Democratic turnaround artist Will Marshall on what Republicans can do to end their political losing streak.
The Conservative Political Action Conference, a kind of annual camp meeting for the American right, opens in Washington today amid controversy over who’s in the tent and who’s not. Not invited were two prominent GOP governors, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, yet the obnoxious Donald Trump managed to snag a ticket.
Bill Clinton addresses members of the Democratic Leadership Council at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., on January 12, 2000. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty)
This was too much for conservative realists, who think the movement can ill afford to shun Republicans who know how to win elections and govern in blue and purple states like New Jersey and Virginia. “When a party is in the minority, it has to add, not subtract,” huffed Jennifer Rubin. “CPAC’s cardinal sin was in foolishly trying to toss out others instead of building the broadest coalition.”
She’s right. Republicans have failed to win the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. Their message may sound like the revealed truth to the CPAC faithful, but it repels moderate voters. And they blame their losing streak on bad candidates, inept organizing, insufficient funds, beastly attack ads—everything but what they stand for.
Ideological purity! Patriots only! The heresy hunters of this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference sniffed out and rejected those who aren’t ‘suitably’ right wing, like Chris Christie and GOProud. It’ll ensure the same losing result, writes Michael Moynihan.
Every year the doyens of the Conservative Political Action Conference issue a series of indirect proclamations on who qualifies as an echt conservative. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie? Not one of us; too chummy with the president during Hurricane Sandy and too squishy on gun control. The gay conservative group GOProud? We’re open to sinners—Newt Gingrich is a scheduled speaker, after all—but not ones who have contempt for the institution of marriage. Donald Trump? A sinner too, on wife No. 3 and pro-abortion rights to boot, he believes that President Obama might have been born in Kenya. Nevertheless, Trump is an “American patriot” popular with conservatives, said one conference organizer.
It’s hardly surprising that CPAC is interested in ideological purity, considering the right-wing confab is organized by the American Conservative Union, a group that provides “legislative rankings” to those in Congress who insist on differentiating between those “who protect liberty as conservatives and those who are truly liberal.” As its website explains, “ACU defines conservatism” (emphasis in original). And that definition seems rather narrow these days.
Chris Christie took on his own party during Hurricane Sandy.
This big-game hunting of RINOs (“Republicans in Name Only”), the replacing of unreliably conservative candidates with the undereducated and unelectable ones, lost the party a number of safe seats in recent years. And as anyone who has attended a recent CPAC has witnessed, the “grassroots activists” of the right—a rather different species from the average Republican voter—seem increasingly incapable of calmly arguing that America is being forced off the road to prosperity and onto the road to serfdom. Concerns about overweening government, which one could manage with sensible anecdotes about debt, drones, and taxes, are punctuated with an invocation of Marx or Mao. (At the 2011 CPAC, I spent 10 bizarre minutes chatting with the president of the John Birch Society, a “co-sponsor” of that year’s event.)
The Senate will hold hearings today on sexual assault in the armed services. Lloyd Grove reports that the attacks may number as many as 19,000 per year.
When an Air Force general took it upon himself last month to reverse the sexual assault conviction of a lieutenant colonel under his command, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was hopping mad.
“I believe it is a travesty of justice and an outrage,” the New York Democrat told me on Tuesday, on the eve of chairing Wednesday’s daylong Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on sexual assault in the military. “I think it’s disgraceful, and shows the fallibility within the system. It also underscores why we shouldn’t have the type of review that’s in place right now and could undermine an entire jury’s decision."
Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a fighter pilot and inspector general at Aviano Air Force Base in Italy, was court-martialed and convicted last year on charges of groping the breasts and genitals of a woman who was staying in the spare bedroom of the house where he was living with his wife and child. The sexual assault charge potentially carried a 30-year sentence. Wilkerson was found guilty by unanimous verdict, sentenced to a year in prison and dishonorably discharged without pay, pension, or benefits.
Exercising his prerogative under the military justice system as Wilkerson’s commanding officer—that is, the “convening authority”—Lt. General Craig Franklin tossed out the verdict and reinstated Wilkerson’s previous active-duty status. Franklin’s legal adviser counseled against reversing the court martial, according to news reports. The general, commander of the Third Air Force, offered no explanation for big-footing the jury beyond his opinion that Wilkerson’s guilt was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Could governing have finally begun? Congress finally seems to be taking its budgetary responsibility more seriously, with Paul Ryan presenting his budget and Obama’s to follow. George Schultz, David Walker, and Maya MacGuineas weigh in on the blueprint. By John Avlon.
The budget wars are under way. And that’s a good thing.
It’s been four years since our country has operated with a budget instead of careening between continuing resolutions, always one tantrum away from a government shutdown.
