Commentary Magazine


Topic: Harry Reid

President Obama Vetoes the Keystone XL Pipeline Bill

As expected, the president has vetoed the bill that passed both houses (surviving a Senate filibuster) that would have authorized a pipeline that would move crude oil from the Alberta oils sands region and the Bakken shield in North Dakota, a state now producing more oil than any other except Texas, to the Gulf coast.

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As expected, the president has vetoed the bill that passed both houses (surviving a Senate filibuster) that would have authorized a pipeline that would move crude oil from the Alberta oils sands region and the Bakken shield in North Dakota, a state now producing more oil than any other except Texas, to the Gulf coast.

The pipeline has consistently polled well with all groups, is environmentally harmless (indeed, beneficial as pipelines are safer than moving oil by train, as West Virginia found out last week), and would create many construction jobs. It would be a huge gesture of good will to our neighbor and ally, Canada, and a poke in the eye to our antagonist, Venezuela, whose oil exports to the United States would be curtailed. But the Tom-Steyer-lunatic-fringe of the environmental movement adamantly opposed it, so Obama delayed and delayed and delayed.

This veto was, of course, not unexpected and it is unlikely to be overridden in either house of Congress. So the bill was, in a sense, just a political gesture on the part of the new Republican-controlled Congress. It is only the president’s third veto in more than six years in office, but there is likely to be many more as he no longer has Harry Reed to protect him politically.

But his stated reasons for the veto are almost comical:

In a message to Congress, Mr. Obama cited the ongoing State Department review as the reason for his veto, saying “because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest—including our security, safety and environment—it has earned my veto.”

“Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest,” Mr. Obama wrote. He added that while the presidential veto is an executive power he takes seriously, “I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people.”

Asked if the Obama administration might eventually approve the pipeline after the State Department review is complete, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, “That possibility still does exist. This is an ongoing review.”

This is truly rich. There is not a person on planet earth who thinks that the Keystone XL Pipeline has not been studied enough already to make informed judgments. And President Obama stated on 22 occasions that the executive branch lacked the power to change immigration law, a power reserved to Congress. But once the 2014 election was out of the way, he changed the law anyway by executive order. His complaint was that Congress had failed to act and so he had to. But when Congress, fed up with the unconscionable foot-dragging over an oil pipeline, tried to do by constitutionally correct means what the president had refused to do, he is outraged at an attempt “to circumvent longstanding and proven processes.” In other words, the Constitution is optional for the Obama administration, but executive branch procedures are absolute for Congress.

This is shameless, but what else could be expected of this administration?

Candidates for the Republican 2016 nomination should be clear that 1) once in the White House, they will clear the way for the pipeline and that, 2) they will not misuse procedures in order to avoid having to make difficult political decisions.

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Handsy Joe’s Veep Creep and the Media

One of the clearest signs of media bias is when reporters are made more uncomfortable by the act of criticizing the Obama administration than by the behavior they’re criticizing. Case in point: yesterday’s piece in the Washington Post by Nia-Malika Henderson, in which she struggles mightily with the fact that, thanks to conservative objections, Joe Biden’s incredibly creepy behavior toward women in public is getting tougher to ignore.

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One of the clearest signs of media bias is when reporters are made more uncomfortable by the act of criticizing the Obama administration than by the behavior they’re criticizing. Case in point: yesterday’s piece in the Washington Post by Nia-Malika Henderson, in which she struggles mightily with the fact that, thanks to conservative objections, Joe Biden’s incredibly creepy behavior toward women in public is getting tougher to ignore.

Handsy Joe’s veep creep is by now a staple of the Obama administration’s public events. Conservatives have long been frustrated by the pass Biden’s racist comments, obviously false stories, and emptyheaded rhetoric get from the media when the same press would hammer Republicans for even approaching the vice president’s antics. What conservatives would really prefer is not that Biden be run out of town with the same pitchforks and torches employed against Republicans but that the political correctness that suffocates public discourse in America be set aside far more often for both parties.

The latest incident was at Tuesday’s ceremony for new Defense Secretary Ash Carter. While Carter was at the podium, his wife walked up nearby. Joe Biden put his hands on her shoulders, left them there for about thirty seconds, and then leaned in to whisper something in her ear. The screenshot of the whisper quickly made the rounds (the full video of the encounter is here) and conservatives began another round of “What If A Republican Did This?”

But this latest incident had more force than, say, Biden’s comment about Somali immigrants being cab drivers in Delaware (made the same day). That’s because the Obama White House’s “war on women” has played virtually any Republican policy as some sort of insult to women. Additionally, the continuing scandal of false rape allegations, fake campus rape statistics, and the denial of due process to young men accused of sexual assault has created an atmosphere where many men seem to be assumed guilty from the outset. Yet Biden gets a pass.

So Henderson took to the Post to explain Biden’s behavior by claiming he’s just a goofy throwback to an age when accosting women was a more endearing practice. And her defense-which-she-insists-is-not-a-defense of Biden is a perfect example of the lengths liberal journalists will go to convince themselves and the country that they didn’t put a hound and a weirdo a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Here’s Henderson, playing off a column by the Washington Examiner’s Byron York:

Biden is a creature of his time; that’s not so much an excuse as it is context. He is folksy and always (overly) familiar, the kind of guy who name-checks somebody named “Mouse” at an NAACP convention.

Those personality quirks have typically been viewed as part of his charm and political strength. But the recent display does, as York and others suggest, raise the specter of sexism.

Well, no. The display doesn’t raise the specter of sexism so much as conservative journalists fed up with the hypocrisy point out the sexism. Henderson is talking about it because York is talking about it.

Henderson continues:

The right has suggested that if Biden were a Republican, the press would be much harder on him. I’m not so sure that’s the case.

That needs no specific rebuttal, right? It’s too obviously insane to need any further deconstruction, yes? Back to Henderson:

He is given a pass because he is from a different time. There are plenty of older male politicians whose frame of reference in greeting the opposite gender is far too 1960s rather than 2010s; almost none of them are on-camera nearly as much as Biden is.

Sure. And of course that was the reaction when Foster Freiss retold an old birth-control joke, right? No? It’s also worth pointing out that the “he’s old, give him a break” defense doesn’t seem to show up on other issues for GOPers either (like race).

Here’s Henderson’s conclusion:

But as a man who prides himself on his work on women’s issues, Biden might heed his own advice. He said that attitudes are changing about what “constitutes appropriate behavior.” That should probably apply to Joe Biden’s interactions with women too.

Kid gloves doesn’t begin to cover it.

Look, Biden’s not some threatening sexual predator. I’m sure he means well. And in the annals of Democratic Party men, he’s tame. Allahpundit grades such incidents “On a scale of one to Ted Kennedy.” Ted’s more successful brother was probably worse, though he didn’t kill anybody.

On some level, you can’t really expect the party of FDR and Bill Clinton to even notice behavior like Biden’s. But as the Washington Post proves, even if you do finally force them to notice, you can’t make them care. After all, it’s not like Biden’s a Republican.

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Republicans Should Declare War on the Mainstream Media

On February 27, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out unless Congress authorizes a new appropriation. The House passed such a bill some time ago, funding the department but denying funding for the immigration policies that President Obama instituted by executive order, despite the opinion of nearly everyone, including President Obama—22 times no less—that the president lacks the authority to issue such executive orders.
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On February 27, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out unless Congress authorizes a new appropriation. The House passed such a bill some time ago, funding the department but denying funding for the immigration policies that President Obama instituted by executive order, despite the opinion of nearly everyone, including President Obama—22 times no less—that the president lacks the authority to issue such executive orders.
The Republican majority in the Senate has been trying to begin debate on this appropriations bill ever since. Unlike Harry Reid when he was majority leader, Mitch McConnell is willing to entertain amendments proposed by the minority and vote them up or down. The Democrats will have none of it. Three times the measure has been brought up and three times the Democratic minority has used the filibuster to prevent debate from even beginning. John Boehner, being interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, said that “… the House has done its job under the Constitution. It’s time for the Senate to do their job.”

But Wallace said:

I understand there’s two sides to the argument. Here’s the bottom line: the deadline is less than two weeks from now. And the fact is that you and Congress are going to be out on recess for the next week. Can you promise the American people with the terror threat only growing that you’re not going to allow funding for the Department of Homeland Security to run out?

Why is it up to Boehner to bend instead of the Democrats doing so? The answer is simple. As Jonah Goldberg tweeted, “So when GOP holds up things in Dem-run Senate, GOP is to blame. When Dems hold things up in GOP-run Senate, GOP is to blame. I see a trend.” Even Chris Wallace—the fairest and best of the Sunday morning talk show hosts—thinks that when push comes to shove on Capitol Hill, it is the Republicans who must yield, even when they hold majorities in both houses as they do now. Why? Because that is the way the mainstream media will always play the story.

What should Boehner do? I think he, and every Republican, should do what George H.W. Bush did to Dan Rather as the 1988 presidential race was heating up: eat the mainstream media alive. They are the enemies of the Republican Party and should be treated as such. Stop trying to curry favor because you won’t get it. Bush laid a trap for Rather, insisting on the interview being live so it couldn’t end up on the cutting room floor. It totally flustered Rather, greatly energized Bush’s campaign, put the kibosh on his too-much-a-nice-guy image, and helped mightily to propel him to the White House. Make mainstream media bias the issue. Throw loaded questions and those premised on liberal assumptions back in their faces. Accuse them of bias when they are biased. Don’t be Mr. Nice Guy.

Why have the Republicans been such wimps when dealing with the media? The reason, I think, is that the Republicans were the minority party in this country from 1932 to 1994. The Democrats held the House for all but four of those 62 years and the Senate for all but ten of those years. In far too many ways, the Republicans still act as the minority party, begging for crumbs from the media. But they now hold more political offices, at both the federal and state levels, than at any time since the glory days of Calvin Coolidge. Instead they should, in dealing with the media, emulate Joan Crawford, at least as depicted by Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest, dealing with the board of Pepsi Cola (warning, she doesn’t use ladylike language).

