State of the Union

Ted Cruz and America’s “Nakba”

Many peoples have have a folk memory of great suffering branded into them. The Irish often recall the famines of the 1840s, in which a million died, in great part due to cruel and neglectful policies of the ruling British officials and absentee landlords. For African Americans, the middle passage and slavery—scarring the lives of millions—form an indelible cultural memory. Palestinian Arabs remember the Nakba, or catastrophe, in which three quarters of a million people were ethnically cleansed from their homeland. Of course the Holocaust, where six million Jews were murdered, has left a permanent imprint on contemporary Judaism.

For our part, we Americans have the Iranian hostage crisis, in which 52 American diplomats were held hostage in the U.S. Embassy for over a year by Iranian revolutionaries. Their plight has been memorialized in an award winning film, Argo. The the scars left by the episode remain raw today—as even today the U.S. Senate rose up as one to pass a bill to prohibit Iran from adding insult to injury by sending to the United Nations as an ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, a man who actually served as a French and English to Farsi translator for the young militants who engineered the embassy takeover nearly thirty-five years ago.

I am being, of course, ironic. The seizure of the American embassy in Tehran was illegal and wrong, as many Iranian officials argued at the time. The hostages were often subjected to psychological abuse. Yet Iran was in the middle of tumultuous and bloody revolution as various factions maneuvered for dominance in a fluid political situation. The embassy hostages became pawns in internal Iranian struggles. These were deadly: thousands had been killed before the Shah overthrown, and thousands more died, often by summary execution, in the months which followed Khomeini’s assumption of power. In the Tehran bloodshed department, the holding of hostages in the embassy was distinctly minor league.

Because the Carter administration wanted a) the safe return of the diplomats and b) to avoid alienating the Muslim world when it appeared, especially after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a few months after the embassy seizure, that a new and particularly dangerous phase of the Cold War had commenced, it appeared to have no good response. The result, for all the world to see, was an America that seemed helpless. Washington of course could have seized some Iranian territory or bombed targets in Iran. For reasons a and b, neither seemed preferable to doing what we actually did, essentially wait until Iran grew tired of holding the hostages. But the year of waiting was perceived, especially in Washington, as a year of humiliation and impotence, and Washington has never been able to get over it. Though the hostages themselves have returned unharmed and went on to lead productive lives, Washington continues to react as if an injustice of epochal scale was done to it. Fifty-two diplomats, held for 444 days, our American Nakba.

It was not particularly surprising that the senator who decided to wave the bloody, or at least unironed, shirts of the imprisoned diplomats over the issue of Hamid Aboutalebi’s appointment was Ted Cruz., the Texan Tea Party Republican who distinguished himself during the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearings by insinuating that the former Nebraska senator was in the pay of North Korea. In this instance, Cruz introduced legislation designed to bar Aboutalebi from obtaining a visa because he was a “terrorist.” He was joined by Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who has been working behind the scenes to scuttle President Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran, mostly by introducing poison pill legislation in the Senate. Neither Cruz not Schumer discussed whether Aboutalebi carried out any terrorist activities in Australia, Italy, or Brussels (the European Union), the last three posts where Aboutalebi served as Iran’s ambassador.

Read More…

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Catching On to the Pyrrhic Victory of a GOP Senate

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

And here you thought I was being all #slatepitch-y: In February, I argued that President Obama shouldn’t get too uptight about Democrats losing the Senate; and, more, that the dead-end ideological fealty required to control Congress is, paradoxically (but only seemingly), what prevents Republicans from being a true national party; and, finally, that a Congress fully under Republican control will make a fat target for Hillary Clinton.

Zeke J. Miller reports in Time that GOP moneybags, as well as potential Republican presidential candidates currently serving as governor, share the latter concern:

Behind closed doors and in private conversations with reporters and donors, GOPers eyeing the White House in 2016 are privately signaling they wouldn’t mind seeing the party fall short in this year’s midterm elections. For all the benefits of a strong showing in 2014 after resounding defeat in 2012, senior political advisers to some of the top Republican presidential aspirants believe winning the Senate might be the worst thing that could happen.

