In this week's news, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died. As a result, Cher fans got a scare. The dangers of hashtag parsing -- because "nowthatchersdead" can be broken up two ways. The other pop culture result of the "Iron Lady's" demise was (you can't make this stuff up) the song "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" rocketing to the top of the British charts, even though it is three-quarters of a century old. Make of it what you will.
Back home, the New York City bribery scandal where a Democrat tried to buy his way onto the Republican ballot for mayor has taken a bizarre twist. Not just a "sex with a young staffer" sort of twist, but also a "bizarre religious practices" twist as well. Only in New York, we suppose, could a Republican "Theodist" get elected.
Speaking of Ding Dongs and the New York City mayor's office (how's that for an awesome segue?), Anthony Weiner is now exploring his own... um.... chances of winning the mayor's race, apparently. Late night comics everywhere are rejoicing, one assumes. I mean, look how easy it was for a non-professional comedian to put together a joke about it, using only Margaret Thatcher and Republican weirdness as a launching point!
In more serious news, the civil war happening in the Republican Party seems to be getting much more vicious and a lot more personal. This week, there were insinuated death threats against not only the daughter of a former Republican presidential candidate, but also against sixteen sitting Republican senators. Both threats came from Republicans. So much for the conservative myth that Democrats are the only ones who ever fight dirty in politics, eh? I mean, it's pretty hard to justify death threats in just about any context, folks. More on this in the talking points....
Democrats are having a struggle within their own party, but it's nowhere near as vicious as what Republicans are doing these days. When President Obama put out his budget this week, there has been growing pushback from the liberal side of the Democratic Party, who does not want any reduction in Social Security benefits at all (this is nothing new, this indeed used to be a bedrock position of the entire Democratic Party). But this fight is going to take place much later, as the budget negotiations happen later in the spring and into the summer, so we'll just mention it in passing for now.
We're going to wrap up this week the same way we wrapped up last week, since yet another deadline slipped another week. Now, they tell us, a final bill will be introduced on Monday. Or maybe Tuesday. In any case, suckers that we are, we are taking them at their word again, and will close with the announcement: "Up next week -- immigration reform!"
Senator Joe Manchin deserves at least a Honorable Mention this week, for crafting a gun control bill that could actually gain enough Republican support to pass. Now, this bill isn't perfect by a long shot, and only addresses the background check part of the problem. There will still be loopholes -- it in no way mandates "universal" background checks at all. But Manchin does deserve credit for putting something together with Republican Pat Toomey, because Manchin is seen as one of the most gun-friendly Democrats in the Senate (especially after his campaign ad of him shooting a law he didn't like with a rifle).
Likewise, President Obama deserves at least an Honorable Mention for not giving up on the issue. Two weeks ago, the inside-the-Beltway chattering classes had all agreed that gun control was dead and had no chance. Obama refused to accept the conventional wisdom of the D.C. cocktail party circuit, however, and kept pushing. The surviving family members of the Sandy Hook shooting came to Washington and did a full-court press to lobby the Senate to pass something and not just let this opportunity slip away. Because of Obama and the family members, we are now where we are. The Senate overcame a filibuster attempt by Republicans just to begin debate on the issue, which is astounding enough, these days. Now, I should mention that there is no guarantee of success for the bill, even in the Senate. And the House is going to be one tough nut to crack on the issue. Gun control legislation may happen this year, and then again it may not. Obama is pushing it anyway, which is a big change from his first term: he is now unafraid of political legislative failure. During his first four years, he dropped pretty much every contentious issue (other than healthcare reform), because he didn't want to risk political failure. Obviously, this is changing, and it's a change for the better no matter what happens on gun control.
But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Steve Cohen, and Jared Polis. Together with three Republicans, they have just introduced the "Respect State Marijuana Laws Act" in the House. Earlier this week, I took Barack Obama and Eric Holder to task for sitting on their hands for five months after Colorado and Washington passed state referenda to legalize recreational marijuana use by adults. Obama and Holder refuse to say what the federal government's policy will be in regards to these two new state laws, which I find completely unacceptable after five whole months. It seems some House members agree, and have directly taken on the problem with their new legislation.
Their bill would change federal drug policy to allow states to set their own marijuana policy. It would change the playing field, so that state laws would essentially trump federal laws on the matter. If your state had no medical marijuana or legalization law, then federal law would be fully enforced. But if your state decided to legalize medical (or recreational) marijuana, then federal law would recognize that and the feds would be prohibited from prosecuting anyone who was in full compliance with state law.
