Boehner and the GOP Playing Politics with Immigration and Homeland Security

Whose Security?

The GOP is playing games with the Department of Homeland Security’s funding in order to placate its extremists.

The Associated Press

Get your bone-throwing on.

By Jan. 13, 2015 | 3:45 p.m. EST+ More

The Republicans are railing against President Barack Obama for not having a high level U.S. official marching in solidarity with the French this past weekend. OK, that was a mistake on Obama’s part, but this from the Republican crowd that was so anti-France it wanted to change the name of “French fries” in the House of Representatives cafeteria to “Freedom fries”? This from the crowd who will vote tomorrow to approve a Homeland Security Bill totaling $39.7 billion only if it guts our immigration system and refuses to fund the Dream Act, deporting hundreds of thousands of children as well as parents? This from the Republicans who refused to act for a year and a half on a bipartisan Senate bill on immigration that passed with over two-thirds of the vote?

[SEE: 2014: The Year in Cartoons]

Does Speaker John Boehner really want to put in jeopardy the funding for Homeland Security, especially after the attacks in France and the raised threat level? I doubt it. But the speaker needs to throw his sizable right-wing caucus a bone and let them vote to defund Obama’s immigration plans. He then prays that the Senate saves him, doesn’t pass this absurd piece of legislation, so then they can end up passing a clean bill funding Homeland Security before the end of February when funding runs out. Or if the president is forced to veto the bill, he figures that somehow some fig leaf can be created to allow him to basically bring up a clean funding bill.

This strategy, negotiated with the extremist members of the House of Representatives, was lunacy in December; it is akin to a Kamikaze mission for Republicans now.

In fact, it is a double whammy. It convinces voters that Republicans are the anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant party, and that they are more than willing to sacrifice our nation’s security to prove how intolerant they are as a party.

[SEE: Political Cartoons on the Republican Party]

My guess is that the reason Boehner wants a vote on Wednesday is to get it out of the way, to give the extremists their say and then avoid a last minute crisis over Homeland Security funding. One day of a “shutdown” of those critical agencies is one day too many.

It will be interesting to see how many of these strategic blunders the Republicans make over the course of the next two years. The House, of course, can pass whatever it wants, but if the GOP puts forth bills as unrealistic and unhelpful as this effort, it will certainly pay the price at the ballot box. It will be their own job security that will be put in peril.

‘Selma’ — Great Movie But Wrong on LBJ


What ‘Selma’ Gets Wrong About LBJ

The movie botched its portrayal of the former president.

From the U.S. News Archives 19

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Bill.

By Jan. 5, 2015 | 1:00 p.m. EST+ More


“Selma” was an excellent movie. Captivating. Dramatic. Well acted. It is an important window on one of the most telling episodes in American history and the still ongoing struggle for civil rights.

The film paid a lot of attention to detail, not only to the unfolding of the Selma to Montgomery march and the events leading up to it, but to the struggles and personalities within the movement. It also paid attention to the little details. For instance, Sunday’s New York Times had a photo from the movie of the actors playing Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in their kitchen. The phone she was talking on was vintage 1960s, as were the metal kitchen table and chairs, the clock on the wall, the small portable TV, the linoleum floor tiles, and the sweater and dress the actors wore. Throughout the movie we saw life as it was during that era, and great efforts were clearly made to get the key elements of the story right.

That is why it is so unfortunate, as so many have pointed out (including King-aide and later Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young), that the protrayal of President Lyndon Johnson was so far off base. Johnson was portrayed by the film’s director, Ava DuVernay, and the writers in a highly negative light, opposing King and what he was trying to achieve.

In fact, LBJ was supportive of focusing attention on voting rights and urged King in a recorded telephone conversation to “find the worst condition that you run into in Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana or South Carolina … and get it on radio, get it on television, get it in the pulpits, get it in the meetings, get it everyplace you can. And if we do that we will break through. It will be the greatest breakthrough of anything, not even excepting this ’64 (Civil Rights) Act, I think the greatest achievement of my administration.”

This is not about artistic license. It is not about historical interpretation. It is not just an unimportant “detail” in such a movie. It is definitely not just about, as a Washington Post reporter called it, “fact-checking.” It is integral to the story, a key element of the narrative, and involves the actions and attitude of a key player: the president of the United States.

