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“Meekly Accepting GOP’s Extreme Premise”: As Obama Moves To Replace Scalia, The Press Enables Radical GOP Obstruction

In the wake of Antonin Scalia’s sudden death, the Beltway press almost immediately began to seamlessly frame the unfolding debate about the Supreme Court justice’s replacement along the contours of Republican talking points. To do so, the press continued its habit of looking away from the GOP’s stunning record of institutional obstructionism since 2009.

Immediately after the news broke of Scalia’s passing, Republican Senate leaders, GOP presidential candidates, and conservative commentators declared that the job of picking Scalia’s replacement should be performed not by President Obama, but by his successor.

Quickly suggesting that Obama was picking a “fight” with Republicans by signaling he plans to fulfill his constitutional duty by nominating Scalia’s successor, the press aided Republicans by presenting this radical plan to obstruct the president as being an unsurprising move that Democrats would likely copy if put in the same position during an election year. (Given the rarity of the situation precedents aren’t perfect, but it’s worth mentioning that during the election year of 1988, Democrats actually did the opposite, confirming Justice Anthony Kennedy unanimously.)

The framework for much of the coverage regarding the GOP’s radical demand that Scalia’s seat sit empty for a year is this: It’s Obama’s behavior that’s setting off a showdown, and of course Republicans would categorically oppose anyone Obama nominates. But journalists often don’t explain why: Why is it obvious Obama would have zero chance of getting a Supreme Court nominee confirmed when every president in the past has been able to fill vacancies?

Is it unusual for a president to face a Supreme Court vacancy his final year in office? It is. But there’s nothing in the Constitution to suggest the rules change under the current circumstances. (Obama still has 50 weeks left in office.) It’s Republicans who have declared that all new rules must apply. And it’s the press that has rather meekly accepted the extreme premise.

Note that Republicans and their conservative fans in the media aren’t telling Obama that a particular nominee he selects to become the next justice is flawed and will likely be rejected after hearings are held. Republicans are telling Obama that there’s no point in even bothering to make a selection because the Senate will reject anyone the president names. Period. The seat will remain vacant for an entire year. That is the definition of radical. But the press still looks away.

For instance, Politico reported the president “was facing the choice between setting off a nasty brawl with Congress by seizing the best chance in a generation to flip the ideological balance of the Supreme Court, or simply punting.” The Politico headline claimed Obama had chosen to “fight” Republicans.

But Obama faces no real “choice,” and he isn’t the one who decided to pick a “fight.” As president of the United States he’s obligated to fill Supreme Court vacancies.

The New York Times stressed Scalia’s death had sparked “an immediate partisan battle,” suggesting the warfare ran both ways. But how, by doing what he’s supposed to do as president, is Obama sparking a “partisan battle”?

If Obama eventually decided to nominate an extremely liberal justice to replace the extremely conservative Scalia, then yes, that could accurately be described as sparking a “partisan battle.” But what could be “partisan” about the president simply doing what the Constitution instructs him to do?

Meanwhile, the Associated Press framed the unfolding story as Obama’s announcement being “a direct rebuttal to Senate Republicans,” without noting the Republican demand that a Supreme Court justice’s seat sit empty for at least a year is without recent precedent.

And BuzzFeed suggested Scalia’s vacancy is different because the justice was, “as one Republican put it, ‘a rock solid conservative seat,’ and given the divisions on the court conservatives will be adamant that one of their own replace him.”

But that’s not how Supreme Court nominations work. Obviously, while the Senate has the responsibility to advise and consent on nominees, the party out of power doesn’t get to make the selection. So why the media suggestion that Republicans deserve a say in this case, or else?

Again and again, the press has depicted Obama’s expected action in the wake of Scalia’s death as being highly controversial or partisan, when in fact it’s Republicans who are acting in erratic ways by categorically announcing they’ll refuse to even consider Obama’s next Supreme Court pick.

The sad part is this type of media acquiescence has become a hallmark of the Obama era. Republicans have routinely obliterated Beltway precedents when it comes to granting Obama the leeway that previous presidents were given by their partisan foes in Congress.

Yet each step along the way, journalists have pulled back, refusing to detail the seismic shift taking place. Instead, journalists have portrayed the obstruction as routine, and often blamed Obama for not being able to avoid the showdowns.

