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Harder Than You Think

The Shutdown and Boehner’s Future

So here we are. What happens now? Lots of harrumphing and emoting, of course, but basically, John Boehner is going to have to buckle down at some point and let a clean CR pass the House. Already 12 Republicans are on record as wanting that, if last night’s final vote is any indication. Word is a lot more want it privately.

Of course we’ll have to see how the polls go. This is not something that Democrats can just sit back and watch. For citizens who just started tuning into this, the Republicans can make a case that they’re the reasonable ones. It’s a totally dishonest case, but they can say, “We started at defunding, and we went down to delaying the whole bill, then we went down to delaying just the mandate. So we’re moving. Obama is not.”

What the citizen won’t know—unless someone bothers to point it out to her, Democrats!—is that the Republicans are totally out of bounds in the first place; that this is like having a property-line dispute with your neighbor, and the local court has already ruled in your favor, and then your neighbor comes back a year later and says he’ll settle for half the disputed property and if you don’t agree, he’ll kill your dog. Actually, that’s a pretty good analogy. I hope someone in a position of power reads this.

But let’s assume the polls post-shutdown follow the general trajectory of pre-shutdown, and the GOP gets the lion’s share of the blame. It will presumably be only a matter of time before Boehner has to let the House vote on a clean CR. It will pass, and the shutdown will end. But then the question is, will Boehner lose his job?

Not Enough

Obama's 5 pm Statement

I didn't think that was an especially strong statement by Obama just now. He had two good one-liners: "One party doesn't get to shut down the government just to refight the results of an election," and "You don't get to extract a ransom for doing your job."

Those are good lines, but they were completely devoid of context. I can imagine someone just tuning into all this saying "Huh? Refight the election? What's he talking about?"

Here's what he should have said: "The Republicans hate the health care law. That's their right. They had three shots at stopping it. The first was in Congress, back when it passed. They moved heaven and earth to stop it, and they couldn't. They didn't have the votes. That was strike one.

"Then they said, 'Okay, we'll see you in court.' So they took the law to the Supreme Court. And they lost again. Strike two. Then, after that, they had a presidential candidate who ran against me. And he said to America, 'Forget strikes one and two. Elect me, and I'll repeal this monstrosity. And he lost. So that was strike three.

GOP Mentality

Hostage Takers? No, Terrorists

Today’s Republicans will never release the hostage—instead they’re intent on taking down Obama, and they don’t care if they go down with him, says Michael Tomasky as we head toward a shutdown.

Back in the late 1970s, Richard Pryor had a routine where he gave a rundown on the various factions he’d encountered inside prison. There were the black Muslims, he said. They were fairly rough customers. Then there were the Double Muslims. The Double Muslims, he said, “can’t wait to get to Allah, and they wanna take a bunch of muthafukkas with them.”

Budget Battle

J. Scott Applewhite

Pryor obviously wasn’t talking about today’s Republicans, but he was describing them better than they’ve been described anywhere. They know they’re going to bear the brunt of the blame if the government shuts down—at least some of them do, the ones who have the ability to think beyond the boundaries of their districts. And the thing is, they don’t care. As long as they can drag Obama and the Democrats down with them, dropping in the polls is fine by them. And that’s why we’re in this situation. We have here people who are participating in the democratic process, and who respect certain of its rules and practices because they know they must to attain legitimacy in the eyes of the public and the media, but who at the end of the day—and the end of the day means now—operate and act with the mentality of Pryor’s Double Muslims; which is to say, the mentality of terrorists.

It’s naive to call them anything else. What they’re doing here is not hostage taking, the most commonly used metaphor in the media. It’s political terrorism. When hostage takers see that their demands are met, they release the hostage. But what makes anyone think today’s Republicans will ever release the hostage? No—if the Democrats agree to negotiate, the demands will never stop. Every pivot point on the legislative calendar will be an opportunity to make demands without precedent in our system.

