Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 30, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* What a nightmare for the Gulf coastline: "That stretch of coastline is full of marshlands, replete with reeds and piles of dead grass that could soak up oil like a sponge. Unlike fish, the area's famous populations of blue crabs and oysters won't be able to outrun the slick. And, precisely at this time of year, the region is host to vast numbers of migratory birds returning from their wintering grounds in South America. Besides the damage to fish and wildlife, even the land itself could be a victim of the spill. One scientist said if the oil kills marsh grasses, it could eliminate a key natural barrier that keeps Louisiana's precious coastline from eroding."

* Greece: "The Greek government, rapidly running out of time to shore up its finances, was close to completing negotiations for assistance from the International Monetary Fund, European officials said on Friday."

* It's not just the SEC: "Federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into trading at Goldman Sachs, raising the possibility of criminal charges against the Wall Street giant, according to people familiar with the matter."

* Another encouraging shift: "The Pakistani military, long reluctant to heed American urging that it attack Pakistani militant groups in their main base in North Waziristan, is coming around to the idea that it must do so, in its own interests. Western officials have long believed that North Waziristan is the single most important haven for militants with Al Qaeda and the Taliban fighting American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has nurtured militant groups in the area for years in order to exert influence beyond its borders."

* Wesam El-Hanafi and Sabirhan Hasanoff, both U.S. citizens living in New York City, have been accused of providing support to al Qaeda in the form of "computer advice and assistance, services and currency."

* Anthem Blue Cross customers in California, many of whom were poised to get hit with a massive rate hike, get a temporary reprieve.

* The Dems' Wall Street reform package is tougher than Wall Street expected.

* The Arizona Department of Education has already begun "telling school districts that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English."

* On a related note, Arizona hates the Affordable Care Act, but wants the money made available through reform.

* South Carolina Lt. Governor Andre Bauer (R) just doesn't like poor people.

* For-profit schools take a hit after criticism from an Obama administration official.

* The joke Al Gore was offered, but never told: "It's true I got C's and D's my freshman year at Harvard, but, in my own defense, that was the year I invented the bong."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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LOWDEN KEEPS BALKING AT CHICKEN CONTROVERSY.... Sue Lowden, the far-right Senate candidate in Nevada, seems to realize that the "bring a chicken to the doctor" matter is not only damaging, it's also not going away. Today, she publishes a piece at Politico in the hopes of putting the feathery mess behind her.

The comment I made about bartering was not, and was never intended to be, a policy proposal. It was an example of how struggling families are working to pay for medical care in any way they can during these tough times.

On her own blog, Lowden added:

If you want to see my policy on health care reform, it has been on my web page since last year -- and it remains there to this day. Nowhere in my health reform proposal do I discuss bargaining, bartering or negotiating, rather I offer real solutions that work without creating a new, government-run entitlement program that Nevadans don't want and they cannot afford.

As walkbacks go, this might seem compelling. But at the risk of being picky, it also seems pretty wrong.

Lowden is on firm ground when she notes that her "health reform proposal" doesn't incorporate "bargaining, bartering or negotiating." It's not really a "proposal," per se -- Lowden's "plan" is really just eye-rolling palaver about tort reform and buying insurance across state lines -- but let's put that aside.

The problem is she continues to deny what is plainly true: she was presented with policy questions, asked for her thoughts on policy solutions, and twice, in front of cameras, defended bartering as a reasonable approach to health care delivery.

This isn't a matter of opinion. Lowden was specifically asked how her approach to health care policy would differ from the new national law. She recommended, among other things, that patients "go ahead and barter with your doctor." Lowden said, at the time, that such an approach "would get prices down in a hurry."

When pressed on her bartering ideas a week later, Lowden said, "I'm telling you, this works.... Doctors are very sympathetic people. I'm not backing down from that system."

Now Lowden would have us believe she was just offering "an example of how struggling families are working to pay for medical care"? That's clearly not true.

Saying ridiculous things is bad. Lying about saying ridiculous things may prove to be even worse.

Postscript: And in case the story wasn't a big enough problem for Lowden, a left-leaning independent group is launching a very effective ad on this.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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THE SWAT TEAM THAT WASN'T.... The rule rarely fails: if far-right blogs are worked up about a story that seems kind of odd, the story isn't true.

Today, the fuss among conservative bloggers is over President Obama's visit to a civic center in Quincy, Illinois, the other day. The event wasn't especially remarkable, but outside the event, there was an assortment of protestors who wanted to express their outrage over ... whatever it is conservatives are upset about this week.

To hear far-right blogs tell it, a "SWAT team" was called in to infringe on the rights of these oppressed patriots, because that rascally President Obama is "fundamentally afraid of the American people."

Please.

The only problem with that? The SWAT team wasn't called in. Local police, wearing riot gear, briefly marched down the street to clear it for the president's motorcade.

The officers "did not come close to the crowd," but that didn't stop an enraged Tea Party activist from shouting, "This is communism!"

And now right-wing blogs are all over it.

Back in September, there was a fair amount of talk in professional media circles about the need for major outlets to take seriously the kind of stories bubbling up on far-right website and talk radio. I'd like to think anecdotes like this "SWAT team" nonsense are a reminder that the boy that cries wolf deserves less consideration, not more.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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ANOTHER HOUSE REPUBLICAN HEADS FOR THE EXITS.... I know lawmakers from both parties pull this stunt from time to time, but it never seems right when members of Congress announce their retirement the day of the filing deadline.

Hours before the state's filing deadline, Florida Republican Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite announced that she would leave Congress at the end of this term.

"As I have prepared for my campaign, I have been troubled by persistent health problems and have come to the disappointing and sad conclusion that I cannot run for reelection," Brown Waite said in a statement.

She quickly pivoted to back Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent as her preferred replacement, calling him "a strong conservative."

I can't speak to Brown-Waite's health condition, and I certainly wish her well. But if medical matters really prompted her retirement, why not make an announcement sooner? Instead, she waited until the morning of the filing deadline, with a hand-picked successor, and left Democrats with little opportunity to field a credible challenger.

Of course, it probably wouldn't have mattered -- Florida's 5th congressional district was drawn by GOP state lawmakers to be a Republican stronghold, and it is. The NRCC expects to replace Brown-Waite with another conservative lawmaker, which seems like a safe bet.

As for the retirement totals, Brown-Waite is the 19th House Republican to retire this cycle (20th if you count Florida's Mario Diaz-Balart, who is retiring from one House seat to run for another), as compared to 16 House Democrats.

With the House Republican caucus having 177 members, that means about 11% of House GOP incumbents have decided to give up their seats in a year that's supposed to be a wildly successful one for Republicans.

Sure, not all retirements are created equal. There's a qualitative difference between stepping down in a competitive district and giving up one's seat in a "sure thing" for one party. When considering questions like the balance of power, retirements are not quite the indicator some in the media would like to believe.

But if you ask anyone at the NRCC or DCCC for an honest opinion, I think they'd agree that when a party is supposed to have the wind at its back, and when that party's leadership is trying to keep retirements to a minimum, having more than 10% of the caucus walk away has to be discouraging.

Indeed, in February, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Democratic retirements are a sign that Dems are "running for the hills because they sold out their constituents and don't want to face them at the ballot box."

With GOP retirements outnumbering Dems' -- by a margin that's growing -- are we to also assume that Republicans don't want to face voters at the ballot box?

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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WHEN IN DOUBT, BLAME THE PRESIDENT.... It was only a matter of time before conservatives thought of a way to blame their political rivals for the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. As Paul Krugman noted, "The only question is what the story will be."

Will it be claims that liberals and/or scientific conspirators sabotaged the rig, to undermine good Americans who want to drillheredrillnow? (Michael Crichton already wrote that novel).

Will it be that oil workers, demoralized by the march of socialism, fell into despair and let the accident happen?

Will it be claims that since this didn't happen under Bush, it obviously shows that Obamanomics is responsible?

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh settled the debate, telling his followers:

"I want to get back to the timing of the blowing up, the explosion out there in the Gulf of Mexico of this oil rig.... Now, lest we forget, ladies and gentlemen, the carbon tax bill, cap and trade that was scheduled to be announced on Earth Day. I remember that. And then it was postponed for a couple of days later after Earth Day, and then of course immigration has now moved in front of it. But this bill, the cap-and-trade bill, was strongly criticized by hardcore environmentalist whackos because it supposedly allowed more offshore drilling and nuclear plants, nuclear plant investment. So, since they're sending SWAT teams down there, folks, since they're sending SWAT teams to inspect the other rigs, what better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig? I'm just noting the timing here."

Media Matters has the audio.

Conservatives may be predictable, but at least they're consistent.

Steve Benen 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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GIMMICKRY ISN'T POLICY-MAKING.... A week ago, Marc Ambinder noted one of the problems with the GOP's far-right base: it "seems to have developed a notion that bromides are equivalent to policy-thinking."

The observation came to mind this morning when I read that the Tea Party crowd has been crafting a "Contract From America" -- intended to be a right-wing, grassroots version of 1994's "Contract with America" -- that the Republican Party apparently intends to ignore while it works on its own election-year platform.

Regardless, what the Tea Partiers have come up with doesn't seem especially compelling.

This, for example, is the Contract From America's tax position.

Adopt a simple and fair single-rate tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words -- the length of the original Constitution.

Maybe it's just me, but policy gimmicks with no substantive foundation always seem rather child-like to me.

We're a country of 310 million people with easily the largest economy on the planet. With all of the many breaks, incentives, rates, and penalties, the federal tax code is bound to be complicated. It's unavoidable.

Folks can make the case that reforming the code could make it easier to understand. One could also argue that the tax code has loopholes that should be closed. And while I think it's ridiculous, we can even have a debate about the merits of a "single-rate tax system," instead of the progressive rate system.

But once we get into maximum word counts, we've quickly entered the realm of hollow gimmickry and arbitrary nonsense. It's a bit like Republicans' obsession over the number of pages in the Affordable Care Act. Who cares? Sometimes complex policies require complex instructions.

I'm trying to imagine the executives at Ford telling the engineers, "It's time to design a new Mustang, but you can only use the number of parts found in the Model T. If it was good enough for our forebears..."

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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FALSE CHOICES, FALSE ANSWERS.... House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was asked last week about the future of the Republican Party, and whether it rested with the more moderate Scott Brown or the more radical Sarah Palin. Cantor replied:

"I'm going to probably say that's a false choice."

Yesterday, a reporter noted that some Republicans think Arizona's new immigration law goes too far, while other Republicans endorse it. Asked which group he falls into, Cantor said:

"I think that's a false choice."

Jonathan Capehart is unimpressed.

...I thought the whip's job was to get caucus members to vote "yes" or "no" on legislation.... Given that job description and the strong-arm tactics needed to be effective, I'm certain Cantor wouldn't accept "I think that's a false choice" from his caucus. So he shouldn't expect us to accept it from him.

Sometimes it's easier to get away with this line than others, but support or opposition on the Arizona measure seems pretty straightforward. This "false choice" crutch sounds like a weak copout because it is.

I know many GOP leaders are afraid to comment on the state law, but these dodges have a short shelf-life.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), trailing in the polls, isn't backing away from the Affordable Care Act -- he has three new campaign ads in Nevada touting the law's benefits.

* On a related note, two new polls in Nevada show very different results for Reid's re-election prospects. The latest numbers from Research 2000 show him trailing chicken-aficionado Sue Lowden (R) by just four points, 45% to 41%. Reid trails the other GOP contenders by similar margins. Rasmussen, however, shows Lowden beating Reid by 13, 52% to 39%.

* Florida Sen. George LeMieux (R) may have received his job from his long-time ally, Gov. Charlie Crist, but the appointed senator will not support his friend's independent Senate campaign.

* The latest Research 2000 poll in Arkansas has Sen. Blanche Lincoln's lead over her Democratic primary challenger, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, shrinking. Last month, Lincoln led by 13. Now, the margin is eight, 43% to 35%.

* Dems have considered New Hampshire a key Senate pick-up opportunity, but a new WMUR/Granite State Poll shows former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) leading Rep. Paul Hodes (D), 47% to 32%.

* In Illinois, Rasmussen has Rep. Mark Kirk (R) building on his earlier leads, and he now has an eight-point edge over Alexi Giannoulias (D), 46% to 38%.

* Georgia state Rep. Austin Scott (R) has scrapped his gubernatorial campaign, and will instead challenge Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.).

* And in an odd way of playing the expectations game, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested this morning that House Republicans may gain 100 seats in this year's midterms. The GOP needs a net gain of 40 to take the majority.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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YES, THINGS CAN GET NUTTIER IN FLORIDA.... As of yesterday, the Senate race in Florida was strange enough. Gov. Charlie Crist bolted from the Republican primary, setting up a highly-entertaining three-way contest between the sitting governor, a right-wing former state House Speaker, and a relatively unknown Miami-area congressman.

But wait, there's more.

And you thought Florida's topsy-turvy election year couldn't get crazier. Now comes billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene of Palm Beach, a Democrat, jumping into Florida's already chaotic U.S. Senate race.

"I am an outsider, the only candidate who isn't a career politician. I've succeeded in the real world of hard work -- the others have only succeeded at running for political office after office," said Greene, 55, in a video announcing his candidacy.

Greene said he will refuse campaign contributions from special interests, and will limit individual donations to $100. That should be no giant sacrifice considering that Forbes last year estimated his net worth at $1.25-billion.

Greene will face Rep. Kendrick Meek in a Democratic primary, and will likely "saturate Florida TV with commercials [that] could make him a major contender."

In general, the national party would ordinarily be delighted to have a self-financing billionaire jump into a wide-open Senate race. There are, however, a few issues with Greene's colorful background. For one thing, he was a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in California in the 1980s. For another, Mike Tyson was the best man at Greene's 2008 wedding and Heidi Fleiss lived in his guest house after she was released from prison.

Oh, and there's also the small matter of Greene getting rich by "betting on the housing collapse that killed Florida's economy."

Nevertheless, Greene appears to be completely serious about the campaign, and has already received advice from Joe Trippi and Doug Schoen.

It's Florida, so expect the unexpected.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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ABOUT THAT OFFSHORE DRILLING PLAN.... About a month ago, the Obama administration moved forward with a plan to allow new oil and natural gas drilling along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the north coast of Alaska.

That, of course, was before the unfolding disaster in the Gulf began. Are those plans still on track? Not so much.

As some Democratic lawmakers call on President Obama to suspend his plans to expand offshore oil drilling, the White House today said that there will be no new domestic offshore drilling until the investigation into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is complete.

"All he has said is that he's not going to continue the moratorium on drilling but... no additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said on "Good Morning America" today, defending the administration's policy.

Axelrod said no new drilling in domestic areas will go forward until "there is an adequate review of what happened here and what is being proposed elsewhere."

I'll go out on a limb and put this in the "no brainer" category.

Meanwhile, efforts to address the disaster continue along the Gulf Coast. President Obama dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to the area to help oversee efforts with federal, state, and local officials.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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BOEHNER TAKES CREDIT FOR DEMOCRATIC HEALTH CARE ADVANCES.... House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep this morning, and twice said Republicans would repeal the Affordable Care Act if given congressional majorities next year. (thanks to reader A.D.)

It led to an interesting exchange:

INSKEEP: As you know, Democrats are already pointing to things that are changing in America because of this bill. They will point to the fact that college seniors, who would have been kicked off their families' insurance plans when they graduated, will get to stay on. Insurance companies are now saying they're going to end the practice of "rescission," where they take, or at least modify...

BOEHNER: Both of those ideas, by the way, came from Republicans, and are part of the common sense ideas that we ought to have in the law.

INSKEEP: Well, are you going to repeal those two specific things?

BOEHNER Uh, what I want to repeal are the other 158 mandates, commissions, boards that set up all the infrastructure for the government to take control of our health care system. [emphasis added]

We've seen a few instances lately in which Republican lawmakers try to take credit for provisions in the Affordable Care Act that they fought like hell to kill.

But Boehner is being especially shameless here. He is, after all, the one who characterized the new law as "Armageddon." I guess the new line will need some caveats: "It's Armageddon ... except for those popular parts, which Republicans should get credit for, even though we voted against them."

Note to Republicans: if the Affordable Care Act is an evil assault on America, moms, and apple pie, which will end the world as we know it, and which you fight until your last breath to destroy, you don't get to take credit for its provisions, especially when you didn't really come up with them in the first place.

Also note that Boehner believes the law sets up "the infrastructure" for a government-takeover of the health care system. What an interesting way to put it. I guess the Democrats' system isn't a government-takeover, but has the capacity to be a government-takeover at some point in the future, maybe.

After all this time, can John Boehner speak intelligently about health care policy? Hell no he can't.

Update: Ryan Rudominer, the DCCC's national press secretary, responds: "Once again House Republican Leader Boehner displays no respect for the truth as he sits on the sidelines rooting for failure and then tries claims credit for House Democrats accomplishments. Boehner is a shameless political opportunist whose double speak and phony talking points are as real as his fake orange tan."

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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FIRST QUARTER GDP GROWTH: 3.2%.... From Fall 2008 through Summer 2009, the nation's gross domestic product retreated. The four consecutive negative quarters was the longest since the government began keeping track six decades ago.

We now have three consecutive quarters of positive growth. It's not nearly strong enough growth to constitute a robust economy, but it's enough to look like an economic recovery.

The United States economy continued to expand in the first quarter, but economists cautioned that the pace of growth is still not nearly fast enough to recover ground lost during the recession.

National output grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.2 percent last quarter, the Commerce Department reported Friday, after growth of 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 and 2.2 percent in the third quarter.

The steady growth has quelled fears that the downturn is not quite over.

While the first quarter of 2010 wasn't nearly as strong as the fourth quarter of 2009, this doesn't come as much of a surprise -- the 5.6% growth was fueled by an "inventory bounce" that wouldn't be repeated.

Consumer spending helped drive the first quarter numbers, with the biggest increase in three years.

And with that, here's another home-made chart, showing GDP numbers by quarter since the Great Recession began in late 2007.

gdpq110.png

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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ACA GETS BIPARTISAN SUPPORT AFTER ALL.... Last fall, particularly in September and October, Democrats worked furiously to get Republican support for their health care reform package. Dems thought they had at least some shot at bipartisanship when even leading House Republicans said they agreed with "80 percent" of the Democratic proposal.

The point, of course, was to help with public perceptions -- Americans were far more likely to support the reform effort if they saw members of both parties embracing it. Republicans were well aware of this dynamic, which is why they demanded unanimous opposition, whether it made sense or not.

As a result, the Affordable Care Act is considered a partisan endeavor, despite Democratic efforts to incorporate GOP ideas, and despite the fact that the plan is very much in line with what moderate Republicans supported up until fairly recently. GOP intransigence means the Affordable Care Act is a "Democratic plan."

But now that it's law, the reform plan is starting to pick up some Republican backers.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed the health reform law on Thursday and vowed that his state would not fight it. [...]

Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius praised the governor's support in a statement released before the governor even made his announcement.... "As the governor of the largest state in the union, Governor Schwarzenegger supports the goals of the Affordable Care Act which will give Californians and other Americans more control over their own health care," Sebelius said.

Schwarzenegger is the first Republican governor to endorse the ACA, and his support makes it just a little easier for the law's proponents to characterize the effort, particularly in the midterms, as an initiative that "enjoys backing from both parties."

And it's not just the California governor. This week, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) spoke at the American Hospital Association's annual meeting and said of the new law, "I like the bill." The comments came on the heels of Frist saying in a separate speech, "From a justice, fairness and equity standpoint, I'm very proud of this administration and that America has addressed this."

As long as we're on the subject, let's also note that Mark McClellan, a Bush administration veteran who headed the FDA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, also recently praised the new law.

This matters to the extent that the Republican establishment would prefer to characterize health care reform as a stark, partisan conflict -- Democrats approve of the new law, but the rest of the country doesn't. But as support slowly grows, the repeal push loses steam, and high-profile Republicans decide the Affordable Care Act isn't really "Armageddon" after all, the conservative pitch gets more difficult.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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THE ROAD AHEAD FOR CHARLIE CRIST.... There wasn't much in the way of suspense at Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's event yesterday afternoon. He'd already made clear that he would abandon his Republican Senate bid and run as an independent -- technically, "no party affiliation" on the ballot -- and Crist did just that, in front of a lackluster crowd where the number of reporters rivaled that of supporters.

We talked yesterday about what this says about the Republican Party in 2010, most notably the fact that moderates are no longer welcome in the GOP. But now that Crist's move is official, let's consider another question: can the governor actually win?

There are two clear truths that are worth acknowledging at the outset: (1) Crist's odds are better after the announcement than before, since he stood no chance of winning the Republican primary; and (2) that's not saying much, since the uphill climb is still daunting.

Less than a fourth of Florida's electorate falls outside one of the two major parties, so Crist has a very small needle to thread. The strategy sounds plausible on paper -- win the independents, pick up moderate Republicans, impress the conservative Dems upstate, eke out a narrow win in a three-way contest with a vote total around 35% -- but executing it is much more difficult.

Why? Because Crist will very likely struggle to put together the pieces a candidate needs to win, especially in a huge, expensive state.

Even before leaving the party, Crist had a bare-bones campaign team that lacked even a political director.

"He couldn't put an organization together as a Republican, so he's not going to pull it together as an independent," said a former adviser.

Ana Navarro, a Florida GOP fundraiser and Rubio backer was more blunt: "In Florida, organization -- grassroots, voter turnout, early voting mobilization, volunteers, phone banking, absentee ballots -- can amount to two-to-four [percentage] points. And Charlie Crist has no machinery, no base, no statewide organization. Meek and Rubio both have their own and party organizations."

This matters. As of today, Crist doesn't even have a campaign staff -- his top aides quit yesterday, as expected -- and the kind of folks the governor might want to hire tend to be loyal to one party or the other. He has a fair amount of money in the bank, but Crist will not only have to give some of it back to angry GOP donors, he'll also find that raising money without party backing is exceedingly difficult.

To be sure, Crist is a talented pol with 100% name recognition. But he's also a candidate with no campaign operation six months before voters head to the ballot box, a sinking approval rating, and a record of rhetoric that makes his independent bid look like a shameless act of political opportunism.

Can Crist pull this off? It's Florida, so anything's possible. But I'm hard pressed to see how he's elected.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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April 29, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico: "Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday designated a widening oil slick pill in the Gulf of Mexico as "a spill of national significance" as government officials acknowledged that the amount of oil spewing daily from the well is far more than earlier thought."

* Administration steps up: "President Obama increased his administration's role in the cleanup of the vast oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, by positioning the Department of Defense to assist the giant oil company BP in dealing with the spill and by sending three top officials to Louisiana."

* Greece: "European leaders raced on Thursday to complete a financial rescue package for Greece, hoping to head off a chain reaction against other heavily indebted European nations that could turn into a financial meltdown across the continent."

* Initial filings for unemployment benefits dropped a bit, but they're still too high.

* On top of their other legislative priorities, congressional Dems plan to move on a new campaign-finance measure, intended in part to respond to the Citizens United ruling, before July 4.

* Another coal mine tragedy, this time in Kentucky.

* More litigation challenging Arizona's immigration law.

* As Karzai's legitimacy continues to falter, the Taliban strengthens.

* President Obama has made his selections to fill vacancies on the Federal Reserve board.

* House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was asked yesterday whether he supports Arizona's new immigration law. He refused to say, calling the question a "false choice," which doesn't make any sense. No Profile in Courage Award for you, Eric.

* Oh, good. Frank Luntz has new suggestions on how Republicans can deceive the public.

* If you think Republicans in D.C. have crazy ideas, consider what Republicans in state legislatures are up to.

* A certain former half-term governor considers deranged media personality Glenn Beck "an inspiring patriot." The mind reels.

* The recession isn't slowing down college enrollment rates.

* It's almost as if Karl Rove doesn't remember 2001 through 2008 at all.

* Saying goodbye to civil rights icon Dorothy I. Height.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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AMERICAN MAINSTREAM REJECTS ARIZONA MEASURE, DOESN'T IT?.... It's awfully difficult to defend Arizona's draconian immigration measure. Most Republicans won't even try, and some GOP leaders have even condemned it. Today, a Republican congressman from Florida went so far as to compare it to fascism.

Democrats have blasted the new law. Churches have condemned it. Editorial boards have slammed it. It's become a frightening example of far-right excess.

And yet, there are poll results like these.

Americans familiar with Arizona's tough, new immigration law tend to favor it, a new poll found.

51 percent of those who have heard of Arizona's new law to crack down illegal immigration said they generally favor it, a new Gallup Poll found Thursday. 39 of those who have heard of the law opposed it, while 11 percent were unsure.

I find this very hard to believe, not because Gallup is unreliable, but because I like to think the American character is decent and strong, and would resist efforts like these.

Broadly speaking, Gallup asked all respondents for their reactions to the Arizona law. Nationwide, a plurality of 39% support it, 30% opposite it, and 31% had no opinion or had not heard of it.

But specifically among those who said they'd heard about the state measure, a majority approve of the law. That includes 50% of self-identified independents, and a whopping 75% of self-identified Republicans. A majority of Democrats (56%) disapprove of the Arizona law.

All I can do is hope that most the poll's respondents were confused, didn't understand the question, or lied about understanding what the law actually is.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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SUE LOWDEN, STILL STRUGGLING.... The worst of Republican Senate hopeful Sue Lowden's "bring a chicken to the doctor" fiasco is probably behind her, but when asked to talk about her nationally-mocked understanding of health care policy, Lowden is still struggling.

Jed Lewison posted this clip from KTVN-TV in Reno last night, a news segment about the now-infamous "chicken for checkups" mess. The station caught up with Lowden to give her a chance to explain what went wrong. It didn't go well.

The clip is worth watching, but of particular interest was when local reporter Brandon Rittiman asked about the widely publicized remarks. Looking clearly uncomfortable, the Republican candidate said, "I, I, I'm not sure, uh, what to say, as far if it's been dragged out of proportion."

Asked specifically if she regretted her choice of words, Lowden added, "I, I, I talk about the fact that the Reid campaign is desperate to change the subject from his very unpopular health care bill."

I'll take that as a "no"?

It's tempting to think that her campaign aides, with instructions from the national party, would be offering Lowden some pretty reasonable tips about how to address this. Maybe laugh it off with some self-deprecating humor? Maybe some policy explanation that demonstrates a familiarity with health care policy?

If last night's interview is any indication, Lowden either isn't getting good advice or she isn't listening to good advice.

Update: Complicating matters for the far-right candidate, Lowden's GOP primary opponent is seizing on the issue, too. This instantly makes it more difficult for her campaign to blame Harry Reid for the notoriety of the story.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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THEY CAN'T EVEN PLAY THE RACE CARD CORRECTLY.... Just a few months ago, RNC Chairman Michael Steele complained, "I'm kind of sick and tired of the left and Democrats in this country, when they get in trouble and don't get their way and their backs are up against the wall on legislation or whatever it is their trying to do, they go to that card, they play that race card."

In retrospect, it's almost amusing.

One day after it accused DNC Chairman Tim Kaine of playing the "race card" from the bottom of the deck, the Republican National Committee is blasting out an op-ed that accuses the president of ignoring African-American candidates for the Supreme Court.

On Thursday, RNC Coalitions Director Angela Sailor sent out a column written by former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder titled "Why no blacks on SCOTUS shortlist?" The piece attacks the administration for putting together a short list of potential nominees that lacks "even the hint of a mention of a single African-American."

A few angles to consider here. First, the message that the RNC is pushing is just factually wrong. A few weeks ago, several major news outlets published reports indicating that former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears is on the White House's short list for the Supreme Court -- and Sears is African American. It's the one minor detail that makes the entire argument baseless.

Second, it's hopelessly insane for the RNC -- an entity led by a man who recently conceded his party has been engaged in a racist "Southern Strategy" for 40 years -- to distribute a piece suggesting President Obama is ignoring the importance of racial diversity.

And third, the RNC has spent the past week accusing Democrats of trying to polarize the country "on the lines of race," in part because the DNC intends to mobilize "black, Latino and young voters" during the midterm cycle. As Sam Stein noted, "[T]he RNC appears to be engaging in the type of racially tinged politics they criticized the day before."

A senior Democratic operative told Stein, "This is politics 101. If you do the exact thing you feigned indignation over within hours of feigning indignation, it not only proves that the thing you feigned indignation over was not worthy of it, but it also proves you are a political idiot."

Sometimes, it really does seem as if the RNC is led by undercover Democrats, anxious to make Republicans look foolish.

Steve Benen 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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GETTING THE BALL ROLLING ON IMMIGRATION REFORM.... Just yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) explained that the Senate would act on a climate/energy bill before it tackles immigration reform. Reid added, however, that he remains committed to passing immigration reform this year.

With that in mind, it should be an interesting afternoon. In a few hours, Reid and other leading Dems will unveil the outline of a new comprehensive immigration reform package. The plan was reportedly drafted by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and presented to reform groups in private meetings on the Hill yesterday. (It's likely Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's input played a role in shaping the proposal, though he now wants nothing to do with the effort.)

"This is a draft that reflects months of bipartisan work. It is intended to serve as an invitation to Republicans to look at it and sit down to solve problems with us," said one of the sources.

In attempt to try to woo GOP Senators, the 26-page draft, obtained by CNN, calls for "concrete benchmarks" to secure the border before allowing illegal immigrants the opportunity for legal status.

Those benchmarks include: increasing the number border patrol officers, increased U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), increased personnel to inspect for drugs and contraband, and improved technology to assist ICE agents.

The draft proposal also includes a process to legalize an estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Whether this has any chance of passing either chamber is still a matter of speculation, though the odds are probably against it. There's very limited time before this Congress wraps up -- inevitable Republican obstructionism slows the process down -- and the initiative is just now getting started in one chamber.

Today's unveiling of a reform blueprint will, however, raise the visibility of the issue considerably.

As for the specter of bipartisanship, the issue puts Republicans in a tough spot -- they're generally reluctant, at the national level, to thumb their nose at Latino voters -- but GOP leaders have said they're unwilling to go along with a push this year. Nevertheless, Schumer has reportedly reached out to Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), George LeMieux (Fla.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Judd Gregg (N.H.), and Dick Lugar (Ind.), in the hopes of assembling a bipartisan group. Schumer should probably keep expectations low.

Today's press conference is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. (ET).

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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NEW AND IMPROVED?.... House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has a strategy to deal with some of his party's underlying problems -- specifically, that they failed miserably while in power, and have no credibility at all on the issues they claim to care about most. So, what's the plan? Pretend that this Republican Party isn't like that other Republican Party that was humiliated in 2006 and 2008.

The reasoning behind the argument certainly makes sense. For voters who remember the last several years, it's awfully difficult to take the GOP seriously. The party that's running on a platform of fiscal responsibility was fiscally irresponsible. The party that's running on a platform of shrinking the size and scope of government grew the size and scope of government. The party that's running on a platform of competence, maturity, and integrity was incompetent, immature, and corrupt.

But that's all behind us now, Cantor says. His new message to voters, especially those on the far-right, is, in effect, "No, no, baby, it's different now. I've changed...."

In an op-ed on Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com, Cantor essentially argues that the Republican Party that wants to take back the House this fall has learned its lessons from the Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert years.

"But the GOP in the House today is different. Very different. Led by a new generation of young and energetic leaders, we are committed to restoring the public's trust in our ability to lead as responsible adults," Cantor writes, without having to note that he is indeed thought of as one of the "young" and "energetic" leaders.

That's not a bad idea, in theory. The problem is the argument doesn't make any sense.

Eric Cantor, for example, joined the House Republican leadership in 2002, and proceeded to vote for bigger deficits, more debt, and government expansion without paying for it. He'll be the Majority Leader if the GOP takes the House.

John Boehner joined the House Republican leadership in 1994, and was at the heart of his party's spectacular failures in the ensuing years. Boehner was even the Majority Leader when his party lost 21 seats in the 2008 elections. He'll be Speaker if the GOP takes the House.

The party won't be "led by a new generation of young and energetic leaders"; it'll be led by the same guys who drove their party and our country into a ditch.

Worse, how does Cantor propose "restoring the public's trust"? By embracing the exact same ideas and policy agenda Republicans have run on for years.

The reasoning behind Cantor's new pitch isn't bad, but the facts clearly need some work.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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THE ENDURING SADNESS OF 'BOTH SIDES DO IT'.... Ron Fournier, the Washington Bureau Chief for the Associated Press, had a couple of items this morning on Twitter that fit into a larger, depressing pattern.

The topic was Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's apparent decision to leave the Republican primary and run for the Senate as an independent. It prompted Fournier to write:

What does Crist's decision say, if anything, about state of the political middle in US?

It's a fair question, certainly worth of consideration. But it was soon followed by another question.

In other words, is there room for moderate candidates and moderate voters in either party?

On the day yet another very high profile Republican moderate is driven from the party ranks for being insufficienly conservative, the head of the AP's Washington bureau wonders whether "either party" is willing to make room for moderates.

Sigh.

This gets awfully tiresome. In the House, there are more than 50 "Blue Dogs" in the House Democratic caucus. Is there a comparable group of centrist or left-leaning Republicans in the House GOP caucus?

In the Senate, Democratic moderates are more than a little plentiful. Ben Nelson is obviously no liberal, and if Fournier is looking for centrists in the Democratic ranks, I'd also recommend taking a look at Baucus, Landrieu, Bayh, Conrad, Lieberman, Lincoln, and Pryor, among others. For goodness sakes, the party elected Harry Reid the Senate Majority Leader, and he's not even pro-choice.

Granted, Senate Republicans have Snowe and Collins, but two isn't an especially big number, and neither of the Maine moderates have been willing to break party ranks on major issues lately.

At the same time, in a more general sense, Democrats continue to recruit moderate candidates and reach out to the American mainstream, while Republicans continue to run hard to the right.

"Is there room for moderate candidates and moderate voters in either party?" Seriously?

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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BEST CARE ANYWHERE.... Following up on Tuesday's item, the New America Foundation's discussion on Phillip Longman's book, Best Care Anywhere, will get underway at 12:15. The event will be moderated by Paul Glastris, the Washington Monthly's editor in chief, who edited and published the original magazine cover story that became the book.

If you're not in D.C. and can't make it, you can watch the live webcast of the event right here.

Steve Benen 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele believes there's "a real possibility" that Gov. Charlie Crist could win Florida's Senate race as an independent. That's probably not the message the RNC intended to push today.

* In Ohio, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) narrowly leading former Bush Budget Director Rob Portman (R) in this year's Senate race, 40% to 37%.

* On a related note, the same poll shows Gov. Ted Strickland (D) leading Fox News personality John Kasich (R) in this year's gubernatorial race, 44% to 38%.

* Former Rep. Scott McInnis, the leading Republican in Colorado's gubernatorial race, argued this week that he'd like to see his state duplicate the outrageous new immigration law in Arizona.

* Polls in Arizona's Republican Senate primary have been all over the place, but for what it's worth, a Rocky Mountain poll released yesterday shows Sen. John McCain crushing former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, 54% to 28%. Public Policy Polling shows McCain ahead, but by a more modest margin, 46% to 35%.

* Speaking of Arizona, while PPP shows state Attorney General Terry Goddard (D) leading Gov. Jan Brewer (R), Rasmussen shows the incumbent ahead, 48% to 40%.

* Indiana's Republican Senate primary is just a week away, and a new SurveyUSA poll shows corporate lobbyist Dan Coats leading the field. The poll showed Coats ahead with 36%, followed by former Rep. John Hostettler with 24%.

* And in Michigan, Rasmussen shows Rep. Peter Hoekstra out in front of the Republican gubernatorial field with 28%. Rick Snyder and state Attorney General Mike Cox are about tied for second.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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PUTTING CONSERVATIVE JUDICIAL ACTIVISM ON THE RADAR.... It's always a challenge introducing a new idea -- no matter how accurate -- into the political bloodstream, but I've been encouraged by the recent talk about conservative judicial activism.

University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone recently had a terrific NYT op-ed on the subject of judicial philosophy, which emphasized a key observation:

[I]t should be apparent that conservative judges do not disinterestedly call balls and strikes. Rather, fueled by their own political and ideological convictions, they make value judgments, often in an aggressively activist manner that goes well beyond anything the framers themselves envisioned. There is nothing simple, neutral, objective or restrained about such decisions. For too long, conservatives have set the terms of the debate about judges, and they have done so in a highly misleading way. Americans should see conservative constitutional jurisprudence for what it really is. And liberals must stand up for their vision of the judiciary.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, Jr. also raised the issue recently.

[I]t should become clear that the danger of judicial activism now comes from the right, not the left. It is conservatives, not liberals, who are using the courts to overturn the decisions made by democratically elected bodies in areas such as pay discrimination, school integration, antitrust laws and worker safety regulation. [...]

In granting corporations an essentially unlimited right to spend money to influence the outcome of elections [in the Citizens United case], that ruling defied decades of legal precedents and congressional enactments. The non-elected branch of government decided it didn't like existing legislation, so it legislated on its own.

Two weeks ago, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) raised related concerns during a "Meet the Press" appearance.

"This is a very, very activist court, the most activist court in my lifetime. They rewrote the law to say that--so they said that women could be paid less than men. They rewrote the law to say that age discrimination laws won't apply if corporate interests don't want them to. They rewrote the law to give ExxonMobil a $2 billion windfall. And they rewrote the law to say that corporations could come in and meddle in elections in this, in this country."

Yesterday, a reporter asked President Obama about the issue. The former professor of constitutional law had some thoughts on the subject.

"It used to be that the notion of an activist judge was somebody who ignored the will of Congress, ignored democratic processes, and tried to impose judicial solutions on problems instead of letting the process work itself through politically. And in the '60s and '70s, the feeling was, is that liberals were guilty of that kind of approach.

"What you're now seeing, I think, is a conservative jurisprudence that oftentimes makes the same error. And I think rather than a notion of judicial restraint we should apply both to liberals and conservative jurists, what you're seeing is arguments about original intent and other legal theories that end up giving judges an awful lot of power; in fact, sometimes more power than duly-elected representatives."

It's good to see the issue rise in prominence like this. Here's hoping it continues.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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THE RELEVANCE OF RACE.... Part of what makes the Tea Party crowd interesting is the effort to understand what motivates the so-called "movement."

The issues activists usually point to as driving their cause don't make sense. It can't be fiscal responsibility, because they said nothing when Bush and the GOP added $5 trillion to the debt. It can't be taxes, since rates are low and Obama just gave them a tax cut. It can't be concerns over the size of government since they applauded the Patriot Act and endorsed the ridiculous new immigration measure in Arizona.

So, what makes these activists feel unhinged? It's not unreasonable to wonder if maybe race has something to do with it.

Anecdotally, Tea Partiers have repeatedly bolstered these concerns with their rhetoric, placards, emails, and threats. But what about more quantifiable measures? Newsweek has this report.

A new survey by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality offers fresh insight into the racial attitudes of Tea Party sympathizers. "The data suggests that people who are Tea Party supporters have a higher probability" -- 25 percent, to be exact -- "of being racially resentful than those who are not Tea Party supporters," says Christopher Parker, who directed the study. "The Tea Party is not just about politics and size of government. The data suggests it may also be about race."

Surveyers asked respondents in California and a half dozen battleground states (like Michigan and Ohio) a series of questions that political scientists typically use to measure racial hostility. On each one, Tea Party backers expressed more resentment than the rest of the population, even when controlling for partisanship and ideology. When read the statement that "if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites," 73 percent of the movement's supporters agreed, while only 33 percent of people who disapproved of the Tea Party agreed. Asked if blacks should work their way up "without special favors," as the Irish, Italians, and other groups did, 88 percent of supporters agreed, compared to 56 percent of opponents. The study revealed that Tea Party enthusiasts were also more likely to have negative opinions of Latinos and immigrants.

This comes on the heels of a New York Times/CBS News poll that found Tea Party supporters tend to believe that "too much has been made of the problems facing black people."

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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WHEN CRIST EXITS STAGE LEFT.... Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was effectively given a choice: get humiliated in a Republican Senate primary or run as an independent and improve his odds of having a job in January. Not surprisingly, he's going with the latter.

Gov. Charlie Crist, a pariah in the Republican Party that has been vital to his success, will launch a risky political career Thursday as a "people's candidate" for the U.S. Senate with no party affiliation.

Crist began telling campaign donors of his decision Wednesday, which he will announce at 5 p.m. at Straub Park in downtown St. Petersburg, surrounded by family members, friends, local supporters and an army of media personnel. It will be an extraordinary event in Florida's colorful political history, as a one-term governor who blew a 30-point lead in the Republican Senate primary is forced to run an unconventional race.

"I think the people are concerned about the future, and they're interested in having people who put them first, instead of politics," Crist said. "I think that's where they are."

There are plenty of interesting angles to all of this -- how will Crist fare, will he have any money, why Florida is so odd -- but from a national perspective, the key takeaway continues to be the effort to drive moderates away from the Republican Party.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said yesterday that the Republican Party is "kind of throwing [Crist] out," and making all moderates "feel like they don't have a home" in the party.

In this case, the analysis is more than just election-year rhetoric. The "purge" has been underway for a while now, it's making the Republican Party smaller, more rigid, less reasonable, and far less open to diversity of thought. Crist, apparently, no longer feels welcome in the GOP. Neither did Arlen Specter. Dede Scozzafava was forced out. Utah Sen. Bob Bennett's (R) career is ending because his conservatism wasn't extreme enough for the party base.

It's possible that the electoral consequences of this will be limited. Under normal circumstances, a party that deliberately moves away from the American mainstream scares voters away. Republicans have all but posted a sign on the door at RNC HQ that reads, "He-Men Moderates-Hating Club," which would ordinarily send the electorate running in the opposite direction.

But that's what makes this year's landscape so disconcerting -- Republicans are only rolling out the welcome mat for hard-right ideologues, but because voters are frustrated with the recession and congressional dysfunction, the GOP is likely to make gains anyway.

That is, unless the economy starts to recover faster, and Democrats are able to demonstrate that a GOP that's even too far to the right for life-long Republicans doesn't deserve mainstream support.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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SLOW GOING ON FAR-RIGHT REPEAL PUSH.... Just a few weeks ago, the conservative push for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act was the only thing Republicans wanted to talk about. It was the center of their election-year focus, and while there was no hope of advancing repeal this year, key GOP officials at least wanted to get Republican lawmakers on board as co-sponsors of a right-wing bill to undo the entire reform package passed in March.

How's that going? It appears enthusiasm for the idea is waning.

About one month later, neither Bachmann's bill nor companion bills in the House and Senate have won majority support from their peers. Only 52 House Republicans have co-sponsored Bachmann's repeal bill, H.R. 4903, and only 62 House Republicans have co-sponsored Rep. Steve King's (Iowa) repeal bill, H.R. 4972. Most of the same people have co-sponsored both. Only 20 Republican senators have co-sponsored Sen. Jim DeMint's (S.C.) repeal bill, S. 3152. That worries some Republicans who want to run hard on repeal in November.

"What I run into," King told me recently, "is that you ask Republicans to support 100 percent full repeal, but there are a number of them that aren't committed to full repeal. They have an equivocation that they would leave a piece there, a piece there, a piece there. If Republicans cannot unanimously come together and support 100 percent repeal of Obamacare and then start to rebuild, then we will not win this victory, because we'll be divided by the Democrats and fighting on Obama's turf."

Now, in fairness, it's not realistic to expect Republicans to keep talking about repealing health care reform, even when other issues are on the front-burner. Just because the GOP's focus is elsewhere doesn't necessarily mean they're abandoning their dream of restoring the dysfunctional mess the Affordable Care Act cleans up.

But the relative paucity of co-sponsors does suggest a disconnect between the Republican bark and the Republican bite. It was, after all, just a few months ago when Newt Gingrich boasted on "Meet the Press" that "every Republican in 2010 and 2012 will run on an absolute pledge to repeal this bill." The sentiment was echoed on right-wing blogs and talk radio.

And now such talk has entirely disappeared, in part because many GOP candidates are well aware of the repeal trap, in part because new, popular benefits of the new law are kicking in, and in part because a genuine repeal push would force Republicans to promise to raise taxes, which they're not prepared to do.

Two weeks ago, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said getting rid of the Affordable Care is Republicans' "No. 1 priority." What are the odds he's still saying that in October?

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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HEALTH CARE IMPROVEMENTS -- AHEAD OF SCHEDULE.... Marc Thiessen recently urged Republicans to fight as hard as they can to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The GOP need not fear political repercussions, the Bush speechwriter turned Washington Post columnist said, because Americans won't see the law's benefits kick in for several years. "The charge that Republicans are 'taking away your benefits' will hardly ring true for Americans who don't yet enjoy those benefits," he said.

It's worth appreciating, then, that new benefits are already kicking in, in some cases, well ahead of schedule.

In recent weeks, we've seen many major insurers begin implementing a provision of the law that allows young adults to stay on their family health care plan through their 26th birthday. What's more, the industry agreed to stop denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions (after initially intending to exploit an alleged loophole in the law).

And this week, consumers and families received more good news -- the industry will scrap its "rescission" practices, four months before the new federal ban was scheduled to go into effect.

The health insurance industry has decided to end its practice of cancelling claims once a patient gets sick next month, well before the new health care law would have required it, the industry's chief spokesman said Wednesday.

"While many health plans already abide by the standards outlined in the new law, our community is committed to implementing the new standards in May 2010 to ensure that individuals and families will have greater peace of mind when purchasing coverage on their own," AHIP president and chief executive Karen Ignagni said in a letter to top House Democrats.

The decision to end rescission, as the practice is known, was made during a Tuesday afternoon conference call of chief executives organized by their trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans, and represents the industry's latest attempt to build political good will after the bruising health care fight.

The heartening announcement on rescissions came on the heels of a Reuters report on WellPoint routinely dropping coverage for women diagnosed with breast cancer. Yesterday, the company said it would end the practice by this weekend.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer described all of this as "a clear sign of momentum for changing the health care status quo."

Go ahead, Republicans. Promise to undo all of this progress, turn back the clock, and eliminate these needed, popular advances. I dare you.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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REID STRATEGY VINDICATED BY GOP ACQUIESCENCE.... It's still not altogether clear exactly why Senate Republicans caved yesterday on debating Wall Street reform. Maybe it was the threat of an all-night session; maybe it was the Goldman Sachs hearing on Tuesday; maybe they believed their recent tactics were politically unwise.

Whatever the motivation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) strategy looks pretty good this morning. The Nevadan tried a new approach -- he played some hardball -- and got exactly the results he had hoped for.

With political pressure mounting, Senate Republicans relented on Wednesday and agreed to let Democrats open debate on legislation that would impose the most far-reaching overhaul of the nation's financial regulatory system since the aftermath of the Depression.

