Younger voters and independents have soured significantly on the president in the last month, writes John Avlon.
President Obama has a problem: the Teflon’s worn off.
President Obama delivers a keynote address at the Waterfront Hall ahead of the G8 Summit on Monday in Belfast. (Pool photo by Paul Faith)
That’s the clear conclusion of a new CNN/Opinion Research poll (PDF) showing the government-surveillance scandals taking a real toll on the president’s popularity—particularly with the younger voters who have been among his staunchest supporters. In just one month, support for the president among voters under age 30 plummeted by 17 points.
Perhaps the most devastating poll number, though, is the reversal of perception on what has been one of this president’s core characteristics: honesty and trustworthiness. Around three in five voters have consistently seen Obama possessing these traits, meaning that even voters who didn’t approve of his job performance saw him as an essentially honest guy and a trustworthy chief executive. No more. On this measure, too, the president is underwater at 49 percent—a nine-point drop.
Political independents are also souring on Obama, with just 37 percent approving of his job performance, a 10-point drop. But because the independent voter cohort has moved right in the wake of the Tea Party movement, we see a continued split between independents and self-described moderate voters, 53 percent of whom still approve of the job the president is doing. The support of centrist voters is President Obama’s life preserver, stopping him from going underwater entirely.
Given that the president’s overarching goal of effective and efficient progressive governance, it has to hurt when only 47 percent of Americans now believe he can “manage the government effectively” and just 42 percent say Obama generally shares their view on the size and power of government. These results might give Chris Christie and Rand Paul hope about their 2016 prospects presenting themselves as the balance to eight years of Obama.
One poll shouldn’t be seen as determinative, but this poll could be a leading indicator and it should cause concern in the West Wing. Right now, only 35 percent of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling government surveillance. That’s lower than the 39 percent of Americans who approved of Bush’s approach to the issue back in 2006, just months before Republicans lost control both houses of Congress. Moreover, 43 percent now say the White House has “gone too far” in terms of restricting people’s civil liberties to fight terrorism, more than the 39 percent who felt the same way about the Bush-Cheney administration in 2006.
To some extent, Obama is paying the cost of high expectations. Hypocrisy is the unforgivable sin in politics, and though Obama has been consistently hawkish on the counterterrorism front, there were reasonable expectations that he would reign in some of the excesses of the Bush-Cheney era. Instead, many policies have continued and some have been expanded, creating a blowback that the president will need to address in actions more than words.
While 41 Republican Senators and five Democrats voted against the bipartisan bill for universal background checks, the RNC says it’s Obama’s fault. That's despicable, writes John Avlon.
There’s chutzpah, and then there’s rank hypocrisy.
The RNC released a slick but cynical Web ad this week commemorating the first 100 days of President Obama’s second term. Politics ain’t beanbag, and no one expected their assessment would be sunshine and light. But there’s a particularly low place for folks who block and then blame—in this case, intimating with mock sadness that the president is legislatively impotent for failing to pass universal background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook slaughter.
President Obama, accompanied Gabrielle Giffords (left), Vice President Joe Biden (center), and families who suffered gun violence, speaks on gun control April 17 at the White House Rose Garden. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)
Reality check: 41 Republican senators (and five Democrats) voted against the bipartisan compromise bill crafted by Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin. And among Republicans controlling the House, the modest background check bill—supported by 90 percent of Americans—was considered DOA.
This affront to common sense and common decency is difficult to defend. And so the RNC response is to blame the president for a failure to lead, despite that his bipartisan outreach was rejected by most Republicans.
Don’t take my word for it—listen to Pat Toomey: “In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized,” Toomey told the Times Herald editorial board. “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”
This is ugly stuff, deeply self-defeating to the cause of self-government. It is also the new normal. Now polls show that you reap what you sow: Republicans face a credibility gap based on the perception that they are too inflexible and unwilling to compromise. And so the apparent solution struck at the RNC is to skip over the facts as if we all have the attention span of gnats.
