It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a right-wing freshman just two months into his first term, decided he'd try to sabotage international diplomatic talks with Iran. He recruited 46 of his Senate Republican colleagues to write a condescending letter to officials in Tehran, effectively telling Iranians not to trust the United States, our allies, or our negotiating partners.
It's not unusual for GOP lawmakers to pull some pretty offensive stunts, but this was qualitatively different than the usual Capitol Hill nonsense. The ferocity of the Democratic response was equally unusual.
[Vice President Biden], who prior to getting elected vice president served over three decades in the Senate, said he was deeply offended by the stance some of his former colleagues took. "The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting president in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere," he said in a statement late on Monday. [...]
He wrote, "This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American president, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States."
"Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger," he added.
The scale of the Republican fiasco grew more obvious as the day progressed. The GOP hoped to divide Democrats, but Cotton & Co. brought Dems closer together. Republicans hoped to push Iran away from the negotiating table, but they very likely helped the negotiations move closer to an agreement.
Steve Kornacki reviews the events at the 50th anniversary memorial in Selma, Alabama, and talks with Rep. Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania, about the effort to restore the Voting Rights Act after it was weakened by a Supreme Court ruling in 2013. watch
Xeni Jardin, co-editor and tech culture journalist at BoingBoing.net, talks with Steve Kornacki about how the newly revealed Apple Watch is reinventing the wrist device, and how Apple makes products you don't realize you need until you have it. watch
Steve Kornacki reviews the highlights from the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, including numbers that show an especially high hurdle for Jeb Bush as the presumed Republican front-runner, and some hope for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. watch
* Quite a pairing: "The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has pledged official allegiance to ISIS, according to an audio statement released online Saturday. In the audio, a man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau appears to address ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and also calls on Muslims throughout the world to declare a similar loyalty."
* Speaking of ISIS: "The Islamic State appears to be starting to fray from within, as dissent, defections and setbacks on the battlefield sap the group's strength and erode its aura of invincibility among those living under its despotic rule."
* Russia: "Two Chechens, one a police officer who fought Islamic insurgents and the second a security guard, were charged in a Moscow court on Sunday in connection with the killing of Boris Y. Nemtsov, a leading Kremlin critic, while three other suspects were jailed pending further investigation."
* Oklahoma: "Following the publication of a video allegedly showing members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity chanting racist slogans, the school's president said there is zero tolerance for students who use racially charged language."
* South Korea: "The knife attack last week on the American ambassador to South Korea, Mark W. Lippert, set off an outpouring of good wishes here for both the envoy and Seoul's alliance with Washington. But the response, led largely by conservative South Koreans, has now provoked a backlash."
* Venezuela: "President Barack Obama signed an executive order declaring a national emergency with respect to Venezuela and imposing sanctions on seven officials there in response to the country's deteriorating human rights climate, the White House said Monday."
* A veto override in West Virginia: "West Virginia legislators prohibited women from having abortions after 20 weeks on Friday, as the state Senate enacted the law over Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's veto."
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Rules Committee and a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has a track record for saying some pretty amazing things. About a year ago, for example, the far-right Texan said if there's a witch hunt underway, that just means "there is a witch somewhere."
The year before, Session said he believe it's "immoral" to extend jobless aid to "long-term unemployments [sic]." Around the same time, the congressman said the House should stop worrying about governing and focus exclusively on "messaging."
And while many of these comments seem bizarre, once in a while Sessions' rhetoric reaches a more alarming level.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) accused President Barack Obama and Democrats Thursday evening of continually releasing undocumented immigrants who are murdering Americans.
"Every day, all along border states, maybe other places, there are murders by people who have been arrested coming into this country, who have been released by the Obama administration, I believe in violation of the law, who are murdering Americans all over our cities," the Rules Committee chairman said at a meeting while discussing Obama's deportation relief policies. "We hold the Democrat [sic] Party and the president personally accountable for this action."
