Tag Archives: Senate

What’s Next?

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Thomas Edsall asks a question that is rapidly becoming more pressing: what happens after the election?

It’s a question we really can’t answer until we know not just who has won the Presidency, but how the transition has been handled and–far more important–who will control the Senate.

Although “what now?” depends upon currently unknown election returns, we can–actually, we should–consider a variation of that question. What ought to happen next?

My own concerns revolve around the inevitable splintering of the Democratic Party into its factions. One of the problems with single-party dominance (or in this case, single-party sanity) is that reasonable people holding very different views all end up in the non-crazy party. Democrats have never been ideologically monolithic; these days, thoughtful conservatives, liberals and leftist activists are all Democrats because their only other options are to join a cult (the contemporary GOP) or vote for a third-party candidate (essentially flushing their votes).

My most fervent hope–assuming Democratic control of the Senate as well as the House and the White House–is that leadership will immediately move to implement policies on which there is broad consensus: rolling back the roll-backs of environmental protections; passing H.B. One–the broad reform of electoral rules that passed the House by a massive margin and languished (along with everything else Mitch McConnell touched) in the Senate; ending tax policies that soak the middle class while allowing the rich to evade paying their share; re-instating DACA and instituting humane immigration policies.

There are others, and they should all be introduced and passed as expeditiously as possible.

Noted political scientist Theda Skocpol believes the Democrats will hang together; she tells Edsall that, in the event of a Democratic Senate majority, especially with a cushion of 2 or 3 votes, she

does not foresee any acute internal conflicts, because there will be so much to do in a pandemic and economic crisis,” adding, “I think joint approaches will not be hard to work out: voting reforms, expansion of Obamacare with a strong public option, college costs help for lower income and lower middle class, robust green jobs investments, etc., etc.

I hope she’s right.

Other measures that ought to be taken–preferably, within the first hundred days–include eliminating the filibuster and expanding the number of federal judges. If–as is likely–Judge Barrett has been confirmed in a departing f**k you by McConnell, the number of Justices on the Supreme Court should also be expanded. (Actually, according to the Judicial Conference, that should be done even if, by  some intervening miracle, her nomination fails). But what should be done and what will occur are two different things, and opinions on both the filibuster and the approach to the courts divide the party’s moderates and progressives.

“What’s next” is, of course, a broader question than “what policies should Democrats pursue?” Edsall’s column is concerned less with policy and more with politics. He quotes a political scientist for the rather obvious observation that it’s easier to unite against something than for something, a truism that doesn’t bode well for continued Democratic unity. He also tackles the less obvious–and far more important–question “what happens to Trumpism” if, as seems likely, Trump loses?

Rogers Smith–another noted political scientist–thinks that a loss for Trump won’t defeat Trumpism.

Trump has built a new right populist coalition that has more electoral appeal than the full-tilt neoliberal, moderately multicultural economic and social positions of the prior Republican establishment. It has plenty of reasonably charismatic youthful champions. Its leaders will avoid the crude bullying and rule-flouting that Trump displayed in the recent presidential debate, and they’ll certainly try to avoid Access Hollywood-type scandals. But otherwise they will carry the Trump right-populist movement forward.

The “Trump movement” is essentially racist, theocratic and misogynistic. So long as it remains a viable, non-fringe element of American political life, the “American experiment” is at risk.

Whatever is “next,” we probably aren’t yet out of the woods.

 

Playing The Culture-War Card

In 2004, when John Kerry was running against George W. Bush, my youngest son was a Kerry volunteer. On Election Day, he worked at polls in Ohio, having (quite reasonably) concluded that Indiana was a lost cause. I still remember his description of the turnout in the precinct to which he’d been assigned; the culture war that year had targeted LGBTQ folks, and Mitch McConnell’s GOP had made support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage a major Republican talking point.

My son said a number of voters came to the polls “dripping animus” and eager to “vote against the gays.”

Now, I have no idea where that polling place was, or how representative those voters were, but post-election analyses did suggest that anti-gay bigotry had driven increases in GOP turnout.

I thought about that election when I read a New York Times report to the effect that McConnell is going back to the culture war well in 2020

Senator Mitch McConnell is about to plunge the Senate into the nation’s culture wars with votes on bills to sharply restrict access to late-term abortions and threaten some doctors who perform them with criminal penalties, signaling that Republicans plan to make curbing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy a central theme of their re-election campaigns this year.

After months of shunning legislative activity in favor of confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees — and a brief detour for the president’s impeachment trial — Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, is expected to bring the bills up for votes on Tuesday. Both lack the necessary 60-vote supermajority to advance, and the Senate has voted previously to reject them.

But by putting them on the floor again, Mr. McConnell hopes to energize the social conservatives who helped elect Mr. Trump and whose enthusiasm will be needed to help Republicans hold on to the Senate this year, while forcing vulnerable Democrats to take uncomfortable votes on bills that frame abortion as infanticide. The rhetoric around the measures is hot; Mr. Trump, for instance, has pointed to one of the bills to falsely assert that Democrats favor “executing babies AFTER birth.”

