Commentary Magazine


Topic: Richard Durbin

Dems to Turn Obama Campaign Talking Points into Legislation

Democrats in Congress frustrated by President Obama’s repeated refusal to release all of his papers from his days in the Illinois state senate and his college transcripts are introducing legislation that would force the president to release his political records and Columbia transcripts–just in case he misrepresented his back story to enable his transfer there.

Just kidding! Democrats are introducing legislation to force Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. Running out of retired baseball players to prosecute and looking for some other creative ways to cynically use their taxpayer-funded salaries to waste everyone’s time and money on a political stunt designed to treat the Congress as if it were a liberal super-PAC, Democrats have seized on the issue of Romney’s tax returns as a nifty way to legislate campaign ads from the Senate floor. Senators Carl Levin and Dick Durbin can’t even pretend that this is not what they’re doing, even though the legislation would obviously force all candidates to comply:

Sen. Carl Levin told reporters that the Senate proposal would shed new light on the use of shell corporations based overseas to help U.S. companies and individuals avoid U.S. taxes. But Durbin confirmed the timing of the proposal is designed to highlight Democratic complaints with Romney’s investments.

“Clearly, I think the American people are entitled to more,” Durbin said, of the two years of tax returns Romney has so far said he will release. “I also think he has an obligation to explain why he and his family decided that offshore tax havens are the right place to park their money and their wealth. Those are legitimate questions.”

The two suggested they would move the item as an amendment to some other larger bill in coming weeks, which could force a Senate floor debate.

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Democrats in Congress frustrated by President Obama’s repeated refusal to release all of his papers from his days in the Illinois state senate and his college transcripts are introducing legislation that would force the president to release his political records and Columbia transcripts–just in case he misrepresented his back story to enable his transfer there.

Just kidding! Democrats are introducing legislation to force Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. Running out of retired baseball players to prosecute and looking for some other creative ways to cynically use their taxpayer-funded salaries to waste everyone’s time and money on a political stunt designed to treat the Congress as if it were a liberal super-PAC, Democrats have seized on the issue of Romney’s tax returns as a nifty way to legislate campaign ads from the Senate floor. Senators Carl Levin and Dick Durbin can’t even pretend that this is not what they’re doing, even though the legislation would obviously force all candidates to comply:

Sen. Carl Levin told reporters that the Senate proposal would shed new light on the use of shell corporations based overseas to help U.S. companies and individuals avoid U.S. taxes. But Durbin confirmed the timing of the proposal is designed to highlight Democratic complaints with Romney’s investments.

“Clearly, I think the American people are entitled to more,” Durbin said, of the two years of tax returns Romney has so far said he will release. “I also think he has an obligation to explain why he and his family decided that offshore tax havens are the right place to park their money and their wealth. Those are legitimate questions.”

The two suggested they would move the item as an amendment to some other larger bill in coming weeks, which could force a Senate floor debate.

I, for one, agree that the American people are entitled to more. I’d start with a budget–something Senate Democrats steadfastly refuse to do. GOP House Speaker John Boehner also thinks the American people deserve more: “The American people are asking, where are the jobs? They’re not asking where in the hell the tax returns are,” he told the Washington Post.

Well that may be, but what could Durbin and Levin possibly care what Americans are asking for? It’s silly season, after all–a time that seems strangely permanent in Harry Reid’s Senate. Besides, it’s just congressional legislation designed with a specific individual political opponent of Durbin and Levin’s in mind. It’s not like there’s any way such a standard could be abused. What could possibly go wrong?

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Congress Objects to Obami’s Israel and Iran Policies

Seventy-six senators have joined in a letter, backed by AIPAC, to Hillary Clinton asking that the Obama administration knock off its Jerusalem onslaught and focus attention on Palestinian rejectionism. They write:

We write to urge you to do everything possible to ensure that the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israeli administrations over the untimely announcement of future housing construction in East Jerusalem do not derail Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or harm U.S.-Israel relations. In fact, we strongly believe that it is more important than ever for Israel and the Palestinians to enter into direct, face-to-face negotiations without preconditions on either side.

Despite your best efforts, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen for over a year. Indeed, in a reversal of 16 years of policy, Palestinian leaders are refusing to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. Instead, they have put forward a growing list of unprecedented preconditions. By contrast, Israel’s prime minister stated categorically that he is eager to begin unconditional peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Direct negotiations are in the interest of all parties involved — including the United States.

They want Hillary to reaffirm the “unbreakable bonds” between the two countries and remind the administration that “differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies.” It is noteworthy who signed and who did not. Chuck Schumer, who gave a rousing speech at AIPAC but recently ducked an incisive inquiry on the Obami policy, signed on, as did some Democrats up for re-election, including Barbara Boxer, Arlen Specter, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Who’s missing? The Democratic leadership: Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, veteran senators Diane Feinstein and Chris Dodd, and unofficial secretary of state John Kerry. The five apparently are still in the business of running interference for the administration.

