Will Meanness Win The Day? If So, It'll Happen Quickly.

[ Posted Monday, June 26th, 2017 – 16:05 PDT ]

The next few days are going to be pretty frantic in the Senate. The Congressional Budget Office just released its scoring of the Republican "repeal and replace" healthcare bill, and the numbers are almost as dismal as the House version's. But will it matter? At this point, it's impossible to really predict, as the entire political world waits to see what senators like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have to say about it.

My best guess is that one of two things will happen. Either the bill fails because at least five or six Republicans declare their opposition, or the entire thing will pass with blinding speed and be signed by Donald Trump, probably on Independence Day.

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Friday Talking Points [442] -- Trump Did Not Deny Tapes Exist!

[ Posted Friday, June 23rd, 2017 – 17:26 PDT ]

Every so often, we have a certain reaction to a bit of political news. We then fully expect at least a few other political commentators to have the same reaction, only to be surprised when it seems that nobody else read things the way we did. This is precisely where we find ourselves over President Donald Trump's recent tweets, where he supposedly put the issue to rest of whether secret audio recordings were ever made in his White House. Everybody seems to be buying his spin, and nobody questioned the obvious loophole he left himself. Because if you read what he wrote and take it at face value (not reading more into it than he actually says), Trump still has not answered the question of whether such tapes exist or not. Not even close.

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Time For Nancy Pelosi To Go?

[ Posted Thursday, June 22nd, 2017 – 17:48 PDT ]

In the aftermath of this week's special House election in Georgia, the question has arisen whether Nancy Pelosi should continue to hold the House Minority Leader position, heading into the 2018 midterm elections. It's a valid question, since Republican Karen Handel seemed almost to be running against Pelosi herself, if you saw any of her campaign ads or literature. Her entire strategy seemed to be to link neophyte politician Jon Ossoff with Pelosi -- and not in a good way. It's impossible to tell how much this contributed to Ossoff's loss, but if the answer to that question turns out to be "four percent of the vote or more," then demonizing Pelosi would have been the difference between his winning and losing. So is it time for Nancy to go?

I for one am extremely reluctant to come to that conclusion, but I can certainly see why others are pushing Pelosi to step down. Pelosi is one of the top three Democrats right now, along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez. Both Perez and Schumer are far less recognized by the general public, which is mostly due to them being fairly new in their leadership jobs. Harry Reid didn't step down until he declined to run in last year's election, and Perez has only led the D.N.C. for a few months. In comparison, Pelosi has been leading the House Democrats since the 2006 midterm elections. That difference has meant that she is currently much more nationally-known, so a good case could be made for her being the "face of the Democratic Party" right now.

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McConnell's Big Gamble

[ Posted Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 – 15:26 PDT ]

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is about to make a big legislative throw of the dice tomorrow, when he (finally) unveils the super-secret Senate Republican healthcare bill not only to the public, but also to the rest of his own caucus. It's a pretty big gamble for McConnell, since he has no way of knowing if he's got the votes to pass it or not. Either way -- whether successful or not -- McConnell says the effort will be over by the Independence Day holiday. Either they pass the bill, or the Senate will just move on to other agenda items.

McConnell has taken the drafting of the bill entirely upon himself, at this point. He hasn't yet gotten his own caucus to agree on any coherent plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Please remember, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed a full seven years ago. In all that time, Republicans have never gotten behind a single replacement plan, so it's not all that surprising they can't manage to do so now. A group of 13 Republican senators was supposed to come up with a draft bill this year, but even this small a group could not agree on what to put in it. So McConnell just took over the process entirely. Senator Mike Lee -- one of those 13 senators -- just posted a video complaining that even he had no idea what will be in tomorrow's bill. So at this point, whatever is released tomorrow will have to logically be called "McConnellcare." His will be the only fingerprints on it, so it seems fitting.

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Congress Considers Working Through August

[ Posted Tuesday, June 20th, 2017 – 16:08 PDT ]

To me, at least, that's a shocking headline. Because for the life of me, I can't remember this stunning proposal ever before being seriously considered on Capitol Hill. Some Republicans in Congress are now saying that they should all forgo their monthlong August vacation period and actually work instead. Stunning!

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Deserved Or Not, Georgia House Race Will Have Consequences

[ Posted Monday, June 19th, 2017 – 16:21 PDT ]

After tomorrow night's special House election results in the sixth congressional district in Georgia ("GA-6") are known, there will be a bumper crop of political commentary attempting to explain "what it all means going forward." No matter what the outcome, dire consequences will be predicted for one side of the aisle or the other. Sweeping conclusions will be drawn and confident predictions made by pundits far and wide. In the end the GA-6 election may deserve all of this attention, but then again there's an equal chance that it may not. But deserved or not, there will be real political consequences in the medium-term, as one party or the other may radically shift its campaign strategy for the 2018 midterms based on tomorrow night's results. So it will wind up being a consequential election, even if all of the fulminating about "what it all means" turns out to be incorrect.

