Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lindsey Graham

Is Rubio Not Ready or Just Willing to Think?

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is not very happy with one of his Republican colleagues. During the course of an interview with the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes published today in which he floated the possibility of running for president, Graham dismissed the possibility that Florida’s Marco Rubio should also be considered for the Republican nomination. It’s hard to tell if he’s serious about 2016 but his criticism of Rubio, who, as Hayes pointed out, is at least as strong a voice on foreign policy as Graham, deserves a thorough examination.

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South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is not very happy with one of his Republican colleagues. During the course of an interview with the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes published today in which he floated the possibility of running for president, Graham dismissed the possibility that Florida’s Marco Rubio should also be considered for the Republican nomination. It’s hard to tell if he’s serious about 2016 but his criticism of Rubio, who, as Hayes pointed out, is at least as strong a voice on foreign policy as Graham, deserves a thorough examination.

The possibility of a Rubio candidacy came up in this context because if the Republican Party were really turning back to its roots as a bulwark of support for national security and away from the isolationist wing led by Senator Rand Paul, then Rubio would appear to be one of the obvious choices as leader. While Graham and his pal Senator John McCain have been the loudest voices on behalf of interventionist policies, no one in the Senate has been as eloquent on the need for a coherent and strong U.S. foreign policy than Rubio.

But while McCain praised Rubio Graham gave his younger colleague the back of his hand in his conversation with Hayes:

I asked Graham about Rubio. Hasn’t he been making many of the arguments you’d be likely to make? Graham wasn’t impressed. “He’s a good guy, but after doing immigration with him—we don’t need another young guy not quite ready,” said Graham. “He’s no Obama by any means, but he’s so afraid of the right, and I’ve let that go.”

Graham’s problem with Rubio stems from the fact that after joining the bipartisan group backing a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, Rubio eventually backed away from the legislation once it stalled in the House. While McCain, Graham and the other members of the bipartisan gang of eight that championed the reform package have stuck to their plan, Rubio now says that conservatives who demanded that the border security portion of the bill be done first before any changes in the immigration system — especially the effort to legalize illegal immigrants and/or grant them a path to citizenship — should be implemented.

For Graham, who is being pushed to think about running for president by his friend McCain, this shift by Rubio shows he doesn’t have the right stuff.

Graham is right to note that Rubio hasn’t always looked like a future president in the past two years. While, as McCain notes, his record on foreign policy has been “very impressive,” there have been moments when he looked uncertain and a bit too interested in tagging along with Republican elements who don’t share his views. The beating he took from the party’s hardliners on immigration did take a toll. But Graham is wrong to castigate Rubio for rethinking his stand on the reform bill. If anything, his willingness to react to events and draw conclusions from them rather than doggedly stick to an ideological position that had been mistaken is a sign of maturity, not inexperience.

The surge of illegals over the border in Texas this year showed that rather than fixing the immigration system, the talk of granting illegals a path to citizenship without first securing the border had created a new incentive for people to cross the border. Moreover President Obama’s threats, renewed last night, to act unilaterally to trash the rule of law and legalize illegals shows that this administration can’t be trusted to enforce any immigration law passed by Congress.

By adjusting his position, Rubio opened himself up to charges of being a flip-flopper and abandoning his positions in order to curry favor with conservatives. But in doing so, he also demonstrated an ability to address difficult issues soberly and in a manner that enables him to make decisions based on reality rather than an ideological position. That’s pretty much the opposite of the pattern demonstrated by Barack Obama, that Graham rightly disdains.

Graham’s chances of winning the Republican nomination are virtually non-existent. While he’s part of the GOP mainstream on foreign policy, no one who has spent so much time offending the party’s base is going to be its standard bearer in 2016. By contrast, though Rubio made a lot of enemies because of his immigration stand, as a former Tea Party insurgent, he has a lot better chance of reconciling with the conservative base than Graham.

But what’s really interesting about this discussion is that while earlier in the year it looked as if the GOP presidential field would not have any strong entries that championed a strong foreign policy, now the roster of potential candidates representing that point of view seems to be getting crowded. Potential symbolic candidacies like those of Rep. Peter King and former UN Ambassador John Bolton may be joined by Rubio and Graham as well as Senator Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum, both of whom also share many of the views espoused by McCain and other GOP hawks.

Graham’s carping about Rubio notwithstanding, the real news here is that as the isolationist moment in American politics ends, the GOP’s natural leaders on foreign policy are reasserting themselves.

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GOP Purge? A Tempest in a Tea Pot

The aftermath of the government shutdown has left the Republican Party badly divided. Some in the GOP are still wondering how they were suckered into letting Senator Ted Cruz and his supporters in the House shut down the government in a hopeless attempt to stop ObamaCare. But those who cheered the effort are not so much licking their wounds as they are licking their chops waiting for a chance to knock off some of the Senate Republicans who opposed Cruz’s rerun of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Though he is far from the only Republican to draw the ire of the Tea Party, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham seems to be at the top of their enemies list. Graham earned the ire of some on the right for his sponsorship of the bipartisan immigration reform bill, his support for U.S. military intervention in Libya and Syria, and his open opposition to Rand Paul’s isolationist demagoguery about drone attacks. But most of all he is despised for his occasional willingness to work with Democrats and even President Obama on certain issues. As such, their problems with him are, as with much of the motivations for the call for internal GOP bloodletting, more attitudinal than anything else. And while there is good reason for skepticism about the willingness of most conservatives to jettison such effective advocates like Mitch McConnell, there seems to be a consensus that if there is any Republican who will be forced to walk the plank by his party, it is Graham. However, two new polls show that the claims of Tea Partiers that Graham will be toast in 2014 may be empty boasts. If these numbers hold up, it may be fair to say that if Graham can survive in the ultra-conservative Palmetto State, it’s not clear that any so-called member of the GOP establishment need fear crossing Cruz.

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The aftermath of the government shutdown has left the Republican Party badly divided. Some in the GOP are still wondering how they were suckered into letting Senator Ted Cruz and his supporters in the House shut down the government in a hopeless attempt to stop ObamaCare. But those who cheered the effort are not so much licking their wounds as they are licking their chops waiting for a chance to knock off some of the Senate Republicans who opposed Cruz’s rerun of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Though he is far from the only Republican to draw the ire of the Tea Party, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham seems to be at the top of their enemies list. Graham earned the ire of some on the right for his sponsorship of the bipartisan immigration reform bill, his support for U.S. military intervention in Libya and Syria, and his open opposition to Rand Paul’s isolationist demagoguery about drone attacks. But most of all he is despised for his occasional willingness to work with Democrats and even President Obama on certain issues. As such, their problems with him are, as with much of the motivations for the call for internal GOP bloodletting, more attitudinal than anything else. And while there is good reason for skepticism about the willingness of most conservatives to jettison such effective advocates like Mitch McConnell, there seems to be a consensus that if there is any Republican who will be forced to walk the plank by his party, it is Graham. However, two new polls show that the claims of Tea Partiers that Graham will be toast in 2014 may be empty boasts. If these numbers hold up, it may be fair to say that if Graham can survive in the ultra-conservative Palmetto State, it’s not clear that any so-called member of the GOP establishment need fear crossing Cruz.

In the Winthrop University survey, Graham’s approval ratings were low, with 44.1 percent disapproving while only 39.7 in favor of his performance–though Republicans backed him 45.2 percent to 40.1 percent. Given that his approval ratings were in the 70s earlier in the year, that shows some real vulnerability. But when matched up against potential challengers, Graham doesn’t seem to have much to worry about.

These numbers were similar to the findings of a Harper/Conservative Intel poll about Graham’s approval ratings. But Harper also polled South Carolina Republicans about a possible primary matchup of Graham against his likely challengers and those results will give the senator’s critics little comfort. Graham leads the field of Republicans with 51 percent with his most formidable challengers, State Senator Lee Bright and Nancy Mace, trailing badly with 15 and 4 percent respectively. Graham also easily beats his most likely Democratic opponent in a general-election matchup 47 to 30 percent. None of this guarantees Graham reelection next year, as his challengers have plenty of time to raise more money and close the gap with the incumbent. But that gap is so large that their quest must still be termed a steep uphill climb at best.

What explains Graham’s seeming ability to hang on in one of the most conservative states in the union at a time when conservatives are calling for his blood? Well, one possible reason might be that even in South Carolina, the Tea Party is not as popular as some people assume it to be. The Winthrop poll showed that only 47 percent of Republicans had a positive view of it, a number that fell to only 28 percent when all South Carolinians are polled. It should also be noted that only ten percent of Republicans personally identify with the Tea Party.

That’s a stunning result in a state where, according to Harper, 69 percent of Republicans call themselves conservative. It also explains why the poll of Republicans about potential 2016 presidential candidates also showed that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in first place, supported by 19 percent of South Carolinians while Cruz was in second with 17 percent, with the rest split among the various other GOP possibilities.

