Commentary Magazine


Topic: Congress

New Holder Emails Raise More Questions

The Associated Press (AP) has reported on three emails from 2011 that Attorney General Eric Holder showed members of Congress at a Tuesday meeting, during his last-ditch effort to avert today’s contempt vote. The emails supposedly show Holder hadn’t known about Operation Fast and Furious until February 2011 and immediately set out to get to the bottom of the issue.

Keep in mind, the AP didn’t see the actual emails — the contents were “described” by people who had seen them — and there are few specific quotes given in the article. If this is supposed to be evidence that Holder was doing the right thing, it seems pretty flimsy:

CBS News ran a story on Feb. 23, 2011. On March 3, CBS followed up, and the non-profit Center for Public Integrity weighed in with its own online account.

On Feb. 23, aides passed along to the attorney general the CBS story alleging gun-walking, and the attorney general shot back, “We need answers on this. Not defensive BS. Real answers.”

Five days later, Holder asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.

On March 3…the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, emailed his staff: “We obviously need to get to the bottom of this.”

Holder was skeptical of any assurances.

“I hope the AG understands that we did not allow guns to walk,” an official at the ATF’s Washington headquarters said on March 10 in an email that Holder’s aides forwarded to the attorney general.

In a response, Holder wrote, “Do they really, really know” that there was no gun-walking?

A day earlier, at Holder’s instruction, the Justice Department had sent out a directive to the field reinforcing a longtime Justice Department policy against gun-walking. The directive said that agents must not allow guns to cross the border into Mexico.

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The Associated Press (AP) has reported on three emails from 2011 that Attorney General Eric Holder showed members of Congress at a Tuesday meeting, during his last-ditch effort to avert today’s contempt vote. The emails supposedly show Holder hadn’t known about Operation Fast and Furious until February 2011 and immediately set out to get to the bottom of the issue.

Keep in mind, the AP didn’t see the actual emails — the contents were “described” by people who had seen them — and there are few specific quotes given in the article. If this is supposed to be evidence that Holder was doing the right thing, it seems pretty flimsy:

CBS News ran a story on Feb. 23, 2011. On March 3, CBS followed up, and the non-profit Center for Public Integrity weighed in with its own online account.

On Feb. 23, aides passed along to the attorney general the CBS story alleging gun-walking, and the attorney general shot back, “We need answers on this. Not defensive BS. Real answers.”

Five days later, Holder asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.

On March 3…the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, emailed his staff: “We obviously need to get to the bottom of this.”

Holder was skeptical of any assurances.

“I hope the AG understands that we did not allow guns to walk,” an official at the ATF’s Washington headquarters said on March 10 in an email that Holder’s aides forwarded to the attorney general.

In a response, Holder wrote, “Do they really, really know” that there was no gun-walking?

A day earlier, at Holder’s instruction, the Justice Department had sent out a directive to the field reinforcing a longtime Justice Department policy against gun-walking. The directive said that agents must not allow guns to cross the border into Mexico.

Not to nitpick, but AP writes that “Republicans have promoted the idea” that top DOJ officials knew about the gun-walking. That’s framed rather unfairly — this wasn’t some baseless idea pulled out of thin air by the GOP; emails we’ve already seen showed Holder’s top aides discussing F&F as early as December 2010. Holder himself claimed he’d heard about the gun-running a “few weeks” before his May 2011 hearing with Congress, but was forced to reverse himself later, after it became clear he must have known before that.

The latest letters Holder showed members of Congress seem to show he knew about the operation in February 2011, but where is the evidence that he’d just found about it at that point? Just because he allegedly sent out emails ordering an investigation and questioning others about the gunwalking, that hardly seems like proof he wasn’t aware of this earlier.

Plus — if he was so involved in the issue that he’d sent out field directives and vowed to “get to the bottom” of the case in February, then why was he so fuzzy on the timeline during questioning in May? Clearly, he had to have recalled that he knew about this for longer than “a few weeks.”

As I wrote, we already knew his office was aware of the gun-walking months before these emails were sent. If Holder wasn’t informed properly, then why haven’t heads rolled on this? And if the full electronic mail trail really shows Holder had no idea about F&F, why doesn’t the administration just let investigators take a look? Three vague emails we can’t even see tell us nothing, and they actually only make Holder’s defense seem weaker.

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Lesson of ObamaCare: Get it Passed

That this morning’s ObamaCare decision is disastrous should go without saying. The government’s claim that the mandate is a tax should have been rejected as the Alice in Wonderland reasoning that it is–here’s Obama saying it’s not a tax and here he is saying he’s never raised any taxes–and the law should have been struck down.

Conservatives who are finding solace in potential political implications–that the decision will unite the Tea Party behind Mitt Romney, that Obama will get tagged for increasing taxes, etc.–are setting themselves up for disappointment. As of March, only half of Americans even knew that ObamaCare was still on the books. As of today, they’re going to be bombarded with the message that Obama won, that the Supreme Court  signed on to ObamaCare, and that anyway, the issue is closed and we need to be talking about jobs. It’s not clear that Romney should or will move off his all-economy-all-the-time messaging. This morning, he’s at least partly framing the decision in terms of jobs. With the exception of short-term fundraising, it’s uncertain how today’s decision will ultimately impact the election.

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That this morning’s ObamaCare decision is disastrous should go without saying. The government’s claim that the mandate is a tax should have been rejected as the Alice in Wonderland reasoning that it is–here’s Obama saying it’s not a tax and here he is saying he’s never raised any taxes–and the law should have been struck down.

Conservatives who are finding solace in potential political implications–that the decision will unite the Tea Party behind Mitt Romney, that Obama will get tagged for increasing taxes, etc.–are setting themselves up for disappointment. As of March, only half of Americans even knew that ObamaCare was still on the books. As of today, they’re going to be bombarded with the message that Obama won, that the Supreme Court  signed on to ObamaCare, and that anyway, the issue is closed and we need to be talking about jobs. It’s not clear that Romney should or will move off his all-economy-all-the-time messaging. This morning, he’s at least partly framing the decision in terms of jobs. With the exception of short-term fundraising, it’s uncertain how today’s decision will ultimately impact the election.

Even if Romney did start pointing out that the president flip-flopped on ObamaCare being a tax, and even if that message penetrated the electorate, conservatives would still have traded removing a dagger aimed at the heart of the country’s fundamental notions of citizenship and its financial solvency for the off-chance that “Democrats pulled off a bait-and-switch” will swing five percent of Virginia voters. Not a great deal.

The lesson of ObamaCare remains the same as it’s been since the Democrats used exotic parliamentary maneuvers to pass it: success for a political movement lies in passing what you can, however you can, whenever you can, and on whatever basis is at hand. The presumption granted to facts on the ground–argumentatively and politically–is worth whatever short-term hits parties and movements take to their credibility. Once a law is passed, its proponents get to paint any change as upsetting rather than restoring the status quo. That’s how House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi could declare that ObamaCare had moved from a privilege to a right, with the New York Times insisting we have to let existing laws work. Meanwhile, liberals gained a strange new respect for judicial modesty, which was to be enforced by intimidation from the president and his water-carriers.

That presumption played out in the Court’s decision which, once you get past the literally surreal declaration that ObamaCare is a tax, isn’t terrible. Congress does have nearly unlimited taxation power, more or less by design. Judicial checks were erected, meanwhile, to limit expansive congressional mischief conducted under the umbrella of its enumerated powers.

