Reviewing The Field For The Second GOP Debate.

[ Posted Monday, September 25th, 2023 – 16:03 UTC ]

It's almost time for the second Republican debate, although we're still waiting to hear who exactly will be allowed on the stage Wednesday night. Just as in the first debate, frontrunner Donald Trump will not be on the stage, not through being disqualified in some way but because he has decided (once again) to stage his own event in an effort to "counterprogram" the Fox debate. Trump has a big problem with the Ronald Reagan presidential library where the debate will be held, but even without that dynamic he still likely would have skipped this one as well. He is -- quite accurately -- figuring that there isn't a whole lot of upside for him showing up, since he is already so dominant in the polling at the moment. So once again we're going to see all the candidates who have yet to truly challenge Trump's standing with Republican voters bickering among themselves.

Even though this is only the second debate, one has to wonder whether anything is going to change as a result. No candidate had a true "breakout moment" in the first debate (no matter what various pundits had to say about it at the time) as shown in the polling. Some marginal changes happened, but there were no giant spikes upwards or downwards. It's impossible to say whether that will hold true again or not, but it does seem to be the most plausible outcome at this point.

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[From The Archives:] Friday Talking Points [363] -- New Job Vacancy: Chief GOP Cat-Herder

[ Posted Friday, September 22nd, 2023 – 14:47 UTC ]

Program Note: As I mentioned last week, I am playing hooky today. So I went looking for a column to re-run and came across this one, from almost exactly eight years ago. It's stunning in the sense of plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, since it wouldn't take much more than changing a few names to be almost perfectly relevant today. It was written the week that John Boehner announced he was stepping down from being speaker and retiring from politics. At the time (as you'll see), Kevin McCarthy's name was being bandied about as a replacement, but ultimately Paul Ryan was chosen as a sort of sacrificial lamb instead.

Eight years, and not much has changed. We're still in the midst of a shutdown battle, the GOP hardliners still have no idea what they're fighting for (other than nihilism), Republicans are still completely consumed with completely meaningless battles between themselves over bills which will never pass the Senate or become law, and we could easily have a new speaker by Hallowe'en. So here is a snapshot from the past showing that while the names do change, not much of anything else ever does in Washington.


Originally published September 25th, 2015

Every so often, when preparing to write these weekly wrap-up columns, I wake up Friday morning and a political bombshell has happened which pretty much wipes out all the political news from the entire rest of the week. Obviously, today was one of those days, as we all learned this morning that Speaker of the House John Boehner will be a private citizen again by Hallowe'en. He'll step down not only from his speakership, but also from his House seat itself, more than a year before the end of his current term. So it looks like the Republicans are going to need a new cat-herder to (attempt to) lead them in the House.

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Will Democrats Save McCarthy?

[ Posted Thursday, September 21st, 2023 – 15:50 UTC ]

I should begin by clarifying terms. Perhaps the headline should read: " McCarthy's speakership," because I am not talking about whether Democrats will either step in to avert a government shutdown or eventually offer House Speaker Kevin McCarthy a path to ending such a shutdown, because at this point one of those is almost inevitable. There will eventually be a short-term deal, it will pass the House, and it will pass with mostly Democratic votes. The Senate will then pass it as well and President Joe Biden will sign it. I'm not talking about saving McCarthy from the shutdown nonsense (which may happen or not), instead I'm talking about what might happen afterwards... or even "during."

The radical (read: lunatic) fringe of the House Republicans -- let's call them the Chaos Caucus -- are going to be completely incensed by this eventual deal. Not the deal itself so much as the fact that Kevin McCarthy didn't have a magic wand or some fairy dust which would -- hey presto! -- make them the ultimate arbiters of the federal budget. It's pretty obvious that for some of the crazies the only acceptable answer is for them to magically gain the power to somehow jam their own budget down the throats of the Democratic Senate and a Democratic president. Which McCarthy simply cannot provide (because McCarthy, unlike them, must make occasional forays outward from Republican Fantasyland into actual reality).

