It's not exactly a secret that President Obama and congressional Republicans fail to see eye to eye, but for several years, a variety of Beltway pundits have argued that the president is to blame. Obama hasn't forged personal relationships with his GOP foes, the argument goes, which makes cooperation impossible.
If only the president "schmoozed" more, the pundits have said, he'd have more legislative successes.
I hope these same observers take note of an interesting pieceU.S. News published yesterday, highlighting remarks former House Speaker John Boehner made in Florida earlier this month. The Ohio Republican said the political climate in D.C. is so toxic, he sometimes felt the need to "sneak into the White House to see the president."
When Obama played golf with Boehner a few years ago, he was criticized for only playing with him once. But it turns out that wasn't his fault. Boehner told the Naples group they had a "nice" game but he declined a couple of subsequent invitations in order to avoid irritating his "band of renegades" (his description of some of his fellow Republicans).
The exchange with Obama went like this, according to Boehner: "You think it would be too much trouble if we played golf again?" "Yes, Mr. President, I think it would be." To the audience, he added, "You just can't believe the grief I got."
Think about that. The president, trying to cultivate a relationship with the then-House leader, played a round of golf, which couldn't be repeated because House Republicans were outraged.
It's one thing for GOP lawmakers to resist policy compromises with a White House they hold in contempt, but these guys didn't even want Boehner socializing with Obama.
To be sure, part of the problem in a case like this relates to Boehner's weakness: a stronger Speaker would have simply told his members it's just golf and they shouldn't freak out with such ease.
But there's a larger point to the story that the pro-schmooze pundits should pause to appreciate.
It looked as if Donald Trump's bizarre lie about 9/11 had run its course, but the Republican presidential campaign apparently wants to keep the discussion going a little longer -- even throwing in a conspiratorial twist.
To briefly recap, the GOP frontrunner insists he saw news reports from 9/11 that Trump believes show “thousands and thousands” of Jersey City residents of Middle Eastern descent cheering when the Twin Towers fell. Those reports do not exist, but that hasn't stopped Trump from repeating the claim, over and over again, in recent days.
Team Trump has had multiple opportunities to walk this back. As TPM noted, it's instead doing the opposite.
Donald Trump’s campaign manager on Tuesday accused the media of coordinating an elaborate conspiracy to deny the billionaire's claim that “thousands and thousands” of New Jersey residents cheered the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“For the mainstream media to go out and say that this didn’t happen is just factually inaccurate,” Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said in an interview with Breitbart News. “We know it happened.”
Right Wing Watch posted the audio of Lewandowski's comments, in which he pretends fiction is fact.
Trump's special counsel, Michael Cohen, added on CNN yesterday that his client's numbers may be off, but that shouldn't matter. "Whether it’s 'thousands and thousands' or a thousand people or even just one person, it's irrelevant," he argued, adding, "What's important is that there are bad people among us."
Except, that doesn't make any sense. Trump has argued, repeatedly, that he saw video footage of thousands of people in New Jersey celebrating a devastating terrorist attack. Now his lawyer is saying it could have been one guy and we shouldn't be too picky about the details, while his campaign manager continues to insist the imaginary video exists, even if no one can find it, and this is all part of a conspiracy to help elect an "establishment candidate," who'll be "controlled by the special interests.”
All of this is seen as necessary, of course, to justify Trump's vision of registering Muslim Americans and spying on houses of worship.
Ben Carson, who endorsed Trump's bogus claim before changing his mind a few hours later, is also trying to blame news organizations. Politicoreported yesterday:
Rachel Maddow reports on the background of Troy Newman, radical anti-abortion activist embraced by Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, and notes that this is the second recent radical association by Cruz, having just spoken at an event where fellow speaker Kevin Swanson advocated the belief that the Bible justifies the execution of gay... watch
Rachel Maddow reports on a Black Lives Matter protest being held in the 4th police district in Minneapolis, MN, and the unusual element of provocateurs agitating the event and drawing scrutiny after five protesters were shot last night. watch
* More on this on tonight's show: "A Russian pilot was killed Tuesday while parachuting from his downed plane and so was a Marine dispatched to save him. The doomed pilot was one of two Russians who ejected from their aircraft after it was struck by a Turkish missile, Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy said in a statement."