Before this morning, that distinction was implicitly recognized, albeit badly mangled, by liberals such as Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman. They simply could not get past the argument that, because Congress can undeniably tax the country into a single-payer system, a less ambitious non-tax intervention should surely pass constitutional muster. That reasoning, which was delivered with typically inexplicable cocooned smugness and happens to be exactly backwards, simply misunderstands the kinds of checks built into the Constitution. The analogy here is to Congress’s power to raise an army. Citizens can be ordered to become soldiers but not ordered to become construction workers, even though building a wall is much less severe than being sent to war. The Framers placed fewer institutional checks on broad enumerated powers such as taxation and conscription because in a democracy over-taxation and needless war-making are electorally toxic. The check on Members of Congress in those contexts is that they’ll get voted out of office. The Framers erected institutional judicial checks on violations of liberty that were less publicly inflammatory, and which therefore required something beyond electoral oversight. Luckily, the Kleins and Krugmans of the world will no longer have to trouble themselves with those distinctions, now that they’ve been told ObamaCare is indeed a tax and not something structurally less than a tax.

Voters were supposed to prevent Congress from taxing them into a health care mandate. The Court was supposed to check Congress from abusing its Commerce Clause authority to create a health care mandate. Democrats dodged voter oversight on taxation in 2010 by insisting ObamaCare wasn’t a tax, and then they survived judicial rejection of their Commerce Clause reasoning in 2012 by insisting it is a tax. It’s a neat trick, and one they shouldn’t have been allowed to get away with. But again, presumption is powerful, and it lets you throw everything against the wall to see what sticks. Conservatives would do well to heed that lesson.

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GOP Shouldn’t Rush to Replace ObamaCare

With it a near certainty that sometime Thursday morning we will finally know whether the Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act, the political parties have spent much of this week pondering what they will do in the event the president’s signature legislation is ruled unconstitutional. The Democrats are fairly certain of their course of action if their side loses tomorrow. They will attack the Court and the GOP while attempting to change the narrative of the issue from one about a government power grab to the plight of the uninsured. Republicans are less certain; as the putative victors in the controversy, their inclination may be to sit back and gloat.

As Politico reports today, congressional Republicans have no plans to respond to the downfall of ObamaCare with legislation aimed at filling in the gap if the president’s plan goes down, even if it means allowing some of the more popular provisions in a profoundly unpopular bill are lost with the rest of the plan. While doing nothing may be dangerous as it risks losing the initiative to the left, the thinking here is they are right to pass on getting bogged down this year on an alternative. But a refusal to try to push through a new bill shouldn’t be confused with passivity. Conservatives must be ready to start pushing back against the left’s attempt to demonize the Court or allow them to make the public forget the issue here isn’t sympathy for the poor but the defense of liberty.

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With it a near certainty that sometime Thursday morning we will finally know whether the Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act, the political parties have spent much of this week pondering what they will do in the event the president’s signature legislation is ruled unconstitutional. The Democrats are fairly certain of their course of action if their side loses tomorrow. They will attack the Court and the GOP while attempting to change the narrative of the issue from one about a government power grab to the plight of the uninsured. Republicans are less certain; as the putative victors in the controversy, their inclination may be to sit back and gloat.

As Politico reports today, congressional Republicans have no plans to respond to the downfall of ObamaCare with legislation aimed at filling in the gap if the president’s plan goes down, even if it means allowing some of the more popular provisions in a profoundly unpopular bill are lost with the rest of the plan. While doing nothing may be dangerous as it risks losing the initiative to the left, the thinking here is they are right to pass on getting bogged down this year on an alternative. But a refusal to try to push through a new bill shouldn’t be confused with passivity. Conservatives must be ready to start pushing back against the left’s attempt to demonize the Court or allow them to make the public forget the issue here isn’t sympathy for the poor but the defense of liberty.

The temptation to come up with a comprehensive alternative to ObamaCare if it is struck down will be great. The Democrats will inevitably demand the GOP step into the vacuum left by the bill’s destruction, and there are some Republicans who have ready-made plans they’ll wish to put forward. But in doing so, they will just be providing the left with easy targets for criticism and perhaps render themselves vulnerable to the same problems that afflicted the Democrats’ rush to ram ObamaCare through Congress two years ago. The last thing Republicans need is to propose another bill that no one will have read or understood when it comes up for a vote.

However, Republicans do need to avoid sitting back and letting liberals get the better of them. So long as ObamaCare was on the books, conservatives could just fire away at its shortcomings and make the case that it was an unconscionable power grab by the federal government. Rather than just taking bows if the Court rules their way, they need to keep hammering away on this.

More to the point, they need to have the courage of their convictions and not fear the Democrats will have the better of the argument in the coming months. Though the left is acting as if a ruling that ObamaCare is unconstitutional will be a blow to Mitt Romney’s chances of defeating the president, that isn’t true. As liberal blogger/analyst Nate Silver points out in the New York Times, though Congress and the Supreme Court are widely disliked, ObamaCare is even more unpopular.

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NRA to Score Holder Contempt Vote

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has leverage with House Democrats running for reelection in conservative districts, and its decision to score the Eric Holder contempt vote (in favor of it) will complicate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s attempts to keep Democrats united in opposition (h/t HotAir):

“I think there are some members that will consider the recommendations of the NRA,” Hoyer said to reporters today. “Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not, I don’t know at this point.”

The number of Democratic defections could reach 31, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose committee voted last Wednesday to move the contempt citation to a full House vote.

Issa cites a letter sent from 31 Democrats to the Obama administration last year asking for them to be forthcoming with details of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation as a template for possible Democratic “yes” votes.

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) has leverage with House Democrats running for reelection in conservative districts, and its decision to score the Eric Holder contempt vote (in favor of it) will complicate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s attempts to keep Democrats united in opposition (h/t HotAir):

“I think there are some members that will consider the recommendations of the NRA,” Hoyer said to reporters today. “Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not, I don’t know at this point.”

The number of Democratic defections could reach 31, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose committee voted last Wednesday to move the contempt citation to a full House vote.

Issa cites a letter sent from 31 Democrats to the Obama administration last year asking for them to be forthcoming with details of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation as a template for possible Democratic “yes” votes.

So far, Rep. Matheson is the first Democratic defector. Getting 31 Democrats to cross the aisle still seems like a long-shot for Issa, but the NRA scoring will certainly help. The lobbying group does appear to have had some interest or involvement in the Fast and Furious letter Issa mentions that had 31 Democratic signatories last year, since it was posted on the NRA website under “media.” If the Democrats lose 31 members on this vote, their argument that the GOP is using it as a ploy to tie Holder’s hands on voting rights becomes even more absurd.

The NRA, meanwhile, outlined its justification for scoring the vote in a recent letter to House GOP leadership, making the case that this is about gun rights, not partisanship (h/t Moe Lane):

It is no secret that the NRA does not admire Attorney General Holder. For years, we have pointed out his history of anti-Second Amendment advocacy and enforcement actions. Since taking office, Attorney General Holder has seized on the violence in Mexico to promote the lie that “90 percent” of firearms used in Mexican crime come from the U.S.; to call for bringing back the 1994 Clinton gun ban; and to justify the illegal multiple sales reporting scheme, which amounts to gun registration for honest Americans who buy long guns in southwest border states.

But our support of this contempt resolution is not about those issues — nor is it a partisan decision, for we have also expressed our strong policy disagreements with Attorney General Holder’s predecessors of both parties. The reason we support the contempt resolution is the same reason we first called for Attorney General Holder’s resignation more than a year ago: the Department’s obstruction of congressional oversight of a program that cost lives in support of an anti-gun agenda.

Hoyer will try his best to keep his party in line, but the election is a little more than four months away, and some Democrats won’t be able to afford being on the wrong side of the NRA.

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Will Former Black Panther Win in NY?

At Tablet, Zack Beauchamp wonders whether Democrats are overreacting about former Black Panther Charles Barron’s chance of winning the Brooklyn primary race against the more moderate Hakeem Jeffries:

There is real panic among Democratic leaders that Barron might win. As far as I can tell, the fear stems from an endorsement from the seat’s former holder Ed Towns, one New York Times article touting a “Barron surge,” and the simple fear created by the anticipation of a very bad outcome. It’s not clear how much the endorsement matters and the Times article is a bit short on evidence. That’s not me saying that – the Times’ own local blog is a bit perplexed[.]