But in the wake of the Senate rejection of universal background checks, we already see that Republican senators from swing states who voted against the bill are facing a backlash, while red-state Democrats who took the risk of voting for the bill are seeing a boost in their political fortunes. The lesson is that we do pay attention—especially if there is a moral dimension and frustration over popular will being ignored.
What about those Argentinean trips, Mr. Sanford? Colbert Busch went right for the jugular in South Carolina. So who won? John Avlon, who hosted the debate, reports from Charleston.
There was rolling thunder and rain outside the Citadel on Monday night, but the lightning was inside the packed auditorium where Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch clashed in the one debate of the one congressional race in the country right now.
Republican candidate for the open congressional seat of South Carolina, former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford greets Democratic candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch before their debate at the Citadel on April 29, 2013, in Charleston. (Richard Ellis/Getty)
Sanford returned fire with repeated references to Nancy Pelosi and the labor union donations that have flowed into Colbert Busch’s campaign coffers. The practiced groans of the Colbert Busch staffers and supporters showed that this line of attack is at least as effective as it is hackneyed.
To get a sense of the surreal tacking to the center in the debate, consider this: Democrat Colbert Busch quoted Dick Cheney and Republican Mark Sanford compared himself with Bill Clinton.
Colbert Busch 'went there' during the debate, alluding to Sanford's infidelity.
From the perspective of the national media, this sometimes seems like a special election between Jenny Sanford and Stephen Colbert. But the scandal and celebrity factors distract from the real drama—Charleston’s first competitive congressional general election in three decades. And according to polls and last night’s debate performance, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch should now be considered the narrow frontrunner in this decidedly Republican-leaning district.
Behind the scenes, her campaign team had been anxious going into this debate, sponsored by Patch.com and the South Carolina Radio network (and which I hosted, introducing the candidates and the rules of the debate on stage at the outset as well as developing the questions with the moderators). A small army of staffers was at the debate site by noon, combing over every detail of the stage and requesting that their candidate be introduced as “businesswoman” Elizabeth Colbert Busch, “Mrs.” not “Ms.”—“she’s a happily married woman,” one staffer explained.
The conspiracy theories percolating up to local party leaders and even the halls of Congress should be a warning sign for the GOP, writes John Avlon.
A few days after the Boston bombings, Stella Tremblay went to Glenn Beck’s Facebook page to express her conviction that the terror attack was, in fact, orchestrated by the U.S. government.
As Jonathan Swift famously put it, “You cannot reason someone out of something they were not reasoned into.” (Rob Kim/Getty, Corbis)
“The Boston Marathon was a Black Ops ‘terrorist’ attack,” she wrote. “One suspect killed, the other one will be too before they even have a chance to speak. Drones and now ‘terrorist’ attacks by our own Government. Sad day, but a ‘wake up’ to all of us.”
She then linked to a video at Infowars.com called Proof! Boston Marathon Bombing Is Staged Terror Attack.
Tremblay’s post, though, stood out from the wave of post-attack crazy because of her day job: she is a New Hampshire state legislator.
Like too many enthusiastic dupes, the Republican representative was echoing conspiracy entrepreneurs like Beck and InfoWars’ Alex Jones, who blend dark alternate history with a dystopian future, offering the listeners the “secret truth.”
Tremblay is part of a disturbing trend of—conservative state legislators and even congressmen entertaining conspiracy theories that are creepy and unseemly coming from the average citizen, but a sign of civic rot when they start getting parroted by elected officials.
Of course, craziness is a bipartisan issue, with Republicans frequently pointing to former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as a Democratic example—but the right has been particularly prone to paranoia since Bush Derangement Syndrome on the left gave way to an epic case of Obama Derangement Syndrome from the other side.
Introducing The Daily Beast’s weekly rundown of the wildest ideas being proposed—or passed—by state lawmakers.
