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The Senate's Immigration Vote

So the Senate voted last night to let the immigration bill proceed, surpassing the needed 60 votes by seven for a final 67-27 tally. Here's the roll call.

That makes everybody feel good and talk about how the system can work and so on, but I see the glass as half-empty. This tally means that a majority of Republicans voted against the bill--27 against and just 15 for. Of the four R's who voted against, my guesstimate is that three of them would have voted no, so basically, R's made a rather strong statement that they oppose immigration reform. Mitch McConnell, their leader, voted no--remember, not on the substance of the bill, just on the idea of moving it forward.

It was said before the vote that 75 yeas would have meant that about half of R's voted for it, and that was considered a kind of benchmark that might have signaled to the House that the GOP as a party wanted reform. That signal has not been sent.

In fact, I don't think the House cares much about the Senate's signals one way or the other. And I wouldn't put too much stock in Paul Ryan's strongly pro-bill stance; he's just positioning himself to get credit if it passes, which will make him and Marco Rubio the two pro-reform 2016 candidates. This apparently is his gamble, and it isn't crazy: One pro-reform candidate will make it to the final two, and he has reason to think it'll be him, not Rubio.

What Would You Have Done?

A Textbook "Curb Your Enthusiasm" Moment

So I was in the Target last night with Margot (my daughter, just shy of three). It being an off time, 7:30-ish on a Sunday night, only a few of those multiple check-out lanes were open. I looked furtively around, as one does, and noticed that Lane 8 had only a couple of people, so I headed that way.

As I did I noticed a woman in front of me. She had no shopping cart and was carrying nothing. As she took her place in line in front of me, she turned around and said to me, in a pretty aggressive tone of voice: “Excuse me.” She pointed behind me. Here came her husband, pushing the buggy. The very full buggy.

What to do? In my view, this was ethically dubious on her part, and extremely so. You can’t do that to someone. Her merchandise was behind me. Had I been in her shoes, with my spouse trailing behind her with our merch, I have no doubt I would have waved her through. I was pretty shocked at her. But in the event I just let it go, because I didn’t want to create a ruckus in front of the kid, and because (this was the main thing, truth be told), I couldn’t quite (in the two or three seconds I had) figure out a way to object with enough moral clarity that she and her spouse would be properly chastised.

And that’s what made this such a great “Curb Your Enthusiasm” moment. As is the case in the funniest CYE situations, Larry David (i.e., my good self, in this instance) is actually in the right, but he’s such an asshole about it that he fritters away the moral advantage. I worried that that would be my fate. Larry D., if you somehow happen to be reading this, and you ever make a new season, this would make for a great episode, I humbly submit. Key point: Their cart is bulging full, while yours has just a few items. I envision that famous use of the camera as your eyes, three successive tighter-and-tighter shots of their cart as the realization hits that they're going to cost you 25 minutes.


Snowden Is a Spy

If this South China Morning Post story is right, Edward Snowden isn't admirable in the least and is nothing more than a spy:

Edward Snowden secured a job with a US government contractor for one reason alone – to obtain evidence on Washington’s cyberspying networks, the South China Morning Post can reveal.

For the first time, Snowden has admitted he sought a position at Booz Allen Hamilton so he could collect proof about the US National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programmes ahead of planned leaks to the media.

“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he told the Post on June 12. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”

Sad Truth

The 1 Percent of the 1 Percent

On this heavy news day, I wish to draw your attention not to the Supreme Court or Edward Snowden's whereabouts but a study, by the Sunlight Foundation, that is arguably more interesting than either of those first two topics. The report, by Lee Drutman, explains a lot about US politics:

In the 2012 election, 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people. In a nation of 313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States...

...One sign of the reach of this elite “1% of the 1%”: Not a single member of the House or Senate elected last year won without financial assistance from this group. Money from the nation’s 31,385 biggest givers found its way into the coffers of every successful congressional candidate. And 84 percent of those elected in 2012 took more money from these 1% of the 1% donors than they did from all of their small donors (individuals who gave $200 or less) combined.

