From Michele Bachmann's '9-11 Pray' Day to the Texas 'Birther Ballot' bill, our weekly rundown of American politics at its wackiest.
Minnesota: 9-11 Pray Day
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann really wants a September 11 “National Day of Prayer and Fasting,” not only to commemorate the lives lost on that fateful date in 2001 and 2012, but to reflect on the things we, as Americans, have done to cause God such disappointment that he would choose to punish our country twice on the same date. “Our nation has seen judgement not once but twice on September 11 and that’s why we’re going to have ‘9-11 Pray’ on that day,” she said at a Capitol Hill event this week. “Is there anything better that we can do on that day rather than to humble ourselves and pray to an almighty God?” Bachmann has joined forces with World Net Daily editor Joseph Farah to promote the event. 9-11 Pray Day is necessary, Farah said, because the U.S. is experiencing a “slide from moral malaise to cultural hedonism” – pointing to support for gay marriage and equal rights as examples.
Texas: The Birther Ballot Bill
Nearly five years after he was first elected President of the United States, the Texas state legislature is considering a bill that would determine once and for all whether Barack Obama is actually qualified to hold the highest office in the land. The so-called Birther Bill would mandate that the Texas Secretary of State run a citizenship check on any presidential candidate to determine whether they’re qualified to be included on a Texas ballot. Ironically, one of the politicians potentially harmed by the GOP-backed legislation is Republican darling Ted Cruz, should he ever make a bid for the White House. Though his mother’s American citizenship was technically passed to him at birth, the fact that Cruz was born in Canada should--if the bill were to pass--complicate his path to the ballot box.
The playbook that worked so well for the conservative senator and think tank in 2007 backfired this year, writes Jamelle Bouie.
The Heritage Foundation was supposed to be where Jim DeMint expanded his influence. Drawing on the lessons of his term-and-change in the United States Senate representing South Carolina – DeMint stunned Washington by resigning on January 1 to take the helm of the influential, nonprofit think tank – he would use the new post to shape the national debate on a whole host of issues, and bring his brand of right-wing conservatism to bear on the Republican Party.
On May 6, 2013, Former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. (left), president of the Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector (right), and Derrick Morgan, both of the Heritage Foundation, conduct a news conference at the Foundation's offices to discuss the U.S. Senate's "Gang of Eight" immigration bill and how the amnesty portion would have negative effects on the economy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via Getty)
If moving from the Senate to a think tank seems like a step down, consider the frustrations of working in a legislature. You need to build compromise with other lawmakers, defer to party leaders, make disclosures on what you raise and what you spend, and satisfy constituent problems. It takes a lot to do this for six years, much less twelve. And given the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United—which shifted money and power from elected officials to independent groups—it’s no surprise that DeMint decided to step up from the Senate to Heritage.
But less than a week after the disastrous rollout of the Heritage case against immigration reform – effectively his big debut in his new role – it seems that DeMint may have made a big miscalculation.
Behind the scenes, Raúl Labrador and Luis Gutierrez are using their bond over heritage to get a comprehensive overhaul through the House—all with Paul Ryan’s blessing.
They are a congressional odd couple, dos amigos with a powerful third working in the wings. Both are Puerto Rican. One represents an urban district in Chicago, the other the Panhandle of Idaho.
Left, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington and Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011.
One is a liberal Democrat. The other a conservative Republican. Both serve on the Judiciary Committee. They schmooze over neighboring lockers in the House gym, sleep on almost identical leather sofa beds in their respective offices, and describe each other with the same word—“awesome.” And they might just be the best hope of getting comprehensive immigration reform through the House.
Meet Congressman Raúl Labrador: a low-key, second-term, Tea Party-backed 45-year-old from rural Eagle outside Boise. And Rep. Luis Gutierrez, aged 60, is an exuberant and savvy 20-year Hill vet: a Chicago insider and the first Hispanic elected to the House from the Midwest.
The president’s second-term appointments reflect his top-bottom political coalition, writes Lloyd Green.
President Obama’s pincer movement on the middle class continues. To the rich, Obama has bequeathed billionaire Penny Pritzker as Commerce Secretary, and to the poor he bestows North Carolina Congressman Mel Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Administration. As for the middle class, Obama sticks them with a Social Security tax hike. So let’s consider each pincer, top and bottom.
