Enough with the Feinstein Video

The video has it all. Left on Dem crime. Young vs old. Passion vs practicality. Edited clips. And so, so many hot takes. But it is also everything that is wrong with our politics today.

Last Friday, a group of elementary school students with some high school guardians and a parent or two showed up at Senator Dianne Feinstein’s San Francisco office to ask her to sign on to the Green New Deal – the massive climate plan backed by Democratic wunderkind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

I’m not going to describe the video because if you’re reading this, you have seen it.

This video has absolutely dominated the internet for going on 72 hours now. If you had only seen the coverage you would think she boiled one of the kids like a lobster right there in front of the class while laughing about how this is what swimming in the ocean will be like when they’re adults.

Here is the bottom line: this video should have no bearing on anyone’s life other than those in it and yet there are a whole lot of very serious faced blue check marks on Twitter talking about how awful the whole thing is.

One of the most infuriating takes out there – most notably spouted by a very stern Tommy Vietor of the Pod Save America bros – is that “it’s just wrong to talk to kids like this.” Correct, Feinstein would not make a great candidate for fill in for Mrs. G’s 4th grade class. But this isn’t elementary school – these kids were making a policy ask, the type that Feinstein hears from lobbyists, officials, and staffers fifty times a day. They weren’t just “passionately speaking” about the climate, they were literally asking her to sign something that commits to spend massive amounts of money and remakes the American economy.

Politics may be a game as these last few years have demonstrated. Policy however, is very, very real. And while the Green New Deal may be the favorite politics of the left, it is at the end of the day a prescription for policy. Children were stepping into an adult world and she took them seriously.

The children were being used as political props and everyone who is outraged bought it hook, line, and sinker. The kids may be passionate about climate change, but a video was going online that day no matter what happened. They were there as part of an organization and they were advocating for that organization’s top priority. The adults knew Feinstein wasn’t signing on and they were there to pressure her and make a scene about it.

Bringing in children to talk to a Member of Congress raises the emotional profile of the event – it’s effective and the whole reason they were there. It is why the part with the girl going, “but we’re going to suffer the consequences” went viral but not the part where Feinstein talked to the mom about why the resolution won’t pass.

What would be an appropriate response if children were advocating for anti-choice laws? What if they had pictures of fetuses demanding a Senator sign an abortion ban, should she be nice and coddle them then?

This is also just who Dianne Feinstein is. She has been in politics for a very long time and in the Senate for a quarter of a century. She is blunt, gruff, and doesn’t suffer fools. She talks the same way to members of her staff, cabinet secretaries, and third graders. If you are going to ask her to do something she doesn’t want to do, you better have the cavalry on speed dial.

But most importantly – how is any of this productive? Feinstein has spent her whole career as a “moderate” and just defeated a challenge from left backed by groups like this one. She also has one of the strongest environmental records in Congress, having preserved nearly 7 million acres of public land for conservation in California alone. She was never going to be a Green New Deal supporter, but you damn well better believe she wants to tackle climate change.

If these groups and those attacking her actually wanted to solve climate change instead of promoting their own organization they would be embracing people like her and working on building coalitions to take meaningful steps.

I get it, the optics of a rigid, annoyed, and powerful senator debating children are awful. But it’s not important. It’s not like she walked into the cafeteria of Dianne Feinstein Elementary School and started telling Jimmy and Carolyn to shut up and listen to her wisdom. These kids came to her office, armed with a camera and a Twitter account, and demanded she do something for them.

By the way, the President is attempting to use a fake national emergency to circumvent Congress, a member of the military was just caught with a massive arsenal and hit list of Democratic targets, and our Secretary of Labor helped a serial sex offender get out of jail.

But yes, let’s spend more time chiding Dianne Feinstein for not serving ice cream to a group that showed up to her office intent on embarrassing her.

Single Payer, Multiple Problems.

Gillibrand. Booker. Harris. Warren. Sanders. What do those names have in common?

Well, two things actually.  First, they are all of the Democratic senators with presidential aspirations. Second, they are all cosponsors of a recently proposed bill to create Medicare for all single-payer healthcare.

That list alone should tell you about the realistic possibilities of this proposal. If there were a bill on the other side of the aisle on a Republican pet issue sponsored by Cruz, Rubio, Paul, Graham, and Cotton, do you think Democrats would be willing to work with them to pass it?