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Welcome to the NFL, Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren’s meteoric rise among Democrats has demonstrated one thing time and again: her real talent is in getting the mainstream media to act as her personal publicity agents. And today’s raft of stories, which focus on Warren claiming her first political scalp (sorry, couldn’t resist), are no different. In fact, Warren just outsmarted herself, got outmaneuvered by the White House, and further empowered Mitch McConnell and his Republican Senate majority. But you wouldn’t know it from most of the coverage, which hews obediently to the existing narrative of Warren’s influence.

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Elizabeth Warren’s meteoric rise among Democrats has demonstrated one thing time and again: her real talent is in getting the mainstream media to act as her personal publicity agents. And today’s raft of stories, which focus on Warren claiming her first political scalp (sorry, couldn’t resist), are no different. In fact, Warren just outsmarted herself, got outmaneuvered by the White House, and further empowered Mitch McConnell and his Republican Senate majority. But you wouldn’t know it from most of the coverage, which hews obediently to the existing narrative of Warren’s influence.

Last year, President Obama chose Antonio Weiss to be an under secretary at the Treasury Department. Warren vehemently opposed the nomination. Warren’s play was smart: no one outside of the Senate or Wall Street (Weiss works in investment banking) knew who he was, and no one really cared. And though Warren’s objections to Weiss were based on her ignorance of investment banking, tax law, and corporate economics, she had an advantage: her ignorance is shared by her political base.

She was striking a pose for her populist supporters, as I wrote in December, and they wouldn’t know that she was speaking gibberish. Warren is a demagogue in the classic mold: she distorts the truth to play on the fears of her followers in a bid to accrue political power–which she then has been known to abuse. True populists should be horrified by Senator Warren.

But it hasn’t caught up with her yet because the left doesn’t really have true populists. It has authoritarian mobs of conspiracy theorists with populist pretensions. So Warren’s influence grew, and we now learn that Weiss has withdrawn his name from consideration.

But why Weiss withdrew, and what he’ll do instead, are two crucial elements of the full picture, which doesn’t flatter Warren nearly as much as she thinks. First, from Bloomberg, here’s why he stepped back from the nomination:

Curiously, the Republican gains in the midterm election strengthened Warren’s personal power, even as they weakened her party. As one bitter Weiss ally pointed out, Harry Reid could have schedule a quick confirmation vote and likely prevailed if Democrats still controlled the Senate. The new Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, would relish dragging out Weiss’s confirmation hearing for months as Democrats tore each other to shreds. That same dynamic will obtain for at least the next two years for any nominee that Warren cares to target.

Right: Warren’s power comes from the Republicans, who don’t mind seeing Democrats fight it out amongst themselves. A more powerful Democratic Party means a less powerful Elizabeth Warren, because Harry Reid would run circles around Warren if he were the majority leader and a nominee really needed to get through. Procedurally, Warren’s shenanigans are only possible because the Republicans are letting her get away with it. If Republicans didn’t want her to have this power, she wouldn’t have it. Bloomberg’s headline is “Queen Elizabeth,” but of course she’s merely a pawn in a Senate-White House procedural chess match.

But even more important is what Weiss will be doing instead. Here’s Politico:

But the Lazard banker will still join the administration in the position of counselor to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, which does not require Senate confirmation. …

Instead, Weiss has accepted the position advising Lew on domestic and international issues, which “will allow me to begin serving immediately in support of the Administration’s efforts to foster broad-based economic growth and ensure financial reform that protects consumers and reduces the likelihood of future financial crises,” he wrote.

Weiss will join the Treasury anyway, and give the same advice, not be much undercut by whoever eventually fills the under secretary seat. It may take a while to get a new nominee through the process, and in the interim Weiss will be establishing his place advising Lew. Additionally, the person who takes the under secretary spot will have the title but will be undermined by the fact that not only is he or she the second choice, but that the first choice still works in the building and has Lew’s ear.

Warren’s victory is, then, entirely symbolic. It will have no effect on policy. All it will do is act as an implicit threat to future nominees, pour encourager les autres. But it also raises a point of great irony. Warren’s attempt at governance is being undone here by the very administrative state whose power she has dedicated her political career to increasing. The big-government Frankenstein’s monster is turning on its masters.

The left has gone to great lengths to ensure that their preferred policies can be carried out without much interference from the democratic process. They expend much effort in removing accountability by empowering bureaucracies whose liberal crusades can survive electoral defeats precisely because they don’t answer to the people. Warren herself was supposed to lead one such agency. Republicans blocked her nomination to it, but weren’t able to stop the actual bureaucracy from being created.

Warren opposed Antonio Weiss. The Obama administration will get to hire him anyway. And Warren will continue fighting for the administrative state, completely oblivious to the irony.

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Obama Finds Support … Among Islamic Republic Loyalists

The Democrats took a shellacking in the most recent elections, giving Republicans their most substantial majority since just after World War II and, if the as-yet undecided cases end up with Republican victories, the Republican majority could be the largest since the 1920s. And while most elections are decided solely on domestic and economic issues, the current election was slightly different, as unease about President Obama’s foreign policy, his crisis management, and the stature of the United States on the world stage swayed some voters to vote for the Republicans.

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The Democrats took a shellacking in the most recent elections, giving Republicans their most substantial majority since just after World War II and, if the as-yet undecided cases end up with Republican victories, the Republican majority could be the largest since the 1920s. And while most elections are decided solely on domestic and economic issues, the current election was slightly different, as unease about President Obama’s foreign policy, his crisis management, and the stature of the United States on the world stage swayed some voters to vote for the Republicans.

Many Democrats take the threat of a nuclear Iran seriously. In 2011, Senate Republicans and Democrats joined together to pass tougher sanctions on Iran by a vote of 100-0, over White House objections. But ever since President Obama made his telephone call to President Rouhani and began negotiating with the Islamic Republic in earnest, the White House has succeeded in bringing congressional Democrats in line, against the better judgment of many of them. Well, as the Democratic leadership post-election doubles down on Obama’s foreign policy and their partisan proxies actually argue that a bad deal would be better than no deal and that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should therefore be followed blindly regardless of what they concede, Senator Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi can take solace in the fact that they have found new supporters … inside the Islamic Republic.

Mardom Salari, an Iranian daily supportive of Rouhani, editorialized that the Iranian government should reach at least a temporary agreement with President Obama and his team of negotiators, in order to keep Democrats in power:

If at this sensitive time that may decide our future we are not able to agree on that paradigm and structure, tomorrow may be too late and we may not be able to raise the issue [of an agreement] again, because radicalism and extremism are not the traits that have only manifested themselves in the region in the form of some extremist groups… [but] they have also affected some powerful parties in major countries.

Should the Democrats lose in 2016, the paper warned:

…We will be faced with warmongers who see democracy only through the lenses of their weapons and who regard power and fighting as the only standard of justice and democracy. Therefore, in view of this situation, now that the world and people everywhere have replaced the discourse of talks for conflict, inside the country too we should adopt the policy of idealistic realism and in this way we should safeguard national interest and seek our benefits in the forthcoming talks.

The rhetoric is cartoonish nonsense of course, but the meaning is clear: Come to an agreement or else have to face those in the United States who are not pushovers. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Iranian government’s realization after humiliating President Jimmy Carter during the hostage crisis that it would face a very different America once Ronald Reagan won the White House.

Perhaps it’s time the Congress disappoints the Iranian government even if the White House will not, and let Tehran know they dragged their feet for six years too long, and that they cannot forever count on American naivete, weakness, and impotence.

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Harry Reid Throws Himself a Pity Party

In September 2012 a story from Bob Woodward’s latest book took almost total control of the news cycle by describing an argument President Obama had with Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, with Reid in the room. It was about the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Congressional leaders had come to a tentative agreement on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, but the deal had a major flaw from Obama’s perspective. Reid and Krone arrived to the meeting, and Krone explained the deal, which included a concession from House Republicans that Obama hadn’t expected them to offer, and the president doubted the GOP could be trusted.

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In September 2012 a story from Bob Woodward’s latest book took almost total control of the news cycle by describing an argument President Obama had with Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, with Reid in the room. It was about the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Congressional leaders had come to a tentative agreement on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, but the deal had a major flaw from Obama’s perspective. Reid and Krone arrived to the meeting, and Krone explained the deal, which included a concession from House Republicans that Obama hadn’t expected them to offer, and the president doubted the GOP could be trusted.

Woodward describes Krone’s reaction:

“Mr. President, I am sorry — with all due respect — that we are in this situation that we’re in, but we got handed this football on Friday night. And I didn’t create this situation. The first thing that baffles me is, from my private-sector experience, the first rule that I’ve always been taught is to have a Plan B. And it is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B.”

Several jaws dropped as the Hill staffer blasted the president to his face.

On the ride back to the Capitol, Reid made it clear Krone did exactly what Reid wanted him to: “You stood up to him,” Reid said. “He needed to hear it, and nobody was telling him.”

So goes Reid’s relationship with Obama. They absolutely can’t stand each other. And all that makes what is happening in the wake of the Democrats’ 2014 midterms shellacking seem both shocking and also inevitable. Reid is publicly blaming Obama for the Democrats’ woes, and using Krone to do it. This time, however, he’s escalated the Democratic civil war. He’s authorized Krone to slap Obama around on the record, a rarity.

In Robert Costa and Philip Rucker’s excellent wrap-up story on the midterms, they recounted how two days before the elections, “Krone sat at a mahogany conference table in the majority leader’s stately suite just off the Senate floor and shared with Washington Post reporters his notes of White House meetings. Reid’s top aide wanted to show just how difficult he thought it had been to work with the White House.”

