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“The Day The NRA’s Gun Dam Began To Crack”: The Ongoing Holocaust The NRA And The Republicans Are Abetting

I couldn’t believe Wednesday night that some liberals were expressing indifference or even suspicion toward the House Democrats’ sit-in. I wouldn’t say this was all that widespread, but I did see it, and it was based on the fact that one of the bills they were demanding a vote on, the one banning people on watch lists from buying guns, is problematic from a civil-libertarian point of view.

Oh please. Do these people know history happening when they see it? The sit-in was about the two bills only in the most nominal sense. It was really about dead bodies. It was about the NRA and its stranglehold on their institution. It was about saying “enough.”

I wrote earlier this week that yes, the NRA won again on those four Senate votes, but “someday, this dam will break.” Well, it’s coming a hell of a lot faster than I thought it would. No, the dam isn’t broken—yet. That will still take a fair amount of time. But after Wednesday night, it’s now possible to see a different future, one in which the NRA is not all-powerful. It’s no longer crazy to think that its back can be broken.

Sure, there are serious civil liberties concerns about government lists. Here’s what the ACLU has to say about them. If you are a man with an Arabic name in particular, the risk of being put on one of these lists because of error or confusion is not inconsiderable. That has to be addressed, and a citizen has to be able to go to the government and demonstrate wrongful harm.

But everyone agrees on all this. As I watched the coverage Wednesday, every single Democrat I saw interviewed said as much. I wish I could retrieve for you what Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky told Chris Hayes late last night, but the video wasn’t posted on his site yet as I sat down to write. She said in essence: Of course, we all agree, fix the bill, build in an appeals process for individuals to challenge being put on the list. Given. In the meantime, actual dangerous people who deserve to be on that list can go buy assault weapons and mow down innocent people. Let’s stop that first, then we’ll fine-tune the bill.

What on earth is objectionable about that? Nothing. And anyway, the bill isn’t going to pass even if Paul Ryan does allow a vote. But it would have the effect of calling the Republicans’ bluff. That is, the standard Republican criticism of the bill has been precisely this civil-libertarian critique. So if the Democrats come to them en masse to say fine, we agree with you, let’s find a way to build in a workable appeals process, and the Republicans still vote against the bill, they will stand exposed, and everyone will know that civil liberty concerns aren’t what’s driving GOP opposition. Fear of Wayne LaPierre is. We all know this already anyway, but if there is a vote and they still vote against it, we’ll have proof.

Legislating is ugly business. The choices are usually between okay and not okay, or often between bad and much worse. You take what you can get. This is why the sit-in merits support and admiration (and if you really want to be a liberal who’s on the opposite side of the great John Lewis, be my guest). This is very different from the civil rights actions of the 1950s. Then, activists had a country to persuade; they had to move the mountain of public opinion. And so activists in Birmingham settled on segregated buses as the target that would tangibly and visibly make segregation stark for white Americans outside the South. They bided their time, deliberately chose Rosa Parks as the woman to do it, and slowly won public opinion over to their side.

But here, the public doesn’t have to be persuaded. It’s 80 or 90 percent on the Democrats’ side on guns. Even most NRA members support background checks, the subject of the other bill over which the Democrats staged their action. The boulder that has to be moved—or crushed—is the Republican Congress. So it’s up to congressional Democrats to make that fight, and they have to do it with the imperfect implements at their disposal, which means particular pieces of legislation that are bound to be deficient in one way or another.

And they’re finally making that fight. It was remarkable to see lawmakers holding those pieces of paper with the names of victims from Newtown and Orlando. That wasn’t about watch lists. It was about the ongoing holocaust that the NRA and the Republicans are abetting. It was all the more remarkable for the fact that it was done in an election year, when everyone’s supposed to be double-terrified of the NRA.

So the sit-in is ending as I write, on Thursday afternoon. But one of these days, the NRA will lose a vote. Two or three more Orlandos (which is of course two or three too many) will have the nation tearing its hair out. Democrats will finally stand firm, and enough Republicans from purple districts and states will defect. The stranglehold will end. And maybe in time, after LaPierre has gone off to whatever place eternity has reserved for him, the NRA will again become what it used to be, which is an organization that promotes reasonable Second Amendment rights but stops insisting that these death machines that were never intended to be in civilian hands deserve constitutional protection.