Shutdown

We Didn’t Start the Fire

After years of sabotaging government and getting away with it, the GOP has finally gone too far. America knows it, and so does the party itself. By Michael Tomasky

Watching the GOP convulse these last few days, I sense that we just might finally be on the cusp of an important and long-awaited moment. Up until now during the Obama era, the Republicans’ scorched-earth politics have harmed their party, but they have always harmed the Democrats nearly as much—or, in the long term, even more. It’s a big reason why they do the things they do—they know cynically that if they bring the government to a standstill, most people will just blame both parties, and indeed might even cast more blame on the party of government, the Democrats.

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Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

The gig may be about up. The odds are good that by the morning of October 18, one of two (correct) perceptions will be broadly held by the American public: one, that the Republican Party has collapsed into all-out ideological civil war; two, that the Republicans are a party not merely of obstructionists but destructionists, in ways that will be so evident that even those independents devoted to the idea that both sides are to blame will run up the white flag. All the Republicans’ madness of the last five years is finally going to catch up with them.

If I’m right, it will happen because of three events that the American people could simply not witness without at long last reaching some obvious conclusions. The first was Ted Cruz’s talk-athon. So many adjectives can be attached to it that I hardly know where to start, but none of them are good: self-aggrandizing, arrogant, pompous, windy, irrelevant. And don’t forget phony, since he worked the whole thing out with Harry Reid in advance.

Obamacare Stand

The GOP Will Bow to Cruz

Twenty-four Senate Republicans have put out statements saying shutting down the government over Obamacare would be ridiculous. But most will still end up voting against a clean bill—affirming Ted Cruz’s view.

The key question facing the Senate this week is not whether Ted Cruz will get his filibuster. He won’t. Oh, he scored some big points with his pseudo-filibuster Tuesday night, which is destined to make him enough of a hero to some Americans to win, oh, up to 180 electoral votes in 2016.

Budget Battle

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, leaves the floor of the Senate after skirmishing with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., over the Affordable Care Act, popularly know as "Obamacare," at the Capitol in Washington on Sept. 23, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Instead, the interesting and important question at hand here is this: how many Republican senators are going to vote for a “clean” continuing resolution—one that keeps the government running with no strings attached? Many Republican senators have said in recent days or weeks that shutting down the government is unviable and defunding Obamacare is impossible. Well, if they think that, then logic dictates they ought to vote for the clean CR, right? But few will. So I say to you: Watch those numbers, because they’ll tell you the extent to which the extreme wing of the base is running the party right now. And they’ll probably end up telling you that even though Cruz lost his filibuster battle, he’s going to win the war.

Here are the numbers. We have 46 GOP senators, right? Right. And over the course of the last two months, 24 of those, more than half, have put statements on the record saying shutting down the government over Obamacare would be ridiculous.

Risks

Obama’s U.N. Speech

The Iran section will get the most press, and for understandable reasons: he publicly directed John Kerry to start talking with Iran and President Hassan Rouhani. That's new and bold and risky, and he should be applauded for it. I can't say I'm particularly hopeful that Iran will approach this entente in good faith. Rouhani doesn't strike me as Gorbachev. But then again, Gorbachev didn't strike most people as Gorbachev for a good long time, if you follow my drift.

Second headline: Strong commitment to the Middle East peace process. One of his top two priorities. Clock is ticking pretty fast on this one, too. A lot on Kerry's shoulders.

130924-obama-speech-cheat

Mike Segar/Reuters

Third headline: Syria. There are already some signs that Syria is playing some games with regard to declaring its chemical weapons cache. Obama was forceful that "the U.N.," by which he of course means Russia, must live up to its stated commitments and ensure that those weapons are placed under international control.

Every once in a while you trip across something to which you can only react by saying aha, that is something I completely didn't know and it sure explains a lot.

Over at Democracy, the journal I edit in addition to writing for the Beast, we have a little blog, and it's mostly about policy and social-science research, in keeping with the journal's mission, so we often fill the blog with papers from the outstanding Scholars' Strategy Network, a kind of umbrella organization/clearing house for the best and most interesting social science research being done in the country. If you are interested in substance, on virtually any topic under the political sun by America's leading academics, you should be visiting SSN regularly.