This elite 1% of the 1% dominated campaign giving even in a year when President Barack Obama reachednew small donor frontiers (small donors are defined as individuals giving in increments of less than $200). In 2014, without a presidential race to attract small donors, all indicators are that the 1% of the 1% will occupy an even more central role in the money chase.


Showdown Week at the Court

The decisions the justices will announce this week, says Michael Tomasky, should remind us just how important the Supreme Court will be in 2016.

Today begins one of the biggest weeks in the Supreme Court’s recent history. Certainly the biggest since it decided on Obamacare almost exactly a year ago, and I would say even bigger, because while that was a huge deal in a news sense, these decisions will drill right into the muscle and bone of our competing constitutional theories in this country—whether the Constitution is a living document that permits judges to use it to reach conclusions about changing social morality (the liberal view), or whether it should do no such thing and judges should never think about “outcomes” (the conservative one). The decisions should certainly focus liberals’ minds on what a crucial role the Court plays in shaping our lives, and the fact that we have four justices, two on each side, age 75 or older is a reminder of how the next president may well shape the nature and size of the Court’s majority for at least a generation to come, maybe two.

APTOPIX Supreme Court Gay Marrage

People rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on March 27, 2013. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Let’s start with the cases at hand. As you read this Monday, the Court might already have announced its decision on the affirmative-action case before it, the voting-rights case, or the two same-sex marriage cases it is considering. A ruling against the University of Texas’s use of race as a sort of second-tier admissions consideration could spell the end for race-based admissions across the country. Similar changes have already led to a sharp decline in black enrollment at elite schools in Texas, California, and Florida, so the question would be whether a conservative decision in Fisher v. University of Texas would decrease black enrollment down the food chain.

The voting-rights case arose in Shelby County, Alabama, which had been drawing its districts so as to make likely the election of one black member of the city council in the town of Calera. But new lines were drawn, and the black candidate lost (it was all much shadier than that, and if you think Section 5 remedies are old-fashioned, I implore you to read this excellent account of the facts of the case in Calera by Lou DuBose).

The farm bill was defeated in part because they got fewer yea votes out of Democrats than they were hoping for. This happened, according to moderate Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota, because of a last-second amendment from Eric Cantor that sought to impose sterner work requirements on recipients of food stamps. Democratic whip Steny Hoyer says it took a bipartisan bill and turned it into a partisan bill. 

This was just a cat-piss mean amendment that you have to think was almost designed to push Democrats away. Fraud in the food-stamp program (known by the acronym SNAP) is a frightening 1 percent, according to Think Progress. And existing work requirements are pretty stringent already. If you live in Cantor's Virginia and want food stamps, here's what you have to do, according to the state's web site:

If you are age 18 to 50 and able to work, you may be subject to a work requirement in order to receive SNAP. This requirement would limit the number of months for which you could receive SNAP to three months in a 36 month period. After you receive SNAP for three months, you may be able to receive three additional months if you complete certain work related requirements. You may be exempt from this work requirement if you are currently working or participating in an approved work program; responsible for the care of a child; pregnant; medically certified as unable to work; meet one of several work registration exemption reasons; or live in an exempt locality.

I can't find what these "certain work requirements" are, but it seems to me that having re-meet them every three months provides a pretty constant check on people and meets a high standard of being responsible with the taxpayers' money.


Dear Editors: Ban ‘Redskins’

Newspapers should simply refuse to print the name of Washington’s football team, says Michael Tomasky. After all, they mostly refuse to print other racial slurs.

A word, Humpty Dumpty told Alice, means whatever I want it to mean. But can the same word mean different things in different parts of a newspaper? Apparently it can. Or let me put it more precisely: some words, like the word I’m thinking of that I bet you’ll guess before this sentence is over, can be banned from most parts of the paper as obviously offensive to its readers and yet permitted to appear in the sports section as if it had emerged from the pen of Shakespeare himself.

