If Trump succeeds in destroying our democracy and becoming Hitler 2.0, the responsibility will be equally shared between the GOP and the U.S. political media. Yesterday Robert Mueller confirmed that Trump has committed high crimes and implied that Congress should impeach him. The media responded by reviewing the style and “optics” of his presentation, paying little attention to its content.
The ever-shallow Chuck Todd led the charge on Twitter. I won’t subject you to the video.
So-called leftist Michael Moore agreed with Todd.
The Columbia Journalism Review critiqued Chuck Todd’s remarks as well as those of other MSNBC hosts: MSNBC public editor: The Chuck Todd show.
Todd’s focus on the “entertainment” aspect of politics coverage is often in evidence—for example, in his own recent performance as moderator in the Democratic presidential debate. He managed to talk more than all but three of the candidates, even as he demanded that they keep their own answers brief….
And it’s not just Todd. Other MSNBC anchors reacted to the Mueller hearings similarly, finding fault with the Democrats’, and Mueller’s, lack of pizazz as performers. Brian Williams referred to “the caffeine gap” in the Judiciary Committee’s questioning. I can’t help pointing out that excessive concern with caffeinated pizzazz can warp a journalist’s judgement pretty severely, and is best avoided.
At a moment of particular gravity for the country, with the sitting president credibly accused of obstructing justice, and many of his campaign staff and associates under investigation and indictment, may I suggest that if you, a journalist, are bored with the politics of this—if you are demanding somehow to be entertained, right now—you’re not doing your job.
Politics isn’t entertainment, it is not a performance to be critiqued. Reporting on national politics is a public trust of solemn importance that affects hundreds of millions of people.
A sample of headlines from the “savvy” Washington press:
Peter Baker at The New York Times: The Blockbuster That Wasn’t: Mueller Disappoints the Democrats. [I skimmed the story, and could find no quotes from Democrats holding elected office. Several prominent experts were quoted arguing Mueller’s testimony was valuable.]
Sharon LaFraniere, Michael S. Schmidt, Noah Weiland and Adam Goldman at The New York Times: Mueller’s Labored Performance Was a Departure From His Once-Fabled Stamina.
Susan Glasser at The New Yorker: “Accountability”? The Mueller Hearing Is How Trump Escapes. [FYI: Susan Glasser is married to Peter Baker of the NYT.]
Some serious reactions to Mueller’s testimony:
Former Republican Jennifer Rubin: Mueller didn’t fail. The country did.
Being thousands of miles away from home in Portugal, a country that 45 years ago was in the grasp of a brutal dictatorship, gives me an interesting perspective on former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Wednesday testimony and on the now nearly forgotten — was it only a week ago? — racist call for four nonwhite congresswomen to “go back” to where they came from.
I worry that we — the media, voters, Congress — are dangerously unserious when it comes to preservation of our democracy. To spend hours of airtime and write hundreds of print and online reports pontificating about the “optics” of Mueller’s performance — when he confirmed that President Trump accepted help from a hostile foreign power and lied about it, that he lied when he claimed exoneration, that he was not completely truthful in written answers, that he could be prosecuted after leaving office and that he misled Americans by calling the investigation a hoax — tells me that we have become untrustworthy guardians of democracy.
The “failure” is not of a prosecutor who found the facts but might be ill equipped to make the political case, but instead, of a country that won’t read his report and a media obsessed with scoring contests rather than focusing on the damning facts at issue.
David Corn at Mother Jones: Mueller Reminds the Public: Trump Betrayed the United States.
There’s an old saying in newsrooms: News is stuff that people have forgotten. Robert Mueller’s dramatic appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning was a striking reminder of this adage. The former special counsel did not drop any new revelations about the Trump-Russia affair. Yet in a simple but important manner, he reiterated the basics of this scandal—perhaps the most consequential political scandal in American history. These are the fundamentals that have often been subsumed by all the never-ending partisan squabbling and by the ongoing crusade mounted by Donald Trump and his defenders to distract from his perfidy. These are the facts that Trump has refused to acknowledge, and they are the facts that taint his presidency and undermine its legitimacy.