Today’s Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP’s gun law obstructionism, the sequester obstructionism, the government shutdown obstructionism, the Chuck Hagel confirmation obstructionism, the Susan Rice secretary of state obstructionism, the Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstructionism, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

For years under Obama, Republicans have systematically destroyed Beltway norms and protocols, denying the president his traditional latitude to govern and make appointments. It’s sad that in Obama’s final year in office, the press is still turning a blind eye to the GOP’s radical nature.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, February 15, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Media, Press, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Punish Their Own For Speaking The Truth”: Sometimes, The Biggest Sin You Can Commit In D.C. Is To Tell The Truth

“A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” — journalist Michael Kinsley

So another Republican congressman has come forward to admit that his party’s Benghazi obsession is little more than an undisguised effort to damage the presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) defended his colleague, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who had acknowledged that obvious truth as well.

“Sometimes the biggest sin you can commit in D.C. is to tell the truth. This may not be politically correct, but I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual: Hillary Clinton,” said Hanna.

Well, of course. Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention already knows that the unending series of Benghazi “investigations” began as a way to embarrass the administration of President Barack Obama, including his then-secretary of state. When Clinton announced her presidential campaign, the investigations began to center on her (and are now more focused on her use of a private email server).

If you only dimly recall the origin of the GOP battle cry “Remember Benghazi!” it started with a tragedy. On Sept. 11, 2012, Christopher Stevens, then U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans were killed in separate assaults by Islamic jihadists on U.S. installations in Benghazi, Libya. Stevens was the first U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979.

The incident deserved a thorough probe to see whether there was anything that could have been done to prevent the deaths of diplomatic personnel in the future: Was security too lax? Intelligence ignored? The area too dangerous for diplomats?

But in the days after the deaths, it became clear that leading Republicans were much more interested in scoring their own attacks on Democratic targets than investigating the “Battle of Benghazi,” as it has been called. For one thing, they focused on such superficial and unimportant details as whether Susan Rice, then the president’s national security adviser, had clearly described the assault as “terrorism” or merely extremism. It’s not at all clear what difference that makes, but that line of attack derailed any shot she had at succeeding Clinton as secretary of state.

With that, Republicans were emboldened. And they haven’t given up their efforts to sink some notable Democrat with even a tenuous link to Libya and its national security implications.

They’ve not had any luck so far. After seven congressional and two executive-branch investigations, there has been no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, malfeasance or cover-up. The last was an exhaustive probe conducted by the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee; it found no evidence that either the U.S. military or the CIA had acted improperly. There was no delay in sending a military rescue team, as many conservatives have insisted.

So there was no genuine surprise at what McCarthy told Fox News in a September interview:

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping,” McCarthy told Sean Hannity.

Still, he paid dearly for the slip. Criticized by Republican leaders for dropping the gauzy veil over their nakedly partisan smear campaign, he was forced to abandon his plan to succeed John Boehner as speaker of the house.

McCarthy was supposed to keep up the pretense that the House Select Committee on Benghazi is conducting a high-minded probe free of partisan tilt. And that pretense continues. Clinton will appear before the committee later this month.

If there is any better example of the excessive and stultifying partisanship that has laid waste to Washington, it’s hard to know what that may be. After all, it can hardly be considered shocking that an American diplomat was killed in a dangerous country full of Islamic militants. Tragic, gut-wrenching, awful, yes. Shocking, no.

Still, the GOP’s listing and rudderless Benghazi ship — white whale on the horizon — sails on.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, October 17, 2015

October 18, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, House Intelligence Committee, House Select Committee on Benghazi | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Upending The Status Quo”: How Obama Is Shrewdly Using Partisanship To Sideline Netanyahu And Save The Iran Nuclear Deal

The conventional wisdom is that partisanship in Washington, D.C., is one of the biggest obstacles to solving America’s most entrenched problems, from fixing the immigration system to closing the inequality gap. But if the fallout from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forthcoming address to Congress is any indication, partisanship can be a pretty useful tool when it comes to upending the status quo.

