The background-check bill isn’t finished. And when it comes up for a vote again, says Michael Tomasky, the pressure will be on the senators who recently did the NRA’s bidding.
How stupid does the Senate background-check vote look now, I ask the pundits and others who thought it was dumb politics for Obama and the Democrats to push for a vote that they obviously knew they were going to lose. I’d say not very stupid at all. The nosedive taken in the polls by a number of senators who voted against the bill, most of them in red states, makes public sentiment here crystal clear. And now, for the first time since arguably right after the Reagan assassination attempt—a damn long time, in other words—legislators in Washington are feeling political heat on guns that isn’t coming from the NRA. This bill will come back to the Senate, maybe before the August recess, and it already seems possible and maybe even likely to have 60 votes next time.
Anti-gun violence demonstrators, including Rachel Ahrens (L), 13, Abby Ahrens, 8, and their mother Betty Ahrens hold signs condeming the National Rifle Association during a protest in McPhearson Square April 25, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
You’ve seen the poll results showing at least five senators who voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill losing significant support. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is the only one of the five from a blue state, so it’s probably not surprising that she lost the most, 15 points. But Lisa Murkowski in Alaska lost about as much in net terms. Alaska’s other senator, Democrat Mark Begich, lost about half that. Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio and Jeff Flake of Arizona also tumbled.
Egad. Could it possibly be that those pre-vote polls of all these states by Mayor Bloomberg’s group were ... right? All the clever people pooh-poohed them, because, well, they were done by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and because it just seemed impossible that 70 percent of people from a red state could support the bill. But the polls were evidently right, or at least a lot closer to right than the brilliant minds who laughed at Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey and Harry Reid.
I don't mind being called an Obamabot. I mean, I've written a few columns about the guy that were brutal, toughing than anything Dowd's written, especially at the time of the debt ceiling fiasco. But I understand the game, and it doesn't bother me.
I have something I wish to make crystal clear, however. If it seems to you (I mean you, pumpkinface!) that I'm always excusing Obama, you're misreading me. I am instead seeking to cast blame where it properly belongs. And that is almost always the Republican Party. I've said all this a jillion times before, but it is simply not a mainstream political party in the traditional American sense. It is a radical oppositionalist faction, way beyond the normal American parameters both in terms of ideology and tactics. And that needs to be pointed out, unfortunately, again and again and again.
Just today, Pat Toomey said of the background-check bill:
"In the end it didn’t pass because we're so politicized. 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 so sleazy and cowardly, what he said about the $15,000 from the CEO who helped to pay for his daughter's wedding:
In Virginia, gifts to family members don't need to be reported. The governor says that's why he did not report the $15,000 gift from Williams to help pay for his daughter's wedding. The FBI is now looking into the details of that gift.
"My daughter indicated that she wanted to pay for the wedding. She and her husband Chris. It's something my wife and I did 37 years ago," said Gov. McDonnell.
"As I've said publicly, I signed the initial contract, we put down some initial deposits, but my daughter and her husband wanted to pay for the wedding, in fact...they paid a significant amount, in fact, almost all the other expenses and they wanted to do this. Now they accepted the gift from Mr. Williams. And I believe under the reporting laws that this would be a gift to my daughter and not to me," explained Governor McDonnell.
Apparently not. Dowd, apparently miffed by Obama's remarks about Aaron Sorkin's liberal fantasy at the correspondents' dinner, which were obviously aimed at her, is at it again today, riffing on some of Obama's remarks at the press conference yesterday:
"But, Jonathan,” he lectured Karl, “you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job. They are elected, members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people.”
Actually, it is his job to get them to behave. The job of the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It’s called leadership.
This is ridiculous. It is their job to behave. What we mean by behave is act in some remotely vague way how our founders hoped legislators would act, which most certainly does not include opposing anything and everything of importance that the president proposes. I can guarantee you that no one read those paragraphs this morning with more pleasure (assuming they read them, or had someone read them to them) than John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. The Sorkin-Dowd liberal fantasy lets them completely off the hook, and they know it, and they love every column by people like Dowd and Ron Fournier that proceeds from the assumption that Obama should just be more like the presidents in the movies.
