Show StoriesRSS

select from

E.g., 9/17/2014
E.g., 9/17/2014

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 9.17.14

09/17/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* About 10 minutes ago, the House approved a White House request to help train anti-ISIS rebels in Syria. The measure passed, 273 to 156, and will be added to a spending bill (continuing resolution) that funds the government through mid-December.
 
* Syria: "In Talbiseh and across Syria, insurgent fighters who oppose both the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the foreign-led militants of the extremist group called the Islamic State are being pummeled by a new wave of attacks and assassination attempts."
 
* Here's hoping this doesn't prompt GOP lawmakers to change their minds: "The White House said Wednesday it supports House passage of a stopgap spending bill that would keep the government funded through Dec. 11."
 
* Ebola: "The three West African countries most affected by Ebola could experience a 'potentially catastrophic blow' to their economies because of the epidemic, the World Bank Group warned Wednesday."
 
* The Fed: "The Federal Reserve on Wednesday released details of its plan to reverse nearly six years of easy money as it nears the end of its trillion-dollar stimulus campaign. The move comes amid an economic recovery that looks increasingly sustainable, even if it is not as robust as anticipated."
 
* Too careless, too often: "'No one ever doubts that I mean what I say,' Vice President Joe Biden told a group of lawyers in a speech before the Legal Services Corporation. 'The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.' The crowd laughed. Then, less than 20 minutes later, he made a remark that was promptly condemned as a 'medieval stereotype about Jews' by the Anti-Defamation League."
 
* She raised a fair point: "Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on Wednesday eviscerated Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for attacking the Obama administration instead of focusing on attacking ISIS. She criticized him for the way he questioned Secretary of State John Kerry during a hearing on the U.S. plan for combating ISIS."
 
* Nate Silver has extensive concerns about Sam Wang's forecasting model (the methodology, not necessarily the results). Wang, of the Princeton Election Consortium, responded soon after.
 
* Something to watch: "People seeking clues about how soon the Supreme Court might weigh in on states' gay marriage bans should pay close attention to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told a Minnesota audience Tuesday."
Barack Obama addresses the media following briefings with US Central Command officials on the Islamic State (IS) militant group during a visit to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, Sept. 17, 2014. Photo by Brian Blanco/EPA.

Obama re-commits: no ground troops

09/17/14 04:53PM

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, caused quite a stir in Washington yesterday, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that if the next phase of the U.S. mission against Islamic State falls short, he might recommend deployment of American ground troops.
 
For many, this was seen as a hint of what's to come: if the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is thinking about ground troops, the argument went, then maybe this is the course of action the Obama administration has in mind. There were, of course, a few problems with the assumptions. First, Dempsey was responding to a hypothetical, not making a prediction. Second, the decision ultimately isn't in the hands of the Joint Chiefs anyway.
 
And finally, the one who would have to make the final call -- the military's civilian Commander in Chief -- keeps saying the same thing: there won't be a ground war for U.S. troops.
In an impassioned, pep rally-like speech to military personnel in Florida, President Obama insisted again on Wednesday that the U.S. will not send ground troops to fight ISIS.
 
"I will not commit you and the rest of our forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq," the commander-in-chief said at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. Earlier in the day, Obama was briefed on battle plans to strike ISIS in Iraq and possibly Syria by military commanders at U.S. Central Command.
Obama added, "After a decade of massive ground deployments, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries' futures. And that's the only solution that will succeed over the long term. "
 
There can be little doubt that the president has been consistent on this. There can be plenty of doubt, however, about whether conditions and specific circumstances will shift in unpredictable ways. If U.S. jets are targeting ISIS locations in Syria, for example, and American pilots are shot down, a mission that intended to stay off of Syrian soil can change quickly.
 
And then, of course, there's the politics.
The U.S. Capitol is shown at sunset in Washington, D.C.

Why filibuster a nominee with unanimous support?

09/17/14 03:26PM

The United States maintains embassies in 169 countries around the globe, and in roughly a fourth of them, the ambassador's office is currently empty. The main problem is Senate Republicans  creating needless delays, regardless of the consequences for U.S. foreign policy.
 
The problem is especially striking in Turkey, which is critical to U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, most notably against Islamic State. The Obama administration is giving Turkey the full-court diplomatic press, which is proving to be tricky -- there is no U.S. ambassador to Turkey because Senate Republicans haven't allowed a vote on President Obama's nominee. (The White House was forced to dispatch the Bush/Cheney ambassador to Turkey in a temporary capacity because of the immediacy and urgency of the situation.)
 