Pritzker makes Treasury Secretary Jack Lew look like an amateur. As Forbes explained, “Lew only had $56,000 invested in the offshore venture fund. By contrast, offshore tax avoiding trusts seems to have played a substantial role in the growth of the Pritzker fortune” that give Penny a net worth of $1.85 billion.
The agency seemed unaware prior to the attack of how unreliable or possibly compromised the February 17 militia actually was, reports Eli Lake.
CIA officers at the Benghazi mission’s annex had responsibility for vetting the Libyan militia that they counted on, but failed to arrive, as one of the first responders on the night of the 9-11 anniversary attacks last September, according to U.S. intelligence officers and U.S. diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
A man walks near the entrance of the American consulate building in Benghazi, Libya shortly after the attack earlier this year. (Mohammad Hannon/AP)
Yet the CIA has managed to avoid much Congressional scrutiny as House Republicans turn attention to the dramatic testimony of two new State Department whistleblowers this week that testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The CIA has been singled out for praise because of the heroic rescue performed by its security contractors at the Benghazi annex. On that evening, two former SEALs—Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods—helped lead a team that rescued all but two of the U.S. personnel at the Benghazi mission that evening. U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and Sean Smith, a communications specialist, died of smoke inhalation after the attackers set the U.S. compound ablaze with cans of kerosene the raiding party found after breaching its gates. Doherty and Woods were killed at around five the next morning by mortar fire.
Politically selective enforcement by a local branch is a scandal, writes John Avlon, but the bigger story is the systemic abuse of tax-exempt status by non-profit groups in the wake of the Citizens United decision.
Forget slow-news Friday. The IRS admission today that it singled out for scrutiny political action committees with the words “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their names rocketed around the Internet, fueling conservatives’ feeling of persecution.
Exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington DC. (Susan Walsh/AP)
The actions were apparently taken in isolation by workers at a local Cincinnati, Ohio, branch and announced with a public apology by Lois Lerner, head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups.
This imposition of political impulses into IRS inquiries is completely out of line —and given the Nixon administration’s record of using audits for political purposes, the feeling of persecution has some roots in reality. But the inevitable rhetorical rush to the ramparts—that this was part of a concerted effort by the Obama administration to investigate its political enemies—is not rooted in fact, to date. Beyond the fact that the White House and the IRS now keep each other at arm’s length because of past abuses, the larger slumber scandal at the IRS is actually a reluctance to aggressively investigate the systemic abuse of tax-exempt status by nonprofit groups in the wake of the Citizens United decision.
Republicans have been filibustering, slow-walking, and just plain stalling Obama political appointees for months. Patricia Murphy on how their latest tactic, boycotting his EPA pick, finally has Democrats ready to blow.
First came the GOP filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Defense secretary in February, then the slow-walk of John Brennan’s confirmation as CIA director in March. In April, Republicans put a hold on Ernest Moniz’s nomination as Energy secretary, and Wednesday brought an anonymous delay of a committee vote on Thomas Perez to become secretary of Labor.
(From left) M.I.T. professor Ernest Moniz, nominated as Energy secretary; Gina McCarthy, nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency; and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the president of the Walmart Foundation nominated as budget director, applaud as President Barack Obama speaks during a March 4 ceremony in the East Room of the White House. (Win McNamee/Getty)
On Thursday, the brewing battle over President Obama’s political appointees blew up into a full-fledged war after Republicans boycotted a committee vote on Gina McCarthy, Obama’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator who was once an environmental adviser to Mitt Romney.
“If Republicans think we’re going to be quiet about this, they have another thing coming,” said the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, who learned of the GOP boycott 45 minutes before she planned to hold the vote.
Conservatives are pummeling Marco Rubio—which is the best thing that could have happened to him. Peter Beinart on why Rubio’s 2016 prospects are looking up.
