Republican governance

Swamp Gas (Farting Contest)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

The White House (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Standing up for, well, someone, #NeverTrump consultant J. G. Collins tries an institutional twist:

The president should clarify the tone of U.S. trade policy and insist that his staff carry it out to ensure U.S. intentions and policies with respect to trade are clear to the world. Reports that Navarro’s influence is on the wane, should deeply trouble the Trump voters. It would mean that the nationalist “drain the swamp” “free but fair” trade rhetoric of the Trump campaign had become “just more of the same” trade policy in the Trump administration.

Let’s hope the latter is not true. It’s not what Americans voted for.

While there are plenty who will harrumph and remind that President Donald Trump is “not what Americans voted for”, that point is a distraction.

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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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The Conservative Conundrum, and Other Notes

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Paul Krugman offers a curious observation:

As many have noted, it’s remarkable how shocked — shocked! — that establishment has been at the success of Donald Trump’s racist, xenophobic campaign. Who knew that this kind of thing would appeal to the party’s base? Isn’t the G.O.P. the party of Ronald Reagan, who sold conservatism with high-minded philosophical messages, like talking about a “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks?

Seriously, Republican political strategy has been exploiting racial antagonism, getting working-class whites to despise government because it dares to help Those People, for almost half a century. So it’s amazing to see the party’s elite utterly astonished by the success of a candidate who is just saying outright what they have consistently tried to convey with dog whistles.

We might call it curious not for being obscure, but, rather, for being obvious.

That is to say, despite the blunt force with which reality asserts itself, we are somehow expected to ignore it. The Republican Party, of course, seems very good at ignoring it. Even establishment tools like RedState managing editor Leon H. Wolf are getting in on the act:

Sadly, 35% of our party has decided to abdicate their responsibility as adults to take their civic voting duty seriously, and so the poisonous threat of Trump has completely altered my own personal voting calculus.

And we, too, might try the word, sadly.

Because, sadly, we find ourselves up against a baseline standard that can only break when conservatives need it to; blaming voters, even on those occasions when circumstance otherwise describes it as wholly appropriate, is problematic in the marketplace.

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Republican Governance (Aborted)

Corset - Detail of frame from 'Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt'.

This is pretty straightforward:

• In 2013, North Dakota Republicans passed into law a heartbeat abortion bill, which would have set the termination cutoff around six weeks.

• The law never went into effect, and was struck in federal court in April, 2014.

• In July, 2015 a federal appeals court affirmed that ruling; the North Dakota anti-abortion law that never went into effect remained struck.

• Today the Supreme Court said no to the Peace Garden (Roughrider? Flickertail?) State’s last appeal; the law remains dead.

This is the only catch: This was how it was supposed to go.

Republicans knew the law wouldn’t survive; Gov. Jack Dalrymple even said so when he signed the bill into law: “Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade”. Apparently, the governor thought viability was an open question, which would of course be the reason Judge Daniel L. Hovland wrote, in the April, 2014 decision, that, “a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court for more than forty years”, reminded that the highest court in the land “has clearly determined the dispositive issue presented in this lawsuit”, and even found himself explaining to North Dakota, “This court is not free to impose its own view of the law”.

So here’s the thing: When Republicans tell you government doesn’t work, what they mean is that government in their own hands does not work.

No, really, just think about it for a minute. (1) Pass a harsh bill that stands well outside accepted norms; (2) argue the new law is a “legitimate attempt” to “discover the boundaries”; (3) pretend in court the boundaries are unclear and need to be discovered; (4) get reminded quite the opposite; (5) appeal to the Supreme Court; (6) see your appeal denied.

This, according to Gov. Dalrymple, was apparently the plan.

No, really, think about the logic here: The Court says we can only go this far. But they didn’t explicitly say we couldn’t go farther. You might as well fault the speed limit signs for every possible velocity they do not explicitly reject: “It only says, ‘Speed Limit 55’; it doesn’t explicitly say, ‘Thou shalt not drive ninety miles per hour’!”

When Republicans tell us government does not work, it would behoove us to attend the threat.

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Alter, Charlotte. “North Dakota’s Strict Abortion Ban Overturned”. Time. 22 July 2015.

Hassan, Carma and Dana Ford. “Judge overturns North Dakota law banning most abortions”. CNN. 17 April 2014.

Williams, Pete. “US Supreme Court rejects plea to revive North Dakota abortion ban”. msnbc. 25 January 2016.