It's not exactly a secret that Republicans don't like President Obama's immigration policy, so it stands to reason that Sessions and his colleagues will complain on a near-constant basis.
But these recent comments are far more inflammatory. Sessions, using his own committee platform, effectively said the president is indirectly responsible for murders committed by immigrants -- and the GOP lawmaker holds Obama and his entire party "personally accountable."
That's not just some throwaway line. This is a congressional committee chairman arguing publicly that the president has blood on his hands. It's the sort of thing a federal lawmaker should be able to back up with substantial evidence before casually throwing around a reckless accusation.
And in this case, Sessions apparently has no idea what he's talking about.
As a candidate seeking re-election last fall, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was quite clear: he wouldn't push a so-called "right to work" measure. The Republican governor didn't say he'd veto such a measure, but Walker nevertheless vowed he wouldn't be "supporting it in this session."
As recently as October, the governor specifically said, "We're not going to do anything with right-to-work."
Overhauling more than a half century of labor law in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker on Monday signed so-called right-to-work legislation banning labor contracts that require private sector workers to pay labor fees.
In a matter of weeks, Republicans pushed through the measure making Wisconsin the 25th state with such a law, giving a victory to manufacturers in the state and a blow to organized labor and some construction firms, which had opposed the measure.
Note, during Walker's first year in office, after assuring voters he wouldn't pursue a union-busting campaign in office, the governor sparked a costly and divisive fight, undermining the collective bargaining rights of many public-sector workers.
This new policy, signed into law today, goes even further, undermining private-sector workers.
In a practical sense, when congressional Republicans invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a joint-session address, it was part of a larger sabotage campaign. GOP lawmakers, without so much as a hint of embarrassment, are openly trying to derail international diplomatic talks with Iran, and Republicans had no qualms about partnering with a foreign government to undermine American foreign policy.
The GOP gambit arguably marked a new low. But after hitting the bottom of the barrel, Republicans dug a hole and fell just a little further.
A group of 47 Republican senators has written an open letter to Iran's leaders warning them that any nuclear deal they sign with President Barack Obama's administration won't last after Obama leaves office. [...]
"It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.... Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement," the senators wrote. "The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time."
Josh Rogin's report makes clear that the signatories "hope that by pointing out the long-term fragility of a deal with no congressional approval ... the Iranian regime might be convinced to think twice" about striking a deal with Americans and our negotiating partners.
The letter was organized by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a right-wing freshman who has spent months bragging about his hopes of destroying any diplomatic agreement intended to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The list of the 47 GOP senators who signed on to the letter is online here. Note, that list features several presidential hopefuls, including Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. (Only seven Senate Republicans decided not to endorse the letter: Lamar Alexander, Dan Coats, Thad Cochran, Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, and Lisa Murkowski.)
Norm Ornstein noted this morning that he's "flabbergasted" by the "astonishing breach of conduct." That's clearly the appropriate response. But I'm also struck by how dangerous the Republicans' conduct is.
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:
* Will Sen. Rand Paul (R) be able to run for re-election in Kentucky while also running for the Republican presidential nomination? It sure looks like it.
* Appearing at an Iowa agricultural event over the weekend, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) endorsed phasing out federal resources for renewable fuels and wind energy. That's not even close to what Iowa's political and industry leaders wanted to hear.
* On a related note, the Iowa Ag Summit was supposed to be non-partisan, but "organizers turned away some ticket-holders who were registered Democrats without explanation."
* After struggling badly on foreign policy in recent weeks, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is receiving training and a "crash course" on international affairs from "some of the GOP's leading foreign-policy lights."
* In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journalpoll, 42% of Republican primary voters say they couldn't support Jeb Bush's presidential campaign. The news was slightly worse for Chris Christie: 57% of GOP primary voters say they couldn't support him.
* In the latest McClatchy-Marist poll, Hillary Clinton leads each of her likely Republican rivals in hypothetical 2016 match-ups. Margins range from 4 points (against Walker) to 14 points (against Ted Cruz).
