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Former Vice President Dick Cheney walks out of a Republican Senate luncheon, Nov. 2011.

Dick Cheney has found his base

03/02/15 03:20PM

The running joke for much of the Bush/Cheney era was that it was hard to know where Vice President Dick Cheney was on any given day because he was always at "an undisclosed location." Lately, however, his location isn't a mystery at all: Cheney spends a lot of time on Capitol Hill.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney will speak to the House Republican whip team Monday evening, a source familiar with the meeting said.
 
Cheney will likely address the series of foreign policy issues before Congress, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming joint address on Tuesday and the ongoing negotiations with Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.
In addition to the Politico report this morning, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise's (R-La.) office later confirmed that Cheney will, in fact, participate in tonight's meeting with the House Republican whip team.
 
The point of these meetings, by the way, is fairly specific: when Congress is in session, the House GOP whip team meets weekly to "outline its strategy and message for the week." Apparently, they're looking for some guidance from the former vice president.
 
Cheney will be back on Capitol Hill in a few weeks to headline a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
 
All of this comes on the heels of a briefing Cheney delivered in the fall to House Republicans on foreign policy.
 
Which came on the heels of Cheney meeting with members of the Republican Study Committee.
 
Which came on the heels of Cheney delivering a foreign policy briefing to House Republicans.
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

Where Congress excels: manufactured crises

03/02/15 12:40PM

Since the Republican victories in the 2010 midterms, Congress has become dysfunctional on a historic scale. Lawmakers have no meaningful legislative accomplishments since the Democratic majorities of 2010, and tasks that were once simple are now nearly impossible.
 
But since January 2011, Congress has excelled in one area: manufacturing avoidable crises. If there's one thing a GOP majority has guaranteed, it's that the nation's legislative branch will careen, over and over again, from one self-imposed crisis to the next.
 
* April 2011: House Republicans threaten a government shutdown unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.
 
* July 2011: Republicans create the first-ever debt-ceiling crisis, threatening to default on the nation's debts unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.
 
* September 2011: Republicans threaten another shutdown.
 
* April 2012: Republicans threaten another shutdown.
 
* December 2012: Republicans spend months refusing to negotiate in the lead up to the so-called "fiscal cliff."
 
* January 2013: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.
 
* September 2013: Republicans threaten another shutdown.
 
* October 2013: Republicans actually shut down the government.
 
* February 2014: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.
 
* December 2014: Republicans threaten another shutdown.
 
* February 2015: Republicans threaten a Department of Homeland Security shutdown.
 
I suspect for many Americans who only passively follow current events, the crisis cycle has become exasperating, and they're right -- great nations can't expect to function this way indefinitely. But it's important to realize this isn't just the result of historic differences between the two major political parties. Rather, it's the result of a deliberate approach to modern governance -- and it's quite new in historic terms.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.2.15

03/02/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress, announced this morning she'll retire at the end of her current term next year. Expect a crowded field, though the DSCC is optimistic about keeping the seat in Democratic hands.
 
* Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won the CPAC Straw Poll over the weekend, edging out Gov. Scott Walker (R), 25.7% to 21.4%. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ben Carson were the only other candidates to reach double digits. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) finished 10th, just behind Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina.
 
* It took him a couple of weeks, but Scott Walker has apparently come up with an inoffensive answer on whether or not President Obama loves America: "He and anybody else who is willing to put their name on the ballot certainly has to have a love for country to do that."
 
* One of Bill Kristol's political entities appears to have launched the first attack ad of the 2016 presidential campaign. The Emergency Committee for Israel, a neoconservative group created by Kristol, launched the $200,000 ad buy to connect Hillary Clinton to Democratic criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress.
 
* Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) will have to decide relatively soon whether to seek a second term or run for the White House. Local reports suggest the governor is likely to run for re-election.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT., talks to reporters as he walks to the weekly Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2013.