Now, the letter could have been more pointed, calling attention to the administration’s “condemnation” of Israel and objecting to the prospect of an “imposed” settlement agreement. Yes, the White House and some key, dutiful congressional allies remain seemingly impervious to the harm inflicted on the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and in turn on the credibility and standing of the U.S.. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful sign that there is broad opposition to the Obami’s anti-Israel gambit. Perhaps before it is too late we’ll hear a definitive and clear renunciation — a condemnation! — of the idea of an imposed settlement deal.

Meanwhile, steam is also gathering on both the House and Senate sides to move forward with an Iran sanctions bill. Later today, Reps. Mike Pence and Jesse Jackson, Jr. are scheduled to hold a presser to introduce a letter advocating that “punishing sanctions” be imposed on the Iranian regime. Again, the Obami policy — thin-gruel sanctions that Obama proclaims are “no magic wand” to halting the Iranians’ nuclear program — seems to lack the confidence of a broad bipartisan group of lawmakers. We’ll see if the administration is amenable to pressure from them. So far, it’s been immune to public or congressional objections in its effort to reorient American Middle East policy. It remains to be seen whether the gang whose solution to opposition is usually “double-down!” will relent in its assault against Israel and rev up its efforts to prevent Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions.

Seventy-six senators have joined in a letter, backed by AIPAC, to Hillary Clinton asking that the Obama administration knock off its Jerusalem onslaught and focus attention on Palestinian rejectionism. They write:

We write to urge you to do everything possible to ensure that the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israeli administrations over the untimely announcement of future housing construction in East Jerusalem do not derail Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or harm U.S.-Israel relations. In fact, we strongly believe that it is more important than ever for Israel and the Palestinians to enter into direct, face-to-face negotiations without preconditions on either side.

Despite your best efforts, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen for over a year. Indeed, in a reversal of 16 years of policy, Palestinian leaders are refusing to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. Instead, they have put forward a growing list of unprecedented preconditions. By contrast, Israel’s prime minister stated categorically that he is eager to begin unconditional peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Direct negotiations are in the interest of all parties involved — including the United States.

They want Hillary to reaffirm the “unbreakable bonds” between the two countries and remind the administration that “differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies.” It is noteworthy who signed and who did not. Chuck Schumer, who gave a rousing speech at AIPAC but recently ducked an incisive inquiry on the Obami policy, signed on, as did some Democrats up for re-election, including Barbara Boxer, Arlen Specter, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Who’s missing? The Democratic leadership: Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, veteran senators Diane Feinstein and Chris Dodd, and unofficial secretary of state John Kerry. The five apparently are still in the business of running interference for the administration.

Now, the letter could have been more pointed, calling attention to the administration’s “condemnation” of Israel and objecting to the prospect of an “imposed” settlement agreement. Yes, the White House and some key, dutiful congressional allies remain seemingly impervious to the harm inflicted on the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and in turn on the credibility and standing of the U.S.. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful sign that there is broad opposition to the Obami’s anti-Israel gambit. Perhaps before it is too late we’ll hear a definitive and clear renunciation — a condemnation! — of the idea of an imposed settlement deal.

Meanwhile, steam is also gathering on both the House and Senate sides to move forward with an Iran sanctions bill. Later today, Reps. Mike Pence and Jesse Jackson, Jr. are scheduled to hold a presser to introduce a letter advocating that “punishing sanctions” be imposed on the Iranian regime. Again, the Obami policy — thin-gruel sanctions that Obama proclaims are “no magic wand” to halting the Iranians’ nuclear program — seems to lack the confidence of a broad bipartisan group of lawmakers. We’ll see if the administration is amenable to pressure from them. So far, it’s been immune to public or congressional objections in its effort to reorient American Middle East policy. It remains to be seen whether the gang whose solution to opposition is usually “double-down!” will relent in its assault against Israel and rev up its efforts to prevent Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions.

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Jumping When Unions Holler

Obama’s promise of  a better, cleaner, and more transparent brand of politics has not been fulfilled. Not by a long shot. The president appoints the SEIU boss to the deficit commission. Congress behind closed doors churns out colorfully named sweetheart deals on ObamaCare. And then they really reveal the depths of their dependence on special-interest patrons.

Writing in the Washington Post, Kelly Amis and Joseph E. Robert Jr. explain that the $450 billion spending bill last year “effectively dismantled a small, successful education program benefiting low-income children in the nation’s capital.” All hope is not lost that a scholarship reviled by Big Labor as a threat to its education monopoly may disappear. But we’re getting close. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is trying to restore the program. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may prevent the Senate from even voting on the measure. He has, it seems, little support from Democrats:

Who wants to vote against an effective program serving poor minority children?

Congress needed only to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — as the local community asked it to do and as the research should have compelled it to do — but the members who mattered ignored the families outside their white marble offices, even rescinding scholarships to hundreds of hopeful students.