The bills are–surprise!–deeply dishonest. But the content is irrelevant–McConnell isn’t trying to pass them. He’s playing the political game that has characterized his entire career–a game in which “winning” has nothing to do with responsible governance or the common good, but is solely about gaining and retaining political power.

There are good reasons for dubbing McConnell “the most evil man in America”–or, as one magazine headline put it “The Man Who Broke America.”

Since the 2018 midterms, the House has passed hundreds of bills–many of them bipartisan–addressing climate change, voting rights, background checks, paycheck fairness, the minimum wage and numerous other issues that affect American citizens. McConnell has refused to even hear any of them. In fact, he has not allowed any Senate legislative activity other than hearings on Trump’s right-wing (and frequently incompetent) judicial nominees.

Some of those House bills would pass; others wouldn’t. Some may be well-thought-out, others may not be. The only way that citizens can evaluate their merits is if the Senate conducts reasoned debates leading to those determinations.

McConnell doesn’t care. His decision to hold hearings on bills that everyone knows won’t pass–and would do nothing to improve the lives of Americans if they did–is intended only as political theater that he believes will generate passion among the culture warriors and thus increase turnout by the far fringes of his increasingly toxic party.

It’s shameless, morally depraved, and entirely typical.

As much as I want to see Donald Trump perp-walked out of the White House, his manifest stupidity and incompetence makes him less dangerous than Mitch McConnell, who is, unfortunately, very smart.

And more despicable than words can convey.

 

 

Talk About Conflicts Of Interest….

A recent report issued by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) finds that President Trump has 2,300 conflicts of interest. (For some reason, I’m having trouble linking to the report, but it’s easily Googled.)

We see a number of vague accusations of this administration’s “corruption,” but that all-encompassing description doesn’t tell us what the improprieties are, or why the behaviors are unethical. As a result, we are in danger of normalizing them.

The most common definition of a conflict of interest is a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity. CREW puts meat on the bare bones of that definition. The report begins with an explanation of the importance of divestment and the reasons for it.

Prior to President Trump, every modern president divested their business interests before entering office. For decades, this norm of presidential conduct has served as an important signal for both Republican and Democratic administrations to show that, as the nation’s most powerful and prominent public servant, the president would not put personal financial interests before the interests of the country. Divestiture also served as an assurance to the public that the president would not open himself up to undue influence from special interests and foreign governments that might use his businesses as a way to curry favor with him and his administration.

And Trump?

The president has visited his properties 362 times at taxpayer expense during his administration, sometimes visiting multiple properties in a single day. The number of days he’s spent time at a Trump-branded property account for almost a third of the days he’s been president.

One-hundred eleven officials from 65 foreign governments have visited a Trump property.

CREW has recorded 630 visits to Trump properties from at least 250 Trump administration officials. Ivanka Trumpand Jared Kushner are the most frequent executive branch officials to visit Trump properties, other than the president himself. Jared has made 28 known visits, while Ivanka has made 23.

Members of Congress have flocked to President Trump’s properties: 90 members of Congress have made 188 visits to a Trump property.

President Trump has used the presidency to provide free publicity for his properties, which he still profits from as president. As president, Trump has tweeted about or mentioned one of his properties on 159 occasions, and White House officials have mentioned a Trump property 65 times, sometimes in the course of their official duties.

Political groups have spent $5.9 million at Trump properties since President Trump took office. In more than a decade prior to his run for president, Trump’s businesses never received more than $100,000 from political groups in a single year.

Foreign governments and foreign government-linked organizations have hosted 12 events at Trump properties since the president took office. These events have been attended by at least 19 administration officials.

There is much more.

Trump’s behavior has been a truly shocking departure from that of previous presidents, but in all fairness, the expectation that government officials will avoid both conflicts and the appearance of conflicts has been eroded over the years by practices in the Senate.

An article a few weeks ago in The Guardian focused on those practices.

As they set national policy on important issues such as climate change, tech monopolies, medical debt and income inequality, US senators have glaring conflicts of interest, an investigation by news website Sludge and the Guardian can reveal.

An analysis of personal financial disclosure data as of 16 August has found that 51 senators and their spouses have as much as $96m personally invested in corporate stocks in five key sectors: communications/electronics; defense; energy and natural resources; finance, insurance and real estate; and health.

The majority of these stocks come from public companies, and some are private.

Overall, the senators are invested in 338 companies – including tech firms such as Apple and Microsoft, oil and gas giants including ExxonMobil and Antero Midstream, telecom companies including Verizon, and major defense contractors such as Boeing – in the five sectors as categorized by Sludge.

As the article noted, this ownership is not illegal, but such investments raise real questions about lawmakers’ motivations.

We have a lot of work to do.

In 2020, Americans’ first priority must be delivery of an overwhelming, crushing defeat to Trump and the obsequious Republicans who continue to enable him.

