filibuster

The Beltway Sketch (Civics: General and Particular)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump speaks about trade in the Oval Office of the White House, 31 March 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

What additional commentary could possibly go here? You will, eventually, encounter a conservative complaining about Democratic obstructionism, and these are some points worth keeping in mind:

1. Democrats are in the minority, and don’t control the Senate calendar.

2. Filibusters on executive-branch nominees have been eliminated. Senate Dems can slow the process down a bit when they want to, delaying votes by a couple of weeks in some instances, but they don’t have the power to block any of Trump’s nominees on their own. It’s simply not possible as a procedural matter.

3. In order for nominees to be confirmed, they have to be sent. Of the 559 key positions in the administration requiring Senate confirmation, Trump has not yet nominated anyone for 442 of the posts. This is especially true when it comes to ambassadors: for the vast majority of these diplomatic positions, the White House hasn’t yet nominated anyone. Josh Barro noted that only five countries currently have U.S. nominees awaiting Senate confirmation: Bahamas, Ethiopia, Holy See, Japan, and New Zealand (and the Vatican doesn’t really count as a country, per se).

All of this is of particular interest right now because there is no current U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, which affects our response to the two recent British terrorist attacks. Trump chose Woody Johnson for the post months ago, but the administration never formally nominated Johnson, so the Senate hasn’t been able to even consider acting.

Trump apparently wants to blame Democrats for this. Even by his standards, that’s completely bonkers.

(Benen)

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Mundane Strangeness

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump pauses as he talks to members of the travel pool aboard Air Force One during a trip to Palm Beach, Florida, while flying over South Carolina, 3 February 2017. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

This is one of those thing that … well, okay, so it is easy enough to get lost in the crashing waves of information tumbling across the land, as it is, but this is also the time of President Donald Trump, so we find ourselves suddenly having need for seemingly oxymoronic terms, such as mundane strangeness:

Sonny Perdue, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as agriculture secretary, has not yet been confirmed, and nobody knows why.

It’s not that Democrats are obstructing his confirmation—since changes to the Senate’s filibuster rule, they can’t block a Trump nominee unless they recruit three Republican “no” votes. And in the case of Perdue—unlike, say, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—they aren’t trying to do this. Nor are they resorting to extraordinary measures like the all-night debate that stalled Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s confirmation, or the committee walkouts that dramatized ethical issues hanging over the heads of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin or Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

The reason the Senate hasn’t yet approved his nomination is that he hasn’t actually been officially nominated yet. Paperwork hasn’t yet traveled down from the executive branch to the Senate, so no hearings have been scheduled, even though Perdue does not appear to be a controversial nominee.

(Yglesias)

We should probably take the moment to clarify: If, for instance, we say that nobody knows what the problem is it isn’t so much a matter of political parsing as a matter of practicality. “They don’t seem to have a reason,” explained Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-NE), last week, “as to why his name hasn’t come up.” Perhaps someone in the Trump administration knows why; meanwhile, neither is the speculation absolutely raw.

(more…)

The Problem With Republicans (Justice in Waiting)

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during their annual convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 July 2016. (Photo: Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

It’s not really a gaffe, is it? It’s an interesting headline from CNN: “John McCain: ‘I don’t know’ if Trump will be better for Supreme Court than Clinton”

Trump has released lists of 21 potential justices. He has pledged to choose from among those 21 when making Supreme Court selections, in a move that has earned him praise from conservatives, including his former rival in the Republican primary, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) listens to testimony by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Commander and Resolute Support Commander Gen. John Campbell, on Capitol Hill in Washington, 4 February 2016. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)Asked on the Dom Giordano program on 1210 WPHT Philadelphia radio whether Trump was the superior candidate on issues like the Supreme Court, the Arizona senator replied, “Uh, first of all, I don’t know, because I hear him saying a lot of different things.”

Later in the interview, McCain used the opportunity to make the case for fellow Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is locked in a close battle to retain his Senate seat in Pennsylvania. McCain promised that Republicans would be “united against any Supreme Court nominee” put forth by Clinton.

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” McCain said. “I promise you. This is where we need the majority and Pat Toomey is probably as articulate and effective on the floor of the Senate as anyone I have encountered.”

Or, as Taylor Link fashioned the obvious lede for Salon:

Sen. John McCain is sure that if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins, the Senate will continue to be an obstructionist mess.

In a Monday interview, the senator from Arizona said that Republican nominee Donald Trump is not necessarily a better candidate than Hillary Clinton when it comes to appointing Supreme Court justices and “promised” that Republicans wouldn’t approve any Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court.

Couldn’t see that one coming, eh?

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A Rumor of Judicial Infamy

Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC04), chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi Conspiracy Theories. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP).

“For politicians, the life of a federal judge isn’t viewed as being as attractive as it used to be. The confirmation process is excruciating and caseloads are up. Members realize that it’s just lore these days that the bench is a form of easy living, and besides they can make much more money becoming lobbyists.”

Russell Wheeler

This is not a random question: Can you imagine how contentious would be the filibuster of and confirmation hearing for federal judicial nominee Trey Gowdy?

