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“I Don’t Follow That Every Day”: Selma’s Senator Not Really Sure What’s Going On With That Voting Rights Stuff

It was just last weekend that people flooded into Selma, Alabama, to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights marches there — marches that led to the Voting Rights Act.

Dozens of lawmakers made the trek, including Democrats who have been desperately seeking Republicans to help them pass legislation to restore the landmark 1965 law. The Supreme Court in July 2013 struck down a key provision that determined which states and localities with a history of suppressing minority voters had to get permission from the Justice Department to change their voting laws. The court ruled 5-4 that the section of the law was outdated, and left it to Congress to come up with a new formula for designating which regions of the country warrant special scrutiny.

Lawmakers have put forward a bill that offers a solution: It would update the formula to make it apply to states and jurisdictions with voting violations in the past 15 years. But supporters have had a hard time getting Republicans to sign on, which prevented the measure from moving in the last Congress. This year, the House bill has a handful of GOP co-sponsors; the forthcoming Senate bill has none.

Asked Tuesday if he supports efforts to restore the law with historic roots in his state, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he’s not sure what that’s all about.

“I’m not on the Judiciary Committee. I don’t follow that every day,” said Shelby. “You probably need to talk to one of the people who would do the initial action there.”

Shelby said he didn’t read the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act, but remembers seeing something about it in the newspaper. He said he doesn’t know anything about how members of Congress are proposing to fix the law.

“No, no, no,” said Shelby, when asked if he’s familiar with a bill aimed at restoring the law. “But my colleagues are. I deal with banking and appropriations … I don’t know what the court did. I know what they did — they struck down something. But let the Judiciary Committee look at that. I will listen to them.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who introduced last year’s Voting Rights Act bill and held hearings on it, has been vocal in his quest to find a GOP co-sponsor. He plans to reintroduce his bill again soon.

“I have been working for the past six months to find a single Senate Republican to join me,” Leahy said Friday. “Restoring the Voting Rights Act should not be a partisan issue.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who teamed up with Leahy in sponsoring last year’s Voting Rights Act bill, told HuffPost last week that Republicans have given him different reasons for not supporting the bill. Some don’t think it’s necessary, he said, and others want to make broader to changes to the law.

But other Republicans may be more amenable, and the challenge for Democrats may simply be in singling them out and bringing them up to speed on the legislation.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), for one, said Tuesday that he’s not opposed to restoring the Voting Rights Act.

“I supported the last one,” Flake said, referring to the last time Congress reauthorized the law itself. “It just hasn’t been on my radar screen. I’ll take a look.”

 

By: Jennifer Bendery, The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 11, 2015

March 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Richard Shelby, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Ultimate Slap”: How Obama Can Stick It To Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu says he’s definitely coming to Washington to deliver a speech about Iran to a joint session of Congress. He’ll almost certainly oppose a nuclear deal whose details aren’t public yet. The whole “tawdry and high-handed stunt,” as Senator Patrick Leahy put it, will be correctly read as an insult to the president.

So how best for Obama to make his displeasure known? He’s already denied Netanyahu an audience. But if Obama really wants to stick it to the Israeli prime minister, he should fight to ink a deal with Iran before the March speech on Capitol Hill. That would dare Netanyahu to come and forcefully denounce a major global foreign policy achievement.

Democrats, at least, will be loathe to turn their backs on Obama. The speech already faces stiff opposition from the party—fifteen members of the House and three senators are on board for a boycott. Even some right-leaning pro-Israel groups, if the current rifts among the Israel lobby are any indication, might not openly revolt against a deal.

What Obama has going for him is the ability to correctly cast this an issue of avoiding a confrontation with Iran rather than seeking one. It worked last year when Obama beat back a sanctions bill that would’ve quashed talks, and it will work this time. Imagine Netanyahu declaring, as he did after the interim deal with Iran, that an comprehensive accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program is a “historic mistake” when Obama has half the American body politic at his back.

What’s more, the international community is on Obama’s side, too, and Netanyahu knows it. In his statement yesterday, affirming the trip amid all the pressure, Netanyahu mentioned his “profound disagreement with the United States administration and the rest of the P5+1”—referring to the US’s international partners in Iran talks. Last week, Netanyahu vowed to “stand up to Iran and the international community.”

