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“A Bygone Era”: All Politics Aren’t Local Anymore

Sometimes changes that affect our politics are subtle and therefore, easily missed. Paul Kane has identified how one of those changes is affecting members of the Senate who are running for re-election.

After nearly 12 years in the Senate, North Carolina Republican Richard Burr holds a dubious distinction: a lot of people in his home state don’t know if he’s any good at his job…

Burr is not alone among potentially vulnerable incumbents with low name recognition in key states that will decide which party controls the Senate in 2017. Of the 25 least known senators, ten are running for re-election — nine of them Republican — as relative unknowns, with roughly 30 percent of their voters unable to form an opinion of them. That list includes Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

Kane suggests that the reason these incumbents are so unknown among their constituents is that partisans tend to get their news from ideologically driven outlets while local news has all but disappeared.

Overall, there are more reporters covering Congress than ever, except they increasingly write for inside Washington publications whose readers are lawmakers, lobbyists and Wall Street investors. A Pew Research Center study released earlier this year found that at least 21 states do not have a single dedicated reporter covering Congress.

That is a story John Heltman wrote about here at the Washington Monthly in an article for the Nov/Dec 2015 edition titled: Confessions of a Paywall Journalist.

Kane goes on to talk about the two options Senators have used to overcome this lack of name recognition. First of all – money talks.

“We go six years with no coverage,” Burr said in an interview this week, lamenting the fading interest in his state’s congressional delegation. “So it’s like you weren’t here for six years. Your name ID drops into the 40s.” Run $5 million in ads, he said, “it pops right back up to the 80s.”

Secondly, “iconoclasts stand out.”

After little more than three years in elected office, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has reached near saturation level with Bay State voters, with just 12 percent having no opinion of the liberal firebrand. Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Markey (D) — an institution in Massachusetts politics after 37 years in the House and three in the Senate — does not register with 30 percent of his constituents.

It’s the same dynamic in Texas with the state’s two Republican senators. Ted Cruz — an erstwhile conservative presidential contender — has held elective office not even three-and-a-half years, yet all but 14 percent of his voters have a strong view of him. A third of Texans cannot form a view of John Cornyn, the Republican whip with nearly 14 years in the Senate who is likely to be the next GOP floor leader.

That points to two disturbing trends we’ve all been watching lately in politics – the influence of big money and the rise of show horses over work horses. Jonathan Bernstein picked up on all of this and suggests that it also fuels partisan gridlock.

I don’t know how much the changes in media coverage caused the atrophy of the committee system and Congress’s ability to do its job. But it’s easy to see how rank-and-file members have fewer incentives to be productive, and more incentives to merely vote with their party’s leadership and do little else.

All of this focuses on how the lack of a vibrant local press affects incumbents in the Senate. One can only assume that it poses an even greater challenge for members of the House. Finally, it explains a lot about why we have tended towards an “imperial presidency” and the lack of voter participation in midterm elections. For years we’ve been hearing that famous line from Tip O’Neill who said, “All Politics is local.” That might be relegated to a bygone era.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 1, 2016

June 1, 2016 Posted by | Political Media, Politics, Senate | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Of All The Ridiculous Arguments”: Republicans Remain Terrified That President Obama Will Close Gitmo

Ever since President Obama took office in 2009, Republicans have done everything in their power to stop him from closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Given his recent successes at repatriating detainees and the looming assistance Pope Francis has offered, they are upping those efforts.

Key Senate Republicans on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would effectively block President Barack Obama from fulfilling his pledge to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before he leaves office in two years.

The legislation from Sens. Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Richard Burr and Lindsey Graham would prohibit for two years the transfer to the United States of detainees designated medium- or high-risk. It would also ban transfers to Yemen, where dozens of the 127 remaining Guantánamo detainees are from.

Of all the ridiculous arguments they’ve made over the years for keeping the prison open, this one takes the cake.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Ayotte argued the administration’s increased clip of transfers was dangerous because it could allow detainees to re-enter the terrorism fight, citing the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

Given that none of those who have been reported to have been involved in the Paris attack had ever even spent a night at Gitmo, this is nothing but absurd fear-mongering.

Besides, here are the facts about the recidivism of Gitmo detainees who have been released from a report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

According to the report, the percentage of freed detainees “reengaging” during the Bush administration was 19 percent, while another 14.3 percent were “suspected of reengaging.” Since Obama took office, however, just 6.8 percent of detainees are confirmed as reengaging, while just 1.1 percent are suspected of returning to the battlefield.