This movie does not claim to be “based on a true story.” It claims to be history. This movie does not simply combine events or create dialogue, which viewers understand, but misrepresents one aspect of the history. As we still struggle with racial politics in America, as we still try to make sense of senseless killings, as we find such a wide divergence in how whites and blacks perceive civil rights, this movie has created a bit of a firestorm, and at the very least a sense of mistrust.

We will never know all that LBJ was thinking nor have a true sense of the complexity of the relationship between King and Johnson, but we do know that LBJ did not order then FBI head J. Edgar Hoover to undermine King. We do know that LBJ led the politically risky fight in 1957 as majority leader of the Senate for a civil rights bill and again as president for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We know that Johnson was integral to the strategy to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

There were plenty of villains in the 1960s who committed horrible acts or vehemently fought equal rights or stood by and did nothing in the face of hatred and discrimination. Johnson was not one of those people. Was he perfect? No. Did he exhibit his southern heritage? By all accounts, yes. Was he balancing “101 problems” as the movie suggests? Yes. But LBJ was there in the trenches.

And, fundamentally, could the United States have passed civil rights legislation in the 1960s without the leadership, activism and non-violent movement led by King? Nope. Did King push the people, the Congress and the president into action? Absolutely. Was his role front and center? No question.

At the end of the day, progress happens when people come together. And this was what happened in 1964 and 1965.

Maybe the lesson we need to learn from “Selma” and from the debate and discussion about the movie is that our country should confront the wide gulf that still exists between black and white. Just as South Africa created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at the urging of Nelson Mandela, maybe America could use a comprehensive look at race and attitudes about equal opportunity, as well as issues of poverty, policing, education and incarceration.

President Barack Obama could act to create such a commission with a mandate to look at where we have come since 1965 and where we need to go to fulfill the dream that Martin Luther King and LBJ fought so hard for so many years ago.

Torture Report — Deja Vu All Over Again

Return of the CIA’s ‘Rogue Elephants’

The Senate’s report on torture shows U.S. intelligence agencies need to be reined in again.

The Associated Press

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who released the report.

By Dec. 10, 2014 | 2:30 p.m. EST+ More—–WSNEWS & World Report Thomas Jefferson Street Blog

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture makes for painful reading for those of us who thought that our intelligence agencies had been brought under control decades ago. We should have been so hopeful!

It has been nearly 40 years since I was a young staff member on the Senate Select Committee chaired by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, that was charged with investigating our intelligence agencies. We uncovered secret spying on Americans, we investigated coups against foreign governments, we looked into assassination plots against foreign leaders, and we blew the whistle on the FBI’s bugs of Martin Luther King and its efforts to get him to commit suicide. The scary and sickening period in our history needed to be examined so that it would never be repeated.

[VIEWS YOU CAN USE: The CIA Torture Report Goes Public]

Well, sadly, as Yogi Berra put it, here we are, deja vu all over again.

There are a number of reasons I am not surprised by what was revealed in the report. As my old boss Church pointed out so many years ago, the CIA often acts as a “rogue elephant.” Presidents often give consent to broad policy guidelines, then stay out of the details. This provides some sense of “plausible deniability” for the chief executive. It is clear that President George W. Bush (or Secretary of State Colin Powell or Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) did not get the details of what was occurring. When Bush found out about prisoners hanging from the ceiling in diapers, he was clearly not pleased, according to the report.

Another reason I am not surprised goes back 40 years to when I went to the White House with members of the Church Committee and other staff to meet with then-President Gerald Ford and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller on the issue of assassinations. (I think I probably went because I was driving the car!) Several of us were naturally kept in the waiting room, but there was one individual who I can’t forget going in and out: future Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney was chief of staff to Ford from 1975 to 1977 and held the Church Committee and the role of Congress in investigating the intelligence agencies in total contempt. From those early days and meetings, it was clear to many of us that Cheney would not condone “interference” and held the view that we were out to destroy the CIA, not to save it. His views only hardened and his contempt for Congress only deepened in his years as vice president.

[READ: In 2016, GOP Must Move Past Bush and Obama’s National Security Failures]

And one more thing hasn’t changed: We were lied to when we first investigated the intelligence agencies back in the 1970s, and once again the Cheneys and the Michael Haydens lied before Congress and to the American people.

