There's something about elected members of Congress referring to themselves as "freedom fighters" that rankles. When these same members are U.S. Senate candidates, it's that much more alarming.
Georgia Republican congressman and Senate candidate Paul Broun has been trying to out-extreme his opponents on the issue of immigration reform, announcing in a debate this weekend that the only immigration law he wants is one "that makes English the official language of America." In an interview with Tea Party Express earlier this month, Broun made the same policy recommendation, claiming that comprehensive immigration reform would be "disastrous for Republicans" and "disastrous for anybody who is freedom-loving."
Later in the interview, Broun claimed that "both political parties today are domestic enemies to the Constitution" and that he is a "freedom-fighter" who is "fighting those people."
I think it's fair to say this falls outside the normal parameters of mainstream American rhetoric. For a federal lawmaker and U.S. Senate candidate -- who might actually win -- to see both major parties as "enemies" is pretty out there. For that matter, references to "freedom fighters" are usually limited to insurgencies in undemocratic countries.
And yet, Paul Broun isn't the only one who talks this way.
Senate Democrats hoped to bring a minimum-wage increase to the floor in December. Then in January. The latest plan was to try again next week, but now that's off, too.
The problem isn't a lack of will; it's a lack of votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
Senate Democrats have again delayed debating a proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 hourly, postponing work on one of President Barack Obama's top priorities.
Democrats had hoped to debate the legislation before the Senate's mid-March recess. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, the bill's author, said Tuesday they now expect to consider it after lawmakers return in late March.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republican obstruction on nominations was slowing the chamber's work. But the delay also comes as Democrats seem not to have the 60 votes needed to overcome GOP efforts to scuttle the legislation.
There are currently 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus. As of now, 54 of them support the minimum-wage increase (all except Arkansas' Mark Pryor). That means, in order for the Senate to be allowed to vote on a popular piece of legislation, it would take just six Republicans to end their party's obstructionism and let the chamber vote yea or nay.
This afternoon, we learned those six votes do not yet exist.
In the meantime, have you noticed the growing group of conservative policymakers who want to lower the minimum wage to zero?
It's been a few weeks since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) effectively pulled the plug on immigration reform. When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) unveiled his plans for the chamber's near future, immigration was noticeable in its absence.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce unveiled a joint letter from 636 American businesses this afternoon, urging Republican leaders to act on immigration, but there's no reason to believe the House GOP will budge an inch in response to appeals from anyone.
But to understand why reform is struggling, one must look past the rhetoric. House Republicans don't oppose immigration legislation because of "trust issues" with President Obama; they oppose immigration legislation because they're simply against the underlying idea.
While Speaker John A. Boehner says his conference "by and large" backs the immigration outline the leadership presented in January at the GOP retreat, a poll of every House Republican conducted by CQ Roll Call found only 19 who would confirm their support.
We surveyed Republican lawmakers' offices and combed through member statements to see if they supported the immigration principles, which include a pathway to legalization for illegal immigrants and a pathway to citizenship for children brought here illegally.
There are currently 232 Republicans currently serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. According to Roll Call's tally, only 19 -- just 8% of the total -- are prepared to say on the record that they support their own party's published principles on immigration reform.
In fairness, there are very likely some House Republicans who privately endorse the principles Boehner outlined on Jan. 31, but who are reluctant to state their position on the record.
But the fact remains that when the Speaker's office presented his conference's immigration priorities, he was once again playing the role of a leader with no followers.
The political trajectory of President Obama's deficit-reduction commission has been rather circuitous.
Congressional Republicans urged the White House to create the commission, but when Obama agreed, Republicans changed their mind and said they were against it. Once the panel began its work, its GOP members balked at the proposed compromise, then criticized the president for not fully embracing the measures they opposed.
We've apparently reached the bizarre point at which Republicans will attack those who oppose the Simpson-Bowles plan and attack those who support it.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) tried a political ju-jitsu on Thursday as it sought to turn former state CFO Alex Sink's attacks on David Jolly on Social Security against her. Sink, the Democratic candidate, takes on Republican Jolly and Libertarian Lucas Overby in a special congressional election for an open seat in Pinellas County on March 11.
On Thursday, the NRCC bashed Sink for saying she supported Simpson-Bowles. "Alex Sink supports a plan that raises the retirement age for Social Security recipients, raises Social Security taxes and cuts Medicare, all while making it harder for Pinellas seniors to keep their doctors that they know and love," said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the NRCC.
Andrew Kaczynski noted how bizarre it is for Republicans to bash Alex Sink "for supporting Simpson-Bowles, a deficit reduction plan Republicans most often attack President Obama for abandoning or ignoring."
The Obama administration announced some fairly important changes to military spending yesterday, which Rachel explained on the show last night. But an hour later, Fox News' Sean Hannity interviewed former Vice President Dick Cheney on the subject, and wouldn't you know it, Cheney isn't pleased.
The former V.P. and former Defense Secretary said the proposed Pentagon cuts are "absolutely dangerous," "radical," and "just devastating." He added, "I've obviously not been a strong supporter of Barack Obama, but this really is over the top. It does enormous long-term damage to our military."