In his opening statement, Mueller emphasized the key finding from his report: “The Russian government interfered in our election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” And during the questioning, Mueller repeated the conclusion previously reached by the US intelligence community that Russia conducted this covert operation to help Trump get elected. “Did your investigation find that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from one of the candidates winning?” Mueller was asked by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). He replied with one word: “Yes.” Lofgren followed up: “And which candidate would that be?” Mueller responded, “Well, it would be Trump.”
So Russia attacked an American election to help Trump. And what did Trump do? “The Trump campaign wasn’t exactly reluctant to take Russian help,” Lofgren remarked to Mueller. “You wrote it expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, isn’t that correct.”
Mueller answered with another brief sentence: “That’s correct.” That is, Trump sought to exploit a foreign adversary’s clandestine assault. And as Mueller noted in his report, during the campaign Trump dismissed the notion that Russia was intervening in the election, and after he was elected he continued to deny “that Russia aided his election.”
Click the link to read the rest.
David Graham at The Atlantic: The Most Revealing Exchange of the Mueller Hearing.
There’s a logical disconnect in volume 2 of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that is unmissable to any careful reader.
As Mueller explains in the report, a charge of obstruction of justice requires three elements: an obstructive act, a nexus with an official proceeding, and corrupt intent. And in the report, Mueller’s team laid out several cases where President Donald Trump committed an obstructive act, in connection with an official proceeding, with what Mueller’s team concluded could be a corrupt intent.
But because Mueller had decided at the outset of his report that he could not and would not charge the president with crimes, thanks to Justice Department guidance and in the interest of fairness, Mueller did not make the otherwise obvious jump from laying out the ways that Trump’s behavior met the three-prong test to actually stating that Trump obstructed justice.
During today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries sought to demonstrate the disconnect by walking Mueller through the three-prong test.
“Let me refer you to page 87 and 88 of volume 2 where you conclude the attempt to remove the special counsel would qualify as an obstructive act if it would naturally obstruct the investigation and any grand-jury proceedings that might flow from the inquiry. Correct?” Jeffries asked.
“Yes,” Mueller said, confirming the obstructive act.
“Your report found on page 89, volume 2, that substantial evidence indicates that by June 17, the president knew his conduct was under investigation by a federal prosecutor who would present any evidence of federal crimes to a grand jury. True?” Jeffries asked.
“True,” Mueller said, confirming the nexus to an official proceeding.
Jeffries then moved on to the third element, corrupt intent, and Mueller once again effectively affirmed the point:
Jeffries: Is it fair to say the president viewed the special counsel’s investigation as adverse to his own interest?
Mueller: I think that generally is true.
Jeffries: The investigation found evidence, quote, “that the president knew that he should not have directed Don McGahn to fire the special counsel.” Correct?
Jeffries: Page 90, volume 2. “There’s evidence that the president knew he should not have made those calls to McGahn,” closed quote.
Mueller: I see that. Yes, that’s accurate.
Mueller, seeing the trick, tried to cut it off. “Let me just say, if I might, I don’t subscribe necessarily to your—the way you analyzed that. I’m not saying it’s out of the ballpark, but I’m not supportive of that analytical charge,” he said.
Graham writes that Mueller tried to backtrack, but the cat was out of the bag. Ted Lieu did something similar; head over the The Atlantic to read more.
This piece by Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg is worth a read: Worst Part of the Mueller Hearings? Republican Conspiracy Theories.
Instead of reading carefully into the evidence and finding contradictions or loose ends, House Republicans largely busied themselves with conspiracy theories. It wasn’t Donald Trump and his campaign who welcomed and benefited from Russian interference in the 2016 election; it was Hillary Clinton! Never mind what U.S. intelligence agencies and Senate investigators have concluded. Never mind that this reality-denying line of inquiry left lawmakers defending Wikileaks and even, seemingly, the Russian agents indicted by Mueller.
For these Republicans, it’s still supposedly inexplicable that the FBI started investigating in the first place. In their stated conception of things, only partisanship and hatred of the president could explain such an otherwise odd decision to look into the rich web of shady contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. And yet those partisan and hateful investigators didn’t leak anything about the probe when it would’ve put Trump’s election in jeopardy; didn’t indict or recommend impeachment of the president; and didn’t rush to testify to Congress about any of it.
Meanwhile, with the notable exception of Texas Representative Will Hurd, Republicans showed no interest at all in the national-security implications of Russia’s interference. And remember, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still blocking bipartisan legislation to strengthen U.S. defenses against future attacks.
