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“We’re Going Home For Christmas”: GOP-Led Senate Failing At Its Most Basic Tasks

In light of the recent focus on counter-terrorism and national security, common sense suggests the Senate would want to quickly confirm Adam Szubin to serve as the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes.

As the Huffington Post recently reported, we’re talking about a job that “involves tracking terrorists to prevent them from raising money on the black market and elsewhere.” Szubin is extremely well qualified; he’s worked on blocking terrorist financing in previous administrations; and he enjoys broad, bipartisan support in the Senate.

And yet, the Senate isn’t voting on his nomination. Politico reported overnight that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has grown impatient with mindless Republican obstructionism and tried to end this farce yesterday.

A frustrated Brown took to the Senate floor Wednesday to force a confirmation vote on Szubin and a host of other nominees stuck in his committee. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, swiftly objected to each of Brown’s attempts.

“That’s a policy decision,” Shelby said Wednesday of the nomination of Szubin, whom Shelby called “eminently qualified” during his confirmation hearing in September. “You know, he’s probably a nice guy in all this. But there is a lot of dissent in our caucus on that.”

Asked whether Szubin could move through his committee soon, Shelby responded: “We’re not going to vote now. We’re going home for Christmas.”

It’s not altogether clear what in the world Shelby was talking about. When he says Szubin is “probably a nice guy in all this,” it’s unclear what “this” refers to. When the senator added there’s “dissent in our caucus on that,” he didn’t say what “that” meant.

But even if we look past the ambiguity, the end result is the same: an uncontroversial, perfectly qualified counter-terrorism nominee is being delayed – without explanation – apparently because Republicans don’t like President Obama.

And while that may seem ridiculous – because it is – it’s important to understand that Szubin is hardly the only one.

The same Politico report explained, “Nineteen potential judges, a half-dozen ambassadors, a terrorism financing specialist and two high-ranking State Department nominees are awaiting confirmation votes on the Senate floor, a backlog that has this GOP-led Senate on track for the lowest number of confirmations in 30 years. The Senate Banking Committee hasn’t moved on a single nominee all year.”

The Banking Committee, by the way, is led by Alabama’s Richard Shelby – the one who’s praised Adam Szubin, but who also refuses to let the Senate confirm Adam Szubin.

The story on judicial nominees is every bit as exasperating. The Huffington Post reported this week on Luis Felipe Restrepo, who, for reasons no one can defend, has “endured nearly every type of Senate delay a judicial nominee could endure.”

The Senate should be voting Monday to confirm Restrepo to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Senators typically vote on nominees in the order in which they were nominated, and Restrepo is first in line of any district or circuit court nominee. Instead, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) passed him over and teed up a vote on the next person in line, Travis McDonough, a Tennessee district court nominee.

Restrepo has been waiting his turn for a vote since he was nominated in November 2014. His nomination didn’t go anywhere last year, so President Barack Obama renominated him in January. Restrepo waited five months before he even got a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, thanks to his own state’s senator, Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), holding him up.

After his June hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) delayed the vote for another month, for no real reason. The committee finally voted to move Restrepo forward in July, unanimously, and he’s been waiting in line for a confirmation vote by the full Senate ever since.

The court seat Restrepo is supposed to fill has been vacant for nearly 900 days. No, that’s not a typo, and yes, it’s contributed to a “judicial emergency” on the 3rd Circuit, with a case backlog getting worse.

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein recently explained, “It’s a Senate engaged in pure partisan harassment of Obama, and indifferent to the smooth functioning of government.”

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was promoted to his current post, he promised Americans we’d see a new, different kind of chamber. Nearly a year later, I suppose he was correct – because the Senate is now far worse.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 10, 2015

December 11, 2015 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Mitch Mc Connell, Senate | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Paul Ryan Stumbles Over ‘Leadership’ Test”: Republicans Have A Problem With The Vetting Process, But They Have No Idea Why

Press a Republican politician on his or her opposition to Syrian refugees, and they’ll eventually point to the vetting process that’s currently in place. Most GOP lawmakers, governors, and candidates have no interest in endorsing explicit bigotry, instead saying they have concerns about the rigor of the screening process refugees must go through. Some on the right like to pretend the process doesn’t even exist.

