USNEWS & WORLD REPORT–THOMAS JEFFERSON STREET BLOG
A Republican-controlled Senate isn’t likely to deliver the immigration reform we need.
An issue that isn’t going away.
By Peter FennSept. 25, 2014 | 3:00 p.m. EDT+ More
This is an LOL moment. Republicans are now arguing, six weeks before the election, that a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate would result in serious immigration reform. In fact, they have the gall to contend that there is a better chance that Congress will overhaul the immigration system with the Republicans in charge than the Democrats.
Hello? Who could possibly not see through this outrageous claim? Is this supposed to entice Hispanic voters? Is this supposed to give Hispanics confidence that everything the GOP has done to scuttle immigration reform for the past decade will magically – presto chango! – change if Republicans win the Senate majority?
To call this a cynical ploy would be a gross understatement.
The Democratic Senate, led by the bipartisan “gang of eight,” passed a very reasonable reform bill that included many things the Republicans wanted on enforcement: 40,000 border agents, a 700-mile fence and verification of employees’ legal status. It also included a compromise path to citizenship. What did the House do under total GOP control? Not a darn thing. No vote. No debate. No alternative legislation. Nada.
So, sure, we will really get things moving when Republicans have total control of Congress.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, may believe, as he says, “It needs to be fixed … the sooner we do it, the better off the country would be.” But, under intense pressure from his caucus, he deep-sixed reform when he had the chance.
Of course, the real question may be what the meaning of “reform” is?
For a large number of Republicans, a comprehensive bill is dead on arrival. For those who cry “amnesty” their definition of reform is to shut down the border and deport as many people as possible. Some Republicans say we should do this piecemeal: Dribble it out, bill by bill. Nothing comprehensive. It is hard to imagine that would solve the problem. It would probably only make it worse and anger the Hispanic community and those who truly want to see a solution.
So it is a mystery, sort of, why Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., says: “I think the likelihood is better if Republicans take the Senate.” As a leader on the issue of immigration reform, Diaz-Balart surely knows the strength of his own party’s vehement opposition. He couldn’t get a discussion or a vote in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
Sadly, this claim of the clouds opening and the sun shining on immigration reform with a Republican Senate just doesn’t pass the laugh test.
This Isn’t Your Father’s Midterm Election
In the past, the Democrats’ current poll numbers would spell doom, but no longer.
Turnout will be key.
By Peter FennSept. 16, 2014 | 4:15 p.m. EDT+ More—-USNEWS & WORLD REPORT, THOMAS JEFFERSON STREET BLOG
If this year’s midterm elections, with their current polling numbers, had been held 15, 20 or even 30 years ago, the Democrats would be toast. Any incumbent who was polling near 40 percent in a matchup – with a president whose job approval was also in the low 40s and where the mood of the country was abysmal – would be dead, done, stick a fork in ‘em. The election would be called for the Republicans and barely after Labor Day.
But times have changed. Turnout models have changed. The amount of money in politics has changed. Voters’ expectations for their office holders have changed. Campaign dynamics have changed.
In the past, if you were tied with your challenger in September, it was probably over. If you weren’t at 50 percent going into Election Day, it was doubtful you would get there.
Now the situation is vastly different. There is no question Democrats are at a distinct disadvantage – having to protect seven vulnerable seats in states that 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried – but consider the following: Republican negatives are as high or higher than Democrats’. There is no positive “change” message for the Republicans as there was in 1994 with the “Contract with America” slogan; there seems to be only a message of gridlock. Most of the current Senate races are not organized around a national movement as they were in 1980 but are individualized. Issues like Obamacare are in the rearview mirror.
Democrats still own issues like equal pay for equal work, birth control access, gay and lesbian rights, the minimum wage, college affordability and the middle-class squeeze. But there is a lot to play out in the next month and a half. Lots of ads, lots of money, lots of campaign time and, of course, lots of polls. And, in 2014, turnout will be key for these races. Can Democrats upend the traditional predictions of a Republican advantage in off-years?
If I were looking at the current poll numbers in the 1980s and 1990s, combined with the high “depression index” of many Americans now, I would declare a whole host of Democratic senators DOA in 2014. But that’s not how we assess these kinds of races any more, and the campaigns are still playing out with a fight to the finish. The old political rules have been altered, and the old-style campaigns no longer exist.
Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a wild seven weeks.
More than 200,000 jobs created each month over the last six months; 9.9 million jobs created since the recession; the gross domestic product increased by 4 percent over the last quarter; consumer spending is up; auto sales are the highest since 2007; the stock market has more than doubled since the crash of 2008.
America has every reason to be optimistic, yet we are truly down in the dumps.
An August NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 71 percent believe we are on the wrong track, and only 21 percent think we are headed in the right direction. A full 64 percent are dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy, and 33 percent very dissatisfied. Even 62 percent are dissatisfied with America’s role in the world, and 79 percent are dissatisfied with our political system; 49 percent are very dissatisfied.
It ain’t pretty out there.
If we are computing a “Depression Index,” we should add two more numbers. When asked whether America is in a state of decline or not in decline, the poll shows 60 percent say we’re in decline while 38 say we are not. Americans who have traditionally been optimistic about the future now feel, by 76 percent to 21 percent, that their children’s lives will not be better than theirs.
When things are getting better, people are feeling worse. So where does this leave us as we approach the November elections?
President Barack Obama can talk about the recovery, as he has in numerous speeches. But many don’t feel it, and many more don’t believe it. The jolt that was the 2008 crash and ensuing recession permeates us just as the 1929 crash lasted for over a decade.
So maybe it is time for the president to inspire the confidence, resilience and optimism that have always been part of who we are as Americans. Maybe it is time for Obama to put forth not only the facts of where we are economically but where this is going to take us, how we are coming out of the 2008 near-depression and where we will end up.
Maybe it is time for the president to talk about our progress towards a New America, one where we are making the transition to a highly-educated economy, where we are sharing burdens overseas, where we are battling discrimination on all fronts and where we declare a commitment to the middle class that our fight is their fight.
Maybe it is time for some new initiatives like universal service where our young people are called to serve their country at some time between the ages of 18 to 27. Maybe we should truly revamp our schools so that they go year-round and provide the kinds of programs that inspire students as well as educate them. Maybe we should revamp our polarizing political system, work to end how we finance our elections and stop the gerrymandering of our congressional districts. Maybe we should reform the way Congress does business, by changing the filibuster, redoing the budget process and tossing out arcane rules that have paralyzed our political system.
If Obama can raise people’s optimism, call them to higher standards and give them a sense that there is so much to fight for and change, he will find followers and raise the level of discourse. This is a president that can inspire, and America needs that now more than ever.
For decades, we in America have lamented our voter turnout. There has been widespread concern about not only the 60 percent participation in presidential elections, but the drop-off to about 40 percent in off years and the miserable turnout for local elections and primaries that often doesn’t reach 20 percent. So why do Republicans in key states seem intent on preventing certain citizens from voting?
The critics of our system cite European countries that continuously have turnout numbers between 70 percent and 80 percent. (Austria, Sweden and Italy usually hit the 80 percent mark.) They point to how hard we make it for citizens to register, the problem with requiring additional documents at polling places and the recent passage of laws to combat so-called “voter fraud.”
We can go one of two directions in this country: We can make voting easier or we can make it harder. It is difficult to understand why some Republicans desire to make it harder. It is even more difficult to understand their desire to stop African-Americans, Hispanics and young people from voting, unless, of course, you take the view that Republicans have cynically decided to suppress the vote of these more Democratic-leaning groups.
The New York Times editorial board today pointed to those who are trying to make voting easier and those who are trying to make it harder. It cited six states that have recently created online registration systems and four that have either allowed voters under 18 to pre-register or put in place election day registration or expanded early voting.
Sadly, the Times also pointed to the 15 states that have passed new restrictions on voting that are mostly controlled by Republicans. 11 states have put in place restrictive voter ID laws, reduced time for early voting was passed in eight states, and some students are being prevented from voting where they reside for college.
According to he Times, 10 states have made it more difficult to even register to vote. A total of 34 states now have restrictive voter ID laws.
One of the most outrageous aspects of this movement by Republican operatives is that it is combating a problem that doesn’t exist. Voter fraud is not a serious problem in our elections, but preventing key groups of minorities, poor people and the young from exercising their constitutional rights certainly is becoming one.
We need to open up our electoral system, not close it. We need to have universal voter registration at 18. We need to have more early voting, not less, more vote by mail, not less, more consolidation of voting days, not less, and more use of technology to provide online registration. We need to explore weekend voting and also new ways to clean up voter lists and keep them current.
At the end of the day, it is time for Republicans to stop trying to game the system and win elections by denying citizens the right to vote. It will only come back to bite them – and bite them hard.
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Co., got it right yesterday. And he has been getting it right now for several years: Our intelligence community has violated the law, lied to Congress and the American people, and needs a serious makeover.
The CIA admission that it systematically spied on U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee staffers is a very big deal. As Udall put it, “The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers. This grave misconduct not only is illegal but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers.”