JCS Chairman Martin Dempsey is quoting making the following statements in Buzzfeed:
"Whether the military effect would produce the kind of outcome that not just members of Congress but all of us would desire — which is an end to the violence, some kind of political reconciliation among the parties and a stable Syria — that's the reason I've been cautious, is the right word, about the application of the military instrument of power, because it's not clear to me that it would produce that outcome," Dempsey said at a lunch with reporters.
"That said, options are ready," Dempsey said. "If either it becomes clear to me, or I'm ordered to do, so we will act."
Dempsey, who just returned from a 10-day trip abroad to Asia, declined to specifically address what President Obama said on Tuesday about whether or not the United States will intervene in Syria; "I won't go into detail about what those options might be," for possible intervention, Obama said at a press conference. But Dempsey said that the military's posture on the issue has not changed.
Well, we learned something new about what's going on in wingnut land. Apparently, you see, there are four--no; make that at least four!--diplomatic officials who are in possession of vital information about Benghazi: the department's (er, Hillary's) refusal to increase security in the months before the attack; the diplo security forces (er, Hillary's) failure to respond to the attack in the most forceful way; and finally, the administration's (er, Hillary's) cover-up and lies in the aftermath.
Ed Henry asked about this right off the bat, injecting a dose of Breitbartism into the proceedings. Like everyone else in America who tries not to patronize the fever swamps, I went "huh?" Then I Googled it and got this Fox News piece laying out the whole vast conspiracy:
Victoria Toensing, a former Justice Department official and Republican counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, is now representing one of the State Department employees. She told Fox News her client and some of the others, who consider themselves whistle-blowers, have been threatened by unnamed Obama administration officials.
“I'm not talking generally, I'm talking specifically about Benghazi – that people have been threatened,” Toensing said in an interview Monday. “And not just the State Department. People have been threatened at the CIA.”...
For the first time, black turnout exceeded white turnout in 2012. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to alienate black voters. Michael Tomasky on the GOP’s self-destructive behavior.
Did black turnout exceed white turnout for the first time in history, as the Associated Press reported over the weekend, simply because a black guy was on the ballot? Look, there’s no denying Barack Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket made a substantial difference. But Obama wasn’t the only factor driving this, and I invite conservatives to deceive themselves into thinking that this is the case. Because for all this talk about a “new” GOP out to steal minorities’ hearts, the (usually white) people doing the talking seem to forget that today’s Republican Party is doing more to stop black people from voting than George Wallace ever did.
First, let’s look over the AP findings. It’s pretty amusing, really, because this is one of those cases where the interpretation and implied lesson depends wholly on who’s writing it up. At HuffPo, the headline read “Black Voter Turnout Rate Passes Whites in 2012 Election,” which is pretty neutral and straightforward, but if anything I suppose is designed to make your average HuffPo reader think: good.
Whereas at The Daily Caller, the head was “Report: 2004 turnout numbers would have elected Romney,” which of course was designed (whether intentionally or not) to make your average Caller reader resent the march of time and its ineluctable effects on the body politic. There is also the implication in Caller-style packaging that Republicans don’t need the brown people. Just nominate someone who can crank up the “white community,” and problems solved. We’ll be hearing more, I suspect, from that faction as the months and years propel us toward 2016.
In any case. African-American turnout, the AP reported, was just slightly higher than white turnout. Now I wouldn’t deny that Obama had a lot to do with this. That’s just the way it works. Ethnic or racial groups who don’t normally have a chance to vote for one of their own for president tend to come out in pretty big numbers—Greeks in 1988, for example. So there’s basic pride. Additionally, there can be no serious question that African-Americans watched the Republicans’ barely sane thrusts and parries against Obama, the birtherism and the Kenyan socialist meme and all the rest, and thought, “What a bunch of racist loons,” thus resolving even more deeply to get to the polls.
Did you catch Sandra Day O'Connor's comments over the weekend? From the Chicago Tribune:
Looking back, O'Connor said, she isn't sure the high court should have taken the case.
"It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue," O'Connor said during a talk Friday with the Tribune editorial board. "Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye.'"
The case, she said, "stirred up the public" and "gave the court a less-than-perfect reputation."
Who’s to blame for Gitmo? Republicans, Democrats, and most of all the American people—who refuse to get outraged over this national disgrace. By Michael Tomasky.