Your House of Representatives (Freedom Fried Mix)

¿Welcome to Freedom?

“Really? Twelve years after Freedom Fries, we’re now embracing a Freedom Foyer?”

Steve Benen

Ask yourself if you really, really want to know. After all, this is what it looks like when House Republicans get to work.

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Benen, Steve. “What in the world is a ‘Freedom Foyer’?” msnbc. 27 October 2015.

A New Way of Doing Things

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - OCTOBER 31: U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Arkansas looks on during a tailgate party before the start of a Fayetteville High School football game on October 31, 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. With less than a week to go before election day U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is holding a narrow lead over incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR). (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“Of course, in the American tradition, the idea of elected American officials trying to sabotage American foreign policy, on purpose, brazenly undermining our nation’s attempts at international leadership, seems plainly ridiculous. But in 2015, it’s become an increasingly common Republican tactic.”

Steve Benen

This is not a good sign:

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation’s most aggressive climate deniers and the man Senate Republicans chose to lead the Senate committee on environmental policy, wasn’t subtle when describing his sabotage ambitions.

“The Tom Cotton letter was an educational effort,” Senator Snowball told the WSJ.

It is impossible to state with appropriate gravity the strangeness of the #GOP47; this really was, once upon a time, out of bounds. And it is, at the very least, foolhardy, if not downright dangerous. The difference between the two is up to voters; if this is the what they expect of governance, the marketplace will respond, and this will be how foreign policy goes. To the other, if this really is as worrisome to Americans as many seem to think it should be―and, yes, that includes the triune staff of This Is (Me, Myself, and I, as the old Gilligan’s Island joke goes)―what will Americans say when a Republican is in office and Democrats are trying to stymie some foreign policy initiative? Is this the way it will go, or will Democrats be expected to play by obsolete rules that will cost them at the ballot box and, as a result, cost everyone else in terms of policy resolution?

If it was good enough for Bush when he negotiated our exit from Iraq, then it is good enough for Obama trying to negotiate against a future nuclear war, or simply haggle over clean air. When Republicans appeal to some version of common sense―should the Senate have a say in this or that?―remember the standard they are appealing against. There is an unfortunate appearance in American politics and governance that we only get around to certain assertions of the right thing when there are other complicating issues. There are plenty who rightly wonder if the president’s skin color is what inspires Republican hatred. Others might suggest that the GOP has simply run out of tricks in opposition to a Democratic president at a time that interrupts their effort to build a warring New American Century. Regardless, however, of what leads to such conservative lunacy, Republicans need to knock it the fuck off.

And, quite frankly, American voters need to make that point. Out in Washington state, Democrats held a supermajority for years, and generally refused to use it; this conforms to an older political model by which such strongarming is considered unseemly. In the face of conservative bullying, however, it has long been a question whether or not this is an appropriate resolution for the question. As Republicans grow their game, perhaps we might look upon Democratic incompetence as a series of opportunities lost for the sake of some dignity that voters don’t give a damn about anymore. In the end, two state Senate Democrats rolled, handing the chamber to Republicans, and once again our sense of obligation―say, funding the schools to meet constitutional requirements―is brought into question as an issue of whether or not it is worth fulfilling those commitments. That is to say, given a chamber to control in our state government, Republicans returned the discussion to whether or not it is financially worth obeying the law.

Perhaps state Democrats should have used their supermajority.

Nonetheless, what will the American people say if Democrats, under a Republican presidential administration, return the favor?

Don’t want them to do that? Then don’t ask them to.

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Benen, Steve. “GOP sees Cotton sabotage strategy as ‘an educational effort'”. msnbc. 27 April 2015.

A Marketplace Standard?

Detail: "Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La. speaks in New York on Oct. 16, 2014." (John Minchillo—AP)

Sometimes―

The Republican governor, whether he realizes it or not, is effectively making a Democratic argument: voters, especially in red states, may like the idea of far-right governing, but when GOP officials implement that vision in the real world, the public quickly reconsiders. Jindal was surprisingly explicit on this point: his support faltered, not because he strayed from his agenda, but specifically because he did what he set out to do.

As a 2016 pitch, his couldn’t be any less persuasive. The Louisiana Republican effectively told New Hampshire voters over the weekend that his former backers rejected his agenda back home, so now he wants to take it national.

(Benen)

―the politics, the optics, really are that straightforward.