Hatch's health care plan lacks a plan

03/02/15 11:20AM

The New York Times asked Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) the other day what he intends to do if the Supreme Court takes health care benefits from Hatch's own constituents. The Republican said Republicans are "going to have to have an approach," but it won't be "some simple approach" -- such as a straightforward technical fix that would protect families' existing coverage.
 
And why not? "Obamacare is going to bankrupt the country," Hatch said.
 
This is plainly silly. Whether the Utah Republican knows this or not, the Affordable Care Act lowers the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next couple of decades. There's simply no way to argue coherently that this is a recipe for national bankruptcy.
 
As for Hatch's preferred approach, with just two days remaining until the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in King v. Burwell, the Republican senator joins Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) today in coauthoring a new Washington Post op-ed. The headline reads, "We have a plan for fixing health care."
Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether the Obama administration used the IRS to deliver health insurance subsidies to Americans in violation of the law. Millions of Americans may lose these subsidies if the court finds that the administration acted illegally. If that occurs, Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by the administration's actions.
It's not clear which Obama administration "actions" the senators are referring to -- it's Republicans, not the White House, who hope to take away Americans' access to medical care -- but more important is the fact that when these Republicans claim to "have a plan," there's a problem with the boast. Specifically, they don't actually have a plan.
 
As Ezra Klein explained, after some vague assurances, the GOP senators fail to offer much of anything to the public.
Former Governor of Texas Rick Perry adjusts his tie as he listens to his introduction from the side of the stage at an event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 24, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

The wrong Republican to question Hillary Clinton's 'loyalty'

03/02/15 10:40AM

It stands to reason that former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), like every other Republican seeking their party's presidential nomination, will have some unkind words for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D). This, however, seems like a mistaken avenue for the former governor.
Responding to news that the Clinton foundation had not notified the State Department when it previously accepted a donation from a foreign nation, Perry argued that Clinton was disloyal.
 
"I think it falls flat in the face of the American people when it comes to, are you going to trust an individual who has taken that much money from a foreign source? Where's your loyalty?" Perry said in an interview that aired on CNN's "State of the Union."
As Clinton moves forward with her apparent presidential plans, scrutiny of the Clinton foundation and its donors seems entirely legitimate. That said, Perry's description of what we know isn't quite right -- Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, runs an international charitable foundation, which has received support from contributors located around the world.
 
Given the available evidence, there's no reason to assume there's anything untoward about any of this, and more importantly, there's no reason to believe Hillary Clinton herself has "taken that much money from a foreign source." Unless the Texas Republican can back the allegations with something specific, the former governor seems to be playing fast and loose with the details.
 
But even putting that aside, "Where's your loyalty?" is an exceedingly difficult question for Rick Perry, of all people, to ask.
House Speaker John Boehner walks away from the microphone during a news conference after a House GOP meeting on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Washington.

An ineffective Speaker finds his job in jeopardy

03/02/15 10:00AM

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed on Friday to appear on "Face the Nation" when he was confident his Homeland Security bill would pass. As he learned soon after, it didn't -- Boehner's own members ignored him and killed his legislation -- making yesterday's interview on CBS a bit more awkward than the Speaker had hoped.
 
At one point, host John Dickerson asked Boehner whether he can still lead his party effectively on issues like immigration. "I think so," the Speaker said.
 
The timidity of his response is matched by the uncertainty surrounding Boehner's weak political standing. Politico reports:
Boehner's allies are concerned after Friday's setback that his critics inside the Republican Conference may try to oust him as speaker if -- as expected -- he puts a long-term DHS funding bill on the House floor next week. While Boehner shrugs off such speculation, close friends believe such a move is a real possibility.
 
"There is a lot of speculation about this," said a GOP lawmaker who is close with Boehner. "People are watching for this very, very closely."
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), one of Boehner's closest allies, said late last year, "He's never wanted to just be Speaker. He's wanted to be a historically significant Speaker."
 