The decision by Republicans to allow floor deliberations came after they voted three days in a row to block the bill, and it suggested that they saw political peril in being depicted as impeding tougher rules for Wall Street.

The GOP is generally fairly adept at the political chess game, but this week proved to be something of a debacle for the minority party. Going into the week, Reid and Senate Dems had two main objectives: (1) advance the Wall Street reform bill to the floor; and (2) make Republicans look like lackeys for wildly unpopular banks and financial industry elites. By last night, when the motion to proceed was approved by unanimous consent, Republicans had effectively helped Democrats with both goals.

This is not to say it was a total loss for the GOP. There are reports that the liquidation fund Dems had sought will be scuttled as the bill advances, and Republicans may yet make further changes through amendments on the floor. But the GOP complained bitterly about a variety of other issues, and the NYT noted that "Republicans won no guarantees of concessions on any of these matters."

After several tough months, it's led Harry Reid to walk with a bounce in his step for a change. Roll Call noted this morning that the Democratic leader "has been walking around the Senate lately with a broad smile, his shoulders back and a hint of a swagger."

The report added that Reid spent a year and a half trying to forge bipartisan deals with Republicans who just want to say no to everything, including their own ideas. He's been forced to adopt a tougher strategy -- on the jobs bill, extension of unemployment benefits, and Wall Street reform -- and it's proving to be effective, at least for now.

As for what's next on the financial regulatory reform package, the floor debate is likely to begin as early as today, with a final floor vote expected in mid-May.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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April 28, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* European debt crisis: "European and International Monetary Fund officials on Wednesday were considering a dramatically increased $158 billion bailout package for Greece as the country's debt crisis continued to ripple across Europe, with Standard & Poor's downgrading the credit rating on Spain, the continent's fourth-largest economy."

* Don't expect the Fed to touch interest rates for a while.

* Left with no other options: "Crews were poised to begin setting fire to oil leaking from the site of an exploded drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, a last-ditch effort to get rid of it before it reaches environmentally sensitive marshlands on the coast."

* Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) intends to move on climate/energy before immigration, but dismisses out of hand GOP calls for him to drop immigration reform altogether.

* Success on rescissions.

* Good move: "After nine years of regulatory review, the federal government gave the green light Wednesday to the nation's first offshore wind farm, a sprawling project off the coast of Cape Cod."

* Hoping to make it clear enough for even the RNC to understand, the House once again unanimously passed a measure to prohibit fake-Census mailings.

* President Obama takes his "Main Street Tour" to Missouri.

* Wall Street always whines incessantly about new regulations. And it's always wrong.

* Prime Minister Gordon Brown's chances of another term just took a sudden turn for the worse.

* The striking similarities between law school debt and sub-prime mortgages.

* It's crazy on so many levels: "[Former Rep. Tom Tancredo] claimed that Obama is purposefully withholding his birth certificate in order to fuel birther conspiracies that make the right wing look nuts."

* The correct response to "show us your papers."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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PUT AWAY THE COTS.... Three times in three days, Senate Republicans unanimously rejected efforts to debate Wall Street reform. It led Senate Democrats to schedule all all-night session for this evening, and a fourth attempt to pass the motion to proceed.

As of this afternoon, those efforts are no longer necessary. With talks of a bipartisan deal having broken down, Republicans have apparently decided to end their obstructionism -- at least for now.

Senate Republicans ended three days of resistance on Wednesday and signaled that they are ready to allow debate of legislation to overhaul regulation of the nation's financial system.

The Republicans, who were gathering to make their formal decision, appeared to back down after Democrats threatened to keep the Senate in session through the night to dramatize the standoff.

It's worth emphasizing that this is just a breakthrough on the initial step. Republicans haven't agreed to allow an up-or-down vote on the legislation; they're now just willing to let the Senate vote on a measure to let members debate the legislation.

In other words, it's just a foot in the door. Republicans will continue to obstruct every step forward, and will no doubt filibuster the bill itself, filibuster attempts to choose members of the conference committee, and then filibuster final passage.

This afternoon's news is encouraging, then, but we still have a long ways to go.

As for what led to the breakthrough, it gets back to what we talked about this morning -- the GOP blocked a vote on the debate because they saw it as a way of strengthening behind-closed-door negotiations. Now that it's clear that a bipartisan agreement won't be reached, and there's nothing more than can be accomplished through negotiations, Republicans are more inclined to let the bill advance.

It seems bizarre, but the breakdown in negotiations means more progress, not less.

For what it's worth, talks will continue, even after the motion to proceed passes, and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) has assured Republicans that there will ample opportunities to address provisions of the bill on the floor.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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HOUSE REPUBLICAN CALLS FOR DEPORTATION OF U.S. CITIZENS.... Just a few weeks ago, the political fight over immigration policy was barely a blip on the national radar. Now we have a House Republican lawmaker, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), calling for the government to deport U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.

"Would you support deportation of natural-born American citizens that are the children of illegal aliens," Hunter was asked. "I would have to, yes," Hunter said. "... We simply cannot afford what we're doing right now," he said. "... It takes more than just walking across the border to become an American citizen. It's what's in our souls. ..."

Hunter made his comments at a "tea party" rally in the San Diego County city of Ramona over the weekend.

Let's be real clear about this. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that those "born ... in the United States" are "citizens of the United States." It also says that no state can "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

For that matter, the Supreme Court ruled in 1898 that a baby born in San Francisco to Chinese immigrants was legally a U.S. citizen, even though federal law at the time denied citizenship to people from China. The court said birth in the United States constituted "a sufficient and complete right to citizenship."

What this Republican congressman is saying, then, is that he supports a policy wherein the U.S. government deports U.S. citizens based on their parents' immigration status.

Even for the GOP, this is pretty nutty. Indeed, if American officials were planning to deport American citizens, where would the children be expected to go?

Steve Benen 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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BRING IN THE COTS.... I want to debate Wall Street reform all night, and party ev-er-y day.

Senate Democratic leaders are planning for an all-night session to put more pressure on Republicans to allow a debate on Wall Street reform. [...]

Democratic aides said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to keep the Senate in session overnight to force Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the Democratic legislation.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said leaders had decided to hold a nighttime session to highlight GOP opposition to the Wall Street reform bill.

Is this a press stunt? Well, maybe a little. These all-night sessions are pretty unusual, and the Democratic leadership apparently hopes the extended debate will help further shine a light on Republican obstructionism, and further weaken GOP resolve to keep this farce going. Remember, Dems are confident they're playing the stronger hand here.

But it's not entirely about playing for the cameras. As part of the extended debate tonight (and into tomorrow morning), Democrats are also going to seek Senate agreement to end the filibuster and approve the motion to proceed.

"We're rolling out the cots," a senior Democratic leadership aide added, noting that the sergeant at arms will be instructed to require the presence of senators on the floor for "live quorum calls." Democrats will also continuously ask for unanimous consent to move to debate on the Wall Street bill, forcing the GOP to object at all hours of the night.

If Republicans are close to giving in anyway -- Sen. Voinovich, I'm looking in your direction -- the all-night session might compel them to say, "Fine. Enough is enough."

In fact, there were some additional hints earlier that Republicans don't see value in dragging this out much longer.

Republicans, though, don't seem long for this fight. Earlier today, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sounded close to ceding, calling his filibuster a useful exercise, but implying that it will soon come to an end.

"There is s some dissension within [McConnell's] ranks and I hope we see it in the votes soon," Durbin added.

The earlier they see it in the votes, the earlier these folks can go to bed tonight.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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OKLA. MANDATES INVASIVE MEDICAL PROCEDURES.... It's fairly common for policymakers who want to ban all abortions, but can't get away with that legally, to make it as difficult as possible for women to exercise their reproductive rights. But Oklahoma is taking this approach to truly outrageous levels.

The Oklahoma Legislature voted Tuesday to override the governor's vetoes of two abortion measures, one of which requires women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting an abortion.

Though other states have passed similar measures requiring women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma's law goes further, mandating that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.

This really is remarkable. For all the overheated talk from the right of late about government interfering with medicine, patients' decisions, and doctors' treatments, conservatives in Oklahoma have now made this the law in their state.

The thinking among these conservatives is that the image of a regular ultrasound may not be clear enough. Women seeking to terminate their pregnancy -- still a legal right in this country, by the way -- will, in Oklahoma, be required to get a vaginal probe to get a "clearer" picture. Medical professionals conducting the procedure will, whether they want to or not, be legally required to describe fetus characteristics.

"You're going to force someone to undergo an invasive medical procedure," state Sen. Andrew Rice (D) noted. "You have to invasively put an instrument inside the woman. This could be your 15-year-old daughter who was raped."

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry (D) agreed and vetoed the bill, saying "it would be unconscionable to subject rape and incest victims to such treatment" because it would victimize a victim a second time. "State policymakers should never mandate that a citizen be forced to undergo any medical procedure against his or her will."

This basic concept was rejected by Republican majorities in both chambers of Oklahoma's legislature, which overrode the veto yesterday.

Nothing says "limited government" like state-mandated, involuntary, invasive procedures, right?

The Center for Reproductive Rights has filed suit, arguing that the new state law violates physicians' freedom of speech and women's right to privacy. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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THIRD TIME WASN'T THE CHARM.... There were at least some hopes going into today that the third effort to let the Senate debate Wall Street reform would finally overcome Republican obstructionism. No such luck.

A Senate bill to rein in financial institutions has stalled again as Republicans remain unified against the Democrats' proposed overhaul.

The 56-42 vote failed to get the necessary 60 votes to move the legislation to the Senate floor for debate. Without that step, senators cannot offer amendments to the bill.

It was the third such vote in three days, orchestrated by Democrats to maintain pressure on Republicans.

The 56-42 vote was slightly different from the 57-41 vote from the first couple of tries, but it's only because of who was on the floor at the time -- no senators have changed their position, at least not yet.

Ezra Klein, meanwhile, notes that the Democratic leadership is considering a new procedural approach this evening.

Word is that the Democrats might make the Republicans actually filibuster FinReg tonight. That is to say, stand on the floor and talk and talk and talk. And if the Democrats are serious about forcing the Republicans to really filibuster the bill, this is the right week for it: The Kentucky Derby starts Friday, and Kentucky's senior senator, Mitch McConnell, would surely prefer to attend. Given that his members are already talking about breaking ranks, McConnell may find himself eager to get this kabuki dance over with a little bit early.

Now, just as a reminder, the notion of having one senator stand on the floor for hours, reading from phone books, isn't going to happen. But Dems can keep the chamber debating (over debating) all night if it chooses.

On a related note, the DNC released a new 30-second ad, intended to run on cable news networks, going after Republican obstructionism on Wall Street reform.

The next vote on the motion to proceed is likely to be held tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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ANOTHER SETBACK FOR GOP MINORITY OUTREACH.... In response to Arizona's draconian new immigration measure, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called for a boycott of his home state. Last night on Fox News, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was asked if there's anything wrong with Grijalva's position. He replied:

"Well, it looks like the case is that, that he's trying to scare the businesses out of Arizona, or he's trying to get the businesses to change their position and press the legislature to reverse the law that was just signed by the governor the other day.

"I'm wondering if we look at the map of Congressman Grijalva's congressional district if we haven't already ceded that component of Arizona to Mexico judging by the voice that comes out of him, he's advocating for Mexico rather than the United States and against the rule of law, which is one of the central pillars of American exceptionalism." [emphasis added]

King could have been more direct and just called Grijalva a traitor.

And speaking of right-wing Iowans who hate immigrants, Pat Bertroche, a Republican congressional hopeful in Iowa's 3rd district, has his own unique approach to immigration.

"I think we should catch 'em, we should document 'em, make sure we know where they are and where they are going...I actually support microchipping them. I can micro-chip my dog so I can find it. Why can't I microchip an illegal? That's not a popular thing to say, but it's a lot cheaper than building a fence they can tunnel under."

I could have sworn far-right Republicans were against involuntary microchip implanation.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Gallup's latest congressional poll finds that Republicans still benefit from an "enthusiasm gap" over Democrats in advance of the midterm elections.

* Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is now expected to launch an independent Senate bid. He'll formally announce his plans at an event tomorrow afternoon in St. Petersburg.

* Speaking of Florida, Marco Rubio (R) seems to be already shifting to a general-election posture, criticizing Arizona's new immigration law yesterday despite right-wing support for the measure.

* Actor Michael J. Fox is the star of Sen. Arlen Specter's (D-Pa.) new campaign ad. "Arlen Specter is moving forward," Fox says. "He's won the battles to double funding for biomedical research, to find cures and to save lives. He's smart, tough and always moving forward." The actor appeared in two Democratic ads in 2006, prompting Rush Limbaugh to mock Fox's Parkinson's.

* In Ohio, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher pulling away from Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in their Democratic Senate primary. Though the two were running close for many months, Quinnipiac now shows Fisher up by 17, 41% to 24%.

* It may not bolster her standing with rank-and-file Democrats, but Sen. Blanche Lincoln's (D) re-election bid is getting support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is launching a new campaign ad on her behalf.

* Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is not exactly a reliable Democratic ally, but he has agreed to host a fundraiser in support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

* With so much attention on Arizona politics of late, it's worth noting that Gov. Jan Brewer (R) trails state Attorney General Terry Goddard (D) in the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, 47% to 44%.

* And how far gone are some GOP contingents? Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a far-right Republican in Kansas, is getting a primary challenger. Republican state Sen. Dennis Pyle said Jenkins just isn't far-right enough.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS IN POST/ABC POLL.... The Washington Post's analysis of its new national poll points to widespread public discontent, which is generating a broad anti-incumbent mood. Given that Democrats are the governing party, it's the kind of result Republicans will find heartening.

Members of Congress face the most anti-incumbent electorate since 1994, with less than a third of all voters saying they are inclined to support their representatives in November, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Dissatisfaction is widespread, crossing party lines, ideologies and virtually all groups of voters. Less than a quarter of independents and just three in 10 Republicans say they're leaning toward backing an incumbent this fall. Even among Democrats, who control the House, the Senate and the White House, opinion is evenly divided on the question.

That's the good news for the GOP. The good news for Dems is that, looking through the internals, there are plenty of encouraging results for the majority, too.

For example, President Obama's approval rating is up slightly to 54%, the highest it's been in nearly six months. His approval rating on the economy is also the highest it's been since November, and Obama's support on handling health care is now the highest it's been in nine months.

The poll also asked, "Overall, which party, the Democrats or the Republicans, do you trust to do a better job in coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years?" On this question, Dems led by 14 points. In February, Dems led on the same question by just seven points.

What's more, the electorate continues to trust the president far more than congressional Republicans on every area of public policy, including an 11-point edge on the economy, and a 10-point edge on health care.

The generic ballot question remains close, but the Dems currently enjoy a five-point lead over Republicans, up slightly from March, and far better than the three-point lead Republicans had in February.

The anti-incumbency attitudes will no doubt help motivate Republicans with six months until the midterms, but it's hard to interpret these results as a shift away from Dems.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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A TEST OF MORAL SERIOUSNESS.... I rarely myself in agreement with Michael Gerson, but his column on immigration policy today noted a sentiment that I can strongly endorse: "The Arizona law -- like others before it -- does have one virtue. It sorts Republicans according to their political and moral seriousness."

It does, indeed. At this point, the serious GOP contingent is quite small, but it's slowly growing. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) criticized Arizona's awful new immigration law yesterday, and was soon followed by former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge and California gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman. Florida's Marco Rubio also doesn't care for the odious Arizona measure, and even former Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado believes it goes too far.

But all of those Republicans have one thing in common: none of them currently hold public office. How about actual GOP officeholders?

Amanda Terkel has been keeping track of Republican lawmakers who've stated their public position on Arizona's effort, and so far, only two GOP members -- Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- have been willing to criticize the state law.

What about their colleagues? Kasie Hunt reports that Republicans, who usually can't wait to pop off in front of reporters, are suddenly feeling shy.

Democrats can't shout loud enough about how much they hate Arizona's harsh immigration law. But Republican lawmakers are hedging, dodging, and reaching for nuance -- anything to avoid taking a strong stand on Arizona.

House Minority Leader John Boehner says it's a state issue and, well, it has 70 percent support in Arizona. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is "sympathetic." ... Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), caught between Texas' large Hispanic population and his job running national Senate campaigns, thinks it's "probably constitutional." [...]

Even the normally outspoken Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was subdued. "You know I haven't even really been following it to tell the truth," she told POLITICO when asked about the law.

If the issue is a test of Republicans' political and moral seriousness, it appears most of the party caucus on the Hill is content with an "incomplete."

Here's a thought: what about a non-binding resolution expressing a sense of Congress that the Arizona law is a legally-dubious travesty? Why not get every member of both chambers on the record?

Republicans tend to love pushing these kinds of resolutions, hoping to put Democrats on the spot. Perhaps Dems might be in the mood to turn the tables.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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MINORITY OUTREACH AND CROCODILE TEARS.... The DNC this week released a new video message to Democrats from President Obama, in effect kicking off the party's 2010 midterm efforts in earnest. In the video, the president emphasizes the importance of recapturing some of the successes of the 2008 cycle. "It will be up to each of you," Obama said, "to make sure that the young people, African Americans, Latinos, and women, who powered our victory in 2008, stand together once again."

At first blush, that didn't seem especially controversial. But as it turns out, the comments have become the basis of a new Republican offensive.

The Washington Examiner, a conservative outlet, ran a front-page headline that read, "Obama disses white guys." Noting the president's comments, Rush Limbaugh told his audience, "This is the regime at its racist best." The RNC pretended to be outraged, too, characterizing Obama's remarks as making an appeal "based on class warfare and race."

DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse told Ben Smith that Republicans are using a bizarre standard.

"Republicans are doing what they always do -- doing what Michael Steele did in the power point he prepared that depicted the President as the joker -- stoking fear because they don't have one idea for how to move the country forward.

"Working to turn out voters who were new to the process in 2008 -- the majority of which as a matter of fact were people of color and young people -- is no more an appeal to race than Michael Steele saying he's going to bring a "hip hop" makeover to the Republican Party or an "urban" feel to the GOP."

Seems like a reasonable response to me. Soon after Michael Steele became RNC chairman, he emphasized his intentions about targeting specific demographics and constituencies. From February 2009:

Newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele plans an "off the hook" public relations offensive to attract younger voters, especially blacks and Hispanics, by applying the party's principles to "urban-suburban hip-hop settings."

Hmm. When President Obama talks about outreach to younger voters and minority communities, it's offensive. When RNC Chairman Michael Steele talks about the exact same thing, it's "off the hook."

I tried to find evidence of conservatives whining last year, concerned that Michael Steele was a "racist" who was "dissing white guys," but I can't find any complaints to that effect. I wonder why that is.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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ANOTHER CONSPIRACY THEORY BITES THE DUST.... The far-right American Spectator claimed to have a juicy scoop on Monday. It reportedthat HHS had evidence that the Affordable Care Act would increase medical costs, but hid the report until last week -- as opposed to before the votes in Congress -- in order to ensure passage of the law.

A variety of right-wing blogs were pretty excited about the report, and Republican congressional offices began pushing the story as legitimate. As a rule, when this happens, it's a big hint that a story isn't true.

And in this case, the rule proved reliable. The HHS conspiracy fell apart pretty quickly. NBC's Mark Murray did some digging and found that it's "pretty clear that the Spectator report isn't accurate."

1. The Office of the Actuary didn't receive the language of the reconciliation bill until March 18 (when the legislation was posted), so the Spectator's assertion that HHS had a copy of the Actuary's score a week before congressional passage -- on March 22 -- doesn't make sense.

2. Past scores from the Office of the Actuary came out AFTER passage of the legislation. For the House bill that passed on Nov. 7, 2009, the Actuary's score came out on Nov. 13. And for the Senate bill that passed on Dec. 24, 2009, the Actuary's score came out on Jan. 8, 2010. This most recent Actuary report is dated April 22.

3. Given points #1 and #2, it's hard to see how the Actuary's score was available before the CBO's, which came out on March 18.

What's more, Chief Medicare Actuary Richard Foster weighed in directly, calling the right-wing reporting "completely inaccurate," and there's no evidence to suggest otherwise. Given that Foster is an independent official with no incentive to lie, his denial is pretty compelling.

There are two other angles to keep in mind here. First, while the timeline proves that the Spectator's report is wrong, it's also worth noting that the motivation doesn't even make sense. There was no reason for administration officials to try to hide the information -- lawmakers had already seen, considered, and debated the same data before the vote. Why would anyone bother to hide conclusions from Congress that Congress had already seen?

Second, the irony of the right-wing conspiracy theory is that Republicans are accusing Democrats of engaging in a cover-up that Republicans were actually guilty of. It went largely overlooked at the time, but when Bush/Cheney and GOP lawmakers passed Medicare Part D in 2003, the Bush administration had evidence that the bill would cost far more than advertised. Bush administration officials deliberately suppressed the report, hiding evidence from Congress, in a move the Government Accounting Office later described as "illegal."

It takes a special kind of chutzpah for Republicans to falsely accuse rivals of launching a cover-up after Republicans themselves launched a cover-up.

Nevertheless, given how spectacularly wrong the Spectator and its allied outlets were, HHS would like to see some corrections. We'll see.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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GRAHAM IS LUCY, DEMS ARE CHARLIE BROWN, CLIMATE BILL IS THE BALL.... To a very real extent, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) won a key concession yesterday. He just didn't take the good news well.

A few days ago, the conservative senator threatened to kill the climate/energy bill he's been working on for months, because the Senate leadership was weighing whether to do immigration reform first. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he's willing take up climate first, backing down from some of his recent pronouncements.

So, Graham won this round, right? He gave the Democratic leadership an ultimatum: climate before immigration, or else. Yesterday, Reid seemed to give in. This should mean Graham and his tri-partisan climate bill can get back on track, shouldn't it? Alas, no. Brian Beutler has this report:

Tonight, Graham told me that he will filibuster his own climate change bill, unless Reid drops all plans to turn to immigration this Congress.

"Immigration was interjected before we rolled out the [climate and energy] bill not because anybody's serious about passing it, but because Harry has got a political problem with the Hispanic community," Graham told me tonight. "It makes the heavy lift of energy and climate impossible and everybody knows that."

Graham has said for days that he's dropped out of climate/energy talks, but pressed tonight, he said that he will filibuster his own bill if Reid tries to bring it up without tabling immigration altogether.

"If they can do this without me, go ahead.... I am not going to be part of an energy-climate process that has no hope of success," Graham said. "I am not going to let that happen with my vote."

I realize that Graham's recent apoplexy has some credible defenders, and I'll concede that some of his concerns had merit. But I find it very difficult to consider Graham's latest moves evidence of someone who's acting in good faith. Indeed, his latest position hardly makes any sense at all.

Graham worked for month on the climate/energy compromise, and now he doesn't even want to allow the Senate to vote on his own bill. Why? Because later this year, Democrats might take up an immigration reform package.

That would be the same immigration reform package that Graham claims to support, which he said he wanted to see pass this year, and which he encouraged Democratic leaders to step up their efforts on.

And yet, now Graham is prepared to kill both of his own compromise measures, even if they're considered in the order he requested.

The South Carolinian said he won't be part of "an energy-climate process that has no hope of success." But the only person who's guaranteeing that Lindsey Graham's bill has no hope of success is Lindsey Graham.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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WILL THE THIRD TIME BE THE CHARM ON WALL STREET REFORM?.... On Democratic Wall Street reform efforts, yesterday afternoon looked an awful lot like Monday afternoon -- Senate Republicans still refuse to allow a floor debate on the bill -- but the pressure continues to get a little more intense.

President Obama went to the heartland to pitch financial reform Tuesday, but unimpressed Senate Republicans blocked the overhaul for a second straight day.

With Obama in Iowa, one Democrat and every GOP senator stayed united to block the start of debate on the bill. The measure would regulate Wall Street's trading in complex investments known as derivatives, curtail "too big to fail" bailouts and create a consumer financial watchdog.

The President declared the unified front shows the GOP is answering to greedy financiers' lobbyists.

"It's one thing to oppose reform, but to oppose just even talking about reform in front of the American people, and having a legitimate debate, that's not right," Obama said. "The American people deserve an honest debate on this bill."

For their part, Senate Republican leaders began circulating their own version of the legislation, which wasn't too terribly dissimilar to the Democratic proposal, though it would water down key provisions, and tighten regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- a step Dems believe is better suited for a separate bill. GOP senators continued to reserve their strongest opposition to the creation of a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency -- a point of particular interest to the Monthly right now -- and Republican said their version would limit its authority to regulating smaller banks and nonfinancial companies, leaving the industry's heavy hitters alone.

Dems will reportedly try, once again, to get 60 votes to allow the Senate to debate the bill today, but there's at least some evidence that Republican unity is starting to crack. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) indicated late yesterday that he's leaning towards switching his vote and allowing the debate to proceed to the Senate floor.

And what about the efforts to find a bipartisan agreement? Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who recently said a deal was near, told reporters yesterday that he is "far less optimistic" about reaching a resolution than he was. "I don't think any time in the near future there's going to be a bipartisan agreement," he said.

It's counter-intuitive, but the lack of progress on bipartisan talks actually makes legislative progress more likely, not less. Senators like Voinovich, for example, were apparently prepared to allow the filibuster to continue while the behind-the-scenes talks worked towards a deal. Now that a compromise appears increasingly unlikely, some GOP members are more inclined to let the bill advance.

The question, then, is how much longer Voinovich and his like-minded allies will wait before giving up on the talks and allowing the floor debate to begin. The third attempt to break the GOP filibuster will be this afternoon. If it fails, expect a fourth try tomorrow.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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BRAINS ON DRUGS..... As Congress hammers out its landmark financial reform bill, one of the most controversial points of debate is the question of where to put the government's new financial watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Should it be a freestanding agency, like the Securities and Exchange Commission, or rolled into the Treasury Department or the Federal Reserve? Liberal Democrats have argued fiercely for making the CFPA independent, on the theory that an autonomous agency will be more powerful and less vulnerable to pressure from the financial sector. Republicans seem to agree with liberal's theory, and fear that a freestanding agency would tend toward overregulation. What is really at issue in this debate, as in so many others, is the question of bureaucratic power.

In a probing essay-review in the May/June issue of the Washington Monthly, Steven Teles of John Hopkins University and the New America Foundation uses a new history of the Food and Drug Administration -- an agency which for decades ranked among the most formidable in Washington--as a vehicle for exploring why some agencies are granted far more autonomy and clout than others. Delving into Daniel Carpenter's new book, Reputation and Power, Teles finds the answer boils down largely to a single factor: status. Bureaucracies that are seen and admired as powerful guardians of the public interest are less likely to fall prey to political whims or special interests. Extending these findings to the CFPA debate, Teles argues that, contrary to popular belief, the agency would have more autonomy and regulatory clout if placed inside the Federal Reserve, which is taken seriously by the financial industry and has the reputation and resources to attract top talent. Click here to read a sneak preview of Teles's treatise, "Brains on Drugs."

Steve Benen 6:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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April 27, 2010

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The Senate tried again to start a debate on Wall Street reform. And once again, Republicans and Ben Nelson refused to let the debate begin. The vote was 57 to 41, just like yesterday. (The negative press apparently didn't faze them.)

* Uh oh: "Greece's credit rating was lowered to junk status Tuesday by a leading credit agency, a decision that rocked financial markets and deepened fears that a debt crisis in Europe could spiral out of control."

* It led to an unpleasant day on Wall Street.

* Krugman evaluates the situation and warns of a "cohesion crisis." He concluded, "It's getting a bit scary out there."

* At the same time, however, we learned that U.S. consumer confidence rose in April, reaching its highest level in 19 months.

* Interesting day on the Hill: "Blistered by lawmakers for 'unbridled greed,' Goldman Sachs executives on Tuesday unflinchingly defended their conduct and denied the huge Wall Street investment bank helped cause the near-meltdown of the nation's financial system."

* The Mexican government has warned its citizens about visiting Arizona. That's probably a good idea.

* Good: "The National Institutes of Health will announce Tuesday that four additional lines of human embryonic stem cells are now eligible for federal funding, including the most widely used line."

* Keep an eye on this: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) maintained Tuesday he will bring up climate legislation ahead of an immigration bill, noting the former 'is much farther down the road in terms of a product.'"

* President Obama's "Main Street Tour" reaches Iowa.

* It's like the C. Montgomery Burns Chair in Business Administration.

* Great Eugene Robinson column on Arizona, Tea Partiers, and immigration: "Isn't the whole premise of the Tea Party movement that overreaching government poses a grave threat to individual freedom? ... Or is there some kind of exception if the people whose freedoms are being taken away happen to have brown skin and might speak Spanish?"

* Yeah, I remember when calling the president a "racist" used to be controversial, too.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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SUE LOWDEN BACKS DOWN (SORT OF).... Last week, Republican Senate hopeful Sue Lowden described a "bring a chicken to the doctor" health care compensation model. After defending a bizarre and efficient barter-based dynamic, the Nevadan declared, "I'm not backing down from that system."

Today, the far-right Republican decided to back down from that system. Sort of.

In the face of some humiliating derision, and a day after receiving the Stephen Colbert treatment, Sue Lowden shifted gears, claiming the quote was taken "way out of context." Her campaign now insists the bartering model was "never a policy proposal."

In an interview with a local station in Nevada today, Lowden clarified her original comments, claiming she'd been taken out of context. Lowden added she had merely made a "casual statement" designed to describe an ongoing reality, and hadn't intended to offer a policy prescription. [...]

"The truth of the matter is there is bartering going on in this state and in the country," Lowden said. "It has been going on for years." She added she had merely made "a casual statement talking about the reality of what's going on."

I'm glad Lowden is trying a new tack here -- after, you know, tripling down on the argument last week -- but there are a few flaws in her walk-back.

First, Lowden got in this mess in large part because she did recommend the bartering model as a policy proposal. In fact, in the incident that started this mess, Lowden was asked how her approach to health care policy would differ from the new national law. She recommended, among other things, that patients "go ahead and barter with your doctor." Lowden said, at the time, that such an approach "would get prices down in a hurry." It's a little late for her spokesperson to argue this was "never a policy proposal," when it clearly was.

Second, while Lowden can surely find isolated instances of "bartering going on" between medical professionals and patients, that's not really the point. For the overwhelming majority of Americans who struggle with medical bills, bartering isn't a realistic option. For families facing tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt, her wistful praise for a time when patients could "bring a chicken to the doctor" sounds genuinely insane.

And third, her remarks weren't exactly a "casual" reflection on the status quo. Lowden specifically called for "changing the system." Before defending bartering and talking about how "sympathetic" doctors are, she said, "I'm telling you that this works."

Lowden is doing the right thing by trying damage-control, but her arguments would be more persuasive if they made more sense.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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THE TWISTS AND TURNS OF THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE.... As a rule, congressional Republicans have absolutely no interest in taking up immigration reform this year. That's understandable -- the issue would likely help Democrats, especially Western incumbents like Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, and Michael Bennet, while splitting Republicans, as it did when George W. Bush tried a few years ago.

But the GOP's reluctance is not universal. Dave Weigel notes today that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who still holds considerable influence in GOP circles, has lent his name to "an under-the-radar conservative campaign for federal immigration reform this year."

On Thursday, Bush will headline a "nationwide strategy call with key business and Evangelical leaders to share convictions around the need for immigration reform this year," according to Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Bush -- who'll be joined on the call by Carlos Gutierrez, his brother's Commerce Secretary during the 2006/2007 immigration debate -- has long favored some sort of comprehensive reform that bolsters border security while allowing more immigrants to attain citizenship.

Will this change the way Republicans approach the issue? We'll see, but it's worth watching the trajectory of the curveball.

In the meantime, Dems, when considering the issue on a purely political level, seem to like the implications of tackling the issue.

Making a genuine attempt at a comprehensive immigration plan that includes a pathway to citizenship has dual potential to help Democrats politically -- they motivate Latino voters and labor unions who have long championed the issue, and they can portray unwilling Republicans as anti-Hispanic. Demographic shifts in the West have helped Democrats scoop up more Congressional seats and win electoral college battles in recent years. [...]

"Either we do it for political show or we get a bill done. Either way we win," [a Democratic House committee staffer familiar with the immigration debate] said. "If Republicans block us they will forever cement themselves as rural, white angry party, and that's fine either way. Hispanics will see on Telemundo and Univision the angry white people in the Republican blocking the American dream. Who wins? Democrats do."

Part of this is proving to Latino voters that Dems made a good faith effort to get reform done -- and then blaming Republicans if it comes up short.

And while this issue barely existed on the national radar a month ago, the ridiculous new law in Arizona has clearly changed the game.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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DEPT. OF POTS AND KETTLES.... Oh, good, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has a new script.

Boehner sought to advance a new GOP argument, that Democrats can't be trusted on financial reform because of their handling of other issues.

In a one-minute speech on the House floor, the top Republican said congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama lack credibility on financial reform because of what Boehner called failed promises about the economy, healthcare reform, and bringing down the deficit.

"We're seeing a growing credibility gap here in Washington," Boehner said. "Democrats are saying one thing and doing something else."

Greg Sargent posted the entire transcript of Boehner's new spiel.

I suspect there were some focus groups somewhere who found this pitch persuasive -- otherwise, Boehner wouldn't be saying it -- but it strikes me as pretty weak tea.

For one thing, for Republicans to talk about a credibility gap is to lead with their chin. We're talking about a party claims to care about fiscal responsibility, but added $5 trillion to the debt. They claim to be experts on national security, but they bungled two wars and saw 9/11 and other attacks happen on their watch. They claim to know how to use tax policy to grow the economy, but their economic policies produced ruin. They claim to have credible proposals on everything from health care to energy, but their plans quickly fall apart after minimal scrutiny. They claim to hate last year's recovery package, but keep taking credit for stimulus projects they don't believe should even exist. They claim to support reforms of how Wall Street operates, but they won't even allow for a debate on the Senate floor, and seem to be trading obstructionism for campaign cash.

If Republicans really want Americans to consider which party is lacking in credibility, no serious analysis would work in the GOP's favor.

For another, while Democrats are hardly above reproach, questioning their trustworthiness seems like an odd area for criticism. For better or worse, Dems have governed as they said they'd govern. They've fought for the ideas and proposals they said they'd fight for.

And despite inheriting multiple disasters from a failed Republican administration, things have gone pretty well. After 15 months as the governing party, Democrats have rescued the economy from a burgeoning catastrophe, prevented terrorist attacks, captured or killed a variety of terrorist leaders, withdrawn troops from Iraq, passed a breakthrough health-care reform plan, overhauled the student-loan system, struck a key nuclear deal with Russia, got the faltering U.S. auto industry back on track, got banks to pay us back for the TARP bailout, lifted the ban on stem-cell research, passed a national service bill, passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, passed new regulations of the credit card industry, passed new regulation of the tobacco industry, helped restore the nation's stature and leadership role on the global stage, and are poised to finally bring some safeguards and accountability to Wall Street.

Why is it, exactly, that Boehner thinks Democrats have a "credibility" problem, as opposed to, say, his own party?

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Most of the time, if I refer readers to a clip from a congressional hearing, it's not necessary to include a "not safe for work" reference. But there are notable exceptions.

Take today, for example, when Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) grilled former Goldman Sachs partner Daniel Sparks, who led the firm's mortgages department, at a hearing of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Reading from an internal firm email, Levin confronted Sparks: "'Boy, that Timberwolf was one shitty deal.' How much of that shitty deal did you sell to your clients after June 22, 2007?"

Sparks said he didn't know, but the price would have reflected any concerns about value. Levin wasn't persuaded: "But you didn't tell them you thought it was a shitty deal." Sparks noted that those words weren't from an email he wrote, to which Levin responded, "No. Who did? Your people. Internally. You knew it was a shitty deal and that's what your email shows."

It actually got worse from there. Levin pointed to a long list of examples of Goldman making sales of this "shitty deal" a "top priority" after it already been assessed as garbage. "Should Goldman Sachs be trying to sell a shitty deal?" the Democratic senator asked. "Can you answer that one yes or no?"

Sparks, not surprisingly, hedged.

The rest of the hearing hasn't gone much better.

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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RNC'S FAKE-CENSUS APPEALS DRAW FIRE.... Without a single vote of opposition in either chamber, Congress recently passed a law to restrict fake-census materials as part of sleazy fundraising campaigns. It was a rather direct rebuke to the Republican National Committee -- it was, after all, the only entity trying to pull this stunt.

And yet, the RNC continues to send out the misleading mailings, with envelopes that include text such as "Census Document" and, in all caps, "DO NOT DESTROY/OFFICIAL DOCUMENT." Asked for an explanation, RNC officials insist the law doesn't apply to their underhanded fundraising techniques. Asked why not, RNC officials have very little too offer.

Yesterday, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and William Clay (D-Mo.), both senior members of the House Oversight committee, urged the U.S. Postmaster General to intervene.

Oddly enough, Dems aren't the only ones concerned. In a rare display of bipartisanship, some House Republicans aren't happy, either.

A Republican Congressman just sharply criticized the RNC's mailers as an effort to "deceive people" in an interview with me just now, and confirmed that he and a second GOPer are set to demand that RNC chair Michael Steele drop the practice immediately lest they remain in violation of the law.

What's more, the U.S. Postal Service is investigating the RNC's use of the mailers, the Congressman, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, confirms to me.

"They're trying to be deceptive, and it outrages me," Chaffetz said by phone just now.

Chaffetz and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) are reportedly drafting a letter to the RNC, demanding they stop their fake-census mailings.

I realize that, on occasion, the RNC will do something outrageous in the hopes that its misconduct will generate its own attention. For example, it might create a loathsome web ad, which it has no intention of airing on television, simply in the hopes that the networks will air for free as part of the coverage of the story.

But if there's an upside to the fake-census story, I don't see it. The RNC just looks sleazy, reckless, and possibly even criminal, with no apparent upside. When far-right House Republicans are raising a fuss, you know the RNC has crossed a line.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will announce his plans for the rest of the year on Thursday, the day before the filing deadline for an expected independent Senate bid.

* Asked yesterday whether Crist would caucus with Democrats or Republicans should he win as an independent, the governor said, "You're way ahead of me."

* Sen. Bob Bennett (R) is now running third in Utah, reinforcing the fact that his career is nearly over -- there's just no room for a conservative senator in a very conservative party.

* Last week, Ohio Republicans sent out a mailer saying they're trying to take Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) "out of the House and send her back to the kitchen." Sutton is fighting back, calling on her Republican opponent to denounce the misogynistic attack.

* The Democratic primary in North Carolina's Senate race is just a week away, and at this point, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall has a slight edge over former state Sen. Cal Cunningham in the multi-candidate race. If no candidate gets a majority 40%, the top two will compete in a June runoff. [fixed]

* In Kentucky, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo (D), a leading Senate candidate, emphasizes his opposition to cap-and-trade -- the basis for his party's energy policy -- in a new campaign ad.

* Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will not run unopposed after all -- Fox News commentator Jay Townsend will kick off his Republican campaign this weekend.

* And in Georgia, real estate magnate Ray Boyd had planned on running for governor as a Republican, but will now reportedly run as an independent. Boyd has said he intends to spend $2 million of his own money on the race.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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BEST CARE ANYWHERE.... Since its original publication three years ago, Phillip Longman's Best Care Anywhere has become a classic among health care delivery system reformers. Nobel Laureate and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, has applauded its central insight: that a universal, integrated system such as the VA is best equipped to maximize health care quality while lowering costs thanks to its long-term relationship with its patients. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post has called Best Care Anywhere, "Among the most important social policy books published in the last decade." Through word of mouth and expert endorsement, it has become one of the nation's best-selling books on fixing the health care delivery system as well as assigned reading for students of health care policy. Now, by popular demand, Longman has produced a new, expanded second edition that relates the book's paradoxical message to the new and urgent challenges created by passage of comprehensive health insurance reform.

The book chronicles the transformation of the VA health system from one of the worst health care providers in United States into one that outperforms nearly all others on metrics ranging from patient safety to the use of electronic medical records, adoption of evidence medicine, cost-effectiveness and patient satisfaction. Longman uses this story, along with that of his first wife's death to breast cancer at a prestigious cancer treatment center, to draw out lessons about how much of what we think we know about the working of the health care delivery system is simply wrong.

On Thursday, the New America Foundation will host a discussion on Longman's book at its D.C. office at 12:15 p.m. The event will be moderated by Paul Glastris, the Washington Monthly's editor in chief, who edited and published the original magazine cover story that became the book. Longman also wrote a follow-up piece, "Best Care Everywhere," in the October 2007 issue.

If you wish to attend in person, you can register here. If you want to watch the event online, a live webcast is available at the same link. (You need not register to watch the webcast.)

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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SCARBOROUGH TELLS IT LIKE IT IS.... Credit where credit is due: MSNBC's Joe Scarborough criticized Arizona's new immigration law this morning, and did so in a compelling, persuasive way.

As the former Republican congressman put it, "...It does offend me when one out of every three citizens in the state of Arizona are Hispanics, and you have now put a target on the back of one out of three citizens, who, if they're walking their dog around a neighborhood, if they're walking their child to school, and they're an American citizen, or a legal, legal immigrant -- to now put a target on their back, and make them think that every time they walk out of their door they may have to prove something. I will tell you, that is un-American. It is unacceptable and it is un-American."

I'm not sure if I've ever agreed so strongly with Joe Scarborough.

Atrios added, "I'm not usually one to highlight right wingers saying reasonable things, but I think on this issue it's a positive sign that even Joe Scarborough isn't on board with the Arizona horror show."

Of course, Scarborough is no longer in Congress, and need not worry about offending the Republican Party's far-right base or donors. What I'd really like to see is some current GOP officials speak out this forcefully on the issue. Thus far, according to research from ThinkProgress, only one sitting Republican member of Congress -- Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American lawmaker in Miami -- has been willing to speak out strongly against the Arizona measure.

Here's hoping he's not the only one.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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A GOP STRATEGY THAT PAYS DIVIDENDS.... A couple of weeks ago, members of the Senate Republican leadership traveled to New York for a private, behind-closed-doors chat with hedge fund managers, bankers, and Wall Street elites. By all appearances, the message wasn't especially subtle: the GOP would fight against new safeguards, and Wall Street should reward Republicans with campaign contributions.

I guess it's working.

Republicans may lose the fight over Wall Street regulations, but the fight has helped their campaign accounts.

For the first time since 2004, the biggest Wall Street firms are now giving most of their campaign donations to Republicans.

Last year, J.P. Morgan's PAC gave most of its donations to Dems. This year, most of its donations are going to Republicans.

Last year, Morgan Stanley gave most of its donations to Dems. This year, 80% of its donations are going to Republicans.

Goldman Sachs has been a reliable Democratic supporter, until this year, with most of its PAC money going to the GOP.

Yesterday, after Republicans blocked a debate on Wall Street reform, the RNC issued a press release that said Democrats "stand with" Wall Street, adding that Senate Dems failed "in their attempt to move forward with bailout for their Wall Street fat cat friends."

Given reality, it's hard to overstate how blisteringly stupid this is. The RNC must seriously believe we're all idiots.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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THE LIMITED PRACTICAL BENEFITS OF XENOPHOBIA.... Twelve years ago, Alabama voters grew so weary of then-Gov. Fob James' (R) nonsense -- he seemed far more interested in promoting the Ten Commandments than governing -- that they gave him the boot after one term. This year, his son Tim is running for the same job, and he appears to be a chip off the old block.

In his first TV ad, the younger James asks, "Why do our politicians make us give driver license exams in 12 languages? This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it. We're only giving that test in English -- if I'm governor. Maybe it's the business man in me, but we'll save money. And it make sense. [lengthy pause] Does it to you?"

That was probably a rhetorical question, but actually, no, it doesn't.

Tim James may or may not have thought to look into this before using it as the basis for a television ad, but Alabama administers the test in multiple languages in order to qualify for federal transportation funding. If a James administration insisted on dropping the current standards, it wouldn't "save money" for Alabama; it would do the exact opposite. For that matter, courts have, more than once, rejected efforts to mandate English-only exams.

What's more, as a substantive matter, the reason officials want the exam to be available in multiple languages in the first place is because they want drivers to get drivers licenses and demonstrate proficiency when it comes to operating a vehicle and understanding the rules.

But these details aren't really what matter to Alabama Republicans. As Tim Fernholz explained, "Maintaining federal funding, keeping the roads safe, or even simple nondiscrimination don't seem to matter to James. He'd rather exploit racial tension and hostility toward the national government to get ahead."

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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GREENHOUSE GETS SHRILL.... Linda Greenhouse, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times, isn't known for writing provocative opinion pieces. But the new, odious immigration measure in Arizona appears to have genuinely outraged Greenhouse. Good for her.

...I'm not going back to Arizona as long as it remains a police state, which is what the appalling anti-immigrant bill that Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law last week has turned it into.

What would Arizona's revered libertarian icon, Barry Goldwater, say about a law that requires the police to demand proof of legal residency from any person with whom they have made "any lawful contact" and about whom they have "reasonable suspicion" that "the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States?" Wasn't the system of internal passports one of the most distasteful features of life in the Soviet Union and apartheid-era South Africa?

Greenhouse's question about Goldwater's reaction to such madness also reminds me that there's another group of small-government-minded folks who claim to be concerned by authoritarian tactics. Reader B.H. emailed this poignant observation last night:

Just a question I haven't heard anybody ask: Shouldn't the tea party crowd be having a cow over this new immigration bill that Arizona just passed? Doesn't that sound like big government tyranny to them? Giving the police the power to demand "papers" from someone just on their own suspicion?

Any chatter from the tea party folk to this effect? I haven't seen any.

Nor have I. It's almost as if the right-wing crowd is only offended by government abuses when they're imaginary.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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HOW BEN NELSON ROLLS.... Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska, yesterday, on a motion to proceed:

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) voted Monday evening against beginning debate on his party's Wall Street reform bill.

Nelson, a centrist Democrat who also broke with his party on healthcare legislation and several jobs bills, joined Republicans in opposing the legislation.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska, in November, on a motion to proceed:

Nelson also underlined that this motion [to proceed] is merely "to start debate on a bill and to try to improve it" -- not a final vote to pass it.

"If you don't like the bill, then why would you block your own opportunity to amend it?" Nelson said. "Why would you stop senators from doing the job they're elected to do -- debate, consider amendments, and take action on an issue affecting every American?"

I don't know, Ben, why would a member stop senators from doing the job they're elected to do?

Nelson said in a statement that he "cannot support proceeding on a bill I haven't seen." But that's silly -- Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) published a draft more than a month ago, and released the official legislative language 10 days ago.