North Dakota’s state legislature this week passed what would be the nation’s strictest anti-abortion package, which would ban abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could come as early as six weeks. Arkansas, which currently has the toughest abortion laws in the U.S., bans the procedure after 12 weeks. Republican governor Jack Dalrymple, who’s yet to signal his position, has until Wednesday to either veto or sign the package, which would likely be challenged immediately in court if it becomes law.
South Carolina State Rep. Bill Chumley (R) this week sponsored a bill that would enlist low-level inmates in modern-day chain gangs. The idea was first thought-up by a local sheriff, who said convict labor would shorten prison terms and save money for the state. “You work somebody six days a week, 12 hours a day, they don't have time to sit around and think about how to be stupid anymore," said Wright.
Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh (R) tried to slip an amendment into a bill this week that criminalize the use of public bath rooms, changing rooms and locker rooms that don’t match-up with the sex on the individual’s birth certificate. Violators would be subject to up to six months in jail, and the proposal aimed squarely at the transgendered earned Kavanagh—who last month said he feared a Phoenix anti-discrimination statue would “serve as cover for pedophiles”—the moniker Bathroom Birther.
The Arkansas State Senate this week approved a bill that would allow worshipers to carry concealed handguns into houses of worship. Similar provisions have also advanced in South Carolina, Wyoming and Louisiana in recent months, leading The Seattle Times this week to profile one of the churches in its state (where there are no laws baring guns from churches), which offers firearm training classes.
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.
Four months ago Megan and Grace decided to take a different path. They left Westboro Baptist Church and were excommunicated by their family. Now they are embarking on an adventure in the wider world together, spurred by a determination to think for themselves and reconcile their faith with reality. In the process, they are meeting a wider array of people than they ever expected and breaking down the fear-fueled stereotypes that defined the world to them—and vice versa—for so long.
“We were taught that what we were doing was the only thing that would help people,” explains Megan. “Because from their perspective, everything bad that happens in the world is because people don’t obey God. When people don’t do what he says, then horrible things happen: school shootings, tornados, and hurricanes. So if I really care about people, I’m going be out there with a sign ... Looking back, I knew that it was hurtful emotionally for people, but I thought that if it caused somebody to believe and to obey God, then their lives would be so much better.”
“You’re taught that everyone outside the church is evil,” adds Grace. “And we couldn’t change any of it, because if we disagreed, we would get in trouble.”
The culture of conflict bred an us-against-them identity among the church members. “They believe that Jesus said that ‘If you follow me, the world is going to hate you,’” says Megan, “and so when the world in fact hates their message and sometimes reacts violently, it definitely reinforces the idea that you’re right.”
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.
Instead of resorting to cheap filibuster tricks like reading the dictionary or a phonebook, Paul delivered a real speech—albeit Castro-esque in length—discussing the constitutional principles at stake more or less off the top of his head for nearly 13 hours.
Paul warned of the inherent absence of due process that comes with drone strikes, memorably saying: “Your notification is the buzz of the propellers on the drone as it flies overhead in the seconds before you’re killed.” Paul also took aim at the practical implications of a perpetual war on terror: “When people say, ‘Oh, the battlefield’s come to America’ and ‘The battlefield’s everywhere,’ ‘The war is limitless in time and scope,’ be worried, because your rights will not exist if you call America a battlefield for all time.”
At times, Paul wandered into hyperbolic fantasies and indulged in dystopian nightmares to make his point, such as imagining whether a caravan of Americans traveling from a Constitution Party conference to a Libertarian Party conference might be targeted for assassination by drone strike like New Mexican–born Anwar al-Awlaki. “That Americans could be killed in a café in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination,” he thundered. “It is something that should not and cannot be tolerated in our country.” It is also something that is not remotely contemplated.
Rand Paul showed us there are only so many things you can come up with in 13 hours until you start saying 'gobbledygook.'
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.”
With another surname, Jeb would have catapulted to the top ranks of contenders back in 2012 on his own merits, as a popular former swing-state governor with a bold record as an education reformer and demonstrated success at winning over Hispanic voters. After Mitt Romney tanked the party’s performance with Hispanics in the last election, most Republicans realize that they need to change course and begin reaching out in earnest. That’s why Jeb’s leadership pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, alongside his brother’s Commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Jeb’s Florida mentee Marco Rubio, is one of the most hopeful prospects for breaking through Washington gridlock this Congress.
A mark of Jeb’s seriousness is his willingness to criticize party power players. Romney comes under particular fire in Immigration Wars for his primary-campaign tactics. “By sharply criticizing Texas governor Rick Perry for his in-state tuition program for certain children of illegal immigrants, and by making his leading immigration advisor a prominent proponent of ‘self-deportation,’ Mitt Romney moved so far to the right on immigration issues that it proved all but impossible for him to appeal to Hispanic voters in the general election,” Bush and Bolick write. “However little or much anti-immigration rhetoric counts in Republican primaries, it surely succeeds in alienating Hispanic voters come the general election.”
This is true—and rarely said so bluntly by Republicans with presidential aspirations. Jeb also points out that Romney tanked with Asian-American voters and takes to task conservative pundits such as Heather MacDonald and Sam Francis who have advised the GOP to resist trying too hard to court Hispanic voters. Likewise, Jeb is one of the few potential presidential aspirants willing to publicly question the wisdom of Grover Norquist’s tax “pledge,” writing: “I ran for office three times. The pledge was presented to me three times. I never signed the pledge. I cut taxes every year I was governor. I don’t believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people.”
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, center, during a meeting of the chairman of the National Constitution Center’s Board of Trustees, December 6, 2012, in Philadelphia. (William Thomas Cain/Getty)
Laugh now at the Jedi quips and congressional tantrums—the pain is coming soon for Americans. It’s time for our ‘leaders’ to stop this stupid cycle of high-stakes bluffs.
After 16 months of anticipation, sequestration cuts kicked in today and President Obama called the leaders of Congress to the White House, prompting a well-deserved chorus of “what the hell took you so long?”
President Barack Obama addresses the media following Congressional meeting at White House, Mar. 1, 2013. (Mark Wilson/Getty)
The brief meeting failed to make any dent in the impasse and Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell left the White House after just over an hour, joining their congressional colleagues on a not-at-all-deserved long weekend.
The lack of urgency in Washington this week has been startling but not surprising. An aura of impotence has consumed the government, as deep, across-the-board cuts everyone says they oppose set in. The only action in town has been a public blame game that gives sandbox politics a bad name.
“The Buck Stops Here”—that’s what a famous sign on President Harry Truman’s desk read. But today’s Washington gridlock has resulted in a diffusion of responsibility, with President Obama telling CNN’s Jessica Yellin, “I am not a dictator. I’m the president,” explaining that he can’t have the Secret Service block the door if Boehner and McConnell leave and he doesn’t have the power to have a “Jedi mind meld with these folks and convince them to do what’s right.”
Predictably, the mangled pop-culture reference preoccupied the Twitterverse, but the president’s protest raised a serious question: what is his plan of action? What’s the point of calling a Friday Come to Jesus meeting on the day sequestration kicks in, while Congress has already high-tailed it home?
Let’s start by giving President Obama the benefit of the doubt—namely that there is a strategy in place. If so, the president is playing a long game, knowing that the sequester cuts are just the first of a series of fiscal cliffs the country is scheduled to face this spring, with the government set to need a continuing resolution at the end of March to avoid shutdown and a debt-ceiling collision set for mid-May.
In other words, by letting the reality of the unpopular sequester cuts start to set in, the president hopes that he can finally pass a grand bargain this spring and stop this stupid cycle of governing by crisis.
In search of wasteful government spending, Eric Cantor sets his pants on fire. John Avlon reports.
Eric Cantor fired off a press release last week titled Mr. President, Spending is Clearly the Problem in Washington, arguing against a grand-bargain solution to sequestration in favor of an all domestic-spending-cuts approach and offering an apparently useful list of waste, fraud, abuse and duplication as prime candidates for the chopping block.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor leaves a news conference in Washington, DC on February 5, 2013. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty)
Much of the Majority Leader’s list, though, was made up of the kind of evidently no-brainer cuts that have bumper-sticker appeal but urban legend-esque documentation. But for a congressional office dedicated to the idea that wasteful government spending abounds, the seven targets listed were thin gruel, including an IRS TV studio that costs $4 million a year to operate; a $47,000 Veterans Affairs expenditure on a “cigarette smoking machine” and this:
Pay to Play Videogames: The National Science Foundation spent $1.2 million paying seniors to play World of Warcraft to study the impact it had on their brains.
If true, this is good stuff – exactly the kind of idiotic expense that makes citizens slap their foreheads in frustration. Cantor tweeted his World of Warcraft find far and wide and 8 congressmen quickly pressed retweet.
But there’s just one problem: it ain’t true.
The good folks over at Politifact.com took a look and gave Cantor a “Pants-on-Fire” rating for the claim, finding instead that a 2009 grant was given to fund studies looking at how to improve seniors' cognitive abilities and World of Warcraft was never involved.
Owen Good, editor of gaming site Kokatu, wrote a blistering slam of the House majority leader’s report, explaining the intricacies in more detail.
Far from being a gaffe, Biden’s ‘buy a shotgun’ comment undercuts the ‘Obama wants your guns’ crowd—and is another example of the vice president’s important role in selling White House policy, says John Avlon.
In the pop-culture presidency of the Obama administration, Joe Biden plays an outsize role. He’s the goofy white uncle, loose-lipped and earnest to a fault, who recently became the subject of an Onion biography that imagines the teetotaler as a beer-guzzling Trans-Am worshipper eternally fixated on the summer of ’87.
Vice President Joe Biden listens to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter speaks after a round table discussion on gun control last week at Girard College in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)
But while Biden has a tendency to shoot from the lip and stray from the script, it is not without strategic political benefit. On the campaign trial, his warmth balanced Obama’s cool—there’s nothing aloof about Biden. He was dispatched to Rust Belt union halls and rallied the base, embodying Bob Shrum’s eternal “fighting for you” formulation without seeming forced. Hell, the man singlehandedly brought the word “malarkey” out of exile. If Obama is among the most self-monitoring of men, Biden is among the least.
But when it comes to policy, conventional wisdom says the headaches that come with Joe Biden outweigh the benefits. There’s no doubt that he has an overwhelming impulse to step on the message and careen in unexpected directions. But sometimes I think that the “slow Joe” stereotype and consequent face-palms obscure a Columbo-like figure who plays dumb but is really playing the crowd.
Case in point, Biden’s recent gun comments that were widely considered unhelpful to administration efforts.
On Tuesday he sat for a Facebook forum hosted by Parents magazine and responded to a question from one “Kate” about whether families would be rendered defenseless in the (unlikely) event of a reinstated assault-weapons ban.
Watch Joe Biden's shotgun comments.
Republicans have taken to calling the deep cuts that could reverse our hard-won economic recovery ‘Obama’s Sequester.’ But a July 2011 PowerPoint obtained by John Avlon shows the opposite may be true.
With deep sequestration cuts just days away, Congress is on vacation. But they’ve still got plenty of time to play the blame game.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty
The latest semantic spin is to call the looming $1.2 trillion in cuts, which could throw the whole economy back into recession, “Obama’s Sequester.” House Speaker John Boehner indulged this approach half a dozen times in a floor speech before he went on break, establishing its place in the talking-points firmament.
There are a couple problems with this tactic, as my colleague Michael Tomasky pointed out Tuesday. Congress passed sequestration before the president signed it, and the whole self-defeating exercise was carried out in response to Tea Party Republicans’ insistence that we play chicken with the debt ceiling, which ultimately cost America its AAA credit rating.
But here’s the thing. I happened to come across an old email that throws cold water on House Republicans’ attempts to call this “Obama’s Sequester.”
It’s a PowerPoint presentation that Boehner’s office developed with the Republican Policy Committee and sent out to the Capitol Hill GOP on July 31, 2011. Intended to explain the outline of the proposed debt deal, the presentation is titled: “Two Step Approach to Hold President Obama Accountable.”
It’s essentially an internal sales document from the old dealmaker Boehner to his unruly and often unreasonable Tea Party cohort. But it’s clear as day in the presentation that “sequestration” was considered a cudgel to guarantee a reduction in federal spending—the conservatives’ necessary condition for not having America default on its obligations.
The presentation lays out the deal in clear terms, describing the spending backstop as “automatic across-the-board cuts (‘sequestration’). Same mechanism used in 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement.”
GOP senators’ obstruction of a straight vote on the defense-secretary nominee and Rand Paul’s placement of the CIA director nomination on hold amount to a cowardly and cynical political strategy that could compromise national security, says John Avlon.
Since the election, Republican talking points have reflected the fact that they need to reach out beyond their base: to be positive rather than negative; appear more reasonable, less obstructionist.
Senate Armed Services Committee members John McCain (left) and Lindsey Graham confer at the start of the committee’s hearing on the appointments of military leaders Thursday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
But how you act speaks more loudly than what you say, and Senate Republicans have doubled down on obstructionism with their shameful filibuster of secretary-of-defense nominee Chuck Hagel. Add to this fresh insult the hold Sen. Rand Paul put on Obama’s nominee to be CIA director, John Brennan, and it looks like Republicans are backing a cynical political strategy that could compromise national security while proliferating hyperpartisanship even further in the future.
Let’s put this in perspective—Republicans decided to filibuster a Republican secretary-of-defense nominee, someone Mitch McConnell once called one of the most respected foreign-policy voices in the Senate, someone John McCain said would make an excellent secretary of state.
The Senate, of course, is entrusted with the ability to advise and consent—but filibustering a cabinet nominee is virtually unprecedented, because it violates the time-honored principle that presidents should be able to pick their cabinet. In the process, Republicans are creating a dangerous precedent that could impact presidents of both parties for decades to come. If this is the new normal for national-security appointees, I’m sure the next Supreme Court nomination will be a model of reason and civility.
Keep in mind the GOP doesn’t have the votes to kill these nominations. Because Democrats control 55 seats in the Senate—after winning uphill races in states ranging from North Dakota to Montana to Indiana—Republicans can’t hope to win an up or down vote. And so they pulled a cowardly parliamentary move to obstruct a straight vote, imposing a filibuster that breaks with all precedent, simultaneously reminding Americans why we desperately need filibuster reform.
Reality check: In recent history, there have been only two other instances of cabinet officials needing to meet a 60-vote threshold for cabinet confirmation: Reagan’s second-term Commerce Secretary C. William Verity and George W. Bush’s Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Paleoconservative Jesse Helms objected to Verity because the nominee favored increased trade with the Soviet Union. Democrat Bill Nelson put a hold on Kempthorne in a protest against Bush administration oil and gas drilling policies off the Florida coast. Ultimately, in both cases, cloture passed with 85 votes, and the cabinet nominees were easily confirmed. Likewise, the Hagel nomination is still likely to eventually pass once the efforts to intimidate have been exhausted.
The Hagel attacks have been particularly ugly, because they involve Republicans trying to tear down the reputation of a fellow Republican and former senator. Hagel—an enlisted combat vet, two-time Purple Heart winner, and veterans-affairs director under Reagan—is bitterly resented by neoconservatives for opposing the 2007 surge and the Iraq War, in a break with President Bush. But on a deeper level, his sin might be described as collaboration—agreeing to cross party lines to work for this Democratic president—and in this he must be made an example.