Al Kamen reports today that the delays finally ended, at least in this limited case.
The Senate on Wednesday, moving at what can be called warp speed in the post-"nuclear option" world, confirmed seven more Obama nominees -- including career Foreign Service officer John R. Bass as ambassador to Turkey, a country critical to the effort to defeat the Islamic State militant group.
 
The Senate held a roll call vote on the nomination -- before voting 98 to 0 to confirm him.
The GOP also graciously allowed a unanimous confirmation vote on career diplomat Thomas Frederick Daughton's nomination to serve as U.S. ambassador to Namibia. He only had to wait 443 days for the vote on his confirmation -- which literally no one ended up opposing.
 
John Bass' becoming ambassador to Turkey didn't take nearly as long -- he only waited about 100 days -- but the fact he, too, enjoyed unanimous support raises the question of why he couldn't have been confirmed sooner in light of Turkey's geo-strategic significance.
 
The answer, of course, is that Senate Republicans' feelings were hurt when Senate Democrats restored minority rule on nomination votes, which may seem ridiculous, but which happens to be true.
 
Just how often do Republicans delay nominees they support? You might be surprised.
A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

'I'm tickled to death with it'

09/17/14 12:59PM

About a year ago, Jason Cherkis published an anecdote so popular, even President Obama repeated it.
 
It featured a middle-aged man in a golf shirt who shuffled up to a small folding table at the Kentucky State Fair to hear about Kynect, the state's health benefit exchange established by the Affordable Care Act. The man liked what he heard. "This beats Obamacare I hope," he said, apparently unaware that Kynect and Obamacare are the same thing.
 
Today, however, Abby Goodnough has another health care anecdote out of Kentucky that's nearly as striking.
The Affordable Care Act allowed Robin Evans, an eBay warehouse packer earning $9 an hour, to sign up for Medicaid this year. She is being treated for high blood pressure and Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder, after years of going uninsured and rarely seeing doctors.
 
"I'm tickled to death with it," Ms. Evans, 49, said of her new coverage as she walked around the Kentucky State Fair recently with her daughter, who also qualified for Medicaid under the law. "It's helped me out a bunch."
 
But Ms. Evans scowled at the mention of President Obama -- "Nobody don't care for nobody no more, and I think he's got a lot to do with that," she explained -- and said she would vote this fall for Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, who is fond of saying the health care law should be "pulled out root and branch."
Just so we're clear, this voter loves her new health care benefits. She also wants to vote for a politician who's desperate to take her new health care benefits away.
 
It's a reminder that voting isn't always rational, but it's also an example of just how messy the politics of health care can get.
 
Goodnough's broader point is important: the Affordable Care Act is doing a lot of good for families in red states like Kentucky, but this won't pay any political dividends to Democrats.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.17.14

09/17/14 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:
 
* In North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, PPP's latest results show Sen. Kay Hagan (D) up by four over Thom Tillis (R), 44% to 40%, which is roughly in line with most other recent surveys. Hagan benefits from a big gender gap -- she leads by 16 among women, while Tillis leads by 10 among men.
 
* Though most recent polling shows Rep. Bruce Braley's (D) odds improving in Iowa's U.S. Senate race, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Republican Joni Ernst leading by six, 50% to 44%.
 
* Speaking of Quinnipiac releasing polls that seem like outliers, the same pollster shows former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) with a double-digit advantage over incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in Colorado, 50% to 40%. No other pollster has released results even close to these.
 
* In New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race, a New England College poll released last night shows Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) leading former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass) by 11 points, 51% to 40%. Most recent polling has shown the incumbent with a more modest advantage.
 
* As if Monica Wehby's Republican Senate campaign in Oregon weren't tough enough, elements of her health care plan appear to have been lifted directly from a survey released by Karl Rove's Crossroads operation.
 
* Despite his multiple pending felony counts, Rep. Michael Grimm (R) is ahead in the latest Siena College poll, leading his Democratic challenger, Domenic Recchia, 44% to 40%.
Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) leaves after a press briefing on July 31, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Boehner laments 'knuckleheads' within House GOP

09/17/14 11:27AM

Once in a while, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sounds like a man who isn't entirely fond of his ostensible followers.
Speaker John Boehner said that he's got a "few knuckleheads" to deal with, and that's largely why the Republican majority in the House looks good on paper but doesn't always pan out with votes.
 
"On any given day, 16 of my members decide they're going to go this way, and all of the sudden, I have nothing," he said, describing the reality of his "paper majority" in the House, The Hill reported. "You might notice I have a few knuckleheads in my conference."
According to the report in the conservative Washington Times, Boehner went on say, "Dealing with Democrats is one thing. Dealing with the knuckleheads is another."
 
Whether he finds one easier to deal with than the other was unclear.
 