Of course, it's not exactly a mystery as to why Ben Nelson sided with Republicans to prevent a debate on Wall Street reform. The Democratic bill includes tough new restrictions on derivatives, and Warren Buffet, a billionaire Nebraskan, has tens of billions of dollars in derivatives contracts. Buffet, not surprisingly, has been urging Nelson to help protect his business, and the senator seems inclined to do what his wealthiest constituent wants.

Over the weekend, Nelson sought a special side deal (yes, again) that would have created an exemption, shielding existing derivatives from new regulations, and in the process relieving Buffet of any new burdens. Dodd thought this was absurd, rejected Nelson's plea, and apparently pushed Nelson into blocking a debate.

Note the shift in Democratic strategy, as compared to last fall: Dems are so confident Republicans will eventually come around on Wall Street reform, they don't feel the need to give in to Ben Nelson's ridiculous demands. With health care, Dems had no other options.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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GOP TO DEMS: NO VOTE FOR YOU.... As expected, the Senate leadership tried to bring a Wall Street reform package to the floor for a debate late yesterday. And as expected, Senate Republicans voted unanimously to prevent that debate from getting underway.

The final vote was 57 to 41, with two GOP senators not voting. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska joined with Republicans (more on that later) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote for purely procedural reasons -- by voting against it, he'll be able to bring back to the floor again.

President Obama issued a fairly aggressive statement after the vote.

"I am deeply disappointed that Senate Republicans voted in a block against allowing a public debate on Wall Street reform to begin. Some of these Senators may believe that this obstruction is a good political strategy, and others may see delay as an opportunity to take this debate behind closed doors, where financial industry lobbyists can water down reform or kill it altogether. But the American people can't afford that.

"A lack of consumer protections and a lack of accountability on Wall Street nearly brought our economy to its knees, and helped cause the pain that has left millions of Americans without jobs and without homes. The reform that both parties have been working on for a year would prevent a crisis like this from happening again, and I urge the Senate to get back to work and put the interests of the country ahead of party."

So, now what? Roll Call reports that the Dems' strategy hasn't changed.

Senate Democrats got exactly what they wanted Monday night: a concrete way to try to tar Republicans as beholden to Wall Street schemers who would put the country in danger of another financial industry collapse. [....]

Despite their one defection, Democrats seemed to be thinking about all the campaign ads they could run in November against Republicans, and they appeared unconcerned about whether a bipartisan financial regulatory reform measure will ever materialize.... At press time, Democrats were hatching plans to vote on the measure again Tuesday and possibly Wednesday and Thursday as well. [....]

It was unclear whether the Democrats' hardball tactics would adversely affect bipartisan negotiations, and Democrats appeared to be hoping that their drumbeat of votes and rhetorical jabs would force GOP opponents into submission -- with or without a compromise.

For now, then, the Wall Street reform bill will stay right where it is, waiting for a vote on the motion to proceed. There are some other things Senate Dems would like to try to do this week, but depending on the status of the bipartisan talks, it's likely the Senate will just be in limbo for a while. The hope among Democrats is that the longer the spotlight is on this reform bill, the pressure Republicans will feel.

The next attempt at passing the motion to proceed may come as early as today.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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April 26, 2010

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* As promised, Senate Republicans blocked a vote to start debate on Wall Street reform this afternoon. In a rather ridiculous move, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) joined with the GOP, proving once again just how embarrassing he can be.

* Iraq: "Seven weeks after Iraqis went to the polls, a special elections court disqualified a winning parliamentary candidate, likely reversing the narrow defeat of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's coalition and possibly allowing him the first chance to form a new coalition government."

* Political chaos continues to threaten Thailand.

* President Obama eulogizes 29 coal miners killed in West Virginia earlier this month. "Our task, here on Earth, is to save lives from being lost in another such tragedy," the president said.

* Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) still thinks the climate/energy bill is headed for the Senate floor -- eventually.

* Encouraging: "The recovery is shaping up to be stronger than expected and there is little risk the economy will slip back into a recession, according to USA TODAY's quarterly survey of 46 leading economists."

* Maybe this will have an impact on the policy debate? "Coast Guard officials said Monday afternoon that the oil spill near Louisiana was now covering an area in the Gulf of Mexico of 48 miles by 39 miles at its widest points, and they have been unable to engage a mechanism that could shut off the well thousands of feet below the ocean's surface."

* Should be an interesting case: "The Supreme Court, wading into a thicket of free-speech and children's rights issues, agreed Monday to decide whether California can ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors."

* On a related note, there will be no announcement this week on the next Supreme Court nominee.

* Mary Kay Henry, not Anna Burger, will head the SEIU.

* What was Joseph Sean McVey doing at Asheville Regional Airport yesterday, armed and interested in seeing the president? (thanks to reader V.S. for the tip)

* Howard Kurtz gets into the fact-checking game on CNN, which is good. But if the segment is going to be a both-sides-do-it feature, that isn't good at all.

* How do you know for sure the crazy immigration law passed last week in Arizona goes too far? Tom Tancredo thinks it's excessive.

* Jesus will stay on Trinity University's diploma.

* George W. Bush's memoir will be released later this year -- a week after the midterms.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... The debate over Wall Street reform hasn't exactly been a good one for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). After a behind-closed-doors chat with some hedge fund managers and bankers, he launched an effort to kill the bill with a brazen lie, which no one could defend.

And yet, in about a half-hour, it appears McConnell will nevertheless lead his united Republican caucus in unanimous opposition to even starting a debate on this popular legislation. Faiz Shakir reports this afternoon on McConnell's explanation on why the Senate shouldn't even be allowed to vote on the motion to proceed.

"A vote for cloture is a vote that says, 'We're done listening to the American people on this issue.' ... A vote against ending this debate tonight is a vote that says it's no longer enough to tell our constituents to trust us. It's a vote that says this time, we'll prove it."

Ever get the feeling McConnell just doesn't care anymore? It's as if he assumes -- probably correctly -- that there are no consequences for adopting an almost pathological approach to the truth, so he'll just be as shameless as he can be.

Before anyone thinks McConnell may be more ignorant than mendacious, don't buy it. He's been in the Senate for a quarter of a century. He knows what a motion to proceed is. He knows getting an up-or-down vote to begin a floor debate isn't the end of the discussion; it's the start. McConnell knows this but lies anyway, because he can.

I am curious about something, though, and hoping some enterprising young reporter can pester McConnell about this. Last month, the Minority Leader was one of many Senate Republicans who insisted that lawmakers do what polls tell them to do. Senators must respect the will of the voters, McConnell and others said, or our democracy suffers.

Well, Americans overwhelmingly back the Wall Street reform effort -- the one Republicans are apparently afraid to even debate on the Senate floor. What happened the GOP notion that policymakers have a responsibility to do what the polls tell them to do?

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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GRASSLEY CONTINUES TO TAKE CREDIT FOR BILL HE OPPOSED.... During the debate over health care reform, few, if any, policymakers played as absurd a role in the reform process as Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa. From advancing demonstrably ridiculous claims to forcing needless delays to brazen hypocrisy and contradictions, the Iowa Republican was an obnoxious force. Given that he was the Senate Republicans' point-man on health care, this was a problem.

It was pretty amusing, then, to see Grassley last month start to take credit for some provisions in the Affordable Care Act. In a press release, Grassley praised some of the effects of the legislation, and credited his own work for making these benefits possible.

Igor Volsky reports today that Grassley has done it again, "highlighting how the new law would help Medicare beneficiaries in rural Iowa." This is from the conservative senator's latest press release:

When doctors in states like Iowa are not fairly reimbursed for their services, it makes it difficult to recruit doctors and it makes it a challenge for them to keep their doors open to new Medicare patients. I worked successfully to improve Medicare payments to doctors in rural states like Iowa and, in turn, access for beneficiaries, as part of the health care reform enacted this year. I've previously won passage of legislation to help hospitals in rural America keep their doors open. [emphasis added]

Remember, Chuck Grassley repeatedly tried to kill the proposal, fought to prevent the Senate from debating it, fought to prevent the Senate from even voting on it, and repeatedly concluded that the law itself is unconstitutional.

But just in case any Iowans end up liking what's in the new law, Grassley also wants folks to know some of the good stuff was his idea (even though he voted against the bill that included his ideas).

Shameless. Just shameless.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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WHY ARE THEY AFRAID OF THE DEBATE?.... In about two hours, the Senate Democratic leadership will try to bring a bill to the floor on Wall Street reform. The goal, of course, is to start the debate. If the threats are accurate, every Republican in the chamber will vote this afternoon to block the debate from getting underway, and since there will "only" be 59 votes out 100 to get the process started, the GOP obstructionism will have its desired effect.

Efforts to find a bipartisan compromise continue -- by all accounts, there is broad agreement on most of the key elements of the proposal -- but in the meantime, Republicans now have a new strategy in mind.

Senate Republicans are working to finalize their own version of legislation to tighten regulation of the nation's financial system, and aides said their version could be put forward as a rival to the Democrats' proposal if a bipartisan deal is not reached before an important procedural vote on Monday afternoon.

Republicans, including Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, have said they would use the procedural vote to block the start of debate on the Democrats' bill unless the Democrats agree to make substantial changes in it. But in a political climate of public impatience and anger at Wall Street, it was not clear how long the Republicans could hold ranks in delaying the bill.

The development of a Republican alternative suggests that party leaders are determined to draw contrasts between their preferred approach to policing Wall Street and that of the Democrats.

Let's pause to acknowledge an often overlooked detail. The Senate has a mechanism -- it's called a floor debate -- which is actually pretty useful in a situation like this. Senators can present their ideas to their colleagues, in an entirely open and transparent process. Amendments can be proposed, considered, and voted on. Language can be altered. Provisions can be improved or eliminated. It's all part of how the process was designed to work.

Once the debate is complete, senators can vote for or against the bill, and support or oppose a filibuster.

But Republicans have a different approach in mind -- they don't want to even start the debate. Despite all the talk of the last year about transparency, GOP officials insist that all work on Wall Street reform occur behind closed doors, and the ideas that could be debated on the floor are instead hashed out in secret, in between Republican fundraisers with representatives of the very institutions affected by the legislation.

This is ridiculous. As Matt Yglesias explained this afternoon, "On financial regulation, over the months I've heard a number of Republican Senators say reasonablish things about the bill, or about problems with the bill. But it's time to put up or shut up. If you're concerned the bill doesn't address something, then write an amendment to address it. If you think the bill is too tough in some respect, then write an amendment to weaken it. There's no good reason to insist that everything be done in a secret Shelby-Dodd negotiating process."

Instead of Republicans crafting their own version of the same bill, why don't they just bring those ideas to the floor as part of the debate? Why are they so afraid of having a public discussion about bringing some safeguards and accountability to a financial industry that nearly destroyed the global economic system?

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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HOW CRIST FOUND HIMSELF IN THIS MESS.... This is bound to be an interesting week for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R-for now). If he's going to drop out of the Republican Senate primary and run as an independent, Crist has until noon on Friday (April 30) to announce his decision. The governor's third-party bid seems to be a "foregone conclusion" in GOP circles, but there's been no announcement about when the public can expect to hear about Crist's plans.

But while the political world waits, it's worth taking a moment to ponder how, exactly, Charlie Crist reached this point.

In 2006, a strong year for Democrats, Crist cruised to an easy seven-point victory in Florida's gubernatorial election. By 2008, despite the GOP's plunging popularity, Crist had sky-high approval ratings -- including surprisingly strong support from Dems and independents. He was considered for McCain's presidential ticket, was a shoo-in for the Senate, and it was widely assumed that it was only a matter of time before Crist was a tough-to-beat Republican candidate for national office.

And while it seemed impossible to predict a year ago, Crist is now likely to give up on the party he's always belonged to. What happened? Adam Smith and Steve Bousquet had a terrific report over the weekend. It's worth reading in its entirety, but of particular interest was the description of Crist embracing the mantle of post-partisanship.

The roots of Crist's demise as a Republican superstar sprouted almost as soon as he took office. He revoked nearly 300 appointments by predecessor Jeb Bush, hailed Al Gore and teachers union leaders, and embraced Democrats' calls to mandate paper trails for voting machines.

Crist wrapped himself in the glow of postpartisanship. After the drubbing Republicans took in 2006, Crist became the national model for successful Republicans, the ultimate bipartisan consensus-seeker. [...]

The man who used to call himself a "Jeb Bush Republican" was thrilled when Democratic lawmakers called him one of the best Democratic governors Florida had ever had. He proudly showed off the note from former President Bill Clinton congratulating him for easing restrictions on ex-felons regaining their civil rights.

Republicans were willing to tolerate Crist's occasional heresies because they didn't necessarily think they had a choice -- their GOP governor was a rising star, a popular Republican in a key state at a time when the party was faltering, and party leaders weren't inclined to attack one of their own.

It apparently took a while for the Republican base to shake off that tolerance for Crist's relative moderation when they realized his far-right primary challenger actually stood a chance at winning.

Worse, it took even longer for Crist to realize it -- his aides kept warning him that he needed to tend to the party's base to stave off primary troubles, but Crist wouldn't listen.

As for the near future, the obvious question is over what, exactly, Crist will do, and when he'll likely make his move. But I also wonder how fierce Republicans will be if/when he makes the leap and announces an independent bid. The GOP is vicious as a matter of course in campaigns, but their rage towards those who've betrayed them is usually even worse.

And then there's that other matter: if Crist were to win an independent bid, who would he caucus with in 2011?

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THE RNC'S FAKE-CENSUS MAILINGS.... The Republican National Committee has been using fake-census materials as part of a sleazy fundraising campaign. The deceptive tactics were so repugnant, Congress felt the need to take action and place new restrictions on the tactic. And yet, the RNC keeps doing it anyway.

In March, the House voted unanimously to restrict fake-census mailings. A month ago today, the Senate approved the same measure, also without a single opponent.

"It is critical that people have confidence and trust in the census process and these mailings confuse people and jeopardize our efforts to have a full and accurate count," Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate panel that oversees the census, said at the time. "Banning these despicable practices is an important part of that process."

Except the ban apparently isn't enough. The RNC keeps sending them. Zachary Roth had this report this morning:

An RNC mailer obtained by TPMmuckraker bears the words "Census Document" and, in all caps, "DO NOT DESTROY/OFFICIAL DOCUMENT," on the outside of the envelope. In smaller letters, it says: "This is not a U.S. government document." The new law requires, among other things, that such mailers state the name and address of the sender on the outside of the envelope -- something the RNC's missive doesn't appear to do. Inside, a letter from RNC chair Michael Steele, dated April 12, asks recipients to fill out a questionnaire about their political views, and solicits donations of as much as $500 or more. [...]

After her office was forwarded a copy of the mailer, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who sponsored the bill passed last month, noted that the mailer "does not appear to meet" the requirements of the new law -- and slammed the RNC.

"What is with these guys?," she said.

If I only had a nickel for every time I've asked myself that question.

By way of a defense, the RNC stated its belief that the new law "did not apply to our mailer." When Roth asked an RNC spokesperson to elaborate, he declined.

Presumably, the U.S. Postal Service -- not the Justice Department -- will launch some kind of inquiry into this.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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WHEN LIFE HANDS A CANDIDATE LEMONS.... In Illinois, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is the Democratic nominee for Senate, hoping to hold onto the seat held until 2008 by Barack Obama. That task became a little more difficult on Friday when federal regulators shut down a bank owned and operated by Giannoulias' family -- a bank Alexi Giannoulias used to help run.

Michael Scherer put it this way: "The Illinois Senate race is playing out like an academic case study in crises management. Imagine this: Your client, a former chief loan officer for a local bank, is a Democrat heading into a Republican election year, in a state long stained by political corruption. Amid enormous public outrage over the damage wrought by bank excess, your client's bank is seized by the Feds for having overextended itself in the mortgage market. Now figure out how to win the race."

It's a challenge, to be sure, but I have to admit, this ad is actually pretty good. Why run from a problem when a campaign can try to turn it around, and make it a positive?

In this minute-long spot, Giannoulias briefly mentions he left the bank four years ago (read: its recent problems aren't his fault), and it was fine (read: he did a good job). But the economy collapsed (read: not Giannoulias' fault), and the family bank, like a lot of small businesses, couldn't survive (read: Giannoulias' family is facing the same problems lots of families are forced to endure).

And if you want to help get things back on track, the ad argues, don't go with Rep. Mark Kirk (R) -- seen here, arm in arm with George W. Bush -- who didn't even vote to extend unemployment benefits to those struggling in the recession.

"People want someone who's gonna fight for 'em," Giannoulias says in the spot. "Someone who's been through tough times, someone who's seen, looked at those problems in the face and continues to move and continues to fight and to struggle for people, and that's why I'm running for the U.S. Senate."

Time will tell if this is effective, but it's a rather classic example of making lemonade out of lemons. Who would have thought Giannoulias would make an ad embracing the failure of his family's bank?

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Vice President Biden campaigned in Pennsylvania the other day, and told voters he'd consider it "a personal favor" if they voted for Sen. Arlen Specter.

* By all appearances, Sen. Bob Bennett's (R) career as a senator from Utah will come to an end this year. Bennett, after three terms as a conservative senator, is being rejected by GOP delegates as not being right-wing enough.

* In a bit of a surprise, Minnesota state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (D) won her party's convention nod for governor, edging out Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (D). Kelliher may yet face additional challengers, however, in advance of an Aug. 10 primary.

* In Georgia, there were some hopes among Democrats that state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond (D) would be competitive against Sen. Johnny Isakson (R), but the latest Rasmussen poll shows the Republican incumbent ahead by 16, 51% to 35%.

* Sen. Russ Feingold's (D-Wis.) re-election prospects appear relatively secure, but the incumbent is nevertheless launching his first television ad of the season this week. It emphasizes, among other things, his opposition to the Wall Street bailout bill in 2008.

* In keeping with the general pattern, Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef (R) has announced he's scrapping his campaign against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) in New York. The pattern, of course, refers to a seemingly-endless stream of Republicans who get ready to take on Gillibrand, only to drop out soon after.

* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) won't be up for a second term until 2013, but he's off to a rough start. After nearly four months in office, the governor's approval rating is down to a woeful 33%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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OBAMA KICKS OFF MIDTERM CAMPAIGN SEASON PUSH.... President Obama has already taken some steps to help shape the midterm elections -- raising money, helping recruit candidates, etc. -- but today, those efforts will take a significant leap forward.

This video message will go out to Obama supporters today, putting the president at the heart of the Democrats' midterm strategy. The clip is reportedly "the first in a series of personal efforts designed to rekindle the grass-roots magic that propelled him to the presidency in service to his party's congressional and gubernatorial candidates."

It's also part of a larger kickoff, built around the DNC's $50 million plan for the cycle. Party chair Tim Kaine has a "community-by-community" plan that's intended to build upon Howard Dean's 50-state strategy from the 2006 midterms (which, as I recall, turned out well for Dems).

The pitch is pretty straightforward -- the Obama campaign brought a lot of people into the process two years ago, and if they get engaged again this year, it'll help Democratic candidates considerably. "A few months ago, we asked you to help us set our priorities for 2010, and tell us how you thought we could win elections at all levels of government," the president says in the video. "You told us your first priority was to make sure the same people who were inspired to vote for the first time in 2008 go back to the polls in 2010. So that's what we're going to do."

The alternative, the president reminds his audience, is GOP gains that could "undo all that we have accomplished."

There's reason for skepticism. As Dems saw in the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, voters can like the president but nevertheless reject the candidates the president backs.

But aides say they're prepared. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said, "We fully understand that [the relationship between Obama and his supporters is] not automatically transferable to other candidates. It's going to take a lot of work, and that's what we're doing."

At a minimum, it settles the question about whether Dems are prepared to nationalize the elections, and whether the president would be considered a strategic asset to the party during a difficult year.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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HAYWORTH EXPLAINS HIS 'BIRTHER' INCLINATIONS.... State lawmakers in Arizona not only passed an odious new immigration law last week, they also moved forward on a "birther" bill that would require presidential candidates to produce a birth certificate before they can be on the ballot in the state.

It was a reminder that the strain of madness in contemporary Republican thought is still going strong, 14 months after President Obama took office.

Nevertheless, the nutty effort has its defenders. One of them wants to be a U.S. senator.

U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth is critical of the so-called "birther bill" that cleared the Arizona House of Representatives last week because it doesn't go far enough.

Hayworth, who has cited the possibility of "identity theft" as a reason to want to see President Barack Obama's birth certificate, said the Arizona measure is "too narrowly drawn" because it would force only presidential candidates to produce evidence of their citizenship and other qualifications. [...]

"It's real simple: We now require voters to offer proof that voters are who they say they are," Hayworth said Friday at a news conference in Phoenix. "If we're asking that of voters, shouldn't we ask candidates for every office on the ballot to be able to offer proof that they are who they say they are?"

So, J.D. Hayworth thinks the guy who says he's Barack Obama might not really be Barack Obama? Is this the point behind the "identity theft" concern?

As Marc Ambinder noted the other day, "I want to find Republicans to take seriously, but it is hard. Not because they don't exist -- serious Republicans -- but because ... they are marginalized, even self-marginalizing and the base itself seems to have developed a notion that bromides are equivalent to policy-thinking, and that therapy is a substitute for thinking."

Hayworth will face Sen. John McCain in an Aug. 24 primary.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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CLIMATE BILL NOT DEAD YET.... By late Saturday, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced his intention to walk away from his own proposal, it looked like the climate/energy bill, poised to be unveiled today, was just about dead. The tri-partisan Kerry/Graham/Lieberman package -- labeled the American Power Act -- faced an uphill climb anyway, but with Graham walking away at the 11th hour, the future looked bleak.

By late yesterday, however, the bill's "prospects were brightening slightly," and Graham was once again talking strategy with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

After talking with Graham on Sunday morning, Kerry and Lieberman prepared to move ahead without him if necessary. But a Senate aide said they were increasingly optimistic that Graham would return. His presence adds the crucial imprimatur of bipartisanship to the bill, which is likely to stall without it.

By all accounts, the White House is also acting to prevent the bill's collapse, and Rahm Emanuel and Carol Browner, among others, worked the phones over the weekend.

What's more, if Graham's main concern is over the calendar -- he balked because he believes Dems want to tackle immigration reform ahead of the climate bill -- Harry Reid's main spokesperson is signaling flexibility. It's clear that "climate negotiations are much farther along than the immigration bill," Jim Manley said, meaning that climate "could be the first to come to the floor."

So, the good news is, the climate bill isn't quite dead, at least not yet. The bad news, however, is that Graham -- who still hasn't quite explained the specific rationale behind his outrage -- now has even more leverage over the outcome than he did before. Indeed, the dominant aspect of this debate has, all of a sudden, become, "What can Dems do to make Lindsey Graham happy."

On a related note, the WaPo had some good reporting today on the behind-the-scenes efforts to line up support for the effort from the business community.

[T]he bill's authors focused on doing what amounted to a legislative bank shot, lining up support among business interests the bill would impact, in an effort to get them to convince wavering senators to embrace the package. They held dozens of closed-door meetings with groups ranging from the American Gas Association to the National Mining Association and the Portland Cement Association, including one meeting this spring in which 30 officials from different business groups gave what one participant described as "their elevator pitch" for what they wanted in the bill. [...]

The senators doled out rewards to different groups in order to bring them on board, providing more free pollution allowances to the utilities sector, even if that meant less money to protect tropical forests overseas; ensuring that 37.5 percent of the revenue generated from new oil and gas drilling offshore would go to the coastal states closest to the drilling.

The horse trading infuriated some environmentalists -- Clean Air Watch president Frank O'Donnell said the bill "ought to be named 'Let's Make a Deal,' " -- but it helped neutralize some corporate opposition and brought on board influential backers such as the Edison Electric Institute and three of the nation's five biggest oil companies.

"It has the broadest support that's ever come together for an energy and climate bill before," Lieberman said, adding he is convinced several business leaders "will be our most effective advocates in convincing the undecided senators to get off the fence" in the weeks ahead.

Sounds like they might need to help convince Graham, too.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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THE FATE OF WALL STREET REFORM.... Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scheduled the first procedural vote -- the motion to proceed -- on Wall Street reform for about 5 p.m. (ET) today. As of yesterday, Republicans were still prepared to voice their unanimous opposition, blocking the debate from getting underway.

Any chance Reid will scrap his plans, knowing that the GOP will block an up-or-down vote on getting the floor process started? Apparently not -- Reid's office insists today's cloture vote will proceed as planned.

Democratic leaders have no expectations that today's vote will go well. But as Roll Call reported, they also don't seem to mind.

Rarely have Senate Democrats been so calm about losing a vote. And that's what it looks like will happen in Monday's showdown with Republicans over financial regulatory reform.

Still, Democrats are bringing with them several game plans to ensure that no matter the outcome, they emerge with the advantage.

With continued uncertainty about whether they can avoid a filibuster of the measure, Democrats said they are prepared to either excoriate Republicans for blocking needed Wall Street reforms or hold hands with them around a compromise bill heading into a two- to three-week floor debate. [...]

"We're unafraid of pushing ahead because even if we are on a collision course to having that vote without a deal, it just gets us onto a bill," one senior Senate Democratic aide said. "Even if they do [filibuster] and the political chips fall where they may, we think we end up on the better end of that situation."

Another Senate Democratic aide said Democrats are approaching the vote as "heads we win, tails you lose."

It's almost bizarre to see Dems acting with such confidence, but it's well grounded in fact. If the motion to proceed fails, as seems likely, Dems will use this against Republicans, while the process of striking a bipartisan deal continues. By all accounts, Dems will eventually get the legislation they want and the evidence of GOP obstructionism they want.

Dems hardly ever feel like they have the upper hand. It's quite a change of pace.

On a related note, polls bolster Democratic attitudes. A new poll from ABC News found, "Two-thirds of Americans support stricter federal regulation of banks and other financial institutions, and by a double-digit margin the public trusts President Obama above the Republicans in Congress to handle the issue."

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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AMBITION AND SUCCESS ARE NOT OFTEN PUNISHED.... Today, a tri-partisan climate/energy bill was supposed to be unveiled after months of efforts. The package -- crafted by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) -- faced an uphill climb, but the legwork had been done, and it stood a fighting chance of passage.

Late Saturday, Lindsey Graham signaled his intention to walk away. As he explained it, Democratic leaders seem more interested in tackling immigration before climate -- instead of the other way around, as he'd been led to believe -- so he's inclined to kill both efforts.

Joe Klein argued yesterday that Graham has done Democrats "a big favor." When I saw the headline, I thought Klein may have identified some other way to get the bills passed without Graham's support. But Klein was actually arguing the opposite -- Graham's doing Dems a favor because he's killing the legislation Dems want to pass.

Lindsey Graham effectively killed the Senate's looming cap-and-trade package by yanking his support from the bill -- and thereby did the Democrats a favor. I'm all in favor of combating global warming, although I think a straight-ahead carbon tax (refundable in the form of reduced payroll taxes) would do the job far more efficiently than cap-and-trade. But if I'm a Democratic strategist, I'm thinking Augustinian thoughts: Lord, make me energy independent, but not just yet.

Why? Because the public has had quite enough, thank you, of government activism this year ... and, after Wall Street reform is passed, any further attempts to pass major legislation will add to legitimate conservative arguments that the federal government is attempting to do [too] much to do any of it well.... [P]ublic skepticism about the Democratic Party is bound to increase if another humongous piece of legislation, which effectively guarantees higher energy prices, is passed this year.

I see the political landscape much differently. For one thing, I've seen no evidence to suggest Americans want policymakers to stop having so many successes. This came up a bit last year -- many pundits insisted that President Obama was doing "too much, too fast" -- but it was never borne out by the polls. I tend to think the electorate will be more impressed by Democratic successes than by relative inaction over the six months preceding the midterm elections.

Put it this way: when was the last time a party was punished by voters for successfully passing too much of its policy agenda, and fulfilling too many of its campaign promises?

For another, to characterize the climate/energy bill as "effectively guaranteeing higher energy prices" isn't entirely fair -- with various incentives and tax credits, most consumers wouldn't see a price increase, and many would actually see their energy bills drop.

But perhaps most importantly, I think Klein underestimates what the lawmaking process will be like in 2011 and 2012. He wants to see bills on climate and immigration pass -- and so do I -- but Klein seems to believe policymakers can just pick this up again in the next Congress.

That's almost certainly not the case. In the Senate, the Democratic majority is poised to shrink quite a bit, making it nearly impossible to overcome Republican filibusters. In the House, the Democratic majority may very well disappear entirely, and a GOP-led House will immediately ignore every policy request made by the administration.

It's why I think Klein has it backwards -- those who want to see progress on climate and immigration have to act quickly, because this is likely the last chance policymakers will have on either effort for quite a while.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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CALLING OUT MCCONNELL, CONT'D.... I'm always encouraged when Paul Krugman appears on one of the Sunday shows; he tends to say things most guests don't.

Take yesterday, for example. On ABC's "This Week," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) spoke at some length about the need for the Wall Street reform bill pending on the Hill to be "bipartisan." Soon after, the roundtable discussion focused on this, and the NYT columnist emphasized a point that often goes overlooked.

"Anyone who says we need to be bipartisan should bear in mind that for the last several weeks, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has been trying to stop reform with possibly the most dishonest argument ever made in the history of politics, which is the claim that having regulation of the banks is actually bailing out the banks," Krugman noted. "And basically, the argument boils down to saying that what we really need to do to deal with fires is abolish the fire department. Because then people will know that they can't let their buildings burn in the first place, right? It's incredible. So anyone who says bipartisan, should say, bipartisan doesn't include the Senate minority leader."

Sure, it's a little -- but only a little -- hyperbolic to say McConnell's "institutionalized bailout" lie is "possibly the most dishonest argument ever made in the history of politics," but McConnell's breathtaking dishonesty deserves to be called out in bold terms.

But Krugman's larger point is arguably more important: the conventional wisdom continues to insist the lawmaking process is somehow inadequate, and possibly even illegitimate, if proposals aren't "bipartisan." But we're also dealing with a dispute in which the leadership of a party has no qualms about blatantly, shamelessly lying.

And while it didn't come up, the same dynamic has existed in every other policy debate of the last year and a half -- health care, economic recovery, combating global warming, etc. -- in which Dems are told they must gain Republican support, and the GOP leadership demonstrates its commitment to the process by making things up.

Which is why Krugman's point is worth emphasizing, especially for establishment figures that assume Dems must be doing something wrong if Republican leaders aren't happy.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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April 25, 2010

GRAHAM ASKED FOR 'STEPPED UP' ACTION ON IMMIGRATION.... Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is so upset that Dems might take up immigration reform this year, he's prepared to kill his own tri-partisan climate/energy bill. Some of his concerns are reasonable -- Graham was told the climate bill would be considered before immigration, and now he'd been led to believe otherwise.

But before anyone feels too sympathetic for Graham, let's not lose sight of one key detail: Democrats are, to a certain extent, doing what Graham asked them to do.

The South Carolina Republican began working on a bipartisan immigration reform proposal with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last October. On March 11, they met with President Obama at the White House to go over their plan, and get the presidential green light to continue. Soon after, the two senators co-wrote an op-ed insisting that the status quo on immigration policy is "badly broken," and the nation's "security and economic well-being depend" on the kind of reform Graham and Schumer are proposing.

It was around that time that Graham publicly stated his hopes that Obama would get more involved in pushing immigration reform, in order to give it a chance to pass this year.

Graham ... said Obama's lack of direction on immigration reform is hampering Graham's efforts to recruit additional Republicans to the cause.

"At the end of the day, the president needs to step it up a little bit," Graham told POLITICO on Tuesday.

The president apparently agreed. The West Wing started taking immigration reform far more seriously, and the president even started reaching out to other Republican senators about generating some broader support for immigration reform this year. Obama, in other words, took Graham's advice.

And now Graham is furious about it. Worse, he's prepared to kill both the climate bill and the immigration bill because he's outraged over the latter being prioritized over the former.

In terms of the calendar, I'm generally inclined to agree with Graham's larger point -- given that the climate bill has already passed the House, and so much of the legwork has already been done for the next round, it makes sense to me for the Senate to finish Wall Street reform, then tackle energy, then immigration. I'm even inclined to agree with Graham that Dems are using political considerations, not policy goals, to prioritize between the competing policies.

But by threatening to kill both of the efforts he's already invested so much time in, Graham is overreacting on an almost comical scale. Graham can't call on the president to step up on immigration, and then throw a fit when the president does as he asks.

It's enough to make me wonder if, perhaps, Lindsey Graham wasn't really serious about either initiative, and last night's tantrum is the result of a senator who's negotiated in bad faith.

Steve Benen 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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GIVING THE CONFUSED CROWD FAR TOO MUCH CREDIT.... One of the reasons I'm inclined to write about the Tea Partiers is that there are still many in the political establishment who believe the political mainstream should do more to take the Tea Party crowd and its hysterical cries seriously. This strikes me as silly -- most of the activists seem to have no idea what they're talking about. Why explore substantive challenges with angry mobs who reject reason and evidence?

By all appearances, this hasn't quite sunk in yet with many observers. Thomas Friedman has a column today suggesting Tea Partiers strive to "become something more than just entertainment for Fox News." Specifically, the columnist recommends that these activists start taking energy policy seriously and endorse "a $10 'Patriot Fee' on every barrel of imported oil, with all proceeds going to pay down our national debt."

To Friedman, such an approach seems consistent with the Tea Party's purported goals -- taking a progressive approach to energy policy would help lessen our dependence on the Middle East, lower the deficit, improve our security goals, leave future generations with a better environment, etc.

Friedman isn't entirely naive. He concedes, "Yes, I know, dream on. The Tea Party is heading to the hard libertarian right and would never support an energy bill that puts a fee on carbon." And to be sure, on a substantive level, his suggestion has merit.

But I think Friedman, like many establishment observers, doesn't fully appreciate how ridiculous the Tea Party effort really is. John Cole summarizes the situation nicely.

They don't care about the deficit. They care that a Democrat (and a black "Muslim," to boot), is in the White House. They don't care about fiscal restraint, they care that a Democrat is in the White House. They don't, as some foolishly pretend, care about the Wall Street excesses. Certainly Cenk Uyger is not the only one who has noticed that the tea party bubbas could all be shipped to protest HCR, but the big money boys aren't running the buses to protest Wall Street. They care that there is a Democrat in the White House.

And those crowds of angry white old people screaming "keep government out of my medicare" and waving signs of "Drill, baby, drill?" They sure as hell don't care about the environment and are not going to become some sort of "Green Tea Party."

Well, no, of course not. If the right's rhetoric is any indication, we're talking about a crowd that often perceives climate science as a Marxist plot.

The so-called "movement," on the whole, doesn't seem to care about policy. It hardly even seems to care about its own purported goals -- this crowd not only applauded when Republicans added $5 trillion to the debt and decided to stop trying to pay for their own initiatives, they also took to the streets to complain about taxes after getting a tax cut.

Expecting far-right activists to move to the left on energy policy, just because it's wise and in their interests, is regrettably a fool's errand. Friedman isn't wrong on policy grounds; he's wrong to think unhinged conservatives who think the president is Hitler and the Affordable Care Act represents a "government takeover" can be reasoned with.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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JOURNALISM, STANDARDS, AND TELEPHONES.... The NYT's Brian Stelter had an interesting piece the other day about Jon Stewart and his disdain for Fox News. One recent incident was of particular interest.

Last week that comedian did something that the hosts of "Fox & Friends," the morning show on Fox News, did not do: he had his staff members call the White House and ask a question.

It may have been in pursuit of farce, not fact, but it gave credence to the people who say "The Daily Show" is journalistic, not just satiric. "Fox & Friends" had repeatedly asked whether the crescent-shaped logo of the nuclear security summit was an "Islamic image," one selected by President Obama in his outreach to the Muslim world. The White House told "The Daily Show" that the logo was actually based on the Rutherford-Bohr model of the atom.

It was, to be sure, deeply amusing. The Republican cable network, in one of its more farcical moments of the month, speculated about its new conspiracy theory -- Fox News personalities saw a dot on a partial circle and assumed the White House was sending secret signals to the Middle East, because of the kinda-sorta-but-not-really similarities between the atomic model and the Islamic star and crescent moon. Stewart's office picked up the phone, found out the truth, and explained why the observation pushed by "Fox & Friends" was idiotic.

When Stewart describes Fox News as a "truly a terrible, cynical, disingenuous news organization," this helps prove the point.

But the NYT piece suggests there's a larger significance to what transpired here.

[Stewart's] staff members regularly dismiss claims that "The Daily Show" is a form of journalism. "I have not moved out of the comedian's box into the news box," Mr. Stewart said on the show on Tuesday, adding, "The news box is moving toward me."

But there he was, checking in with the White House when Fox didn't.

Yes, but the underlying point here is that this example represents evidence that "The Daily Show" really is engaged in professional journalism. Stewart's office picked up the phone, while the clowns on "Fox & Friends" preferred to air their unique brand of stupidity.

But I'm not sure I buy the premise. I certainly give credit to "The Daily Show" for taking the time to get the real story on the Rutherford-Bohr model, but I don't think that makes Jon Stewart more of a journalist; I think it makes "Fox & Friends" more of a transparent joke.

After all, as Stewart said on the air when explaining his call to the White House, all it proved is that his phone works.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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WALL STREET REFORM TOMORROW? DON'T COUNT ON IT.... On Thursday afternoon Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced he was tired of waiting -- Wall Street reform would be brought to the Senate floor for a debate on Monday. "I'm not going to waste any more time of the American people," he declared.

It started the clock on the first procedural vote -- the motion to proceed -- to be held at 5:15 p.m. (ET) tomorrow. Republicans will, of course, filibuster the motion -- it's what they do -- but Dems were hopeful that at least one GOP senator would vote to let the Senate debate the legislation.

As of this morning, it looks like that won't happen.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd and ranking Republican Richard Shelby said Sunday they don't have a deal yet on the financial regulatory reform bill - but said they were on the verge of striking a bipartisan accord. [...]

"I think we're closer than we've ever been," Shelby said, adding that there are "two or three things" that need to be resolved, singling out efforts to end "too-big-to-fail" financial institutions.

The two men and their staffs planned to meet later Sunday, but Shelby said they needed more time to get a deal. And the Republican doubted that Democrats "will not get cloture" when they try to break a GOP filibuster to bring a bill that passed the Banking Committee to the Senate floor Monday evening.

"Will we get a bill tomorrow?" Shelby said on the same program. "I doubt it."

Dodd sounded optimistic, though, that if the first procedural vote fails, as now appears likely, they'll still figure out how to craft a deal later this week.

In the interim, Democrats will likely try to exploit the GOP obstructionism. Expect the message to be something along the lines of, "Even now, Republicans won't let the Senate so much as debate a bill to bring some safeguards to Wall Street."

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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THE SENATE STILL NEEDS REFORM, TOO.... With a little more than six months left before the end of the 111th Congress, leaders of the Democratic majority would love to pass three more major pieces of legislation: Wall Street reform, a climate/energy bill, and immigration reform. If it were simply a matter of letting the Senate vote, up or down, on each, it's pretty likely all three would become law with time to spare.

But we know, of course, that's not how the system works anymore. Senators can't vote until Republican filibusters are broken -- and the GOP's scandalous abuse applies to every bill of any significance.

It's worth remembering, then, that talk of reforming the dysfunctional upper chamber is still percolating in the background.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Thursday launched a high-profile fight in a committee hearing on changing the Senate's filibuster rules.

Schumer opened a scheduled hearing on the 200-year history of the legislative tactic by serving notice that he intends to strongly consider some kind of change to the chamber's rules, to prevent legislation continuing to be blocked by small numbers of senators.

"The filibuster used to be the exception to the rule. In today's Senate, it's becoming a straitjacket," Schumer said. "The truth is, both parties have had a love-hate relationship with the filibuster depending on if you are in the majority or the minority at the time. But this is not healthy for the Senate as an institution."

McConnell replied that Dems are just frustrated because Republicans won't let them vote on legislation. That is, of course, exactly right.

For his part, Senate President Pro Tem Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), also a senior member of the Rules Committee and the Senate's informal chamber historian, defended the institution's unique rules that he holds dear, but reminded his colleagues that reforms are sometimes "necessary." Byrd urged the Senate to "remain open to changes in the Senate rules."

And speaking of possible changes to the Senate rules, there are plenty of proposals members can consider. The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus presented four (and a half) very sensible ideas for reforming the process this week; Johns Hopkins' Charles Stevenson had an op-ed in Roll Call the other day calling on the Senate to eliminate filibusters for motions to proceed; and not too long ago, Binghamton University's Jonathan Krasno and Gregory Robinson presented a compelling vision of a three-step plan, which includes forcing 41 senators to assemble the votes to continue debate (rather than the other way around) and reducing debate times (no more 30-hour delays after the initial cloture).

While these efforts continue to be mulled over, Schumer has promised to proceed with a series of additional hearings. I have low expectations, but at this point, it's good to see the issue get any attention at all.

Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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CLIMATE BILL HANGS BY A THREAD.... Tomorrow was going to be a critical day for a new climate/energy bill. The tri-partisan plan -- crafted by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) -- had been shaped over the course of several months, and its proponents were finally going to unveil the details at a Capitol Hill event.

Its prospects looked murky, but much of the necessary legwork had already been done -- the White House was on board with the provisions, and many business leaders, whose support would be critical, were poised to endorse the effort.

Late yesterday, Lindsey Graham signaled his intention to walk away, and in the process, may have killed the legislation.

In a move that may derail a comprehensive climate change and energy bill in the Senate, one of the measure's central architects, Senator Lindsey Graham, has issued an angry protest over what he says are Democratic plans to give priority to a debate over immigration policy.

Mr. Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said in a sharply worded letter on Saturday that he would no longer participate in negotiations on the energy bill, throwing its already cloudy prospects deeper into doubt. [...]

In his letter to his two colleagues, Mr. Graham said that he was troubled by reports that the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the White House were planning to take up an immigration measure before the energy bill.... Mr. Graham said that any Senate debate on the highly charged subject of illegal immigration would make it impossible to deal with the difficult issues involved in national energy and global warming policy.

I'm not entirely unsympathetic to Graham's concerns -- all things considered, it makes more sense to me to tackle climate before immigration -- but his tactical demands are a little over the top. In effect, Graham is saying, "Do things in the order I prefer or I'll kill both major legislative initiatives."

Specifically, Graham wrote in his letter, "I will not allow our hard work to be rolled out in a manner that has no chance of success." He will, however, walk away from months of negotiations, guaranteeing that his hard work has no chance of success. In other words, Graham is afraid a push on immigration reform might undermine his climate/energy bill, so he's decided to undermine his climate/energy bill.

I've heard of smarter strategies.

There are at least some efforts underway to save the bill. Reid office issued a statement last night saying the Democratic leadership is committed to both initiatives, and the climate/energy bill "could be next" on the legislative calendar "if it's ready."

As for the administration, Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, also issued a statement, urging Graham not to walk away from his own effort.

Nevertheless, the announcement scheduled for tomorrow has been "indefinitely postponed."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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April 24, 2010

LOWDOWN ON LOWDEN.... Sue "Chicken for Checkups" Lowden clearly didn't have a very good week. The Republican Senate hopeful became something of a national laughingstock with her livestock-centered approach to health care delivery. "Let's change the system and talk about what the possibilities are. I'm telling you that this works," Lowden said on Monday. "You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor. They would say I'll paint your house.... Doctors are very sympathetic people. I'm not backing down from that system."

Democrats are anxious to keep this story alive as long as possible, and they're having some success. Nevada Dems, for example, held a protest yesterday outside Lowden's campaign office in Reno. It came just hours after some very clever folks launched a new website: "The Lowden Plan, a simple health care plan anyone with a few thousand live chickens can use." There's a very helpful Lowden Plan Medical Chicken Calculator on the site.

But as entertaining as this is, there's a related policy observation that shouldn't go overlooked. Paul Krugman explained late yesterday:

Sure, it's funny to see a 21st-century political candidate pining for the days of a barter economy. But [Lowden's] remarks would have been breathtakingly ignorant even if she had called for payments in cash.

The key fact about health care -- the central issue in health care economics -- is that it's all about the big-ticket items. Checkups don't cost much; neither does the treatment of minor illnesses. The money that matters goes to bypasses and dialysis -- costs that are highly unpredictable, and that almost nobody can afford to pay out of pocket. Modern health care, if it's going to be provided at all, has to be paid for mainly out of insurance.

Conservatives don't like this; if few of them propose paying in chickens, there is nonetheless a constant refrain of calls for making the market for health care more like the market for bread, with consumers paying out of medical accounts and engaging in comparison shopping.

Why this preference for cash? Because even conservatives know in their hearts that insurance markets are deeply imperfect, which means that standard free-market arguments become very weak once insurers are involved. And so they pretend that we don't really need all that insurance.

It's been lost in the shuffle, but Krugman's description of the GOP line is absolutely right. Indeed, as Lowden became a national punch-line, the Nevada Republican Party predicated its defense of the Senate candidate on exactly this point: Lowden's over-arching concern is that Americans rely on health insurance to help cover medical bills, and that's a bad thing.

Nevada GOP communications director Ciara Turns told Eric Kleefeld the other day, "[Lowden] was clearly trying to make the point that if we moved away from an insurance-based system and more people started paying cash for their health care, then prices would come down. But [Democrats] don't want to address that ... because it's a legitimate point that they can't argue."

Now, looking specifically at the plain wording of Lowden's argument, she was specifically (and repeatedly) talking up the notion of bartering, not bargaining. Turns' interpretation is generous, to put it mildly.

But even if we accept the defense at face value, as Krugman explained, the underlying policy dispute is hardly any better for Lowden and the Nevada GOP.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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SOME LEGACIES CAN'T BE 'RESTORED'.... A few years ago, Chris Matthews said, on the air, that "everybody sort of likes" George W. Bush, except for "the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left." Nearly five years later, we're still hearing similar talk -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said this week that Bush "will go down as a very, very good president," adding that the former president deserves support from anyone "who is not a rank political hack."

Perry's remarks, ridiculous though they may be, were not an example of isolated nonsense. Former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) was roundly applauded when he praised Bush at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference this month. A College Republican chapter in Kentucky this week created an annual "W Day."

And just the other day, Slate ran a piece profiling the efforts of the "Bush Restoration Project."

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro talks about George W. Bush the way Buddhists talk about the Dalai Lama. "He stands for truth, compassion and freedom," he says. "Bush instinctively sees the global picture that every living person has the right to be free." It's hardly surprising, then, that Shapiro founded Honor Freedom, an organization devoted to restoring Bush's reputation. [...]

