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“The Obstructionists”: Congress Can Still Mess Up The Iran Deal

“Now, Congress takes up the matter” are words that are ensured to send shudders down the spine, so shudder away: We’ve just entered the congressional phase of the Iran talks, with a Senate hearing next Tuesday, after which it’s up to Mitch McConnell to decide how fast and aggressively to move with the bill from Tennessee Republican Bob Corker that would bar the administration from making any changes to U.S. sanctions against Iran for 60 days while Congress reviews and debates any Iran agreement.

There are, as the Dude said, man, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous here. It’s all quite complicated. But here, it seems to me, is your cut-to-the-chase question: Is there enough good faith in this United States Senate for something to be worked out? Or is it just impossible?

One proceeds from the assumption that the Senate will do whatever it can to kill a deal. It’s a Republican Senate, by a pretty wide margin (54-46); history would suggest that these Republicans simply aren’t going to hand President Obama a win like this. It hardly matters what the details are, about what Iran can or can’t do at Fordow, about the “snapback” provisions of the sanctions, about the inspections regime, or about what precise oversight role Congress has. It’s just basically impossible to imagine that this Republican Party, after everything we’ve seen over these last six years, and this Republican Senate majority leader, who once said it was his job to make Obama a one-term president, won’t throw up every roadblock to a deal they can conjure.

Once again, we’re left separating out the factors the way scientists reduce compounds to their constituent elements in the lab. How much of this is just Obama hatred? How much is (this is a slightly different thing) the conviction—quite insane, but firmly held—that he doesn’t have the best interests of the United States at heart? How much is a genuinely paranoid, McCarthy-ish world view about the intractably evil nature of our enemy and the definitional Chamberlainism of ever thinking otherwise?

And how much is just self-interested politics, as it is bequeathed to us in its current form? Which is to say—if you are a Republican senator, you simply cannot cast a vote that can be seen as “pro-Obama” under any circumstances. You just can’t do it.

I asked in a column last week whether there would be one Republican officeholder in Washington who might say, “Hey, upon examination of the details, this looks like a decent deal with risks that are acceptable, and I’m going to support it?” It’s still a good question. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is conceivable. He called that noxious Tom Cotton letter “not appropriate.” But Flake is pretty new to the Senate and doesn’t carry a lot of weight on these matters.

Some suggest Corker himself. Corker has this reputation, in part earned, as one of the reasonable ones. He gets articles written about him like this one,  from The New York Times a couple of days ago, which limned him as a Republican of the old school, a sensible fellow who still wants to horse-trade.

And he is—but only up to a point, at which the horses return to their stalls. The most notable example here is the Dodd-Frank bill. This is all detailed at great and exacting length by Robert Kaiser in his excellent book about how financial reform became law, Act of Congress. Then, Corker talked for hours and hours with Chris Dodd about the particulars—derivatives reform, oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, more. He wanted to play ball, even thought he might deliver some votes. But as time passed, it became clear to Corker that the base just wasn’t standing for it. He faced reelection in 2012. Not tough reelection—he won with 64 percent of the vote. But reelection campaigns are great excuses for senators to do nothing, and nothing is what Corker did. He withdrew from all participation with Dodd and Frank, and he ultimately voted against the bill.  When it mattered, he caved to the extremists, in other words, among his colleagues and in his base. Why that means he should be getting credit for a spirit of compromise now in New York Times articles is something that, to my obtuse mind, requires further explanation.

“He’s not Tom Cotton.” Uh, okay. Wonderful. But that’s where we’ve come, celebrating a guy because he doesn’t want to start World War III. Happily, though, all is not lost. It’s far from clear that Corker or Cotton (and yes, they are different) can block a deal. There are, I’m told, three categories of senators on this question. The first is our own mullahs—no deal no how. The second is a group of mostly Democrats and independents—Virginia’s Tim Kaine, who is a close ally of the White House, and Maine’s Angus King—who basically wants a deal but wants to be sure that it’s good, and want to influence the shape of any legislation the Senate might pass.

The third group is senators who also basically would like to see a deal but want the Senate to serve as a backstop against a deal they see as bad. I’d put Chuck Schumer in that third camp. So when these people say they back the Corker bill, as Schumer did this week, it doesn’t mean they’re against the administration or a deal per se. Democrats aren’t going to be Obama’s problem here. A few, the ones from the deep red states, may be boxed in. But most will stick with the administration, if a deal is finalized along current terms.