The most onerous maneuvering for Obama, then, isn’t managing politics, domestic or international, but getting the deal itself. This, however, might not be as difficult as it sounds. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif hinted this week at how close the sides came to an agreement when he said at a security conference in Munich that the last extension of talks in November wasn’t “necessary or useful.”

The extension, though, was useful for Obama: whereas in November his party was coming off a beating in midterm elections, today the economy is in better shape and Obama seems to be feeling his oats. The sort of swagger he showed in the State of the Union address will only serve to help the president sell an agreement.

Ironically, the most detailed information the public has about a potential nuclear deal comes through Israeli officials, who are informed by the United States and its negotiating partners about talks, then go leak it to the press. Even if the Israelis are releasing accurate information about the negotiations—something they have a spotty record on—the fear-mongering about the likely outcome doesn’t capture its complexity.

Luckily for Obama, as things are lining up opponents of a deal aren’t themselves much interested in nuance and complexity. Aside from a few hardline pro-Israel Democrats, most of the opposition will come from Republicans and hawks in the Bill Kristol mode—in other words, those who, like Netanyahu himself, have poor records on matters of war and peace.

When the administration comes out and focuses on how opponents of a deal are pushing the United States to war, the hawks will object that they are being labeled warmongers. The administration isn’t quite making the “warmonger” argument, but the salient point is that killing a deal would bring us closer to confrontation. That’s why inking a deal ASAP would be good policy, and why it’s the high road to delivering the ultimate slap to Netanyahu.

 

By: Ali Gharib, The Nation, February 11, 2015

February 14, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Congress, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Process At The Breaking Point”: Republicans Are Hijacking The Judicial Nominating Process Without Cause

In June, President Obama nominated three qualified jurists to serve as judges on the D.C. Circuit, generally considered the nation’s second-most important federal bench. Each one of the nominees has excellent credentials, each one of the nominees sailed through the Judiciary Committee without incident, and each one of the nominees enjoys the support of a majority of the U.S. Senate.

And last night, each one of the nominees has been blocked by a Republican filibuster.

Senate Republicans on Monday denied President Obama his third nominee in recent weeks to the nation’s most powerful and prestigious appeals court and insisted they would not back down, inflaming a bitter debate over a president’s right to shape the judiciary.

By a vote of 53 to 38, the Senate failed to break a filibuster of a federal judge, Robert L. Wilkins, who was nominated to fill one of three vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, falling short of the 60 votes needed.

Wilkins technically finished with 53 votes, but he had 54 supporters – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to vote “no” for procedural reasons.

As was the case with last week’s filibuster, it’s important to recognize that the Republican obstructionism had nothing to do with Wilkins, his ideology, his temperament, or his background. On the contrary, just the opposite is true – senators in both parties agreed that Wilkins is a fine nominee.

The problem, rather, is that a minority of the Senate has decided to block every nominee for the D.C. Circuit, regardless of his or her qualifications, because Americans had the audacity to re-elect a Democratic president. Once there’s a Republican in the White House, Republican senators will presumably agree to lift the blockade.

This is important because it has simply never happened before in American history. Senators in both parties have, in a variety of instances, blocked judicial nominees they considered offensive or extreme for one reason or another, but there is nothing in the American tradition that says a minority of the Senate can maintain vacancies on an important federal bench – indefinitely – because they feel like it.

Indeed, perhaps the single most bizarre example of obstructionism run amok is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said just a few months ago that each of Obama’s D.C. Circuit nominees deserve a vote in the Senate. McCain then proceeded to join the filibuster of the nominees he said shouldn’t be filibustered.

After yesterday’s obstructionism, Senate Democratic leaders began “taking the temperature of their caucus on whether to finally go ‘nuclear’ and change the Senate rules,” and by any fair measure, Republicans haven’t left the majority party with much of a choice.

Let’s make this plain: if Senate Democrats don’t force a confrontation over this, they will, for the first time in the institution’s history, have allowed a minority of the Senate to hijack the judicial nominating process without cause.

