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“The Senate’s Most Endangered Incumbent”: A Republican Senator And His Beloved Conspiracy Theory

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who’s up for re-election this year, has an incentive to appear as moderate and level-headed as possible. He is, after all, a Republican running in a pretty blue state, sharing a ballot with Donald Trump in a presidential election year. The circumstances have made Kirk arguably the Senate’s most endangered incumbent.

And yet, the GOP senator just keeps making bizarre comments. Politico reports today:

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk hasn’t let up on his insistence that President Obama is using his power as president to lash out at a political enemy.

At a fundraising event last month in Chicago, the Illinois Republican can be heard on audio defending indicted New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat, while accusing Obama of targeting Menendez because of his stance on Iran.

According to a recording Politico obtained, Kirk told his audience, “And let me say something about Bob Menendez. I believe that Bob Menendez was indicted solely on the crime of opposing the president on Iran.”

It wasn’t an off-hand comment: the Illinois Republican has pushed the same conspiracy theory over and over again.

To the extent that reality matters, we know that Kirk is completely wrong. The corruption investigation into Menendez’s work initiated long before the Iran deal negotiations even began, and the indictment was issued before the Iran deal was finalized. Besides, Menendez’s opposition to the international agreement was inconsequential, so the White House has no incentive to punish him.

But even if we put that aside, what Kirk is arguing is that the White House orchestrated an elaborate conspiracy, involving multiple federal prosecutors and investigators over the course of several years, to seek retribution against a senator from the president’s own party, who generally agrees with the administration’s position on most issues.

As proof, Kirk points to … nothing. The Illinois Republican believes the White House is guilty of an impeachable offensive, manipulating federal law enforcement to execute a partisan retribution scheme, as a result conspiracy theory that doesn’t make sense. The senator is comfortable throwing around this accusation, repeatedly and in public, despite having literally no evidence whatsoever.

Senators generally aren’t supposed to behave this way. Senators worried about their re-election bids never behave this way.

And circling back to a report from last summer, there’s also the larger pattern of Mark Kirk’s bizarre rhetoric as the election draws closer. When congressional Republicans threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security last year, it was the Illinois senator who got a little hysterical, urging the GOP to “build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office.”

A few months prior, during an ugly fight over Loretta Lynch’s attorney general nomination, Kirk suggested Democrats were defending slavery. A month later, he said people drive faster through black neighborhoods.

In isolation, these bizarre incidents might be easier to dismiss as regrettable slip-ups, but taken together, a pattern emerges of a senator who once claimed moderation, but not anymore.

If there’s an electoral strategy that explains such behavior, I can’t think of it. Kirk should be going out of his way to appear sensible, but for reasons no one seems able to explain, the GOP senator is doing the opposite.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 13, 2016

May 14, 2016 Posted by | Bob Menendez, Conspiracy Theories, Mark Kirk | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“The Reality Of Refugee Admissions”: Yes, The Government Vets Them

The political panic over the admission of Syrian refugees into the United States, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, has unleashed a wave of fear-mongering, bolstered by a notion being propagated by the right wing, that Americans couldn’t possibly know who is being let into our country. Thirty-one U.S. governors have said they won’t accept any Syrian refugees into their state, many of them claiming there’s a large inherent risk in doing so.

Of course, there’s a serious fallacy at work here: By the time any Syrian refugee actually arrives in the United States, we do know who that person is. Very well.

There is a clear difference between refugees in the United States and refugees in Europe, namely that refugees can’t simply walk or use small boats in order to get to the U.S. By contrast, Europe has a flood of humanity getting displaced into their borders, who may enter one of the countries without getting screened — thus creating the danger that even one ISIS terrorist can disguise himself among the people fleeing his cohorts, as French officials believe did occur with at least one attacker.

But the U.S. actually has the advantages of distance and time to pick and choose before anyone from such a faraway land can set foot over here.

