Paul Ryan: The Novice Speaker

Paul Ryan just showed why electing a 46-year-old policy wonk to be Speaker of the House is a bad idea.  

The Speaker is not only the agenda setter for the party, but also the party’s top political officer in charge of messaging and image.  In the past 24 hours, Ryan crafted a message akin to a toddler cutting out letters from a magazine and painted a party image no better than if that same toddler dumped a can of paint on the family’s new white couch.

On Wednesday morning, the House Democrats began protesting the refusal of Ryan to bring up any gun control bills for a vote in the House – a vote Ryan knows he would win.  Tired of being rendered feckless, Democrats decided to take drastic, unprecedented action.  They stormed the well of the House and refused to leave or allow any floor action until Ryan agreed to a vote.

This move was inspired by a similar filibuster last week in the Senate by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who has been a staunch advocate of gun control since the Newtown massacre in 2012.  Murphy spoke for 15 hours on the Senate floor and eventually yielded after McConnell agreed to a series of votes on gun control measures.

Those votes went forward and all were defeated, largely along party lines, just as McConnell planned.  Herein lies the difference between McConnell and Ryan.  

McConnell spent his entire career working his way up the political ladder to earn his job as Majority Leader.  He spent decades mastering the Senate parliamentary rules and used that mastery to advance his cause, something he first demonstrated in 1994 when he used parliamentary gamesmanship to defeat Bill Clinton’s campaign finance reform bill.

As such, McConnell understands not only how to govern a party, but how to message and win. So when Murphy took the floor last week, McConnell let him have his day in the spotlight, and then scheduled four votes that he knew he would win.  

While the news cycle was briefly critical of Republicans for defeating gun control (again), McConnell’s messaging machine pitched it as a conflict of constitutional due process and, well, sorry.  By ripping off the band-aid in one motion, McConnell stole the thunder from the Democrats who were reduced to once again watching their bills go down in flames.

Now let’s take a look at how the kid’s table across the Capitol handled the same situation.  

As Rep. John Lewis, civil rights icon, took to the House floor yesterday, Paul Ryan made the fateful, House-of-Cards-inspired decision to recess the House and turn off the CSPAN cameras in an attempt to deny Democrats an audience.  Instead, Democrats used their smartphones (hi, 2016 here, pleasure to meet you Mr. Speaker) to livestream the event from the floor themselves, which CSPAN in turn broadcast for the rest of the day.  

Now, instead of another boring day on CSPAN, the spectacle morphed into almost a cult phenomenon that was being shared thousands of times across all social media platforms.

“Look at the Democrats! They’re overcoming adversity! Streaming from their phones! #NoBillNoBreak!”

Then, as if all the attention Democrats were getting wasn’t already enough of a failure for Ryan, he decided to hold an unrelated vote in the middle of the night. What did this accomplish? It brought all the major media coverage back to the House floor.  Just as the fire was dwindling to coals for the Democrats, Ryan came to the rescue with a gallon jug of lighter fluid.

In his final act of political naivete, Ryan ultimately decided to recess the House for the next two weeks.  In doing so, he ceded the moral high-ground to the Democrats.  Their floor speeches during the sit-in castigated Republicans for refusing to take tough votes, so what did Ryan do in response? Proved them right and sent his caucus scurrying for the hills.  

Could he have chosen a more cowardly way to end this standoff?

If Ryan had agreed to allowing a vote (which he would win), the news cycle would have briefly given Democrats a pat on the back for their effort and for another day or two discussed how sad it was that gun control didn’t pass (again).  But by then Trump would have said something else outrageous and the House would have voted to repeal Obamacare (again) and everything would have been back to normal.

Instead of just ripping off the band-aid like McConnell did, Ryan tried to slowly pick at the edges and ended up with a festering wound.  This is the difference between a father and child.

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Photo credit: (Andrew Harnik/ AP)

5 Reasons Elizabeth Warren Is Not The Answer

Elizabeth Warren finally broke.  On June 9, she became the last female Democrat in the Senate to hop aboard the Hillary Express: Destination 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  For many in the Democratic elite, the endorsement is only the tip of the iceberg.  They want Clinton to name Warren as her running mate.

Originally the talk of Warren as running mate was tossed around as a feminist, progressive dream.  Two bold, strong women working together to each make history as the nation’s first female president and vice president.  As time wore on, the idea gained traction to the point that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid had his staff review Massachusetts law with respect to the appointment of senators for vacant seats.

The argument goes something like this:  Sanders’ people hate Clinton but love Warren for her progressive prowess.  Clinton also has a huge deficit given the perception that she is in bed with Wall Street while Warren is known as a sworn enemy of all with slicked hair and pinstriped suits.  Therefore, in order to secure the vote of Bernie Bros and those wary of Wall Street, Clinton has no choice but to pick Warren.

Here is why that is a false choice.

First, Warren can be just as, if not more, effective as a surrogate not associated with the campaign.  When your name is on the yard sign, you are accountable at a much greater level than if you are a mercenary free to conduct yourself as you please. A candidate is required to stay on message and consult campaign talking points; rinse and repeat.

The Clinton camp is well known for reviewing the speeches of everyone who speaks at her rallies, so one can only imagine the level of control the running make will face.  In addition, any gaffes will reflect on the campaign as a whole and serve as a knock against the name at the top of the ticket, instead of just against the speaker.

As an unaffiliated surrogate, Warren would be free to throw her barbs whenever and however she wanted.  She could craft her own message and launch her own rapid response apparatus.  In addition, if someone else were on the ticket and Warren continued to be the pitbull she has proven to be, it would open multiple fronts against Trump rather than allowing Trump to just rebuke the campaign anytime Warren went after him.

Trump has already anointed Warren with the moniker “Goofy Elizabeth Warren” which means she has successfully opened a bed and breakfast in his head.  As the summer progresses, any time that Trump spends calling her names is time not spent attacking Hillary.  Trump will look increasingly weak the more he attacks someone who he isn’t even running against.

Second, the constitutional requirement of a VP is to step into the presidency should the president be unable to serve.  While it is tempting every four years for candidates to choose people who help them politically, Clinton needs a running mate that can govern if need be.  

Warren has great credentials in the finance world, but not anywhere else.  She came to Congress based on her chops as a financial reformer.  She has since taken committee assignments (Banking and HELP) that allow her to further that work.  Should she ever need to sit behind the Resolute desk, she would be woefully unprepared to handle the foreign policy and military aspects of the job.

Third, Warren would only further polarize Clinton’s candidacy.  Clinton is already one of the most disliked candidates in the history of presidential politics and a joint ticket with Warren would only exacerbate that problem.  Warren isn’t shy about her opinions and is widely viewed as a left wing (read: dirty “L” liberal) warrior.

In theory her presence would bring in from the cold all of Sanders’ supporters who view her as an ally in their quest for economic justice. But choosing Warren solely for the Sanders vote is incredibly shortsighted.  Every four years, supporters of the losing primary candidate say they won’t vote for the eventual nominee, but there is barely even scant anecdotal evidence that that actually happens.  There are five months until the election and during that time Democrats will get on board regardless of whether Warren is on the ticket.

Fourth, Warren’s Senate seat is more valuable to the Democratic apparatus than her presence on Clinton’s ticket.  Democrats have a chance to retake the Senate this fall and they need Warren to do that.

Yes, the president is powerful and vitally important to the direction of the country, but an agenda can’t be pushed without a friendly Congress.  The Senate already exists in a delicate balance and if Warren were to vacate her seat for the Naval Observatory, Massachusetts’ Republican Governor Charlie Baker would get to fill her seat, undoubtedly choosing a Republican.  The Democrats have a shot at flipping the Senate and that task won’t be made an easier by starting one more seat down.

Fifth, what is in it for her?  As Joe Biden is fond of saying, the vice presidency is an inherently inferior and powerless position.  

Sure, the office still carries weight, and yes, you have the ear of the president when you want it, but the veep has no true, natural power.  Warren is no Dick Cheney and Clinton is no Dubya, so the idea that Warren would be able to exert massive influence over Clinton’s economic agenda the way Cheney directed the Iraq War is nothing but fiction.

Warren has also become a very influential member of the Senate Banking Committee where as her seniority grows-and if the Democrats retake the Senate-she will be able to pass the reforms and conduct the oversight she desires.  Why pass that up to attend the funerals of B-list world leaders and sit next to Paul Ryan during Joint Sessions of Congress.

Elizabeth Warren is a fantastic representative for the Democratic Party.  She is inspiring, enthusiastic, and eloquent and will be a great asset as the party-and the nation-look to avoid an apocalyptic Trump presidency.

For all the great things Warren brings to the table, she will be much more valuable this election cycle and for years to come as a United States Senator rather than as a passenger in the side-car of Clinton’s Harley.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images