Friday Talking Points -- Deconstructing GOP Absurdity

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 10, 2016:  The four remaining Republican primary candidates Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and J
MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 10, 2016: The four remaining Republican primary candidates Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich (not shown) listen to the National Anthem at the beginning of the debate at the University of Miami on March 10, 2016, hosted by CNN and the Washington Times. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

That's a pretty ambitious subtitle, but we're not going to get to the deconstruction project until the talking points, we should warn everyone up front. And we could never hope to deconstruct all of the GOP's absurdities in one column, so we'll be focusing just on their all-over-the-map reasoning on why they're not going to do their constitutional jobs in the Senate on President Obama's Supreme Court nomination. So we'll have all that to look forward to. For now, let's quickly review the week just to see where things stand.

It's not exactly political news, but we do have to point out that it is the day after Saint Patrick's Day, so we'll try to type all this out very softly, in case anyone's still nursing a hangover of Brobdingnagian proportions.

There were two major events in the political world this week. The first was another round of primaries (which got given the label "Super Tuesday 3" too late for anyone to start actually using it). The second was a Supreme Court judicial nomination from President Obama. Both were groundshaking in their own ways.

The Senate Republicans, of course, have said (since before the body was actually cold) that Obama is not going to be allowed to replace Antonin Scalia. First, the position was that no Republican would even meet with the nominee. That's just downright rude. These are traditional "courtesy meetings" which normally happen without a shred of contention, but these are not normal times.

Since then, a few Republicans have wavered on the "never even meet with him" strategy. There are a lot of Republican voters who understand politeness back home, for some of these folks. Others are in very tough re-election fights with strong Democratic contenders in very blue states, and are fearing for their political lives. Look for this dynamic to become even more pronounced, as Democrats base their entire "take back the Senate" strategy around it (as they rightly should, we should mention).

This week, at least two Republican senators have called for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold the proper hearings. Both Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk have now done so. Our guess is they won't be the last to do so, as Republican resolve wavers even more. The GOP plan to just flat-out ignore Obama's nominee is not very popular (even among Republican voters), and Democrats will be reminding everyone of this every chance they get. So it's quite likely that hearings will eventually come to pass.

Kirk has even gone one step further and tried to shame his fellow Republicans into actually doing their jobs and giving the nominee a floor vote. His quote is so charming, however, that we're going to save it for the talking points section. Kirk is in one of the toughest Senate seats Republicans have to defend this year, and he's got a very strong challenger in Tammy Duckworth. Also, it's a presidential election year, and Illinois is pretty solidly blue. But Kirk isn't the only one to find himself in this situation this year. So look for other Republicans to back down in similar fashion, in the weeks to come. Especially if Donald Trump secures the GOP nomination (without riots) at the convention.

Which brings us back to the presidential race. Tuesday was a blowout for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. On the Democratic side, this was welcome news for Hillary supporters as it means she can now pivot to mainly focusing on Trump.

Bernie Sanders isn't going away any time soon, of course, nor should he. The one thing Hillary really can't do is to call on Bernie to end his campaign (see: 2008). But he will likely be ignored by the media from this point on. Or maybe "even more ignored than he already has been" is more correct. Media abuse of Bernie has been one constant throughout this campaign, exemplified in disgraceful detail this week by the New York Times. The Times has endorsed Hillary, but that's not supposed to bias their news articles in any way. However, it obviously is. An article which began with the title: "Bernie Sanders Scored Victories For Years Via Legislative Side Doors," gave a pretty thorough rundown on how Sanders has used amendments to other bills to get things done in the Senate. Hours later the title had changed, though, to: "Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories." Still later, it was watered down to: "Sanders's Roster Of Modest Wins." The text went from being a factual overview of Sanders's record in the Senate to a biased piece with plenty of quotes about how Sanders is promising the moon, the sun, and the stars -- you know, the typical thing. So much for that vaunted wall of separation between the editorial page and the news operation, eh?

Over on the Republican side, Trump romped to four victories Tuesday night, while Kasich won his first (and, likely, only) state. Marco Rubio dropped out after (badly) losing his home state of Florida to the Trumpster. Fear and panic set in among the corridors of power in Washington immediately afterwards.