Our second must be a wholesale “clean up” of government– reform of electoral systems and governmental structures that facilitate unethical behavior, from state-level gerrymandering and voter suppression, to Senate-level conflicts of interest.

 

A Depressing Analysis

I frequently cite Talking Points Memo. I have found it to be an excellent source of information about what’s going on in Washington–clearly progressive, but scrupulously accurate in its reporting and very thoughtful in its analysis.

I have a lot of respect for the site and for Josh Marshall, the journalist who established it. That’s why I found the following discussion both persuasive and depressing. It was an explanation of the dilemma facing GOP Senators, who–Josh explains– cannot simply rid themselves of Trump. Some of his observations..

There is simply no scenario in which the GOP can easily quit the President or do so without driving a major, divisive and lasting wedge through the center of the party…

Trump’s rule has been so durable because despite his unpopularity he maintains the intense support of a large minority of the electorate. For a mix of demographic and geographical reasons it is a minority that generally over-performs in electoral terms…

But probably 30% and certainly more than 20% are deeply attached to Trump, not only for his few relative points of ideological heterodoxy (trade restrictions, isolationism, etc.) but much more for his embodiment of an authoritarian and illiberal worldview both at home and abroad. These voters will have a very hard time forgiving any Republican leaders who turn on Trump and try to drive him from office. He has simply remade the party so thoroughly around an emotive ecosystem of dominance, obedience and betrayal.

Trump has built his political movement and persona around the politics of grievance and resentment. These are the taproots of the version of American conservatism we now call Trumpism. But Trump embodied and thus sealed and deepened those tendencies in a transformative way. Any partisan would resent politicians who turned on a leader to whom they felt a profound loyalty. But none like pro-Trump diehards.

Josh is convinced that a Senate Republican defection remains unlikely– that there is no substantial number of Republicans who will vote to remove Trump from office. But–as he points out–if facts continue to emerge confirming what we already know about the President’s perfidy, “there’s really no scenario in which most Republican senators won’t face a damaging outcome whichever side of the impeachment question they come down on.”

Don’t expect major defections. But that’s not really the question. The real issue is that Republicans are trapped with someone they can’t cut loose.

I have just one quibble with this otherwise compelling analysis. It begins with the assumption that these Republican Senators want to be re-elected more than they want to do the right thing.

A vote to convict would secure the Senator who casts it a favorable mention in the history books–and it would be a vote for Constitutional accountability and the rule of law.

A vote to acquit will mark the Senator who casts it as a moral coward–but probably an employed moral coward.

Josh has placed his bet on the choice most will make. It pains me to say it, but he is probably right.

 

This May Explain Some Things….

Not that the explanation is reassuring. Quite the contrary.

Vox recently ran an article about the healthcare perks that members of Congress enjoy while they are working hard to deny poor Americans access to basic health insurance. Here’s the WTF section of that article:

Mike Kim, the reserved pharmacist-turned-owner of the pharmacy, said he has gotten used to knowing the most sensitive details about some of the most famous people in Washington.

“At first it’s cool, and then you realize, I’m filling some drugs that are for some pretty serious health problems as well. And these are the people that are running the country,” Kim said, listing treatments for conditions like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

“It makes you kind of sit back and say, ‘Wow, they’re making the highest laws of the land and they might not even remember what happened yesterday.’”

The article noted that the current Congress is the oldest in our history. It appears that more than half of the senators who plan to run for reelection in 2018 are over 65. (Dianne Feinstein just announced that she plans to run for another 6 year term; she will be 85 at election time.) The average age in the House of Representatives is a (comparatively) youthful 57, and the average age in the Senate is 61.

We all age at different rates, and thanks to breakthroughs in medicine and nutrition there are growing numbers of people nearing 100 who remain mentally and physically sharp. It is also true that most of us begin to figure life out as we grow older–there is some validity to the adage that wisdom comes with age. So I would oppose a blanket rule requiring lawmakers to retire at an arbitrary age certain.

That said (since today is my own birthday, and at 76 I am by no means a “spring chicken”), I can personally attest to the indignities the years bring. Memory and recall play tricks on the aging mind; the accelerating rate of technological change is especially disorienting to those of us who grew up with typewriters and rotary phones affixed to walls. Cultural changes embraced by our children and grandchildren can be difficult for us old folks to assimilate and accept.

And all of that is what aging does to healthy seniors, those of us who have retained substantial amounts of our physical vigor and intellectual capacities.

One positive consequence of the 2016 election–assuming we live through the disaster that is Donald Trump–is a new appreciation of the importance of a President’s mental health. It is likely–again, if we survive this–that along with a mandatory disclosure of taxes, a clean bill of physical and mental health will become legal requirements of presidential candidacies.

We need to seriously consider imposing a similar requirement on candidacies for the House and Senate. It’s bad enough that we have only cursory background checks for gun purchases; surely, voters are entitled to similarly cursory physical and psychological checks on people seeking positions where they can do considerably more harm than a deranged shooter.

We may not be able to disqualify the wackos like Roy Moore, but surely we can make Alzheimers a disqualification for public office.