Friday, January 30, 2015

This & That

A SIGN OF THE APOCOLAPSE – South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham is contemplating a run for the White House. John McCain’s mini-me…the man who never met a war he didn’t want to wage…has formed an exploratory committee to analyze the viability of his candidacy. Let me be clear…if Lindsay Graham is ever elected president I’m moving.

SPEAKING OF MCCAIN – Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was preparing to testify before McCain’s Foreign Intelligence Committee when a group of protesters interrupted the proceedings. The protestors shouted down the proceedings while brandishing signs accusing Kissinger of being a war criminal. Police quickly rounded up the protestors and escorted them from the room as McCain shouted after them: “Get out of here you low life scum.” McCain, in apologizing to Kissinger for the interruption, said that in all of his years in serving on the committee he had never witnessed such embarrassing and despicable behavior. Apparently McCain has never watched CSPAN. The disrespectful treatment leveled upon Dr. Kissinger bears a great deal of similarity to the manner in which witnesses are often treated by congressional committees…including McCain’s. If a witness can remain awake during the self serving speeches that committee members are apt to give before actually asking a question; they are often subjected to condescending barrage of one sided queries that serve no purpose other than to express the disrespect and disdain the committee member has for the witness. All orchestrated before the cameras to put on a show for the folks back home.

KEYSTONE PIPELINE – Yesterday the senate passed a bill approving the construction of the Keystone Pipeline. Nine Democrats crossed party lines to help Republicans pass the measure. These are many of the same Democrats who have repeatedly expressed their concerns over global warming and other environmental issues. I have no problem with a politician weighing the pros and cons of a bill and voting his/her conscience. But if you are going to go against your alleged principles than at least get something in return. This bill is a big deal for the right. But it is probably dead upon arrival on the president’s desk. I have said this before…if you are going to give in on the pipeline “because it creates thousands of short term jobs” they why not give that vote in exchange for a comprehensive infrastructure bill that creates hundreds of thousands of long term jobs. Compromise is good. Giving away the store is crazy.

“NO, NO, NO, NO, NO…” – That was Romney’s response just a few short months ago when he was asked if he was contemplating another run at the White House. Moderate conservative donors and former Romney campaign staffers are flocking to Jeb Bush saying that they were taking Romney at his word that he would never run again. Now that Romney has reconsidered, many of his former supporters are not certain that they want to go through Mitt Part III. The new Mitt says he wants to focus on helping the poor and the middle class. That’s quite a different message from the old Mitt that said: "I'm not concerned about the poor... we have a safety net for that.” Mitt Romney…three time presidential contender…still trying to define himself.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Playing Politics With Nuclear Holocaust

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been invited to address a joint session of congress on March 3rd.

Normally such an invitation would not raise an eyebrow in the political community. After all Israel is one of our strongest allies in the Middle East. A visit from the Prime Minister would typically be trumpeted as a sign of solidarity with our Jewish partners.

However this particular invitation has caused a firestorm on the Hill because it was not issued through the customary protocols via the White House and State Department but rather through the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. In fact the White House wasn’t notified of the planned address until a just a few hours before the announcement was made to the public. Neither were Jewish members of congress nor the usual gaggle of pro-Israel groups that are normally consulted whenever Israel wants something from the US. The snub has pissed off a lot of the usual suspects that Israel counts on for support.

So why did the Speaker call an end run around the White House?

Netanyahu and the president have a very deep difference of opinion on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear threat. The president, as is his custom, is seeking a diplomatic path toward persuading the Iranians to halt their development of a nuclear arsenal. He has issued a series of economic sanctions that seem to be working. For the first time in history Iran is engaging in substantive talks to deal with their nuclear development. The president wants to let the dialogue play out.

Netanyahu vehemently disagrees. He believes that Iran’s willingness to talk is little more than a delaying tactic to allow them more time to develop a bomb. Netanyahu would like send his fighters in to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities immediately…or at the very least initiate even tougher economic sanctions to bring the issue to a head. The president has resisted tougher sanctions for fear that they will curtail the progress that has already been made.

It should come as no surprise that Republicans agree with the Israeli prime minister. They see the president’s foreign policy as feckless, particularly when it comes to dealing with Iran. Republicans believe their views were validated in the recent mid-tem elections that handed them control of both chambers of congress. Euphoric after their victory, and if I must day a bit full of themselves, they by-pass the president and invite the prime minister to address their joint session; thereby sending the clear political message that Israel’s true friends reside in the GOP.

Netanyahu is no stranger to politics. He faces a re-election vote not two weeks after he addresses congress. What better demonstration of his bona fides than to be seen making Israel’s case to the world’s lone superpower.

