Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Supreme Court Showdown

Once a lame duck president called upon the Senate to, "Join together in a bipartisan effort to fulfill our constitutional obligation of restoring the U.S. Supreme Court to full strength."  He also called on the Senate for, "Prompt hearings conducted in the spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship."  In February 1988, eight months before that year's presidential election, the Senate voted 97-0 to confirm President Ronald Reagan's nominee, Anthony Kennedy.  

President Reagan, the founding father of the modern Republican Party, governed recognizing that the American democratic system calls for compromise.   He is quoted as telling aides, "I'd rather get 80 per cent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying."   Reagan and then Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill respectfully worked together in the best interest of the American people, just the way our Founding Fathers had originally envisioned. 

So when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced his intention to fulfill his constitutional obligation to put forth a Supreme Court nominee.  In a post on the ScotusBlog website Wednesday, the president wrote the person he nominates will the eminently qualified.  "I seek judges who approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda," he wrote, "but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand."

But Senate Republicans announced that there would be a no confirmation hearing and no vote on the president's nominee.  "This nominee will be determined by whoever wins the presidency in the polls," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said to reporters Tuesday.  "In short, there will not be action taken."  As a justification, Republicans cited a June 1992 quote from then Senator Joe Biden, who said, "President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not--not--name a nominee until after the November election is completed."  However, Biden's comments were not made in February, but rather in late June, shortly before Congress's summer recess.  And Biden was speaking of a possible resignation, not a sudden death. 

Battles between the political parties over Supreme Court nominees have been increasingly contentious in recent history.  Nonetheless, in a shocking and unprecedented move, McConnell said would not even meet with Obama's nominee.  "I don't know the purpose of such a visit," he told reporters.

By making such a move, Senate Republicans are once again showing their utter contempt for President Obama.   More importantly, they are once again demonstrating that their most important priority is winning political victories and settling scores rather than complying with the Constitution.   Republicans think that by calling Obama the most divisive president ever, voters will overlook the fact that it is really the GOP that has been the great divider.  

On the day Obama was first sworn in 2008, Republican leaders held a meeting in which they agreed to block Obama and make him a one term president.  Of course, Republicans have since consistently done all they could to gum up the works.  For instance, they blocked immigration reform, they shut the federal government down in 2012 over whether to raise the federal debt ceiling, they have blocked dozens of important judicial appointments, and they did nothing to silence the Obama birther movement.  

However, as a consequence of endless Republican obstructionism, voters are frustrated and angry with Washington.  This has led to the rise of Donald Trump as a Republican presidential candidate, and a civil war within the party.  Meanwhile, Obama, despite of all the impediments he has faced these past seven years, has made real headway on the economy, banking reform, equal pay for women, health care, and he has kept the country safe.  

The president intends on nominating a replacement for Scalia.  A Fox News poll released Monday found that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believe that Obama should make a nomination and the Senate should take action.   Despite their bluster, Senate Republican leaders should allow the president's candidate to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  If the candidate is affirmed there, the Republican controlled Senate should take up the nomination.  For Senate Republicans to declare that they won't even meet with the candidate goes against the constitution, and it seems childish.  What do they fear?

Perhaps they should reflect on the words of their spiritual leader, "There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers," Ronald Reagan said.  "We must have the courage to do what is morally right."  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ted Cruz: TrusTed?

The day after he won the South Carolina primary, Donald Trump was a gracious victor.  "Look, I'm dealing with very, very talented people, smart people, good people and you know, I think they'll be competing," he said Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation.  But in an appearance on ABC's This Week, Trump disparaged Senator Ted Cruz's campaign. "I said to myself, wow, this is a tough business," he asserted, "These people are worse than Manhattan real estate developers."

For his part, Cruz, the third place finisher, said he was the victim of character attacks.  "There's no doubt that both Donald and Marco (Rubio) got very personal, got very nasty," he charged on Face the Nation.  "They scream liar, liar, liar.  They impugn your integrity...and from the beginning of this campaign, nearly a year now, I have consistently refused to respond in kind," he continued. 

But the Cruz campaign may have taken politics to a new low this election.  His campaign team spread word, just as the Iowa Caucuses were beginning, that candidate Ben Carson was going to drop out of the race.   Cruz disingenuously blamed the incident on a CNN report, but Carson called on him to fire his campaign staffers who were responsible for the misinformation.  Of course, Cruz did not do so, but he did win the Iowa Caucus. 

A strong finish for Cruz in South Carolina was critical to his nomination strategy.  However, leading up to the contest Trump led in the polls and Senator Marco Rubio was gaining momentum.  The Cruz campaign pulled out all the stops.  South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy accused the Cruz super PAC of creating a Facebook page that made it appear Gowdy had retracted his Rubio endorsement.  Further, Rubio's campaign accused Cruz's operatives on Saturday of robocalling voters that Rubio was dropping out. However, this claim has not been confirmed.

