Tag Archives: politics

Washington is NOT BROKEN

Old EbbittThree characters  from my novel Spin Doctor, Bob, Jack and Evan met it the backroom bar at the Old Ebbitt earlier today. The TV was tuned to the Sunday morning shows, Meet the Press, to be exact:

“…Washington is broken…”

Evan shook his head. “ This is so wrong.”

Bob put down his glass. “What are you talking about? Did they run out of bar snacks?”

Evan nodded at the TV. “No. Washington is broken. Didn’t you hear?”

“Bull…” Bob stopped himself, looked around and went on in a softer voice: “Washington is not broken. Washington is working perfectly.”

Jack leaned in. “Um. Bob. Have you been out of town? The Sequester? Hello, hello? Earth to Bob.”

Bob took a sip. “Funny. Yes, I know.” He drained the glass and waved to the bartender. “What amazes me is that nobody has read the damn Constitution. Nobody has read James Madison. Washington isn’t supposed to make fast laws. Not supposed to make policy like cars coming off the assembly line …”

Jack and Evan looked at each other. Jack lifted his beer, tasted it and eyed Bob. “Come on. We aren’t supposed to have gridlock.”

“Oh really? Why do you think we have gridlock? You know, you guys scare me sometimes. We have all these newbies that come to Washington, but you two live here. You are supposed to be pros.”

Evan and Jack stared at him in silence.

“Let me explain to you. We have the President. He thinks he has a mandate. He believes in whatever he is saying and is trying to get his way. He’s gone in three and a half years, with a little time at the end, maybe one to two years where his power will leak out like Huck Finn’s bag of cornmeal with a hole in it.’

The bartender slid a glass in front of him, he sipped, and went on: “So then, you have the House. It turns out they just got elected t00. Every one of them, in each little Podunk district. And guess what? They are already running for reelection. They don’t have time to make friends or eat lunch. The new ones are trying to learn while looking like they know everything, when they don’t actually know the difference between GSA and GAO. They don’t know who they can trust so they trust nobody. “

Another sip. Bob nodded at Evan. “And then there’s the Senate. They are there six years, so they get to know each other. Some of them even have friends who in the other party.”

Evan straightened up and faked a yawn. “Bob, thanks for the civics lesson but what the hell does this have to do with anything? How does that have to do with the Sequester?”

“Okay, don’t get me wrong, I know the Sequester sucks as a law. But it is where we are. There is no consensus. It is the job of the House to reflect their constituency and to throw themselves in front of a policy they think their folks will hate—raising taxes. The President’s job is to push his agenda. He’s doing that. And the Senate, they are supposed to be reflective and look at the big picture, the precedents, the long term effect. Most of them have been there a few years, so they should know a little history, know how things work. And if something is especially bad, they have the filibuster.”

Jack leaned in: “That’s nice Bob. You are basically saying you think gridlock is okay.”

“No I’m saying there is gridlock because there is no consensus. Nothing wrong with the system. Remember, the alternative to gridlock is to just go along with everything.”

Evan shook his head again. “What about national security? If we can’t get this resolved, I mean, I think we could have a major problem there.”

“So do I. But that isn’t because Washington is broken. It’s because of policy failures. It’s because of inept governing. There is no law we can pass that will protect against bad policy.”

“What’s the answer then,Bob?How is it going to turn out?”

“The polls tell the President he has support. Congress hears from folks back home that they better not capitulate. When those two facts change, either the President’s poll numbers or  the situation in various districts, we will get some motion. Is the economy getting better? Will the cuts really hurt? Will Obama lose credibility by claiming he has to beach aircraft carriers? Will the six Democratic Senators in Romney states who are running  in ’14 feel the love from their state? .  Hard to say.  Meanwhile, let’s get another drink.”

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Hagel: Are we there yet? Or, can you teach a cat to ride a bicycle?

When I first blogged about the Hagel nomination weeks ago, I flagged it as upcoming drama. Now, some of you might be wondering if this movie is ever going to end. I have been working on my next book, Potomac Lights, and this nomination is very distracting. I asked one my characters, Bob Carson, what he thought of the nomination, and as is typical of Bob, mincing no words, he said it was a terrible idea because you “can’t teach a cat to ride a bicycle.” I think he is trying to say that apart from politics and feelings about Israel, Hagel doesn’t seem to have the managerial experience or the temperament to run a huge and complicated agency focused on our safety, with millions of lives at stake.

