For years, Harry Reid refused to act. He struck deals with Republicans (that always soon collapsed), and shied away from using what was called (at the time) the "nuclear option." As a result, judicial and other presidential nominations languished in the Senate, unvoted-upon. Because Republicans could filibuster any nominee they wished, they essentially decided to filibuster all of them. Finally, late last year, Harry Reid had had enough. He called for a vote to change the Senate's rules (fun historical note: the filibuster is not actually mentioned in the Constitution), and from that point on all executive and judicial nominees (below the Supreme Court) would be confirmed only by a majority up-or-down vote. We are about to see why this was so important, in the current "Obamacare can't give subsidies to customers of the federal exchange" court case.
I had intended to write a column today to take an overview of all the close races for Senate seats. Every so often, I like to take a look at what the chances are for both parties to make gains in November (or, this year, to see whether the Republicans are going to gain a majority, realistically). Instead, after seeing the recent news from the New York Times, what is now called for is kissing goodbye any chances that the Montana Senate seat up for grabs will stay Democratic. To be blunt: there is now exactly zero chance of that happening, and we should all chalk up one guaranteed Republican gain in the Senate. The revelations that John Walsh plagiarized a major paper in college have now completely torpedoed his chances for retaining the seat. To be fair, there was little chance that Walsh was going to win in any case. But the difference between "little chance" and "no chance" can be measured in hope. There is now no hope for Democrats in Montana, this year.
Every few Julys, I like to re-run the following column. Since this year marked the 45th anniversary, I thought it'd be appropriate once again. The last sentence in the second paragraph should now rightly read: "Even today, after watching the news on Sunday?" but few other updates to the text would be necessary to bring it up to date (although I did tend towards a lot of exclamation points that might have been more judiciously edited out, in that note at the end). In any case, please join me in this salute to a man whom many have forgotten (or at least, can't readily identify anywhere near as easily as his two companions).
Originally published July 21, 2009
Quick -- who was Michael Collins?
No, not the Irish patriot who had a movie named for him, but the American Michael Collins. Don't recognize his name? Even today, after watching yesterday's news?
President Obama faces a dilemma on immigration reform, and it goes beyond the current problem of children at the border. If he sticks to his announced timetable, Obama will act in some way on immigration reform in the next month or so. The Republican House has already signaled that it not only won't vote on the bipartisan plan passed by the Senate last year, but also that it won't hold any votes on immigration reform at all in the foreseeable future (before the midterm election, in other words). This means if anything is going to happen, Obama will have to make it happen on his own. Obama's real dilemma is that no matter what he does, it's not going to satisfy everyone. In fact, it may not satisfy much of anyone. But it is sure to annoy and even enrage certain groups.
No matter what Obama does, if he acts in any meaningful way at all he's going to enrage Republicans -- both the politicians and their base voters. It's a pretty safe bet that the word "amnesty" will figure prominently in their complaints. But if whatever Obama announces is seen as not going far enough, he's also going to annoy some Democrats and a lot of Latino activists. Anything short of green cards for all 11 million undocumented immigrants could spur cries of not doing enough to help. That's a pretty tough tightrope to walk.
This dynamic existed even before the problem of child refugees was brought to the attention of the American public, it bears mentioning. The problem of what to do with the children only exacerbates Obama's dilemma, since it makes any executive action on immigration a much tougher sell. Even if we hadn't all been seeing child refugees on television for weeks, Obama still would have had a tough time, but now it's going to be a lot trickier. To his credit, so far it seems that Obama is not going to allow this separate problem to stop him from acting -- although this could indeed change. The White House has so far not signaled that it is going to back off from announcing some sort of policy change in the next month (it's always been assumed that such an announcement will come in August, when Congress is on its month-long vacation). But now any new policy shift may have to also take into account the child refugee crisis, since it is looking more and more likely that Congress is going to refuse to act (before it scarpers off on vacation again).
Exactly what Obama is going to announce isn't clear, at this point. I've seen speculation that he may announce that undocumented parents of American children will be somehow legalized in a way similar to how the "DREAMers" were. I've also heard rumors that whatever Obama will announce may include up to half of the 11 million currently in America illegally. Either of these would be a momentous policy shift, but because these rumors exist it also means that anything short of this may appear too timid for some Democrats.