The Cruz campaign did put out mailers, with a picture joining Rubio and President Obama's face as one, saying they both support trade legislation.  And Cruz accused Rubio of employing aides who are supportive of gay marriage.  Nonetheless, Rubio eked out a second place finish Saturday.

Cruz campaign also attacked frontrunner Donald Trump.  The Cruz PAC assailed Trump for supporting the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina state grounds.  They sent out a robocall charging Trump was too supportive of LGBT rights.  In the call, the narrator says, "It's about mandatory celebration.  It's about forcing people to bake cakes and photograph gay weddings.  Forcing clergy to officiate.  It's about transgender bathrooms in your child's schools.  It's about tearing down our Judeo-Christian values.  It's about tearing down America."  

Cruz has attacked Trump on the campaign trail for supporting Obamacare, even though Trump has consistently vowed to repeal and replace the law.   And Cruz attacked Trump for supporting Planned Parenthood, a favorite target of conservatives.   Trump explained his position in the last Republican debate.  "It does wonderful things, but not as relates to abortion."  He added, "There are wonderful things having to do with women's health."   

According to the South Carolina exit polls, Trump won 78% of those voters who chose a candidate who "tells it like it is."  Trump also won a plurality of the evangelical vote, a category Cruz was expected to win.

Cruz took the high road Sunday morning when reacting to his disappointing third place finish in South Carolina.  "I'm not going to impugn anyone's integrity.  I'm not going to attack their character," he said on Face the Nation.  "And, in fact, I will happily praise both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio as men who I admire, as people who I am not going to go personal with."

Sure, Senator Cruz.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Antonin Scalia and Politics

Antonin Scalia was one of the most influential and consequential justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. Appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, he was the intellectual anchor for today's conservative movement. His sudden death was a shock to all Americans, especially Republicans, who immediately assumed their battle positions.

The U.S. Constitution specifies (Article II, Section 2) that the president, "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law." Certainly a strict constitutional originalist like Scalia would have agreed that a president with eleven months left in office has the right to nominate someone for the Supreme Court.

Shortly after word of Scalia's death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who decides what the Senate takes up, said in a statement that President Barack Obama should not nominate a replacement. "The American people‎ should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," he said. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President."

This unprecedented message was followed by similar warnings from Republican presidential candidates. Texas Senator Ted Cruz took to Twitter, saying, "Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement." Florida Senator Marco Rubio also said Obama should not nominate a replacement. "The next president must nominate a justice who will continue Justice Scalia's unwavering belief in the founding principles that we hold dear," he said in a statement.

Justice Scalia's death dominated the early portion of Saturday's Republican debate in South Carolina. Minutes before the debate, which aired on CBS, President Obama expressed his condolences to Scalia's family while praising the jurist's "remarkable" life. Then the president said, "I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in -- due time." He continued, "There will be plenty of time for me to do so, and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote."

The president's comments were fuel for an over-heated and feisty debate atmosphere. Donald Trump warned Senate Republicans to "delay, delay, delay." Cruz said that, "the Senate needs to stand strong and say we're not going to give up the Supreme Court for a generation." Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush called for a "consensus pick," which would be almost impossible to find with a deeply divided Congress.

Republicans feel they own the Scalia court position. Their comments and actions are consistent with the partisan war they have been waging in Washington from the day President Obama was first sworn in to office. For nearly eight years now the first instinct for Republicans in Congress has been to obstruct, block and divide. This, no doubt, plays well with certain segments of the Republican Party. But such tactics have demoralized much of the electorate and have probably led to the rise of Donald Trump.

Why didn't McConnell simply say that should the president offer a nomination, as is his right under the Constitution, the Senate would take it up? After all, the same American people who McConnell says should have a voice twice overwhelmingly reelected President Obama to office. Furthermore, the Constitution does not say the president shall appoint unless he has less than a year left in office.

Republicans would be far wiser to agree to let the process take its course and then focus their attention on defeating the president's nominee in the Senate. This is what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the rules.

What an appropriate way this would be for Republicans to remember the man who they consider to be the greatest defender of the U.S. Constitution.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Trump and Sanders: The Odd Couple

Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump each decisively won their party's primary in New Hampshire Tuesday, a result that seemed impossible six months ago.  Now it seems possible that a self proclaimed socialist and a former Democrat turned Republican could face off in the presidential election this coming November.

Trump scored more than a third of those who voted Republican in the primary.  “We learned a lot about ground games in one week, I can tell you,” Trump told supporters in Manchester, N.H., referring to his narrow second place finish in the Iowa Caucus.  While Trump carried both independent and Republican voters, his total votes were less then both Sanders and Hillary Clinton.  But Trump had more than double his nearest Republican opponent, Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Kasich bet the farm on doing well in New Hampshire, and he held more than 100 town meetings in the state.  Kasich, who ran a positive campaign, greeted his supporters in Concord, N.H., with a hopeful message.  “We never went negative because we have more good to sell than to spend our time being critical of someone else,” he said. “Maybe, just maybe, we are turning the page on a dark part of American politics because tonight the light overcame the darkness of American campaigning.”  But it is hard to see how Kasich can win in South Carolina and beyond.  

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was energized by his competitive finish.   “This campaign is not dead. We’re going on to South Carolina,” He told his supporters.  But he will have to do well in the Palmetto State February 20 in order to continue with his campaign.  On the other hand, Texas Senator Ted Cruz told his supporters that he had exceeded expectations in New Hampshire, a state in which he did not poll well.  But Cruz has built a formidable organization in South Carolina, which has a large evangelical population.  While Trump is leading in that state's polls, Cruz is well positioned to overtake him.

The big losers Tuesday were the two candidates who came to verbal blows in Saturday's GOP debate.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio took responsibility for his poor primary performance, telling supporters, “I did not do well on Saturday night … that will never happen again.”  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tagged Rubio in the debate as a truant, adding, “he simply does not have the experience to be President of the United States and make these decisions.”  But his aggressive debate performance did not propel him into a top five finish among the Republican candidates.

The Democrat contest ended up to be a rout as Sanders won among independents, voters under 30, men and women.  Clinton delivered a rousing concession speech in which she congratulated Sanders, and then asked her audience a rhetorical question.  “Who is the best change-maker?” she said.  The crowd responded, "You are!"  This is a stinging defeat for Clinton, who had hoped to finish much closer to Sanders.  After all, New Hampshire has been good to both she and her husband.  Instead, she felt the "Bern."

For his part, Sanders put together a remarkable organization and mobilized thousands of voters throughout the state.  In his victory speech he told his supporters, “We have sent the message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington from Maine to California, is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors and their ‘super Pacs.’”   

He has also sent a strong message to the Democratic establishment that he can go all the way.  He is building a respectable organization in South Carolina, where he is courting minority voters, and in Nevada he has strong ties to some unions that can help him in that state's caucus.  

That Trump and Sanders both won in New Hampshire Tuesday is all the more remarkable when one thinks that just a few months ago they were both written off as losers.   Now these two native New Yorkers, one from Queens and the other from Brooklyn, one a Democrat turned Republican and the other an independent turned Democrat, have capitalized voter dissatisfaction with government and the Washington establishment.   

Sanders and Trump are the "Odd Couple" of American politics, and, no matter the final outcome, they have each run historic campaigns.   This election has been "yuge!"

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Chris Christie's TKO

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie came out swinging in Saturday night's Republican debate.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio looked like he was on the defensive for much of the night trying to protect the momentum he got with his third place finish in Iowa.  Christie easily scored a TKO over the rattled Rubio and was the big winner among the debaters.

In his first response, Rubio introduced a new concept for Republicans that President Barack Obama knows exactly what he is doing.  "Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world," he said.  Appearing next, Christie directed his response directly to Rubio,  "You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven't."  Christie wasn't through with Rubio, "And the fact is -- the fact when you talk about the Hezbollah Sanctions Act that you list as one of your accomplishments you just did, you weren't even there to vote for it. That's not leadership, that's truancy."  

Rubio, clearly shaken, threw a counter punch.  "Under Chris Christie's governorship of New Jersey, they've been downgraded nine times in their credit rating," he charged.   "This country already has a debt problem, we don't need to add to it by electing someone who has experience at running up and destroying the credit rating of his state."

Christie demanded to be given a response.  "You see, everybody, I want the people at home to think about this, "Christie said looking into the camera.  "That's what Washington, D.C. Does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him."

Rubio had a ready response, "Chris, your state got hit by a massive snowstorm two weeks ago. You didn't even want to go back. They had to shame you into going back."  Christie jumped in, "You know what the shame is -- you know what the shame is, Marco? The shame is that you would actually criticize somebody for showing up to work, plowing the streets, getting the trains running back on time when you've never been responsible for that in your entire life."

Christie got the best of that exchange and went on to have a strong night just days before New Hampshire primary voters go to the polls in what will likely be a record turnout.   His performance is not likely to vault him near the top of the field because so far he has been so far behind.  

The frontrunner in all the state polls is Donald Trump.  His debate performance was strong.  When booed for attacking former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, he noted, "The RNC told us, 'We have all donors in the audience.'" 
When asked what he would do about North Korea's launch of a long range missile, he responded, “I would get on with China, let China solve that problem...They can do it quickly and surgically. That's what we should do with North Korea."  

Bush had his best debate performance, but it is too late to have any impact on Tuesday's primary.   On the other hand, Ohio Governor John Kasich's strong debate performance could help him because he has been doing well in the polls.  He came off as the reasonable and practical conservative, for instance, on immigration.  "I think Congress would pass a plan to finish the border, guest worker, pay a fine, a path to legalization, and not citizenship," he said.  "And we've got to get this done. And I will tell you this, within the first 100 days that I am president, I will put that proposal to the Congress."

Texas Senator Ted Cruz looked like a professional debater, tapping the podium to emphasize points.  He apologized to Dr. Ben Carson for messages his campaign sent out to Iowa Caucus goers as they gathered to vote that Carson was suspending his campaign.   Cruz blamed it all on a CNN report.  Later, CNN took the unusual step of responding, "What Senator Cruz said tonight in the debate is categorically false. CNN never corrected its reporting because CNN never had anything to correct," the statement read.  "The fact that Senator Cruz continues to knowingly mislead the voters about this is astonishing."  Some of his critics charge that Cruz is slimy.

For Ben Carson the evening started off badly because he was nearly stranded backstage when he was introduced.  He went on to have the least response time and said nothing memorable--except noting it was President Ronald Reagan's 105th birthday.

Saturday night's debate was spirited and feisty, as the governors all outperformed the senators.   Afterward, Marco Rubio's staff tried to spin a sow's ear into a silk purse.  Meanwhile, many New Hampshire voters will no doubt consider Governor Christie's words, "I like Marco Rubio, and he's a smart person and a good guy, but he simply does not have the experience to be president of the United States and make these decisions."

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Trump at the Crossroads

Donald Trump spent six months saying the reason voters should support him is that he a winner.   That claim was proven false in the first election contest in the 2016 campaign.  Yes, Iowa Caucus goers gave Trump more votes than any other Republican ever in the history of the caucus.  But Trump was not the winner.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, relying on a superb ground game, swept to victory with a record number of caucus votes on the backs of conservative evangelicals.  Cruz deflected Trump's personal attacks, including that he was a liar and not eligible because he was born in Canada, and fought off a last minute surge by Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  Rubio, who exceeded expectations and nearly beat Trump, focused his campaign heavily on large populations areas.

Trump now turns his attention to the New Hampshire primary, which takes place next Tuesday.  Polls show he has a substantial lead over his opponent, but those polls were all taken before his second place finish in Iowa.  A second place finish in the Granite State would be a devastating blow for his campaign.  But Trump, in an attempt to manage expectations, said at a news conference in New Hampshire Tuesday, "Finishing second wouldn't be the worst thing in the world," adding "I'd like to finish first."

However several Republican candidates have spent more time and resources in New Hampshire than Trump.  Ohio Governor John Kasich has built a strong following in that state.  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has invested a lot of time in the state, a state he must perform well in to remain viable.  

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has also focused his campaign efforts on a strong showing in New Hampshire.  And Christie wasted no time Tuesday in going after the surging Marco Rubio.  “Unlike some of these other campaigns, I’m not the boy in the bubble,” he said, referring to Rubio. “OK? We know who the boy in the bubble is up here, who never answers your questions, who’s constantly scripted and controlled because he can’t answer your questions. So when Sen. Rubio gets here, when the boy in the bubble gets here, I hope you guys ask him some questions.”   But a Rubio spokesperson quickly struck back.  “No amount of hot air or made-up facts can distract from Chris Christie’s liberal record of supporting Common Core, gun control, abortion rights, Planned Parenthood and Obama’s liberal judicial picks." Joe Pounder said.  "Marco is the only candidate who can unite conservatives and beat Hillary Clinton.”

New Hampshire promises to be an intensely heated contest.  Cruz and Rubio are hoping to capitalize on their Iowa performances in Tuesday's primary.  While they both did well among conservative evangelicals, New Hampshire does not have a large evangelical population to draw upon.   Nonetheless, both candidates will vigorously campaign in hopes of exceeding expectations, and maybe squeaking out a victory.

The Trump campaign is at a crossroads.  The candidate has held no town hall meetings to date, and he has not spent as much time in the state as many of his opponents.  He will need to do more appearances and retail politics in the few days remaining before the primary if he is to maintain his large lead.  More importantly, New Hampshire voters will want more than a celebrity candidate, they will want substance.

That just may be too much to expect from Donald Trump.