Bob is a minor character, so you don’t have to take him seriously. But if you like to read about Washington politics with no particular political leaning, you might check out my novel Spin Doctor.

This is not my cat.

This is not my cat.

I digress. Here are some developments since my last post:

Fifteen Senators have written Obama, asking him to withdraw Hagel’s nomination. Since they are all Republican Senators, this is as likely to impact the White  House as would the certain knowledge that it is snowing somewhere in Alaska.

Bob Woodward reported last Sunday that some Democratic Senators have called the White House to ask if they are going to withdraw Hagel. And the White House swears they won’t. Of course, that’s what they all say, right up until they withdraw it.

B’nai B’rith , a liberal leaning “global voice of the Jewish Community” published a statement voicing serious concerns about Hagel.

What we don’t know is whether any Democrat has called  the White House and told them they are not getting their vote. Unless some Democrats break rank, he’s going to be confirmed.

A few days ago,  Sen. Richard Shelby announced he would support the nomination, saying “  He’s probably as good as we’re going to get.” In other words, any choice by this administration is going to preside over the dismantling of Defense and gouging of the DOD Budget. Does it really matter whether it is done in an orderly way? Good question.

That’s bound to be the conclusion of a lot of Senators who might not be thrilled with the nomination. Reality is, there is only so much the minority can do. They have done a very good job of slowing it down and calling attention to it.

Now it is up to the Democrats. They will have to consider if they really want to win this one, whether they will be prepared to take responsibility, to pay the price of having a Hagel at the helm if we face a national defense crisis in the next four years.

They may have another cloture vote this week. It sounds like  they may get enough votes to confirm.

And if he is confirmed, we will soon find out if a cat can ride a bicycle.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Senate, White House

Why did they move up the Hagel Cloture vote?

I’ve scanned several articles to get an idea why they moved up the Hagel cloture vote to this afternoon instead of Friday. So far, I didn’t find the answer, I will make a guess. It appears the Republicans and Democrats have finally found something to agree on: Take Friday off and Leave Town.

OH, no no no, you say. They will be in Session tomorrow.

Yes, but will there be votes? I don’t think so.

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The Plot thickens: Cloture vote on Friday?

Harry Reid has called the hand of the Republicans, moved for a cloture vote Friday. A vote for cloture isn’t a vote on the nomination—“an up or down vote”–it’s a vote on whether they should   vote on the nomination.

So Reid is trying to force a vote. But really, what is going on?

The Republicans are messing with Hagel and the White House. Sen. McCain says he won’t support a filibuster, now he’s not so sure. Same thing with Hatch and probably several others. Hagel is stonewalling on providing some financial info and other answers, so they are making him wait. Just to squirt a little gasoline on the fire, a few days ago, Dick Cheney laid out his stark view  that Hagel was chosen so that Obama would “have a Republican that he can use to take the heat for what he plans to do to the Department of Defense.” Ouch. So the GOP is not going to play along, but is going to try to showcase what they will say is the destruction of our national defense.

For Hagel, it has to be humiliating.  Only two votes from your own party? Those who know you best turn their back?

If  Hagel can’t get sixty votes–cloture– on Friday, surely the White House  will have to withdraw the nomination.

If he gets the sixty, he will be confirmed, of course, but he will be missing a chunk out of his hind quarters.

Still time to vote in my poll!

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Hagel Drama: What happens next?

If you like drama in politics, the real kind, not the kind we see on TV, watch what happens next on the Hagel nomination.

Yesterday, the Democrats on the Armed Services Committee voted unanimously to report the Hagel nomination to the floor of the Senate. Harry Reid has already promised to take it up in a big hurry-maybe even today.

Unless those damn Republicans show a shocking lack of respect for Precedent and filibuster the nomination.  And instead of the nice, polite Senate courtesies, Reid has apparently said that those opposing the nomination will need to be present on the floor to object. Then he will file a cloture petition, which will essentially start a countdown to the vote. If  Hagel can’t get 60 votes for cloture, his nomination is effectively killed.

