Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mitch McConnell

Who Lost the Shutdown Matters

Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

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Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

Let me restate, as I have done many times, that I think there is much that is admirable about Cruz as well as the Tea Party movement in general. His resistance to business as usual on Capitol Hill is refreshing and needed. Conservatives should be pleased about the fact that there is a core group of Republicans in the House and the Senate that understands that the power of government must limited and that the GOP should not be co-opted in order to assist the implementation of President Obama’s plans to expand it. The days of Republican leaders operating as, in Newt Gingrich’s memorable takedown of Bob Dole, “the tax collector for the welfare state” should be over. Moreover, ObamaCare deserved to be defunded. Indeed, it must continue to be opposed wherever possible, especially as its disastrous rollout makes clear just how much of a boondoggle this vast expansion of government truly is.

But there is a difference between principled conservatism and destructive zealotry. The willingness of Cruz to cynically call conservatives to arms this fall on behalf of a strategy that never had a prayer of success calls into question his judgment. Republicans cannot run the government with only control of the House of Representatives. The attempt to defund ObamaCare could not succeed and Cruz knew it. The fact that President Obama had been daring, even begging the GOP to try it, should have tipped off the conservative base that not only could it not work, but that it would materially damage their cause. And, to one’s great surprise (including Cruz), that’s exactly what happened.

But in the aftermath of the disaster, Cruz and some of the conservative talking heads on radio and TV who urged Republicans to go down this path are not taking responsibility for their mistake. Instead, they are blaming the surrender on other conservatives, especially Senate Republicans, for not blindly following Cruz. Others even insist that the GOP should have continued to hold out in the hope that the Democrats would crack, even if that meant extending the shutdown and even brushing up against the danger of a default.

To put it mildly, this is bunk.

Yes, there were plenty of Republican senators that warned that the tactic couldn’t work and urged the House GOP caucus not to try it. And they continued to call for compromise and demand that President Obama negotiate with the Republicans to end the standoff. But to assert, as Cruz and some Tea Partiers do, that it was this factor that enabled Obama to prevail is worse than instant revisionist history; it is an exercise in the sort of magical thinking that conservatives have always associated more with utopian liberals and Marxists than their own movement.

Even if no Republican had dared to mention that Emperor Cruz wasn’t wearing any clothes that wouldn’t have made President Obama any more willing to bend to the GOP’s will. He had no reason to do so since the longer the shutdown and the closer to default the nation got, the more blame his opponents would get for the disagreement.

Yes, part of this is a function of the liberal bias of the mainstream media. Life, especially for conservatives in Washington, is unfair. But it is difficult to blame even a biased media for the fact that some conservatives were willing to play Russian roulette with the economy, even if their motivation was a good cause like stopping ObamaCare.

So long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate, ObamaCare can’t be repealed or defunded. That is frustrating for conservatives but that’s the price you pay for losing elections in a democracy. That doesn’t mean they must simply accept that ObamaCare is “the law of the land” and shut up. But it does mean they can’t overturn it even if they all held their breath until they turned blue on the steps of the Capitol. Understanding this doesn’t make one a liberal or a RINO or any of the other insults hurled at conservatives who criticize Cruz by his adherents. It just means you are a conservative who lives in the real world rather than the fantasy Washington in which some on the right prefer to dwell.

The “blame the establishment” meme we are hearing this week has little to do with a genuine belief that the efforts of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to craft a deal that ended this nightmare was the difference between victory or defeat. What is about is an effort on the part of Cruz and his crew to craft a myth about the shutdown that will enable them to evade blame for their mistake.

If conservatives listen to them and go out and spend the next year attempting to take down McConnell and other conservatives in Senate primaries, it will increase Cruz’s influence in the party. But it won’t give him more power in the Senate since success for some of the Tea Party alternatives in those primaries will mean, as it did in 2010 and 2012, that the Republicans will blow another chance to take back the Senate.

Having taken the party over the cliff in the shutdown, Cruz and friends seek to repeat the exercise in the future and that is why they are still doing their best to abuse those who knew better all along. If Republicans let them, they’ll have no one but themselves to blame for what follows.

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McConnell’s Bad Week Isn’t Fatal

There’s a lot of chortling going on right now among Democrats about Mitch McConnell, and who can blame them? The contretemps over the Senate minority leader’s campaign manager saying he will be “holding my nose” while working for McConnell is not only a public-relations gaffe. It’s a reminder that some conservatives and the libertarian wing of the GOP are decidedly unenthusiastic about supporting the senator’s reelection campaign. At a time when McConnell is already facing a pesky primary opponent purporting to represent the Tea Party and what may be a formidable challenge from the Democrats in the general election, this unforced error is the last thing McConnell needed this week.

There is no doubt that in a year when Democrats are defending a number of vulnerable seats leading even a liberal pundit like Nate Silver to give the GOP an even chance of taking back the Senate, McConnell appears to be the most endangered Republican up for re-election in 2014. But the bad news for Democrats who relish the thought of defeating their leading Washington nemesis is that it will take a lot more than a bad news week 15 months ahead of Election Day to knock off McConnell. Even more to the point, the “holding my nose” quote itself actually should remind us that the leading libertarian in the Senate has a vested interest in helping McConnell win that should overwhelm any reluctance on the part of his followers.

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There’s a lot of chortling going on right now among Democrats about Mitch McConnell, and who can blame them? The contretemps over the Senate minority leader’s campaign manager saying he will be “holding my nose” while working for McConnell is not only a public-relations gaffe. It’s a reminder that some conservatives and the libertarian wing of the GOP are decidedly unenthusiastic about supporting the senator’s reelection campaign. At a time when McConnell is already facing a pesky primary opponent purporting to represent the Tea Party and what may be a formidable challenge from the Democrats in the general election, this unforced error is the last thing McConnell needed this week.

There is no doubt that in a year when Democrats are defending a number of vulnerable seats leading even a liberal pundit like Nate Silver to give the GOP an even chance of taking back the Senate, McConnell appears to be the most endangered Republican up for re-election in 2014. But the bad news for Democrats who relish the thought of defeating their leading Washington nemesis is that it will take a lot more than a bad news week 15 months ahead of Election Day to knock off McConnell. Even more to the point, the “holding my nose” quote itself actually should remind us that the leading libertarian in the Senate has a vested interest in helping McConnell win that should overwhelm any reluctance on the part of his followers.

As embarrassing as it is, we didn’t need to learn about the comments of Jesse Benton that were actually uttered in January about his distaste for his boss to know that his presence in the McConnell campaign was the result of a strategic alliance between Rand Paul and the minority leader. As is well known, Benton performed the same function for Rand Paul in 2010 following a stint as press spokesman for Paul’s father Ron. He’s also married to one of Ron’s granddaughters. His hiring and Rand Paul’s endorsement of the minority leader’s reelection seemed to solidify an informal deal between Kentucky’s two Republican senators.

That this is an alliance based more on mutual needs than shared ideas is also true. McConnell saw a need to shore up his right flank against possible primary opponents while Paul rightly understood that having the minority leader as an ally rather than a potential enemy would bolster his presidential ambitions. This is an important point when considering how libertarians like the members of Paul’s extended clan look at 2014. Though McConnell’s primary opponent Matt Bevin will seek to exploit this to appeal to Rand’s supporters, the point to remember here is that while some of Paul’s supporters may be tempted to oppose him, the Paulbots have a vested interest in having a Senate minority or possibility majority leader that owes their candidate a favor in 2016. The more trouble McConnell finds himself in next year, if indeed Bevin has any chance at all in a primary against the Senate veteran, the more likely it is that Paul will have a powerful motive to help his reelection. The bottom line here is that it will take a lot more than a staffer’s gaffe to inject some life into Bevin’s uphill challenge.

McConnell got a bad break when Democrats wisely passed on putting up Ashley Judd and instead got behind a stronger opponent in Alison Lundergan Grimes. But though polls show Grimes well within striking distance of knocking off McConnell, the numbers may look a bit different next year as her positions are put under the spotlight along with McConnell’s perceived flaws. With considerable resources at his disposal and the very real possibility that 2014 will, as midterms usually are, be a good year for the party out of power, the minority leader may not be in as much trouble as his critics think.

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What Does the Tea Party Want?

Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a little fun at the expense of his Republican counterpart when he joked that Mitch McConnell had “tried to make love to the Tea Party but they didn’t like it.” The vulgar reference was to the fact that it appears as if the minority leader will be facing a primary challenge from an opponent claiming to represent the interests of Tea Party conservatives anxious to knock off one of the leading members of the Washington establishment. Politico reported on Friday that Matt Bevin, a Louisville investment analyst, had begun reserving airtime for television ads in anticipation of launching an effort to unseat McConnell. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Bevin will announce his candidacy tomorrow. This means that after working hard to shore up ties with conservatives in his home state—a process that included making nice with Senate colleague Rand Paul—McConnell will still find himself in a fight to retain the GOP nomination against a candidate who is presumably rich enough to self-fund his campaign.

Despite his cordial relationship with the minority leader, Paul is not seeking to discourage the Bevin challenge, merely saying that “it’s a free country” even as he predicts a McConnell victory. While not exactly neutral—Paul has endorsed McConnell’s reelection—that ambivalence will serve Bevin’s interests since the conceit of his candidacy is that he, rather than McConnell, truly represents the beliefs of the GOP’s activist base that adores the libertarian icon. The fact that Bevin’s campaign spokeswoman is a former president of the Louisville Tea Party lends some credence to that notion.

