House Republican Leadership

Dangerously Unfair (Undignified Disaster)

#Russia | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher [R-CA48]. (Photo by Maria Danilova/Associated Press)

This is, simply put, not fair:

The F.B.I. warned a Republican congressman in 2012 that Russian spies were trying to recruit him, officials said, an example of how aggressively Russian agents have tried to influence Washington politics.

The congressman, Dana Rohrabacher of California, has been known for years as one of Moscow’s biggest defenders in Washington and as a vocal opponent of American economic sanctions against Russia. He claims to have lost a drunken arm-wrestling match with the current Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, in the 1990s. He is one of President Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Rohrabacher was drawn into the maelstrom this week when The Washington Post reported on an audio recording of Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, saying last year, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” Mr. McCarthy said on Wednesday that he had made a joke that landed poorly.

(Apuzzo, Goldman, and Mazzetti)

That is to say: Oh, come on! You can’t be serious!

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Terrific (Even Spicier)

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017. (Shawn Thew/EPA)

File under unknown unkowns:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday it is “literally impossible” to predict the effects of the House Republican plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

“There are so many variables that are unknown,” Spicer told reporters. “It seems almost impossible.”

(Fabian)

They aren’t really trying, are they?

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A Dwindling Conservative Pretense

#PutiToots | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

“Note, in this three-sentence statement, Team Trump (1) attacked the U.S. intelligence community in order to defend Russia; (2) flagrantly lied about the 2016 election results; and (3) and made no effort to deny the accuracy of the revelations, saying instead that we should ‘move on,’ rather than acknowledge Russian intervention in the American election, which Republicans chose to overlook, apparently to advance their own interests.”

Steve Benen

This is, genuinely, extraordinary. For all people wish to carry on about “both sides” and all that, some days it seems worth noting that there really is a difference.

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Something About the Speaker (Footnote Fury)

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI01) speaks at his primary night press conference, 9 August 2016, in Janesville, Wisconsin. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

“The new Paul Ryan tax cuts make the Bush tax cuts look like socialism.”

Jonathan Chait

Steve Benen frames the issue well enough:

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has largely pulled off an impressive public-relations gambit in recent years. The Republican leader has recast himself as an anti-poverty crusader, without making any meaningful changes to his far-right agenda, simply by using the word “poverty” a whole lot.

But it’s occasionally worthwhile to look past the rhetoric and focus on the hard data ....

.... Ryan’s tax plan is crafted in such a way as to give 99.6% of the benefits to the wealthiest of the wealthy by 2025. The other 0.4% would be divided up across the other 99% of us.

This is a feature, not a bug, of the House Speaker’s approach to economic policy. Ryan genuinely believes that massive tax breaks for those at the very top will spur economic growth that would, in time, benefit everyone. For the Wisconsin congressman, trickle-down policy, its track record notwithstanding, remains the most responsible course to broad national prosperity.

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The Beltway Way (Moneygoround Mix)

Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL15). (Detail of photo by David Banks/Bloomberg)

We get a glimpse into the Beltway moneygoround; Curtis Tate looks into Congressional PAC spending:

The leadership political action committee affiliated with Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois has splurged on Napa Valley wine tours, Miami Beach luxury hotels and Washington Nationals baseball tickets worth tens of thousands of dollars over the past four years, federal campaign disclosures show.

The nine-term Republican represents a coal-producing region of southern Illinois and frequently speaks in defense of fossil fuels as a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But earlier this year, his John S Fund PAC put down a deposit for a fundraising event at a California spa hotel that’s powered by solar panels.

PACs are lightly regulated entities that members of Congress typically use as fundraising tools for their party, but not for their own campaigns.

The McClatchy report notes Rep. Shimkus (R-IL15) is not uncommon: “Most senior lawmakers with PACs spend at least some of the money on perks their salaries don’t cover”, Tate explains. Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics calls the PACs “a nice little piggybank to have”, explaining, “There are so few restrictions on how you can use it.”