“Nearly half of the former detainees confirmed of reengaging are either dead or in custody, and more than one-third of the former detainees suspected of re-engaging are either dead or in custody,” the official said.

I have no idea what has Senators Ayotte, McCain, Burr and Graham so terrified. But it looks to me like it mostly has to do with witnessing President Obama succeed on a campaign promise while he protects our national security.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 18, 2015

January 20, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GITMO, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Will We Torture Again?”: The Willingness To Face An Ugly Truth And Say ‘Never Again’

Can we now say with confidence that our government will not use torture again and that Americans in the future will rise up to prevent it from doing so? In light of the reaction to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, I fear that we can’t.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein persisted in releasing the document in the face of opposition from the CIA and attacks by some of her colleagues because she felt a moral calling. The 81-year-old California Democrat believed she had an obligation to leave behind a sturdy ethical roadblock to the use of extreme brutality in pursuit of information — even information seen as potentially saving American lives.

“There are those who will seize upon the report and say ‘see what the Americans did,’ and they will try to use it to justify evil actions or incite more violence,” she said on the Senate floor. “We can’t prevent that. But history will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say ‘never again.’”

Yet what might have been a moment of national reflection immediately turned into what everything becomes these days: a carnival of partisanship. Making the truth public, Feinstein’s critics argued, could endanger our nation.

“She will have to live with the consequences,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who becomes chair of the Intelligence Committee next year, said darkly.

A moving exception was Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has denounced torture in season and out. His biography as a prisoner of war has been a standing rebuke to those who choose to play down the consequences of these techniques for our own men and women in uniform. He dismissed the idea that the report itself would be responsible for new attacks on Americans. “Violence needs little incentive in some quarters of the world,” he said. Terrorism should be blamed on terrorists, not Feinstein.

The real objection to the release of the report, McCain argued, was that it calls into question the claims by defenders of these techniques that they produced vital information. “We gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer,” he said. “Too much.”

One would like to think that this is now a consensual view, and it is the formal position of our government. But the pushback against Feinstein makes clear that many involved in “the program,” as they so delicately call this departure from our own norms, would do it all over again. John McLaughlin, former CIA acting director and deputy director, took to the pages of The Washington Post to list the intelligence breakthroughs of the interrogators. McLaughlin also joined with five other former CIA directors and deputy directors in a Wall Street Journal piece that denounced the Senate report as “a poorly done and partisan attack.”

But condemning the report as “partisan” is a way of evading its implications. If the issue is partisan, why did President Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, defend the agency by declaring that “EITs” — that would be enhanced interrogation techniques — “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives”? What’s striking here is the bipartisan unity among intelligence officials.

My friend and Washington Post colleague Michael Gerson saw partisanship in the committee’s focus on the CIA interrogations that took place under President George W. Bush, but not on the drone program, which Obama has embraced and expanded. Gerson is right to note that many who oppose torture are also concerned about the extensiveness of the drone program and I, for one, would have no objection to Congress investigating the ethical and practical problems it raises.

But legitimate questions about drones do not discredit either this legitimate inquiry into the use of torture or the obligation that Feinstein and her fellow committee Democrats felt to bear witness.

Defenders of the CIA make a point that should unsettle all of us because it’s true: In the wake of 9/11, the country was so scared that it tolerated or at least entertained a variety of extreme steps to protect our security, including torture. By November of 2001, there was already a public debate about the legitimacy of torture, even if brave voices (the blogger Andrew Sullivan has been admirably persistent) pushed back in those dark times.

Feinstein, McCain and their allies are hoping they can draw a line now that can strengthen such voices in the future. I wish that the response to their efforts inspired more certainty that their line will hold.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; Published in The National Memo, December 11, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | CIA, Diane Feinstein, Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Vets To Burr–You Clearly Represent The Worst Of Politics”: Quite Frankly Senator, You Should Be Ashamed

For Republicans, the politics of the VA scandal were pretty straightforward. All GOP officials had to do was express outrage – an emotion that spanned the partisan and ideological spectrum – and demand that the White House improve the system through which veterans receive care.

But Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, apparently couldn’t leave well enough alone.

The conservative Republican, who never served a day in the military, decided it’d be a good idea to start condemning veterans’ groups that had not yet called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. In an “open letter,” Burr argued that leading veterans’ organizations are less interested in helping those who served and “more interested in defending the status quo within V.A., protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the secretary and his inner circle.”

It’s hard to know what Burr was thinking. Perhaps the senator assumed he could pressure the veterans’ groups, bullying them into calling for Gen. Shinseki’s ouster. But if that was the Republican’s strategy, it became clear over the weekend that Burr’s gambit did not go according to plan.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans and the Paralyzed Veterans of America hit back hard. […]

The responses were unusually personal. Bill Lawson, the national president of the paralyzed veterans group, and Homer S. Townsend Jr., the executive director, criticized Mr. Burr for supporting the filibuster of the veterans bill in February, and said, “You clearly represent the worst of politics in this country.”

William A. Thien, the commander in chief of the V.F.W., and John E. Hamilton, the adjutant general, pointed to a staff with more than 47 combat deployments in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan and four Purple Hearts, 16 Air Medals, Bronze Stars and other honors.

Responding to Burr’s attacks on its motives, the VFW added, “Senator, this is clearly one of the most dishonorable and grossly inappropriate acts that we’ve witnessed in more than forty years of involvement with the veteran community and breaches the standards of the United States Senate. Your allegations are ugly and mean-spirited in every sense of the words and are profoundly wrong, both logically and morally. Quite frankly Senator, you should be ashamed.”

One of the more striking aspects of Burr’s offensive is that it was entirely unprovoked. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America have expressed ample criticism of the VA scandal, but because they hadn’t called for the resignation from Shinseki – himself a retired four-star general – the North Carolina Republican decided he was justified in publicly questioning their commitment to veterans’ issues.

And Burr did this, for reasons that make sense only to him, on Memorial Day weekend.

Look, I don’t imagine Republican senators are looking for my guidance, but here’s a tip: if you never served a day in the military and you recently filibustered a bill to expand VA health care access, tuition assistance, and job training, maybe you shouldn’t question the motivations of those who’ve devoted their careers to looking out of veterans.

Just throwing that out there.

As for Burr, instead of walking back his shots at the veterans’ groups and recognizing the fact that he went too far, the senator told the New York Times yesterday, “Clearly I hit a nerve. I think they’ve shown more outrage toward my open letter than outrage toward the current crisis at the V.A.”

In other words, the North Carolina Republican has decided he was right all along. We’ll see what happens, but I have a hunch he’s picking a fight against some men and women who don’t back down easily.

 

By:Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 27, 2014

May 27, 2014 Posted by | Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“And Four Years Later?”: How Much “Repeal” Must “Replace” Involve?

If you’re wondering why it’s taking so long for congressional Republicans to unite behind an Obamacare Replacement plan when there are several of them out there, look no further than the North Carolina U.S. Senate primary, where “Establishment” candidate Thom Tillis has incautiously said not all aspects of Obamacare are bad, yet appears to be afraid to endorse the “replacement” bill originally cosponsored by the senior senator from that state, Richard Burr. WaPo’s Greg Sargent has more:

Tillis has so far refrained from endorsing the Burr plan. And similarly, in interviews, he has claimed that of course he would replace Obamacare with something that would protect people with preexisting conditions and others who need protection, without specifying what that replacement would be. Republicans appear increasingly aware that they can’t be just for repeal, and have to promise replacements that would accomplishment some of what Obamacare accomplishes….

As the case of Tillis shows…Republicans must also simultaneously remain vague enough about those replacements so as to avoid embracing the tradeoffs they would require — since specificity there risks angering the right. Indeed, Tillis’ embrace of even some of Obamacare’s general goals has drawn fire from his primary opponent, Tea Partyer Greg Brannon.

The Coburn-Burr-Hatch proposal is dangerous politically for a primary-challenged Republican because it simultaneously embraces aspects of Obamacare (an insurance purchasing exchange, albeit one selling “deregulated”—which means less generous—products; and subsidies for purchases on those exchanges by certain low-income folk) and aspects of more conventional conservative health care thinking that are wildly disruptive of the status quo at a time when Republicans are making big hay over Obamacare “disruptions” (notably the partial rollback of the federal tax write-off for employer-based plans). Indeed, messing with employer-based coverage has been a conservative policy pet rock for years, even though GOP politicians have been leery of it since John McCain proposed junking it in 2008, and left himself exposed to a “tax increase” charge.

There simply isn’t, and can’t be, an “Obamacare replacement” proposal that lets everyone who likes the status quo keep it, while dealing with pre-existing condition exclusions, expanding coverage, and holding down costs. This is why Republicans prefer to insist they want to repeal Obamacare and are stilling “working” on a replacement, four years after enactment of the Affordable Care Act.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 1, 2014

 

April 2, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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