These are the same Republicans, after all, who spent years looking into conspiracy theories about the deaths of Americans in Benghazi in 2012 without ever attending to the real security vulnerabilities that contributed to them. It was far more important to feed the Republican marketplace with loony ideas about how President Barack Obama (or Hillary Clinton) actively welcomed the disaster than to figure out what had actually gone wrong or what to do about it.
I’ll end with this tweet from the woman who should be president, written after Trump’s latest Nazi/KKK rally.
Yes, another one! Here’s a fresh thread to document the atrocities. Naturally, Bernie goes first. Here’s the lowdown:
MSNBC will host back-to-back town halls with both Democratic presidential candidates in two key states tonight, March 14, just hours before voters go to the polls for Tuesday’s make-or-break primaries.
First, Senator Bernie Sanders will join moderator Chuck Todd in Columbus, Ohio for an hour-long event airing at 6 p.m. ET. Then, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes questions at a town hall moderated by Chris Matthews in Springfield, Illinois, airing at 7 p.m. ET.
Chuck Todd is the NBC News political director, moderator of “Meet the Press,” and anchor of MSNBC’s “MTP Daily.” Chris Matthews is the host of MSNBC’s “Hardball.”
I was wrong about Rachel Maddow being the one to talk to Hillary, and I’m happy about that. At 8:00, MSNBC will have another town hall with John Kasich. I plan to give that one a miss.
Some headlines to check out either before or during the town halls
I’m just exhausted with these debates and town halls, but I’ll hang out in the comments. Echoing Dakinikat from last night: Please don’t leave me all alone!
The networks have partnered to host a town hall event for the dueling Democrats from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. EST from the KMA Event Center in Las Vegas.
Both Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were slated to attend the town hall, which is scheduled to be moderated by José Díaz-Balart and Chuck Todd. Chris Matthews and Chris Hayes will anchor the pre-show coverage, and Rachel Maddow will lead the post-show coverage, according to a news release.
The town hall comes just before the Party’s Nevada caucus, which is set for Saturday. Fresh off a win in the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, Sanders was tied with Clinton in the Silver State. Both had the support of 45 percent of primary voters, but the Wall Street Journal noted that statistic only included results from six polls over the past year. FiveThirtyEight predicted each candidate had a 50 percent chance of winning in Nevada.
Nevada has 43 delegates who go to the Democratic National Convention to vote for a nominee.
Clinton was continuing to perform better than Sanders nationally, though the gap between the presidential hopefuls has closed in recent weeks. As of Tuesday afternoon, 50 percent of voters backed Clinton. About 40 percent backed Sanders, according to the HuffPost Pollster.
One of the differences that may become clearer tonight is if Sanders insistence on his income inequality message will play better in Nevada than Clinton’s focus on immigration policy. There have not been any good recent polls coming out of Nevada and it’s a caucus state so the state of the race hasn’t been clearly forecast for some time.
If Hillary Clinton has her way, the final two days of campaigning before Saturday’s caucuses in Nevada will be squarely focused on immigration policy.
But not Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator remains largely dialed in on his core message about economic inequality, his approach as disciplined and undeviating as ever.
That’s what makes tonight’s town hall forum here, hosted by MSNBC and Telemundo, an important — but potentially uncomfortable — moment for Sanders.
The Vermont senator hasn’t exactly shied away from talking about immigration policy in the state where polls show him in a close race with Clinton. He has repeatedly talked about his own immigration reform plan during Nevada campaign stops, and he has the support of some activists who have helped him take his pitch local. A group of DREAMers from around the country is even descending on Las Vegas to campaign for him this week.
I seriously hope some one asks Sanders about his appearance with Lou Dobbs where discussed his issues wit the 2007 immigration legislation he voted against. I’d like to see the segment played prior to the question being asked. The issue came up at the last debate. This is legislation that Kennedy and McCain wrote and that Obama and Clinton supported. Sanders voted against the bill and his since hedged his bets on reasons he gave to Dobbs at the time.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders briefly exchanged words over his vote against the 2007 comprehensive immigration reform bill that John McCain and Ted Kennedy wrote and that both Clinton and Barack Obama supported, while Sanders and most Republicans plus some Democrats were opposed. Sanders cited as his motive opposition to the bill’s guest worker provisions, which he said were bad because a Southern Poverty Law Center investigation had likened conditions in existing agricultural guest worker programs to slavery.