Now. Here's something we posted last night, from David Broockman and Christopher Skovron. They thought of asking a question I've never seen anyone think to ask before. Last year, they asked more than 2,000 state legislative candidates from around the country what they thought the political leanings of their constituents were. Specifically, they asked the candidates to estimate what percentage of the voters in the districts where they were seeking office supported: same-sex marriage; a government-run universal health-care program; the abolition of all federal welfare programs. Then they matched those to existing polling.

Answer? From the authors:

Plus Ca Change

Health Care Now, Health Care Then

It's interesting to recall that a big reason for the last government shutdown, the one of 1995-96, was...Republican opposition to health care. The following is from Bill Clinton's radio address of December 9, 1995:

Nowhere is this choice clearer than in our different approaches to Medicaid. For three decades the Medicaid program has meant that if your child was disabled in an accident or your husband got Alzheimer's or your parent needed nursing home care, you would get the help you need. The Republican budget would cut Medicaid by $163 billion. It would repeal the guarantee of health care for poor children, people with disabilities, pregnant women, and older Americans.

Now, this repeal was not an afterthought or an unintended consequence. The Congressional Republican majority is actually insisting on it. What would this mean? Well, in 2002 alone, the year the budget's supposed to be balanced, the Republican budget could deny quality health coverage to nearly eight million people, deny meaningful health care to over a million people with disabilities, even to 150,000 veterans, and to tens of thousands of people with AIDS, many of whom are able to keep working or who can get the help they need without their families being forced into poverty because of the assistance they get from Medicaid.

So they've pretty much always felt this way about health care for people of modest means. They just hate it. And they've proven themselves willing before to shut the government down over it (although there were other issues in '95 as well). What's different about this time is that they, or some of them, are trying to undo a new law that the Supreme Court upheld.

Playing Games

The Weak Speaker

How could he allow the spending bill defunding Obamacare to reach the House floor? He’s not even trying to stand up to the GOP’s hostage takers—and he’s easily the worst speaker in modern history.

Here are the two questions that really matter this week as we head toward a possible government shutdown. How many Republicans in the House really would consider a shutdown as some kind of victory? And what is John Boehner prepared to do about them? Whatever the answer to the first question, the answer to the second is almost sure to be “not much.” Boehner is easily the worst House speaker in modern history. Far from being the figure of perverse sympathy that some suggest, he embodies exactly what’s wrong with the GOP—mainstream conservatism’s total capitulation to the extremists. He’s a disgrace.

Budget Battle

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Republican members of the House of Representatives rally after passing a bill that would prevent a government shutdown while crippling the health-care law, on September 20, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

We’ve come to expect the Big Crazy from these Republicans, so we all kind of accepted the idea Friday that the House attached the defund-Obamacare provisions to its resolution to keep funding the government. But really. Stop and think about it. It’s totally outrageous that a speaker of the House of Representatives would even allow such a measure to get to the floor. The speaker is the second–most important person in the country in terms of making the country work. He’s more important than the Senate leader because spending bills must originate in the House, and the House, which in theory is closer to the people, was always envisioned as the body that would do more to drive the nation’s legislative agenda. It’s not for nothing that the speaker of the House is third in the line of presidential succession. He’s not supposed to agree with the president, but he is supposed to agree that the government should exist and do affirmative things.

And what do we have? A speaker who has permitted 40 votes repealing a duly passed law and who then agreed to let his extremists hold the operation of the entire government hostage to its fantasies. And fantasies they are. Everyone knows that. Obamacare is not being defunded. Even Ted Cruz knows it deep down.

Crazy

The Mental-Health Hypocrites

Since the D.C. shooting, Republicans care about mental health! Yet they opposed—and want to defund—the law that does more to advance the cause than any in history.

So now we’re being treated to the charming spectacle of Republicans, or a few of them anyway, purporting to care about mental-health treatment in the wake of the Washington Navy Yard shooting. How touching. This doesn’t mean, of course, that they care about mental health. They’re just coming up with something to say in the wake of the tragedy that sounds to the willfully credulous like action and that won’t offend the National Rifle Association. Meanwhile, they have devastated mental-health funding since you-know-who became president. And more important than that, they voted against, and are now preparing to vote en bloc to defund or delay, the law that will do more to address mental health and give society at least a chance that future Aaron Alexises will get treatment that could prevent them going on shooting sprees since ... well, pretty much since ever.

