A sudden flurry in casual meetings with Republican leaders was unthinkable at this White House. But this week’s sit-downs could open a whole new chapter for this president.
If you wonder why President Obama has changed course and is suddenly reaching out to Republicans in Congress, you need look no further than the recent wave of public-opinion surveys, which show his approval rating dropping precipitously, his reelection bump gone. Even though polls show the public is more likely to blame Congress for the obstruction that led to the sequester and the hardship it causes, that doesn’t mean Obama gets a free pass.
President Obama talks with Congressional leaders before the Rosa Parks statue unveiling ceremony February 27 at the Capitol. Pictured are (from left) Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). (Pete Souza/The White House)
Spokesman Jay Carney was at pains Thursday defending the decision to suspend White House tours in the face of a plea on Facebook from a group of disappointed sixth graders scheduled to visit Washington next week. Reporters demanded to know if the Easter Egg Roll would be next on the chopping block, a line of questioning that suggests the focus of public outrage may not play out like the president expected.
With his public strategy falling flat, Obama hit the reset button. The White House made the calculation that the president has nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain from engaging with not only Republicans, but Democrats, too, who for the most part he has held at arm’s length. “At long last, he’s actually getting serious about working the Hill,” says Jack Pitney, a former congressional staffer who is now a professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. “It takes a lot of effort, but as other presidents have learned, you can get a lot done if you work with lawmakers.”
Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for its hate speech, but two granddaughters of founder Fred Phelps have fled the church and their family. Now they’re speaking of revelations about tolerance.
On Thursday afternoon Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. They’d been inside only a few minutes when they saw a photo of their family.
(From left) David Abitbol of Jewlicious with sisters Grace and Megan Phelps-Roper. (Rachel Bookstein)
There, as part of the permanent exhibit, was an image of their grandmother and sister at the murder trial of Matthew Shepard’s killers, holding the signs for which the Westboro Baptist Church has become infamous: “God Hates Fags,” “AIDS Cures Gays,” and “Matt in Hell.”
This was once their way of life. Now 27, Megan had been taken to protests since age 5; her younger sister Grace had been attending since birth—all as part of the Kansas ministry founded by their grandfather.
With his 13-hour filibuster speech against the possibility of drones strikes against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, the Kentucky senator got us all thinking—and talking about—civil liberties. He deserves some credit, says John Avlon.
Give Rand Paul credit—he decided to kick it old school on the Senate floor and filibuster in person rather than simply filing a procedural motion.
This video frame grab provided by Senate Television shows Sen. Rand Paul speaking on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday. (Senate Television/AP)
The result was the kind of spectacle we only see in Frank Capra films and Strom Thurmond lowlight reels: a U.S. senator on a one-man speaking marathon designed to bring national attention to an issue he believes is of critical importance to the country and the Constitution. In this case, it’s the Obama administration’s reluctance to say it would not rule out drone strikes against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. That’s why Paul decided to filibuster the president’s nominee to be CIA director, explaining: “I don’t rise to oppose John Brennan’s nomination simply for the person. I rise today for the principle.”
Things got off to a surreal start around 11:50 Wednesday morning when, a few minutes into his filibuster, Paul asked: “Has America the Beautiful become Alice’s Wonderland?” and then imagined the queen screaming “Release the drones!” This is a scenario Lewis Carroll never contemplated.
Rand Paul is doing it the old-fashioned way—talking all day and night. And while he may not stop John Brennan’s CIA nomination, he’s taking a stand on principle, not partisanship, and shaming Democrats over drones.
In filibustering John Brennan’s nomination to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Rand Paul is giving a tutorial on what it means, or should mean, to be a member of the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Rand Paul speaks speaks to the press about John Brennan, nominated to lead the CIA, outside the Senate last month. (Chris Maddaloni/Getty)
First, he’s actually filibustering. Until the 1970s, filibustering meant standing at your Senate desk and talking nonstop, day and night, to prevent your colleagues from taking a vote. But in recent decades, and especially in the Obama era, real filibustering, which is hard, has been replaced by virtual filibustering, in which senators simply declare their opposition to taking a vote and then go about their normal business. Once filibustering became easy, it became common. Now most important legislation requires not 51 but 60 votes to pass the Senate, as that’s the number required to break a filibuster. Last month, Republicans voted to deny a vote to Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, and then went on vacation for 10 days.
But Paul, to his credit, is doing it the old-fashioned way. He’s talking all day and night, relieved occasionally by sympathetic senators temporarily willing to pick up the slack. And he’s doing so on a matter of principle, not partisanship: the Obama administration’s refusal to categorically rule out a drone strike on an American citizen on American soil.