If any one of the lunatics gets incensed enough, he or she can file a "motion to vacate the chair." This is a sort of no-confidence vote in the House. If a majority of those present vote for it, then McCarthy will no longer be speaker. Since the House will be speakerless, their only order of business at that point would be to try to elect a new speaker. Which could lead (remember January?) to endless votes that all fail to provide a majority to any candidate. This would grind Washington to an absolute halt, for the most part.

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Poor Kevin

[ Posted Wednesday, September 20th, 2023 – 15:55 UTC ]

It wasn't supposed to be like this. We were told that, a while back, when Republicans took over control of the House of Representatives. Things were going to be different! Republicans were going to show us all how Congress is supposed to work. The 12 appropriations bills that make up the federal budget were going to go through "regular order" and be voted on one by one instead of all being swept into a giant "omnibus" bill or just largely ignored by the use of a "continuing resolution" (C.R.). That was all going to be a thing of the past, as Congress returned to regular order and appropriated funding the correct and proper way. Washington would bask in the sunshine of regular order and the citizenry would reward the staunch Republicans who had shown Congress the way out of the darkness. That was the way it was supposed to be!

Obviously, things aren't exactly working out according to this plan. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who in all likelihood had to make specific promises to his members about following regular order (we don't know, since all these promises were given behind closed doors and remain secret) in order to get elected to the speaker's chair, is now running out of time and running out of options. And strictly following regular order simply isn't one of them, given the time remaining.

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Biden Needs To Go To Michigan

[ Posted Tuesday, September 19th, 2023 – 15:30 UTC ]

President Joe Biden needs to go to Michigan, and he needs to do it soon. Biden needs to go within days, in fact -- and certainly before next Wednesday. Because if he either waits that long or doesn't go at all, he will have failed an important pop quiz in Politics 101. Here is how such a quiz might be framed:

You have billed yourself as the most Union-friendly president in the history. The United Auto Workers goes on strike. You should:

  • (a) Adopt a hands-off approach -- send White House mediators in and then state that you refuse to "play politics" with the negotiations.
  • (b) Put out a few statements supporting the right of the workers to strike and largely agree that their demands have merit, send in your negotiators, and then sit back and stay out of it.
  • (c) Travel to Michigan and set up a photo-op walking a picket line with the workers, in solidarity.
  • (d) (Other: fill in the blank.)

So far, Biden has chosen (b). He has stated his support for the workers' position, but he hasn't really been leaning into the issue either. Choosing (c) would be a dramatic gesture -- the first president to actually walk a picket line in a very long time. But photo-ops can go badly for all sorts of reasons, and it would mean a security challenge for the Secret Service. So perhaps (d) is the way for Biden to go. He should travel to Michigan, perhaps drive his motorcade past the picket line (and give them a big thumbs-up or tell the driver to honk the horn loudly), and then give a speech to an audience of U.A.W. members somewhere nearby. Biden could also hold a meeting with a select few of them -- perhaps some Union leaders as well as a representative selection of line workers as well. He could listen to their stories and empathize with them and their situation (Biden can indeed empathize well with blue-collar workers, due to his own childhood experience).

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Trump, Media Haven't Changed

[ Posted Monday, September 18th, 2023 – 16:27 UTC ]

Donald Trump hasn't changed. That was my big takeaway from watching his performance on this week's Meet The Press, where Kristen Welker started her new stint as host of the program by scoring a blockbuster interview with Trump. This is the first such interview he has given in a long time: on network television which is not part of the right-wing echo chamber. And it went about how you'd expect (assuming you haven't been in a coma for the past eight years). Trump flooded the zone with lies, distortions, conspiracy theories, and general blithering, and the poor benighted host simply couldn't keep up. So two big takeaways, really: Donald Trump hasn't changed, and (sadly) neither has the media.

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Friday Talking Points -- Impeach Hunter Biden!

[ Posted Friday, September 15th, 2023 – 17:51 UTC ]

No, wait... that can't be right...?

Sorry for opening with some snark, but we felt that was the appropriate tone for addressing this week's legal developments. Republicans have been swearing up and down for years now that President Joe Biden's son Hunter somehow bribed his father to use his position as vice president to do... well, something nefarious... and that all they really needed to do was dig into it all and the evidence would then appear.

Hunter has now been investigated for five years (and counting) by the Department of Justice. Republicans in the House of Representatives have been investigating him since the first day they retook control of the chamber at the start of this year. A special counsel was even named to look into all things Hunter. And what do they have to show for it all? Some pretty small potatoes indeed.

To date, there is zero evidence that Joe Biden did anything to benefit his son. None. All of his actions as vice president were exactly what President Obama wanted him to do and told him to do. There is no record of any bribes paid from Hunter to Joe at all, despite Hunter's bank records being repeatedly scoured.

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Budget Trainwreck Approaching Fast

[ Posted Thursday, September 14th, 2023 – 15:59 UTC ]

Once again, it appears Congress is not going to do its constitutional job on time. October will dawn without a federal budget in place for the next fiscal year, unless (by some miracle) everything gets done in the next two weeks. This miracle is not likely to happen -- it's on the order of wishing for both Donald Trump and Joe Biden to announce tomorrow that they're not running for president next year. It's just not going to happen, in other words.

The Senate hasn't passed a single appropriations bill yet, but they've at least gotten all of them out of committee, with impressive bipartisan support. However, due to the Byzantine rules for getting floor votes to happen, there's no guarantee all of them will pass before the end-of-the-month due date. Some of them will likely pass, but at this point it looks like it would take a somewhat-lesser miracle for all of them to clear the chamber on time.

Since Republicans are in control on the other side of the Capitol, the House of Representatives is in complete disarray. Kevin McCarthy, the weakest politician to hold the speaker's chair in quite some time, is struggling to get all the members of his caucus on the same page. Since this includes factions who do not have any grasp on reality to speak of, this is going to be quite the task for him. The craziest of these crazies are already threatening to try to depose McCarthy as speaker if they don't get all of their demands in the budget fight. They will not get all of their demands, however, because other (much saner) Republicans do not agree with the goals of the crazies. So the House isn't going to get all of their appropriations bills complete by the deadline either.

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Mitt Rides Off Into The Sunset

[ Posted Wednesday, September 13th, 2023 – 15:40 UTC ]

Mitt Romney is hanging up his spurs, it seems. Well, that is perhaps not the best metaphor to use since even though he represents a Mountain West state with plenty of horses to ride, it's hard to picture him atop one of them while wearing spurs. OK, sure, riding one, maybe... but perhaps politely riding dressage, since the only famous link between equestrian sports and Romney was the "dancing horse" his wife entered in the 2012 Olympics. But we're galloping a bit too far down the wrong trail, here, pardner.

All kidding aside, the fact that Mitt Romney will not be running for re-election to his Senate seat next year is notable for a number of reasons. His announcement made somewhat of a splash because of the main reason Romney gave for his decision:

At the end of another term, I'd be in my mid-80s. Frankly, it's time for a new generation of leaders. They're the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in.

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McCarthy Moves To Impeach (To Save His Own Skin)

[ Posted Tuesday, September 12th, 2023 – 15:15 UTC ]

When I was born, there had only been one U.S. president impeached in all of American history. When I was a child, impeachment proceedings were launched against a second, but he resigned before the House of Representatives could impeach him. But since that time, a president has been impeached three times: Bill Clinton for lying about having sex with a White House intern; and Donald Trump both for trying to strongarm the leader of another country in order to create some dirt on his political opponent, and then for instigating an insurrection attempt rather than facing the reality that he lost his re-election effort. Now we stand at the brink of a possible fourth presidential impeachment in my lifetime.

We are where we are for one reason and one reason only: Speaker Kevin McCarthy's political weakness. McCarthy announced today that an impeachment inquiry would be launched solely because he had to assuage the extremists on his right flank, right at the start of a very contentious budget fight. He is using the impeachment process as a political prize for the crazies in his caucus, in the hopes that they won't depose him as speaker when he has to inevitably cut some sort of budget deal with the Democrats in his chamber, the Democrats and the Republicans in the Senate, and the White House. He is going to have to cut this deal -- that much is not in question -- but he is terrified (for good reason) that right after he does, the extremist wing of his own party will try to oust him as speaker. So he is tossing them this impeachment inquiry as a bone in the hopes that they won't, plain and simple.

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