Category Archives: Editorial

Mann and Ornstein: How the Republicans Broke Congress

Political scientists Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, the high priests of “centrism” in Washington, D.C., warned back in 2012, Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

This op-ed was a preview of the books that followed, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism” (2012) and updated in 2016, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks Was: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.

Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein are back with a new op-ed at the New York Times, How the Republicans Broke Congress:

In the past three days, Republican leaders in the Senate scrambled to corral votes for a tax bill that the Joint Committee on Taxation said would add $1 trillion to the deficit — without holding any meaningful committee hearings. Worse, Republican leaders have been blunt about their motivation: to deliver on their promises to wealthy donors, and down the road, to use the leverage of huge deficits to cut and privatize Medicare and Social Security.

Congress no longer works the way it’s supposed to. But we’ve said that before.

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The final countdown on the Senate GOP tax bill has begun: call your senators now

The Senate voted 52-48 along party lines Wednesday to begin debate on the Senate GOP tax bill. Several Republicans who have not committed to voting for the final bill, including Sens. Collins, McCain, Corker and Flake, voted in favor of moving forward to debate. But final passage could be another story.

Currently there is no firm agreement on the trigger provision Sen. Corker wants, no pay-for to partially keep the state and local tax deductions Sen. Collins wants, and no language on the pass-through changes for small businesses sought by Sens. Johnson and Daines. Senate Republicans are about to overhaul the tax code, and they don’t know what’s in their bill yet;

Senate Republicans are in such a rush to pass a tax overhaul in the next few days that they voted to start debate on a bill that could still undergo a bevy of last-minute changes they haven’t seen in writing — changes that could dramatically affect the US economy over the next decade.

But most Republicans aren’t letting some last-minute deal cutting that could mean billions of dollars in tax increases, tax cuts, or federal spending cuts get in the way of moving the bill along.

Even Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who’s one of the senators most skeptical of the bill and is pushing for the major addition of automatic tax hikes if the federal deficit grows too quickly, voted to start debate on the bill. He had told reporters earlier that he couldn’t describe the changes “until we get it in writing.” Corker later told reporters they could “throw away” anything they’d heard about the deal because it is “still evolving.”

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Sen. Jeff Flake: ‘It’s time we all say: Enough’

After announcing that he will not run for reelection on Tuesday in a dramatic Senate floor speech, Senator Jeff Flake follows up with an op-ed in the Washington Post simply titled Enough:

As I contemplate the Trump presidency, I cannot help but think of Joseph Welch.

On June 9, 1954, during the Army-McCarthy hearings, Welch, who was the chief counsel for the Army, famously asked the committee chairman if he might speak on a point of personal privilege. What he said that day was so profound that it has become enshrined as a pivotal moment in defense of American values against those who would lay waste to them. Welch was the son of a small prairie town in northwest Iowa, and the plaintive quality of his flat Midwestern accent is burned into American history. After asking Sen. Joseph McCarthy for his attention and telling him to listen with both ears, Welch spoke:

“Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness.”

And then, in words that today echo from his time to ours, Welch delivered the coup de grace: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

The moral power of Welch’s words ended McCarthy’s rampage on American values, and effectively his career as well.

After Welch said his piece, the hearing room erupted in applause, those in attendance seemingly shocked by such bracing moral clarity in the face of a moral vandal. Someone had finally spoken up and said: Enough.

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Pandora’s Drone

By Michael Bryan

Note: This is a think piece that has been languishing in my drafts for some time. I am publishing now in order to see what, if any, feedback readers may have, not in response to any current events, although it does briefly touch upon the terrorist attack in Charlottesville in my last revision.

In a complete reversal of American norms before 2001, Americans have come to expect that our foreign, sub-state political foes will be dealt with by assassination. That might seem a shocking assertion, but the policy of targeted killings of those identified as enemies of the United States by drone can only be euphemized, not denied. Bush and Obama placed such assassinations at the heart of our military strategy against those groups and individuals seen as a terrorist threat to America, and regardless of who the President might be, that tool will not be disposed of unless its use is wholly rejected by Americans. Given that no great outcry or mass movement has yet denounced the continued use of drone assassination in our foreign policy, it seems very likely to continue. In fact, Donald Trump has re-authorized the CIA to carry out its own drone strikes, lowering accountability and reporting requirements in place under Obama, when only the military was empowered to carry out lethal drone operations.

