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Friday Talking Points -- Boehner's 'Keystone Kops' House

08/01/2014 09:07 pm ET | Updated Oct 01, 2014

As I write this, the House has still not managed to pass a bill to deal with the border crisis. They've been trying for a few days now, but have been locked in a serious battle between Tea Party hardliners and Republicans from more moderate districts. The Tea Partiers are demanding the harshest possible bill, and the moderates are the ones who actually demanded that Speaker John Boehner attempt to do his job and get a bill through before they all fly home for a lavish five-week vacation. Moderate Republicans know that "we couldn't pass anything" is going to be a tough sell back home. When Boehner tries to make the bill extreme enough to appease the Tea Party hardliners, he loses moderate votes. When he tries to make it appealing enough to the moderates to vote for it, he loses Tea Party votes. Stay tuned, as the last act in this Keystone Kops drama has yet to take place!

Think this is overstating the case? Then you probably didn't hear what Michele Bachmann recently had to say about the border crisis:

President Obama is trying to bring all of those foreign nationals, those illegal aliens to the country and he has said that he will put them in the foster care system... [W]e can't imagine doing this, but if you have a hospital and they are going to get millions of dollars in government grants if they can conduct medical research on somebody, and a ward of the state can't say "no" -- a little kid can't say "no" if they're a ward of the state -- so here you could have this institution getting millions of dollars from our government to do medical experimentation and a kid can't even say "no." It's sick.

Um, OK, Michele. Got it. President Barack Obama is Dr. Josef Mengele, and he's nefariously allowing children to come into the United States so that he can secretly run medical experiments on them. Personally, I think "Keystone Kops" is actually understating the case.

Apparently, Eric Cantor agrees. Earlier this week, he stepped down as House Majority Leader (as a result of being successfully primaried by a Tea Partier), but by the end of the week he announced he will resign from his seat in Congress as well, in a few weeks, rather than sticking around until January. Can't say I blame him, as sometimes "getting out of Dodge" is the only sane answer when faced with an insane situation.

Pundits struggled to stay abreast of the craziness emanating from the House floor. Here's Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, trying to explain what went on yesterday:

All morning, GOP leaders had been predicting that they had sufficient Republican votes to pass [Speaker John] Boehner's border bill. But then conservatives, under pressure from [Senator Ted] Cruz and far-right interest groups, began to go squishy, and the new [House Majority Leader], Kevin McCarthy, announced that he was pulling the border bill from the floor and that members could depart early for their five-week summer break.

What followed was as close as Congress gets to one of those fistfights in the Taiwanese parliament. Mainstream Republicans besieged Boehner and McCarthy on the House floor, noisily demanding that they do something about the border crisis before going on holiday. Half an hour later, McCarthy announced that "additional votes are possible today."

Boos and jeers rained down on the new leader. The speaker pro tempore, Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), banged the gavel violently for order. Some lawmakers had to be called back from National Airport.

Set it to some old-timey piano music, and film it in black-and-white, and what you've got is indeed the Keystone Kops.

What the House Republicans could all agree upon is that they're ready to sue the president. Not impeach him, mind you (perish the thought!), just sue him. More on that in a bit. Especially, on the ridiculousness of voting one day to sue the president for taking action on his own, and then the next day begging Obama to act because House Republicans are so incapable of action (the hypocrisy of this was so obvious even some conservatives had to point it out). Obama, meanwhile, warned Republicans that if they go off on a month-long vacation without putting a bill on his desk, then he will be forced to act on his own. When he does, you can surely expect howls of rage from Republicans about Obama doing exactly what they are now calling upon him to do.

In other Congressional Keystone Kops news, House Republicans seem to have quietly killed a bill honoring the Pope. Seems he's too liberal, or something. Maybe it's just because he's actually read all those "be kind to the poor" parts of the New Testament that conservatives always seem to skip over, in their never-ending search to find where Jesus talks about lowering capital gains tax rates. Or deportation, for that matter.

While Congress proved completely inept at passing any sort of bill to deal with America's borders, they did manage to pass a bill to supply Israel with more Iron Dome missiles for their own border protection. Make of that what you will.