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Benen, Steve. “Jindal’s unique spin on his unpopularity”. msnbc. 21 April 2015.

The Ted Cruz Show (April’s Fool)

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) during the Reuters Washington Summit in Washington, October 24, 2013. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Because the day ends in -y:

When Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz became the first politician to officially announce his presidential campaign last week, he repeated a familiar mantra to his audience at Virginia’s Liberty University.

“Instead of a federal government that seeks to dictate school curriculum through Common Core, imagine repealing every word of Common Core,” the Texas politician said to roaring applause.

The only problem? The Common Core State Standards are not enshrined in any federal law, and therefore cannot be repealed.

(Klein)

We might pause for a moment to consider the Texas junior in the context of Republicans and government. After all, if the purpose of government in Republican hands is to repeal laws that don’t exist, there might be a reason government in Republican hands just doesn’t work.

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Klein, Rebecca. “Watch Ted Cruz Repeatedly Say He Wants To Repeal Something That’s Not A Federal Law”. The Huffington Post. 1 April 2015.

Not Surprising (Lazy Days Delays Mix)

Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee to be the next attorney general, meets with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The news shouldn’t be surprising; Senate leadership has once again pushed back any prospect of a confirmation vote for Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch. The situation as it stands in the wake of reports that mid-April will be the earliest possibility for a vote:

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday, “The continued delay is unconscionable.”

Note, the problem is not that Republicans have imposed a blanket blockade on all confirmation votes. On the contrary, since Lynch was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support on Feb. 26, the GOP majority has confirmed four Obama administration nominees, including one yesterday. Republicans have also allowed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s nomination to reach the floor, despite the fact that Carter was nominated after Lynch.

But the A.G. nominee, for reasons Republicans have struggled to explain, is being denied an up-or-down vote, even though Lynch appears to have the votes necessary for confirmation.

All of this has unfolded despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) public vow that he would allow a vote on Lynch last week – a commitment he has since broken.

As of this morning, Lynch was nominated 136 days ago. As we discussed last week, the first African-American woman ever considered for this post has waited longer for a vote than any A.G. nominee in history, and longer than the last five A.G. nominees combined. Even her fiercest critics have failed to raise substantive objections to her qualifications, background, temperament, or judgment.

(Benen)

What we have here is another example of the Republican thesis that government does not and cannot work. And what we have here is also another example of Republicans trying to prove the thesis by deliberately botching up basic governance.

No, really, how is any of that actually surprising?

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Image note: Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to be the next attorney general, meets with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Benen, Steve. “Senate GOP delaying Lynch nomination (again)”. msnbc. 24 March 2015.

The Senate GOP in Crisis

Mitch McConnell

“It is a useful thing when a political party reveals itself as utterly unsuited for national leadership.”

Fred Kaplan

In a way, everyone else is taking it well. That is to say, even the Iranians are trying very hard to enjoy themselves in the moment, and why not? It is not every day the United States Senate goes out of its way to afford a foreign nation the opportunity to school it on American constitutional issues. Or, as Akbar Shahid Ahmed explains, for Huffington Post:

After sparking a furor in Washington Monday with a letter signed by fellow Republican senators warning Iran against nuclear diplomacy with the Obama administration, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) went to the extra trouble of having his message translated into Farsi for Iranian leaders. Among his targets: foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Cotton needn’t have bothered with the translation. Zarif is more than capable of reading the Republicans’ letter in English. He attended prep school in San Francisco, San Francisco State University, Columbia University, and the University of Denver’s School of International Studies (where, Zarif told The New Yorker’s Robin Wright, a professor who had taught GOP foreign policy icon Condoleezza Rice once quipped to the young Iranian, “In Denver, we produce liberals like Javad Zarif, not conservatives like Condi Rice.”)

Zarif, leading his nation’s negotiations with the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China, put that education to use in his response Monday to the Republican message, which suggested that Iran’s leaders “may not fully understand our constitutional system.”

Zarif answered that it was Cotton and the 46 other Republican senators who signed his letter who suffered from a lack of “understanding.”

“The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations,” Zarif said, according to Iran’s government-controlled Tasnim News Agency.

He suggested that the Republican warning that a successor to President Barack Obama could undo any agreement with Iran was baseless. Zarif said the “change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor.”

Yeah. See, it’s one thing to say there is a problem in that Mr. Zarif has a point. But the problem isn’t that an Iranian foreign minister has a point, rather that he needs to make it at all.

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