Conservative activists are furious with Marco Rubio. Almost every day, Breitbart and The Daily Caller slam the immigration legislation he helped draft. A week ago, National Review put Rubio’s face on its cover above the word “Folly.” The Tea Party Patriots recently staged an “intervention” targeting Rubio’s legislation. And the man Rubio has called his mentor, former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, just unveiled a Heritage Foundation report alleging that Rubio’s bill will cost over $6 trillion.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks at a Capitol Hill news conference with the Senate's "Gang of Eight", the bipartisan team pushing an immigration overhaul, to outline their immigration reform legislation that would creates a path for 11 million unauthorized immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship. After radio host Rush Limbaugh told Rubio many conservatives "are scared to death" that the Republican Party "is committing suicide, that we're going to end up legalizing 9 million automatic Democrat voters," Rubio said the risk is worth taking. "Every political movement, conservatism included, depends on the ability to convince people that do not agree with you now to agree with you in the future," he said. At right is Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and at Rubio's left is Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Rubio should thank them all for boosting his chances of winning the presidency in 2016.
Earlier this week, Daily Beast contributor Stuart Stevens argued that Rubio’s work on immigration reform “offers almost no foreseeable political gains with his party’s base.” But the Republican base isn’t Rubio’s problem. Yes, Rubio’s immigration push will hurt him among his party’s most hard-core ideologues. But the candidates they support rarely win. Of the last five Republican presidential nominees—Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush—none were the most conservative major candidates in the GOP primary. But each won because they were conservative enough and because the party establishment rallied behind them. As Ramesh Ponnuru has pointed out, “the Republican establishment always wins presidential-nomination contests, and conservative insurgents almost never do.”
Just days after Glenn Beck picked up a deal with the cable provider, he’s back to the headline-grabbing antics that ended his days at Fox News. Does Cablevision know what it’s getting into?
Say this for Glenn Beck: the guy really knows how to make an entrance.
Just as it was announced last week that the cable distributor Cablevision has picked up the conservative shock-jock’s fledgling Internet channel, The Blaze, Beck has again found himself fending off a series of controversies of his own making.
Glen Beck attends a dinner for the Zionist Organization in New York in 2011. (David Karp/AP)
First, there was his keynote address at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in which he appeared to compare Mike Bloomberg to Hitler—only to later say that in fact, he was only comparing the New York City mayor to Lenin. A few days prior, on his radio show, he said that God “has got to destroy us” because “We are denying his existence. We are denying his power. We are slapping him in the face.” And the week before, he had alleged a coverup by the federal government in the Boston Marathon bombings.
Thanks to the GOP’s self-defeating refusal to back pragmatists over true believers, he may not be a winner, says Robert Shrum.
Two Republicans made big news this week. One had a comeback, the other a lapbelt operation. The first was a sideshow, the second points toward a decisive test of whether the Republicans can be a competitive presidential party in 2016.
A special election in South Carolina saw the defeat of a first- rate Democratic candidate, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who deserves to be known as something other than Stephen Colbert's sister. Congresswoman would have been nice. It was not to be. I was wrong and John Avlon was right: It turns out the mythical trip on the Appalachian Trail didn't lead Mark Sanford to political oblivion, but to the House of Representatives. It also turns out that the self–ordained, self-righteous voters in the land of Bob Jones University believe in family values—-until they don't.
Chris Christie at a town hall meeting on Long Beach Island, in Long Beach, N.J. (Mel Evans/AP)
Their flexibility could be critical to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has acknowledged shedding 40 pounds with the help of weight-loss surgery. He's right that it's "ridiculous" to assume that his poundage precluded a race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Fat is an easy, unproven shibboleth of a barrier to the White House—much like age used to be, until that truism was soundly disproved by Ronald Reagan. The New Jersey governor says he had the operation for his health, his family, his children.
He loves filibusters, small government, and Tea Parties. And if his dad’s pals have any say, he’ll be president in 2016. Dave Catanese on the senator’s crucial Hawkeye State swing.
Rand Paul makes his maiden 2016 journey into Iowa on Friday to introduce himself to a Republican Party that has been largely overtaken by his father’s top allies.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) addresses a breakfast meeting of the Legislative Summit of U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on March 19, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty, file)
And that unique dynamic could prove critical to his chances in the first-in-the-nation caucus state as he prepares for a likely White House run.
Iowa Republican Party chairman A.J. Spiker says the senator’s rollicking 13-hour March filibuster against the president’s drone policy was the impetus behind the decision to extend the invitation to the Kentucky freshman to headline Friday’s Lincoln Day dinner in Cedar Rapids.