The opinion is most strongly held by Republican governors, who are hoping to rise above the Washington political fray. Already the central theme adopted by governors like Chris Christie of New Jersey, Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin is their ability to cut through partisan gridlock to lead their states. A dysfunctional Washington hamstrung by ideological division accentuates their core argument.

Others are taking a ride on my hobbyhorse. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report recently conveyed the similarly glass-half-empty sentiments of “Republican umbrella carriers” who “worry that success in 2014 will mask the real, structural problems that Republicans need to fix before 2016. Namely, that the party doesn’t stand for much more than standing against President Obama. As important, the GOP heads into 2016 with a brand that has been deeply tarnished and not easily repaired.”

The redoubtable Charlie Cook himself added:

This is so true. If Republicans do gain a Senate majority, which they may very well do in November, and manage to pick up eight or more House seats, it will be because of who they are not, not because of who they are. They aren’t in Obama’s party, and they aren’t in the party that unilaterally passed the Affordable Care Act, which, like the president, is unpopular. Republicans may win a bunch of races without measurably improving their party’s “brand” and without making any clear progress among minority, young, moderate, and female voters. The fact that midterm electorates are generally older, whiter, and more conservative than their counterparts in presidential elections exacerbates the difference between the world of 2014 and the one that will exist in 2016. The Republicans can win in 2014 without having fixed their problems.

Granted, Cook and Walter are not making precisely the same argument as mine, though I of course agree that a win in 2014 might give the GOP “false hope.” I go a bit further: I believe Republicans, or at least a good portion of those who matter, know full well that the party has a problem going into 2016, quite apart from what happens this fall. The crux of it is this: there’s nothing they can do to change it in the near term. The adjustments they need to make in order to recapture the White House—find some way to deal with undocumented immigrants; give up on tax cuts for the wealthy; acknowledge the painful trade-offs of any serious Obamacare alternative—would jeopardize their grip on Congress.

It’s possible that Republican leaders are merely biding their time until the Senate is in hand. Why rock the boat when you can win by default? I suspect, however, that the truth is more inconvenient: Rocking the boat will be no easier in 2016 than it is now.

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CIA-Senate Feud Risks Partisan Impasse

Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, forged a reputation as a staunch supporter of the NSA even as many of her allies on the left hailed Edward Snowden as a whistleblower. She suddenly and dramatically changed her tune last Tuesday when she accused the CIA on the Senate floor of deleting evidence during an investigation into the nature of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” practiced in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The investigation began in 2009, several years after tapes of the interrogations were destroyed. Then-CIA director Hayden released descriptive cables, stating they contained information similar to what was on the tapes. After an initial investigation concluded that what happened in those interrogation rooms was much more severe than what the CIA led them to believe, the Senate Intelligence committee voted 14-to-1 to conduct its own investigation.

Feinstein claims that in 2010, approximately 920 documents the Senate was reviewing were reported missing, and after initially shifting blame to their own IT contractors, the CIA claimed that the orders to remove the documents came directly from the White House. When staffers discovered the Internal Panetta Report, which was consistent with many of the findings of the independently conducted investigation by the Senate committee of the severity of alleged torture, they printed out a hard copy, placed it in a safe, and redacted information just as the CIA would have done. When the report disappeared, Feinstein brought her concerns to CIA inspector general David Buckley, who passed along his findings to the Department of Justice. The CIA responded by referring Feinstein’s staff to the DOJ for their own criminal investigation. Suddenly the people who had gone the extra mile to protect the report from deletion were now possibly being investigated for theft.

CIA director John Brennan flatly denied Senator Feinstein’s accusations in a briefing at the Council on Foreign Relations, stating “that is beyond the scope of reason of what we would do.” He all but accused Senator Feinstein of lying, and accusations flew the staffers stole the report from the CIA drives. As if on cue, a partisan battle erupted into public, with Sen. Mark Udall taking much of the heat. According to Politico, Republicans are accusing Udall of leaking information to the public about the CIA’s conduct. That he is on the Republicans’ target list for this fall’s midterm elections is mere coincidence.

The Washington Post reported that the Republican-Democratic divide on the torture report long predates this latest public development. Republicans reportedly withdrew from the joint investigation after learning CIA personnel would not cooperate, and conducted their own investigation in a separate secure room. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia was the one Intelligence committee member to vote against opening the investigation in the first place, and he now serves as the committee’s ranking member. While Chambliss has announced his retirement, the next Republican up, Richard Burr of North Carolina, has a history just as hawkish. Should Republicans retake the Senate this fall, Burr would ascend to the chairmanship, raising questions of whether the Senate’s own fight for its institutional independence has a November expiration date.

For the time being, however, there is at least one change has been made at the CIA, by the Senate. Feinstein, among others, complained that the very acting general counsel who referred the committee’s investigators to the Justice Department in the first place, Robert Eatinger, was himself responsible for many of the most controversial legal documents surrounding the use of torture and the destruction of the tapes. Last week, the Senate confirmed President Obama’s own pick for head Agency lawyer, bumping Eatinger out of the top spot.

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Pricing the Cost of a Congressman

Campaign donations always carry the whiff of something unsavory, but, aside from cases of straightforward, Tammany Hall-style vote buying, it can be hard to follow the money and untangle influence peddling. Two political science graduate students have taken a crack at measuring what political contributions buy, using the same randomization protocols that doctors would use in a medical trial to try to measure the effect that money had on a target.

David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, of UC Berkeley and Yale University respectively, partnered with CREDO Action, a left-leaning advocacy group to conduct their measurements in the midst of a real-world lobbying push. In this experiment, CREDO had affiliated donors request meetings with 191 Congressional offices, but only mentioned their history of donations in a random third of the initial requests. The meeting requests were identical, except for referring to the senders as either “local constituents” or “local campaign donors.”

The advocates were five times more likely to meet with either the Congressperson him or herself or the Chief of Staff when the initial request mentioned donations. There was no discussion of explicit quid pro quo dealings in the message or at the meeting, but prior donations had, in essence, bought access to senior, decision-making staff. The researchers hypothesize that donations might be even more powerful in lobbying than they measured, since lobbyists may make more explicit promises or reveal the sums previously donated, though the researchers did not.

The researchers stated that their goal was to make the discussion of money in politics slightly less speculative and to better inform judges who may face cases like Citizens United. Their findings suggest that money augments speech, so that contributors have more opportunities to meet and try to persuade the beneficiaries of their largess.

Access-buying may be most important to resolve intra-party tensions, rather buying victory for a partisan issue. A reasonably high proportion of lobbying is not aimed at flipping votes on an issue, but in persuading ideological allies to move an issue up their list of priorities and to expend political capital in cosponsoring a bill or holding a press conference. So, in these cases, Democratic firms like CREDO might not be competing for influence with opponents on the right, but with other left-leaning firms that prioritize legislation differently.

Just as empirical research into get out the vote and fundraising methods has expanded over the last decade, Broockman and Kalla’s research is likely not to be the last field test of its kind. It’s easy to imagine their experiment repeated with explicit references to donation amounts, allowing them to approximate a dose-response curve, applying the same statistics that doctors use to determine the optimal use of a drug to choose the ideal amount of money to give. Read More…

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For GOP, Congress Is a Pair of Cement Shoes

golzfamily /

When I said, in December, that we were “probably at peak Republican,” I hadn’t considered yet the possibility that the GOP might capture the Senate, as now seems more like probable than possible. So let me say it here, now, and emphatically: Winning the Senate isn’t going to accomplish squat for the party; Obama needn’t overly fear the prospect; and — the kicker — success in the legislative branch is actually going to make it harder for Republicans to win the White House in 2016.

Picture it like this.

There are two chambers of Congress.

For Republicans, each is like a cement shoe.

Given the institutional structure of the Senate, wherein rural populations enjoy disproportionate representation, the vulnerability this year of Democratic senators in red states, plus the contemporary practice of gerrymandering House districts, it is now the case that an essentially regional party can win unified control of Congress. It can look like a national party without actually being one.

In practical terms, Republicans can win one chamber of Congress and keep another by running relentlessly on the repeal of Obamacare — but the same stance is probably a net loser nationally.

Similarly with immigration: congressional Republicans cannot take up the issue without dividing their ranks. And yet, as John Feehery has noted, the party’s inability to address immigration is a drag on the party nationally:

[I]f Republicans continue to express disgust with illegal immigration, if they continue to oppose comprehensive immigration reform, if they continue to show disrespect for folks who should be their natural political base, they will be a minority party at the national level, and they will never win back the White House.

There’s no easy way around this. Republicans are in a classic Hellerian catch-22: they’re crazy — and they’d be damn fools to behave any different. Their control of Congress depends, in many ultrasafe Republican districts and several deepest of deep red states, in part on fealty to conservative doctrine that will be problematic for the next GOP presidential contender.

There are green shoots, of course. On taxes, would-be reformers like Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Dave Camp are incrementally edging away from the disaster that was the Romney fiscal agenda. It’s possible that the 2016 Republican nominee won’t be burdened with the albatross of campaigning on a tax reduction for the rich. That’s progress. The party passed a budget. That, too, is progress. But the seeming tranquility in Washington is simply the sound of two parties behaving well until a midterm election. If and when Republicans retake the Senate, the intraparty feud, now simmering, will begin to boil anew. The rightmost flank, flush with victory, will need to be appeased. And the ideological toxicity; the demographics of death; the lack of a viable national standard-bearer — these factors and others will conspire to elect the next President Clinton.

The fact is, we are two countries.

Republicans dominate the smaller one.

The consolation prize, awarded in the off years, is Congress.

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CIA May Have Spied on Congress’s Torture Probe

John Brennan confirmation hearing. Photo courtesy Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

Late last night, McClatchy reported that the CIA inspector general has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the CIA illegally monitored Congressional staff investigating the Agency’s secret detention and interrogation programs. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent four years and $40 million investigating the use of waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques in secret overseas prisons, producing a reportedly “searing” 6,300 page finding excoriating the Agency’s actions.

As part of this investigation, intelligence committee staff were required by the CIA to use Agency computers in a secure room in Langley to access millions of sensitive documents. Congressional investigators reportedly agreed to use those computers under the condition that their work not be monitored by the CIA, in accordance with due respect for the separation of powers and the integrity and independence of the investigation. Apparently, the spy mentality proved too strong to resist, as earlier this year the committee determined that their work had in fact been monitored in possible violation of their agreement.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report was finalized 15 months ago, and submitted to the CIA for classification vetting. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is now asking President Obama to strip the vetting control from the CIA, which may have been dragging its feet in allowing the release of a document that, according to McClatchy,

details how the CIA misled the Bush administration and Congress about the use of interrogation techniques that many experts consider torture, according to public statements by committee members. It also shows, members have said, how the techniques didn’t provide the intelligence that led the CIA to the hideout in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed in a 2011 raid by Navy SEALs.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) apparently was referring to this situation back on Jan. 9 when he asked CIA Director John Brennan whether the federal statue banning unauthorized computer access applied to the CIA. Brennan demurred.

McClatchy describes the situation following the criminal referral by the Inspector General to be “an unprecedented breakdown in relations between the CIA and its congressional overseers.”

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Protecting the Constitution from Executive Order

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

President Barack Obama has made it absolutely clear that he will rule by Executive Order for the remainder of his term. Republicans and independents have decried this as an unconstitutional power grab, a usurpation of authority granted by the Constitution to Congress, while Democrats are mostly too embarrassed to defend what they so strongly opposed under George W. Bush and Richard Nixon.