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Friday Talking Points [441] -- Happy Birthday, Mr. President

[ Posted Friday, June 16th, 2017 – 17:00 PDT ]

President Donald J. Trump turned 71 years old this week. He held a party and invited all his cabinet members, who were all allowed to sing his praises in a manner one reporter summed up as: "honestly this is like a scene from the Third World." The internet, of course, had a field day afterwards. But it's pretty easy to understand why Trump felt the need to hold a public ass-kissing event to celebrate. After all, pretty much all of his other birthday presents were stinkers.

The news media and Robert Mueller brought the news (tied up with a bow) that Trump's biggest fear already came true a month ago -- he is now officially under investigation for obstruction of justice. When you consider how much time and energy Trump put into getting the word out that he was not under investigation, you begin to see what an enormous blow this news must have been to the birthday boy. He's been grumpily tweeting about it ever since, and leaking that he might just fire Mueller. Because, you know, what could possibly go wrong with that?

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Senate Votes To Take Power Away From Trump

[ Posted Thursday, June 15th, 2017 – 16:42 PDT ]

With a near-unanimous vote, the Senate just issued a rather strong rebuke to President Donald Trump, telling him that they simply do not trust him to handle sanctions against Russia. If the bill clears the House with a similar overwhelming majority, then Congress will assume control over America's foreign policy towards Russia and leave both the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with a very limited ability to change the situation. That's a pretty stunning rebuke to a sitting president. Especially by a Congress controlled by his own party.

This all happened quickly, considering the glacial pace most legislation moves through Congress, for rather obvious reasons (see: Trump, numerous investigations of). With almost-daily revelations about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, even Republicans had to have been getting a little nervous about trusting Trump to have any say in sanctions against the country. In the midst of all the investigations, the Trump administration let it be known that they were considering letting the Russians back in to the two facilities President Obama kicked them out of at the end of his term in office. So the fear that Trump won't be tough enough on the Russians has already proven to be very real.

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Condemning Terrorism

[ Posted Wednesday, June 14th, 2017 – 16:56 PDT ]

Today, there was a terrorist attack at a Virginia baseball field. That's a pretty simple sentence, but so far I haven't seen a whole lot of media reports which start by so clearly identifying what just took place. But the word cannot be shied away from in this fashion, because what just took place was indeed terrorism. The only other possible term would be "guerrilla warfare against the United States," but that doesn't really seem to fit a lone individual.

Members of the United States government were shot at, with the clear intent to kill them (thankfully, as of this writing the only person who is reported dead is the shooter). If we were currently facing a rebellious movement in the country (such as the guerrilla warfare the Irish Republican Army waged on Britain) then a case could be made that members of the government are military targets. But there is no guerrilla warfare currently being waged, so that argument is not even possible. This was a lone-wolf attack, plain and simple.

It was an attack launched by a terrorist. It was the use of violence to further political goals, which is a pretty functional definition of the term. The gunman reportedly worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign and asked if the ball team practicing was made up of Republicans or Democrats. If it had been a Democratic team, perhaps the outcome would have been different. Or perhaps not. The gunman is dead, so he won't be offering up any sort of explanation for his violent behavior, one way or another. But, as reported, it is impossible not to call the gunman a terrorist.

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The (Unrelated) Question I Want Sessions To Answer

[ Posted Tuesday, June 13th, 2017 – 17:08 PDT ]

This is going to be a disappointing column for some, since I'm not really going to get into my thoughts on the testimony Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered up this afternoon to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Before I feel ready to comment on that particular subject, I've got some research into the history of executive privilege to do (and I suspect I am not alone in that, I might add).

Instead, in all the run-up to Sessions testifying, one particular story caught my eye. Jeff Sessions has been avoiding talking to the congressional committees (both House and Senate) about the Department of Justice's budget, having now missed two scheduled chances to address the committees involved. A few weeks back, he just outright cancelled his appearance. Today, he sent his second-in-command to testify for him. Perhaps he's just leery of facing Senator Al Franken again, who knows? In his answer to Franken's question about Russia, Sessions offered up a sweeping statement that turned out to be a lie, after all. For all his strenuous explanation today, Sessions both lied to Congress about his contacts with the Russians, and reportedly lied on his security clearance application as well. So maybe he's right to be fearful of what Franken's going to ask as a followup.

In any case, the hearings Sessions has been skipping out on deal with his department's budget. Which is what makes this story so germane. Sessions sent a letter a few weeks back to Congress, objecting to what is known as the "Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment." This legislation was enacted by Congress in 2014 as a rider to the budget process, and has been in force in the three years since. But it must be renewed with each year's budget. President Trump has already signed one partial budget (for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year) with the amendment attached. But Sessions is still fighting hard against it.

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