And as far as endorsements go, Jeffries has Governor Andrew Cuomo, the most high profile local papers, several important unions, a raft of significant Democrats and democratic institutions, and a wink-wink-nudge-nudge photo-op with the President. Also, Jewish voters could be critical given the district’s demographics. Since there’s been virtually no polling done on the race, I think the evidence we have to go on suggests it’s Jeffries’ race to lose.

Beauchamp’s right that by all normal measures, it probably should be Jeffries race to win. But I’m not so sure.

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At Tablet, Zack Beauchamp wonders whether Democrats are overreacting about former Black Panther Charles Barron’s chance of winning the Brooklyn primary race against the more moderate Hakeem Jeffries:

There is real panic among Democratic leaders that Barron might win. As far as I can tell, the fear stems from an endorsement from the seat’s former holder Ed Towns, one New York Times article touting a “Barron surge,” and the simple fear created by the anticipation of a very bad outcome. It’s not clear how much the endorsement matters and the Times article is a bit short on evidence. That’s not me saying that – the Times’ own local blog is a bit perplexed[.]

And as far as endorsements go, Jeffries has Governor Andrew Cuomo, the most high profile local papers, several important unions, a raft of significant Democrats and democratic institutions, and a wink-wink-nudge-nudge photo-op with the President. Also, Jewish voters could be critical given the district’s demographics. Since there’s been virtually no polling done on the race, I think the evidence we have to go on suggests it’s Jeffries’ race to lose.

Beauchamp’s right that by all normal measures, it probably should be Jeffries race to win. But I’m not so sure.

The New York Democratic establishment clearly seems worried about something. Barron and Jeffries have been vying seriously for the seat since Ed Towns announced his retirement in mid-April, but the race received little attention until recently. What prompted the sudden surge of anxiety and last-minute Jeffries endorsements from establishment Democrats? We don’t know the extent of the independent polling that’s been done, or the trends the Jeffries’ campaign was picking up on the ground.

That’s not to say the fear will turn out to be justified. The district is notorious for its low voter turnout, which probably makes difficult to predict voting outcomes. But the New York Times reports signs that turnout was higher than average today in part of the district:

But at Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene, in a district where Assemblyman Hakeem S. Jeffries and City Councilman Charles Barron are vying to replace Edolphus Towns, who is retiring, the polling coordinator, Selma Jackson, said turnout seemed relatively high.

“We don’t usually have this kind of flow in the morning,” Ms. Jackson said shortly after 9 a.m., three hours after the polls opened. “Normally in this time of morning, if I’ve seen 10, 12 people for a primary, that’s good. We’re way past that.”

That could be good for bad news Jeffries — organization is key, and Barron has a loyal base. We can assume Democrats are helping Jeffries bolster his get out the vote efforts, but was it too little too late?

One last question: If Charles Barron does win, how much will it actually matter? It seems like the Democratic Party and New Yorkers would be the hardest hit, since they’d be associated with his embarrassing antics on a national stage (unless a Republican somehow ends up beating him in the general election). To most people, Barron would probably be another running joke like Cynthia McKinney. That is to say he would be considered reprehensible and deranged but too toxic to be taken seriously.

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Fast & Furious Doesn’t Hurt the GOP

The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza writes today that the attempt by House Republicans to charge Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress for stonewalling the investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal is a political loser. According to Cilizza, Congress is so unpopular that any attention given to the House GOP caucus is bad for Mitt Romney’s chances in November. He also thinks any moment taken away from a discussion of President Obama’s handling of the economy is a lost opportunity for the challenger. Though he concedes that being dragged into the mud with John Boehner and company doesn’t help the president, Cilizza is still wrong to think the Republicans’ decision to push hard on this issue is a mistake.

While the Republicans do have to concentrate on the economy, if there is anything we should have learned from the political collapse of the George W. Bush presidency is that fresh problems merely compound an administration’s troubles; they don’t provide an escape hatch. Just as Hurricane Katrina didn’t stop Americans from worrying about the Iraq War, Fast and Furious won’t stop them from being upset about the parlous state of the nation’s finances and job losses. The specter of scandal and the Nixon-like invocation of “executive privilege” merely contribute to the impression that the Obama presidency is tiptoeing along on a precipice and can start slipping down the mountain at any time.

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The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza writes today that the attempt by House Republicans to charge Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress for stonewalling the investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal is a political loser. According to Cilizza, Congress is so unpopular that any attention given to the House GOP caucus is bad for Mitt Romney’s chances in November. He also thinks any moment taken away from a discussion of President Obama’s handling of the economy is a lost opportunity for the challenger. Though he concedes that being dragged into the mud with John Boehner and company doesn’t help the president, Cilizza is still wrong to think the Republicans’ decision to push hard on this issue is a mistake.

While the Republicans do have to concentrate on the economy, if there is anything we should have learned from the political collapse of the George W. Bush presidency is that fresh problems merely compound an administration’s troubles; they don’t provide an escape hatch. Just as Hurricane Katrina didn’t stop Americans from worrying about the Iraq War, Fast and Furious won’t stop them from being upset about the parlous state of the nation’s finances and job losses. The specter of scandal and the Nixon-like invocation of “executive privilege” merely contribute to the impression that the Obama presidency is tiptoeing along on a precipice and can start slipping down the mountain at any time.

Cillizza is right when he notes that Congress and, in particular, the House Republicans, are widely disliked. But the contempt most Americans have for our political class doesn’t mean they don’t think Congress shouldn’t investigate genuine scandals. To the extent that people understand that lives were lost because of a Justice Department blunder and that the administration has been trying to fight a desperate delaying action to avoid dealing with the consequences of their folly, they support a vigorous examination of what has happened.

Nor should the administration take any comfort from legal arguments claiming such privilege is justified. As Politico’s Josh Gerstein writes today, the administration may have a court precedent to cite justifying their decision. But even if they are right about that — and most legal observers think they are mistaken — this is still a colossal miscalculation on the part of the president and his advisers. So far, the mainstream press has refused to treat Fast and Furious as a second Watergate even though the implications of the scandal may be far greater. Some liberals may even buy into the preposterous argument that the investigation of Holder is a racist plot to punish him for opposing a fictitious Republican plot to suppress the minority vote.

But the administration’s foolish decision to invoke executive privilege to stop Congress from investigating is an unforced error that could haunt the president even if he wins re-election this fall. Even for those who haven’t followed the scandal closely — a group that includes most Americans — it contributes to the idea the president is a poor leader and things are out of control in Washington. The privilege claim handed Romney and the GOP a club to beat him for no reason other than to spare Holder some humiliation. President Obama will spend the next four months, if not the next four years, regretting it.

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Left Can’t Defend Obama’s Privilege

Democrats and the political left hammered the Bush administration for using executive privilege, and are now faced with trying to justify President Obama’s much more questionable use of it. This isn’t as tricky for the Democratic politicians — they’re partisans, and it’s not exactly surprising they have a double-standard based on which party is in power. But left-wing pundits, columnists and bloggers (at least the ones who want to avoid being labeled as hacks) seem to be having a hard time justifying it.

Take Eugene Robinson’s valiant effort in today’s Washington Post:

These are the facts, and they don’t cover any Justice Department officials with glory. But neither do they remotely justify the partisan witch hunt by House Republicans who threaten, without legitimate cause, to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress. Obama has responded by asserting executive privilege — effectively shutting down the inquisition.

The House wants to go fishing in a vast sea of documents, some of which relate to ongoing investigations. As a believer in sunshine and disclosure, I don’t much care for questionable claims of executive privilege. But I like the politically motivated sideshow the GOP is staging even less.

