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“A Meaningful Deterrent”: Senate Republicans Rediscover The Value Of ‘Pinata Politics’

Almost exactly 10 years ago, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was concerned about Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito facing “attacks” from Senate Democrats. Eventually, the Texas Republican said at the time, senators “will need to come to terms with our confirmation process.” Cornyn added that treating nominees “more like pinatas than human beings” is “something none of us should be willing to tolerate.”

That was when there was a Republican president in the White House. Now that President Obama is the one doing the nominating, Cornyn is apparently less concerned about Pinata Politics.

Even though Senate Republicans have no intention of holding hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, that doesn’t mean he or she won’t be dragged through the mud.

And the chamber’s No. 2 Republican made that clear to a small cluster of reporters Monday, saying he believed the nominee, “will bear some resemblance to a pinata.”

A decade ago, Cornyn characterized this as “something none of us should be willing to tolerate,” but this year, one gets the impression that the Senate Majority Whip not only tolerates the same practices he denounced, he also intends to be one of the lawmakers holding the stick, swinging for candy.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was unimpressed with the rhetoric. “Senator Cornyn has now taken the next step and suggested – without knowing who this nominee is, without considering what their record is, what their experience is, how qualified they are for the job – he is suggesting that they’ll be subjected to bashing by Republicans,” Earnest told reporters yesterday. “It’s unclear for what reason, other than the president of the United States has chosen to fulfill his constitutional responsibility to nominate someone to fill a vacancy.”

That said, if Cornyn and the GOP’s tolerance for Pinata Politics is intended to intimidate potential nominees – “It’s a nice career you have there, it’d be a shame if we had to beat you with a stick” – it might be working.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s (R) was floated as a possible choice for the Supreme Court, though he soon after withdrew his name from consideration. Yesterday, as MSNBC reported, a high-profile member of the president’s cabinet did the same thing.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has “asked not to be considered” for nomination to the Supreme Court to take the spot formerly occupied by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Today, The Hill reported that another possible contender also bowed out.

Federal Appellate Judge Adalberto Jordan has taken himself out of consideration to become President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, CNN reported Wednesday.

 The Miami-based judge was reportedly a contender to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and would have been the first Cuban-American to sit on the high court.

Of course, people may have all kinds of reasons to withdraw from consideration, but it’s easy to imagine Republican rhetoric about pinatas serving as a meaningful deterrent.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 9, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | John Cornyn, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Long Read; The GOP’s Offensive Defense”: The Scalise Scandal Is Like A Grain Of Sand On A Very Big Beach

The firestorm over House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s 2002 decision to speak at a white supremacists’ conference might have skipped a news cycle or two over the New Year’s holiday, but it’s not going away anytime soon.

On Monday, the White House got into the act during press secretary Josh Earnest’s daily briefing. Though he said his boss, President Barack Obama, is mum on whether Republicans should kick the Louisiana congressman to the curb, Earnest played up Scalise’s own words and the GOP leadership’s decision to give him rank:

“[Obama] believes it is their decision to make. But there’s no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are. Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as David Duke without the baggage, so it will be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference.”

Over the weekend, however, one new lawmaker simultaneously defended Scalise and helped the GOP subtly push back against its image as a party dominated by white men, despite evidence to the contrary. But incoming Rep. Mia Love of Utah – the Republicans’ first African-American woman elected to the House, and a woman The Washington Post declared is the party’s “racial conscience” – may have done more to remind people of the GOP’s problems than help them forget Scalise.

Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson argues that Love’s appearance on ABC’s “This Week” made her Scalise’s most powerful defender; she swatted down calls for his dismissal from leadership and vouched for his character. Her rejection of accusations that Scalise is a racist, Henderson writes, “is an argument that tends to carry more weight when it’s made by a minority, which gets at why Love will continue to be so important to the GOP, beyond whatever day-to-day work she does for her Utah constituents.” She goes on:

[Love] is Exhibit No. 1 for Republicans’ claim to be a diverse party at the federal level, a role that makes her the new racial conscience of her party – along with Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) and perhaps Rep.-elect Will Hurd (Tex.), another newly elected black Republican. (Neither of them have commented on Scalise so far).

