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“Since When Is Kelly Ayotte A “Moderate”?”: The Disappearance Of Actual Republican ‘Moderates’ Is A Problem

The New York Times reported yesterday on the electoral challenges facing Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) in New Hampshire this year, given the factors in the 2016 race, some of which the incumbent senator can’t control. The headline read, “Tough Re-election for G.O.P. Moderate Is Getting Tougher.”

She may not always telegraph it, but Ms. Ayotte, a freshman senator, is locked in a herculean battle with the state’s popular Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan. As one of five Senate Republicans running for re-election in states that supported President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, Ms. Ayotte is seen as particularly vulnerable this November. […]

Six years ago, Ms. Ayotte was part of a Republican wave…. For Ms. Ayotte and other Republicans from that class, 2016 was always going to be a difficult year to run for re-election because more Democrats vote in presidential years. But with the possibility that Donald J. Trump, the most divisive Republican presidential candidate in a generation, will be at the top of the ticket, the party’s task may be all the more arduous.

The broader assessment seems entirely right: the GOP incumbent faces a strong Democratic challenger in a year in which Republicans in competitive states are likely to struggle. Walking the electoral tightrope will pose challenges.

But it’s the wording of the headline that jumped out at me: since when is Kelly Ayotte a “moderate”?

It’s challenging because, by some measures, Republican moderates no longer exist in any meaningful sense. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver published an analysis last fall that noted, as a quantifiable matter, “The most conservative Republicans in the House 25 or 30 years ago would be among the most liberal members now.”

As GOP politics have become increasingly radicalized, what passes for Republican moderation has no real connection to anything resembling mainstream American centrism. Indeed, by most measures, Kelly Ayotte may not have a reputation as a wild-eyed partisan bomb-thrower, but her actual record is one of a far-right conservative.

Ayotte co-sponsored Ted Cruz’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, for example, without a replacement plan for the millions who’d lose their coverage. She filibustered a bipartisan bill to expand background checks before gun purchases. She’s voted, several times, to defund Planned Parenthood*. She joined the far-right in rejecting emergency disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims.

The list goes on. Ayotte rejected a clean debt-ceiling increase needed to prevent national default. She voted for Paul Ryan’s right-wing budget plan. She rejected a proposed increase of the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Though she later regretted it, Ayotte even went along with her party’s government-shutdown scheme in 2013.

According to the most recent available information on the group’s website, the Club for Growth gives Ayotte a lifetime rating of 81% – and as of a few years ago, it was even higher. It’s partly why she’s been a featured guest at far-right gatherings such as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Indeed, as I type, Ayotte has joined her party’s unprecedented Supreme Court blockade, rejecting a qualified nominee for reasons she and her party are still struggling to explain – a move even some of her GOP colleagues consider indefensible.

Sure, there are exceptions – Ayotte voted, for example, for the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform package – and the New Hampshire senator is hardly the most far-right member in the chamber, but the fact remains that there’s simply nothing about her record that says “moderate.”

My point is not to pick on the New York Times for the misplaced ideological label. Rather, what I think the Ayotte example offers is a reminder that the political world needs to rethink these assessments altogether, recognizing that actual Republican moderates are an endangered species, and being slightly less radical than extremists does not a moderate make.

When major news organizations start to think anyone to the left of Tom Cotton has credibility as a centrist, we lose sight of what matters: the Republican Party’s shift to the far-right has changed the nature of American politics in fundamental ways. Calling actual conservatives “moderates” only exacerbates the problem.

* Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 30, 2016

March 31, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Kelly Ayotte, Moderate Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Republicans Still Love Gitmo”: Don’t Want To Admit They Were Wrong To Support The Cuban Prison In The First Place

The Republicans have a strange emotional attachment to keeping the prison at Guantanamo Bay open for the foreseeable future. As an explanation, I kind of discount actual fear that the inmates might escape from a super maximum security prison in the United States. I know they fan that fear whenever the subject of closing Gitmo comes up, but I believe this is just a tactic.

