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“The Political Perils Of Taking Attendance”: Committee Hearings Important For Democrats, Irrelevant If A Republican Misses Most

In the closing days of the 2014 campaign cycle, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) traveled to North Carolina in the hopes of defeating then-Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). The Republican specifically went after the Democrat for having missed some Senate Armed Services Committee hearings.“Here we are with Americans being beheaded, and Sen. Hagan doesn’t even show up for the briefing,” McCain griped.

The same week, the Arizona Republican traveled to New Hampshire to complain about Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) imperfect attendance at Senate Armed Services Committee meetings. “I don’t see her at very many of the hearings,” McCain said, citing this as proof that the Democrat is not a “serious member” of the panel

In retrospect, this might not have been the ideal line of attack for the GOP.

Ted Cruz thunders about what he calls a “fundamentally unserious” U.S. defense policy, but when he had a chance to weigh in during Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, he rarely showed up.

Cruz, who announced last week he’s running for president, has the committee’s worst attendance record – by far.

Politico found that Cruz, after just two years on Capitol Hill, has become quite cavalier about showing up for official committee gatherings, skipping 13 of the panel’s 16 hearings this year. The Senate committee has 26 members, and Cruz is literally the only who’s absent more than half the time.

Asked for an explanation, Cruz’s office told Politico the senator, because of his lack of seniority, is “often last in line to speak, and any questions he may have for witnesses have already been asked.”

That’s true, but the point of the hearings is to help members learn things. Whether or not Cruz has to wait his turn to press witnesses, he might benefit from listening to the Q&A anyway.

Simon Maloy raised an excellent point, comparing Cruz to another ambitious young senator from several years ago.

When Obama came into the Senate in 2005, he kept his head down and actually did the nitty-gritty work of a freshman senator, which meant slogging through interminable hearings. Richard Lugar, formerly the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, once concluded a day-long hearing on Iraq by congratulating Obama for being the only committee member to sit through the whole thing. It was minor stuff, but it gave Obama a reputation as someone who was willing to do the basic work needed to get things done, which helped defuse questions about his “experience” when he jumped into the 2008 presidential campaign.

Cruz’s strategy is the exact opposite. He’s trying to inflate his own leadership and experience well beyond the reasonable expectations one would have for a freshman senator, and he’s getting tripped up by the reality of his life in the Senate to date.

Cruz and his backers, not surprisingly, balk at the comparison between the Texas Republican and the president they hate, though there are some superficial similarities. Young, ambitious senators from large states? Check. Celebrated orator? Check. Harvard Law Review editor? Check. Son of an immigrant father? Check.

But early on in Obama’s Senate career, the Illinois Democrat showed up, did unglamorous work, and put together some legislative accomplishments. Cruz doesn’t like to show up, has no patience for unglamorous work, and hasn’t legislated much at all.

If anyone should be annoyed by this comparison, it’s Obama.

In fairness, there are better metrics for evaluating lawmakers than committee-hearing attendance, but in 2014, it was Republicans who characterized this as a critical issue, pleading with voters to take this seriously.

The trouble is, Republicans can’t pick and choose – it’s tough to tell voters that committee hearings are critically important if a Democrat misses some, but they’re largely irrelevant if a Republican misses most.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 2, 2015

April 3, 2015 Posted by | Senate, Senate Armed Services Committee, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are Limits”: Yes, A Backlash To Conservative Extremism Is Possible

I think it’s safe to say that the single greatest source of frustration to progressives today is the relatively small price the Republican Party appears to be paying for the extremism that has gripped its ranks since (at least) 2009 (the second greatest source of frustration may be how Democrats have dealt with that phenomenon, but that’s a subject for another post). It seems that no matter what havoc the GOP has inflicted on the country before and during the administration of Barack Obama, the bulk of the blame will be assigned to the president and his party, rewarding the conservative wrecking crew for its irresponsibility.

But as Greg Sargent notes today, there are two places where Republican extremism is bearing surprisingly bitter fruit:

A new batch of NBC/Marist polls released over the weekend showed Democratic Senator Kay Hagan hanging on to a four point lead in North Carolina, while independent Greg Orman now leads incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts in Kansas by 10 points. The North Carolina finding is in sync with the average, while the Kansas one isn’t, though the Kansas average does show Orman leading.

It would have been awfully bold to predict six months ago that Republicans would be trailing in North Carolina and Kansas. But what’s notable here is that both these states are home to two of the nation’s leading experiments in conservative state-level governance.

Greg goes on to observe that Thom Tillis’ leadership role in what he himself proudly called a “conservative revolution” in state government is clearly an issue in the NC Senate campaign. And there’s little doubt that a revolt of moderate Republicans against KS Governor Sam Brownback has spilled over into the Senate race there, lifting independent Greg Orman into an otherwise inexplicable lead.

