Guns, immigration, the deficit…Obama’s once-promising second-term agenda is in big trouble. Howard Kurtz on why the capital is paralyzed yet again.
I was listening to a couple of congressmen chat privately about the prospects for immigration reform, and they agreed that the time had come to roll out a bipartisan plan in the next week or two.
President Barack Obama addresses the crowd during a forum at the Denver Police Academy in Denver, Colorado, on April 3. (Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post via Getty)
What was striking was how optimistic they were that the Senate was on the verge of cutting a deal, which in turn would boost their efforts to pass a bill in John Boehner’s House.
Sure enough, on Monday morning, The Washington Post quoted sources as saying that the Senate’s so-called Gang of 8 was still laboring over language that “could delay the introduction of a bill.” This undermined the assurance of Chuck Schumer, one of the gang members, that “we are on track” and “hopefully” could finish a bill by the end of this week.
A small, thriving minority now dominates the national conversation, even as more and more Americans struggle to get by, writes Stuart Stevens.
For a moment, let's forget about who is president and just look across the country.
Thousands of job seekers wait in line at Kennedy-King College to attend a job fair hosted by the city of Chicago on November 9, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty)
Today, 21 and a half million Americans are unemployed or underemployed—about twice as many as six years ago, according to NPR. Work-force participation, a fancy term for the number of Americans either working or looking for work, has dropped to “the lowest level since the malaise of the late 1970’s,” an era when far fewer women were working, according to MSNBC.
Yes, the unemployment rate dropped last month—but only because so many people simply gave up looking for work. The dirty little secret is that after only four weeks of not looking for a job, an unemployed worker stops being counted. So far as the jobless numbers are concerned, that person ceases to exist. But, of course, they do exist and continue to be counted in other, troubling statistics:
Liberals are furious at the president over his Social Security proposal. Michael Tomasky says they have nothing to worry about—because Republicans won’t deal.
With this week’s budget and its official embrace of tying Social Security benefits to the “chained” consumer price index, Barack Obama officially becomes the first Democratic president in history to propose any cuts to the program so venerated and beloved by liberals everywhere. Put that way, it sounds completely indefensible. The reality, of course—well, not “of course” to a lot of people, but “of course” to me—is that the Republicans will never accept tax increases, so it’s all fictional anyway. So assume with me no deal and ponder the politics of this, heading into 2014 and even into 2016. If things go the way I think they will, Obama and the Democrats will come out of this looking good, although almost entirely by accident.
President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 is scheduled to be released on April 10. (Alex Wong/Getty)
As you should know by now, indexing Social Security benefits to the chained CPI will reduce benefits especially as recipients get into their 80s. Obama wants cushions built into the new indexing that will soften the blow for these people and says it’s a precondition for his own support for the change. The other precondition is Republicans agreeing to revenues. If those don’t happen, he says, he takes chained CPI off the table and becomes the first Democratic president ever to offer a cut to Social Security and then withdraw it.
And this is what is almost certainly going to happen. Republicans, from John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to Paul Ryan to Ted Cruz to every Dixie back-bencher, have said it a thousand times if they’ve said it once: Obama got his revenue in the fiscal-cliff deal. No more.
Will Tommy Carcetti hurt Martin O’Malley in 2016? Ben Jacobs reports.
There are countless fictional characters based on real politicians. Huey Long inspired a character in All The King’s Men and Primary Colors features a deft parody of Bill Clinton. But in both these cases, the fiction came second: Clinton and Long were major public figures before they became prominent fictional characters. What happens when the fictional character becomes well known before the politician that the character is based on?
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks to advocates of stricter gun control laws as they rally at the Maryland State House on March 1, 2013 in Annapolis, Maryland. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Martin O’Malley is a former Baltimore councilman, a former mayor of Baltimore, the current governor of Maryland, and just possibly a future president of the United States. He’s a liberal governor with a record of accomplishment that seems almost perfectly calibrated for a Democratic presidential primary.