New York's junior senator is now central to combating the epidemic of sexual attacks in the armed forces. A look at her steady rise—and persistence in the shadow of Hillary.
Every politician looks for a niche where they can combine their passion and their ambition, and advocating for women fits both for New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Her rapid rise in the Senate since being appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat in 2009 has made her a force to be reckoned with on key issues, notably this week on sexual assaults in the military, and along with her increased visibility, Gillibrand has become one of the most mentioned potential female candidates for president—after Clinton of course.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand participates in a meeting in New York on Oct. 21, 2012. (Seth Wenig/AP)
“When I heard her challenge the general or whoever it was speaking for the military, it was pretty presidential,” says Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project. “She’s not only good on issues and standing up, she’s gotten to be a real force. She is someone who has grown leaps and bounds in the job.”
Gillibrand was at the White House Thursday, one of 15 senators attending a meeting called by Valerie Jarrett to talk about the alarming increase in sexual assaults in the military. Gillibrand called the meeting “super-productive,” and as the first woman to chair the personnel subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she has been instrumental along with the increased presence of women in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, in finally generating outrage about behavior that has been tolerated for far too long.
A new Republican-sponsored compromise doesn’t get rid of the archaic requirement that Congress approve debt-ceiling increases, but it’s a crucial half-measure that both parties should embrace.
The debt ceiling should really be renamed the default ceiling. This catastrophic game of chicken cost the U.S. our AAA credit rating and $19 billion when it was last employed in the summer of 2011 by House radicals who pretended their intransigence was a stand for fiscal responsibility.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor, via Getty
Now the default ceiling is looming again, promising yet another showdown between President Obama and House Republicans. But even Speaker John Boehner realizes that the 50 or so radicals on the far right of his own party—the Bachmann, Broun, Gohmert and King crew—are the greatest impediment to responsible self-government right now.
That’s why the new responsible Republican proposal, which passed the House Thursday by a vote of 221-207, could be the best way to defuse the debt ceiling from its most destructive impact.
When Republicans put up a nutty candidate for governor, liberals had a chance to cement the state’s purple status. They blew it. Michelle Cottle on the trouble with Terry McAuliffe.
How in the hell did Democrats wind up struggling in the Virginia governor’s race?
Virginia is an important state. An emerging purple state. A state poised to have the kind of election-swinging clout of Ohio or Florida.
GreenTech Automotive chairman Terry McAuliffe speaks during the unveiling of the company’s new electric MyCar in July 2012 at its manufacturing facility in Horn Lake, Mississippi. McAuliffe is the Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
Upping the ante this cycle, Virginia Republicans, for their gubernatorial standard-bearer, have tapped the proudly inflammatory Ken Cuccinelli, who has used his reign as state attorney general to, among other notable hits, crusade against climate change and on behalf of the state’s recently junked anti-sodomy laws. For a party struggling to dispel its reputation as a bastion of right-wing nuttery, putting Cuccinelli front and center is a bit like tapping Mitt Romney to dispel the GOP’s rep as a bastion of rich old white guys.
The Heritage Foundation is distancing itself from an author of its anti-immigration report, Jason Richwine, who says immigrants have lower IQs than ‘white natives.’ But its report backs him up, says Jamelle Bouie.
To the conservative Heritage Foundation, comprehensive immigration reform is an epic boondoggle. To wit, in a report released earlier this week, Heritage puts the cost of immigration reform at a whopping $6.3 trillion. That’s nearly half the size of the United States economy.
A migrant farm worker from Mexico harvests vegetables at the Grant Family Farm on September 3, 2010 in Wellington, Colorado. (John Moore/Getty)
But there’s a problem. To come to this number, Heritage assumes that unauthorized immigrants will claim the full array of federal benefits as soon as they become citizens. As Heritage president Jim DeMint explained on ABC News’ This Week, “We just want Congress, for once, to count the cost of a bill. They’re notorious for underestimating the cost and not understanding the consequences.”
Not only does Heritage assume a world where every unauthorized immigrant becomes a citizen, but it assumes one where upward mobility has disappeared—every immigrant is taking more in benefits than paying in taxes—and one where there are no economic gains from legalizing and integrating immigrants.
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.