Throughout the controversy, the White House has been happy to run its relationship with Netanyahu through the partisan vortex, helping splinter a bipartisan consensus that was once the most potent domestic threat to a U.S. rapport with Iran — a deal that would constitute the crowning accomplishment of President Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

Of course, Netanyahu has himself to blame more than anyone. By accepting an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to essentially hammer the administration before a joint session of Congress, without notifying the White House or the State Department, he took his longstanding disdain for Obama to new heights. When even Fox News anchors are questioning your treatment of the president, this may be a sign you have crossed a line.

He exacerbated his problems by rejecting an invitation from Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) to privately meet with Democrats, in what they said was an attempt to “balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner.” Netanyahu explained that the meeting would “compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” but it seems his rejection accomplished that just fine on its own.

“Since when does an Israeli prime minister say no to a meeting with Democrats?” bemoaned a former Israeli official to The New York Times. And referring to Durbin and Feinstein, he said, “By the way, their Israeli voting record is impeccable. Not good, not very good, impeccable.”

This gets to the crux of the problem for Obama, as he potentially heads into the final stretch of a years-long attempt to reach a deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear program. He not only has to fend off opposition from Republicans, but staunch pro-Israel members of his own party, some of whom seem intent on passing additional sanctions on Iran to scuttle any deal. The problem is so acute that, as recently as January, Obama faced the prospect of a united Congress overriding his veto for the first time in his presidency.

But that has changed. By aligning himself so plainly with the GOP, Netanyahu may have made it impossible for Democrats to join the Republicans. As Dov Zakheim writes at Foreign Policy, “Netanyahu’s determination to address Congress has all but destroyed any chance the Hill’s passing new sanctions and overriding a presidential veto. The deal will therefore go ahead.”

The Obama administration appears to realize this, taking the fight to Netanyahu in a highly public way. The White House made clear it would snub Netanyahu, saying both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden would not meet with him. It still has not said who (if anyone) will be attending the annual summit this weekend of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby. [Update: Rice and Samantha Powers, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., will attend.] Then this week, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Netanyhu’s speech was “destructive” to U.S.-Israeli relations — not “unhelpful” or any other boilerplate diplomatic language, but “destructive.”

Then Secretary of State John Kerry used his testimony on Wednesday to the House Foreign Affairs Committee to remind everyone that Netanyahu supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Never mind that Kerry was for it before he was against it — he noted that Netanyahu is a hysterical hawk and associated the Israeli prime minister with the most divisive foreign policy issue of the last generation. After all, everyone knows that there is little rank-and-file Democrats hate more than the Iraq War and those who egged the Bush administration on. (Kerry’s attack was all the more remarkable given the fact that his friendship with Netanyahu goes back to the 1970s.)

This is all bad news for those who believe that a U.S. accord with Iran would spell doom for Israel. But for those who believe that diplomacy and negotiations are far better than the alternatives, they might have partisanship to thank.

 

By: Ryu Spaeth, The Week, February 27, 2015

March 3, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Congress, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Past Time For GOP To Stand Down”: Is The Benghazi Scandal Hunt Finally Over?

Is the Benghazi scandal hunt finally over? And if there’s no Benghazi scandal, could that actually mean that President Obama will reach the end of his eight years in office without an era-defining, presidency-threatening scandal on the order of Watergate or Iran-contra? To conservatives who have believed for the past two years that Benghazi would eventually show the world the true villainy of this president, this is a horrifying prospect, but it could come true.

You may have missed it in the traditional Friday news dump, but at the end of last week, the House Intelligence Committee – which, don’t forget, is run by Republicans – released a report that all but exonerated the Obama administration of having done anything, well, scandalous. “An investigation by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee has concluded that the CIA and U.S. military responded appropriately to the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012,” The Post reported, “dismissing allegations that the Obama administration blocked rescue attempts during the assault or sought to mislead the public afterward.” It also found that while the talking points Susan Rice delivered in the wake of the attack were inaccurate, it was because of conflicting information coming in and not a scheme to hoodwink the public. All the conspiracy theories about a “stand-down order” and whatever else they’ve been talking about on Fox News were emphatically rejected.

On yesterday’s Sunday shows, some Republicans took the news better than others. “I thought for a long time that we ought to move beyond that,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on “Meet the Press.” But Lindsey Graham was mad as only Lindsey Graham can be. “I think the report is full of crap,” the senator from South Carolina said on CNN’s “State of the Union.””That’s a bunch of garbage. That’s a complete bunch of garbage.”