While, as Paul says, McConnell is likely to beat Bevin, the question for Tea Partiers in Kentucky isn’t so much about the challenger’s qualifications or even the popularity of the incumbent. It’s something much more fundamental: What exactly do they want? While Tea Party conservatives had some rationale to challenge other Republican incumbents, such as Indiana’s Richard Lugar, in recent election cycles, the choice here isn’t between a moderate and a conservative but between two conservatives. After leading the fight against the stimulus, ObamaCare and becoming the major obstacle to virtually every other item on the president’s agenda, it’s fair to ask what Tea Partiers can ask McConnell to do that he hasn’t already tried to accomplish?

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Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a little fun at the expense of his Republican counterpart when he joked that Mitch McConnell had “tried to make love to the Tea Party but they didn’t like it.” The vulgar reference was to the fact that it appears as if the minority leader will be facing a primary challenge from an opponent claiming to represent the interests of Tea Party conservatives anxious to knock off one of the leading members of the Washington establishment. Politico reported on Friday that Matt Bevin, a Louisville investment analyst, had begun reserving airtime for television ads in anticipation of launching an effort to unseat McConnell. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Bevin will announce his candidacy tomorrow. This means that after working hard to shore up ties with conservatives in his home state—a process that included making nice with Senate colleague Rand Paul—McConnell will still find himself in a fight to retain the GOP nomination against a candidate who is presumably rich enough to self-fund his campaign.

Despite his cordial relationship with the minority leader, Paul is not seeking to discourage the Bevin challenge, merely saying that “it’s a free country” even as he predicts a McConnell victory. While not exactly neutral—Paul has endorsed McConnell’s reelection—that ambivalence will serve Bevin’s interests since the conceit of his candidacy is that he, rather than McConnell, truly represents the beliefs of the GOP’s activist base that adores the libertarian icon. The fact that Bevin’s campaign spokeswoman is a former president of the Louisville Tea Party lends some credence to that notion.

While, as Paul says, McConnell is likely to beat Bevin, the question for Tea Partiers in Kentucky isn’t so much about the challenger’s qualifications or even the popularity of the incumbent. It’s something much more fundamental: What exactly do they want? While Tea Party conservatives had some rationale to challenge other Republican incumbents, such as Indiana’s Richard Lugar, in recent election cycles, the choice here isn’t between a moderate and a conservative but between two conservatives. After leading the fight against the stimulus, ObamaCare and becoming the major obstacle to virtually every other item on the president’s agenda, it’s fair to ask what Tea Partiers can ask McConnell to do that he hasn’t already tried to accomplish?

Nobody, not even the head of a party caucus, is entitled to a Senate seat by divine right. As is the case in Wyoming, where Liz Cheney is challenging Mike Enzi, if a younger, better Republican comes along there is no reason why voters shouldn’t have the opportunity to choose between them and the incumbent. But if Bevin is going to be embraced by Tea Partiers in the manner of other insurgents around the nation, they will be hard pressed to make a case that the conservative cause will be better served by McConnell’s defeat than by his reelection.

Some Tea Partiers won’t forgive McConnell for voting for the TARP bailout in 2008 or for going along with the fiscal cliff deal at the start of the year. Some just instinctively distrust any incumbent or anyone who is part of Washington’s power elite no matter what their positions. But if Tea Partiers or other advocacy groups, such as the Club for Growth or those groups associated with current Heritage Foundation chief and former Senator Jim DeMint, were to embrace Bevin, a better explanation is in order.

Not everyone in Washington or back home in Kentucky may love McConnell, but it’s difficult to argue that he hasn’t been Barack Obama’s chief antagonist over the past few years. While House Speaker John Boehner is the highest ranking Republican and a clear foe of the White House, McConnell’s guerrilla warfare against the presidential agenda in the Democrat-controlled Senate has set the tone for the partisan divide in Congress. Though he has been accused of pandering to the Tea Party in order to avoid the challenge that Bevin is providing, McConnell is still public enemy No. 1 for Democrats. That’s exactly why Reid and the rest of the D.C. liberal establishment are thrilled about McConnell having to face a well-funded challenger. Simply put, there is no current issue, even those on which conservatives disagree like immigration reform, in which McConnell cannot be counted on as a leading force for the right.

Just as important, and in a dramatic distinction to the case in Wyoming, Democrats do stand to benefit if McConnell is forced to spend heavily in order to fend off Bevin. Expected Democratic candidate Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes is no pushover and will have the full backing of her national party next year. Kentucky may be deep red in presidential elections, but Democrats remain competitive in state and local races there. If Tea Partiers create a genuine schism on behalf of Bevin, it is far from inconceivable that Grimes could take advantage of it and steal a seat from the GOP in a year when they are expected to gain ground in the Senate.

All this is not to say that Bevin doesn’t have the right to run or to make a case for himself if there is one. But what it does mean is that he should not do so with the imprimatur of national conservatives who should understand the consequences of torpedoing a genuine conservative leader merely for spite or to prove they can do it. 

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Dem Filibuster Win Doesn’t Change Much

The aftermath of yesterday’s agreement to end Republican filibusters of several of President Obama’s nominees to federal posts is being widely interpreted as a severe defeat for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus. After holding up several appointments, the GOP conceded the confirmation of Richard Cordray as director of the controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In exchange, the president withdrew his two nominees for the National Labor Relations Board that Republicans had challenged in court as being illegally put into office via bogus recess appointments, but immediately nominated replacements that will presumably not be filibustered. In exchange for this, Majority Leader Harry Reid withdrew the threat of a “nuclear option” that would stop filibusters on presidential appointments, though not judicial nominations or ordinary legislation.

Taken in sum, McConnell’s critics are probably right to say this is a victory for the Democrats and a setback for the GOP caucus. But while the deal gives Reid a rare good day as well as helping the president pack the federal apparatus as he likes, the idea that this is a turning point in the struggle between the parties that will enable the president to successfully implement his second term agenda is an exaggeration at best. As much as the Republicans have been portrayed as a menace to the government, the ability of a minority—even Senate minorities—to obstruct a determined majority is not unlimited. Holding up nominations is the political equivalent of guerrilla warfare. Such tactics can annoy and wear down the opponent, but they won’t by themselves take down a president and no one in the Republican Party thought they could. Ending this particular standoff is merely one more round in an endless conflict in which the president and his Senate allies cannot claim more than a temporary small-scale victory.

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The aftermath of yesterday’s agreement to end Republican filibusters of several of President Obama’s nominees to federal posts is being widely interpreted as a severe defeat for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus. After holding up several appointments, the GOP conceded the confirmation of Richard Cordray as director of the controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In exchange, the president withdrew his two nominees for the National Labor Relations Board that Republicans had challenged in court as being illegally put into office via bogus recess appointments, but immediately nominated replacements that will presumably not be filibustered. In exchange for this, Majority Leader Harry Reid withdrew the threat of a “nuclear option” that would stop filibusters on presidential appointments, though not judicial nominations or ordinary legislation.

Taken in sum, McConnell’s critics are probably right to say this is a victory for the Democrats and a setback for the GOP caucus. But while the deal gives Reid a rare good day as well as helping the president pack the federal apparatus as he likes, the idea that this is a turning point in the struggle between the parties that will enable the president to successfully implement his second term agenda is an exaggeration at best. As much as the Republicans have been portrayed as a menace to the government, the ability of a minority—even Senate minorities—to obstruct a determined majority is not unlimited. Holding up nominations is the political equivalent of guerrilla warfare. Such tactics can annoy and wear down the opponent, but they won’t by themselves take down a president and no one in the Republican Party thought they could. Ending this particular standoff is merely one more round in an endless conflict in which the president and his Senate allies cannot claim more than a temporary small-scale victory.

McConnell may have taken Reid to the brink in this confrontation, but, as was the case when their positions were reversed only a few years ago, beyond a certain point the smaller caucus must always give in to some extent. The confirmation of an agency head that has actually already been in place for more than a year is not a substitute for a viable legislative program or a coherent policy. Nor can it be portrayed as anything more than a tactical triumph with little or no carry-over to the rest of the president’s fading agenda.

There are two reasons why Democrats have to crow about the deal as a seminal event.

One is the obvious fact that, after being consistently stymied by a wily minority, Reid’s bluffs about the “nuclear option” at least allowed him to say that he got the better of McConnell for at least one day. Such days don’t happen very often in the Senate, as even with 55 seats and few moderates in his caucus to thwart the liberals, Reid often finds himself unable to outmaneuver his counterpart and—despite the complaints of many conservatives—rarely is able to get many Republican votes on virtually any matter of consequence.

The other reason goes to the liberal misconception about what the Republicans are doing. The president and many in his party really do believe the goal of the GOP is to literally stop the government from functioning. Thus, anytime they are able to do anything, such as getting his nominee to lead an agency Republicans would like to abolish confirmed, they tell themselves that they have thwarted a primary aim of their opponents. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding both of the Republicans and of what they hope to accomplish.

Few Republicans really thought they could hold off Cordray indefinitely anymore than they can stop Obama from filling any post if the Democrats care enough about it to make it an issue. The point of the delay was to call attention to their opposition to the agency and to lay the groundwork for attempts to change its structure—to give it a bipartisan leadership—or eventually abolish it. The same is true of the NLRB appointees who might well have been tossed out of their positions by the courts if Obama hadn’t backed down and agreed to replace them.

Reid may feel his nuclear threat about the filibuster will smooth the way for future Obama nominees, but he knows very well that if the president chooses to put forward people who are vulnerable to criticism, the GOP will be back with stalling tactics. Like momentum in baseball that depends on a team’s starting pitcher on each day, the outcome of the next battle has more to do with the identity of future appointees than it does with what happened yesterday.

More to the point, the greatest victory for the Democrats in this deal has nothing to do with Obama’s nominations and everything to do with his own dubious prospects for sitting at the majority leader’s desk in 2015. Since, as I wrote on Monday, even liberal pundit/prognosticator Nate Silver is predicting the GOP will emerge from the 2014 midterms with 50-51 seats, preserving the right to filibuster is just as important to the Democrats as it is to McConnell. The ease with which the long standoff was solved tells us as much about Reid’s desire to preserve the right to stall as it did about McConnell’s interests.

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The Real Reason Reid Wants to Go Nuclear

For those trying to figure out the current state of partisanship, comity, and cooperation in the U.S. Senate, recent news would only add to the confusion. For example, the Hill published a story yesterday afternoon headlined “GOP presses for quick confirmation of Obama UN ambassador pick.” That sounded encouraging for those who think the president should have a great deal of latitude in choosing his own advisors, and the article did not disappoint.

The Hill tells us that Republicans want the nominee, Samantha Power, in her office and settled in by the time the September meeting of the UN General Assembly rolls around. Despite some initial criticism, “Her confirmation is all but assured.” It’s difficult to square that report, which is true, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s insistence that the sky is falling in on the Senate’s confirmation process due to Republicans’ intransigence, which is false. As Politico reports, Reid appeared on Meet the Press yesterday to sell his plan to deploy the “nuclear option” to change filibuster rules to speed through certain nominees:

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For those trying to figure out the current state of partisanship, comity, and cooperation in the U.S. Senate, recent news would only add to the confusion. For example, the Hill published a story yesterday afternoon headlined “GOP presses for quick confirmation of Obama UN ambassador pick.” That sounded encouraging for those who think the president should have a great deal of latitude in choosing his own advisors, and the article did not disappoint.

The Hill tells us that Republicans want the nominee, Samantha Power, in her office and settled in by the time the September meeting of the UN General Assembly rolls around. Despite some initial criticism, “Her confirmation is all but assured.” It’s difficult to square that report, which is true, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s insistence that the sky is falling in on the Senate’s confirmation process due to Republicans’ intransigence, which is false. As Politico reports, Reid appeared on Meet the Press yesterday to sell his plan to deploy the “nuclear option” to change filibuster rules to speed through certain nominees:

“The changes we’re making are very, very minimal. What we’re doing is saying: ‘Look American people, shouldn’t President Obama have somebody working for him that he wants?’” Reid said. “If you want to look at nominations, you know what the Founding Fathers said: ‘Simple majority.’ That’s what we need to do.”

Reid is set to deploy the “nuclear option” — which would allow 51 senators to change the Senate rules instead of the 67 that are normally required. Triggering it would dislodge several stalled Obama nominees, and it would allow senators to approve executive branch nominees — not judicial nominees or legislation — by a simple majority.

If Cabinet nominees are already getting through just fine, and the proposed changes won’t help judicial nominees or legislation get around the filibuster and receive an up-or-down vote, we can ask why Reid wants the changes enough to “go nuclear.” We can also ask Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell why he opposes such changes so staunchly. One answer is that the nomination changes apply to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board, the latter of which President Obama staffed up by making appointments the courts have found to be unconstitutional, and Republicans want to wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter.

But the more important answer has to do with a fundamental difference in how the two parties wish to govern–and contrary to what you may hear from the media, it reveals McConnell’s GOP to have far more respect for Congress and the legislative process than Reid’s Democrats.

I wrote about this last month, pointing readers to law professor Jonathan Turley’s column in the Washington Post about the “rise of the fourth branch,” the administrative state that has increasingly usurped Congress’s lawmaking authority without replicating the accountability or (relative) transparency. This is the crux of Turley’s argument:

For much of our nation’s history, the federal government was quite small. In 1790, it had just 1,000 nonmilitary workers. In 1962, there were 2,515,000 federal employees. Today, we have 2,840,000 federal workers in 15 departments, 69 agencies and 383 nonmilitary sub-agencies.

This exponential growth has led to increasing power and independence for agencies. The shift of authority has been staggering. The fourth branch now has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined.

The rise of the fourth branch has been at the expense of Congress’s lawmaking authority. In fact, the vast majority of “laws” governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats. One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.

This rulemaking comes with little accountability. It’s often impossible to know, absent a major scandal, whom to blame for rules that are abusive or nonsensical.

The recent scandals at the IRS and EPA, in which a government bureaucracy, egged on by powerful Democrats, absorbed the establishment’s liberal bias so thoroughly as to be actively targeting conservatives, prove both the efficacy and the inherent corruption in this worldview. Democrats understand that if they control the bureaucracy they can install “legislators” who remain anonymous, unelected, and unaccountable. Reid can be voted out of office, but the IRS cannot.

Where once the energetic and youthful liberal grass roots at least had an anti-authoritarian suspicion of government power and abuse, today the liberal movement is united in its belief that government must expand–and keep expanding. When liberal intellectuals swoon over China’s authoritarian rule, it isn’t because they are enamored of Chinese Communism but because the consolidation of power into a ruling elite is, to these intellectuals, an unfortunate means to a desirable end. Sacrificing a bit of freedom and democracy isn’t optimal to the professional left, but otherwise they’d have to pass up an opportunity to impose their dubious and unpopular environmentalist activism on the country.

And the same goes for financial regulation and public-union backslapping. That’s why Reid is willing to “go nuclear” not over judicial nominees or legislation but bureaucratic agencies. Reid isn’t defending the Congress’s traditional role by speeding up votes; he’s changing rules on the fly to further weaken Congress while striking another blow against transparency and democratic accountability. What he hopes is that Americans won’t realize what’s at stake before it’s too late.

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Dems’ Tired Filibuster Hypocrisy

After threatening to do so ever since they took back control of the Senate in 2008, Democrats may finally get around to trying to limit the right to filibuster this month. As the New York Times reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks he’s finally got a clear path to hamstringing Republican attempts to use the rules to prevent the president from getting more of his nominees for various offices confirmed. But though they—and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media—believe the time is right to start rolling back filibusters, it is far from certain that even this limited proposal can pass.

Reid appears to be planning to stage some confirmation fights in which he knows he doesn’t have 60 votes for cloture. But this carefully crafted confrontation won’t really be about the kinds of filibusters that generally get the most attention. Democrats are proposing that the new rule will only affect stalls of appointments to federal agencies and cabinet posts but leave in place procedures which require at least 60 votes to end debate on judicial appointments as well as legislation. That will allow Democrats to argue that the only thing they are asking is for Republicans to allow the government to function and to let the president have, as tradition allows, his choice on who should lead Cabinet departments and agencies. But the notion that the motivation for all this is a particularly unique or unprecedented series of actions by Senate Republicans to obstruct the government doesn’t wash. Both the specific nominations that Reid will use to leverage the filibuster limits and the recent history of Democrat stalls undermine the majority’s credibility. Getting even 51 Democrats to buy into making historic alterations in the Senate rules on these flimsy grounds may be a heavier lift than Reid and President Obama think.

Though this all may be a gigantic Democratic bluff, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has noted during his frequent speeches on the issue, “Majorities are fleeting, but changes to the rules are not. And breaking the rules to change the rules would fundamentally change this Senate.”

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After threatening to do so ever since they took back control of the Senate in 2008, Democrats may finally get around to trying to limit the right to filibuster this month. As the New York Times reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks he’s finally got a clear path to hamstringing Republican attempts to use the rules to prevent the president from getting more of his nominees for various offices confirmed. But though they—and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media—believe the time is right to start rolling back filibusters, it is far from certain that even this limited proposal can pass.

Reid appears to be planning to stage some confirmation fights in which he knows he doesn’t have 60 votes for cloture. But this carefully crafted confrontation won’t really be about the kinds of filibusters that generally get the most attention. Democrats are proposing that the new rule will only affect stalls of appointments to federal agencies and cabinet posts but leave in place procedures which require at least 60 votes to end debate on judicial appointments as well as legislation. That will allow Democrats to argue that the only thing they are asking is for Republicans to allow the government to function and to let the president have, as tradition allows, his choice on who should lead Cabinet departments and agencies. But the notion that the motivation for all this is a particularly unique or unprecedented series of actions by Senate Republicans to obstruct the government doesn’t wash. Both the specific nominations that Reid will use to leverage the filibuster limits and the recent history of Democrat stalls undermine the majority’s credibility. Getting even 51 Democrats to buy into making historic alterations in the Senate rules on these flimsy grounds may be a heavier lift than Reid and President Obama think.

Though this all may be a gigantic Democratic bluff, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has noted during his frequent speeches on the issue, “Majorities are fleeting, but changes to the rules are not. And breaking the rules to change the rules would fundamentally change this Senate.”

Though thanks to Frank Capra’s classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington they are enshrined in American popular culture, filibusters are not mentioned in the Constitution. The Senate can change its rules allowing them any time it wants as the advent of cloture rules requiring 60 votes to stop debate showed.

