The details of the long-awaited bipartisan immigration reform bill are out, and there is much to digest, though the bill contains few if any surprises. But one concern that hangs over the process is whether the bill’s proponents and sponsors can convince the public that the text of the law will also be the reality of the law. Several recent stories have called this into question.
In his column in yesterday’s Washington Examiner, Byron York lays out the details of the three enforcement measures–E-Verify, border security, and visa monitoring–as well as the “triggers” to allow illegal immigrants to apply for green cards and citizenship and the process by which they can do so. But there are indications that the skeptics will not be mollified. York writes:
There is much one could say about President Obama’s Rose Garden statement on Wednesday announcing his FY 2014 budget. On the plus side, the president endorsed a “chained CPI”–a measure of inflation that is a more accurate way to factor rises in the cost of living into Social Security benefits. It’s a good idea, if quite a modest one (this Wall Street Journal editorial explains why there is less to it than meets the eye). And of course if the president really believed in a chained CPI, he would be a strong advocate for it rather than viewing it as a concession to Republicans. (Jay Carney, in this interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier, concedes that a chained CPI is “is not preferred policy by this president.”)
In any event, the downsides of the record-setting $3.78 trillion budget overwhelm the upside. A quick summary of the budget can be found here, but here’s some of what you need to know: Over a 10-year period it would raise taxes by $1.1 trillion–on top of $1 trillion in taxes from the Affordable Care Act and more than $600 billion from the president’s recent tax hike. It increases spending by $964 billion. And it adds $8.2 trillion to our debt. The debt held by the public as a share of the economy is predicted to reach 78.2 percent in 2014–nearly double what it was in 2008.
The cycle of Western involvement in the peace process usually involves Benjamin Netanyahu proposing an idea, the West rejecting it, trying and failing its own way, and then quietly proposing Netanyahu’s idea while pretending they came up with it. It was certainly that way with the concept of a peace deal built around a land-swap–which Netanyahu proposed in his first premiership during the Clinton administration only to have Clinton ignore him. The land-swap idea eventually became central to final-status negotiations.
The Obama administration may be about to repeat the pattern with regard to Netanyahu’s commonsense–and therefore much maligned–“economic peace.” The concept centers on the fact that since the two sides have not been able to make much progress on the traditional negotiating track, steps could be taken to go around official channels and improve the daily lives of Palestinians. Netanyahu hadn’t received any help from the Obama administration or the government of Mahmoud Abbas to take such action, so he reached out to the Jordanians and worked to encourage foreign investment in the West Bank on his own. It wasn’t just a theory, either; as Daniel Doron wrote in 2011, the concept of “economic peace” is the only strategy with a proven track record of success:
There is no greater obstacle to achieving comprehensive immigration reform than the perverse system of incentives created by its absence. We have written at length here about pro-immigration reform Republicans’ concern that President Obama would torpedo negotiations, and that this concern arose from the fact that Obama has twice now done precisely that, either singlehandedly or close to it.
In 2007, Obama did this by joining the immigration reform inner circle in the Senate and then supporting a poison-pill amendment to tank the negotiations, frustrating even his Democratic allies like Ted Kennedy. In 2012, Obama used an executive action that stopped Marco Rubio’s bipartisan reform proposal in its tracks. In both cases, Obama had reason to do so: in 2007, he wanted to prevent Republicans from getting a policy win on an issue he needed for the 2008 general election, and in 2012 he again used immigration as a cudgel against the GOP in his re-election campaign. And while Obama no longer needs the issue on the table for his own electoral purposes, he may want it to linger unresolved long enough to hurt Republicans in the 2014 midterms.
There is, however, an additional obstacle on the side claiming to support reform that has generally been able to fly under the radar. Marc Caputo writes at the Miami Herald:
In the last few days Washington experienced what could only be called Hillary Week, as the decision of the former first lady to give her first public speeches since stepping down as secretary of state sent the chattering classes into ecstasy. With 2016 fever already in full bloom only a few months after President Obama’s re-election, the anticipation that Clinton will be the next Democratic standard bearer is intense. While it would be madness for any presidential contender to declare their intentions three years in advance of the race, the presence of a claque of organized cheerleaders bearing printed signs declaring that they were “Ready for Hillary” at her first appearance this week removed much doubt that the formidable Clinton campaign machine was already starting to rev itself up.
However, the assumption that Clinton is the inevitable Democratic nominee is getting some pushback. At the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti has written a column detailing all the reasons why the notion that Hillary is a can’t-miss candidate may be far overstating her strength, and much of it is both smart and persuasive. As he rightly notes, eight years ago pundits were making the same assumptions about Clinton and the 2008 presidential election which, as we all know, turned out to be somebody else’s historic election.