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Democrats and the political left hammered the Bush administration for using executive privilege, and are now faced with trying to justify President Obama’s much more questionable use of it. This isn’t as tricky for the Democratic politicians — they’re partisans, and it’s not exactly surprising they have a double-standard based on which party is in power. But left-wing pundits, columnists and bloggers (at least the ones who want to avoid being labeled as hacks) seem to be having a hard time justifying it.

Take Eugene Robinson’s valiant effort in today’s Washington Post:

These are the facts, and they don’t cover any Justice Department officials with glory. But neither do they remotely justify the partisan witch hunt by House Republicans who threaten, without legitimate cause, to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress. Obama has responded by asserting executive privilege — effectively shutting down the inquisition.

The House wants to go fishing in a vast sea of documents, some of which relate to ongoing investigations. As a believer in sunshine and disclosure, I don’t much care for questionable claims of executive privilege. But I like the politically motivated sideshow the GOP is staging even less.

If you say you’re a “believer in sunshine and disclosure” only in situations when the people requesting the information have motives you personally approve of, then you probably aren’t a believer in sunshine and disclosure. Maybe you believe in it with limits or in times when your party is in power — fine. But Robinson is no principled sunshine advocate. He thinks there should be different rules for different sides, and would be better off admitting it than trying to act as if this was a weighty decision he came to after struggling against his deep-rooted respect for government transparency.

But this is really the only argument the left can make — that they dislike the use of executive privilege, but this “politically-motivated witch hunt” is one of those rare circumstances when it’s necessary. And that would be fine, if there wasn’t already plenty of evidence indicating that the DOJ has tried to mislead the Congress on this investigation. And if past investigations that the left has cheered on — i.e. the Plame affair — hadn’t clearly been blatantly politically motivated.

If this is the greatest defense from the left, then the Democrats are in trouble. No wonder Jon Stewart has already abandoned them on this.

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Pelosi: Contempt Vote Part of Plan to Disenfranchise Minorities

It was only a matter of time before Democrats played the race card on the Eric Holder contempt vote. What else are they going to say? They need to obscure the real issue here as quickly as possible, and what better way than to shout “racist!” again and again at bewildered Republicans?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi set the liberal narrative yesterday afternoon (h/t Joel Gehrke):

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), declared that House Republicans are charging Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress not as part of an investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, but in order to weaken his ability to prevent voter suppression.

“They’re going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn these voter suppression initiatives in the states,” Pelosi told reporters during her press briefing today. “This is no accident, it is no coincidence. It is a plan on the part of Republicans.”

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It was only a matter of time before Democrats played the race card on the Eric Holder contempt vote. What else are they going to say? They need to obscure the real issue here as quickly as possible, and what better way than to shout “racist!” again and again at bewildered Republicans?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi set the liberal narrative yesterday afternoon (h/t Joel Gehrke):

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), declared that House Republicans are charging Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress not as part of an investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, but in order to weaken his ability to prevent voter suppression.

“They’re going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn these voter suppression initiatives in the states,” Pelosi told reporters during her press briefing today. “This is no accident, it is no coincidence. It is a plan on the part of Republicans.”

Did you get that? Republicans are so intent on suppressing the minority vote that they began investigating the Fast and Furious scandal more than a year and a half ago because they suspected that, at some point in the future, Attorney General Eric Holder might attempt to overturn state voter ID laws that nobody had even heard of at the time — and the GOP would have the ultimate trump card ready to foil his plan. That sounds like a much more likely explanation than, say, Holder refusing to turn over thousands of pages of relevant documents to an investigating congressional committee.

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Turkey’s Facebook Arrests

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s transformation of Turkey into a police state grew a little more complete earlier this week with the arrest of the mayor and two other officials in Van, a predominantly Kurdish city in southeastern Turkey. Turkish authorities charged the three with being members of a terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). Let’s put aside the fact that Erdoğan argues that Hamas isn’t really a terrorist group because its members are elected. The root of the case to unseat and arrest the mayor should send chills down the spine of anyone who believed Erdoğan’s reforms were about making Turkey more democratic. The detainees’ crime? They “liked” articles on Facebook:

Van Mayor Bekir Kaya, along with the [Peace and Democracy Party] BDP’s Van provincial head, Cüneyt Caniş, and the former mayor of the province’s Başkale district, İhsan Güler, were arrested June 10 on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization. BDP  officials in the northwestern province of Bursa and the southeastern province of Hakkari were also detained in a KCK raid yesterday morning. Sixteen people were detained by Hakkari police yesterday in the early morning. Police raided houses of BDP members and detained 28 people, including the BDP’s deputy provincial head, Sait Gezer. Thirteen people were also detained in Bursa. The Human Rights Association’s (İHD) Hakkari branch head, Sait Çağlayan, and a reporter from Dicle News Agency (DİHA) were among the detainees. The BDP said the detainees had been charged with being members of the KCK via the articles they had “liked” on Facebook.

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s transformation of Turkey into a police state grew a little more complete earlier this week with the arrest of the mayor and two other officials in Van, a predominantly Kurdish city in southeastern Turkey. Turkish authorities charged the three with being members of a terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). Let’s put aside the fact that Erdoğan argues that Hamas isn’t really a terrorist group because its members are elected. The root of the case to unseat and arrest the mayor should send chills down the spine of anyone who believed Erdoğan’s reforms were about making Turkey more democratic. The detainees’ crime? They “liked” articles on Facebook:

Van Mayor Bekir Kaya, along with the [Peace and Democracy Party] BDP’s Van provincial head, Cüneyt Caniş, and the former mayor of the province’s Başkale district, İhsan Güler, were arrested June 10 on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization. BDP  officials in the northwestern province of Bursa and the southeastern province of Hakkari were also detained in a KCK raid yesterday morning. Sixteen people were detained by Hakkari police yesterday in the early morning. Police raided houses of BDP members and detained 28 people, including the BDP’s deputy provincial head, Sait Gezer. Thirteen people were also detained in Bursa. The Human Rights Association’s (İHD) Hakkari branch head, Sait Çağlayan, and a reporter from Dicle News Agency (DİHA) were among the detainees. The BDP said the detainees had been charged with being members of the KCK via the articles they had “liked” on Facebook.

Turkey, whatever its flaws, had a trajectory that was once moving in the right direction. That clearly is not the case anymore. Perhaps it’s time for members of the Turkey Caucus within the U.S. Congress to reconsider for what they stand.

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Congress Must Act Soon on Sequestration

The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”

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The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”

Yet Harry Reid and John Boehner, the two leaders of Congress, seem to be engaged in a game of budget chicken, which makes it increasingly unlikely that the sequester will be turned off before the end of the year. The former wants tax increases; the latter doesn’t–and the two seem to be ignoring the damage their standoff is doing to the men and women in uniform. I talked to one Hill staffer last week who thought there was a 90 percent chance the sequestration would go into effect on Jan. 1; the best hope of stopping it, he argued, would be early in 2013 if President Romney is in office by then.

Whatever the prospects of turning off the sequester in a Romney administration, the reality is that if Congress doesn’t act soon, its harmful effects will be felt not only in the Department of Defense but in companies across the country that are defense contractors or sub-contractors.

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WH Faces Pressure About Leaks

The White House may have gotten some flattering New York Times scribbles about Obama’s unparalleled machismo on national security, but it sounds like it could soon face an independent investigation into its intelligence leaks as a result. House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties held a press conference this afternoon excoriating the Obama administration for leaking sensitive intelligence to the media and calling for a major crackdown. HuffPo reports:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said she and her fellow lawmakers are not voicing concerns as a way of “finger-pointing at anybody,” including the White House. “What we’re trying to do is say we have a problem and we want to stop that problem,” she said. “We’re not finger-pointing.”