* I'm not surprised Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has thrown his support to Rep. Chris Van Hollen's (D-Md.) Senate campaign in Maryland, but I'm a little surprised Reid weighed in so early in the process.
In his stirring address in Selma over the weekend, President Obama did more than just honor those who marched at the Edmund Pettus Bridge a half-century ago. He also used the opportunity to push for the same policy goals those civil-rights marchers sought in 1965.
"Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.
"How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it. If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year. That's how we honor those on this bridge."
If you look closely at the video, at this point in Obama's speech, the camera pans left and catches George W. Bush and Laura Bush both standing and applauding the president's plea to Congress.
With this kind of bipartisan backing, it's tempting to think real progress is possible. Indeed, after the events in Selma over the weekend, and given the larger context, it seems as if Congress' Republican majority would have to be crazy to spend another two years ignoring calls to revitalize the Voting Rights Act.
But it's apparently not as simple as it should be.
In the summer of 2011, congressional Republicans did something American lawmakers had never done before: they held the nation's debt ceiling hostage. Indeed, GOP lawmakers, en masse, told the White House that if President Obama didn't accept Republican demands, they would crash the economy on purpose and force a default.
The quote was largely overlooked at the time, but Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate Republicans' leader, thought the GOP-imposed crisis was terrific. Once the ceiling had been raised, McConnell boasted about doing it again in the future, saying that Republicans learned this is "a hostage that's worth ransoming."
That was in August 2011. Nearly four years later, McConnell finds himself as the Senate Majority Leader, and to his credit, his posture has changed. Consider this exchange from yesterday's "Face the Nation," after host Bob Schieffer asked about the nation's borrowing limit.
SCHIEFFER: Quick question. Treasury Secretary Lew sent a letter to Congress last week saying that debt limit will reach the ceiling Monday. Are Republicans going to vote to lift the debt ceiling?
MCCONNELL: Well, the debt ceiling will be handled over a period of months. The secretary of the treasury has a number of what we call tools in his toolbox. I made it very clear after the November election that we're certainly not going to shut down the government or default on the national debt. We will figure some way to handle that.
All of this happens to be true. On Friday, Jack Lew told Congress that the nation would reach its debt limit in about a week, at which point the Treasury Department would begin its "extraordinary measures," which in practical terms means moving money around to pay our bills. Congress effectively has until the fall to meet its obligations and prevent a catastrophe, and Lew urged lawmakers to be responsible.
McConnell, who ruled out national default as a credible alternative literally the day after the 2014 midterms, made a similar point yesterday. The Kentucky Republican conceded on CBS that he and his party will simply have to figure something out.
That's reassuring to those of us who hope to avoid a deliberate economic crash, but it's also a reminder of how effective President Obama's leadership has been on this issue after the White House's misstep in 2011.
When reports surfaced last week that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) may face criminal charges as part of a federal corruption probe, it seemed like a possible opportunity for Republicans. Because somanyof the recent political scandals have involved GOP officials, I thought Republicans might connect Menendez and Oregon's John Kitzhaber to make the case there's something rotten in the Democratic ranks.
But Kasie Hunt reported from Iowa over the weekend that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has a very different attack in mind.
Cruz also suggested pending federal charges against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez were politically motivated -- tied to Menendez's support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition to a U.S. deal with Iran over their nuclear program.
"The timing is curious," Cruz said.... "It raises a suggestion to other Democrats that if you dare part from the Obama White House, that criminal prosecutions will be used potentially as a political weapon as well," Cruz said. "That's a serious concern."
The Texas Republican added, "This investigation has been going on for over a year and yet the very week they announce a pending indictment comes within hours after Sen. Menendez showing courage to speak out against President Obama's dangerous foreign policy that is risking the national security of this country."
Greg Sargent noted the other day that he was planning to joke about the right concocting a conspiracy theory involving Menendez, the White House, and Iran, but the mockery was already too late. "They're already saying," Greg said.
Satire is tough when some politicians become caricatures of themselves.
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