Navy Yard Shooting

Aaron Alexis was the type of person who stands precious little chance of getting any mental-health treatment in this country. (FBI/AP)

Alexis bought his weapon in Virginia, a state where anyone this side of Charles Manson can buy virtually any kind of gun he lusts after as long as he’s a resident. Current federal guidelines bar gun sales only to people who have been institutionalized or “adjudicated as a mental defective.” Neither of these narrow criteria applied in Alexis’s case. Not that it would even matter if one had, as The Atlantic noted; the Virginia Tech shooter had been so adjudicated and still was able to purchase his firepower in the commonwealth. (Alexis, being a nonresident, was blocked from purchasing an AR-15).

Alexis was fairly typical of the type of person who stands precious little chance of getting any mental-health treatment in this country. For starters, he was male, young, and black. That’s an unlucky combination of things to be in the United States for millions of people. But hitting that trifecta and being mentally ill on top of it constitutes the holding of a very unfortunate ovarian-lottery ticket. Single mothers, children, and the elderly all qualify for more forms of assistance than men do. Increasingly, there is a place where men like this wind up where they finally might get a little bit of treatment. It’s called jail. Our prisons are full of mentally ill substance abusers who committed crimes.

Raising the Stakes

Boehner and Defunding Obamacare

So the House leadership announced earlier today that there will be a vote in the House to defund Obamacare related to the kerfuffle over the looming government shutdown. In a way, this doesn't change the basic dynamic at play here. Greg Sargent gamed out the scenarios in a post, sizing up possible Senate responses to such a vote, and they all end up in the same place: Since Senate Democrats will never accept a defunding and will just toss a bill back to the House stripping that out, the House Republicans are likely to end up in a position where either they accept that, thus infuriating their base, or say we won't accept, thus shouldering most of the blame for a government shutdown.

In that sense this new announcement doesn't change anything. These were the stakes yesterday. But I think it changes things psychically. Such a vote, assuming it passes, will constitute a much more recalcitrant public stance than would be the case if the party didn't take such a vote.

Without a vote defunding Obamacare, only a relatively small percentage of the population can probably keep track of what's going on. It's an argument about the sequester and funding levels. That's an argument that any reasonably skilled pol can fudge and turn into a situation that leaves most observers walking away thinking well, they're both probably lying, and the truth is somewhere in the middle, and they're both to blame.

But if the House Republicans essentially take the position "Congress must defund this existing and Supreme Court-okayed law or else we're going to shut down the government" is, I think, another matter entirely. Most of them don't care. Most of them care only about the blowback in their distrcits, and for most Republicans, there will be far more blowback against a member who doesn't vote to defund than against a member who is seen as having 1/435th of a hand in the shutting down of government. In a lot of these districts, the latter would even be applauded.

Lesson Learned?

Obama Needs His Base

The president is lucky he’s not facing a war in Syria or a nasty Senate vote over Larry Summers. He’s about to face the ugliest battle of his presidency, and he needs the left on his side, says Michael Tomasky.

If you think Obama was just lucky on Syria, you’re wrong. But something else happened this week that set the president’s good luck vaults to overflowing: support in the Senate for Larry Summers cratered before Obama could nominate him as Fed chair. This development spared Obama immeasurable misery in his remaining three-plus years. I hope he knows this, and I hope he takes the right lesson from it, which is that to deal with a GOP that shows signs only of (believe it or not) increasing hysteria, he needs his base behind him the rest of the way, and he ought to behave accordingly.

130916-tomasky-summers-tease

Pool photo by Feng Li

Conjure with me, if you will, this mental image. In this alternative universe, Montana Democrat Jon Tester, whose announced opposition to Summers was the stake in the heart, played his cards closer to his vest for whatever reason. And sometime next week, say, Obama stood at that presidential podium with Summers at his side, extolling the luminous brilliance of the man, as Obama would have put it, who was exactly the right person for the Fed job.