I don’t think our mullahs have the numbers right now. But Obama is going to have to sell this to more parties than Tom Friedman and Steve Inskeep. He has, or should have, Friedman’s readers and Inskeep’s listeners already. The way to get someone like Corker to play ball is to sell it in Knoxville. Public opinion still influences foreign policy, as Obama knows from his Syrian experiences. Put it to work.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Iran, Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Is The GOP So Angry At Everything These Days?”: Fevered Lunatics Whose Principal Policy Option Is To Fight Rather Than Talk

At the end of a week when many paused to reflect during Passover and Easter ceremonies, a question with no real answer seemed to crash into our culture with all the subtlety of a marching band in a funeral parlor: Why do so many Republicans seem so angry all the time at so much around us?

The fury of some like Ted Cruz is understandable. It’s fueled by his massive ego and outsized ambition along with his personal belief that he is so smart and the rest of us are so pedestrian that he can manipulate opinion to win the Republican nomination for president with the support of the mentally ill wing of his party.

“A real president,” Cruz the bombardier said last week, “would stand up and say on the world stage: Under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran will either stop or we will stop them.”

Then there is the minor league Cruz, the tough talking, totally in-over-his-head governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who is running to crack down on the salaries of teachers, cops and firefighters everywhere. Oh, he’ll also teach Iran a good lesson by throwing any deal out the window no matter what other countries might think. Imagine Scotty informing Angela Merkel of his decision while he wears his Cheese-Head Hat.

There are so many others too. There’s the kid who started the pen pal club with the ayatollah, Tom Cotton. There’s the mental midget from Illinois, Mark Kirk, who went right to the basement for his best thought on Iran, claiming that England got a better deal from Hitler than the U.S. got from Teheran. Kirk, not a history major.

But my personal favorite? In this corner, from Baltimore, wearing the costume of a true warrior, locked and loaded and ready to roll, the former Ambassador to the United Nations, John “Bombs Away” Bolton. He took to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times to declare war on Iran. After all, why waste time!

“The inconvenient truth is that only military action…” Field Marshall Bolton wrote, “can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.”

Bolton, of course, is one of the Mensa members who told George W. Bush that it would be swell to go to war in Iraq. Twelve years later things are really going well there.

At least Bolton knows war on a firsthand basis. At age 18 he was in South Vietnam where…OH, I’M SORRY…MY MISTAKE…that was another Bolton. That was Dennis Bolton from Bedford, Indiana, born two weeks before John Bolton was born in Baltimore in November 1948. Two different young men with two different tales to tell.

Dennis Bolton went to Vietnam. John Bolton who went to Yale. Dennis Bolton was killed near DaNang on April 19, 1967 where he served with the Marines while John Bolton finished his freshman year at New Haven.

In 1967, Bedford had a population of about 13,000. It’s a nice small town where Gene Hackman could have filmed Hoosiers, one of the great sports films ever. Ten young men from Bedford were killed in Vietnam.

Indiana, of course, is the state where Mike Pence and Republicans in the state legislature spent the week clowning it up over their lost fight to make it harder for some Americans simply to be happy. Make no mistake about it, their war was against same-sex marriage and they suffered a TKO when the country turned against them in the snap of a finger, an overnight knockout delivered with stunning speed. But I digress.

In 1967, Baltimore had a population of about 930,000. It’s a tough town with a lot of different neighborhoods, some dangerous, many working class, where Barry Levinson hadn’t made Diner yet and HBO hadn’t given us the gift that is The Wire. Four hundred and seventeen residents of Baltimore were killed in Vietnam.

Dennis Bolton’s name is on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. John Bolton’s name was on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times as well as on the lips of some angry, fevered lunatics whose principal policy option is to fight rather than talk.

Obviously, Bolton never made it to Vietnam. He joined the Maryland National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam and, hey, good for him. At least he served.

Of course, he blamed his absence from combat on the politics of the time. On liberals like Ted Kennedy and others, claiming they had already lost the war by the time he was ready to take on the North Vietnamese Army. I guess that explains the itch, the unfulfilled need, the frustration that guys like Bolton have lived with across the decades.

And today, “Bombs Away” Bolton still has a strong desire to light it up. And according to some pundits he’s even considering a run for president. Obviously his platform will remain as unchanged as his thinking: Different time, different dangers, different countries but same selfish solution: Send someone else’s kids to fight and die while Bolton and others play with a lit fuse in a world more dangerous than dynamite.

 

By: Mike Barnicle, The Daily Beast, April 5, 2015

April 6, 2015 Posted by | Iran, John Bolton, War Hawks | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Dysfunctional GOP Is Failing To Govern”: It Is Safe To Say Republicans Have No Earthly Idea Of What They Want To Accomplish

It was only January when Republicans took full control of Congress, but already it is safe to say they have no earthly idea of what they want to accomplish.