Tommy Carcetti is a fictional Baltimore councilman who first appears in Season 3 of HBO's iconic crime series The Wire. Like O’Malley, he eventually becomes mayor of Baltimore, then governor. He is not a bad guy, exactly; in fact, he’s viewed far more sympathetically than the incumbent mayor he defeats. But Carcetti is changed, and not for the better, when he finally achieves power. Perhaps the biggest transformation is that Carcetti, who runs for office promising to significantly reduce crime in Baltimore, abandons that goal when he reaches City Hall. He realizes that making the city significantly safer would be a long and difficult process—too long and difficult for someone with ambitions to run for governor in two years. Instead, Carcetti adopts a process that he condemned when he ran for office: “juking the stats,” that is, manipulating the number of reported crimes to create the appearance of a reduction in violence.
Pundits said President Obama was crying wolf on sequestration. Turns out the wolf is real, says former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau in his debut Daily Beast column.
From the outset, Washington never treated the sequester with the seriousness it deserves. And really, who would have expected otherwise? The word is a verb being used as a noun to describe $85 billion in defense and domestic discretionary cuts to the federal budget. I almost fell asleep just writing that sentence.
Federal employees take part in a rally in front of the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., protesting budget cuts related to sequestration, on March 20. (Win McNamee/Getty)
Much of the political press lost interest in covering the substance of policy debates late last century, so it wasn’t too surprising that by February, some reporters were bitterly tweeting about how particularly boring they found this sequester business. The Pack quickly turned its attention elsewhere, collectively freaking out over something Bob Woodward said about something Gene Sperling said about something Bob Woodward wrote in a book that was published more than a year ago, which gave Bob Woodward the generous helping of media attention he craved all along. Good for him!
Meanwhile, Republican leaders in Congress publicly and repeatedly rejected any budget deal that included even a dime more in taxes from anyone, ever, for as long as we all shall live, an obviously flexible position that many pundits believed could be easily changed with just one more invite to a White House mixer. But alas, the invite never came, for if there’s one thing a president who earned more votes than any Democrat in history can’t stomach, it’s people.
As the benefits system for veterans has bogged down on Obama’s watch, in spite of his promises to fix it, advocates who had been allies are running out of patience with the president, reports Jamie Reno.
America’s 23 million veterans are facing an unprecedented crisis as the backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has grown to nearly 1 million—more than double what it was when President Obama took office.
People stand in line to speak with representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs about U.S. military veterans benefits in Washington, D.C., on January 18, 2012. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)
The situation has reached a tipping point. Newspaper editorial boards and magazines call it a “national disgrace” and insist VA Secretary Eric Shinseki should resign. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is calling for the resignation of Allison Hickey, the VA’s head of benefits.
Given the breadth of the crisis, this widespread outrage isn’t surprising. But perhaps what is surprising is that for the first time, several prominent veteran advocates who’ve been staunch supporters of Obama are now joining the chorus of critics who say the president has badly mishandled the VA.
The Daily Beast’s weekly rundown of the wildest ideas being proposed, or passed, by state lawmakers.
North Carolina: The Promised Land?
GOP state Reps. Carl Ford and Harry Warren jointly proposed a bill Monday that would allow the state to declare an official religion—effectively nullifying the first amendment. The proposal, backed by 12 other Republicans, was put forth as a responsive to an ACLU lawsuit aimed at blocking commissioners in one North Carolina county from opening meetings with a prayer. Thursday, House Speaker Thom Tillis, who’s reportedly considering a U.S. Senate run, effectively killed the proposal by announcing it would nota receive a vote in the full House.
Indiana: Locked and loaded
The state House Education Committee Tuesday approved legislation mandating that one employee in every public school carry a loaded gun during school hours. The bill, which would be the nation’s first of its kind, passed out of committee just hours before the NRA released ++a report++ calling for more armed officers in schools.
When the grandchildren of Ellis Islanders became alumni, they stopped pushing for meritocracy and started favoring carve-outs, writes Lloyd Green.
That the Supreme Court keeps grappling with affirmative action while Washington lawmakers keep their distance makes it clear that elected lawmakers are content to let the Justices take the fore.