But while I agree with Continetti that Clinton is not a shoo-in to be the next president, I don’t share his skepticism about her chances of winning her party’s nomination. The Democratic Party has become, as Seth wrote last week, a highly disciplined operation with little of the organized anarchy that once characterized it. The reason why many people are speaking of a Clinton candidacy clearing the field of potential challengers is because that is exactly the governing dynamic of Democrats in the age of Obama. If she runs, the odds of a formidable challenger emerging are minimal.
Humorlessness and self-seriousness can be a difficult combination of traits for a national politician to overcome. But Barack Obama managed to do so in part because when he stayed on script he was eloquent and measured. Those who work for him, however, seem to possess all of his thin-skinned defensiveness with none of the charm.
So it was no surprise that eventually those employees would become ex-employees and saturate the Twittersphere with what Dylan Byers today calls “their frat-house banter” of social media aggression. Byers writes that the angry, score-settling aides shine a light on the mindset of those still toiling away in the West Wing:
The latest news from Egypt is literally beyond satire: Bassem Youssef, often described as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart,” is being prosecuted on charges of insulting President Mohamed Morsi and Islam in general.
As Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, one of the smartest Egypt analysts around, notes, this is of a piece with Morsi’s general crackdown on opposition and attempts to give the Muslim Brotherhood control of all aspects of Egyptian society: “According to the Egypt-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, four times as many lawsuits for ‘insulting the president’ were filed during Morsi’s first 100 days in office than during Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year reign.”
Barack Obama became president in no small part by castigating the Bush administration for its errors in Iraq. Now, ironically enough, as president he appears bent on repeating the biggest Bush error of all—namely toppling an existing Middle East strongman without doing enough to build up a stable state in his wake.
Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times has filed a disturbing report from the southern Libyan city of Sabha that vividly shows the consequences of administration inaction. He finds, almost a year and a half after Muammar Qaddafi’s demise, a total absence of Libyan security forces. Instead ill-armed, unpaid militiamen are “battling smugglers, illegal migrants bound for Europe and armed extremists who stream across a swath of the Sahara near the porous intersection of southern Libya, Chad, Niger, and Algeria.” That is, they are battling these threats when they are not battling each other—which is a more common occurrence.
The latest crisis emanating from Pyongyang is almost enough to make you nostalgic for Kim Jong-il who died at the end of 2011. Sure, he may have been a murderous tyrant who lived the high life while his people literally starved—but at least he was predictable and conservative in his actions. Not so his callow son and successor Kim Jong-un, who appears bent on escalating tensions with South Korea, the United States, and Japan so as to consolidate his shaky legitimacy to rule the North.
Young Kim’s regime has already said it will no longer abide by the Korean War armistice and that a “state of war” now exists on the peninsula. He has tested nuclear and ballistic weapons. He has cut off the redline telephones that maintained communications with the U.S. and South Korea. He has threatened to attack not only South Korea but the U.S.—in fact displaying supposed war plans toward that end in a doctored photo. He is also widely suspected of launching a cyber attack on South Korea.
President Obama renewed his push for more restrictive gun control legislation today with an emotional appeal in which he said the nation ought to be ashamed of the waning interest in his proposals:
“Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked and the entire country pledged we would do something about it and this time would be different,” Mr. Obama said, his voice rising with indignation. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”
The president is being pressured by members of his liberal base who are blaming him not only for the fact that most of his ideas have no chance of being passed by Congress but also for the drop in public support for his plans since the initial surge for more gun control after the Newtown massacre in December. That was made apparent by a new CBS News poll that shows sympathy for stricter gun laws is down by 10 percent since the tragic shooting of 20 children and six teachers. The survey now shows the percentage of Americans who want more gun legislation to have fallen below the 50 percent mark to only 47 percent, while the number of those who believe the laws should stay as they are has risen to 39 percent from 30 percent three months ago.
Gun control advocates lament this change and say, as the president did today, that it is a function of forgetfulness. That’s why, as Seth wrote earlier, the Michael Bloomberg-funded campaign to promote the issue is seeking to rekindle outrage over Sandy Hook with emotion-laden commercials depicting the parents of the victims. But the problem here is not a lack of concern for the memory of the slain or callousness on the part of growing numbers of Americans. It is the fact that the case for the president’s proposals relies primarily on just this sort of emotion rather than reason. The longer we have to think about it, the less sense these restrictions make to people.