The trouble comes when pressed for policy details or any kind of substantive analysis. The New York Times reported today:

When pressed, most Republicans could not specify which aspects of the rigorous refugee vetting program that they found inadequate. [House Speaker Paul Ryan’s] staff members cited a Bloomberg poll of 1,002 adults released on Wednesday, conducted by Selzer & Company, that found that 53 percent of those surveyed said the resettlement program should be halted.

Of all the domestic coverage I’ve seen this week about U.S. politicians and their reactions to Paris, this might be my favorite paragraph to date. Republicans know they have a problem with the vetting process, but they have no idea why.

And when House Speaker Paul Ryan – a celebrated “wonk,” according to much of the media – was asked about his concerns, his office pointed to, of all things, a poll.

In other words, Americans who have no real understanding of the rigorous refugee vetting program are leading elected policymakers, whose job it is to know better. The new Republican Speaker can’t identify actual problems with the vetting system, but Ryan can stick his finger in the air, read a poll, put together a meaningless “task force,” and tell his party to ride the wave of panic whether it makes sense or not.

Talking to reporters this week about the terrorism in Paris, the Wisconsin lawmaker argued, “It’s clear this was an act of war, and that the world needs American leadership.”

It is, to be sure, a nice sentiment, but what the Speaker didn’t say is what he thinks “American leadership” looks like in this situation. Does it mean Congress voting to authorize a military offensive against ISIS? For the last year and a half, the answer has been no. Does it mean Congress voting this afternoon on an anti-refugee bill, which is exactly what ISIS wants to see? According to Paul Ryan, the answer is yes.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the picture is equally discouraging. The Huffington Post reported yesterday:

In the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, Senate Democrats on Wednesday criticized Republicans for blocking national security nominees who would help fight terrorism and track Islamic State militants. […]

Adam Szubin, who has bipartisan support, has been waiting more than 200 days to be confirmed as the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes. The job involves tracking terrorists to prevent them from raising money on the black market and elsewhere.

Szubin’s nomination got a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee on Sept. 17, and Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) praised his past work in countering terrorist financing during his time with both Republican and Democratic administrations…. But Szubin’s nomination hasn’t moved since. There’s no clear reason why, beyond trying to make it difficult for President Barack Obama to fill administration posts.

Republicans have also slow-walked qualified nominees to serve as Secretary of the Army and the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, not because GOP senators have concerns about the officials up for confirmation, but rather because Republicans reflexively object to President Obama’s nominees for anything.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 19, 2015

November 20, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Paul Ryan, Syrian Refugees | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Abortion Opponents Show Little Concern For Poor Kids”: Those For Whom They Claim So Much Concern

Another year, another controversy over Planned Parenthood. Selectively edited videos filmed by an anti-abortion activist have given partisans another excuse to attack women’s reproductive services, starting with those provided by a well-established non-profit dedicated to women’s health care. Never mind that abortions represent a tiny percentage of Planned Parenthood’s work.

Some Republicans have gone so far as to threaten to shut down the government unless all federal funding for Planned Parenthood is eliminated. (By law, none of that money supports abortion services.) Even as prominent Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell try to tamp down that impulse, others — firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) among them — continue to insist that the entire government should be brought to its knees when Congress returns to work after Labor Day.

This is really just another opportunity to try to limit women’s reproductive choices, another chance to grandstand and exaggerate. If this outrage reflected genuine concern about lives ended while still in the womb, wouldn’t more conservatives be worried about what happens to poor babies once they are born?

For decades now, I’ve listened to anti-abortion activists rail against a “culture of death,” a callous disregard for the unborn, the “murder” of babies still in the womb. I’ve witnessed protests outside abortion clinics, listened to “pro-life” state legislators mischaracterize rape, and covered misleading campaigns that suggest abortions lead to breast cancer and mental illness. I’ve watched as hostility toward Roe v. Wade has become a litmus test inside the Republican Party.

But here’s the disconnect: Over those years, I’ve also seen anti-abortion crusaders become increasingly hostile to programs and policies that would aid poor kids once they’ve come into the world. Conservative lawmakers have disparaged welfare, criticized federal housing subsidies and even campaigned against food assistance. How does that affect those children for whom they claim so much concern?