Who would have guessed last year that the GOP would be endorsing a litany of previously unthinkable positions? Elections have consequences, and this time, an identity crisis seems to be one of them.
These days, Republicans are starting to sound a lot like Democrats. It may not seem obvious at first, especially when every elephant in Washington is loudly and proudly refusing to negotiate with President Barack Obama over the sequestration fiasco.
But put down your newspaper. Log off the blogs. Step back for a second. Look at what the GOP said it stood for during the 2012 campaign, which concluded four short months ago. Now look at the legislation the same party is proposing—and the positions its members are staking out—today.
The gap is staggering. If it continues to grow, it may come to represent one of the most rapid and drastic party makeovers in recent American political history.
Let’s start with social issues. When the GOP ratified its 2012 platform during last summer’s convention in Tampa, Florida, it was very clear on gay marriage: no same-sex unions allowed.
The Republicans have kept nearly half the president’s picks off the bench. Eleanor Clift on the latest attempt to filibuster a female nominee—blocked two years ago and coming up for a vote Wednesday.
Who is Caitlin Halligan?
A 46-year-old lawyer and litigator, she is at the center of a Senate showdown set for Wednesday over President Obama’s judicial nominations. This is Halligan’s second time before the Senate—her initial appointment to the D.C. Circuit Court ended in a Republican-led filibuster in 2011. Now she’s back, reappointed by the president and the symbol of a new White House push to get Obama’s judicial picks in place—or failing that, to raise the political cost to Republican senators who block qualified appointees to score ideological points.
Caitlin J. Halligan, left, a lawyer for New York State and David Boies, a lawyer for Court TV, talk in the Court of Appeals on April 27, 2005, in Albany, N.Y., before Boies represented a cable television channel in their suit against the State of New York to reverse the state's ban on cameras in the courtroom. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP, file)
Almost half of Obama’s judicial nominations die a quiet death with little publicity or public awareness of the toll it takes on the nominees who wait months and sometimes years for the Senate to grant them a vote. Halligan was first proposed for the D.C. court almost two and a half years ago. A graduate of Princeton and Georgetown Law, she is rated “unanimously well qualified” by the American Bar Association and is general counsel at the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
Joe Biden speaks AIPAC extremely well. And the audience loved it. Peter Beinart on why the vice president's refusal to acknowledge that Jewish power can be abused does nothing for peace.
Joe Biden speaks AIPAC extremely well. In his speech yesterday at the group’s annual policy conference, he invoked Judaism just enough to suggest cultural familiarity (“I’m a little jealous that he [Obama] gets to be the one to say ‘this year in Jerusalem’” when he visits Israel this spring) but not so much as to unsettle the relatively secular crowd. He knew what the Jews of AIPAC are proud of (Israel’s “astonishing world-leading technological achievements”) and what they’re anxious about (“it’s critical to remind … your children” that “the preservation of an independent Jewish state is … the only certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people”). He knew that AIPAC-ers want to wield political influence (“Many of you in this hall have been my teachers, my mentors and my educators”). But he also knew that, paradoxically, they want to believe that most American Christians are instinctive Zionists already (“My father was what you would have called a righteous Christian”).
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is seen on screens while addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference at the Washington Convention Center, March 4, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
The audience loved it. Many of the Jews who heard Biden speak carry in their mind memories of parents and grandparents who were too marginal, timid, and fatalistic to pressure America’s government to act to save their brethren in Europe in the 1940s. For their children to assemble near the Capitol, eating kosher food and being pandered to by the most powerful gentiles in the land, represents more than just American Jewish success. It represents American-Jewish redemption. If this were the Purim story, Biden would be King Achashverosh. The AIPAC audience would be Queen Esther: loved by the gentile king and bold enough to use that love to save her people in its hour of need.
I get the yearning to use American Jewish power to safeguard Jewish lives. I get and admire it. What’s awful is the refusal to acknowledge that Jewish power can be abused. And central to that refusal is the language AIPAC and its allies have created to talk about Palestinians, millions of whom live largely at the mercy of Jewish power, as noncitizens in a Jewish state. It’s a dishonest and dehumanizing language, and, unfortunately, Biden speaks it extremely well too.
No more ripping gotcha questions—Gingrich now admits conservatives were ‘kidding themselves’ to think they’d beat Obama, while Ann Romney blames the press. Howard Kurtz on who’s out of touch.