To listen to Shapiro is to travel back in time to 2003, when present-day critics like David Frum were calling Bush "The Right Man." Even now, Shapiro's defense of the Bush administration's record in Iraq is pretty much unqualified. Bush's critics "are selfish people who don't see the value of national liberation," he says. "They are isolationists who don't care that the U.S. freed a people enslaved by fear." To charges the Bush is unintelligent, he says: "Bush is clearly very smart. And you don't need to be a genius to be president -- you need good leadership skills and good instincts." To the rap that his economic record is woeful, Shapiro says that Bush was a foreign-policy president.

Shapiro, it's worth noting, "says he regularly exchanges e-mail with Karl Rove."

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Bush's unwavering supporters created their own reality during his presidency; there's probably no reason for them to take a more reasonable course now.

But I'm hard pressed to imagine how Bush's failed presidency can be made to look like anything other than a spectacular debacle. Consider some of the messes he left for his successor to clean up: an economy in freefall, two costly and mismanaged wars, a deteriorating job market, a crushing debt, enormous budget deficits, terrorist threats, a dysfunctional health care system, a housing crisis, a collapsing U.S. auto industry, a deteriorating national reputation on the global stage, and systemic problems on energy, immigration, and detainees.

Ask even Bush's most loyal sycophants to name actual accomplishments, they'll generally point to tax cuts and 9/11. But tax cuts didn't help the economy -- during Bush's two terms, incomes fell, poverty rose, and there were two recessions -- and the attacks of Sept. 11 weren't an "accomplishment."

That said, if Republicans see value in debating the Bush/Cheney legacy going forward, I don't imagine most Democrats would mind.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week are reactions from faith communities to the outrageous new anti-immigrant law in Arizona. As widespread as the national disappointment has been, some of the strongest criticism has come from religious leaders.

As Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signs into law today the most extreme anti-immigrant legislation in the country (SB-1070), the national and Arizona faith community are condemning it as an affront to moral conscience that will divide families and communities. The inhumane legislation demonstrates the urgent need for national political leadership to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Arizona Senate Bill 1070 tasks law enforcement with checking papers for anyone they suspect as undocumented and penalizes those who provide aid to illegal immigrants.

Below are statements on Arizona's anti-immigrant bill from a dozen evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders representing millions of Americans.

In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony called the law "mean-spirited" and compared it to Nazi repression. Jim Wallis described the Arizona measure as "a social and racial sin," a "policy of deliberate political cruelty," and part of an effort to "wage war on the body of Christ."

As Democrats take steps to challenge the Arizona law, it would appear they can count on support from large and influential religious institutions.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* On Capitol Hill, the Congressional Prayer Caucus (yes, there's a Congressional Prayer Caucus) launched a new House resolution to argue that the federal government's recognition of an official National Day of Prayer is constitutional, despite a recent federal court ruling to the contrary. The measure, H. RES. 1273, is up to 70 co-sponsors as of yesterday.

* Unhinged media personality Glenn Beck will deliver the commencement address next month at the Falwell-founded Liberty University in Virginia. Beck is a Mormon, which makes the selection a little odd, but he's also a political radical, so he'll probably fit right in.

* And Comedy Central's "South Park" ignored warnings and aired an episode this week that included a representation of the Prophet Muhammad as an animated character. After an Islamic extremist site posted apparent threats to Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the NYPD stepped up security at the network's headquarters.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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THE UNI-PARTISAN 'CLEANSING'.... The Washington Post's Dana Milbank had a good column on Republicans turning on Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, and the fact that he's "being drummed out" of the Republican Party. But as is too often the case, the column couldn't leave well enough alone.

Milbank's critique of Crist and contemporary GOP politics was, by and large, spot on. National leaders who adored Crist and sought his favor now want nothing to do with him. Crist's "friends" won't return his calls. The governor "developed a reputation for bipartisan work," despite pushing a relatively conservative policy agenda, which Republicans appreciated, right up until they decided he wasn't nearly right-wing enough. "Crist is saying and doing what he always has done," the column noted, "it's GOP leadership that has changed."

But major media outlets have an unwritten rule: all criticism of Republicans has to include related criticism of Democrats, whether it makes sense or not. Milbank 's otherwise fine column, then, included this unfortunate observation:

The crucifixion of Crist by Republican leaders says less about him than it does about the party. Both parties have been undergoing ideological cleansing, as Sens. Arlen Specter (forced out of the GOP in Pennsylvania) and Blanche Lincoln (facing a Democratic primary challenge in Arkansas) can attest. But the Crist crisis is a whole new level of Jacobin excess....

Look, the parties' respective bases will always prefer candidates more in line with their ideology and agenda. But to state as a matter of fact that "both parties have been undergoing ideological cleansing" is a mistake. Sure, Blanche Lincoln is facing a competitive primary, in part because she's been a frequent source of disappointment to the party, and in part because polls show her looking very vulnerable, causing many Dems to consider an alternative. The party establishment, however, continues to support Lincoln -- it's not as if we see the DSCC throwing her under the bus, the way we see with the NRSC and Crist.

Regardless, one primary for a vulnerable incumbent does not an "ideological cleansing" make. If Dems were seriously trying to drive those who strayed from the party line from the ranks, Blue Dogs would be under heavy fire, and the party wouldn't have rallied behind Brad Ellsworth in Indiana. Charlie Melacon in Louisiana and Cal Cunningham in North Carolina aren't exactly MoveOn.org members, either, but both enjoy party support for their Senate bids.

In contrast, there's an actual "ideological cleansing" underway in the Republican Party. Crist has been deemed insufficiently conservative, so he's being driven out. Specter was deemed insufficiently conservative, so he became a Democrat. Dede Scozzafava was deemed insufficiently conservative, so she was driven from her congressional race. In Arizona, Sen. John McCain (R) is facing a tough primary challenge because he's been deemed insufficiently conservative. In Utah, Sen. Bob Bennett's (R) career is hanging by a thread because -- you guessed it -- he's been deemed insufficiently conservative.

Does "both sides do it" really have to go into every piece?

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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GUY FAWKES, NEW REPUBLICAN HERO.... Last fall, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) organized a right-wing rally on Capitol Hill for November 5, in the hopes of killing health care reform. After characterizing her followers as "insurgents" and "freedom fighters," Bachmann urged far-right activists to, in her word, "scare" federal lawmakers.

The scheduling of Bachmann's Capitol Hill soiree was a little disconcerting -- she picked a date widely known as Guy Fawkes Night. In other words, one of the country's most extreme lawmakers chose to rally right-wing activists, label them an "insurgency," and encourage them to roam the halls of Congress deliberately "scaring" members of Congress, on the infamous date that marks an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Fortunately, 11/5 came and went without incident. But the Republican affection for Guy Fawkes has apparently not dissipated. Time's Michael Scherer had this report:

The Republican Governors Association has embraced the symbolism of Fawkes, launching a rather striking website, RememberNovember.com, with a video that showcases far more Hollywood savvy than one can usually expect from Republicans. Again, the Fawkes tale has been twisted a bit. This time, President Obama plays the role of King James, the Democratic leadership is Parliament, and the Republican Party represents the aggrieved Catholic mass.

The politics and substance aside, this strikes me as a remarkable bit of political messaging, not just for its cinematic quality. The RGA, under the control of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, is clearly stepping out of the stodgy, safe territory it normally inhabits. It is aiming to tap into the vast well of anti-government fury now coursing through the nation. Who would have guessed that Barbour would embrace the symbolic value of the same would-be mass murderer as the Wachowski brothers?

Josh Marshall added, "I find this completely bewildering. The Republican Governors Association is embracing the mantle of a 17th century radical who tried but failed to pull off a mass casualty terrorist attack to kill the King of England and all of Parliament.... Nothing shocks me anymore. But this shocks me."

It's a reminder that the Republican mainstream made a right turn at scary, and have arrived right at stark raving mad.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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SOONER STATE SCARES.... Between its outrageous anti-immigrant efforts and initial support for "birther" legislation, Arizona has generated some ugly national headlines of late. But about 900 miles to the east, Oklahoma has been nearly as offensive.

Some right-wing lawmakers in the Sooner State have begun work on a new, privately-recruited militia, which would enjoy the blessing of the state, and would be armed and trained to resist federal encroachment. Oklahoma's state House also recently approved a bill mandating that firearms manufactured in their state would be exempt from federal regulations. (thanks to reader E.P. for the heads-up)

And on reproductive rights, conservative Oklahoma lawmakers successfully passed a proposal that would "require women seeking [abortion] procedures early in their pregnancies to undergo an invasive form of ultrasound."

One of the laws headed to the governor would require doctors to use a vaginal probe in cases where it would provide a clearer picture of the fetus than a regular ultrasound. Doctors have said this is usually the case early in pregnancies, when most abortions are done.

"You're going to force someone to undergo an invasive medical procedure," objected state Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, who voted against the bill. "You have to invasively put an instrument inside the woman. This could be your 15-year-old daughter who was raped."

At least three states require ultrasounds before all abortions, but no other states require vaginal ultrasounds or that doctors to describe the image to women.

The good news is, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry (D) vetoed the bill...

Henry said "it would be unconscionable to subject rape and incest victims to such treatment" because it would victimize a victim a second time.

"State policymakers should never mandate that a citizen be forced to undergo any medical procedure against his or her will, especially when such a procedure could cause physical or mental trauma. To do so amounts to an unconstitutional invasion of privacy," he said.

...and the bad news is Henry's veto will probably be overridden.

It's a good thing Oklahomans have elected all of those small-government types to the legislature, who will force citizens to undergo medical procedures they don't want. Nothing says "limited government" like state-mandated, involuntary, invasive procedures, right?

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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April 23, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* As expected, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed into law an odious new anti-immigrant bill today.

* At least 58 people killed in Iraq: "A coordinated series of explosions struck a party headquarters, two mosques, a market and a shop in Baghdad on Friday, deepening the country's turmoil amid a political impasse and a concerted military campaign against the leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq."

* Pulling the alarm: "Pushed to the brink of bankruptcy, Greece on Friday requested a massive, $56 billion rescue that is aimed at preventing a financial meltdown in the heart of Europe and will test the resolve of the European Union to uphold its pledge to bail out the troubled Mediterranean nation."

* New home sales surged 27% in March. It was "the biggest monthly increase in 47 years."

* Is the climate/energy bill dead?

* The Treasury Department expects the overall price tag for TARP to be as low as $87 billion, when all is said and done.

* Death threats force Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) to close his district offices.

* The disaster at the Deepwater Horizon rig has not gone unnoticed in the context of the debate over drilling policy.

* FCC Commissioner Michael Copps envisions a major fight over net neutrality.

* Congressional Dems craft a legislative plan to respond to the Citizens United ruling.

* President Obama is the most popular leader in the world. Conservatives will no doubt try to argue that this is awful news.

* Killing an American by firing-squad? In the 21st century?

* The DADT conspiracy theories don't stand up well to scrutiny.

* Matt Yglesias underscores the problem with Jonah Goldberg's work.

* Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin, the Army doctor who's convinced the president isn't a natural born citizen, has thrown away a decorated military career.

* Fighting against tuition hikes.

* Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's (R) ridiculous lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act may help in unexpected ways.

* Republicans lawmakers want to "start over." On what? On everything.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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THE CONSEQUENCES OF INTELLECTUAL BANKRUPTCY.... Long-time readers may recall a discussion we had back in December, about the quality of the debate over health care reform. It was obvious at the time that the meaningful, interesting disputes weren't between conservatives and liberals, but between liberals and other liberals.

It's not that the right remained silent; it's that they offered arguments that no serious person could find credible. Consider, just off the top of your head, the most prominent concerns raised by opponents of the Affordable Care Act. What comes to mind? "Death panels." "Socialism." "Government takeover."

It was the biggest domestic policy fight in a generation, but most of the policy debate was spent debunking transparent, child-like nonsense. The left approached the debate with vibrancy, energy, and seriousness. The right thought it was fascinating to talk about the number of pages in the legislation.

Making matters worse, the quality of the discourse on health care wasn't especially unusual. We endured a mind-numbing debate over economic recovery efforts because Republicans weren't prepared for a serious argument. We can't discuss Wall Street reform because Republicans keep saying "bailout" for no reason. We can't discuss a climate bill because Republicans reflexively reject the science.

Every major issue has strengths and weaknesses, and every major piece of legislation is subject to legitimate criticism. In 2010, however, the right seems fundamentally unprepared to even have the conversation.

Given all of this, Marc Ambinder asks today whether the right has "gone mad."

Can anyone deny that the most trenchant and effective criticism of President Obama today comes not from the right but from the left? Rachel Maddow's grilling of administration economic officials. Keith Olbermann's hectoring Democratic leaders on the public option. Glenn Greenwald's criticisms of Elena Kagan. Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn's keepin'-them-honest perspectives on health care, the civil libertarian left on detainees and Gitmo. The Huffington Post on derivatives.

I want to find Republicans to take seriously, but it is hard. Not because they don't exist -- serious Republicans -- but because, as [Julian] Sanchez and others seem to recognize, they are marginalized, even self-marginalizing and the base itself seems to have developed a notion that bromides are equivalent to policy-thinking, and that therapy is a substitute for thinking.

Ambinder ponders various explanations -- the habit of conservatives to take entertainers seriously as political actors, the "incentive structures exist to stomp on dissent and nuance," the epistemic closure problem in which conservatives ignore news outlets that might tell them what they don't want to hear -- but doesn't draw a clear conclusion.

In a way, that's a shame. I was really hoping he'd help me understand how one of the nation's dominant political parties and the ideology it embraces chose intellectual bankruptcy.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR.... It was fairly amusing earlier this week when Glenn Beck told his radio audience that God is communicating with him directly and giving him "a plan ... that is not really a plan." As Beck explained it, "What He is asking us to do is to stand peacefully, quietly with anger, loudly with truth."

As a rule, when strange men with a history of substance abuse start claiming that they're passing along messages from above, it's a strong hint that the audience might want to change the channel. What's that old joke? "When you talk to God, it's prayer; when God talks to you, it's schizophrenia"?

Nevertheless, it was even more striking to hear Beck go a little further today.

"We are entering a dark, dark period of man. Um, I was, um, I was in the Vatican, and I was surprised that the individual I was speaking to knew who I was. And they said: 'Of course we know who you are. What you're doing is wildly important. We're entering a period of great darkness, and if good people don't stand up, we could enter a period unlike we have seen in a very long time.'"

Ben Dimiero summarized this nicely:

Of course, Beck doesn't clarify whether the "individual" he talked to was a Vatican official or a tourist from Omaha, but the impression he wants to give his listeners is clear: the Vatican itself has identified Beck as "wildly important" in the coming "dark, dark period of man."

You may see the ongoing debate in our country about health care reform, financial reform, and a variety of other issues in terms of how they will affect our policy decisions. Glenn Beck envisions things on a slightly larger scale - with himself at the center of it all.

Two things. First, given the support the Roman Catholic church has shown for social justice -- a concept Beck believes is "code" for Marxism -- I'm not sure why he would consider the Vatican a source for wisdom anyway. Just last month Beck implored his minions to "run as fast as you can" away from churches that value social justice. So, why'd he go to the Vatican in the first place?

And second, I know the phrase "delusions of grandeur" gets thrown around casually sometimes, but when someone who claims to receive messages from God, and characterizes himself as "wildly important" in some kind of global scenario to prevent a dark period for humanity, doesn't the phrase take on a more literal, clinical meaning?

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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DEMS HAVE A FEW WORDS FOR WELLPOINT.... A Reuters report yesterday pointed to an insurance company practice that's so awful, it's almost hard to believe. Reporter Murray Waas explained that WellPoint, an insurance powerhouse, apparently developed a policy of targeting customers with breast cancer, and then launching fraud investigations against them so their coverage could be dropped.

The practice is just breathtaking. According to government regulators and investigators, the affected customers had paid all their premiums and had no problems with their insurer, but WellPoint decided their breast cancer treatment would be expensive. It was easier to investigate them, rely on "erroneous or flimsy information," and drop the customers before the medical bills started piling up.

It's "rescission" at its most offensive.

Obama administration officials contacted WellPoint about this today, and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer posted this item:

Just yesterday, we read with great alarm a news report that WellPoint, one of the country's largest health insurers, is routinely dropping coverage for women that are diagnosed with breast cancer.

These are the kinds of scenarios that motivated the President to work so long and so hard to pass health reform. And because of the health reform legislation passed last month, the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry -- including what WellPoint is said to have done -- will soon be reined in by new tough consumer protections.

Yesterday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote a letter to WellPoint's CEO urging her company to immediately end this harmful practice.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was outraged, too.

"WellPoint's practice of dropping anyone's coverage when they get sick - whether a woman with breast cancer or any other patient - is exactly the kind of insurance company abuse our new health care law prohibits.

"Soon every American can be secure knowing that their insurance companies cannot cancel their coverage because of an illness.

"And when Republican leaders call for repeal of the health reform law, they are endorsing a return to these abusive policies that have no place in our medical system."

I still occasionally find it hard to believe health care reform was deemed unnecessary by so many.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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KEEPING A BIGOT AT ARM'S LENGTH.... The Rev. Franklin Graham is known for a few key parts of his background. He is, of course, the son of legendary evangelical preacher Billy Graham. He's also known for running a controversial evangelical relief organization called "Samaritan's Purse," which sought to enter Iraq in 2003 to convert Iraqis to Christianity after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

But perhaps most notably, Franklin Graham is known for hating Muslims. He famously denounced Islam as a "very evil and wicked religion" in 2001 -- and then again in 2006. This week, Graham appeared on Fox News and said Muslims can only be free if they worship Jesus Christ.

With that in mind, it was disconcerting when the Pentagon invited Graham to speak next month at an event honoring the National Day of Prayer. It's the kind of association between a notorious preacher and the U.S. military that sends the wrong signal to the Middle East.

Fortunately, Defense Department officials thought better of it and rescinded Graham's invitation.

Christian evangelist Franklin Graham says the Army has withdrawn an invitation for him to appear at a special Pentagon prayer service.

In a statement Thursday, Graham said he regrets the Army's decision and will continue to pray for the troops.

Right on cue, former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) denounced the Pentagon's decision, defended Graham, and even lied about the context of Graham's 2001 anti-Islam remarks, pretending he hadn't trashed the entire faith tradition. The painfully unintelligent media personality went on to suggest Pentagon officials were being "hyper-politically correct" because a Christian minister expressed "his views on matters of faith."

Except, Franklin Graham didn't just express "his views on matters of faith"; he publicly denounced one of the world's largest religions, home to nearly 1.6 billion people. He's allowed to do that, of course; it's a free country. But why should the U.S. government associate itself with an unabashed bigot, and give him a platform?

Put it this way: if a prominent Muslim leader denounced Christianity as a "very evil and wicked religion," and then said Christians can only be free if they convert to Islam, would Sarah Palin and her cohorts be comfortable if the imam got an invitation to speak at a religious event at the Pentagon? I suspect not. Call it a hunch.

The Pentagon's decision was the right call. Bigots are free to say what they please, but they don't deserve officials' imprimatur.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* A reporter asked Florida Gov. Charlie Crist yesterday about his loyalty to the Republican Party. He responded by talking about his role in the GOP in the past tense: "I have very much enjoyed being a member of the Republican Party."

* A prominent conservative voice in Nevada politics is sounding the alarm about Sue "Chicken for Checkups" Lowden's future: "If the campaign doesn't get its 'stuff' together FAST, Lowden risks becoming the next Charlie Crist."

* In California, a new SurveyUSA poll shows Meg Whitman with a big lead over Steve Poizner in the Republicans' gubernatorial primary.

* The same California poll shows Tom Campbell leading the Republicans' Senate primary, with Carly Fiorina running seven points behind, and Chuck DeVore a more distant third.

* Republicans had struggled to find a top-tier challenger for Rep. Alan Grayson (D), but it now appears former state Sen. Daniel Webster (R) is poised to launch a campaign.

* There are only three weeks left before the filing deadline for candidates in Wyoming, and as of today, there are no Democrats running for governor. If you're a Montana Democrat reading this, just think: Easiest. Primary. Ever.

* In Maryland, Rasmussen shows incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) with a narrow lead over the Republican he defeated four years ago, Bob Ehrlich, 47% to 44%.

* Nate Silver's latest analysis finds that Senate Dems are poised to lose quite a few seats this year, but probably not enough to lose their majority.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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OBAMA SLAMS ANTI-IMMIGRANT PUSH IN ARIZONA.... Arizona's state legislature this week passed an odious anti-immigrant bill, which is now likely to become law. The proposal, among other things, makes it a crime to lack proper immigration paperwork in the state, and "requires police officers, if they form a 'reasonable suspicion' that someone is an illegal immigrant, to determine the person's immigration status." Arizonans would be eligible for arrest if an officer thinks they might be an illegal immigrant and can't prove otherwise.

National leaders don't usually weigh in on state measures, but given the scope and the seriousness of the Arizona plan, President Obama sharply criticized the bill today.

Such legislation could "threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans," the president said during a naturalization ceremony for members of the United States Armed Services. [...]

Obama said Thursday that he has asked members of his administration to "closely monitor" the situation.

He warned that failure to act at a federal level to pass comprehensive immigration reform would only open the floodgates to irresponsible and overreaching measures on the state level, referring directly to "efforts in Arizona."

Having the president shine a light on this raises the issue to a whole new level. With talk of a renewed push on immigration reform at the federal level heating up, Greg Sargent summarized the larger political dynamic nicely: "By moving forward, Dems risk exacerbating the anger of the Tea Party brigade and alienating white swing voters, but they also energize a key portion of their base. The move also forces Republicans to choose between angering the Tea Partiers and alienating Latinos."

This makes plenty of Republicans nervous. Democrats are well aware of this.

As for Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has not yet said whether she'll approve of the bill, but she'll have to decide by tomorrow whether to sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without her signature. Brewer is, however, facing a tough GOP primary, which makes it more likely she'll sign the anti-immigrant measure to satisfy the demands of the party's far-right base.

What's more, criticism from President Obama might mean even more pressure on Brewer -- does she risk looking like she backed down in the face of White House pressure?

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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IN DEFENSE OF FACT-CHECKING, CONT'D.... The larger discussion about Sunday shows and fact-checking continues to percolate, and I'm delighted to see the concerns that originated with NYU professor Jay Rosen generate so much attention.

We know that ABC's "This Week" is partnering with PolitiFact.com to check its content, and Jake Tapper has defended the idea. We also know that "Meet the Press" has declined, and David Gregory has said that viewers can fact-check the program "on their own terms."

This week, Bob Schieffer, host of CBS's "Face the Nation," weighed in, taking Gregory's side.

Bob Schieffer, host of CBS' "Face the Nation," similarly described his role as "the front line on fact-checking," when a guest makes a dubious claim, he's there to ask follow-up questions.

And if an inaccurate statement slips by, Schieffer said he expects that viewers and media-monitoring groups on the left and right will call attention to it quickly, noting that "everybody's welcome to fact-check us all they want."

To be sure, the notion that the host is the first line of defense against false claims is compelling. When a guest says something that's not true, ideally the host would follow-up and make that clear to viewers. But the first line of defense often fails -- sometimes a host isn't aggressive enough; sometimes the host simply doesn't have the information at his or her fingertips to know that the guest isn't telling the truth.

That said, Schieffer's take, like Gregory's, seems to miss the point of the exercise.

About 2.3 million Americans tune in to watch "Face the Nation." Presumably, they watch to learn something about current events and public affairs. Schieffer asks questions, and we hear arguments from various political figures. If those 2.3 million Americans want to know if the arguments are accurate, why would Schieffer expect them to go figure it out on their own? If they trust "Face the Nation" and its host enough to tune in, shouldn't they also trust the program to separate fact and fiction?

I suppose it's nice, in a way, to give the audience credit for being so sophisticated, they'll not only watch the interviews, but also have the wherewithal to do independent research to verify the accuracy of the claims.

But realistically, a mainstream audience isn't well equipped to do its own analysis and fact-checking -- the public relies on professional news outlets to provide them with reliable information. Schieffer wants to give viewers the arguments, not the truth. At that point, the show itself becomes unnecessary -- we can all just read press releases and then scour the 'net to learn if the points are true.

A couple of months ago, when this discussion began in earnest, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, host of his own CNN program on the media, talked to a guest who said online sites are adequate for fact-checking the newsmakers. Kurtz responded, "Exactly. And I'm saying why leave it entirely to the blogs? Why don't television producers and correspondents do it themselves?"

That was in January. We haven't heard a good answer yet.

Postscript: In related news, some interested students have launched "Meet the Facts" to fact-check "Meet the Press." Seems like a worthy endeavor.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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CONFUSION (STILL) REIGNS.... It's been about a month since the Affordable Care Act became law, and many political observers have been keeping an eye on the polls, watching to see if the breakthrough changed public perceptions. So far, there hasn't been much movement -- support has grown a bit, but opponents are still in the plurality.

For Democrats, the hope has long been that success would start paying greater dividends when the public grew less confused about the details. That trend has yet to begin in earnest, though, because people are still confused about the details.

The latest report from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed 46% of respondents have a favorable opinion of the ACA, while 40% have an unfavorable view. That's not bad, but the results are pretty partisan -- Dems like it, Republicans don't -- and the largest single group (30%) were those who have a "very unfavorable" view.

Chris Cillizza noted, meanwhile, that the same problem that has undermined the debate for a year still exists: the public still doesn't understand the proposal or its merits.

Majorities of Americans described themselves as "confused" about the new health care bill and acknowledge they don't have enough information about it to grasp how it will affect their lives, according to a new poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The numbers -- 55 percent of those tested expressed confusion about the law while 56 percent didn't know what impact it would have on them -- suggest that President Obama and his administration have their work cut out for them in the run-up to the midterm elections.

Perhaps, but it also suggests the numbers are malleable. Many of the Americans who have a negative impression of the new law don't necessarily know what it is they don't like. More information -- and an effective sales job -- is likely to translate to more favorable opinions.

Indeed, many of the benefits of the new that will kick in this year continue to be very popular.

More than eight in ten people support tax credits for small companies who offer coverage to their employees (86 percent), back the idea of making it harder for insurance companies to drop you when a major medical problem occurs (81 percent) and like the idea of barring health plans from charging a co-pay for basic services (82 percent).

This will continue to matter through the campaign season, as Democrats point to these benefits as the kind of provisions that need to be protected from Republicans who intend to repeal the entire legislative package. When it comes to the policy landscape, and health care policy in particular, eight in 10 Americans don't agree on much, but they're already on board with some of the new law's key measures. The more they become the focus of political debate, the better it is for Dems.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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DICK CHENEY'S GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT.... In 2004, a controversy over the Bush/Cheney administration and no-bid Halliburton contracts was just starting to grow, and Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), at the time the ranking Dem on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was pressing the issue.

But when it came time for an annual group photo on the Senate floor, Leahy chose to be gracious, and approached then-Vice President Dick Cheney in a friendly, collegial manner. As the senator approached, Cheney told Leahy, "Go f*ck yourself."

Instead of apologizing, Cheney ran off to Fox News soon after to boast about his classlessness, bragging about having "felt better after I had done it."

Yesterday, Cheney appeared on a conservative talk-radio show, and continued to crow about his behavior. When the far-right host gushed about how much he "loved that move," the former V.P. replied:

"You'd be surprised how many people liked that. That's sort of the best thing I ever did."

Eight years running the executive branch, and one of Dick Cheney's greatest accomplishments was gutter-talk with a respected U.S. senator. Sounds about right.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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'BACK IN THE KITCHEN'.... When Republicans use sexism to go after Democratic women, there are varying degrees of subtlety. Late last year, for example, the National Republican Congressional Committee suggested House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should be put "in her place" for disagreeing with an Army general about Afghanistan policy. The subtext seemed pretty obvious.

But in northeast Ohio this week, the Republican Executive Committee in Medina County dropped the pretense altogether while going after Rep. Betty Sutton (D).

A recent Medina GOP mailer that urges voters to "take Betty Sutton out of the House and put her back in the kitchen," has angered the Emily's List political action committee, which raises money for female Democratic candidates.

"They're set on defeating Cong. Betty Sutton (OH-13), whom we helped elect in 2006, and filling her spot with a conservative loyalist. And how will they go about doing that? By sending her right where they think she (and all women) belong: the kitchen," says a posting on the group's website, which links to a fundraising page for Sutton. "I wish I could say I were shocked, but I can't. I can, however, say I'm appalled, annoyed, and ready to do something about it."

It's not just Emily's List that finds this offensive. It's the 21st century, for crying out loud. For Republicans to still talk about forcing women "back in the kitchen" should be insulting to anyone who takes equality seriously.

For the record, Betty Sutton is an accomplished lawmaker and respected attorney -- and does not have a background as a professional chef. In other words, there's nothing about the congresswoman's background that makes "back in the kitchen" appropriate. The Republicans' rhetoric seems predicated entirely on gender.

Medina County GOP Chairman Bill Heck said the mailing was sent to roughly 15,000 Republican households in Ohio, and he "had not received any complaints."

He might think that makes this better. It actually makes it worse -- why don't those GOP households have a problem with this blatant misogyny?

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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REPUBLICANS QUIETLY HUDDLE WITH BANK LOBBYISTS (AGAIN).... Senate Republicans recently struggled to explain the propriety of GOP leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) huddling with hedge fund managers and Wall Street elites, strategizing on how best to kill financial regulatory reform. But as bad as that looked, yesterday was arguably even uglier.

[Yesterday afternoon], President Obama traveled to New York to tell the nation's most influential bankers to call off their "battalions of financial industry lobbyists" and embrace a new regulatory structure meant to avert another economic crisis. But around the same time back in Washington, D.C., bank lobbyists hosted a fundraiser for Senate Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who has become the Republican liaison for Wall Street fundraising.

The invitation to the fundraiser, obtained by the Party Time blog of the Sunlight Foundation, shows that the it was hosted by lobbyists Wendy Grubb, Kirsten Chadwick, Scott Reed, and a variety of corporate PACs. Grubb is a top lobbyist for Citigroup, a bank that took taxpayer TARP funds and has yet to repay them. Chadwick, a former staffer to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), is a lobbyist for Zurich Financial Group, a financial services conglomerate.

The event was held at the headquarters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), and was ostensibly a fundraiser for Florida Sen. George LeMieux (R) -- who isn't seeking another term, and doesn't really need to be raising money.

After the Sunlight Foundation obtained and posted the invitation to the gathering, a few outlets sent folks to cover the event. But senators, lobbyists, and assorted elites were not in a chatty mood -- attendees refused to answer questions, and all but one of the senators decided to not even use the front door.

Evan McMorris-Santoro explained why they might have been embarrassed: "There's nothing new about politicians in Washington having closed-press meetings with lobbyists. There's not anything new about politicians fundraising at those meetings. But this event came at the exact moment Obama was taking on one of Washington's most powerful lobbies -- the financial industry -- on its home turf.... [W]hile Obama took on lobbyists, the GOP fed them."

It's not exactly surprising, but there is an impressive shameless quality to the whole thing.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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April 22, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Things go from bad to worse on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil platform.

* Better, but still too high: "First-time claims for jobless benefits fell last week, evidence that employers are laying off fewer workers. But claims remain too high to signal steady job creation."

* Home sales "rose more than expected in March, reversing three months of declines."

* Greece: "The Greek debt crisis escalated again Thursday as new data showed the government's gaping budget deficit was worse than previously thought and investors expressed fears that officials in Athens may not agree to stringent demands for an international bailout."

* The Dems' Wall Street reform bill will reduce the budget deficit.

* Iran: "In a matter of days, the United Nations will impose sanctions against Iran for illegally pursuing nuclear weapons, Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview Thursday."

* Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) thinks tackling immigration reform "destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate." I suspect he might be right about this, though Stephen Stromberg touches on a related point about EPA action that's worth watching.

* The latest summary of Sue Lowden's "Chickens for Checkups" controversy.

* Does Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) have any proof to bolster his White House/SEC conspiracy theory? By his own admission, "No."

* The Senate Budget Committee moves on this year's budget.

* Did this morning's RNC piece from the Washington Times get the story right? Not necessarily.

* Stephanie Cutter will oversee the White House's health care messaging strategy. Good move.

* Is it me, or is DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano just plain likable?

* Joe Conason explains why it matters that the U.S. is becoming more respected internationally in the Obama era.

* That's even more than I would have guessed: "In recent years, at least 20 Fox News personalities have endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or causes, or against Democratic candidates or causes, in more than 300 instances and in at least 49 states."

* New rules about unpaid interns.

* And Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) believes "trained professionals" can spot undocumented immigrants based on what they're wearing. Seriously.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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HARD TO IMAGINE.... The debate among the British candidates for prime minister is surprisingly captivating -- it's on right now, if you want to check it out -- and I was especially fascinated by a voter's question about an upcoming U.K. visit scheduled by Pope Benedict XVI. The voter wanted to know, given the pope's views on science, health, and diversity, and given the Vatican's scandal involving sexual abuse of children, would the three major-party candidates welcome the papal visit?

All three candidates -- Conservative leader David Cameron, Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg, and incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- offered roughly the same response. They strongly disagree with the pope on social issues -- stem-cell research, contraception, gay rights -- and abhor the church's ongoing scandal, but would nevertheless welcome Benedict, out of respect for England's Catholic population and in deference to religious diversity.

But the way Clegg began his answer was rather striking:

"I'm not a man of faith but my wife is Catholic and my children are being brought up as Catholic...."

Now, it was amazing enough to hear all of the candidates clearly support a progressive (by U.S. standards) approach to social policy. But even more remarkable was watching a major party candidate feel entirely comfortable describing himself as not being a person of faith, knowing that this acknowledgement probably won't affect his electoral chances.

It stands in pretty stark contrast to politics in the United States.

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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REID TO GOP: I DARE YOU.... Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced this afternoon that "the games of stalling are over" when it comes to Wall Street reform. "I'm not going to waste any more time of the American people," he declared.

And with that, the Senate leadership started the clock and scheduled its first procedural vote for 5:15 p.m. (ET) on Monday afternoon.

As President Obama spoke in New York on Thursday about the need for such landmark legislation, Reid detailed plans to hold a crucial test vote on the Senate floor Monday.

"The games of stalling are over," Reid said.

He will need Republican support to reach the 60 votes required to overcome the threat of a filibuster and move with formal debate on the bill, which among other things would create an agency to protect consumers against abuses in mortgages and other loans, set up a council of regulators to watch for risks to the financial system, and give the government power to wind down large, troubled financial firms.

And what of the bipartisan talks that have made some progress this week? They'll continue -- and by most accounts, participants are optimistic -- but Reid isn't going to wait for them anymore.

It's a bit of a gamble for the Democratic leadership. If a final deal is not in place on Monday afternoon, all 41 Senate Republicans may very well block the debate from getting underway. Of course, Dems don't necessarily see that as a bad result -- they'll use it against Republicans in the campaign, and then keep working until they get the legislation through the chamber.

But Democrats seem to think it won't come to that anyway. Either the deadline will produce a completed deal, or a GOP senator or two may feel compelled to break ranks, vote to start the debate, and keep the process moving forward.

Either way, Reid and the Democratic leadership seem to feel pretty confident right now, secure enough to effectively dare Republicans to stand in the way of the reform effort. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, "We feel we have the upper hand."

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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FLORIDA REPUBLICANS REMINDED OF 'LOYALTY OATH'.... It appears increasingly likely that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will depart the Republican Senate primary and run for the vacant seat as an independent. Of course, as a sitting governor and life-long Republican, if Crist does make the jump, he'll probably try to convince some of his closest allies to stick with him.

The Republican Party of Florida is anticipating this, and "making preparations" to remind its members that they don't really have a say in the matter -- if Crist isn't a GOP candidate, they're forbidden to endorse him.

In a memo to the executive director of the FL GOP, general counsel Jason Gonzalez concludes a party rule would prevent GOP officials from backing Crist's campaign if he runs as anything other than a GOPer.

"[T]he Party Loyalty Oath forbids Republican Executive Committee members from supporting any candidate other than the candidate nominated by the voters of the Republican Party through its primary election," Gonzalez wrote in the memo. The loyalty oath means GOP officials "cannot provide their active, public, or financial support to any candidate other than 'the Republican candidate' in a general election."

The loyalty oath allows party officials to back a registered GOPer in a nonpartisan race, but in a partisan election, they wouldn't be allowed to support Crist, even if he remains a registered GOPer. What's more, party officials have to actively ask for their contributions back if they want to keep their own jobs.

I can appreciate party discipline as much as the next guy, and I've long been impressed by Republicans' efforts to keep members in line, but it's incredible to me that GOP officials in Florida are actually required to sign a loyalty oath. Isn't that just a little authoritarian for 21st-century America?

According to a CNN report, the loyalty oath applies to all of the members of the State Republican Executive Committee, the County Executive Committees, and precinct committee members, as well every Florida Republican in Congress, all six GOP statewide officeholders, and Floridians on the Republican National Committee.

The party of "freedom"? I don't think so.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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ROVE'S SUSPECT RELIABILITY ON PRIVACY RIGHTS.... Fox News personality Karl Rove chatted with Greta Van Susteren last night about Wall Street reform, which he's apparently skeptical of.

In fact, the former Bush/Cheney aide appears to have some creative concerns that haven't exactly been at the heart of the larger legislative debate. (thanks to reader C.G. for the heads-up)

"This [bill] is stuffed with a lot of things that are going to -- that are going to become apparent over time that are going to be problems for Democrats. You may not know about this. It creates a new office and gives it a half a billion dollars a year and a huge start-up for computer systems in order to monitor every financial transaction in the United States and to use that data to arrive at policy recommendations about sensible regulation.

"So they're literally going to have the capacity to go through everybody's brokerage account and everybody's checking account and everybody's credit card and everybody's financial transactions and collect -- sweep that information and then analyze it."

Rove added that he's concerned about "empowering an agency" of the government to "peer into" Americans' personal accounts "in order to do with it whatever they want to do."

As a substantive matter, I haven't the foggiest idea what Rove is complaining about, but since this isn't even a concern raised by congressional Republicans -- who've been fabricating talking points as they go along -- I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Rove's claim isn't an especially credible one. If he has evidence to back this up, I'm all ears.

But let's also note the irony -- Karl Rove is complaining about big government invading Americans' privacy. If memory serves, it was Rove's team that not only embraced and shaped the Patriot Act, but also created a system of warrantless wiretaps with no oversight or accountability.

If there are legitimate concerns about personal privacy and monitoring of financial transactions, let's hear them. But given Karl Rove's track record, and his general disregard for reality, perhaps he's not the best spokesperson to be raising these questions.

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... By now, the pattern should be rather familiar: policymakers identify an issue in urgent need of attention; Democrats propose a worthwhile solution; Republicans balk; and President Obama delivers a big, high-profile speech to put things right.

With this in mind, the president was in New York City earlier, speaking from Cooper Union about the need to bring safeguards and accountability to a financial industry that nearly destroyed the global economy. It was less a stirring address and more a prosecutor's closing argument. Treating financiers like a skeptical jury, the president urged Wall Street to change course: "[Pending proposals] represent significant improvement on the flawed rules we have in place today, despite the furious efforts of industry lobbyists to shape them to their special interests. I am sure that many of those lobbyists work for some of you. But I am here today because I want to urge you to join us, instead of fighting us in this effort. I am here because I believe that these reforms are, in the end, not only in the best interest of our country, but in the best interest of our financial sector."

Obama also took a moment to defend his commitment to the free market, though he added, "a free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it."

But it was a quote from a magazine article that was perhaps the most memorable aspect of the remarks:

"There has always been a tension between the desire to allow markets to function without interference -- and the absolute necessity of rules to prevent markets from falling out of balance. But managing that tension, one we've debated since our founding, is what has allowed our country to keep up with a changing world. For in taking up this debate, in figuring out how to apply our well-worn principles with each new age, we ensure that we do not tip too far one way or the other -- that our democracy remains as dynamic as the economy itself. Yes, the debate can be contentious. It can be heated. But in the end it serves to make our country stronger. It has allowed us to adapt and thrive.

"I read a report recently that I think fairly illustrates this point. It's from Time magazine. And I quote: 'Through the great banking houses of Manhattan last week ran wild-eyed alarm. Big bankers stared at one another in anger and astonishment. A bill just passed ... would rivet upon their institutions what they considered a monstrous system ... Such a system, they felt, would not only rob them of their pride of profession but would reduce all U.S. banking to its lowest level.' That appeared in Time magazine -- in June of 1933. The system that caused so much concern and consternation? The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation -- the FDIC -- an institution that has successfully secured the deposits of generations of Americans.

"In the end, our system only works - our markets are only free - when there are basic safeguards that prevent abuse, that check excess, that ensure that it is more profitable to play by the rules than to game the system. And that is what these reforms are designed to achieve: no more, no less. Because that is how we will ensure that our economy works for consumers, that it works for investors, that it works for financial institutions - that it works for all of us.

"This is the central lesson not only of this crisis but of our history. It's what I said when I spoke here two years ago. Ultimately, there is no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street. We rise or we fall together as one nation."

It's funny, in a way -- hysterical conservatives offer the same shrieks, generation after generation, and with the benefit of hindsight, they always look ridiculous.

Nevertheless, there's been a fair amount of progress in the Senate of late, and success appears all but inevitable. Here's hoping the president sealed the deal.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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MAYBE IT'S UN-SPINNABLE.... As Sue Lowden's "bring a chicken to the doctor" vision of health care delivery gained national notoriety yesterday, I couldn't help but wonder just how much trouble the Republican Senate candidate in Nevada is in. Lowden is, after all, still introducing herself to voters, and she has a primary opponent who can step up if Lowden's support evaporates.

Would the National Republican Senatorial Committee, desperate to beat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) in November, cut their losses on Sue Lowden now, before it gets worse? Apparently not -- at least not yet.

Eric Kleefeld talked to NRSC communications director Brian Walsh, who seems to think Lowden's bizarre understanding of health care policy is Harry Reid's fault:

"Watching the Senate Majority Leader get down in the mud and desperately try to inject farm animals into his flailing re-election bid is frankly a bit pathetic."

I'm not entirely sure what this means. Reid didn't "inject farm animals" into the race; Lowden talked publicly about patients compensating medical professionals with livestock. Given a chance to walk it back, Lowden and her campaign kept repeating the line. It's "a bit pathetic" to notice that Sue Lowden, after a year on the campaign trail, seeking an important statewide office, appears to have no idea what she's talking about?

As a rule, Brian Walsh and the NRSC can spin just about anything. After seeing yesterday's response, I'm beginning to think "bring a chicken to the doctor" might be un-spinnable.

In the mean time, the Lowden campaign is promoting a letter to the editor published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, ostensibly written by a family physician in a rural part of Nevada. She insists she's traded professional medical services for "alfalfa hay, a bath tub, yard work and horse shoeing." What the campaign (and the letter) neglects to mention is that the doctor is also a prominent Republican activist who -- wouldn't you know it -- also ran against Harry Reid.

Republican efforts notwithstanding, the story is continuing to make the rounds. Jay Leno mocked Lowden during his monologue last night, and MSNBC's "Countdown" and "The Rachel Maddow Show" had good segments on this last night.

It's starting to look un-spinnable.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Hoping to wrap the primary race up once and for all, Dick Cheney this morning threw his support to Marco Rubio in Florida's Senate race. The former V.P. took plenty of not-so-subtle shots at Rubio's Republican opponent and one-time frontrunner, Gov. Charlie Crist.

* On a related note, Rasmussen shows Rubio leading in a hypothetical, three-way match-up, with 37% support. Crist is second in the poll with 30%, and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) is third with 22%.

* And while Florida's Senate field may be poised to shrink on the GOP side, it may be poised to grow on the Democratic side. Billionaire real estate developer and financier Jeff Greene, listed by Forbes as one of the richest people in the world, is thinking about taking on Rep. Kendrick Meek in a Democratic primary.

* In California, the latest Rasmussen poll shows state AG Jerry Brown (D) out in front over Meg Whitman (R) in the gubernatorial race, 44% to 38%.

* The DSCC still has high hopes for former North Carolina state Sen. Cal Cunningham in his potential bid against Sen. Richard Burr (R), but Cunningham appears to be struggling to fill his campaign coffers with the donations he'll need.

* On a related note, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, one of the two top Democratic candidates running for the Senate this year, is in even worse financial shape, and ended the first quarter with only $79,000 in the bank. Her primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, has $1.8 million in cash on hand.

* And scandal-plagued Republican Sen. John Ensign (R) isn't up for re-election until 2012, but like all senators, he's expected to keep raising money for the next race. In the first quarter of 2010, the humiliated far-right lawmaker raised just $50 -- no, that's not a typo -- which came from one guy.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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CHOOSING BETWEEN IMMIGRATION AND CLIMATE.... We talked yesterday about the crowded legislative calendar lawmakers are facing before the midterm elections. Wall Street reform, obviously, is the current fight, but there are still two more major proposals -- immigration reform and a climate/energy bill -- that Democrats would love to tackle before the end of the 111th Congress.

But what if there's only time for one? Democratic leaders appear to have prioritized one over the other.

Democratic leaders are pushing ahead with plans to move comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year -- even if it means punting on energy legislation until next Congress.

According to Senate Democratic aides, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed during a Tuesday afternoon meeting that a "moral imperative" exists to move immigration reform in 2010. The decision to press ahead on such a controversial issue now -- in an election year -- comes even though Democrats have had little success attracting GOP support for their initiatives in the 111th Congress. Hispanic Members have been ramping up the pressure on President Barack Obama to force the issue with Congress.

During the meeting, Reid "reiterated his intention to move forward" this year on immigration reform, one aide said, adding that Pelosi agreed it is a top priority, even beyond energy legislation.

"The Speaker did agree that if faced with a choice between energy and immigration, she'd go with immigration," the aide said.

Aides later emphasized that the discussion between the leaders wasn't necessarily about tackling one issue and neglecting the other. "The conversation was really about timing, not an either-or kind of thing, but timing," one staffer said.

I've seen nothing to contradict this, and Pelosi and Reid would no doubt love to complete work on both.

But there's also a realization that, with time running out, it may come down to one or the other. In this case, that means tackling immigration, and putting off climate/energy for another day.

There are multiple angles to keep in mind here. First, note that the climate bill has already passed the House, and is awaiting Senate action, while neither chamber has moved on immigration thus far. It makes it the lift that much more challenging.

Second, remember that completing a climate bill in the future will be extremely difficult, since Republicans will almost certainly make significant gains in the midterms, and much of the party considers climate science some kind of nefarious plot cooked up by communists.

