Jonathan Bernstein

The Szubin Question (Forty-Seven Rise Again Remix)

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) speaks with reporters before the Senate luncheons in the Capitol, 15 May 2012. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“It’s grossly irresponsible of McConnell and his colleagues to keep government from doing what they say it should do: operate efficiently and protect its citizens.”

Jonathan Bernstein

Perhaps some recall an occasion not so long ago when the United States faced such a potential health crisis that small-government conservatives, Republicans who purport to disdain the idea of an American czar, called for President Obama to appoint a new policy czar to deal with Ebola.

The White House, Democratic supporters, and many others pointed out that the Senate could start by simply confirming the nominated Surgeon General; Vivek Murthy’s nomination languished for over a year because Republicans objected to the idea that gunshot wounds are a health issue.

With a potential health crisis pitching Republicans into panic, they sought another executive-appointed czar, instead of confirming a qualified nominee to lead the uniformed service whose job it is to respond to public health threats.

The president already has a “czar” to deal with Daa’ish; his name is Brett McGurk, and last month he replaced Gen. John Allen (USMC, Ret.) as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL”, but he also needs his Undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial crimes, currently occupied as an interim appointment for over two hundred days because Senate Republicans refuse to slate his confirmation hearing.

Szubin’s nomination got a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee on Sept. 17, and Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) praised his past work in countering terrorist financing during his time with both Republican and Democratic administrations.

“He is eminently qualified for this,” Shelby said at the time.

But Szubin’s nomination hasn’t moved since. There’s no clear reason why, beyond trying to make it difficult for President Barack Obama to fill administration posts.

“Treasury must have in place an experienced watchdog, with the know-how and authority to lead U.S. efforts to track and choke off the financial lifeblood of terrorist organizations,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the top Democrat on the Banking Committee, said Wednesday. “Republicans in Congress need to stop holding our national security apparatus hostage to political demands, and allow Adam Szubin and other national security nominees to be approved as soon as possible.”

A Shelby spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), noted that Republicans recently lined up a confirmation vote on a separate nominee, Gayle Smith, for USAID administrator, but couldn’t say when Szubin might move.

Stewart dinged Democrats for “politicizing Paris” with this week’s push on stalled national security nominees.

(Bendery)

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A Betrayal

Mitch McConnell

Yesterday, Steve Benen described what he sees as a “silent governing failure” of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Following a Huffington Post report that the Senate would, under his leadership, become even less productive and more intransigent about the federal judiciary, Mr. Benen reminded:

Now, some of you are probably thinking this is normal. President Obama’s second term is starting to wind down; the opposition party controls the Senate; so it stands to reason that the GOP majority would scrap plans to confirm qualified court nominees. Perhaps, the argument goes, McConnell is doing exactly what Democrats did when they had a similar opportunity.

It would be a credible argument if it were in any way true.

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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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The Main Attraction?

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH8)

“Just because some Republicans want to pretend that before January 2009 presidential power had been limited to pardoning Thanksgiving turkeys doesn’t mean they are right.”

Jonathan Bernstein

And the hits keep coming. ‘Tis a bold headline for Bloomberg View: “Boehner Betrays Congress”, and Jonathan Bernstein leaves little room for doubt about his perceptions:

I’ll say it again: Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans aren’t asking for authority to be returned from the White House to Congress. They want an imperial judiciary that could trump either of the elected branches.

Jonathan Bernstein (via BloombergView)In a system of separated institutions sharing powers, which is what the Constitution created, all three branches do things that look a lot like legislating, but laws can trump administrative or judicial rule-making. That gives Congress serious clout within the system. This lawsuit, however, is an abdication of that clout. In effect, it says that the courts, not Congress, should have the last word when there’s a dispute between branches.

Filing this lawsuit amounts to institutional treason. Boehner and House Republicans should be ashamed. The rest of us can only hope that the courts rescue them by keeping to precedent and tossing this lawsuit into the garbage.

To the other, the suit is filed. In a way, that is actually surprising. It is not quite that it seems like yesterday that House Republicans found themselves in need of a new lawyer after the one they hired quit the case, owing to the sort of political pressure one’s law firm might apply when one is about to publicly humiliate the firm with an act of juristic malpractice; it wasn’t yesterday, but two months ago. After hyperpartisan lawyer David Rivkin quit the case for having bitten off too much hyperpartisanship for his firm, Baker Hostetler, to chew, the GOP turned to William A. Burck of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, who had just finished the laborious task of failing to defend former Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell.

Late last month, then, we learned that Mr. Burck was also stepping down. Josh Gerstein and Maggie Haberman of Politico summarized the situation thus:

Rivkin’s firm withdrew in September after health-care-related clients pressured the firm to back out of representing the House in the Obamacare-related suit. Two sources told POLITICO in recent days that a similar scenario played out with Burck’s firm, with clients bringing pressure to get the firm off the case.

How about three days ago? Is that close enough to feel like yesterday? For whatever reason, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University decided to take up the case. Lauren French of Politico reported ot Tuesday:

“Professor Turley is a renowned legal scholar who agrees that President Obama has clearly overstepped his constitutional authority,” said Michael Steel, a spokesperson for Speaker John Boehner. “He is a natural choice to handle this lawsuit” ....

.... “Even for $500-per-hour in taxpayer dollars, Speaker Boehner has had to scour Washington to find a lawyer willing to file this meritless lawsuit against the president,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Minority Leader Pelosi. “Now, he’s hired a TV personality for this latest episode of his distraction and dysfunction.”

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