Normally this move by the Republicans would be nothing more than the usual political grandstanding; just another example of the GOP’s ongoing effort to marginalize this president. More proof that any thought of political compromise and productivity over the next two years is just an illusion.

But playing politics with Iran’s nuclear threat is should not be “business as usual.” It’s dangerous! It sends a message to Iran that we are not unified in our response to their nuclear development. It opens up the very real possibility that Iran views our internal conflicts as a lack of resolve; which in turn emboldens them to continue their nuclear endeavors. Should that be the case, a heavy price will be paid. And the first to pay that price will be Israel.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How do you like me now?

Sixty days before the mid-term elections President Obama’s approval ratings languished at a “Bushian” 38%. Democratic candidates did everything in their power to distance themselves from the president and his “failed policies.” Democratic leaders like Chuck Schumer criticized the president publically for spending far too much of his political capital on health reform while ignoring the country’s desperate need for jobs.

Republicans were only too happy to seize upon the opportunity presented by the president’s party. They trumpeted the president’s lagging popularity and noted rightly that even his supposed supporters on the Hill had lost faith in his leadership.

Republicans sensed they had a winning strategy and they rode that horse to a huge mid-term victory. Having increased their majority in the House and gained control of the Senate, Republicans spoke openly of wresting control of the White House in 2016. In the meantime they promised to reward the voters who swept them to power by dismantling all of the “failed big government policies of the past six years.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to the 2016 inaugural ball.

Once the mid-tem votes were counted Republicans expected to be greeted by a cowed, conciliatory president; nursing his political wounds…humbly seeking some amount of consideration for the effort. Instead they found themselves confronted by an extremely confident and combative president whom Mitch McConnell noted “seemed to be running for a third term.”

No longer shackled by the prospects of future campaigns President Obama emerged from the mid-terms as more conquering hero than beleaguered lame duck. He said quite plainly if the new congress would not work with him then he would go it alone wherever he could. He used his executive authority to engage a bombing campaign against ISIS, to sign a controversial trade agreement with China, to raise the minimum wage of federal workers and to temporarily stay the deportation of over 5 million illegal immigrants. In a State of the Union address that was as combative as any campaign speech he has ever given, he challenged Republicans to set aside party differences and join him in doing the people’s work. He made it clear that he had no more campaigns to run and therefore nothing to lose.

Voters responded. Today the president’s approval rating stands at 50% and the Republican path to the White House seems far less certain.

You see the Republicans, pundits and at risk Democratic candidates misinterpreted those pre-mid-term polls. Voters didn’t want the president to roll back his agenda…they wanted him to fight harder and push the envelope further. How do I know this?

Because I was one of those polled. I was one of those people who generally supports the president’s agenda but disapproves of the way he is handling his job. I don’t want him to roll back his agenda. I want him to fight harder for those things he promised. So when asked if I approve of the way the president is handling his job, my answer before the mid-terms was a resounding “NO”. But when asked that same question today my answer is a resounding “Yes.” This is the Obama that I want to see. And millions of Americans agree with me.

Taken individually, most of the items on the president’s agenda are wildly popular among the electorate. I want a president who fights for those principles but is willing to compromise to get things done. I understand that the president can’t get everything he wants. But by throwing down the “my way or the highway” gauntlet in the past or sidestepping issues for political expediency, his tactics are not any different than those of his obstructionist opponents. The key is to compromise and get something in return to move the agenda forward. You want to raise the minimum wage…give Republicans a lower corporate tax rate in exchange. You want a massive infrastructure bill…work out a common sense increase in the eligibility age for Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

The president’s agenda has not changed. It remains popular among a vast majority of the electorate. It’s his tactics that have played hell with his approval/disapproval among the masses.

Post mid-term Obama is the one the voters elected…twice.

The polls don’t lie. You just have to know how to read them.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Campaigns and Elections

CAMPAIGNS - The race for the Republican presidential nomination kicked off in earnest this weekend.
Representative Steve King hosted the inaugural Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines on Saturday where nine Republican hopefuls tried to convince the social conservative base why they should be the next commander-in-chief. Serious candidates Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina all took aim at the Obama Administration. Not so serious candidates Sarah Palin and Donald Trump also appeared; doing their best to remain relevant on the national stage.

The clear winner of the festivities was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Conservative Republicans are desperate for a fresh face that is active in the trenches and boasts winning record defending conservative values. Walker hits the trifecta.

On Sunday the billionaire Koch brothers hosted a presidential forum in Palm Springs. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio traded blows on the economy, foreign affairs tax reform and immigration.