What we’re seeing is not just a bit of sputtering before the GOP machine cranks up and begins to systematically fulfill its governing plan. There is no plan. Republican majorities in both the House and Senate are so out of control that they’ve managed a feat once thought impossible: They make the Democratic Party look like a model of unity and discipline.

House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) has never really been in charge of his caucus. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) was supposed to be a masterful orchestrator, a consummate dealmaker, a skillful herder of cats. So far, he is looking, well, kind of Boehneresque.

McConnell should be deeply embarrassed that a mere freshman, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) could invite widespread ridicule by convincing 46 of his colleagues (including McConnell himself) to sign a dangerously inappropriate letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. At once bellicose and patronizing, the letter threatens to undo any agreement President Obama may reach on limiting the Iranian nuclear program.

It is one thing for a rookie senator, perhaps impressed with his new status, to decide he can barge into sensitive international negotiations that are clearly the president’s to conduct. But to convince so many others to go along with such a bad idea suggests a disturbing lack of adult supervision.

Predictably, Senate Republicans who signed Cotton’s missive have had to spend days explaining why. The better question, in my view, is how: Specifically, how could McConnell allow his majority to be hijacked in this manner?

Not that McConnell showed any greater ability to control events during the long and pointless fight over funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Senate Democrats remained united throughout — and, in the end, Republicans who had hoped to reverse Obama’s executive actions on immigration had to capitulate. McConnell, a master of the Senate’s arcane procedures, was reduced to complaining about how the mean old Democrats were using the rules to get their way.

Did McConnell allow the scenario to play out as a way of teaching House Republicans the limits of their power? If so, it was a triumph of hope over experience. We’ve seen this movie again and again, and it always ends the same way: with the House leadership apparently shocked to learn it takes 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate.

For all the post-election talk about how the GOP was going to show the nation it is capable of governing, by now it is clear that many Republicans in Congress do not share this goal.

Since Republicans do not hold the White House or veto-proof majorities in either chamber, governing requires compromise. Refusing to make the compromises needed to pass mandatory legislation, such as budget appropriations, leads to self-inflicted wounds such as government shutdowns for which Congress is blamed. These are not difficult concepts to grasp.

Yet many House Republicans — either for ideological reasons or because they fear inviting a primary challenge from the right — will not compromise at all. They find it more advantageous or satisfying to vote 50-plus times to repeal all or part of Obamacare, knowing they have no chance of succeeding, rather than look for ways to make the program work better for their constituents.

That explains Boehner’s ineffectiveness. But what about McConnell’s? Why hasn’t he taken the reins?

One reason is the number of Republican senators who are thinking about running for president. Opposition to Obama — rather than any set of ideas, values or principles — is the party’s North Star. So if a letter that seeks to torpedo the president’s Middle East policy is circulating in the Senate cloakroom, anyone thinking about the Iowa caucuses is going to sign on.

Another reason might be that McConnell is simply a better counterpuncher than initiator. Or perhaps he just needs to rethink his approach. His failure to get a single Democrat to defect on the Homeland Security votes should convince him that if he is going to be effective in leading the Senate, something’s going to have to change.

As things stand, it is possible to argue that the most capable field marshals in Congress are Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). Which makes you wonder just what in the world the Republican Party thinks it might be accomplishing.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, Thew Washington Post, March 16, 2015

March 22, 2015 Posted by | Governing, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Rumblings Of Insurgency”: Quoting Facts And Naming Names

The letter written by Sen. Tom Cotton to the leaders of Iran and signed by 47 Republicans is not simply outrageous because it presents a dangerous challenge to the Constitutional framework under which the United States conducts foreign policy. It is important that we remember the context in which it came about. Here are a few recent events we need to keep in mind.

Judge Roy Moore:

In a dramatic show of defiance toward the federal judiciary, Chief Justice Roy S. Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court on Sunday night ordered the state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples on Monday, the day same-sex marriages were expected to begin here…

“I think I’ve done what I can do: advise the state court probate judges that they’re not bound by any ruling of the Federal District Court,” he said…

His argument has deep resonance in a place where a governor, George Wallace, stood in a doorway of the University of Alabama in 1963 in an unsuccessful bid to block its federally ordered integration.

Although much has changed from Wallace’s era, Chief Justice Moore had used a series of strongly worded letters and memorandums to insist that Judge Granade, an appointee of President George W. Bush who joined the federal bench in 2002, had instigated a grave breach of law.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on EPA regulations:

So what are governors and state officials who value the well-being of the middle class to do? Here’s my advice:

Don’t be complicit in the administration’s attack on the middle class. Think twice before submitting a state plan — which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits…

So for now, hold back on the costly process of complying.

