separation of powers

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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The Netanyahu Way

Detail of cartoon by Dave Granlund, 25 February 2015, via Cagle Post.There is a lot going on, but in terms of our House of Representatives meddling in the Israeli election, there comes a point when one no longer wonders at the character of this Prime Minister. Mr. Netanyahu is beset by scandal, increasingly viewed as a bully with nothing left but to whine about how everybody should feel sorry for him, and apparently in need of foreign intervention in order to secure a new term. In other words, Benjamin Netanyahu is a disgraceful coward and, as such, perfect company for the likes of our House Republicans.

• Should we be surprised that Netanyahu’s speech before Congress is such a bad idea that he kept his own National Security Advisor in the dark? (Tikkun Daily)

• Nor should we be surprised that Netanyahu and his supporters disdain rule of law in favor of cheap politicking. (Haaretz)

• Here’s a proposition: Netanyahu undertakes cynical politics, but won’t do anything to dispel that appearance because it would be too political. (msnbc)

• Remember that no matter how much Netanyahu wants to insist that criticizing Israel crimes against humanity in Palestine is some form of anti-Semitism, Israel does not equal Judaism, and Judaism does not equal Israel. (Tikkun Daily)

And one other thing. It sometimes occurs to wonder why so many non-Jewish Americans are so interested in maintaining a Judeosupremacist state and protecting war crimes. This, perhaps, is the sickest of ironies; that support comes from our evangelical Christian sector, where many believe in something akin to premillennial dispensationalism. They need Jewish people to control Israel and Jerusalem, so that when Jesus comes home, He can kill them.

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Image note: Detail of cartoon by Dave Granlund, 25 February 2015, via Cagle Post.

Wilful Wrongdoing

Detail: Uncredited photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Today in explanations that just don’t help:

Netanyahu’s speech is set for March 3.

Some Democrats plan to skip it because they consider it a divisive stunt and a breach of protocol that suggests the U.S. is taking sides in coming Israeli elections.

Boehner was asked by “Fox News Sunday” why he told Israel’s ambassador to the United States not to mention the invitation to the White House in advance.

Boehner says he “wanted to make sure that there was no interference.”

(Associated Press)

Look, it’s not exactly a coup or anything, but still, come on, John, give us a fucking break.

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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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Armchair Political Theatre

The House has hired a new lawyer to prosecute its lawsuit against President Obama after previous counsel bowed out, citing political pressure, the House Administration Committee confirmed on Friday (David M. Drucker, 19 September 2014)

The question does arise at some point whether anybody but the wonks and politigeeks are paying attention. And a notion does mutter and creep about insinuating all manner of analogy ‘twixt political talk radio and sports radio. But setting aside the elderly woman who once railed against local sports radio hosts because laughing at the idea of stock car racing—Go fast! Turn left!—was somehow akin to “what happened to the ‘Coloreds'”, there is a different sort of comparison. That is to say, one might have far more associates who listen to sports radio without ever calling in, but discuss various issues with enthusiasm and detail verging on the excruciating. They might not be calling in to compare NASCAR to the Civil Rights movement, but they will talk their favorite teams and leagues as if the soul of the world depends on whether or not this or that trade makes sense, or the subtleties of whether this power-hitting manager knows how to handle his pitchers.

Try it this way: Once you move beyond that majority portion of the audience who just, say, learned Roger Goodell’s name this month, or found that American pro sports leagues have ‘commissioners’, you might find some who are willing to give you an in-depth analysis of, for instance, how David Stern screwed Seattle twice, or what the NBA commissioner has to do with the politics of getting an NHL franchise in the Emerald City.

Imagine if people paid that kind of attention to public affairs. No slam dunks, merely metaphorical five-holes, and considerably less domestic violence; public affairs just aren’t sexy … well, unless there’s a sex scandal going on.

But to the armchair wonks, David M. Drucker’s lede for the Washington Examiner last Friday is hilarious:

The House has hired a new lawyer to prosecute its lawsuit against President Obama after previous counsel bowed out, citing political pressure, the House Administration Committee confirmed on Friday.

It is, to a degree, jaw-dropping news. Then again, the drooling astonishment is really more of a cumulative effect.

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