These comments come just five months after the Ohio Republican publicly mocked his own members over their reluctance to work on immigration reform.
 
"Here's the attitude: 'Oh, don't make me do this. Oh, this is too hard," Boehner said, in a tone deriding House Republicans as if they were sniveling children. He added, "We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems, and it's remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don't want to."
 
Remember, this was the Republican Speaker referring to Republican House members. Now Boehner is also willing to concede an unknown number of his members are "knuckleheads," too.
 
The candor is certainly welcome, though the larger point is how understandable the Speaker's dissatisfaction is.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton addresses the 20th International AIDS Conference at The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on July 23, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.

Bill Clinton's unsurprising candor on Netanyahu

09/17/14 10:51AM

For reasons that aren't altogether clear, this seems to have caused quite a stir yesterday.
Former President Bill Clinton says he agrees that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is "not the guy" for a peace deal.
 
A C-SPAN video -- first reported by Israeli newspaper Haaretz -- shows the 42nd president at Sen. Tom Harkin's Iowa steak fry Sunday speaking with an individual along a rope line.
As the Politico report noted, an unidentified voter told the former president, "Netanyahu himself said that he does not want peace. If we don't force him to make peace, we will not have peace." Clinton said he agreed, and talked a bit about his own efforts with Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin.
 
"But Netanyahu is not the guy," the man in the rope line added. "I agree with that," Clinton replied, before adding some context and detail to previous negotiations.
 
Soon after, RedState published an item citing this as evidence that Hillary Clinton is not "pro-Israel." The Weekly Standard also wasn't pleased.
 
And yet, nothing Clinton said seems the least bit surprising. Netanyahu has made no secret that he's not interested in negotiating a two-state solution, so it stands to reason Netanyahu "is not the guy" to reach such an agreement.
 
Steve M. noted that Clinton has never been especially fond of Netanyahu, dating back to some confrontations in the 1990s. As recently as 2011, Foreign Policy reported, "Who's to blame for the continued failure of the Middle East peace process? Former President Bill Clinton said today that it is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- whose government moved the goalposts upon taking power, and whose rise represents a key reason there has been no Israeli-Palestinian peace deal."
 
So why all the fuss yesterday about something we already knew?
Rand Paul

Rand Paul isn't done with executive orders

09/17/14 10:08AM

I didn't have any intention to return to Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) latest flap, but the senator keeps talking about it in a way that warrants a little follow up.
 
The story started on Friday, when the Kentucky Republican talked about what he'd do if elected president: "I think the first executive order that I would issue would be to repeal all previous executive orders." Paul's comments were reportedly met with "booming cheers" from his conservative audience.
 
Of course, the declaration didn't make a lot of sense. Presidents since George Washington have made thousands of executive orders -- many of them, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, of great national significance -- and the notion that Rand Paul wants to repeal all of them seemed ridiculous.
 
Soon after, the senator's office walked back his comments, suggesting Paul was speaking with a rhetorical flourish at the event. "It was not meant to be taken literally," an aide said, seemingly ending the controversy.
 
The aide, however, might want to have a chat with Paul himself, who sounded fairly sincere about the idea the day after his office tried to downplay the senator's remarks. Scott Conroy asked Paul directly about the idea of repealing every executive order ever issued in American history.
"It's a nice idea," Paul said. "You would obviously have to look at all of the executive orders to see that there's not something in there. But the thing is, you could sunset them all and really repeal them all, and then you could start over. And if there are any ones that are good, you could reinstitute things or ask Congress to reinstitute things that need to be done." 
 
But did that mean Paul would be OK with nixing -- temporarily, at least -- President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation? Or what about President Truman's order to desegregate the military? 
 
Paul's eyes widened a bit, as if to confirm that he hadn't quite thought it completely through.
Imagine that.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins gestures during a news conference to discuss Wednesday's shooting, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Religious right leader ties U.S. 'secularism' to Islamic State

09/17/14 09:26AM

For much of the post-9/11 era, there's been a strain of thought on the right that holds American liberalism responsible for Middle Eastern terrorism. This was generally applied to al Qaeda, but yesterday, Tony Perkins, head of a powerful religious right group called the Family Research Council, used the same reasoning when talking about Islamic State.
The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins said today that the separation of church and state in the United States has contributed to the rise of Islamic extremist groups like ISIS, arguing in his radio commentary that ISIS has "filled the void left by secularism."
 
According to Perkins, American ISIS militants wouldn't have left the country to fight for the group if only the government had promoted Christianity over other faiths.
Right Wing Watch published an audio clip of Perkins' minute-long commentary, which was about as offensive as you might imagine.
 