Maybe they just don’t want to admit that they were wrong to support the Cuban prison in the first place. That certainly seems to animate the most vocal opponents who also are the most notorious neoconservative members of the Senate.

Take a look at how they’re responding to the administration’s just-announced plan to close the notorious facility:

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the armed services committee, all but rejected a plan he himself has urged the administration to submit. McCain has shifted his positions on Guantánamo from the Bush to the Obama administrations, but has positioned himself as the last gasp of Obama’s ambitions to win congressional support.

McCain, while pledging to look at the plan in hearings, termed it “a vague menu of options, not a credible plan for closing Guantánamo, let alone a coherent policy to deal with future terrorist detainees,” and said Obama had “missed a major chance”.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican on the armed services committee, preemptively rejected the final proposal in a statement.

“The president is doubling down on a dangerous plan to close Guantánamo – a move that I will continue to fight in the Senate,” Ayotte said.

Senator Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican and war veteran, dismissed the plan as a “political exercise”. Cotton, a rising star in GOP national security circles, received significant media attention for declaring Guantánamo detainees “can rot in hell” last year.

Then there’s Marco Rubio, who is already criticizing the plan on the campaign trail, saying that not only shouldn’t the prison close, but we should never give the property at Gitmo back to a “communist dictatorship.”

I don’t expect Congress to act on the president’s plan. Maybe Obama will act after the November election when he’s truly a lame duck. What are they gonna do? Impeach him?

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 23, 2016

February 24, 2016 Posted by | GITMO, Republicans, Terrorists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rand 2015 Runs From Rand 2007 On Iran”: Changed His Tune To Match The Rest Of The Republican Field

In 2007, Rand Paul gave his first interview to Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist radio host and founder of Infowars.com.

Paul was helping his father, then-Congressman Ron Paul, campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and, Jones said, the entirety of his audience helped to make up the elder Paul’s base of fervent supporters.

Jones was struck by the younger Paul’s similarity to his father. “You know, talking to you, you sound so much like your dad,” Jones said. “This is great! We have, like, a Ron Paul clone!”

When Jones noted that the elder Paul was the only anti-war candidate, Rand replied, “I tell people in speeches, I say you know, we’re against the Iraq war, we have been since the beginning, but we’re also against the Iran war—you know, the one that hasn’t started yet. You know, the thing is I think people want to paint my father into some corner, but if you look at it, intellectually, look at the evidence that Iran is not a threat.”

As evidence of this, he said, you needn’t look further than the fact that “Iran cannot even refine their own gasoline.”

And further, Paul said, “even our own intelligence community consensus opinion now is that they’re not a threat. My dad says, they don’t have an air force! They don’t have a navy! You know, it’s ridiculous to think that they’re a threat to our national security. It’s not even that viable to say they’re a threat to Israel. Most people say Israel has 100 nuclear weapons.”

Eight years later, Paul’s beliefs are very different.

In response to the agreement reached Tuesday between Iran, the United States, the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany to diminish Iran’s nuclear program, Paul, now the junior Senator from Kentucky and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, released a statement outlining his opposition.

“The proposed agreement with Iran is unacceptable for the following reasons:

1) sanctions relief precedes evidence of compliance

2) Iran is left with significant nuclear capacity

3) it lifts the ban on selling advanced weapons to Iran

I will, therefore, vote against the agreement. While I continue to believe negotiations are preferable to war, I would prefer to keep the interim agreement in place instead of accepting a bad deal.”

Asked how Paul’s position had shifted so dramatically since he was campaigning for his father, Doug Stafford, his senior campaign adviser, said, “Foreign policy should reflect events and events change. Senator Paul has always thought Iran getting a nuclear weapon was a bad idea and dangerous. But over the last eight years, as Iran has made progress in their nuclear enrichment program, it’s become more of a threat. Not allowing your opinions to reflect changing threats would be foolish.”

But it’s just frankly not true, as the Alex Jones interview demonstrates.