In other words, for all of Graham’s problems, he may not be in as much difficulty as his critics think. More to the point, South Carolina Republicans may not be marching to the beat of the Tea Party drummers calling for wholesale fratricide of GOP moderates in 2014. If it’s not going to happen there to Graham, that makes it difficult to argue that the calls for a Tea Party purge of “establishment” Republicans is anything more than a tempest in teapot.

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The South Carolina Test Case

South Carolina conservatives smell blood. After a year in which Lindsey Graham has been identified with unpopular causes like immigration reform, opposing shutting down the government to defund ObamaCare, and reaffirmed his status as one of the leading internationalists in the Senate, the woods appear to be full of Republicans who think he’s vulnerable. With three candidates having already declared their intention to challenge the incumbent, you’d think Graham would be running scared about the chances of holding onto his seat in a state where the right predominates. But if Graham has spent 2016 acting like a politician desperate to modify his behavior in order to convince the grass roots he isn’t the RINO caricature they claim him to be, he has good reason. Not only does he have an enormous advantage in fundraising, the sheer number of opposing candidates is going to make it difficult for any one of them to break out and turn a GOP primary into a one-on-one contest that a relative moderate like Graham might lose.

These factors complicate what might otherwise be a perfect example of the struggle for the future of the Republican Party that is convulsing the GOP in the aftermath of their 2012 defeat. Graham would seem to be the perfect test case to see if a conservative senator who a) is willing to work with Democrats on some controversial issues like immigration; b) is more interested in preserving his niche as a moderating voice on foreign affairs along with his friend John McCain than in feeding conservative paranoia about government spying, in the manner of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz; and c) refuses to join the suicide caucus in the Senate like Cruz in order to pander to the Tea Party can survive a Republican primary in a conservative state. Though Graham ought to be marked for extinction because of these factors, circumstances and the absence of a single strong opponent may enable him to survive.

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South Carolina conservatives smell blood. After a year in which Lindsey Graham has been identified with unpopular causes like immigration reform, opposing shutting down the government to defund ObamaCare, and reaffirmed his status as one of the leading internationalists in the Senate, the woods appear to be full of Republicans who think he’s vulnerable. With three candidates having already declared their intention to challenge the incumbent, you’d think Graham would be running scared about the chances of holding onto his seat in a state where the right predominates. But if Graham has spent 2016 acting like a politician desperate to modify his behavior in order to convince the grass roots he isn’t the RINO caricature they claim him to be, he has good reason. Not only does he have an enormous advantage in fundraising, the sheer number of opposing candidates is going to make it difficult for any one of them to break out and turn a GOP primary into a one-on-one contest that a relative moderate like Graham might lose.

These factors complicate what might otherwise be a perfect example of the struggle for the future of the Republican Party that is convulsing the GOP in the aftermath of their 2012 defeat. Graham would seem to be the perfect test case to see if a conservative senator who a) is willing to work with Democrats on some controversial issues like immigration; b) is more interested in preserving his niche as a moderating voice on foreign affairs along with his friend John McCain than in feeding conservative paranoia about government spying, in the manner of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz; and c) refuses to join the suicide caucus in the Senate like Cruz in order to pander to the Tea Party can survive a Republican primary in a conservative state. Though Graham ought to be marked for extinction because of these factors, circumstances and the absence of a single strong opponent may enable him to survive.

As the New York Times reports today, the GOP field for 2014 in South Carolina is already crowded. Though Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of the Citadel, would seem to be the perfect alternative to Graham, she is beset by her own problems relating to her connection with a political gossip website that gained notoriety in 2010 when it was part of an attack on Governor Nikki Haley. Neither of the other two, State Senator Lee Bright and Richard Cash, seems to have much on the ball, though it’s far too early to judge them.

But so long as Graham can find safety in numbers on the primary ballot, he may well be able to avoid the fate of other Republicans like Richard Lugar who were perceived as Washington institutions that lost touch with the sentiments of their local party.

That’s an interesting development in a year when we’re supposed to think that the GOP is trending so far to the right that anyone who can be accused of choosing realistic opposition to the Obama administration, rather than to join in the rush to take the party over the cliff, is supposed to be marked for extinction.

That said, Graham is far from safe. South Carolina is also the home state of former Senate colleague and current Heritage Foundation chief Jim DeMint, who has taken to promoting the idea that any Republican that won’t vote to defund the government over ObamaCare should be replaced. Should immigration reform and his internationalist stands become even more radioactive on the right than they are now, it will heighten his difficulties. Moreover, if a viable challenger like Mace emerges from the field, then Graham may be in more trouble than he seems to be in now.

However, a Graham victory in a South Carolina GOP primary, no matter what the circumstances, will be rightly seen as a sign that Republicans are not quite as far gone as the liberal mainstream media hopes them to be.

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Don’t Boycott Olympics Over Snowden

The continuing scandal of Edward Snowden’s flight to China and then Russia (and possibly elsewhere more permanently) has been a diplomatic setback for the Obama administration. But it has not been wholly without its minor diplomatic victories. A phone call from Vice President Biden to Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa apparently convinced the latter not to accept Snowden. And a request from President Obama apparently convinced our European allies to ground the Bolivian president’s plane out of suspicion Snowden was on board.

Snowden hasn’t been extradited, but his options are disappearing and his fate is now in the hands of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. And the president did read one aspect of the issue correctly: countries have reveled in rejecting the American president publicly, and so Obama has declined to play too high-profile a role lest he give Vladimir Putin and the others an additional public-relations victory. There was no reason to add (more) insult to injury–but that’s exactly what GOP Senator Lindsey Graham would have the administration do. Graham said the U.S. should consider boycotting the 2014 Olympics to be held in the Russian city of Sochi if Snowden isn’t extradited to the U.S. His comments have now drawn condemnation from both sides of the isle, as well as the U.S. Olympic Committee:

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The continuing scandal of Edward Snowden’s flight to China and then Russia (and possibly elsewhere more permanently) has been a diplomatic setback for the Obama administration. But it has not been wholly without its minor diplomatic victories. A phone call from Vice President Biden to Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa apparently convinced the latter not to accept Snowden. And a request from President Obama apparently convinced our European allies to ground the Bolivian president’s plane out of suspicion Snowden was on board.

Snowden hasn’t been extradited, but his options are disappearing and his fate is now in the hands of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. And the president did read one aspect of the issue correctly: countries have reveled in rejecting the American president publicly, and so Obama has declined to play too high-profile a role lest he give Vladimir Putin and the others an additional public-relations victory. There was no reason to add (more) insult to injury–but that’s exactly what GOP Senator Lindsey Graham would have the administration do. Graham said the U.S. should consider boycotting the 2014 Olympics to be held in the Russian city of Sochi if Snowden isn’t extradited to the U.S. His comments have now drawn condemnation from both sides of the isle, as well as the U.S. Olympic Committee:

“If there are any lessons to be learned from the American boycott of 1980, it is that Olympic boycotts do not work,” U.S. Olympic Committee spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said in a statement. “Our boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games did not contribute to a successful resolution of the underlying conflict. It did, however, deprive hundreds of American athletes, all whom had completely dedicated themselves to representing our nation at the Olympic Games, of the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Graham said the United States should send Russia “the most unequivocal signal I could send them” after Snowden on Tuesday formally requested asylum after spending almost a month in the transit zone of the Moscow airport. Snowden has been charged with espionage for leaking details about two NSA programs that collected information about U.S. telephone calls and international Internet usage.

Alexey Pushkov, a Russian lawmaker, dismissed Graham’s remarks as an effort to go back to Cold War times of “mutual boycotts when our two countries looked at each other through, figuratively speaking, nuclear sight.” And President Vladimir Putin said U.S.-Russian ties were “far more important” than the Snowden dispute.

Olympic athletes train and prepare their entire lives for the chance to participate in an event that comes along once every four years. A boycott means there would be eight years between American participation in a winter Olympics. The average age of a winter Olympian is usually around 27 years old, making that eight-year gap a career-ender for many. That doesn’t mean a boycott is never an acceptable act, but the offense has to fit the outrage.

Does it in this case? Not remotely. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about it at a press briefing and said it’s not even on the administration’s radar. The administration likely knows that the boycott threat would probably have the opposite of the intended effect. Most of the countries’ teams would shed no tears over the thought of not having to compete with American athletes, and they would probably view Putin as something of a hero for getting the Americans to back out of the competition, leveling the playing field in certain sports.

It would also make the U.S. look petty: we didn’t boycott the Olympics in China in 2008, after all, but now that we feel personally insulted we’re going to stay home? We should be careful about the precedent, too. An un-extradited fugitive is a low bar for countries to clear if they’re looking for an excuse to make a fuss.

So what’s happening here? It’s most likely an overreaction born of frustration. But unlike during the Cold War, the mistake to be avoided is taking such Russian provocations too seriously. Putin is presiding over a country in various stages of decline, and he would love nothing more than to be treated as though he is more of a threat than he is. That’s not to say he’s harmless–Russian assistance to Iran’s nuclear program and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, as well as invading U.S. allies are but a few of the ways Putin can and does cause real harm.