I remember how deeply the 1981 hunger strike by Bobby Sands and the other Irish prisoners in Long Kesh shocked my conscience. Maybe it was because it was the first time I’d ever heard of a hunger strike, but I was riveted. I remember that it was big news, too. Huge. Even though it was against another government.
People dress in orange jumpsuits and black hoods as activists demand the closing of the U.S. military's detention facility in Guantánamo during a protest, part of the Nationwide for Guantánamo Day of Action, on April 11 in New York's Times Square. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty)
The current hunger strike at Guantánamo, against our own government, is generating some coverage, to be sure; but if I walked down the main street of Youngstown, Ohio, or Flagstaff, Arizona, and asked 40 people, I wonder whether even 10 would know about it. And then I wonder how many of those 10 would give a crap. The Gitmo situation is Obama’s fault, and Congress’s, and the national security establishment’s. But it’s ours, too. On these matters, we Americans have become a pretty lousy people.
I don’t care what your political views are—I say there is no way on earth that you could read the recent Times op-ed by Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel and not feel abject shame. He has been detained for 11 years, three months. In that time, he’s never had a trial. He was never even charged with a crime. If you are an American citizen and that doesn’t scandalize you, horrify you, then you are not really an American in any important meaning of the term.
It's pretty hard to deny the above after today's House vote on the FAA. The Democrats were supposed to oppose this and defend the poor and those who depend on the government in other ways--scientific reserachers, for instance, whose work is so tied up in government grants. Instead, they did exactly what one feared they would do, which is vote to protect the business traveler and let everyone else suffer.
Now the Republicans know, or can presume until it's proven otherwise at least, that if there's a little discomfort caused by the sequester to any group with a little political power, they can just fix that and do nothing else. The Democrats from Obama down could have tried to exert some leverage here, saying we'll help fix A but in exchange for helping to fix B. Maybe they didn't have any, but they sure won't after today.
Ezra Klein makes an interesting broader point:
It is worth noting how different the Democrats’ approach to sequestration has been to the GOP’s approach to, well, everything. Over the past five years, Republicans have repeatedly accepted short-term political pain for long-term policy gain. That’s the governing political principle behind their threats to shut down the government, breach the debt ceiling, and, for that matter, accept sequestration. Today, Democrats showed they’re not willing to accept even a bit of short-term pain for long-term policy gain. They played a game of chicken with the Republicans, and they lost. Badly.
This is pretty out there, from the excellent Julian Borger of The Guardian:
On 19 March, both the Assad regime and the rebels claimed nerve gas had been used against their forces at Khan al-Assal. British officials say Syrian army troops appear to have been affected in that incident but suggest it was either a case of "friendly fire", a projectile going astray, or a deliberate attempt to implicate the rebels.
A deliberate attempt to implicate the rebels? So they sarined some of their own people to set up the FSA? Wow. That is hard core. Like a Bond villian. Or like Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven. If you haven't seen that and don't know what I'm talking about, you should. It's a pretty great movie, and anyway even a bad movie is good if it has Gene Tierney.
Now, being more serious, this is a really frightening situation. I was profoundly concerned when Obama made those remarks about a "red line" months ago, for the obvious reason that we knew this day was going to come. What has he locked us into?
The stagecraft at the Bush presidential library opening was impressive, says Michael Tomasky. But it can’t undo the Iraq war—a lesson Obama should remember as he confronts today’s Syria news.
History will record—whether ominously or as mild irony remains to be seen—that it was about a half an hour into the dedication of George W. Bush’s library, at this first gathering of our five living presidents in five years, that word moved across the wires that Chuck Hagel had said that we had reason to believe that Syria had used chemical weapons against its own people.
President Barack Obama, left, former President George W. Bush, center, and former President Clinton arrive for a dedication ceremony at the George W. Bush Library and Museum on April 25, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
History might remember this coincidence ominously because, of course, Barack Obama has said that Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people would cross a red line. Well, it’s been crossed. Shortly after Hagel’s slightly wiggle-roomish statement, John Kerry confirmed it in more concrete terms. So what do we do now? Talk about crossing red lines almost has to be followed up by some kind of action. I’d be worried if I were you.
