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The Impossible Successor

#PresidentRyan | ¿#WhatTheyVotedFor?

Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally, Oct. 22, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Amid everything else over the last week or so, we ought not forget this:

We’re left with an unsettling picture. Flynn told the transition team he’s the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, and either that information either reached Pence or it didn’t. If Pence was out of the loop, he was dangerously incompetent at his job. If Pence knew, and Flynn became National Security Advisor anyway, that’s worse.

Remember, as the turmoil surrounding Flynn grew more serious, the vice president said he was completely unaware of Flynn’s alleged misdeeds. In March, when Fox News asked Pence about Flynn having to register as a foreign agent, Pence said he was hearing the story for the first time.

Except, as Rachel has explained on the show, that’s literally unbelievable. Not only were there multiple news reports for months about Flynn’s foreign work, but Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote to Pence’s transition team to make sure Team Trump was aware of this.

(Benen)

Because, quite frankly, it still cracks me up that once upon a time, when Rubio was fumbling for water, Paul was drowning in plagiarism, and Christie apparently had nothing to do with that bridge, we might have heard Mike Pence’s name whispered as the cyclical dark horse. The Indiana governor, by Republican accounts, was politically savvy and a dedicated conservative. And while others might disagree about the savvy, it seemed for naught when he signed a RFRA and failed to comprehend what happened next. Except, of course, his dramatic revitalization as Donald Trump’s vice presidential candidate, and then vice president. It was easy enough to joke that we might yet see a President Pence.

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A Conservative Fallacy: Dualism (Bust It or Bust)

#ryancare | #trumpcare

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (left) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI01; center) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., 10 November 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

This is a basic conservative fallacy:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan is selling the Republicans’ health care bill the same way he did the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. But on the health front, his pitch is falling flat with conservatives.

“Binary choice” is the phrase the Wisconsin Republican used during the presidential election to describe his reason for supporting Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Ryan acknowledged throughout the campaign that both candidates were flawed but Trump was the better of two options, the only one who would help Republicans advance their legislative agenda.

“It really comes down to a binary choice,” the speaker said Thursday during his weekly press conference about moving forward with the GOP’s plan or leaving in place the 2010 health care law.

“This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare,” Ryan said. “The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment. And this is the closest this will ever happen.”

(McPherson)

The only subtlety about it is Speaker Ryan’s lack of subtlety.

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Something About the Bill and the Beard

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) holds a news conference, on Capitol Hill in Washington, 16 December 2015. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

So it goes that Scott Wong of The Hill should report on conservative dissatisfaction with the recent spending omnibus Speaker Ryan managed to push through the House:

Outside the Beltway, the right is livid with new Speaker Paul Ryan’s trillion-dollar spending deal with Democrats.

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter says Ryan, just seven weeks on the job, is ripe for a primary challenge. “Paul Ryan Betrays America,” blared a headline on the conservative site Breibart.com. And Twitter is littered with references to the Wisconsin Republican’s new “Muslim beard.”

Sounds about right.

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Image note: Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) holds a news conference, on Capitol Hill in Washington, 16 December 2015. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

Wong, Scott. “Fury of the right falls on Ryan”. The Hill. 26 December 2015.

The Reluctant President (Weather Balloon)

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R-01) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, 6 March 2014.  (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

We might plead that it is almost impossible to stay in front of the tale of the RNC preparing for a brokered convention. Still, though, last week’s Washington Post report and the growing hardline backlash that has fading right-wing star Dr. Ben Carson declaring he would quit the GOP if the Committee organized a floor fight have brought us one of those basic moments, an optic for which the metric is obvious: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan warding off speculation that he will be nominated to run for president.

With GOP presidential hopefuls set to square off in Las Vegas, Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday quashed speculation from House colleagues and the media that he could be drafted as the party’s nominee in the event of a deadlocked convention next summer.

“That is ridiculous talk. That’s is just dumb speculation,” the Wisconsin Republican said at a Politico breakfast. “I’m doing this job.

“You guys should just stop all that speculation.”

Several House Republicans told The Hill last week they see a scenario in which Ryan, the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, could end up winning the nomination if no candidate wraps up a majority of delegates by the time the convention rolls around next July.

(Wong)

This is one of those occasions when you can see the script coming, but shake it off because, you know, come on, just how cynical can we be, right?

Thus, when the Reluctant Speaker who would become the Reluctant Nominee and thus the Reluctant President finds himself pointing out that the question is based on straw fantasies grasped by desperate Party hands, it is not so much that we ought to believe him, but also the fact that the basic proposition itself is so extraordinary even in terms of an extraordinary cycle. Extra-extraordinary. Extraordinary squared.

Something about Carcharodon goes here.

This is your Republican Party.

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Image note: Congressman Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, 6 March 2014. Detail of photo by Gage Skidmore.

Costa, Robert and Tom Hamburger. “GOP preparing for contested convention”. The Washington Post. 10 December 2015.

Easley, Jonathan. “Conservative backlash grows against brokered convention”. The Hill. 11 December 2015.

McCaskill, Nolan D. and Kyle Cheney. “Ben Carson blasts RNC, threatens to leave Republican Party”. Politico. 11 December 2015.

Wong, Scott. “Ryan quashes talk that he’ll be GOP nominee”. The Hill. 15 December 2015.

