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“The Republican Brand Is Tea Party”: GOP Reactions Are Revealing, Especially Among Senators Facing Voters In Blue And Purple States

House Republicans will hold their leadership elections next week and all signs point to them remaining more interested in appeasing a narrow base than governing a diverse country.

Consider: The only woman positioned to run for Majority Leader, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, decided not to make a bid. The two men competing for the job are conservatives from the Deep South. The favorite for Speaker, Kevin McCarthy of California, is less experienced than John Boehner, less accomplished, and — if he follows through on private promises — more confrontational.

McCarthy has already signaled with a potentially costly gaffe that he may not be ready for primetime. It came when he boasted to Sean Hannity on Fox News that the House investigation of the 2012 murders of Americans in Benghazi has done serious damage to Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought and made that happen,” he said.

Not that this was a secret, but thanks for the gift of a sound bite that makes clear the Benghazi probe — the latest of many — is not entirely about getting to the truth. The incident recalls a classic moment in 2012 when Mike Turzai, majority leader of the Pennsylvania House, ran down a list of achievements that ended: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

Later that year, President Obama beat Mitt Romney by 5 percentage points in Pennsylvania. And a judge ultimately struck down that voter identification law. The larger point is that until Turzai’s brag, conservatives across the country had religiously stuck to talking points about good government and rooting out (virtually nonexistent) fraud, as opposed to giving their side an edge by making it harder for some people — like urban minorities — to vote.

One of the deepest rifts in today’s chasm-ridden GOP is whether to try to attract a larger swath of voters or to double down on the party’s dwindling core of loyalists. The latest test — over whether to shut down the government in an attempt to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood — illuminated the divide. Republican reactions were revealing, especially among senators facing voters next year in blue and purple states.

You had Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire demanding of Sen. Ted Cruz, presidential candidate and chief agitator in the upper chamber, exactly what he hoped to accomplish when the Senate GOP did not have 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, much less 67 to override a veto by the Democratic president. And Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois tweeting Wednesday, after the Senate passed a bill to fund the government (including Planned Parenthood), “When our govt shut down in 2013, it cost U.S. $24 billion. We were elected to govern responsibly, not by crisis.” And Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who tweeted “Troubling that a #governmentshutdown was even an option, causing great economic hardship to the 15,000 Alaskans employed by the fed. gov.”

I don’t doubt the sincerity or passion of conservatives fighting abortion. I don’t even argue with the idea that by giving Planned Parenthood money for services like contraception, cancer screenings and STD tests, the federal government frees up money for the group to perform abortions. But the facts on the ground are stark. It will take a Republican Senate supermajority and a Republican president to get what conservatives want, and what they want does not have broad public support. That’s the case whether the issue is defunding Planned Parenthood, curbing abortion, or shutting the government.

Only 36 percent in a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll said more restrictive laws on abortion would be a step in the right direction. Majorities in that poll and two other new ones, meanwhile, said Planned Parenthood should continue to receive federal funds. One of the polls, from Quinnipiac University, found sentiment running 3 to 1 against shuttering the government over the issue. Only 23 percent favored a shutdown.

To cap off the bad-news week for the GOP, Planned Parenthood had a 47 percent positive rating in the NBC poll — the highest of any entity or person tested. Obama came closest at 46 percent, followed by the Democratic Party at 41 percent and Joe Biden at 40 percent. The most positively viewed on the Republican side were presidential candidate Ben Carson and the party itself, each at 29 percent.

Democrats have their own problems, but they are far more in step with mainstream America on a number of important issues — not least the idea that shutting down the federal government is an acceptable substitute for winning the elections you need to prevail.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, October 1, 2015

October 2, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Government Shut Down, House Republicans, Planned Parenthood | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Shutdown Politics Divides GOP”: No Real Precedent For A Party Being Responsible For Two Government Shutdowns Over 24 Months

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is ready for an ugly showdown that may very well shut down the federal government at the end of the month, as are dozens of House Republicans. Meanwhile, GOP leaders in both chambers are pushing as hard as they can in the opposite direction.

But no one in Republican politics is more resistant to this strategy than vulnerable GOP incumbents worried about their re-election bids next year. Politico reported this week on one of these lawmakers:

In an interview, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said it’s “obvious” Cruz is only making this his latest cause to boost his visibility in a presidential campaign. And Ayotte, who withdrew her name from Lee’s 2013 letter on Obamacare, said she will “absolutely not” sign onto Cruz’s latest missive.