This period of black sites and torture and out-of-control operatives has not enhanced our nation’s security, it has undermined it, much as the activities of our intelligence agencies did over four decades ago. We investigated them then, and the light of day has been shown on them now.

Courageous senators such as Colorado Democrat Mark Udall and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein would not give up or give in. Nor would the hardworking staff of the current Senate Intelligence Committee when confronted with CIA intimidation. Without strong congressional oversight, the “rogue elephants” will return again and again. The question, of course, is when will we ever learn?

We paid two armchair psychologists $81 million to devise torture techniques that, if they read any studies over the past 100 years, they would know don’t work. Not only is torture immoral, but it is ineffective. This was the gang that couldn’t shoot straight – it had no background in terrorism, no knowledge of al-Qaida, and was clearly making it up as it went along. This is all a bad made-for-TV movie.

[READ: FBI and NSA Tactics Threaten to Make Us Less Safe]

The problem, of course, is it undermines who we are as Americans, or who we think we are. As Church, put it, “beware of adopting the methods of your enemies, you will become more like them.”

If we as Americans truly believe that it is imperative for us to hold up the moral high ground, our actions must befit our words. To deny torture and simply use phrases like “enhanced interrogation techniques” is not only duplicitous but undermines that moral authority.

Now, as 40 years ago, it is time to correct our mistakes and acknowledge our own wrongdoing. That makes America stronger, not weaker.

The Republican’s Gridlock

Gridlock Only Gets You So Far

Voters will catch on to the fact that the GOP is using obstruction to win elections.

House Speaker John Boehner responds to President Barack Obama's intention to spare millions of illegal immigrants from being deported on Nov. 21, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Voters will see what’s happening.

By Nov. 26, 2014 | 4:30 p.m. EST+ More–USNews Thomas Jefferson Street Blog

There are three reasons that the Republicans pursue gridlock: ideological purity, hatred of President Barack Obama and because it helps them win elections. The first two they may be able to get over, but not the third.

Republicans discovered in 2010 that by opposing anything and everything of any consequence that Obama proposed, gridlock would ensue and the public’s anger and cynicism toward Washington would grow. Rallying around the tea party’s themes and the deep economic frustrations from the near depression, they swept out incumbent Democrats by the score.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell made it known that his number one goal was the defeat of Obama in 2012. That did not work out so well, but the Republicans quickly pivoted to 2014, where there was clearly fertile ground to elect more of their party. Part and parcel of this strategy was to not pass any meaningful legislation on immigration reform, job creation, education, tax reform or to improve America’s infrastructure and, finally, doing their very best to rally the base against anything having to do with government. The growing anger towards Washington and the party in control of the presidency – the Democrats – provided another windfall.

The difference now is that the anger which pollsters determined in 2010 created a majority for “standing up for principle” has now shifted to “it’s time to compromise, to get things done.” In short, voters want government to work and are sick and tired of the obstruction and gridlock.

Despite their efforts to shift blame, the Republicans now are boxed in, because it is pretty clear that they are the problem, not the party proposing solutions. Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, respected political analysts, have laid this out very clearly in their writings, including the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” So even if Republicans decide that the “shut the government” caucus led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz should be hidden away in the basement of the Capitol, they are still confronted with many political players who believe they were elected by being obstructionists.

The goal of the Democrats, then, should be to revise and reinvigorate the plans to legislate and solve America’s problems and convince the voters that the Congress, controlled by Republicans, is once again blocking progress. When the Republican leadership is convinced that gridlock is now a losing game politically, they may actually change their behavior. Their rigid ideology and their hatred for Obama will give way to a new political reality – the public is on to them and, much like President Harry Truman in 1948, the “do-nothing Congress” label will be laid at their feet.

The Republicans have to confront these past six years and change their behavior. They will only do so only if it becomes crystal clear that the public understands and is sick and tired of their embracing of Washington gridlock.

Fennocenzi on Fox 5 — 11/12/2014 — The Lame Duck Session and Confirmation of A.G. and Judges

The Seinfeld Election — USNews & World Report — 11/3/2014

The ‘Seinfeld’ Election

Voters are talking about the economy, Republicans about Obama and Democrats have failed to talk to the middle class.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld performs at the Stand Up for Heroes event at Madison Square Garden, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, in New York.

An election about nothing.