Udall, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and others have been on a lonely crusade, quietly and responsibly, long before the NSA leaks of former contractor Edward Snowden, to rein in our intelligence community from spying on Americans, violating the Fourth Amendment and overstepping its bounds in the use of torture. They have consistently brought these issues up in closed committee hearings, lobbied the Obama administration to crack down on the activity and stood up for our constitutional rights.
We went through a similar period when I served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence headed by my old boss, Sen. Frank Church, D-Id. He was another westerner with integrity and courage who took on the powerful intelligence community for spying on Americans and engaging in assassination plots against foreign leaders. In the 1960s and 1970s, these agencies were also out of control and it was Congress that investigated them and came up with recommendations for serious oversight.
Sadly, the permanent congressional intelligence committees have been steamrolled, and especially during the Bush-Cheney era after 9/11, we were back to anything goes. Some would say, as Church did during the 1975-76 investigations, that the CIA (or the National Security Agency) was acting like a “rogue elephant,” but the message was sent from the top that the ends justify the means – do what you need to do and keep it secret.
From all appearances, this was former Vice President Dick Cheney’s war. The fact that former Secretary of State Colin Powell was initially kept in the dark about the torture in the secret prisons overseas is appalling. The fact that ambassadors to the countries where the “black sites” were set up were told not to inform their superiors at State is equally appalling. Saddest of all is that the Senate report which the CIA tried to undermine shows clearly that very little was gained by the use of torture and that this whole effort leaves a black mark on our country.
President Barack Obama made the decision early on to stop the program, but he also decided not to hold anyone accountable. Move on. Start fresh.
But now we are faced with a far different situation. It is time for presidential leadership to hold those in the CIA accountable. It is time to have a full house-cleaning of these agencies. It is time to recognize that we have a serious problem and that CIA Director John Brennan should go, as Udall was the first to suggest.
America needs a new director of the CIA, much in the Bill Colby mold, who did his best to reform the agency during the Church years. We need to initiate serious reform at the NSA as well.
It is also time for Obama to appoint an independent commission, much like Simpson-Bowles or the 9/11 Commission, to conduct a year-long review of our intelligence agencies. It needs a full staff, subpoena power, and members of Congress and distinguished Americans as members.
But most of all, those who violate the law, those CIA employees who hacked computers, should, at the very least, be fired. If superiors approved, they should be fired. And, most of all, their cases should be turned over to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.
It is long past time, as Udall indicated, for these actions to be dealt with, not swept under the rug. Americans’ freedoms and our reputation around the world demand it.
Three Cheers for Thad Cochran
It’s a good thing the old school senator won, and a bad thing that it was so difficult.
Cochran believes in limited government, not no government.
By Peter FennJune 25, 2014 | 5:05 p.m. EDT+ More USNEWS & WORLD REPORT THOMAS JEFFERSON STREET BLOG
I was rooting for Republican Sen. Thad Cochran yesterday. I know, I know, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat and many told me that the “best” thing that could happen would be for tea party candidate Chris McDaniel to win the runoff. Then we might have won in November.
I doubt it.
But regardless of the politics of the general election, it seemed to me that there were larger issues at stake. I could eat my words in November, I suppose, if Republicans take over the Senate by one vote and Mississippi could have made the difference.
You see, I fundamentally don’t think it’s good for the country or the political parties to degenerate into a collection of candidates who are so extreme they make Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan look like flaming liberals. Whether the issue is immigration reform, paying our debts, providing a federal budget, or a whole host of concerns such as education, transportation, agriculture, health and safety, these new extremists don’t believe in a federal role. In short, they do not believe much in government at all.
They claim the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and “remaking America,” but nearly every move they make is intent on destroying what has worked. This is the least pragmatic or problem-solving crowd I have ever experienced.
So I look with some affection at a man like Thad Cochran whose desire is to see government, limited as it might be, work for people.
The good news for the Republic is that he won; the sad state of affairs is that it was so narrow, as were so many other victories by plain, hard core conservatives yesterday.
I do have fond memories of a diverse and vibrant Republican Party with the likes of Jacob Javits, Clifford Case, Ed Brooke, Tom Kuchel, Everett Dirksen, Mac Mathias, John Sherman Cooper, Margaret Chase Smith and Mark Hatfield, just to name a few. There were Senators who worked across the aisle, who accomplished great things, whose beliefs were different, but who knew that compromise was not a four letter word.
That is not what we have today, particularly with the crowd of angry, negative, inexperienced candidates that the tea party has spawned.
So I am pleased that Cochran won, and sad that it was so difficult.