And when that time comes, historians will point to June 22, 2106 as the day the dam started to crack. I’m clear about which side I’m on.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 24, 2016

June 25, 2016 Posted by | Gun Deaths, House Democrats Sit-In, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Anybody’s Guess Right Now”: How Low Can The Congressional GOP Go In November?

A big part of the angst Republicans are expressing over Donald Trump’s presidential nomination is the fear that he’ll doom GOP candidates down ballot. In part, that reflects the reality that ticket-splitting has been declining steadily in recent presidential years. The GOP’s Senate majority is fragile because of a particularly bad landscape. But now even the 59-seat margin Paul Ryan commands in the House could be in peril, though that’s a more remote contingency.

Ace House-watcher David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report has a new analysis at FiveThirtyEight that weighs the odds of a Democratic takeover pretty carefully. The GOP majority in the House is entrenched, he explains, by factors that have little to do with the popularity of the two parties:

Democratic voters have never been more concentrated in big urban areas than they are now. In 2012, President Obama won by 126 electoral votes while carrying just 22 percent of America’s counties — even fewer than losing Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis’s 26 percent in 1988. That means Democrats are wasting more votes than ever in safe congressional districts they already hold …

 Republicans’ astounding state legislative gains in the 2010 midterms — the year before the decennial redistricting cycle — allowed them to redraw four times as many congressional districts as Democrats in 2011 and 2012, stretching their geographical edge even further. As a result, in 2012, Democrats won 51 percent of all major-party votes cast for House candidates but just 47 percent of all seats.

A third thumb on the scales for House Republicans is that Democrats did not anticipate the possibility of a presidential landslide, and thus did not recruit top-flight candidates in some districts that now look vulnerable. With candidate-qualifying windows having passed in 79 percent of districts, it’s too late to do anything about that in much of the country.

All in all, Wasserman estimates, Democrats would need something like an eight-point national popular-vote margin to put themselves into a position to achieve the 30-net-seat gains necessary to retake the House. That’s hardly unprecedented since Democrats matched that margin in 2006 and exceeded it (with 10.6 percent) in 2008 (the much-ballyhooed Republican landslides of 2010 and 2014 were based on 6.8 percent and 5.8 percent House popular-vote margins, respectively). And current polls certainly indicate that a win by that sort of margin at the top of the ticket by Hillary Clinton is entirely feasible. But Wasserman’s own ratings for Cook show only 26 Republican-held seats — along with seven Democratic seats — being competitive. A “wave” election would require that additional seats come into play. There’s also an argument that if the presidential race gets out of hand for Republicans, they could make an implicit or explicit “checks and balances” argument in congressional races. That is supposedly how the losing presidential party minimized down-ballot losses in the landslide years of 1972 and 1984. It’s unclear that would happen again in this straight-ticket-voting era, but it’s not inconceivable.

The Senate’s a different situation. Of the 34 seats up this November, Republicans are defending 24 and can only afford to lose 3 and hang on to control if Democrats retain the White House and thus the vice-president’s tie-breaking Senate vote. Seven Republican seats are in states Obama carried twice (no Democratic seats are in states carried by McCain or Romney). Looking at the races more closely, Cook’s ratings show seven Republican-held seats in competitive races, with just two among the Democratic-held seats. A Democratic wave could make several other Republicans vulnerable. And none of the factors that give Republicans an advantage in keeping control of the House are relevant to Senate races.

If anyone’s going to be privately hoping something disastrous happens to the Trump candidacy before he’s nominated in Cleveland, it should be Mitch McConnell. But for Paul Ryan, the time to panic likely won’t arise, if at all, before the leaves begin to turn.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 21, 2016

June 23, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Down Ballot Candidates, GOP | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Don’t Believe It For A Minute”: Are The NRA And Trump Moderating On Guns? Not On Your Life

The headlines today are full of surprising news on guns, from some of the least likely sources: Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the National Rifle Association. “Trump to meet with NRA about banning gun sales for terror watch list.” “Trump Veers From Party Line on Gun Control.” “In wake of Orlando shootings, gun control getting a fresh look from GOP.” And even “NRA Announces Bizarrely Sane Position on Selling Guns to Terrorists.”