A conservative response should begin by observing that the U.S. Constitution is not as legally neat as the protesters suggest. While most folks focus on the uplifting sentiments of the Bill of Rights to liberty and property, the essential Constitution is all about power and how it is divided. The progressive myth of a legalistic constitution of rights is just that, a fable to cover its own view of political power. The Bill of Rights was not even part of the original document. The fundamental Constitution is outlined in its Articles, dividing power between legislative, executive, judicial, state and amendment institutions. But the boundaries between them are anything but clear.

Abraham Lincoln suspended judicial habeas corpus and controlled speech during the civil war without legal support from Congress and actual opposition from the Supreme Court. The succeeding Reconstruction Congress impeached the president for merely attempting to replace his own cabinet and when unable to convict him made his veto a nullity by strict party rule, rigged voter lists in the South, and effectively unicameralizing the Senate and House under a joint committee of Republican leaders. Andrew Jackson directly refused to implement a Supreme Court decision supporting Cherokee property rights, distaining the court to enforce its ruling if it could because he would not.

Isn’t the Supreme Court supposed to have the last word on these matters? In challenging President Bush’s attempt to replace regional U.S. Attorneys against Congressional opposition in 2006, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman said such differences between the executive and legislature must be umpired by the courts. He and his classmates were taught in law school that “the Constitution was what the Court said it was.” Bush replied he would not allow his Attorney General to enforce a judicial contempt order even if the court issued one and that was that. More recently, President Obama announced he would not enforce federal anti-drug laws against states with marijuana legalization laws and refused to deport certain illegal immigrants. Back in 1988, Congress passed a Civil Rights Restoration Act specifically nullifying the Grove City Court decision and in 1991 passed a civil rights bill overruling five Supreme Court decisions by name.

Even with their relative decline in recent years, the states are not without redress either, as the marijuana legalization laws demonstrate. States have created constitutional amendments, laws, and attorneys general suits to circumvent national laws and opinions on marriage, abortion, racial preferences, gun restrictions, the Real ID Act, Obamacare (by more than half the states), and many others. Indeed, many federal laws and court decisions are administered by state bureaucracies that differ in their interpretation and enforcement greatly, as Alabama and Massachusetts in fact do. Amendments to the Constitution have been passed on many critical subjects over the years and on several occasions the mere threat has changed federal policy.

Taxes would seem one area where the legislature must predominate. No taxation without local representation was the principle complaint justifying the American war for independence. Today the effective imposition of taxes by creative executive regulatory interpretation—such as the recent increase in fuel emission standards—is the rule rather than the exception. Judges have required state legislatures to increase taxes to upgrade schools for minorities or to redress other presumed shortcomings for all kinds of special interest purposes. A St. Louis federal court in effect ran the local school for decades. Since the Supreme Court has ruled that the Obamacare penalties were taxes, exemptions and changed regulatory requirements are in effect taxes passed by the health and treasury secretaries alone.

President Obama is by no means the first to govern by Executive Order. Read More…

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Is the Tea Party’s Dream an Illusion?

“There is no education in the second kick of a mule,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

With some such thought in mind, Speaker John Boehner strode to the floor of the House to offer a “clean” debt ceiling bill and relied on Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats to pass it. They did. “Surrender” and “betrayal,” are among the epithets coming the Speaker’s way.

Yet Boehner was holding a losing hand. Had he added a GOP wish-list bill to the debt ceiling, Harry Reid’s Senate would have rejected it. President Obama would have denounced it as putting at risk the full faith and credit of the United States. Big Media would have piled on. The markets would have been rattled. The Dow would have begun to swoon. Corporate America, cash cow of the Republican Party, would have begun to howl. A clamor to pass a clean debt ceiling bill or risk a new recession would have arisen. And the House Republicans would have caved, as they finally had to cave on the budget bill last fall.

Rather than play Lord Raglan and lead his cavalry in another Charge of the Light Brigade, Boehner chose to withdraw to fight another day on another field. Yet, the Tea Party has a right to feel cheated. When does the Republican Party, put in power by the Tea Party, plan to honor its commitment to halt the growth of the Federal monolith and bring the budget back into balance? Is there is any hope things will be different, should the Tea Party help produce a GOP Senate in 2014? If the Tea Party is in some despair, is it not understandable? For while there are countless proposals and plans to cut back on federal spending, from Simpson-Bowles on, it is impossible today to see in either party the political will to do the surgery. Read More…

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Why Obama Shouldn’t Fear a GOP Senate, Ctd.