Reid’s office was pre-spinning the expected loss of the Senate by going on record with the Post to blame Obama before anyone had a chance to say otherwise. And what was he saying? That the Obama White House wasn’t getting Democrats the money they could and should have to help fend off the Republicans charging up the hill. It was not, in the grand scheme of things, a ton of money, and the disagreement seemed highly technical. But that’s not how Reid saw it. “I don’t think that the political team at the White House truly was up to speed and up to par doing what needed to get done,” Krone said.

Krone–the top staffer to the outgoing Senate majority leader–thinks the Obama White House’s indifference and incompetence is costing the party. Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum pushes back on this and on the other prominent complaints about Obama from Senate Democrats:

Apparently David Krone is such an unbelievable [a**hole] that he actively decided to vent all his bitterness and bile to a couple of reporters solely to demonstrate just how hard poor David Krone’s job had been during this election season. He even made sure to bring along his notes to make sure he didn’t forget any of his grievances. As an example of preemptive CYA, this is unequaled in recent memory.

Obama certainly was a drag on his party. But Reid’s behavior here is childish to the point of absurdity for one reason. Reid is in a far better position, post-midterms, than the Democrats representing their party in the rest of the federal government. The Republicans are going to end up, in all likelihood, with 54 seats in the Senate. And yet in 2016, they will be defending 24 seats while the Democrats will be defending 10. Further, as Roll Call explains, “only two Democratic seats are in competitive states, while more than half a dozen Republican incumbents face re-election in states President Barack Obama carried at least once.”

The Democrats are by no means guaranteed to take back the Senate–far from it. But the terrain is friendly enough to them in 2016 that it’s a real possibility, especially since they’ll have higher presidential-year turnout. If the election at the top of the ticket goes well for them, the Democrats might very well earn back the majority (if they win the presidency they’ll need only 50, not 51 seats to do so) just two years after losing it.

Compare that to the House, where Republicans continue to have a favorable landscape and have expanded their majority to its largest in more than 80 years. And for the White House, the news doesn’t get any better. Obama was repudiated resoundingly by the voters, and his legacy will be one of taking a wrecking ball to his party’s electoral coalition such that the Republicans control not only the House and Senate but governorships in blue states and a majority of state legislatures. Obama, unlike Reid, has no “next election” to brush off the narrative of failure. This was his last election, and he was on the wrong end of a landslide.

So Reid isn’t exactly the world’s most sympathetic loser here, even putting aside the fact that Democrats are now discovering what Republicans have long known: Reid is a toxic person devoid of integrity. Unless Obama has truly checked out, the White House is guaranteed to respond, ensuring the country will finally answer the question: How low can Harry Reid go?

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How Mitch McConnell Outsmarted Obama

Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

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Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

As Jonathan Tobin mentioned late last night, McConnell belongs at the top of the list of winners, while Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid is second only to Obama in the losers column. Yet the efforts of both men to bring about that result are still widely–and in some cases, probably purposely–misunderstood. A perfect distillation of how to get the McConnell strategy exactly wrong comes via Vox, unsurprisingly. There, Matt Yglesias sums up the Democratic spin on how the Senate has been run by both Reid and McConnell. The spin is unambiguously false, but it does show the extent to which Reid’s mendacious propaganda actually convinced many liberals who don’t grasp the granular details of the Senate. Here’s Yglesias:

A Republican comeback of this scale was by no means guaranteed. In the winter of 2008-2009, the leaders of the Obama transition effort had a theory as to how things would go and mainstream Washington agreed with them.

The theory went like this. With large majorities in the House and Senate, it was obvious that lots of Democratic bills would pass. But the White House would be generous and make concessions to Republicans who were willing to leap on the bandwagon. Consequently, incumbent Republicans from states Obama won (Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada) would be eager to cut deals in which they backed Obama bills in exchange for key concessions. With that process under way, many Republicans who weren’t even that vulnerable would be eager to cut deals as well, in search of a piece of the action. As a result, bills would pass the Senate with large 70- to 75-vote majorities, and Obama would be seen as the game-changing president who healed American politics and got things done.

McConnell’s counter plan was to prevent those deals. As McConnell told Josh Green, the key to eroding Obama’s popularity was denying him the sheen of bipartisanship, and that meant keep Republicans united in opposition[.]

Yglesias then quotes McConnell as saying “We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” and adds himself:

To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It’s quite possible Yglesias actually believes this. Many on the left have been thoroughly confused by how the Senate works, and they are almost always eager to believe the most negative portrayal of Republicans out there. But rather than Obama being generously and genuinely bipartisan, what happened was that he took his election to be a mandate for his own plans–“I won,” as he famously said.

And so the Obama strategy, with Reid’s help in the Senate, was to get what Yglesias calls the “sheen” of bipartisanship: get a very liberal bill that consists mostly of handouts to liberal interest groups and greatly increases presidential power on an issue, and pretend it’s the work of both parties by offering token, vote-buying concessions to convince a few Republicans to put their names on the overall bill. McConnell wasn’t buying it, because he understood that Obama had no intention of actually crafting bills that would prominently feature conservative ideas–the two sides were too far apart anyway.

McConnell also understood that Obama’s ideas were terrible, and would be unpopular. In some cases, we knew the bills were unpopular before they even went up for vote. Obama wanted an insurance policy (no ObamaCare pun intended): to have his name on the “achievement” if it turned out to be popular but to have Republicans own its passage in case it wasn’t. It was cynical and dishonest, and it didn’t succeed because Obama fooled his fans in the media but not McConnell.

Additionally, as anyone who follows the Senate closely knows, Reid’s strategy was to put unprecedented limits on the minority (Republicans) in the legislating process. Republicans were shut out of the traditional bipartisan role and also shut out of the amendment process. Reid didn’t want Republican input at all and didn’t want debate either. The plain fact is that it was Reid who “decided to break” the Senate, since Republicans weren’t willing to simply add their names to Obama’s legislative wish lists. And in order to protect constitutionally suspect legislation in the courts, Reid tossed out the filibuster as well.

Last night was a resounding victory for McConnell not because he sabotaged the Senate but because it confirmed what he already knew: Obama’s ideas are naïve and destructive, and therefore unpopular. McConnell’s refusal to allow his GOP minority caucus to be a rubber stamp for the disastrous liberal agenda was what stopped the midterms from being a pox on both houses and instead a referendum on those responsible for the wreckage: the Democrats.

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Iran Appeasement at Stake in Midterms

American elections are always closely watched by foreign nations. But there may no more interested observers of tonight’s midterm results than the leaders of Iran. The ability of the Obama administration to pursue détente with Iran and to cut a new weak deal that will enable the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state may rest on the ability of President Obama’s party to hold onto control of the Senate.

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American elections are always closely watched by foreign nations. But there may no more interested observers of tonight’s midterm results than the leaders of Iran. The ability of the Obama administration to pursue détente with Iran and to cut a new weak deal that will enable the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state may rest on the ability of President Obama’s party to hold onto control of the Senate.

The administration’s zeal for a deal with the Iranians appears undiminished by Tehran’s decision to continue to impede the efforts of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to discover what is going on at their nuclear plants. As the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday, the IAEA has made public the fact that there has been no progress made in getting access for inspections despite a year of negotiations. The Iranians are, as is their wont, continuing to run out the clock on the West on those talks. At the same time they are stringing the U.S. along in its efforts to broker a deal despite reports of far-reaching concessions that would allow it to keep their nuclear infrastructure in any agreement.

Given the growing sentiment in Europe for ending economic sanctions on Iran, there is no guarantee that watering down the terms of an agreement even more will entice the Islamists to sign a deal ending the standoff. Yet given the administration’s signals about treating this issue as their top foreign-policy priority, it seems likely that Obama will get some kind of an accord that will enable him to say he has addressed the world’s concerns about the nuclear threat from Iran even if it does little to diminish that threat.

Obama’s ability to do as he likes on Iran stems in no small measure from the president’s ability to get the Democratic majority in the Senate—and in particular, Majority Leader Harry Reid—to do his bidding on the issue. Though a bipartisan proposal for toughening sanctions on Iran if the talks failed had overwhelming support in the Senate last winter, including the vocal advocacy of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez, Reid was able to spike the effort. If, as the administration has indicated, it will seek to bypass congressional approval for any new Iran deal, the president knows he can count on Reid to perform the same service this year despite complaints from fellow Democrat Menendez. But with the GOP in control of the Senate, the administration will have a lot less leeway in their pursuit of appeasement.

If a deal is signed, the president and his cheering section in the media will, no doubt, go all out to label any skeptics of the agreement as warmongers in much the same manner as they did last year. In order to end sanctions on Iran, a key requirement for Tehran in any accord, the president will suspend enforcement of the laws. But getting rid of them will require congressional action that is unlikely to occur. More to the point, Congress will have an opportunity to respond to an end run around the Constitution that requires Senate approval of all treaties with new sanctions on Iran.

Interestingly, the International Business Times speculates today that a switch in control of the Foreign Relations Committee could work to Obama’s advantage. If, as expected, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker replaces Menendez and Democrat Dick Durbin becomes the ranking member instead of Republican Mark Kirk, the IBT thinks this pair is more likely to do Obama’s bidding on Iran than the current team.

But that underestimates support throughout the Senate and on the committee for tougher sanctions on Iran. More to the point, the “sanctions mongers,” as the IBT refers to opponents of Iran appeasement, will likely have the backing of the putative Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. With or without a new weak deal with Iran, the odds are, Republicans in both the House and the Senate will pass a bill similar to the one proposed by Menendez and Kirk last year which sought to hold the president’s feet to the fire on Iran.

Those who think a GOP-run Senate will back Obama’s play on Iran are underestimating the skepticism about the president’s policy in Congress as well as the deep concern for Israel’s security in the GOP at a time when, as Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic column illustrated last week, the administration’s is seeking to chill relations with the Jewish state.

That’s why it won’t be just U.S. political junkies staying up tonight to see if Reid or McConnell is running the Senate next year. The ayatollahs understand their ability to manipulate a U.S. government that they have pegged as a weak negotiating partner may be dependent on the outcome.

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Harry Reid: Still Crazy-Like-A-Fox After All These Years

There’s an old Jewish joke about Yom Kippur. The shul rabbi, overcome by the need for forgiveness, kneels to the floor and shouts “God, before you I am nothing!” Moved by the scene, the cantor drops to his knees, looks heavenward, and repeats the rabbi’s plea: “God, before you I am nothing!” At that point the synagogue’s shamash, the Jewish caretaker of the building, repeats the spectacle, dropping to his knees, looking at the sky, and exclaiming “God, before you I am nothing!” The cantor nudges the rabbi, motions toward the shamash, and whispers “So look who thinks he’s nothing!”

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There’s an old Jewish joke about Yom Kippur. The shul rabbi, overcome by the need for forgiveness, kneels to the floor and shouts “God, before you I am nothing!” Moved by the scene, the cantor drops to his knees, looks heavenward, and repeats the rabbi’s plea: “God, before you I am nothing!” At that point the synagogue’s shamash, the Jewish caretaker of the building, repeats the spectacle, dropping to his knees, looking at the sky, and exclaiming “God, before you I am nothing!” The cantor nudges the rabbi, motions toward the shamash, and whispers “So look who thinks he’s nothing!”

A couple of recent stories about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought this joke to mind. First, in mid-September, Politico published a story in which Reid was unusually frank about just how pleased he was with himself. He actually wanted–six weeks out from the election–to begin bragging, like a kid who can’t believe how many fireflies he caught in a single jar, that Republicans had begun making “fire Reid” an election-year mantra:

“I’m meaningless,” Reid, a three-decade Hill veteran and the most powerful Democrat in Congress, told POLITICO Thursday. “People in red states don’t even know who I am.”

So look who thinks he’s nothing! But he’s also right, in an important way. Harry Reid has never achieved the kind of name identification that makes him a strategically sound national target, and he knew it. If Republicans are talking about him, instead of, say, President Obama or actual policies, then he’s done his job.

And today’s story in The Hill on Senate Republicans’ grumbling over leadership concerns raises a similar point, only it reveals that Reid has inspired finger pointing among Republicans even though they have the momentum heading into the home stretch of the midterm campaign.

And reading The Hill’s story, it’s easy to feel some pity for the anonymous GOP senator on whom much of the story is based. The senator has basically had the political equivalent of his shoelaces tied together, and since he’s unnamed we can’t even warn him of the imminent meeting between his face and the Senate chamber floor. And the only sound louder than the impending thud will be bellowing laughter of Harry Reid.

Here’s The Hill setting the scene:

If Republicans fall short of expectations this fall, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) could face a leadership challenge.

Republican senators say there is much riding on the Nov. 4 elections for McConnell, who is gunning to become majority leader while also attempting to defeat a well-funded Democratic opponent.

“If we don’t win the majority then all bets are off,” one GOP senator told The Hill when asked whether McConnell could face a leadership race if Republicans remained in the minority in 2015.

The senator, who requested anonymity, said some members of the Senate Republican Conference would call for a re-evaluation of McConnell’s tactics, which the lawmaker described as maintaining total party unity in opposition to the Democratic agenda.

The very next paragraph, however, explains the absurdity of the complaint:

The senator acknowledged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is difficult to work with because he has severely limited the ability of Republicans to offer amendments.

“There’s no question Harry Reid is very tough to deal with, but some of us wonder whether we should have tried to go around him to work with other Democrats,” the senator said.

Conservative critics, on the other hand, argue that McConnell has been too accommodating and has not been fierce enough in waging the battle to repeal ObamaCare or slash federal spending.

Here’s what happened: Harry Reid set a trap, and some Senate Republicans are falling for it. That’s really the crux of the plot here. Between Reid’s reduction of the applicability of the filibuster and his obliteration of Senate norms intended to give the minority some limited role in the democratic process, Reid has made it impossible for Republicans to get what they want and nearly impossible for them to stop Democrats from getting what they want.

Is that unfair? Sure, but welcome to the NFL, kid.

The genius of Reid’s shenanigans is that they only feed the conservative narrative that the Republican leadership is out of step with the party’s grassroots. With midterm elections approaching in which Republicans may actually have a decent shot at reclaiming the upper chamber, this is Reid’s best chance to divide and conquer the Republican caucus so the infighting holds the party back from training all its fire on the other side. Republicans who fall for this–and there appear to be several–are getting played.

And while I don’t know who the anonymous senator is, this strikes me as the kind of mistake common for inexperienced legislators. It reads like a hazing ritual of the Senate, and Reid is taking particular delight in it. Conservatives who truly want to advance a conservative agenda in Congress ought to stop stepping on the rake.

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Live From D.C., It’s the First Amendment

Liberals are mocking Senator Ted Cruz for his speech yesterday claiming that a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Democrats would give Congress the power to shut down political satire such as that shown on NBC’s Saturday Night Live show. They say all they want to do is to restore the campaign finance laws of the country to what they were before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and ensure that elections are clean and free of the taint of big corporate money. But those dismissing Cruz’s speech as nothing more than a publicity stunt are wrong. If Democrats have their way, no one’s political speech would be safe.

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Liberals are mocking Senator Ted Cruz for his speech yesterday claiming that a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Democrats would give Congress the power to shut down political satire such as that shown on NBC’s Saturday Night Live show. They say all they want to do is to restore the campaign finance laws of the country to what they were before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and ensure that elections are clean and free of the taint of big corporate money. But those dismissing Cruz’s speech as nothing more than a publicity stunt are wrong. If Democrats have their way, no one’s political speech would be safe.

Let’s specify that the entire Senate debate on this issue is the real political stunt. The amendment has no chance of getting cloture in the Senate and will not get a hearing in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. And even in the highly unlikely event that the Democrats were to get control of both houses of Congress in November, it’s even less likely that enough state legislatures would subsequently vote for the measure in order for it to become law. The only reason Majority Leader Harry Reid has put the issue on the calendar for debate is that he wants it to help drum up interest in the issue as a way to help Democrats in the midterm elections. He believes that more attention to campaign finance reform will further his goal of demonizing GOP donors like the Koch brothers.

Reid’s anti-Koch crusade won’t save endangered red-state Senate Democrats any more than it will generate enough congressional support to pass the amendment. But voters would do well to pay attention because the issue here is nothing less than the future of free speech.

Democrats scoff at Cruz’s claims about the amendment being the end of SNL because they say all they are trying to do is restore the pre-Citizens United status quo that prevailed in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s when the program was as big as it is today. They claim all they want to do is to give back Congress the right to regulate the political speech of corporations and that no one is trying to silence satirists.

But the point of Citizens United was precisely the willingness of Congress and regulators to play favorites with speech and to silence those they didn’t like such as the donors who produced a film critical of Hillary Clinton that was at the heart of the case. Those determined to bring back the old campaign-finance regime are not so much trying to “reform” our electoral system as they are trying to ensure that corporate speech is limited to those media entities that have their own First Amendment protections.

It’s not clear whether SNL could claim the First Amendment protections afforded the press because it is part of the same corporation that broadcasts NBC news programs. But what we do know is that until the Citizens United decision was handed down Congress had the power to stifle the political speech of non-media corporations. Democrats think limited campaign expenditures makes things more fair but all campaign-finance reform has done is to create a regulatory minefield that employs armies of lawyers as well as vehicles for paying for politics that are far less transparent than anything that previously existed. Moreover, if these laws are broadly interpreted, as the film controversy in that case illustrated, it could mean effectively shutting down a broad range of political expression.

In his remarks, Cruz referenced SNL’s “wickedly funny” takedown of his friend Sarah Palin that he rightly noted had a not insignificant impact on the course of that campaign. It is difficult to imagine the federal elections bureaucracy seeking to shut down an iconic program like SNL under virtually any circumstances. But if a corporation not as well connected with the liberal establishment were to fund some forms of political commentary or satire there would be nothing, other than the good sense of the American people, to stop Congress and the regulators from seeking to impose limits of some sort.

What liberals have attempted to impose on the country in the name of campaign-finance reform is nothing less than the old “free speech for me, but not for thee,” spirit that separates banana republics from genuine democracies. If the First Amendment means anything, it ought to mean guaranteeing the rights of individuals and groups of individuals to pool their resources and speak out about issues and candidates to help influence the debate about elections.

We should be grateful that Reid’s assault on free speech is going to fail this year. But the left will not rest until they have restored the old regulations and expanded them to shut up their critics. Liberals can ignore or laugh at Cruz. But he deserves credit for calling to the nation’s attention the hypocrisy of a political left that is willing to defend corporate political speech only when they can be sure it will work to their advantage.

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Democrats Air Frustrations with Obama

Republicans have been frustrated by President Obama for a long time. But it turns out Democrats have, too. According to a story in the New York Times, “nearly six years into his term, with his popularity at the lowest of his presidency, Mr. Obama appears remarkably distant from his own party on Capitol Hill, with his long neglect of would-be allies catching up to him.”

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Republicans have been frustrated by President Obama for a long time. But it turns out Democrats have, too. According to a story in the New York Times, “nearly six years into his term, with his popularity at the lowest of his presidency, Mr. Obama appears remarkably distant from his own party on Capitol Hill, with his long neglect of would-be allies catching up to him.”

The Times goes on to report that based on interviews with nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers and senior congressional aides:

Mr. Obama’s approach has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office. Grumbling by lawmakers about a president is nothing unusual. But what is striking now is the way prominent Democrats’ views of Mr. Obama’s shortcomings are spilling out into public, and how resigned many seem that the relationship will never improve.

We’re told that in private meetings, Majority Leader Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, “has voiced regular dismay to lawmakers and top aides about White House operations and competency across a range of issues, according to several Democrats on Capitol Hill.”

Mr. Obama’s detachment from his own party–his lack of personal relationships with Democrats on Capitol Hill–is hardly news to anyone. What is news is that Democrats are willing to give public voice to their complaints. They want their grievances known.

But it’s not just, or even mainly, Mr. Obama’s aloofness that seems to trouble them; it is, as Harry Reid’s chief of staff indicates, his lack of competence that is really bothering them. Let’s just put it this way: If an aloof President Obama has 60 percent approval ratings (instead of 40 percent)–if the Affordable Care Act was wildly popular, the economy was surging, and the world was tranquil–you wouldn’t see front-page stories in the New York Times highlighting Democrats complaining about him.

The fact that Democratic members of Congress are eager to distance themselves from the Obama presidency is an indication of its disrepair. But this is the state of affairs in the Obama second term; and Democrats may as well accept that things are only going to get worse.

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Cantor Checks Out Early; Will It Matter?

When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election earlier this year in a major upset, it seemed clear right away that he could not keep his leadership position until the end of his term. Because he was on his way out, he would lose too much of his effectiveness at a crucial time for the GOP, which only held the House. Furthermore, Harry Reid’s procedural shenanigans and wanton destruction of Senate traditions and practices has made the GOP virtually invisible in the Senate. With a White House that doesn’t appear to recognize any limits on its power, the right would need their House leadership in midseason form. Having Cantor remain leader would have been a strategic limitation.

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When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election earlier this year in a major upset, it seemed clear right away that he could not keep his leadership position until the end of his term. Because he was on his way out, he would lose too much of his effectiveness at a crucial time for the GOP, which only held the House. Furthermore, Harry Reid’s procedural shenanigans and wanton destruction of Senate traditions and practices has made the GOP virtually invisible in the Senate. With a White House that doesn’t appear to recognize any limits on its power, the right would need their House leadership in midseason form. Having Cantor remain leader would have been a strategic limitation.

It was a major coup for Cantor’s relatively unknown GOP challenger, Dave Brat. He had been abandoned even by Tea Party groups, outspent by a wide margin, and didn’t have much name recognition. So he seemed content to wait for the general election, in which he was favored, and to take his spot in the House and begin to work his way up the ladder. But today, plans were changed. Cantor announced that, whereas right after the election pains were taken to stress that the outgoing leader was leaving his leadership post but not his seat, he is now apparently doing the latter as well. As the New York Times reports:

Representative Eric Cantor, the Virginia Republican whose last day as House majority leader was Thursday, said on Friday that he would resign his seat effective Aug. 18 in hopes that his successor will be able to participate in the lame-duck session after the November elections.
Mr. Cantor, 51, made the announcement in an op-ed article published on The Richmond Times-Dispatch website. …

Mr. Cantor, who has served in Congress for 14 years, said that he would ask Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, to call a special election for his seat on Nov. 4 — the same day as the general election — a move that would allow the winner to take Mr. Cantor’s seat immediately rather than wait for the next Congress to be seated in January. The winner would also enjoy seniority over the other Representatives first elected that day.
Mr. McAuliffe told the newspaper that he was “heartsick” about Mr. Cantor’s loss because the state was losing a senior voice in Congress, but there was no indication whether he would honor the request for a special election.
Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District is conservative, which would favor Mr. Brat’s chances in November, when he will face the Democratic nominee, Jack Trammell, and James Carr, a Libertarian. Both Mr. Brat and Mr. Trammell are professors at Randolph-Macon College.

The advantages are clear but limited. The Times originally wrote that the winner of the election, if held in this manner, would gain Cantor’s seniority. That’s not the case, and the article has since been corrected. If he wins, Brat would have seniority over the others elected that day, as he would take office before them. Had he been able to take over Cantor’s seniority, Cantor’s exit strategy would be clear. As it stands now, the benefits are a bit hazy, other than giving his Virginia district a slight advantage over other seats won by new members that day.

Larry Sabato says it’s self-interest and generosity, for Dave Brat will reap the benefits. Robert Tracinski says it’s self-interest (a head start on his post-congressional career) with a touch of boredom (he’s given up on the lame-duck session producing anything worth staying in the House over). I imagine we’ll find out more after he actually steps down later this month.

Conservatives, in this case, might as well pay more attention to the effect and less to the intentions at play. The lame-duck session may very well turn out to be more important than it might seem at the moment, depending on the results on Election Day. If the midterm elections produce a GOP wave, it’s possible the Senate will change hands, or else come very close. If Republicans make significant gains, the lame-duck session will be the Reid-led Democrats’ last chance during the Obama administration to make good use of their Senate majority.

Of course, their initiatives would not get very far in the House, so there are even limits here. But Reid’s actions in the Senate are not meant to enact legislation and fix problems as much as they are to manipulate a gullible media into portraying Republicans in the most negative light possible. As such, the Democratic Senate’s actions mostly consist of publicity stunts. The exception is for judicial and other nominees, which Reid can get confirmed by using the nuclear option, which he cannot do if he’s in the minority. If the midterms go well for the GOP, expect Reid to go on a two-month binge, in which case yes, the lame-duck session will matter some.

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Hobby Lobby, Religious Liberty, and the Dangers of Complacence

It’s tempting, and easy, to dismiss Democrats’ legislative response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. Senate Democrats say as soon as today they could bring up a bill that would, as Politico terms it, “override” the high court’s ruling, which followed the course set out in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Democrats want to push this as part of the “war on women” by making shameless false claims about the court’s ruling and trashing both RFRA and the First Amendment.

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It’s tempting, and easy, to dismiss Democrats’ legislative response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. Senate Democrats say as soon as today they could bring up a bill that would, as Politico terms it, “override” the high court’s ruling, which followed the course set out in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Democrats want to push this as part of the “war on women” by making shameless false claims about the court’s ruling and trashing both RFRA and the First Amendment.

Conservatives have been generally dismissive of the White House’s “war on women,” and for good reason. Additionally, they may be further tempted to deride the left’s response now that they’ve won a limited victory at the Supreme Court. It also requires a heroic effort to take seriously any policymaking that begins with Harry Reid including Clarence Thomas in his category of “white men” who should be ignored. Reid is railing against the Supreme Court, but he does not appear to be terribly familiar with it. (As an aside, why mention the race of the justices at all if this is an issue about gender? Because leftists can’t speak, apparently, without accusing someone of being racist.)

But this attitude would be a mistake, with regard to the Hobby Lobby pushback. To be sure, conservatives should avoid getting drawn into a fictitious debate on birth control based on completely false premises and designed not to advance policy solutions but to give Democrats yet another chance to insult the intelligence of the nation’s women and to put Christianity–and by extension, religious belief in general–on trial. After all, it’s unlikely that yet another Reid-led Democratic effort to undo basic American rights will pass the House.

And getting drawn into this debate risks giving the Democrats what they actually want: a change of subject. As the Obama presidency plummets in popularity and the corruption and abuse of power scandals keep multiplying, the Democrats want to talk about anything but the issues dragging them down.

Nonetheless, conservatives should think twice about taking the debate over this bill–not the president’s executive action, but the Senate bill on which there would presumably be debate and a vote–too lightly. What the Democrats are trying to do is build a public-policy consensus that would erode religious liberty by holding a referendum on whether America’s first freedom, and the basis for the American project, should be undone in the service of left-wing culture-war extremism.

Is it worth undermining religious freedom just so Democrats can distract the electorate from their inability to govern with a public discussion about the economics of sex? For Democrats like Harry Reid, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Basic freedoms are fine in the abstract, according to Democratic policymakers, but they often infringe on Democrats’ quest for power. So they must be subverted.

Conservatives must understand that the risk here is not actual policy, since the bill won’t pass the House. The risk is that by ceding space in the public sphere to liberal demagogues, they won’t engage the important part of this debate. Since, as I’ve written previously, opposition to religious freedom is now a partisan Democratic position, conservatives are the last line of defense. What they don’t want is for the left to own a debate that could build a public consensus against those freedoms. If conservatives won’t speak up for religious freedom, nobody will, and it will be ignored and trampled.

It’s also important because none of this takes place in a vacuum. In a very smart piece for BuzzFeed, Chris Geidner tracks the evolving fight over religious exemptions in employee non-discrimination legislation. He notes that LGBT groups and their supporters are backing away from anti-discrimination legislation they were initially inclined to support because of the religious exemptions being added. The bill will probably not be advanced in the House this year, Geidner notes, and explains why these groups are fighting about it anyway.

He gives three reasons: to shape the next version of this legislation that comes through Congress in the next session; because the groups are unnerved by the Supreme Court’s upholding of religious freedom protections in the Hobby Lobby case; and to influence President Obama’s forthcoming executive order on the issue. In other words, these groups recognize that although the Democrats’ demand for employee-sponsored drugs that may act as abortifacients has nothing to do with gay rights, in some way it has everything to do with it.

Settling law and winning public debates over religious freedom affects other laws and other debates that follow it. Just as the Supreme Court sets precedent in legal rulings, so too the passage of laws and other actions set precedent in how the public understands the issues at play and how politicians can attract support for their own legislative projects. The left has always operated with the knowledge that there’s no off-season here. They are counting on conservative exhaustion, complacence, or both. Conservatives must demonstrate neither.

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Reid Sets a Trap for GOP on Earmarks

Harry Reid is making trouble again. With Republicans still squabbling over the establishment-Tea Party rift, the Senate’s top Democrat sat down with reporters from the Huffington Post to offer some comments perfectly designed to make Republicans even angrier at each other.

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Harry Reid is making trouble again. With Republicans still squabbling over the establishment-Tea Party rift, the Senate’s top Democrat sat down with reporters from the Huffington Post to offer some comments perfectly designed to make Republicans even angrier at each other.

According to HuffPo:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he expects congressional earmarks will be revived and insisted senior Republican Party members support the return of congressionally directed spending.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Reid argued that the prohibition on earmarks was a mistake that tipped the balance of power away from the legislative branch and toward the president. He said he wants the ability to approve specific spending projects to be put back under control of Congress.

Reid said top House Republicans have told him they support earmarks and would like to see the practice return. He said those he’s spoken to include “a very senior member of the House Republican caucus.” Reid wouldn’t name names, but said that the lawmaker is “still there” — meaning it’s likely not Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Reid’s timing is almost certainly no coincidence. As political targets go, earmarks are the broad side of a barn. Because they explicitly direct taxpayer cash, it’s easy to find ridiculous pork-barrel projects and obvious wastes of money. During the Bush presidency, Majority Leader Tom DeLay used earmarks as a disciplinary tool. The more transparency that developed–that is, the more easily specific earmarks could be traced not only to their destination but back to their congressional source–the more easily they could be used much as campaign-finance regulation is used: as incumbent-protection plans.

Hence they came to be hated by conservatives even before the rise of the Tea Party. When Republicans gained and then lost control of Congress, much of it was blamed by the grassroots on GOPers falling prey to the lure of power and appropriations and forgetting its limited-government roots. Conservatives said Republicans deserved to lose because they began spending money just like Democrats.

The Tea Party’s arrival on the scene was part of this trend, and it’s easy to see why earmarks are a stand-in for precisely what drives budget hawks crazy about Washington. But they also posed a specific threat to the Tea Party: as districts became less competitive, the primary contests were where the real action was. And, in the House at least, winning a primary got you most of the way to punching your ticket to Congress. (The Senate has been a tougher party to crash.)

So Reid’s timing for dropping this hint about the return of earmarks was perfect, at least from his standpoint. Just a few years ago, an incumbent running against a self-described Tea Partier was an underdog. But this year, incumbents and establishment candidates have been able to push back. In part this has been because the Tea Party’s early victories have enabled it to shape the party’s congressional agenda, so primaries these days are often conservatives running against conservatives–Dave Brat against Eric Cantor is a much different matchup than Pat Toomey against Arlen Specter.

But the recent runoff victory by incumbent Thad Cochran over Chris McDaniel is highly relevant to the debate over earmarks. Cochran was expected to lose the runoff. Primary turnout is already lower than general-election turnout, and a runoff lower still. Usually.

Cochran turned the tables by crossing the aisle and making a successful pitch to Mississippi’s black voters, who are overwhelmingly Democratic. He did so by reminding black voters that he brings home the bacon for them, despite the fact that they don’t vote for him in general elections. Pro-Cochran groups hired black leaders to make the same plea. It worked, and Cochran won.

The lesson here is that Cochran’s record was not enough to placate the grassroots, but that he could win by emphasizing his spending on federal programs that help his state. If Republican leaders pine for the days of earmarks, it’s easy to see why. Not only could they help defeat conservative insurgents, but the House caucus has become far more difficult for the leadership to control–witness House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning loss to Brat, who had been abandoned even by Tea Party groups.

Reid is also handing his Republican counterparts a live grenade in offering a plausible-sounding justification for earmarks: they could help devolve spending power back to the Congress from the White House. It is, of course, a trap. Earmarks may not have been the budget poison they were sometimes made out to be, and they certainly weren’t all bridges to nowhere. But they will not stop this president from taking executive action, and they will not bring Democrats on board for the House GOP’s reform agenda.

Reid is trying to sucker the GOP leadership into a prolonged fight with its base that the establishment will eventually lose. At times earmarks got more attention than they warranted. But the GOP leadership doesn’t stand to gain from being their champion.

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Proroguing the Congress

The Supreme Court wimped out on the recess appointment power today.

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The Supreme Court wimped out on the recess appointment power today.

It ruled, unanimously, that President Obama had overstepped his powers when he made three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was holding pro-forma sessions. In other words, the Senate, not the president, gets to decide when it is in session.

I have not yet read the opinion, which is a long one, but five justices (the four liberal ones and Justice Kennedy), decided to sustain the long-standing practice of presidents making appointments during intra-session recesses (for holidays, etc.) not just inter-session recesses when the Senate has recessed sine die (Latin for “without a day,” i.e. without setting a date to resume). It also ruled that vacancies don’t need to occur during the recess to be filled by the recess appointment power. Again, this is long-standing practice, but it is not what the Constitution says.

The recess appointment clause (Article II, Section 2) says that “The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, …” and the D.C. Court of Appeals had ruled that it meant what it said: “the recess,” not “a recess,” and vacancies must occur during the recess, not simply exist during the recess. In today’s world, the recess of the Senate is very short. They rarely adjourn before the middle of December and the next session begins, under the 20th Amendment, on January 3. Had the Supreme Court followed that reasoning, and four justices led by Justice Scalia argued forcefully that it should have, the recess appointment power would have been, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Now the long-standing but unconstitutional practice has the imprimatur of the Supreme Court. All sorts of mischief can occur as a result. If the presidency and the two houses of Congress are in the hands of one party, there’s no problem. But if the Senate is in the hands of the other party, it can prevent recess appointments only by staying in pro-forma sessions. If the Senate is in the hands of the president’s party, but the House is not, as is the case presently, then the House can prevent a recess by simply staying in session itself. Neither house can adjourn for more than three days without the agreement of the other house (Article I, Section 5).

But there’s a little noticed clause in the Constitution (Article II, Section 3) that says, “… in Case of Disagreement between them [the two houses], with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he [the president] may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; …” As far as I know, this power has never been exercised. But here’s a scenario. Obama wants to appoint someone who would have trouble being approved by the Senate, so Harry Reid moves to adjourn the Senate for a week, the House refuses to go along, and the president then adjourns them for two weeks, and appoints his man.

The king of England lost his power to prorogue Parliament in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Supreme Court may well have given it back to the president of the United States.

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Iraq: What We Know Now and What We Knew Then

Along with the outbreak of the new war in Iraq has come a ferocious debate over who is to blame. Is it George W. Bush for getting us into Iraq in the first place or is it Barack Obama for getting us out without leaving any American troops there?

My old friend George Will, who was one of the most eloquent proponents of the invasion in 2003 but who later changed his mind, has not surprisingly made the best case for the anti-Bush party. Addressing all Republicans vying for the presidential nomination in 2016, he asks:

Given the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and given that we now know how little we know about “nation-building” and about the promotion of democracy in nations that need to be “built,” and given that Saddam Hussein’s horrific tyranny at least controlled Iraq’s sectarian furies, and given that Iraq under him was Iran’s adversary, and given that ten-year wars make Americans indiscriminately averse to military undertakings—given all this, if you could rewind history to March 2003, would you favor invading Iraq?

Well, I was as passionate, if not as eloquent, a supporter of the invasion as George Will was, and my own answer to his question would be that if I had been able to foresee the unintended consequences of a fair number of actions I have taken in my life, I would most certainly not have taken them. But I would then go on to say that, looking back at the situation in 2003 when I unfortunately lacked prophetic powers, my answer to his question would be that, yes, I would still have supported the invasion.

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Along with the outbreak of the new war in Iraq has come a ferocious debate over who is to blame. Is it George W. Bush for getting us into Iraq in the first place or is it Barack Obama for getting us out without leaving any American troops there?

My old friend George Will, who was one of the most eloquent proponents of the invasion in 2003 but who later changed his mind, has not surprisingly made the best case for the anti-Bush party. Addressing all Republicans vying for the presidential nomination in 2016, he asks:

Given the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and given that we now know how little we know about “nation-building” and about the promotion of democracy in nations that need to be “built,” and given that Saddam Hussein’s horrific tyranny at least controlled Iraq’s sectarian furies, and given that Iraq under him was Iran’s adversary, and given that ten-year wars make Americans indiscriminately averse to military undertakings—given all this, if you could rewind history to March 2003, would you favor invading Iraq?

Well, I was as passionate, if not as eloquent, a supporter of the invasion as George Will was, and my own answer to his question would be that if I had been able to foresee the unintended consequences of a fair number of actions I have taken in my life, I would most certainly not have taken them. But I would then go on to say that, looking back at the situation in 2003 when I unfortunately lacked prophetic powers, my answer to his question would be that, yes, I would still have supported the invasion.

“Given the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction,” his indictment of Bush begins, but the only “given” in 2003 was the exact opposite. All fifteen agencies involved in gathering intelligence for the United States agreed “with high confidence” that “Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions.” So did the intelligence agencies of Britain, Germany, Russia, China, Israel, and France.

“Given” also that the Democrats would later accuse Bush of lying about this, here is a (partial) list of Democrats who had previously joined in the consensus: Bill Clinton; his Vice President Al Gore; his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; his Secretary of Defense William Cohen; and his National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. In the Senate, there were Teddy Kennedy, Harry Reid, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Edwards, Jay Rockefeller, Robert Byrd, and Bob Graham–not to mention Nancy Pelosi, among scores of others, in the House, as well as liberal papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Each and every one of them saw Saddam Hussein as a threat, and they all advocated taking action against him.

“Given” all this, I would go so far as to say that not only was George W. Bush justified in ordering the invasion, but that if he had failed to do so, he would have deserved to be impeached for violating his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” this country against any and all foreign enemies.    

As to the other items in George Will’s parade of horribles, they all belong to the period that followed the successful military phase of the invasion itself. I am willing to stipulate that many mistakes were made in the three years that followed, and that the entire operation would very likely have ended in defeat if Bush had not finally found in David Petraeus a general who wanted to win and knew how to do it. The upshot was that by the time Barack Obama took office, American casualties were all the way down, and that the Iraq turned over to him was a country largely at peace and living under a nascent democratic regime. So much for the case for blaming Bush.

Turning now to the case for blaming Obama, a commensurately eloquent one has been made by another old friend of mine, David Pryce Jones, the eminent British authority on the Arab world. After explaining why and how the al-Qaeda affiliate ISIS has been able to capture city after city in Iraq and is now only about fifty miles from Baghdad, David flatly declares that “President George W. Bush is vindicated. The sole way Iraq could have continued was under a permanent American presence that gave and guaranteed state functions. President Obama’s withdrawal of American forces is already a historic error. They alone could have kept the peace. Arabs have a phrase to the effect that some mistake has opened the doors of Hell. President Obama has opened those doors.”