Noticeably absent from the weekend’s festivities…Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.
Elitist, establishment Republicans want no part of Romney or Bush. They view Romney as a two time loser and Bush as another, well…Bush. But the people that vote don’t share in that opinion. In every poll Romney leads all other Republican candidates by at least 5 points. And should he run, Romney can and will raise money like no other Republican candidate could ever dream possible. Then there is the critical minority vote where Bush and only Bush can hold court. Even Rubio pales in comparison.
Bush says that he wants to steer clear of “gotcha politics” and run a positive campaign based on the issues. Romney has yet to formally enter the race. Perhaps that is why they chose not to show up this weekend. That was a mistake. Their absence sends a message that they somehow feel they are “better than” their opponents and have no need to bother themselves with such trivia. The fact is both Bush and Romney will have a very difficult time gaining the nomination. The baggage they carry is very real and very heavy. At some point they will have to prove themselves by mixing it up with their opponents. Then we will see if their front runner status is deserved.

ELECTIONS MATTER – Did you happen to see “60 Minutes” last night?

Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell sat down for an interview with Scott Pelley. The subject was the president’s State of the Union address. Pelley asked both legislative leaders to comment on the possibility of any of the president’s stated agenda making it through congress.

One by one Pelley ticked off the president’s bucket list and each time the leaders said “No.” McConnell then went on to express his surprise at the president’s combativeness saying: “…my first thought was it sounded like he was running for a third term…He seemed to have completely forgotten or chose to ignore the election last November.” Speaker Boehner chimed in that he was disappointed that the president didn’t “taken just a little bit different tone that would have indicated to us that there’s some interest in working with us.”

Boehner and McConnell’s comments to a national audience would be laughable it they weren’t so sad. Apparently the two most powerful men in congress were wounded by the fact that this president was treating their victory in the November mid-terms in the exact same manner that they treated his general election victories in 2008 and 2012. And had they been listening they would have been aware that the president spent the last ten minutes of his speech offering them the olive branch that they claim to so deeply desire.

The truth is that the leadership has no interest in compromising on anything. The plan, as McConnell clearly outlined, will be to pass a series of partisan bills, like repealing Obamacare that the president is certain to veto. The problem with this strategy is tHAT come 2016 voters will want to know if the new Republican majority made good on its campaign promise “to get things done.” Engaging in obstructionist tactics and repealing exiting law is not governing. It is partisan politics as usual.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

GOP Not Yet Ready To Govern

Yesterday the House passed a $40 billion dollar Homeland Security Department funding bill designed to roll back the president’s executive actions on immigration reform. Instead the bill serves to jeopardize the effectiveness of the security department at a time when threats against the country are escalating.

Chief among the funding cuts is an amendment that would defund the presidents’ Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) which provides work permits and protection from deportation for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children.

The bill faces an uphill battle in the senate and no hope of overcoming a presidential veto. But the delay ties the hands of the DHS at a time when tensions are heightened. White House intruders, the recent attacks in France on Charlie Hebdo and the two foiled plots against Speaker Boehner and the Capitol building have refocused the country’s attention on the necessity for strong security measures.

Republicans now control both the House and the Senate. They have promised to end the partisan gridlock that has reduced the legislative branch of the government to little more than a punch line on late night television. They have promised to pass meaningful legislation that moves the country forward. Using the DHS as a political pawn to thwart the president’s agenda is as hypocritical as it is dangerous.

If Republicans don’t like the president’s executive action on immigration reform then all they have to do is pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill and send it to the president to sign.

All they have to do is govern.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Laissez les bon temps rouler

Albert Einstein defined the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Apparently Mitt Romney didn’t get the memo.

The former governor has all but announced that he will make a third run at the White House in 2016. Romney has let it be known that he is considering a run while burning up the phone lines with former donors.

Skeptics think this is more about staying relevant than a serious run. I disagree. Why? Because every poll out there shows that when added to the list of Republican hopefuls Romney leads the pack by a wide margin. Never underestimate the ego of a guy who is used to getting what he wants.

You do have to wonder how Romney will get around some of the faux pas that haunted his last campaign. For example Romney says that if he runs his campaign will be a three pronged approach focused on helping the poor, rebuilding the middle class and developing a strong foreign policy. So how will this strategy play when framed against his history at Bain and his belief that “Corporations are people too, my friend.” Certainly his opponents will counter with a continuous loop of his comments about the “47%” and “I’m not concerned about the very poor; we have a safety net there. And of course he will be asked once again to release his tax returns. It promises to be great theater.