The national news hasn't really noticed all that much, but down in Florida a judge is going to force the state government to redistrict all the state's House seats, before this year's election. The previously-drawn districts were so obviously created to help Republicans that the judge just threw the whole state map out and told them to redo it, pronto. This is a big story, but again, most of the media has taken a pass on it.

A little story (but an amusing one) that happened this week: California had four different governors, among them the first open lesbian. Due to a quirk in state law, when the governor physically leaves the state, the next person in the line of succession automatically becomes acting governor. But apparently there was a lot of traveling going on, as Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom as well as the president pro tem of the state Senate both became acting governor -- and then left the state themselves. This devolved power to Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins. What made the story heartwarming isn't so much the "first" she accomplished, but what she tweeted about it (with photo): "One of my 1st responsibilities today as #ActingGov was to make sure the #ActingFirstDogs got their morning walk." Now that's the spirit!

In not-so-amusing news, a blogger was fired in Utah because he had the audacity to teach English-learners about homophones (you know, like: "to," two," and "too"). The reason? It just sounded too gay for his employers. You can't make this stuff up, folks.

And finally, since we seem to be ending on the subject of sex, you can now publicly peruse the florid love letters from President Warren G. Harding to his mistress, which is precisely as amusing as it sounds (you just know you want to find out what nickname he gave his penis, right?). To set the proper historical mood, maybe run a Keystone Kops soundtrack in the background?

 

Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

Before we get to Democrats, we have to state that we were both surprised and impressed by the New York Times editorial board, who made news this week by not just staking out a position in favor of removing all federal laws on marijuana (which would leave the question of legalization to the states), but then backed up their position with a six-part editorial series to clearly explain their position (scroll down to the bottom of the page to see links to all the related editorials). That's pretty stunning, and it's about as high-profile as you can get in the media world. Personally, I don't think this means the legalization of marijuana has reached the tipping point (where it can be seen as all-but-inevitable), but I do think we are getting a lot closer to that point.

We have three separate Honorable Mention awards to hand out this week, although all of them are essentially being given for the same reason: successfully taunting Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid added to the discomfort House Republicans were feeling, by hinting that the Senate would just add the bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill they already passed (with a bipartisan vote) to any border crisis bill the House could agree upon, when it got to the conference committee. Since this is precisely what terrifies House Republicans no end, it served to heighten the disarray over in the House Republican caucus.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi taunted Speaker Boehner from the House floor this week for not being able to say "impeachment is off the table," and Barack Obama taunted the House Republicans during a speech he gave in Kansas City (which we'll have excerpts from later). Honorable Mention awards all around!

But the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award has to go to none other than Senator Dianne Feinstein. We must in all fairness admit that this award is not for anything she did or said this week, but instead for her recent vindication. Back in March, we awarded Feinstein a (Dis-)Honorable Mention for complaining about the C.I.A. spying on her staffers (her hypocrisy was obvious, considering her stance on spying on Americans in general).

The C.I.A. vociferously denied the charge, and in payback tried to get the Justice Department to investigate the staffers in question for mishandling secret documents. This week, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency actually apologized to Feinstein. More on all that in the next section, though.

This whole spat is just a precursor to a very explosive document which is almost ready to be released to the public. Feinstein has doggedly been working on a report on the use of torture and all the other "enhanced" things done in all our names by our government, in the time immediately after 9/11. The full report is rumored to be 6,000 pages long. But a publicly-available report (scrubbed of some secret information) is almost ready for release. It may be out as early as next week, or it may come out right after the August congressional vacation. Either way, it is going to make huge headlines.

For both being proven right about the C.I.A. illegally spying on her Senate staffers' computers, for getting the head of the agency to apologize to her, and for her persistence in creating this report in the first place, Senator Dianne Feinstein is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[Congratulate Senator Dianne Feinstein on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

We're not entirely sure about the accuracy of calling him a "Democrat," but since he's served in important national security posts under both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, we've decided that C.I.A. Director John Brennan is fair game for his own Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

In fact, we feel that even this doesn't go far enough, and would like to add our voice to the chorus now crying for Brennan to step down in disgrace or be fired by President Obama.