If the bill dies this year, after having already passed the House, we may not see another vote on the issue at all until 2013, at the earliest.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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THE NEW $100.... How predictable have conservatives become? Just 24 hours ago, DougJ made a prediction: "I'm pretty sure that the new $100 bills will produce some kind of wingnut freakout. The most obvious angle is, 'They look like European money!'"

Right on cue, Drudge came through:

Even Obama's New $100 Bill Looks European...

Might as Well Be a Euro...

A couple of things. First, the new $100 bill doesn't look like a Euro, not that there's anything wrong with the appearance of Euros anyway.

Second, the design for the new $100 bill was adopted -- you guessed it -- during the Bush/Cheney administration. It was supposed to go into circulation in 2008, but was delayed "to give the government time to refine all the new security features."

Add this to the list of steps the Republican administration took to make us more "European."

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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CALLING OUT THOSE WHO GOT US INTO THE DITCH.... E.J. Dionne Jr. had a good column today on President Obama's visit to California this week to help Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) raise some funds for her re-election bid. As Dionne noted, the fact that Boxer even needs the help is a discouraging sign for Democrats.

But Dionne also noted that there's some growing evidence that the president and other Dems may be able to go on the offensive as the campaign season heats up. He added that he saw the president hint at a campaign theme.

"In this entire year and a half of cleaning up the mess, it's been tough because the folks very responsible for a large portion of this mess decided to stand on the sidelines," Obama declared. "It was as if somebody had driven their car into the ditch and then just watched you as you had to yank it out, and asked you: 'Why didn't you do it faster -- and why do I have that scratch on the fender?' And you want to say: 'Why don't you put your shoulder up against that car and help to push?' That's what we need, is some help."

In one paragraph, Obama did what many of the dispirited in his party have long been urging him to do: He linked the economic mess to past Republican policies -- much as Ronald Reagan blamed the economic downturn of the early 1980s on Democrats and liberals -- and turned the tables on bipartisanship by asserting that it is Republicans who are blocking concord.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because the president sounded a similar note -- at a California fundraiser, no less -- last October. "When I'm busy and Nancy's busy with our mop cleaning up somebody else's mess, we don't want somebody sitting back saying, 'You're not holding the mop the right way,'" he said at the time. "Why don't you grab a mop? Why don't you help clean up?"

It's the kind of message the president may want to use more often, and in venues other than just party fundraisers.

In the abstract, the Republican message of the last two years is almost hard to believe: they left a series of extraordinary crises for Democrats to address, refused to help address those crises, blocked Democratic efforts to put things right, and now want voters to give them the power to go back to the policies that created the crises in the first place.

If the president's remarks are indicative of the message we're likely to hear the rest of the year, Dems have a reasonably good pitch. If voters decide they're not happy with the way Democrats pulled the car out of the ditch that Republicans drove into, it may not matter, but at least the message is there for voters to consider.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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RNC HQ, STILL IN DISARRAY.... As if RNC Chairman Michael Steele's latest gaffes weren't enough to give his party heartburn, we're also learning this week that management of the Republican National Committee's finances is a complete mess.

Barely 6 1/2 months before the midterm elections, an internal investigation by the Republican National Committee has revealed that the organization is beset with questionable financial management and oversight and is spending more money courting top-dollar donors than it raises.

The investigation found that the Republican Party's national governing body is losing money on its major-donors' fundraising program -- spending $1.09 for each $1.00 raised, according to RNC members privy to the investigation's findings. It typically costs about 40 cents for every dollar raised from donors who give more than $1,000.

The investigation also found that the RNC has allowed employees to forge Finance Director Rob Bickhart's initials on expense-reimbursement request approvals, according to an RNC member who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.... The report says several RNC Finance Department employees have been forging Mr. Bickhart's signature for reimbursement for the purchase of clothing, wine and entertainment expenses, including some that were labeled as office supplies.

Many RNC donors were severely annoyed to learn that party funds were used at that bondage-themed nightclub earlier this year, but that was about $2,000. Party officials could at least tell supporters that it was an isolated incident involving a fairly small amount of money, which the RNC reportedly got back.

But the message to RNC donors is far more difficult when the problems appear systemic.

It's quite an operation Michael Steele is running, isn't it?

Given what we've seen of late, I still find it hard to imagine the party would oust Steele. He's survived this long, despite extraordinary incompetence, and with the midterms less than seven months away, I doubt the RNC would move towards a major shake-up now.

But if the elections in November fall short of party expectations, don't be surprised if Steele and "questionable financial management and oversight" at the RNC gets much of the blame.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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STEELE ACCIDENTALLY TELLS THE TRUTH.... It took a little while, but the recent turmoil that rocked the Republican National Committee subsided. In the wake of the lesbian-bondage-related unpleasantness, RNC Chairman Michael Steele was weakened; the party parted ways with key staffers; and donors recoiled, but the storm eventually blew over.

Now, Steele can get back to business, and get beyond damaging distractions, right? Well, not just yet.

Why should an African-American vote Republican?

"You really don't have a reason to, to be honest -- we haven't done a very good job of really giving you one. True? True," Republican National Chairman Michael Steele told 200 DePaul University students Tuesday night.

Now, Steele's assessment happens to be accurate. Has the Republican Party given African-American voters a reason to support its candidates? By any reasonable measure, no.

But the head of the RNC isn't supposed to make these kinds of concessions publicly. Put it this way: what does House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) say today when a reporter asks, "The chairman of the Republican National Committee believes African Americans 'really don't have a reason' to support GOP candidates. Do you agree?"

Indeed, if DNC Chairman Tim Kaine had made the same remarks, Republicans would be throwing a fit, accusing Kaine of using racially divisive language and playing the "race card." It's tougher to go ballistic when it's their own party leader.

Making matters worse, Steele is compounding earlier gaffes on this front. Remember, it was just six months ago when the RNC chair conceded that some Republicans are afraid of him because he's black.

There were some in the party who believed last year that picking Steele for the RNC job might help the party with minority outreach. Somehow, I suspect those who thought this was a good idea are less sure of this strategy now.

Postscript: From the same event in Chicago: "A student whose family had to move into a smaller house after spending $250,000 on heart surgeries for the student asked Steele what he would do to bring down health costs. Steele said tort reform would help."

Steele is about as competent talking about health care policy as he is talking about race.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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ANOTHER CONSPIRACY THEORY BITES THE DUST.... Late last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit against Goldman Sachs, alleging fraud. Congressional Republicans and their allies aren't exactly defending the Wall Street powerhouse, but they're complaining about the timing.

Starting Monday, the conservative line took shape -- the Obama administration went after Goldman to make Wall Street look bad, which in turn might help generate support for the financial regulatory reform bill pending in the Senate. The right has trumpeted the argument all week.

On its face, the conspiracy theory is pretty silly. Putting aside the fact that there's literally zero evidence that political considerations influenced the SEC move, it's also worth keeping in mind that the fraud investigation began before President Obama even took office. What's more, the SEC warned Goldman nine months ago that charges were likely, and SEC officials could not have known last July the probe might have a political impact now.

But the Republican Attack Machine keeps repeating the claim, which means major media outlets keep spreading the nonsense. It led SEC chair Mary Shapiro and President Obama to both categorically dismiss the conspiracy theory as baseless.

But wait, conservatives say, there might be proof. Apparently, the DNC bought Google ads related to Goldman Sachs and the fraud allegations the same day as the SEC filing. Maybe, Republicans argue, the DNC had advance notice, which would prove coordination and bolster the political conspiracy.

Except that's wrong, too.

The GOP case is based partly on the fact that the DNC used Google Adwords to bid on the search terms "Goldman Sachs" and "SEC" soon after the charges were filed on Friday - meaning that whenever a person searched Google for those terms, they also viewed targeted ads for a DNC website about "Wall Street greed."

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, the ranking member of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to the chairman of the SEC on Tuesday pointing out the timing of the ad buy, which he said "neatly coincided" with the Goldman charges.

Google is now saying that's not the case. The SEC charges hit Goldman before 11 a.m. ET on Friday morning. The DNC said the Adwords were bid on at 2 p.m. on Friday. Google confirmed the DNC's timing of the purchase to CNN on Wednesday.

In other words, Republicans have spent a week pushing a ridiculous conspiracy theory with no foundation in reality, and the media played along. It wasn't the first time, and it probably won't be the last.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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April 21, 2010

WEDNSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* When Senate Republicans block votes on Obama administration nominees, it's routine. When Senate Republicans block votes on about 100 Obama administration nominees, all on the same day, it's a reminder of how just absurd the GOP's obstructionism can be.

* No, the president didn't intervene to sic the SEC on Goldman Sachs.

* On a related note, the new, far-right conspiracy theory about Goldman, the DNC, and Google really doesn't make sense.

* The administration was thrilled: "General Motors Co. has repaid the $8.1 billion in loans it got from the U.S. and Canadian governments, a move its CEO says is a sign automaker is on the road to recovery. GM CEO Whitacre announced the loan paybacks Wednesday at the company's Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kan., where he said GM is investing $257 million in that factory and the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, both of which will build the next generation of the midsize Chevrolet Malibu."

* Bold approach: "Sens. Sherrod Brown (right), Ted Kaufman, Robert Casey and Sheldon Whitehouse are introducing a new financial-reform bill, the Safe Banking Act of 2010, to limit the size of the banks -- and, in the process, break up existing firms."

* Rescind that invitation: "The Army is considering whether to rescind an invitation to evangelist Franklin Graham to appear at the Pentagon amid complaints about his description of Islam as evil, a military spokesman said Wednesday."

* American women are now apparently outpacing American men in higher education achievement. And yet, women still earn less than men.

* This NYT op-ed on anti-trust policy provides further support for the thesis of the Monthly's latest cover story.

* As it turns out, there really are some unhinged nutjobs in the House Republican caucus.

* On a related note, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) forgets that it's best to read magazine articles before condemning them.

* Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) changes his story a bit on illegal immigrants deliberately causing auto accidents.

* I haven't seen RNC Chairman Michael Steele popping off as much lately, but he's back today, lying about Wall Street reform. Can he go back into hiding now?

* And finally, the Embassy of Kenya will throw a real tea party on Capitol Hill next week, celebrating Kenya's new status as the world's top exporter of tea. I don't imagine Dick Armey and Fox News will be there.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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WHAT SHIFTED THE MOMENTUM ON WALL STREET REFORM?.... After some unpleasant chest-pounding last week, the fate of Wall Street reform looked shaky as recently as Monday afternoon. Yesterday, however, there was evidence of real progress, and today Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a leading negotiator on the bill, acknowledged, "We're very close to a deal and there will be a substantial number of Republicans that go along with it."

So, what's behind all this progress? Brian Beutler and Christina Bellantoni explained that Republican senators weren't prepared to walk off a cliff on this one.

Key Republicans, sincere about passing new rules for Wall Street, but intimidated by the notion of blocking financial regulatory reform, let it be known to their leadership that, at some point, they would side with Democrats to break a filibuster. Maybe not on round one, or even round two. But eventually.

"Folks on our side of the aisle want a bill," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told me and a few other reporters Monday night. "I know that. I just [had a] discussion with some of our leadership on the floor. You know, we want a bill."

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) made it equally clear: if top-level negotiations broke down, she and other members would find a solution. "I think it's important to continue between the two principals on the committee, because that's where it's likely to happen," Snowe told reporters yesterday afternoon. "But if not then we'll take things as they come. We'll take the next step."

This afternoon, entering a Republican caucus meeting, the Republican Deputy Whip John Thune candidly acknowledged that the politics just aren't playing out for the GOP, and that members don't want to take a tough vote against regulating Wall Street.

In other words, Dems' expectations were actually correct on this one.

Evidence that the GOP is "softening its opposition" to financial regulatory reform is apparent in more than just rhetoric and renewed negotiations.

The Senate Agriculture Committee voted this afternoon, for example, to approve Sen. Blanche Lincoln's (D-Ark.) aggressive measure to tighten regulation of derivatives trading. In an unexpected development, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) voted with Democrats in support of the proposal, further evidence that the GOP is no longer marching in lock-step when it comes to bringing new safeguards to Wall Street.

Steve Benen 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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LOWDEN TRIPLES DOWN.... I really didn't intend to do three posts about this today, but Republican Senate candidate Sue Lowden keeps pressing her cluck, I mean, luck.

To briefly review, Lowden, the favorite to beat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) in Nevada this year, recently encouraged voters to "barter with your doctor." On Monday, Lowden reiterated and expanded upon this, praising a health care delivery system in line with "the olden days" when those seeking medical care "would bring a chicken to the doctor." Despite the mockery this had already received, she added, "I'm not backing down from that system."

This afternoon, the Republican candidate's spokesperson told Greg Sargent that the campaign is sticking by Lowden's argument.

"Americans are struggling to pay for their health care, and in order to afford coverage we must explore all options available to drive costs down. Bartering with your doctor is not a new concept. There have been numerous reports as to how negotiating with your doctor is an option and doctors have gone on the record verifying this."

The campaign's statement went on to blame Harry Reid because, well, just because.

There are a couple of angles to consider here. First, when Lowden's spokesperson says bartering "is not a new concept," that's true. But as Atrios explained, "All joking aside, there's a reason we no longer have a barter economy. It's tremendously inefficient."

Second, the Lowden campaign went on to distribute some kind of background document, hoping to prove that bargaining with medical professionals is possible. But as we've talked about, haggling with doctors is hardly the basis for effective care and cost controls, and for that matter, bargaining and bartering aren't the same thing.

In a purely political context, campaigns are rarely lost in April, but Lowden's position has quickly made her something of a joke -- and once a candidate is a laughingstock, it's very difficult to recover. One Nevadan has characterized this as a "macaca moment" for the Republican hopeful, and that under the circumstances, that seems more than fair.

Sue Lowden could have walked this embarrassing incident back many times, but she's now tripled down on a position that simply doesn't make any sense.

Lowden has had a year to come up with a coherent approach to health care policy, and she's failed rather spectacularly. We saw our first hint about this last month, when Lowden praised Medicare and condemned "government run health care" at the same time, and we're getting an even better sense of her confusion now.

Sometimes, candidates just aren't ready for prime time.

Steve Benen 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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ODD SILENCE FROM A LOUD BUNCH.... How Wall Street operates would seem to be of interest to the Tea Party crowd. After all, this is a matter at the core of many of their ostensible concerns -- powerful elites, acting irresponsibly, ignoring the needs of the American mainstream, generating devastating consequences for everyone.

The legislative fight over reforming Wall Street, then, should be of great interest to the so-called "movement." But as Benjy Sarlin explained, Tea Partiers seem to be taking a pass on the major legislative fight of the day.

Tax Day rallies last week in Washington, D.C., were devoid of signs, slogans, and speeches on the finance bill, and influential right-leaning websites like Red State and Hot Air have all but ignored the issue this week, despite major movement on the Democrats' legislation. There are some exceptions ... but by and large there's been no high-profile campaign to defeat the bill, and a number of conservative activists concede that the grassroots are inactive.

Dick Armey, president of Tea Party organizer FreedomWorks, acknowledged in an interview that his group has yet to make its mark on the debate.

"We haven't had a chance to study it," Armey said.

What an interesting response. The Tea Party crowd didn't study the health care bill, but the activists opposed it. They didn't study tax policy, but they're still whining incessantly about tax increases that haven't happened. They didn't study budget policy, but they still think Obama is responsible for huge deficits (he's not).

But when it comes time to bring some accountability to a financial industry that pushed the global economy to the brink, Armey and his band of confused followers "haven't had a chance to study it"? Since when does that matter?

Steve M. takes a compelling stab at explaining what's up:

What's really happening is that the GOP/teabag complex is having a little trouble getting the messaging on this one right. The big kahuna leaders can read a poll, and they know that, even as skepticism about affirmative government increases, Wall Street reform remains popular with the public at large. So they're a tad reluctant to send a big ol' tea party bus out there with anti-reform slogans -- that might hurt the movement's indie cred. They're reluctant to urge the rank-and-file teabaggers' Pied Pipers on Fox News to go full bore into transmitting anti-reform talking points -- at least not until really solid talking points can be developed.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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IF WE'RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT AUDIENCE SOPHISTICATION.... There have been a few entertaining exchanges of late between "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart and Fox News contributor Bernie Goldberg, but there was something the conservative media critic said last night that seemed especially noteworthy.

It started when Goldberg and other Fox News personalities started over-generalizing about what liberals think, after having complained about the way liberals over-generalize. It prompted Stewart to tell Fox News, "Go f*ck yourselves."

This wasn't well received at Fox News HQ, and led to a discussion between Goldberg and Bill O'Reilly. Goldberg conceded that Stewart had a point about over-generalizing, but proceeded to go after "The Daily Show" host anyway. Responding directly to Stewart, Goldberg said, speaking into the camera:

"You're just a safe Jay Leno, with a much smaller audience, but you get to say the F-bomb, which gives your incredibly unsophisticated audience the illusion -- the illusion -- that you're courageous and a renegade, but it's only an illusion."

Stewart's response is well worth watching -- I've included the video below -- and I was especially pleased to hear him explain, "I know that I criticize you and Fox News a lot, but only because you're truly a terrible, cynical, disingenuous news organization." Stewart also noted the contradiction underscoring the criticism of his audience -- Goldberg thinks "Daily Show" viewers are "elites" and "unsophisticated" at the same time?

But there's a related point I wanted to emphasize that Stewart didn't mention. In 2004, the National Annenberg Election Survey found that Fox News viewers were the most confused about current events, while viewers of "The Daily Show" were among the best informed news consumers in the country. Comedy Central, relying on data from Nielsen Media Research, also found that Stewart's audience not only knew more about current events, but were far better educated than Bill O'Reilly's audience.

Three years later, the Pew Research Study published a report showing that "viewers of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report have the highest knowledge of national and international affairs, while Fox News viewers rank nearly dead last."

Bernie Goldberg, if you want to talk about "incredibly unsophisticated audiences," we can talk about incredibly unsophisticated audiences.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bernie Goldberg Fires Back
www.thedailyshow.com
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Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION.... Republican leaders, taking their cues from a pollster's strategy memo, began trying to characterize the Wall Street reform as a "bailout" bill. It's obvious the argument was a lie. It was equally obvious the GOP didn't care.

As I noted the day after Mitch McConnell started pushing it, the lie doesn't have to make sense; it doesn't have to withstand scrutiny; it doesn't even have to be persuasive. It just has to be repeated enough to muddle the debate.

With that in mind, consider the remarks made this morning by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference. See if you can pick up on the theme.

"The American people are tired of runaway federal spending, borrowing and bailouts. The legislation being considered by the Senate, which passed the House, is nothing but a permanent bailout and House Republicans are determined to oppose it. Last week, some Democrats said there wasn't a permanent bailout in this bill. Other Democrats, by the end of the week, said there was a permanent bailout fund in the bill. This may be one of those instances where the left hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing.

"The truth is, the American people are not deceived here. They see that what's being passed under the cloak of financial services reform is nothing more than making permanent the Wall Street bailouts that passed, a year and a half ago, in the form of the TARP. House Republicans are determined to bring about financial services reform that begins with ending the era of bailouts."

The transparency of the lie is arguably the most galling aspect. Pence, like McConnell, is lying. But what's almost impressive about it is the shamelessness -- everyone, including Pence, already knows the claim is demonstrably wrong, but he's decided this is no time for pesky details like facts. There's an argument to win. Pence is no doubt aware that fact-check pieces will expose his argument as ridiculous, but he's willing to take that risk. His base won't mind, and the media probably won't call him on it anyway.

Before Republicans had even seen the bill, Luntz picked the lie, and urged GOP officials to repeat it, even if it didn't make any sense. Mike Pence is making clear that Republicans found this advice compelling.

What's more, Matt Yglesias thinks it's a strategy that will likely prove to be effective.

The overwhelming evidence is that the media gets bored with these fact checks very quickly and that if you just put your head down and charge forward, you come out a couple of weeks later back into "he said, she said" territory. The only real test for whether or not lying works is whether or not you can bring your ideological fellow-travelers along. Will Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck echo your line? Will the Weekly Standard and National Review? Will the bulk of your legislative caucus? The answers are yes, yes, and yes.

Which, in a nutshell, is why our political discourse can be so mind-numbing -- Republicans believe they have an incentive to lie with impunity.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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DEMINT SEES 'SPIRITUAL RENEWAL'.... Over the last year or so, there's been a simmering tension between conservative factions. So-called culture warriors and religious right groups, once the sole basis for the Republican Party's activist base, are starting to get pushed aside. Their issues, which the GOP pretended to care deeply about, no longer get much in the way of lip-service.

What matters, according to Republicans, is the Tea Party crowd.

CBN's David Brody asked Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) about this, and it prompted an interesting exchange.

BRODY: Are you concerned at all that some of the social conservative issues, abortion and same sex marriage, some of these other issues because they are taking somewhat of a back seat right now at least to the fiscal issues that there are some inherent problems for social conservatives in something like that?

DEMINT: No actually just the opposite because I really think a lot of the motivation behind these Tea Party crowds is a spiritual component. I think it's very akin to the Great Awakening before the American Revolution. A lot of our founders believed the American Revolution was won before we ever got into a fight with the British. It was a spiritual renewal.

That's a nice try, I suppose, but I'd be surprised if even DeMint actually believed this.

Social conservatives have been watching the Tea Party gatherings, and they've noticed that the issues at their top of their priority list -- hating gays, banning abortion, and getting government support for their religion -- aren't just downplayed; they're deliberately ignored. After all, the religious right's agenda alienates those who may be sympathetic to a far-right approach to economics.

Bryan Fischer, a right-wing analyst for the American Family Association, recently said, "There's a libertarian streak in the tea party movement that concerns me as a cultural conservative. The tea party movement needs to insist that candidates believe in the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage."

Conservatives are going to have to figure this out eventually. One side wants smaller government in all instances; the other wants bigger government on issues related to gays, abortion, religion, and marriage.

DeMint sees a movement built around spirituality. Do the Tea Partiers agree?

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In the major parties' first quarter fundraising totals, both the DCCC and the DSCC outraised their Republican counterparts. The Democratic committees also have more cash on hand than the NRCC and NRSC.

* Meanwhile, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) declared yesterday that making gains in this year's midterms isn't enough to constitute success. "Anything less" than a Republican majority, Sessions said, would mean he fell short of his "mission statement."

* With the winds continuing to shift in Florida, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said this morning he won't support Charlie Crist's Senate campaign under any circumstances.

* Dave Weigel "got an early look at a survey of state GOP delegates conducted by a Utah firm" yesterday, and it appears that incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) is in very deep trouble this year. It's conceivable that Bennett will lose so badly at the state Republican convention in two weeks, there won't even be a primary.

* On a related note, however, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) hopes to try to rescue Bennett.

* With the special election in Hawaii's first congressional district coming up next week, the DCCC has decided to go after Republican candidate Charles Djou. Dems fear a loss in this race is a real possibility, because it's a three-way contest -- two Democrats against one Republican.

* In New Hampshire, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows former state AG Kelly Ayotte (R) leading Rep. Paul Hodes (D) in this year's open Senate race, 47% to 40%.

* Ben Quayle is running for Congress in Arizona, and it appears fundraising won't be a problem -- his former V.P. father is lining up establishment friends to cut big checks for the first-time candidate.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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CHICKENS FOR CHECKUPS.... This week, Sue Lowden (R), the leading Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, reiterated her odd beliefs about the health care system. "I'm telling you that this works," she explained. "You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor.... Doctors are very sympathetic people. I'm not backing down from that system."

Greg Sargent reports that the DSCC is launching a new website today -- called "Chickens for Checkups" -- lampooning the conservative Republican candidate for her ridiculous approach to health policy.

There's little downside in putting up a quick and dirty Website on this kind of stuff, since it doesn't cost much of anything. Dems want to turn Lowden's chicken chatter into a symbol of GOP unwillingness to embrace real solutions to people's problems. There's a lot of whacky stuff out there, so it's never easy to predict what can break though into the national cable conversation, but Dems are hoping this one has national viral potential and even a shot at getting cable coverage.

I can never guess correctly what'll become a big story -- why so much of the media is leaving John Ensign alone is still a mystery to me -- but Lowden the Laughingstock seems like it has legs (or wings, as the case may be).

High-profile candidates for statewide office just don't offer their opponents this kind of opportunity very often. With Nevada's leading GOP candidate describing a livestock-for-care dynamic, Democrats have been handed an even more delightful gift than the RNC spending donor money at a bondage-themed nightclub.

I still think there's a potential for national significance, too, if other Republican officials and candidates are asked whether they agree with Sue Lowden's "bring a chicken to the doctor" health care plan.

Either way, though, Dems aren't hesitating to pounce on this one.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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READY FOR MORE RECONCILIATION?.... Budget reconciliation rules have been around for a while, but never came to the public's attention in earnest until this year -- when Republicans decided the legislative procedure is somehow controversial, despite all the times they used it when they were in the majority.

And while the fight over health care reform wrapped up last month, reconciliation talk isn't quite finished yet.

Senate Democrats have written their budget resolution so they can pass jobs legislation using reconciliation, the controversial process used last month to move healthcare reform.

The resolution does not specify what specific jobs measures could be covered, and does not explicitly allow for the use of reconciliation rules to pass energy legislation or the extension of George W. Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and a number of other Democrats on Tuesday, however, said the fast-track process could be used to move tax cuts, energy legislation and more later this year.

"There are many different areas it could be used," Cardin said.

What a good point -- reconciliation can be used in "many different areas."

The reference to energy legislation wasn't a direct quote from Cardin, and as far as I can tell, this is the first time the notion of using reconciliation for the energy bill has been raised in earnest by a senator. Here's hoping it's not the last.

Jon Chait added, "[A]s the Congressional session winds down, reconciliation is going to be the biggest weapon left in the Democrats' arsenal. It will be interesting to see how they deploy it."

It will, indeed. Given all the things Dems might want to do before the end of this Congress, reconciliation may prove to make the difference between success and disappointment.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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A CROWDED CALENDAR.... Wall Street reform is obviously up front and center on the Hill right now, and will be the dominant legislative issue of the day until is passes. But with the bill's prospects looking up, policymakers are already wondering what else they can get done in 2010.

Last week, President Obama told a group of high-profile business leaders that a climate/energy bill is up next in the Senate. Yesterday, the president signaled an intention to tackle yet another major legislative initiative around the same time.

President Obama called Sen. Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts, on Tuesday afternoon to try to get him on board with Democrats hoping to pass immigration reform, Brown's spokeswoman Gail Gitcho told CNN.

Gitcho said Brown told the president he would review the proposal, but made no commitment. White House spokesman Bill Burton confirmed the President called the Senator to discuss the legislation on Tuesday during his return flight from California aboard Air Force One.

Currently, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, is the only GOP Senator on board with moving on immigration reform, but he has told Democrats they will lose his support unless they find another Republican.

In terms of the timeline, Brown told the WSJ that the president apparently intends to move forward with an immigration overhaul "in a month."

It's encouraging that the effort is coming into focus, not only for substantive and policy reasons, but also because it suggests Democratic leaders aren't shying away from ambition. There's not that much time left in this Congress -- there's a summer recess coming up, and lawmakers will want to get on the campaign trail as quickly as possible in the early fall -- and Wall Street reform, the budget, a climate/energy bill, and immigration reform, it's hard to believe Dems will able to check so many items off their to-do list, especially in the face of reflexive Republican opposition to everything.

But the agenda is worth pursuing. Not only is it likely that voters will be impressed with a do-something Congress, but chances are, real policymaking in the next Congress will be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Tackling as much as possible, as quickly as possible, is wise.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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FEDERAL INVESTIGATORS TAKE AN INTEREST IN FLORIDA GOP, RUBIO.... When considering the states where political corruption is common, Florida should rank pretty high. New federal investigations are likely to help solidify that reputation.

Federal law enforcement agencies have launched a criminal investigation into the use of American Express cards issued by the Republican Party of Florida to elected officials and staff, according to sources familiar with the probe.

The U.S. attorney's office in Tallahassee, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service are all involved in the probe, which grew out of the state investigation into former House Speaker Ray Sansom. He was indicted on criminal charges that he stashed $6 million in the state budget for an airplane hangar for a friend and campaign donor. [...]

Meanwhile, in a separate inquiry, the IRS is also looking at the tax records of at least three former party credit card holders -- former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, ex-state party chairman Jim Greer and ex-party executive director Delmar Johnson -- to determine whether they misused their party credit cards for personal expenses, according to a source familiar with the preliminary inquiry.

A source familiar with the IRS probe told the Miami Herald that investigators are not yet sure whether a full-fledged criminal probe into Rubio's credit card use is warranted, but there's enough there to look into it.

While Rubio was legally permitted to use GOP credit cards on party-related expenses, the far-right former House Speaker had charges that included "repairs to the family minivan, grocery bills, plane tickets for his wife, and purchases from retailers ranging from a wine store near his home to Apple's on-line store."

Rubio is, of course, currently the leading Republican Senate candidate. As a rule, federal investigations during a political campaign are inconvenient -- voters are sometimes skeptical about backing suspected criminals -- but for all I know, Florida GOP primary voters may believe that laws have a well-known liberal bias.

That said, headlines such as "Rubio under federal investigation" are the kind of developments that might influence Gov. Charlie Crist's campaign plans, and for that matter, give hope to Florida Democrats who still think Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) might surprise some people.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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NOT A GOOD WEEK IN ARIZONA.... The Grand Canyon State appears to have fallen in a deep political hole.

Less than a week ago, the state Senate in Arizona approved an odious immigration measure, which, among other things, makes it a crime to lack proper immigration paperwork in the state, and "requires police officers, if they form a 'reasonable suspicion' that someone is an illegal immigrant, to determine the person's immigration status." Arizonans would be eligible for arrest if an officer thinks they might be an illegal immigrant and can't prove otherwise.

Yesterday, the far-right push took another ugly turn, with Arizona's state House advancing a "birther" bill.

The so-called birther bill won initial approval from the state House on Monday, advancing legislation that would require presidential candidates to produce a birth certificate before they can be on the ballot in Arizona.

The bill originated from a group that believes President Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the U.S. and is ineligible to be president.

Rep. Judy Burges amended Senate Bill 1024 to include a requirement that Arizona's secretary of state inspect a presidential candidate's birth certificate before that candidate could qualify for the ballot.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican, isn't sure if the proposal is even legal, since state-level requirements for a federal office are inherently suspect.

But substance aside, the fact that fringe lunacy is being taken seriously at this level suggests a strain of contemporary Republican thought that's gone stark raving mad.

For what it's worth, this nonsense still has some major hurdles to clear before becoming law in Arizona. The state House voted to add the measure to another piece of legislation yesterday, and is yet to formally approve it. The "birther" bill would also still need support from the state Senate and Gov. Jan Brewer (R).

Nevertheless, the effort itself, and its progress, is an embarrassment.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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'BRING A CHICKEN TO THE DOCTOR'.... Sue Lowden (R), the leading Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, recently articulated her vision of how the American health care system should work. At a local candidate forum, Lowden, a former state senator and chair of the Nevada Republican Party, encouraged Nevadans to "go ahead and barter with your doctor." It would, she insisted, "get get prices down in a hurry."

I assumed that Lowden misspoke, and meant to say "bargain," not "barter," though the notion of bargaining with medical professionals is itself foolish. But she couldn't have meant "barter," since that's ridiculous.

I stand corrected. Lowden appeared on a Nevada news program earlier this week, and doubled down on her notion of a more effective system.

"I'm telling you that this works," the Republican candidate explained. "You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor. They would say, 'I'll paint your house.' I mean, that's the old days of what people would do to get health care with your doctors. Doctors are very sympathetic people. I'm not backing down from that system."

This is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard from a candidate for statewide office. If there wasn't a video, I might not even believe it. According to nearly every recent poll, Lowden is the clear favorite to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) in November, but that was before she started talking about trading livestock for medical care. It's a permanent credibility-killer. It's one thing to be a confused, far-right candidate. It's another to be a laughingstock.

Remember, the health care debate lasted a very long time. Lowden, who has been running for the Senate for nearly as long, has had plenty of time to carefully craft her message on health care policy. This is what she's come up with. Better yet, after becoming the subject of ridicule last week, Lowden had a chance to clarify this into a position that's less preposterous. Instead, she made it worse.

I'm trying to imagine how Lowden thinks this should work. Treating a mundane ailment -- say, a sore throat -- can cost a chicken. But how, exactly, does she imagine families pay for more serious treatments? What should Nevadans expect to bring to the doctor in exchange for an MRI exam? Or an emergency appendectomy? Or chemotherapy? Should the senior citizen who just had hip-replacement surgery offer to start painting the doctor's house?

If Dems are smart, they'll start taking this national -- ask every Republican candidate in the country whether they agree with Sue Lowden's "bring a chicken to the doctor" health care plan.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (100)

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April 20, 2010

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Key 8-1 ruling: "The Supreme Court struck down a federal law Tuesday aimed at banning videos depicting graphic violence against animals, saying that it violates the constitutional right to free speech."

* An argument over gun rights led to this major disappointment: "In a stunning reversal, Democratic leaders have decided that the House of Representatives won't consider a bill that would have given the District of Columbia full voting rights in Congress. 'The price was way too high,' explained House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in announcing the decision Tuesday."

* Another good move from the administration: "Surrounded by women athletes and Olympians Vice President Biden announced today that the Obama administration is rolling back a controversial Title IX compliance requirement enacted under the Bush administration. 'Making Title IX as strong as possible is a no-brainer,' Biden said this afternoon at an event at George Washington University."

* The right fought vehemently in opposition to Marisa Demeo, a President Obama nominee to the D.C. Superior Court, primarily because she's a lesbian. After waiting for 13 months for a vote, the Senate ended a Republican filibuster today.

* SEC: "The Securities and Exchange Commission is examining whether any of the 19 largest U.S. banks are using an accounting trick that a bankruptcy examiner has said led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro said Tuesday."

* Any chance the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland might help with global warming? It's not likely.

* Donald Berwick, the new Medicare/Medicaid chief, looks like a fine choice.

* Judging community colleges.

* In case Fox News is too liberal for you, there may soon be an even more ridiculous option: RightNetwork. The guy who played Frasier is apparently involved.

* Glenn Beck is claiming to hear voices in his head.

* R.I.P, Dr. Dorothy Height.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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SIGNS OF PROGRESS ON WALL STREET REFORM?.... Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had taken the lead in trying to kill Wall Street reform. Today, on the Senate floor, he struck a less antagonistic tone, and there were signs of possible progress.

On Tuesday, McConnell returned to the chamber and announced he was "heartened to hear that bipartisan talks have resumed in earnest." Senate Democratic leaders are preparing to bring the overhaul bill to the floor as early as Thursday, but all 41 Republicans have signed a letter stating their opposition to the bill in its current form. Unless Democrats can peel off at least one GOP senator to allow debate to proceed, a GOP-led filibuster could block financial regulatory reform indefinitely. [...]

"I'm happy to hear my counterpart, my friend, Senator McConnell talk about the need for more negotiations," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), in remarks on the floor following McConnell's speech Tuesday. "We don't stand in the way of that."

McConnell also told reporters today, "We believe the process to achieve [a bipartisan bill] has now been reconstituted. We are all confident that this can be fixed... Senator Shelby [the Republicans' chief financial reform negotiator] believes that there's been a very serious effort to re-engage."

McConnell said the progress is the result of his threats and the letter with 41 Republican signatures vowing to unanimously oppose the legislation. Democrats are suggesting the progress is the result of a) McConnell struggling to keep his caucus united; b) bad press after McConnell was caught blatantly lying; c) bad press after the secretive trip to Wall Street by GOP leaders; or d) some combination of all of them.

Whatever. The point is, the effort appears, at least for now, to be gaining some ground in the Senate. In fact, Sam Stein reports that Republican Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the ranking member on the Banking Committee, said negotiations "have progressed to the point that the debate now centers on specific language rather than individual proposals."

While McConnell specifically said just 48 hours ago that he wants to see senators "go back to the drawing board" on crafting the legislation, Shelby said, "We are not going back to the drawing board. I have said all along that we are probably conceptually together on -- I've even said -- 85 percent... Now we are getting down to words and phrases."

If recent history is any guide, Republicans may very well be jerking Democrats around (again), and will decide to reject the proposal in its entirety after the latest round of talks, no matter what Dems offer in good faith. But, at least for today, there's evidence of some progress.

Steve Benen 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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WHAT'S WITH THE GOP AND MICROCHIPS?.... This report, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jim Galloway, is disconcerting on its face, but it also raises questions about the larger connection between conservatives and their microchip-related concerns.

Last week, the Georgia House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to consider a Republican proposal to "prohibit the involuntary implantation of microchips in human beings." I'm not entirely sure what the point is -- it's not as if there's been an outbreak of involuntary microchip implantation -- but GOP officials nationwide have a tendency to worry about imaginary threats, so I suppose this shouldn't be too surprising.

The legislative hearing led to remarks from a local woman, who claimed to have personal experience on the matter.

"I'm also one of the people in Georgia who has a microchip," the woman said. Slowly, she began to lead the assembled lawmakers down a path they didn't want to take. [...]

She spoke of the "right to work without being tortured by co-workers who are activating these microchips by using their cell phones and other electronic devices."

She continued. "Microchips are like little beepers. Just imagine, if you will, having a beeper in your rectum or genital area, the most sensitive area of your body. And your beeper numbers displayed on billboards throughout the city. All done without your permission," she said.

It was not funny, and no one laughed.

When a lawmaker asked her to clarify as to whether she's been implanted with a microchip, the woman said that she did, and that it was involuntarily put in her body by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The state lawmakers politely thanked the woman for her time, and proceeded to vote in support of the proposal.

And that's really the point I'm curious about. We talked in February about an identical effort among Republicans in Virginia's House of Delegates, where a GOP lawmaker sought to prohibit involuntary microchip implantation in order to help save humanity from the antichrist. His proposal passed.

Indeed, there are now three states -- and counting -- that have instituted bans on involuntary microchip implantation. Georgia will likely become the fourth. At the same time, some conservatives are apparently concerned about non-existent microchip-related provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

Was there some kind of memo about the dangers of microchips at some point? Where did all of these concerns come from? I like to think I keep up fairly well on far-right rhetoric, but all of this seems to be popping up around the same time, out of the blue.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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EVEN LINDSEY GRAHAM DOESN'T DESERVE THIS.... I'm not generally in the habit of defending Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), but some of the abuse he's been receiving from the right is ridiculous.

Over the weekend, an even-crazier-than-usual Tea Party event was held in Greenville, South Carolina, and it was, by one account, "probably the craziest, most violence-strewn Tea Party event so far."

Put it this way: former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) was the keynote speaker, and he called on Americans to send President Obama "back" to Kenya. He was preceded by a Baptist preacher who said he's prepared to "suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what [the military] trained me to do."

But it was William Gheen, the head of a right-wing, anti-immigrant effort called Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, whose remarks were especially ugly. Lindsey Graham wasn't on hand for the event, but Gheen addressed the senator directly: "I'm a tolerant person. I don't care about your private life, Lindsey, but as our U.S. Senator I need to figure out why you're trying to sell out your own countrymen, and I need to make sure you being gay isn't it."

Today, Gheen's outfit doubled down.

The national border security organization known as Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) is officially calling for US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to make his homosexual lifestyle public knowledge in the interest of political integrity and national security...

"US Senator Lindsey Graham is gay and while many people in South Carolina and Washington DC know that, the general public and Graham's constituents do not," said William Gheen President of ALIPAC. "I personally do not care about Graham's private life, but in this situation his desire to keep this a secret may explain why he is doing a lot of political dirty work for others who have the power to reveal his secrets. Senator Graham needs to come out of the closet inside that log cabin so the public can rest assured he is not being manipulated with his secret."

The "manipulated" line is especially inane -- as the group sees it, if Graham is trying to work constructively with Democrats on a handful of issues, it may be because Dems are blackmailing him.

For the record, I neither know nor care about Graham's private life. His sexual orientation is irrelevant -- and the attacks are pathetic in either case.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS.... The Wall Street reform package pending on the Hill is not without flaws. Indeed, some of those flaws are pretty important, and deserve scrutiny before additional votes. We'd all benefit quite a bit from a thorough, substantive debate over the legislation's strengths and weaknesses.

But we can't have that debate. Republicans have come up with one big lie, which they already know isn't true, and the effort to deal with this one big lie has made the real debate impossible.

At his pollster's urging, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week started popping off about the legislation being a "bailout" bill. He was lying. But as is usually the case, other far-right lawmakers are following instructions, and repeating the lie anyway. Today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the Senate bill "would empower the federal government to provide Wall Street with permanent bailouts, courtesy of American taxpayers." He's lying, too.

No one seems capable of defending this truly pathetic claim, and one conservative senator is even willing to concede that he knows his party's argument is plainly false. Here's Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) yesterday, describing the liquidation-fund provision:

"[T]his fund that's been set up is anything but a bailout. It's been set up to, in essence, provide upfront funding by the industry so that when these companies are seized, there's money available to make payroll and to wind it down while the pieces are being sold off."

But it doesn't matter. Corker's party just doesn't care.

And just to add insult to injury, GOP leaders signaled today that even if the perfectly reasonable idea they're lying about is scuttled, they'll not only still oppose the bill, they'll also "still denounce the bill for including an unlimited bailout."

Got that? Republicans will shamelessly lie about a provision in an important bill. Confronted with reality, they'll still lie. And even if the provision disappears, they'll still tell the same lie.

What's the point of even having a public discourse when the leadership of a political party treats the truth like a punch-line?

Now would be a terrific time for a real debate. Republicans could -- get this -- raise legitimate objections to the legislation, and raise concerns that -- believe it or not -- are entirely sensible.

But, no. We can't have real debates because we're too busy suffering through idiotic mendacity.

Note to Republican leaders: liars become pathological when the truth works just as well, but you actually prefer dishonesty.

Steve Benen 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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IF EVERY PICK WILL PRODUCE A TANTRUM.... There's still plenty of scuttlebutt about the direction President Obama will choose when picking the next Supreme Court nominee. Will he "pick a fight," selecting a solid progressive, or focus more on trying to find a "consensus" nominee who'd be easier to confirm?

The latter approach appears to be based on a faulty assumption -- that there are a significant number of Senate Republicans who'll be reasonable about the confirmation process. It's a dynamic the White House seems well aware of. Christina Bellantoni had a good report on this.

President Obama thinks Republicans will engage in a full battle over his Supreme Court nominee regardless of the person's ideological leanings, and in some ways "that realization is liberating for the president" to choose whomever he pleases, an administration official told TPMDC. [...]

"It doesn't matter who he chooses, there is going to be a big 'ol fight over it. So he doesn't have to get sidetracked by those sorts of concerns," the official told me. The GOP has attempted to obstruct "anything of consequence" put forth by the Obama administration since he took office, the official said. "The president is making this decision with a pretty clear view that whoever he chooses is going to provoke a strong reaction on the right," the official added.

That's a safe bet. I don't believe Republicans would be able to block an up-or-down vote on the nominee, but it seems like a near-certainty that conservatives will throw a tantrum under every possible scenario. National Review recently went so far yesterday as to call on Republicans to resist the eventual nominee, no matter who's selected. Judicial Watch's Tom Fitton told Bellantoni that his far-right group already objects to all of the names on the purported short-list.

So, why make the selection based on a bipartisan "consensus" that won't materialize anyway? If a mainstream, center-left jurist will be labeled a "wild-eyed liberal radical" by conservatives, why try to placate conservative hysteria?

As Ezra Klein put it a couple of weeks ago, "President Obama could nominate the guy on the Quaker Oats box and Glenn Beck would find a way to connect him to Trotsky on his blackboard ('you know who else liked oatmeal!?' ). Moreover, the GOP will enthusiastically help him on that one. Midterm elections are about base mobilization, and nothing is better for base mobilization than an asymmetric Supreme Court fight."

If the White House is going to get a fight either way, the president might as well pick a nominee in which he and his allies can take some pride.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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MCCAIN CONCOCTS IMAGINARY SCHEME.... Once in a while, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) slips so far, I don't know what he's saying, and have no idea why he's saying it.

Here's the Republican senator talking to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly about an odious immigration bill advancing in Arizona.

O'REILLY: [W]hat about the racial profiling? You know that's going to happen has to happen.

MCCAIN: I hope -- I would be very sorry that if some of that happens. And I regret it, but I also regret the -- really, it's not just the murder of Robert Krantz. It's the people whose homes and property are being violated. It's the drive-by that -- the drivers of cars with illegals in it that are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway. Look, our border is not secured. Our citizens are not safe. [emphasis added]

Even for McCain, this is pretty odd. Immigrants who entered the country illegally generally don't want to bring this kind of attention to themselves. They don't have any motivation to deliberately cause accidents on freeways.

I have no idea what's going to happen in McCain's primary race, but if he loses, it seems very likely that McCain will wake up unemployed in January and realize he did enormous damage to his reputation during his presidential campaign, and then abandoned what was left of his integrity during his re-election campaign.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) told a Tampa-area TV station yesterday that he's mulling his options. "The law gives you until April 30 to make such a declaration and I'm going to take my time and be as thoughtful as I need to be," Crist said. He said today, however, that he will stay in the Senate race -- either as an independent or as a Republican.

* In the meantime, the GOP establishment hopes to end his chances. Today, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will endorse Marco Rubio.

* Republicans continue to rally in support of corporate lobbyist Dan Coats' (R) Senate campaign in Indiana, but Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) this morning threw his backing to state Sen. Marlin Stutzman (R).

* On a related note, Rasmussen shows Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) trailing both Coats and Stutzman by wide margins.

* In New York, the latest Siena poll shows Andrew Cuomo (D) crushing his various GOP challengers.

* Texas' gubernatorial race continues to look very competitive, with Rasmussen showing incumbent Gov. Rick Perry (R) leading Houston Mayor Bill White (D) by only four points, 48% to 44%.

* Mac D'Alessandro, a regional political director for the SEIU, is reportedly eyeing a primary campaign against Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), who voted with Republicans on health care reform.

* And it may not happen anytime too soon, but White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel apparently intends to run for mayor in Chicago, eventually.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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EVEN HALPERIN WON'T DEFEND GOP TACTICS.... It was a lively discussion on "Morning Joe" this morning, when White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee appeared to discuss Wall Street reform. In particular, he explained why GOP talking points about "bailouts" aren't just wrong, but are in fact the opposite of reality.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Goolsbee also did a nice job highlighting the GOP's motivations for repeating obvious nonsense: "Everybody knows a consultant just handed them that line and they're just reading it. It doesn't matter what's in the bill. It could be a bill about breakfast cereal and they're going to say this is a bailout bill."

