President Obama is giving an address on the situation in the Ukraine as this is being written, so we're going to wait until next week to draw any conclusions for American domestic politics, just to warn everyone up front.
Instead, we're mostly going to focus on what appears to be an astonishing amount of Republican self-inflicted political wounds from the past week. It's as if someone somewhere gave Republicans an order: "Stick your foot way out, now... ready... aim... fire!" Even when Republicans weren't shooting at their own feet this week, it appears they were conducting a circular firing squad instead. The 2014 campaign, in other words, is off to a raucous start... and it's only February.
The Republican midterm strategy was supposed to be pretty simple. The big issue to run on was hatred of Obamacare, and to show that Republicans actually had their own ideas (instead of just being the party of "Hell no!" all the time) the House was going to pass a comprehensive replacement plan to take the place of Obamacare, as well as passing an overhaul of the tax code to show Republican tax priorities weren't just tilted towards the ultra-wealthy. That was the plan.
That plan is getting pretty tattered around the edges. Already some Republican strategists are beginning to (very quietly, one assumes) question putting all their eggs in the "Everyone hates all of Obamacare!" basket. Especially since the Republican alternative to Obamacare now looks like it's going to die an ignoble death in committee, if it even gets that far. One month ago, Republicans were united behind the idea, now John Boehner won't even commit to holding a vote on it this year. They're going to look at a bunch of ideas, Boehner said. I mean, it's not like they've had four or five years to look at these ideas or anything.
The Republican tax code overhaul was announced this week as well, with little fanfare. House Ways and Means Committee chair Dave Camp announced the plan, but couldn't get anyone else to even stand next to him in support. His plan actually could have been the basis for honest negotiations with Democrats, even though major changes would have been necessary to gain Democratic support. But it was a forthright starting bid in the negotiating process. As such, it was immediately shot down by his fellow Republicans. Mitch McConnell pronounced it dead on arrival. John Boehner, when asked about the details of the plan, responded (you can't make this stuff up, folks): "Blah, blah, blah, blah." When asked if it would reach the floor for a vote, Boehner replied: "Ah, Jesus." Dana Milbank of the Washington Post has the snarkiest take on the whole drama. Then Wall Street found out that the plan would institute some sort of "bank tax," which led to heavy-handed threats to stop all Republican campaign donations, immediately.
Added to this disarray is the ongoing Tea Party versus Establishment Republican battles over the Senate (which I wrote about this week, a day before the AP reported a similar story). The Tea Party, not to be deterred, celebrated its fifth anniversary this week, although attendance was reportedly pretty sparse. Remember when they could turn out thousands of people for a rally in Washington? Now a couple hundred people are all that show up. How times have changed, eh?
Before we get on with the "Republicans saying stupid things" list, let's take a quick look at the marijuana news this week. The Washington Post ran an astonishingly detailed story on the evolution of public acceptance of marijuana (with a fantastic chart) this week, and has also held a serious back-and-forth debate on its op-ed pages as well, which is one indication that the political class is beginning to take the issue a bit more seriously than before. Lincoln Chafee, governor of Rhode Island, has a great idea which could go over very big with the East Coast public (especially right about now): "pot for potholes." Legalize recreational marijuana and then take the tax revenues and spend it on fixing the roads. Brilliant! In the not-so-brilliant category, however, is the Maryland cop who was giving testimony to his state legislature, and quoted a story from fake news site The Daily Current with the entirely-fictional statistic that "37 deaths" occurred "from overdose on marijuana" on the first day Colorado legalized recreational marijuana. For the record, total deaths in all of human history for marijuana overdoses: zero. Annapolis police chief Michael Pristoop eventually was forced to retract his statement and apologize for repeating an "urban myth."
I have no segue into this, but the Washington Post has a few pages worth mentioning for political wonks. One of these provides a handy list of everyone currently in Congress who has announced their retirement this cycle. It's handy to check because so far (no matter what you hear in the mainstream media) it's pretty balanced between the parties. Another handy list shows how many in Congress actually made good on those pledges to donate their salaries to charity during the self-imposed government shutdown last year (although it seems there is some accounting disagreement as to how much they were worth during the 16-day shutdown). And finally, just for fun, they have an app that shows how other Americans who share your first name divide up politically.