No, really, just stop and think about that for a moment. U.S. District Court Judge Trey Gowdy.

Perhaps the question might occur to wonder why we might propose consideration of such an infamy visited upon the proposition of American justice. David Hawkings of Roll Call offers some thoughts at the intersection of Benghazi Select Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC04) and Justice.

____________________

Image note: Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC04), chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi Conspiracy Theories. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP).

Benen, Steve. “When even ‘definitive’ isn’t good enough for the House GOP”. 25 November 2014.

Hawkings, David. “House Conservative Favorite Eyes Unusual Career Switch”. Hawkings Here. Roll Call. 15 November 2015.

The Rand Paul Show (Another Day, Another Dereliction)

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to guests gathered at the Point of Grace Church for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. The Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian organization, hosted 9 potential contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nominations at the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

If the lede seems nearly nonsensical―

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that he doesn’t support a government shutdown, but then proceeded to advocate an approach that was effectively a government shutdown.

(Levine)

―we might as well concede at the outset that it doesn’t actually make any sense. Then again, this is (A) Rand Paul, (B) a Republican, (C) during an election cycle in which he is bucking for a promotion.

Shorthand: Yeah, sounds about right.

Still, though, what does it mean?

“We should no longer continue to spend money at the same rate we are spending money, so yes, we should let all spending expire and then we should renew those programs that are working,” Paul said.”It should require a supermajority to get the new programs started.”

Right. So … if we shut down the government and then require, piece by piece, a filibuster majority to restart each component, it’s not actually a government shutdown.

See how that works? No? Then you’re probably not a Republican, even if you think you are.

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Image note: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to guests gathered at the Point of Grace Church for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. The Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian organization, hosted 9 potential contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nominations at the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Levine, Sam. “Rand Paul Says He Doesn’t Support A Government Shutdown, But Basically Supports A Government Shutdown”. The Huffington Post. 29 Septemer 2015.

Your Republican Congress

Worst ... speaker ... ever.

Earlier today, Emmarie Huetteman of The New York Times posted this tidbit:

House Republicans are not off to a strong start, Speaker John A. Boehner acknowledged on Tuesday.

Asked about the 11th-hour withdrawal of bills related to abortion and, most recently, border security — both of which were initially considered easy lifts for the emboldened Republican majority before intraparty divisions emerged — Mr. Boehner attributed it to attempts to fast-track the legislation without committee consideration to work out the disagreements.

“There have been a couple of stumbles,” he said.

To the one, we might expect such (cough!) “stumbles” from, say, new leadership. For instance, in the Senate, where new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has much leadership practice, but not in governance or legislating, but doing everything he can to duck those obligations.

Oh. Right.

Still, though, it is not as if pulling bills because he does not actually know the whip count is anything new for Speaker Boehner; he’s done it twice before.

Then again, he’s got nothing on McConnell, who once filibustered his own bill.

Do be certain, please, to thank the next Republican you encounter for causing this.

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Huetteman, Emmarie. “Republicans Are Stumbling Out of the Gate, Boehner Admits”. The New York Times. 27 January 2015.

A Long Note on Political Tradition in These United States

President Barack Obama, delivers his State of the Union speech at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Charles Dharapak/AP)

By now of course we have become accustomed to the proposition that Republicans, once elected, would rather sit around. To some it actually seems a very sick idea; not only did the Speaker of the House demonstrate that Republicans conisder their job description to include going on vacation instead of actually working because, well, the most important part of the job is election and re-election, but in recent months the GOP has shown more and more willingness to simply admit that the inherent failure of government is more of a conservative goal than anything else.

Boehner and the band skipped out on gigs that might need Congressional attention, such as the Daa’ish question, the Ebola question, and the Immigration Reform question; despite their howls of rage regarding the latter, the fact of executive action occasionally arises when Congress refuses to pass a bill and the Speaker of the House calls on the President to use his executive authority. They could have skipped screeching themselves hoarse by simply sticking around and doing their jobs. Then again, the prior statement is controversial if only because it would appear that Congressional Republicans appear to believe their first, last, and only job is to win votes. Given their reluctance to undertake day-to-day Constitutional functions of Congress, such as advising and consenting to presidential appointments—or, as such, formally refusing the nomination—we ought not be surprised that the latest duty Republicans wish to shirk is sitting through an annual speech.

Nearly 16 years later, another Democratic president, also hated by his Republican attackers, is poised to deliver his penultimate State of the Union address. And like Pat Robertson, the idea of denying the president a SOTU invitation is once again on the right’s mind.

“Yes, there’s a risk to overreacting, but there’s a risk to underreacting as well,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. “And I fear that’s the way the congressional leadership is leaning.”

Mr. Lowry suggested one way Congress could react. “If I were John Boehner,” he said, referring to the House speaker, “I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.'”

Lowry may not dictate GOP decision making the way Limbaugh and Fox News do, but it’s important to note that he isn’t the only one publicly pushing the idea.

Politico reported yesterday that congressional Republicans are weighing a variety of tactics to “address” their disgust over Obama’s immigration policy, and “GOP aides and lawmakers” are considering the idea of “refusing to invite the president to give his State of the Union address.”