According to the Nexis transcript, Cheney went on to say:
"I think it's a reflection of the basic fundamental belief of this president that -- he always wanted to cut the military. [...]
"I think the whole thing is not driven by any change in world circumstances, it's driven by budget considerations. He'd much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops."
Cheney's strained relationship with the truth has been a problem for many years, but even by his standards, the former Vice President's harangue was detached from reality last night in some important ways.
If you receive press releases from congressional Republicans, and your inbox seemed unusually full on Friday afternoon, there's a reason for that.
The Obama administration ignited a new election-year controversy Friday when regulators handed down fresh cuts to Medicare Advantage (MA).
Next year, plans in the program will see their payments cut by at least 2 percent on average between ObamaCare and a regular annual update, the announcement stated.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) argued that the reductions will help to strengthen the program -- an increasingly popular alternative to traditional Medicare -- and guard against waste.
Republicans, despite already having embraced the Obama administration's Medicare cost savings into their own budget plan, did their very best to pretend to be outraged.
Even on a surface level, the GOP condemnations are hard to take seriously. For five years, Republicans have argued, "The Obama administration must do something to get health care spending and entitlements under control! Our future depends on it! Why won't the big-spending liberal do something?"
And as the Obama administration moves forward on cost-savings in Medicare, these exact same Republicans -- the folks who voted to end Medicare and replace it with a voucher scheme -- are now comfortable arguing, "Obama is cutting Medicare! We're infuriated by the Democratic president's willingness to spend less on seniors' health care needs!"
C'mon, congressional Republicans. Show a little self-respect.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) have championed sweeping reforms on how the military addresses sexual assault, but to date, they've run into a series of legislative roadblocks. But they're not done and the next phase of their efforts is poised to begin anew in the Senate, perhaps as early as next week.
Roll Callreports that some GOP senators are willing to consider moving on the Gillibrand/McCaskill reforms, but they're looking for something in return.
Senate Republicans are objecting to a set of votes on addressing the issue of sexual assault in the military without a vote on imposing stiffer sanctions against Iran.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered a proposal that would have set up competing votes on limiting debate on two proposals that would change the way the military handles prosecutions of alleged incidents of sexual assault in the armed forces, a floor debate that wasn't held as part of the Senate's consideration of the current fiscal year's defense policy legislation. [...]
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., offered a counterproposal that would have added a vote, with a similar supermajority threshold, on providing for additional sanctions against Iran proposed by Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill.
Or put another way, Republicans realize the Democratic majority is set to move on reforming the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the GOP minority expects Iranian sanctions to be part of the process.
Because the vote itself could derail delicate international diplomatic efforts, it's unlikely Senate Dems will go along, but it's a reminder that Senate Republicans haven't given up on their Iranian sanctions efforts.
Everyone seemed to be getting along nicely at the National Governors Association meeting, right up until yesterday afternoon when one ambitious chief executive decided he wanted a little extra attention. Benjy Sarlin reported:
Just as the event was winding down, Republican Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal broke from the feelgood script and delivered an extended broadside against President Obama's agenda.
"The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy," Jindal said, accusing the president of "waving the white flag of surrender" on job growth.
With Jindal abandoning the non-partisan comity that the other governors had tried to respect, it fell to Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) to intervene, stepping to the microphones to characterize Jindal's condemnation of the White House's agenda as "insane."
There are a few angles to this, including the obvious one: Jindal waited until the end of the NGA meeting to start playing partisan games, while still at the White House, probably as part of some clumsy 2016 gambit.
And while that's interesting, let's instead focus on the substance of Jindal's curious message, because his latest push is a doozy.
In her party's official response to the State of the Union a few weeks ago, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, shared an anecdote about "Bette in Spokane," the latest in a series of "Obamacare victims." As is usually the case, within a day or two, the story was debunked.
Once McMorris Rodgers realized her story was wrong, the congresswoman, instead of apologizing, tried to go on the offensive. "It's sad partisan politicians are attacking Bette," she argued.
In reality, no one had "attacked" the woman in the story. Rather, McMorris Rodgers' anecdote was fact checked and proven to be wrong. To suggest that scrutinizing suspect claims is somehow improper is absurd, but that was nevertheless the congresswoman's reaction.
It was apparently a sign of things to come.
Last week, the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity launched a new attack ad targeting Rep. Gary Peters, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Michigan. The spot features Julie Boonstra, a Michigan woman who's paying less money for better insurance without having to change doctors, but who was nevertheless presented in the ad as yet another ACA victim.
Peters, not surprisingly, believes AFP should provide more information to bolster the claims in its ad. The right, no longer willing to defend the deceptive commercial, has decided to attack Peters.
U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., wants to be a United States senator, but he has a problem. He's engaged in a "war on women" -- make that a single woman -- whom he's trying to silence because he doesn't like the story she has to tell. [...]
Julie Boonstra deserves a medal for what she is doing. Peters should hang his head in shame.
It's a fascinating rhetorical gambit, worth appreciating for its rare combination of audacity and mendacity. What's more, it's increasingly becoming the standard response to one of the right's more glaring problems in the health care debate: all of the conservatives' evidence keeps falling apart.