What would have happened? A palace revolt among liberals across the country, that’s what. I try to keep my ear fairly close to the earth on these matters. And based on the admittedly anecdotal scuttlebutt I was hearing, I think that if Obama had gone ahead with Summers it would have been by far the most damaging single event in his relationship with liberals in his entire tenure. Worse than no public option in the health bill. Worse than Rahm Emanuel saying liberals were “fucking retarded.” Worse than threatening to bomb Syria (and it wouldn’t have helped to have been coming right on the heels of that one, either). Worse even than what I consider his nadir thus far, the 2011 debt-ceiling fiasco.

Oh, Washington!

On Syria, the Public, Process, and Results

POTUS has been getting boxed about the ears from all sides on Syria, but apparently the people are at least somewhat satisfied. From a new WashPost/ABC poll:

Americans overwhelmingly support the diplomatic agreement between the United States and Russia to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, despite having deep doubts about the Syrian regime’s compliance and giving low marks overall for how President Obama is handling the situation, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll ...

... But if Syria balks at the terms of the agreement, Obama could face reduced resistance to the use of military power to enforce the pact. Asked whether they would favor a congressional resolution authorizing force if the deal does not yield results, 44 percent say they would support it and 48 percent say they would not.

So people don't think he handled it well but are satisfied with the outcome and are now more open to the possibility of a military strike in the future if Assad doesn't live up to the terms of the deal. That's all about right. Funny how that works out sometimes.

Back Off

The Right’s Sickening Syria Spin

If Obama persuaded Assad to step down and move to Siberia, the critics would still find something to whine about. Michael Tomasky deflates the arguments against the new arms deal.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not very interested in being lectured that Bashar al-Assad has no real intention of giving up his chemical weapons by the very same people who a decade ago were pushing this country into war—and having the deranged gall to call the rest of us unpatriotic—on the argument that there was no possible way a monster like Saddam Hussein had given up his chemical weapons. Barack Obama has been forced to spend about 70 percent of his presidential energies trying to repair crises foreign and domestic that these people created, and forced to do so against their iron opposition on all fronts; and now that he’s achieved a diplomatic breakthrough, they have the audacity to argue that he sold America out to Vladimir Putin? It’s staggering and sickening.

mccain

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Andrea Mitchell of NBC News appear on “Meet the Press” in Washington, D.C., Sunday, September 15, 2013. (NBC NewsWire/Getty)

But here was Newt Gingrich on television yesterday: “You have Putin playing chess and Obama playing, frankly, a very lucky game of tic-tac-toe. Putin stepped in to maximize Russian influence in the Middle East. That is a strategic defeat for the United States.” What Gingrich is still even doing on television is the first mystery, perhaps solvable by consulting Nostradamus or some ancient Mayan codex; but there he was puffing and huffing, playing with the phrase made famous back during the Libyan adventure by saying Obama was now “following from behind.”

On another network, there was John McCain (are these shows just going to end when he retires?) asserting that the deal was empty because the Russians “will not agree to the use of force no matter what” Assad does, which my colleague Christopher Dickey wrote yesterday is not in this fact the case.

Geneva Blues

Why Would Assad Negotiate?

Andrea Mitchell is one of America's great diplomatic/foreign pollicy journalists--very experienced, super smart, unbelievably sourced. She's over in Geneva right now, and I'm watching her MSNBC show, and she doesn't sound very optimistic that Kerry and Lavrov are making any progress.

I don't doubt her for a second. I do find it interesting that the Washington Post's latest dispatch sounds a little more hopeful:

A proposal for an international peace conference to end the brutal Syrian civil war could be revived if negotiations over ridding the country of chemical weapons succeed, top U.S. and Russian diplomats said Friday.

The remarks by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were the first explicit indication that the diplomacy begun this week to resolve the immediate crisis of threatened U.S. military strikes could be a gateway to a broader negotiation aimed at ending the 21 / 2-year-old conflict.

About the Author

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Michael Tomasky

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

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