Late last week, Breitbart News also ran a piece of its own on the subject: “Congress should indicate to President Obama that his presence is not welcome on Capitol Hill as long as his ‘executive amnesty’ remains in place. The gesture would, no doubt, be perceived as rude, but it is appropriate.”

(Benen)

Wait, wait, wait—sixteen years ago?

Yes. Like impeachment chatter and stonewalling, Republicans want to make refusing to hear the State of the Union Address part of their standard response to any Democratic president.

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A Fallacy in Motion

The President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Charles Lipson is a walking fallcy, a professor of political science who prefers to use that credential that he might promote crackpot theses that ignore the details. To wit:

Charles LipsonWhen presidents become unpopular, they are no longer welcome on the campaign trail. They’re trapped in Washington, watching their party abandon them. It happened to Lyndon B. Johnson, whose presidency collapsed amid protests over Vietnam. He left Washington only to visit his Texas ranch and assorted military bases, where he gave patriotic speeches to silent battalions. Richard Nixon, drowning in Watergate, was confined to Camp David and a few foreign capitals, where he was greeted as a global strategist. Jimmy Carter, crushed by the Iranian hostage crisis and a bad economy, stopped traveling beyond the Rose Garden.

Now, the same oppressive walls are closing in on President Barack Obama. He is welcome only in the palatial homes of Hollywood stars and hedge-fund billionaires or the well-kept fairways of Martha’s Vineyard.

Well-written, indeed, if it was listed as fiction. But it’s not, and that means it’s a fraud.

The simple fact is that President Obama is avoiding states where Democrats are running competitively but against the odds. To wit, why would Alison Lundergan Grimes want President Obama onstage with her? She’s running against one of the most powerful Republicans in the country, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader who has so botched his handling of the Senate Republican Conference that Grimes can even run close.

Lipson’s criticism about palatial homes is unusual; most political science professors would suggest it very unwise to ignore rich donors during an election season, but Lipson would prefer you believe otherwise because it helps his poisonous narrative. Christopher Keating noted that Obama’s second trip to Connecticut in a week—a scheduled rally—was cancelled because, well, he’s the president and has a job to do. You know, ebola and all that. The palatial home Lipson refers to would appear to be in Greenwich, where Obama spoke at a fundraiser for Gov. Malloy.

The president is also welcome in Wisconsin, hoping to boost support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke.

One wonders what the political science would say of someplace like Kansas? Would the president’s presence in the Sunflower State help or hurt Democratic gubernatorial challenger Paul Davis? Given that the incumbent Republican presently has the slightest edge in an otherwise dead heat (less than a percent), the question might be how Gov. Sam Brownback found himself in such a weakened position that he must actually face the possibility of losing. Then again, it’s not much of a question: Brownback and his Republican allies have wrecked the states finances.

In that context, it’s hard to lose faith in Obama if one never had any.

(more…)

A Quote: Sen. Thune (R-SD) on Wasting Time

Sen. John Thune (R-SC)

“If it’s not pay equity, it’s going to be something else. We realize the next couple of weeks are going to be a bust around here and we want to get to the important business, which is [government funding], and we’ll get to that faster hopefully.”

Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

Republicans recently emerged with a new tactic in their campaign to win the U.S. Senate and grow their House majority in November: Pretend to flank Democrats from the left. Over the summer, for instance, GOP challengers to Democratic Senate incumbents have pitched over-the-counter birth control access, an idea that might sound good at first, but important questions persist about whether increased out-of-pocket costs will actually have the effect of reducing access.

The plot has opened a new chapter; Burgess Everett of Politico explains the way it works:

Senate Republicans have a new strategy: Vote to advance bills they oppose.

On Wednesday, 19 Republicans joined with Senate Democrats to overcome a filibuster of legislation aimed at ensuring pay equity for men and women. That vote was 73-25, an overwhelming margin by Senate standards. On Monday, 25 Republicans voted with Democrats to advance a constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform.

The GOP broadly opposes both of these proposals — but they are voting to extend debate on them to chew up the remaining few days on the legislative calendar and prevent Democrats from holding even more campaign-themed votes on raising the minimum wage, reforming the student loan system and striking back at the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

Even though those measures have already failed this year, Democrats believe holding a second round of failed votes on them will place Republicans on the wrong side of poll-tested issues right before the election. But because everyone in Congress is eying the exits for general election season, the GOP figures if it strings out debate on proposals that it opposes, the damage will be limited.

“If it’s not pay equity, it’s going to be something else,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chamber’s top GOP messaging man. “We realize the next couple of weeks are going to be a bust around here and we want to get to the important business, which is [government funding], and we’ll get to that faster hopefully.”

(more…)

A Nation in Shame

The vote sidetracking the bill was 56-41, with supporters falling four votes short of the 60 they needed to prevail. Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Dean Heller of Nevada were the only Republicans voting to keep the legislation alive and the only lawmakers crossing party lines on the vote.

Associated Press

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, stands in defeat after a divided Senate derailed Democratic legislation providing $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation's veterans, as the bill fell victim to election-year disputes over spending and whether to slap sanctions on Iran, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington.  (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)