Of course, there is a good chance they can dig up five Republicans to back the  President. We know they have two, but we don’t know who the other three might be just yet. Some Republicans may back Hagel because they will decide if Hagel is withdrawn, the next one might be even worse.

Politico has a caption: “Even if Hagel cracks the 60-vote threshold, the GOP will have sent a message.” The Hill has two stories: One that says some GOP  senators will filibuster and the other saying Harry Reid predicts they won’t. The Washington Post snarks that Sen Lindsay Graham is just trying to shine up his conservative credentials by opposing Hagel. The other Republicans are just plain partisan, of course.

What should have been a fig leaf of bipartisanship, a pretense of a strong defense advocate because everyone knows Republicans are strong on defense—has fooled no one. Whether Hagel is qualified, whether he will eagerly facilitate the reining in of the department, these are all substantive arguments to be made or refuted. The weak qualifications, questionable judgment, the blind partisan support of the President—we’ve seen it all before. It’s called politics.

If he is confirmed, Hagel will be damaged goods, unlikely to manage DoD or be its advocate. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for the administration. Quite the contrary. However,  just as the President now owns the economy, he will own defense policy.  He has chosen a weak nominee, and chosen to keep him. The international implications and the impact on our safety will be on him.

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Harry’s Math Problem OR, Why Harry Reid might lose a little sleep this time around

Seems like every day we read breathless articles about angst and remorse in the Republican party, and how civil war may be about to break out. Will they lose the House in the next election? Will they kill each other over immigration? Is Boehner out?  Is Karl Rove a traitor? Is the Tea Party over/leaving the party/imploding? Is this what is really going on?

Here’s something else to think about. Something that might bother Harry Reid even more than deciding  how to vote on the assault rifle ban.

Harry Reid

Harry has a math problem.  Don’t worry. Keep reading. It’s just arithmetic.

There are 45 Republicans in the Senate. They need 6 more to control the world’s greatest deliberative body.  In  2014, there are 20 Democrats and 13 Republicans up for reelection.  In other words, the Democrats have a lot to lose. 

The Republican in the tightest race last time was Mitch McConnell, Republican leader of the Senate, and he won 53% of the vote. I’m sure it is possible some of the Republicans will have a tough time. 

But let’s look at the Democrats. Seven of the states  with Senate seats up in ’14 were won by Romney in 2012, most by a large margin:

Baucus, Max (D-MT)

Begich, Mark (D-AK)

Hagan, Kay R. (D-NC)

Johnson, Tim (D-SD)

Landrieu, Mary L. (D-LA)

Pryor, Mark L. (D-AR)

Rockefeller, John D., IV (D-WV-Retiring)

Granted some of these  individual senators may be very popular at home, but what if they are pushed to vote on major issues out of step with their states?

Here’s a word problem for Harry: What happens in Montana, where Obama got 41.8% when they are reminded  their Senator is a Democrat? Will they be happy if they find out he is the one  pushing the Obama tax agenda as Chairman of the Finance Committee, that he was instrumental in passing Obamacare?

If seven seats aren’t enough to get you thinking, consider retirements and toss-ups. The rest of the 2014 class of Democratic Senators:

Coons, Christopher A. (D-DE)

Durbin, Richard J. (D-IL)

Franken, Al (D-MN)

Harkin, Tom (D-IA- Retiring)

Kerry, John F. (D-MA)

Lautenberg, Frank R. (D-NJ)

Levin, Carl (D-MI)

Merkley, Jeff (D-OR)

Reed, Jack (D-RI)

Shaheen, Jeanne (D-NH)

Udall, Mark (D-CO)

Udall, Tom (D-NM)

Warner, Mark R. (D-VA)

Levin and Durbin haven’t announced for reelection. Harkin and Rockefeller are retiring. John Kerry’s seat is open. Al Franken won 42% of the vote last time. And Michigan has a Republican governor.

Shaheen won a tight race.  Both Udalls and Warner won easily, but their states were in the toss-up column in 2012 until election day.