Don’t believe it for a minute. This new effort to make it more difficult for people on the federal government’s terrorism watch list to buy guns is going to meet the same fate as every other gun control measure in Congress.

Yesterday, Trump tweeted, “I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.” He can talk to them about that if it’s what he wants (which I doubt it is), but it won’t change their minds, because the NRA has a very specific position on the question of banning gun sales to those on the watch list, one you have to read carefully to understand. Here’s what they say:

The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period.  Anyone on a terror watchlist who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing.  If an investigation uncovers evidence of terrorist activity or involvement, the government should be allowed to immediately go to court, block the sale, and arrest the terrorist.  At the same time, due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed.  That has been the position of Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) and a majority of the U.S. Senate.

So: if someone is proven to be a terrorist, the NRA is opposed to letting them buy a gun and would prefer that instead they be arrested. Good to know! Now what about that investigation they want the FBI to undertake before the sale is completed? The reference to John Cornyn is important, because what the NRA supports is an amendment Cornyn proposed back in December, which was defeated in the Senate. It said that when someone on the watch list tries to buy a gun, the Justice Department would have 72 hours to file an emergency petition to a court, inform the gun buyer, allow the buyer to participate with counsel, then convince the judge that there is “probable cause to believe that the transferee has committed or will commit an act of terrorism.” Only then would the sale be stopped.

In practice, how often is the government going to be able to conduct an investigation, assemble an ironclad case, get in front of a judge, and get the judge to rule that the buyer has already committed terrorist acts or is about to, all within 72 hours? Basically never.

That’s in contrast to this amendment from Sen. Dianne Feinstein that Democrats now want to pass, which would allow the Justice Department to stop a gun sale not only to anyone on the watch list but anyone who had been on the watch list in the last five years (Omar Mateen had been on the watch list but had been removed), based on a “reasonable suspicion” (a much lower standard than probable cause) that the person had been engaged in or prepared for some involvement in terrorism.

In other words, Feinstein’s amendment would allow Justice to stop a gun sale to pretty much anybody on the watch list they suspected was a threat, while Cornyn’s amendment would make it almost impossible for Justice to stop a sale to anyone who didn’t already have a bomb strapped to their chest.

We should acknowledge that there are legitimate questions about the watch list itself. Many critics argue that it’s too broad and is full of people who have no involvement with terrorism. And there’s a positive and negative side to Feinstein’s five-year provision. It would mean that someone like Mateen might be identified, but it could also mean that a lot of people who justifiably got themselves off the watch list, and should never have been on it in the first place, could now face bureaucratic hassle and extra government attention they don’t deserve when they want to buy guns. So perhaps this debate could lead members of both parties to take a good look at how the list is operating and come up with a plan to reform it so that it focuses only on people who are genuinely suspicious.

But to return to the NRA and the Republican position represented by the Cornyn amendment, it has a gigantic loophole, one they themselves created. Let’s say you’re on the watch list, and you want to buy yourself an AR-15. You go to your local gun store, but the sale gets stopped by the government. What do you do now? Well, all you have to do is go to a gun show — there’s probably one in your area this weekend — and buy from one of the sellers in attendance who aren’t federally licensed dealers. Or you could go to one of the many online gun marketplaces, and get one there. Or you could find someone in your area selling guns privately, and buy it from them. Because we don’t have a system of universal background checks — which the NRA bitterly opposes and helped kill after the Newtown massacre when it was moving through Congress and had the support of up to 90 percent of the public in polls — there are multiple ways to get just about whatever gun you want no matter who you are.