The thing is that the story really is just a glimpse; the whole thing sounds sordid but in this framework it is a matter of aesthetics versus law, and the question of how to make these things work just right is pretty much as complicated as any other question of freedom versus civilized society as a suicide pact. That is to say, good luck electing a Congress that will get rid of the things; the Supreme Court is pretty much a wildcard, though we can easily guess it would be something of a stretch to imagine the judiciary banning these practices outright. And, really, just how badly will society and its political institutions fail at not being undignified if we hold a big sit-down in the public discourse and parse out the details of what is or isn’t acceptable?

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Something About the Bill and the Beard

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) holds a news conference, on Capitol Hill in Washington, 16 December 2015. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

So it goes that Scott Wong of The Hill should report on conservative dissatisfaction with the recent spending omnibus Speaker Ryan managed to push through the House:

Outside the Beltway, the right is livid with new Speaker Paul Ryan’s trillion-dollar spending deal with Democrats.

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter says Ryan, just seven weeks on the job, is ripe for a primary challenge. “Paul Ryan Betrays America,” blared a headline on the conservative site Breibart.com. And Twitter is littered with references to the Wisconsin Republican’s new “Muslim beard.”

Sounds about right.

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Image note: Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) holds a news conference, on Capitol Hill in Washington, 16 December 2015. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

Wong, Scott. “Fury of the right falls on Ryan”. The Hill. 26 December 2015.

The Ryan Budget (Murmur Mix)

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, 16 December 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“When the next Democratic speaker wants to spend $350 billion over ten years to make public colleges tuition-free for undergraduates, the system will turn in knots to make it seem like we’re broke and can’t afford it. But when Speaker Ryan wants $350 billion to help multinational corporations lower their tax burdens, the system will clear the runway as quickly as possible for these vital and necessary investments.”

David T. S. Jonas

Anyone giving even a modicum of attention to the manner in which Congress actually works can understand why the Ryan Budget seems like a fine accomplishment, but it is also, to the one, a “kind of backroom deal that offers real concessions to Democrats and blows up the deficit wasn’t the change insurgent Republicans were looking for when they ousted John Boehner”, Ezra Klein explained; more directly, he continues that in the larger context the lesson is, “No one cares about the deficit―or, at the very least, everyone cares about other priorities more than they care about the deficit.” "If John Boehner made the spending deal Paul Ryan just did, conservatives would’ve called for his head." (Jim Newell, Slate, 16 December 2015) To the other, we might also beg leave to wonder at what Matt Fuller and Jennifer Bendery described as the “massive spending bill that nobody especially likes”. Jim Newell summarizes, “If John Boehner made the spending deal Paul Ryan just did, conservatives would’ve called for his head”.

And there is merit in the idea that nobody is wholly satisfied, but it also says something important that compromise means lowered expectations. Something about competition and partnership goes here.

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Image notes: Top ― House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, 16 December 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Left ― Via Jim Newell of Slate: “If John Boehner made the spending deal Paul Ryan just did, conservatives would’ve called for his head.”

French, Lauren. “Ryan: Budget package a true compromise”. Politico. 15 December 2015.

Fuller, Matt and Jennifer Bendery. “Congress Ready To Pass Massive Spending Bill That Nobody Especially Likes”. The Huffington Post. 16 December 2015.

Jonas, David T. S. “Maybe Rush Limbaugh has a point: Paul Ryan just blew up the deficit, and Democrats are letting him”. Salon. 19 December 2015.

Klein, Ezra. “The big new budget deal, explained”. Vox. 18 December 2015.

Newell, Jim. “The Paul Ryan Compromise”. Slate. 16 December 2015.

The Times Editorial Board. “Ryan shows compromises can be reached in the House without brinkmanship”. 17 December 2015.

About What We Expect from Congress

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, 10 December 2015.  (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Well, you know. They tried.

Like we noted last week, it’s Congress.

The failure of Congress to strike a budget deal Monday night to avert a government shutdown means House and Senate lawmakers will have to pass another short-term continuing resolution―even though they approved one last week.

(Fuller)

Show of hands: Who’s surprised?

Anybody? Anybody?