But now House budget chairman Paul Ryan has weighed in with his base-pleasing blueprint. Soon Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) will add her take to the debate. Then, in April, we’re told that President Obama will finally present his budget, presumably building on some of the specifics he laid out in his proposals for a grand bargain. Don’t expect a lot of initial common ground in these competing documents but a process that looks suspiciously like governing has begun.
I don’t want to sound too hopeful here. Congress has shown an unerring ability to screw things up in recent years, propelled by 50 or so House radicals who would just as soon force our nation into default to prove an ideological point. But along with the president’s welcome outreach to Republicans in recent days, there are signs of problem-solving alchemy at work, spurred at least in part by the passage of “No Budget No Pay” legislation that passed in February. With a bit of skin in the game, Congress seems to be taking its budgetary responsibility more seriously.
Once a rising star alongside Barack Obama, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is headed to the clink after being convicted of corruption. Jay Scott Smith on the Motown betrayal.
On one fateful night in Boston, two dynamic speakers made waves at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Both men, young, black, and products of hardscrabble Midwestern cities, were considered rising stars and were getting major exposure on one of the country’s biggest stages. One of those men was a state senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. The other was the charismatic first-term mayor of Detroit: Kwame Kilpatrick.
Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick leaves federal court in Detroit, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (Paul Sancya/AP)
To say that the fortunes of those two men have gone in opposite directions is an understatement. Obama’s DNC speech, which followed Kilpatrick’s that night, helped propel him to national stardom, a seat in the U.S. Senate, and eventually the presidency. On the other hand, Kilpatrick, who narrowly won re-election in 2005 before a sex scandal and perjury conviction cost him the job in September 2008, was convicted on 24 counts including federal racketeering, extortion, mail fraud, and tax evasion on Monday. He was later sent to prison to await sentencing. He is one of 35 former city employees, including other elected officials, to be convicted by the federal government in the past eight years.
“[The jury] said that they recognized that they were the voice of this community,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade. “They recognized that this was not a victimless crime. They saw it as their responsibility to hold these men accountable for their conduct.” Kilpatrick’s lawyers say they are considering an appeal.
You can bet that Paul Ryan’s budget will set the hearts of Washington’s deficit hawks aflutter. Obama should ignore them—and make it clear that jobs, not deficits, are his main priority. By Michael Tomasky.
Paul Ryan’s new budget is now out on its shakedown cruise, as they did with Broadway plays in the old movie musicals about Broadway shows, playing New Haven and Providence before hitting the Great White Way, as it were, when he officially unveils it Wednesday. Early reviews are deservedly brutal, because Ryan assumes the repeal of Obamacare and reverses his position from last year on the $716 billion Medicare savings, over which he and Mitt Romney used to savage Barack Obama but which Ryan now assumes. Even so, something tells me that when the plan is released in full, the “serious” people will applaud the effort and will implore the president to mimic Ryan’s alleged sincerity about deficit reduction. And that makes this week probably the most important week in his presidency for Obama to stand up and refuse to do that.
(L-R) Rep. Paul Ryan and President Barack Obama in March 2013. (AP)
You’ve probably followed what has happened so far. These two Ryan assumptions—about the repeal of Obamacare and his inclusion of the Medicare cuts that only last year he and Romney were calling brutal—expose his entire exercise for what it is: a wholly political act designed to do two things. The first is to maintain Ryan’s viability on the hard right as a 2016 presidential candidate. As I mentioned in a blog post yesterday, failure on his part to assume the repeal of Obamacare could have exposed him to vicious attacks from other wannabes and from the Limbaugh caucus. So there’s no way he could risk that.
Ryan’s second purpose with this budget is more substantive, and it’s the same purpose that drove his first two budgets. He wants to kickstart a process that leads to monstrous cuts in domestic discretionary programs and in entitlements. That’s what he’s really about. He certainly isn’t about balancing the budget. Ryan Budget I achieved balance in 2047. When that was laughed out of the park, he came back with Ryan Budget II, which achieved balance about a decade earlier. Mind you these “achievements of balance” were entirely chimerical anyway, because he wouldn’t say in either budget exactly what he was putting on the table in the realm of revenue, so it was actually impossible to say when they’d be balanced. But in any case, the point is that budgets that achieved balance in 25 or 30-odd years weren’t about attacking the deficit. What he really sought with those first two budgets was not to egg Washington toward deficit hawkery, but to egg it toward cuts to programs he doesn’t like—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other projects that assist poor people, keep the air clean, and perform all those bothersome functions that keep America’s potential Galts in chains.
Democrats, on the defensive over the sequester, are fighting back. Eleanor Clift on how they are spotlighting cuts in GOP districts.