Caitria O’Neill, Cofounder and Chief Executive, Recovers, Morgan O’Neill, Cofounder and Chief Science Officer, Recovers and Claire Danes, Actress on 'Mothers Of Invention: The O'Neill Sisters' at the Women in the World Conference 2013. (Pete Marovich/ZUMAPRESS.com, via Corbis)
The Court is grappling this term with the constitutionality of preferential admissions at the University of Texas, and recently announced that it will review next fall the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) that amends the Michigan Constitution to prohibit preferential treatment based upon “race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin” in admissions, employment or public contracts.
Regardless of when and how the Supreme Court rules on the pending challenges to affirmative action, here are three takeaways:
What would Jesus do on immigration and guns? Joshua DuBois interviews Jim Wallis, a leading liberal theologian, about some of the most contentious political issues of our time.
1. You’ve been at the forefront of the immigration debate, bringing the faith community to the table. Why were people of faith, particularly conservatives, hesitant on immigration reform before, and why are they engaged now?
Three reasons: First, evangelicals have had a genuine biblical conversion to how God wants us to respond to “the stranger” and especially when Jesus says how we treat them is how we treat him. Second, evangelicals have had a relational conversion as immigrant families, including the undocumented, have become part of their communities and churches. When you worship with people you get to know them. Third, all our churches are experiencing most of their growth from immigrants—from the Catholics to the Southern Baptists—and “the strangers” are integral to the future of the church in America. My new book explains how we are helping the political leaders to do the right thing by providing both moral courage and political cover for them; and how this differs so much from the bitter budget debates for example. We explore how politics loses and finds the common good.
2. You just wrote a new book, On God’s Side. What’s it about? What are the key differences between this work and your previous ones, including God’s Politics?
“Our life together can be better” is the opening line of the book and expresses the hunger that many people feel today. I wrote the book on a three month sabbatical during the election year, with a discipline not to engage the news cycle but only to watch it at night after long days of reading, reflection, and writing. I saw how polarized, vitriolic, and depressing our political debate has become and realized that we had lost something very important—an ancient idea called “the common good.” The spiritual foundation for the common good is “to love your neighbor as yourself” and is found in all our faith traditions. But the common good is also in our secular democratic traditions and could be something we could gather around—common ground for the common good; as is now happening on immigration reform for example. I apply the ethic of the common good to the economy, the role of government, the renewal of democracy, the reality of globalization, and even how to do conflict resolution with our enemies. But the common good isn’t just about politics but our personal decisions that we make every day in our workplaces, congregations, communities, and our households where we live our lives as parents and kids, and those closest to us. How do we treat our immediate neighbors, our poor neighbors, our undocumented neighbors, our Muslim neighbors, our gay neighbors? And I explain why the kind of Jesus Christians believe in will determine the kind of Christians they are going to be. This book is more biblical and theological than God’s Politics but then applies the practice of the common good to the biggest questions we face today and, especially, shows where we can find hope.
The NRA may have won a temporary victory, but it can’t keep winning forever. Eventually, predicts Michael Tomasky, gun control advocates are going to prevail.
As I said on Current TV a couple of nights ago, I have never seen a situation in which a Congress, terrified of a particular lobby, has behaved in such open contempt of American public opinion as it’s doing now on guns. Ninety percent of Americans approve of background checks, and upwards of 80 percent in many red states. But one man opposes them, and there we are. Wayne LaPierre may have won the week, and he may slither away without Congress doing anything this time around. But the laws of physics are such that he can’t do this forever. He’s like Louis XVI in about 1788. He may be on top now, and his hard-line posture against any and all change may serve him well for the time being; but the revolution is coming, and once it arrives, we’ll beat the NRA, and he’ll be a figure not of power but of ridicule, left to ponder the what-ifs.
Left: Wayne LaPierre, holds a custom 300 Remington ultra mag during a gun auction after speaking during the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo Banquet in Salt Lake City, Feb. 23, 2013. Right: Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson presents the school safety recommendations of the NRA backed National School Shield Program at a press conference on April 2, 2013. (Rick Bowmer/AP; Win McNamee/Getty)
I don’t know what’s going to happen with the current bill. It looks like Republican Senator Tom Coburn is no longer negotiating with Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin. If that’s the case, any reform is on hold for now.