And when did Delaware become solidly blue? (Since they haven’t had a strong candidate run for a Senate seat since Bill Roth). New  Jersey is usually a safe seat for Democrats, but what if there are two seats open?

Of course, the same thing could have been said of the 2012 election. The Republicans had a huge advantage going in, but managed to lose what should have been some easy seats. But in an off-year election,  in the second term of a President…anything can happen.

When you drill down on the details–do the math–things will need to go very, very smoothly in the next 18 months for Harry Reid to sleep well on election night.

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Hagel Nomination in Trouble?

A rare consensus seems to have formed in Washington: Chuck Hagel was not good in his hearing. Not even a little good. Most of the press reports characterize the questioning as partisan, with Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post snarking that the Republican anger was rooted in Hagel’s abandonment of the GOP. But still, the pundits were not impressed.

So what happens next?

Hagel has promised to provide more information to the committee on his finances and his speeches. Chairman Levin said they wanted to move the nomination next week. That won’t give much time for analysis of the information, of course. Right now, Hagel still has the votes-He only needs a majority and he has roughly 56, including Sen. Cochran. Sen. Graham extracted a promise to hold a hearing on Benghazi before the vote. Who knows what will shake loose in those discussions. Also, if enough time passes, and enough microphones are in place, it is quite possible more Hagel gaffes will take place.  Although the greater likelihood is that he will be gagged, bound, encased in amber, perhaps hidden at the Smithsonian until after the vote, unseen and unheard.

The only question is, if the Republicans try to block the nomination, does he have 60 votes to stop them. And if it comes to that, does the administration want to take on that fight?  Waste political capital on someone who had interviews with Al Jazeera, alienates key donors, who seems inept and, who would be viewed by the world as having weak support in the Congress? How exactly will they spin that? Will he be their token White Male?

At the end of the day, again, the Democrats have the votes. We don’t know if the Republicans will have the stomach for the fight, or whether their calculus will be to let the President have his people and let him be accountable for the consequences.

Given his performance in the hearing, more than anything else, that should alarm the Democrats.

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Richard Ben Cramer, Rest in Peace

Just heard the very sad news this morning that Richard Ben Cramer has passed away. He was the author of one of the best books about politics, What It Takes: The Way to the White House. I don’t really know the particulars of his life. The news said he had lung cancer. As a writer, I suspect he would prefer we focus on his writing, his legacy.

His legacy is that he wrote a masterpiece on American politics. Really. In a world where superlatives are tossed around like confetti, this work is in fact a masterpiece. It also could be a doorstop, with over 1000 pages in the hardcover, which I acquired shortly after it was published.  When you combine exhaustive research and beautiful writing, you may have a good book.
But Richard Ben Cramer got each of his subjects. Some of them come off better than others, but you never have a sense that he was playing favorites, or that he was unfair.It is so easy to slide into insults and sarcastic comments when referring to politicians. Not that we shouldn’t, but we know, surely, that there is more to it. Not many books focus on this subject without trivializing the subject and the subjects. He was able to plumb their public persona and reach the person–the Human that we know must be inside all politicians.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Biden, campaign tactics, Vice President, White House

Fiscal Cliff: How do you like your Sausage?

Will we get a deal by January 1st?

Anyone who has spent five minutes in Washington knows you can’t produce  sausage that fast. Three weeks to produce billions of dollars in budget cuts and tax increases? Come on. Get serious!

Obama and Boehner

The “Fiscal Cliff” bill will be massive. Changes in the tax code are never simple. Cuts in the budget are changes in legislation. The page count will likely run in the thousands. Any chance that will get done in three weeks? Ha! Three months would be a stretch-and that assumes there is a deal.

So the most they will come up with in the next few days is a broad outline: A few big ticket items and a lot of unspecified taxes and spending cuts. And that will be called a deal. Next year will be the real food fight.

So what do you think? Will they get it done? In time?

Please vote in my poll in the left column or leave me a comment!

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Tick Tock: Predictions Please!

We are coming down to the wire. There is still time for a surprise or two. Gallup? Rasmussen? ABC-Washington Post- NYT -CBS … They’re all over the map. But come on, you know you have an opinion. Time to show your cards:

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