The media, quite obviously, is currently in a frenzy. Actually, two frenzies, since they've now got two wars to cover, one of which has provided shots of a grisly plane crash. This all meant that a lot of oxygen was sucked from the normal political news scene, meaning this week's column will be somewhat abbreviated. Both wars didn't really impact America all that much, so there's not a lot to add to the media cacophony on either one, to put this another way.
The biggest political event of the week (for Democrats, at any rate) was Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats rolling out a new campaign agenda -- the "Middle Class Jumpstart" -- in the tradition of Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America." But we'll have much more on this later, as we're turning over the whole talking points portion of the program to this rollout.
In other Democratic campaign agenda news, Carl Gibson of the Huffington Post wrote a great article which starkly lays out the difference between two states that charted separate ideological budgetary paths during the recession: Kansas and California. In a nutshell, Kansas decided to massively cut taxes and California not-so-massively raised taxes on the wealthiest. The result? California's economy (and budget) is now almost fully recovered, and the Kansas economy is now in the toilet. Kansas saw its incoming revenues plummet, and their bond rating was downgraded as a result. This is one of the best evidence-based articles on the aftermath of the philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats, and is well worth reading in full.
In two years, barring any unforeseen circumstances, the citizens of California will have the chance to vote on a new scheme to divide their state into not just two new states, but six. "California" as a political entity will cease to exist under this plan, but the name would be preserved in four of the new states (North California, as well as South, West, and Central Californias), while two of the new states will have entirely new names: Silicon Valley and Jefferson. But while it will be interesting to see what the voters think, the rest of the country should rest assured that this is not actually going to happen. It's a fun thought experiment, but nothing more.
Speaker of the House John Boehner now seems pretty committed to his effort to bring a lawsuit against President Obama. This is ridiculous on a number of different levels, and a majority of the American people already see it as nothing more than a political stunt (which is good to hear, since that is exactly what it is). If Boehner keeps to the timetable he's set out, this sentiment may even grow right before the midterm election. The Republicans believe that suing Obama will excite and turn out their base voters, and they're betting that this benefit will be larger than any political blowback (which would excite and turn out Democrats and Independents to the polls to vote against Republicans). Whether they're right in this political calculation or not remains to be seen. But what is undeniable is that, so far, this lawsuit is nothing short of laughable.
I'm playing hooky today.
This is actually the first year in a long while that I won't be traveling and hobnobbing this week, as for various reasons I decided not to attend the Netroots Nation confab this time around (I personally think next year will be the one to attend, since likely Democratic candidates may be vying for attention from the liberal crowds).
What I will be doing today is watching baseball's All-Star Game. It's the middle of the summer, it's a lazy hazy day here, and I'm going to kick back and watch baseball rather than deal with the ins and outs of politics. So I'll see you back here tomorrow, and in the meanwhile you can join in with me in a rousing chorus of:
Take me out to the ball game
Take me out to the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks
I don't care if I never get back
'Cause it's root, root, root for the home team
If they don't win, it's a shame
And it's one, two, three strikes, you're out
At the old ball game!
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Speaker of the House John Boehner seems to be in need of a refresher course in how legislation is supposed to happen in the American system of government. Over the course of the past year, Boehner has gone from confidently touting his and his fellow House Republicans' upcoming leadership on the issue of immigration (and border security, in specific), to now doing nothing more than groveling for President Obama to solve the problem using his executive authority -- which is an ironic enough stance for a Republican to take, these days. The House is obviously incapable of action, Boehner is now all but admitting. That's a pretty stunning turnaround, politically.
We're back! Yes, we took last week off (for our nation's birthday), so it's been two weeks since we've taken a look at politics through our own special lens, which (as always) will feature heavy overuse of the editorial "we" (just because we enjoy it so much).
Plenty of stuff happened in the past two weeks in the political world, but we'll get to all of that in a minute, because first we'd like to highlight (pun intended, of course) what is being billed as "the first marijuana television commercial." It's not on the air yet, but Canadian company Crop King Seeds has released this first look at their ad (they do admit that they'll likely have to edit out one bit of profanity before the ad airs). Without further ado, here is their ad (used with full permission, as they would really like the ad to go viral):