There may be no one who owes more to Benghazi than Graham, whose relentless condemnations of the administration on the issue managed to keep conservatives in South Carolina from getting too angry at him for voting for immigration reform. On this issue he has effectively channeled the right’s anger and its hope that the true scope of the scandal will be revealed any day now. Back in May, Graham proclaimed, “We now have the smoking gun” when decidedly mundane e-mails revealed that Ben Rhodes, the White House official whose job is to craft and disseminate spin on topics of national security, was in fact crafting and disseminating spin on Benghazi. A year before, Graham said, “I think the dam is about to break” on Benghazi revelations. No wonder he’s upset.

But as scandals go, Benghazi has been truly remarkable in the depths of triviality to which it sunk – which is perhaps understandable given how fruitless the search for official wrongdoing has been. To take just one example, there was actually a moment when people argued passionately about whether in the immediate aftermath Barack Obama referred to the attack as an “act of terror” or a “terrorist attack,” on the presumption that the former is weak and terrorist-coddling, while the latter is strong and terrorist-terrifying. That really happened. These days, the creation of misleading talking points is the worst crime with which Republicans can manage to charge the administration — not exactly the kind of thing that brings down a president.

Benghazi will be a vital part of the history of the Obama presidency, not for what it says about the administration but what it says about the administration’s opponents. After multiple investigations by multiple committees, endless hours of testimony, thousands of documents produced, and untold Fox News discussions (and it isn’t over yet; the select committee chaired by Trey Gowdy still has to have its say), nothing scandalous has actually been discovered. Yet the administration’s critics remain convinced that there is an awful truth somewhere waiting to be uncovered.

They felt the same way about Solyndra, and “Fast and Furious,” and the IRS. In every case the supposed scandal was greeted by Republicans with a quivering joy; they were sure the facts would be worse, and the wrongdoing reach higher, than anyone could imagine. And in every case, the more we learned, the less shocking things looked.

Like every administration, this one has had its share of screwups and missed opportunities. But it has been remarkably light on genuine scandal, the kind characterized by criminality and coverup. I’m sure there are few prospects more disturbing to conservatives than the idea that Obama may complete two terms without being laid low by a scandal. Many, if not most, on the right are convinced that he and his administration are deeply, fundamentally corrupt, and the fact that that corruption hasn’t been exposed may only be proof of just how diabolical Obama and his minions are.

But now the hour is growing late, and in the last two years of this administration there will be conflicts aplenty to occupy all of our time. For all the fulmination over the president’s immigration order, there are at least genuine issues there to be debated, issues of policy and presidential power. And the fights of the last two years are just beginning; we’ll be arguing about the budget and tax reform and health care and other issues that will arise, all while the 2016 presidential campaign is ramping up.

Benghazi is all but over, and with it the hopes of Republicans to drag Obama down into the quicksand of what they imagined would be his own wrongdoing and well-deserved ignominy. Like a lot of what Republicans have hoped for in the past few years, it just didn’t pan out. Some, like Lindsey Graham, will keep shaking their fists at the television cameras, insisting that the ghastly truth will become clear any day now. But the rest of the world will move on.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, November 24, 2014

November 25, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Congress, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Made Benghazi ‘Political’?”: Funny, Everyone Seems To Have Forgotten What Really Happened In 2012

If you’re outside that furious little circle of humans who believe Benghazi Is Worse Than Watergate, you may not fully understand why that circle is so furious. I didn’t for a long time, but I think I’ve cracked it. See, it’s not just that allegedly awful decisions were made on the ground. And it’s not even just that the administration supposedly lied in the aftermath to cover up its incompetence. No, the anger has a political end point, which is that this supposed cover-up sealed Barack Obama’s reelection over Mitt Romney and kept the rightful occupant from moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Summaries of the events on the right almost never fail to include language like this from a recent Wall Street Journal editorial: “The reasons Benghazi is important do not have to be rehearsed here. An American outpost, virtually undefended, was attacked by armed and organized al Qaeda-associated militants on the anniversary of 9/11 and four were left dead, including the U.S. ambassador. It happened eight weeks before the 2012 presidential election. From day one White House management and leadership focused on spin and an apparent fiction. Did they deliberately mislead and misdirect? Why was there no military response? Who is responsible?”