OK, this is running way too long, so were going to have to present all of the stupid things Republicans have been saying this week in a sort of shorthand.
This one was, admittedly, a typo, but it's still funny. Texas state senator Dan Patrick, in response to Arizona's governor vetoing an anti-gay bill, responded on Twitter: "MARRIAGE= ONE MAN & ONE MAN. Enough of these activist judges. FAVORITE if you agree. I know the silent majority out there is with us!" He later deleted it and changed it to "MARRIAGE= ONE MAN & ONE WOMAN," but still, Freud would have certainly had something to say about that error.
A Virginia state senator named Steve Martin wrote in Facebook, to explain his abortion stance: "I don't expect to be in the room or will I do anything to prevent you from obtaining a contraceptive. However, once a child does exist in your womb, I'm not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child's host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn't want it." He later changed "host" to "bearer of the child." The post by Steve Martin (the male chauvinist) prompted Steve Martin (the famous comedian) to urgently tweet to his fans: "FYI, I am not THAT Steve Martin."
Milton Wolf, a Tea Partier who is running in the Kansas Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat, seems to have had an odd hobby. He used to think it was a fun idea to post to social media X-rays of real people with their heads blown off, complete with snarky commentary and jokes. There's a technical medical term for someone who would do such a thing, and it is not "U.S. Senator," it is in fact: "one sick puppy."
Chris Mapp, Tea Party candidate for another Senate seat in Texas, gave an interview to the Dallas Morning News where he unashamedly used the term "wetbacks" and said that "ranchers should be allowed to shoot [them] on sight." He later defended his use of the term, saying that using the word was as "normal as breathing air in South Texas."
And a Maine Republican was faced with some seriously misogynistic comments from his past, but we're going to save that one for the talking points, because it is in a whole different class of ugly.
Instead, we're going to close with a video of John Boehner making the very same joke about his own last name that we've all smirked over (at least once) since the first time we ever heard of him. If the rest of the GOP lunacy this week has got you down, check this one out because it is at least funny (and the only one who could possibly be offended is Boehner himself).
We're not sure if he's an actual Democrat, but actor Seth Rogan certainly deserves an Honorable Mention this week. Rogan went to Washington to speak before a congressional committee on the subject of Alzheimer's disease. He was shocked and seriously offended by what he found, as any intelligent American would be when faced with what actually happens in committee hearings. Most of the committee members weren't even there (Rogan tweeted one photo of only two listening to him and a whole lot of empty chairs), some fall asleep during hearings, while others just get up and leave. This, it should be pointed out, is entirely normal on Capitol Hill, but most Americans aren't aware of how Congress actually "works." Kudos to Rogan for getting annoyed and pointing it out to others.
Joe Biden gave a pretty good speech on voting rights this week, and the governor of Connecticut, Dannel Malloy, did a great job of smacking down Bobby Jindal this week, so they both deserve their own Honorable Mention awards.
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week is similar to last week, when we handed out our first-ever Most Impressive Retiring Democrat award, because it goes to Representative John Dingell, who announced he will not be running for another term in office. This is big news because when he first entered office, America only had 48 states.
Dingell has served the people of Michigan in the House of Representatives since 1955, when he won a special election to take the place of his father, John Dingell (Sr.), who had died. The House has had a "John Dingell" in its ranks since 1933.
That is an impressive amount of time. In fact, when he retires, John Dingell will have set the all-time record for longevity in either house of Congress. He's already passed Robert Byrd, who is number two on the all-time list. After his announcement, his wife Debbie has said she's interested in running for his seat, so we certainly wish her luck in November.
So while he leaves behind an impressive record of achievements, we have to say that the longest-serving record alone is enough reason to give John Dingell this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
[Congratulate Representative John Dingell on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
Senate Democrats have just announced that they won't be passing a budget this year, because they are afraid of Republicans forcing them to take unpopular votes. This is pathetic, and disappointing as heck, because this is supposed to be a large part of their job descriptions. (Dis-)Honorable Mentions all around!