If Romney does officially announce he will join an ever increasing gaggle of political hopefuls that are already scurrying to secure donor support.

Jeb Bush, in all probability Romney’s strongest competitor, is in. He has already formed a PAC to get the donations rolling. Will he be able to bear the weight of his brother’s baggage all the way to the White House?

Chris Christie is in. His recent State of the State address sounded more like a State of the Union speech. He banned local media outlets from a recent appearance but invited ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CNN to attend. He too is in the process of setting up a PAC. Will his bombastic temperament ruffle too many feathers?

Rand Paul has been in for months. But the Bush and Romney’s entrance has him relegated to media clips where he seems to be pleading: “Hey, hey…I’m over here. I’m running too.”

Scott Walker remains a conservative super star, but thus far he has chosen to remain under the radar.

Ted Cruz has kept his handful of right wing crazies in suspense by keeping his intentions close to the vest. Again this is more about remaining relevant than having any real chance at the White House. Whether or not he announces his inflammatory rhetoric will draw the attention of the media and give him the attention he craves.

Marco Rubio says he’s still deciding; but nobody outside of Florida cares.

As a political writer I hope they all get in. The more the merrier. I can’t wait for the inevitable cataclysmic campaign implosion. My bet is Chris Christie will be the first to implode. I give him maybe two months into the eighteen month marathon before he loses it…calls someone stupid…or goes off on a reporter for asking if he always orders fries with his Big Mac.

The 2016 campaign is about to begin. I can’t wait.

Laissez les bon temps rouler

Monday, January 12, 2015

On the other hand...

A crowd of almost 4 million joined 40 world leaders in Paris yesterday in a march of solidarity against terrorism and violence. Noticeably absent…President Obama…Vice President Biden…Secretary of State John Kerry.

Yesterday was an opportunity for the United States to show that it stands with the world as an equal partner in the fight against terror. What better stage for the president to make the case for the global war against violent extremists…to rally the world in support of the effort. What better venue to emphasize that terrorism is not something that only occurs in a far and distant land; that it is home grown…alive and well in our communities and neighborhoods.

Certainly no nation has contributed more in blood and treasure to quell the reign of terror and bring violent extremists to justice. But optics matter! This was an opportunity lost.

On the other hand…

…while no one can question America’s significant contribution to the war on terror it is just as certain that no nation, through its interventionist policies, has done more to foment the anger and hatred that has mushroomed into what we now call “radical Islam.” America’s occupation of Islam’s holiest places along with its support of oppressive rulers and dictators is cited by the reasonable and the radicals as the root cause of extremism. Young men are recruited to avenge the oppression levied on their families by rulers whose pockets are lined by the US government.

So perhaps it is appropriate that America’s leaders were not present in yesterday’s rally. For how hypocritical would it have been for US leaders to march in solidarity against violence and terrorism when they bear at least some responsibility for its occurrence?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Funny Guy!

Republicans have been reluctant to acknowledge the obvious signs of economic recovery for fear of attributing credit to the president’s domestic policies. Yesterday Mitch McConnell veered away from the conservative talking points and admitted that things are in fact improving. He also provided his thoughts as to why…

“After so many years of sluggish growth, we are finally seeing some economic data that can provide a glimmer of hope. The uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress.”

Mitch McConnell makes me laugh.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

It's Time To Govern

If you thought that the buffoonery and ineptitude that characterized the 113th session of congress was over you’ve got another thought coming.

The 114th session of congress was sworn in Tuesday. During the House proceedings Louie Gohmert, Ted Yoho, and Daniel Webster joined six other unwinnable candidates nominated for Speaker; putting to rest any hope that the clown show was finally over. The theatrics orchestrated by the right, which was nothing more than an effort to publically embarrass Boehner, comes at a time when party unity is crucial. The pointless display merely fanned the flames of doubt among those who wonder if the party is actually capable of governing.

In the end Boehner survived the coup and was sworn in for his third term as Speaker. Boehner cried, bussed a reluctant Pelosi on the cheek and acknowledged his seldom seen wife seated in the gallery. Mrs. Boehner, sporting the same orange hue as her husband, forced a smile but otherwise seemed indifferent.

Immediately after the embarrassing display Boehner enacted some amount of revenge by removing Webster and fellow Florida Congressman Ted Nugent from their important committee assignments. If you’re going to cross the Speaker you better be sure you win.

As all this was going on in the House Vice President Biden was presiding over the swearing in ceremony in the Senate. America’s favorite uncle was in full Biden form, cracking jokes, ogling the females, mispronouncing names and spitting out his mint. “It’s getting late” he said as his mint inadvertently flew past the ear of a newly elected senator.

