingly, Texas’s other senator, John Cornyn, refused to defend his partner after Bob Dole said that a Cruz candidacy would be “cataclysmic” for the party.

But French dismisses this as letting petty personal differences get in the way of the good of the party.

…this is sheer crazy talk. Look, I get that senators are people — they have feelings and pride and don’t like to be called names. But talk through the hurt with your spouse or pastor, and then man up, get out there, and make it clear that you’re going to campaign your heart out for the GOP nominee. After years of tough election campaigns, food fights on cable television, and withering attacks on social media, Ted Cruz is the one who broke your spirits?

I don’t think Ted Cruz broke their spirits. They know him. They know him and they don’t like him. They don’t like him and they don’t trust him. They don’t trust him and they don’t want to serve under him. They don’t think he should be our president.

Maybe their collective wisdom should count for something.

The fact that it doesn’t seem to among a lot of fairly well-educated conservatives is another indicator of just how little credibility the GOP establishment has with anyone.

But another indicator of how much Cruz is hated is that folks outside of the Senate are beginning to make sounds about Trump being more acceptable.

“If it came down to Trump or Cruz, there is no question I’d vote for Trump,” said former New York mayor and 2008 presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has not endorsed a candidate. “As a party, we’d have a better chance of winning with him, and I think a lot of Republicans look at it that way.”

So, this is where we are. The conservatives at the National Review, Weekly Standard, Red State and other like publications are doing a full-court press to stop Trump because they think he’s a flim-flam artist and a confidence man, while the elected officials (current and former) are telling anyone who will listen that Cruz is completely unacceptable.

For once, I agree with a lot of conservatives. I think they’re all right.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 22, 2016

January 24, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“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

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