But there are also limits to how helpful she might be. So far, she has been unwilling to directly address the perception problem that many of her fellow Republicans are raising in discussions about Scalise.

Their worry is not so much about proving whether or not Scalise is a racist, but that the GOP’s brand might take a further hit because of Scalise’s actions more than a decade ago. Colin Powell, for instance, in the past has talked about the “dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party” – a strain not checked enough by party leaders, according to Powell. (He has also not commented on the Scalise incident).

Henderson’s right: Republicans aren’t engaging in a debate on whether Scalise is a good legislator and fit to serve. House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in the chamber, is standing solidly behind Scalise, which for most purposes means his majority whip isn’t going anywhere – unless, of course, some more race stuff surfaces in the next few weeks.

What’s interesting about Henderson’s article, however, is how it indicates the GOP is really concerned about the matter, and how that means we’re likely to see more of Love, a heretofore unknown freshman:

Republicans, or at least the ones who put together the Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project memo, are very aware of their brand problems among minorities.

“Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.”

Love’s best answer for this brand problem – described in very stark terms – seems to be simply moving on and trusting that Scalise had no ill intentions. And when it comes to earning that trust, Love clearly has a role to play.

The project memo not surprisingly gives the GOP the benefit of the doubt by declaring that minorities wrongly think that Republicans hate them. There’s plenty of evidence that African-American and Latino hostility toward Republicans stems from the party’s policies, stated and otherwise – its positions on immigration, affirmative action and voting rights come immediately to mind – and not just its demographics.

Henderson concludes:

But how do you convince minorities that they are wrong about Republicans, with Scalise and his associates as the most recent evidence? That’s a much harder problem to solve, with Love’s presence and voice serving as a very small part.

That – given that the GOP leadership is almost exclusively white and male, and its constituency is older and white – is perhaps the greater issue. Putting Love in front of the cameras smacks of tokenism, and that tends to remind minorities of the GOP’s much deeper problems, like the mythical Southern strategy, or maybe the Shelby County vs. Holder case.

When it comes to its problems with minority voters, the Scalise scandal (“Klangate,” maybe? “White Wash”?), seems like a grain of sand on a very big beach.


By: Joseph P. Williams, Washington Whispers, U. S, News and World Report, January 6, 2015

January 7, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Republicans, Steve Scalise | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Glaring Symbol Of What You Stand For”: Hey GOP, Please Keep Steve Scalise At The Top Of Your Junk Pile

The Republican Party’s strategy for reaching across the cultural and racial divide, in an effort to expand its tent for the next major national election, is to throw its full support behind embattled Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise who, by his own admission, spoke in 2002 to The European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), a white supremacist group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise claims he did not at the time know the origin of the group or Duke’s involvement.

Scalise, who as Majority Whip is the GOP’s 3rd highest ranking representative, told a reporter almost 20 years ago while running for office that he was like “David Duke without the baggage.” Was this simple pandering to a key voting block or a much clearer window into the man’s political and moral psyche? Either way, he knew exactly who he was targeting.

As House Republicans vote Tuesday to elect its leaders, many on the right have been all too quick to defend Scalise’s utterly implausible story, even blaming Democrats for the controversy. Speaking on MSNBC’s Hardball Monday evening, Republican strategist and former Dick Cheney advisor Ron Christie said: “I think the Democrats are being disgraceful in the way that they’re playing the race card. The Democrats are dividing this country…” he said, while specifically naming DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

In a statement released Monday, Wasserman Schultz said: “As the new Congress begins, nothing discredits Republican claims of ‘outreach’ and bringing people together more than their decision to keep Steve Scalise at the top tier of the elected leadership of their caucus…Anyone living in this century should have known better than to attend and speak at a white supremacist event, particularly one founded and led by David Duke, and Scalise’s explanation that he wasn’t aware isn’t credible by a long shot.”