Yesterday, as Nancy Pelosi insisted the Democrats had not “lost momentum” on their push for gun control, one thing became clear: the Democrats had absolutely lost momentum on their push for gun control. Pelosi may have been trying to put a brave face on the Democrats’ gun-ban failure, but she undermined her own words of encouragement in the same breath, the Hill reports:
“Say it doesn’t prevail, just for the sake of argument,” she said. “It argues all the more strongly for having the toughest; best; most effective background checks, instead of diluting the background checks, because we might not succeed with the assault weapons ban.”
But even more of an indication of the direction of this legislative battle than Pelosi’s comments was the reaction New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg received when he tried to threaten Democrats in pro-gun states.
I was traveling last week, so have not had an opportunity until now to comment on President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem and his visit to Israel in general. I only now read the speech and, like many of Obama’s speeches, it is a rhetorical masterpiece. It is also a tacit repudiation of his entire first term, which began, as far as Middle East policy was concerned, with his speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009.
This was a conscious attempt by Obama to hit the “reset button” on U.S. relations with the Muslim world, which he thought had been harmed by George W. Bush’s hawkish ways. Obama went so far to ingratiate himself with the Arabs that he even seemed to equate Jewish suffering in the Holocaust with Palestinian suffering “in pursuit of a homeland”–as if the Palestinians had been the victims of genocide too. Obama pointedly did not visit Israel on that swing through the Middle East and subsequently he put unprecedented pressure on the government of Israel to halt all construction in the West Bank–not as the ending point of talks with the Palestinians but as a precondition for such talks.
Yesterday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received two significant mentions in the press. The first was from President Obama, who quoted Sharon in his speech to Israeli youth. “If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all,” Obama said in Sharon’s name, telling the crowd to make peace with the Palestinians and warning against the quest for a Greater Israel. Quoting Sharon was a wise choice to express this sentiment. It isn’t just American presidents, Obama was saying, who believe in the necessity of the two-state solution; King Arik–once the architect of a sovereign Greater Israel–said so too.
But the other instance of Sharon’s name cropping up again yesterday was far less laudatory of the man still in a coma. The Times of Israel posted a video released by the Palestinians in Gaza, in which Palestinian women, under the proud, smiling gaze of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, used Sharon’s face as target practice on a public shooting range. This is relevant to Obama’s speech as well. The address, which was well written and well delivered, had passages everyone could agree with. But no paragraph was more observant or insightful than when Obama said this:
President Obama was confronted with the anxieties of the Middle East yesterday when the first question he received at his press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu was about Syria. “Morally,” began the question ominously, “how is it possible that for the last two years, tens of thousands of innocent civilians are being massacred and no one, the world, the United States, you are doing anything to stop it immediately. On a practical level, you have said today and also in the past, that the use of chemical weapons would be the crossing of a red line. It seems like this line was crossed yesterday. What specifically do you intend to do about it?”
Obama began his answer by noting that there is no proof or consensus on whether chemical weapons have, in fact, been used. Then he pushed back on the accusation he’s done nothing: “It is incorrect to say that we have done nothing. We have helped to mobilize the isolation of the Assad regime internationally. We have supported and recognized the opposition. We have had hundreds of millions of dollars in support for humanitarian aid.”
That wasn’t much of a response, because the question was what is being done to “stop it immediately,” and nothing the West is doing would seem to qualify. And in fact the reporter’s question was representative of the current mood here in the States as well, in which calls for Obama to intervene in Syria are growing as quickly as the wisdom of such intervention seems to be fading.
Israeli leftists may not be excited about President Obama’s trip to Israel, as Jonathan wrote yesterday, but they are taking it a lot better than the Palestinians. The president is not in Israel to try to play Weekend at Bernie’s with the moribund peace process, and that’s not a bad thing. A friendly visit from the American president and a chance to interact with Israelis in person is a fairly low-risk way to try to build some good will, especially for a president who feels he has been misunderstood by Israelis.
But the Palestinians don’t see it that way. The New York Times reports today that the Palestinian leadership is promising to make President Obama regret this trip by punishing him for his lack of interest in pressuring Israel while he’s here. One of the great mistakes made by Obama in his first term was his demand for a Jewish building freeze as a precondition to negotiations–a demand that boxed Mahmoud Abbas in as well. But now Abbas is threatening that if Obama doesn’t repeat this mistake now, Abbas is going to the International Criminal Court:
President Obama and Senator Dianne Feinstein are not happy with Harry Reid. The feeling is mutual. And no one is hiding it very well. The three Democratic leaders are reacting to the announcement that Feinstein’s ban on certain so-called “assault weapons” will not be included in the final Senate gun-control bill and will not be voted on. The assault-weapons ban was always going to end this way; the votes were never there for it.
