Benghazi hearing more about campaigning than Clinton or the truth

Clinton's face said it all.

Clinton’s face said it all.

After eleven grueling, often mind-numbing hours of testimony by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it seemed as if the GOP member of the Benghazi committee had met their match. Clinton remained calm, cool, and collected for most of the hearing, with Democratic members throwing barbs, while Republicans found new ways to ask the same question several dozen times. As the hearings wound to an end, I had a thought: what if this has nothing to do with Benghazi or stopping Clinton’s march to the White House? It sounds ludicrous. After all, Republicans have orchestrated Benghazi hearings for years with the goal of putting an end to Clinton’s dreams of winning the presidency, but with just a year until the general election, and a clown car of a GOP primary field, Republican members of Congress may consider Clinton all-but-invetiable. So why grill Clinton for 11 hours?

Congressional Republicans have elections to win in 2016 too. Their own.

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Dear GOP: Boehner quit you, not the other way around

"Goodbye, nut jobs!" -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

“Goodbye, nut jobs!” -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Alright, the headline is slightly misleading, since outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, didn’t actually quit the Republican Party, but his surprising resignation, nonchalant attitude at his press conference, and subsequent trashing of fellow Republicans and conservative groups, like Texas Senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, seemed to indicate a man who could no longer stand what’s become of his beloved party. The Republicans are in disarray, helped by a huge swing to the far right, allowing fringe elements to infect the party at almost every level, leaving establishment members like Boehner little choice by to take a lifeboat to safety.

Boehner isn’t the first high-profile Republican to essentially jump ship in recent years. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell–a lifelong Republican–famously endorsed President Obama not once, but twice, and chastises his party (he still considers himself a Republican) often on television. Longtime Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched parties not long after Obama’s election, and others are sure to follow. Not all will take the same or similar routes pursued by moderates like Powell or Specter, but Boehner is not the first and nor will he be the last big Republican name to call it a day.

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The GOP “pledge” is a ridiculous stunt and means nothing

Do you see anything binding about this "pledge?" I sure don't... (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

Do you see anything binding about this “pledge?” I sure don’t… (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

The headline sounds like a Trump-ism and it probably resembles what Trump will say when he announces his run as an independent around July 2016. Here’s the thing, without a binding agreement, the pledge is nothing more than a great way for the GOP to earn media and for GOP chair Reince Priebus to look like he’s leading the party, but he’s missing a crucial element: Trump’s supporters aren’t necessarily ardent Republicans, they are just conservatives.

Confusing partisanship and ideology is fairly commonplace in American politics and it remains confusing for some studying political behavior at the graduate level. Yes, partisanship and ideology are closely related, with most liberals identifying as Democrats and most conservatives identifying as Republicans, but one’s ideology doesn’t mean they are “party people.” Yes, they may tell a pollster they are a “Republican,” but that may have more to do with their ideology lining up with one particular party than the strength of their partisanship. (Essentially, the Republicans better represent a conservative ideology, therefore a conservative identifies as a Republican.) Trump attract ideologues on the right. Conservatives who fully agree that we need to kick out the “illegals” and build a gigantic wall along both the Mexican AND Canadian borders don’t necessarily rock elephant lapel pins and pendants, but they do support the tea party and other movements associated with the Republican party, but more explicitly tied to the conservative ideology.

This is an important point for Priebus and other Republican bigwigs worried about the Trump-effect. Trump can sign the loyalty pledge now, in early-September 2015 when the stakes are high for both Trump and the Republican Party, but if Trump’s support among Republican party elites starts to wane, but his support among those identifying as very conservative remains high, the likelihood Trump bucks the pledge and runs as an independent strengthens.

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You’re Hired

Although our next election is a year away, candidates are currently doing and saying whatever they believe the American people want to hear. The conservative candidates are so plentiful, one can scarcely keep them all straight. But one of the candidates is not like the others.

 

He is loud. He is obnoxious. He is belligerent. He wears a million dollar kitten on his head.  He is…

trump

 

…The Donald.

A lot can be said about Trump’s candidacy thus far. His disrespectful tone with women, his thoughts on immigration, and his views on political contributions have been ferreted out for our perusal. Well, ferreted is not quite the best word to use, is it? The truth is that The Donald can’t shut up.

While I personally believe that if Trump ever articulated one good political idea, it would die of loneliness…

…He’s hired.

Wait, wait, wait. Don’t curse me like a drunken sailor just yet. I haven’t fallen and bumped my head. I just believe that there are a few things we -conservative, liberal, or other- can learn from this spectacle. Love or hate him. Let’s learn from him.

The Donald is honest. Brutally abrasive, almost cruelly honest. We can debate why he is so blunt, but I don’t believe that matters. What does matter is that Americans are fed up with pandering. A good chunk of America is sick to their back teeth of what they call political correctness.  Although rational people recognize that political correctness is a derogatory term for civility, many loathe it nonetheless. Presently, there is a certain level of admiration for a person willing to tell the unvarnished truth as he or she sees it.  We are seeing this admiration play out in liberal circles as well. A great deal of Bernie Sanders’ appeal is his speaking truth to power approach.

Then, there is the fact that Trump doesn’t need anyone. He is a very profitable business man who has come back from the brink more times than we can count. He is full of the can-do American spirit; He never gives up. As a known contributor to both parties, he has the freedom to entertain all points of view. As a billionaire, he runs a lesser chance of being bought. Americans want someone willing to hear other perceptions and someone comfortable in his/her own decision-making abilities. While very few openly admit to agreeing with most of Trump’s most outrageous statements, they do admire his confidence to stick to his guns. Again, look left…The liberal juggernaut, Sanders, is drawing huge crowds who adore him for sticking to his guns.

Finally, he is making politics interesting again. For many years, Americans have been, well, angry. Ranging from mild irritation to frothing at the mouth, anger and frustration has been an ever-present undercurrent in political discussions. The Donald has energized us all. I appreciate that. He and his kitten make me laugh, but his unique brand of outrageous foolery has people paying attention again. We need people paying attention. I’ve been saying for years that WE were the tyranny, that we have become far too uninvolved. Apathy does no favors for democracies. The Donald and his kitten are just entertaining enough to draw in viewers. Viewers are voters. For that alone, Trump, you’re hired.

 

 

 

Enjoy tonight’s debate, but beware rampant anti-intellectualism

85As the countdown for tonight’s Republican debate enters its final hours, American politics—and to a greater extent–America stand at a crossroads. After nearly seven years of Barack Obama’s stoicism and “Mr. Spock” approach to governing, a cast of characters so illogical, over-emotional, and downright anti-intellectual will grace the stage in Cleveland, Ohio. They will no doubt castigate Obama’s legacy as president, lambasting every policy, executive action, and statement ever uttered by the two-term president. For this group of candidates, they are not looking toward the future, but a way to bring the nation to a screeching halt before putting the car in reverse.

The prospect of reversing the nation is truly terrifying. The country remains at the precipice on a host of defining issues that could make or break these United States. Climate change, unabated economic, social, and racial inequality, and the prospect of continued ground wars in west Asia must be addressed by Obama’s successor and thus far, every Republican firmly stands in opposition to any progress made over the last six and one half years.

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Defending Hillary

“In the Senate, I have worked across the aisle to make change. When I was elected, the people of New York took a chance on me and it was a great honor that they did. But I knew that I had to go and get things done. I couldn’t just say, ‘Well I’ve been elected, thank you very much.’ That’s not who I am, that’s not what I do.” – Hillary Clinton-*

Surprise—Hillary announced her candidacy for President! Yeah, I know that’s an enormous yawn because everyone knew she would eventually make it official. By now you have also probably heard about a little scandal having to do with the former secretary of state’s emails. I know that I’m a little behind addressing this situation, but now that Clinton has officially declared her intentions, it is time to offer some perspective on the email issue. If you aren’t aware of this, well, the hypocrisy surrounding the outrage (most of which has died down—at least for now) from both the right and (yes) even the left is enough to make one’s head explode—well, mine anyway.

Let me preface with the fact that I am a huge proponent of transparency and accountability at every level of government and believe that all communication of government business should be conducted on a government server (apologies for the redundancies). However, transparency and accountability are for another discussion and one well worth having, not only in regards to Secretary Clinton, but all elected and appointed government officials.

So what is the hypocrisy surrounding Secretary Clinton’s emails one might ask? Oh, let me count the ways (and this isn’t a comprehensive list):

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush’s email transparency is a total joke

Jeb Bush had another private email account as Florida Governor

Jeb Bush owned personal email server he used as governor

Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo administration begins large-scale email purges

Mitt Romney

Romney staff spent nearly $100,000 to hide records

Scott Walker

John Doe Transcript: Scott Walker must have known of private email, laptop system

Sarah Palin

Palin outraged that Hillary Clinton pulled a Palin

Colin Powell

Colin Powell relied on personal emails while Secretary of State

Congress members

Congress doesn’t have rules for saving emails

5 million missing emails during the GW Bush administration related to the attorneys general firing investigation. That should be truly shocking and outrage-inducing to anyone concerned with transparency and accountability in government.

Madame Secretary as Right-wing Target Practice

Conservatives are attacking Secretary Clinton because she is the Democratic frontrunner, possesses stronger credentials than anyone currently running on the GOP side, and is a Clinton— and you know there is always something “sneaky” about “those” people and the “rules don’t apply to them.” (Well, the rules don’t apply to most powerful, wealthy people so why should she be held to different standards? I’m not saying that’s right, because it’s not, but just posing the question as food for thought.)

Of course, these omitted emails will now be used to perpetuate the Benghazi hysteria, keeping it front and center through 2016, if possible, although most people have moved past that issue because there was no criminality involved—even the GOP-led investigative report confirmed there was no misconduct. This report was issued by the Benghazi Select Committee, which is headed up by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC).

Mr. Gowdy has requested Clinton turn over to him her personal email server, which she has refused to do. Yet he refuses to release Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails—that she did release—to the public as Democrats in the House of Representative have requested. If Congressman Gowdy were so adamant about transparency and accountability, he’d release them. He has not. My question is why hasn’t he? They must be less than compelling and devoid of any smoking gun. However, it’s a brilliant strategy because to withhold them from the public allows the Republican propaganda machine to continue hyping a conspiracy or possible foul-play surrounding that tragic incident.

Gowdy also prefers the committee to interview Clinton (again) in private. Clinton prefers a public hearing, which most Americans interested in this situation would appreciate. Why is he so adamant about keeping the hearing secret? It all feeds into the way conservatives want to milk this issue through 2016. I guarantee it. Now, that’s not to say the Democrats wouldn’t do the same in this situation because they probably would. Again, it’s politics, which is not for the faint of heart.

Liberal Media Pundits Join In

Liberal media pundits have joined the GOP attackers. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the cable news networks and political blogs. Even liberal MSNBC has denounced her, failing to see that they held her to a different standard than others, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Perhaps his being a man shelters him from this type of scrutiny? Furthermore, the Clintons have a love-hate relationship with the media, so any opportunity the media sees to go after them they do so, and with great fervor.

Yes, she was secretary of state, but so was Colin Powell. In my view, the disappearance of 5 million Bush administration emails related to the attorney general firings investigation is a much more serious matter. I didn’t hear much outrage from the right when that was revealed.

As the 2016 presidential campaign progresses, the Clinton email issue will continue to provoke political attacks against her. There are valid issues and policy positions that her opponents can exploit, but until everyone else in government is held to the same standards of transparency and accountability, I’m cutting Hillary a little slack on this email one.

* What did Hillary Clinton accomplish while in the Senate? You can read about it here and here.

 

 

Harry Reid did what? A little filibuster reform

In light of today’s vote in the Senate, I am reposting a piece published on April 30 (and no, it is not about gun control, but filibuster reform). Today’s action taken in the Senate applies only to the President’s nominees to fill executive posts and judicial vacancies, excluding nominees to the Supreme Court. It is a small, but significant step in the right direction.

April 30, 2013 by

Gun Control Background Check Legislation Defeated…Blame the Filibuster

On Wednesday, April 17, the Senate voted down gun background check legislation. This was defeated with 54 ayes and 46 nays. What? Defeated with a majority? You bet, thanks to the filibuster, which requires a 60-vote supermajority before legislation can move forward.

Slate.com’s Dave Weigel put the blame directly on the Democrats’ shoulders for a variety of reasons.  He makes a good case, but the filibuster remains the major culprit. Even if the Democrats who voted no had voted yes, they would’ve still been one vote shy of the 60-vote threshold.

The filibuster has been a handy little procedure for senators of both parties to use when in the minority. However, the GOP senators have escalated its use to a whole new level of obstruction. Here is a little history:

  • 107th Congress (2001 – 2002, Dem minority)— 71 cloture motions filed:
  • 108th Congress (2003 – 2004, Dem minority)—62
  • 109th Congress (2005 – 2006, Dem minority)—68
  • 110th Congress (2007 – 2008, GOP minority)—139
  • 111th Congress (2009 – 2010, GOP minority)—137
  • 112th Congress (2011 – 2012, GOP minority)—115
  • 113th Congress (2013 – 2014, GOP minority)—11

A filibuster is an attempt to extend debate on a proposal in order to delay or completely prevent a vote on its passage. If cloture (a 60-vote supermajority) is not attained, the legislation will not receive an up or down vote. Historically, the filibuster was used in limited circumstances such as to override a presidential veto, expel a member from the Senate, or convict a federal officer of a federal offense.

Furthermore, the filibuster was a talking one. Jimmy Stewart’s character filibustered, quite dramatically, in the 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In March, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) held a talking filibuster, which hadn’t happened since Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took to the floor in December 2010 to protest a tax law. Today, talking filibusters are rare.

If legislation is going to be held up, then the senator(s) doing the blocking should stand before their colleagues and the American public to argue their point rather than merely stating their intent to filibuster. No pain is associated with obstruction nowadays; it is far too easy.

The Brennan Center for Justice’s 2010 Filibuster Abuse report provides a thorough accounting of how this procedure contributes to Senate dysfunction, compromises the system of checks and balances, and degrades transparency and accountability in government. The report highlights the fact that “Senate procedures have increasingly been used to prevent decision-making rather than to promote deliberation and debate.”

cloture_size

In 2012, the Brennan Center for Justice released a follow-up report, Curbing Filibuster Abuse. The authors found as of October 2012:

  • The 112th Congress had enacted 196 public laws, the lowest output of any Congress since at least World War II;
  • Senate passed a record-low 2.8 percent of bills in that chamber;
  • Cloture motions have skyrocketed since 2006;
  • On average, it took 188 days to confirm a judicial nominee, creating 33 “judicial emergencies.”

The authors state that rules reform is a must and suggest some “minimal, commonsense reforms:”

  • There should be only one opportunity to filibuster any given measure or nomination;
  • Senate rules should require at least 40 votes to sustain a filibuster as opposed to requiring a supermajority to break a filibuster, and senators should be required to remain on the floor and debate, as in the past;
  • Safeguards should be put in place to ensure members of the minority can offer amendments.

There have been attempts to reform, if not eliminate, the filibuster, even as recently as January. Reform is difficult. One reason is that the filibuster allows the minority in the Senate to have some say over and to slow down legislation. Therefore, even though Democrats have had a majority in that chamber, seven years now, many of them don’t want to change or eliminate it because they fear finding themselves in the minority again and when that happens, will want the option to filibuster.

The filibuster serves a purpose, and should be maintained on a limited basis, used for very specific circumstances as enumerated previously. However, filibustering has become a means for the minority to override or disrupt any legislation the majority tries to pass and hold up political appointments. This is wrong. Elections matter and when the minority dictates what the majority does, that is a problem for our democracy, especially when those filibustering have no desire to compromise and negotiate. It’s their way or no way. They become obstructionists and policymaking in this country grinds to a halt. Any legislation or political appointment, no matter how benign, is nearly impossible to enact or approve.

The filibuster’s accomplice is often the secret hold. The 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act should’ve halted the secrecy component of holds. However, since no enforcement mechanism was included, it has largely been ignored. There is no reason a legislator should not be held to account for why she/he is holding up legislation. Transparency is crucial to democracy. If a senator is going to stop a bill or political appointment, we the people have every right to know who it is and why they are doing it, whether we agree with them or not.

Capitol 2

Until our legislators have the guts to make some simple changes to Senate rules, government impotence at the federal level will continue. That does not bode well for the health, security, and growth of our country. Filibuster reform is a must.

Read the Brennan Center for Justice reports: