While you were watching the Zimmerman trial, the narrative about the IRS targeting Obama’s enemies has been thoroughly debunked, writes Michael Tomasky.
The IRS “scandal,” lately dormant, is returning soon to a cable-news channel near you: tomorrow, Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general who produced the original report at Darrell Issa’s request, is going back before Issa’s committee, and this time he’s in for some pretty serious grilling from Democrats. The evidence is now even more preponderant than it already was that there was absolutely no political agenda in the IRS’s review of 501(c)(4) applications. In fact, evidence is mounting that if anyone was behaving politically here, it was George—and, of course, Issa and the other Republicans who launched into their baseless tirades about “enemies lists” and other such nonsense.
Nancy Riordan holds a sign at a Tea Party rally outside the U.S. Capitol on June 19, 2013. (Mark Wilson/Getty)
Here’s what has happened while you were watching the Zimmerman trial or the immigration debate. Last Friday, Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on Issa’s oversight committee, sent Issa a letter asking that he recall George. Here are three examples of things Cummings’s investigators turned up about which they might like to hear George’s answers:
First, George apparently failed to disclose to the committee an interaction with his top investigator, who reviewed (at George’s request) some 5,500 emails from IRS employees. The investigator determined after his review that there was “no indication that pulling these selected applications was politically motivated.” They were singled out for review because the IRS employees weren’t sure how to process them. The investigator shared this finding with George, so evidently he knew about it. One might have thought that this would have been a relevant fact for George to share with the committee. But he did not.
I pondered the above headline; maybe too strong. But Senate life presents so few opportunities to write a headline that fun, and this is one of them, so I'm doing it.
Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell struck a deal this morning, abetted apparently by John McCain, that averted the invocation of the nuclear option by Reid and the Democrats. Reid got just about everything he wanted. The Senate is going to pass through all seven nominees that Reid brought up in this skirmish. It just confirmed the first of them, Richard Cordray, by a substantial margin, 71-29. C-SPAN just said 17 Republicans voted yes; it'll be interesting to see which ones.
It is important and useful to remember here that two years ago, when Cordray was made a recess appointment by Obama, Senate Republicans swore up and down and sideways and backwards that he would never, ever pass a Senate vote. He was toxic for them, mostly because they hate the agency. It's rather amazing that he got through.
Later, the EPA nominee, Gina McCarthy, and Tom Perez at Labor will be approved, as will some others. The only capitulation on the Democratic side is that the two NLRB members Obama wanted will be withdrawn in favor of two others. But the reason is that they, too, were recess appointments, and a conservative panel of jurists from the DC circuit said such appointments were invalid. So Republicans are honoring that judicial decision and demanding that the pair be withdrawn. However, the Republicans have agreed to approve anyone--anyone!--Obama and the Democrats put forward in their place.
Did you see or hear that interview with her on CNN? Seems very clear that she makes no effort to be informed about the world at all, and that she carries around a set of racial assumptions, let us say, and is utterly and totally unconscious about them. She thinks Zimmerman's--get this--"heart was in the right place." She thinks this would have gone down the same way no matter what color anybody was. Including, as she put it, "Spanish." Spanish?
Juror B37 said Zimmerman's 'heart was in the right place.'
What's more incredible than her proud ignorance is that the prosecution didn't strike her in the first place, as Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate. She kept bragging--bragging--that she doesn't pay any attention to the world. That she worries about her life and that's it. That she doesn't trust the media, which no one does, but she doesn't even read a thing, not one thing. That "you never get all the information." That last point should have been the clincher. Lithwick:
Gail Brashers-Krug, a former federal prosecutor and law professor, is currently a criminal defense attorney in Iowa. She also jumped back when B37 said, ”You never get all the information.“ “That's exactly what a defense attorney loves to hear,” says Brashers-Krug. “That's reasonable doubt, right there. If I were a prosecutor, that would make me extremely nervous about her.” She adds that B37’s devotion to animals might raise flags for her as well. “The animal thing is weird. She doesn't know how many animals she has, and she mentions her animals far, far more than her two daughters. She strikes me as eccentric and unpredictable. I never, ever want eccentric, unpredictable people on a jury.”
This is just too much, all this babyish caterwauling from Mitch McConnell. This is only about executive-branch appointees. That's the only kind of vote that Harry Reid & Co. would seek to permit passage on a simple-majority basis.
A president has the right to appoint the people he wants. Period. And yes, I will say this if and when Ted Cruz or Rand Paul is president. If Cruz were to win a presidential election, and he wanted to name some Texas nut as his attorney general, well, he won the election; so be it. And of course if the voters in their wisdom elect a President Cruz and a Democratically controlled Senate, then he might not get everyone he wants, but that will be because the voters decided to split the White House and Senate, not because a small band of willfull men decided to hold up dozens of appointments.
It's a ridiculous situation. The founders did think about all this, by the way, and they went well beyond the saucer-cooling-the-tea line that conservative readers are itching to post in the comment thread. This is from a piece I wrote in The New York Review a couple of years ago:
But aside from limited instances, such as the expulsion of a member, it does not follow that the founders wanted supermajorities. As Sarah A. Binder and Steven S. Smith show in their book Politics or Principle? some founders—George Mason of Virginia among them—backed supermajority requirements, but many were suspicious of them. The Continental Congress, under the Articles of Confederation, had been run on the supermajority principle—most legislation needed the support of two thirds of the states, or nine out of thirteen, to pass—and the results were unsatisfying. James Madison acknowledged that “more than a majority” might be justifiable in limited instances but argued that requirements for a supermajority were open to a decisive objection:
If Obama talks honestly, the right-wing media will howl about how he’s ‘racializing’—but decent and empathetic Americans will listen, writes Michael Tomasky.
It seems … I can’t quite call it a good moment, since what just happened down in Sanford, Florida, is decidedly un-good, but an opportune one to think about race in Barack Obama’s America. I never went in for that “post-racial America” foolishness (at least, I’m pretty sure I didn’t!), and in fact I believed from the start that there would be remarkable examples of both progress and powerful backlash against that progress. Four-plus years later, however, that looks only half right, and sad to say, it’s the depressing half that’s correct: Once you get past the fact of Obama’s election itself, there hasn’t really been much racial progress, but the backlash has still been ferocious. One might have thought that Obama could, on occasion, gently educate white Americans about some facts of black life, but of course his enemies won’t permit that. Thus, the cruel paradox that the country’s first black president can’t really talk about race.
President Barack Obama answers a reporter's question, about the death of Trayvon Martin, in the Rose Garden of the White House on March 23, 2012. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)
Think back to when Obama made his only substantive remarks about Trayvon Martin back in March 2012, when he said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.” Obama said other things that day. Like this: “I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this. And that everybody pull together.”
That was a nice thing to say, and the kind of thing I suppose a president ought to say. But it was a lie, and he knew it, and we all know it. Every parent in America didn’t relate to being Trayvon Martin’s parents. Every black parent did. But not many white parents. Most white parents, I’d wager, thought to themselves deep down what we all know to be true but don’t like to say—that what happened to Trayvon in all likelihood would never have happened to their kid, because George Zimmerman wouldn’t have felt threatened by their kid in the first place, or even if he had felt threatened, he’d damn well have thought twice before shooting a white kid, because he’d know in his bones that white lives are accorded more value in this society than black ones, and you don’t go around shooting white people and expect not to pay a price.
Harry Reid finally appears ready to confront Senate Republicans over nominations. Michael Tomasky says it will be ugly—and necessary.
Remember High Noon? No, of course you don’t. Nobody these days seems to have heard of a movie made before 1988 or so. But you get the concept. And in the Senate, metaphorically, it’s about 11:45 right now. Today Harry Reid will finally start the clock ticking on 11 Obama-administration presidential nominations that have been languishing in the Senate because of Republican obstruction—and forcing a long-overdue showdown over Senate rules that have been flouted and basically destroyed by the GOP since Barack Obama took office. With any luck, this will someday prove to have been a pivotal moment in Senate history, leading to radical reforms of the ossified culture and rules of the chamber where things go to die.
Sen. Harry Reid is finally pushing Obama’s nominations through. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
If you’ve been following Capitol Hill politics at all, you know that Republican senators have held up an inordinate number of Obama’s judicial- and especially executive-branch appointees. Look at some numbers. On judges, Obama has gotten 81 percent of his nominations confirmed. Bill Clinton got 82 percent. But George Bush got 94 percent. In other words, the Democrats were less obstructionist toward him than the Republicans were toward the last two Democratic presidents.
On executive nominations, the numbers are far more striking. By the July 4 recess, the Senate of this current Congress had confirmed 34 Obama nominees. In a parallel time frame in the middle of Bush’s presidency, the Senate sent 118 Bush nominees through (even though the GOP controlled the Senate then, remember, the Democrats always had more than 40 seats and thus could have filibustered anyone they chose). Nominees have been waiting an average of 260 days to get a vote. The Republicans conducted the first-ever filibuster of a nominee to head the Pentagon and the first-ever filibuster of a nominee simply because they didn’t like the agency he was named to head (Richard Cordray, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Senate historian Don Ritchie said, “We searched through past cases and could not find anything that fit the current circumstance”). Both sides play games along these lines when the other team has the White House, but Mitch McConnell has pushed it to heretofore unmapped extremes, aware that there exist enough examples that he can paint a false picture of equivalency and the public will just throw up their hands and say, “They all do it.”
This was released yesterday in the early evening:
“Today House Republicans affirmed that rather than take up the flawed legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system. The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy. But they don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they’re alarmed by the president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem. The president has also demonstrated he is willing to unilaterally delay or ignore significant portions of laws he himself has signed, raising concerns among Americans that this administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate.”
That's pretty close to definitive. None of the usual euphemistic language about doors being open, which is replaced by lots of very hostile language about Obama of the sort not put out in official statements by people who are remotely interested in making any kind of compromise. There is no pretense of wanting a deal. It's just a big F-bomb.
This is new in political discourse and strategy and is thus worth taking note of. The normal thing for the Republicans to do in this situation, even if they don't want to play ball, is to offer a lot of lip service about how important all this is and how committed Republicans are to a solution and of course they'll be happy to entertain the president's proposals and they look forward to working closely etc. etc.
All these conversations about Republicans and the white vote, argues Michael Tomasky, assume that the white working class will always be as conservative as it is today. Problem: it won’t.
As you are certainly aware, the new consensus among most Republicans and conservatives is that they don’t need no stinking Latinos (don’t get huffy on me; this is OK, because it’s a clever movie reference, and in any case it’s aimed not at Latinos, but at stupid Republicans) and will soar to victory on the strength of the white vote. People like me have spent a lot of airtime and ink these past couple of weeks arguing over whether this can work. But what’s interesting is this. There’s an assumption embedded in the argument that no one disputes: namely, that whites will always be as conservative as they are now and will always vote Republican in the same numbers they do now. This assumption is wrong. White people—yep, even working-class white people—are going to get less conservative in coming years, so the Republicans’ hopes of building a white-nationalist party will likely be dashed in the future even by white people themselves.
The college group Young Americans for Freedom roll up posters of Ronald Reagan to hand out at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, in March. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
We already know all about the creative-class white voters, the well-educated and higher-income people who have shifted dramatically to the Democratic column over the past generation. Those voters are increasingly lost to the GOP. True, Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama among college graduates (of all races) 51 percent to 47 percent, but Obama won going away among postgrads. Combine that with a Democratic lock on a huge chunk of a growing minority vote, and that’s why the Democratic Party goes into presidential elections now with a massive presumed Electoral College advantage (in recent elections, Democratic candidates have regularly won states totaling 263 electoral votes, just seven shy of the magic number).
Everyone knows and concedes all this. And everyone counters it by saying that the Republicans will just goose the less-educated white vote. As I noted above, everyone agrees that that vote is theirs for the goosing. But what if it isn’t?
Interesting that the Free Bacon, which was created by Matt Continetti to destroy Democrats, is going after Rand Paul. The paper reports that a close Paul aide, and the co-author of the senator's recent book, is a neoconfederate type:
Paul hired Jack Hunter, 39, to help write his book The Tea Party Goes to Washington during his 2010 Senate run. Hunter joined Paul’s office as his social media director in August 2012.
From 1999 to 2012, Hunter was a South Carolina radio shock jock known as the “Southern Avenger.” He has weighed in on issues such as racial pride and Hispanic immigration, and stated his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
During public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag....
It's designed to get attention when the two long-time editors of the two most important conservative opinion journals co-byline a piece, which I don't recall ever seeing them do. So, Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry, editors respectively of The Weekly Standard and The National Review, here's your attention!
They decided to join heads a column they call Kill the Bill." I think you know what bill I mean. They have various substanative beefs--the bill has loopholes, it "doesn't solve the illegal immigration problem" (newsflash: neither does it prove or disprove the existence of God), it admits too many low-skilled workers.
These aren't crazy objections, but they're the kind of run-of-the-mill objections that can be made about any big congressional bill. They get sorted out in conference, or fixed next time, or they just linger until the next generation comes along and gets a better idea about how to fix the problem. Legislating is as imperfect as anything else in this world.
But now we get to their political argument, which is what they and we really care about:
A Koch brothers ad attacking Obamacare begins airing today. It’s smart, savvy, and likely to be effective. Are Democrats ready to respond?
Starting today, Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ propaganda arm, will run an ad, the first of several that are planned, to attack Obamacare. This marks the official opening salvo of the 2014 election campaign. With no accomplishments, no remotely popular vision of the country, on the cusp of possibly killing immigration reform, and perhaps admitting (at least to themselves) that Benghazi and the IRS are not going to be Barack Obama’s undoing after all, Republicans have been reduced to grasping at their final straw: frightening people about health-care reform. The sad thing is, they stand a decent chance of succeeding. It’s too much to say that the fate of Obama’s legacy hinges on the fate of Obamacare. But it’s probably not too much to say that no other single item will loom as large in determining, 10 to 15 years from now, how Obama’s presidency will be seen. And it’s definitely accurate to say that this is going to be the consuming and defining fight of the remainder of his presidency.
The brand new Americans for Prosperity ad raises questions about Obamacare.
The debut Koch brothers ad is very smart. They’re not shooting for the expected geriatric caucus, or even for the middle-aged couple singing the kitchentable blues à la Harry and Louise. No—here, we have a young mother, pretty (not perky pretty but interesting-looking pretty; she might read books, might even be a liberal) and self-assured. She is “Julie, mother of two.” She speaks of her son “Caleb’s” health issues as a toddler (Caleb!). She’s also pregnant—great touch, that. I don’t know if she’s real or an actress, but if real, I guess I congratulate them for finding her, because they couldn’t have done better making it up.
She goes on to voice her concerns about Obamacare, starting with that old chestnut “If we can’t pick our own doctor…” Nonsense. Conservatives, when asked to defend this, do so by explaining that, well, if A happens and then B and then C, it could … in other words, it’s a Rube Goldberg answer that no one should take seriously. Then there’s “higher premiums and a smaller paycheck.” I don’t know where the “smaller paycheck” comes from (maybe she works for the government and has been furloughed two days a month). But as for the premiums, well, yes, increases are possible. But something beneficial is happening in exchange for those higher rates: sick people who couldn’t previously get insurance will be able to get it now, and more types of medical services will be covered and reimbursed. If you actually want to learn something about this interplay between premium increases and coverage, read this report from the state of California.
The coup may well end up being a good development for Egyptian democracy—and American liberals should support it, says Michael Tomasky.
We all walk around with paradigms and categories in our heads, and when an event takes place, we slot it into one of those categories. It gives new things the feel of familiarity and makes them less alien and frightening. But sometimes, things are new; or at least they have the potential to be. And I think what happened in Cairo this week is one of those things—if it’s not too odd to put it this way, a good military coup (otherwise already being called a “people’s coup” by its backers) that, while undeniably deposing a democratically elected leader, may yet paradoxically put Egypt on a quicker path to democracy than a full presidential term from Mohamed Morsi ever could have. And I’d like to see Democrats, from Obama on down, be more open to this possibility.
Egyptian security forces take position outside the headquarters of the Republican Guard in Cairo on July 5, 2013. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty)
There is a history here that makes a reflexive negative response to a military coup understandable. That’s Pinochet’s Chile, the USSR in Czechoslovakia and Hungary; mostly, to left-leaning Americans, it’s the U.S.-sponsored coups of the Cold War era, like Guatemala, Iran, and Indonesia, in addition to the aforementioned Chile (and several others). The mere phrase sets off all of these ominous bells (to liberals; American conservatives, obviously, were pretty much perfectly happy with every one of these coups and made them happen). More important is the fact that Morsi was chosen by the people in a free and fair election. For some folks I’ve seen on Twitter, this one fact seems to begin and end the conversation.
Here are the responses. First, while this was certainly a coup, the U.S. wasn’t behind it; the people in that square were. That’s different and new. This coup can certainly turn sinister, because the guys with the guns are in charge now and guys with guns can generally do what they want to do. But so far, this is an instance of a people who weren’t being respected making their voices heard.
The news of the one-year delay in the employer mandate announced yesterday is being discussed as if it's some huge earthquake, and I guess I can see why, but I wonder if the actual effects of the decision will be that great. First of all, 90 to 95 percent of all employers targeted in this mandate (between 50 and 100 employees) already provide coverage anyway, so this will impact only a fairly small number of firms.
It will, however, reduce the number of people who sign up for coverage by whatever percentage, and that reduction in the size of the pool will presumably have a negative effect on the extent to which costs for average health-care consumers can be reduced. One of the huge challenges of implementation, of course, will be getting uninsured people to go sign up. I've spoken with experts who think getting a few million people to sign up would be kind of miraculous, but remember that a few million is a small percentage of the total uninsured.
As for these medium-size employers, health-care experts--yes, even liberal ones who on balance backed the ACA--have long recognized that these provisions were complex and problematic. This permits me to plug my journal, Democracy, where two years ago we published a piece by Jacob Hacker, the father of the public option and one of the country's top health-care experts.
As Jacob saw it then, the exemption for firms with under 50 employees was problematic. He proposes a system based not on number of employees but size of payroll. Why? Well, because a diner wiith 15 employees is one thing, and a boutique investment house with 15 employees is quite another. Hacker:
Republicans used to do the Chamber of Commerce’s bidding. But on immigration reform, says Michael Tomasky, they’re ignoring the chamber and listening to radicals instead.
It’s an eternal verity of American politics: the Republicans are the party of big business. Democrats since Franklin Roosevelt have sneered it as a putdown, to which many Republicans respond with no shame, yes, we are, the business of America is business. And business, in Washington, means chiefly the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, the two beefiest business lobbies in the city. But funny thing—the chamber and NAM support the Senate immigration bill that the House Republicans are going to kill. In addition, some prominent evangelical groups are pro-reform, too. Which makes me wonder: if the Republicans are no longer listening to these people, then to whom precisely are they listening, and what does that tell us about what kind of party this is becoming?
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to media questions at a Capitol Hill news conference, where he addressed immigration reform, June 20, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
The chamber, NAM, and the evangelical groups have been in on the immigration discussions from the start. A great deal of the hard work here was done by congressional negotiators in conjunction with the chamber and the AFL-CIO, working through different categories of workers (high-skill, low-skill, guest) and arriving at language and numbers that suited all the interests at the table. Each of these groups has done the kind of outreach to its members that is vital in the case of big and controversial legislation like this. The Evangelical Immigration Table, a project of World Relief (which is an arm of the National Association of Evangelicals), persuaded pastors across the country to support reform.
There was a time in this country when the linked arms of those three groups would unquestionably have been joined by most Republicans on Capitol Hill. But that was long ago. Now the GOP is a different animal altogether.
I wouldn't exactly defend Obama's Egypt policy, and I can understand politically why Republicans are taking potshots, which are nicely summed up in this Foreign Policy article. But most of the criticism is opportunistic. Not only can no US president control events in Egypt. It's nearly impossible even to influence them. What's going to happen is going to happen.
This is a natural phase in the Arab Spring. Yes, I still use that term, because I take the long view that what started in Tunisia and Egypt two years ago was the beginning of a process that's going to take probably two generations, or 30 years, maybe more.
It was inevitable that the first round of elections in a newly democratic country was going to be won by the most nationalist-right party. There are many reasons for this, among them the fact that the liberal groups are ill-financed and fractured, but mainly just that the nationalist-right party offers the kind of xenophobic appeal that most people will fall for before democratic habits of mind are established in the larger people, which takes a long, long time.
Democratic habits of mind...this is the key, and it doesn't come easily for any society. Took the United States a good 100 years. With regard to the treatment of black citizens, 170 years. These habits don't exist yet in the Arab world by and large, except to some extent in Lebanon, which unfortunately is functionally run by Hezbollah, and a few other places.
From 'principled fiscal conservative protest' to 'Obama derangement syndrome:' John Avlon talks to CNN's Carol Costello on the fifth anniversary of the Tea Party.
The WikiLeaks founder participated in a glitch-filled—but candid—live video chat from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London as part of the South By Southwest tech fest.