Obama evidently now thinks that a de facto alliance with Iran—Iran!—is the way to close those doors, but such an alliance would only guarantee that they would open even wider than they are now. It would also solidify Iran’s influence over Iraq while giving a green light to an Iranian nuclear bomb. 

Alas, none of the other proposals for getting us out of this fix seems fully persuasive. Which means that it may be too late to prevent Iraq from joining Syria as part of a new Iranian empire. It is not too late, however, to keep that empire from building a nuclear arsenal, and neither is it too late to keep Afghanistan from reverting to the al-Qaeda haven it was before 9/11. The problem is that doing those things would require Barack Obama to acknowledge that his policies are exposing us to an infinitely greater danger than we were in before 9/11. In my opinion–and I express it with fear and trembling–it would take something close to a miracle for him to undergo so radical a change of heart and mind. God help us then.

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The Mann/Ornstein Thesis Is Even Worse Than It Looks

In 2012, When Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein published their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, primarily blaming Republicans for congressional gridlock, they began a campaign of writing op-eds laying out their thesis in various political publications. The two complained, however, that none of the political talk shows wanted to have them on to sell the book. As they told the Washington Post:

“Not a single one of the Sunday shows has indicated an interest, and I do find it curious,” Ornstein told me, adding that the Op ed (sic) had well over 200,000 Facebook recommends and has been viral for weeks. “This is a level of attention for a book that we haven’t received before. You would think it would attract some attention from the Sunday shows.’

Over 200,00 Facebook recommendations and still no takers on the Sunday shows! But in fact it wasn’t so strange. The thesis they laid out in column after column was just plain wrong, and unambiguously so. It might have sold books and fooled the occasional liberal commentator, but those who worked in Washington had at least a basic knowledge of congressional politics, which was all that was needed to know Mann and Ornstein were peddling nonsense on stilts.

In the last couple of weeks, we got additional reminders of that. First came the revelation that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after having effectively dismantled the filibuster, was removing yet one more way for the minority party to have any participation in the legislating process: blocking amendments on a bipartisan bill. Reid’s well-established role in perpetuating congressional gridlock is easy enough to disregard for partisans fully committed to their own blissful ignorance.

Enter Thomas Mann. On Monday he published a long piece at the Atlantic in which he continued pushing his long-debunked thesis. Unfortunately for Mann, today we received yet another indication–this time from President Obama himself–that the talks shows that ignored Mann and Ornstein were doing their viewers a favor. This time the subject was immigration reform.

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In 2012, When Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein published their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, primarily blaming Republicans for congressional gridlock, they began a campaign of writing op-eds laying out their thesis in various political publications. The two complained, however, that none of the political talk shows wanted to have them on to sell the book. As they told the Washington Post:

“Not a single one of the Sunday shows has indicated an interest, and I do find it curious,” Ornstein told me, adding that the Op ed (sic) had well over 200,000 Facebook recommends and has been viral for weeks. “This is a level of attention for a book that we haven’t received before. You would think it would attract some attention from the Sunday shows.’

Over 200,00 Facebook recommendations and still no takers on the Sunday shows! But in fact it wasn’t so strange. The thesis they laid out in column after column was just plain wrong, and unambiguously so. It might have sold books and fooled the occasional liberal commentator, but those who worked in Washington had at least a basic knowledge of congressional politics, which was all that was needed to know Mann and Ornstein were peddling nonsense on stilts.

In the last couple of weeks, we got additional reminders of that. First came the revelation that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after having effectively dismantled the filibuster, was removing yet one more way for the minority party to have any participation in the legislating process: blocking amendments on a bipartisan bill. Reid’s well-established role in perpetuating congressional gridlock is easy enough to disregard for partisans fully committed to their own blissful ignorance.

Enter Thomas Mann. On Monday he published a long piece at the Atlantic in which he continued pushing his long-debunked thesis. Unfortunately for Mann, today we received yet another indication–this time from President Obama himself–that the talks shows that ignored Mann and Ornstein were doing their viewers a favor. This time the subject was immigration reform.

Today’s edition of the New York Times reports that President Obama “has directed the secretary of Homeland Security to delay until after the summer a deportation enforcement review that officials feared would anger House Republicans and doom any lingering hopes for an immigration overhaul in Congress this year, officials said Tuesday night.” The president was contemplating, once again, taking executive action that would preempt Congress on immigration.

Obama’s habit of using executive action has consistently undermined congressional lawmaking authority–the kind of thing that those who are truly concerned about a “broken Congress” would be up in arms about. Those obsessed with blaming Republicans for everything, however, have forgiven such action because they have chosen sides in a partisan battle. (Which is certainly their right, of course.) Obama did this once before: heading into his reelection, he torpedoed Marco Rubio’s bipartisan immigration reform with executive action to keep the issue alive for his party’s base.

And all indications were that he would do so again. His congressional allies such as Chuck Schumer were openly threatening Republicans that if they didn’t pass a bill the White House liked within a defined period, the president would take executive action again. Having killed immigration reform twice now (once as senator, to the chagrin of Ted Kennedy, and once as president), Obama seems hesitant to do so yet again.

But more than that, he’s also making clear that he understands that such executive action–and the threats that come with it, even implicit ones like the deportation review–only serve to further grind Congress to a halt and impede the business of legislating public policy. And so he’s backing off this time.

This argument may sound like it goes around in circles, but actually Mann’s latest contribution is quite revealing. While President Obama thinks the solution to partisan deadlock is to stop impeding bipartisan legislation and enable the two sides the space to find common ground–which they’ve already done on this issue–Mann thinks the solution is:

Perhaps more promising are approaches that focus directly on the parties as they exist within our constitutional system. One-party government seems an essential first step, one that can sustain itself in office long enough to put in place and begin to implement a credible governing program. The second is nudging the Republican Party back into being a genuinely conservative, not radical, party that aspires to win presidential as well as congressional elections over the long haul. The third is dampening the intense and unrelenting competition for control of Congress and the White House, which is itself an historical anomaly.

That’s right–one-party rule, which he makes clear would be the Democrats. During the time when the Democratic Party can do whatever it wants with no accountable check on power save the high court, Republicans would be “nudged” to … become more like Democrats. That would be followed by the “dampening” of electoral competition.

Welcome to the brave new world of Thomas Mann, where a balance of power is replaced by hundreds of immensely powerful lawmakers who agree with him. Maybe if he phrases it that way he’ll get those TV invitations he’s been waiting for.

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Dems Won’t Be Saved Again by the Tea Party

Yesterday’s primary results in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon, and Idaho confirmed what has already become an obvious trend this year. Tea Party-backed candidates would not sweep to victory in Republican primary fights across the nation as they largely did in 2010 and 2012. That was good news for the so-called GOP establishment as well as for incumbents like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crushed his Tea Party challenger in a Kentucky landslide. But it is even worse news for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans blew golden opportunities to take winnable Senate seats from vulnerable Democratic incumbents in both the last two federal elections.

The results in Kentucky as well as in Oregon where the GOP nominated its strongest possible candidate in Dr. Monica Wehby and even in Georgia, where two mainstream candidates will face off in runoff, doesn’t mean that the Republicans are a lock to get to 51 Senate seats. McConnell is in for the fight of his life with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Wehby faces a tough incumbent in Jeff Merkley, and whoever wins the GOP nod in Georgia will not have an easy time beating Democrat Michelle Nunn. But if Harry Reid does hang on as majority leader it won’t be because the GOP was saddled with the kind of outlier candidates like the one that was largely responsible for reelecting the Nevada senator.

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Yesterday’s primary results in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon, and Idaho confirmed what has already become an obvious trend this year. Tea Party-backed candidates would not sweep to victory in Republican primary fights across the nation as they largely did in 2010 and 2012. That was good news for the so-called GOP establishment as well as for incumbents like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crushed his Tea Party challenger in a Kentucky landslide. But it is even worse news for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans blew golden opportunities to take winnable Senate seats from vulnerable Democratic incumbents in both the last two federal elections.

The results in Kentucky as well as in Oregon where the GOP nominated its strongest possible candidate in Dr. Monica Wehby and even in Georgia, where two mainstream candidates will face off in runoff, doesn’t mean that the Republicans are a lock to get to 51 Senate seats. McConnell is in for the fight of his life with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Wehby faces a tough incumbent in Jeff Merkley, and whoever wins the GOP nod in Georgia will not have an easy time beating Democrat Michelle Nunn. But if Harry Reid does hang on as majority leader it won’t be because the GOP was saddled with the kind of outlier candidates like the one that was largely responsible for reelecting the Nevada senator.

It bears repeating that those in the media who are treating this as an ideological shift in which moderates have triumphed over conservatives are mistaken. Though individual groups that claimed the Tea Party banner have attempted to transform a broad grassroots movement into something with a specific address and card-carrying members (while liberals have falsely imagined it to be the function of a few large conservative donors like the Koch brothers pulling the puppet strings of political operatives), the Tea Party movement was always something far more amorphous. It began as an inchoate push across the board from conservatives who were angry about the betrayal of what they felt were the party’s principles from big government Republicans in Congress as well as about the Obama administration’s billion-dollar stimulus boondoggle and ObamaCare.

In its first bloom in 2010 and to a lesser degree in 2012 that rise led to the nomination of people like Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, who had no business getting major party nods. That happened because of the perception that their opponents were somehow part of the permanent governing class that had no compunction about increasing the debt in order to keep funding a government with no limits. But what has happened in recent years is that virtually the entire Republican Party has embraced Tea Party ideology when it comes to the big issues of taxing and spending. While the liberal mainstream media has always labeled Tea Partiers as being a bunch of wild-eyed extremists who were liable to be racists as well as at war with the federal government, the reality is that most of the voters and candidates who identify with the term are simply conservatives who are tired of business as usual Republicans.