Redskins Football

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder looks down as his team practices. (Evan Vucci/AP)

As I was recently contemplating Washington football club owner Dan Snyder’s pig-headed and reactionary defenses of his team’s pig-headed and reactionary name, I got to thinking. If he won’t change it, what force on earth can make him change it? There is ample precedent in history for change being forced upon recalcitrant organizations from the outside. In fact that’s the usual way, no? The czar and Louis XVI, among countless others, put up quite a fight before going.

Indeed, conspicuous precedent for forced change exists with respect to this selfsame Washington football club. The team, as most people now know, was the last in the National Football League to integrate, pulling up the rear by some distance. It did so only when forced to by the Kennedy administration. George Preston Marshall, the racist owner (who gave the team its current name), wanted a new stadium. What we now call RFK Stadium was built on land owned by the Department of the Interior, which gave Kennedy’s aggressively integrationist interior secretary, Stewart Udall, the right to demand that Marshall’s team abide by federal nondiscrimination laws. The racist was cornered. (I went into the whole history of Marshall and the team name a couple of weeks ago here.)

Good News for Now

The Senate Immigration...Breakthrough

The details aren't fully known yet but it does seem Senate Democrats and Republicans may have a deal on border security that this morning's news reports are excitedly saying could lead to a large bipartisan vote for the bill in the Senate by next week.

You can read about it here. Basically, it looks like the Republicans are getting more money for border security, more fencing, and language that would prevent undocumented people from attaining permanent status until border-security measures are completed. What the Democrats are getting is, well, Republican support. And, it seems, a version of "triggers" that isn't quite as onerous as some farther to the right are demanding. But this is all still sketchy. Details will emerge today, tomorrow.

We'll just have to see what the right-wing base makes of this, which will depend in part on what a few key senators do. Rand Paul is one of those. Like a lot of them, he sends coy little signals in this direction and then that direction, mostly against. He's basically just trying to outmaneuver Rubio here--if he can support it while not losing the base and emerging as more important than Rubio, he will, and if he can't, he won't. But I would guess that if he backs it that deflates the opposition a bit.

There's a rhythm to these sorts of things. Everybody gets all excited about a possible bipartisan development. Then the right-wing starts fulminating against it, and the shine wears off. Harry Reid wants to move fast here. Maybe he can finagle a vote before the rage caucus gets fully into gear.

The IRS scandal would appear to be functionally over. USA Today's Gregory Korte, who's had some scoops on this beat, writes:

John Shafer, a manager in the IRS' Cincinnati field office, has told congressional investigators that the scrutiny of tea party basesstarted as "normal business" in early 2010 when one of his agents came to him with a difficult case,according to a transcript released by Democrats on a key House committee Tuesday.

"In this particular case, it was apparent that there was not enough information" for the agent to figure out whether a tea party group applying for tax-exempt status was going to be involved in significant political activity, he said...

...Shafer was the manager of a screening group in the IRS' Exempt Organization Determinations unit. It was the job of screeners to look at each application for tax exemption as it came in, and decide whether the application was complete or whether other IRS agents needed to follow up with more investigation.


Today’s GOP vs. Tomorrow’s GOP

As the immigration vote nears, writes Michael Tomasky, Republicans face a stark choice: between the present-day wishes of GOP legislators and the party’s future national hopes.

We are about to watch something unfold that is really fascinating and very rare in American politics. One of our two major parties—I’ll let you guess which one!—is on the cusp of having to weigh what is good for its congressional wing in the short term versus what is good for its aspirations to reclaim the presidency over the long term. I’m not sure this has any precedent, at least in the modern history of the republic: a party that, electorally, demographically, and culturally, has so insulated and isolated itself from the rest of the nation that what’s good for its legislators is bad for the party’s future—not to mention the rest of the country.