And Earnest, during Monday’s White House press briefing, said: “There’s no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are.”

So let’s get this straight: what riles Republican officials is not that their party has racists, who do and say despicable things, but rather the Democrats who make public their words and actions. Welcome to 2015, where condemning racism is playing the race card.

To the GOP I say, please keep Steve Scalise in his leadership post. Leave him up there as a glaring symbol of what your party stands for. Let Americans know who you support. Who you defend. Who you reward with power. Who you call a “man of character.”


By: Andy Ostroy, The Blog, The Huffington Post, January 6, 2015

January 7, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Racism, Steve Scalise | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A ‘True National Election’? Not Really”: A Shrunken U.S. Map There The Electorate Is Far More Republican Than The Country Overall

During the White House press briefing yesterday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest suggested to the media that many conclusions will be drawn from this year’s elections, but these lessons should be different from “a true national election.”

The right balked. If there are elections nationwide, how can it not be a true national election?

The answer has everything to do with who’s voting where. Obviously, all U.S. House races are up every other year, but they’re hardly a great barometer of a national race – in 2012, Democratic House candidates earned 1 million more votes than Republican House candidates, but Dems still ended up in the minority.

But the Senate is a different story. You may have heard about “structural” considerations that give Republicans a natural, built-in advantage in 2014, but it’s worth appreciating exactly what that means. Jonathan Cohn had a good piece on this overnight.

Senators serve staggered, six-year terms. And it so happens that the states with Senate elections this year are disproportionately conservative.

How do we know this? One way is by looking at how those states voted in 2012, the most recent presidential election year. In the actual election that took place, with all 50 states plus the District of Columbia voting, Obama won handily over Mitt Romney. Obama got 332 electoral votes, while Romney got just 206. But if the electorate in 2012 had consisted only of voters living in states participating in this year’s Senate elections, Romney would have won comfortably, with 165 electoral votes to Obama’s 130.

This is no small detail. It’s not a true national election because we’re dealing with a shrunken U.S. map – one where the electorate is far more Republican than the country overall.

Patrick Egan did a terrific job digging into the data, concluding:

Taken together, the rules on seat allotments and classes have yielded a Senate election cycle in 2014 that is profoundly unrepresentative of the nation as whole – and particularly tough for Democrats. […]

Simply put, this year’s Senate elections are unrepresentative of the nation to an extent that is unprecedented in elections held in the post-war era. So when we begin to sift through the results on Election Night, the number of Senate seats won and lost will tell us less than we might like about where the two parties stand in the minds of American voters.

Just so we’re clear, this is not to say geography alone is determinative. President Obama won Colorado twice, and voters there appear likely to elect their most far-right senator in state history. President Obama won Iowa twice, and Hawkeye State voters apparently intend to elect the most radical senator Capitol Hill has seen in many years.

The point, though, is that geography has given the GOP an edge it would otherwise lack. The structural considerations have tilted the playing field in ways that put Democrats at a disadvantage before a single ballot was cast.

In September 2012 – 26 months ago – the Washington Post ran a piece with this headline: “A GOP Senate majority? Just wait for 2014.” Aaron Blake reported at the time that the map would be “murderous” for Democrats in 2014 and Republicans would have “a great chance” to take control of the chamber after the midterms.

It’s not because Blake has a crystal ball; it’s because he could see these obvious structural advantages. Throw in some key retirements, dark money from the far-right, and the public blaming Obama for congressional Republicans’ refusal to govern, and we’re left with a recipe for Democratic failure.

As a practical matter, most of the country won’t know or care about any of this, but Earnest’s assessment about this not being “a true national election” has the benefit of being true.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 4, 2014

November 5, 2014 Posted by | Midterm Elections, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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