After all, what's a Republican to do these days? They have a few choices, and all of them are bad. They can just outright surrender to Donald Trump, and risk looking like a hostage standing behind him at a rally (see: Chris Christie). They can back Ted Cruz, which is the equivalent to them of drinking poison (as Lindsey Graham so eloquently put it, just before he went ahead and endorsed Cruz over Trump). Another option is brutal honesty -- realizing that Democrats weren't actually caricaturing their party as hateful and racist, that instead this was indeed correct. Not many (it hardly bears pointing out) are taking this route.

Instead, most Republicans are just flailing wildly about, with absolutely no plan on how to stop Trump and no answer to why they're in this position in the first place. There were actually two important "flail around like a headless chicken" meetings this week, of like-minded Republicans trying to figure out some way out of the mess they find themselves in. One meeting was for big donors, who could not agree on a plan of action. The other one consisted of big conservative deep-thinker types (at least, that's how they see themselves), who also could not agree on a viable plan of action.

There's an apt phrase for what these groups are attempting: "too little, too late." There's even now pushback from other Republicans towards the whole "stop Trump" effort, people like Newt Gingrich and Sean Hannity rightly calling the effort a serious attempt to permanently divide what used to be the Republican Party.

As I said, all options are bad at this point for Republicans. Get behind Trump. Try to force him out as the party's nominee (which we have to admit Trump is entirely right about, because it would likely lead to riots). Launch a third-party bid so you don't have to vote for Trump in November (which would guarantee the election of Hillary Clinton). Or just turn off the TV and ignore politics until after the election is over. That's about all they've got, at this point. It isn't easy being a non-Trump-loving Republican these days, is it?

Maybe the stress is taking its toll. That's the only explanation we have for the spectacle of Republican lawmakers asking why a government regulator wasn't quicker and stronger in enforcing environmental rules. We can't ever remember such an astonishing sight, in fact.

Of course, there was method to their seeming madness, as their choice was to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency, or just go ahead and admit that another Republican governor had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that life under conservative economic principles can be very dangerous indeed for those unlucky enough to live in such states.

The breadth of Republican hypocrisy in demanding that the E.P.A. do a better job was captured perfectly by Huffington Post:

Still, it's a little unusual to hear Republicans crying out for more rulemaking from the E.P.A. On the same day as the hearing, House Republicans released a budget that would dramatically cut funding for the E.P.A., so that the agency won't "continue to implement an unprecedented activist regulatory policy to the detriment of states, localities, small businesses, and energy consumers."

The Republican-led Congress has chopped the E.P.A.'s budget in recent years, from a high of $10.3 billion in 2010 down to $8.1 billion for 2015. The funding cuts have forced the agency to reduce its workforce, from a high of 18,110 in 1999 to just 15,408 as of 2014 -- a 15 percent staffing cut from 15 years before.

The Republicans' budget proposal last year sought to cut funding for water protection programs in particular by 24 percent.

So, yeah, maybe there's a reason why the E.P.A. wasn't on top of the Flint situation, huh guys? It's a little irony-impaired to demand such things now after gutting their budget and calling them names. Republican governmental policy harms humans and other forms of life. Deal with it.

That's a grim point to end on, but the situation in Flint is about as grim as it can get. So with no attempt at any sort of segue, let's just move along to this week's awards.


This one's pretty easy, this week. Hillary Clinton was easily the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. If Tuesday night's voting had gone a different way (if Bernie Sanders had won one, two, or three states, in other words), the news media would be in a frenzy of "What's Wrong With Hillary Clinton's Campaign?" stories, right about now. Instead, she is once again attempting to pivot away from the Democratic primary race to fighting Donald Trump in a general election campaign. This was the week she was finally able to do so in a convincing way.

Hillary ended last week pretty disappointingly, by mis-remembering the 1980s, Nancy Reagan, and AIDS. She began this week by writing a lengthy apology, because she knows that gay rights activists are important supporters to have on her side. Whether it was convincing enough or not is still being hotly debated, but she did make the effort after attempting to just brush it off with an "I'm sorry" tweet last week. But after that shaky start to the week came Tuesday, which became the overriding narrative of the week for her.