But it’s those actions that call for pushback, not the administration’s failed “reset,” a policy that quickly became a punch line. If there is information the FSB can get from Snowden, they’ve probably got it already. He’s been living in the transit zone of the airport for about a month, after all. Obama’s policies toward Russia have been disastrous and weak, but conservatives need to offer a more serious alternative than boycotting the Olympics over Snowden. It’s a good sign that Graham seems to be alone in his proposal.

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Selling Immigration Reform

The president’s push for a gun control bill in the Senate had many weaknesses–which is why it ultimately failed–but one of those weaknesses surely was the fact that the bill would never become law anyway. Gun control was doomed in the House, even if it passed the Senate. The same cannot be said, however, for comprehensive immigration reform. And while the “gang of eight” immigration proposal is far from a sure thing in either house of Congress, the stakes are so high precisely because it may succeed.

And that also helps explain the sense of urgency displayed by the Republican half of the gang of eight. Those four Republicans include two veterans of the pro-immigration reform wing of the GOP, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, as well as McCain’s Arizona colleague Jeff Flake and Marco Rubio. Politico reports on the efforts of the GOP gang members, especially Graham and Rubio, to get out in front by working to define the bill first and by making the rounds on conservative talk radio shows. Those programs were credited with galvanizing conservative grassroots opposition to the last major immigration reform push in 2007. According to Politico:

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The president’s push for a gun control bill in the Senate had many weaknesses–which is why it ultimately failed–but one of those weaknesses surely was the fact that the bill would never become law anyway. Gun control was doomed in the House, even if it passed the Senate. The same cannot be said, however, for comprehensive immigration reform. And while the “gang of eight” immigration proposal is far from a sure thing in either house of Congress, the stakes are so high precisely because it may succeed.

And that also helps explain the sense of urgency displayed by the Republican half of the gang of eight. Those four Republicans include two veterans of the pro-immigration reform wing of the GOP, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, as well as McCain’s Arizona colleague Jeff Flake and Marco Rubio. Politico reports on the efforts of the GOP gang members, especially Graham and Rubio, to get out in front by working to define the bill first and by making the rounds on conservative talk radio shows. Those programs were credited with galvanizing conservative grassroots opposition to the last major immigration reform push in 2007. According to Politico:

The push is part of a broader strategy to smooth passage for the complex legislation in the Senate, where the idea is to lure more than just a handful of Republican senators. If a broadly backed bill passed the Senate, House Republicans would be hard pressed to reject it, proponents believe.

The talk-radio outreach is essential to the strategy because Rubio and McCain have plenty of sway in the Senate, where they will be able to lobby their colleagues face to face and develop a process for enabling amendments to the bill that could strengthen its appeal among conservatives without representing “poison pills” that would sink it instead. (The poison pill amendment threat is, if anything, underappreciated; it’s exactly how then-Senator Obama killed the 2007 immigration bill.)

The amendment process is crucial. Rand Paul, for example, is readying his own amendments to the bill. If Paul is able to get his amendments into the bill, it will help Rubio attract more conservative support and divide the skeptics. It’s more important to placate conservative skeptics than liberal skeptics because it’s unlikely liberal complaints about the bill would bring it down–ObamaCare, which was subject to comically empty threats from the left for not including a public option, is a good indication of the concerns to which legislation sponsors do and do not have to cater.

But even if the bill comes together and passes the Senate, Rubio and the others will have far less influence on what happens to it in the GOP-controlled House. And that is why Rubio is working so hard to dull conservative commentators’ unease with anything that resembles “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Rubio is scheduled to appear on Rush Limbaugh’s show today, and it will be Rubio’s second interview with Limbaugh since the push for immigration reform picked up steam after the November election.

You can already see the rift forming by comparing the early reactions of conservative senators with those of their House counterparts:

“Is that enough for me? I don’t want to say yet. But it was a lot better than I thought it was,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, about the border security measures….

“I’m very open-minded,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). “People want to do what’s right here, but there are lot of concerns on what is the best way to handle this problem and not create more.”

“Better than I thought” and “I’m very open-minded” may not be ringing endorsements of the bill, but they are leaps and bounds more optimistic than the grumbling that has already begun in the House:

“It’s worse than we thought,” said [Representative Lamar] Smith, who formerly chaired the Judiciary Committee. He added: “It’s amnesty on a massive scale, greater than we anticipated,” Smith said. “And we took their word that the border was going to be secured before the other reforms were implemented and that’s not the case.”…

The complaints aren’t limited to the substance of the bill, either. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said the comprehensive approach that the Senate took won’t fly in the House.

“We need to do this incrementally,” Chaffetz said in an interview. “If it’s a big bill, it’ll die under its own weight because there will be something for everybody to hate. All or nothing is a losing strategy.”

Complicating matters even further is the response from Jim DeMint, who left the Senate this year (where he was an early Rubio supporter) to take over the Heritage Foundation. DeMint has a very critical op-ed in USA Today on the bill, raising the once-surprising possibility that the Heritage Foundation–long a pro-business stalwart–will oppose and actively work to undermine legislation likely to be supported by the Chamber of Commerce. DeMint, a Tea Party favorite, even slams the “big business” participants in crafting the bill “behind closed doors.”

The media, the left, and supporters of immigration liberalization have often decried the influence of conservative talk radio on the political process. But conservative media is also a pipeline to the base, and Rubio’s decision to engage with such media may prove to be a turning point in favor of reform this time around.

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Ayotte and the Future of Conservative Foreign Policy

As Max wrote earlier, there is a growing divide in the Republican Party with regard to foreign aid that reflects a broader philosophical divergence on the right. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are both Tea Party-generation fiscal conservatives, but in the past they have approached foreign policy from different angles–Rubio from an interventionist point of view and Paul from a pro-disengagement perspective. So it was surely a victory for Paul when Rubio took to the floor of the Senate last week to support Paul’s 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination over the use of drones.

But one senator who wasn’t at the filibuster was New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte. Like Rubio, Ayotte is a fiscal conservative who has made her name on foreign affairs. Unlike Rubio, however, Ayotte can’t so easily distance herself from the party’s old guard, which has been openly feuding with Paul since the filibuster. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have sought to portray Paul as outside the mainstream–a “wacko bird,” in McCain’s unfortunate phrasing–further alienating the pair from the party’s conservative base, which rallied to Paul’s defense during the filibuster. McCain and Graham have also been mentors to Ayotte, who seems to have replaced former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman in the “three amigos.” The Hill today takes a look at Ayotte’s predicament:

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As Max wrote earlier, there is a growing divide in the Republican Party with regard to foreign aid that reflects a broader philosophical divergence on the right. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are both Tea Party-generation fiscal conservatives, but in the past they have approached foreign policy from different angles–Rubio from an interventionist point of view and Paul from a pro-disengagement perspective. So it was surely a victory for Paul when Rubio took to the floor of the Senate last week to support Paul’s 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination over the use of drones.

But one senator who wasn’t at the filibuster was New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte. Like Rubio, Ayotte is a fiscal conservative who has made her name on foreign affairs. Unlike Rubio, however, Ayotte can’t so easily distance herself from the party’s old guard, which has been openly feuding with Paul since the filibuster. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have sought to portray Paul as outside the mainstream–a “wacko bird,” in McCain’s unfortunate phrasing–further alienating the pair from the party’s conservative base, which rallied to Paul’s defense during the filibuster. McCain and Graham have also been mentors to Ayotte, who seems to have replaced former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman in the “three amigos.” The Hill today takes a look at Ayotte’s predicament:

Ayotte agrees with McCain and Graham on U.S. drone policies, though she didn’t take part in their attack on Paul.

“He and I have a different viewpoint,” Ayotte told The Hill. “I certainly respect Sen. Paul for standing up for what he believes in, but I also very much understand and appreciate Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham’s views that they expressed on the underlying policy.”

Ayotte has built up a fiscally conservative record in the Senate — she has a 92 percent rating from the conservative Club For Growth, ninth highest among senators who served in 2012. She’s a featured speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this weekend (her picture is alongside Paul’s on a promotional flyer).

Though she gets less attention than Rubio, who is out in front on the immigration issue as well, how Ayotte navigates these two constituencies is likely to be quite consequential for the GOP’s stand on foreign policy going forward. And it may not be as easy as staking out positions popular with the base; as the Hill notes, instead of appearing at Paul’s filibuster Ayotte was taking part in the president’s “dinner diplomacy”–along with McCain and Graham. The optics were enough to draw the ire of conservatives.

Ayotte’s significance on foreign policy is due in part to the fact that she doesn’t have Rubio’s stature as a national figure. Though Ayotte was mentioned often as a possible vice presidential choice for Mitt Romney last year, she is not considered to be one of the young conservatives leaning toward a presidential run in 2016. That means she either ends up on the ticket as vice presidential nominee or she stays in the Senate (providing she wins reelection in 2016), where she will presumably take an expanding role in shaping foreign-policy legislation.