“There are not enough votes to even get (to) 60 in the Senate. But even if you could get by that (hurdle), the president is going to veto it and we certainly don’t have 67 votes,” Ayotte said. “So I guess I would ask: What’s the strategy for success?”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), another blue-state Republican incumbent facing a tough race next year, is also reportedly urging his colleagues to avoid a shutdown at all costs – for his sake, if not theirs.

All of which raises the question: are Ayotte and Johnson correct? Would another government shutdown hurt them and their party?

Reader B.G. emailed me last night to suggest the nervous senators’ concerns are misplaced. I’m reprinting the reader’s note with permission: “The GOP paid no political price in the 2014 election for shutting down the government in 2013. As much as I loathe Cruz, it is not irrational for him to think that shutting down the government will be a cost-free endeavor (from a GOP political perspective). I am sure he is betting, and not without evidence, that any government shutdown will be long forgotten by the time the 2016 election rolls around.”

After House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told Fox News this morning that “the American people will punish you if you are just playing politics or making a point that can’t be achieved,” reader B.G. added in a follow-up email, “Well, no, not based on recent history…. In fact, if I were Ted Cruz, I would be making the point publicly that the 2013 shutdown worked. ‘Look, we did it, and the American people rewarded us.’”

As a practical matter, Cruz and his allies are doing exactly that. For all the hand-wringing among Republican leaders, the Texas senator and his allies routinely make the argument on Capitol Hill that the hype is wrong and the risk of an electoral backlash from shutdowns is vastly overstated. These are, Cruz & Co. insist, consequence-free gambits.

To which I say, maybe.

First, it’s worth remembering that there are qualitative differences between midterm cycles and presidential election years. In the latter, more people, especially Democrats, actually bother to show up. There’s no denying the fact that Republicans had a great year in 2014, despite shutting down the government in 2013, but the national electorate will look far different – larger, more diverse, etc. – in 2016.

Second, for some of these vulnerable incumbents, the national landscape isn’t nearly as relevant as the prevailing political winds in their own home states. And in a state like Wisconsin, where Johnson is an underdog anyway, there’s simply no upside to having the public get angry with his party all over again.

Third, don’t discount the possibility of a cumulative effect. Republicans faced no discernible punishment for the last shutdown, but there’s no real precedent for a party being responsible for two shutdowns over the course of 24 months, and it’s no surprise that GOP leaders don’t see value in pushing their luck.

Finally, there’s the broader context of the 2016 cycle to consider: Republicans are going to ask the American mainstream to give the GOP power over the House, the Senate, and the White House, simultaneously, for the first time in a decade. Democrats will respond that an unhinged, radicalized Republican Party with a right-wing agenda hasn’t earned, and cannot be trusted with, that much power over the federal government.
Will another shutdown make the Democrats’ argument easier or harder next year?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 11, 2015

September 14, 2015 Posted by | Government Shut Down, House Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Blight On The Reputation Of The United States”: President Obama Is Determined To Close Gitmo

Perhaps because none of the 2016 presidential candidates are talking about it, I haven’t seen much in the media about this:

Facing a potential showdown with Congress, the Pentagon is racing to move dozens of detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in coming months before lawmakers can block future transfers and derail President Obama’s plan to shutter the U.S. military prison.

As a first step, officials plan to send up to 10 prisoners overseas, possibly in June. In all, the Pentagon hopes that 57 inmates who are approved for transfer will be resettled by the end of 2015. That would require “large muscle movements” by at least two countries, which officials hope will each agree to take in 10 to 20 Yemeni detainees, who cannot be repatriated because of security conditions in their war-torn homeland.

The potential showdown with Congress they are referring is that Sen. Ayotte is sponsoring a bill that would extend the current ban on bringing prisoners to the United States and effectively bar transfers to other countries. Of course President Obama could veto such a bill – unless, as we’ve seen in previous years, it was part of the Pentagon’s omnibus budget appropriation.

What’s interesting is that the President is currently working on an alternative with Sen. Ayotte’s best buddy, Sen. McCain.

The White House is drafting a plan that officials hope will receive the support of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as an alternate to Ayotte’s measure. McCain has previously expressed openness to shutting the prison.

But it’s far from certain, even with McCain’s backing, that lawmakers would fall in behind the White House’s plan, which would allow detainees to be brought to the United States for trial or detention and would enable the continued transfer of others to foreign nations.

“It’s looking very difficult,” said Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and a leading advocate for allowing prisoners to be brought to the United States. “I don’t see what changes minds or persuades people at this point,” he said. “But that’s what [the White House] is attempting to do.”

If that were to fail:

In the event that Congress does pass legislation that would freeze Guantanamo Bay’s population, currently at 122, White House officials are exploring options for the unilateral closure of the prison and moving detainees into the United States, an action that Congress has opposed from the president’s first months in office.