These questions are worth exploring. (Even I agree with that—and they have been, eight times by eight separate bodies.) But they have no real political punch without that one sentence in the middle there. Conservatives seem absolutely convinced that if not for the Obama “cover-up” on Benghazi, Romney would have won the election.

There’s one problem with that view: It’s ridiculous. Totally ahistorical. In fact, if you look back closely at how things unfolded in September and October 2012—and everyone seems to have forgotten—it was Romney, not Obama, who bungled Benghazi. It was clear at the time to a broad range of observers, not just liberals, that Romney really screwed the pooch on Benghazi, both when it first happened and then later in a debate.

Any memory of Romney’s initial reaction? He was in such a hurry to blame Ambassador Chris Stevens’s death on Obama that he rushed out a statement blaming the Obama administration for sympathizing “with those who waged the attacks” rather than the “American consulate worker” who died in Benghazi. You read that right—worker, singular. Romney was in such a hurry to get out a statement feeding right-wing paranoia about Obama’s anti-Americanism that it went out even before it was known that four Americans had died.

Romney was referring to a statement released by the American Embassy in Cairo, where the region’s rioting started that night, that criticized the now-famous video for fanning the flames. The statement wasn’t vetted in Washington, and so didn’t represent administration policy, but Romney jumped into the deep end and used it.

The next day, he was torn to pieces. In the old United States—yes, even during a presidential election—a tragedy like Benghazi would have halted campaigning for a day, and certainly, certainly everyone would have agreed that it would have been terribly unseemly for the challenger to politicize the event. But here came Romney: He didn’t even know how many bodies there were before he started trying to score political points off the deaths.

And most every news outlet took him to task. Read here for yourself a roundup of how his statement was playing in real time on September 13, 2012. Here’s the opening of a Bloomberg piece headlined “Romney Criticized for Handling of Libya Protests, Death”: “The attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya became a flashpoint in the American presidential race, as Republican nominee Mitt Romney drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans for chastising President Barack Obama and his administration on their response.” Democrats and Republicans.

Romney policy director Lahnee Chen didn’t make things any better for his boss by saying the campaign went with the criticism because it fit the “narrative”: “We’ve had this consistent critique and narrative on Obama’s foreign policy, and we felt this was a situation that met our critique, that Obama really has been pretty weak in a number of ways on foreign policy.” A situation that met our critique. Before they really knew much of anything. Priceless.

At that point, Romney started backtracking a bit. But on the right the issue kept a-boiling, through Susan Rice’s appearance on the chat shows, until the second presidential debate, the foreign-policy debate. Romney was presented with a chance to re-handle Benghazi, and he screwed it up even worse. That was when Obama said, accurately, that he called the attack “an act of terror” the day after in the Rose Garden, and Romney countered, “I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.” The transcript showed that Obama was right and Romney was wrong.

So Romney had a second shot at winning the Benghazi argument in real time, but all he managed to do was make it worse. It was crystal clear at the time that of all the issues of the campaign, he mishandled Benghazi the worst. (I’m not counting the 47 percent business here because that was a different kind of thing. It wasn’t a public policy “issue” that arose during the race.)

So let’s review. A tragic attack occurs. Before it’s even known how many people died or what on the earth are the reasons for the attack, the Republican standard-bearer breaks with all standards of decency and precedent and turns it into a political attack on the president—a presumptive and false one, just based on the paranoid right-wing idea that Obama is weak and somehow wants to cripple America. Then as now, most Americans weren’t buying it, and so Benghazi’s effect on the election, if any, was merely to show voters in the middle that the right was rabid about trying to “prove” that Obama refused to defend America, and it turned them off.

And now here we are, two years and eight investigations later, with Republicans acting shocked, shocked that there might have been anything political in the way the administration dealt with the attack and still carrying on in the same rabid vein. I obviously don’t know to a certainty that the new hearing won’t turn up something genuinely damaging, but unless it does, most Americans will react as they did then: Oh, Republicans doing more crazy shit.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 14, 2014

May 15, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Conspiracy Theories, Mitt Romney | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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