That’s how the NRA wants it, and that’s how they’re going to work to keep it. And the Republican Party is their partner in this effort. Despite the fact that many kinds of restrictions on guns are broadly popular, even with Republican voters and gun owners themselves, the GOP has not only adopted the NRA’s categorical opposition to any and all restrictions, it has moved that belief to the very center of Republican ideology, along with the commitment to low taxes, small government, and the elimination of abortion rights. While we might see a Republican officeholder here and there buck the party and the NRA on this issue — for example, Rob Portman of Ohio, a vulnerable senator up for reelection this year, is now offering some conditional support for keeping those on the watch list from buying guns — their opposition to both Feinstein’s amendment and a companion Democratic proposal for universal background checks will remain nearly unanimous.

Finally, there’s the question of what Trump actually believes on this issue, and what positions he’ll take. Here’s my prediction: Within the next day or two, Trump is going to walk back his implied support for something like what Democrats are advocating and adopt the NRA position. I suspect this will follow a pattern we’ve seen before, in which out of simple ignorance Trump says something that alarms Republicans, then gets told what his position should be, at which point he changes it. The classic case was when he said women should be punished for getting abortions, and was then told that anti-choice ideology has it that women are helpless victims with no agency, so he walked it back.

For all his transparently phony commitment to the Second Amendment, Trump probably hadn’t thought about this particular issue before, so he didn’t know what he was supposed to say. Once he does, he’ll fall in line. Republicans will kill the Democratic proposals, and we’ll be right back where we started.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 16, 2016

June 21, 2016 Posted by | Diane Feinstein, Donald Trump, Gun Control, John Cornyn, National Rifle Association | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Have Crippled The Supreme Court”: America’s Highest Court Is Under Severe Strain Because Of The GOP

This is what a broken Supreme Court looks like.

Three weeks before the official end of the 2015-16 term, there are 22 cases still outstanding. On Monday, with several high profile cases eagerly anticipated by court-watchers, the Court only announced two relatively minor opinions. It looks likely that the Court will need to extend its own deadline.

And then, on the same day, the bizarre news that, Oops, one of the two issues the Court said it would hear in a death penalty case next fall – it won’t actually hear.  Never mind!

That kind of sloppiness is rare.  On the merits, it’s not that important, but procedurally, it’s a highly unusual screw-up.

It’s impossible not to see these events in the context of a short-handed Court, now four months without its full complement of judges, doing its best to stay on top of things.  And not always succeeding.   All of this, of course, is due to the completely unprecedented stonewalling by Senate Republicans of a perfectly qualified candidate to fill that vacancy.

In recent weeks, there have also been more subtle, but more destructive, consequences of the Senate’s oath-breaking, Constitution-scorning inaction.

Last week, the liberal advocacy organization People for the American Way published a report analyzing the effects of two tie decisions that have come down since February.  In one, the Court left in place a split between the Sixth and the Eighth Circuits regarding spousal guarantees for bank loans.  Despite all the resources invested in resolving this legal issue, federal law now remains uneven; requiring such guarantees is legal in some circuits, illegal in others.  To be sure, bank loan guarantees is not a high-profile issue, but it is one that affects thousands of people every year.

More politically charged was the Frierichs case, which the Court left unresolved on March 29.  That case was about whether public-sector unions could require non-union employees to pay a “fair share fee” to pay for collective bargaining and other costs.  Without such fees, progressives argue, the unions might go out of business, ultimately hurting employees.  With them, conservatives complain, they compel public employees to effectively join a union and support its political activities; that violates the First Amendment.

Who’s right?  The Court was deadlocked, so we don’t know the answer.

Then there are the cases like Zubik v. Burwell, in which the Court, rather than decide a contentious issue about religious exemptions and Obamacare, proposed and ordered its own makeshift compromise, resolving the particular dispute but leaving key questions unresolved about religious exemptions, which is driving controversies in North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Indiana, and around the country.

It’s also quite possible the Court will either deadlock or punt on some of the major cases remaining this term, including Whole Women’s Health, a case about Texas’s abortion restrictions.  Assuming Justice Kennedy votes to uphold the regulations, that will place the Court in a 4-4 split, and leave the Fifth Circuit’s decision – which mostly upheld the restrictive rules – in place.