Notice that they are “exploring options for the unilateral closure.” So it’s clear they don’t have a plan yet. But do you get the idea this President is serious about this? One way or the other he is determined to have this blight on the reputation of the United States closed before he leaves office.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2015

April 27, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GITMO, Pentagon | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Main Street Nashuans Weren’t Feeling It”: The GOP Clown Show’s Alternate Reality In New Hampshire

Saturday morning found the America that politicians endlessly seek and love to mention but barely know strolling along the first floor of Alec’s Shoes on Main Street here in a city where at least 20 people running for President of the United States were at a hotel less than three miles away, talking. The candidates up the road ranged from a Bush, a Christie, one Paul, a Perry, a Trump, a Rubio, a Cruz, and more than a dozen others, all in town seemingly a decade before the primary next year.

But that traveling clown show didn’t matter much to Roland LeBlanc, who held a Nike sneaker in one hand and a Reebok in the other as he watched his 11-year-old son inspect a wall covered with hundreds of sneakers for sale at reasonable prices. He checked the price on both because the boy, like most kids, was only interested in style.

The Nikes were marked down to $70. The Reeboks were $64.

“How about this one, Dad?” the boy asked, holding a Nike that cost $90.

“I kinda like this one better,” the father replied, showing him the $70 sneaker.

A nuclear deal with Iran, a trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations, all of that and more was a long way from the immediate issue of the moment: the price of sneakers for a boy who would probably grow out of them by the end of summer.

“We get a good cross-section of people here,” John Koutsos, the owner of Alec’s Shoes, was saying. “We get fairly-high-income people here, low- and moderate-income families. We get them all.”

The store itself is a definition of a country too many people think is a distant, fond memory. It was opened in 1938 by John Koutsos’s father, Alec.

Alec Koutsos was born in Pentalofus, Greece, in 1917. He came to America and Nashua in 1934, in the middle of a Great Depression that knocked America to its knees. He did not know the language but he knew what it meant to work hard and to dream of better days and bigger things. He passed away last year at the age of 96, a proud, prosperous citizen.

Today the store is a local magnet to many looking for affordable footwear and clothing in a region hammered by our latest and very deep recession. It is the beating commercial heart of a Main Street where ‘For Lease’ signs are papered to windows of a dozen empty storefronts.

At the Church of Good Shepherd across Main Street a daily meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous had ended and several people stood on the sidewalk talking and smoking cigarettes, some looking as if their immediate future was simply the long day ahead, an agonizing wait before the next meeting when they would again fight temptation together. One of them, Eddie, a 26-year old-unemployed machinist, walked across Main Street to Joanne’s Kitchen & Coffee Shop, where he sat, sipping his coffee, reading the sports page.

“Heroin,” Eddie said. “That’s one of the biggest problems here. It’s all over the place and it’s cheap too. I used to do it but not anymore.”

Heroin overdose has stalked the region around parts of New Hampshire and Vermont. All the politicians gathered at the Crowne Plaza Hotel for the First-in-the-Nation Republican Leadership Summit came prepared to discuss how lethal, how dangerous, ISIS was but there was no mention of the life-destroying availability of a drug that has flooded parts of the nation they seek to lead.

“I don’t know much about any of them,” John Koutsos said. “But it seems to me that the country needs a pep talk. There’s something wrong. People seem to be just sitting back, almost like they’re giving up a little. It’s hard to explain. Hard to put your finger on. It’s like everyone wonders, ‘Where we going?’”

At one end of Main Street in Nashua, there are the local offices of the state’s two United States senators. Republican Kelly Ayotte’s office is at the corner of Main and Temple. It is in a storefront next to the Vietnam Noodle House and across the street from a large Gentle Dental building. Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat, is a hundred yards farther along on the second floor of a fairly new brick office building.

In between there is the empty, for lease, building that once housed Aubuchon Hardware, a staple of northern New England life. Then there are fairly new buildings where Citizen Bank, Santander Bank, and CVS are found; chains that swallowed up small savings banks and corner drug stores, not just here, but everywhere.

Saturday found local residents out enjoying a sun-splashed New Hampshire morning, the weather offering immediate relief from a long, punishing winter. The parking lot at Nashua’s Pheasant Lane Mall, a few miles from Main Street, was packed with cars and shoppers, each parking space another bullet in the heart of downtown commerce.

At the Crowne Plaza there were the candidates, gathered, shaking hands, smiling, surrounded by the curious and the committed, talking about their views, their opinions on all the big issues that their handlers and their pollsters indicate will help propel them to the front of a truly predictable political pack. And, standing at the cashier’s counter of Alec’s Shoes, Roland LeBlanc paid cash for a $70 pair of Nike sneakers for an 11-year-old boy he hopes will grow up in a country filled with more optimism than too many think exists today.