This is a commonsense reform, and it is entirely in keeping with the idea of the states as miniature "laboratories of democracy." It tells the feds to back off, and let the experiments peacefully happen. This is entirely reasonable, now that roughly forty percent of the states have passed laws in direct conflict with federal drug laws. To say nothing of the fact that over fifty percent of the American public now favors outright legalization.
For bravely taking on the issue headfirst, and for coming up with a reasonable and workable plan to solve the problem of the clash of state and federal laws, Blumenauer, Cohen, and Polis are all hereby awarded Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards. If you support this idea, then phone your own congressman and tell him or her to get on board.
[Congratulate Representative Earl Blumenauer on his House contact page, Representative Steve Cohen on his House contact page, and Representative Jared Polis on his House contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]
President Obama certainly disappointed many Democrats this week with his budget, but seeing as how we're going to have months and months to dissect any "grand bargain" which may emerge, we're not going to get too worked up about it right now. Remember, folks, no presidential budget ever passes in exactly the same form as introduced. It never happens. Ever. So we'll get into it when the real discussions start.
We've got one group award this week, as the group "Progress Kentucky" earns at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention for using very questionable tactics in their fight to get rid of Mitch McConnell. These are the same Ding Dongs that, a few weeks back, won their own MDDOTW for sending out racist tweets about McConnell's wife, so it's hard to condone them recording a private meeting among McConnell staffers and then releasing the tape to the media. Guys... there are some basic rules to the political game... and you seem to be breaking them with regularity. That doesn't exactly help your cause.
But the real Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards this week go to two Democrats who voted with the Republicans who were attempting a filibuster of the gun control legislation before it even reached the Senate floor. Now, just because the Senate is going to debate on the issue doesn't mean they'll actually hold a vote or anything -- there are other opportunities for filibustering ahead. In other words, this filibuster attempt was largely meaningless, when it comes to the question of whether the bill will actually pass or not. But two Democrats still broke ranks.
Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Senator Mark Begich of Alaska both voted not to even have a debate on the issue. This is shameful. I don't care what your position is on gun control, not voting with your party just to open the debate is beyond disappointing. Don't like the bill? Make your case in the floor debate. Or offer an amendment. Don't approve of the final legislation? Then by all means, vote against it. But voting not to even have the debate is pathetic, guys.
As far as the public is concerned, Washington is broken. If you're afraid some Republican will challenge you on your vote, it's easy to swat down: "I wound up voting against that bill because I didn't agree with it. But voters send us to Washington to do a job, and a big part of that job is to debate these issues on the floor. My opponent says I voted 'for gun control' -- that is ridiculous. All I voted for was the opportunity to do the job the voters sent me here to do. I spoke out against the bill, and I voted against the bill. But I refuse to use such chicken tactics to even avoid the debate -- and avoid doing my job. That's why I voted to have a full and open debate -- because that is how Washington is supposed to work."
See? That wasn't hard. But Pryor and Begich can't even fight that fight, apparently. They chickened out. For doing so, they both deserve a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. For shame, guys, for shame.
Volume 253 (4/12/13)
Once again, a mixed bag this week. We start out with gun control, and wind up with the savage civil war raging within the Republican Party. Let's just get right on with it, shall we?
What are you afraid of?
This is a playground/macho-baiting taunt, I fully realize. But, considering the source, I think it's entirely appropriate for all sorts of situations.
"Last weekend, on a Sunday morning political chat show, Senator John McCain issued a challenge to his own party. The subject was a filibuster attempt by other Republicans which would have prevented any gun control bill from even being debated in the Senate. McCain strongly denounced such a move, stating that having a full debate and offering amendments and voting was, indeed, what senators were supposed to do. It's their main job, in fact. McCain also challenged his own party, using the phrase: 'What are we afraid of?' I agree fully with Senator McCain. The Senate can debate legislation, and Republicans can filibuster the final result if they don't like it. Why are they afraid to even have debates, though? What are you afraid of, guys? The fact that the legislation proposed is supported by 90 percent of the public, maybe? Let's have the debate, and let's let the public see how everyone votes. The Senate Republicans need to stop cowering in fear and start doing their jobs."
Universal background checks
This one is a pure talking point. It's a phrase that works well, in terms of framing the issue with the public so that they understand and support it. So repeat it every possible chance you get.
"Democrats are pushing hard to get universal background checks for anyone buying a gun in America. Republicans are pushing for loophole after loophole, which is what they did before. The only reason we're having this debate is because so many loopholes were left in the original background check legislation. What we need -- and what the public overwhelmingly supports -- is universal background checks. The principle is not hard to understand. Buy a gun? Get a background check. It's that simple. Universal background checks are what we all need to be working towards. The American public deserves no less."
