Greg Sargent

The Republican Message

"Meet Merrick Garland" ― Detail from screenshot of GOP.com.

Let’s talk about messaging.

Okay, we get that President Obama is the big bad villain and all that, but am I the only person who noticed that the GOP “oppo dump” against Judge Merrick Garland, besides being utterly flaccid, is filed under “Hillary Clinton”?

(sigh)

Here. Consider this note, please, from Greg Sargent, offered a couple days before the president nominated Judge Garland:

Republican operatives will “vet that person and put their real record on display.” Ideally, of course, this is what would happen if the Senate were to hold hearings on that person. But that might afford the nominee a chance to directly respond to his or her Republican cross-examiners in a high profile setting (as opposed to only having Democratic groups mount all the pushback, which of course they will also do, once there is a nominee). Direct exchanges between the nominee and Republican Senators, alas, might reflect well on that person. And so the only “vetting” and examination of the nominee’s “real record” will be undertaken through the RNC and associated GOP-aligned groups.

That’s not meant as sarcasm. It’s the actual Republican party-wide position right now. Remember, Senate Republicans themselves have told reporters that they don’t want to hold hearings explicitly because it would risk drawing the wrong kind of media attention to the nominee, thus making it harder politically for GOP Senators — particularly vulnerable incumbents facing reelection in states carried by Obama — to oppose that person later.

It also seems a good time to reiterate Stuart Rothenberg’s recent reflection on this year’s U.S. Senate races. No, really. Trying to tie it all together is an exercise in futility, because it’s almost like a harm reduction scheme implemented in advance of scheduled self-harm. And, yes, that sentence is supposed to read so ridiculously; that’s kind of the problem.

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Image note: Detail of screenshot from GOP.com, taken 19 March 2016.

Republican National Committee. “Meet Merrick Garland”. GOP.com. 16 March 2016.

Rothenberg, Stuart. “Dem Senate Takeover Probable, If Cruz or Trump Nominee”. Rothenblog. Roll Call. 13 March 2016.

Sargent, Greg. “In Supreme Court fight, Republicans lead with their chins”. The Washington Post. 14 March 2016.

Some Guy Who Thinks He Can Be President

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

“Satire is tough when some politicians become caricatures of themselves.”

Steve Benen

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has potsherds. Some of the finest-grained potsherds in existence.

Again we reiterate the importance of narrative; the tale sounds silly enough in the straightforward reporting, but the commentary can lend appreciable dimensions:

When reports surfaced last week that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) may face criminal charges as part of a federal corruption probe, it seemed like a possible opportunity for Republicans. Because so many of the recent political scandals have involved GOP officials, I thought Republicans might connect Menendez and Oregon’s John Kitzhaber to make the case there’s something rotten in the Democratic ranks.

But Kasie Hunt reported from Iowa over the weekend that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has a very different attack in mind.

Cruz also suggested pending federal charges against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez were politically motivated – tied to Menendez’s support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition to a U.S. deal with Iran over their nuclear program.

“The timing is curious,” Cruz said .... “It raises a suggestion to other Democrats that if you dare part from the Obama White House, that criminal prosecutions will be used potentially as a political weapon as well,” Cruz said. “That’s a serious concern.”

The Texas Republican added, “This investigation has been going on for over a year and yet the very week they announce a pending indictment comes within hours after Sen. Menendez showing courage to speak out against President Obama’s dangerous foreign policy that is risking the national security of this country.”

Greg Sargent noted the other day that he was planning to joke about the right concocting a conspiracy theory involving Menendez, the White House, and Iran, but the mockery was already too late. “They’re already saying [it],” Greg said.

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The Growing Scandal of King v. Burwell

FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2008, file photo, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., is seen in Providence, R.I.  Turned away at the Supreme Court, congressional Republicans sketch a filibuster-proof strategy to repeal the nation's health care law in 2013.  But it hinges on two uncertainties ― Mitt Romney capturing the White House and the party seizing even narrow control of the Senate (AP Photo/Stephan Saviola, File)

Sometimes the lede buries itseslf; the point will hide in plain sight. It is an easy thing to do, hiding in plain sight, when nobody is looking for you:

The Supreme Court has developed elaborate tests to determine if plaintiffs have standing to sue. But their essence, Justice Antonin Scalia once observed, is a four-word question: “What’s it to you?”

To get into court, it is not enough to be unhappy about something. Only people with a direct stake in a dispute have standing to sue.

Which brings us to the four plaintiffs in the latest threat to President Obama’s health care law, to be heard next week. Recent news reports have raised the question of whether any of them has a dog in the fight.

But it is not clear that the Supreme Court will address that question, which could determine the outcome of the case. The court’s recent decisions have been inconsistent and provide few clues about what it might do. The court is sometimes accused of being opportunistic in using the standing doctrine to avoid legal questions it wants to duck, but ignoring the issue when it is eager to weigh in.

(Liptak)

Two sentences; did you miss them?

No, really, this is important: “But it is not clear that the Supreme Court will address that question, which could determine the outcome of the case. The court’s recent decisions have been inconsistent and provide few clues about what it might do.”