The status quo is, for lack of a better phrase, a simmering constitutional crisis of sorts. Either Democrats act or a precedent will be set.

What’s unclear is whether Dems will, or even can, proceed with the so-called “nuclear option.” Does the party have the votes to execute the plan? Do they have the intestinal fortitude to accept the blowback from Senate Republicans relying on obstructionist tactics that have never before been tried in the United States?

Last week, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate Pro Tem and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said, “I think we’re at a point where there will have to be a rules change.” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added soon after, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There comes a tipping point, and I’m afraid we’ve reached that tipping point.”

If they were waiting to see what happened with Wilkins, now they know. Yesterday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a leading proponent of Senate reforms, asked, “When will we say enough is enough?”

In the short term, it’s up to Democrats themselves to answer this question. Republicans, whose support is not needed for the nuclear option, have effectively dared the majority party to end the blockade and return the Senate to its earlier traditions. In fact, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), whose antics have been more offensive than most in this debate, dared Democrats just a week ago to restore the original Senate process for judicial nominees.

Senate Republicans, for all intents and purposes, have broken the judicial confirmation process. They know they’re engaged in tactics with no precedent in the American tradition; they know it’s obstructionism on an unsustainable scale; they know it’s wholly at odds with every commitment they made during the Bush/Cheney era; and they just don’t give a darn.

Whether the Democratic majority is prepared to simply tolerate this crisis and allow the process to be hijacked for the indefinite future is unclear.

* Postscript: If you listened to the debate at all, you may have noticed GOP senators justifying their blockade by saying the D.C. Circuit handles fewer cases than the other circuits, and therefore can better tolerate indefinite vacancies. In case anyone was wondering whether the argument has merit, it doesn’t – this nonsense was debunked in September.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 19, 2013

November 20, 2013 Posted by | Federal Judiciary, Presidential Nominations, Senate | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Conveniently We Forget”: Chuck Grassley Called On Democrats Not To “Use” Newtown Deaths

Histrionics broke out at a Senate immigration hearing this morning when Senator Patrick Leahy called on Republicans not to use the Boston bombings as a weapon in the immigration debate. “Last week, opponents began to exploit the Boston Marathon bombing,” Leahy said. “I urge restraint in that regard.”

Perhaps the most prominent Republican official to have drawn a link between the bombings and the immigration reform proposal is Senator Chuck Grassley. And so, at today’s hearing, Grassley offered some curious pushback to Leahy that tells us a lot about how some conservatives are approaching both debates. Yes, Grassley actually said this:

“When you proposed gun legislation, we did not accuse you of using the Newtown killings as an excuse,” Grassley said. “I think we’re taking advantage of an opportunity when once in 25 years we deal with immigration to make sure every base is covered.”

Really? Here’s what Grassley himself said back on January 30th, over a month after the shootings:

Although Newtown and Tucson are terrible tragedies, the deaths in Newtown should not be used to put forward every gun control measure that has been floating around for years.

What’s more, Senator Rand Paul and other Republicans have accused the Obama administration of using the families as “props” in the push for gun control.

To be clear, if conservatives want to seize on the Boston bombings to make a political argument about immigration reform, that’s not necessarily something we should automatically condemn, as some Dems are doing. As Jonathan Bernstein notes, we should respond to events with politics. Politics are everywhere and they are inescapable. If major, consequential, nationally riveting events aren’t supposed to trigger debate over how we should organize ourselves and solve our problems, what should trigger it?

For the reasons I outlined this morning, I don’t believe the Boston bombings tell us anything all that relevant about how we should approach immigration reform policy. But pointing that out isn’t the same as claiming there’s anything inherently wrong or inappropriate about trying to apply an event such as the Boston bombings to the current policy debate. Substantively rebutting the argument that the bombings tell us something about how we should approach the argument over the path to citizenship is not the same as condemning the act of making that argument.

Now, it’s true that in pointing to major events to justify a political argument, one can cross the line from legit policy argument into demagoguery. For the record, I don’t think Grassley has done that yet. He merely said the bombings should be part of the discussion as we seek to determine what’s wrong with our current immigration system. That’s not the same as claiming, as others have, that the Boston bombings show that we should end the immigration reform debate entirely.