The corruption trial of former state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer was going to have it all—big names, allegations of ‘golf carts full of hookers,’ and skimming off the top. Then he had to cut it short by pleading guilty.
Ah, Florida—the land of sun, sand, and scandal.
On Monday, former state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer added his name to the long list of Sunshine State lowlifes when, after years of proclaiming his innocence, he pleaded guilty to five felonies including grand theft and money laundering.
Jim Greer, left, ousted former Florida GOP chairman, with his attorney Damon Chase, enters a surprise guilty plea to five criminal charges in an Orange County courtroom, February 11, 2013. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT, via Getty)
Legal terminology doesn’t do justice to the crass creativity of the crimes. This is a man who catapulted from publisher of the Palm Bay Party Guide to Oviedo City Council member to chief of the swing state GOP. In three short years, he managed to oversee charges of more than $7 million on the party AmEx card, including nearly $500,000 for personal indulgences like spa treatments, flowers, flights, and fine dining. Greer gave new meaning to the term “party chairman”—and I’m not even counting allegations about golf carts full of hookers on a fundraising trip to the Bahamas.
Greer’s abuse of donors’ money was unethical but not really original—party politics is full of sleazy skimming off the top. His real crime was a scheme to get a 10 percent cut of all major party donations through a corporation called Victory Strategies, of which Greer was the secret majority owner.
Give the man credit for coming up with a con that would make Bebe Rebozo blush.
In Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke wrote, “When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.” What we see in this scandal is the logical evolution. When donors try to buy access and influence, the party chairman starts thinking he’s a one-man Goldman Sachs, entitled to a cut of every deal.
But as sordid as the money trail might be, the much anticipated main event was cut short by Greer’s plea deal, which came on the morning his trial was set to commence. It had promised to be the kind of political corruption trial that makes you want to break out popcorn and watch the stars fall.
The plea deal represents a precipitous fall from grace, writes John Avlon.
Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. agreed Friday to plead guilty to charges of misusing campaign funds, in an apparent bid to an end a federal investigation that threatens to also implicate his wife, former Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson. Both had resigned their offices in recent months, reportedly as part of the congressman’s negotiations with prosecutors.
Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) speaks to constituents following a town hall meeting at the Sheldon Heights Church of Christ where he discussed the President's health insurance reform plan August 18, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)
For the scion of what was once the country’s most influential African-American family, the plea deal represents a precipitous fall from grace that overlaps with the ascent of another African-American Chicago family to the White House. The Jackson dynasty appears to be done.
“There was a time when Jesse Jackson Jr. saw himself as the first African American president and now he’s probably on his way to jail,” says Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association—a Chicago-based good-government group. “This is a major fall from grace—and a family tragedy.”
The son of the Reverend Jesse Jackson—who mounted two competitive campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1980s—served 17 years in Congress, representing a seat so safe that he easily won reelection last November despite not campaigning due to a highly publicized hospitalization for bipolar disorder and other ailments.
He resigned two weeks after Election Day. His wife, a city alderman, resigned her office in January after the Chicago Sun Times raised questions about her use of campaign funds from her husband’s congressional accounts, including a $5,000 monthly consulting salary, credit-card charges and the moving of money between accounts.
This practice is apparently epidemic in the corruption-plagued Land of Lincoln.
“A lot of politicians use political donations as lifestyle enhancements—getting work done on their homes, taking fancy vacations, etc,” says Shaw. “At the very least they’re bending the rules of campaign finance and sometimes they violate them blatantly. Unfortunately the IRS and state election boards are stretched too thin to investigate. But if you end up under the microscope of the U.S. Attorney that all changes … Jesse Jackson Jr. is not an outlier here, but he’s the one who got caught. There are a lot of politicians who are probably saying ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’”
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