Senator Lindsay Graham:

And here’s the first thing I would do if I were president of the United States. I wouldn’t let Congress leave town until we fix this. I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to. We’re not leaving town until we restore these defense cuts. We are not leaving town until we restore the intel cuts.

(Note: apparently Sen. Graham’s spokesperson suggested that when he said “literally,” he didn’t mean “literally.”)

Those aren’t the rantings of right wing radio hosts or tea party rabble rousers. They are the words of Republican leaders suggesting and/or recommending illegal actions. In other words, they are the rumblings of insurgency.

I don’t say that to fear-monger or join some bandwagon of hysteria. I’m simply quoting facts that we need to acknowledge and name accordingly.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 15, 2015

March 17, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Insurgency, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The State Of Republicania”: GOP Senators Appear Set On Their Own Breakaway Nation

The New York Daily News branded Senate Republicans “TRAITORS” in large type across its cover Tuesday, saying, “GOPers try to sabotage Bam nuke deal.”

That’s not quite right. It’s true that 47 Republican senators did their level best to bring us closer to war by writing a letter to Iran’s mullahs, attempting to scuttle nuclear talks with the United States. But Republicans aren’t exactly subverting the United States. It’s more as if they’re operating their own independent republic on Capitol Hill. Call it the State of Republicania.

Its prime minister, John Boehner, invited his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to criticize U.S. foreign policy last week before a joint meeting of the Republicania parliament. The American president wasn’t consulted.

Mitch McConnell, the Republicania home secretary, wrote an op-ed last week in the Lexington Herald-Leader explicitly urging states to refuse to implement a major new power-plant regulation issued by the U.S. government.

And now we have Tom Cotton, Republicania’s young foreign minister, submitting “An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” counseling Iran’s leaders that any agreement reached by the United States but not ratified by Republicania could be undone “with the stroke of a pen” (assuming the next president comes from Republicania).

But why stop there? Ted Cruz, serving as Republicania’s justice minister, could instruct the sergeant at arms to apprehend administration officials who testify on Capitol Hill and lock them below the Capitol crypt until they agree to more suitable policies. Jim Inhofe, Republicania’s environment minister, could undo recent efficiency improvements at the Capitol Power Plant, and the Capitol Police could become Republicania’s military, under the command of John McCain as defense minister.

Darrell Issa could serve as Republicania’s own J. Edgar Hoover, and Orrin Hatch could become its spiritual leader (the breakaway republic could abandon church-state separation and everything else in the Bill of Rights except for the Second Amendment). Thus could Republicania become a happy little city-state — a Luxembourg on the Anacostia.

There is a potential problem with this model, because Republicania would refuse to levy any taxes. But it appears that Cotton, the recently elected senator from Arkansas, has figured this out, too: He’ll get military contractors to bankroll the new nation.

On Tuesday, the day after his letter to Hezbollah’s masters became public, Cotton provided a clue about his motives: He’d had a breakfast date with the National Defense Industrial Association — a trade group for Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and the like.

You’re not allowed to know what Cotton said to the defense contractors. The event was “off the record and strictly non-attribution.” But you can bet it was what Dwight Eisenhower meant when he warned of the military-industrial complex.

The defense industry contributed more than $25 million in the 2014 election cycle and spent more than $250 million lobbying over that time period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. For the defense industry, this is a good investment: If Senate Republicans blow up nuclear talks, it makes war with Iran that much more likely — and nobody would benefit as much from that war as military contractors.

Alternatively, Republicania could raise revenue for their city-state by charging visitors for tours. That’s a viable option, because nothing at the National Zoo is quite as exotic as Cotton, who after just two months on the job has led his colleagues to break with more than two centuries of foreign policy tradition.

Cotton, appearing on CNN on Tuesday morning, maintained that his effort was not political. “Nor do I believe this letter is unprecedented,” he said — although the Republicania national archivists have not found a precedent.

Perhaps they will come up with an open letter from American legislators written to King George III in 1783 warning him that the efforts of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams might be undone with the stroke of a quill. They may uncover an 1898 cable from American senators to Maria Christina, the Spanish queen regent,cautioning her that many of them would remain in office “decades” after President William McKinley was gone. Or maybe they will uncover a letter from senators to Joseph Stalin in 1945, educating him on the constitutional separation of powers before he negotiated with Franklin Roosevelt at Yalta.

But Republicania archivists are unlikely to locate such documents, because they were never written.

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), one of just seven Republican senators not to sign Cotton’s letter to the ayatollahs, said she thought it “more appropriate for members of the Senate to give advice to the president” and U.S. negotiators.

Spoken like a true American — which, in the corridors of Republicania these days, is nigh unto treason.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 10, 2015

March 16, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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