Ayotte was outspoken in her condemnation of the Obama administration in the wake of the Benghazi terror attack and Susan Rice’s time in the spotlight as a possible secretary of state nominee, for which Ayotte earned plaudits from conservatives who wanted their congressional delegations to hold the administration accountable. But she also opposed the defense cuts in the sequester, and wants to see them reversed. That’s important, because Ayotte sits not only on the powerful Armed Services Committee but is also the ranking Republican on a subcommittee that will have influence over how the sequester military cuts are administered. As the New Hampshire-based Daily Democrat reported:

The subcommittee has jurisdiction over military resources and training, as well as depots and shipyards, business management and contracting oversight, and energy security issues….

Ayotte also served as ranking member of the subcommittee last year. Ayotte said she hopes to identify efficiencies and savings in the Pentagon’s budget and guard against “irresponsible cuts” that would leave troops and defense suppliers “less prepared.”

Ayotte, Graham, and McCain together hold the ranking GOP spots on half the Armed Services subcommittees, and McCain is also on the Foreign Affairs Committee (along with Rubio and Paul). Ayotte has been a proponent of arming the rebels in Syria, expressed concern about a too-hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, and has criticized calls to eliminate foreign aid as “penny wise and pound foolish in terms of protecting our own country.”

The media spotlight, for the next few years at least, will likely stay focused on Rubio and Paul. But Ayotte’s position in the Senate as a bridge between the old guard and the young guns may be just as much an indication of how much of a home conservative internationalism will have in the next generation of Republican leadership.

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Iron Sharpening Iron

I wanted to associate myself with Jonathan’s insightful post on the response by Senators McCain and Graham to Rand Paul’s filibuster.

Although my views on national security are much closer to those of McCain and Graham, their sneering, bitter attacks on Senator Paul were not only misguided; they have done a great deal to help the Paul-ian cause.

Senators McCain and Graham could have–should have–offered a careful, measured response to Rand Paul’s argument. Instead, McCain in particular has gone on a petty, mocking rant, including referring to Paul and some who supported him as “wacko birds.” Perhaps this is what happens when a maverick is out-mavericked. Read More

I wanted to associate myself with Jonathan’s insightful post on the response by Senators McCain and Graham to Rand Paul’s filibuster.

Although my views on national security are much closer to those of McCain and Graham, their sneering, bitter attacks on Senator Paul were not only misguided; they have done a great deal to help the Paul-ian cause.

Senators McCain and Graham could have–should have–offered a careful, measured response to Rand Paul’s argument. Instead, McCain in particular has gone on a petty, mocking rant, including referring to Paul and some who supported him as “wacko birds.” Perhaps this is what happens when a maverick is out-mavericked.

Rand Paul, in a single stroke, has catapulted himself to near folk-hero status among large segments of the conservative movement and, in the process, two of his main substantive critics have sustained damaging, self-inflicted wounds.

That is, from my vantage point, something of a problem, since Rand Paul’s view of the world is substantially different than mine. But he showed what a skilled, alert, and creative politician could do to rearrange the political landscape.

The libertarian wing of the Republican Party has found its leader. It will be quite interesting to see who among the internationalist wing emerges as a counterweight. And rather than fear these kinds of debates, Republicans and conservatives should welcome them. A party that is off balance and out of power doesn’t need conformity; it needs the benefits of “iron sharpening iron.” Whether we like it or not, a serious intra-Republican and intra-conservative foreign policy debate is about to begin.  

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The Wrong Way to Answer Rand

Yesterday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham struck back at Rand Paul’s Wednesday filibuster with bitter attacks on his stand on drone attacks. McCain mocked Paul’s day in the spotlight as “a stunt aimed at firing up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Graham was so mad about it that he changed his mind and voted to confirm John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. just in order to send a statement about his support of the drone program that Paul had attacked.

Both McCain and Graham were correct to point out that the filibuster was fought on what is basically a non-issue. As I wrote on Wednesday, while Paul was conducting his filibuster, the Kentucky senator’s real beef is not with the imagined threat of the government ordering a drone strike on a U.S. citizen sitting in a café on U.S. soil. Rather, it is with the war the United States is fighting against Islamist terrorists who continue to pose a deadly threat to the homeland as well as to our friends and interests abroad. Paul’s goal is to withdraw from this conflict and to pretend that it is not one that is being forced upon us by our enemies. That is a dangerous position that deserved the censure of the two GOP amigos.

But it should also be understood that while McCain and Graham were right on the policy, they were dead wrong on the politics. It’s no use pretending that Paul is merely appealing to the margins of the political spectrum as his far more extreme and less politically adroit father Ron did during his presidential campaigns. That Paul’s filibuster was conducted on behalf of a bogus issue doesn’t change the fact that it was an act of political genius that captured the imagination of many Americans who might not ordinarily think much of the senator. Dismissing his achievement only made Paul’s critics look hopelessly out of touch.

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Yesterday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham struck back at Rand Paul’s Wednesday filibuster with bitter attacks on his stand on drone attacks. McCain mocked Paul’s day in the spotlight as “a stunt aimed at firing up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Graham was so mad about it that he changed his mind and voted to confirm John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. just in order to send a statement about his support of the drone program that Paul had attacked.

Both McCain and Graham were correct to point out that the filibuster was fought on what is basically a non-issue. As I wrote on Wednesday, while Paul was conducting his filibuster, the Kentucky senator’s real beef is not with the imagined threat of the government ordering a drone strike on a U.S. citizen sitting in a café on U.S. soil. Rather, it is with the war the United States is fighting against Islamist terrorists who continue to pose a deadly threat to the homeland as well as to our friends and interests abroad. Paul’s goal is to withdraw from this conflict and to pretend that it is not one that is being forced upon us by our enemies. That is a dangerous position that deserved the censure of the two GOP amigos.

But it should also be understood that while McCain and Graham were right on the policy, they were dead wrong on the politics. It’s no use pretending that Paul is merely appealing to the margins of the political spectrum as his far more extreme and less politically adroit father Ron did during his presidential campaigns. That Paul’s filibuster was conducted on behalf of a bogus issue doesn’t change the fact that it was an act of political genius that captured the imagination of many Americans who might not ordinarily think much of the senator. Dismissing his achievement only made Paul’s critics look hopelessly out of touch.

The question is not whether the grass roots of the Republican Party were inspired by his stand. They were. How could they not want to cheer a man who took a courageous stand in that manner while so many of their party’s leaders have lacked the guts or the skill to confront the president on many big issues? The question is what those who understand that Paul is wrong on the issue and that he is poised to drag the party down a path that will lead it to abandon its traditional support for a strong America will do about it. If they don’t think of something, it will be the end of the Republican Party’s long-held consensus on foreign policy.

The lesson of the filibuster is that people want to follow a person who leads publicly and courageously. Irrespective of the wisdom of his stand, that is just what Paul did. The willingness of so many other conservative senators—including those like Marco Rubio who don’t agree with Paul’s approach to foreign policy—to flock to the Senate floor while he spoke and offer him support shows they understood what McCain and Graham haven’t figured out. For the pair to manifest disrespect for Paul’s achievement is political stupidity of the highest order. It also makes their gentlemanly decision to forgo a filibuster on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense look all the more pusillanimous.

Yet the irony here is that while Republicans are excited by Paul’s stand, any decision to change the direction of the party’s take on foreign policy would contradict their desire to improve their electability after their defeat last November.

As much as Paul’s stand inspired Republicans and even generated respect from Democrats, they need to remember that most Americans support the drone policy. They may be sick of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they don’t share Paul’s disinterest in fighting the “perpetual war” against Islamists because they know the threat is real. They also know that the idea that the only legitimate fighting is being conducted on battlefields between soldiers is hopelessly outmoded.

Obama won re-election in part by bragging about killing Osama bin Laden and chiding Mitt Romney for his disinterest in the hunt for the arch terrorist. Moreover, if Republicans are foolish enough to follow Paul down the road toward embracing a form of isolationism, they will be branded as the weak party on defense and concede foreign policy as an issue to the Democrats for a generation.

Those who wish to save the GOP from this fate can’t let Paul speak for the party on these issues. But if they are to do it they will have to show at least as much guts as he did this week and avoid sounding, as McCain and Graham did yesterday, like cranky old men telling the kids to get off their lawn.

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Hagel’s Credibility Left in Shreds

It’s not clear if administration sources that leaked the story that Chuck Hagel had three practice sessions before a mock committee before his actual Senate confirmation hearing were trying to help or hurt the former senator. Hagel’s performance was so shaky that even some of his liberal supporters like Peter Beinart were lamenting on Twitter about his stumbling and bumbling answers to tough questions. That he flopped so badly after being rehearsed speaks volumes about how bad he was. Indeed, he had so many misstatements that it will be hard for news organizations to choose which of them to broadcast in their highlights of the hearings. But as much as his inability to speak coherently and present a plausible defense of his record while under pressure was exposed today, in what was probably the worst showing by a presidential nominee in a confirmation hearing in memory, it was his credibility that took the biggest hit.