Feinstein, joined by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), promised new legislation to crack down on leaks of classified information, The issue has gained traction since the publication of two front-page New York Times stories last week providing new details about President Barack Obama’s secret terrorist “kill list” and the U.S. government’s cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

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The White House may have gotten some flattering New York Times scribbles about Obama’s unparalleled machismo on national security, but it sounds like it could soon face an independent investigation into its intelligence leaks as a result. House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties held a press conference this afternoon excoriating the Obama administration for leaking sensitive intelligence to the media and calling for a major crackdown. HuffPo reports:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said she and her fellow lawmakers are not voicing concerns as a way of “finger-pointing at anybody,” including the White House. “What we’re trying to do is say we have a problem and we want to stop that problem,” she said. “We’re not finger-pointing.”

Feinstein, joined by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), promised new legislation to crack down on leaks of classified information, The issue has gained traction since the publication of two front-page New York Times stories last week providing new details about President Barack Obama’s secret terrorist “kill list” and the U.S. government’s cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

For now they’re focused on getting through some legislation to combat administration leaks, whatever good that will do. If they really want to prevent future blabbing from the White House, a credible investigation is the best way to start. The FBI has already launched a probe, but there are concerns about its legitimacy, according to Rep. Rogers (via Politico):

Rogers said the bipartisan presence spoke to the seriousness of the issue. Of the leaks, he said: “It seems to be a pattern that is growing worse and more frequent. … Their inability to keep a secret, this has been as serious a problem as I have seen.”

Rogers also raised the possibility some of the leaks could be coming from the Justice Department or FBI. The Justice Department’s national security division has recused itself from part of the leak investigation, Rogers said.

“It appears the sources of these leaks could be in a position to influence the investigations,” he said.

Republicans are already calling for a special counsel to be appointed to the case, an idea that was oddly supported by David Axelrod on CNN today. He may have to eat those words, as The Hill reports the White House has since rejected the idea of a special counsel investigation:

In response to a direct question, Carney said “no,” the president would not agree to an independent counsel. But Carney said the president took the issue of the leaks “very seriously.”

“This is something that the president insists that his administration take all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk our counterterrorism operations,” Carney told reporters on Air Force One, according to a transcript.

An investigation like that could turn into a public relations nightmare for the administration — and is it all really worth the two-minute PR glow that has already faded?

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A Tide in the Affairs of Men

As Jonathan noted, last night wasn’t just a big night for Scott Walker and a bad one for Wisconsin unions. It was also a very big night for the people of two of the nation’s largest cities (in true-blue California, yet)–San Diego and San Jose, where propositions on pension reform for public employees passed by overwhelming votes.

So let’s review:

Spring of 2009: The Tea Party emerges as a major political force.

Summer of 2009: Tea Party members confront members of Congress in town hall meetings, demanding fiscal reform, as the senators and congressmen stare back at them in the best deer-in-the-headlights fashion.

November 2009: Bob McDonnell wins the Virginia governorship 59-41 percent on a fiscal reform platform. Chris Christie wins the New Jersey governorship 48.5-44.9 percent (5.8 percent went to a third candidate) on a fiscal reform platform, running against a self-funded incumbent.

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As Jonathan noted, last night wasn’t just a big night for Scott Walker and a bad one for Wisconsin unions. It was also a very big night for the people of two of the nation’s largest cities (in true-blue California, yet)–San Diego and San Jose, where propositions on pension reform for public employees passed by overwhelming votes.

So let’s review:

Spring of 2009: The Tea Party emerges as a major political force.

Summer of 2009: Tea Party members confront members of Congress in town hall meetings, demanding fiscal reform, as the senators and congressmen stare back at them in the best deer-in-the-headlights fashion.

November 2009: Bob McDonnell wins the Virginia governorship 59-41 percent on a fiscal reform platform. Chris Christie wins the New Jersey governorship 48.5-44.9 percent (5.8 percent went to a third candidate) on a fiscal reform platform, running against a self-funded incumbent.

January 2010: Scott Brown defeats Martha Coakley in deep-blue Massachusetts to win Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.

November 2010: Republicans sweep to victory across the country, taking the House with their largest majority since 1928 and gaining seven seats in the Senate. Governorships and state legislative houses turn Republican across the country.

June 2012: Walker wins the recall election with a margin larger than his original win in November 2010. San Jose and San Diego voters rein in public pensions.

That sure looks like a trend to me. I’d advise the Romney campaign to follow Cole Porter’s advice and “Brush up Your Shakespeare,” specifically, Julius Caesar, IV:3:214-218.

And while they’re at it, I would also recommend a brilliant essay by James Pierson in The New Criterion, “The Fourth Revolution,” which explains the deeper tides of American history leading up to the present moment. It is illuminating to say the least.

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Senators Call for Investigation of WH Leaks

Sens. John McCain and Saxby Chaimbliss are calling for a Senate probe into whether White House officials leaked details of the cyber warfare program against Iran to the media for political gain. But Senate Democrats are also furious about the leaks, according to The Hill:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.

“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”

“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”

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Sens. John McCain and Saxby Chaimbliss are calling for a Senate probe into whether White House officials leaked details of the cyber warfare program against Iran to the media for political gain. But Senate Democrats are also furious about the leaks, according to The Hill:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.

“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”

“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”

Both Kerry and Feinstein rejected the idea the leaks were politically motivated, but all signs point to White House authorization for the recent New York Times pieces on cyber warfare and drone strikes. This administration has not been shy when it comes to prosecuting leaks in the past, and yet it’s been notably nonchalant about a breach of this scale.

For example, the author of the Times’s cyber warfare story, David Sanger, told Gawker that “No government agency formally requested that I not publish the story.” The White House obviously knew about the article, and could have asked the Times to hold off if it believed the story was dangerous — but declined to do so. Why? And why call an FBI investigation well after the fact?

What we don’t know is whether the leak originated from the White House in the first place, or whether administration officials simply added additional information to a story that was already being written with help from other government sources or even Israeli officials.

We also don’t know what the White House’s motivation could have been for working with Sanger. Maybe officials talked to him because he agreed to withhold information that was even more sensitive from the final story, or because they wanted to make sure the article did as little damage as possible. But because this is the second big White House leak this spring that plays into the Obama campaign narrative, McCain and Chaimbliss are right to be suspicious.

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Obama’s 1996 Scenario is Finished

Last year, as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stood its ground on the debt ceiling standoff, President Obama’s strategy for 2012 became apparent. Throughout the torturous negotiations over entitlements, budgets, taxes and spending, the president issued statements about wanting a compromise, but these were a thin veil covering his obvious desire for a confrontation. Demanding new taxes that the House majority elected in 2010 had vowed never to accept, the administration more or less dared the GOP leadership to allow the country to default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.

It was painfully obvious as the controversy lingered throughout the summer that President Obama was working from Bill Clinton’s 1995 playbook when he similarly bluffed a Republican Congress into shutting down the government over a budget standoff. Though Congress’s popularity plunged, the president was disappointed in his hopes that House Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor refused to step into the Newt Gingrich clown suits he had prepared for them. Nevertheless, the White House still hoped that lingering disgust for Congress combined with an economic recovery would allow the president to win re-election in the same manner as Clinton did. But if there was any doubt about the inapplicability of the 1996 template, this year it was removed on Friday as another dismal jobs report more or less guaranteed that a summer recovery wasn’t in the cards. The bad economic news isn’t just a setback that will give the Democrats a few shaky news cycles. It is confirmation that the president’s re-election strategy has already failed.

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Last year, as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stood its ground on the debt ceiling standoff, President Obama’s strategy for 2012 became apparent. Throughout the torturous negotiations over entitlements, budgets, taxes and spending, the president issued statements about wanting a compromise, but these were a thin veil covering his obvious desire for a confrontation. Demanding new taxes that the House majority elected in 2010 had vowed never to accept, the administration more or less dared the GOP leadership to allow the country to default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.

It was painfully obvious as the controversy lingered throughout the summer that President Obama was working from Bill Clinton’s 1995 playbook when he similarly bluffed a Republican Congress into shutting down the government over a budget standoff. Though Congress’s popularity plunged, the president was disappointed in his hopes that House Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor refused to step into the Newt Gingrich clown suits he had prepared for them. Nevertheless, the White House still hoped that lingering disgust for Congress combined with an economic recovery would allow the president to win re-election in the same manner as Clinton did. But if there was any doubt about the inapplicability of the 1996 template, this year it was removed on Friday as another dismal jobs report more or less guaranteed that a summer recovery wasn’t in the cards. The bad economic news isn’t just a setback that will give the Democrats a few shaky news cycles. It is confirmation that the president’s re-election strategy has already failed.

This realization comes through in some of the accounts of the White House’s reaction to the bleak jobs report. Though the president was undaunted during his various campaign appearances and statements, even the usually pro-Obama coverage of the New York Times could not fail to note that the hopes of the president’s staff for a 1996 rerun have been crushed. Though the Democrats are still going all-out to demonize the congressional Republicans, blaming them or George W. Bush for the poor economy is a perilously weak re-election strategy for a man running on the slogan of “Forward.”

The Democratic counter-attack to the GOP carping about jobs is to accuse the opposition of rooting for a bad economy. But that is a talking point that will work just about as well for the Democrats as the Republican effort to claim critics of the Iraq war were cheering for America to lose. The problem here is that, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no viable options to change the situation other than to whine about Republicans not passing mini-stimulus bills he claims will jump-start the economy.

As the Times notes, in 1996 with the economy booming. the Republican Congress passed legislation that aided Clinton as well as bolstered their own reputation. Democrats will brand the GOP as obstructionists for not working with the president for the common good this year, but the big difference between the two situations is that Clinton co-opted Republican positions and moved to the center as he cruised to re-election. By contrast, President Obama has run to the left this year, making it impossible for the House to embrace his proposals even if they wanted to.

The president hoped to make the election a referendum on the GOP and on Mitt Romney’s fitness for the presidency. But with a failing U.S. economy and the prospect that an even worse tailspin in Europe will drag America’s finance down even further this year, that is looking like a losing bet. Nothing is worse for an incumbent than the appearance that he is not in control of events. The president’s helplessness on the economy — an issue that is his opponent’s one great strength — is scuttling his 1996 blueprint for victory in an election in which the odds appear to be starting to turn against him.

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Still More Liberal Legal Meltdown

A letter in today’s Wall Street Journal, responding to Michael McConnell’s op-ed on “The Liberal Legal Meltdown Over ObamaCare,” acknowledges that “liberal constitutionalists” are ill-suited to cry “judicial activism,” having long advocated a philosophy that “unmoors constitutional interpretation from the actual text of the Constitution.” But the writer goes on to assert that “no real judicial conservative” should argue ObamaCare is unconstitutional, because to suggest Congress is not “regulating a form of economic activity” by mandating insurance purchases is “conceptual and economic sophistry.”

Later this month, the Supreme Court will likely decide whether the power to “regulate commerce” includes the power to order individuals to engage in it so Congress can regulate them. An affirmative answer would seem to convert a specifically-enumerated power into an unlimited mandate over any significant economic decision, including a decision not to participate in commerce designed by Congress. Such a conclusion might be attractive to a “liberal constitutionalist,” but it is hard to see why a “real judicial conservative,” or anyone else who felt bound by the text of the Commerce Clause, would buy it.

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A letter in today’s Wall Street Journal, responding to Michael McConnell’s op-ed on “The Liberal Legal Meltdown Over ObamaCare,” acknowledges that “liberal constitutionalists” are ill-suited to cry “judicial activism,” having long advocated a philosophy that “unmoors constitutional interpretation from the actual text of the Constitution.” But the writer goes on to assert that “no real judicial conservative” should argue ObamaCare is unconstitutional, because to suggest Congress is not “regulating a form of economic activity” by mandating insurance purchases is “conceptual and economic sophistry.”

Later this month, the Supreme Court will likely decide whether the power to “regulate commerce” includes the power to order individuals to engage in it so Congress can regulate them. An affirmative answer would seem to convert a specifically-enumerated power into an unlimited mandate over any significant economic decision, including a decision not to participate in commerce designed by Congress. Such a conclusion might be attractive to a “liberal constitutionalist,” but it is hard to see why a “real judicial conservative,” or anyone else who felt bound by the text of the Commerce Clause, would buy it.

As for conceptual and economic sophistry, nothing is likely to top Justice Breyer’s suggestion during oral argument that, on the day you were born, “because you are a human being, [you] entered this particular market, which is a market for health care.” Being born, as the trigger for power under the Commerce Clause, seems a bit of a stretch even for a liberal constitutionalist.

In any event, today’s WSJ letter, dismissing the challenge to ObamaCare as “sophistry,” is another example (to use John Podhoretz’s words) of “the unerring liberal inability” to credit the arguments of opponents – and another pre-emptive libel of a Court that may be about to moor Congress’s power to the text.

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Insider Dealing With Drug Lobby?

House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee released a trove of emails they’ve collected as part of their investigation into the White House’s deal with the pharmaceutical lobby during the 2009 push for ObamaCare.

We already know that drug companies agreed to provide $80 billion in savings in the law, in exchange for industry protections in the legislation. But the new emails provide more details on the deal, including an agreement by the drug companies to run a public relations campaign on behalf of the White House, with TV ads touting both the health care reform law and the politicians who supported it. Bloomberg reports:

“As part of our agreement, PhRMA needs to undertake a very significant public campaign in order to support policies of mutual interest to the industry and the administration,” according to a July 14, 2009, memo from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “We have included a significant amount for advertising to express appreciation for lawmakers’ positions on health care reform issues.”

The goal, the memo said, was to “create momentum for consensus health care reform, help it pass, and then acknowledge those senators and representatives who were instrumental in making it happen and who must remain vigilant during implementation.”

The internal memos and e-mails for the first time unveil the industry’s plan to finance positive TV ads and supportive groups, along with providing $80 billion in discounts and taxes that were included in the law. The administration has previously denied the existence of a deal involving political support.

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House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee released a trove of emails they’ve collected as part of their investigation into the White House’s deal with the pharmaceutical lobby during the 2009 push for ObamaCare.

We already know that drug companies agreed to provide $80 billion in savings in the law, in exchange for industry protections in the legislation. But the new emails provide more details on the deal, including an agreement by the drug companies to run a public relations campaign on behalf of the White House, with TV ads touting both the health care reform law and the politicians who supported it. Bloomberg reports:

“As part of our agreement, PhRMA needs to undertake a very significant public campaign in order to support policies of mutual interest to the industry and the administration,” according to a July 14, 2009, memo from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “We have included a significant amount for advertising to express appreciation for lawmakers’ positions on health care reform issues.”

The goal, the memo said, was to “create momentum for consensus health care reform, help it pass, and then acknowledge those senators and representatives who were instrumental in making it happen and who must remain vigilant during implementation.”

The internal memos and e-mails for the first time unveil the industry’s plan to finance positive TV ads and supportive groups, along with providing $80 billion in discounts and taxes that were included in the law. The administration has previously denied the existence of a deal involving political support.

The political campaign aspect is the most troubling part of the deal, and it’s not likely to sit well with Obama’s base. According to the emails, the administration killed Democrat-supported provisions that would cut into drug company profits in order to secure the industry’s political and financial support. And that’s not the only part that will enrage the left. The emails show Obama completely flouted his 2008 promises to stand up against special interests and conduct negotiations transparently — mere months after he was elected. As Phil Klein writes:

Taken together, the emails paint a picture of insider deal making with a powerful special interest – something that stands in stark contrast to Obama’s campaign pledges.

In 2008, Obama ran an ad titled “Billy,” blasting then PhRMA president Billy Tauzin and the art of deal making in Washington. “I don’t want to learn how to play the game better, I want to put an end to the game playing,” Obama vowed.

Yet months into his presidency, Obama cut a deal with Tauzin’s lobbying group, and did so behind closed doors – a violation of his pledge to broadcast all health care negotiations on C-SPAN.

The presidency did not crush Obama’s idealism. He was never a reformer, not even at the beginning of his term. Just look at the defense today from Obama’s supporters in Congress:

“President Obama’s efforts to enlist the support of private industry are exactly what presidents have always done to enact major legislation,” U.S. Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Diana DeGette of Colorado said in a joint statement.

In other words, it’s not Obama’s fault that voters actually believed his principled campaign rhetoric. He was just doing “exactly what presidents have always done.”

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Partisan Gridlock Could “Devastate” Troops

Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is absolutely right when he says of the looming defense “sequester”–$500 billion in defense cuts to be implemented during the next ten years, with $55 billion to be cut on Jan. 1, 2013—that it would “ have devastating effects on our readiness and our workforce, and disrupt thousands of contracts and programs.”

And those devastating cuts would not stop at the water’s edge. Even troops in combat would be hurt. The Pentagon has just admitted that Overseas Contingency Operations funds which are used to fund operations in Afghanistan would be cut, too. That would probably mean a cut of approximately 15 percent, or $13 billion, in supplemental funding of $88.5 billion for the next fiscal year. It is hard to imagine how U.S. troops or their Afghan allies could continue to operate at planned levels with 15 percent less in funding. It may be possible to cut support personnel here and there, but a lot of that has already been done on that score to accommodate the president’s caps on the number of troops permitted in Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding the preponderance of support personnel among U.S. troops in Afghanistan (or in any other theater), this will have a direct impact on combat capacity. There are scheduled to be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after September. If 15 percent less funding translates into 15 percent less troops (most likely the case) it would mean a cut of another 10,000 troops, the equivalent of two Brigade Combat Teams. Given the scarcity of combat personnel already being felt in Afghanistan, as commanders scramble to comply with the White House’s drawdown timetable, this could have serious consequences for the ability of NATO forces to maintain the progress made during the past two years.

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Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is absolutely right when he says of the looming defense “sequester”–$500 billion in defense cuts to be implemented during the next ten years, with $55 billion to be cut on Jan. 1, 2013—that it would “ have devastating effects on our readiness and our workforce, and disrupt thousands of contracts and programs.”

And those devastating cuts would not stop at the water’s edge. Even troops in combat would be hurt. The Pentagon has just admitted that Overseas Contingency Operations funds which are used to fund operations in Afghanistan would be cut, too. That would probably mean a cut of approximately 15 percent, or $13 billion, in supplemental funding of $88.5 billion for the next fiscal year. It is hard to imagine how U.S. troops or their Afghan allies could continue to operate at planned levels with 15 percent less in funding. It may be possible to cut support personnel here and there, but a lot of that has already been done on that score to accommodate the president’s caps on the number of troops permitted in Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding the preponderance of support personnel among U.S. troops in Afghanistan (or in any other theater), this will have a direct impact on combat capacity. There are scheduled to be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after September. If 15 percent less funding translates into 15 percent less troops (most likely the case) it would mean a cut of another 10,000 troops, the equivalent of two Brigade Combat Teams. Given the scarcity of combat personnel already being felt in Afghanistan, as commanders scramble to comply with the White House’s drawdown timetable, this could have serious consequences for the ability of NATO forces to maintain the progress made during the past two years.

Moreover, the contingency funds are also used to support Afghan security forces. A 15 percent cut in their ranks—soon to be 350,000—could result in the layoff of 52,000 soldiers and police. That is a huge number and could tilt the balance of power in favor of the Taliban in critical areas even as Afghan security forces are being asked to step into the lead. One consequence would be that the remaining U.S. troops still in Afghanistan would be in greater danger and could suffer higher casualties.

It is hard to imagine a more ill-advised idea than cutting funds for troops in combat—yet that is what will happen unless Congress can somehow agree on an alternative before Dec. 31. That seems increasingly unlikely to happen, however, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems intent on extracting big tax increases from Republicans in return for turning off the sequester. Partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, therefore, has the potential to “devastate” our fighting men and women even as they are on the frontlines.

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Dems’ Plan B: Resurrect War on Women

So the Bain Capital attack strategy wasn’t the rousing success Democrats expected, but at least they still have the “war on women” to fall back on. Senate Democrats are moving along the Paycheck Protection Act, a gender equal pay protection bill, in a transparent attempt to resurrect the “war on women” narrative. TPM reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is set to file cloture Thursday on the Paycheck Protection Act, which would strengthen protections for women who sue for pay discrimination. The move puts Republicans in an uncomfortable position as they work to repair their weak brand image with women voters ahead of the November election.

Five female Democratic senators talked up the bill Wednesday afternoon during a Capitol briefing — and made clear they intend to hammer Republicans as anti-women if they stand in its way.

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So the Bain Capital attack strategy wasn’t the rousing success Democrats expected, but at least they still have the “war on women” to fall back on. Senate Democrats are moving along the Paycheck Protection Act, a gender equal pay protection bill, in a transparent attempt to resurrect the “war on women” narrative. TPM reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is set to file cloture Thursday on the Paycheck Protection Act, which would strengthen protections for women who sue for pay discrimination. The move puts Republicans in an uncomfortable position as they work to repair their weak brand image with women voters ahead of the November election.

Five female Democratic senators talked up the bill Wednesday afternoon during a Capitol briefing — and made clear they intend to hammer Republicans as anti-women if they stand in its way.

In case some people were left wondering whether this was just a shameless political ploy to try to turn women against the GOP, Sen. Barbara Boxer clarified it with all her usual subtlety:

“As I look at the record of Republicans on women, it is not good,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “Personally I say it’s a war on women, and the more they protest it the more I say it. Because I really, truly believe it. They filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act before. They left millions of women out of the Violence Against Women Act. They launched repeated attacks on women’s health including denying affordable access to birth control. They want to criminalize a woman’s right to choose. And they tried to repeal health reform, which prohibits discrimination because of gender — not to mention, makes investments in prevention.”

The legislation obviously puts Republicans in a tricky position. While the debate about the birth control mandate earlier this spring didn’t seem to cause any lasting damage for the party, it was still a major distraction that ate up a month of time that could have been spent talking about the economy. The GOP likely has no interest in rehashing that again.

But Senate Democrats have also put themselves in an awkward position. The Washington Free Beacon reports today that Senate Democrats – including some of the female lawmakers who participated in the news conference – pay their female staffers significantly less than male staffers:

Of the five senators who participated in Wednesday’s press conference—Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA)—three pay their female staff members significantly less than male staffers.

Murray, who has repeatedly accused Republicans of waging a “war a women,” is one of the worst offenders. Female members of Murray’s staff made about $21,000 less per year than male staffers in 2011, a difference of 35.2 percent.

That is well above the 23 percent gap that Democrats claim exists between male and female workers nationwide. The figure is based on a 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report, and is technically accurate. However, as CNN’s Lisa Sylvester has reported, when factors such as area of employment, hours of work, and time in the workplace are taken into account, the gap shrinks to about 5 percent.

That’s probably not because Sen. Murray and others are paying female staffers less for doing the same work as male staffers. It’s likely that men simply have more upper-level positions in the office, which come with higher salaries. But that hypocrisy is something these senators should have to answer to if they’re going to bash Republicans for opposing pro-women policies.

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Dems Spin Obama Budget Rejection

The Senate unanimously rejected President Obama’s budget yesterday, two months after the president’s budget was voted down unanimously in the House. It’s an embarrassing testimony to both Obama’s leadership and the Senate majority leadership’s willingness to take the long-term deficit problems seriously, particularly during an election year, and Democrats are furiously swinging into spin control mode.

The fallback excuse for Senate Democrats during the past few months has been that the debt ceiling deal already put spending caps into place, making a new budget unnecessary. They’re still standing by that claim:

Democrats say the exercise is unnecessary this year because Democrats and Republicans wrote spending caps for the year into law in the hard-fought summer deal that raised the nation’s debt ceiling.

Republicans counter that the debt deal does not replace a legal requirement that Congress adopt a budget resolution for the year.

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The Senate unanimously rejected President Obama’s budget yesterday, two months after the president’s budget was voted down unanimously in the House. It’s an embarrassing testimony to both Obama’s leadership and the Senate majority leadership’s willingness to take the long-term deficit problems seriously, particularly during an election year, and Democrats are furiously swinging into spin control mode.

The fallback excuse for Senate Democrats during the past few months has been that the debt ceiling deal already put spending caps into place, making a new budget unnecessary. They’re still standing by that claim:

Democrats say the exercise is unnecessary this year because Democrats and Republicans wrote spending caps for the year into law in the hard-fought summer deal that raised the nation’s debt ceiling.

Republicans counter that the debt deal does not replace a legal requirement that Congress adopt a budget resolution for the year.

It’s not just Republicans who are countering the claim. The Senate parliamentarian also ruled in April that the debt ceiling deal doesn’t mean the Senate can’t take up budget resolutions this year.

Meanwhile, the White House was expecting the failure, and recently began arguing that the resolution introduced in the Senate is actually a distorted version of the president’s budget. They say the rejection isn’t a reflection of Democrats’ views of Obama’s plan:

Last May, Obama’s budget was voted down, 0-97. Democrats noted they could vote no after Obama delivered an April speech calling for deeper deficit reduction than he had presented two months earlier in his budget.

This year, Obama is sticking by his budget, so Democrats are embracing another reason to vote it down.

The White House moved Monday to free Democrats to vote no by saying the legislation embodying Obama’s budget is “different” because it doesn’t contain identical policy language.

Republicans argue that the rejected budget resolution is identical to Obama’s plan, and say the only difference is that campaign-tinged political language was removed.

“If you look at the president’s budget it reads like his campaign website,” a Republican aide told me. “But the numbers are identical to the budget.”

The excuses are pretty flimsy, and Democrats are no doubt bracing for a public backlash. But clearly the party thinks they’re safer dealing with the fallout from rejecting Obama’s budget than being forced to defend his budget in the fall.

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The Media’s Apocalyptic Vision of Richard Mourdock

Conservatives often complain that when the mainstream media is forced by events to pay attention to conservative views they have long ignored, the tone of the reporting often is that of an anthropological grant application. The reporters brave the native habitat of conservatives and find that they’re practically human. But that’s actually better than what we witnessed after Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP Senate primary this week.

Lugar, you may have heard, has been in the Senate a very long time, and he is a statesman and throwback to the gilded era of Republican acquiescence–sorry, bipartisanship, and statesmanship. A true mensch, a centrist Republican, Dick Lugar was, above all, a statesman, we are now told. But what about Mourdock, the man vying to replace Lugar in the Senate? Is he a statesman? Let’s find out, by reading some of the liberal write-ups of the election. The results may surprise you.

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Conservatives often complain that when the mainstream media is forced by events to pay attention to conservative views they have long ignored, the tone of the reporting often is that of an anthropological grant application. The reporters brave the native habitat of conservatives and find that they’re practically human. But that’s actually better than what we witnessed after Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP Senate primary this week.

Lugar, you may have heard, has been in the Senate a very long time, and he is a statesman and throwback to the gilded era of Republican acquiescence–sorry, bipartisanship, and statesmanship. A true mensch, a centrist Republican, Dick Lugar was, above all, a statesman, we are now told. But what about Mourdock, the man vying to replace Lugar in the Senate? Is he a statesman? Let’s find out, by reading some of the liberal write-ups of the election. The results may surprise you.

Salon, for example, carries a story titled “Republican Party: Hawks-only club.” The article details how Mourdock’s victory makes the GOP uniformly hawkish on foreign policy. Most of the article is an explanation of why liberals liked Lugar so much, but finally the author gives us the damage: “In practical terms, Lugar’s loss means that U.S. foreign policy will be less civilized, less responsible and less effective.”

I noticed something was missing from this article, however: it omits any mention whatsoever of Richard Mourdock’s views on foreign policy. This is a rather glaring omission, but maybe the reporter’s instincts are right.

To find out, let’s head on over to an expert on foreign policy, Tom Ricks. Ricks maintains a blog on Foreign Policy’s website, and sure enough he weighed in on Mourdock’s victory. He, too, was horrified by the erosion of the foreign policy center. But he has a somewhat different take on what it means. Mourdock’s victory, Ricks admits, “makes me wonder if the great Midwest is turning away from internationalism and back to its pre-World War II isolationism.”

So Salon was wrong? Mourdock is the opposite of a hawkish hawk? He’s actually an isolationist? I wondered what led Ricks to this conclusion, but his post didn’t help me answer that question, because Ricks doesn’t even mention Mourdock’s name, let alone Mourdock’s views on foreign policy.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Reporters sometimes trick politicians into revealing what they think by employing an age-old tactic commonly referred to as “asking them questions.” It turns out that some reporters did. Richard Mourdock, as a supporter of cutting the Pentagon’s budget and skeptical of the mission in Afghanistan, is not a superhawk, as Salon would have it. But he also believes America plays an important role in the world, and that it must not retreat from its responsibilities around the globe. So he isn’t an isolationist either.

But if he’s starting to sound like a mainstream candidate, he’s got you fooled. Richard Mourdock is, according to the sandwich board Jonathan Chait has been wearing around town, the harbinger of doom. This is an interesting point of view coming from Chait, who is the author of the magnum opus of leftist anti-intellectualism and anthem of paranoid incivility, “Mad About You: The Case for Bush Hatred.” Some things have changed since Chait published his plea for incivility–namely, we have a Democratic president. So now it’s time to protect “social norms”–specifically, he says, court-related social norms permitting the confirmation of a president’s court picks. Mourdock cited Lugar’s support for President Obama’s Supreme Court picks in his case against the incumbent senator, mirroring a Republican approach to politics that is, in Chait’s view, bringing upon us a “crisis of American government.”

Some have pointed out that the collapse of the nomination process was brought about by Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden when they took a sledgehammer to “social norms” during the confirmation process of Robert Bork. That’s true. But I’d like to defend Chait somewhat. I, too, have been concerned about the collapse of social norms.

For example, it was once a social norm never to use the filibuster against a circuit court nominee. But then George W. Bush nominated Miguel Estrada, an undeniably qualified candidate, to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The Democrats were playing the long game, however, and were willing to buck social norms in order to prevent the Republicans from starting a process that would end with a conservative Hispanic judge on the Supreme Court. So they blocked Estrada.

In October 2003, the Associated Press reported that Democrats were preparing to expand their use of the filibuster to everything the GOP put forward. “Perhaps we ought to prepare some bumper stickers that say ‘Obstruction: It’s not just for judges anymore’,” remarked Republican John Cornyn.

More recently, Harry Reid has perfected a tactic called “filling the tree” to prevent Republicans from even being able to offer amendments on bills. Reid and the Democrats are, it turns out, innovators in the means to tear down social norms and prevent the government from functioning as it was intended. In fact, it’s now been more than three years since Reid’s Senate passed a budget.

But hey, at least he didn’t criticize a Democratic nominee who was confirmed anyway. Now that would just be uncivil.

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