It’s interesting to compare this with what he said about the bill at the time on Lou Dobbs’s show. Dobbs, for those who’ve forgotten, was a business news broadcaster who refashioned himself as a somewhat Trump-esque anti-immigration, anti–trade deal populist in the mid-aughts.
If you watch the interview you’ll see that Sanders isn’t particularly interested in working conditions for guest workers and he’s also not narrowly focused on the H2 programs the SPLC report was about — he also talks about H1 programs for skilled workers that, whatever their flaws, are clearly not slavery.
Dobbs is opposed to the whole idea of “amnesty,” which Sanders was not, but Sanders also doesn’t argue with Dobbs about it. Sanders doesn’t really say anything about the costs and benefits to immigrants themselves — whether that’s people who’ve been living illegally in the United States or potential future guest workers — one way or another. His focus is on the idea that “what happens in Congress is to a very significant degree dictated by big-money interests” and that “I don’t know why we need millions of people to be coming into this country as guest workers who will work for lower wages than American workers and drive wages down even lower than they are now.”
I’d also like to hear Sanders address Killer Mike’s “uterus” comment as well as the implication of this particular exchange with a BET reporter.
Sanders appears to think that Killer Mike’s comments are okay. However, he took the opportunity to slam Bill Clinton. So much for the high horse riding about going negative in campaigns.
Sen. Bernie Sanders is standing up for Killer Mike after the Atlanta-based rapper stood onstage at a Sanders rally and quoted a feminist activist as saying “a uterus doesn’t qualify you to be president of the United States.”
And he was even more direct when asked about Bill Clinton’s remarks on the campaign trail that seemed to compare fervor for Sanders on the left with the populist anger that created the tea party on the right.
Aboard his campaign plane Thursday, Sanders told reporters that Killer Mike was quoting someone else — but that he agreed with the basic premise.
“What Mike said essentially is that … people should not be voting for candidates based on their gender, but based on what they believe. I think that makes sense,” said Sanders, who has mounted an unexpectedly strong challenge against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“I don’t go around, no one has ever heard me say, ‘Hey guys, let’s stand together, vote for a man.’ I would never do that, never have.”
I’m still having fun going to Still for Hill to see pictures of Clinton’s visit with workers at Caesar’s Palace. Frankly, it puts me in a better mood than reading about the latest grumpy gripe by Bernine Downers.
So, pull up you couch, your bed, your chair, your pet and significant other, pop some popcorn and join us in the Nerd Ball Toss at Bernie and the Cheers for Hillary!!!
By the way, I attended the opening of Hillary’s Headquarters here in New Orleans with former Mayor Moon Landrieu!
Here’s a picture and here’s some great poll news!!!
I’ve been browsing around the internet this morning, and all I can find is really surreal news. The Obamacare “fumble” or “botch” or “mess” or whatever else the pundits decide to call it is still the top story today; and it looks like President Obama could be in for an even worse day than yesterday. He must be glad it’s Friday. All the usual suspects are weighing in on the “problem” and of course Republicans are gloating.
Reuters summarizes Obama’s very bad Thursday: An apologetic Obama unveils fix on health law.
President Barack Obama on Thursday tried to ease the biggest crisis of his presidency, acknowledging missteps with his signature healthcare law and announcing a plan to help those seeing their current health plans canceled because of it.
Obama, trying to limit the political damage to his presidency and fellow Democrats, said health insurers could extend by at least one year policies due to be canceled because they do not comply with new minimum requirements under the law.
With insurers complaining the fix could create new problems and lead to higher premiums, it was not clear whether Obama’s plan would actually work, or soothe his party’s concerns that the botched rollout has undercut Democrats facing tough re-election fights in 2014.
A chastened Obama said he had “fumbled” the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, his biggest domestic policy achievement, and said he would have to work to regain his credibility and the public’s trust.
Also from Reuters: Obama to meet with insurers Friday on Obamacare fix.
The meeting comes a day after the president, under fire for the botched rollout of his top domestic policy achievement, announced he would allow individuals to keep insurance policies that were being canceled under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare….
Insurers and state regulators say that Obama’s fix for policies canceled under the law will create new problems for the industry and could lead to an increase in premiums.
The change, which Obama announced under growing pressure from lawmakers from his Democratic Party, would allow policies that do not meet Obamacare’s standards to be renewed anyway.
From WaPo’s The Fix: ‘Keep Your Health Plan Act’ spells trouble for dozens of Democrats.
Intense focus on the early troubles of the Affordable Care Act already makes this a no good, very bad week for congressional Democrats, who are torn between supporting the signature domestic achievement of the Obama administration, but eager to be seen doing something to address significant concerns with the law….
At issue is the “Keep Your Health Plan Act,” a proposal by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) that supporters believe would fulfill President Obama’s now-broken promise to let people keep their current health insurance plan if they like it.
Under the Upton proposal, anyone opting to keep their current plan wouldn’t face financial penalties established by the law. And the measure would allow insurers to sell their minimal plans to new customers. The bill is expected to pass easily in the GOP-controlled House.
Most Democrats believe that the Upton bill would fundamentally gut the ACA by allowing plans not compliant with the new law to continue. They believe that the administrative fixes announced by Obama Thursday will work, or are supporting a proposal by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would let people keep their current health-care plans for the next year and require insurers to provide information on new plans that meet the law’s stricter requirements.
It is true that public support for many of the law’s crucial components — a ban on lifetime limits on health coverage; an end to discrimination based on pre-existing conditions; extended coverage for dependent children; improvements to Medicare — have always exceeded support for the law itself. White House officials take pains to note that those provisions are now beginning to take effect — on time, as planned.
Most state-run insurance exchanges are working far better than the federal website — which the administration was forced to make as big as it is only because some three dozen states with recalcitrant Republican governors declined to create their own exchanges as envisioned. And lest anyone forget, the old health insurance system was not so hot.
Of course Chuck Todd is thrilled, and he went on Morning Joe this morning to dance on Obama’s grave. From Mediaite:
NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd told the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday that the problematic roll-out of the Affordable Care Act represents an all-time political low for President Barack Obama. He said that the president’s press conference on Thursday was aimed more at Democrats in an attempt to keep them from abandoning him or his signature achievement.
“It seemed like he was trying to offer his party – the Democratic Party – and, basically, all the panicked Democrats on Capitol Hill a pound of flesh so that they don’t vote for these other bills,” Todd said of the bills circulating in the House and Senate that would allow those who have lost their health plans to keep them indefinitely….
“I talked to one of the old guard in Obama-land who said they’ve never seen that in private from him,” Todd added. “This is a moment that he hasn’t experienced in national politics before, is the impression that I was being given.”
“This clearly is the low of his presidency politically right now,” the NBC News reporter continues. “We obviously see it in the polls, but just the way he feels, his ability to lead the party, or, frankly, hope that the party doesn’t abandon him right now in this moment.”
I’ll spare you excerpts from those columns and refer you to Jonthan Chait: Conservatives Confident America Rejecting Obamacare, Ready for Every-Man-for-Himself Care.
The keep-your-plan fiasco, in addition to flummoxing Democrats, has not only held out to Republicans the tantalizing prospect that they can discredit and defeat Obamacare, but also drawn into sympathetic focus their own alternative vision.
Here is the basic ideological division. Obama wants the health-care system to do more to pool risk — which is to say, to shift the burden of covering the sick onto the healthy. Republicans want it to do less to pool risk, so that healthy people can be free of the burden of subsidizing the costs of those less medically fortunate.
The small portion of the populace that lies outside of either employer-based or direct government coverage provides the closest existing model for the health-care system conservatives favor. The minority within this market who have insurance, and are losing their plans as a result of regulations preventing insurers from excluding the sick, have dominated public attention and formed what conservatives imagine will be a constituency for their own brand of counter-reform: a deregulated market where healthy people can buy cheap, bare-bones plans, and sicker people have to pay large out-of-pocket costs. Obamacare’s torturous birth pangs have convinced giddy conservatives that they are on the cusp of a great ideological victory.
Read the rest at the New York Magazine link above.
I’ll wrap up this section of my post with the most surreal Obamacare story I could find: Michele Bachmann: I lost my insurance:
Rep. Michele Bachmann says she is one of the people who lost their health insurance because of Obamacare and she won’t go shopping on a health exchange until it’s fixed.
“Are you kidding? I’m not going to waste an hour on that thing,” the Minnesota Republican said when Wolf Blitzer asked her on CNN on Thursday if she’d signed up on the exchange website. “I lost my health insurance under Obamacare. And so now I’m forced to go into the D.C. health exchange. I’m waiting until they fix this thing. I’m not going to sit there and frustrate myself for hours and hours.”
Don’t members of House have their own insurance plan? Did the rest of the House get their plans cancelled too?
Bachmann did not explain what about Obamacare caused her to lose her health insurance. The health law technically requires congressional staff go on the D.C. exchange, but it’s up to the individual congressional office to determine who qualifies as “official office” staff, so many Republicans have placed their aides on the exchange while Democrats have been split.
At the Daily Banter, Bob Cesca explains to Bachmann how to sign up for health insurance at the DC exchange, which is running quite smoothly, thank you very much.
I’ve run on way too long about the Obamacare story, but I haven’t been paying close attention to it and I needed to bring myself up to speed. I hope I didn’t bore the rest of you!
Now let’s look at someone who really has a health care problem. Gawker reports on a woman with stage 4 breast cancer and the vile treatment she has been getting from her daughter’s school because of it (emphasis added).
An Albuquerque mother says her daughter’s elementary school principal banned her from school grounds for the way she smells. Kerri Mascareno was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in August, and while she’s undergoing chemotherapy to shrink her tumor, she’s also struggling with the administration at Tierra Antigua Elementary.
According to Mascareno, the school’s principal, Robert Abney, told her last week that she could no longer visit the school:
“He just said he knows this is going to hurt my feelings and he understands where I’m coming from because his mother had breast cancer and she had the same exact smell and I can no longer be in the school and that with me being in the school that I made his employees ill,” she said.
She claims that when she moved outside, the principal went to his window and told her to move farther away. “He just said that he would have to ask me to sit in my car because he could smell me through the window,” Mascareno said.
Calling Dr. Freud! Robert Abney needs psychological treatment STAT! Men with Oedipal complexes should not be in charge of running schools. I hope Kerri Mascareno sues and gets a million-dollar payday so she can leave the money to her children.
Yesterday I wrote about two Secret Service agents who have been removed from President Obama’s security detail. Today the WaPo reports that there have been complaints about misconduct by Secret Service agents in 17 countries!
Secret Service agents and managers have engaged in sexual misconduct and other improprieties across a span of 17 countries in recent years, according to accounts given by whistleblowers to the Senate committee that oversees the department.
Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.), ranking Republican on a Homeland Security subcommittee, said Thursday that the accounts directly contradict repeated assertions by Secret Service leaders that the elite agency does not foster or tolerate sexually improper behavior.
And get this:
Johnson said that one of those disciplined supervisors, Ignacio Zamora Jr., had helped lead the internal investigation into the April 2012 incident in Cartagena, where more than a dozen agents engaged in a night of heavy drinking and carousing with prostitutes ahead of a presidential visit.
One person involved in security in Cartagena said Zamora was chosen for the review because he served as the “second supervisor” on the trip, and was among the managers responsible for the security effort in advance of Obama’s arrival for an international summit.
Zamora is the agent who was disciplined for trying to break into a woman’s hotel room to retrieve a bullet he had left there.
Finally, once again I want to call your attention to a McClatchy article that RalphB linked to yesterday: Questions about ‘60 Minutes’ Benghazi story go beyond Dylan Davies interview; CBS conducting ‘journalistic review’. It’s long, but it is a must read. The writer, Nancy A. Youseff, goes through Lara Logan’s “60 Minutes” report line by line and finds numerous outright lies and distortions. Logan and anyone else involved with the story should be fired immediately and Logan should apply for a job at Fox News.
So . . . what are you reading and blogging about today? Please share your links on any topic in the comment thread.
I’m getting a sense that the White House has a plan to deal with the GOP hostage takers in the debt ceiling fight. The plan involves eliminating every possible alternative to Congress allowing the Treasury to pay the nation’s bills, while calmly but forcefully explaining to the American people how the U.S. government works. Obama apparently understands that the media will not help him educate the American people; therefore he will work around them.
Whether this plan is going work is anyone’s guess, but it seems pretty clear that Obama plans to pin the full responsibility for action on Congress.
On Friday, the administration eliminated the most recent suggestion for a “plan B,” the so-called “trillion dollar platinum coin.” They also reiterated the decision not to use the 14th Amendment option, which Obama first announced during the 2011 debt ceiling fight.
With this, the White House has now ruled out the two best options for preventing a default in the event that the House GOP refused to life the debt ceiling. The White House has been quite adamant that the other alternative (invoking the 14th Amendment) is not acceptable.
So now the stakes are high, as The White House has refused to negotiate with the GOP on a debt ceiling hike.
What bargaining chips does The White House hold? Unclear.
If I’d spent the past five years living in a monastery or something, I would take the Treasury Department’s declaration that the coin option is out as a sign that there’s some other plan ready to go. Maybe 14th Amendment, maybe moral obligation coupons or some other form of scrip, something.
And maybe there is a plan.
But as we all know, the last debt ceiling confrontation crept up on the White House because Obama refused to believe that Republicans would actually threaten to provoke default. Is the WH being realistic this time, or does it still rely on the sanity of crazies? [….]
…if we didn’t have some history here I might be confident that the administration knows what it’s doing. But we do have that history, and you have to fear the worst.
On Saturday, Krugman reported that he had gotten “calls” about Friday’s post from the powers that be:
The White House insists that it is absolutely, positively not going to cave or indeed even negotiate over the debt ceiling — that it rejected the coin option as a gesture of strength, as a way to put the onus for avoiding default entirely on the GOP.
Truth or famous last words? I guess we’ll find out.
I honestly can’t blame the White House for not wanting to use the 14th amendment or “platinum coin” options. Both would undoubtedly lead to wrangling in the courts and, in the case of the 14 amendment choice, a possible Constitutional crisis. But still, was it wise to publicly eliminate the only possible leverage the White House has to force the House GOP to get over their tantrums and allow the Treasury to pay the bills that Congress has already run up? I simply don’t know.
In the President’s press conference this morning, he appeared to confirm that my sense of the “plan” is accurate. He did a good job of spelling out what the consequences will be for the nation and the world if the U.S. defaults on its debts.
The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already committed to.
These are bills that have already been racked up, and we need to pay them. So, while I’m willing to compromise and find common ground over how to reduce our deficits, America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up. If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks, and veterans benefits will be delayed.
We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners. Food inspectors, air traffic controllers, specialist who track down loose nuclear materials wouldn’t get their paychecks. Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is in fact a safe bet. Markets could go haywire, interest rates would spike for anybody who borrows money. Every homeowner with a mortgage, every student with a college loan, every small business owner who wants to grow and hire.
It would be a self-inflicted wound on the economy. It would slow down our growth, might tip us into recession. And ironically it would probably increase our deficit. So to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd. As the speaker said two years ago, it would be, and I’m quoting Speaker Boehner now, “a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy.”
So we’ve got to pay our bills. And Republicans in Congress have two choices here. They can act responsibly, and pay America’s bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial wellbeing of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip. And they better choose quickly, because time is running short.
Despite the efforts of Todd and Garrett to get Obama to say he’ll have to give in to Republican demands, the president repeatedly said he isn’t going to negotiate with GOP terrorists.
Will it work? And more importantly, will Obama really refuse to cave this time? As I noted earlier, Krugman has his doubts. One reporter, Juliana Goldman, even asked the president why anyone should believe him this time when he has always caved in the past. Obama’s response:
Well, first of all, Julianna, let’s take the example of this year and the fiscal cliff. I didn’t say that I would not have any conversations at all about extending the Bush tax cuts. What I said was, we weren’t going to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. And we didn’t.
Now, you can argue that during the campaign, I said — I set the criteria for wealthy at $250,000, and we ended up being at $400,000, but the fact of the matter is, millionaires, billionaires are paying significantly more in taxes, just as I said.
So from — you know, from the start, my concern was making sure that we had a tax code that was fair and that protected the middle class. And my biggest priority was making sure that middle class taxes did not go up. You know, the difference between this year and 2011 is the fact that we’ve already made $1.2 trillion in cuts. And at — at the time, I indicated that there were cuts that we could sensibly make that would not damage our economy, would not impede growth.
I said at the time, I think we should pair it up with revenue in order to have an overall balanced package, but my own budget reflected cuts in discretionary spending. My own budget reflected the cuts that needed to be made. And we’ve made those cuts. Now, the challenge going forward is that we’ve now made some big cuts. And if we’re going to do further deficit reduction, the only way to do it is in a balanced and responsible way.
It’s all very calm and reasonable-sounding; and, as I said, I think Obama did a good job in today’s press conference. He has two more high-profile opportunities to get his message out–the Inaugural Address next Monday and the State of the Union Address on February 12. He could also make campaign-style appearances around the country as he did before the “fiscal cliff” battle.
Now let’s look at what the Republicans are planning. This morning we got the inside dirt from the usual suspects at Politico, Jim Vandehei, Mike Allen, and Jake Sherman. According to the Politico guys, the GOP is getting ready to go on the warpath.
The idea of allowing the country to default by refusing to increase the debt limit is getting more widespread and serious traction among House Republicans than people realize, though GOP leaders think shutting down the government is the much more likely outcome of the spending fights this winter.
“I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious,” House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state told us. “We always talk about whether or not we’re going to kick the can down the road. I think the mood is that we’ve come to the end of the road.”
Republican leadership officials, in a series of private meetings and conversations this past week, warned that the White House, much less the broader public, doesn’t understand how hard it will be to talk restive conservatives off the fiscal ledge. To the vast majority of House Republicans, it is far riskier long term to pile up new debt than it is to test the market and economic reaction of default or closing down the government.
GOP officials said more than half of their members are prepared to allow default unless Obama agrees to dramatic cuts he has repeatedly said he opposes. Many more members, including some party leaders, are prepared to shut down the government to make their point. House Speaker John Boehner “may need a shutdown just to get it out of their system,” said a top GOP leadership adviser. “We might need to do that for member-management purposes — so they have an endgame and can show their constituents they’re fighting.”
Basically, the whole world is supposed to stand back and let the Tea Party wackos in the House have an extended, violent temper tantrum to “get it out of their system.” Or else.
According the Politico piece, Speaker Boehner will be meeting with GOP members most of the week to discuss strategy and then on Thursday and Friday House GOP members will meet in Williamsburg, VA. During the two-day meeting Boehner and presumably some of the saner House Republican leaders will try to explain to the Tea Party crazies why forcing the U.S. into default is not a very smart idea. I wonder if there will be visual aids?
So that’s where we are for now. At least Obama has stated his case clearly. However, at some point he is going to have to do something dramatic if the Republicans won’t budge. And why should the Republicans or anyone else believe Obama will stick to his guns this time? Only time will tell. I thought this piece by Garrett Epps at The Atlantic (published on Saturday) summed up the situation very well: Does Obama Actually Have a Debt-Ceiling Plan, or Is He Bluffing?
In Melville’s Moby Dick, the whaling ship Pequod crosses the equator on its quest for the White Whale, and in that instant, Captain Ahab smashes his quadrant to the deck and crushes it underfoot.
No more careful navigation. It is, we understand, Moby Dick or die.
As we hurtle toward the new debt-limit crisis, President Obama has done much the same. He says he won’t negotiate spending cuts with a gun to his head. He’s also said that he won’t invoke § 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment, with its provision that “the public debt of the United States . . . shall not be questioned,” to give him authority to continue borrowing once the debt limit has been reached. The Senate Democratic leadership Friday urged him to prepare to raise the ceiling unilaterally; so far, he has remained mum.
Yet Obama, to all appearances, is the calmest man in this overheated capital as the doomsday clock counts down toward a first-ever U.S. default, and the almost certain global depression that would follow.
We can only wait and see what will happen, but as Epps writes, in the end, the onus will be on Obama.
The moment may be coming when wishing and faith do not suffice. Those are the moments when presidents earn their pay. If that requires reversing course on the Fourteenth Amendment, so be it; if it impels a stupid coin trick, then so it does; and if it imposes a political cost on the president, then he must pay it.
After Ahab smashes the Pequod’s quadrant, second-mate Stubb muses to himself, “Well, well; I heard Ahab mutter, ‘Here some one thrusts these cards into these old hands of mine; swears that I must play by them, and no others.’ And damn me, Ahab, but thou actest right; live in the game, and die in it!”
And that’s just the debt ceiling. Obama will also have to deal with fights over the sequester and the federal budget.