In case it's not obvious, becoming the first modern Speaker to be removed from office during the congressional session would, indeed, make Boehner "historically significant."
Kevin McCarthy is seen in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, June 26, 2014.

House Majority Leader to Senate: Go nuclear

03/02/15 09:20AM

For much of President Obama's first two years in office, Democrats accomplished an enormous amount, but not quite as much as they would have liked. On a variety of key issues, Republican filibusters in the Senate blocked important progressive priorities, and at times, stopped the Democratic majority from even trying.
 
There were instances in which legislation would enjoy the support of a House majority, the White House, and 57 senators, but the bills would die anyway -- the GOP minority set a 60-vote minimum on literally every measure of any significance. If Dems didn't like it, Republicans said at the time, they'd just have to work harder at building bipartisan consensus.
 
In the years since, the congressional parties' fortunes have shifted and it's now the GOP in the majority. And wouldn't you know it, now that Democrats are playing by the same rules and employing the same tactics, Republicans now find their own tactics intolerable.
 
On NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, Chuck Todd talked to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about whether his Republican brethren in the Senate should use a new "nuclear option" to end filibusters altogether. Here's the exchange:
TODD: You brought up the Senate and said senate Democrats. One way that this could change is since Republicans do have the majority [in the Senate] is that Mitch McConnell invokes the so-called nuclear option. Right now there are no filibusters for any executive appointments -- judicial or in the executive branch. But on legislation, the filibuster is still there. Do you want senate Republicans to go nuclear?
 
MCCARTHY: I don't think going nuclear when you have 57 percent of the Senate voted for to cause the amendment that would take away the president's action, that is not nuclear when 57 percent of the American representation says it's wrong. That's not in the Constitution. I think they should change the rules.
For context, McCarthy was referring to a Senate vote on Friday to destroy President Obama's executive actions from November 2014. The measure failed on a procedural vote with 57 supporters, three short of what Republicans needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
 
This, evidently, was the proof the House Majority Leader needed -- it's time, he told Chuck Todd, to "change the rules" and stop the tactics Republicans perfected.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Feb. 26, 2015. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)

Scott Walker's latest flub: foreign policy

03/02/15 08:40AM

Take a bit of out-of-control Reagan worship, add some anti-union preoccupation, and throw in a dash of unpreparedness. The result is a presidential hopeful who seems less prepared for the White House with each passing day.
Walker contended that "the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime" was then-President Ronald Reagan's move to bust a 1981 strike of air traffic controllers, firing some 11,000 of them.
 
"It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world," Walker said. America's allies and foes alike became convinced that Reagan was serious enough to take action and that "we weren't to be messed with," he said.
Walker made similar comments at an event two weeks ago, but these new remarks, delivered at a Club for Growth gathering, mark the first time Walker has described the firing of air-traffic controllers as "the most significant foreign policy decision" of his lifetime.
 
It's also an incredibly foolish thing for anyone, least of all a White House aspirant, to say out loud. This is an important stage for Walker's national campaign, and these comments might be the most striking evidence to date that the governor hasn't yet prepared for the task at hand.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Chaotic Congress faces a familiar mess

03/02/15 08:00AM

As last week got underway, the political world was faced with unsettling circumstances. With five days remaining before the Department of Homeland Security ran out of funds, Republicans were at odds with one another, struggling to craft a coherent strategy.
 
As this week gets underway, the circumstances seem ... surprisingly familiar.
 
Late Friday, soon after House Republicans once again betrayed House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and ignored his resolution to the DHS fiasco his party created, Congress grudgingly approved a one-week extension to current Homeland Security funding, avoiding a shutdown and setting the stage for another week of drama on Capitol Hill.
 
But while last week's chaos was humiliating for Boehner and his leadership team, it was also a surprisingly informative series of developments. We may have ended up at a similar point, but we've learned a few key lessons in the interim.
 