But what was especially interesting this morning was the moment when host Joe Scarborough turned to Time's Mark Halperin, and urged him to "defend the Republican position" on the legislation. Halperin, who often seems more than sympathetic to the GOP line, couldn't bring himself to support the Republican arguments.

"I cannot defend what they're doing," Halperin said. "They are willfully misreading the bill or they are engaged in a cynical attempt to keep the president from achieving something."

Note to Republicans: when even Mark Halperin is calling you out for lying, the conventional wisdom is turning against you.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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FINALLY, A VOTE FOR LAEL BRAINARD.... President Obama nominated Lael Brainard to be an Under Secretary of the Treasury for international affairs, and Senate confirmation was expected to be pretty easy. Her background and qualifications are impeccable, and Brainard was likely to get bipartisan support. Given the importance of having competent Treasury Department officials in place during a global economic crisis, it made sense to have the Senate move quickly on the nomination.

That didn't happen. Brainard was nominated in March 2009. Last night, 13 months after receiving the nomination, the Senate voted to end obstructionist tactics and allow senators to vote up or down on Brainard's nomination. The cloture vote was 84 to 10.

With such broad bipartisan support, why did it take more than a year for the Senate to bring Brainard's nomination to the floor? Because Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) had a hold on the nomination.

It's hard to overstate how ridiculous this is.

Brainard, who is set up for a cloture vote today at 5:30pm ET, has been nominated to serve in a position critical to engaging China and representing U.S. interests at the G-20, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

Brainard, a highly qualified expert in international economics, is a devoted public servant who has spent most of her career serving the American people. She previously served with distinction as: Deputy National Economic Advisor for President Bill Clinton; Vice President and Founding Director of the Brookings Institution's Global Economy and Development Program; Associate Professor of Applied Economics at MIT Sloan School; a White House Fellow; and a National Science Foundation Fellow.

Brainard is supported by: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, U.S. Council on International Business, Business Council for International Understanding, Council of the Americas, Coalition of Services Industries, Emergency Committee for American Trade, National Foreign Trade Council, National Association of Manufacturers.

And why did Kyl block a vote for more than a year? Because the far-right Republican isn't satisfied with -- get this -- administration enforcement of prohibitions on internet gambling. Seriously.

As former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker recently put it, "How can we run a government in the middle of a financial crisis without doing the ordinary, garden-variety administrative work of filling the relevant agencies?"

Senate Republicans are acting like children playing with matches. Jon Kyl isn't some random backbencher, he's the #2 Republican in the chamber. Presumably, he's in a position to realize the adverse consequences -- for the government, for the administration, for the entire country -- of his indefensible obstructionism.

A mature, functioning democracy simply can't operate this way and expect to thrive.

Update: Senators voted 78 to 19 to confirm Brainard. If it takes more than a year to confirm one qualified nominee with this kind of support, the Obama administration should be fully staffed sometime around the end of the 21st century.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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WHAT TO DO ABOUT BROWN.... We talked yesterday about Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) latest interview, in which the senator was not only rambling and borderline-incoherent, but also claimed that Democrats refuse to focus on job creation -- a claim which is clearly false.

Soon after publishing the item, I received a thoughtful note from a regular reader, P.H., who had some concerns about the general approach. I'm re-publishing the entirety of P.H.'s note with permission:

"You know I love this column, but I think this particular character study may be counterproductive. I agree that reading his response to a direct question is like drinking curdled milk, but people like the guy. I read the profile in the NYT Magazine and I like the guy. He's sort of a goofball and he seems to be a good dad. He's not Einstein, but he's not Eric Cantor either. But I think the point is, to me, is that he's someone who can be won over and he's also someone who, regardless of what he says, has been an asset to the Democrats. So, I'm just saying...it's not worth alienating him." [ellipses in the original]

I really do understand this point of view. Much in the same way many Americans "wanted to have a beer" with George W. Bush, Scott Brown seems like a good guy. If one were throwing a backyard barbecue, Brown would probably make a fun guest. If I were choosing a Republican senator to be my neighbor, and help out with this year's July 4th festivities, Brown would probably be high on the list.

But to my mind, that makes scrutiny of his, shall we say, "shortcomings" all the more important. When Scott Brown trashes Democratic job-creation efforts with dishonest talking points he doesn't even seem to understand, for example, the casual voter might be inclined to believe him. After all, he seems like a good guy, right? Why would the handsome, likable guy lie? If he says Dems are ignoring the need for more jobs, maybe Dems really are.

Except, Dems really aren't. Brown doesn't know what he's talking about, but that doesn't stop him from saying things that aren't true.

Of course, it's not just the jobs agenda. Brown has, in his very brief tenure, repeatedly made ridiculous, and at times even insulting, claims about everything from health care reform to Wall Street reform. Just yesterday, yet another one of his patently false arguments was exposed as an unsupported sham.

If I had to guess -- and this is purely speculative -- I'd say Brown is more a fool than a liar. He's demonstrated repeatedly that he doesn't really understand any area of public policy with any proficiency, so his bogus claims are likely the result of ignorance, not mendacity.

But much of the public probably doesn't appreciate the difference, and may be inclined to take his arguments seriously because "people like the guy."

In theory, P.H. is right, and Brown can play a constructive role, occasionally breaking with his far-right party. But if he insists on saying idiotic things that aren't true, it's more important, not less, to call him on it, given the apparent credibility that comes with his personable qualities.

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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LIEBERMAN REDISCOVERS HIS LOVE OF OVERSIGHT.... Wouldn't you know it, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has suddenly found he takes administration oversight and subpoena power seriously again. All it took was a Democratic president.

Top senators on the Homeland Security panel subpoenaed the Obama administration for information they said they need for their investigation into last year's Fort Hood shooting.

Senators Joseph Lieberman, the chairman of the committee, and Susan Collins, its ranking Republican, had said last week they would serve the Pentagon and the Justice Department if they did not receive access to certain witnesses and documents by Monday.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is accused of killing 13 people at the Texas' Fort Hood last November. Mr. Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, and Ms. Collins, a Maine Republican, say they have been seeking important information -- such as Maj. Hasan's personnel file -- from the administration for months.

As far as the administration is concerned, publicly releasing materials related to the Hasan case may jeopardize Hasan's trial, and officials are more concerned with prosecuting the mass murderer than satisfying Joe Lieberman's curiosity.

Maybe that's a compelling explanation, maybe it's not. But stepping back, I can't help but notice that Lieberman, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, didn't start taking his responsibilities seriously until President Obama -- the one who helped Lieberman keep his gavel in the first place -- took office.

In 2007 and 2008, Lieberman was in the same position, and refused to engage in oversight of the Bush/Cheney administration. Questions arose, for example, into internal White House deliberations from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and senators were prepared to subpoena the administration. Lieberman rejected the effort. When his House counterpart, Henry Waxman, delved into the Pentagon's propaganda operation, Blackwater's activities in Iraq, and the controversy surrounding missing emails from the Bush White House, Lieberman chose not to do any oversight at all.

For the entire year of 2007, Lieberman's first as committee chairman, the Connecticut Independent didn't launch any proactive inquiries into administration controversies at all. No subpoenas, no hearings, nothing.

But now Lieberman has discovered he wants the White House to give him answers. What a coincidence.

Yesterday's subpoena requests the documents be made available by next Monday. The administration is expected to ignore the request.

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JUKEBOX JOHN KEEPS CHANGING HIS TUNE.... The state Senate in Arizona approved an odious immigration measure yesterday, which, among other things, makes it a crime to lack proper immigration paperwork in the state, and "requires police officers, if they form a 'reasonable suspicion' that someone is an illegal immigrant, to determine the person's immigration status." Arizonans would be eligible for arrest if an officer thinks they might be an illegal immigrant and can't prove otherwise.

The measure was strongly opposed by the state police chiefs' association and immigrant-rights groups, but was embraced by Arizona Republicans. It was championed by a right-wing state lawmaker who used to be considered an embarrassment to the GOP, but has become increasingly influential as the party has shifted to the far-right.

It's exactly the kind of effort Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has long opposed. That is, previous versions of John McCain. The McCain now facing a right-wing primary challenger thinks this awful proposal is a fine idea.

Sen. John McCain praised a tough Arizona anti-immigration bill that will let police arrest people who aren't carrying identification, the latest move in McCain's rightward shift in advance of a tough Republican Senate primary this summer. [...]

It's a dramatic switch for a senator who supported comprehensive immigration reform with Democratic lion Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) just four years ago. McCain is facing a primary challenge from the right in former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

"He risked his political career for immigration reform, and now he is compromising his principles to fight for his political life," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice and a longtime immigration reform advocate.

Keep in mind, McCain wasn't just a passive observer on this issue -- he's actually been a strong advocate of immigration reform, and has consistently been to his party's left. He was, for example, a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants' kids who graduate from high school. McCain also championed a 2007 effort on comprehensive reform, which included a path to citizenship that the far-right labeled "amnesty."

And now look at him.

The politics of this are transparent. McCain is worried about losing to a right-wing primary challenger, so he's abandoning his principles and previous positions. But the irony is, in his bid to look more appealing, McCain actually looks more ridiculous -- the right knows his dramatic shifts on issues like immigration aren't sincere, while those who've respected McCain's willingness to break from the party line no longer recognize the political hack before them.

By trying to impress everyone, McCain is failing to persuade anyone.

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FACT-CHECKING GUESTS -- INCENTIVES VS DISINCENTIVES.... There's been quite a bit of talk of late about the Sunday public-affairs talk shows and the role of fact-checking. The issue was put on the map by NYU professor Jay Rosen, Rosen's ideas were touted by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, and ultimately embraced by ABC's Jake Tapper, the temporary host of "This Week."

As the discussion continues, it's worth considering why so many of the programs seem reluctant to incorporate this common-sense approach to quality journalism.

There are five Sunday shows: ABC's "This Week," CBS's "Face the Nation," NBC's "Meet the Press," CNN's "State of the Union," and Fox News' "Fox News Sunday." To date, only "This Week" has adopted Rosen's idea on incorporating fact-checking into the process. "Meet the Press" host David Gregory has said he's content to have viewers "fact-check 'Meet the Press' every week on their own terms," whatever that means. As far as I can tell, Bob Schieffer, Candy Crowley, and Chris Wallace haven't addressed the issue at all, though CBS, to its credit, published a fairly detailed fact-check item online after Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) lied repeatedly during a recent broadcast.

So, why do the shows seem so reluctant to pursue this? It's certainly possible that they don't want to look like "followers" -- ABC is doing it, and if the other shows follow suit, it gives the appearance of trying to play catch-up. Shows generally want to look like trend-setters, not followers.

But Jay Rosen raises a more disconcerting possibility.

The more disturbing possibility is that [David Gregory] thinks Tapper's policy may give Meet the Press a competitive edge in booking guests who won't want to be checked so vigorously. (As opposed to competing with an even better fact check, which would probably cause Bob Schieffer at Face the Nation to adopt the same policy, forcing the guests to accept the new rules or flee to cable, which has a fraction of the viewers.)

Look at it this way: the Washington politician who's been on Meet the Press more than any other is John McCain. On April 6, Politifact's truth-o-meter rated McCain a pants-on-fire liar for claiming that he never called himself a maverick. See what I mean?

I obviously can't speak to the motivations of the shows' producers and hosts. I don't know them and have no idea what they've considered and why.

But Rosen's speculation is hardly unreasonable. If I'm a GOP lawmaker, and I know I'm going to repeat demonstrably false talking points about the major issues of the day, I'm much more likely to appear on a program that allows me to lie with impunity than one that incorporates fact-checking as an official part of the show.

The shows that count on high-profile guests to generate strong ratings may very well have thought of this, too.

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April 19, 2010

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Progress over the skies of Europe: "Poland reopened four airports and the Netherlands reopened one shortly after European officials carved up the sky Monday, creating three zones to more quickly break the flight deadlock caused by volcanic ash flowing from Iceland over Europe."

* I do love green shoots: "The index of U.S. leading indicators rose in March by the most in 10 months, a sign the economy will keep growing into the second half of the year."

* Into the lion's den: "President Obama will take his case for tougher financial regulation to Wall Street's backyard this week, the White House announced Monday."

* Gates on Iran: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates acknowledged Sunday that in January he sent a memo to the White House outlining the 'next steps in our defense planning process' for Iran."

* Gun activists converge on the D.C. area.

* Rumors were true: "President Barack Obama has nominated Harvard medical professor Donald Berwick to oversee Medicare and Medicaid."

* Sigh: "Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine.) on Monday issued subpoenas to the Obama administration regarding the shootings at Ft. Hood last year."

* Andrew Sabl ponders "the fundamental difference between the kind of responsible libertarians whom I happily have dinner with and the 'buy more guns, more bullets' contingent."

* Adam Serwer ponders the "flame war between Tom Goldstein and Glenn Greenwald over Solicitor General Elena Kagan's suitability for the Supreme Court."

* On a related note, Greenwald makes a very compelling case for Diane Wood to fill John Paul Stevens' vacancy on the high court.

* Greenwald also reports that the White House has sought out defenders for Elana Kagan. For the record, I haven't heard a word from my White House sources on this, but I have no idea if my experience is the norm. [Update: It was actually Sam Stein at the Huffington Post who reported this, not Glenn. My mistake.]

* White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs meets with angry reporters to tend to "frayed relations."

* A great political cartoon appropriately mocks the Senate Minority Leader, who has no qualms repeating a lie, even after it's exposed as a lie.

* Fact checking the Sunday shows.

* Financial aid season is not always a pleasant one.

* And in Georgia, former Gov. Roy Barnes (D), who seeking his old job back, mocked far-right Republicans who throw around rhetoric about secession from the U.S. "Do they not know that the Yankees have got the atomic bomb now?" Barnes joked.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

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CALLING OUT MCCONNELL, CONT'D.... Sounds like a good message to me.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released a statement today accusing Sens. Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn of holding a "secret, closed-door meeting with Wall Street executives" this month.

"Senators McConnell and Cornyn should immediately reveal what they discussed earlier this month during secret, closed-door meeting with Wall Street executives in New York City. Years of greed and excess on Wall Street cost 8 million jobs and trillions in wealth for middle-class families and small businesses. Since Republicans appear to be conducting backroom negotiations with these same people who took our economy to the brink of collapse, the public deserves to know what secret deals and carve-outs Republicans are offering Wall Street executives in exchange for their support."

The Senate Minority Leader clearly didn't want to talk about his closed-door meeting with hedge fund managers, bankers, and Wall Street elites when he appeared on CNN yesterday, so it makes sense that Reid would keep pressing this point.

For its part, the White House is on the same page. It's latest talking points hammer the point home:

As is the case with most major reforms, the special interests and lobbyists that stand to profit from the status quo, as well as their allies in Washington, are fighting to block or weaken this bill. We've seen Republican leadership meet with Wall Street executives to discuss ways to block progress on this important issue. And the Senate Republican Leader has taken to using talking points drafted by a pollster with Wall Street clients to say that these reforms will enable future bailouts.

In related news this afternoon, Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) announced that she will refuse to allow the Senate to even begin a debate on Wall Street reform. Collins met with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner about the bill, but told reporters after the meeting that unless the bill is "bipartisan," she will reject an effort to begin consideration of the legislation on the Senate floor. What kind of substantive changes does Collins have in mind that would convince her to let the Senate at least start debating the bill? She hasn't said.

Remember, Susan Collins is one of the "moderates" in the Republican Party. In other words, she's ostensibly someone Dems can work with in good faith. So much for that idea.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Last week, the Boston Globe talked to Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) about his opposition to Wall Street reform. He initially explained that he disapproves of the bill because it adds "an extra layer of regulation," but that's absurd. Asked how the legislation could be improved, Brown told the reporter, "Well, what areas do you think should be fixed? I mean, you know, tell me."

Behold, the new Republican hero.

Yesterday, the dimwitted senator appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation," and was asked about far-right Tea Party activists and their fears about "socialism." Host Bob Schieffer wanted to know if Brown agrees with their paranoia. Here's the senator's response in its entirety, exactly as it appeared in the official transcript:

"I know that the President should start to focus on jobs and job creation and -- and -- and -- and -- and that hasn't been done. Since I've been here we've done health care, which they obviously rammed through by using a parliamentary procedure that has never been used for something this big ever. And then the bill as we're finding out is -- is flawed, seriously flawed. It's going to cost medical device companies in my state, you know, thousands of jobs. But then, we're taking -- we're talking now about regulation reform. We're politicizing that. Maybe -- I've heard illegal immigration is going to come forth. When we're in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the only thing they talked about from the Presidents all the way down to the poorest farmer were jobs. Since I've been here, I've heard zero talk about jobs. So, I'll let -- leave that up to the political pundits, but I know from what I've seen that we need to focus on jobs and the President should start to do so."

Now, with a response like this, it's tough to know where to start. One could point out that Brown is wrong about the focus on job creation by pointing to the stimulus bill that rescued the economy. One could note that Brown is wrong about health care, which wasn't "obviously rammed through by using a parliamentary procedure," but rather, passed the Senate through regular order.

But I was particularly struck by the notion that Brown believes he's "heard zero talk about jobs." I realize Brown isn't the brightest light in the harbor, if you know what I mean, but after only three months in the Senate, I do expect him to have some sense of the bills he's already voted on. For example, he might remember voting on this "tax extenders" bill last month, which was intended to spur job creation, or perhaps voting on this job bill in February. In both instances, Scott Brown voted with Democrats, which was a fairly big deal with his far-right buddies. Seems like the kind of thing he might remember. It really wasn't that long ago.

And yet, there was Brown, telling a national television audience he's "heard zero talk about jobs." That's true, so long as one ignores all the talk about jobs.

In some ways, I almost feel bad for Scott Brown. He was elected to Congress before he was able to learn anything about public policy, and was put in a high-profile role before he could speak intelligently about any area of public policy. He didn't even expect to win his Senate campaign, so there probably wasn't any real point to him learning anything substantive before running anyway.

Brown, in this sense, is another classic example of a post turtle -- you know he didn't get up there by himself; he obviously doesn't belong up there; he can't get anything done while he's there; and you just want to help the poor, dumb thing down.

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NOTHING WRONG WITH TOUTING GOOD NEWS.... According to Iraqi officials today, two key leaders of the insurgency -- Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and a "somewhat mythic figure who has operated under the name Abu Omar al-Baghdadi" -- were killed in a joint raid launched by U.S. and Iraqi forces. American military officials confirmed Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's announcement.

Regular readers may recall that I've frequently argued that the White House has done far too little to brag about these major counter-terrorism success stories. I was delighted, then, to see Vice President Biden talk up the developments in Iraq.

Vice President Joe Biden took no questions Monday during his brief Briefing Room appearance at the White House. He was there to drive a message, not discuss. Iraqi security forces, with U.S. military support, had killed the two most senior leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq, operational leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and spiritual leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. "Their deaths are potentially devastating blows to Al Qaeda in Iraq," Biden said.

Good. A strategy memo published in March encouraged the White House be more aggressive in highlighting successes like these, encouraging officials to "hype hit lists and body counts."

That strikes me as a politically sound strategy. Nearly "three times as many terrorists were killed in Obama's first year as there were in all of President Bush's second term," but the vast majority of the public has no idea that this is true.

Indeed, recent successes on counter-terrorism are one of the best-kept secrets in American politics today. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's top military commander, was captured. High-profile terrorists have been killed -- Hakimullah Mehsud, Baitullah Mehsud, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan -- while many more have been arrested -- Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi.

For 14 months, President Obama and his team have been very reluctant to exploit these counter-terrorism victories. That's admirable, to be sure. But a little chest-thumping now and then is hardly out of the question. If the White House doesn't draw more attention to their victories, the public may not hear about them. Worse, when GOP hacks suggest the administration isn't "tough" enough, a lot of the public may not realize immediately how idiotic the rhetoric is.

Biden's remarks today were heartening, both as a matter of national security, and as a matter of political strategy.

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COLLISION COURSE ON WALL STREET REFORM.... Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) told reporters today he intends to move forward with his Wall Street reform package this week, despite unanimous Republican opposition.

Jon Chait considers what happens next.

The Democrats clearly see financial reform as a win-win issue for them -- either they get one or more Republicans to support it, in which case they get an accomplishment, or else they get Republicans to vote it down, in which case they get a great political issue.

But why choose? Chris Dodd says the Senate is going to hold a vote on his bill Wednesday or Thursday. Republicans still say they can muster 41 votes in opposition. The ideal for Democrats would be to have the whole GOP vote to filibuster the bill, then have a huge debate, and then have one or more Republicans defect and pass the bill anyway. Then you get an accomplishment and a chance to expose the GOP as carrying water for Wall Street.

That sounds about right, but there's a catch. In order for there to be a "huge debate," at least on the Senate floor, the motion to proceed has to get 60 votes. At this point, Republicans aren't just prepared to block an up-or-down vote on the legislation, they're also prepared to prevent the debate from even happening in the first place, filibustering before they filibuster.

Both sides seem to think the other will blink first -- Dems are convinced Republicans don't really want to be responsible for blocking the reform bill and doing the bidding of Wall Street lobbyists in an election year. Republicans are convinced they can withstand Democratic criticism and force key concessions to make the bill considerably weaker and more to Wall Street's liking.

We'll likely see who's right in a few days.

But as long as we're here, perhaps now would be a good time to reiterate how truly ridiculous the legislative dynamic is. There will very likely be 59 senators in support of this critical legislation, and 41 opponents. Under the existing rules, the 41-vote minority not only trumps the 59-vote majority, it also has the power to prevent the Senate from even debating the bill in the first place, despite the fact that some of the 41 haven't the foggiest idea what they're blocking.

It's painful to consider the progress the nation could make right now if the Congress operated the way it used to -- by majority rule.

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CRIST GETTING SHOVED OUT?.... Last year, when Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) announced he would forgo re-election and run for the Senate, the Republicans were delighted. They'd urged him to run, felt confident that his victory was a near-certainty, and it wasn't long before the National Republican Senatorial Committee was backing him. On May 12, Crist kicked off his campaign, and that afternoon, the NRSC officially endorsed his bid.

That was 11 months ago. Today, the NRSC offered a very different message.

The top political strategist for Senate Republicans urged key GOP consultants Monday to persuade Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to forgo an independent bid for Senate if he withdraws from the Republican primary, CNN has learned.

Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, sent an e-mail to national political operatives just before noon in which he also predicted that Crist will decide not to compete in the GOP primary against former state House Speaker Marco Rubio.

"We believe there is zero chance Governor Crist continues running in the Republican primary," Jesmer wrote in the e-mail provided to CNN by a Republican source on the condition of anonymity. "It [sic] our view that if Governor Crist believes he cannot win a primary then the proper course of action is he drop out of the race and wait for another day."

The NRSC message comes the same day that Crist's Senate campaign canceled scheduled television advertisements in central Florida.

Crist's next move is anybody's guess. He hinted late last week that he'd consider an independent Senate bid, but there's been no word on when (or whether) such an announcement might be made.

I'm especially interested to see how Crist responds to the NRSC's Jesmer email -- I wouldn't be too surprised if the message pushes Crist closer to a third-party run, since he'll no doubt be annoyed by the disrespect.

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THE THEOCRATIC WING OF THE GOP.... A certain former half-term governor appears to be drifting even further away from the American mainstream. Over the weekend, appearing at an evangelical Christian women's conference in Louisville, Sarah Palin rejected the very idea of separation of church and state, a bedrock principle of American democracy.

She asked for the women -- who greeted her with an enthusiastic standing ovation -- to provide a "prayer shield" to strengthen her against what she said was "deception" in the media.

She denounced this week's Wisconsin federal court ruling that government observance of a National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional -- which the crowd joined in booing. She asserted that America needs to get back to its Christian roots and rejected any notion that "God should be separated from the state."

Palin added that she was outraged when President Obama said that "America isn't a Christian nation."

The amusing aspect of this is the notion that the United States would return to its roots with support for National Day of Prayer observances. That's backwards -- Thomas Jefferson and James Madison explicitly rejected state-sponsored prayer days. I'll look forward to the conservative explanation of how the Founding Fathers were godless socialists.

I also can't wait to hear how right-wing voices who want smaller government believe it's appropriate for the federal government to issue decrees encouraging private American citizens to engage in worship.

But far less amusing is the fact that Palin and others of her radical ilk reject any notion that "God should be separated from the state." It's the 21st century, for crying out loud. There are some countries that endorse Palin's worldview and intermix God and government -- Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan under Taliban rule come to mind -- but they're generally not countries the United States tries to emulate.

The separation of church and state has long been a concept that all Americans could embrace, and has served as a model for nations around the world to follow. For Palin to publicly denounce this bedrock American principle suggests she might actually be getting worse.

Postscript: As for Palin's outrage over the president acknowledging that we're not "a Christian nation," Obama's entirely correct.

Update: Greg Sargent obtained a transcript, and it's worse than I thought. Palin not only thinks the Founding Fathers opposed church-state separation -- in other words, she thinks those who came up with the idea opposed the idea -- she also suggests religious people necessarily reject the constitutional principle. This is just astounding.

If anyone this conspicuously unintelligent has ever sought national office, I can't think of who he/she is.

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Late on Friday, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) conceded that he has not ruled out running for the Senate as an independent. "I'm not thinking about that today," he said in response to a reporter's question. "We'll look at that later on."

* In related news, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has decided to jump on the bandwagon, announcing his support for Marco Rubio over Crist.

* And in still more Florida news, a new Quinnipiac poll shows the state's gubernatorial race growing more competitive, with state AG Bill McCollum (R) leading state CFO Alex Sink (D) by four, 40% to 36%. Despite holding statewide office, neither candidate is well known.

* In Massachusetts, the Republican State Convention chose Charles Baker as their gubernatorial candidate over the weekend. He'll face incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick (D) and state Treasurer Timothy Cahill (I) in November. A new poll shows Patrick with a narrow lead in the three-way race.

* Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) is feeling some heat from primary challenger Marcy Winograd, but delegates to the California Democratic Party met over the weekend and formally endorsed the incumbent.

* Polls have been all over the place in Arizona's Republican Senate primary, but Rasmussen now has Sen. John McCain leading former Rep. J.D. Hayworth by just five points, 47% to 42%.

* As expected, former Republican National Committeeman Sean Mahoney has announced he'll take on Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) this year in New Hampshire.

* Former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) appears to be moving towards a presidential campaign, as is Mississippi Haley Barbour (R). Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), however, appears to have ruled out a national campaign.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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AMERICA'S IMPROVED GLOBAL STANDING.... I've been keeping an eye on international attitudes towards the United States since the change in presidential administrations, and it's been encouraging to see America's standing rise after reaching embarrassing depths. It appears the trend is continuing.

Views of the US around the world have improved sharply over the past year, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

For the first time since the annual poll began in 2005, America's influence in the world is now seen as more positive than negative.

The improved scores for the US coincided with Barack Obama becoming president, a BBC correspondent notes.

The international poll was conducted between November 2009 and February 2010, and surveyed nearly 30,000 people in 28 countries. It was conducted with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland.

Steven Kull, PIPA's director, noted, "After a year, it appears the 'Obama effect' is real."

This isn't the only recent survey showing the nation's standing improving. Gallup reported in February, "Perceptions of U.S. leadership worldwide improved significantly from 2008 to 2009. The U.S.-Global Leadership Project, a partnership between the Meridian International Center and Gallup, finds that a median of 51% of the world approves of the job performance of the current leadership of the U.S., up from a median of 34% in 2008."

In October, the Nation Brand Index survey found that the U.S. had reclaimed its position as the most admired country globally, up from seventh place in 2008. Similarly, in July, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found a vast improvement in international views of the United States since the president's election.

Obviously, international support can change, sometimes rapidly. But for those who hoped to see our stature improve after eight years of unpleasantness, it's heartening to see the United States' stature grow once again.

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FIFTEEN YEARS AGO TODAY.... With the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing today, it's worth remembering the horrific tragedy, the hate that inspired it, and the 168 victims of the extremists' terrorism. It was, at the time, the deadliest act of domestic terrorism on U.S. soil ever.

It's also worth taking a moment to acknowledge the cultural context, and the legitimate concerns that contemporary right-wing hysteria could create an environment that leads violent American radicals to commit another heinous act. Kathleen Parker's latest column asks, "Is the political environment becoming so toxic that we could see another Timothy McVeigh emerge? No one knows the answer, but fears that anger could escalate into action beyond the ballot box are not misplaced."

For those of us who follow American politics closely, the developments are common enough to become dizzying. The death threats against Democratic lawmakers. The "reload" and "revolution" rhetoric from unhinged Republican leaders. The constant and overheated attacks on the legitimacy of the Obama presidency and the federal government. The talk of secession and militias from prominent far-right voices.

Parker notes that "the unthinkable becomes plausible" under such toxic circumstances.

The challenge for all, but especially the media, is to find a balance between vigilance and restraint. How do we expose the unhinged without emboldening them with attention? Inevitably, the lone operator hears his own name summoned from the crowd.

The only palatable answer is what conservatives say they love best: self-control and personal responsibility. When someone spews obscenities, shout them down. When politicians and pundits use inflammatory language, condemn them.

When you choose to remain silent, consider yourself complicit in whatever transpires.

In some ways, the silence troubles me nearly as much as the extremism itself. I want desperately to hear Republican Party officials and leaders make clear that they find overheated madness to be offensive and wrong.

But they don't, because they can't -- Republicans are counting on rage to win elections and fill their campaign coffers. So the party makes Palin a hero, it puts Bachmann in front of the cameras, it sweeps Steve King's sympathies towards domestic terrorism under the rug, it tolerates GOP leaders equating the party with the Taliban, and it decides it can try to lower the temperature at some later date, perhaps after the midterms.

Here's hoping that's not too late.

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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MISTRUSTFUL OF GOVERNMENT, BUT WITH CAVEATS.... It seems one of the big political stories of the morning is the results of a new Pew Research Center study, which found a large majority of Americans mistrustful of the federal government. The report noted, "By almost every conceivable measure, Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days."

For progressives, the results of the study may not be especially surprising, but they're nevertheless discouraging. One of President Obama's thematic challenges upon taking office was convincing the electorate that government activism can and should play a role in strengthening the country. That challenge appears even more daunting now, as more of the public opposes the idea of government action reflexively.

Indeed, there's apparently even a growing paranoia -- 30% of the public perceive their government as a "major threat" to their personal freedom, which is nearly double the number from seven years ago.

Opposition to greater government action does not, however, apply to everything.

There's one big exception, however. A solid majority, 61 percent, do want greater government regulation of the financial industry, something that Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress are pushing now.

Given the ongoing debate in the Senate, this is at least somewhat heartening. Republicans are no doubt tempted to argue, "Democrats want to sic big government on Wall Street," but it's a tough case to make -- Americans want big government go after Wall Street.

In the larger sense, I also wonder just how much thought is driving public attitudes on this. Americans are frustrated about a brutal recession, and we're coming off an era in which Republican corruption, mismanagement, and incompetence made the government look pretty awful in the eyes of the American mainstream.

As the economy improves, thanks to the efforts of a competent and effective government, I wouldn't be too surprised if this anti-government backlash subsides quite a bit.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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LEAVE THE 19TH AMENDMENT ALONE.... I like to think I can take a joke, and appreciate political commentary intended as humor, but this item from Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, wasn't amusing. The headline read, "Time to repeal the 19th Amendment?"

People and candidates for public office should be judged on the basis of their ideas, stance on the issues, character, experience and integrity, not on the basis of age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability.

Therefore, we must repeal the 19th Amendment. Yes, the one granting suffrage to women. Because? Well, women are biased..... Men are consistent. Women are fickle and biased.

To "prove" his point, Mitchell, head of Nevada's largest newspaper, pointed to poll results showing women voters in the state preferring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) over former state Sen. Sue Lowden (R) by a narrow margin, but preferring Reid over real estate agent Danny Tarkanian by a wide margin. This is evidence of "bias." (That women voters might perceive Lowden as more qualified than Tarkanian doesn't seem to enter the equation at all.)

Mitchell also pointed to recent Gallup data that showed, nationwide, women tend to prefer Democrats, while men tend to prefer Republicans. This, apparently, substantiates the argument that ... well, actually, I have no idea.

If there's a clever insight here, it's hiding well.

In a follow-up piece, Thomas described his published argument as "a bit of free hyperbole." He proceeded to compare himself to Larry Summers, and insisted that there really are important gender-based differences between men and women. Thomas was especially dismissive of those who found his "repeal the 19th Amendment" argument offensive, accusing them of failing to consider "any merits or demerits of facts in evidence or syllogism used" in his piece. It's their fault, apparently, not his, that they were insulted.

Remember, this guy runs a major newspaper.

The mind reels.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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THE MAVERICK'S MUDDLED MESSAGE.... Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was the featured guest on "Fox News Sunday," and host Chris Wallace asked a reasonable question on the minds of many political observers: "How can you say, 'I never considered myself a maverick'?"

MCCAIN: Well, look, when I was fighting against my own president, whether we needed more troops in Iraq, or whether we -- spending was completely out of control, then I was a maverick. Now that I'm fighting against this spending administration and this out-of-control and reckless health care plan, then I'm a partisan.

I've been called a lot of things, and I'll be glad to be called anything. But I'm a fighter, and that's what I am. And I fought against my own administration when I wanted to, when I thought it was necessary to do so, and I will fight against this administration when I think it's necessary to do so.

McCain was no doubt expecting the question, so it stands to reason that this was the best answer he could come up with. The problem, of course, is that it's rather silly on its face -- McCain's response was all about what labels other may or may not apply to him. The question here, however, is all about what labels McCain applies to himself. He's been running around for years, and nearly every sentence out of his mouth is a noun, a verb, and "maverick." When McCain faces a primary challenger and concludes, "I never considered myself a maverick," there's a problem.

Wallace, to his credit, followed up explaining the disconnect.

WALLACE: But if I may press you, it isn't what other people are saying about you, it's what you're saying about yourself. You said, "I never considered myself a maverick."

MCCAIN: Well, all I -- what I was saying was that I have considered myself a person who's a fighter. I wouldn't be around today if I wasn't a fighter. I fight for the things that I believe in, and sometimes that's called a maverick. Sometimes that's called a partisan. And people can draw their own conclusions. I prefer "great American" myself, but...

WALLACE: So are you running away from the maverick title...

MCCAIN: No, of course not.

WALLACE: ... because somehow it indicates that maybe you're not a true blue conservative?

But McCain is running away from the label. That's the point. He eschewed the label with Newsweek, and then again soon after with Politico.

The irony is, McCain denied considering himself a maverick because he's worried about his re-election prospects and impressing voters. But by making a transparently ridiculous claim, McCain inadvertently has caused himself far more damage, offering up a six-word soundbite that has become one of the year's most ridiculed and lampooned political phrases. Sticking to the truth would have been far less humiliating.

Postscript: Asked about whether he's concerned about anti-incumbency attitudes this year, McCain said, "No, I don't worry about it. I know that I can out-campaign anybody." Well, perhaps not "anybody."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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April 18, 2010

ADULT LEADERSHIP.... House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) delivered the Republicans' weekly address yesterday, and repeated plenty of tired talking points. Listeners learned, for example, that those rascally Democrats intend to "remake America in the image of Europe." Gripping stuff.

But there was a phrase that Cantor mentioned that stood out for me. The frequently-confused Republican leader said that if voters backed the GOP in November, his party would offer "responsible, adult leadership."

Now, of all the things Republicans have to offer the electorate, perhaps no three words in the English language are less appropriate than "responsible, adult leadership." As should be abundantly clear by now, today's GOP officials approach their responsibilities and substantive discourse with all the maturity of a child. A young child. A young, slow child. A medicated, young, slow child who's easily distracted and hasn't learned social norms about honesty.

Jacob Weisberg notes in his latest piece that there were responsible, adult leaders in the Republican Party in the not-too-distant past, but they've gone missing.

Do you remember the Responsible Republicans? In the 1980s, small herds of them still roamed freely around Washington. In 1982, they stampeded over Ronald Reagan's veto of the largest tax increase in history to mitigate the fiscal harm of his 1981 tax cut. In 1983, they converged on Capitol Hill to pass a package of tax increases and benefit cuts recommended by the Greenspan Commission to keep Social Security solvent. In 1986, they followed Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson to pass bipartisan immigration reform legislation by a large majority. In 1990, several were spotted with President George H.W. Bush (the Responsible one) at Andrews Air Force Base, conspiring to reduce the deficit.

After the Andrews summit, however, glimpses of them outside captivity became increasingly rare. With their habitats in the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest under threat and their natural predators on the rise, the status of the species moved from "threatened" to "endangered." Though occasionally spotted on the rocky shoals of Maine's Penobscot Bay and in beach houses up and down the California coast, they now rarely emerge from the wilderness. During the health care battle, President Obama was unable to find a single Responsible Republican to serve as a mascot. There continue to be rumors of the Double R's return around issues such as immigration, financial reform, and climate change. Yet we have now gone several years without a confirmed sighting.

The point of Weisberg's piece was to identify the moment that sent the GOP grown-ups into permanent exile. The Slate editor points to Bill Kristol's 1993 health care strategy memo -- kill reform at all costs, regardless of merit, Kristol advised, and refuse to cooperate in good faith -- as the "crucial" turning point for contemporary Republicans, which helped shape the party's approach to governing ever since. That sounds about right to me.

But regardless of the origins, the consequences are the same.

In 2010, Republicans choose not to know anything about public policy, can't engage in an honest debate, reflexively oppose anything Democrats support (including GOP ideas), and reject responsibility for the spectacular failures they created while in the majority.

Cantor is promising "responsible, adult leadership"? From whom, exactly? When was the last time a Republican leader said something intelligent and accurate about any area of public policy? When was the last time the GOP acted in a responsible fashion during a substantive debate? When was the last time the nation saw so much as a glimmer of maturity from any member of the party leadership?

Weisberg concluded, "The rise of hyperpartisanship is not one of those problems for which the left and right are equally to blame. Democrats, who like legislating better than Republican do, and who have seldom had the GOP's ability to march in lockstep, still instinctively prefer to work on a bipartisan basis. They continue to hope, against the odds, that [Responsible Republicans] will escape extinction and one day provide partners for them again."

It seems clear to me that won't happen unless Republicans suffer some additional, severe electoral humiliations. On the contrary, if the GOP fares well in the midterms, the party's leaders and rank-and-file members will assume the way to get and keep power is to avoid responsible, adult leadership altogether.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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MCCONNELL WANTS TO GO 'BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD'.... Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) flew to New York two weeks ago for a private, behind-closed-doors meeting with hedge fund managers, bankers, and other Wall Street elites. It was after this meeting -- where McConnell reportedly sought campaign contributions -- that the Republican Senate leader returned to D.C. determined to kill the legislation that would bring some accountability to the same industry whose recklessness nearly destroyed the global financial system.

McConnell was asked on CNN this morning what, specifically, was said at the gathering about the Wall Street reform bill. The conservative Kentuckian was evasive -- imagine that -- and instead of answering the questions, he talked about scrapping the legislation altogether.

"We ought to go back to the drawing board and fix it."

It's like deja vu all over again -- Democrats tackle a pressing national issue, negotiate with Republicans in good faith, craft a reasonable, middle-of-the-road legislative package that deserves bipartisan support, lobbyists tell Republicans to kill it, and McConnell voices his support for killing the legislation and going "back to the drawing board."

Is it me or does this sound familiar?

McConnell's principal (but not principled) concern is over the legislation's liquidation fund, which would impose a fee on large financial institutions, collecting money that would be used to cover the costs of closing firms that fail. McConnell, who doesn't know what he's talking about, has characterized this provision as "institutionalizing bailouts."

Fine, the Obama administration said. If it will help create bipartisan support for the bill, and end talk of a Republican filibuster, the provision on the liquidation fund can be scuttled. So, problem solved? Hardly.

[W]hen asked if he would support the bill if Democrats removed that fund, McConnell told CNN's "State of the Union" he would still have other issues with the legislation, though he did not say what those qualms were.

Again, we've seen these genuinely stupid tactics before.

"Republicans can't support the reasonable legislation Democrats want because it has a provision we're pretending not to like."

"Fine, we'll get rid of the provision."

"Republicans still can't support the legislation, and we don't want to tell you why."

I know Republicans want to be taken seriously on public policy, but I can't figure out why anyone would.

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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GEITHNER GLAD TO SEE TEA PARTIERS COME AROUND.... On "Meet the Press," host David Gregory asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to reflect a bit on the Tea Partiers, particularly in light of April 15 events this week. I found Geithner's response kind of interesting.

"We've just been through eight years where people said -- many people said, 'Deficits don't matter. We can pass huge tax cuts, pass huge new programs without paying for them.' That debate has changed fundamentally.

"Now you don't hear people say anymore, 'Deficits don't matter.' You don't hear people saying that we can pass enormous expansion of government without paying for it. That's an important change. I think all Americans understand that our deficits are unsustainable. And I think that'll be helpful as we move to try to make the hard choices to bring them down again."

I didn't see the video of this, only the transcript, so it's hard to say whether Geithner was actually being coy with his comments. But what I liked about his response was its subtle underpinnings.

The Treasury secretary's remarks, which apparently came at the very end of the interview, effectively told the Tea Party crowd, "Oh, now you're worried about fiscal responsibility. While Bush and the Republicans were taking fiscal irresponsibility to new depths with tax cuts and government expansion without paying for it, you kept on supporting them, but now you care."

The subtext is politically relevant -- for folks who are literally taking to the streets to complain about budget shortfalls, the real rage should be directed at the Republican gang that turned surpluses into deficits, and added $5 trillion to the debt.

Steve Benen 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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OBAMA/PETRAEUS VS. CANTOR.... As the Nuclear Security Summit came to a close this week in Washington, President Obama talked at some length about his national security vision at a press conference. Near its completion, the president noted that given the scope of United States' influence and power, global conflicts invariably necessitate U.S. involvement at some level. Because a certain former half-term governor isn't very bright, Obama's observation has become the subject of scrutiny.

But in those same presidential remarks, the preceding sentence also proved noteworthy, and arguably more significant.

Describing the Middle East peace process, Obama said, "[W]hat we can make sure of is, is that we are constantly present, constantly engaged, and setting out very clearly to both sides our belief that not only is it in the interests of each party to resolve these conflicts but it's also in the interest of the United States." He added that conflicts like the one between Israelis and Palestinians end up "costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure"

In other words, developments in Israel necessarily help shape the security framework for the region, which in turn, shapes threats to the U.S.

This may not seem especially controversial, but it represents a subtle shift in the U.S. approach, and comes as a result of lengthy deliberations between Obama's White House team and military leaders. Indeed, the president's remarks "echoed those of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the military commander overseeing America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," who recently explained to Congress that "the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States" in the region.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was apparently outraged by the Obama/Petraeus position.

In a statement Thursday, Cantor said Obama had accused "Israel" of "significantly costing the U.S. in terms of both blood and treasure," which is not what Obama had said.

Cantor went on to say that it was Palestinian refusal which is to blame for the unresolved Middle East dispute and accused the Obama administration of "manufacturing fights with Israel to ingratiate itself with some in the Arab world."

Eric Cantor being deeply confused is nothing new.

But this latest flap is nevertheless a reminder of a larger trend -- Obama and military leaders on one side, conservative Republicans on the other. From Iran to civilian trials to Gitmo to torture to how the U.S. perceives the Middle East peace process in the context of our national security interests, the president's approach enjoys the backing of the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs, and Petraeus, while Republicans are on a separate page altogether.

To be sure, that doesn't mean Obama's right and Republicans like Cantor are wrong. It is, however, a highly unusual dynamic in which the official GOP line deliberately rejects the judgment of the nation's military leaders.

Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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CONTEXT AND SUPERPOWERS.... I really had every intention of ignoring this, but since the Associated Press has decided to make it one of the leading political stories of the day, it's probably worth taking a moment to highlight reality.

Sarah Palin criticized President Barack Obama on Saturday for saying America is a military superpower "whether we like it or not," saying she was taken aback by his comment.

"I would hope that our leaders in Washington, D.C., understand we like to be a dominant superpower," the former Alaska governor said. "I don't understand a world view where we have to question whether we like it or not that America is powerful."

Reading comprehension isn't one of the former half-term governor's strengths, so perhaps it's not surprising that Palin is badly misquoting, and deliberately misunderstanding, what the president said. Here's Obama's actual quote:

"[W]hat we can make sure of is, is that we are constantly present, constantly engaged, and setting out very clearly to both sides our belief that not only is it in the interests of each party to resolve these conflicts but it's also in the interest of the United States. It is a vital national security interest of the United States to reduce these conflicts because whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower, and when conflicts break out, one way or another we get pulled into them. And that ends up costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure."

Palin, who is painfully, conspicuously unintelligent, wasn't quite sharp enough to understand the president's remarks. Perhaps he should have chosen words with fewer syllables.

He didn't say there's a potential problem with the U.S. being a superpower; he said it's important for Americans to appreciate the global responsibilities that come with that power when conflicts arise, and the sweeping effects of these conflicts on the country's global interests.

As Greg Sargent explained the other day, "Palin and her team of ghostwriters plucked Obama's remark out of context to quote him saying 'whether we like it or not,' we are a superpower. In reality, he was saying that 'whether we like it or not,' we get pulled into international conflicts that cost us American lives -- so it's in our security interests to resolve them."

It's really not that hard to understand, so long as you read the words and recognize the scope of the United States' global influence.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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April 17, 2010

CALLING OUT MCCONNELL.... In a thorough report yesterday, McClatchy noted, "Leaders of both parties had vowed for months that consideration of financial regulatory changes wouldn't mirror the angry, partisan debates over health care and stimulating the economy. Everyone agreed that voters want tough new restrictions on Wall Street, and the legislation that the Senate is to take up later this month is full of bipartisan ideas."

So, what happened? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) decided this week to throw "a rhetorical stick of dynamite into what had been a collegial debate." He did so by lying about the substance of the proposal, and raising bogus complaints about the process.

That McConnell is obviously, shamelessly doing Wall Street's bidding doesn't seem to faze him. Indeed, the larger dynamic is surprisingly transparent. While McConnell is saying the Democratic proposal would somehow "institutionalize" bailouts, Matt Yglesias explained, "The point of the new regulatory powers it to (a) prevent the need for bailouts and (b) provide an alternative process to bailouts. The banks aren't paying McConnell to put a stop to bailouts, they're paying him to prevent the regulations that might stop bailouts."

But of particular interest, at least politically, was McConnell rushing off to New York last week for a private, behind-closed-doors meeting with hedge fund managers and other Wall Street elites. It was after this meeting -- where McConnell reportedly sought campaign contributions -- that the Republican Senate leader returned to D.C. determined to kill the legislation that would bring some accountability to the same industry whose recklessness nearly destroyed the global financial system.