But the reason why filibusters survive in their current form is the stark knowledge that both parties know they are the only thing that allows minorities in the upper body to have a say in legislation. Without them, the Senate could function like the British House of Commons where a narrow majority can always shove any bill down the country’s throat. The filibuster is important because it is the perfect tool for an institution created by the Constitution specifically to act as a check on majority opinion and impulses.

Critics of the filibuster say it is a fundamentally undemocratic practice and they’re right about that. But the Senate is itself a body created to thwart democracy with small states getting a disproportionate voice in the nation’s affairs and six-year terms meant to stand in contrast to the more frequent election cycles that, at least in theory, keep the membership of the House of Representatives closer to public opinion.

But the main point here is that it was only a few years ago that Senate Republicans were in charge and it was the Democrats who used filibusters to stop George W. Bush’s nominations to the judiciary and even cabinet posts. As I noted in 2009, the New York Times endorsed filibusters as an essential tool that enabled liberals to thwart the GOP, but they changed their minds as soon as Democrats took back the Senate. Since then, Republicans have done their share of obstructionism, but it has been no worse than the Democratic mayhem wreaked on Bush administration plans. If Senate Democrats and the mainstream liberal media are up in arms about the use of the filibuster now, it is only because the dysfunction of Congress has become their main talking point about GOP beastliness, not because what Republicans are doing is any worse—or better—than what President Obama and his party were doing prior to his taking office.

Even more damning is the fact that the specific nominations that Reid has chosen to make his stand over are not typically anodyne confirmations. All of them are controversial not so much because of the individual nominees but because of the manner in which they were appointed or because the agency posts they seek to fill are in and of themselves points of partisan contention.

In particular, Republicans are on very firm ground in seeking to use the rules to stop President Obama’s nominations to the National Labor Relations Board. Four of Obama’s nominees to the NLRB are already serving since the president snuck them into their posts as recess appointments, something that was rightly opposed by the GOP as a power grab. The Supreme Court has accepted the case for review and may well rule that they should never have been appointed in this manner in the first place. The Senate should wait until that case is decided before going any further.

The GOP also has a strong case in opposing other nominations that Reid is seeking to use as a litmus test for the future of the filibuster. Virtually the entire Republican caucus has vowed not to confirm any appointment to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau until it is reformed in order to create a bipartisan leadership for it rather than having it led by a single political appointee.

While Democrats are eager to get these agencies functioning in a manner that will further their political agenda, these appointments are poor examples of the alleged plague of Republican-inspired dysfunction.

But above all, the key issue here is hypocrisy. As even the New York Times noted today, it was Senator Barack Obama who said the following about GOP threats of changes in the filibuster rules:

If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.

The president was right about this issue then, even if he and his followers have attempted to throw that statement and the reasoning behind down the proverbial memory hole. One suspects that more than a few Democrats mindful of the fact that they might find themselves in the minority in 2015 or 2017 will remember that and prevent Reid from changing the rules.

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NPR Outlet: Liberal Group Taped McConnell

The mainstream media and liberal commentators have been claiming that the source that gave a tape recording of a campaign strategy meeting held in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Louisville office had to be a GOP insider, and mocked the assertion that this constituted another Watergate. But today a Kentucky NPR outlet may have started to break the story open in a way that will give no comfort to McConnell’s Democratic detractors.

According to WFPL News, a member of the local Democratic County Committee is claiming that two members of Progress Kentucky—the group that has targeted McConnell before and which he claimed might be responsible for the incident—bragged to him that they were the ones who made the recording. Jacob Conway said Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison, the founders of Progress Kentucky, managed to get into the building where McConnell’s office is located and then taped the campaign meeting from the hallway, perhaps by putting a recording device at the door. The Democrat, who repeated his accusations on Fox News this afternoon, says he is speaking about the group because he feared their activities would be associated with his party.

If true, and reports are now also saying that FBI are pulling surveillance tapes of the building, then what we are talking about here is nothing less than a crime. Far from McConnell crying wolf, as Chris Matthews claimed yesterday, the Watergate analogy may actually turn out to be entirely accurate.

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The mainstream media and liberal commentators have been claiming that the source that gave a tape recording of a campaign strategy meeting held in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Louisville office had to be a GOP insider, and mocked the assertion that this constituted another Watergate. But today a Kentucky NPR outlet may have started to break the story open in a way that will give no comfort to McConnell’s Democratic detractors.

According to WFPL News, a member of the local Democratic County Committee is claiming that two members of Progress Kentucky—the group that has targeted McConnell before and which he claimed might be responsible for the incident—bragged to him that they were the ones who made the recording. Jacob Conway said Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison, the founders of Progress Kentucky, managed to get into the building where McConnell’s office is located and then taped the campaign meeting from the hallway, perhaps by putting a recording device at the door. The Democrat, who repeated his accusations on Fox News this afternoon, says he is speaking about the group because he feared their activities would be associated with his party.

If true, and reports are now also saying that FBI are pulling surveillance tapes of the building, then what we are talking about here is nothing less than a crime. Far from McConnell crying wolf, as Chris Matthews claimed yesterday, the Watergate analogy may actually turn out to be entirely accurate.

The principle here is one that both parties ought to condemn not just because it is a crime to record a person without his consent in this manner but also because acts of political espionage are a direct attack on our democratic system.

For much of the last three years we’ve heard non-stop complaints about the abusive nature of Tea Party rhetoric and the way the political right has supposedly dragged political discourse in this country down. The mainstream media has played this tune often and loud in spite of numerous instances of liberal incivility. But what has happened in Kentucky isn’t merely rude; it is a sign that the left has taken political warfare to a completely new level of aggressiveness.

Progress Kentucky is, after all, the same group that made offensive and racist tweets about the ethnicity of McConnell’s wife. Now they may have engaged in the kind of political espionage that brought down the Nixon administration. Its time for the same liberal outlets that have been talking about the Tea Party’s alleged offenses to stop ignoring McConnellgate.

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The Media Can’t Bury McConnellgate

Is it ever okay to bug an opponent’s political headquarters? Even those who are too young to remember what happened when officials connected with Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign unleashed an incompetent band of dirty tricksters on the offices of the Democratic National Committee in Washington’s Watergate complex, one would think the answer to that question is an emphatic no. While the Watergate scandal may have been more about the cover up than the crime, the line crossed by Nixon’s henchmen has always appeared to be a bright line that no one—not even liberals who can generally count on favorable media treatment—dare cross in this country. Yet someone or some group may have done so in Kentucky, and if that explanation of what happened at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Louisville office holds up what follows will be an interesting test of the media’s integrity.

The provenance of the tape of a discussion during a meeting between the senator and his campaign aides at his office is currently unknown. Since this was not a fundraiser held at someone’s home where guests or waiters could have taped the remarks—as was the case when President Obama was taped talking about Americans clinging to their bibles and guns or when Mitt Romney dropped his “47 percent” bomb on his own campaign—there are only two possible explanations for the tape. One is that one of the senator’s high-level aides made the tape and sent it to Mother Jones magazine. The other is that one of the senator’s political opponents was running their own version of Watergate and found a way to bug his private conversations. While one cannot exclude the possibility that the former is the case, it seems unlikely. If the latter is true, then we’re going to find out whether liberals can get away with the sort of thing for which they once took down Tricky Dick.

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Is it ever okay to bug an opponent’s political headquarters? Even those who are too young to remember what happened when officials connected with Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign unleashed an incompetent band of dirty tricksters on the offices of the Democratic National Committee in Washington’s Watergate complex, one would think the answer to that question is an emphatic no. While the Watergate scandal may have been more about the cover up than the crime, the line crossed by Nixon’s henchmen has always appeared to be a bright line that no one—not even liberals who can generally count on favorable media treatment—dare cross in this country. Yet someone or some group may have done so in Kentucky, and if that explanation of what happened at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Louisville office holds up what follows will be an interesting test of the media’s integrity.

The provenance of the tape of a discussion during a meeting between the senator and his campaign aides at his office is currently unknown. Since this was not a fundraiser held at someone’s home where guests or waiters could have taped the remarks—as was the case when President Obama was taped talking about Americans clinging to their bibles and guns or when Mitt Romney dropped his “47 percent” bomb on his own campaign—there are only two possible explanations for the tape. One is that one of the senator’s high-level aides made the tape and sent it to Mother Jones magazine. The other is that one of the senator’s political opponents was running their own version of Watergate and found a way to bug his private conversations. While one cannot exclude the possibility that the former is the case, it seems unlikely. If the latter is true, then we’re going to find out whether liberals can get away with the sort of thing for which they once took down Tricky Dick.

Liberal talking heads are trying to pooh-pooh Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s complaint that the left has engaged in dirty tricks against him and are instead trying to divert public attention to whether it was appropriate for a politician and his advisors to discuss in private whether a potential opponent’s record could be against her. The opponent was, of course, actress Ashley Judd, who at the time of the conversation was actively considering challenging McConnell.

According to this view of the incident, we are supposed to be shocked and outraged that a senior legislator would sit and listen as his aides happily contemplated doing opposition research against a rival. To say that McConnell’s people were confident they could take down Judd is an understatement. The phrase that one person in the conversation uses to describe how easy it would be to find foolish statements by Judd—“a haystack of needles”—will, no doubt, enter the country’s political lexicon regardless of the source of the tape. However, liberals seem to be saying that the only decent thing for McConnell to do was to leave the room or perhaps even fire those chuckling about Judd’s personal foibles.

This is, of course, hypocrisy on an Olympian scale. After a year in which Barack Obama’s campaign spent much of its time trying to falsely portray Mitt Romney as a heartless murderer and tax cheat, Democrats are in no position to cry foul about Republicans discussing the possibility of working over Judd.

But the real question here is not liberal hypocrisy about McConnell. The issue is the practice of taping private political conferences between a candidate and his staff. Unless one of McConnell’s aides went rogue and gave up his boss to, of all publications, the far-left San Francisco-based Mother Jones, what happened in Louisville was a criminal act of the sort that American politicians were supposed to understand had been conclusively placed beyond the pale by Nixon.

McConnell has earned the resentment of liberals both for his skillful leadership of Senate Republicans and by being an unabashed advocate of conservative principles. But since when does that give opponents the right to tape his private conversations? Had a similar incident happened to Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or any prominent Democrat, the mainstream liberal media would be leading with this topic in every broadcast and front page with each story drenched in Watergate analogies instead of the focus on a candidate “plotting” against a rival, as has been the case with accounts of McConnell’s tape.

No matter what turns out to be the true story behind this tape—if indeed we ever do find out the truth—liberals and conservatives should both be condemning the taping of private political conferences in this manner. A consensus that these sorts of tactics could never again be tolerated followed Watergate. But if McConnell’s enemies can get away with it, no party and no individual will be safe from political espionage.

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Ashley Judd and the Will Rogers Democrats

As the Republicans rose in revolt over the GOP’s next-in-linism and the Democratic president won a second term surrounded by potential successors in aging party stalwarts, November’s election seemed to finally flip the old Will Rogers quip: “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” In truth, however, this was a process that began in earnest with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy as chairman of the DNC. And it is the same process that led to this week’s announcement that the actress Ashley Judd will not challenge Mitch McConnell for the latter’s Senate seat.

The Judd saga began typically enough. The actress has dabbled in political activism over the last few years in much the same way others in the entertainment industry have: enlisting in the cloudy and creepy cult of Obama. “I think that he is a powerful leader. I think he’s a brilliant man. I think that he has an incredible devotion to our constitution, and that he is now able to flower more as the president I knew he could be,” Judd said last year. She cut an ad for the president’s reelection campaign, rallied for the president, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to frame the importance of the president’s reelection—par for the Obama personality cult course. But then things took a less conventional turn.

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As the Republicans rose in revolt over the GOP’s next-in-linism and the Democratic president won a second term surrounded by potential successors in aging party stalwarts, November’s election seemed to finally flip the old Will Rogers quip: “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” In truth, however, this was a process that began in earnest with Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy as chairman of the DNC. And it is the same process that led to this week’s announcement that the actress Ashley Judd will not challenge Mitch McConnell for the latter’s Senate seat.

The Judd saga began typically enough. The actress has dabbled in political activism over the last few years in much the same way others in the entertainment industry have: enlisting in the cloudy and creepy cult of Obama. “I think that he is a powerful leader. I think he’s a brilliant man. I think that he has an incredible devotion to our constitution, and that he is now able to flower more as the president I knew he could be,” Judd said last year. She cut an ad for the president’s reelection campaign, rallied for the president, quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to frame the importance of the president’s reelection—par for the Obama personality cult course. But then things took a less conventional turn.

Some Democrats started encouraging Judd to run for the Senate from Kentucky. GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s seat is up in 2014, and liberals think he’s more vulnerable than in past cycles. Following their old Will Rogers instincts, some Democrats saw an entertaining way to blow their chances by nominating a classic Hollywood liberal instead of a conservative Democrat. McConnell’s campaign was giddy at the prospect.

At some point the story went from being “hey, wouldn’t it be fun if Ashley Judd ran for Senate” to “Ashley Judd is seriously considering running for Senate” and the Dean Democrats panicked. They called in party elders to do something, and party elders called in Bill Clinton to run Judd’s budding campaign off the road, which Clinton gladly did. It soon became clear why Democrats feared nominating Judd. “I have been raped twice, so I think I can handle Mitch McConnell,” Judd said about the race last month.

Then on Wednesday came the moment national Democrats were waiting for: ABC News reported that Judd announced—“in a series of tweets,” naturally—that they could rest easy:

After serious and thorough contemplation, I realize that my responsibilities & energy at this time need to be focused on my family. Regretfully, I am currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate…. Thanks for even considering me as that person & know how much I love our Commonwealth. Thank you!

Judd’s decision not to run—which, it seems from the ABC report, was made for her by Bill Clinton—represents the new Democratic Party, in which discipline is enforced from the top along with a willingness to completely get in line and have party leaders make the decisions. (Witness my earlier post about Democrats who voted for Obamacare expressing shock and disbelief at discovering over the course of three years what was actually in the bill.)

Democrats don’t even seem to want a primary fight for the 2016 presidential nomination, preparing instead to pave the way for Hillary Clinton, wife of the previous Democratic president and secretary of state in the current Democratic president’s first term. The other plausible challenger for the nomination is the current vice president.

Republicans, on the other hand, tried to nominate anyone but the next in line last time and have no next in line for 2016 unless Paul Ryan runs. And as far as congressional races are concerned, Republicans are the minority in the Senate in large part because the so-called establishment is unable to pick and choose its candidates around the country, ending up with Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock and the like to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In fact, these days the lack of establishment money and support is more likely than not to win you the nomination; call yourself a “Tea Party” candidate and watch the primary votes roll in.

That phenomenon of course often yields far better candidates, such as Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, and Ted Cruz. It connects the party agenda with the zeitgeist of the grassroots, and thus makes a candidate’s principles more valuable than his campaign war chest. (This concept is unimaginable to Democrats, as is the idea that political principles can have any intrinsic value beyond their immediate utility in any given election cycle.)

The post-Dean era Democrats have neither the benefits nor the drawbacks of such a state. For 2014, that means no Ashley Judd.

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In Kentucky, Do the Interests of MoveOn and the Tea Party Really “Align”?

The sometimes contradictory nature of the grassroots conservative criticism of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was apparent a few weeks ago when one conservative group began to advertise against McConnell from the right. It turned out this same group, which rates members of Congress on their dedication to conservative principles and freedom, gives McConnell a 95 percent rating.

That doesn’t mean the group isn’t free to push McConnell on the other 5 percent, or that such groups shouldn’t prioritize high-profile and symbolic fights over more mundane votes in the Senate. Indeed, there is logic to that approach. But it does show why there hasn’t been, and doesn’t appear to be, any real enthusiasm for a primary challenge to the veteran Kentucky senator, whose term is up in 2014. And a Politico story today reports on the possible Tea Party involvement in what sounds like a truly terrible idea:

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The sometimes contradictory nature of the grassroots conservative criticism of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was apparent a few weeks ago when one conservative group began to advertise against McConnell from the right. It turned out this same group, which rates members of Congress on their dedication to conservative principles and freedom, gives McConnell a 95 percent rating.

That doesn’t mean the group isn’t free to push McConnell on the other 5 percent, or that such groups shouldn’t prioritize high-profile and symbolic fights over more mundane votes in the Senate. Indeed, there is logic to that approach. But it does show why there hasn’t been, and doesn’t appear to be, any real enthusiasm for a primary challenge to the veteran Kentucky senator, whose term is up in 2014. And a Politico story today reports on the possible Tea Party involvement in what sounds like a truly terrible idea:

Big Democratic donors, local liberal activists and a left-leaning super PAC in Kentucky are telling tea partiers that they are poised to throw financial and organizational support behind a right-wing candidate should one try to defeat the powerful GOP leader in a 2014 primary fight.

The idea: Soften up McConnell and make him vulnerable in a general election in Kentucky, where Democrats still maintain a voter registration advantage. Or better yet, in their eyes: Watch Kentucky GOP primary voters nominate the 2014 version of Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, weak candidates who may actually lose.

“We are doing a lot of reaching out to some of the tea party folks across the state,” said Keith Rouda, a field organizer with the liberal group MoveOn and the Democratic super PAC, Progress Kentucky. “What we’re finding — at least in this stage of the race — we’re finding that our interests align. It’s unusual.”

Local Tea Party leaders are not rejecting the idea of joining forces with MoveOn to help Democrats pick the Republican general-election candidate for the seat:

Sarah Durand, president of the Louisville Tea Party, said Democratic donors and activists have told her that they’d be willing to spend seven figures in a GOP primary to help a candidate willing to challenge McConnell. Durand said the challenge for tea party groups is to recruit a candidate who wouldn’t hand the seat to the Democrats, even though, she said, tea party leaders across the state are not satisfied with McConnell’s three-decade tenure in Washington.

Red flags abound. We can start with the obvious differences between McConnell’s seat and the successful tactic Democrats employed to save Claire McCaskill by helping to elevate a Republican opponent who would go on to say something so offensive it would effectively lose two Senate seats in one year for the party. In the latter case, it was an open primary among conservatives to win the chance to challenge an unpopular incumbent Democrat. There was no incumbent Republican to knock off to win the nomination. McConnell, in contrast, is a five-term senator with good fundraising numbers; as of the September filing, he has almost $6.8 million in cash on-hand. And with a 96 percent 2010 ACU rating and an 85 percent 2011 rating he should garner plenty of support among Republicans.

Durand, the Louisville Tea Party president, was plainly apprehensive about the general-election ramifications of primarying McConnell. She should be. As the Politico story notes, Kentucky Democrats have a party registration advantage, so although the electorate is a generally conservative one, it’s not unthinkable for a Democrat to compete. McConnell’s approval ratings are above water, as are those of fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who supports McConnell’s re-election. On that note, McConnell has broadened his Tea Party support, and brought more conservative members of the party’s congressional delegation under his wing. Between conservative groups and conservative politicians in the state, McConnell has made it exceedingly difficult for his would-be opponents to build an effective electoral coalition to his right.

Kentucky Republicans would also be well advised to take a glance at their putative allies in this fight. Normally, Tea Party groups grumble about the Democrats and liberal Republicans getting to choose GOP candidates, as they believe was the case with John McCain’s nomination in 2008 with some help from open primaries and party apostates like Charlie Crist. Democratic groups like MoveOn are quite publicly trying to do the very same thing here, and simply because they believe this will make it easier to take another seat from the GOP. As Politico reports, one of the leaders of a super-PAC looking to back a primary challenge to McConnell worked for Rand Paul’s Democratic opponent in 2010.

And it should go without saying that MoveOn and other liberal political groups are not exactly champing at the bit to help strong conservative candidates–they want weak conservative candidates. Do groups that give McConnell a 95 percent rating want to roll the dice on candidates that liberal big-money groups identify as the next Todd Akin? And do they really want liberal groups picking both the Democratic and Republican candidates in the next Kentucky Senate election, against the wishes of the Tea Party senator, Rand Paul? It may be easier to sign onto it when it’s other people’s money–in this case, leftist donors’ and activists’ money–but here that seems to be an argument in favor of resisting the temptation.

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Obama’s “Throw Rocks at It” Approach to Capitol Hill

Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

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Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

“He needs an Agnew,” RN said. “He did it for me, and he was first-rate–check his ratings back then. I did it for Ike. Ike was smooth. But when I went all-out against the Dems, and they went to Ike, he’d sort of shrug his shoulders, but when he saw me, he’d say: ‘Attaboy, Dick. More of the same.’” What if [John] Connally wouldn’t? Well, RR would need to find somebody who would do it. The Dems are terrifically vulnerable, but there isn’t anybody out there in headline-country who’s skewering them with their own vulnerabilities. It’s got to be done.

Contrast that with how Obama approaches his political fights with the Republicans. A perfect example was Obama’s bizarre campaign-style event at which he taunted Republicans about the fiscal cliff deal before the deal was even done. Rather than use his vice president–Joe Biden can be as vicious as they come, and he’ll always get a pass from the media–to shove Republicans around, allowing Obama to stay above the fray and look presidential, Obama does this himself while tasking Biden with the actual work of governing. Here’s Politico:

His apparent conclusion, after watching the implosion of the House GOP’s effort to pass a modest tax increase before the final fiscal cliff deal, is that the best way to deal with the Capitol is to throw rocks at it — then send Vice President Joe Biden in to clean up the glass.

The result is that we only got a fiscal cliff deal, however imperfect, because Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached out to Biden and the two put something together. Obama has always been uninterested in the details, which is why we had to pass the bill with his name on it–Obamacare–just to find out what’s in it. And as the New York Times has reported, Obama isn’t interested in building relationships with either party on Capitol Hill. With an air of entitlement, he dispenses demands and assumes someone will always be there to clean up the messes he makes in Washington.

That someone, these days, is Joe Biden. But the roles can’t be reversed so easily. The public looks to the president to set the tone of an administration, and what they’ve seen in Obama’s four years is mostly petty and vindictive behavior. And it’s only a matter of time before Biden reverts back to his old “put y’all back in chains” self. Reagan’s problem, according to Nixon, was that he didn’t have anybody “throwing rocks” at the other side. Obama’s problem is that he’s running out of people to clean up the glass.

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A Bad Deal Beats a Calamitous Outcome

The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform. And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous. 

It would have led to much higher tax increases on all Americans, even beyond the increase in payroll taxes that will now go into effect, and triggered decimating cuts in the defense department. And it would have done a great deal to advance the storyline that Republicans — at least House Republicans — are extremists enamored with nihilism.

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The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform. And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous. 

It would have led to much higher tax increases on all Americans, even beyond the increase in payroll taxes that will now go into effect, and triggered decimating cuts in the defense department. And it would have done a great deal to advance the storyline that Republicans — at least House Republicans — are extremists enamored with nihilism.

I don’t believe that narrative for a moment. Most Republicans want to take meaningful steps to re-limit government, which is entirely admirable. But they faced a particularly bad set of circumstances, and it wasn’t at all clear to me what the game plan would have been if they had succeeded in blowing up the deal passed by an overwhelming margin in the Senate. 

To have amended the Senate deal with the most minor spending cuts–essentially pocket change, given the level of deficits and debt we’re dealing with–would have been fiscally meaningless. And if an amended deal had led to no deal at all–which is precisely what would have happened–it would have been calamitous for House Republicans. There is simply no way Republicans could extract a good, or even mediocre, deal from this situation. They had to hope they could minimize the damage, retreat to safer and better ground, and think through a strategy on how to more effectively wage future battles with the president. Republicans can also take some comfort in the fact that Democrats, after having spent a decade demagoguing the Bush tax cuts, made them permanent for 98 percent of Americans. And as the dust settles on this deal, it may dawn on Republicans that Democrats, who presumably were in a position of maximum strength, didn’t get nearly as much as they hoped for. (For more, see Yuval Levin’s excellent analysis here.)   

Congressional Republicans who wanted to amend the deal sent to them by the Senate may have been engaging in a primal scream of sorts. They are enormously (and understandably) frustrated at the president’s staggering indifference to our debt crisis and their inability to do anything about it. And because this deal is so bad in so many ways, they wanted to vote against it. But if more of them had voted the way Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Eric Cantor did, they would have badly damaged their party and their country.

I for one am glad that cooler and wiser head prevailed and that this bad deal didn’t give way to a much worse outcome. Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for in the aftermath of a damaging election loss.

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Incumbent Protection Plan in the Works

Out on the campaign trail, members of the House and Senate are currently getting a belly full of free speech as they fight to keep their seats. But many of those who survive would like to do something to make their next elections a bit easier and cheaper. That’s the conceit of a New York Times story about the discomfort many incumbents are experiencing as their records are being examined and often publicized. Their reaction to all this democracy is characteristic of the political class and appears to cut across party lines: suppress as much of the criticism as possible.

The problem for these politicians is that the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision unleashed the power of the public to promote political speech about elections. The fact that much of that speech is unhelpful to incumbents is a prime motivation for them to act in the next Congress to ensure that new obstacles are placed in the way of political action groups and contributors buying ads highlighting their alleged shortcomings. In this way, the Times, whose editorial agenda has been a relentless attack on free political speech, hopes that the largely defunct cause of supposed campaign finance reform will be revived. But the focus of the story on the new willingness of even some Republicans to go along with another round of “reform” reveals exactly why the court was right to invalidate large portions of the McCain-Feingold bill: the main beneficiary of the legislation isn’t free speech or the rights of the public but the protection of incumbents.

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Out on the campaign trail, members of the House and Senate are currently getting a belly full of free speech as they fight to keep their seats. But many of those who survive would like to do something to make their next elections a bit easier and cheaper. That’s the conceit of a New York Times story about the discomfort many incumbents are experiencing as their records are being examined and often publicized. Their reaction to all this democracy is characteristic of the political class and appears to cut across party lines: suppress as much of the criticism as possible.

The problem for these politicians is that the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision unleashed the power of the public to promote political speech about elections. The fact that much of that speech is unhelpful to incumbents is a prime motivation for them to act in the next Congress to ensure that new obstacles are placed in the way of political action groups and contributors buying ads highlighting their alleged shortcomings. In this way, the Times, whose editorial agenda has been a relentless attack on free political speech, hopes that the largely defunct cause of supposed campaign finance reform will be revived. But the focus of the story on the new willingness of even some Republicans to go along with another round of “reform” reveals exactly why the court was right to invalidate large portions of the McCain-Feingold bill: the main beneficiary of the legislation isn’t free speech or the rights of the public but the protection of incumbents.

From its inception in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the cause of campaign finance reform has been a futile effort to get money out of politics. But all the successive attempts to legislate limits on spending have done is to create new laws that only serve to make both politicians and parties less, rather than more accountable.

While Citizens United and the super PACs they have unleashed have been relentlessly portrayed in liberal organs like the Times as promoting corruption or undermining democracy, their real impact has been just the opposite. They have opened up the free market of ideas for both sides of the aisle, liberals as well as conservatives, helping to promote accountability. By making it easier for groups to spend money promoting their ideas and/or opposing candidates, the court has destroyed the dynamic of most congressional races in which it was virtually impossible for challengers to raise enough money to take on entrenched incumbents.

The victim of Citizens United isn’t democracy; it’s the laws and traditions of congressional politics that amounted to a near-foolproof incumbent protection plan. Incumbents are magnets for campaign contributions because everyone with a cause or an interest to be served by congressional legislation or influence wants to be in their good graces. There is no such incentive to help their challengers.

The mainstream media, which prizes its constitutionally protected right to exercise influence on elections, similarly looks askance at efforts to break up their monopoly on campaign information via campaign advertising. Citizens United has not injected more money into our political system, since money has always been — and always will be — an integral part of campaigns. Though incumbents will always have great advantages, what the High Court has done is to tilt the playing field a little bit more toward the challengers. And that’s what’s really got many of those quoted in the Times story upset. It wasn’t as the incumbents claim that the voice of the average voter is being diluted, but their monopoly on power. They want less democracy, not more.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has rightly pointed out, “the courts have said that Congress doesn’t have the authority to muzzle political speech.” But don’t expect that to inhibit politicians who would like to make it easier on themselves in 2014. Nevertheless, those Republicans quoted in the piece as favoring such limits ought to expect conservatives to remember their self-interested apostasy during the next election cycle.

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Finding an Alternative to Defense Cuts

With the sequester looming, Republicans are scrambling for an alternative that will save the defense budget and the defense industry. The Hill reports on one idea being floated by Sen. Mitch McConnell, which would increase government and sales fees — but the idea could violate Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge:

“If you want to turn off the sequester, and I think that’s a good idea, there is a way to do it; we spent a lot of time last year finding legitimate pay-fors in the Biden talks,” McConnell said. “There are all kinds of legitimate pay-fors that were studied on a bipartisan basis in the so-called Biden talks, leading up to the final passage of the Budget Control Act.”

McConnell’s comments reflect a growing urgency among Republicans on Capitol Hill about finding a compromise to stop $55 million in spending cuts slated for defense programs in 2013.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats have insisted that any replacement of the so-called defense sequester also reduce cuts to domestic programs and raise new revenues.

Focusing on sales and federal fees could be a way to raise revenues without violating the tax pledge GOP lawmakers have made to their constituents.

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With the sequester looming, Republicans are scrambling for an alternative that will save the defense budget and the defense industry. The Hill reports on one idea being floated by Sen. Mitch McConnell, which would increase government and sales fees — but the idea could violate Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge:

“If you want to turn off the sequester, and I think that’s a good idea, there is a way to do it; we spent a lot of time last year finding legitimate pay-fors in the Biden talks,” McConnell said. “There are all kinds of legitimate pay-fors that were studied on a bipartisan basis in the so-called Biden talks, leading up to the final passage of the Budget Control Act.”

McConnell’s comments reflect a growing urgency among Republicans on Capitol Hill about finding a compromise to stop $55 million in spending cuts slated for defense programs in 2013.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats have insisted that any replacement of the so-called defense sequester also reduce cuts to domestic programs and raise new revenues.

Focusing on sales and federal fees could be a way to raise revenues without violating the tax pledge GOP lawmakers have made to their constituents.

Democrats are demanding some sort of revenue-increasing measure to offset the defense cuts. Some possibilities that may not violate the anti-tax pledge could include fees related to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and an increase in TSA fees — but Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform, told The Hill that it would need to see the specific legislation before deciding whether it violates the pledge.

There are also some actions Congress can take in late September, when last year’s continuing resolution funding the government expires. As the Bipartisan Policy Center has pointed out, Congress could pass another continuing resolution to exempt war funding from the defense cuts — though that could also mean that other defense programs take a bigger hit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has suggested that Congress could increase war funding this fall to a level that offsets the sequestration cuts, which is an interesting idea but would result in no real-life reductions. If it comes to that, then Congress should obviously do everything in its power to save defense; but considering our fiscal situation, it would be preferable to find other non-defense cuts to offset it, if possible.

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SCOTUS Hands Victory to Supporters of Citizens United

The biggest news out of the Supreme Court today is its decision on the Arizona immigration law, but it also handed a victory to supporters of Citizens United by knocking down a Montana law banning in-state corporate political spending. WSJ reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a summary reversal of the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a state law that prohibited corporate spending in state elections. The U.S. Court said the question in this case was whether the Citizens United decision, which established that corporate spending in elections is permitted as a matter of free speech, applied to the Montana state law. “There can be no serious doubt that it does,” the Court wrote.

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The biggest news out of the Supreme Court today is its decision on the Arizona immigration law, but it also handed a victory to supporters of Citizens United by knocking down a Montana law banning in-state corporate political spending. WSJ reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a summary reversal of the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a state law that prohibited corporate spending in state elections. The U.S. Court said the question in this case was whether the Citizens United decision, which established that corporate spending in elections is permitted as a matter of free speech, applied to the Montana state law. “There can be no serious doubt that it does,” the Court wrote.

The 5-4 decision — which broke across the same lines as the Citizens United decision — was a reaffirmation that free speech rights of corporations extend to state and local elections. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a long-time champion of this issue, released a statement praising the verdict:

“In another important victory for freedom of speech, the Supreme Court has reversed the Montana Supreme Court, upholding First Amendment free speech rights that were set out in Citizens United. As I pointed out in an amicus brief that I filed in the Montana case, a review of Federal Election Commission records of independent spending supporting the eight Republican presidential candidates earlier this year showed only minimal corporate involvement in the 2012 election cycle. Not one Fortune 100 company contributed a cent to any of the eight Republican Super PACs, as of the end of March, according to FEC records. The records also showed that of the $96 million contributed to the eight Super PACs through March 31, an overwhelming 86.32 percent of that money came from individuals while only 13.68 percent came from corporations and 0.81 percent from public companies. Clearly, the much predicted corporate tsunami that critics of Citizens United warned about simply did not occur.”

The decision is likely to prompt more cries from the left that the Supreme Court is far-right and illegitimate. While it’s a setback for the anti-Citizens United crowd, the decision wasn’t unexpected, and it’s not going to stop the liberal clamor to repeal protections on corporate speech.

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McConnell Defends Record Consistency

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a defiant message for liberal critics who’ve been blasting his stance on political spending and free speech: “They can [attack me] as long as they want to,” the senator told me in an interview this morning. “It actually makes my day.”

Since McConnell’s impassioned defense of the First Amendment at the American Enterprise Institute last Friday, liberal pundits and reporters have jumped on supposed inconsistencies in his record, dredged up 25-year-old statements, and accused him of selling out to various corporate interests.

One popular argument that’s made the rounds–from Norm Ornstein’s columns to Democratic Rep. Van Hollen’s talking points–is that McConnell was in favor of donor disclosure before he was against it. McConnell’s critics cite his 2010 interview with NBC’s Tim Russert, in which the senator said the following:

“We need to have real disclosure. And so what we ought to do is broaden the disclosure to include at least labor unions and tax-exempt business associations and trial lawyers so that you include the major political players in America. Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a defiant message for liberal critics who’ve been blasting his stance on political spending and free speech: “They can [attack me] as long as they want to,” the senator told me in an interview this morning. “It actually makes my day.”

Since McConnell’s impassioned defense of the First Amendment at the American Enterprise Institute last Friday, liberal pundits and reporters have jumped on supposed inconsistencies in his record, dredged up 25-year-old statements, and accused him of selling out to various corporate interests.

One popular argument that’s made the rounds–from Norm Ornstein’s columns to Democratic Rep. Van Hollen’s talking points–is that McConnell was in favor of donor disclosure before he was against it. McConnell’s critics cite his 2010 interview with NBC’s Tim Russert, in which the senator said the following:

“We need to have real disclosure. And so what we ought to do is broaden the disclosure to include at least labor unions and tax-exempt business associations and trial lawyers so that you include the major political players in America. Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

McConnell said the quote has been distorted by his critics, and his actual point was that the Democrat-supported campaign finance bill unfairly targeted Republican donors.

“I didn’t say I was in favor of [disclosure in that category]. I said if you’re going to go down that path, you can’t exempt everybody who favors Democrats and only cover those who tend to favor Republicans,” he told me. “That’s a misconstruction, a deliberate attempt to cloud what I was saying.”

McConnell added that it’s not necessarily disclosure that Democrats are seeking, but rules that would infringe on Republican supporters while carving out exceptions for Democratic allies.

“The so-called DISCLOSE Act conveniently carves out people most likely to be aligned with the left and only leaves covered those most likely to be aligned with the right,” he said. “Leading you to conclude, I think, that they really want to intimidate one side and leave the other side free to speak.”

And you can tell how critical this fight is to both sides by the number of crossbows aimed at McConnell this week. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus dug back to 1987 — two years into McConnell’s first Senate term and the same year a new cartoon called The Simpsons fist appeared on the Tracy Ullman show — to uncover a quote from McConnell supporting limits on independent expenditures:

As it happens, 25 years ago this week a senator from Kentucky well versed in campaign-finance issues proposed a constitutional amendment to allow limits on independent expenditures.

“These are constitutional problems,” the senator said, “demanding constitutional answers.”

That was Republican Mitch McConnell, arch foe of campaign-finance regulation — or, as he would put it, staunch defender of the First Amendment.

The senator brushes this off as a quarter-century-old mistake, and maintains that his record been consistent for decades.

“I confess I made an error, but I corrected it in pretty short order, within six months of that mistake,” said McConnell. “But I think 25 years of being entirely consistent probably would rank me better than a lot of people I know in this line of work.”

McConnell also didn’t seem surprised by the pains some critics are going through to raise questions about his motives.

“All the Post was left with was trying to destroy my credibility, and it’s noteworthy that they had to go back a quarter of a century to find anything that’s been remotely inconsistent on this issue,” he said.

These political boxing matches obviously aren’t new for McConnell, and in a way, he seems to relish them.

“Look, I’ve been called Darth Vader. I’ve got a whole wall in my office full of cartoons attacking me on this issue,” he told me. “They’d love to shut me up, but I’m more used to their criticism than regular American citizens.”

McConnell said it’s these attacks on private American citizens that has driven him to fight against the DISCLOSE Act and similar legislation.

“They try to be involved in the political process and all of sudden they find themselves being chased by the IRS,” he said. “Or what happened in the case of this one fellow who contributed to Mitt Romney’s super PAC, having his divorce records gone through by somebody from the Obama campaign.”