That process involves a multitude of complex steps, starting with an initial screening by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which possibly leads to a referral to the United States and a gauntlet of security checks, personal interviews, medical screening, and matching with a sponsor agency in the U.S. itself. It is far from the mysterious influx of unknown people that the many governors and Republican presidential candidates are making it sound like.

As noted by defense policy researcher Josh Hampson in The Hill: “In fact, there have been no recorded terrorist attacks committed by refugees. The U.S. has admitted 1.5 million refugees from the Middle East since September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks that have occurred since 9/11 have been committed either by American natives or non-refugee immigrants.”

A State Department spokesperson told The National Memo in an emailed statement:

The United States remains deeply committed to safeguarding the American public from terrorists, just as we are committed to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. We do not believe these goals are mutually exclusive, or that either has to be pursued at the expense of the other. To that end the refugee security screening and vetting process has been significantly enhanced over the past few years. Today, all refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States, including the involvement of the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. All refugees, including Syrians, are admitted only after successful completion of this stringent security screening regime.

On a conference call Tuesday, an unnamed senior administration official confirmed to the press that the average time for processing a person through that entire gamut of interviews and background checks takes an average of 18 to 24 months. “As you know, we are trying to look at the process and see if we can make it more efficient without cutting corners on security.”

And yet at a congressional hearing Tuesday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch still had to explain to House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) — who had seized upon recent comments by FBI Director James Comey about the difficulties of the vetting process — that the Justice Department and others in the government do have a “significant and robust screening process in place,” which Europe has not been able to set up.

On Tuesday, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump posted a message to Instagram, with The Donald shouting to the camera with his typical bombast: “Refugees are pouring into our great country from Syria! We don’t even know who they are! They could be ISIS, they could be anybody! What’s our president doing — is he insane?”

And in the Louisiana gubernatorial race, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter is running this ad — complete with clips of panic in the streets of Paris — ahead of the election this weekend: “One of the Paris ISIS terrorists entered France posing as a Syrian refugee. Now, Obama’s sending Syrian refugees to Louisiana.”

Newly-crowned House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is trying to be a bit more low-key, although catering to the same doubts, as he told reporters Tuesday: “This is a moment where it is better to be safe than sorry. So we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population.”

One can perhaps “forgive” Trump for being utterly clueless, and simply expect that Vitter, in the homestretch phase of his campaign, would act like a demagogue. But shouldn’t the Speaker of the House act like he already knows the government has vigorous vetting procedures in place? And for that matter, what does a “pause” even mean when it comes to admitting in refugees who have taken up to two years to be screened?

 

By: Eric Kleefeld, The National Memo, November 17, 2015

November 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Refugees, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Put-Up-Or-Shut-Up”: GOP Candidates Blame Obama For Police Shootings, Cite No Evidence

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch yesterday “strongly condemned shootings of law enforcement officers in Texas and Illinois and issued an unequivocal message of support for police.” The comments came on the heels of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) arguing that “the entire Obama administration” has shown “hostility [towards] law enforcement.”

Cruz, of course, backed up his argument by pointing to … nothing. Soon after, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) appeared on Fox News and said the White House’s support for law enforcement has been “ambiguous,” which contributes to violence and lawlessness. To support the contention, the scandal-plagued Republican also pointed to … nothing.

Taking an even less subtle approach, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) published a piece on a far-right blog yesterday, reflecting on “a serious problem.”

In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat.

Look, eventually we’re going to reach a put-up-or-shut-up moment. We talked yesterday about how offensive it is when politicians exploit the deaths of police officers for partisan gain, but as the number of GOP candidates connecting the White House to the slayings grows, it becomes all the more important for Republican officials to do one specific thing:

Back up their ugly claims with some shred of proof.

Of course, at this point, I can imagine some conservative readers yelling at their computer screens. “Oh yeah, smart guy? What about you? Where’s your evidence that the president has offered unambiguous support for law enforcement?”