But here’s where it gets even more complicated.  Last June, the Supreme Court placed an injunction on enforcement of the law, pending the outcome of the case.  So what happens if the Court deadlocks?  Is that an “outcome,” or no outcome at all?

Functionally speaking, allowing the Fifth Circuit opinion to stand means the Texas law is Constitutional.  And that, according to experts, would require the majority of abortion clinics in Texas to close. A 4-4 decision may sound like a tie, but there’s no tie when it comes to those clinics, and the women who use them.  They’re either open or they’re closed – and it’s not at all clear why one side should prevail in a tie.

Worst of all, this supreme dysfunction may become the new normal.  As Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz wrote recently in the Washington Post, it’s quite plausible that confirmation stonewalling will become commonplace anytime there is divided government in Washington.  It’s not as if the Democrats are just going to forgive and forget – they’ll fight fire with fire.  (This, incidentally, is one of many reasons Fred Barnes’s ludicrous celebration of the anti-Garland stonewall was so myopic.)

And it’s not even just the Supreme Court; as we reported earlier, the Republican-created “judicial emergency” extends to lower courts as well, with a record number of vacancies going unfilled.  Mainstream GOP leaders may be criticizing Donald Trump for attacking a Mexican-American judge, but they are attacking the entire judicial system.

So this is what a broken Supreme Court looks like: behind schedule, making careless mistakes, deadlocking, contorting itself to achieve consensus, and sometimes failing to fulfill its Cconstitutional responsibility to maintain the rule of law.  Senate Republicans have acted like the Garland stonewall presents just a small inconvenience in the service of “letting the people decide.”  But in fact, it is a full-on fiasco.  Its only positive outcome would be the generation of enough rage to throw the bastards out.

Several years ago, a judge wrote that when, as in cases of recusal, “The Court proceeds with eight Justices,” it “rais[es] the possibility that, by reason of a tie vote, it will find itself unable to resolve the significant legal issue presented by the case” and “impairs the functioning of the Court.”

That judge was Justice Antonin Scalia.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, June 7, 2016

June 10, 2016 Posted by | Judicial System, Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Best Not To Rule Anything Out”: Clinton’s Warning About Trump And Women Proves Prescient

One of key controversies dogging Donald Trump right now has to do with his overt racism towards U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom the Republican candidate says cannot be an impartial jurist because of his ethnicity. Over the weekend, Trump added he might have a problem with Muslim judges, too.

When CBS’s John Dickerson asked, “Isn’t there sort of a tradition, though, in America that we don’t judge people by who their parents were and where they came from?” Trump replied, “I’m not talking about tradition, I’m talking about common sense, OK?”

On the show last night, Hillary Clinton told Rachel, “I imagine he’ll move on to women judges because he’s been insulting women so regularly.”

Clinton was speaking hypothetically, but as it turns out, right around the time the Democratic candidate made the observation, Trump’s spokesperson told a national television audience that it might also be acceptable to accuse a woman on the bench of bias on the basis of her gender. The Huffington Post reported last night:

“Well, it would depend on her past and decisions she made as a judge,” Trump’s national spokeswoman Katrina Pierson said.

Noting that Trump’s sister is also a federal judge, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Pierson if it would be “awful” to accuse her of bias “in regard to some case because she’s a woman.”

But Pierson would not rule it out, adding that “there is no question that there are activist judges in this country.”

Remember, Senate Republicans think so highly of the Trump campaign that they’re leaving a Supreme Court vacancy in place, in the hopes that he’ll be elected president and pick a justice he approves of.

As for Clinton, let’s circle back to the quote from last night’s show again: “I imagine he’ll move on to women judges because he’s been insulting women so regularly, or maybe a judge with a disability, or perhaps one who was a former POW, or African American. This is dangerous nonsense that undermines the rule of law, that makes him appear to be someone who has no respect for fellow Americans, and I think it is yet more evidence why this man is dangerous and divisive, and disqualified from being president.”

To be sure, neither Trump nor his team have gone after judges with disabilities, judges who are veterans, or judges who are African American, but there’s quite a bit of time remaining in the election cycle, so it’s best not to rule anything out.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 8, 2016

June 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Judiciary, Women | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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