In Alabama, where anti-abortion sentiment is as commonplace as summer heat waves, the state legislature is contemplating cutting millions from Medicaid, the program that provides health care for the poorest citizens, including children. Meanwhile, the state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, are among those demanding that Planned Parenthood receive no more federal funds because of the controversy over the sale of fetal tissue.

To be fair, there are those among abortion critics who show a principled concern for poor children, whose opposition to abortion is paired with a passion for social justice. Take Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is among the rare GOP governors to support the Medicaid expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act. “Now, when you die and get to the meeting with Saint Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You’d better have a good answer,” he said in June.

Then there are the Catholic Health Association and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, led by nuns. They’ve also adopted assistance to the poor as a core mission.

Their compassion stands in contrast to the U.S. Conference of Bishops, which is largely known for its conservative stances on abortion and same-sex marriage. (That may change with Pope Francis, who has made social justice his hallmark.) Last year, I attended a Catholic high school commencement where the headmaster, a priest, bragged about the number of his students who had attended anti-abortion protests. He said nothing about protests over cuts in assistance to the poor.

It’s easy enough to inflame with the Planned Parenthood videos; without context (again, selective editing), leaders of the organization are heard discussing money for the donation of fetal tissue. That’s not a conversation that’s easy to hear.

But Planned Parenthood is doing nothing illegal, and fetal tissue research has been vital to improving the quality of life for an aging America. Many of those who are angered by the videos would be surprised to know that they may have benefited from fetal tissue research.

Still, I’d take their criticism more seriously if they’d spend as much time trying to help poor children once they are born. Since they don’t, they’re just engaging in a war on women — especially women who don’t have any money.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker,  Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; Featured Post, The National Memo, August 15, 2015. 

August 18, 2015 Posted by | Planned Parenthood, Reproductive Choice, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“All Worked Up About Guns”: The Ironies Of The Senate Gun Control Debate And Emotional Attachment Of Senators To Their Jobs

As a guy who works with words for a living, I marvel at the gun lobby’s gift for turning logic inside out. The bumper-sticker classic: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The post-Newtown twist: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” And this week we have the latest cynical talking point: Let’s not legislate with our emotions.

“It’s dangerous to do any type of policy in an emotional moment. Because human emotions then drive the decision. Everyone’s all worked up.” (Mark Begich, D-Alaska)

“The emotion associated with all the violent events over the last 3 or 4 years tends to cause us to lose sight of some pretty commonsense principles,” (Tom Coburn, R- Oklahoma)

“We should not react to these tragedies in an irrational manner here in the Senate.” (Richard Shelby, R- Alabama)

“It is largely a mistake to talk about issues in the wake of crisis, in the wake of tragedy.” (Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who also accused President Obama of using the Newtown victims’ families as “props.”)

I don’t know who put out the memo. But this patronizing line is a transparent attempt to devalue the outpouring of heartbreak from parents and survivors that has – at least temporarily – fueled a drive to do something, even something inadequate, to make the next massacre a little less likely.

The grand irony behind the insult is that no movement has been so successfully propelled by passion – so “worked up” – as the gun rights movement. This is a movement that feeds on fear and resentment. This is a movement driven in part by the paranoid expectation that the government is itching to confiscate all of your guns – and, one layer down, by the even darker paranoia that citizens need guns to defend against impending tyranny. And these are the people telling us to calm down and be reasonable?

From such phobic nightmares, what clear-headed, common-sense arguments arise? Arguments like these:

  • The answer to an armed lunatic in a movie theater is for the other patrons to pull out their concealed weapons and fill the air with lead.
  • Our current, loophole-ridden background checks don’t catch criminals, so tougher background checks are pointless. (By this reasoning, since our border fences aren’t stopping illegal immigration, there’s no point in building better fences.)
  • Every state has the right to issue concealed-carry permits, but no state has the right not to recognize permits granted in other states. (That got 57 votes in the Senate, just short of the 60 needed to pass.)

Of course, the real ruling passion Wednesday in the Senate was the emotional attachment of senators to their jobs. Not doing them. Keeping them.

 

By: Bill Keller, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times, April 18, 2013

April 19, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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