The Sander’s bill operates under the assumption that healthcare is a right not a privilege, which is the absolute correct opinion – in my opinion.  Because this bill views it as a right, it eliminates the for profit insurance industry in favor of a government system that sets premiums based on health care costs, not health care costs, + overhead + profit + risk + shareholder concerns.  People wouldn’t have to worry about doctors being in network or preexisting conditions or anything. You get sick, you get taken care of.

Sounds wonderful, right?  But the bill has no chance of passing, so why is Sanders forcing the issue right now?

The Democrats just fought a seven year battle over the Affordable Care Act. When it passed in 2010, it was the biggest shake-up of the American healthcare system since the 1960’s and the politics of it cost Democrats the House in the following election.  They then spent the next six years listening to Republicans promise to repeal and replace it if they were to gain power.

Then Republicans caught the car.

With both houses of Congress and the White House under the Republican flag, push came to shove and the Republicans choked.  After promising their ideal version of healthcare to the American people for the better part of a decade, the Republicans couldn’t agree as a caucus on the path forward and had to throw in the towel and let the ACA stand.

While it is too early to judge if this will cost them House seats – remember, nothing matters anymore – it is hugely embarrassing and an enormous hit to their credibility.

So why then, in the minority, are the Democrats setting foot down the same path?  They just narrowly defended the ACA and by proposing a new bill are not only moving the goal posts, but conceding that the ACA isn’t the healthcare system they’d prefer.

I know that some out there – hi @PodSaveAmerica – would argue that even if the bill doesn’t pass that providing healthcare for all should be the Democratic position and this bill should be the conversation starter moving forward.

No, wrong, false, dumb.

By introducing this bill in this political climate, it is automatically polarized to the extreme. Not only is the idea toxic to Republicans, but Sanders is forcing Democratic senators to publicly comment and stake out a position on something that is divisive and  unrealistic.

In an effort to take back the Senate – and maybe the House? – why are you forcing Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp to talk about single payer when their constituencies barely even tolerate their support of the ACA?

I don’t think that the two caucuses need to operate as cohesive blocs at all times or that every vote needs to be a party line decision, but in today’s nationalized political environment elected officials live and die as a team much more than they used to.

If he were a true team player, Sanders would have never introduced this into the conversation under these circumstances.  Then again, he’s only ever paid attention to a constituency of one.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

Picture credit: Getty Images

Empty Suit Gives Empty Speech

Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric and the reviews. Donald Trump said absolutely nothing in his first speech to Congress last night.  Sure, he spoke 57 minutes worth of words – largely on script – but those words told us basically nothing that we didn’t already know.

Republicans across the board are lauding him for his “presidential” performance. Marc Thiessen of the Washington Post said it was the best speech he has even seen – and he helped write two – but what exactly is he basing that off of? Donald Trump read from a teleprompter for an hour straight without leading a “lock her up” chant and only inserted a few extra superlatives and suddenly he’s the oratorical love child of Reagan and Obama?  

Reading a prepared speech without spontaneously combusting is hardly an indication of presidential perfection. In fact, it was the minimum requirement for getting at least a B in my 5th grade oral presentation project.

Look at what else the Republicans are congratulating him for, like the standing ovation for a Navy SEAL’s widow. That was an incredibly touching and heartbreaking moment. But let’s not pretend that happened in a vacuum. Since Ryan Owen’s death during a raid in Yemen, Trump has blamed Obama, “the generals”, other Navy Seals, bad intelligence, and the Ghost of Christmas Past for his death. Less than 24 hours prior to his speech in an interview he deferred responsibility and said “they lost him” as if the Navy SEALs were responsible.

That is despicable behavior for a Commander in Chief of the military.

The ovation Mrs. Owens received was representative of how everyone in this country should treat families of the fallen, but don’t be mistaken in thinking that Louie Gohmert wasn’t voraciously clapping in part to help drown out Trump’s botching of that entire episode.

Style points aside, was there any substance to praise Trump on? I’m glad you asked. In setting up his agenda, he started by highlighting every Breitbart statistic on the Obama Administration and then proceeded to paint the world’s rosiest pic of his agenda. Are you ready for this?

  • He wants to increase and preserve world peace. He also wants to raise military spending by $54 billion and “start winning wars.”
  • He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  He also wants to keep the ban on preexisting conditions, keep subsidies, improve quality of care, lower costs, improve competition, expand marketplaces, let you keep your doctor, and lower pill costs.
  • He wants to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure package. He also wants massive tax breaks for “the middle class.”
  • He wants to welcome all legal immigrants of all kinds.  He also wants a merit based immigration system where we only admit high wage, high skill folks from countries we like.
  • He wants clean air, safe water, and environmental preservation.  He also says for every new regulation, you must repeal two.

He wants a juicy steak, but it must also be well done.  Certain things in life are just not possible.  

Republicans won’t pass a program that assists blind, wheelchair bound grandmothers get groceries without a pay-for, so does Trump really think they’ll drop $1 trillion AND cut the tax base further? How are you going to improve world peace while “winning wars” at the same time?

My brain is in more knots than a rope at Boy Scout camp trying to figure this one out.

And finally, let’s not forget… Trump boldly claimed that he was going to create “millions of new jobs” and bring dying industries “roaring back.” While I wish him every bit of luck in improving the lives of people in the forgotten regions of this country, that is an outrageously bold claim in a world where there are more solar energy jobs than coal mining jobs and robots (not trade) are permanently ending manufacturing jobs.

All during the campaign, half of the media would scream “Trump turned a corner!” each time he gave a speech without offending another country, and the half would mutter “you idiots, just wait a week.” The latter proved to be correct more times than not.

The Donald as president is no different. So what that he read from a teleprompter and said he supported a strong America. Every policy prescription was vague, if not contradictory, and most were dead on arrival even with Republican majorities in Congress.

This is still the same Trump who signed the Muslim ban, made a moral equivalency argument between the US and Russia, and called a major news network “FAKE NEWS” every chance he got. For those who think Trump became a new man yesterday, please come talk to me next time he tweets a conspiracy theory at 7 am.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

Picture credit: Cox Media

How to be president 101: Political Capital

Somewhere in the White House sits a giant sheet of posterboard with “CAMPAIGN PROMISES” scribbled across the top.  Each morning I imagine Donald Trump wakes up, looks at it like it’s the queen’s mirror from Snow White and thinks, “which of you suckers can I check off today? Muslim ban. Check. The Wall. Check. Repeal Obamacare and expand the military. Check and check.”

As time goes on and this list dwindles, Trump will undoubtedly see himself as the pinnacle of a successful president.  He’ll tell his supporters that unlike a normal politician, he actually delivered on his promises.  But is that really a good thing for him?  Does turning every campaign gaffe into national policy make for a successful leader?

There is a reason that political leaders don’t come in to office and rush to complete their entire agenda in the first 100 days. Two words: political capital.

Political capital is the nerd equivalent of swag. It is the length of the leash, the slack in a bungee cord, the gravitational pull of public opinion.

During the honeymoon phase of an administration, a new president has a lot of political capital, but it can be a fleeting beast. Back in 2009, President Obama was riding high, he had an approval rating in the high 50’s and majorities in both halls of Congress.  He had campaigned on two big ideas – healthcare and immigration reform.  But armed with staff of political veterans – including David Axelrod, Jim Messina, and Pete Rouse – Obama knew that only enough capital existed for one of those two achievements.

Immigration reform had actually been a possibility under Bush, but never made it across the finish line, so the calculation was made that it could wait. Instead, Obama pushed for the Affordable Care Act. Republican opposition was fierce, and less than a year later, Obama had lost his House majority from which he would never recover.

In a recent interview on the podcast “Keepin’ It 1600” Obama talked about how many freshman House members went out on a limb for him, voted for the ACA, and then lost their seats. That is what political capital can do for you.

Trump should be wise to heed this lesson, though the path he is on will be like death by a thousand cuts rather than the scorched earth bombing Obama experienced.

The first few weeks of the Trump Administration have been marked by constant controversy to the point it feels like we have been under his leadership for years already – with the gray hair to prove it.  All during the transition, Republican leaders still stood by his side, defending him when they could and simply staying silent when he really went beyond the pale.

This type of honeymoon will last for a bit, but if Trump’s approval numbers continue to submarine, his staff continue to play fast and loose with ethics rules, and the economy doesn’t take off, lawmakers will flee him in droves.

You’re starting to see it already. This past weekend John McCain, who jumped right under the covers with Trump during the campaign despite being mocked by him, went to Germany and gave a speech absolutely obliterating Trump’s worldview. Members of the same party don’t do this unless something is serious amiss.

McCain’s foray into resistance won’t be the last. Trump currently is governing by executive power (yes, I know it is early) and doesn’t appear particularly engaged in Congress.  This is another way to deplete his political capital regardless of scandal.

One of Democrat’s biggest complaints about President Obama was that he never engaged Congress when pursuing new agenda items, a philosophy epitomized by his 2014 declaration that he can get things done with the use of “a pen and a phone.”  As a result, when he did come calling, they were less willing to engage and be helpful. Back in their districts, they were hearing disdain with his policies, but they felt powerless to shape them.  This feeling led to resentment less willingness to cooperate.

Trump ought to be a student of history and heed this lesson.  If he continues to try and push major – and unpopular – agenda items via Executive Order he will find himself on an island politically.

He will not only see his agenda flounder – caveat… if he has one – but he may see himself more vulnerable to investigations by Congress.

Right now, there is plenty that should warrant a congressional investigation of Trump’s activities. Remember, the Republicans held 8 separate investigations of Benghazi at a cost of over $7 million dollars all in order to expose Hillary Clinton’s emails and weaken her, so don’t underestimate how powerful they can be when they want to.

If Republicans in the Senate are the canaries, Republicans in the House are the miners. We’ve already seen a handful of Senators including Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, John McCain and others ask for investigations into the Russian / Trump contacts, but so far Jason “Profiles in Courage” Chaffetz has held his tongue.  

Chaffetz will continue to search for his spine as long as Trump’s political capital remains at acceptable levels. But, if he starts losing the support of Republicans and swing state Republicans start to appear vulnerable, Chaffetz will eventually find a reason to care about Russian interference.

Trump’s personality is part of the problem because everyone knows it isn’t in his nature to back down. But if his political capital were poker chips, he’d be in danger of going out just by anteing up. If I were advising Trump, I’d tell him to back off the immigration orders and ACA repeal and instead start floating options for infrastructure projects. He can do those things if he wants, but he should build good will with Democrats first instead of rallying their base to the point so that bipartisanship is impossible.

Obama lost all his political capital upending the healthcare system, what makes Trump think that his story will end any differently? In addition, Trump didn’t win the election because of hard-line Breitbart readers who want to end Islam. He won because blue-collar voters in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania couldn’t stand to hear “Fight Song” even more goddamn time.

Trump’s presidency may be listing, but it doesn’t have to sink.  If he focuses on rebuilding ties with Republicans in the Senate, proposes legislation that does not automatically trigger the gag reflex of 60% of the country, and stops attacking judges and writers, he could slowly rebuild his dwindling pile of chips.

Four years is a long time, and members of Congress have the power to make that time as productive or ineffective as they want for a president.  If Trump is popular, they’ll work with him, but Mar-a-Lago turns into a slush fund, protests continue to stall traffic in Lexington, and lawsuits start piling up, Trump will be reduced to nothing more than a another guy yelling at a television in a bathrobe.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

Picture credit: Zazzle.com

Beware the Red Line

Republican members of Congress love to cite President Obama’s unenforced “red line” over chemical weapons use in Syria as the moment the world went to hell.  They argue that the non-reaction to the discovery of mustard gas led to Bashar Al-Assad committing further atrocities, to Vladimir Putin seizing Crimea and meddling in Eastern European political processes, and to Saudi Arabia and Iran carrying out a proxy war in Yemen.

As with all geo-political messes, its hard to nail down causation, but it certainly isn’t out of the question that the United States’ hesitancy to act after threatening to may have incentivized further international transgressions.  For Republicans, the lesson to be learned is closer to home than they may think.

Just as Vladimir Putin may have viewed US inaction in Syria as an invitation to push further into Ukraine, President-elect Donald Trump has viewed Republican cowardice as a green light continue to bypass norms, rules, and common decency.  He has seen more red line inaction than a Metro rider during rush hour.

Barely a month after declaring his run for president, Trump insulted former POW John McCain and declared that he liked people “who weren’t captured.”  Republican leaders were aghast in incredulity for about 72 hours. Trump continued on.

In December, 2015, Trump called for a blanket ban on Muslim immigration to the United States. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and others said he was tearing at the moral fabric of the United States and making Betsy Ross roll over in her grave. Trump rolled on.

In July, 2016, Khizr Khan stood before the country on national tv, shared his grief like only a son-less father could with the world, and asked if Donald Trump would have represented his son, a muslim American soldier, as he would any other young man.  Trump responded by insulting Khan’s wife and their faith.  Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell sided with Khan. Trump marched on.

In October, 2016, a video surfaced of a 59 year-old Trump insinuating that he had committed sexual assault. Mike Pence cancelled his upcoming campaign schedule and many Republicans fantasized about a new ticket.  Trump called it locker it room talk and Republicans slinked back. Trump soldiered on.

After each of these events, a small chorus of Republican leaders stuck their necks out and proclaimed Trump’s actions to be wrong. He was called unacceptable, unpresidential, and unfit. But each time, as the news cycle returned to Hillary Clinton’s emails, those Republican leaders crawled back on board the Trump train.

The red line has been drawn and erased, re-drawn and re-erased. It is as durable a sand castle during high tide.

During the campaign the consequences to this cowardice were minimal. The news cycle moved quicker than a strobe light at an Avicii concert and real accountability was on par with a time-out session at an elementary school slumber party.

But now that Trump is about to become president and will have the awesome power of his signature, the consequences could be catastrophic. The daily unintelligent briefing that he shares with us via Twitter shows his willingness to train his ire on the press and political opponents, two groups that are supposed to be protected by our founding documents.

What happens when Trump calls for an investigation of a paper that reports on a scandal of his? Will Republican leaders stand up then?

What happens when Trump asks Attorney General Sessions to investigate Democratic governors or to ignore illegal voting restrictions? Will Republican leaders step forward in defense?

Republicans have made hay out of President Obama’s refusal to enforce an international threat and lamented the chaos that became of it. After nearly 18 months of standing up to Donald Trump, only to sit back down, they would be wise to adopt their own lesson.

Why Mitch McConnell wants to remain boring.

Twenty-one days. That is all that remains in the Senate’s legislative year before the apocalypse election on November 8.  Twenty-one days to solve a whole host of issues from fighting Zika to funding the government.  So what can you expect to happen?  Basically nothing, and here is why.

As Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell is stuck between two not-so-equal and opposite forces.  On one hand, his Senate majority is dangling from an increasingly frayed rope and on the other hand, the hard right is becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of conservative victories he has secured. 

Government funding runs out on September 30.  One way or another McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan will hammer out some sort of funding measure, whether it is a Continuing Resolution (CR) or an omnibus package because there is no way in hell they will let a shutdown happen.  The Republicans know that when the dust settled following a shutdown, they would find Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton measuring the drapes for their new offices.

With that in mind, McConnell has three options remaining, none of which make everyone happy, and only one of which keeps his hopes alive of remaining Majority Leader.

The Senate has only passed two of the twelve appropriations bills, so in order to fund the government through fiscal year 2017, McConnell and Ryan would have a quickly package up an omnibus and moved it through Congress in roughly three weeks.  During that process, both parties would offer a host of messaging amendments and McConnell is too smart to force any of his vulnerable members to go on record voting to kill puppies or deport cancer patients. 

In addition, with Senators Portman, Johnson, Ayotte, McCain, Toomey, and Kirk all in fights for their lives, McConnell doesn’t want them in DC for even a second longer than they have to be.  All politics is local, and Capitol Hill ain’t local to anywhere. Any time they spend on the Senate floor is time that they could be shaking hands, kissing babies, and take hay rides at the county fair

The second option would be to pass a CR through the fall and into next Congress, most likely ending in March.  Federal agencies loathe this option as it would force them to operate on a partial year budget with no reasonable expectation of their future funding levels.  Sadly, their practical concerns matter not.  Hard right Republicans favor this option for two reasons.

1) With wishful thinking, they envision holding onto the Senate and thus being able to sabotage President Clinton’s first few months in office with a bruising budget battle that would distract from her “First 100 Days” agenda. 

2) Conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation believe that lame duck votes tend to yield liberal results. They understand that without accountability to the party machinery, moderate Republicans and those who are retiring are less likely to fight for anti-abortion language in a Zika funding bill.  

While that option is ideal for the conservation wing of the spectrum, Obama has said it is a non-starter and he would veto it.  As I mentioned earlier, Republican’s can’t risk a shutdown and won’t dare ask Obama to play one more hand before he cashes in.

What this leaves us with is the boring inevitability of a two month CR probably passed on September 29th with the promise of an omnibus funding package on the horizon for early December.

Despite all the hooting and hollering McConnell did about how he’d govern differently as Majority Leader and how he’d get the appropriations process back on track, it looks like this fall will be business as usual.  Expect McConnell to begin consideration of a CR through early December within the next week and for all the drama to be left to CNN.


Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU



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.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

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.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

Photo Credit: Getty Images


Tom Cotton wants to jail more people. Are you kidding me.

Earlier this week, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) gave a speech at the Hudson Institute in honor of Police Week, where he made the audacious claim that the United States has a problem with “under-incarceration.”  You read that correctly, Tom Cotton thinks that the developed country with the highest per-capita prison population in the world hasn’t put enough people in jail.

Cotton’s intended audience were law enforcement officials, so I understand he was attempting to pander to their position, but the idea that the United States should be putting more of its citizens behind bars is so ludicrously asinine and insulting that it makes Hillary Clinton’s attempts to pander to African Americans by telling a hip-hop radio station she keeps hot sauce in her purse look like child’s play.

First, let’s start with Cotton’s claim that mass incarceration in the 1980’s and 1990’s is responsible for the precipitous drop in the national crime rate.  The Brennan Center for Justice did a comprehensive study of the possible explanations for the drop in crime and mass incarceration was just one of thirteen possible explanations, most of which were deemed “inconclusive.”  The simple truth is that we don’t know why the crime rate has dropped so much.  It also may not be any one factor, but a combination of all of the above.

Cotton’s blatant cherry picking of this statistic to make his point is effective, but also dishonest and ignorant.  Public policy should be rooted in careful analysis, not prejudice, predisposition, and petty politics.

But let’s pretend for a second (and only a second) that Cotton is right, and that jailing everyone who commits a crime for the next ten years of their life really is the best way to prevent crimes.  But, is that really the best use of our resources?  Does it contribute to a just and verdant society down the road?  Does it help those criminals repent, reform, and move on from their transgressions?

For starters, it certainly isn’t the best use of our resources.  The National Dialogue Network recently conducted a study where it was determined that the state of Ohio could fund a child’s entire education at public schools and university through a master’s degree for the price of one year of incarceration.  

It is well known that the best way to prevent a child from becoming a criminal is to provide them with a great education.  If the state is so willing to spend six figures every year jailing those who have strayed from a good path, why not invest that money on the front end to give them opportunity outside of crime?

Once people are jailed (and thus not committing crimes in society) will they be better off once they are released?  Most of the time the answer is absolutely not.  Serving time stigmatizes a person for life.  Jobs become harder to get, house becomes harder to acquire, and social relationships falter.  In addition, most people who commit crimes do so in their prime development years, so if they spend those years in jail they are sacrificing their prime years for work training, retirement savings, marriage and family time, and educational opportunities.  

How is someone better off as a 35 year old with no previous job experience, no family, and a black mark on their employment application better for society than someone who went through a rehabilitation program in their early twenties and went on to find a steady job?

Cotton then attempts to back up his mass incarceration claim by stating that “criminal leniency would lead to more poverty” and that the state “cannot decrease the severity and certainty of sentences without increasing crime. It’s simply impossible.”  He supports this with absolutely no facts and no data.  In real life – which Cotton seems to be detached from – prison actually proves to be detrimental to preventing crime.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that 65% of those who are sent to jail recidivate and another study showed that every year spent in jail increases recidivism rates by nearly 6%.  Cotton would argue that is because “criminals are criminals” but I would argue that it’s because jail doesn’t accomplish what the “justice” system was intended to.  The theory behind sentences is not only to punish but to reform.  

Given the high recidivism rate, it is obvious the reform part is completely failing.  And when you take into account the sky-high price of locking people up, it would make infinitely more sense to invest in a justice system that focused on reforming citizens instead of putting them in an environment more likely to harden them.

But Cotton doesn’t stop there.  In his speech he proceeds to target Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia for restoring voting rights to former felons. He says, “Just last month, one governor restored voting rights to more than 200,000 felons, regardless of the offense committed or evidence of rehabilitation.”  What Cotton doesn’t mention was that this new order just restored voting rights of Virginia felons to the same status as former felons in Arkansas.  Cotton either didn’t do his research, or is aiming to make a nakedly political point.  I’m guessing it’s both.

What is most egregious about the arguments Cotton is making is that he is turning people’s lives into political footballs.  Restricting individual’s liberty is the most powerful thing a state can do.  Once an officer puts the cuffs on someone, their life is no longer in their own hands.  They become subject to the mercy of the courts. Their finances become subject to payment of court fees and their future freedom becomes subject to a judge’s whims.  

Cotton later added for dramatic effect: “I saw this in Baghdad. We’ve seen it again in Afghanistan. Security has to come first, whether you’re in a war zone or whether you’re in the United States of America.”  Jailing people who commit crimes in order to survive due to destitute conditions or others who are caught smoking weed for fun are not comparable to securing a road free of IEDs.  

Senator, your service is admirable, but your political pandering is shameful.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

Photo credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon


Mitch McConnell Has Forgotten His Poker Face

Mitch McConnell has forgotten his poker face.  Last week he placed his opening ante in a remarkably large gamble.  In what many consider to be a new political low, Majority Leader McConnell issued a statement a mere hours after Justice Scalia’s death was announced saying the Senate would not consider a new Supreme Court nominee under President Obama.  This is a gamble in its own regard, but then yesterday voters in South Carolina gave Donald J. Trump a rousing mandate heading towards the Republican nomination.

In a normal presidential election year this gamble would have a decent chance of paying off.  Most elections in the past couple decades have been relatively close and only but a couple times in the past hundred years has a member of a two-term president’s party been elected.  Thus, by waiting until next year, McConnell could envision a Republican president nominating the next Justice.

However, this isn’t a normal election year and if Donald Trump becomes the nominee next fall, we will more than likely end up with a Democratic president.  McConnell is taking a huge personal risk here and the blame will fall squarely on his shoulders should the chips fall on the wrong side of the table.  

The Republican electorate is shaping up to bet the farm on Donald J. Trump as their nominee for the White House.  While he may have gained traction among blue collar Republicans as a symbol of the revolt against the political establishment, he has very little – some would say no – appeal among Independents and Democrats.  Failure to broaden his support would likely lend him to the same fate as Wendell Willkie, the last business mogul candidate, who lost in a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.

If Trump or any other Republican loses in the fall, McConnell will likely be left with a narrower majority in the Senate and a new Democratic president who will have a mandate to nominate a Justice of their choosing.  After all, in McConnell’s hastily released statement he asserted that the people’s decision next fall should speak for the type of Justice to be nominated.  

Before the South Carolina primary, there was still a glimmer of hope that Republican voters would come to their senses and choose a more classic candidate.  But the Trump machine kept rolling, fueled by record turnout and relentless media coverage keeping him in the headlines.

Trump’s base of support primarily comes from white, non-college educated voters.  Along with picking off parts of the evangelical and hardline conservative vote, Trump has formed a speckled coalition that likely can carry him to the Republican nomination.  The problem however, is that his brand is unlikely to appeal to anyone whom it hasn’t appealed to thus far. His divisive nature has alienated Hispanics, Muslims, women, Democrats and a host of other voters whose support is required to eventually secure 270 electoral votes.

All of this makes McConnell’s hardline stance on the Supreme Court nomination that much riskier.  If Trump succeeds in becoming the Republican nominee and then fails to form the broad, bi-partisan coalition needed to win the general election, then McConnell’s bet will have backfired.

Had he not issued such a reactive statement last week, McConnell could have played his cards in a number of other ways that would have allowed him to hedge his bets against next November’s outcome.

First, he could have issued a statement saying he’ll give the Obama’s nominee a fair hearing. Then as the year wore on, he could delay, stall, and offer countless excuses until the Senate recesses for the campaign season next fall. With the clock expired he could then blame Democrats for picking an “extreme” candidate and failing to reach a consensus on the next Justice.

Or, with the American people’s best interest in mind, he could have used his position as a power-broker in the Senate to force the President to nominate an ideological centrist whom the Senate could confirm, thus denying Democrats the full liberal shift they foresaw with Scalia’s passing.

While neither of those tracks would produce a 100% ideal outcome for McConnell, they would certainly be preferable to allowing a President Hillary Clinton to nominate and confirm a truly liberal Justice.

Only time will tell how this story plays out, but if I were a betting man, I’d place my money that it won’t end well for Mitch McConnell.  His overt attempt at obstructionism to deny President Obama the ability to seat a new Justice on the Supreme Court was short sighted, reactionary thinking that will in all likelihood produce a worse result for conservatives than the alternatives.

Photo Credit: Getty