What is true is that the Iran deal places Paul in an impossible bind. Paul’s positions are usually so nuanced that they escape criticism of flip-flopping, but his shift on Iran is unusually clear—even if it was gradual.

Whether compromise is a wise strategy for Paul in the primary is uncertain. Paul is currently polling at 6.6 percent—behind Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee. Paul is not going to vault back into the top tier by siphoning off votes from more establishment candidates, whose supporters will never buy him as one of their own. And he won’t mobilize his libertarian base by taking them for granted.

In April, reporter David Weigel, outlined in detail Paul’s transformation for Bloomberg Politics. In 2011, while in the Senate, Paul was still vocally opposed to war, telling reporter Zaid Jilani he wanted to “influence” Iran instead. In 2012, while again campaigning for his father, he reiterated their anti-war position while clarifying that Ron Paul “doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons…But should they get nuclear weapons, he thinks that there are some choices.” A few weeks later, Paul explained to CNN that when it came to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, “I did finally come down to the conclusion that doing something was better than doing nothing.”

By 2013, Paul was saying that “the most pressing issue of the day” was how to contend with Iran’s nuclear program, and said that although he still did not want war, if he were in the White House while a deal collapsed, “I would say all options are on the table, and that would include military.”

Back in March, Paul was faced with a choice: sign the open letter penned by his Senate colleague, Tom Cotton, which Cotton explicitly said was designed to halt negotiations, or be the only presidential contender in the Senate to not sign it, and risk losing support in the fallout.

Despite the fact that Paul had maintained—and continues to maintain—that he favors negotiations, he compromised and opted for the first choice, contorting himself uncomfortably in his effort to explain his decision and irking some of the longtime libertarian supporters he inherited from his father in the process.

He has pursued a similar strategy with the deal.

The Atlantic’s David Frum made what on its face felt like a reckless prediction on Tuesday: “The Rand Paul Candidacy for the Republican Nomination Is Over.” Frum’s case was that throughout the course of his short Senate career, Paul has been able to carve out space for himself within his party by mostly focusing on the issue of domestic surveillance, which comfortably placed him in opposition to the hawks he bemoans and to President Obama. The deal presented for Paul a no-win: Were he to support the deal, however, Frum argued, he would “find himself isolated with the old Ron Paul constituency,” but were he to oppose it, he would vanish amid a sea of similar voices in the primary field.

The best explanation for Paul’s new position may come from Paul himself.

In an interview with The Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie in April, the same day two attack ads were released tying him to Obama on the issue, Paul said, “2007 was a long time ago and events do change over long periods of time. We’re talking about a time when I wasn’t running for office, when I was helping someone else run for office.”

So when the facts change—be they the facts of the issue at hand or the facts of Paul’s personal political objectives—Paul changes his mind.

 

By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, July 15, 20116

July 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is The Iran Deal ‘Liberal’?”: Shifting The Reigning Washington Foreign-Policy Paradigm From War-Making To Deal-Making

So, Senator Chris Coons, what do you think of the Iran deal?

There’s a pause. I have spoken a few times in recent weeks to the Delaware Democratic Senator, because a) he is deeply immersed in the details of this negotiation and b) he’s coming from what seems to me roughly the right place here: He wants to support his president and he wants to see diplomacy succeed, but he doesn’t trust Iran and he wants a deal that has a chance of actually working. He’s thoughtful and smart and not a demagogue, and his ultimate support (or not) of the thing really will hang on the details and what he concludes about them.

So he opens by telling me that he first wants to give credit to President Obama and John Kerry for getting this done, because any negotiation is hard, this one almost incomprehensibly so. Then he gives an answer: “It seems on the face of it from press accounts to meet most of the goals that were set.” He hadn’t read it yet, but he’d read enough about it to draw a few conclusions.