While all of this was entertaining as hell the real show starts in next few days.

Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have indicated that the first order of business will be to pass a ceremonial bill authorizing the construction of the Keystone Pipeline. The bill is considered “ceremonial” because the White House has already made it clear that it will veto the measure if it reaches the president’s desk.

The question I have is “Why?” I mean why is the president just sitting back with veto pen in hand waiting for Republicans to send him the bill? Why not get something for it?

Republicans are adamant about passing this bill. Their primary argument is that the pipeline will generate “42,000 good paying jobs.” JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! The White House argues that the project will only generate “2,000 part time jobs”…insufficient to offset the possible ecological damage to wetlands bisected by the pipeline.

So why not give the Republicans their pipeline and get something for it in return…like a massive jobs bill focused on repairing and replacing our deteriorating and dated infrastructure. JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!

Win, win!!! Republicans get their pipeline and the White House gets the jobs bill it has been lobbying for since the president took office. Our infrastructure FINALLY receives the attention necessary to take us into the next century and the American people get JOBS!

Yes there are ecological concerns. But those can be mitigated with proper oversight. You have to look at the big picture and COMPROMISE!

Boehner and McConnell are desperate to show the American people that they can in fact govern. The president is desperate to keep the country’s economic momentum moving forward…not to mention cementing his legacy.

Mr. President, don’t sit around with your veto pen at the ready. Give the Republicans what they want. Let them have their pipeline. But get something big in return.

The entertainment portion of this show is over. It’s time to govern.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Meet the new boss...

The 114th United States Congress will be sworn in this week and political hacks like me will be watching to see if the new version performs any better than its predecessor.

Republicans take control of the reigns pledging to find areas “where we can make some progress for the country.” But before conservatives can demonstrate their ability to govern the country they have to find a way to govern their caucus.

The first order of business tomorrow will be to elect the party leadership. Odds are John Boehner will be re-elected Speaker. His appointment will not come without some effort to placate his seriously pissed off party base. The right is still fuming over the way party leadership rammed through the CR/Omnibus spending bill at the close of the last session. Boehner, McConnell, Reid and Pelosi crafted the $1.1 trillion dollar continuing resolution behind closed doors and then gave membership just two days to review debate and pass the 1600 page bill. The message was clear…fall in behind leadership and pass this bill or spend your Christmas vacation in Washington in a protracted debate.

Boehner has pulled stunts like this before. Last March Boehner did not feel that he had the votes to pass an unfunded $10 billion dollar Medicare spending bill. After postponing the vote twice he told members that he was going to recess. Less than a minute after his members had dispersed he gaveled the House back into session and passed the bill on a voice vote with less than a dozen members in the chamber.

The problem that Boehner’s detractors have is that if any effort to defeat Boehner fails those involved will most certainly see their time in congress short lived. The Speaker has almost unlimited power in terms of committee appointments and fund raising efforts. He decides if a bill that a member has worked tirelessly to craft every see a vote on the floor. Cross the Speaker and you do so at your own peril.

Then there is the matter of Party Whip and third ranking Republican, Steve Scalise (R-LA). In 2002 Scalise agreed to speak before a white supremacist group called EURO. The invitation had been extended by Kenny Knight, a long time ally of David Duke. Duke is a former Grand Dragon of the KKK.
At first Scalise said he didn’t know that EURO was affiliated with the Klan. Then he said he made an error in judgment in accepting the invitation. The question for the Party is do they want a guy who has a history of hanging around with the Klan sitting at the leadership table.

If the Republicans can ever get past their internal strife perhaps they can try their hand at governing the country.

We’ve heard all the repeated talking points about finding areas “where we can make some progress for the country.” Actions speak louder than words and first accounts are that instead of compromise the Republican majority’s first actions will look more like same old, same old.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has listed trade, infrastructure and tax changes as areas where congress and the White might find agreement. Yet it appears that the first item on the Republican agenda is to pass legislation to build the Keystone Pipeline; a bill the president will probably veto. The second item on the agenda is legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act; a bill the president will definitely veto.

The 114th session of the United States Congress!

Meet the new boss…same as the old boss.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

2015 promises to be a very interesting year.

A rising economy, plummeting gas prices, ISIS’ insurgence, Putin’s aggression, Cuba, campaign kickoff, Hillary, Jeb, Rand, Ted, Republicans in control and a lame duck president with apparently no intention of going quietly into that good night.

I look forward to sharing it all with you.

Thank you for your support and for taking the time to watch this space.

Happy New Year!