Time and again throughout the day, Hagel bobbed and weaved when presented with examples of the contradictions between the voluminous record of votes and statements about Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and what he has been saying in public since President Obama nominated him to be the next secretary of defense. Under tough questioning from Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Roger Wicker and Ted Cruz, Hagel’s pose as a consistent and ardent friend of Israel and foe of Iran was shown to be nothing but a hastily constructed façade that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

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It’s not clear if administration sources that leaked the story that Chuck Hagel had three practice sessions before a mock committee before his actual Senate confirmation hearing were trying to help or hurt the former senator. Hagel’s performance was so shaky that even some of his liberal supporters like Peter Beinart were lamenting on Twitter about his stumbling and bumbling answers to tough questions. That he flopped so badly after being rehearsed speaks volumes about how bad he was. Indeed, he had so many misstatements that it will be hard for news organizations to choose which of them to broadcast in their highlights of the hearings. But as much as his inability to speak coherently and present a plausible defense of his record while under pressure was exposed today, in what was probably the worst showing by a presidential nominee in a confirmation hearing in memory, it was his credibility that took the biggest hit.

Time and again throughout the day, Hagel bobbed and weaved when presented with examples of the contradictions between the voluminous record of votes and statements about Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and what he has been saying in public since President Obama nominated him to be the next secretary of defense. Under tough questioning from Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Roger Wicker and Ted Cruz, Hagel’s pose as a consistent and ardent friend of Israel and foe of Iran was shown to be nothing but a hastily constructed façade that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

As I have written repeatedly since his nomination was announced, Hagel has been working hard to disappoint those who have always shared his views since he was so eager to discard principles that he had ardently supported. But one such supporter was unfazed by his reversals. Former Media Matters staffer MJ Rosenberg is a bitter critic of Israel and its supporters to the point where he is considered toxic even by many on the left. But as Twitchy notes, Rosenberg wasn’t particularly helpful to Hagel today since he tweeted:

I spent a couple of hours with Hagel a few years ago. Talked with him about Israel. Happily, he is lying today &  knows it. He’ll be a good SeDef.

But you didn’t have to have that kind of inside information to understand that what was happening in the confirmation wasn’t particularly honest. Throughout the day when faced with offensive quotes or votes that were inconsistent with his current stands, Hagel rationalized about changing times or context. But the more the context of each incident was examined, the less truthful the Nebraskan sounded. It wasn’t just gaffes like his statement that his opposition to designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group was rooted in his belief that the Islamist regime was a “legitimate and elected government,” which he later walked back. It was his inability to explain why he refused to support Israel during the intifada or branded its defensive war against Hezbollah as a “slaughter.”

But his deceitful approach wasn’t solely focused on his views about Israel and Iran. His attempt to explain his role in producing a report about America’s nuclear deterrent was just as bad. He refused to own up to his views and the plain language of a document that he co-authored. His inability to be honest about his opposition to the Iraq surge when pressed to do so by John McCain was not so much outrageous as it was transparently weak.

By the end of the day, Hagel was reduced to saying something that shouldn’t inspire much confidence in his leadership when he said his opinions didn’t matter so much because he was not being appointed to a policymaking position. Hagel’s defense of himself as a mere bureaucrat may be in line with the Obama administration’s top-down approach to policy but it is a dispiriting exhibition for someone who is actually being tapped for one of the most important positions in the Cabinet.

Chuck Hagel demonstrated today that he isn’t fit for such a senior post. His incompetent testimony should have embarrassed the president and backers like Chuck Schumer, who gambled his own reputation on a man who has little credibility. That may not be enough to derail a nomination that is being rammed through on a partisan basis by the Senate’s majority caucus. But today’s disappointing show by Hagel shamed not just Democrats but a nation whose defense is being entrusted to an incompetent liar.

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Can Immigration Be a Winning Issue for Lindsey Graham?

Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

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Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

One underreported aspect of Graham’s relationship with the conservative base is the changing politics of immigration for the GOP. Mitt Romney’s lopsided loss among Hispanics (and immigrant groups in general) in the November election gave new momentum, as well as popular support and political cover, to the GOP’s immigration moderates. Though South Carolina voters are not Florida voters, it would be a strange sight indeed for conservative voters to primary Graham over the issue of immigration but not, say, Marco Rubio–a conservative senator often associated with the Tea Party movement and a beneficiary of the right’s “primarying” strategy himself–who was planning to introduce his own version of the DREAM Act this past year.

John McCain, Graham’s fellow immigration reformer and close friend in the Senate, was also vulnerable on the issue in 2010 and seemed to run to his right on immigration to fend off a primary challenge. Graham may not have to adjust his position on immigration to fend off a primary challenge–indeed, Graham’s enthusiasm for immigration reform is looking to be more like the party’s future than its past. If that shift really takes place, it should take the issue off the table for primary challengers and may make Graham’s moderation seem wise and ahead of its time. That would be a remarkable turnaround for the party and the issue of immigration, yet it is a quite plausible scenario.

There are, of course, other reasons Graham is stronger than he seemed all along. Aside from the Benghazi episode, Graham has the fundraising and party network advantages of incumbency. He has also been one of the party’s leaders on foreign policy, where his views have been closer to his conservative base than on the issue of immigration.

He’s not out of the woods yet. The so-called fiscal cliff debate looks headed for a compromise involving raising taxes, and Graham has suggested the right be open to raising tax rates. Yet if the party caves on taxes as part of a final deal, it may absolve Graham of some of the blame. If conservatives in the GOP end up supporting some tax increases, Graham won’t be an outlier–even among conservatives. That might take the issue off the table, or at least dull its impact, the way immigration went from being evidence of Graham’s apostasy to a GOP mainstream policy position just in time for Graham’s reelection.

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Ayotte, Graham Say They’ll Hold Rice’s Nomination

Susan Rice’s meeting with Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte yesterday might have set back her potential secretary of state bid even more than initially thought. Now Graham and Ayotte are promising to place a “hold” on her possible nomination, until Rice provides more answers:

If President Barack Obama selects United Nations envoy Susan Rice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he’ll face determined opposition from at least three Republican senators: John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Ayotte and Graham would each place a “hold” on Rice’s nomination if she were nominated, their aides told NBC News Tuesday. McCain’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Susan Rice’s meeting with Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte yesterday might have set back her potential secretary of state bid even more than initially thought. Now Graham and Ayotte are promising to place a “hold” on her possible nomination, until Rice provides more answers:

If President Barack Obama selects United Nations envoy Susan Rice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he’ll face determined opposition from at least three Republican senators: John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Ayotte and Graham would each place a “hold” on Rice’s nomination if she were nominated, their aides told NBC News Tuesday. McCain’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

With the fiscal cliff debate heating up, a nomination filibuster probably isn’t something the Republican leadership wants to sink much political capital into. But this is an important fight for a few reasons. First, if reports from yesterday’s meeting are accurate, then the administration cherry-picked intelligence to support a narrative that, at best, they suspected might be inaccurate and, at worst, they knew was misleading. If that’s the case, McCain, Graham and Ayotte aren’t aiming for Rice, they’re aiming above her. If she’s nominated, it will give them a way to both keep the Benghazi controversy in the news and uncover more information about it.

Rice is attending another meeting with Senators Collins and Corker today. Their impressions after could help decide how far Republicans take this issue.

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Is Cantor Backing Off Norquist Pledge?

Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss, Bob Corker, and Peter King have already distanced themselves from Grover Norquist’s pledge not to increase taxes, and now it looks like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is downplaying the pledge too:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) appeared to take a step back from anti-tax champion Grover Norquist on Monday, suggesting that a “no new taxes” pledge coordinated by Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform group wouldn’t determine his legislative duties regarding ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations.

“When I go to the constituents that have reelected me, it is not about that pledge,” Cantor said on MSNBC. “It really is about trying to solve problems.”

Asked if he could foresee a situation in which he would be willing to directly renounce the anti-tax pledge, Cantor dodged specifics, saying that he didn’t know because he hadn’t talked to Norquist.

This is the strongest challenge yet to Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, but it’s unclear whether any Republicans would actually follow through on the threats. Graham, for example, has said he’d go against the pledge in return for extensive concessions on entitlement reform from Democrats, which are unlikely to happen.

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Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss, Bob Corker, and Peter King have already distanced themselves from Grover Norquist’s pledge not to increase taxes, and now it looks like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is downplaying the pledge too:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) appeared to take a step back from anti-tax champion Grover Norquist on Monday, suggesting that a “no new taxes” pledge coordinated by Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform group wouldn’t determine his legislative duties regarding ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations.

“When I go to the constituents that have reelected me, it is not about that pledge,” Cantor said on MSNBC. “It really is about trying to solve problems.”

Asked if he could foresee a situation in which he would be willing to directly renounce the anti-tax pledge, Cantor dodged specifics, saying that he didn’t know because he hadn’t talked to Norquist.

This is the strongest challenge yet to Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, but it’s unclear whether any Republicans would actually follow through on the threats. Graham, for example, has said he’d go against the pledge in return for extensive concessions on entitlement reform from Democrats, which are unlikely to happen.

