Senate Democrats

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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Some 2020 Democratic Presidential Speculation, Just Because

The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

It would be easy enough to overplay the drama in an early look toward the 2020 election by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin of the New York Times:

In a largely leaderless party, two distinct groups are emerging, defined mostly by age and national stature. On one side are three potential candidates approaching celebrity status who would all be over 70 years old on Election Day: Mr. Biden, and Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Competing against the Democrats’ senior cohort is a large and relatively shapeless set of younger candidates who span the ideological spectrum: governors, senators, mayors, wealthy executives and even members of the House. They are animated by the president’s turbulent debut and the recent history, from Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 to Mr. Trump’s last year, of upstart candidates’ catching fire.

In the Senate alone, as much as a quarter of the Democrats’ 48-member caucus are thought to be giving at least a measure of consideration to the 2020 race, among them Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kamala Harris of California. All are closer to 40 than 80.

For now, however, it is the party’s septuagenarian trio that is casting the longest shadow over 2020, and all three have taken steps to extend or expand their leadership status in the party.

In between, for good measure, is discussion of an amorphous non-faction we might consider as the collected other, including Rep. Seth Moulton (MA-06), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Before booking the orchestra for a dramatic score, we should remember this is merely April, 2017; Democrats need to to read the midterm map, first. That is to say, it seems a bit early to see who lands where in relation to what. And, admittedly, it is hard to account for the proverbial known unknowns in the time of Trump; the unknown unknowns seem extraordinary at this time, too.α

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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.

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#DimensionSteve (Theme Song Edition)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a press conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., 16 February 2017. (Photo: Associated Press)

Notes and quotes from Steve Benen, at MaddowBlog, 20 February 2017:

#ProbablyNot: “If it makes Sweden feel any better, many Americans often have no idea what Trump is saying, either.”

#WatersEdge: “As a factual matter, the senator is a Maverick in Name Only.”

#WhatTheyVotedFor: “There’s no reason to go along with this as if it were somehow normal.”

#GettingWorseNotBetter: “Republicans may be eager to blast Democratic ‘obstruction’ and partisan delays, but the truth of the matter is simple: Democrats can’t block nominees who don’t exist.”

#McCarthysMouth: “That’s the kind of quote that could use some clarification.”

#Backfill: “The era of ‘fuzzy math’ is back with a vengeance.”

#WhyGovernmentDoesntWork: “So, the nation’s Education Secretary, even now, isn’t sure the position she now holds should exist―apparently because she’s still not on board with the idea of having a federal Department of Education, which she now leads.”

#MatthewFifteenElevenα: “The president is himself on board with the ‘Never-Mind-What-Trump-Said’ approach to foreign policy.”

#PutiPoodle: “Why Cohen would tell two very different stories to two different newspapers is unclear.”

#YesWeHave: “Have we really reached the point at which Trump World is so accustomed to pushing bogus and misleading information that even the president’s golfing is fair game?”

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#DimensionSteve

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Donald Trump awaits inauguration, 20 January 2017, at the White House, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A day in the life―a.k.a., #DimensionTrump―quotably courtesy Steve Benen of msnbc:

#AlternativeFacts: “If only that made sense, it might be easier to take the White House press secretary seriously.”

#Priorities: “It’s worth pausing to appreciate the fact that Trump can apparently be baited into doing almost anything.”

#Spicy: “I have no idea if Spicer was lying or simply ignorant, but either, his defense is completely at odds with the facts.”

#Ironicish: “Given the circumstances, it seems the obvious Democratic response is simple: They should promise to be every bit as constructive and cooperative as McConnell was when there was a member of the opposing party in the White House.”

#Prerogative: “As a rule, people who are eager to dismiss specific, quantifiable economic measurements tend to believe the ‘stats’ will be unflattering for them.”

#AlternativeFactsRedux: “Smith’s bizarre speech from the floor of the House serves as a reminder: for much of the country, the fact that Trump has been caught telling ridiculous lies isn’t a fact at all.”

#AlternativeFactsReduxSequel: “Maybe everything will be fine.”

#AnotherBrickInTheWall: “Or put another way, the president now plans to have a plan to someday have a wall that Mexico will someday pay for.”

#WhatTheyVotedFor: “I remember when Trump ran against Goldman Sachs”.

It is possible to let the game show host take up too much of one’s time, except it’s President Trump, these days, so … yeah, y’know … make the adjustment, get used to it, whatever. Or perhaps it’s worth taking a moment to recall, if we can, the number of unbelievable escalations we witnessed during the Obama presidency. That is to say, if Republicans were willing to take it that far over the last eight years, maybe we should consider ourselves lucky if these are the days for the next four.

____________________

Image note: Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

The Warmongers’ Drum Circle

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.  (Photo: Dennis Cook/AP)

With so many complaints about President Obama and foreign policy, we might take a moment to consider what Matt Yglesias describes as “perhaps the greatest memo ever written”. And it seems true enough that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “asked Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith to solve all the problems”.

April 7, 2003 11:46 AM

TO: Doug Feith

FROM: Donald Rumsfeld

SUBJECT: Issues w/Various Countries

We need more coercive diplomacy with respect to Syria and Libya, and we need it fast. If they mess up Iraq, it will delay bringing our troops home.

We also need to solve the Pakistan problem.

And Korea doesn’t seem to be going well.

Are you coming up with proposals for me to send around?

Memorandum from Donald Rumsfeld to Doug Feith, 7 April 2003Thanks.

DHR:dh

040703-26

Please respond by_____________________

And, yes, it is in fact a real memo.

Sometimes it pays to listen to the criticism, and actually consider whence it comes and what it looks toward. And as Congressional Republicans aim to wreck American foreign policy in order to restart the New American Century, this is the sort of competence they are hoping to achieve. You know, while sending troops to war in Iran.

And with Sen. Schumer (D-NY) ascending, it turns out the GOP might have enough support to pull this off; there are several centrist Democrats who seem to really, really want a war, as well.

Apparently, peace is too scary a prospect.

____________________

Yglesias, Matthew. “12 years ago today, Donald Rumsfeld sent the greatest memo of all time”. Vox. 7 April 2015.

Rumsfeld, Donald. “Issues w/Various Countries”. 7 April 2003.

Strobel, Warren. “Republicans push demand for a vote on Iran nuclear deal”. Reuters. 5 April 2015.

A Matter of War and Peace

This would probably be a good time to pay attention to the news cycle:

Detail of cartoon by Randall Enos, 4 April 2015, via Cagle Post.For most independent experts, assessments of the preliminary framework tend to range from good to surprisingly good to astonishingly good. Among congressional Republicans, those parameters vary from bad to Neville Chamberlain to oh-God-oh-God-we’re-all-going-to-die levels of opposition.

The question, however, is not what GOP lawmakers intend to do; the now infamous “Iran letter” from 47 Senate Republicans already makes clear just how far the congressional majority will go to sabotage American foreign policy. Rather, the pressing matter at hand is whether Democrats will help the Republicans’ sabotage campaign.

(Benen)

It is easy enough to grasp the Republican position; this is about the New American Century, and an opportunity to create a new worldwide rivalry akin to the Cold War in the guise of a series of blazingly hot wars across the Middle East and into South Asia.

More mysterious is the Democratic motivation. In the face of Republican warmongering, we find ourselves wishing that just once the Democrats could actually go about their jobs with some degree of collective competence.

____________________

Image noteDetail of cartoon by Randall Enos, 4 April 2015, via Cagle Post.

Benen, Steve. “To sabotage or not to sabotage, that is Congress’ question”. msnbc. 5 April 2015.

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.”

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