When Brennan initially heard Feinstein's accusation, he not only tried to sic the Justice Department on Feinstein's staffers, but he also took to the airwaves to make some rather sweeping claims. He boldly and forcefully made statements such as:

When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.

As far as the allegations of CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn't do that. I mean, that's just beyond the scope of reason.

This week, Brennan admitted that he was the one who was wrong, and that it wasn't actually "beyond the scope of reason," because it actually happened.

In other words, Brennan lied his face off to the American public.

There's simply no way to view this charitably. There are only two possibilities, in fact, and both of them lead to the same conclusion.

When Feinstein made her accusation, Brennan no doubt quickly did his own review of the people within his organization who could have been involved. It is inconceivable that he would make such strong public statements without first attempting to get the facts.

This means that the head of the C.I.A. -- an organization whose very purpose is to sift through data to provide intelligence to the government -- couldn't figure out his own people were lying straight to his face. His agency is supposed to figure out what is true and what is a lie all over the world, and the chief couldn't even manage to do that with a few of his own low-level employees. This is sheer incompetence for a leader of such an agency, almost by definition.

The only other possible explanation is that Brennan did indeed know Feinstein was right, and just decided to lie about it and hope he wouldn't get caught. This is also incompetence, of a slightly different sort.

Either way, the man is quite obviously not fit to head the Central Intelligence Agency. So not only are we awarding him this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, we're also calling for his removal from his post, either by resignation or by being fired. By making such strong statements denying something which has now been proven to be true, Brennan has shown he is completely unfit for the duties of his job. To coin a phrase, keeping him where he is now has to be seen to be "beyond the scope of reason."

[Contact President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know what you think of Brennan's continued employment.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 314 (8/1/14)

We've got quite a mix of talking points this week. First, we have to debunk some Republican idiocy, then we move right along to some Republicans denouncing their own party's hypocrisy. After some focus on the good economic news, we have the promised excerpt of Obama's speech this week (where he taunts the House Republicans for their lawsuit), and finally we're going to end up with the most stunning statement we think we've ever read on the Republican Party's basic "Government doesn't work; elect us and we'll prove it!" theme, from William Kristol.

Like I said, a whirlwind of subjects, so let's just dive in, shall we?

 

1

   Take it off the table, John

As Republicans were busily voting to sue the president, they swore up and down that impeachment was the farthest thing from their minds.

"According to the House Republicans, the only ones talking about impeachment are the Democrats. They've created some sort of conspiracy theory that President Obama is somehow pulling the strings on anyone who uses the word. Well, it is true that Democrats are now raising millions of dollars from voters who are disgusted with the Republicans' lawsuit stunt. But that didn't happen in a vacuum, folks. Republicans have been talking about impeachment almost from the day Obama took office, in fact. Many have already pointed this out, such as E. J. Dionne at the Washington Post, who helpfully notes that his own paper ran an article titled 'Republicans See One Remedy For Obama -- Impeachment' last December, and that one year ago the New York Times ran an article titled 'Ignoring Qualms, Some Republicans Nurture Dreams Of Impeaching Obama.' In fact, conservatives such as Charles Krauthammer can't seem to stop themselves from bringing the subject up. Personally, I agree with Nancy Pelosi, who pointed out that when she took over as speaker, she ended talk of impeachment with a simple statement: 'Impeachment is off the table.' I join her in calling on Speaker Boehner to now say exactly the same thing, if he thinks this is all some sort of nefarious Democratic plot. All he has to do is say exactly what Pelosi said. So far, he has not. That in itself speaks volumes."

 

2

   Yes, it is ridiculous

Speaking of Krauthammer, he was actually one of those conservatives who realized the depths of hypocrisy coming from the House this week -- most notably by voting one day to sue Obama for acting without them, and then the next day begging him to take action because they are incapable of doing so. This is a direct quote, which really needed no embellishment at all.