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), center, and other members of immigration reform’s bipartisan Gang of Eight at a Capitol Hill news conference. The Republican Party must weigh its present-day priorities on immigration against its future. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

I’m writing of course about immigration and, of course, about the Republican Party. We are nearing, now, the push-comes-to-shove moment; we’re about to see whether this bill can pass. You will remember back to last November and December, when nearly everyone (except me) agreed that while there may be no grand bargain or comprehensive tax reform or gun-control legislation in the offing, surely immigration was a slam dunk. The GOP had learned the hard way that it simply couldn’t go on as it has been. The party would never win another presidential election, etc.

So now we approach the midnight hour, and what is going on? Passage is hardly a slam dunk. It’s more like a 25-foot 3-pointer with a defender’s hand in the face. And the problem sure ain’t the Democrats. In the Senate, Republicans are skittish about border security (among other issues, but mainly border security). The Republicans who want stricter border-security measures and a say in how to create them have a point; I can understand that their constituents are demanding this, so Democrats should be willing to bargain here. On the other hand, there’s something illogical at the heart of the border-security argument. Unless the border is secure, the 11 million will have to wait, and wait, for the path to citizenship to kick in. Why hold people who are already here hostage to border-security demands? It’s sort of like saying current pot offenders can’t get out of jail until the marijuana trade is eradicated.

Barack Obama’s Charlie Rose interview was kind of amazing. A president who rarely says anything interesting in an interview said a number of pretty fascinating things, speaking for the first time in an in-depth way on the NSA program and a host of other issues.

Here are some of the key quotes, which The Washington Post and others rounded up.

On NSA: “Some people say, ‘Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.’ Dick Cheney sometimes says, ‘Yeah, you know? He took [the Bush-Cheney approach] all lock, stock, and barrel.” My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather: Are we setting up a system of checks and balances?”

An Actual Factual Difference

The NSA Program and the Law

Yesterday in the OJ comment thread (by the way, sorry for mangling those dates), Onsafari wondered why I hadn't weighed in on the Snowden business. Then, pumpkinface huffed that Onsafari shouldn't hold her/his breath because Tomasky must surely be flummoxed by the fact that Obama has approved something like this, so silence had to be the only option.

Actually, I wrote about it the day after the story broke. I called the post "Big Brother Is Watching, and People Don't Care," and I took the view that even putting terrorism aside, there's bound to be a trade-off between privacy and the astonishing amount of information we have at our fingertips, and that while I wasn't thrilled that this was the case, I could live with it provided--provided--the things the government is now saying are true.

Now, I'll go a step further. For everyone running around saying that this proves that Obama is Bush and there's no difference, I point out what is obviously a rather crucial difference. At some point after 9-11, the Bush administration just started doing domestic surveillance in--what's the word here?--circumvention or violation of existing law. News of the program broke, in The New York Times and elsewhere, and eventually the Bushies had to seek changes in the law.

But those didn't happen until 2008. So, for a good six or seven years, the Bush adminstration was just doing what it wanted, under the unitary executive theory, cavalierly ignoring the law (indeed, in 2010, a federal judge found that Bush had been acting illegaly). So a law was passed, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendment. It passed 293-129 in the House and 69-28 in the Senate. In both houses, Republicans supported it overwhelmingly while Democrats were split about evenly. The changes were reauthorized in 2012 by similarly large majorities with similar intra-party splits.


The O.J. Anniversary

Today, someone reminds me, is the anniversary of the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase, which happened in 1995. That was really the first modern media event as we understand them today, and it's hard to describe to a young person who's grown up saturated in social media just what that night was like.

I lived in New York at the time, but I was down here in Washington, visiting my sister and her family (little Victoria at that point still in diapers--off to Kenyon College this fall, and I'm sure you all join me in wishing her the best!). We were doing what much of America was doing that night, watching the NBA Finals, Knicks versus Rockets. I don't remember what was happening in that game at that point, but it was a very good series, I believe on NBC at the time. It had to be something awfully big to make NBC cut away.

But it did. And lo and behold, the incredulous broadcaster, whoever it was, could hardly believe what he was telling America: the great O.J. Simpson, one of the finest and most belaureled athletes of the time who had become a lovably buffoonish (and pretty good actor), was on the run from the cops and may have killed his wife and this poor Goldman fellow.

