Senate Majority Leadership

The Avoidance of Stupidity (McConnell Mix)

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; left), walks with President-elect Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol for a meeting, 10 November 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

This ought to be a striking note from Axios:

Senate Republicans are working to finish their draft health care bill, but have no plans to publicly release it, according to two senior Senate GOP aides.

“We aren’t stupid,” said one of the aides.

Then again, this is the twenty-first century, and these are Congressional Republicans.

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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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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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Ominous, or, Your Congressional Forecast

A portion of the U.S. Capitol dome. (Detail of photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images, 2013)

This is what we might call not hopeful; other days we might just call it normal. Either way, Andrew Taylor offers the grim look ahead:

Lawmakers return to Washington this week for an abbreviated election-season session in which they will likely do what they do best: the bare minimum.

All Congress must do this month is keep the government from shutting down on Oct. 1 and, with any luck, finally provide money for the fight against the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Republicans controlling Congress promise they won’t stumble now, but the weeks ahead could prove tricky.

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Communicable Stupidity

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 22: Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to the media during a visit to the Advanced Pharma to kick-off the grand opening of their new facility that hopes to create 60 new jobs by 2014 on February 21, 2013, in Miami, Florida. Florida Gov. Rick Scott reversed himself on February 20, 2013 and is now calling for an expansion of Medicaid to Florida residents under the federal Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

There is, of course, the part where Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) is complaining about Congressional Republicans while invoking the necessity of federal assistance for the Sunshine State.

And then there is, of course, Congress.

Lawmakers are currently in the middle of a 10-day vacation, which comes on the heels of a separate 10-day vacation last month. In July, Congress is only scheduled to be in session for a total of six days, and members won’t work at all in the month of August. All told, federal lawmakers will have the lightest schedule in 2016 of any Congress since 1956.

In February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared, “We need to get out in front of the Zika virus.” That was on Feb. 2, shortly before Congress took … wait for it … a 10-day vacation in the middle of February.

(Benen)

This is important, Steve Benen suggests, in no small part because despite Governor Scott’s plea that, “Florida needs action from the federal government now”―

Unfortunately, “now” doesn’t appear to be much of an option. The Republican-led Senate approved a $1.1 billion package, while the Republican-led House passed a bill about half as large. Under the current Republican approach, it may be “well into the summer, or even longer” before Congress approves an inadequate final bill to address the Zika virus.

―that just isn’t going to happen.

Moreover, it seems worthwhile to mutter something about Republicans complaining that government doesn’t work. This bit about taking vacations at really obviously stupid times is at least a little familiar.

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Image note: Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to the media during a visit to the Advanced Pharma on 21 February 2013, in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Benen, Steve. “Even Rick Scott thinks the GOP Congress is negligent on Zika”. msnbc. 2 June 2016.

Republican Justice (Maybe Mix)

Contemplation of Justice

Steve Benen, after reviewing the appalling stupidity of the Republican pitch against confirming a Supreme Court nominee, including their reaction to the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, found himself adding a postscript:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who just last week explicitly urged Obama to nominate Garland, said in a statement this morning that Garland’s nomination “doesn’t in any way change current circumstances” – which is to say, Hatch still supports his party’s blockade.

However, Hatch also added this morning, “I’d probably be open to resolving this in the lame duck.” Keep a very close eye on this, because it may prove to be incredibly important. As things stand, Senate Republicans don’t intend to reject Garland, so much as they plan to ignore him. His nomination won’t be defeated; it’ll simply wither on the vine.

But if Republicans fare poorly in November’s elections, don’t be too surprised if GOP senators declare, “Well, now that voters have had their say, we’re prepared to confirm Garland after all.”

The msnbc producer and blogger advises readers to, “File this away for future reference”, and it behooves us to do so. One of the blessings facing pretty much any president seeking a new Supreme Court justice, and especially Democrats as such these days, is that there is a plethora of qualified candidates. In the end, given all else, one wonders if perhaps the “moderate, inoffensive, broadly respected, 63-year-old white guy” is actually the sacrificial lamb.

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LePage on Obama on Scalia

Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the maine GOP convention, Sunday, 6 May 2012. (Detail of photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo)

All things considered, this is actually not unexpected. Well, you know.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday added his voice to the ongoing debate regarding the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created with the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia last Saturday.