But it doesn’t mean this fight is over. This episode, even if it ends today, has already cost the NRA a lot. For starters, America now knows that a majority of the group’s rank and file disagrees with the leadership and are not the crazy hard-liners that the group’s leaders are. This is very useful knowledge indeed. It would have been like knowing, had it been true, that most white Birminghamians secretly opposed Bull Connor. Wouldn’t pay immediate dividends, but over time, and over the corpses of more dead children, that silent majority would no longer stay so silent. Would it be so shocking to see a moderate alternative to the NRA—one dedicated to protecting the rights of sportsmen and collectors but also to keeping military weapons out of regular citizens’ hands—emerge someday soon?
With Tea Party Republicans pining for an imagined American past, a do-nothing Congress may be the best we can hope for, writes Joe McLean.
The late James H. Boren, a mostly forgotten humorist, bureaucrat, and erstwhile philosopher (as well as the brother of former Oklahoma Senator David Boren) is credited with discovering the powerful doctrine of “dynamic inaction.” In 1976, with newly elected President Jimmy Carter coming to Washington wearing a cardigan and carrying his own luggage, Boren told Time, “Any president who sets foot in this town without a full briefing on dynamic inaction, decision-postponement patterns, and creative status quo cannot go very far.”
Shifting mores on gay rights, legal marijuana, immigration, wars of convenience, abortion, contraception and many others, seriously discomfit many “family-values” traditionalists. (Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty; Camerique/ClassicStock/Corbis)
Boren was already semi-famous inside the Beltway for his profound little volume, When in Doubt, Mumble, A Bureaucrat’s Handbook. He defines Dynamic Inaction with one pithy aphorism: “When in doubt, mumble; when in trouble, delegate; when in charge, ponder.”
Nowadays we call it gridlock. And despite all the jeremiads coming from the talking heads and pundits in the commentariat lamenting political dysfunction and the imminent collapse of civilization, Dynamic Inaction might just be our salvation.
The first week of April did not go well for the president. From creepily calling California’s attorney general the ‘best-looking’ in the country, to Michelle Obama (accidentally?) outing herself as a ‘single mother,’ see why the leader of the free world should probably just sleep in until Monday.
T.S. Eliot warned that “April is the cruelest month.” And with the week he’s had, President Obama might just want to curl up with “The Wasteland” and wait for Monday. On Wednesday, North Korea authorized itself to carry out nuclear strikes on the United States in an alarmingly colorful statement (“merciless,” “revolutionary,” “smashed!”). On Friday, news that the president’s upcoming budget proposal includes changes to Medicare and Social Security drew fire from liberal groups who called it “unconscionable” and “profoundly disturbing”— before the budget was even announced. Even Obama’s cool, science-fiction-sounding BRAIN initiative, intended for better understanding and mapping of the human brain, got ripped by the people who might supposedly benefit from it: brain researchers. Not to mention the protesters who have harangued him at every fundraising pit stop in San Francisco this week.
Clockwise from left, Kamala Harris, 2012; Barack Obama, April 5, 2013; Obama playing basketball with children during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, April 1, 2013. (AP, Getty (2))
In fact, apart from meeting Kid President, pretty much nothing went Obama’s way this week. Here are five more reasons the president might just stay home this weekend.
Playing basketball with a bunch of kids got real embarrassing, real fast:
The disgraced former governor of South Carolina is back on top, with his former mistress by his side. Here, a new road map to redemption for politicians caught in the act.
How do you survive a sex scandal?
Public-relations reps and crisis-communications counselors have made careers of dispensing advice on such matters. And so the usual counsel follows a fairly trite and untested path: Be honest from the start. Apologize. Make sure your wife stands behind you.
Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, with his fiancée, María Belén Chapur, at his side, addresses supporters in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, April 2, 2013, after winning the GOP nomination for the U.S. House seat he once held. (Bruce Smith/AP)
Hogwash, for the most part. Everyone apologizes, nearly everyone’s wife is supportive, and no one is honest from the start. But still some politicians survive sordid situations, and some do not.