One of the hallmarks of the Roberts Court is its disrespect for standing case law and precedent. The Chief Justice is an example of why the longstanding conservative complaint about liberal judicial activism is a swindle. John Roberts seems to apply more of an “if it feels good, do it” attitude to the judiciary, but at the same time he’s conscious of appearances, which is why conservative majorities on the Court will occasionally do that weird thing where they overturn case law but then disclaim that they’re not overturning anything, such as we’ve seen in Ricci (Civil Rights Act) and Texas (Voting Rights Act). And there is also the conservative majority’s clear tendency to throw cases for politics by carving out one-time exceptions to the law, such as we saw in Safford, in which a school was forgiven a sex offense because ignorance is bliss and, well, why would a young girl be upset by adults forcing her to strip down so they can leer and prod at her body, and Ricci, in which the New Haven Civil Service Board followed the law but was held in fault for doing so.

One of the reasons this Court is so hard to predict is, in fact, its inconsistency. And the reason it is hard to pin down that inconsistency is because it is so inconsistent. To the one, it is not a purely institutionalist streak. To the other, it is not purely traditionalist. Rather, it seems Chief Justice Roberts is happy to keep pushing the image of calling balls and strikes just as long as nobody points out that the strike zone keeps changing.

The Constitution is John Roberts’ playground, nothing more. Inconsistency will be the hallmark of his chiefdom. (more…)

The Morbid Dose

Today in news that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone:

God is LoveThe debate continues over whether we should be amused or offended by Westboro Baptist Church’s balbutive.

• How does one earn the attention of the Secret Service? Try sharing your craven fantasies of sexual violence against Hillary Clinton with the world in a desperate bid to draw attention to your internet radio show. Very well; attention gained.

• The former Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, appointed by President Bush in 2008—you know, the guy who was in charge when agency started targeting conservative political groups?—told Congress he has no idea how it happened. It should go without saying that nobody’s surprised. (If the whole thing seems something of a confusing mess, Reuters offers a handy overview.)

• Republicans in Virginia find themselves suddenly painted into a corner. By their own hand. It’s almost funny, and actually quite an impressive feat, when you stop to thik about it.

Bolling on JacksonThe GOP’s slate is, by any fair measure, jarring. The Virginia Republicans’ gubernatorial candidate is one of the fiercest culture warriors of any officeholder in the country. The Virginia Republicans’ candidate for lieutenant governor is almost comically extreme on social issues. The Virginia Republicans’ candidate for attorney general once advocated requiring women to report miscarriages to the police—or face jail time.

It’s almost as if the state GOP went out of its way to think of a scheme to motivate the listless Democratic base, alienate as many women as possible, and drive moderate voters away from Republicans in droves.

• Oklahoma’s delegation to the U.S. Senate finds itself facing unfortunate controversy in the aftermath of yesterday’s tornado, largely because they voted against Hurricane Sandy relief.

Yep. Just another day in these United States.

A Quote: EJ on GOP and RNC re:AG

E. J. Dionne Jr., on the strange thing that happened on the way to a Justice Department subpoena that everyone is apparently supposed to be really upset about:

Picky Pachy (-derm)“Isn’t it odd that many Republicans who demanded a thorough investigation a year ago are now condemning the Justice Department for doing what they asked for? Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus even called on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign, saying he had ‘trampled on the First Amendment’.”

The thing is, that in a post-policy endeavor, Republicans will say anything. It is much akin to the idea of a bunch of angry conservatives taking out their frustrations with post-modernism—only thirty years late, but nobody is counting because why would they?—on the rest of society.

More important than the whiff of hypocrisy is the reason that it does not matter.

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A Necessary Reminder

The recent budget sweepstakes in Washington, D.C., in which at least five Beltway factions have proposed their fiscal plans for the nation, have drawn much attention. President Obama’s budget has drawn many headlines for putting Social Security on the table, resulting in morbid political comedy akin to a Mack Sennet film.

Democrats are mortified, and Republicans are so confused by the president’s maneuver that they cannot seem to figure out how to respond.

But that’s the thing: It’s a political maneuver.

Political cartoonist Bob Englehart explains:

Bob Englehart, "Obama's Budget"President Barack Obama is supposed to be showing his willingness to compromise with the GOP on the budget by going after some of our most vulnerable citizens, people on Social Security and Medicaid. The funny part is that the Republicans have wanted this for years, but since Obama is offering it, they say it’s not enough.

In the meantime, the liberals are freaking out that Obama has turned against the very ideals that the liberals found so compelling in the last election. Look, a presidential budget is a political tool and that’s all. It won’t be enacted. It’s designed to help moderate Senate Democrats win re-election next year.

Meanwhile, everybody’s pissed, the conservatives because there’s nothing Obama could ever do to assuage their rage. The liberals are in a snit because any proposed cut to any social program, no matter how transparently a Trojan horse, sets their hair on fire.

You could say he’s trying to out-GOP the GOP for effect. He has an eye on the 2014 elections. He needs a Democratically controlled House and Senate if he hopes to get more done, but that will be almost impossible with the gerrymandering and election stealing going on in the red states.

There are, of course, various ways to interpret the responses.

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