LePage sided with former governor and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, saying President Barack Obama should nominate a replacement for Scalia.

“I’m a big constitutionalist,” LePage said. “If it’s in the Constitution, I think it means something.”

(Thistle)

That is to say, Governor LePage managed to get one rightα. Then again, this one is pretty easy.

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Unsurprising Cowardice (Leadership)

The shadow over Congress, and Mitch McConnell.

In February, Republicans said no to an Authorization for Use of Military Force specifically crafted to address Daa’ish because it wasn’t a big enough war. And while Republican presidential candidates might be lining up to take it out on Syrian refugees and Muslims both at home and around the world, the one thing they won’t do, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is grant an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Daa’ish.

“The president obviously feels he has the authority now to do what he’s doing,” McConnell said. “And the discussions with Democrats on AUMF make it clear that the only kind of AUMF they would support is one that would include such micromanagement of the military exercise as how many troops you could have, how long they could stay, and all of this.

“I would not want to saddle the next president with a prescriptive AUMF. We’re going to have a new president a year from now,” McConnell continued. “He or she may have a different view about the way to deal with ISIS and that part of the world. I don’t think we ought to be passing an AUMF as the president exits the stage when he already thinks he has the authority to do what he’s willing to do now.”

(Lesniewski)

This is a weird back and forth; as near as anyone can tell, the Obama administration is operating in the Levantine Theatre under the auspices of the same post-9/11 AUMF that saw President Bush invade Iraq. We are, essentially, living in the time of perpetual warfare authorized fourteen years ago.

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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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Serial Metaphorical Murderlust

>The dome of the United States Capitol building, under repair, in 2015.  (Detail of photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“This budget and debt deal is being brokered by a lame duck speaker and a lame duck president. It represents the very worst of Washington―a last minute deal that increases spending and debt under the auspices of fiscal responsibility. If this deal moves forward, it will undermine efforts to unite the party by those promising to advance serious policy reforms.”

Michael A. Needham (Club for Growth)

There comes a point at which conservative true colors shine through. The Club for Growth, of course, is the organization that likes to use murder metaphors to describe government, and enjoys the fantasy of deliberately drowning someone in a bath tub. It is the organization Republicans kneel before, to which they offer up fealty. Just as social conservatives reject the supreme law of the land for their own ad hoc Biblical “doctrine”, so do fiscal conservatives reject the fact that they are elected to government office in favor of murder fantasies and deliberately inflicting deprivation on their fellow human beings because they actually openly loathe and want to destroy the government they ask to serve.

Yeah. Republicans.

It’s a free country.

And, you know, when they succeed in making the former sentence false, Republicans will just blame Democrats, because that’s what they always do; and a significant number of people well enough educated to know better will pretend it’s some manner of fair argument, and many of these will have employment in the press.

At the moment, we can see the rough outline emerging. John T. Bennett of Roll Call reported this morning:

GOP senators highlighted parts of the package meant to offset increased defense and domestic spending as their chief concerns. Their comments were followed by a blistering critique of the deal from the conservative groups Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth.

The problem here is the problem with any Republican action; the underlying principle requires exclusion and deprivation. With the Cult of Grover muttering its incantations and instructions, we can expect its Republican minions to go forth and do the Club for Growth’s bidding like the good little House servants they are. Going forward, we should remember that this is the proposed budget deal; it is exactly the sort of thing that leads to budget standoffs; it will not get President Obama’s signature. The Club for Growth would like to extend this farce as long as possible, because, hey, bawling about who Republicans get to hurt is better than actually governing, and, you know, we should dump this mess onto the incoming Speaker of the House because that would give the Cult a way to inform Mr. Ryan of his proper place in the hierarchy beneath Grover Norquist.

Remember, for conservatives the whole point is to prevent the American government from functioning. This is the first principle of Grover: Government should be weak enough to drown in a bathtub.

No, really, is there a shutdown standoff Republicans can actually resist? This is such an intractable horde that they won’t even let the Speaker of the House resign properly; this is just another opportunity for conservatives to attempt to plunge the government into crisis in order to show us all what it looks like when government just doesn’t work.

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Image note: The dome of the United States Capitol building, under repair, in 2015. (Detail of photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Bennett, John T. “GOP Senators Concerned by ‘Gimmicks’ in Budget Deal”. #WGDB. Roll Call. 27 October 2015.