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Image note: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI01CD) meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, 10 December 2015. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Fuller, Matt. “Congress Needs Another Stopgap Spending Measure To Avoid Shutdown”. The Huffington Post. 14 December 2015.

The Fragile House

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, 3 March 2015. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“I was just planning on serving out my tenure as Ways and Means chair and then going, finding out something else to do with my life. I really don’t know how long this is going to last. This wasn’t something I was planning on doing in the first place.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI01)

It has not exactly been the quietest of months in the House of Representatives, but as the new Speaker settles in, we find a teaser for the sequel. Kate Ackley of Roll Call explains:

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, after two weeks on the job, said he has “no idea” how long he may lead the House, committing only to the 14 months left in the current Congress during an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

Paul RyanNo matter the duration of his tenure, the Wisconsin Republican told Scott Pelley of CBS News he is willing to risk losing the job in pursuit of major policy initiatives including tax and entitlement overhauls. The speaker also said in the interview that aired Sunday he and President Barack Obama could find common ground on select issues.

As for his own future, Ryan portrayed an uncertainty that belies his otherwise smooth start in the House’s top job. Given the chaos following Speaker John A. Boehner’s resignation announcement, a short speakership for Ryan could once again embroil the Republican Party.

“I was just planning on serving out my tenure as Ways and Means chair and then going, finding out something else to do with my life,” he said during the interview taped last week in his hometown of Janesville, Wis. “I really don’t know how long this is going to last. This wasn’t something I was planning on doing in the first place.”

This is one of those things. If we don’t make a note of it, we feel stupid when it comes up later. At least now we can say we were warned.

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Ackley, Kate. “Ryan: ‘No Idea’ How Long I’ll Be Speaker”. 218. Roll Call. 15 November 2015.

Congressional Speculation

Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate, does a sound check during the third day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Ryan delivered his speech at the convention Wednesday night, 29 August 2012. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“One senior GOP aide familiar with discussions between leadership and the Freedom Caucus used Dante Alighieri’s description of hell in ‘The Divine Comedy’, with its varying concentric circles, to describe the HFC. No candidate will get to the innermost circle. But Ryan could pick off a lot of members on the outer rings.”

Matt Fuller

The upshot here is that the idea of static or patterned chaos, which really does sound somewhat counterintuitive until you do the thing with a triangle and dice, but in this case we mean something yet altogether different: Meet the new chaos; same as the old chaos. House Republicans seem caught up in some sort of loop, waiting for Ryan while trying to deliberately ignore the gigantic question mark they keep glancing aside in hopes of checking.

Matt Fuller of Roll Call explains:

If the HFC, after largely taking credit for pushing out Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and blocking the ascension of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is seen as having scuttled a Ryan speakership, the divide between the ultra-conservative group and the rest of the conference could become even more unmanageable.

Without Ryan, the speaker’s race threatens to turn into a free-for-all. On Tuesday, there were at least a half dozen new names of Republicans quietly testing the water for runs of their own, including a couple of Texans (Reps. Bill Flores and Michael McCaul), the wealthiest man in Congress (Rep. Darrell Issa) and a woman, Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn ....

.... Sources close to Ryan say the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee has no intention of putting up with an insurrection on his right flank. If Ryan agrees to take the speakership, he will tell colleagues he’ll only do it with all of their support. What’s more, he is making no promises about overhauling the process, shaking up the Steering Committee or any of the other concessions being floated by conservatives.

If that’s Ryan’s position, there will almost certainly be Republicans who will oppose him. And then conservatives will have a choice of their own. They can either hold fast to their procedural demands, or they can get on board with a Ryan speakership.

In truth, Mr. Fuller’s running commentary about sources is much more enlightening. After all, Congress is Congress, and reporters are merely human. Every little piece, you know? It’s not just the stories they tell, but also whether or not we are capable of understanding them. In communicative relationships, the burdens of transmission are much more apparent than the obligations of actually being able to receive.

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Image note: Detail of photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Fuller, Matt. “Oh, and another thing I noticed”. Twitter. 13 October 2015.

—————. “Ryan’s Choice and the House Freedom Caucus Fallout”. 218. Roll Call. 13 October 2015.