* Egypt: "Islamic State militants attacked a hotel in the northern Sinai Peninsula of Egypt with explosives and gunfire early on Tuesday, killing at least seven people, including a judge, according to security officials, Egyptian state media and a statement by the group."
* Tunis: "At least 12 people were killed on Tuesday after an explosion tore through a bus full of Tunisian presidential guards in an attack one source said was probably carried out by a bomber detonating his explosives in the vehicle."
* Minnesota: "Two men have been arrested and other suspects are being sought after five people were shot in Minneapolis near a protest over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man. A 23-year-old white man was taken into custody in Bloomington, Minnesota, on Tuesday around 11:20 a.m., Minneapolis police said in a statement, and a 32-year-old Hispanic man was arrested in South Minneapolis at about 12:05 p.m."
* Greece: "A bomb went off outside the offices of a Greek business federation in the heart of Athens early on Tuesday, causing damage but no injuries, the police said. It was the first such attack under the country’s leftist-led government, fueling fears of a possible resurgence of domestic terrorism."
* I hope he's right about Americans' attitudes: "President Barack Obama on Tuesday said the U.S. stands in 'total solidarity' with France in the wake of the deadly terror attacks there and pledged to do more to crush ISIS.... 'This was an attack on our free and open society,' Obama said and stressed 'Americans will not be terrorized.'"
* The State Department last night "issued a worldwide alert three days ahead of Thanksgiving cautioning travelers of 'increased terroristic threats' from ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other groups. The alert expires Feb. 24."
* Chicago: "A Chicago police officer has been charged with murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was killed in a volley of 16 shots on the city’s South Side last October. The officer, Jason Van Dyke, turned himself into authorities on Tuesday morning. It is believed that the charges mark the first time in Chicago history that a police officer has been charged with murder for an on-duty shooting."
* Economy: "The U.S. economy grew at a somewhat faster 2.1% pace in the third quarter instead of 1.5%, revised government figures show."
* This move may benefit as many as 180,000 people: "The outgoing Democratic governor of Kentucky has signed an executive order to restore the right to vote and hold public office to thousands of non-violent felons who've served out their sentences. Gov. Steve Beshear signed the order Tuesday.... Kentucky was one of four states that did not automatically restore voting rights to felons once they completed all the terms of their sentences."
It's tempting to give Jeb Bush credit for being far less ridiculous than Donald Trump on, well, pretty much everything. Over the last week, as Trump's radicalism has exceeded any normal boundaries of propriety, the former governor has been willing to call out the New York developer for going too far.
But if Bush is going to claim any credit for taking the high ground, he's going to have to stop dipping his feet in the same waters in which Trump is taking a swim.
Last week, for example, the Florida Republican argued that the United States should reject Syrian refugees for reasons he has not yet explained. Bush later clarified that some refugees might be able to enter the country, but only if they’re members of a religious group he approves of.
“You’re a Christian – I mean, you can prove you’re a Christian,” Jeb inexplicably argued.
BuzzFeed reports today that Bush has done it again.
Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a radio interview Tuesday that “you can tell when someone is a Christian in the Middle East” based on indicators such as their name and birth certificate.
“I can promise you that,” Bush told New Hampshire radio host Jack Heath. “By name, by where they’re born, their birth certificates. There are ample means by which to know this.”
He reportedly added that he supports pressing “the pause button” on welcoming Syrian refugees in order to ensure that refugee screening processes are “proper.” Bush has not, however, pointed to any specific shortcomings in the existing screening program.
Even putting this aside, there are two fairly obvious problems with his approach. First, his "you can tell" assurances notwithstanding, separating people who claim to be Christians from those who really are Christians isn't nearly as simple as Bush chooses to believe. Names and birthplaces offer hints, but what about sincere converts?
Over the weekend, Donald Trump was asked whether he'd bring back Bush/Cheney-era torture policies like waterboarding. “I would bring it back, yes,” the Republican said. “I would bring it back. I think waterboarding is peanuts compared to what they’d do to us, what they’re doing to us, what they did to James Foley when they chopped off his head.”