Still, Coons says he hasn’t made up his mind yet how he’ll vote. “I’m aware that it’s easier to be critical than supportive because this deal is so complex and the stakes are so high,” he told me. “I do think the diplomacy was worth exploring.” He wouldn’t say this of course, but it seems to me unlikely that Congress can kill the deal; Obama needs the backing of only 34 senators, which would result in a failure to override his certain veto of a “no” vote. It’s hard to imagine he can’t get that.

We’ll circle back to Coons, but first let’s acknowledge a point that liberal Obama-backers everywhere ought to acknowledge in this case: The deal is a big gamble. Nobody can know today that it will work in the main goal of keeping the Islamic Republic from getting a nuclear weapon. Of course, nobody knows for certain that it will fail either, and Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton and John Boehner’s instant and predictable Munich-ification of a deal they obviously hadn’t even read was revolting.

But the way to counter their false, know-nothing certitude is not with more false, know-nothing certitude. From a liberal internationalist point of view, it’s clearly a good thing that Obama is trying to shift the reigning Washington foreign-policy paradigm from war-making to deal-making. The war-makers have been wrong about everything for the last 15 years, have told us endless lies, have harmed American credibility, have sown destruction and death—and, by the way, have done a hell of a lot more to strengthen Iran than we doves have. So deal-making is a fine principle for which to strive. But that doesn’t mean the deal is without risks and downsides, and liberals do themselves and the world no favors by not acknowledging them just because Tom Cotton is such a dreary soapbox haranguer.

Here were Coons’s four concerns in the order he listed them to me. First, the inspections regime; second, the timing of the sanctions relief; third, the degree to which the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to keep track of the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear activities; and fourth, restrictions on centrifuge development after about year 10. “I need to have a much better sense of the breakout time after 10 years,” Coons said, noting concerns that limits on centrifuge development might ease after the tenth year.

For my money, Coons’s second concern is the biggest potential problem here. Iran will get a $150 billion windfall starting in December, and while the regime will presumably spend some of that money at home, it’s a certainty that the Syrian regime and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Houthis in Yemen are all going to get their share.

Combine this money with the deal’s lifting of the conventional arms embargo, which hasn’t gotten much attention yet but you can be sure will get more, especially once Congress starts holding hearings on this, and you have a recipe for Iran to make far more trouble in the region than it has been in recent years. It should not comfort Americans, and American liberals in particular, that the likes of Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, both busy murdering Syrian children and suppressing any chance of real democracy being able to grow in Syria and Lebanon, praised the deal to the heavens.

Coons told me he had a lengthy phone call with Joe Biden Tuesday, and “that’s precisely what I was discussing with the vice president.” He said he’d let Biden speak for himself, but he did tell me that he pressed Biden on questions like what we’d be doing to beef up our commitments to our allies and to check Iranian influence. He says Biden assured him that stern measures were in the works. We’ll see about that. This, too, will be much discussed in the upcoming hearings, and it’s not only Republicans who have these concerns.

Obama says people should judge the deal only on whether it prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, that it isn’t designed to change the nature of the regime or address regional terrorism. What this means is the administration made the decision that keeping a nuke out of Iran’s hands was the job that took precedence over all other tasks. All in all that’s probably the right call. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that this deal would start an arms race. Not if it holds. If anything, it’s the opposite that’s true: Without a deal, Iran would surely develop a bomb more quickly, leading Saudi Arabia and perhaps others to do the same.

But surely Obama doesn’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t discuss the other possible consequences of the deal. American liberals in particular should discuss these things. Nuclear non-proliferation is an old-school liberal value, but so is seeing our country take stands against the fundamentalist extremism that Iran exports and the kind of slaughter of civilians we see in Syria.