Today, President Obama was rather direct in calling McConnell out. In the weekly White House address, the president made note of the legislative landscape, and reminded Americans about McConnell's antics: "Now, unsurprisingly, these reforms have not exactly been welcomed by the people who profit from the status quo -- as well their allies in Washington. This is probably why the special interests have spent a lot of time and money lobbying to kill or weaken the bill. Just the other day, in fact, the Leader of the Senate Republicans and the Chair of the Republican Senate campaign committee met with two dozen top Wall Street executives to talk about how to block progress on this issue.

"Lo and behold, when he returned to Washington, the Senate Republican Leader came out against the common-sense reforms we've proposed. In doing so, he made the cynical and deceptive assertion that reform would somehow enable future bailouts -- when he knows that it would do just the opposite. Every day we don't act, the same system that led to bailouts remains in place -- with the exact same loopholes and the exact same liabilities. And if we don't change what led to the crisis, we'll doom ourselves to repeat it. That's the truth. Opposing reform will leave taxpayers on the hook if a crisis like this ever happens again."

McConnell's Wall Street meeting, in other words, is quickly becoming one of the central aspects of the debate. Perhaps the Minority Leader would be willing to shed some additional light on what transpired? Who, exactly, did he meet with? How much money did he collect? What did the Wall Street elites demand, specifically, and what did he promise?

I wonder what the reaction might be if Senate Dems raised the prospect of some kind of investigation into the meeting, complete with subpoenas for attendees.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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FIRST, WALL STREET, THEN CLIMATE.... The next big fight on Capitol Hill is obviously Senate work on bringing new safeguards to Wall Street. But once that's finished -- if it gets finished -- what's next? President Obama told several business leaders yesterday that an energy/climate bill will soon follow, and he'd like their help in getting it passed.

Obama made the plug during a meeting Friday with his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which includes the heads of General Electric, Caterpillar and Oracle, along with labor leaders and economists.

He told the group that the climate bill -- which would cap global warming emissions -- is good for business.

Obama said that individual members of Congress may be worried about the short-term implications of voting for the bill and that hearing from businesses would be reassuring.

That's a reasonable assumption. The most common complaint from detractors -- aside, of course, from the notion that all climate science is an elaborate conspiracy intended to destroy capitalism -- is that combating global warming will undermine businesses and the economy. The more leaders of the business community say otherwise, the better.

But what can we reasonably expect to happen in this fight? The House passed its climate bill, with cap-and-trade, last summer, 219 to 212. At the time, it garnered the support of eight House Republicans -- which, in retrospect, still seems like something of a miracle.

The Senate will likely prove to be even more difficult. Steven Pearlstein gives the bill "a 50-50 chance."

Many in the environmental community have come around to Kerry's view that this is the best shot they are going to have anytime soon at passing comprehensive energy and climate change legislation. And parts of the business community have come around to Graham's view that they can't afford another decade of uncertainty over regulatory issues, particularly with an activist Democrat in control of the regulatory agencies, just as they cannot afford to alienate an entire generation that has a keen interest in the environment and doesn't look kindly on their intransigence.

At this point, it's a bit of a stretch to call this a bipartisan compromise -- the bill that Kerry, Graham and independent Joe Lieberman are expected to introduce a week from Monday is likely to have no other Republican as an initial co-sponsor. But its terms have been crafted to appeal to a handful of Republican senators who, either out of personal belief or political necessity, are eager to find themselves on the right side of history.

They include: retiring senators such as George Voinovich of Ohio and Richard Lugar of Indiana, whose Midwestern states would fare even better under the Senate bill than the House-passed version; Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who will surely like all of the goodies for the nuclear power industry included in the bill; Susan Collins of Maine, whose idea for rebating to consumers money collected by the government through the sale of carbon-emission rights to electric utilities and oil refiners is a central feature of the Senate compromise; and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the newbie senator who so far has lived up to his promise to be an "independent" Republican.

As much as I want this bill to pass, and know that we won't see an opportunity like this again for quite a while, I'm finding it difficult to be optimistic. For one thing, Republicans will be under enormous pressure from their party to oppose any and all climate-related efforts, and they tend to buckle when the heat is on. For another, there's no guarantee that Midwestern Dems will stick with their party on this, either.

And complicating matters further, if the Senate manages to pass a bill, the House leadership may struggle to put together another majority to seal the deal.

I guess we'll see soon enough.

Steve Benen 10:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week are the latest developments in our ongoing coverage of the devastating scandal surrounding the Roman Catholic Church, the sexual abuse of children, and an apparent cover-up. This week, the pope tried a shift in tone, but it did little to quell the larger controversy.

In his most direct reference to the sex abuse crisis that has touched the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday that it was necessary for Christians to "repent" in light of "the attacks of the world, which speaks to us of our sins."

But in an approach typical of the tough-minded yet media-averse theologian, Benedict aimed his message directly at the church, offering his remarks in an off-the-cuff homily at a small, untelevised Mass at the Vatican.

"I have to say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word 'repentance,' which seems too harsh," Benedict said at a Mass later broadcast on Vatican Radio.

"Now under the attacks of the world, which speaks to us of our sins, we see that the ability to repent is a grace, and we see how it is necessary to repent, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life," he added.

The unscripted remarks were something of a departure from the usual line taken by church officials, but they weren't necessarily compelling to victims and their families. Mark Serrano, a spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement, "Sadly, once again, the globe's most powerful religious figure will win headlines for uttering a couple of sentences, when he should in fact be taking dramatic steps to safeguard kids."

Making matters slightly worse was the pope's reference to the notion that the church is "now under the attacks of the world," as if the substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of children make the church somehow the victim of unfair criticism.

The scandal, in other words, continues.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in the year's biggest church-state case, involving a Christian student organization at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. The state school only funds and recognizes student groups that don't discriminate on the basis of "race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation." The on-campus chapter of the Christian Legal Society refuses to allow LGBT students to join, so Hastings lost its status as an official student group. The student group is claiming "discrimination" against conservative Christian beliefs, while the school believes it is not legally required to subsidize groups that show prejudice towards other students. [corrected]

* The late Jerry Falwell's university will host a major religious right gathering this week called "The Awakening 2010," featuring a variety of right-wing heavyweights from the theocratic wing of the conservative movement. Among the attendees: Virginia's controversial state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R).

* A Pittsburgh-area Roman Catholic bishop will no longer allow nuns who supported health care reform to "promote their recruitment events in his parishes or in the diocesan newspaper." (thanks to K.M. for the tip)

* And in Florida, Republican state lawmakers are moving forward with a proposed state constitutional amendment "allowing state money to flow to religious organizations." Florida's Constitution currently mandates that houses of worship and religious ministries rely on voluntary contributions, but conservative Republicans want to amend it to allow officials to give taxpayer money directly to the faith-based institutions. (thanks to D.J. for the tip)

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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BOEHNER TIES HIMSELF IN KNOTS.... After reports surfaced yesterday that the Securities and Exchange Commission is going after Goldman Sachs, both sides of the political divide tried to seize on the news to make a larger point. Only one side made sense.

For Democrats, the case was pretty easy -- Goldman Sachs' alleged wrongdoing only reinforces the obvious need to pass Wall Street reform, bringing new safeguards and accountability to the financial system. For congressional Republicans, the argument was a little trickier.

Republicans sought to tie President Barack Obama to Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs after it was hit with civil fraud charges.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) released a statement after the Securities and Exchange Commission filed charges against the Wall Street titan, calling the firm a "key supporter" of the president's bid to reform the nation's financial regulatory system.

"These are very serious charges against a key supporter of President Obama's bill to create a permanent Wall Street bailout fund," Boehner said Friday in the statement. "Despite President Obama's rhetoric, his permanent bailout bill gives Goldman Sachs and other big Wall Street banks a permanent, taxpayer-funded safety net by designating them 'too big to fail.' Just whose side is President Obama on?" [...]

Boehner's office also pointed to Goldman employees having collectively contributed more than almost any other company or institution to Obama during the presidential campaign.

Boehner's analysis of the legislation is, on its face, idiotic. But putting the obvious legislative nonsense aside, I can't quite wrap my head around Boehner's political point.

To hear the dimwitted Minority Leader put it, the Obama administration and Goldman Sachs are close allies, and the administration-backed reform bill is intended to help firms like Goldman Sachs. And we now know for sure that administration officials are carrying water for Goldman Sachs because ... they just charged Goldman Sachs with fraud.

What?

I'm trying to imagine the conversation in Boehner's office when the statement was being written. Which genius on Boehner's staff discovered that the Obama administration is going after Goldman Sachs, regardless of its campaign contributions to Obama, and thought, "A ha! Now we've got 'em!"

Let me try to explain this is a way even Boehner can understand: when the Securities and Exchange Commission accuses a major Wall Street firm of fraud, that's not good for the firm. If the administration were trying to do favors for Goldman Sachs, it wouldn't file a civil lawsuit against the firm.

"Just whose side is President Obama on?" Well, as of yesterday, he doesn't appear to be on Goldman's side. Given that Republicans are trying to shield Wall Street for accountability and safeguards, the better question is, "Whose side is Boehner on?"

Steve Benen 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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IF IT'S SUNDAY.... Believe it or not, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did not appear on one of the Sunday public affairs talk-shows in March. Seriously, not one. That hardly ever happens.

Fox News will put things right tomorrow.

A familiar face leads the charge against President Obama: In an exclusive interview, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., joins 'Fox News Sunday' to discuss his opposition to the potential use of a Value Added Tax.

In promoting the interview, Fox probably characterized McCain as "a familiar face" to mean that the senator and the president have long been at odds. Of course, when I see the phrase, I take it to mean that McCain is "a familiar face" on Sunday shows that seem almost obsessed with him.

For those keeping score -- and you know I am -- this will be McCain's 21st appearance on a Sunday morning talk show since Obama's inauguration. That's an average of 1.5 appearances a month, every month, for over a year -- more than any other public official in the country.

Since the president took office 14 months ago, McCain has been on ABC's "This Week" three times (9.27.09, 8.23.09, and 5.10.09), CNN's "State of the Union" four times (1.10.10, 10.11.09, 8.2.09, and 2.15.09), CBS's "Face the Nation" five times (1.24.10, 10.25.09, 8.30.09, 4.26.09, and 2.8.09), and NBC's "Meet the Press" four times (2.28.10, 12.6.09, 7.12.09, and 3.29.09). His appearance on "Fox News Sunday" tomorrow will be his fifth since Obama's inauguration (4.18.10, 12.20.09, 7.2.09, 3.8.09, and 1.25.09),

Obviously, there's no reason for this. McCain lost a presidential election; he's not in the GOP leadership; he's not especially influential with anyone; he's not playing an active role in shaping any legislation; and he doesn't appear to have any expertise in any area of public policy. The Sunday shows seem to book him out of habit. It's farcical.

Of course, if McCain loses his Republican primary in Arizona, one of the networks can make the process more efficient and just give McCain his own Sunday morning talkshow. Then again, maybe I shouldn't give the networks any ideas.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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BRUTAL, BUT NOT POLITICAL.... Conservative bloggers have been buzzing lately about a terrible assault in New Orleans last week, which they've argued was anti-Republican violence. Yesterday, the story started generating broader attention from major news outlets.

But instead of validating the conservative speculation, the focus on the story ended up largely debunking the partisan allegations.

A police report issued Friday says a beating this month of an aide to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) and her boyfriend does not appear to be politically motivated.

The New Orleans Police Department report, first obtained by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, says that obscenities were shouted at Jindal's campaign finance director Allee Bautsch and her boyfriend Joe Brown after a Louisiana Republican Party fundraiser held last Friday during the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

As best as we can tell from the available information, Bautsch and Brown left a popular French Quarter restaurant last Friday night, but were followed by a group of men who shouted obscenities at them. The men eventually caught up with the couple, and brutally assaulted them before running away. The two sustained serious injuries.

In the version of events pushed by far-right bloggers, there were protestors on hand for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, and the attackers may have come from that group. There appears to be no evidence to support that. The bloggers also claimed that Bautsch and/or Brown were wearing pins in support of Sarah Palin, and that may have helped trigger the brutality, but we now know they were wearing no such pins.

Perhaps most importantly, some conservative sites claimed that a New Orleans police officer said the beatings appeared to be "of a political nature" -- a quote that was picked up by some outlets, including Fox News -- but the quote appears to have been made up. The police department has denied it entirely.

The results of the investigation aren't conclusive, but at this point, characterizing the incident as anti-Republican is unsupported by the available facts. It appears, then, that a brutal assault was seized on by partisans in the hopes of scoring some political points. Bautsch and Brown weren't just victims of an attack; they were pawns for conservative bloggers to exploit.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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April 16, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Wow: "Goldman Sachs, which emerged relatively unscathed from the financial crisis, was accused of securities fraud in a civil suit filed Friday by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which claims the bank created and sold a mortgage investment that was secretly devised to fail. The move marks the first time that regulators have taken action against a Wall Street deal that helped investors capitalize on the collapse of the housing market. Goldman itself profited by betting against the very mortgage investments that it sold to its customers."

* Senate Dems would love to use Goldman to advance Wall Street reform, the way they used Anthem to advance health care reform.

* A new line in the sand: President Obama will veto financial regulatory reform if it fails to regulate the derivatives market.

* Blackwater: "The former president of Blackwater Worldwide and four other former officials at the embattled security firm were indicted Friday on federal weapons charges, partially the result of a raid two years ago by agents that rounded up 22 weapons, including AK-47s."

* Good: "President Obama called Friday for Congress to pass legislation giving voting representation to residents of the nation's capital. The House Democratic leader, Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, plans to bring the measure, called the D.C. Voting Rights Act, to the floor next week for a vote."

* Wise words from President Clinton on the consequences of angry, right-wing rhetoric.

* After the Senate passed an extension of unemployment benefits, the House did the same on a 289 to 112 vote. President Obama signed it into law last night.

* A long day of conservative badgering for appeals court nominee Goodwin Liu.

* Solicitor General Elena Kagan has come under some progressive criticism over her views on executive power, but the critiques are not universal.

* CATO makes Romney look pretty foolish. (thanks to D.D. for the tip)

* I was afraid no one would get my Venn Diagram reference.

* The Washington Post really shouldn't give platforms to bigots.

* Do you suppose the Teabaggers know Republicans voted against troop funding?

* Hoping to change the law when it comes to student loans and bankruptcy.

* I'm afraid Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) doesn't know the meaning of the word "own."

* Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) thinks the United States may be "reliant upon the Soviet Union" for future low-earth orbit access. He's not very bright.

* Jon Stewart offered some worthwhile guidance to Fox News last night.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... We talked earlier about a federal court ruling that found it problematic when the federal government designates a special day to encourage Americans to pray. Something about the separation of church and state, the First Amendment, and the notion that it's not the government's business when, how, or whether we worship.

The court ruling is being appealed, but in the meantime, Fox News' Megyn Kelly decided to debate the court ruling today with the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. [Full disclosure: Barry is a long-time friend of mine.]

During the discussion, Barry explained a concept that should be obvious: "Prayer is religious. It's nothing but that. There is no secular purpose here." If there's no secular purpose, than it's not something the government should be involved in.

Kelly, unembarrassed about her role as an anchor/activist, pushed back to defend the National Day of Prayer. "[W]hy can't it be a day where we take a moment and we stop and we acknowledge the role that God has played in the formation of this country and its laws," Kelly asked incredulously. "What's so promotional about religion there?"

Now, I've never been especially impressed with Megyn Kelly's understanding of current events, but I'd hoped she understood the meaning of the words "promotion" and "religion."

In this case, she likes the idea of having the government designate an official prayer day, intended as a way of honoring God's special role in influencing and shaping American society.

This, Kelly concluded, would not be an example of promoting religion.

Once in a while, I feel kind of sorry for Fox News viewers. Is it any wonder they're confused?

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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LOOKING TO DRIVE A WEDGE.... It's hard to keep track of exactly what it is the Tea Party crowd is so angry about -- not a good sign for a political "movement" -- but it appears to have something to do with debt, deficits, spending, taxes, the size of government, and a general sense that powerful interests are getting better protections than they are. It's why the activists caught up in this intend to vote for Republicans in November.

The irony, of course, is that Republicans aren't exactly offering this far-right crowd a compelling pitch. The GOP added $5 trillion to the debt in eight years, generated huge deficits, increased spending, increased the size of government, and went to great lengths to tend to the need of powerful special interests. Worse, it was Republicans who voted against middle-class tax cuts and continue to fight to protect Wall Street and insurance companies.

With that in mind, Americans United for Change, a leading progressive group, thinks it may be able to drive a wedge between Tea Partiers and the GOP.

Americans United for Change is going up with a new online web ad campaign specifically designed to target Tea Party activists. The group is placing spots on predominantly conservative websites, and using behavioral targeting to ensure that people associated with the ant-government, anti-Wall Street movement see the message. Among the target sites -- on which AUC is hoping to get its ads placed -- are Townhall.com, Biggovernment.com and Facebook pages swarmed by fans of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and the Tea Party groups.

The AUC ads accuse Republicans of working hand-in-hand with Wall Street executives to effectively weaken legislation to reform financial regulations. "They're In The Pocket Of Big Banks," reads one online spot, with a picture of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky)....

Another ad makes the appeal even more direct. "Tea parties or Wall Street banks?" it reads. "Who are the Republicans really listening to? Tell the Republicans to work for us, not wall street."

The goal, organizers say, is to appeal to the populist movement that has blossomed, in part, over anger with Wall Street's cozy relationship with Washington -- a movement that has largely been co-opted by Republicans so far. A side benefit would be to spur Tea Party activists to turn their guns on GOP leadership for being "soft" on the banks.

That's not a bad idea, at least in theory. The only reason I'm skeptical is that the effort is predicated on intellectual consistency and informed reason on the part of these activists -- two traits the Tea Party crowd seem to be lacking.

Indeed, if the teabagging crowd is given a choice between the bailed-out financial institutions that nearly destroyed the global economy and new safeguards in the form of government regulation, a significant number will reject the latter course reflexively -- because "government" and "regulation" are necessarily bad things to be avoided, even if it means going easy on the Wall Street crowd that caused Tea Partiers so much economic anxiety in the first place.

In other words, the wedge strategy makes sense, if you assume that the right-wing activists are open to reason and evidence. I'm not sure that they are, but the initiative is worth keeping an eye on.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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SENATE GOP HAS VOTES TO BLOCK FINREG DEBATE.... Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) signaled his intention to move forward as early as next week on financial regulatory reform legislation. "We have talked about this enough. We have negotiated this enough," Reid said.

To prevent the bill from moving forward towards a vote, all 41 Senate Republicans would have to unanimously agree to filibuster the motion to proceed. (In other words, the GOP would refuse to allow the debate to even get underway.) As of yesterday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not yet have commitments from all 41 members of his caucus.

Today, that changed.

Every member of the Senate Republican Caucus has signed a letter, delivered to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, expressing opposition to the Democrats' financial regulatory reform bill, which they all claim will lead to more Wall Street bailouts.

"We are united in our opposition to the partisan legislation reported by the Senate Banking Committee," the letter reads. "As currently constructed, this bill allows for endless taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street and establishes new and unlimited regulatory powers that will stifle small businesses and community banks."

The Republican caucus was not specific about the path ahead. Indeed, the GOP's letter did not even specifically vow to block the motion to proceed, but rather, simply articulated the caucus' collective "opposition." It stands to reason, though, that the point of the letter is that Republicans are prepared to block the vote and the debate on bringing some safeguards to the industry that caused the economic disaster.

It's worth remembering that Senate Democrats, by and large, didn't really expect it to come to this. Given Wall Street's scandalous recklessness, and the public's disgust for irresponsible misconduct in the financial industry, Dems thought it would be politically suicidal for Republicans to reject reform efforts.

As of this afternoon, it appears Republicans are prepared to link arms and take their chances, fighting to protect Wall Street from accountability.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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SCHOEN AND CADDELL ARE AT IT AGAIN.... Doug Schoen and Patrick Caddell, Democratic pollsters who worked with Presidents Clinton and Carter, have been arguing for quite a while that they think the party is pursuing the wrong course. Perhaps most famously, the two insisted in mid-March that Democrats would be far better off with the electorate if the party failed to pass health care reform.

Fortunately, Democratic policymakers ignored Schoen's and Caddell's advice. They're back today, however, with related suggestions that they believe will prevent "a November bloodbath."

The pollsters lean on some Rasmussen data -- never a sound approach -- to insist that Dems are facing a "backlash" in response to the breakthrough victory on health care. They also characterize independents as a single, self-contained group, which as we know, is folly.

In fairness, Schoen and Caddell characterize Democrats as facing a very challenging electoral environment, an observation that's difficult to ignore. But the two really run into trouble when they explain what they'd like to see Dems do next.

To turn a corner, Democrats need to start embracing an agenda that speaks to the broad concerns of the American electorate. It should be somewhat familiar: It is the agenda that is driving the Tea Party movement and one that has the capacity to motivate a broadly based segment of the electorate.

To be sure, great efforts have been made recently to demonize the Tea Party movement. But polling suggests that the Tea Party movement has not been diminished but, in fact, has grown stronger.

And at this point, Schoen and Caddell go back to embracing cherry-picked data (again, from Rasmussen) that characterizes right-wing Tea Partiers as mainstream -- while a more serious look at the data shows otherwise. The pollsters argue that nearly half of the far-right "movement" consists of "non-Republicans" the day after an independent national poll found that Tea Party activists "usually or almost always vote Republican."

Schoen and Caddell also insist, "[T]he Tea Party movement to become as potent a force as any U.S. political party." Nonsense. A significant percentage of the American mainstream doesn't know what the Tea Party "movement" is or what it stands for; those who know about it often don't like it; and a whopping 4% of the public has "given money or attended a Tea Party event, or both."

Their odd op-ed goes on to say that President Obama and congressional Democrats appear to care too much about unions, when they should really be working on an agenda focused on "reducing the debt, with an emphasis on tax cuts."

And to think Doug Schoen and Patrick Caddell have lost some of their influence in the Democratic mainstream. I can't imagine how that happened.

To put it mildly, the piece is unpersuasive. As the pollsters see it, while Republicans work to make right-wing Tea Party activists happy, Democrats will survive the midterms if they do exactly the same thing. Democrats may have won in a national landslide in 2008, but to stay in power they should appeal to those voters who already loathe and voted against them.

A lot of adjectives come to mind reading Schoen's and Caddell's advice, but "wise" isn't one of them.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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STILL HEATING UP.... It was one of the warmest winters ever recorded. And as Spring got underway, it was the warmest March ever recorded, too.

And the heat goes on.

Last month was the warmest March on record worldwide, based on records back to 1880, scientists reported Thursday.

Developments like these probably won't matter on the Hill, but they should. As we've seen in recent months, cold weather and snowfall during the winter has apparently made it less likely the Senate will vote on a new energy/climate bill. Mind-numbing though it may be, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) recently said snowfall in D.C. has had an effect on policymakers' attitudes: "It makes it more challenging for folks not taking time to review the scientific arguments."

Of course, we can point to results like those we saw in March, but for a few too many Republican policymakers, all scientific data is part of an elaborate conspiracy/plot, and deserves to be rejected.

Nevertheless, the climate bill is moving forward. The legislation being crafted by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will reportedly be unveiled on April 26. The EPA and CBO will then "produce studies of its costs and effectiveness, a process that will take as much as six weeks."

There's limited optimism about the bill's future, but note that policymakers may not get another chance at this for quite a while. If the GOP makes meaningful gains in the midterm elections, as seems likely, it may be many years before Congress even tries to limit emissions and combat global warming, even as the threat of the crisis grows more intense.

The environmental consequences are likely to be severe and unforgiving.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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CALLING OUT MCCONNELL.... When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made the laughable argument that the Wall Street reform legislation would "institutionalize" bailouts, there was one key upside: he was lying well in advance of Paul Krugman's next deadline.

The NYT columnist doesn't disappoint, labeling the Republican's nonsensical rhetoric "shameless."

...Mr. McConnell is pretending to stand up for taxpayers against Wall Street while in fact doing just the opposite. In recent weeks, he and other Republican leaders have held meetings with Wall Street executives and lobbyists, in which the G.O.P. and the financial industry have sought to coordinate their political strategy.

And let me assure you, Wall Street isn't lobbying to prevent future bank bailouts. If anything, it's trying to ensure that there will be more bailouts. By depriving regulators of the tools they need to seize failing financial firms, financial lobbyists increase the chances that when the next crisis strikes, taxpayers will end up paying a ransom to stockholders and executives as the price of avoiding collapse.

Even more important, however, the financial industry wants to avoid serious regulation; it wants to be left free to engage in the same behavior that created this crisis. It's worth remembering that between the 1930s and the 1980s, there weren't any really big financial bailouts, because strong regulation kept most banks out of trouble. It was only with Reagan-era deregulation that big bank disasters re-emerged. In fact, relative to the size of the economy, the taxpayer costs of the savings and loan disaster, which unfolded in the Reagan years, were much higher than anything likely to happen under President Obama.

Even for Senate Republicans, this is an ugly scam -- McConnell rushes off to New York for a private, behind-closed-doors meeting with hedge fund managers and other Wall Street elites, and he returns to the Hill to kill the legislation that would bring some accountability to the same industry whose recklessness nearly destroyed the global financial system.

CNBC's John Harwood explained this week that McConnell's anti-reform argument is "a little silly when you look at the text of the bill."

And with that in mind, the White House is encouraging people to look at the text of the bill.

As Krugman concluded, "So don't be fooled. When Mitch McConnell denounces big bank bailouts, what he's really trying to do is give the bankers everything they want."

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* To the relief of the DSCC, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) announced yesterday that he will not run for the Senate this year. The decision improves Sen. Russ Feingold's (D) re-election chances considerably.

* After Charlie Crist (R) vetoed an education bill championed by conservative Republicans in the state legislature, former Sen. Connie Mack (R) resigned as chairman of Crist's Senate campaign.

* As speculation about Crist's future in the GOP intensifies, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) is warning the Floridian not to run as an independent.

* The latest Mason-Dixon poll in Nevada shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) trailing Sue Lowden (R) by 10 points, even when a full slate of third-party candidates is included in the mix.

* In Hawaii's upcoming special election, a new Research 2000 poll shows Charles Djou (R) narrowly leading a three-way contest. He's running against two Democrats at the same time, splitting the party's support in half.

* The DNC is prepared to invest more than $50 million in cash and services for House, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns this year, starting in June.

* The latest Research 2000 poll in Arkansas shows Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) with a 12-point lead over her primary challenger, Bill Halter, 45% to 33%.

* Michael Heath kicked off his independent gubernatorial campaign in Maine earlier this week. Yesterday, he quit.

* And most likely presidential candidates create political action committees to support like-minded candidates, raising money specifically for the purpose of donating it. Former half-term governor Sarah Palin's PAC spent $409,000 in the first quarter, but only $9,500 in support of candidates.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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THE LIMITS OF AN AWKWARD MEDIA RELATIONSHIP.... It seems likely that the Tea Party "movement," such as it is, wouldn't exist in any meaningful way were it not for Fox News. In turn, the right-wing groups that make up the "movement" reward the Republican network with their unyielding loyalty.

Last week, when Rupert Murdoch said publicly that Fox News shouldn't play a formal role in "supporting the Tea Party," it was unintentionally hilarious. The network has already invested heavily in doing just that, repeatedly, for the better part of a year.

It was interesting, then, to learn that there are limits to the awkward media relationship.

Fox News executives cancelled Sean Hannity's planned Tea Party show from Cincinnati Thursday night when they learned that the organizers were selling tickets to the taping of the show -- and pricing the tickets based on proximity to Hannity. As I suggested in a post earlier Thursday, Hannity and the Tea Party were essentially involved in a co-production, and that crossed several lines of cablecasting propriety.

The conservative author and host was ordered back to New York Thursday afternoon by his bosses to do his show in-studio rather than from a hall at the University of Cincinnati that the Tea Party organizers were paying for. The university official who booked the hall told me in an email response to my earlier post that the Tea Party paid for the rent and was essentially giving Hannity a free ride on use of the hall for his cablecast.

"FOX News never agreed to allow the Cincinnati Tea Party organizers to use Sean Hannity's television program to profit from broadcasting his show from the event," Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming for Fox News, said in a statement emailed to the Sun Thursday. "When senior executives in New York were made aware of this, we changed our plans for tonight's show."

The network obviously made the right call here. Hannity had effectively obliterated the line between professional standards and shameless hackery, and apparently even Fox News has its limits. It's one thing for a cable network to become a promotional vehicle for right-wing activism, but to allow far-right groups to effectively co-produce a broadcast, and make money from selling proximity to a media professional was apparently deemed indefensible, even for Fox.

James Poniewozik summarized the dynamic nicely: "Attention, Tea Party: You do not make money off Fox News! Fox News makes money off you!"

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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OBAMA 'AMUSED' BY TEA PARTY NONSENSE.... As a rule, President Obama goes to great lengths -- perhaps even too far, on occasion -- to avoid partisan rhetoric. It's why it's all the more satisfying when the president appears at party fundraisers and let's his guard down a little.

Obama appeared at a DNC event in Miami last night, and as part of his remarks, he reflected on the Tea Party gatherings. The president conceded that he's "amused" by all the fuss.

"[S]ince today happens to be Tax Day, I should just point out that one third of the Recovery Act went to tax cuts -- tax cuts that strengthened the cornerstone of the American Dream: working for a living, earning an education, owning a home, raising a family," he said. "We cut taxes for 95% of working Americans, just like I promised we would on the campaign. That made a difference for 7 million families in Florida alone. We cut taxes on small businesses. We cut taxes for students and parents paying for college. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers, more than 128,000 here in Florida. In all, we passed 25 different tax cuts last year. And one thing we haven't done is raise income taxes on families making less than $250,000 a year -- another promise that we kept.

"So I've been a little amused over the last couple of days where people have been having these rallies about taxes. You would think they would be saying, 'Thank you.'"

The comments were not well received by the right, but it's hardly an unreasonable point. Right-wing activists started rallying in March to complain about taxes, less than a month after Obama gave them a tax cut. It's hardly a surprise they're going to be subjected to some mockery.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (217)

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THE GAME THE WSJ LIKES TO PLAY.... The far-right editorial board of the Wall Street Journal has a problematic approach to ... well, most things, actually. But let's take letters to the editor for a moment.

Last week, the Journal published a letter from a reader that insisted that the "Cornhusker Kickback" was "in the final bill" on health care reform that was signed into law. That's clearly false, the WSJ editors surely knew it was false, but they published the letter anyway without correction or clarification. That's just poor journalism.

Today, meanwhile, the Journal published a letter from Larry Summers, director of President Obama's National Economic Council. Summers was responding to a recent WSJ editorial that took some of Summers' work out of context to argue that extending unemployment benefits encouraged out-of-work Americans not to find a job.

The Wall Street Journal ran the letter, but nevertheless devoted an entire editorial to slamming Summers, defending its out-of-context quote, and again making the case to cut off benefits for the unemployed.

A few things to consider here. First, Sumnmers' case on the merits is persuasive.

The reality is that the most important economic impact of extending temporary relief through unemployment insurance is to increase consumer spending, thereby contributing to employment, not to prolong joblessness, as argued in your editorial. [...]

In the wake of the worst economic crisis in eight decades, at a time when eight million Americans have lost their jobs in the previous two years, there can be no doubt that the overwhelming cause of unemployment is economic distress, not the existence of unemployment insurance. In fact, recent analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office identified increased aid to the unemployed as one of the two most cost-effective policy options for increasing output and employment. Not only is unemployment insurance vital to the individual families whose lives have been turned upside down by tough economic times, it is an important tool for maintaining the aggregate demand our economy needs to establish a sustainable recovery.

Second, it's fascinating to see the WSJ publish demonstrably false claims in a letter to the editor without comment, and then publish accurate claims in a letter to the editor with an accompanying editorial attack.

And third, if the Journal's far-right editorial board spent a little more time looking out for the interests of the unemployed, and a little less time carrying water for the irresponsible clowns who crashed the economy and put so many out of work in the first place, it'd be easier to take the newspaper seriously.

*last paragraph edited

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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WHAT WAS CBS THINKING?.... Ben Domenech, fairly characterized as a "serial-plagiarist and right-wing blogger," hasn't stopped publishing embarrassing content. The question is why CBS News would endorse Domenech's more outrageous claims.

Yesterday, Domenech published un-sourced gossip about Solicitor General Elena Kagan's personal life on his website, stating without evidence of substantiation that Kagan is "openly gay." CBS nevertheless sought and received Domenech's permission to re-publish his piece on the news outlet's website.

CBS, hours later, added an "editor's note" explaining that "a White House spokesperson said that Domenech reference to Ms. Kagan as gay is innaccurate [sic]." For his part, Domenech updated his piece to say that Kagan is "apparently still closeted."

By late yesterday, Domenech issued a non-apology apology, saying he's sorry "if [Kagan] is offended" by his publishing of a "rumor" that he stated as fact.

The White House was unimpressed.

The White House ripped CBS News on Thursday for publishing an online column by a blogger who made assertions about the sexual orientation of Solicitor General Elena Kagan, widely viewed as a leading candidate for the Supreme Court. [...]

CBS initially refused to pull the posting, prompting Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director who is working with the administration on the high court vacancy, to say: "The fact that they've chosen to become enablers of people posting lies on their site tells us where the journalistic standards of CBS are in 2010." She said the network was giving a platform to a blogger "with a history of plagiarism" who was "applying old stereotypes to single women with successful careers."

CBS initially defended Domenech's piece, but later deleted it from the network's site after Domenech conceded he was merely passing along un-sourced innuendo. Dan Farber, editor in chief of CBSNews.com, conceded that the piece "was nothing but pure and irresponsible speculation on the blogger's part."

As for the veracity of the Domenech's rumor, who cares? Kurtz talked to an administration official who said Kagan is not a lesbian, but what difference does it make?

The question is one of professional standards -- which in this case, CBS chose to ignore.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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FEDERAL COURT REJECTS NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER.... There are already right-wing chain emails circulating about this, so let's set the record straight.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a congressionally-mandated "holiday" called the "National Day of Prayer." The group argued that the annual occurrence undermines the separation of church and state. Late yesterday, a federal court in Wisconsin agreed.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic.

"In fact, it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual's decision whether and when to pray," Crabb wrote.

"It goes beyond mere 'acknowledgment' of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context," she wrote. "In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience."

This hardly seems radical. As "holidays" go, the official National Day of Prayer is difficult to understand. For the faithful, every day is a day of prayer, and they don't need official encouragement. For a secular government that separates church from state, the idea of a state-sanctioned day in which elected leaders encourage Americans to pray is odd, if not ridiculous.

Indeed, for all the recent talk about "big government," federal "intrusion," and getting back to American traditions in line with the Founding Fathers, conservatives should find an official annual prayer day for the nation pretty offensive. It's an entirely modern creation -- the NPD was established in 1952, and set as the first Thursday in May in 1988 -- and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison explicitly rejected state-sponsored prayer days.

So, what are conservatives worked up about? First, the small-government crowd is outraged that a federal court would find an official federal prayer day problematic. (Americans need government to tell us when to pray? Only if you listen to the far-right.) Second, according to bizarre emails that you'll soon receive from your crazy relatives, the story has morphed into President Obama "cancelling" the National Day of Prayer.

For the record, the Obama White House issued a prayer-day proclamation last year, and will apparently do so again this year while the court ruling is being appealed.

That won't, however, stop the far-right freak-out. Nothing ever does.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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OVERDUE PROGRESS ON HOSPITAL VISITATION RIGHTS.... The Obama administration has taken some important steps over the last year on gay rights, but arguably none is more important than the change announced last night.

President Obama on Thursday ordered his health secretary to issue new rules aimed at granting hospital visiting rights to same-sex partners.

The White House announced the rule changes, which will also make it easier for gay men and lesbians to make medical decisions on behalf of their partners, in a memorandum released Thursday night. In it, the president said the new rules would affect any hospital that participates in Medicare or Medicaid, the government programs to cover the elderly and the poor.

"Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindness and caring of a loved one at their sides," Mr. Obama said in the memorandum, adding that the rules could also help widows and widowers who rely on friends and members of religious orders who care for one another. But he says gay men and lesbians are "uniquely affected" because they are often barred from visiting partners with whom they have spent decades.

Because nearly every American hospital receives at least some federal funding, the policy change is expected to have a significant national impact. It will not be immediate -- HHS will begin a rule-making process -- but the shift is expected to take effect later this year.

The change was reportedly inspired, at least in part, by the ordeal a Florida family endured in 2007. Lisa Pond was stricken with a fatal brain aneurysm, and partner of 18 years, Janice Langbehn, and their four adopted children, were prohibited from seeing her. Langbehn had power of attorney for Pond, but officials still refused. Pond died before her loved ones were even allowed into her hospital room.

Last night, President Obama called Langbehn to tell her about his administration's new policy. "I was so humbled that he would know Lisa's name and know our story," Langbehn told the NYT. "He apologized for how we were treated. For the last three years, that's what I've been asking the hospital to do. Even now, three years later, they still refuse to apologize to the children and I for the fact that Lisa died alone."

A spokesperson for the Family Research Council, a leading anti-gay religious right group, characterized the policy shift as "pandering," and whined, "The memorandum undermines the definition of marriage." This is the same Family Research Council that recently labeled Obama "our first gay president."

Whatever. The far-right can pout and send ugly fundraising letters about this, but decent people will still be able to consider this development for what it is: another breakthrough for decency, compassion, and common sense.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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April 15, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Quite a sight: "A plume of volcanic ash from Iceland hovering over Northern Europe severely disrupted air travel for hundreds of thousands of airline passengers Thursday as authorities cancelled flights across the region."

* President Obama speaks in Florida, recommits his administration to NASA's future.

* Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has her eyes on Massey Energy.

* Housing crisis isn't over: "A record number of U.S. homes were lost to foreclosure in the first three months of this year, a sign banks are starting to wade through the backlog of troubled home loans at a faster pace, according to a new report."

* Targeting the Taliban: "The Pentagon has increased its use of the military's most elite special operations teams in Afghanistan, more than doubling the number of the highly trained teams assigned to hunt down Taliban leaders, according to senior officials."

* The public is still open to persuasion on the merits of the Affordable Care Act.

* Good to know: "Climate change researchers accused of manipulating or hiding data in last year's 'Climategate' affair were guilty of sloppy record-keeping but not bad science, an independent panel in Britain concluded Wednesday."

* On a related note, expect to see the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate bill on April 26.

* Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) still isn't truth-oriented.

* Scandal-plagued, far-right Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is willing to fight to support formaldehyde, no matter what EPA scientists think.

* A right-wing House member admits to ignoring the law on completing Census forms.

* The president's and vice president's tax returns are open to public review.

* Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) doesn't mind sympathizing with terrorists. He does mind if you point this out to him.

* It's a stretch to say where you go to college is irrelevant.

* Um, CBS? Why are you publishing un-sourced gossip from Ben Domenech?

* I'm so glad to see the CBPP finally launch a blog. I'm a huge CBPP fan, I've been wanting them to do this for a while.

* Remember, a Republican lie doesn't have to make sense; it doesn't have to withstand scrutiny; it doesn't even have to be persuasive. It just has to be repeated.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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BAIR REJECTS MCCONNELL TALKING POINTS.... Finding a credible figure who agrees with Senate Republican talking points on Wall Street reform is proving to be very difficult. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not only lying, he's doing so in such a way as to make it obvious.

Consider FDIC Chair Sheila Bair's comments to American Banker yesterday:

Would this bill perpetuate bailouts?

BAIR: The status quo is bailouts. That's what we have now. If you don't do anything, you are going to keep having bailouts. Bankruptcy doesn't work -- we saw that with Lehman Brothers.

But does this bill stop them from happening?

BAIR: It makes them impossible and it should. We worked really hard to squeeze bailout language out of this bill. The construct is you can't bail out an individual institution — you just can't do it.

In a true liquidity crisis, the FDIC and the Fed can provide systemwide support in terms of liquidity support -- lending and debt guarantees -- but even then, a default would trigger resolution or bankruptcy.

Asked specifically if reform will end the "too big to fail" phenemenon, Bair told the truth: "I think it will go a long way."

And who's Sheila Bair? She's not exactly a liberal activist -- she's a Bush/Cheney appointee to the FDIC, a former assistant Treasury secretary in the Bush administration, and a former aide to Bob Dole.

I know the political world likes to put on airs, and pretend that it's impolite to expose a high-ranking official as a dishonest hack. But this week, no one wants to defend Mitch McConnell's abject nonsense.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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WALL STREET REFORM EFFORT HEATING UP.... Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sounded impatient when he told reporters today that he's moving forward with legislation on financial regulatory reform. "We have talked about this enough. We have negotiated this enough," Reid said, adding that the Senate may vote as early as next week.

For his part, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) had another stemwinder on the Senate floor today. If you thought Dodd was visibly frustrated yesterday, check out his remarks today. The senator seems to have grown pretty tired of Republicans' nonsense on the legislation, and I can't say I blame him.

Speaking of Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who seems desperate to kill the Democratic bill because, well, it's a Democratic bill, is trying to secure 41 solid commitments from his GOP caucus to prevent a debate of the legislation. His office is reportedly circulating a letter in the hopes of filibustering the motion to proceed on the bill (in effect, McConnell wants to not only prevent a vote on Wall Street reform, he also wants to prevent a debate).

At this point, however, McConnell is having some trouble locking down complete unanimity from his caucus. It's unclear exactly how many signatures he has on the circulating letter, but he has reportedly "fallen short of the 41 signatures he needs," at least for now.

While McConnell keeps trying to shut down the process, at least one Republican senator seems to expect some GOP members to sign onto the Democratic bill. Tennessee's Bob Corker (R) told ABC News this morning that he'd be "stunned if we do not reach a bipartisan agreement." He added, "[A]t the end of the day, I think we're going to have a solid bipartisan effort."

Helping drive the process is the fact that Democrats are being unusually aggressive of late, practically daring Republicans to get in the way. If the GOP backs down, Dems get the bill they want. If the GOP prefers obstructionism, Dems believe they'll have a political weapon they'll use to undermine Republicans on a key issue.

Hill aides told Brian Beutler "that they'd relish the prospect of putting Republicans on the side of big banks in opposition to reg reform."

This is, in other words, an example of lessons learned. During the health care debate, Dems kept pleading with Republicans to play a constructive role. Democrats delayed the process for months, making concessions and accepting compromises, all in the hopes that a Republican or two might be willing to negotiate in good faith. The efforts were wasteful and counter-productive, and Dems aren't willing to endure the same mess.

Sources close to the process suggest the White House is telling Senate Dems they're doing the right thing. Rather than signaling a willingness to tolerate more GOP nonsense, the West Wing is telling Reid & Co. to keep moving forward, whether Republicans like it or not.

Steve Benen 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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FALLING UP.... I'm tempted to start keeping a running list of unlikely electoral candidates this year -- folks who seem intent on parlaying failure into seeking higher office.

The latest in David Malpass, who announced yesterday that he'll run in the Republican Senate primary in New York, in the hopes of taking on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) in November. Malpass' claim to fame isn't exactly the kind of thing one should use as the basis for a statewide campaign.

He spent 15 years at investment bank Bear Stearns, including six years as its chief global economist, but jumped ship after the firm's 2008 meltdown and subsequent takeover by JPMorgan Chase. Malpass has said he had no role in Bear's everyday operations. [...]

As for Malpass, Gillibrand spokesman Glen Caplin hit back hard, charging that in his Bear Stearns role, Malpass "not only helped cause the financial collapse, he made millions and left taxpayers holding the bill."

If Malpass is serious about his candidacy, this might be tough to overcome.

But it's the larger pattern that impresses me.

* Rob Portman was the budget director Bush/Cheney at a time when the federal budget was something of a disaster, and the administration was arguably the most fiscally irresponsible in the history of the country. Portman is now running for the Senate in Ohio.

* Tim Griffin was a Karl Rove protege caught up in the U.S. Attorney scandal. He's now running for a House seat in Arkansas.

* Rick Scott was the head of the Columbia/HCA health-care company that got caught up in a massive fraud scandal in the 1990s. Scott's firm later pleaded guilty to charges that it overbilled state and federal health plans, agreed to pay $1.7 billion in fines, and Scott was forced to resign. He later financed a right-wing lobbying group that misled the country on health care policy. Scott is now running for governor in Florida.

In the real world, when someone fails on a spectacular level, he/she tends not to seek a promotion. I wonder why Republicans don't get this.

I'm probably missing some notable figures who belong on the list. Readers should feel encouraged to let me know who I've forgotten.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) was asked for his opinion yesterday on the financial regulatory reform bill advancing in the Senate. "I can't support it,'' he said.

Explaining why, the Republican said one of his main concerns is that the legislation is "going to be an extra layer of regulation." Which is, of course, true. That's the point of the legislation. The financial industry went unchecked and nearly destroyed the global economy. That's why the legislation is being considered -- to bring oversight and accountability through regulation.

What was especially interesting, though, is hearing the confused senator try to explain how he'd like to see the legislation improve. (thanks to reader R.L.)

Brown left open the possibility that he could support a compromise.

"I want to see when it's going to come up, how it's going to come up,'' he said. "I'm always open to trying to work something through so it is truly bipartisan.''

Brown, whose vote could be critical as Democrats seek to find a GOP member to avoid a filibuster, assiduously avoided talking about specifics.

When asked what areas he thought should be fixed, he replied: "Well, what areas do you think should be fixed? I mean, you know, tell me. And then I'll get a team and go fix it.''

To clarify, when the senator asked "Well, what areas do you think should be fixed?" he was talking to a reporter who wanted to know what kind of changes he hoped to see.

Brown went on to say that he finds the notion of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency problematic because "it's more government." He added, "Is that good? ... If it's an area we need to fix, then I'm certainly open to it. But I haven't heard that that's the biggest thing that's problematic with it.''

Do you ever get the feeling that maybe Scott Brown isn't quite ready for prime-time, and that his service in the Senate is more humiliating than it should be?

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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GREGG AND THE FORGOTTEN PRETENSE OF SERIOUSNESS.... The tax cuts of the Bush era, which contributed greatly to Republicans adding $5 trillion to the national debt, are due to expire. Policymakers are currently weighing what to do about it.

Part of the answer seems obvious -- both parties want to extend the cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year or individuals earning less than $200,000.

But what about the costly breaks for those at the very top?

As for the Republicans, "we want to extend them all. That's our position," said Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

For a variety of reasons, this isn't exactly a compelling position. Gregg may be sticking to it, but it's only a reminder of how he approaches these issues in a fundamentally unserious way.