Suffice it to say it’s unusual for state-level politics to infect federal contests to this extent; usually it happens the other way around. But it should be a message to Republican pols, and to the right-wing oligarchs playing such a conspicuous role in these two states (the Koch Brothers in their native Kansas, and the most conspicuous Koch Lite, Art Pope, in NC) that there are limits to what they can inflict on subject populations.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republican Control Of Senate Not A Slam Dunk”: You Have The Power, Voting Will Matter This Year

There is something deeply satisfying about the troubles punditry is having in nailing down exactly what’s happening in the 2014 elections.

The careful statistical models keep gyrating on the question of whether Republicans will win control of the Senate this November. The prognosticators who rely on their reporting and their guts as well as the numbers are sometimes at odds with the statisticians.

The obvious reason for the uncertainty is that many of the key Senate races are still very close in the polls. This should encourage a degree of humility among those of us who love to offer opinions about politics. Humility is a useful virtue not always on display in our business. The unsettled nature of the election also sends a salutary signal to the electorate. As Howard Dean might put it: You have the power. Voting will matter this year.

It is not my habit to agree with Karl Rove, but he was on to something in his Wall Street Journal column last Thursday when he wrote that “each passing day provides evidence as to why a GOP Senate majority is still in doubt.”

Rove’s focus, not surprisingly, was on money. Democrats have been spending heavily to hang on to their majority, and he interpreted this as an imperative for Republican candidates and donors to “step up if they are to substantially reduce that gap.” In a parenthetical sentence, he disclosed his interest here: “I help American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS raise funds on a volunteer basis.” Rove’s professional history is in the direct mail business, and his column was a nicely crafted fundraising plea.

Rove acknowledged that the big-dollar Republican groups have yet to commit all the cash they have raised, so the TV advertising gap “is likely to shrink.” But the GOP’s real problem in closing the deal is about more than money. Spending doesn’t work unless candidates and parties have a case to make, and this gets to why we have yet to see either a clear trend or a dominant theme emerge in this campaign. Many swing voters may be in a mood to punish or put a check on President Obama. Yet Democrats might still hang on if voters decide that life and government will be no better with a legislative branch entirely under GOP control.

Underlying the Democrats’ argument that a Republican-led Senate will be no day at the beach is the fact that their conservative opponents are offering little of practical help to voters still unsettled by the economic downturn, and might make things worse.

Thus, even in conservative states, Democrats are zeroing in on Republican opposition to government programs aimed at solving particular problems. Their arguments and ads reflect a reality: Voters who might dislike government in the abstract often support the concrete things government can do.

In Kentucky, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes launched a Web ad on Friday criticizing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for leading a filibuster against Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bill to bring down interest rates on student debt. “We want our students getting degrees, not debt,” Grimes says. Students are portrayed echoing the “degrees not debt” theme.

In Arkansas, Democrat Mark Pryor has run advertising built around the Ebola outbreak, criticizing his opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, for being one of 29 House Republicans to vote in 2013 against a reauthorization of public health and emergency programs. Cotton’s campaign insisted that he voted later in favor of a subsequent version of the spending bill, but it’s striking that a conservative would be put on the defensive about opposing a spending program.

And in North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan used a debate earlier this month to launch a populist attack on state House Speaker Thom Tillis, her Republican foe, charging him with believing that “those who have the most should get the most help.” She has also denounced Tillis for blocking North Carolina from taking advantage of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. She pointed to health-care providers in the state who are “having unbelievable problems because of no Medicaid expansion.”

I’ll try to practice some of the humility I’m preaching by acknowledging that I have no idea whether Republicans will take the six seats they need to control the Senate. Maybe their incessant assaults on Obama will prove to be enough. But an election that once looked to be a Republican slam dunk has even Karl Rove worried, because many voters seem to want to do more with their ballots than just slap the president in the face.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 21, 2014

September 22, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Midterm Elections, Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Typical Republican Trick”: Gun Nuts Deploy Rand Paul And Ted Cruz For Cynical Political Scheme

Earlier this week the Senate voted 82-12 to open debate on the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, a measure introduced by Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan that “aims to preserve federal lands for hunting, fishing and shooting” and had over 20 Republican co-sponsors. It also would “amend the Toxic Substances Control Act, preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating ammunition and fishing equipment that may contain lead.” Sounds … lovely. What it really is, though, is a vehicle for an endangered red-state Democrat such as Kay Hagan to bring something home to brag about.

And that’s why it had to die on Thursday, in a spectacularly cynical yet all-too-common flameout during amendment.

Republicans, who agreed with the bill in spirit but, more pertinently, knew that it might help Kay Hagan win reelection, pulled off a typical trick: trying to attach a number of insane gun lobby amendments to the bill that would force Hagan and other red-state Democrats to cast difficult votes.