 

By: Mike Barnicle, The Daily Beast, April 19, 2015

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republican Leadership Summit | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Holding The Boston Bomber As An Enemy Combatant?”: Would Tsarnaev Be Convicted Under President McCain?

That was justice at work. It took a week less than two years, an impressively brisk time window, for federal prosecutors in Massachusetts to deliver justice to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the jury needed just 11 hours to deliberate. We didn’t waterboard him or send him to Gitmo, his jailers didn’t make him strip naked and get down on all fours while they led him around on a leash; and still, miraculously, despite these failures of our resolve, the people of the United States got a conviction.

I say “failures” above, obviously, in an ironical kind of way. But I wrote it like that because it strikes me that this is a day more than most other days to take stock of such matters and to remember that in this case, if John McCain and Lindsey Graham had had their way, some of those things could conceivably have happened to Tsarnaev. You might be tempted to say, so what, he’s a mass murderer. And that he is. But he’s a citizen of the United States, and citizens of the United States, no matter how despicable, have rights.

But in April 2013, right after the bombing, when the demagogue needle was way over in the red, McCain and Graham were leading the call for Tsarnaev to be detained as an enemy combatant. Not to be tried as one—even they understood that that would be crossing the line when it came to a U.S. citizen. But they wanted him held and questioned as an enemy combatant—thrown in a military brig and then questioned by military and CIA personnel rather than the FBI, a process that would have stripped him of his right to legal counsel and other basic rights to which any citizen is entitled.

McCain and Graham were joined by their usual compatriots in these crusades, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and New York Congressman Peter King. Their argument was that holding Tsarnaev as a combatant for a certain period of time would allow the government to ascertain things like whether he had any al Qaeda connections. Graham said at the time that being able to question Tsarnaev without a defense lawyer present was his whole point. That might sound reasonable, if it weren’t for, you know, the Constitution.

I don’t doubt that there was some measure of sincerity in McCain’s and Graham’s belief at the time, but even if it was quasi-sincere, it was just the worst kind of demagoguery. This did not happen in a vacuum, of course, but was yet another instance in a long chain of McCain-Graham demagoguery that went back to the very beginning of the Obama administration, when the new president was trying to close Gitmo, and Republicans—Graham was particularly noxious, as I recall—were running around charging that Obama was trying to release Gitmo prisoners onto the American mainland so they could live among us.

The reality, of course, is that the Gitmo detainees would by and large have been transferred only to the most secure Supermax prisons in the continental 48. But the reality didn’t matter, see, because what was important was to establish the narrative that this new president, with his suspicious name and questionable provenance and terrorist-palling-around and so on, didn’t want to defend America the way you and I did.

Then came the uproar over the administration’s plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian New York court. Now to be sure, the administration botched that one in p.r. terms, by not reaching out in advance to then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg and to Senator Chuck Schumer to make sure they’d both be on board. It wasn’t the first time or the last that the administration has aimed the revolver at its own foot.

But where are we now on that front? KSM still sits down in Guantanamo Bay, awaiting trial. He’s been ping-ponged from the military court system to the civilian and back again. He purports in more recent years to have had a change of heart, bless him, regarding the whole wholesale slaughter of innocents business. Whatever the case on that front, the core fact remains that the families who lost loves ones on 9/11 have not seen any resolution with regard to the legal fate of the mastermind of those attacks.

The families of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, on the other hand, got justice in two short years. And this civilian-court efficiency is no aberration. Up through 2011, according to Human Rights First, federal civilian criminal courts had convicted around 500 terrorism suspects. Military courts had convicted eight, and three of those were overturned completely and one partially. It’s hard to find more recent precise numbers, but it’s not exactly as if military tribunals have caught up since then. The bottom line is clear. Civilian prosecutions work, and they live up to (well, more or less—Tsarnaev was questioned before being read his Miranda rights) constitutional standards.

And yet the snarling from McCain and Graham and their amen corner never ends. Obama/Democrats soft on terror is too tantalizing a story line, a toothsome steak that they can’t help but bite into. One of Obama’s more admirable attributes, in fact, is the way he has stood up to this bullying. He’s tried (without always succeeding) to bring our terrorism policies more in line with our stated values while at the same time still prosecuting actual terrorists. If you lament Obama’s shortcomings, just stop today and ask yourself where you think we’d be on these fronts if President McCain had been elected in 2008. His fomentations tell us all we need to know.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 11, 2015 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings, GITMO, John McCain | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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