And while Feinstein believes she was promised a vote and Obama isn’t thrilled about elevating this issue only to have it bow to political reality, there is something disingenuous in focusing their ire on Reid. After all, Reid’s strategy of grinding the Senate to a halt, locking out the opposition from getting votes or amendments, and obstructing even basic Senate business and responsibilities has always been about protecting Democrats from having to vote on their very unpopular, ill-considered policy ideas that the voters would surely hate.
In other words, fully aware of the absurdity of the Democratic policy agenda, Reid’s leadership has always been geared toward saving liberals from themselves–and the voters. And that is exactly what he’s doing on the gun bill. What’s more, while the White House says it’s not giving up on the ban, Reid is telling them to drop it. The Washington Post reports on Reid’s admission that a possible Republican filibuster of the bill is not the cause of its demise:
The contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East are approaching the level of parody. For the past four years under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we were constantly told that protecting the rights of women was an integral element in U.S. foreign policy. That was laudable, yet the same State Department that touted its feminist bona fides to the press was also the champion of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt. While the administration has dug in its heels on their policy of continuing to shower Mohamed Morsi’s regime with U.S. taxpayer dollars, there doesn’t seem to be any more pushback against Egypt’s policy toward women than its attempts to crush political opponents or its anti-Semitism.
An article in today’s New York Times that discusses the Brotherhood’s policies toward women illustrates the raging hypocrisy of the American stand on Egypt. There was never much doubt about the misogyny that is at the heart of the Islamist group’s worldview, but by issuing a public critique of a proposed United Nations declaration opposing violence against women, they have elevated the topic to one of international significance. The regime’s stance on women is scaring Egyptian moderates and liberals who are rapidly losing any hope that the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s government would usher in an era of democratic reform. But the specter of the most populous Arab state’s government moving slowly but surely toward an Iran-style theocracy is an ominous development for the rest of the region. Indeed, this makes it clear that what President Obama is doing in Egypt is nothing less than a U.S.-subsidized war on women.
Last week I wrote about the entertaining series of stories in which reporters asked Senate Democrats why they didn’t stand with Rand Paul during his filibuster of John Brennan over civil liberties concerns. I noted that congressional Democrats judge foreign policy stands on partisanship alone, and the Democrats’ confused responses to reporters last week signaled they thought reporters were in on the joke.
But there are Democrats outside of government starting to pipe up on the issue of drones and secrecy, and it suggests Paul’s filibuster was even more successful from a publicity standpoint than it seemed at the time. This is because when it began, Paul’s concentration on the seemingly farfetched possibility that the government would drone critics like Jane Fonda as they sat in Starbucks left the initial impression that the filibuster was going to be a political theater of the absurd. But Paul proved many doubters wrong not only by attracting other politicians and rallying support on Twitter, but because the drone-Fonda case highlighted something that made people uneasy: if the federal government couldn’t or wouldn’t clearly deny its right to zap nonviolent people on American soil, was there anything the Obama administration would rule out?
In the aftermath of President Obama’s now-obvious-to-all sequester overreach–in which he first predicted the end of the world as we know it, then backed away from those claims once the cuts went into effect, then attempted to inflict maximum pain on the American people, and is now blaming the Secret Service for the stupid and unnecessary decision to shut down White House tours–something is changing.
President Obama’s RealClearPolitics.com approval rating is in the 40s. His disapproval rating exceeds his approval rating in three different polls (Fox, McClatchy/Marist, and Quinnipiac). Congressional Democrats are beginning to grouse. And according to a Washington Post story yesterday, Mr. Obama’s approval rating at this early stage in his second term is among the lowest of any president in the post-World War II era.
Should the federal government’s balance sheet be treated the way a family approaches household finances? That’s the question at the heart of the renewed debate over Paul Ryan’s budget, President Obama’s spending, and the idea of balancing the federal budget. Conservatives argue that keeping a balanced budget is a basic expression of fiscal responsibility, and they point out that states have balanced budget requirements. Whether this makes it more or less compelling for the federal government to have a balanced budget requirement is up for debate, and the New York Times offers an in-depth survey of economists and experts on what the president derides as balancing the budget for its own sake.
Republicans seem to think that balancing the budget is a good political message to get behind, but they should be wary of how reasonable the other side comes out in stories like today’s Times piece, and they should also take into consideration the sometimes perverse unintended consequences of some efforts to force a balanced budget. Here is how the Times summarizes the two views: