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 Some Republicans may back Hagel because they will decide if Hagel is withdrawn, the next one might be even worse.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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Hagel Hearing: What’s the latest? Hearing delay? Follow the $$$?

Six Senators, five of whom are on the Armed Services Committee, sent  Hagel a letter  demanding more info on certain investments and entities he is associated with, according to WaPo conservative maven Jennifer Rubin.  “If this material is not provided at least 24 hours prior to Thursday’s hearing, it will provide the substantial basis for a delay in any further consideration of your nomination until such disclosure has been made and sufficient time has been taken to review that material.”

In the Senate, this is as close to they come to pulling a knife on someone. It may be  interesting to see what  is revealed by the response to the letter.

Also, Sen Lindsay Graham said he would put a hold on the nomination until Panetta testifies on Benghazi.

The rumbling of discontent comes amid daily testimonials and gushing press assessments that he will likely be confirmed.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) has announced support- the first Republican to do so.

Former Armed Services Chairmen Sam Nunn and  John Warner will accompany Hagel at the hearing and introduce him.

A gay former Hagel staffer penned an enthusiastic endorsement op-ed in the Washington Post this week.

If you haven’t had a chance to acquaint yourself with Hagel’s views, you will find the Rubin article useful. 

Will they really delay the hearings? Maybe not, but it seems unlikely to be over in one day. Democrats controlling the committee may remember that they are setting a dangerous precedent if they press for a vote before the facts are in and before the minority is satisfied  The tables may turn in future elections and they may have to take what they are dishing out.

Will they filibuster the nomination if they don’t get answers? If it comes to that, Hagel may withdraw.

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What about Hagel?

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I’m not that old, really, but I’m not that young, either, and I cannot remember a presidential nominee from the Senate who was so reviled by his own party. All the inside the beltway smarties like to tell us the Senate always approves their own–that the hearings and the vote will pretty much be a formality.

So what in the world is going on here? Fellow Republicans are calling out Hagel for his judgment, his temperament, his personality, his inability to get along with others.

His own party? Come on—surely they will put the kibosh on this one.

Maybe not. A lot of members follow the philosophy that the President should get to pick his own people. And more to the point, all they need is a majority vote. Do the math. Unless some Democrats bolt on the President, he’s in.

Or, not so fast. Because first, they get to have hearings And when you have a loose cannon on rough waters, well, you get the idea… sometimes they go off unexpectedly. Sometimes they go overboard. Personally I am looking forward to the hearings. I can’t wait to hear what he says now about gay rights, Jews, Israel, the surge in Iraq and how he plans to cut the DoD budget. I want to watch his face. Will he become humble? Meek? Deferential? Remember that scene in Men in Black when the man suit peel off the giant cockroach?

Still, the odds are against blocking the nomination. The whole endeavor reminds me of a couple of parents begging their child not to marry this unsuitable, appalling prospective partner. Do you really want to marry this guy? Do you really want to put him in charge of the Department of Defense, of the safety of the United States? Someone who would make these foolish, intemperate statements?

What do you think? Will the Senate block him? Will he have to withdraw? Will he make it through the hearings unscathed? Please vote in my poll!

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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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Should Boehner get the Boot?

8272969882_dfc559ec6e_zStories of mutiny in the Republican ranks abound. The press has a fairly amusing story that loosely follows the plot of Macbeth. If your Shakespeare is rusty, Macbeth is all about betrayal and seizing power. We don’t know exactly who is playing Lady Macbeth, although their gender is probably wrong for the part. Whether they will follow through and attempt a coup, the story line is an irresistible distraction for the media.

So why is Boehner in trouble? Because he does have a majority of support of his party. But in effect, a small number, seventeen, could abandon him on the House floor when the vote for Speaker of the House is taken. Since none of the Democrats will vote for him, of course, this means he wouldn’t have a majority. The House keeps voting until a Speaker gets a majority.

Instead of focusing on spending cuts the president will accept, on what cuts could pass the Senate, the media is obsessed with this unseemly side show in the House.

Back to Macbeth. Some members think John Boehner isn’t strident enough in negotiations with the President. As if refusing to budge on all points will somehow make the President capitulate.

I don’t think so.

So what exactly would a coup accomplish? Short term, will make the fiscal cliff a certainty and the Republicans will be the bad guys. There is no spin they can put on this that will overtake the narrative of the President Barack Obama and the Democrats.

Even if they could, this isn’t just a PR game. Real effects of the tax increases and spending cuts will commence. Members who are sure the fiscal cliff wouldn’t be so bad will have business people in their office, ringing their phones off the hook, yelling at them, screaming at them to do something. I don’t know this for certain, but if you look at past outcomes, how has the shutdown strategy fared?

The last showdown that was effective was in the Reagan administration. Somehow, they had control of the narrative and when Reagan stood up to the Congress and let the government shut down, he won the day. But I don’t think this strategy has ever worked again. At least in part, probably a major part, because of the unsympathetic press coverage. The House will be portrayed as obstructionist. They will fall further in the polls.

No Member of the House has emerged as a new leader as of today. There will always be ambitious Members who will try to fill a power vacuum they think they see. They will have the intoxicating fumes, a whiff of power, as the press follows them around and hangs on their every word for a few days. After all, this is what they had secret dreams of when they first thought of running. But how quickly the smells turn acrid and they will be cast as either the spoilers, with a tough way back to saving face, or much less likely, holding actual power. It is so much more fun to be a “bomb thrower” when you can say almost anything knowing it will not be enacted, than to take actual responsibility for the impact of your actions and ideas.

In reality, any leader will have to do the same thing Boehner is trying to do: compromise. Because he has a very bad hand. All he can do is try not to leave the table in his underwear. The House shares power. The Republicans lost seats in the Senate. There is very little -if any- leverage. Get real.

What do you think? Vote in my poll and leave a comment.

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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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Major drama: Is there any way Boehner can change the story line?

What does story have to do with politics? Everything.

Is there any doubt that regardless of what happens on the “fiscal cliff,” the President is going to emerge as the hero? Unless there is a completely unforeseen twist, the Republicans are going down. This is not a political statement. It is a literary judgment.

Story is the way we understand what is going on. Face it, most Americans are busy and unless they are news junkies, they don’t have time to dig into the details.  For the most part, this story has no details. The White House and the Democrats are controlling the story line: the rich are to blame. We have to make the rich pay what they owe to fix the fiscal mess. Everyone in the party is repeating this story. The President holds campaign rallies to hammer it.

Speaker Boehner is needs a more compelling story, needs some visuals, and must have party support, or the Republicans are going down. And it won’t be in a blaze of glory.

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Who Shot Fitz?

Just got this note from Jack–

MC,

Sorry I missed our meeting.

We didn’t leave. We were about to go when the bartender bought us a round. Evan ordered some food and I couldn’t let him eat alone. It got late.  I noticed Bob, glassy eyed and staring over my head. At first I thought we really did need to get the check, but then I saw that he was watching Scandal.

It reminded me a lot of Spin Doctor—except for the gunfire, of course. What got Bob’s attention—the beginning of the show, they shot the president. Fitz. You know how old Bob is. I think it reminded him of the Reagan shooting in 1981. He got a sick look on his face, but he couldn’t stop watching. Just as in 1981, the press secretary was shot. Bob told us the networks announced that the press secretary, Jim Brady was dead. All except one: Frank Reynolds on ABC. He was getting news in his ear, just like on Scandal last night, and he said on the air that he wasn’t going to report “that” because it hadn’t been verified. He wanted to be right, more than he wanted to be the first one to report the tragic news. But perhaps even more, he knew that Brady’s legion of friends around Washington

whoshot

and the rest of the country were hanging on his every word.

What is true in Washington is often unclear. But Scandal does a good job of taking realism and giving it a prurient twist. Nice job with the setting, very accurate, for the most part, on the interior of the White House. Of course, I don’t remember the President wandering around the halls without Secret Service in sight.  And walking outside without them in close formation, like the chain gang in an old Woody Allen movie. It’s been a while since I was in the Residence, but I don’t think there is a closet quite like the one on the show.  Minor details, really.

When I saw they were shooting the President, frankly I thought they had run out of story ideas. Like on West Wing, when they started kidnapping and shooting people. The characters had been emptied out and they couldn’t think of anything new. But I’m not sure that’s true of Scandal. I think they have a pretty good story arch going. Fitz is a strong, likeable character. It would  be a shame to kill him off.  It looks like we know who shot him.  But why? Shades of Manchurian Candidate?

Anyway, not sure why you wanted to meet, but let’s reschedule. I have a few more ideas for your next book. Bob and I made a list of people for you to kill.

Jack*

*Jack is the main character in Spin Doctor. Not a real person, although he doesn’t know that.

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