Welcome back to reality, Newt.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, January 21, 2013, following President Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in ceremony. (Cliff Owen/AP)
After passing through the mind-bending distortion field known as the presidential campaign, the former House speaker is acknowledging what most conservatives are loath to admit: that the movement can get trapped in a bubble of its own making.
Others have made the point that constant exposure to the Fox/Rush/Journal editorial-page axis can foster the impression that Barack Obama is a deeply unpopular president imposing his socialist ideas on the American people. But for Newt Gingrich to make that case is an act of candor worth exploring.
The pundits are breathless—Jeb has refused to rule out a 2016 run! John Avlon says Bush is uniquely positioned to help resolve the GOP civil war with his leadership on immigration and tough talk on extremists.
Moon Reagan and Don Nixon never got this kind of reception.
But Jeb Bush, the brother and son of presidents, is already getting the full-court press to run for the White House in 2016. The Drudge Report went breathless with banner headlines on Monday when Jeb refused to rule out a future run on the Today show while promoting his new book with Clint Bolick, Immigration Wars.
At the Manhattan Institute, Jeb Bush explained why he believes in comprehensive immigration reform.
The title of the book itself indicates that this isn’t a typical courtship. Jeb is presenting himself as a policy wonk and party reformer, not the typical approach to winning the GOP nomination. And for all the institutional benefits of being a Bush—a ready-made political and fundraising structure fueled by the promise of restoration to power—the reality is that his prospects would be far better if his last name were anything but “Bush.”
‘I’ll take John Boehner at his word.’
When Barack Obama was running for president, Greg Craig, one of his strongest supporters (later his White House counsel), described the candidate’s philosophy of dealing with Republicans. “I want a President who is looking to move the country with positive inspirational ideas rather than to fight off the bad guys and proclaim victory by defeating the forces of reaction,” he told George Packer of The New Yorker. Craig predicted Obama would win universal health coverage “by building the consensus around the positions that make sense—say, the position that we should not have forty-seven million Americans uninsured. You don’t win national health insurance by turning Republicans against you. You’ve got to get them to join you.”
President Barack Obama, right, listens as John Boehner begins a speech at the Capitol in Washington D.C. on February 27, 2013. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
Of course, President Obama won universal health coverage, but without persuading a single Republican to join him. The health-care fight proved the folly of a strategy of rational reasoning with the Republicans. And yet one reason we have the manufactured crisis of sequester is because the White House somehow believed reason would triumph over partisanship.
Obama himself said as much. After the Republican takeover of the House, but before the gavel had been handed to John Boehner, the president cut a deal with Congress to extend the Bush tax cuts. Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic asked Obama if he was worried that, since the tax-cut deal did not address the upcoming ceiling on the national debt, “it would seem that [Republicans] have a significant amount of leverage over the White House now, going in. Was there ever any attempt by the White House to include raising the debt limit as a part of this package?”
Forget dealmaking. Obama and the Republicans are too tired, and too dug in, to do much of anything, writes Howard Kurtz.
The new normal is government by exhaustion.
Having lost the ability to make deals, the two parties now settle for whatever dumb, illogical, shortsighted arrangement doesn’t require them to do anything. There’s nothing left in the tank. The two sides can barely rouse themselves to deliver their tired talking points, which everyone is sick of.
House Speaker John Boehner speaks to the media Friday at the White House about the sequester. (Mark Wilson/Getty)
That’s how the dreaded sequester, once described as draconian and unthinkable, became law over the weekend. And why we’re now stuck with it for months, or maybe longer.
John Avlon breaks down the essential illogic at the intersection of Republican policy and messaging.
It’s official. Washington has no idea how to get out of the mess it created with the sequester. That’s the message Speaker John Boehner sent with his Meet the Press interview that aired Sunday.
“I don't think anyone quite understands how it gets resolved,” he said with trace of hangdog sadness.
Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks to reporters last week in Washington, D.C. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)
Host David Gregory pressed, asking, “In the end, you don't really see a pathway here that's open as you sit here?”
Nearly four months after he blamed his loss on Obama’s ‘gifts’ to minorities, Romney returned for a Fox interview to prove he’s still clueless about why he came up empty on Election Day.
There’s nothing easier than criticizing a guy who’s just lost the presidency, so before parsing Mitt Romney’s interview with Fox News Sunday, let me offer a few words of praise. There’s little question that Romney is personally decent. Like Barack Obama, but unlike many other leading politicians, Romney seems genuinely happier being with his wife and family than being in a room of political sycophants. In his Fox interview, he gave the impression of a man stomaching political defeat comparatively well, because, in Ann Romney’s words, “fortunately we like each other.” Romney’s decent, wholesome image was not enough to win him the presidency, but it dealt a blow to America’s hoary bigotry against Mormons, which is no small achievement.