But maybe it’s not just a bluff. Exit polls showed voters favor tax hikes on the wealthy, raising pressure on Republicans (especially ones like Graham, who are up for reelection) to consider it. Norquist promises he’ll target any member of congress who breaks the pledge:

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said Monday that his group, Americans for Tax Reform, would work to unseat Republicans who break their pledge to never vote for higher taxes.

His vow came after prominent GOP lawmakers said over the weekend they would consider breaking the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in order to reach a deal with Democrats and President Barack Obama to avoid tumbling over the fiscal cliff – the combination of sweeping spending cuts and tax increases that would go into effect at the end of the year if negotiators can’t reach a deal on reducing the federal debt.

Norquist said his group would “certainly highlight who has kept their commitment and who hasn’t” when it comes time for lawmakers like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Peter King to run for re-election, though Norquist claimed voters generally decide on their own to oust elected officials who vote to raise taxes.

Most of Norquist’s influence in Congress stems from the pledge. But without enforcement, it’s just a piece of paper. If he can’t keep members in line, the pledge becomes meaningless. Then again, Republican leadership won’t appreciate him targeting pledge defectors in 2014, particularly when control of the Senate may again be up for grabs.

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The President’s Benghazi Problem

During his press conference yesterday, President Obama was asked about the statements by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who said if Susan Rice is nominated to be secretary of state, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination, and they simply don’t trust Ambassador Rice after her misleading accounts about the lethal attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11.

In response, the president, after lavishly praising Ms. Rice, said this:

As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.  If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.  And I’m happy to have that discussion with them.  But for them to go after the U.N. Ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous… When they go after the U.N. Ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. 

I’ll get to the president’s answer in a moment. For now, it’s important to recall that five days after the Benghazi massacre, Ambassador Rice went on five Sunday talk shows insisting that (a) we had “substantial security presence” at the consulate before the attack; (b) the attacks were spontaneous, not a pre-planned terrorist attack, and the result of “a small handful of heavily armed mobsters;” and (c) “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rice said, “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

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During his press conference yesterday, President Obama was asked about the statements by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who said if Susan Rice is nominated to be secretary of state, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination, and they simply don’t trust Ambassador Rice after her misleading accounts about the lethal attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11.

In response, the president, after lavishly praising Ms. Rice, said this:

As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.  If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.  And I’m happy to have that discussion with them.  But for them to go after the U.N. Ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous… When they go after the U.N. Ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. 

I’ll get to the president’s answer in a moment. For now, it’s important to recall that five days after the Benghazi massacre, Ambassador Rice went on five Sunday talk shows insisting that (a) we had “substantial security presence” at the consulate before the attack; (b) the attacks were spontaneous, not a pre-planned terrorist attack, and the result of “a small handful of heavily armed mobsters;” and (c) “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rice said, “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

Ambassador Rice was wrong on every particular. The security for the American consulate was nearly non-existent; the attacks were premeditated; they were carried out by Islamic terrorists; there was no mob protest; the video had nothing to do with the attacks; and we did have information that the attacks were pre-planned.

Ambassador Rice’s claims came despite the fact that, according to congressional testimony, the State Department had surveillance feeds and they were able to monitor the attacks in “almost real-time” and that according to media reports, an unarmed Predator drone was performing surveillance missions over Libya when the attack on the consulate in Benghazi began; within 24 hours of the deadly attack, the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington that there were eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants; and e-mails show that officials at the White House and State Department were advised two hours after attackers assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that an Islamic militant group (Ansar al-Sharia) had claimed credit for the attack.

In addition, Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says that within 24 hours of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi he had information from intelligence agencies that what happened were terrorist attacks, not spontaneous attacks inspired by the anti-Islamic video. Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that accounts of the attack and the firepower employed “indicate something more than a spontaneous protest.”

There’s more.

The Washington Post was reporting on the day after the attack that “the early indications were that the assault had been planned” by “heavily-armed militias.” Journalist Eli Lake reported, “Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indications al Qaeda–affiliated operatives were behind the attack, and had even pinpointed the location of one of those attackers.” And in a story in early October, the Associated Press reported, “The State Department now says it never believed the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a film protest gone awry.”

I have recounted this record in detail simply to highlight how ludicrous is President Obama’s claim that Senators McCain and Graham want to “besmirch [Rice’s] reputation” and that they are going after her “because they think she’s an easy target.”

Ambassador Rice’s credibility has been massively damaged because she misled the public (probably unknowingly) long after there was evidence that her claims were at least questionable and probably wrong. To the degree that she’s an “easy target,” it’s because the case against her and the administration is overwhelming. And the gallant Obama need not worry. The concerns about the negligence and misconduct of his administration don’t stop with Ms. Rice. Those concerns go right to the top.

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Lindsey Graham: Obama “Failed as Commander in Chief”

Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain didn’t waste any time responding to President Obama’s claim that they are “going after” Susan Rice because “they think she’s an easy target.”

In a statement, Graham blasted both Obama and Rice, saying she’s “up to [her] eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle”:

“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi.  I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.

“We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”

On Greta Van Susteren last night, McCain pushed back on the president’s comments, calling them  “juvenile”:

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Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain didn’t waste any time responding to President Obama’s claim that they are “going after” Susan Rice because “they think she’s an easy target.”

In a statement, Graham blasted both Obama and Rice, saying she’s “up to [her] eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle”:

“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi.  I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.

“We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”

On Greta Van Susteren last night, McCain pushed back on the president’s comments, calling them  “juvenile”:

MCCAIN: You know, it’s interesting for the president to say something that juvenile. I’m not picking on anyone. Again, as we just said, four Americans died! Is that picking on anybody when you want to place responsibility and find out what happened so that we can make sure it doesn’t happen again?

And you know, it’s not a bad life being ambassador to the U.N. You have a nice suite in the Waldorf-Astoria and look pretty good. An so this — why they used her as their spokesperson on all the major networks that Sunday is still beyond me, but they did. And she…

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, the president said today that…

MCCAIN: And she used talking points from the White House. So we’re not picking on her. But we are holding her to some degree responsible. But have no doubt, we are holding the President of the United States responsible. And he is responsible and he has not — he has given contrasting versions of events to the American people.

Could I just remind you real quick — September 21, in the Rose Garden, he said it was, quote, “acts of terror.” That same night, he said to Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes,” it’s too early to know exactly how this came about. On September 20th, we’re still doing an investigation. September 24th, on “The View,” we’re still doing an investigation. And then before the United Nations on September 25th, “a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.”

Now, he said that on September 25th. In the second debate, with Mitt Romney, he said, I called it an act of terror in the Rose Garden. He didn’t. He condemned acts of terror in the Rose Garden. And if he did, how come he told the United Nations a couple of weeks later that it was a senseless video that sparked a demonstration, when he knew full well there was no spontaneous demonstration?

So my response to the President of the United States is we’re not picking on anybody. We want answers, and the buck does stop at your desk, Mr. President. 

Assuming Rice is the nominee, this will all play out during the confirmation fight. Obama may be hoping he can keep Senate Democrats in line by framing GOP criticism of Rice as an unfair partisan attack. And it’s possible he can pick off some moderate Republicans with this strategy, too, who might be worried about clashing with a newly-reelected president over a “politicized” issue. 

But it’s still notable that Obama would be so intent on appointing Rice, given all of her Benghazi baggage. It’s true she’s one of his longest-serving advisors, and he seems to have a much warmer relationship with her than he has with Hillary Clinton (or John Kerry, for that matter). But you’d think it would save him a lot of grief to just choose another option.

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Graham, McCain: No Compensation for WARN Act Violations

Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain are pushing back against the Obama administration’s promise to compensate contractors for legal fallout from WARN Act violations, a law requiring large companies to provide 60-day minimum notice of potential layoffs. As I wrote yesterday, the administration has urged contractors in advance of the Jan. 2 sequestration not to issue WARN notices, which would otherwise be sent just days before the presidential election. After contractors expressed concern about potential lawsuits, the OMB released a directive offering to pay for resulting legal penalties in certain situations.

Graham vowed that congress would block any attempt to reimburse contractors for WARN Act legal fallout in an interview with NRO’s Charles C.W. Cooke today:

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Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain are pushing back against the Obama administration’s promise to compensate contractors for legal fallout from WARN Act violations, a law requiring large companies to provide 60-day minimum notice of potential layoffs. As I wrote yesterday, the administration has urged contractors in advance of the Jan. 2 sequestration not to issue WARN notices, which would otherwise be sent just days before the presidential election. After contractors expressed concern about potential lawsuits, the OMB released a directive offering to pay for resulting legal penalties in certain situations.