What happened on Tuesday is not a situation where mainstream Republicans bested Tea Partiers and beat them on the issues. Rather, it was that voters were faced with candidates that largely shared the same views but understandably preferred more electable Republicans to those who were unlikely to prevail in November.

Indeed, this ideological shift is noticeable even among the Democrats who are being nominated to oppose these conservatives. Candidates like Grimes and Nunn are doing everything to distance themselves from President Obama and seeking to appeal to mainstream voters. While Democrats in blue states are veering to the left, those in the rest of the country understand that they must come across as being comfortable with the basic conservatism of most Americans. That’s good politics, and if the GOP lets them get away with obscuring their dedication to failed liberal policies, the Democrats will prevail.

But after years of the media echo chamber flaying the Republicans for being in thrall to extremists, GOP primary voters have taken that issue off the table. Without it, Democrats will be hard-pressed to hold the Senate.

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Sorry Harry, ObamaCare Debate Isn’t Over

Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate yesterday to gloat about the fact that he hasn’t been hearing as much Republican rhetoric about ObamaCare in recent weeks. Parsing some partially favorable poll figures and attempting to connect the dots between those figures and President Obama’s touchdown dance over enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, the Democrat concluded that the GOP is in full retreat on the issue. In doing so, Reid spoke for many fellow liberals who think the long debate about the law is over or are least praying that it is. With, according to some sources, Democratic chances of retaining the Senate improving, the president’s party seems to think the crisis over ObamaCare has passed.

But before they start celebrating too loudly, Reid and the rest of the president’s cheering section in the Congress and the media should think again. Though the administration has managed to convince many in the press that the enrollment figures are synonymous with voter satisfaction with the scheme, there’s little reason to believe that public sentiment on the law has changed much. The current lull in the health-care debate should not be seen as a temporary cease-fire after months of furious discussion as both parties prepare for the midterms. If Reid thinks his endangered red state incumbent colleagues will be doing much campaigning about how proud they are of the law or that their opponents will not be attempting to saddle the Democrats with responsibility for it, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell him. Moreover, as Reid and Obama ought to know, no matter how much impact health care has on the outcome in November, the fact that most of the onerous regulations and mandates of ObamaCare will only go into effect next year virtually guarantees that the arguments will not only continue but will probably increase in virulence in 2015.

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Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate yesterday to gloat about the fact that he hasn’t been hearing as much Republican rhetoric about ObamaCare in recent weeks. Parsing some partially favorable poll figures and attempting to connect the dots between those figures and President Obama’s touchdown dance over enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, the Democrat concluded that the GOP is in full retreat on the issue. In doing so, Reid spoke for many fellow liberals who think the long debate about the law is over or are least praying that it is. With, according to some sources, Democratic chances of retaining the Senate improving, the president’s party seems to think the crisis over ObamaCare has passed.

But before they start celebrating too loudly, Reid and the rest of the president’s cheering section in the Congress and the media should think again. Though the administration has managed to convince many in the press that the enrollment figures are synonymous with voter satisfaction with the scheme, there’s little reason to believe that public sentiment on the law has changed much. The current lull in the health-care debate should not be seen as a temporary cease-fire after months of furious discussion as both parties prepare for the midterms. If Reid thinks his endangered red state incumbent colleagues will be doing much campaigning about how proud they are of the law or that their opponents will not be attempting to saddle the Democrats with responsibility for it, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell him. Moreover, as Reid and Obama ought to know, no matter how much impact health care has on the outcome in November, the fact that most of the onerous regulations and mandates of ObamaCare will only go into effect next year virtually guarantees that the arguments will not only continue but will probably increase in virulence in 2015.

Reid says that he’s always been puzzled about how it is that polls have always showed that a majority of Americans disapprove of ObamaCare but are wary of scrapping it. He interprets these results as most waiting to see if it will succeed or fail. But as is the case with the attempt to assert that the numbers of those enrolled prove its success, this effort falls flat. That’s because a large number of those who are now relying on ObamaCare are also unhappy about losing their previous coverage and perhaps their doctors. They also don’t like the lack of choices available to them and are now paying more for services they never asked for or needed.

It’s clear that many of those who are now part of the scheme were not previously uninsured. While a minority of Americans are benefitting from the law, most have not yet been personally affected by the way it will transform the health-care system. Many are aware of the potential change that will occur in the next year and that has fueled anxiety about the law. Though, as Byron York noted in the Washington Examiner earlier this week, up until now most of those who have run up against ObamaCare haven’t liked it, that not insignificant number may increase exponentially in 2015.

Thus while a non-stop barrage of anti-ObamaCare efforts probably doesn’t make sense this far out from November, Democrats should expect Republicans to double down on their previous attacks as the midterms approach. Given the trouble the law has already caused, the coming dislocations will not be accepted passively by either the public or the president’s opposition. With so much of the law’s provisions yet to be implemented because of postponements designed to increase the Democrats’ chances of winning this year, the debate over ObamaCare is not only not finished, it has only just begun. 

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Dems’ Plan to Counter Criticism: Outlaw It

A common pattern in American political discourse is for conservatives to accuse liberals of some statist extremism, liberals to insist the complaint has no merit whatsoever, and then when it’s clear conservatives are on to something liberals lament, more in sorrow than in anger, that conservatives had a point but took it way too far. How vindicated conservatives then feel if information comes to light to back up their warnings about the slippery slope of state power.

The evolution of the Democrats’ deranged attacks on the Koch brothers and political participation in general has followed precisely this pattern. The trickle of mentions of the Kochs turned into a flood, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid became thoroughly incapable of discussing any topic–campaign finance, Ukraine, the minimum wage–without calling out the libertarian philanthropists. He called their participation in the political process “un-American” in an ever-escalating crusade to declare them former people and seek to pressure the judiciary into permitting limitations on free speech rights.

Conservatives warned that high-profile Democrats’ hostility to the First Amendment was liable to result in the curbing of Americans’ constitutional rights. Liberals scoffed. Yet now, the Hill reports, Democrats–who haven’t exactly been models of subtlety, but who at least permitted liberals some plausible deniability–are through beating around the bush. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has announced his party’s newest midterm election strategy: amend the Constitution to rein in its free speech protections. From the Hill:

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A common pattern in American political discourse is for conservatives to accuse liberals of some statist extremism, liberals to insist the complaint has no merit whatsoever, and then when it’s clear conservatives are on to something liberals lament, more in sorrow than in anger, that conservatives had a point but took it way too far. How vindicated conservatives then feel if information comes to light to back up their warnings about the slippery slope of state power.

The evolution of the Democrats’ deranged attacks on the Koch brothers and political participation in general has followed precisely this pattern. The trickle of mentions of the Kochs turned into a flood, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid became thoroughly incapable of discussing any topic–campaign finance, Ukraine, the minimum wage–without calling out the libertarian philanthropists. He called their participation in the political process “un-American” in an ever-escalating crusade to declare them former people and seek to pressure the judiciary into permitting limitations on free speech rights.

Conservatives warned that high-profile Democrats’ hostility to the First Amendment was liable to result in the curbing of Americans’ constitutional rights. Liberals scoffed. Yet now, the Hill reports, Democrats–who haven’t exactly been models of subtlety, but who at least permitted liberals some plausible deniability–are through beating around the bush. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has announced his party’s newest midterm election strategy: amend the Constitution to rein in its free speech protections. From the Hill:

Democratic leaders on Wednesday unveiled a plan to vote on a constitutional amendment “very soon” to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, which have empowered wealthy donors such as Charles and David Koch.

The amendment has virtually no chance of passing this year because it must garner two-thirds support from both chambers of Congress and receive ratification from three-quarters of the states. Democrats believe it will help them preserve their Senate majority, however.

Campaign finance reform traditionally rates low on voters’ lists of concerns, but Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist, believes a battle over a constitutional amendment will bolster their populist economic message.

“The constitutional amendment we know requires two-thirds, it’s a long hard road. But given the McCutcheon decision we have to begin it,” he said. “Most Americans don’t believe the system works in their favor. We are showing whose side you’re on.”

Now, of course the idea of amending the Constitution itself isn’t crazy, and Schumer should be commended for at least adhering to the process. But the First Amendment is rarely the target. Voters tend to be pretty fond of that one, though Democrats increasingly aren’t.

Campaign-finance restrictions of the sort Democrats favor are quite plainly incumbent protection plans. Democrats have been taking a beating lately in the polls, as public opinion has soured on their flailing agenda. So Schumer has proposed a solution: no need to change the policies to adhere to public opinion if you can just restrict the public’s ability to express that opinion.

A constitutional amendment to outlaw criticism is a bit heavyhanded even for someone like Schumer. But it has the effect of confirming, from the mouths of Democrats themselves, that yes, there is a slippery slope from criticizing the wealthy to explicitly targeting constitutional rights–and they intend to slide down it head-first.

Obviously the attempt will fail to get the votes; whatever their faults, it’s doubtful most of the Democrats running for reelection have completely lost their minds. Additionally, the Democrats have already sacrificed seats for The Cause, by voting for ObamaCare and then getting their clocks cleaned in the following midterms. I’m not sure how many times the White House and Democratic congressional leadership can hope to get their party to vote for abusive federal power grabs that are openly hostile to public opinion and individual rights.

The point, according to Schumer and Co., is really about messaging anyway. The message is this: they have to take away your rights in order to take away the Kochs’ rights. Democrats are keen on fairness, and it’s only fair to legally bar everyone from certain constitutionally protected political activism in order to weaken Democrats’ opponents. It’s possible this sounded less crazy in Schumer’s head before he announced it, but either way he seems pretty committed to it now, a fact which I imagine delights Republican candidates across the country.

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