Watch the highlights of Mitt Romney's interview with 'Fox News Sunday.'
But for all his rectitude and good humor, Romney still came across as a man who doesn’t understand why he lost. He claimed that as president he would have prevented the sequester, because as governor of Massachusetts he learned the art of bipartisan compromise. “You know, when I was elected governor of my state, I had a legislature 87 percent Democrat,” he told Chris Wallace. “It was not lost on me that to get anything done, I couldn’t be attacking them. I had to find ways to reach out to them.”
Not a bad message in an election where even Obama’s strongest defenders admitted that he had not fulfilled his promise of closing the red-blue divide. But when Wallace asked Romney to explain his pledge during a Republican primary debate that he would oppose a budget deal that included $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax hikes—a statement that helped devastate his credibility as the candidate of bipartisan compromise—Romney said he had had no choice. Had he endorsed the hypothetical $10–$1 deal, Romney explained, critics would “say Romney’s changed his position. He said he wouldn’t raise taxes; now he’s saying he will. He’s changed his position.”
The sequester struck, and the stock markets went up. Lloyd Green on the 1 percent president.
For most Americans, Friday was not a very good day. Sequestration kicked in amid a drumbeat of reports about the pocketbook hits that we would take and the illegal immigrants released because of the cuts, the Commerce Department announced that personal income took its biggest hit in 20 years, and the Performance of Manufacturing Index reported a drop. Oh, and earlier in the week, fourth-quarter GDP growth was revised to a paltry 0.1 percent. Unemployment has remained up, the ranks of the poor have swelled, existing small businesses are staggering, and few new ones are being created.
President Barack Obama returns to the White House February 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
But, for the privileged few at the high-end of President Obama’s coalition, things look far less bleak. The stock market yawned at sequestration and then rose. The S&P is near a five-year high and is up by 10 percent over the past 12 months.
How concerned is Obama by the bad news and the sequester cuts that on Friday he termed “dumb,” “unnecessary,” “arbitrary,” and “inexcusable”? Not very, one would think, since his own 2012 budget forecast projected the very cuts in discretionary spending that the president now abjures, and described them in glowing terms. As Columbia’s Jeffrey Sachs recently pointed out. “the level of spending for fiscal year 2013 under the sequestration will be nearly the same as Mr. Obama called for in the draft budget presented in mid-2012.” Indeed, the White House budget forecast boasted that it would “bring domestic discretionary spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy since the Eisenhower administration.”
Why does Bob Woodward get to lie—twice!—and still be Bob Woodward? And why is it that the Republicans can be so intransigent and Barack Obama gets blamed? Michael Tomasky explains.
Woodwardgate got me reflecting on the question of Washington morality. Now yes, that’s an oxymoron if ever there was one. But surely there is some set (however bizarre) of impulses and rules that lets Bob Woodward say what he said, and Politico promote it as if it were a feud between two soap opera stars, with both walking away essentially unharmed, as they likely will (certainly in Politico’s case; Woodward’s black eye will need a little time to heal). More important than that, there must be a set of impulses and rules that observes what has been going on in this town for the last four years, with Republicans being the most obstructionist opposition in the country’s modern history, and yet somehow contrives to blame Barack Obama for the fact that our government can’t function. I have divined three such rules that seem to apply to the present case and to most of the big dilemmas the capital has confronted in recent times.
US journalist Bob Woodward. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty)
Rule One: When information is being injected into the discourse, the content of the information is far less important than the stature of and/or establishment’s feeling about the person injecting the information. You could be as prescient as old Tiresias bumping his way around Thebes, but if the Washington bigwigs have never heard of you or haven’t already given you their seal of approval, you’re wasting your time. However, if you already possess said seal of approval, you can say pretty much anything, and you will be taken seriously.
Think of Colin Powell at the U.N. That was one howler after another. Now granted it was hard to know that in real time. But what it wasn’t hard to know at that point in the spring of 2003 was that the neoconservatives then peopling the Bush administration had been thirsting for war against Saddam since 1991, and anyone who knew that (as all of Washington should have) would have taken the general’s presentation with several grains of salt. Of course, the opposite happened. Powell was widely respected, and, well, it seemed impressive, with all those photos of all those trucks surely doing clandestine, trucky things.
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.