Where is Obama in all this? Nowhere to be found. They write:

Obama could have stood up for these children, who only want the same opportunities that he had and that his daughters now have. Instead, his education secretary, Arne Duncan, proffered an argument that would be funny if it weren’t so sad: Scholarships for poor students aren’t worth supporting because not enough of them are given out.

Note to Duncan: You could give out more.

The mayor and school chancellor support the scholarship plan but not the Democratic leadership. (“Unfortunately, congressional leaders — especially Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — crumpled before teachers union threats, led by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, who declared everything open to negotiation ‘except vouchers.'”) Vouchers, of course, threaten to send students to schools with no teacher unions, and teacher unions are in the business of sustaining their unions, not in maximizing educational opportunities for students. So the union squawks, the Democrats jump, and the D.C. kids get the short end of the stick.

Amis and Robert note that there is a bipartisan group — which includes Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and John Ensign (R-Nev.) — seeking to save the program. But what the D.C. schoolchildren and their parents need is the president and Senate and House Democratic leadership. Too bad they’ve got Big Labor patrons to mollify.

Obama’s promise of  a better, cleaner, and more transparent brand of politics has not been fulfilled. Not by a long shot. The president appoints the SEIU boss to the deficit commission. Congress behind closed doors churns out colorfully named sweetheart deals on ObamaCare. And then they really reveal the depths of their dependence on special-interest patrons.

Writing in the Washington Post, Kelly Amis and Joseph E. Robert Jr. explain that the $450 billion spending bill last year “effectively dismantled a small, successful education program benefiting low-income children in the nation’s capital.” All hope is not lost that a scholarship reviled by Big Labor as a threat to its education monopoly may disappear. But we’re getting close. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) is trying to restore the program. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may prevent the Senate from even voting on the measure. He has, it seems, little support from Democrats:

Who wants to vote against an effective program serving poor minority children?

Congress needed only to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — as the local community asked it to do and as the research should have compelled it to do — but the members who mattered ignored the families outside their white marble offices, even rescinding scholarships to hundreds of hopeful students.

Where is Obama in all this? Nowhere to be found. They write:

Obama could have stood up for these children, who only want the same opportunities that he had and that his daughters now have. Instead, his education secretary, Arne Duncan, proffered an argument that would be funny if it weren’t so sad: Scholarships for poor students aren’t worth supporting because not enough of them are given out.

Note to Duncan: You could give out more.

The mayor and school chancellor support the scholarship plan but not the Democratic leadership. (“Unfortunately, congressional leaders — especially Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — crumpled before teachers union threats, led by American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, who declared everything open to negotiation ‘except vouchers.'”) Vouchers, of course, threaten to send students to schools with no teacher unions, and teacher unions are in the business of sustaining their unions, not in maximizing educational opportunities for students. So the union squawks, the Democrats jump, and the D.C. kids get the short end of the stick.

Amis and Robert note that there is a bipartisan group — which includes Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and John Ensign (R-Nev.) — seeking to save the program. But what the D.C. schoolchildren and their parents need is the president and Senate and House Democratic leadership. Too bad they’ve got Big Labor patrons to mollify.

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Bye, Bye . . . Harry?

We have known for some time that Harry Reid’s polling numbers are horrid. He is the perfect storm candidate — the prime mover of ObamaCare, the leader of the Democratic Party at a time it is perceived as too liberal, and the politician with an endless gaffe supply. He is also getting clubbed with his stance on card check by the Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki, among others.

Reid may have no escape from his dilemma. He’s increasingly an embarrassment even (especially?) to his own party. Unlike more adept politicians and those not in leadership positions, Reid likely won’t be able to run too far from Obama’s agenda. In fact, it is his job to get it passed. And come to think of it, since he has utterly failed to do that, it’s hard to understand why the Democrats would spend too much time, money, or political capital trying to rescue him. If they are going to lose a bunch of seats anyway, why not at least offload Reid? I suspect Richard Durbin and Chuck Schumer may have similar thoughts.

We have known for some time that Harry Reid’s polling numbers are horrid. He is the perfect storm candidate — the prime mover of ObamaCare, the leader of the Democratic Party at a time it is perceived as too liberal, and the politician with an endless gaffe supply. He is also getting clubbed with his stance on card check by the Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki, among others.

Reid may have no escape from his dilemma. He’s increasingly an embarrassment even (especially?) to his own party. Unlike more adept politicians and those not in leadership positions, Reid likely won’t be able to run too far from Obama’s agenda. In fact, it is his job to get it passed. And come to think of it, since he has utterly failed to do that, it’s hard to understand why the Democrats would spend too much time, money, or political capital trying to rescue him. If they are going to lose a bunch of seats anyway, why not at least offload Reid? I suspect Richard Durbin and Chuck Schumer may have similar thoughts.

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Another Approach to Iran

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the “Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the “possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the “Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the “possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

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