It was absolutely surreal. The slow-motion-ness of it, mainly--this Bronco was going 35, 40 mph, down closed off freeways, with a dozen or two police cars in what I suppose we must call lukewarm pursuit. And it went on for what, an hour, more. Watching a bunch of cars following another car at 35 mph may not sound riveting, but under the circumstances, it was one of the most literally unbelievable things you'd ever seen.

Reince Priebus

A Terrible Case for GOP Reform

The RNC chairman’s weekend speech to a “teavangelical” convention demonstrated why Republican efforts to moderate are going nowhere. By Michael Tomasky.

Occasionally, I lose my bearings and permit myself an ounce of sympathy for Republican chairman Reince Priebus. I mean, that’s quite an asylum he’s trying to run. Then I remember (usually in about four seconds) that no one is making him, and I resume the normal contempt posture. I went through this ritual again over the weekend as I watched Priebus’s speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition. The speech made headlines for the chairman’s promise to shorten the primary calendar and move the convention forward, but it was actually noteworthy because it was painfully clear that Priebus is scared to death of Ralph Reed’s “teavangelicals,” a fact that does not bode well for his much-publicized movement to build a less intolerant GOP.


Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus at the National Press Club, March 18, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty)

Priebus took the stage to the kind of applause one might associate with a Broadway understudy filling in for the star—a vague curiosity, a few dollops of encouragement from the kinder souls, but mostly suspicion. This is because, to the rabble-rousers Reed can manage to convene these days, Priebus is Da Man. Mr. Establishment. A sellout, a puller of strings, a molly-coddler of the Roves and other consultants who would have the party sell its soul in exchange for a softer image. He twice had to reassure the audience as he made his case and listed his points that “this is not an establishment takeover,” it’s just common sense or some such.

I loved the way he started: “I just wanna let you know. I’m a Christian. I’m a believer. God lives in my heart. And I’m for changing minds, not changing values. Are you with me?” That was intended as an applause line. To call the response indifferent would be so kind as to be irresponsible.


A Democrat Fights Back

Kudos to the Democratic congressman for standing up to Darrell Issa on the IRS investigation—and showing once again how conservatives refuse to sort fact from fiction. By Michael Tomasky.

This is becoming quite a throwdown between Darrell Issa, the wild-swinging GOP chairman of the House oversight committee, and Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat. Cummings is showing himself to be a pretty tough customer, and if this IRS “matter” (the media should either stop referring to it as a scandal or, as I suggested in my previous column, make it clear that the only scandal here is Issa’s reckless behavior) fizzles as quickly and lamely as it looks as if it might, it’ll be Cummings who’ll deserve a lot of the credit for breaking some of the silly protocols of Capitol Hill and calling nonsense nonsense. What’s happening now at Issa’s committee threatens to turn him into a walking punchline, and conservatives with any capacity at all for self-reflection ought to take stock of what this whole thing says about their movement’s ability—actually, its desire—to distinguish between fact and fiction.


Cummings and Issa are longtime adversaries. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

When last I wrote, I described how Issa, who’s been having closed-door interviews with various IRS employees, has kept those transcripts under wraps. He was asked in May if he ever intended to make them public, and he said yes, he did. Well, he sort of has—that is, he’s been selectively leaking some. Naturally, the parts he’s letting journalists see are the bits that seem ambiguous.

Cummings responded to this by doing some leaking of his own. So he let the world know about the self-described conservative Republican who’d worked in the Cincinnati office for 21 years and said he had no reason whatsoever to think the White House had any role in the IRS decision to apply a little added scrutiny to some Tea Party applications for nonprofit status. Issa responded to that three days ago with a letter, with a fairly high snark quotient by congressional standards, explaining that despite what he said last month, this would be a terrible time to release full transcripts because they “would serve as a roadmap of the Committee’s investigation.”

About the Author

Author headshot

Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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