1. Speaker Boehner is as weak in the 114th Congress as he was in the 113th and 112th Congresses.
 
When the new year got underway, the House Speaker felt pretty good about his political standing. Boehner was poised to lead the largest Republican conference America has seen in generations, giving him new leeway to advance must-pass legislation. Sure, in the four previous years, Boehner proved to be the weakest Speaker in modern times, but it was a new day -- gains in the 2014 midterms offered new promise for the accomplishment-free GOP leader.
 
Last week, those promises were thrown in the trash. Boehner's conference may be larger, but so too is the embarrassment that comes with failure -- the Speaker urged his own members to follow his lead on DHS funding, and in a familiar response, House Republicans ignored him.
 
2. The House GOP leadership team lacks basic competence.
 
After Eric Cantor's constituents rejected him, House GOP lawmakers assembled a new leadership team intended to give Republicans their best chance at success. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was awarded with the key, Majority Whip post -- and protected after a racially charged controversy in December -- because he had a unique connection to the party's far-right flank.
 
But this team is as inept as the last. It's not just that the party's rank-and-file members ignored their ostensible leaders; the problem is compounded by the fact that GOP leaders had no idea their members were poised to defeat their own party's plans. A leadership team that can't persuade its members has a problem; a leadership team that can't count to 218 has a more serious problem.

DOJ to fault Ferguson cops and other headlines

03/02/15 07:33AM

Justice Department to fault Ferguson police, seeing racial bias in traffic stops. (New York Times)

Police fatally shoot man in struggle over officer's gun, authorities say. (Los Angeles Times)

Steve Scalise: 'I reject bigotry of all forms.' (The Hill)

GOP fears grow over Obamacare challenge. (The Hill)

Scott Walker confirms candidacy with immigration flip-flop. (Daily Intelligencer)

Rand Paul wins CPAC straw poll. (Wall Street Journal)

Iraqi forces begin operation to retake Saddam Hussein's hometown from ISIS. (AP)

Ebola nurse Nina Pham sues her employer. (Dallas Morning News)

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Week in Geek: Our neighborhood star, up close and personal

03/01/15 01:00PM

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) recently released a five-year time-lapse video of our Sun, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the launch of the satellite. SDO was launched from Cape Canaveral in 2010 as part of NASA's Living with a Star program and has been orbiting more than 22,000 miles above our heads ever since. The goal of the mission is to better characterize and understand the Sun's variability and its effect on Earth. Besides sun burns and auroras, it's sometimes all too easy to forget that our Sun is a miasma of incandescent of plasma with a fiery personality. read more

This Week in God, 2.28.15

02/28/15 09:01AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an alarming poll, which found a significant number of Americans who like the idea of establishing an official national religion.
A majority of Republicans nationally support establishing Christianity as the national religion, according to a new Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday.
 
The poll by the Democratic-leaning firm found that 57 percent of Republicans "support establishing Christianity as the national religion" while 30 percent are opposed. Another 13 percent said they were not sure.
The irony is rich. Many Republican activists like to describe themselves as "Constitutional Conservatives," but under the Constitution -- at least in this country -- the very idea of a national religion is antithetical to the American tradition. Indeed, the opening words of the Bill of Rights explicitly say, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
 
There's nothing "conservative" about a theocratic agenda in which one faith tradition is endorsed by the government above all other belief systems.
 
But this week, it wasn't just the poll results that highlighted the problem. A county Republican Party in Idaho pushed a resolution that intended to identify Idaho as a "formally and specifically declared a Christian state." One local activist told reporters, "We're a Christian community in a Christian state and the Republican Party is a Christian party."
 
The resolution was ultimately defeated by the state party, but the fact that it was considered, and enjoyed a fair amount of support, was unsettling for supporters of church-state separation.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

Citations for the February 27, 2015 TRMS

02/28/15 12:16AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Frank Thorp, NBC News Capitol Hill producer
  • Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News, moderator of Meet the Press
  • Tony Messenger, St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page editor
  • Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent

Tonight's links:

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