"Radical secularism that has driven the defining characteristics of our Western culture, our Judeo-Christian heritage, from our schools, our entertainment and even our government has left in its place a void, a vacuum," Perkins argued. "And we should know from experience that a vacuum will be filled by something. Without a creedal vision that a society can unify around, the people, the nation, will perish. Unless we are content to allow ISIS or some other radical belief system to fill the void left by secularism, we must rediscover America's founding, Christ-centered vision."
 
It's certainly a curious perspective. As Perkins sees it, to counter violent religious extremists, the United States should do more to merge religion and government -- which, ironically, is similar to the approach embraced by our enemy.
 
While I suspect most of the American mainstream has no use for such nonsense, it's worth noting that Perkins' argument, however odd, is surprisingly common in conservative circles.
A vehicle and surrounding buildings smoldering after they were set on fire inside the US mission compound in Benghazi, September 11, 2012.

When interest in Benghazi spins out of control

09/17/14 08:40AM

It was probably only a matter of time. A Fox News personality yesterday noted the ongoing controversies surrounding the National Football League and suggested Americans should demand "that same transparency" about Benghazi.
 
Yes, we've reached the point at which Fox News can at least try to connect anything and everything to the 2012 attack that left four Americans dead in Libya.
 
Then again, given the latest report from Media Matters, the comments hardly come as a surprise.
Fox News' evening lineup ran nearly 1,100 segments on the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath in the first 20 months following the attacks. Nearly 500 segments focused on a set of Obama administration talking points used in September 2012 interviews; more than 100 linked the attacks to a potential Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential run; and dozens of segments compared the attacks and the administration response to the Watergate or Iran-Contra scandals. The network hosted Republican members of Congress to discuss Benghazi nearly 30 times more frequently than Democrats.
The total of 1,098 evening segments -- an average of about 13 segments per week, every week, for 20 months -- would arguably have been higher, but Media Matters didn't include Megyn Kelly's program, which wasn't on the air for part of the study.
 
Ed Kilgore noted in response to the numbers, "Short of gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Watergate hearings, I'm not sure we've seen anything quite like it in modern electronic media."
 
I think that's right, though there are a couple of ways to look at this. The first takeaway is simple: "Good lord, that's a lot of coverage for one network on one story." At a certain point, phrases like "unhealthy obsession" probably have to enter into the conversation.
 
But that's not the only takeaway. Indeed, I might even offer a tepid defense of sorts.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks during The Family Leadership Summit, Aug. 9, 2014, in Ames, Iowa.

The GOP's 'not a scientist' meme keeps spreading

09/17/14 08:00AM

Maybe a memo went out to Republicans, telling them how to respond to questions about science.
 
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, was asked how old he thinks the planet is. "I'm not a scientist, man," he replied. Gov. Rick Scott (R) was asked what he intended to do about the climate crisis threatening Florida. "I'm not a scientist," he responded. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked about the climate deniers in his conference. "I'm not qualified to debate the science," he replied.
 
And now we have another member of the chorus.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal dodged three questions on Tuesday about whether he personally believes the theory of evolution explains the presence of complex life on Earth.
 
"The reality is I'm not an evolutionary biologist," the Republican governor and possible 2016 presidential hopeful told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but Jindal was a biology major at an Ivy League university before becoming a Rhodes Scholar. The notion that the Louisiana Republican has doubts about evolutionary biology is very hard to believe.
 
Which raises the related question of why in the world Republicans keep using this ridiculous response when asked easy questions.
 
Jindal actually finds himself in an awkward position. The governor is probably aware of the fact that Republican voters have become increasingly hostile towards modern biology in recent years, and as the Louisianan prepares a national campaign, he can't deliberately alienate his own party's far-right base.
 
If he says he accepts biology, Jindal might lose some support from conservatives, If the governor says he rejects modern science, Jindal would come across as a bit of a loon. And so, he's left with a pathetic dodge: "I'm not an evolutionary biologist."
 
As political spin goes, this entire tack -- not just from Jindal, but from his entire party -- is unsustainable.

Addressing the troops and other headlines

09/17/14 07:57AM

Pres. Obama to address troops on his anti-ISIS strategy today. (BBC)

In Iowa, attacks on Republican Ernst change dynamics of tight Senate race. (Washington Post)

House Select Committee on Benghazi holds its first public hearing today. (AP)

Here is the witness list. (The Hill)

Manhunt underway in Pennsylvania for armed suspect described as an "anti-government survivalist". (Scranton Times-Tribune)

Minnesota Vikings 'deactivate' Adrian Peterson indefinitely. (USA Today)

Meet the 2014 MacArthur "Geniuses". (NPR)

read more

Pages