But we've got two Democrats who really just can't seem to take the hint. "The hint," in both cases, is "getting convicted of a crime." Both men don't seem to grasp the basic fact that "when convicted of a crime, the citizens should no longer have to pay you a salary."
The first of these is the former mayor of Trenton, New Jersey, Tony Mack. He was found guilty of bribery, fraud, and extortion, along with his brother. But he refused to step down from office after the verdict was in. So a judge had to sign an order removing him from office.
That's bad enough, but out here in California things are even worse, because it is not just a matter of one man's (or two men's) inflated ego and sense of entitlement. In the state senate, two members are now in legal trouble. Ron Calderon was just indicted on bribery charges and other various alleged criminal acts, but he hasn't gone to trial yet, so we'll wait until the jury's in on him.
The jury on Roderick Wright, however, has already spoken -- and they found him guilty of voter fraud and perjury for not physically living in the district he is supposed to represent (a total of eight felonies overall). Wright, however, refuses to resign. And Democrats in the senate are backing him up, by merely putting him on paid leave. As in "tax dollars paying a convicted felon to sit at home and do nothing." Because of politics (the Democrats might lose their two-thirds supermajority in the upper chamber).
That's beyond pathetic. Before a jury weighs in, journalists all must use "alleged" before a list of their charges. But after the jury speaks, the person in question is a "convicted criminal" -- which should mean an immediate and automatic expulsion from the public payroll. What it really should mean is that the criminal in question should resign, but at the very least his fellow party members shouldn't be aiding and abetting such behavior.
There is simply no excuse for this, which is why both Roderick Wright and Tony Mack are the winners of our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week. Guys, can't you take the hint? It's past time to go, fellows.
[We don't currently have contact information for either man, but we'd bet that the Bureau of Prisons will soon be able to provide an address, should you like to let these two know what you think of their actions.]
Volume 293 (2/28/14)
Last week, when the C.B.O. report on raising the minimum wage came out, I wrote some advice for Democrats on how to turn the argument around against Republicans:
The first [way] is to point out all the Democratic bills which the C.B.O. predicted would create millions of jobs, but which Republicans either did not support or killed off in Congress. "Congressman Smith voted against three bills which would have created 6 million jobs!" would be the campaign ad tagline. If you live by the C.B.O. figures, then you can also die by them, in other words. And there are plenty of Democratic ideas which have received glowing C.B.O. job numbers, so this really wouldn't be all that hard to do.
I'd just like to acknowledge Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post for doing exactly that, this week. He does a great job of pointing out who is really in favor of creating jobs, according to the C.B.O., and it's well worth a read for anyone who likes talking points. Just wanted to give credit where it is due.
OK, that's enough, let's get on with our own talking points for the week.
Losing a second Super Bowl
I'm going to start with an entirely self-serving plug: I wrote my own parable on the "Turn The Gays Away" Arizona law this week which seemed to get a mostly-positive response, so check it out if you missed it.
The whole Arizona situation was kind of fascinating to watch, for all kinds of reasons. One of which was how the major sports leagues (both baseball and football) reacted.
"I see that Arizona's governor vetoed a bill her fellow Republicans in the state legislature had sent her which would have given legal protections to bigotry. One of the possible repercussions (if Jan Brewer had signed the bill) might have been losing the opportunity to host next year's Super Bowl. This is ironic, because Arizona did indeed lose one Super Bowl hosting opportunity back in the 1990s, and it was over the subject of bigotry then, too. Being denied a second Super Bowl would have been embarassing for the state, so we're glad Brewer chose to veto such a mean-spirited bill."
There are other consequences to Brewer's veto, as well.