By Nov. 4, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. EST+ More

Despite the conclusion tonight of this year’s expensive and long campaign, to many Americans this is the “Seinfeld” election – the campaign about nothing. There has been no overriding theme or message, no Contract with America from the Republicans and no battle plan for the middle class from Democrats.

The Republicans have had very little to say except “Obama bad,” as some have noted.

The Democrats, despite a steadily improving economy, growth rates hitting 3.5 percent and unemployment falling to 5.9 percent, aren’t making the argument that they are the party to help middle class families raise their wages, send their kids to college and ensure a stable financial future.

In a sense, this is not just a campaign about nothing, it is also a campaign about everything – lurching from one so-called crisis to another: from endless investigations about Benghazi or the IRS or the Secret Service to the Ukraine to Syria to the Islamic State group to Ebola.

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that Americans are seriously concerned about two things, jobs and the economy and breaking the partisan gridlock in Washington to get things done – both lead with 23 percent as the top problem.

It is almost as if Washington and the people are living on distant planets.

If this year’s $4 billion election should tell the Congress – especially the Republicans – one thing, it is enough with useless investigations, enough with wasting time on repealing Obamacare, enough with the politics of “no.” The public wants action, they want both parties to work together, to cross the aisle and to solve their problems.

In 2010, the tea party anger about the economy created a desire for intransigence for many: Stand your ground, don’t compromise. In 2014, the public is crying out for compromise and an end to the partisan gridlock in Washington.

That is why it is so sad that this campaign has been the Seinfeld election. Just when voters want answers, or at least proposals, they get negative attacks and all anti-Obama, all the time.

Fennocenzi on Fox 5—-The Election Aftermath WTTG 11/5/2014

Where Are The Roosevelts?

Where Are the Roosevelts?

Americans are in need of political leaders with the Roosevelts’ vision.

This is an undated photo of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Campobello Island, off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada. (AP Photo)

We need more can-do spirit.


Like many others, our household has been enthralled by Ken Burns’ latest tour de force, “The Roosevelts.” Having read several biographies on Theodore and Franklin, I found that the film brought even more of their experiences to life. It also highlights a clear contrast between their times and ours in American politics.

The Roosevelts faced extraordinary challenges – two world wars and other foreign interventions, the most serious economic depression our nation had ever experienced, the advent of women’s right to vote and direct election of senators, the rise and fall of bosses in politics and robber barons in business as well as doubts about our system of government.

Despite coming from different parties, their overriding ethos was activist, high energy, can-do government. Not big government, not intrusive government, but smart, effective government to make the changes, right the wrongs and pursue policies that were populist and pragmatic. Both Roosevelts took on the establishment, even though they came from the establishment. Both Roosevelts recognized the use of power for good, whether it was breaking up monopolies, passing child labor laws, protecting America’s most beautiful open spaces, putting in place Social Security for the elderly or insuring Americans’ bank deposits.

Respect for our institutions, particularly government, is close to an all-time low. Every crisis drives approval ratings down even further. Support for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has gone from 60 percent in May 2013 to 37 percent in the wake of the Ebola crisis. Congress has seen its approval ratings go to single digits. President Barack Obama’s numbers are approaching an all-time low, beginning to enter George W. Bush territory when he left office.

In my view, these numbers represent a strong belief that our leaders don’t lead. Rather, we seem to have a group of politicians who spend too little time doing what the Roosevelts did and too much time holding their fingers up to the political winds.

We are faced today with a reluctance to act, a refusal to recognize that an aggressive response to our problems is required – whether it is current issues like Ebola, the Islamic State group, Secret Service transgressions, reform of our intelligence agencies and the IRS, or large issues like engaging wholeheartedly in rebuilding our infrastructure and reforming our schools. The list goes on and on.

[READ: Why Obama Should Watch ‘The Roosevelts’]

The public does not just sense the gridlock, particularly in Washington, but they are losing faith in political leadership. Americans are looking for leaders like TR and FDR who call them to action and raise their faith and their optimism again. They are looking for leaders who follow through and take on the big battles of the day. They are looking for leaders who stop bickering about big government or small government and embrace a sense of activism that tackles the tough problems.

The problems aren’t any tougher or harder to solve now than they were during the first half of the 20th century. The difference is many of our leaders won’t take them on and use the power of government for good. We need more Roosevelts.

Fennocenzi–Mid-Term Elections, 6 Days to Go — Fox 5 DC


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