Similarly, Obama and Democrats said the Newtown shootings should be part of a broader discussion over how to respond to, and reduce, gun violence.

Grassley, however, only seems to believe this is appropriate in the case where he thinks it will help his cause.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, April 22, 2013

April 24, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Senators Bearing Arms”: It’s Inexcusable For Lawmakers To Trot Backwards On Gun Control

Whenever talk turns to gun control in Congress, lawmakers feel compelled to mention their love of weaponry.

“I’m probably one of the few who have a pistol range in my backyard,” said Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont on Thursday, as he led a meeting of the Judiciary Committee on gun legislation.

“I have an AR-15,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, referring to the nation’s best-known assault weapon.

“I’m not going to do anything illegally with it,” Graham added. There were no audible sighs of relief from the audience, but I am sure everybody was glad to have the reassurance.

People, do you think Congress is actually going to do anything about gun violence in the wake of the Newtown shootings? Judiciary is going to vote on two big proposals next week: a ban on assault weapons and an expansion of gun purchase background checks. If the Democrats stick together, the bills can pass on a party-line vote. But to go any further, they need Republican support, and there wasn’t a whole lot of it in evidence this week.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chief sponsor of the assault weapons ban, seemed less than optimistic. “I want to thank those who are with me,” she said. “I don’t know that I can convince those who are not, but I intend to keep trying.” She looked exhausted. At one point, she referred to Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut as “Senator Delvanthal.”

“Senator Feinstein has been consistent. She is sincere, and she has the courage of her convictions and what more could you ask,” said Graham. This may have been an attempt at consolation. Perhaps he was only being incredibly patronizing by accident.

The public’s interest in reducing gun violence may not have abated, but some of the lawmakers seem to be trotting backward. After Newtown, Senator Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia, said: “I don’t know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle.” He told CNN that he wanted to create a “dialogue that would bring a total change,” adding, “and I mean a total change.”

Manchin now says that anybody who took that to mean he was favoring some kind of ban on assault weapons totally misunderstood him. “I said everything should be on the table,” he explained in a phone interview. “Everything is on the table. I don’t agree with the things on the table, but they still have the right to put them on.”

On the plus side, the Judiciary Committee approved a modest bill raising the penalties for “straw purchasers” — people who buy guns in order to give them to someone barred from making the purchase, like convicted felons or Mexican drug runners. One Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, voted for it. However, Senator John Cornyn of Texas expressed concern that it would “make it a serious felony for an American Legion employee to negligently transfer a rifle or firearm to a veteran who, unknown to the transferor, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Personally, I would rather not have American Legion employees negligently transferring guns to anybody. But then I am not trying to run for re-election in Texas without being primaried by the Tea Party.

The best hope for serious change involves fixing the background check law so that people who buy weapons at gun shows, online, in flea markets and other nonstore venues are included. Bipartisan negotiations seemed to fizzle this week, but Manchin, who was among those backing out, expressed confidence that something could still be worked out. And the assault weapons bill might have a little better chance if it was less complicated. (Feinstein’s bill lists 157 makes and models of guns that are prohibited.) It might be easier to just go with the part banning magazine clips that allow shooters to fire off 15, 30, 100 or more bullets without reloading.

You may be wondering what conceivable argument gun lovers could have about hanging on to those monster bullet clips. For the answer, let us turn to — yes! — Lindsey Graham. The senator from South Carolina wanted to know what people were supposed to do with a lousy two-shell shotgun “in an environment where the law and order has broken down, whether it’s a hurricane, national disaster, earthquake, terrorist attack, cyberattack where the power goes down and the dam’s broken and chemicals have been released into the air and law enforcement is really not able to respond and people take advantage of that lawless environment.”

Do you think Graham spends a lot of time watching old episodes of “Doomsday Preppers?” Does he worry about zombies? That definitely would require a lot of firepower.

We should forgive every lawmaker who will go on the record as saying they refuse to support gun control because of the zombie threat. Otherwise, it’s pretty inexcusable.

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 8, 2013

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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