And it’s a reminder, if only so far potentially, that a president’s fortunes can change in very unpredictable ways. Seems worth mentioning at this point that Harry Truman was cruising along in pretty good shape in the spring of 1950, somewhere in the ballpark of 50 percent approval ratings, and then lo and behold, North Korea crossed the 38th parallel and Truman was forced, by circumstances and his own previous rhetorical commitments, into war. He left office at about 25 percent, and although his rehabilitation is thorough and nearly universal these days, believe me, it took a long time. Democrats didn’t talk much about Truman when I was young.
Okay then, no internet troubles in the hotel at least. It's 6:40 am as I type this sentence, and by 8 or so I plan to be over at the SMU campus to get myself settled in for the big event.
The Times today focuses on Obama's "delicate task" this morning in finding something nice to say about George W. Bush. This doesn't seem so difficult to me. I would write for Obama something like:
For his first few months in office, President Bush faced the normal struggles any new president faces. Then, terror struck. Some of us, this small fraternity of us on this stage, know what it is like to sit in that Oval Office, and to have to be the one making decisions. But none of us, not even me and other former presidents here gathered, can possibly know what it was like to sit in the Oval Office on that day. Only President Bush can ever know that. Only he can know the weight that added to the job, the special burdens that came with being the president whom history selected to guide America through the age of terror...
You know, that kind of thing. Then you transition to a discussion about this spanking new center and what fine work it's going to do on behalf of humankind, you offer your congratulations, and you pay homage to a country where we can put aside our differences and blah blah blah.
I don’t hate electronics. Though not a gadgethead, I’m actually pretty fond of them. But there are days that I hate them. This was one of them, and I’m really curious to know whether this kind of thing happens to you.
So last year, after holding on to an aging laptop for a couple of years too long, just out of laziness and a rationale that my travel was sparse enough that it didn’t really constitute such a great inconvenience, I finally updated. I got an HP Folio laptop, a cute little thing that weighs no more than a dinnerplate, and a Google Nexus 7, then brand new to the market. The old laptop had become close to completely useless. It worked at home as a secondary computer to run Pandora through the stereo and such tasks. Fine.
But when I depended on it—in a hotel room, in a Starbuck’s, what have you—it always disappointed. It couldn’t sniff the network, or would eventually do so after 40 minutes, or would do so and then lose the connection in five minutes, and do that over and over and over again. I would go online to read about why these things happen and carefully work my way through various discussion boards, but these discussions were and are held at levels above my comprehension and might as well have been in Farsi.
Even so, with the new equipment, I thought I was all set. I marveled at the laughing ease with which my little HP located (without my having to do anything!) my home network. I tightened my chest and then released it in exhilaration as my Google machine located the network at my sister-in-law’s house, in a matter of seconds. I was finally going to become one of those people. You know; those people who are so confident in their machines’ ability to deliver them to salvation that if they have even two spare minutes in an airport, they don’t hesitate to pull them out.
Last Friday I went to a small breakfast at Third Way where Joe Manchin was the speaker. This was just two days of course after the failed vote, so interest in his thoughts was keen, and I must say he didn’t disappoint. I’ve sat and listened to a lot of senators, and I have to say Manchin was certainly above average in terms of candor and absence of the usual politician’s fog.
Why did he, a red-state senator who famously took a rifle to the climate bill, take this fight on in the first place? “In my culture, people don’t believe Schumer and Obama are going to protect their Second Amendment rights, so I stepped in.” He never quite said why he stepped in not politically but, if you will, morally; but he clearly seemed shaken after the Newtown shootings, so I guess we’ll just have to go with that as the answer.
He described then the process by which he went about trying to find a Republican co-sponsor because “I knew I had to find an A-rated Republican” (by the NRA) to proceed with something that had a chance. That was Tom Coburn for a while. When Coburn dropped out over a somewhat technical disagreement, he found Pat Toomey, fairly late in the process.
I was most interested in how it all was playing back home, so I asked a question to that effect, and I think his answer said a lot about how Democrats from pro-gun states can navigate this issue. He said he was at a picnic the previous weekend, around 200 to 400 people. When he first came in the room, people were skeptical. But he and a guy named “Frank” simply went through the bill and told people what was in it and what was not in it. “Once people started seeing what was in it, they said, ‘Joe, we’re okay.’”
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.