"It seems that, after watching what Arizona just went through -- and learning all the hard economic consequences the state would have faced from all kinds of businesses who don't want to return to any sort of Jim Crow era -- that legislators in other states who have proposed similar legislation seem to now be deciding to perhaps not pass such bills in the first place. The ripples outward from Arizona are beginning to be felt, as bills are quietly shelved or are hastily rewritten. Jan Brewer did the right thing in the end, but she only did it after her state legislature passed such a bill in the first place -- which put a spotlight of condemnation onto Arizona from the rest of America. Other states have seen the effect of trying to legalize discrimination, and if they move forward at this point they have only themselves to blame."
Personhood of a different sort
One thing almost everyone missed, in the fray....
"There was one thing hidden in the Arizona bill that Jan Brewer vetoed, which really should have been given more attention, because it sets a rather scary precedent. The bill, according to the fact sheet released by the legislature, would, quote, expand the definition of person to include any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, estate, trust, foundation, or other legal entity, unquote. That's a pretty wide-ranging definition of 'person' to be enacting into law. I mean, hidden within the bill was a 'personhood' clause of a different sort."
Republicans offer absolutely nothing to voters
This should really be a large component of any Democrats' campaign this year.
"Republicans are offering voters absolutely nothing in the upcoming election. They said they were going to come out with their own plan instead of Obamacare, and they can't even agree on what should go in it, even after having had four or five years to think about it. They just announced a tax reform plan, which the Republican leadership killed off any hope of passing before the week was out. This is what voters see: Republicans can't even agree among themselves what they should be doing. They can't even manage to pass their own bills through a House that they control. Why should any voter think that giving Republicans more power in Congress is going to change things one tiny little bit? Republicans have shown what they are capable of accomplishing, and it can be summed up in one word: nothing. They've gone from the party of 'no' to the party of 'absolutely nothing.' Voters, please take note."
Wall Street threatens GOP donation boycott
This was also not given much attention in the media, but it certainly is worth pointing out.
"When one Republican in the House did actually put forth an idea for reforming the tax code -- a proposal that Democrats might have been able to work with -- Wall Street reacted swiftly, since they saw a whole bunch of their special interest tax breaks at risk. The big money types on Wall Street immediately threatened to pull all of its funding from the party, in response. Seeing as how Wall Street is the biggest outside contributor to the National Republican Congressional Committee, Republicans immediately fell all over themselves promising the fatcats that such a bill would never ever in a million billion years come up for a vote on the House floor. So it's pretty easy to see the puppet master's strings on this one. When it comes to choosing Wall Street or Main Street, it's pretty obvious how Republicans will react, in any given situation."
Republicans don't support consumers
This is pretty stunning, even though the Senate can be counted on to ignore such nonsense. The House is working on a bill which would cripple the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and we find we cannot improve at all upon what Representative Gwen Moore had to say, in response:
H.R. 3193 seeks to eliminate "consumer" from the C.F.P.B.'s name and, quite possibly, their mission as well. Under the GOP bill, the newly established "Financial Product Safety Commission" would be a shadow of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In our post-recession economy, families continue to struggle to make ends meet. Americans need jobs, not legislation putting their financial security back in the hands of Wall Street scammers. The C.F.P.B. has already refunded $3 billion to 9.7 million victims of unfair, deceptive and abusive practices in financial markets. H.R. 3193 would make it more difficult to assist these victims.
When it comes to safeguarding the livelihood of our constituents, large financial institutions should not have a vote. I am very disappointed that my Republican colleagues chose to overpower the voice of Main Street with the voice of Wall Street.
There they go again...
As promised, here is the ugliest thing a Republican was exposed saying all week.
"What is it with the antediluvian attitudes some Republicans have on the subject of rape? It seems they've been waging their War On Women longer than we thought. Republican state lawmaker Lawrence Lockman in Maine is under fire for all sorts of ugly comments he's been making for decades, now. In particular, his statement on his views on abortion rights: 'If a woman has [the right to an abortion], why shouldn't a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist's pursuit of sexual freedom doesn't [in most cases] result in anyone's death.' Wow. Even Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock probably cringed when they read this remark. I mean, how hard is it for the Republican Party to understand that all of these ugly comments and ignorant ideas about rape are simply no longer acceptable for politicians? How long is it going to take for the party to wake up to this reality?"
-- Chris Weigant