Hillary's lead among delegates is pretty impressive, at this point. She's further ahead of Bernie in pledged delegates (the "non-super" type) than Barack Obama managed during the 2008 campaign against her. When you add in superdelegates, her lead is now almost insurmountable.

Bernie will keep going, of course, following the same path Hillary herself blazed in 2008 -- fighting all the way to the final primaries. It's entirely his right to do so. But from this point on, it becomes a protest movement rather than a presidential campaign with a clear path to victory.

Of course, Hillary's not going to have such a good week every week for the remainder of the campaign. Bernie will quite likely still chalk up some wins. But this week, Clinton chalked up five to Bernie's zero. Three of these were somewhat close, but two were absolute landslides for her.

Unless there are any political earthquakes between now and the convention, Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee this year. This is the week she definitively moved into "presumptive nominee" territory. For doing so in impressive fashion, Hillary Clinton has to be seen (even by Bernie fans, if they're honest) as the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[We do not, as a rule, provide links to campaign websites, so you'll have to search Hillary Clinton's contact info out on your own, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


President Barack Obama made a controversial pick for the Supreme Court. What was controversial about it was that it was intended not to be controversial. Obama picked a moderate or centrist judge, which was entirely reasonable given the political calculus surround this particular pick, but lefties were really hoping for a solid liberal choice. So Obama's pick disappointed many progressives.

But we're not judging him harshly on this selection, personally. Merrick Garland has a much better chance of actually making it onto the Supreme Court than a liberal firebrand would have had. In fact, a staunch liberal would pretty much have been guaranteed treatment as a sacrificial lamb by Senate Republicans. There's almost zero chance of confirmation, since a liberal Obama choice versus a Hillary Clinton choice would look exactly the same to Senate Republicans. Garland may also become a sacrificial lamb, but it's not guaranteed. His nomination could get voted down by the full Senate, it could be withdrawn by Obama (indeed, I argued yesterday that Obama should threaten this tactic for the lame-duck session), or it could just never get acted upon until the next Senate is sworn in. We have no idea what the chances of Garland being confirmed are (neither does anyone else, at this point), but those chances are above zero. A liberal pick's chances would have been non-existent. So we're not giving Obama the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award for his selection, sorry.

Instead, we're giving it to Obama for not letting Gerry Adams in to a White House event that he had been expressly invited to attend. Adams, for those unaware, is a prominent figure in the Sinn Féin party in the Republic of Ireland. This being Paddy's Day week, there are always some political events held with Irish politicians (and just random drinking and wearing of green ties in general, we might add). Now, President Bill Clinton made big news back in the 1990s by granting Adams a visa and a White House invitation (to say Adams is a controversial figure both here and in Eire is a massive understatement), which helped moved the Irish peace process along to its happy conclusion.

Adams, in other words, used to be a controversial person for the White House to invite to an event, but that was a long time ago -- he's been to the White House many times in the past 20 years, in fact. And he was invited this year, too, but was stopped at the door by the Secret Service.

Due to what they called an "administrative input error," Adams was detained for 90 minutes, as he watched all the other guests file in. He said later he felt like he was in a receiving line, greeting everyone else. After an hour and a half, he just gave up and walked out.

Now, what sort of "administrative input error" takes 90 minutes to resolve? Mistyping "Jerry Adams" should have been figured out in about five minutes. It's not like this was his first visit to the White House or anything (which might have necessitated higher security screening). He was invited to this event -- he wasn't some V.I.P. gate-crasher or anything.

Making an invitee to a casual event wait 90 minutes in such a fashion is beyond disappointing. It is inexcusable. The White House and the Secret Service have since apologized and swear that it won't happen again. A little late, but at least they realized how badly they screwed this up.