“I mean, normal citizens are not used to this kind of behavior,” McConnell added. “I kind of have grown accustomed to it. I don’t particularly like it, but that’s the price of being in my line of work.”

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Mocking Conservative Victims of Violence

The cynicism of the Washington, D.C., press toward national politics has become so profound that when a politician gives a detailed speech about a serious issue with immediate ramifications, the journalists splashing around in the kiddy pool of Beltway conventional wisdom don’t know how to react. Such was the case on Friday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a thorough indictment of the Democratic Party’s attempts to bully, punish, and silence its political opponents.

The speech, delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, was more than 4,000 words long, yet Politico’s write-up of it found the one word it wanted–Koch–and repeated it over and over as if that was the point of the speech. Yet Politico isn’t the only outlet that assumes any time a Republican defends free speech he is covering for moneyed interests. Fred Hiatt’s latest column in the Washington Post is a disturbing example of what free speech advocates are up against when it comes to a national media obsessed with smearing conservatives instead of doing its job.

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The cynicism of the Washington, D.C., press toward national politics has become so profound that when a politician gives a detailed speech about a serious issue with immediate ramifications, the journalists splashing around in the kiddy pool of Beltway conventional wisdom don’t know how to react. Such was the case on Friday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a thorough indictment of the Democratic Party’s attempts to bully, punish, and silence its political opponents.

The speech, delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, was more than 4,000 words long, yet Politico’s write-up of it found the one word it wanted–Koch–and repeated it over and over as if that was the point of the speech. Yet Politico isn’t the only outlet that assumes any time a Republican defends free speech he is covering for moneyed interests. Fred Hiatt’s latest column in the Washington Post is a disturbing example of what free speech advocates are up against when it comes to a national media obsessed with smearing conservatives instead of doing its job.

McConnell said he favors donor disclosure for those who give to candidates and parties–a position he has held consistently. He also said everyone should have to play by the same rules with regard to disclosure, rather than allow those in power to exempt their donors while singling out those of their opponents. But Hiatt, attempting to peer into the dark Republican soul of his imagined adversaries, has divined what McConnell and the Republicans really want:

They want unlimited contributions, in secret.

“Republicans are in favor of disclosure,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in 2000 on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” making clear he was including issue advocacy — campaign ads with a thin veil of policy — as well as candidate spending. “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

That first sentence is undone by McConnell’s own speech. But what about that second part–is that the Beltway’s favorite piece of evidence, the smoking gun of hypocrisy?

No, of course not. Hiatt wants Republicans to drop their opposition to the DISCLOSE Act, which would protect liberal interest groups while removing protections from conservative groups. Here’s McConnell in his own words:

This is the Democrats’ legislative response to Citizens United, in which the Supreme Court correctly ruled that Congress may not ban political speech based on the identity of the speaker. The DISCLOSE Act aims to get around this ruling by compelling certain targeted groups to disclose the names of their donors, while excluding others, such as unions, from doing the same….

Because if disclosure is forced upon some but not all, it’s not an act of good government, it’s a political weapon. And that’s precisely what those who are pushing this legislation have in mind. This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies. And that should concern every one of us.

Hiatt says nothing has changed except an influx of money to the GOP, suggesting that McConnell has been bought off by, I don’t know, the infamous Free Speech Lobby? But then Hiatt moves on to defending the indefensible. Part of McConnell’s speech was calling attention to the strategy of liberal groups, sometimes aided by government agencies such as the IRS, of intimidating donors to conservative grassroots causes.

Hiatt, in the most shameful sentence of a shameful column, writes off these intimidation tactics as conservatives merely “being called mean names by liberals.” But McConnell reminded his audience that conservatives have received death threats (I know private citizens personally who have been subjected to this), had their private information made public, had their children harassed by liberal bloggers, and have been the victims of a new liberal tactic called SWATting, in which a liberal blogger or activist will make a fake 9-1-1 call reporting a murder at the house of his target, to which law enforcement (often SWAT teams) will show up with guns out ready for a firefight.

Hiatt presumably does not need the danger of this explained to him, nor would he need a primer on why death threats are not merely “mean things” people say. He just doesn’t care. But he should at least stop dismissing acts of violence and mocking the victims.

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McConnell Vows to Defend Citizens United

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that Republicans will fight attacks on Citizens United and other assaults on political expression during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier today.

“Campaign contributions are speech,” said McConnell. “If we lose the right to speak, we’ve lost the battle before it starts.”

The left has decried the Citizens United decision since the beginning, but the recent Wisconsin recall election reenergized efforts to fight it. Despite the fact that Citizens United had little impact on the election spending in Wisconsin, progressives blamed it for their loss and seem determined to make it a top issue in the presidential election.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that Republicans will fight attacks on Citizens United and other assaults on political expression during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier today.

“Campaign contributions are speech,” said McConnell. “If we lose the right to speak, we’ve lost the battle before it starts.”

The left has decried the Citizens United decision since the beginning, but the recent Wisconsin recall election reenergized efforts to fight it. Despite the fact that Citizens United had little impact on the election spending in Wisconsin, progressives blamed it for their loss and seem determined to make it a top issue in the presidential election.

The latest example is David Axelrod, who promised earlier this week that if Obama wins a second term, he will pursue any option — including a constitutional amendment — to restrict these rights:

“When we win, we will use whatever tools out there, including a constitutional amendment, to turn this back. I understand the free speech argument, but when the Koch brothers can spend $400 million, more than the McCain campaign and the Republican Party spent last time, that’s very concerning.”

At AEI, McConnell blasted Axelrod and the Obama administration for the proposal.

“Amending the First Amendment for the first time in history is an act of radicalism,” said McConnell.

There are other indications that the issue of political money will be back at the top of the news this summer. The Supreme Court reportedly met earlier this week to consider a Montana case that challenges some aspects of the Citizens United decision and a subsequent Appellate Court ruling on unlimited political contributions. The Los Angeles Times reports that the appeal isn’t expected to be denied, and the Supreme Court may either decide to hear the case or write a summary opinion defending the Citizens United ruling.

McConnell said as the election nears, some Republicans may be tempted “to take the issue off the table or make concessions.”

“My advice is to resist the temptation,” he said.

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Senate Will Force Obama’s Hand on Iran

In a clear contrast to President Obama’s speech yesterday, Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a hard-hitting speech to AIPAC tonight, promising to use the tools at his disposal to pressure the administration to take military action against Iran if it passes specific “red lines” that he outlined.

While Obama has also made it clear he’s open to using force against Iran, he has declined to explicitly state what Iranian actions would trigger a U.S. military response. But McConnell did not have the same reluctance.

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In a clear contrast to President Obama’s speech yesterday, Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a hard-hitting speech to AIPAC tonight, promising to use the tools at his disposal to pressure the administration to take military action against Iran if it passes specific “red lines” that he outlined.

While Obama has also made it clear he’s open to using force against Iran, he has declined to explicitly state what Iranian actions would trigger a U.S. military response. But McConnell did not have the same reluctance.

“If Iran, at any time, begins to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, or decides to go forward with a weapons program, then the United States will use overwhelming force to end that program,” said McConnell.

The minority leader criticized Obama’s vagueness on Iran, and suggested that the president watered-down his threats of action by failing to use force in Libya and Syria. He also claimed the administration was relying too heavily on sanctions.

“The administration has used this same language about preserving all options in developing its policy toward Libya, Iran, and, now, Syria,” McConnell said. “Clearly, the threat has lost its intended purpose.”

McConnell said he would force the administration’s hand on Iran by introducing an authorization for military force in the Senate if intelligence shows Iran is enriching weapons-grade uranium.

“If at any time the intelligence community presents the Congress with an assessment that Iran has begun to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, or has taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon — consistent with protecting classified sources and methods — I will consult with the president and joint congressional leadership and introduce before the Senate an authorization for the use of military force,” said McConnell.

The numerous standing ovations from the audience showed that AIPAC attendees are anxious for clearly outlined proposals from elected officials, after yesterday’s vague assurances.

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McConnell: Iran Making “Idle Threats”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed Iran’s warnings about closing the Strait of Hormuz as “idle threats,” during a small round table discussion with reporters today.

“This idle threat that they’re going to interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz is not enforceable. We have a carrier there, that will not happen,” McConnell told me. “So this is the time to squeeze the Iranians in every direction possible.”

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed Iran’s warnings about closing the Strait of Hormuz as “idle threats,” during a small round table discussion with reporters today.

“This idle threat that they’re going to interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz is not enforceable. We have a carrier there, that will not happen,” McConnell told me. “So this is the time to squeeze the Iranians in every direction possible.”

He added that the Saudis would assist with any fallout in oil production.

“The Saudis have already indicated that whatever reduction in oil production might occur as a result of this, they’ll make up,” said McConnell.

The Senate Minority Leader’s comments put him at odds with many military experts who say the regime’s threats are a real risk. The U.S. Navy has reportedly been training for a potential clash with Iran over the strait.

McConnell also blasted Obama’s leadership on Iran, saying that the president only ordered the latest round of tough Iran bank sanctions because Senate Republicans forced him to do it. Obama was required to institute these sanctions under a bill championed by Sens. Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez.

“We forced it on him. He didn’t want the authority,” said McConnell.

He added that Obama now has “greater tools to use on the Iranians. I hope he uses them all.”

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