At an event in Ohio yesterday, Trump went a little further, telling his audience, "Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would -- in a heartbeat." But the GOP frontrunner wasn't done there. The Washington Postreported:
"And I would approve more than that. Don't kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn't work."
Trump said such techniques are needed to confront terrorists who "chop off our young people's heads" and "build these iron cages, and they'll put 20 people in them and they drop them in the ocean for 15 minutes and pull them up 15 minutes later."
"It works," Trump said over and over again. "Believe me, it works. And you know what? If it doesn't work, they deserve it anyway, for what they're doing."
That last part is obviously the most disgusting. The overwhelming evidence tells us that torturing detainees through waterboarding does not, in fact, "work" in producing valuable intelligence. Simply asserting the opposite, over and over again, doesn't change reality.
But note that Trump isn't overly concerned about the efficacy of illegal intelligence gathering. The Republican frontrunner conceded that even if torture tactics don't "work," he's inclined to commit war crimes anyway because "they deserve it."
And while it's easy to marvel at the sadistic nature of Trump's boasts, there's a larger context to this: he's not the only Republican presidential candidate putting torture on the table as a 2016 campaign issue.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, a 38% plurality of Republican voters nationwide believe Donald Trump has "the best chance" of winning the general election next year. Ben Carson is second with 22%.
* Rush Limbaugh defended Trump's bogus claims about 9/11 celebrations yesterday, with the radio host telling his audience that the Republican candidate made a good point, "regardless of the specific details."
* The first anti-Trump ad from John Kasich's super PAC was released yesterday, and as NBC News' report explained, it highlights a series of provocative remarks from the New York developer, including his boast that he has a great relationship with "the blacks," the boast that he'd date his daughter if she weren't his daughter, and the time he questioned John McCain's status as a "war hero."
* Mike Huckabee, who apparently is still running for president, said yesterday that President Obama's "new domestic terrorism plan probably requires Americans to memorize Koran verses." Dear Beltway pundits who told the public Huckabee is a great guy: you were wrong.
* In fundraising news, the RNC easily outpaced the DNC in October, $8.7 million to $4.5 million.
* In endorsement news, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio each increased their overall totals by one yesterday, with both Republicans adding one U.S. House member.
In the wake of the recent violence in Paris, there's been quite a bit of discussion, in the United States and elsewhere, about officials using every available tool to combat terrorism. One of the least controversial measures involves attacking terrorist networks' finances.
With that in mind, it matters a great deal that President Obama has nominated Adam Szubin to serve as the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes. As the Huffington Postreported last week, this specific job "involves tracking terrorists to prevent them from raising money on the black market and elsewhere."
The good news is, Szubin enjoys bipartisan support, and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has praised his past work in taking on terrorist financing in previous administrations.
The bad news is, Szubin's nomination has been pending since mid-April -- over 200 days ago -- and the Senate Republican leadership hasn't bothered to bring the nomination to the floor for a vote, despite the fact that he faces no real opposition.
Bloomberg's Jonathan Bernstein noted yesterday that this fits into a pattern of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) instituting a "roadblock" against President Obama's nominations in ways with no modern precedent from either party.
It’s a Senate engaged in pure partisan harassment of Obama, and indifferent to the smooth functioning of government. Agencies can’t function at their best without confirmed presidential picks in place. [...]
We’ll never know what the specific consequences are of not filling crucial positions. For example, if the Treasury Department were fully staffed, would it be able to stop money flowing to terrorists to finance a particular attack? It’s grossly irresponsible of McConnell and his colleagues to keep government from doing what they say it should do: operate efficiently and protect its citizens.
We've seen plenty of examples of Republicans balking at qualified Obama nominees for partisan or ideological reasons, but that doesn't apply in this case, since Szubin doesn't seem to have any actual Senate critics. McConnell hasn't even tried to justify the delay, because "we slow-walk every Obama nominee, regardless of merit" seems ridiculous when spoken aloud.