I was pleased to see Howard Kurtz respond to my post on why President Obama shouldn’t fear a GOP Senate, even as he thinks I’m “all wrong.”

Writes Kurtz:

An all-Republican Congress can make life miserable for Obama and, by extension, for Hillary Clinton if she runs. The notion that the GOP will suddenly function as a cooperative partner totally underestimates the poisonous atmosphere in Washington.

Nowhere in my post did I suggest that the GOP would “suddenly function as a cooperative partner.” I made a narrowly focused prediction that “things may actually improve slightly”—most likely on the issue of immigration, concerning which Kurtz argues:

Republicans are highly unlikely to be passing immigration reform in 2015 even if they win the midterms. The base hates it, and more important, we’ll be in the opening innings of a presidential campaign in which the party’s contenders will be pulled to the right, as Mitt Romney (he of “self-deportation”) was in 2012.

Kurtz here is just projecting the status quo into the indefinite future. Yes, the base “hates” the idea of amnesty. But guess what? 1) The base cannot deliver a Republican president in 2016. 2) The Romney campaign sucked; and the GOP establishment is not anxious to repeat its mistakes (the “self-deportation” rhetoric was a particularly and self-evidently disastrous mistake). This is why I believe there’s at least a sliver of a chance of compromise over the issue. With unified control of Congress, the GOP will very likely be able to present to Obama a bill with tough enforcement measures and no path to citizenship. It will be able to declare victory on a major issue on its own terms, not the Democrats’, and it will have laid the groundwork for a campaign that courts Latinos afresh. And as I noted in my original post, Obama will have little choice but to accept whatever cards the GOP deals him on immigration.

Kurtz takes, issue, too with my argument that “Republican Congress” will make for juicy target for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign: “Two years of a Republican Congress won’t be much of a 2016 target, if things aren’t going well, compared to eight years of the Obama administration. As a bogeyman, John Boehner is no Newt Gingrich.” Well, yeah, true. But I never made such a comparison. The Republican nominee will run against Obama’s eight years no matter which party controls the Senate. And Hillary won’t need a neo-Newt bogeyman. She will instead sow fear of unified Republican control of the federal government. Of a return to the mismanagement of the Bush years. Of unchecked power.

Kurtz’s final point:

If they control the Senate machinery, Republicans will be able to launch twice as many investigations as they can now by holding just the House. They will be able to block Obama nominees, creating a sense of dysfunction. They will be able to bring bills to the floor, while Harry Reid watches helplessly, solely for the purpose of forcing Democrats to cast politically dangerous votes that can be used in attack ads. They can cut the budget in the name of deficit reduction. They may even be able to force Obama to veto legislation that suits their purposes. In short, the White House will lose the bulwark of a Senate that ensures all conservative legislation dies in the House.

I will concede that a Republican Senate could make life for Obama marginally worse than the carnival barker Darrell Issa already has. But the rest of the paragraph is almost adorable. “They will be to block Obama nominees, creating a sense of dysfunction [emphasis mine].” No kidding? I’d say Obama is fairly used to that kind of thing by now. “They can cut the budget in the name of deficit deduction.” You don’t say? And good luck getting legislation to the floor. There’s this thing in the Senate about invoking cloture. I hear it’s really difficult to do lately. And about “conservative legislation dying in the House”: I was around in the late 1990s when complaints from House Republicans about their lamentably milquetoast brethren in the Senate were routine and vociferous. Such may be the case again in 2015. With a Republican Senate, “conservative legislation” won’t die in the House. It will die instead in conference.