But President Obama is responsible for the Secret Service, and he is responsible for how guests are treated in the White House. The Secret Service has had multiple massive problems during Obama's term in office, and while this screwup doesn't even rise to the level of some of the previous scandals, it shows that there are still some problems in what was once viewed as one of the more honorable federal agencies around. So, yes, the Secret Service was principally responsible for barring Gerry Adams at the door, but the president and his team should have been a lot more on the ball, on this one. Adams was one of the more prominent guests for the Paddy's Day celebration, so it's inexcusable that nobody noticed he was cooling his heels at the security checkpoint.

Which is why we're giving this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to President Barack Obama. The Irish people love Obama (as this song proves, written after an Obama visit to Eire). There's no excuse for such a prominent snub. In this case, the buck stops at the top, and Obama is awarded the MDDOTW for the whole diplomatic screwup.

[Contact President Barack Obama on his White House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 383 (3/18/16)

The subtitle of today's article is "Deconstructing GOP Absurdity." The entire talking points section below is dedicated to this premise. Except for the last two, where we just go ahead and rub salt in the GOP's wounds, for the sheer fun of it.

But getting back to the premise. We are following Mark Twain's advice here ("immature humorists borrow, mature humorists steal"), because the idea comes from a very funny guy (when he wants to be): Senator Al Franken. In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Franken directly took on the Republicans' shifting positions and rationales for denying even consideration for a sitting president's Supreme Court pick. The most memorable thing Franken had to say: "I used to make a living identifying absurdity. I'm hearing a lot of it today."

The basic Republican position isn't that hard to understand. It is: "We are going to deny Barack Obama a third Supreme Court pick, unless Hillary Clinton wins the presidency." That is precisely what some of them believe (the others don't even add the clause about Clinton). The problem is, it sounds pretty crass to come out and say it honestly and simply, so Republicans have been busy bending over backwards trying to come up with some sort of noble-sounding reason for why they're walking down this path.

Our talking points will take apart the absurdities they've so far come up with, point by point. Of course, we may have to revisit this later, because Republicans are nothing if not crafty at creating rationalizations out of moonbeams -- so there could be another whole slew of excuses to deconstruct later. But for now, we're working with the absurdities they've so far given us.


   So it's a living document after all?

We start with the bedrock of the Republican faith.

"Republicans are supposed to revere the United States Constitution. Furthermore, they tell us it is not a 'living document' and is supposed to mean exactly what the Framers said -- no more and no less. Period. Which is why I'm scratching my head now over all of the ways they are trying to change its clear meaning over the issue of a Supreme Court nomination. They are, to be blunt, doing exactly what they have spent decades accusing Democrats and liberal justices of being guilty of. For starters, consider that the Constitution lays out a clear duty to 'advise and consent' to presidential nominees. Republicans' first argument boils down to 'we are going to refuse to do our duty under the Constitution we all swore to uphold.' No wonder Republican voters are angry! These senators are flat-out refusing to do their job -- in fact, they're very accomplished at not doing their jobs at all. Name me one thing the Republican-led Senate and Republican-led House have managed to accomplish that bettered people's lives since they took control -- just one! I bet you can't, because there really aren't any. So I guess we shouldn't be surprised that they're now swearing they are going to continue to do nothing for the rest of the year."


   Not actually in the Constitution

Moving right along to the next absurdity....

"The Constitution is not a living document, Republicans tell us. But now they are trying to peddle the absurd notion that the voters are supposed to have any sort of direct say in judicial picks. Excuse me, but where exactly is this notion in the Constitution? I'll wait while you look it up from that copy of it you carry around with you. I shouldn't taunt you like that, so I'll save you the effort. The Constitution actually put several degrees of separation between the voters and court picks. The Electoral College and the Senate, to name two (remember, originally senators weren't even chosen by direct election -- that was the original intent of the Founders). The voters are not supposed to have a say in judicial picks, plain and simple. For Republicans to now create this supposed tradition out of whole cloth is stunning in its absurdity. They really ought to be ashamed of themselves, but that would require a degree of honesty they don't seem capable of right now."


   Let's politicize it to depoliticize it!

This brings us directly to the third absurdity.