It’s not an unreasonable point, but it’s also surprisingly easy to spend a little time online and find all kinds of examples. About a month ago, Obama told the NAACP’s annual convention, “Our communities are safer thanks to brave police officers and hard-working prosecutors who put those violent criminals in jail.” In May, he said, “To be a police officer takes a special kind of courage…. It takes a special kind of courage to run towards danger, to be a person that residents turn to when they’re most desperate.”

Here was the president in May at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service:

“Your jobs are inherently dangerous. The reminders are too common. Just a few days ago, two police officers were killed in the line of duty in Mississippi. A week before that, an officer was killed in the line of duty in Queens. A few months before that, two of his fellow officers in the NYPD were killed as well.  We cannot erase every darkness or danger from the duty that you’ve chosen. We can offer you the support you need to be safer. We can make the communities you care about and protect safer as well. We can make sure that you have the resources you need to do your job. We can do everything we have to do to combat the poverty that plagues too many communities in which you have to serve.  We can work harder, as a nation, to heal the rifts that still exist in some places between law enforcement and the people you risk your lives to protect. 

 “We owe it to all of you who wear the badge with honor. And we owe it to your fellow officers who gave their last full measure of devotion.  Most of all, we can say thank you. We can say we appreciate you and we’re grateful for the work that you do each and every day. And we can thank the families who bear the burden alongside you.”

In March, reflecting on the crisis in Ferguson, Obama said, “The overwhelming number of law enforcement officers have a really hard, dangerous job, and they do it well and they do it fairly, and they do it heroically. And I strongly believe that. And the overwhelming majority of police departments across the country are really thinking hard about how do we make sure that we are protecting and serving everybody equally. And we need to honor those folks, and we need to respect them, and not just assume that they’ve got ill will or they’re doing a bad job.”

Even in this year’s State of the Union address, the president added, “We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York.  But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.  And surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”

The list goes on and on. There are so many examples like these – the ones noted above are just from 2015 – spanning Obama’s entire presidency. Over and over again, he’s voiced support and gratitude towards Americans in law enforcement.

Ted Cruz said this week that the police feel under “assault from the president,” which the far-right senator considers “fundamentally wrong.”

It is fundamentally wrong, but not for the reasons Cruz thinks.

The underlying allegation is no mild rebuke. Republican officials, some seeking the nation’s highest office, are publicly accusing the president of the United States, not only of hostility towards law enforcement, but also of contributing to a dynamic in which officers are being killed. That’s a serious accusation, which requires substantiation.

If GOP officials can’t back it up, they ought to move on to some other kind of nonsense.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 3, 2015

September 4, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Officers, Police Shootings | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Obama Will Make Some News Thursday, Too”: Will Call For The Restoration Of The Voting Rights Act On Its 50th Anniversary

As I write this post, political junkies are awaiting the official word on the list of candidates who will appear in Thursday’s first official Republican presidential debate. But in an example of questionable timing by Fox News, Thursday is the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And since said act was largely vitiated by a conservative majority of SCOTUS in 2013, and congressional Republicans have barely lifted any fingers to restore it, the president’s going to do everything possible to force voting rights into the national consciousness that day, and perhaps even into the GOP debate, as reported by The Hill‘s Jordan Fabian:

President Obama will call for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act on its 50th anniversary Thursday, the White House said.

Obama will hold a teleconference to commemorate the landmark legislation and call for its renewal, following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that voided one of its central provisions.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who rose to prominence in the 1960s as a civil rights leader, will participate.

The event will allow Obama to draw a sharp contrast with Republicans, many of whom argue some provisions of the 1965 law went too far. It will take place on the same day as the first GOP presidential primary debate.

You have to love this quote:

Asked about the timing of the event, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that “one person’s irony is another person’s serendipity.”

“Maybe there will be an opportunity for Republican candidates to discuss the right for every American to cast a vote,” he added.

It will tell you a lot about the GOP and about Fox News if the subject is not mentioned on Thursday night.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 4, 2015

August 5, 2015 Posted by | Fox News, GOP Primary Debates, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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