While France now covers abortion costs with social security, several states in the U.S. are moving to block the procedure.
As of this week, any woman who chooses to have an abortion will be reimbursed for 100 percent of the cost by state-sponsored social security, and contraception will be provided to any and all 15- to 18-year-olds free of charge. In France.
Meanwhile, in the United States, several American states have moved in to block access to the procedure. In just three months since the United States marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision guaranteeing safe and legal abortions, states such as North Dakota, Alabama, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, and now Kansas have created legislation designed to gut Roe v. Wade.
Tuesday, the day after France passed its free-abortions measure, three of those states ramped up their restrictions. First, a bill defining fertilization as the beginning of life and discarding the preservation of a woman’s mental health as legitimate grounds for mid- to late-term abortions moved through the Kansas Senate. The bill, which also prohibits anyone associated with abortion providers—paid or volunteer—from providing public-school students with information on human sexuality and requires that abortion providers supply their patients with a guide to anti-abortion alternatives, is basically as good as passed. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has made it clear that he is ready to sign any anti-abortion legislation sent his way.
Just before midnight on Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill requiring that abortion clinics ask patients younger than 16 to provide the name and age of the fetal father and mandating that all doctors who perform abortions possess the same license necessary to admit patients to a hospital. The bill’s next stop will be the desk of Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who already has expressed support for the legislation, which critics charge is aimed at closing the state’s abortion clinics under the guise of protecting women’s health. Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic is currently under threat of closure as the result of a strikingly similar bill enacted in that state last year.
Are Republicans really going to try to damage Hillary Clinton by digging up old non-scandals no one even remembers? They’ll do damage, all right, says Michael Tomasky, but not to Clinton.
Do any conservatives really believe that if Hillary Clinton does run for president, Americans will care a bit about the old stories from the 1990s? Two commentators I respect seem to think so. My colleague David Frum, in a column about Clinton’s 2016 chances that elsewhere makes several thoughtful points, seems to believe that the old Clinton White House issues could rise again. MSNBC analyst Jimmy Williams, across from whom I sat on the sound stage Monday, invoked Filegate and something else. Conservatives have spent two decades trying to destroy Clinton. They’ve only helped make her the most popular woman in America. And if they keep at it, they’re going to help make her president.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stands for the presentation of colors during a ceremony for the Department of Defense's highest award for public service at the Pentagon February 14, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia. (Win McNamee/Getty)
If you are old enough to think back, please do so now with me. Part the mists of time. I feel like that first ghost taking Scrooge back to when he was the vital young man who’d been completely buried. Remember the Rose Law Firm? Remember the alleged billing scandals? And then the supposed commodities trading scandal? That was a great one.
Just mentioning these nothings feels like opening a door to a section of the house that you haven’t been using for the last 20 years, since someone died, like Olivier in Rebecca. There are torn and frayed little pieces of furniture, draped in drop cloth, spider webs emanating from their corners. Whitewater was far and away the biggest of these utterly phony stories, consuming years and many millions of investigative taxpayer dollars and besotting initially even The New York Times (I bet the Times won’t get fooled again). And I would bet that if you asked Americans about it today, no more than 20 percent would have the foggiest idea what it was. No, check that. It would be 33 percent. The same, reliable 33 percent who say Barack Obama was created in a laboratory in socialist Zimbabwe.
Eric Nordstrom, who worked at the Benghazi consulate on the day it was attacked, choked up during Wednesday's hearings. 'It matters,' he said, that the committee investigate what happened before, during, and after the siege.
Corry Booker’s the hero mayor of Newark, and, yes, he’s running for Senate. By Lloyd Grove
The president’s push for $9 an hour has the GOP on the defensive. Eleanor Clift on the strategy behind the move. But this push could take the politics out of the perennial argument.
Meet the new Treasury secretary, same as the old Treasury secretary. Lloyd Green on nominee Jack Lew.
For John Kael Weston and other men on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan drone strikes raise many uncomfortable questions. He writes on why we need clearer policy and guidelines for these silent killers.