"I've heard Republicans from Chuck Grassley on down say -- with a straight face, mind you -- that 'the process needs to not be politicized,' and then turn around and say the voters deserve a say in the process. How is that not the very definition of 'politicizing' the process? There's nothing more politicized than a presidential election, after all. This is sheer Orwellian doublethink, folks. The process ought not to be politicized, so we're going to just go ahead and politicize the heck out of it -- how does that even pretend to make sense?"


   Unless it's a Democrat, of course

We're turning this next one over to Senator Al Franken, because he put it better than we could ever hope to. From the same hearing cited above, Franken takes on the bizarre notion that Republicans will graciously consent to confirm Garland in the lame-duck period of Congress (after the election but before the new president and Senate are sworn in). This is where they're openly displaying their own hypocrisy, which Franken gleefully pointed out in fine style:

I hear, "OK, let the people decide, and the presidential election should decide." But then I hear colleagues from the other side say, "Well, you know what, if the election goes the wrong way, I'd be happy to consider this nomination in the lame duck," How absurd is that? So it's: "Let the people decide, unless they decide on Hillary Clinton, in which case let us decide."


   It's very simple, really

We return once again to the supposed bedrock of conservative belief, in order to mercifully explain to the Republicans what they really should be doing (if they had a shred of intellectual honesty, that is).

"You know what? If Republicans truly believe that what they are doing is the right thing for America, they have one solid option available to them. Remember that non-living Constitution they're usually so passionate about? It actually provides the steps they need to take to legitimize their current absurd political position. The first thing they need to do is agree to the language -- perhaps something like 'no Supreme Court nomination shall be made in the last year of a presidential term,' and then they could add something about the voters having a legitimate say in the process. Once they drafted the language, the process if very simple. All they'd have to do is pass their language by a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress, and then get three-fourths of the state legislatures to ratify it. Because that's the process the Constitution demands to amend what is already defined within it."


   Kirk mans up

OK, these last two are the "rubbing salt in the GOP's self-inflicted wounds" part of the program. Because all of this Kabuki theater surrounding Obama's Supreme Court pick is making some Senate Republicans very, very nervous about their chances of getting re-elected (some of them from very blue states). The first Republican senator to crack, unsurprisingly, is in perhaps the toughest of these races.

"Two Republican senators have already denounced the Republican effort to pretend that President Obama didn't just nominate someone to the Supreme Court. Susan Collins of Maine is now calling for the proper hearings, and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk went even further and called for a floor vote to be held. Here's what Kirk had to say: 'We should go through the process the Constitution has already laid out... just man up and cast a vote. The tough thing about these senatorial jobs is you get "yes" or "no" votes. Your whole job is to either say "yes" or "no" and explain why.' While he is completely correct, it was an interesting choice of words, seeing as how the only other Republican to stand up for even holding hearings happens to be a woman. Kirk's Democratic opponent for the Senate this fall is also a woman, so it may not have been the best phrase to use. However crudely put, though, the sentiment is correct. I'd be willing to bet a few other Republicans start saying similar things, especially when they contemplate who Donald Trump might nominate to the highest court in the land. Or, of course, Hillary Clinton."


   On a golden platter

That last bit was so much fun, let's just hammer the point home a bit further!

"Republicans in the Senate, although they may not be aware of it quite yet, are essentially fighting hard for Donald Trump to be given a Supreme Court pick on his first day in the Oval Office. There's no other way to see it -- the 'stop Trump' effort is obviously going to fail, and unless the Republican Party decides to leave Trump and form their own third party this fall, the principle they're now standing up for is to give Donald Trump his own Supreme Court pick. You can bet that Democratic Senate candidates in many states will be reminding voters of this fact for the entire election season. The ads just write themselves: 'Republicans are standing with Trump rather than doing their job -- and they think they deserve re-election?' I kind of feel sorry for the Republicans, because there is no easy way out of the corner they've painted themselves into. If they voted to confirm Obama's appointment now, Republican base voters are going to be incensed. If they wait until after the election and confirm him anyway, again, GOP voters are going to be outraged. If they wait until the next president is in office, then they themselves might just be out of a job, because Donald Trump may just hand control of the both the White House and the Senate to the Democrats on a (very classy, no doubt) golden platter. It's really lose/lose for Senate Republicans, no matter what they choose to do."


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