They deserve an up-or-down vote
I wrote a whole column on this talking point earlier in the week. President Obama has done a great job of framing this issue in such a fashion that the phrase can be successfully recycled for many future issues. So hammer it hard -- all you'll have to do in future is change which "they" you're referring to.
"The families of those brutally murdered in Newtown, Connecticut deserve an up-or-down vote on the gun control legislation in Congress. They deserve a full debate on the floor of both the House and the Senate. They deserve a vote. They deserve an up-or-down vote in the Senate, instead of Republicans hiding behind a filibuster. They deserve an up-or-down vote in the House, no matter what John Boehner thinks the chances of passage are. They deserve a vote. They deserve an up-or-down vote, and I call on all House and Senate leadership to make sure it happens soon."
How's that WOW workin' out for ya?
No surprise here, the Republicans continue to show why they're in danger of losing the women's vote for generations to come.
"This week, every Republican in the House of Representatives voted against protecting women's pay with the Paycheck Fairness Act. So much for Republicans trying all that 'outreach to women voters' stuff, eh? See, guys, it really doesn't matter how you talk to women -- it goes beyond mere 'messaging.' Women are watching to see what you actually do, and not just the way you say it. Time after time, they see Democrats standing up for women's rights, and Republicans voting them down. This is why women just laugh at you when you try to explain to them that there really isn't any sort of 'War On Women' being waged by Republicans. You'd think they would have learned their lesson in the last election, but apparently not. So, to paraphrase a famous Republican woman politician: 'How's that War On Women thingie workin' out for ya now?' I guess they'll have to lose a few more elections before they wake up and smell the coffee."
Oh, please.... Please, please, please!
They're probably not serious, since it's such a superhighway to irrelevance, but it sure is fun to daydream about, isn't it?
"I see that several prominent social conservative groups within the Republican Party are fearful that the GOP is even contemplating modernization on any social issue whatsoever. They're drawing a big line in the sand over the fight for gay marriage, it seems. And they seem to be serious: these groups are threatening in public to split off and form their own third party if the Republicans even show an inch of toleration for gay marriage. We would like to applaud these groups, for keeping the Republican Party lodged firmly between a rock and a hard place. Republicans can either make an attempt to show a tiny shred of tolerance, in the hopes of perhaps persuading someone under the age of 50 to vote for them, or they can continue down the path they're on. If they do try to modernize, Democrats would indeed love to see a third-party form as all the social conservatives desert the Republicans. Maybe they could call themselves 'Theocratic Republicans,' that has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
You're not supposed to admit it yet, Greg!
The warfare within the Republican Party was being waged on multiple fronts this week. The most amusing was Greg Walden unveiling the House Republican 2014 platform a wee bit early.
"The Republican leadership in the House can't seem to agree on whether Barack Obama's offer for entitlement cuts is a good thing, or a bad thing. This is entirely in keeping with Republicans whining about Obama, quote, cutting $700 billion from Medicare, unquote, and then turning around and voting for exactly the same cuts in the Paul Ryan budget, over and over again. This week, the guy who is heading the 2014 election effort to get more Republicans elected to the House called Obama's chained CPI offer a 'shocking attack on seniors,' which was immediately followed by John Boehner attempting to smack him down. I'm sure Boehner had a few words with Greg Walden behind the scenes, and I bet I know what he said, too: 'You can't say this stuff yet, Greg -- we're not going to unveil this attack until the elections happen!' Just more evidence that the House of Representatives is the main battlefield in the Republican civil war that's going on right now."
Death threats, even
Think calling it a "civil war" is too much? I don't.
"Not only once, but twice in the same week, we have conservatives making death threats to Republicans. First there was Ann Coulter egging people on to kill the daughter of a former Republican presidential candidate. Coulter's own words, and I quote: 'MSNBC's Martin Bashir suggested that Republican senators need to have a member of their families killed for them to support the Democrats' gun proposals. (Let's start with Meghan McCain!)' Next up we had a Republican in Texas circulating an image of a noose with the word 'treason' in reference to the sixteen Republican senators who voted against the gun control filibuster. Does the Republican Party have no decency left? We're talking about Republican-on-Republican violent death threats, people. This should have no place in our political discourse in America. I call upon all Republicans to denounce such language as being completely unacceptable. I don't care that the people threatened were members of the other party, this is just not acceptable no matter who the target of such threats is."
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