Graham vowed that congress would block any attempt to reimburse contractors for WARN Act legal fallout in an interview with NRO’s Charles C.W. Cooke today:

What we have here, I suggested, is the government instructing people to violate the law, and offering to mitigate the consequences. “Yes,” Graham agreed. “It’s crazy legal analysis. We are in danger of being no longer a rule of law nation. It’s a mini-coup.” I asked how this compared to June’s unilateral imposition of the DREAM Act? “This takes the DREAM Act instinct to a new level,” the senator told me. “That was a bastardization of the law — interpreting the law outside of its intent — but this is more dangerous as it ignores what the statute actually says.”

So, what can be done? “Lockheed Martin will give into the administration and ignore the law at their peril,” Graham warned. I asked what happens if the president attempts to reimburse them? “If he tries to go through Congress, well, that’ll never happen.” And if he tries to reallocate funds? “We would shut that down. The Constitution has a balance of powers for a reason. Congressional law cannot be unilaterally discarded by the executive branch.”

Sen. McCain took a similar position, saying that he “intends to deny” any effort to compensate contractors for lawsuits.

Lockheed Martin announced earlier this week that it won’t issue the 60-day notices, and it sounds like that’s what has Graham seething in the interview. What I don’t understand is why a contractor would want to get on Graham’s (or McCain’s) bad side on this very issue. These are two of the people leading the fight to save the defense industry.

Saving defense is what the whole WARN Act debate comes down to. Of course, there are legitimate concerns that employees could be laid off without proper notice if sequestration kicks in — but the possibility of that happening is small. Obama knows Republicans will do anything in their power to protect national defense, and he knows if he wins reelection he’ll be able to use that as leverage to crack the GOP on tax hikes. Hence, the Republican focus on the WARN Act. They view it as the only leverage they have to force a fair deal out of the Democrats before the election. The Obama administration appears to have neutralized that problem by offering taxpayer-funded reimbursement to contractors in the event of lawsuits. So unless companies like Lockheed Martin reconsider, Republicans have lost a major bargaining chip to achieve a pre-election deal.

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Is There Really a Consensus Against Iran Containment?

If President Obama means what he says about stopping Iran from going nuclear, he has bi-partisan support for that stand. That’s the upshot of a Senate resolution introduced today with 32 co-sponsors that rejects the notion a nuclear Iran can be contained. Proponents of the resolution such as Senator Joseph Lieberman say Iran has only two choices: disarm or face the consequences.

The introduction of the measure prompted some of its Republican sponsors to point out that their position is identical with that of President Obama’s statements on the issue. As South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham noted, “All I can say is, we’ve found something we’re united about.”

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If President Obama means what he says about stopping Iran from going nuclear, he has bi-partisan support for that stand. That’s the upshot of a Senate resolution introduced today with 32 co-sponsors that rejects the notion a nuclear Iran can be contained. Proponents of the resolution such as Senator Joseph Lieberman say Iran has only two choices: disarm or face the consequences.

The introduction of the measure prompted some of its Republican sponsors to point out that their position is identical with that of President Obama’s statements on the issue. As South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham noted, “All I can say is, we’ve found something we’re united about.”

The question for the senators, as well as the nation, is whether the president is as serious about not considering a policy that would view “containment” of a nuclear Iran as a viable option. Though Obama has insisted he will not let Iran go nuclear, speculation continues that the administration’s reliance on sanctions to stop Tehran is, at best, overly optimistic. With Washington acting as if it is more worried about Israel acting on its own to eliminate an existential threat, the Senate resolution is a timely reminder to the president that he should not think he can get away with a policy that seeks to avoid confrontation until after the November election. With influential figures such as Obama sycophant Fareed Zakaria advocating containment in the Washington Post yesterday, Graham’s assumption is that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are in agreement on Iran.

Zakaria, who has been a White House favorite in the last three years, has been a consistent opponent of confronting Iran. His latest piece attempted once again to make the case a nuclear Iran could be contained as easily as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. He claims the “lessons of history” show the attempt to stop Iran is a rerun of the rush to war in Europe in 1914. According to Zakaria, Israel’s concerns about a nuclear Iran are similar to those of the fools who launched the slaughter of World War One. That’s an unfair and distorted slap at a Jewish state that faces the possibility a tyrannical regime led by Islamist fanatics already pledged to their destruction might get hold of a genocidal weapon. Just as absurd are his comparisons between a nuclear Soviet Union and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran.

The administration’s Iran strategy is dependent on cooperation from nations such as China that show little sign of being serious about helping. That means sooner or later, the president may be faced with actually having to resort to force if he wants to keep his promises. The worry here is that Zakaria’s sophistry about a potential catastrophe is a better reflection of Barack Obama’s thinking than his public statements. If push comes to shove, Israel as well as the Senate will have to hope Obama’s actual beliefs on the subject are closer to those of Lieberman and Graham than Zakaria.

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One Way to Leave Afghanistan Faster Is to Promise to Stay Forever

I don’t get to say this very often so I am happy to offer kudos to Joe Biden on what seems to have been a successful visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He delivered a clear message that the U.S. has a long-term commitment to the region that will extend beyond 2014, thus helping to undo some of the damage from his own gaffe when he claimed that we would be out of Afghanistan at that time “come hell or high water.”

Now he and his boss, the president, need to take the next step: they should negotiate a long-term agreement with President Karzai to cement a permanent American-Afghan alliance. That would help to further assure Karzai and other Afghan leaders that we will not abandon them, thus increasing their incentive to take the sort of hard steps we are asking for in the fight against corruption and other ills that plague Afghanistan.

Interestingly, while Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq is deeply reluctant to enter into any kind of long-term agreement with the U.S. that would keep U.S. troops on his soil indefinitely, President Karzai is said to be much more open to such an arrangement. He knows, after all, that he doesn’t have oil riches to support his country; Afghanistan will be much more dependent on the U.S. than Iraq will be. Senator Lindsey Graham has suggested that the U.S. establish permanent air bases in Afghanistan. The administration should follow up on his suggestion and open negotiations with Karzai. If it does, it may well be discovered that nothing will speed the end of America’s combat mission in Afghanistan faster than expressing our willingness to say forever. That may sound paradoxical, but the more commitment we signal to enemies and waverers alike, the easier our troops will find it to drive out the Taliban.

I don’t get to say this very often so I am happy to offer kudos to Joe Biden on what seems to have been a successful visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He delivered a clear message that the U.S. has a long-term commitment to the region that will extend beyond 2014, thus helping to undo some of the damage from his own gaffe when he claimed that we would be out of Afghanistan at that time “come hell or high water.”

Now he and his boss, the president, need to take the next step: they should negotiate a long-term agreement with President Karzai to cement a permanent American-Afghan alliance. That would help to further assure Karzai and other Afghan leaders that we will not abandon them, thus increasing their incentive to take the sort of hard steps we are asking for in the fight against corruption and other ills that plague Afghanistan.

Interestingly, while Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq is deeply reluctant to enter into any kind of long-term agreement with the U.S. that would keep U.S. troops on his soil indefinitely, President Karzai is said to be much more open to such an arrangement. He knows, after all, that he doesn’t have oil riches to support his country; Afghanistan will be much more dependent on the U.S. than Iraq will be. Senator Lindsey Graham has suggested that the U.S. establish permanent air bases in Afghanistan. The administration should follow up on his suggestion and open negotiations with Karzai. If it does, it may well be discovered that nothing will speed the end of America’s combat mission in Afghanistan faster than expressing our willingness to say forever. That may sound paradoxical, but the more commitment we signal to enemies and waverers alike, the easier our troops will find it to drive out the Taliban.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

I’m with Ben Chandler on this one. “Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler is blaming President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the Democrats’ poor showing nationally in the Nov. 2 elections. … ‘If not there, where else does the responsibility lie? … You’re talking about the loss of 60 or something seats held by capable public servants. There had to be something going on at a level above them. If that isn’t the lesson, I don’t know what is.’”

I’m with Jeffrey Rosen on this one. “In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both ‘minimally intrusive’ and “effective” — in other words, they must be ‘well-tailored to protect personal privacy,’ and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. … As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests.” Read the whole thing — it’s quite persuasive.

I’m with Norm Coleman on this one. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit. ‘I think that race is over. I think the counting’s been done. I’m not sure there’s anything that would change that,’ Coleman told C-SPAN in an interview set to air on Sunday. Coleman himself fought until the bitter end of his 2008 Senate race against Democrat Al Franken, which dragged on for seven months because of a recount and legal challenges.”

I’m with John McCain on this one: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued in an interview Sunday that the U.S. has not exacted enough pressure on North Korea and that the current tensions in the region may present an opportunity for regime change. ‘I think it’s time we talked about regime change in North Korea,’ he said, quickly adding that he did not mean ‘military action.’”

I’m with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on this one. In regards to Iran, apparently he’d been warning the administration to “‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” But the Obami are too busy obsessing over non-direct, non-peace talks that are going nowhere.

I’m with Josh Block on this one. “One of the most interesting overall themes is the restraint seen to typify the Israelis on Iran, in contrast to the typical Brzezinski, Scowcroft, Walt/Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald-Neo-progressive, netroots claims Israel is trying to prod us to fight and bomb Iran for them. In the end, one of the most obvious take-aways from these WikiLeaks documents is devastating to the whole Left/Realist narrative about Israeli manipulation. The Israelis come off as cool customers, while the Arabs are the ones freaking out, justifiably many would argue, and literally demanding the U.S. bomb the Iranian nuclear program.”