Our desire for the perception of safety and demand of bold action by our leadership against possible terrorist threats has swamped any scruple we may once have held against merely murdering our geo-strategic enemies. We have always killed in war, but killing specific people, and all persons believed to be members of designated organizations, anywhere they may found, even in countries we are not hostile to, is a new thing entirely. But no modern politician will run the risk of being accused of not having done everything possible when the next mass casualty attack on American soil comes, as it inevitably will, therefore a tactic that began as an expedient use of a new technology in a crisis seems to have become the centerpiece our de facto anti-terrorism strategy.

Americans seem to have decided that extra-judicial state murder, even of some American citizens, is justified in our fight against terrorism. Despite the fig-leaf of “due process” of review within the executive branch that was constructed around the practice by the Obama administration, targeted drone strikes and so-called signature strikes on suspected terrorist activity are extra-judicial executions, pure and simple. We may hide behind the fiction that we are “at war” with some ill-defined terrorist organizations and thus those killed are “enemy combatants,” and any innocents killed as a result are unfortunate “collateral damage”, but this only semantics. Since we are not going invade Pakistan, or Somalia, or Yemen, or Syria, or (re-re-re-invade?) Iraq, or any of the other failing or weak states where terrorist cells might find sanctuary, in order to end the threat of these sub-state organizations pose to our security, we are going to continue to fight these “wars” with proxies, intelligence assets, and drone strikes. We will continue to make targeted killings, i.e. murder, a key component of our foreign policy.

My point is not to suggest an alternative, or even to suggest that the policy is necessarily wrong or immoral. There may be no more effective, more politically acceptable, or more morally inoffensive alternative. My point is to question what effect this will have on the evolution American political culture, and on the normative behavior of governments visa-vis their own citizens – including our own toward us.

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House Intelligence Committee chairman has undermined the credibility of the committee

On Thursday, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes Apologized to Intel. Committee Members—But Won’t Explain His Stunt:

On Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chair of the House intelligence committee, blew up the congressional intelligence oversight process. On Thursday morning, at a private committee meeting, he apologized to his colleagues. But, according to a committee source, Nunes would not say what he thought he had done wrong or explain his actions.

Without consulting with the members of his committee—Republicans and Democrats—Nunes on Wednesday held two press conferences, during which he claimed he had been given information indicating that members of Donald Trump’s presidential transition team, including possibly Trump, were picked up during lawfully authorized intelligence surveillance of other targets and that their identities were disclosed in intelligence reporting based on these intercepts. Nunes also rushed to the White House to share this information with Trump.

Note: House Intelligence chair partially backs off claim about surveillance of Trump transition team: “The head of the House Intelligence Committee partially backed away from his dramatic claim [on Wednesday] that officials in President Trump’s transition team had been subjects of surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies, with an aide saying that Chairman Devin Nunes did not know “for sure.” “Until Nunes sees the actual documents, he does not know whether any of the transition officials were actually part of the surveilled conversations or were just talked about by others, spokesman Jack Langer said Thursday.” “He’ll have to get all the documents he requested from the [intelligence community] about this before he knows for sure,” Langer said.

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February jobs report: economic ‘mess’ inherited from Obama continues to produce good jobs report

Think Progress reports that The economic ‘mess’ Trump says he inherited continues to add jobs:

The economy added 235,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate fell slightly to 4.7 percent, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s the first job report to measure the economy under President Trump.

While Trump has said he “inherited a mess,” February’s job report marks the 76th straight month of job creation, the longest streak since 1939, with 2.2 million jobs added over the course of last year.

(Last month was also the 17th consecutive month the rate has been at 5% or lower).

Trump retweeted a Drudge Report headline touting the number of jobs added in February that said, “GREAT AGAIN.” But the economy added 238,000 jobs in the last report of Obama’s presidency.

As Steve Benen points out in his monthly jobs report, New jobs data shows 2017 is off to a strong start:

If recent political developments are any guide, Trump and his supporters will tout the encouraging jobs data as evidence of his economic prowess. And while everyone should always be glad to see good news, it’s worth noting that these boasts continue to be misplaced. Trump didn’t actually implement any meaningful economic policies in February, and the president’s repeated claims about his accomplishments fall apart under scrutiny. Trump keeps claiming he’s created U.S. jobs since Election Day. Not so.

FebruaryJobs

Indeed, the question for the White House and congressional Republicans remains difficult to answer: how can the job market remain so healthy with all of those nasty Obama-era policies – the Affordable Care Act, environmental protections, Wall Street safeguards, et al – in place? Why are the February 2017 numbers nearly identical to the February 2016 and February 2015 numbers?

As Steve Benen says, “It’s increasingly difficult to believe Donald Trump inherited an economic ‘mess.'”

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