Stung by the media’s focus on the suspension of White House tours as the symbol of stupid sequester politics, Democrats are fighting back.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (C) answers reporters' questions after the weekly House Republican caucus meeting with (L-R) Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT) at the U.S. Capitol March 5, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Party sources are busily providing reporters with links to stories around the country that show the impact of the automatic federal budget cuts, with some Republican lawmakers starting to squeal. Congressmen who represent districts that rely on defense spending are especially feeling the pinch, along with those from rural areas where commercial air services are threatened.
The mounting complaints provide some context for President Obama’s visit to Capitol Hill this week, when he will make separate pitches to Republican and Democratic caucuses in both houses to replace the sequester with smarter, short-term cuts, coupled with a commitment to trim entitlement programs in exchange for tax reform and a promise of more revenue.
Right-wing activists love the Texas senator’s anti-establishment persona. Which is strange, because until recently he was the consummate insider. Michelle Cottle reports.
Rand Paul had his 13 hours of filibuster fame last week, but it’s his Senate colleague Ted Cruz who’s really giving the middle finger to that whole idea of upper-chamber comity and decorum. Just a couple of months in, the Texas freshman has made clear his commitment to raising as much hell and as many eyebrows as possible—much to the delight of the Tea Party anti-establishment conservatives who brung him to the dance.
Cruz has taken an unusually aggressive tone for a first-term senator. (Chris Maddaloni/Getty)
Among Cruz’s buzzier moves was to get so ornery at Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings—even floating the question of whether Obama’s choice to head the Pentagon might have pocketed money from the North Korean government—that he was publicly spanked by fellow Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Then there’s Cruz’s assertion that, during his days at Harvard Law, there were at least a dozen Commies on the faculty. (This earned him a shoutout by Obama this weekend during the POTUS’s speech to the press elite of the Gridiron Club: “I can offer you an easy way of remembering the new team. If Ted Cruz calls somebody a communist, then you know they’re in my cabinet.”)
More generally, the new senator reportedly just can’t stop running his mouth in meetings, leading to much anonymous grumbling by colleagues. As one Republican member huffed to Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, Cruz is “Jim DeMint without the charm.”
Reince Priebus ventured into deepest Brooklyn on Monday for a photo op and closed-door meeting at Pastor A.R. Bernard’s Christian Cultural Center. Caitlin Dickson on the plan to woo black voters.
Political reporters from all over New York City trekked deep into Brooklyn on Monday to catch a glimpse of the Republican Party’s African-American outreach in action. On the last leg of his post-election reflection tour, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus was in the city to hear from members of the black community about what the GOP needs to do to win them over. On top of the intrigue provided by that dynamic, the gathering at a megachurch in East New York was to be hosted by Pastor A.R. Bernard, whom state GOP chairman Ed Cox has been urging to run for New York City mayor. This was going to be good.
RNC chairman Reince Priebus gestures as he speaks at the start of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 27, 2012, in Tampa. (Mark Wilson/Getty)
Nestled between the public-housing projects and bus depots that line Brooklyn’s busy Flatlands Avenue, the Christian Cultural Center appears from behind a barrier of trees like some kind of oasis. Bernard’s behemoth of a church takes up 11.5 acres of land and boasts 37,000 members, and the pastor has become one of the city’s most influential players. As Cox noted while introducing Priebus at the outset of the meeting, Bernard was one of the people Michael Bloomberg consulted before his first mayoral run. “This is a place where the pastor doesn’t visit the politicians, the politicians come to the pastor,” Cox said.
On a stage set up in the CCC’s entryway, to the left of the massive aquarium and to the right of the nursery school, Bernard, Cox, and Priebus gave at least 20 members of the press the chance to ask a few questions before closing the door on the meeting.
A historical what-if with lessons for today.
Americans are watching, with frustration and resentment, the politics of obstruction convulsing the nation’s capital. Since the inauguration of President Obama in 2009, congressional Republicans have blocked many initiatives, programs, and appointments, with the sequestration crisis the latest act in the drama. The bitterness generated by these tactics has poisoned the wells of politics throughout the United States.
Confederate soldiers charge during a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
While enduring this politics of obstruction, we have thronged to the nation’s movie theaters to watch Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. This remarkable film portrays the nation’s 16th president, as he struggled to bring the Civil War to a victorious close while seeking approval, by the House of Representatives, of a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. Historians disagree about the movie’s treatment of history, but Lincoln does an impressive job of capturing the complicated, contentious political world of 1865.
Lincoln is part of the nation’s oddly quiet commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. We still struggle with how to understand the war, the history that it made, and its consequences for posterity. One question that is not generally addressed, however, has to do with the decision by 11 Southern states to vote to leave the Union in 1860–61. What if those states had pursued a different strategy?
Without controls to stem the influence of wealthy donors, expect money to talk very loudly, writes Robert Maguire of the Center for Responsive Politics.