I was pleased to see that Hillary Clinton’s statement on the deal took both of these concerns seriously. Oddly, it’s not on her website. I got it via email, and the part that impressed me says this: “Going forward, we have to be clear-eyed when it comes to the broader threat Iran represents.  Even with a nuclear agreement, Iran poses a real challenge to the United States and our partners and a grave threat to our ally Israel. It continues to destabilize countries from Yemen to Lebanon, while exacerbating the conflict in Syria. It is developing missiles that can strike every country in the Middle East. And it fuels terrorism throughout the region and beyond, including through direct support to Hamas and Hizballah.  We have to broadly confront and raise the costs for Iran’s destabilizing activities…”

That’s real liberal internationalism, and I hope she spells out in the coming weeks what “broadly confront” means. I’d rather have her doing it than Jeb Bush or Scott Walker.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 16, 2015

July 17, 2015 Posted by | Chris Coons, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Middle East | , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

“The Hypocritical Folly Of Congress’ Capricious Interest In Foreign Policy”: Exclusively In The President’s Domain — Except When It Isn’t

Senate Republicans want to get involved in President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, as they demonstrated when the vast majority of them signed Tom Cotton’s forceful letter. Senate Democrats want to get involved, too — including Ben Cardin, Robert Menendez, and Chuck Schumer, the likely successor to Harry Reid as Senate Democratic leader.

Congress has some legitimate prerogatives here. And the framework of the nuclear deal is risky, even by the United States’ reading. These senators are not wrong to demand oversight.

At the same time, a large contingent of these senators don’t really want a deal that could be realistically achieved by diplomatic means in the foreseeable future. Some want to condition meaningful sanctions relief on Iran becoming a “normal” country. But the reason we’re pushing to restrict and inspect Iran’s nuclear program in the first place is precisely because Iran is not a normal country.

But here’s the particularly striking thing: The GOP-controlled Senate demands some say in the Iran nuclear deal, but is content to allow Obama to wage war against ISIS in Iraq without a congressional vote, the second such unauthorized war of his presidency. And here, Congress’ prerogatives are unmistakable: The Constitution gives the legislative branch the power to declare war.

Forty-seven Republican senators signed a letter asserting that Congress must have a role in the Iranian negotiations. They’ve merely debated authorizing the ISIS war — after the bombing was well underway.

Congress has largely abdicated its clearest role in foreign policy, its voice on matters of war and peace. Half the Democrats in the Senate deferred to George W. Bush on Iraq. But at least he sought congressional approval for his wars. The last two Democratic presidents have gone to war without such approval, though at least congressional Republicans tried to restrain Bill Clinton. They have been derelict in this duty with Obama in the White House.

Republicans were willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to defend the view that the president can’t decide when the Senate is in recess. Some Republicans sued Clinton over Kosovo. And now Republicans are clamoring to have final say over any deal with Iran. But there are few Republicans who seem to think it’s bad that Obama is bombing ISIS without congressional approval, except insofar as it involves working with Iran. (See newly declared presidential candidate Marco Rubio on this point.)

In fact, many lawmakers now argue that foreign policy is exclusively in the president’s domain — except when it isn’t.

A lot of these questions do really turn on the merits. If the Iran deal detracts from American national security, Republicans are right to try to subvert it. If the deal enhances national security, it’s a bad thing to undermine it. And it’s at least understandable that Republicans will be less angry about a president bombing jihadists who have killed Americans in gruesome fashion, even if there was no congressional vote.

But the process matters too — especially if you claim to be the party of constitutionally limited government. If presidents usurp the power to declare war, it is inevitable that not all of the wars of their choosing will be wise or just. And conservative critiques of the imperial presidency lose some of their force when coupled with arguments that the president is an emperor when it comes to going to war.

At minimum, some of the reasonable arguments made against executive power grabs begin to look like partisan posturing — which, in turn, makes it easier for presidents to successfully grab power. Why? Because some voters and opinion leaders will take the arguments against these executive actions less seriously.

That includes arguments against the Iran deal. While the final details will ultimately be the result of work done by the administration and our allies, the diplomatic process itself is a product of bipartisan policies pursued by two administrations.

Republicans would be more convincing in their arguments against Obama’s Iran framework if they demanded he come to Congress before using military force, not just when he is clearly trying to avoid the use of force.

 

By: W. Jamees Antle, III, The Week, April 17, 2015

April 18, 2015 Posted by | 47 Traitors, Congress, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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