Sen. Tom Coburn’s amendment would limit “the circumstances under which veterans can be denied access to firearms because of mental illness.” Sen. Ted Cruz’s “would allow expanded interstate transport of ammunition and firearms.” And then, there’s beloved hero-Sen. Rand Paul, who thinks this hunting and fishing bill represents the latest perfectly reasonable opportunity to strip Washington, D.C., of all its gun laws.

Rand’s proposed amendment to the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act would repeal the registration requirement, end the ban on semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, expand the right to carry guns outside the home and protect the right to carry guns on federal land in D.C. and elsewhere in the country. In essence, the bill would eliminate the District’s local gun laws, leaving only federal firearms law to regulate gun ownership and use in the city.

(You’ve got to love the way Republicans casually introduce amendments to overhaul laws set by the local government of the District of Columbia. Oh, here’s a little amendment to get rid of all your gun laws. Oh, here’s a quick note I drew up to keep marijuana criminalized in your little town of sin. Non-voting Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, of course, is never consulted on these things, but members of Congress do seek her out when they want to bitch about the traffic. Anyway, this is an aside, which is why it’s in parentheses.)

Once Coburn et al. drafted their amendments, pro-gun control Democrats decided to retaliate. “If we open this to a gun debate, we’re going to hear both sides,” Sen. Dick Durbin said earlier in the week. And so he drew up an amendment to “stiffen the penalty for straw purchases of guns to 15 years in prison,” while Sen. Richard Blumenthal offered one that “would temporarily take guns away from people who commit domestic violence and have a restraining order placed against them.”

And so Harry Reid blocked amendments, Republicans withdrew their support, and the measure went down on a 41-56 cloture vote this morning. This is all well and good according to the Gun Owners of America, a lobby that had pushed for the Republican amendment flood to what it called “a do-nothing, reelection bill for Harry Reid’s cronies.”

We weep not, reader, for the demise of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014. The nation will survive without it. But if a bill that essentially says “WE LIKE HUNTING AND FISHING” gets bogged down in an amendment battle about whether or not to have any gun control laws anymore and then dies, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to begin the August recess right now and extend it through Election Day.


By: Jim Newell, Salon, July 11, 2014


July 13, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Lobby, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From Farsightedness To A Laughingstock”: There Are No Mainstream Republicans Left In North Carolina

The national Republican Party is exulting that the “establishment” won in North Carolina’s Senate primary yesterday. That’s only because they have redefined the term “Republican establishment” to include adamant adherents of a far-right ideology.

In yesterday’s voting, state House Speaker Thom Tillis won the right to face Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat, in November. He beat a series of fringe candidates like Greg Brannon, who believes food stamps are a form of slavery and wants to save the poor by abolishing the Department of Agriculture. But in fact Mr. Tillis is a far more dangerous candidate than Mr. Brannon and the other Tea Partiers. While he generally refrains from nutty soundbites (though not always), he has been quite effective as the point man in the state party’s anti-government project.

As speaker, Mr. Tillis has helped preside over what our editorial last year called “the decline of North Carolina.” State government, we wrote, “has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot.”

Mr. Tillis cut federal employment benefits, and refused to pay back what the state owed Washington, leading North Carolina to become the only state at the time to lose long-term benefits. He cut back on education spending, prompting many talented teachers to leave the state, and repealed the Racial Justice Act, which gave death-row inmates a shot at proving they were victims of discrimination. He allowed new restrictions on abortion, blocked the expansion of Medicaid and rewrote the tax code for the benefit of the rich. He and his colleagues imposed also one of the most restrictive voter ID requirements in the nation, intended to keep Democratic voters, including minorities and the poor, away from the polls.

In February, a state judge blocked a program passed by the legislature to spend $10 million on school vouchers, allowing taxpayer money to go to private and religious schools. But Mr. Tillis and his counterpart in the state Senate tried to implement the program over the judge’s ruling. That led the editorial writers of the Raleigh News and Observer to say last month:

“It really is time to stop calling those who run the N.C. General Assembly conservatives. They are not conservative. They are reckless.”

On top of his actions, Mr. Tillis has made his own share of outrageous comments, suggesting in a 2011 video that Republicans need to get the truly needy to turn against those who are soaking government assistance programs.

“What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance,” he says in the video. “We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice, in her condition, that needs help and that we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government and say at some point, ‘You’re on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you.’ And we’ve got to start having that serious discussion.”

The right-wing project led by Mr. Tillis, which turned a state with a reputation for farsightedness into a laughingstock, has infuriated many North Carolinians, leading to regular protests at the state Capitol. Ms. Hagan will have a great deal of material to use against her opponent in the coming campaign, if she can scale the wall of unlimited money that he and his wealthy supporters around the country are about to construct.


By: David Firestone, Editors Blog, The New York Times, May 7, 2014

May 8, 2014 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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