In the dead of night on April 7, 1972, Archer Daniels Midland CEO Dwayne Andreas slipped $25,000 into a safe-deposit box near his Florida home. The funds—destined for Richard Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP)—were entirely legal, if by a matter of minutes. They arrived moments before midnight, April 8, when the Federal Elections Campaign Act (FECA) went into effect, rendering such anonymous contributions to candidates illegal.
Dwayne Andreas in 1995 and Sheldon Adelson in 2012. (AP )
The donation was a sliver of the $122,000 Andreas ultimately gave to Nixon’s reelection, and generous though it was, he had also given $150,000 to an old friend, former vice president Hubert Humphrey, one of Nixon’s Democratic opponents.
Yet, it was that $25,000—placed so carefully on the dark side of the cusp between the old and the new world of campaign finance—that made its way through CREEP and into the bank account of White House “plumber” Bernard Barker, whose burglary of the Democratic National Convention offices at the Watergate Hotel would ultimately lead to the resignation of President Nixon.
The younger Bush may be flirting with a run, but for a Republican to seriously compete in 2016, he must publicly distance himself from George W. Bush—and in five interviews Sunday, Jeb showed he wouldn’t do that if he could.
On five talk shows Sunday morning, Jeb Bush reminded America why he’ll never be president: it’s hard to distance yourself from your own last name.
President George W. Bush (left) and his brother Jeb greet supporters during a campaign rally in October 2004 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Mark Wilson/Getty)
“I don’t think there’s any Bush baggage at all,” the former Florida governor said on Fox News Sunday. “I love my brother. I’m proud of his accomplishments.” On Meet the Press, he added that “history will be kind to George W. Bush.”
Unfortunately for Jeb, history is written by historians. Three times since 2009, pollsters have asked them to rank American presidents, and in those rankings, W. has come in 36th, 39th, and 31st. Only Millard Fillmore, Warren Harding, William Henry Harrison, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, and James Buchanan rank lower. Ordinary Americans agree. Three times since George W. Bush left office, pollsters have asked the public to rank recent presidents. And three times, W. has ended up second to last, ahead of only Richard Nixon.
The inside story of how the White House botched its PR surrounding drones, infuriated Congress, and let Rand Paul become a liberal hero. By Daniel Klaidman.
You know it’s not a good day for the Obama administration when a paragon of the Tea Party right is roasting the president and liberal twitter feeds are lighting up in support. But that’s exactly what happened this past week when Kentucky Senator Rand Paul mounted his “talking filibuster” to block the confirmation of CIA nominee John Brennan. Paul kept up the parliamentary maneuver for 13 hours in an effort to extract answers from the administration about its covert drone program, and particularly the question of whether it is legal to target American citizens on U.S. soil.
Maintenence personel check a Predator drone operated by U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM), before its surveillance flight near the Mexican border on March 7, 2013 from Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. (John Moore/Getty)
It was a strange-bedfellows moment that harkened back to the Clinton era, when government-fearing elements of the GOP joined forces with the civil-libertarian left to assail over-zealous law-enforcement tactics. And while Brennan’s nomination was never really in jeopardy—he was confirmed Thursday by a comfortable margin—Paul succeeded in forcing Obama officials to publicly address a set of national security issues that has always made them feel distinctly uncomfortable.
How could the administration have allowed itself to get tangled up in an embarrassing controversy over deeply hypothetical questions like whether the military could fire a drone strike at an American citizen sitting in a cafe? One reason, of course, is the circus that confirmations have become—proxy battles for the permanent political conflict between Republicans and the White House. But perhaps the biggest reason has been the administration’s unwillingness to share information about its drone program, which has fed the perception among both Republicans and Democrats that it has an imperious, high-handed attitude toward Congress. And when officials have answered questions from Congress, the responses have often been so pettifogging and over-lawyered that they’ve done more harm than good.
With the battlefield surveillance tools coming back to America, statehouses are rushing to limit the technology—even over law enforcement’s objections.
One of the military’s newest weapons to come out of its Middle East wars is now a potential domestic threat. Drones—unmanned, remote-control aircraft that can span anywhere from a few inches to more than 100 feet— could soon be utilized by local law enforcement for surveillance purposes in the U.S. Now states are moving to limit or prohibit the technology.
Predator drone used by U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM) for surveillance flight near the Mexican border, March 7, 2013. (John Moore/Getty)
Congress voted in early February to mandate that the Federal Aviation Administration let drones fly in the U.S. airspace by 2015. Concerned that the action will open the floodgates to unbridled use of the technology, states like Virginia are putting out a pre-emptive strike of their own.
“I think there’s a sense of urgency,” says Donald McEachin, a Democratic state senator in Virginia. “I think it’s important to get ahead on issues like these before they get out of control … We can imagine the problems that drones will bring in the future.”
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.”
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.