It is, to me, incomprehensible that Republicans aren't getting together on this. It is ridiculous to sue the president on a Wednesday because he oversteps the law, as he has done a dozen times illegally and unconstitutionally, and then on a Thursday say that he should overstep the law, contradict the law that passed in 2008 and deal with this himself.

 

3

   You may not be able to say it, but Boehner did

This one's a direct quote, too, from Republican Tom Cole, House member from Oklahoma.

Look, you can't say on the one hand that the president is overreaching by acting without legislative authority and direction and then refuse to give him legislative authority and direction in another area.

 

4

   Obamacare's continued good news

Democrats really need to make the case for how well Obamacare is working as designed. Because virtually all the news is good. So let people know!

"The Republicans tried to scare seniors for years by making outrageous claims about how Obamacare was going to kill off Medicare, but what we now see is that the Medicare program's life was just extended by a whopping four years, as Obamacare is fully implemented. Once again, Republicans were just flat-out wrong. Also this week, the White House noted that Obamacare's provision to close the Medicare prescription drug 'doughnut hole' has, since 2010, saved 8 million seniors $11.5 billion on out-of-pocket drug costs -- an average of $1,400 each. In California, an astounding 58 percent of the population who were previously uninsured now have the peace of mind health insurance brings -- due to Obamacare. Also from California comes news that next year's price increases for the Obamacare exchange plans will be quite modest -- under 8 percent, in fact, after years of seeing double-digit increases. There's a reason you don't hear all those scary predictions from Republicans on Obamacare anymore -- because as the actual data appears, the news continues to be good."

 

5

   Economic news good, too

Once again, get out there and make the case, Democrats!

"Have you seen the good economic news this week? In the second quarter of the year, the American economy grew at a healthy 4 percent rate -- much higher than had been expected. The new job numbers are also out, and for the sixth straight month we have seen over 200,000 jobs added per month. In fact, I think President Obama put it best, in a recent speech, when he said:"

The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since September of 2008. It's dropped faster than any time in 30 years. This morning, we found out that in the second quarter of this year our economy grew at a strong pace, and businesses are investing, workers are building new homes, consumers are spending, America is exporting goods around the world. So the decisions that we made -- to rescue our economy, to rescue the auto industry, to rebuild the economy on a new foundation, to invest in research and infrastructure, education -- all those things are starting to pay off.

 

6

   "They're mad because I'm doing my job"

Both this one and the previous quote were taken from Obama's Kansas City speech, I should mention. Below are the soundbites most of the media ran with, since Obama's taunting of congressional Republicans is so blatant.

So some of the things we're doing without Congress are making a difference, but we could do so much more if Congress would just come on and help out a little bit. Just come on. Come on and help out a little bit. Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hatin' all the time. Come on. Let's get some work done together.

. . .

I know they're not that happy that I'm president, but that's okay. Come on. I've only got a couple of years left. Come on, let's get some work done. Then you can be mad at the next president.

. . .

But think about this -- they have announced that they're going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people. So they're mad because I'm doing my job. And, by the way, I've told them -- I said, I'd be happy to do it with you. So the only reason I'm doing it on my own is because you don't do anything. But if you want, let's work together. I mean, everybody recognizes this is a political stunt, but it's worse than that, because every vote they're taking like that means a vote they're not taking to actually help you. When they have taken 50 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that was time that could have been spent working constructively to help you on some things. And, by the way, you know who is paying for this suit they're going to file? You.

 

7

   If we do nothing, maybe people will vote for us!

As previously mentioned, this one is just flat-out stunning. While reading the following, written by William Kristol, keep in mind that while he is talking about the border crisis bill in the House, this statement could easily be applied to just about any subject, because it truly admits the core Republican plan for governing: do nothing, and hope nobody notices. I've never heard it so plainly stated before, personally.

If the GOP does nothing, and if Republicans explain that there's no point acting due to the recalcitrance of the president to deal with the policies that are causing the crisis, the focus will be on the president. Republican incumbents won't have problematic legislation to defend or questions to answer about what further compromises they'll make. Republican challengers won't have to defend or attack GOP legislation. Instead, the focus can be on the president.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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