Look, I know Gregg has a lot invested in having voted for the failed economic policies of the previous administration, but Bush's tax cuts didn't work. For eight years, the job market was weak and wages were stagnant. Gregg and his cohorts promised tremendous economic growth -- the kind we had under Clinton/Gore when, you know, taxes were higher -- which never materialized. Given this, Gregg's credibility is already dubious, at best.

But the circumstances also matter. When Bush/Cheney slashed taxes with Gregg's help, the deficit was gone, surpluses were huge, and the United States was on track to pay off its debt. Eight years of failure later, Obama/Biden inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit and a $10 trillion debt.

It's in this context that Gregg wants to keep "all" of Bush's tax cuts. How would he pay for this? "Repeal the health care bill for starters," Gregg proposed.

But this is incoherent -- the Affordable Care Act lowers the deficit, while the tax cuts increase the deficit. Gregg can't use the former to pay for the latter -- it defies arithmetic. If he repeals the health care bill "for starters," that makes the budget shortfall worse, not better. Gregg's solution is gibberish.

As Jon Chait explained, "[E]ven the most allegedly committed Republican deficit hawks propose a larger deficit than Obama's budget. Oh, sure, they have unspecified talk about cutting the deficit, but then, so does Obama. Their only specific difference is a plan to make the deficit even higher. Right now, that's the only real fiscal difference between the two parties."

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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THE RIGHT STILL DENIES SLURS FROM HCR PROTEST.... It's been nearly a month, but the far-right obsession continues. It's getting embarrassing.

On March 20, House Democratic leaders walked from a caucus meeting to Capitol Hill, en route to the final debate over health care reform. As the lawmakers approached the building, assorted right-wing activists chastised Dems, reportedly used racial and ethnic slurs, and in one instance, spat on an African-American lawmaker.

Prominent far-right voices have gone to truly ridiculous lengths to insist that the slurs never happened.

Conservatives apparently can't help themselves. James Taranto, a Republican writer at the Wall Street Journal, got in touch with Rep Heath Shuler's office after the North Carolina Democrat expressed his disappointment to a local newspaper over the ugliness of the right-wing, mid-March protests.

[W]hen we phoned Shuler's office this afternoon, press secretary Julie Fishman told us the local reporter misunderstood. According to Fishman, Shuler's comments to the Times-News referred to the general tenor of the protests, not to the black congressmen's specific allegations.

Fishman said that Shuler was not walking with Cleaver and did not hear the "N-word." Shuler was, however, in proximity to Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and heard someone call Frank, as Fishman put it, a "communist F-word" (that would be "faggot," not the other F-word). At least one reporter also was said to have heard the antigay slur directed at Frank, so we're inclined to believe that claim. But the allegations of racial slurs remain uncorroborated.

Greg Sargent added, "Okay, so yes, someone at the Tea Party rally did call Barney Frank a 'communist faggot,' but the racial slurs remain unproven! So there: The liberal media's efforts to smear the Tea Party movement as a hotbed of intolerants and bigots has been conclusively debunked!"

If there's any sense in this strategy, it eludes me. Even far-right members of Congress see no value in pushing this line of attack. House Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said, "I take at face value what John Lewis said. If John Lewis said he heard it, I believe he's a man of integrity. And I would denounce those kinds of statements in the strongest possible terms."

That's really all conservatives have to say to put this matter behind them. Instead of accusing John Lewis and other black lawmakers of lying, conservative activists like Taranto, Andrew Breitbart, and Mark Steyn have a far more sensible alternative. They can say, "We didn't hear the racist slurs, but if they occurred, we reject them entirely. Those misguided individuals don't speak for our movement, and there's no room for bigotry in the Tea Party."

But, no. Instead the message, in effect, is, "Don't trust those black Democrats. They say they heard racism, but they're probably lying."

What's more, they keep saying this. Taranto's piece didn't run in March; it ran yesterday. It's as if the right believes if they just keep accusing African-American lawmakers of being liars, the allegations of racist rhetoric will disappear.

Usually, the right is more adept when it comes to political rhetoric. This is just bizarre.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* While the Republican establishment rallies to support Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson's Senate campaign, Sen. Jim Bunning (R) is throwing his support to right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul.

* In Florida, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Marco Rubio with a 23-point lead over Charlie Crist in their Republican Senate primary, 56% to 33%. If, however, Crist runs as an independent, he narrowly leads the three-way field.

* On a related note, Crist's campaign manager didn't rule out the possibility that the governor would exit the GOP primary and run as an independent.

* David Malpass, best known for his work as Bear Stearns' former chief global economist, has decided to take on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) in New York this year. Malpass, who has never held elected office, will run in the GOP primary.

* Speaking of the Empire State, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino will not drop out of the race, despite reports this week about his racist and explicit emails.

* The latest poll out of Pennsylvania shows Pat Toomey (R) leading Sen. Arlen Specter (D) in a hypothetical Senate match-up, 48% to 38%.

* The latest poll out of Arkansas shows the Democratic Senate field growing increasingly competitive, with incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln leading her chief primary rival, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, by only seven points, 38% to 31%.

* Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) is still the favorite to win the open Senate contest this year, but his campaign is hitting some speed-bumps.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (3)

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ANOTHER DOCTOR PUTS POLITICS AHEAD OF PATIENTS.... In general, Americans hold physicians in very high regard. When Gallup recently polled all of the various entities involved in the health care debate, insurance companies fared the worst, but doctors fared the best -- by a considerable margin.

This makes sense, of course. Most Americans have had personal experiences with physicians who've not only treated our ailments, but who've earned a great deal of respect.

It's what makes it all the more striking when an ostensible medical professional puts Republican politics ahead of patient care.

Dr. Jack Cassell, an Orlando-area urologist and part-time Republican crank, became a national laughing stock a couple of weeks ago when he announced that patients who support President Obama should seek medical attention elsewhere. Cassell later conceded he doesn't really know anything about the health care reform law he hates so much.

Now, apparently, there's another. Ben Armbruster reports:

Arizona Dermatologist Joseph Scherzer put a sign outside his office warning his patients that he will be closing his doors because of the new law. "If you voted for Obamacare, be aware these doors will close before it goes into effect," the sign reads. Scherzer -- a self-described conservative -- claims that the "stress" the law will supposedly impose will cause him to close up shop.

Seriously. The dermatologist said government-prescribed treatment methods are causing him so much anxiety, he won't be able to practice medicine. "The stress is what would push me out the door," Scherzer said. He added that some medical professionals "have actually committed suicide over these things."

As a factual matter, no one seems to be able to figure exactly which government-prescribed treatment methods he's so worked up about, since the law doesn't mandate any specific methods at all. Indeed, if the Affordable Care Act were going to cause any undue hardships for medical professionals, it wouldn't have been endorsed by the American Medical Association.

Doctors, by and large, have certainly earned their exalted status in society, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few bizarre apples in the bunch.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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WHY NEBRASKA'S NEW ABORTION LIMITS MATTER.... In Nebraska this week, Gov. Dave Heineman (R) signed a law mandating sweeping new restrictions on abortion. The state law bans most abortions mid-way through the second trimester, and was apparently intended to limit the medical practice of one man, Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who is one of the region's only physicians to treat women in need of third-trimester abortions.

But what makes Nebraska's new effort especially noteworthy is the basis for the new law. The state's restrictions are predicated on the notion of "fetal pain" -- a national first -- which lawmakers set at 20 weeks gestation.

Amanda Marcotte considers the implications of such a measure.

Should the court defy expectations and uphold this new ban, the effect on the availability of abortions performed at or after 20 weeks would be dramatic. Most states don't bother to restrict abortion pre-viability, because the Supreme Court precedent forbids it. Should that change, we can expect a wave of conservative states passing laws restricting abortions at 20 weeks and quite likely experimenting with other justifications that allow bans at earlier stages.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 20 percent of abortion providers quietly offer abortions in the 20-24 week period. But the number of abortions performed after 20 weeks constitutes only 1 percent of the total, and most of that 1 percent happen before viability. Even the three remaining clinics that perform abortions after 24 weeks do so rarely.

At least some abortions after 20 weeks occur because of fetal abnormalities not discovered until after certain tests are possible. We know that women have such late surprises and humane laws should be nimble and unintimidating enough to accommodate them. But the Nebraska law does its best not to allow most medical exceptions. Under current law, the medical indications for late-term abortions include fetal abnormalities and the health, including the mental health, of the mother. The new law narrows the definition so that a doctor must be able to prove that the pregnancy could cause death or "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function." The law explicitly excludes the threat of suicide as a reasonable threat of death or substantial impairment.

Several legal experts this week predicted Nebraska's new statute will not fare well in the courts. Something to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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TAX DAY.... It's April 15, so there's likely to be a little more attention paid to tax rates today, especially in the political world. House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) is trying to make this as awkward a day for Democrats as possible, as evidenced by his shameless lying on the House floor about taxes.

But before anyone assumes this will be a bad day for Democrats, the majority party has been pushing very aggressively the last several days to turn the assumptions on their head. For example, this AP piece, noting that "Americans are paying lower taxes this year" is making the rounds.

Congress cut individuals' federal taxes for this year by about $173 billion shortly after President Barack Obama took office, dwarfing the $28.6 billion in increases by states. [...]

"The fact is in the past year we have had more tax cuts than almost any time in our nation's history," said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. "It's something that people don't realize because of the false rhetoric that is spread throughout this Congress." [...]

The massive economic recovery package enacted last year included about $300 billion in tax cuts over 10 years. About $232 billion was in cuts for individuals, nearly all in the first two years.

The most generous was Obama's Making Work Pay credit, which gives individuals up to $400 and couples up to $800 for 2009 and 2010. The $1,000 child tax credit was expanded to more families, and the working poor can qualify for as much as $5,657 from the Earned Income Tax Credit.

There were also credits for qualified families who buy new homes or make energy improvements to existing ones, as well as tax breaks to help pay college tuition or buy new cars.

The White House has been pushing a similar line, starting a few days ago with President Obama's weekly address, and continued today with a message from White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer emphasizing the same point: "Providing significant relief to help working families has been a central focus of the President's agenda since the day he took office - and today, many more Americans will take advantage of those benefits as they complete their returns."

Perceptions, to be sure, are skewed. Because our discourse is often ridiculous, most Americans don't know Congress and the president cut their taxes (and certainly don't know that Republicans voted en masse against the tax cuts). But whether they've gotten political credit or not, Dems have cut taxes for 98% of working families.

Those protesting the notion that they're "taxed enough already" have chosen, once again, to ignore reality: "[T]he non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reported on Wednesday that 'Middle-income Americans are now paying federal taxes at or near historically low levels.' How low? The average family of four right now is paying 4.6 percent of its income in federal income taxes -- the second lowest percentage in 50 years."

Those middle-class Americans motivated to get involved in politics because of taxes should not only be praising Dems, but should also wonder right about now why Republicans have fought so hard against the Democrats' tax breaks.

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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GOP WORKING ON NEW 'CONTRACT'.... Sixteen years ago, congressional Republicans hoped to capture majorities on the Hill, and released a poll-tested list of priorities that appeared first in TV Guide. It was called the "Contract With America."

Opinions vary as to its efficacy -- I tend to think the "contract" was largely irrelevant, since most Americans hadn't heard of it when they voted -- but in Republican circles, it's taken on mythical status. Newt Gingrich and pollsters created the document, and GOP candidates won their new majorities in the '94 midterms, therefore the "Contract With America" worked.

This year, Republicans hope to recreate the identical circumstances, this time with a new list. It's slow going.

Republicans are salivating over the prospect of winning back the House in November, and they're planning to produce a new "Contract With America" in the hopes of sealing the deal.

The catch: They don't agree yet on what should be in it. [...]

If the Republicans include too many specifics, especially on hot-button social issues important to their base, they risk turning off moderates and independents. And that's assuming that they can get the entire House Republican Conference to agree on specific bills in the first place; not everyone, for example, would support a proposal to "repeal and replace" the Democrats' health care bill.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) are apparently pushing for a detailed list of specific pieces of legislation that a GOP majority would pass if elected. The rank-and-file caucus members aren't sure, in part because they may have to withhold endorsements of the new "contract" if they disagree with some of its tenets. There's also a concern that policy specifics would make it easier for Dems to criticize.

But the leadership apparently wants more than slogans. "Responsible leadership requires the development of serious and deliverable solutions to the real problems facing families, small businesses and workers," Cantor's spokesperson said.

That's a nice sentiment, to be sure, but I have to wonder if Cantor's office has thought this one through. Republicans don't have "serious and deliverable solutions" to "real problems." The GOP generally doesn't even try to come up with "serious and deliverable solutions" to "real problems." Republicans tend to mock those who develop "serious and deliverable solutions" to "real problems."

But if they're willing to give it a shot, best of luck to them. Given congressional Republicans' recent track record -- their numberless budget plan, their ridiculous health care plan, Paul Ryan's indefensible "Roadmap" -- these guys tend to fall on their face when they try to come up with any kind of policy proposal, but maybe this time will be different.

We may not see a formal document until September. Something to look forward to.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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A CONFUSED GROUP OF MISLED PEOPLE.... A new New York Times/CBS News poll was released last night, taking a closer look at those who identify with the so-called Tea Party "movement." The results confirm much of what we already know -- this is a confused contingent of conservative white people older than 45 -- but there were a few interesting tidbits.

Tea Partiers are obviously not part of the American mainstream. Its activists are to the right of the Republican Party, they have favorable opinions of George W. Bush, and rely heavily on Fox News. They don't like health care reform, worry about government spending, and think the government does too much to address the problems of the African-American community.

For all the recent talk about Dems and independents connecting with the right-wing movement, Tea Partiers "usually or almost always vote Republican." And for all the hullabaloo about the groups' rallies, only 4% of the general public has "given money or attended a Tea Party event, or both."

But the kicker is the predictable limits of the extreme ideology.

[I]n follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security -- the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on "waste."

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

"That's a conundrum, isn't it?" asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. "I don't know what to say. Maybe I don't want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security." She added, "I didn't look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I've changed my mind."

The point, of course, is not to pick on one confused person who sounded foolish when put on the spot. The point is Jodine White of Rocklin, Calif., is fairly representative of the larger movement.

If you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you'd only see one circle.

These folks claim to be motivated by concerns over taxes, but Tea Partiers tend not to know anything about the subject. They claim to be angry about the Affordable Care Act, but they don't know what's in it. They claim to hate expensive government programs, except for all the expensive government programs that benefit them and their families.

It's inherently challenging to create a lasting, successful political movement predicated on literally nothing more than ignorance and rage. In the case of Tea Partiers, we're talking about a reasonably large group of people who seem to revel in their own ignorance, but nevertheless seek an active role in the process.

Following up on an item from a few weeks ago, this is important to the extent that there are still some who believe the political mainstream should do more to listen to the Tea Party crowd and take its hysterical cries seriously. But how can credible people take nonsense seriously and hope to come up with a meaningful result? How can policymakers actually address substantive challenges while following the advice of angry mobs who reject reason and evidence?

The bottom line seem inescapable: Tea Party activists have no idea what they're talking about. Their sincerity notwithstanding, this is a confused group of misled people.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (76)

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MITCH MCCONNELL'S LIE IS OFF TO A ROUGH START.... Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants people to believe that the pending financial-regulation reform bill would lead to "more bailouts." Mitch McConnell is lying.

To be sure, we know why he's lying -- Democrats have a popular piece of legislation, and if it passes, voters might be pleased. McConnell can't have that, so he's making up nonsense, hoping just enough people won't know the difference.

But the pushback he received yesterday was pretty fierce. Among Democrats, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) was unusually incensed, while Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) all but called him a liar on the Senate floor.

Even Republicans were reluctant to rally behind McConnell's absurdities. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) characterized the new argument as "a touch over the top." Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) compared McConnell's pitch to "death panel" rhetoric. The Maine moderates -- Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- pretended not to know what McConnell had said so they wouldn't have to defend it.

Even the media seemed unwilling to play along with McConnell's willful ignorance. CNBC's John Harwood told MSNBC that McConnell's anti-reform argument is "a little silly when you look at the text of the bill." And perhaps most importantly, Capitol Hill reporters pressed the Kentuckian on the fact that his bizarre opposition to reform comes on the heels of a private meeting McConnell attended last week with hedge fund managers and other Wall Street elites last week.

QUESTION: How do you push back against this perception that you're doing the bidding of the large banks? There was a report that you guys met with hedge fund managers in New York. A lot of people are viewing this particular line of argument, this bailout argument as spin --

MCCONNELL: You could talk to the community bankers in Kentucky.

BASH: I'm not asking you about the community bankers.

MCCONNELL: Well, I'm telling you about the community bankers in Kentucky.

Now, if recent history is any guide, this may not matter. Mitch McConnell is lying. He knows he's lying, as does anyone with even a passing familiarity with the issue. But as we know, the lie doesn't have to make sense; it doesn't have to withstand scrutiny; it doesn't even have to be persuasive. It just has to be repeated, endorsed by conservative media, embraced by right-wing activists whose ignorance is easily exploited, and folded into the "debate" for the American mainstream.

Time will tell if McConnell will succeed on this front, but if yesterday was any indication, he's off to a shaky start.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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April 14, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* China earthquake kills at least 589 people.

* More green shoots: "Retail sales rose for the third straight month in March as better weather and auto incentives brought out shoppers in force. The rise was more than economists had expected. It's the latest sign that consumer spending is rising fast enough to support a modest economic recovery."

* U.S. forces leave Afghanistan's Korengal Valley.

* Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) eyes derivatives, which is an issue of increasing significance to Democrats in both chambers.

* Democratic Senate centrists aren't in any hurry to tackle immigration reform.

* Absolutely fantastic piece from University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone on conservatives, liberals, and judicial philosophy.

* Don't buy the nonsense that 47% of American households owe no taxes.

* I'm still amazed that someone of Jon Kyl's limited skills, knowledge, intellect, and awareness of current events can rise to be the #2 Republican in the U.S. Senate.

* John McCain gives new meaning to the phrase "trigger happy."

* Hmm: "California's attorney general on Tuesday launched a probe into the finances of a state university foundation and the alleged dumping of documents related to Sarah Palin's upcoming speech at the school."

* The House's two most ridiculous members agree to share a right-wing press secretary to push their deranged arguments.

* George Shultz, Reagan's Secretary of State, rejects GOP talking points and praises President Obama's nuclear strategy.

* Former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) thinks the White House's agenda is "un-American." What a pathetic clown.

* Ted Frier draws an interesting parallel between Wall Street and the Titanic ... which was also too big to fail.

* More evidence that the recession is leading students to community colleges.

* It seems Breitbart is making a habit of releasing deceptive videos.

* I had a chance to work with Alex Koppelman a bit at Salon and I've long considered him an astute observer and class act. Best wishes to him in his new endeavors.

* Similarly, I'm sorry to see Jonathan Cohn close up The Treatment, which I found invaluable throughout the debate over health care reform.

* President Obama held a news conference late yesterday as the nuclear summit came to a close. Fox News interrupted its coverage to air Glenn Beck's show. Amazing.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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DODD STOPS BEING POLITE, AND STARTS GETTING REAL.... "The door is still open" to finding bipartisan common ground on a financial-regulation bill, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said. "But my patience is running out.

The architect of sweeping legislation that would revamp financial regulation took the Senate floor on Wednesday to accuse the Senate Republican leader of lying about the bill and being in Wall Street's back pocket.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Ct., delivered a blistering 20-minute speech that included the revelation of a political talking points memo from a Republican strategist that was virtually verbatim to the criticism voiced Tuesday by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

McConnell had accused Dodd of drafting partisan legislation, even though the Banking Committee chairman has worked for roughly half a year with key Senate Republicans and incorporated many of their ideas into his bill. McConnell also said the bill continues controversial bank bailouts, which it does not.

"It's a naked political strategy," thundered a visibly upset Dodd. He held up a leaked memo attributed to GOP strategist Frank Luntz that advises Republican lawmakers to accuse Dodd and other Democrats of perpetuating bailouts for giant banks.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. The bill as drafted ends bailouts," Dodd said, describing how regulators would get new powers to dissolve large financial institutions, even healthy ones if their size is deemed to threaten the broader financial system.

Dodd didn't literally call Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor, but he came awfully close.

Steve Benen 4:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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CONSERVATIVES PONDER A GAY SUPREME COURT NOMINEE.... About a year ago, before Sonia Sotomayor's nomination, there was some discussion about how the right would respond if President Obama chose a gay jurist to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. The discussion is once again underway in some circles, but it's not improving.

Last May, Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said he'd be open to a nominee with "gay tendencies." A spokesperson for Focus on the Family told Greg Sargent that sexual orientation need not be a deciding factor.

"The issue is not their sexual orientation. It's whether they are a good judge or not," the FOTF spokesperson said. A nominee's sexual orientation "should never come up. It's not even pertinent to the equation."

It was an encouraging development. Even if Focus was being disingenuous -- and I believe it was -- the fact that a group spokesperson would make these comments on the record was heartening. Even for a right-wing group, there was a sense that nominees should be evaluated on the merits. It reflected a growing maturity in our discourse.

That maturity has since disappeared. Focus on the Family has now "clarified" the group's position, explaining that it would oppose a gay nominee, regardless of his or her qualifications, because gay people are immoral. Focus' Tom Minnery told an anti-gay activist this week:

"We can assure you that we recognize that homosexual behavior is a sin and does not reflect God's created intent and desire for humanity. Further, we at Focus do affirm that character and moral rectitude should be key considerations in appointing members of the judiciary, especially in the case of the highest court in the land. Sexual behavior -- be it heterosexual or homosexual -- certainly lies at the heart of personal morality."

As for the sane, responsible remarks a Focus spokesperson said last May, Focus on the Family now believes it would like a "do over" on those comments.

They were, apparently, far too sensible.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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CALLING OUT MCCONNELL'S WILLFUL IGNORANCE.... Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) isn't especially partisan or ideological. He's not known for angry rhetoric or picking fights.

So when he calls out Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for being a deceptive hack, it carries some weight.

Warner personally helped shape the provisions in the financial-regulation bill on responding to the threats posed by too-big-to-fail firms. So, when McConnell, parroting a baseless strategy memo written by a GOP pollster, said the legislation would mean "endless taxpayer-funded bailouts for big Wall Street banks," Warner took it kind of personally.

The centrist Virginian told Ezra Klein that it "appears" that McConnell "either doesn't understand or chooses not to understand the basic underlying premise of what this bill puts in place."

"Resolution [authority]," Warner continued, "will be so painful for any company. No rational management team would ever choose resolution. It means shareholders wiped out. Management wiped out. Your firm is going away. At least in bankruptcy, there was some chance that some of your equity would've been retained and you could come out in some form on the other side of the process. The resolution that Corker and I have tried to create means the death of the company. The institution is gone." [...]

"And here's the hypocrisy of the Republican leader's comments," continues Warner. "I can guarantee you that if there had not been some pre-funding, the critique would've been: 'Look at these guys! They've left the taxpayers exposed! What's going to keep the lights on for these few days? It's going to be Treasury funds or Federal Reserve funds. The taxpayer will be exposed!'"

"If you haven't spent time with these issues," Warner concluded, "it's easy to pop off with sound-bite solutions that don't work."

The ongoing debate can continue over whether senators like McConnell are embarrassingly ignorant or shameless hacks, but given what we've seen of late, it's not unreasonable for the political world to consider the notion that the Senate Minority Leader doesn't have the foggiest idea what's going in public policy.

Steve Benen 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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MAYBE O'REILLY NEEDS NEW RESEARCHERS.... Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma recently told a group of constituents not to let Fox News warp their sense of current events. "[D]on't catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody is no good," the senator said, among other things.

The comments were not, as one might imagine, well received at the Republican cable network. Bill O'Reilly spoke to Coburn directly last night, and told the conservative senator that some of his allegations are incorrect.

"[Y]ou don't know anybody on Fox News -- because there hasn't been anyone -- that said people will go to jail if they don't buy mandatory insurance," O'Reilly said. He added: "[W]e researched to find out if anybody had ever said you are going to jail if you don't buy health insurance. Nobody has ever said it. What it seems to me is you used Fox News as a whipping boy when we didn't qualify there."

Maybe O'Reilly needs new "researchers."

November 13, 2009: Glenn Beck tells Fox News' audience that those without coverage will "go to jail."

November 12, 2009: Beck said "there will be jail time" for those who refuse to participate in the health care system.

November 9, 2009: Dick Morris argues, "One of the provisions in the Pelosi bill is you actually can go to jail for not having health insurance."

November 10, 2009: Sean Hannity tells viewers, "Penalties for people who don't get government-mandated health insurance, uh, jail time, a possibility?"

October 7, 2009: Greta Van Susteren says it's "theoretically possible" that if "you can't afford insurance for whatever reason" the government could "send you to jail."

November 10, 2009: The on-screen graphic during Fox & Friends tells viewers during a segment on the health care debate: "Comply or go to jail."

Remember, O'Reilly promised Coburn, "[W]e researched to find out if anybody [on Fox News] had ever said you are going to jail if you don't buy health insurance. Nobody has ever said it."

O'Reilly does realize that it's not that difficult to search Fox News transcripts, doesn't he?

Steve Benen 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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MCDONNELL'S FREQUENT DETOURS.... In Virginia, the policy for non-violent felons hoping to have their voting rights restored has been stringent, but straightforward: they had to fill out some paperwork. The state's surprisingly-inept new governor, Bob McDonnell (R), recently created a new requirement: the ex-cons had to write an essay, highlighting their "contributions to society" since their release.

It was, in effect, a modern-day literacy test for a group of citizens hoping to vote in the commonwealth. The Virginia Black Legislative Caucus was right to call the move "a horrific step back towards the era of Jim Crow."

This week, McDonnell's administration said the letters to felons explaining their need to write essays were sent by mistake.

"The letter was sent without approval by a well-meaning staffer attempting to continue to process requests even while new procedures were being considered," McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said. [...]

"This seems like an odd way to make policy," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. "But, we are delighted if the administration is serious about dropping the requirement for a lengthy personal letter to the Governor and look forward to a productive discussion with the Governor's office about improving the restoration procedure."

There's still a possibility that McDonnell will decide to require personal essays, but at this point, it seems that the governor is wisely backing down.

Adam Serwer notes the apparent trend:

Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia proposes some controversial culture-war initiative, someone notices it, and he backs off. First, there was his rescindment of anti-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian state employees. Then there was his proclamation of "Confederate History Month" that omitted slavery. Now, he's suggested instituting more restrictions on voting rights for the formerly incarcerated -- and started to back off.

Now if only McDonnell would stop taking absurd steps to begin with, he'll have less of a need to keep reversing course.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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STILL ROOTING FOR FAILURE.... The first few months of the Obama presidency were marked by a depressing far-right development -- in the midst of multiple crises, high-profile conservatives publicly admitted they wanted to see the president's efforts to help the country fail.

The rhetoric was fairly new for the American mainstream. While any president's detractors tend to think his policies will fail, this president's detractors went further, wishing that things go poorly for the United States. It runs against certain American norms to actively, publicly hope that the nation's fortunes take a turn for the worse. That these same folks claim to have the high ground on "patriotism" made this all the more ridiculous.

In time, these far-right voices moved on to other unhinged campaigns, but the root-for-failure tendencies have not disappeared altogether. Matt Corley flags this exchange between Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and radio host Scott Hennen, aired yesterday:

HENNEN: I'm proudly accepting that label of rooting for failure for his policies, not for any one personal individual or anything else, but, I mean, should we, is that what Republicans are doing? Are we rooting for failure? Is David Axelrod right?

BACHMANN: We're, we're, we're hoping that President Obama's policies don't succeed, exactly as you said.

Got it. President Obama has policies intended to help the economy, improve our national security, make quality health care more affordable and accessible, resolve the housing crisis, improve our existing energy policies, etc. Maybe those policies will be effective, maybe not. If they have the intended effect, we'll have a safer, more prosperous future.

It's fascinating, then, to see right-wing Republicans, including some currently in Congress, bypass the debate over the policies' efficacy and go directly to rooting against the country. I don't remember any similar dynamic existing with any other modern president.

This is such a simple concept, even Bachmann should be able to understand it: Americans should not root for America to fail. It represents literally the bare minimum of civic pride.

When Republicans hate their president more than they love their country, there's a problem.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* The latest CNN poll shows Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 50% to 46%. The latest Gallup poll shows Republicans leading Democrats on the generic congressional ballot, 48% to 44%. That ought to clear things up.

* Former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) will reportedly not take on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) this year. Gillibrand's election prospects are now greatly improved -- no credible Republican wants to face her -- and Pataki appears likely to run for president in 2012.

* Texas Republicans chose two more congressional candidates yesterday -- former oil executive Bill Flores will take on Rep. Chet Edwards (D), while Quico Canseco will face Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D).

* Might Rep. Joe Sestak's (D-Pa.) strategy of a "truncated campaign" against Sen. Arlen Specter in a Democratic primary work? Maybe. Most recent polling shows the incumbent ahead by comfortable margins, but Rasmussen now shows Specter's lead down to just two points, 44% to 42%.

* Former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, the leading Republican Senate candidate this year, has proven herself to be surprisingly right-wing, but even she's not willing to commit to a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

* Just a day after anti-reform activist Rick Scott launched a gubernatorial primary campaign against state Attorney General Bill McCollum in Florida, McCollum is welcoming Scott to the race by going after Scott's scandalous background.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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MISSISSIPPI COUNTY FACES DESEGREGATION ORDER.... It's 2010, and this is still a problem.

A federal judge Tuesday ordered a rural county in southwestern Mississippi to stop segregating its schools by grouping African American students into all-black classrooms and allowing white students to transfer to the county's only majority-white school, the U.S. Justice Department announced.

The order, issued by Senior Judge Tom S. Lee of the U.S. District Court of Southern Mississippi, came after Justice Department civil rights division lawyers moved to enforce a 1970 desegregation case against the state and Walthall County.

"More than 55 years after Brown v. Board of Education, it is unacceptable for school districts to act in a way that encourages or tolerates the resegregation of public schools," said Thomas E. Perez, U.S. assistant attorney general in charge of the civil rights division, in a written statement. "We will take action so that school districts subject to federal desegregation orders comply with their obligation to eliminate vestiges of separate black and white schools."

It's a reminder that it's good to have a functioning civil rights division in the Justice Department again.

It's also worth noting that the country is still addressing setbacks when it comes to civil rights. As DougJ noted, the Mississippi matter comes on the heels of controversial Confederacy-related comments from two Southern Republican governors.

The arc of history may be long, and it may bend towards justice, but it's not a straight line pointing in an encouraging direction.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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A TALE OF TWO FAILED PLOTS.... Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was at the center of a terrorist plot to kill Americans last year. Najibullah Zazi was at the center of a terrorist plot to kill Americans last year. Both targeted U.S. transportation -- Abdulmutallab intended to attack on a plane, Zazi on a New York subway -- and both, fortunately, were thwarted and taken into custody.

The former became the subject of intense media interest, heated political debate, and far-right apoplexy. The latter has been largely ignored, especially by conservatives. Kevin Drum wonders why.

Am I missing something here? Because I don't remember Fox News putting Zazi on a 24/7 loop and insisting that trial in a civilian court was basically a surrender to al-Qaeda. The right wing world doesn't seem to be objecting to this latest development, either. Why? Is blowing up an airplane somehow different from blowing up a subway? Are civilian courts and Miranda rights OK if the terrorist plot is broken up before it can be carried out, but not after? Or what? I'm a little confused about the conservative position on this stuff. Help me out.

The disconnect is interesting, isn't it? Zazi, who was reportedly close to executing the worst domestic terrorist attack since 9/11, was treated the same way all suspected terrorists taken into U.S. custody are treated -- law enforcement prevented the attack, arrested the suspect, read him his rights, gave him a lawyer, charged him, and put him behind bars.

This should, in theory, outrage Republicans, right? GOP official don't believe counter-terrorism is a law enforcement issue, don't want suspected terrorists to be treated like criminals, and don't want them to be imprisoned on American soil. So why would the right stay silent?

I suspect it's because the Zazi case makes the Obama administration look fantastic, and conservatives would just as soon hope that no American ever hears about the story at all.

Indeed, this story is a classic example of the American system working to perfection, executed by officials who got everything right. A radical, al Qaeda-recruited terrorist and some accomplices were close to setting off deadly explosives in the two busiest subway stations in New York City. The consequences would have been devastating had they succeeded. Instead, federal officials learned of the plot, realized the attack was near, and prevented a catastrophe.

Once in custody, the administration followed the rule of law and it worked wonders -- Zazi cooperated with authorities, provided valuable intelligence, and rolled over on his accomplices. There was no torture, no military commissions, no Gitmo.

By any reasonable measure, from top to bottom, this was counter-terrorism working beautifully. The U.S. officials who made this happen are heroes.

So, why aren't Republicans whining incessantly? Because that would shine a light on the case, and that's the last thing conservatives want.

Conversely, why don't Democrats shine a light on the case, and maybe try to bring the story to the public's attention? Perhaps because, even now, Dems choose not to emphasize national security, even when it's a tremendous victory for a Democratic administration.

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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LIEBERMAN'S RHETORICAL PREFERENCES.... Members of the administration's National Security Council reportedly intend to move away from rhetoric such as "Islamic radicalism" when discussing national security strategy. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) talked to a far-right news outlet, Newsmax, about his concerns.

Kessler asked Lieberman about the Obama administration's decision to remove the term "Islamic extremists" from the official U.S. National Security Strategy and use "violent extremists" instead.

"I don't understand it. I think it's fundamentally dishonest," the senator said. "I don't think it gains us anything in the Muslim world. In fact, I think it probably loses us some support in the Muslim world."

Putting aside the question of why Lieberman is chatting with Newsmax in the first place, the senator's concerns aren't exactly persuasive.

Indeed, they're not exactly consistent, either. Two years ago this month, the Bush/Cheney administration launched a new effort to change the way U.S. officials communicated on this issue. In fact, Bush/Cheney issued guidelines, entitled "Words that Work and Words that Don't: A Guide for Counterterrorism Communication," urging officials to stop describing extremists as "jihadists" or "mujahedeen," and to drop "Islamo-fascism" altogether. "It's not what you say but what they hear," the memo said in bold italic lettering.

The memo was distributed widely by federal agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center, explaining to U.S. officials at every level that the rhetoric preferred by far-right activists actually undermines our foreign policy and national security interests.

Lieberman, at the time, wasn't complaining to conservative websites.

The Connecticut senator has even positioned himself to the right of former Bush aides. Karen Hughes recently conceded, "We ought to avoid the language of religion. Whenever they hear 'Islamic extremism, Islamic jihad, Islamic fundamentalism,' they perceive it as a sort of an attack on their faith. That's the world view Osama bin Laden wants them to have."

Lieberman thinks adopting smarter language "loses us some support in the Muslim world"? That's absurd.

He's much closer to being right when he concedes he doesn't "understand it."

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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PERHAPS THE MOST INEXPLICABLE CANDIDATE OF THEM ALL.... I'm occasionally amazed at who's willing to run for public office. Rob Portman is running for the Senate in Ohio, despite his work as the head of the Bush/Cheney budget office. Dan Coats is running for the Senate in Indiana, despite having been a corporate bank lobbyist in D.C. for the last several years. Tim Griffin is running for a House seat in Arkansas, despite his controversial work for Karl Rove and role in the U.S. Attorney scandal.

And while all of these candidacies strike me as inherently odd, arguably the most inexplicable of them all is Rick Scott's gubernatorial campaign in Florida.

The former hospital mogul behind early astroturfing efforts to oppose Democratic health care reform efforts at town halls is hoping to become Florida's next governor.

Millionaire businessman Rick Scott, the founder of Conservatives For Patients' Rights, launched his bid today for the Republican gubernatorial nomination promising to "to lead the state in a new, conservative direction and into a prosperous future."

Florida already has a very competitive GOP gubernatorial candidate -- state Attorney General Bill McCollum, who's actually leading in most polls -- but Scott believes he's not right-wing enough. And he has until August's primary to test the proposition.

But the oddity here is why Rick Scott would seek public office in the first place. He is, after all, perhaps best known as the former head of the Columbia/HCA health-care company that got caught up in a massive fraud scandal in the 1990s. Scott's firm later pleaded guilty to charges that it overbilled state and federal health plans, and agreed to pay $1.7 billion in fines, a record penalty for a health care company. The fines covered fraud perpetrated under Scott's watch, and he was forced out of his job as a result of the scandal.

More recently, Scott used his personal fortune to hire the Swiftboat liars' p.r. firm, and proceeded to launch a breathtakingly deceptive right-wing ad campaign in opposition to health care reform.

And now he wants to be Florida's chief executive.

What a strange development.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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NUCLEAR SECURITY SUMMIT CONCLUDES WITH COMMITMENTS.... By most measures, the gathering in D.C. this week was a success. The United States received some key commitments it had sought on nuclear materials, and President Obama took another significant step in securing his leadership role on the global stage.

President Barack Obama's nuclear summit of 47 world leaders met two goals as it ended Tuesday: reaching international consensus on the need to keep weapons-grade nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists, and re-establishing U.S. leadership on nonproliferation.

Several nations agreed to dispose of weapons-grade uranium, end plutonium production, tighten port security and other voluntary steps. All participants endorsed Obama's call to secure vulnerable nuclear materials in four years, and agreed to seek further cooperation even as they stopped short of any enforceable international agreement.

"We have seized this opportunity," Obama said in a news conference closing the summit. As a result, he said, "the American people will be safer, and the world will be more secure."

Gary Samore, the arms control and nonproliferation coordinator for the National Security Council, told reporters, "We used the summit shamelessly as a forcing event to ask countries to bring house gifts. Almost every country came with something new."

They did, indeed. Ukraine and Chile are giving up their highly enriched uranium; Mexico will accept help in converting a research reactor to lower enriched fuel; Russia is shutting down its last plutonium-production reactor; and China at least expressed some willingness to move forward on new sanctions against Iran.

In the larger sense, David Sanger explained that President Obama could claim two "major accomplishments" from the gathering: "The summit meeting forced countries that had failed to clean up their nuclear surpluses to formulate detailed plans to deal with them, and it kicked into action nations that had failed to move on previous commitments."

As for the president himself, I seriously doubt the American public was following the summit details closely, and it's possible the developments will have no effect on his domestic standing at all. But those who were watching saw a president who took strides in demonstrating new levels of leadership on the global stage.

Love him or hate him, it's hard to deny the notion that Obama is an engaging public figure with skills of political persuasion. This week, we saw the president put these skills to use, perhaps in earnest for the first time, with a large group of international leaders. The French ambassador to the United States noted of Obama, "He's in charge, he's chairing the meetings, and this is where his personality plays a big part. He does it very well. And he feels very comfortable doing it."

In his role as host, though, Obama gave his fellow heads of state a taste of what has been familiar to many Americans who followed the domestic political debate over the past year: the president as seminar leader.

For four hours Tuesday, Obama led a pair of planning sessions to iron out the final details of the communique that was the culmination of the summit.

He sat at the center of the gathering, calling on leaders to speak, embellish, oppose and offer alternatives to the plan taking shape. Only the heads of state and, at times, two senior aides were allowed in the room, an exclusivity some diplomats called rare.

"He's never better than when he's the teacher," said a European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Obama is trying a new approach to global leadership -- and it's working.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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'REFERENDUM' FALLS FAR SHORT IN SPECIAL ELECTION.... It seemed like a good strategy at the time. With Robert Wexler (D) giving up his U.S. House seat in South Florida, a special election would offer conservatives a chance to create a "referendum" on the Obama presidency. After all, the election, held yesterday, would be the first since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, and Republicans could ride the wave of voter anger to an upset.

Indeed, the Republican candidate, Ed Lynch, ran on a strictly anti-Obama platform, vowing to repeal the new health care law and railing against the recovery efforts that rescued the economy. Lynch sought to position himself as the "next Scott Brown."

So, how'd that referendum turn out? The backlash against Democrats and the president propelled Lynch to a 26-point defeat.

Democrat Ted Deutch won a special election Tuesday for a Florida congressional seat in the nation's first federal election since the passage of the Democrats' health care plan.

Deutch held a sizable lead over Republican Ed Lynch late Tuesday night in the Palm Beach-area 19th District, prompting Lynch to concede.

Deutch had 62 percent of the vote compared to Lynch's 36 percent with 97 percent of the precincts counted, CNN affiliate WFOR reported.

"We've heard for months that tonight ... is a referendum on health care, it's a referendum on the (Obama) administration, it's a referendum on what direction this country is going," Deutch said last night. "Let me tell you something, what we learned today is that in Broward County and Palm Beach County, Florida, the Democratic Party is alive and well."

Putting the race in the larger context, there have been six special elections for U.S. House seats since the president's inauguration 14 months ago: NY20, IL5, CA32, CA10, NY23, and FL19. Democrats have won all six.

Rep.-elect Deutch will be sworn in fairly soon, and the House Democratic caucus will return to 254 members.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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April 13, 2010

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Nuclear Security Summit: "The final communique of President Obama's nuclear summit would commit the 47 nations in attendance to secure all nuclear material in four years, according to a draft of the document obtained by The Washington Post."

* Michelle Obama and Jill Biden make a surprise stop in Haiti.

* In a surprise move, Service Employees International Union President Andrew Stern is stepping down from his post, with significant repercussions for the labor movement.

* Gen. Ray Odierno is leaving his post in Iraq, and will be succeeded by Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin.

* Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sketched out his vision for what the Senate will work on over the next seven weeks. Immigration reform will have to wait until after Memorial Day.

* Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) wants hearings to investigate the Upper Creek mining disaster.

* In the meantime, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship may have a problem with his shareholders.

* And on a related note, Limbaugh thinks the union members at the mine should have done more -- not realizing this was a non-union mine.

* Another step backwards for reproductive rights in Nebraska.

* Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned Republicans today to expect up-or-down votes on all of President Obama's judicial nominees

* After evaluating Sarah Palin's remarks on nuclear arms, Fred Kaplan concludes she's a "total idiot."

* When institutions of higher ed get more selective and less generous at the same time.

* Conservatives won't like it, but the American mainstream wants the White House to care what international leaders think.

* A nutty birther in the Army refused to deploy to Afghanistan because he thinks the president wasn't born in Hawaii, and was will be promptly court-martialed.

* Ta-Nehisi Coates with the post of the day: "The Ghost of Bobby Lee."

* Given the "You lie!" fiasco, it's always just a little more interesting when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) blatantly, shamelessly lies.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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'IS IT SCARY? IT SURE IS'.... Conservatives in at least one state inch just a little closer to pure, mid-19th-century madness.

Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.

Tea party movement leaders say they've discussed the idea with several supportive lawmakers and hope to get legislation next year to recognize a new volunteer force. They say the unit would not resemble militia groups that have been raided for allegedly plotting attacks on law enforcement officers.

"Is it scary? It sure is," said tea party leader Al Gerhart of Oklahoma City, who heads an umbrella group of tea party factions called the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance. "But when do the states stop rolling over for the federal government?"

A constitutional law professor at the University of Oklahoma noted in response, "Have they heard of the Oklahoma City bombing?"

The discussions about this armed force that would apparently resist U.S. officials were described by the AP as "exploratory." That's the good news, I guess. The bad news is these discussions between right-wing extremists, including some in the state legislature, have actually happened.

Their vision, apparently, would be a privately-recruited militia, with the blessing of the state legislature, that would be armed and trained. Armed and trained by whom? The details are a little fuzzy.

Nevertheless, one of the Republicans' gubernatorial candidates insisted that the 2nd Amendment authorizes states to create armed militias that would be available to confront the American government.

The mind reels.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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MCCONNELL FINDS HIS TALKING POINT.... Senate Republicans want to kill legislation intended to reform the way Wall Street operates, but aren't quite sure how to make this politically palatable. Americans still aren't fond of the financial industry -- its recklessness brought the global economy to its knees, and a lot of us hold a grudge -- and want to see reform. The GOP wants to deny Democrats a victory and help Wall Street, no matter the costs. What to do?

The first step for Senate Republicans was to have a private meeting with elite hedge fund managers and other Wall Street executives. The second step was to make it seem like the Democratic proposal to clean up the industry is somehow pro-bailout.

Republicans spent much of the recess gaming out their strategic posture on the Democrats' push to pass a major Wall Street reform bill, and it looks like they've finally settled on one: The GOP will oppose the proposed new regulations on the grounds that they will make future bailouts of big financial institutions more likely. And in adopting that line, they've taken a page straight out of the playbook of one of the conservative movement's top message men.

"We cannot allow endless taxpayer funded bailouts for big Wall Street banks," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the floor this morning. "That's why we must not pass the financial reform bill that's about to hit the floor. The fact is this bill wouldn't solve the problems that led to the financial crisis. It would make them worse."

McConnell said the bill in question, authored by Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd, would "not only allow for taxpayer funded bailouts for Wall Street banks. It institutionalizes them."

Remember, it doesn't have to make sense. It doesn't have to be true. It doesn't even have to be persuasive. It just has to be repeated, endorsed by conservative media, embraced by right-wing activists whose ignorance is easily exploited, and folded into the "debate" for the American mainstream.

Ezra Klein had a good piece evaluating the substance of McConnell's claim.

The Dodd bill makes bailouts less likely by empowering regulators and increasing transparency, raises a $50 billion fund from banks to pay for future too-big-to-fail bankruptcies, and then makes the outcome a predictable punishment rather than a chaotic rescue. That last is known as "resolution authority" -- as bloodless a word as one could possibly imagine -- and it wipes out both shareholders and management. It's all there in Section 206 of the bill: "Mandatory Terms and Conditions for All Orderly Liquidation Actions." What we call "resolution" would better be described as "execution."

But there's a good argument to be made that this bill doesn't go far enough. On some level, so long as we have systemically important firms, there will be the risk of bailouts. Management and shareholders might not win out, but many creditors will do better than they should, and so too will some firms.

So, if McConnell's ultimate goal is to create an environment that would make the taxpayer-financed rescues a thing of the past forever -- and remember, McConnell voted for the industry bailout in October 2008 -- he'd have to endorse some pretty extreme steps.

And that, of course, is the punch-line: McConnell opposes these extreme steps to prevent future bailouts and opposes any legislation that might lead to future bailouts.

It is, in other words, another classic example of why Mitch McConnell and a few too many of his GOP colleagues simply aren't serious about public policy. Their positions are crafted to win p.r. fights, not shape effective laws.

In this case, McConnell's new talking points have been shaped, almost word for word, by a strategy memo published by Republican pollster Frank Luntz.

It's easier than thinking.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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