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.

Congressional Speculation

Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate, does a sound check during the third day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Ryan delivered his speech at the convention Wednesday night, 29 August 2012. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“One senior GOP aide familiar with discussions between leadership and the Freedom Caucus used Dante Alighieri’s description of hell in ‘The Divine Comedy’, with its varying concentric circles, to describe the HFC. No candidate will get to the innermost circle. But Ryan could pick off a lot of members on the outer rings.”

Matt Fuller

The upshot here is that the idea of static or patterned chaos, which really does sound somewhat counterintuitive until you do the thing with a triangle and dice, but in this case we mean something yet altogether different: Meet the new chaos; same as the old chaos. House Republicans seem caught up in some sort of loop, waiting for Ryan while trying to deliberately ignore the gigantic question mark they keep glancing aside in hopes of checking.

Matt Fuller of Roll Call explains:

If the HFC, after largely taking credit for pushing out Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and blocking the ascension of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is seen as having scuttled a Ryan speakership, the divide between the ultra-conservative group and the rest of the conference could become even more unmanageable.

Without Ryan, the speaker’s race threatens to turn into a free-for-all. On Tuesday, there were at least a half dozen new names of Republicans quietly testing the water for runs of their own, including a couple of Texans (Reps. Bill Flores and Michael McCaul), the wealthiest man in Congress (Rep. Darrell Issa) and a woman, Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn ....

.... Sources close to Ryan say the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee has no intention of putting up with an insurrection on his right flank. If Ryan agrees to take the speakership, he will tell colleagues he’ll only do it with all of their support. What’s more, he is making no promises about overhauling the process, shaking up the Steering Committee or any of the other concessions being floated by conservatives.

If that’s Ryan’s position, there will almost certainly be Republicans who will oppose him. And then conservatives will have a choice of their own. They can either hold fast to their procedural demands, or they can get on board with a Ryan speakership.

In truth, Mr. Fuller’s running commentary about sources is much more enlightening. After all, Congress is Congress, and reporters are merely human. Every little piece, you know? It’s not just the stories they tell, but also whether or not we are capable of understanding them. In communicative relationships, the burdens of transmission are much more apparent than the obligations of actually being able to receive.

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Image note: Detail of photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Fuller, Matt. “Oh, and another thing I noticed”. Twitter. 13 October 2015.

—————. “Ryan’s Choice and the House Freedom Caucus Fallout”. 218. Roll Call. 13 October 2015.

Something About the House of Representatives

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI01), promoting his budget agenda.

“After we finished our wine and chicken wings, I thought, ‘This is someone who isn’t inclined to do it but understands he could have that legacy as speaker if the circumstances were right’. That’s why it’s a live possibility.

Stephen Moore

How can anybody possibly resist that quote?

No, really, until Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI01) makes some sort of move, either bowing to pressure or finding some other way to silence the groveling, this would appear to be the holding pattern. Paul Kane and Robert Costa peruse the tea leaves, and perhaps the next best indicator of what’s going on is another marvelous quote from their effort for Washington Post:

“There is a story in ‘The Book of Virtues’ called ‘Boy Wanted,’ ” said William J. Bennett, a former education secretary in the Reagan administration and a mentor to Ryan. “Boys want him; girls want him. That’s what’s happening to Paul. He also has a sense of duty to his family, to the things he knows, like the Ways and Means Committee.”

Yeah, good luck with that one.

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Required Reading: The Shadow over Columbia

Poor John

As the drama continues on Capitol Hill, there is this from David Hawkings of Roll Call:

Ryan has proven experience in drafting provocative budgetary blueprints, a zeal for shaping innovative tax simplification plans and a solid record as a party fundraiser to go along with all his perceived potential to heal the GOP’s profound internal injuries.

But that seemingly almost impossible task won’t be made an easier by the one gap in his resume that his allies are portraying among his virtues: He has no real experience running the House or attending to the day-to-day needs of his colleagues.

He’s never done the floor leader’s work of managing the legislative calendar or the whip’s job of counting and corralling votes. He’s never been charged with the overall messaging, policy development, campaign strategy and internal GOP organizational tasks that are the purview of the other leaders.

Maybe most notably of all, he’s never gotten his hands dirty in what’s euphemistically dubbed “member services” — the catchall work of mediating petty turf wars, granting oddball VIP favors, providing late-night sustenance, refereeing travel requests, finding extra office space, bird-dogging personal behavior and intervening to prevent ethical transgressions.

Most of those high-risk and concertedly below-the-radar thankless tasks get performed by the floor leaders and whips, which helps explain why all but one speaker since World War II was previously in one or both jobs for at least a combined five years. And the exception, Republican J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, was a serious practitioner of the member services dark arts as the appointed chief deputy whip for four years.

Now, go read the rest of it. And remember, if you read Roll Call and The Hill, you don’t need cable news.

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Fuller, Matt. “Speaker Election Delay Stirs Conservative Anger”. 218. Roll Call. 9 October 2015.

Hawkings, David. “Next Speaker Unlikely to Continue Long String of Leadership Insiders”. Hawkings Here. Roll Call. 10 October 2015.

Lillis, Mike. “Top GOP strategist: House leadership turmoil ‘a good thing'”. The Hill. 10 October 2015.