Kurtz’s scenario of Republicans’ eliciting embarrassing vetoes on show-me bills (“legislation that suits their purposes”) is outdated. Obama’s not running again. There will be no painful vetoes for him—only gleefully satisfying ones. And if, as a consequence, Hillary needs to run to Obama’s right because of something he vetoes, so much the better for her. If legislation that’s sufficiently moderate does miraculously make its way to his desk—most likely, and probably exclusively, an immigration bill—he will sign it.

That’s all I’m saying. There will be no “Kumbaya” around a campfire.

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Why Obama Shouldn’t Fear a GOP Senate Takeover

Conventional wisdom says the Obama administration is effectively toast if Republicans capture the Senate this fall. I’ve peddled it myself, and I’m not certain it’s wrong. But here are a few reasons why it might be:

His agenda is dead anyway. What the moral-equivalence mainstream vaguely calls “dysfunction” is really a poisonous dynamic in which compromise, the mere scent of it, politically lifts Obama and splits Republicans. Of immigration, Carl Hulse writes this morning:

Republicans knowledgeable about the issue said immigration was not yet completely off the table. Instead, they said, reaching any agreement has become appreciably harder because of a Republican reluctance to get caught up in an internal feud and stomp on their increasingly bright election prospects.

This is why new gun regulations were never going to pass. Or tax reform. Or tweaks to Obamacare. Or an extension of unemployment insurance. Looking back, it’s obvious that Congress would pass nothing of any significance after November 2010. This is a pitfall of divided government. You can blame James Madison if you like. (Garry Wills once made a provocative case that our notion of Madisonian checks and balances is so much mythology—an argument for another day.)

Arguably the only thing that President Obama and Congress have accomplished since the GOP House takeover is a sharp reduction in short-term budget deficits. Neither party has benefited politically from this accomplishment. Nor has the economy improved appreciably. Rather, it has probably been dragged down. (One day, historians will look on the period of 2011-13 and unanimously conclude it was utter madness.) Consequently, both sides have wisely given up on debt and deficits for the meantime.

There is the issue of judicial and executive branch appointments. But the heavy lift on those probably has already taken place.

Things may actually improve slightly under a unified GOP Congress. Look at it this way: if Republicans win the Senate, their next prize, obviously, will be the White House. That’s a different ballgame altogether—a bigger, browner electorate. Suddenly the imperative to obstruct the Obama agenda begins to recede. A different incentive structure will take shape: the party will have to govern, or at least appear as though it’s trying. As Hulse writes in the Times, some Republicans “believe it would be smarter to wait until after the midterms and pursue immigration in 2015 leading up to the presidential election,

when Republicans will be more motivated to increase their appeal to Hispanic voters. If the midterm goes their way, they will be strengthened in Congress.

The Chamber of Commerce wing of the GOP desperately wants an immigration bill. Obama desperately wants an immigration bill. With control of both the House and Senate, the GOP could write a bill that’s more to its liking than the dead-in-the-water bill the Senate passed last summer. And Obama will have no choice but to sign it. It’s the last feather in the cap of his legislative legacy, with the White House now set to pursue the Podesta strategy on unilateral executive action.

If it takes losing the Senate to pass immigration, Obama should welcome it. Come 2017, he’ll be working on his memoirs and running a foundation.

Speaking of the next presidential campaign…

“Republican Congress” will make for a juicy target in ’16. In 1996, President Bill Clinton had great fun turning the moderate Sen. Bob Dole into the sidecar villain of Speaker Newt Gingrich. There’s little reason to think the next Democratic nominee, whoever he or, ahem, she turns out to be, won’t be able to repeat the trick.

If, however, the trick proves unrepeatable—if the attack line that Republicans are extremist refuseniks loses its punch—it will have been due to some kind of thawing in the great cold war between Obama and Republicans. It will have been due to something like, say, the passage of immigration reform (see point two above), plus one or two other major compromise measures. Which, as far as Obama is concerned, would be all to the good.

Put it this way: if Republicans win the Senate, the prospects for getting something through Congress may brighten for Obama. And if they don’t brighten, his frustration—and the country’s—will ultimately redound to the benefit of Hillary Clinton, who is faced with a uniformly depressing and horrendous array of potential GOP contenders.

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