I’m with Lindsey Graham on this one. “I think it is a big mistake to criminalize the war, to take someone you’ve held under the law of war as an enemy combatant for six or seven years, then put them in civilian court. It is a disaster waiting to happen. I believe I got the votes to block it. I don’t think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will ever get congressional approval to see a civilian court. He should be tried at Guantanamo Bay. He should be tried now. He was ready to plead guilty before the Obama administration stopped the trial. We should have him in a military commission trial beginning Monday and get this case behind us.”

I’m with Ben Chandler on this one. “Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler is blaming President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the Democrats’ poor showing nationally in the Nov. 2 elections. … ‘If not there, where else does the responsibility lie? … You’re talking about the loss of 60 or something seats held by capable public servants. There had to be something going on at a level above them. If that isn’t the lesson, I don’t know what is.’”

I’m with Jeffrey Rosen on this one. “In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both ‘minimally intrusive’ and “effective” — in other words, they must be ‘well-tailored to protect personal privacy,’ and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. … As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests.” Read the whole thing — it’s quite persuasive.

I’m with Norm Coleman on this one. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit. ‘I think that race is over. I think the counting’s been done. I’m not sure there’s anything that would change that,’ Coleman told C-SPAN in an interview set to air on Sunday. Coleman himself fought until the bitter end of his 2008 Senate race against Democrat Al Franken, which dragged on for seven months because of a recount and legal challenges.”

I’m with John McCain on this one: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued in an interview Sunday that the U.S. has not exacted enough pressure on North Korea and that the current tensions in the region may present an opportunity for regime change. ‘I think it’s time we talked about regime change in North Korea,’ he said, quickly adding that he did not mean ‘military action.’”

I’m with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on this one. In regards to Iran, apparently he’d been warning the administration to “‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” But the Obami are too busy obsessing over non-direct, non-peace talks that are going nowhere.

I’m with Josh Block on this one. “One of the most interesting overall themes is the restraint seen to typify the Israelis on Iran, in contrast to the typical Brzezinski, Scowcroft, Walt/Mearsheimer, Glenn Greenwald-Neo-progressive, netroots claims Israel is trying to prod us to fight and bomb Iran for them. In the end, one of the most obvious take-aways from these WikiLeaks documents is devastating to the whole Left/Realist narrative about Israeli manipulation. The Israelis come off as cool customers, while the Arabs are the ones freaking out, justifiably many would argue, and literally demanding the U.S. bomb the Iranian nuclear program.”

I’m with Lindsey Graham on this one. “I think it is a big mistake to criminalize the war, to take someone you’ve held under the law of war as an enemy combatant for six or seven years, then put them in civilian court. It is a disaster waiting to happen. I believe I got the votes to block it. I don’t think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will ever get congressional approval to see a civilian court. He should be tried at Guantanamo Bay. He should be tried now. He was ready to plead guilty before the Obama administration stopped the trial. We should have him in a military commission trial beginning Monday and get this case behind us.”

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Republicans Fumble Immigration

When asked about changing the Constitution to bar children of illegal immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens, House Minority Leader John Boehner said, “I think it’s worth considering.”

No it’s not.

I’ve previously laid out my reasons why this is a very bad idea. It’s worth adding that children must turn 21 before they can sponsor their parents for legal residency. It is simply not the magnet that people like Boehner and Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, and Jon Kyl insist. They are manufacturing an argument to create an issue.

There is plenty policymakers can do to curb illegal immigration (including securing the southern border, toughening enforcement policies, and expediting the legal process to cut the average deportation time) and improve our overall approach to immigration (including narrowing the scope of the family-reunification privilege to the nuclear family, adjusting upward our quotas for high-skilled labor, and making assimilation a central national priority). Pushing for altering the 14th amendment, though, is worse than unhelpful; it is substantively unwise and politically harmful.

Republicans are practicing the politics of symbolism in the worst way possible. They are embracing a policy that doesn’t have any realistic chance of becoming law, that will be unnecessarily divisive and inflammatory, and that, in the long term, will be politically counterproductive.

It is an approach that is, among other things, wholly at odds with the one embraced by the last two Republican presidents to win reelection, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan (see here).

Why Republicans continue to travel down this road is a mystery to me. This is not what the party of Lincoln should stand for.

When asked about changing the Constitution to bar children of illegal immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens, House Minority Leader John Boehner said, “I think it’s worth considering.”

No it’s not.

I’ve previously laid out my reasons why this is a very bad idea. It’s worth adding that children must turn 21 before they can sponsor their parents for legal residency. It is simply not the magnet that people like Boehner and Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, and Jon Kyl insist. They are manufacturing an argument to create an issue.

There is plenty policymakers can do to curb illegal immigration (including securing the southern border, toughening enforcement policies, and expediting the legal process to cut the average deportation time) and improve our overall approach to immigration (including narrowing the scope of the family-reunification privilege to the nuclear family, adjusting upward our quotas for high-skilled labor, and making assimilation a central national priority). Pushing for altering the 14th amendment, though, is worse than unhelpful; it is substantively unwise and politically harmful.

Republicans are practicing the politics of symbolism in the worst way possible. They are embracing a policy that doesn’t have any realistic chance of becoming law, that will be unnecessarily divisive and inflammatory, and that, in the long term, will be politically counterproductive.

It is an approach that is, among other things, wholly at odds with the one embraced by the last two Republican presidents to win reelection, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan (see here).

Why Republicans continue to travel down this road is a mystery to me. This is not what the party of Lincoln should stand for.

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Senator John McCain’s U-Turn on Immigration

According to Politico, Senator John McCain has added his voice to GOP calls for congressional hearings into altering the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. This just about completes a stunning turnabout by McCain (and by his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham) on immigration. As Politico reports, McCain was a champion in 2007 of a comprehensive immigration bill which would have provided a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants. But he has taken an increasingly hard-line position on the issue as he faces a conservative primary challenger, J.D. Hayworth, in a state that has become the epicenter for the nation’s battle over immigration reform.

On the merits of McCain’s position: As a general matter, the conservative starting point should be opposition to Constitutional amendments, especially as regards the 14th amendment (the so-called “citizenship clause” refers to the first sentence of Section 1 in the 14th amendment, which reversed the part of Chief Justice Taney’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford that declared that even free blacks like Dred Scott were not citizens of the United States and could never become so). Opposition to Constitutional amendments shouldn’t be absolute by any means; but it is, I think, a prudent predisposition.

Beyond that, though, McCain’s stand strikes me as political posturing — something that has no chance of passage and which may end up being distracting from the real problems we face and that we can far more easily address, including the reduction of the large number of illegal immigrants crossing our borders.

There is an argument according to which, if we were starting from scratch, children of illegal immigrants should not be granted automatic citizenship; after all, this was clearly not the use of the 14th amendment intended by its architects. But we’re not beginning from scratch — and revoking birthright citizenship now would, as Michael Gerson has written, “turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ — arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital.”

Senator McCain’s U-turn is certainly not without precedent in American politics. But it is nevertheless fairly dramatic — and for a man who has long fancied himself a person of unusual political courage and independence, it is discouraging.

According to Politico, Senator John McCain has added his voice to GOP calls for congressional hearings into altering the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. This just about completes a stunning turnabout by McCain (and by his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham) on immigration. As Politico reports, McCain was a champion in 2007 of a comprehensive immigration bill which would have provided a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants. But he has taken an increasingly hard-line position on the issue as he faces a conservative primary challenger, J.D. Hayworth, in a state that has become the epicenter for the nation’s battle over immigration reform.

On the merits of McCain’s position: As a general matter, the conservative starting point should be opposition to Constitutional amendments, especially as regards the 14th amendment (the so-called “citizenship clause” refers to the first sentence of Section 1 in the 14th amendment, which reversed the part of Chief Justice Taney’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford that declared that even free blacks like Dred Scott were not citizens of the United States and could never become so). Opposition to Constitutional amendments shouldn’t be absolute by any means; but it is, I think, a prudent predisposition.

Beyond that, though, McCain’s stand strikes me as political posturing — something that has no chance of passage and which may end up being distracting from the real problems we face and that we can far more easily address, including the reduction of the large number of illegal immigrants crossing our borders.

There is an argument according to which, if we were starting from scratch, children of illegal immigrants should not be granted automatic citizenship; after all, this was clearly not the use of the 14th amendment intended by its architects. But we’re not beginning from scratch — and revoking birthright citizenship now would, as Michael Gerson has written, “turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ — arriving, not across a border, but crying in a hospital.”

Senator McCain’s U-turn is certainly not without precedent in American politics. But it is nevertheless fairly dramatic — and for a man who has long fancied himself a person of unusual political courage and independence, it is discouraging.

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