Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Elsewhere: Senate Deal, more

Lots of stuff to pass along, including one on the Senate deal still holding on today's ATF vote. One quick addition to that: it's worth remembering that the Senate deal is important, and that the potential instability in the tag-team approach is important, because Republicans are still filibustering everything. So it still takes 60 to defeat all these filibusters; all that's happened is that some Republicans are willing to help the Democrats defeat those filibusters in order to avoid a nuclear confrontation. But the filibusters are still going on.

Here's the other recent ones, beginning with my weekend column from Salon, which is about why presidents should continue going public even if it doesn't do what people think it can do.

Is the bully pulpit dead?

The conservative (led) boycott of (some) health insurance

In defense of context-included policy coverage

Will Obama finally move ahead of W?

Ignore the Obamacare spin war!

Yeah, This Doesn't Work

Chris Cillizza, on why Chris Christie is a strong candidate:
As Mitt Romney, John Kerry and Al Gore can attest — and not in a good way — being, or at least seeming, like an average Joe is critically important to your chances of winning.
Except...well, you know what Romney, Kerry, and Gore have in common? They won major party nominations! And that's where things such as candidate personality are actually important. As...George H.W. Bush can attest.

Or maybe Cillizza would say that Michael Dukakis failed "average Joe" too. But then...well, Bob Dole was no average Joe, and neither was John McCain. And you know who else was no average Joe? Ronald Reagan. Maybe there's a movie star exception.

Does Barack Obama seem like an average Joe? Republicans don't think so...I don't know. But even spotting him the last three presidents, for whatever that's worth, he's still not getting there. Far more nominees fail that test than pass it, and before the Clinton/W/Obama group, I'm not sure when the previous average Joe showed up. Truman, I suppose. Surely not FDR, and he seemed to be just fine as a presidential candidate.

For that matter, thinking about FDR, or McCain, or Reagan, or perhaps Obama, reminds us that in fact "average Joe" is only one of a number of politician personalities that can work just fine. That's part of what Richard Fenno talks about in Home Style -- part of a politician's promises have to do with the type of person he or she will be, personality included, but there are a wide variety of choices. What's important isn't picking the right one; what's important is acting, after the election, how one "promised" to act.

In other's just another one of those things that some political reporters and pundits are used to saying, but five seconds of thinking about it reveals that it's pretty much nonsense.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Don Murray, 84. Hey, he was in an "Apes" movie and an episode of The Single Guy; what else do you need? 

And some good stuff:

1. Jordan Ragusa looks at the vote on the Amash (NSA) amendment.

2. First it was Nader; next, as Kevin Drum notes, it's Erick Erickson with the fantasies.

3. And the great Joe Sheehan on Bud Selig and the coming suspensions. Brutal, but he's right.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How the Senate Deal is Working

The Senate today is confirming all the NLRB nominees. That's a big deal, substantively and with regard to procedure. It means that Republicans stayed with the nuclear-avoiding deal through the original seven nominees that Harry Reid was attempting to get through -- given, that is, that Barack Obama was willing to substitute two new NLRB nominees of his choice.

A little analysis.

Through the first four closely contested cloture votes -- Cordray for CFPB Perez for Labor, McCarthy for EPA, and Hirozawa for NLRB...

Four Republicans voted for cloture all four times: Collins, Corker, McCain, and Murkowski.

Three Republicans voted for cloture three times: Alexander, Flake, and Graham.

Five Republicans, Ayotte, Wicker, Isakson, Portman, and Kirk, voted for cloture twice.

And another nine Republicans voted for cloture a single time.

In those closest vote, Perez for Labor, Alexander (3 times) and Kirk (twice) voted with the solid four to make it 60-40.

Those are the cloture votes. The confirmation votes were generally close; Hirozawa and Perez were party-line votes.

So what seems to be the case is that Republicans are going to tag-team to make sure that they get at least six votes for cloture on all (most?) nominations, with four of them perhaps on board for every vote, and the others rotating through.

Here's what I don't understand. Through the Hirozawa cloture vote, I have 21 Republicans voting for cloture on at least one of these nominees. That's not quite half, but it's close. It sure seems to me that those Republicans are being victimized by the other half of the GOP conference. Remember, there's no need to have a cloture vote at all -- except if either the minority forces it by filibuster, or the majority insists on it, either for traffic management purposes or because they just want the vote. I'm assuming that Reid would not be holding extraneous cloture votes under the deal, so it's Republicans who are forcing these votes.

Granted, it's possible that Wicker, Cochran, Chambliss, and the rest just want an opportunity to differentiate themselves from Cruz, Paul, and Lee. I'd be pretty surprised if that's the case.

I'll point out, for whatever it's worth: 55 Democrats (all except Levin) and the 21 Republicans who have supported cloture at least once on these nominees add up to 76, which is more than enough to implement "by the rules" Senate reform and reduce the number needed for cloture on executive branch nominations to a simple majority, thereby freeing everyone to vote how they want.

Shocker! (Least Revealing Revelation Ever)

Oh, c'mon, Mother Jones:
As Mother Jones revealed last week, Groundswell, the hush-hush right-wing strategy group partly led by Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, wanted to hype the Benghazi tragedy into a full-fledged scandal for the Obama administration, as part of its "30 front war" on the president and progressives. A secret audio tape of one of Groundswell's weekly meetings shows that prominent members of the group pressed House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chair of the House oversight committee, to expand the Benghazi investigation and make this supposed scandal a top-priority for congressional Republicans. This recording indicates Groundswell's mission extends beyond message coordination to scandal-stoking.
Really? You're telling me that the same right-wing kooks who were publicly hyping Benghazi! and publicly urging Boehner and Issa to "make this supposed scandal a top-priority" were...also doing the same thing when the TV cameras weren't on!

And furthermore: they threatened that House Republicans "go hard on Benghazi or risk losing financial and grassroots support."

Never mind that Boehner and Issa haven't actually gone along with the specific demand (a select committee on Benghazi!). Never mind that Issa and House Republicans have been perfectly happy to hype Benghazi, with our without this supposed pressure. Never mind that there's nothing here about "Groundswell" control of the resources they supposedly were threatening to withhold.

This is about as big a non-revelation, and non-story, as I've ever seen. Check that...actually, I do think there's something of a story here. But it's not a scandal story; it's a story about, as far as I can see, perfectly legitimate activity by a portion, and hardly from the evidence a central portion, of the Republican party network. That's interesting! At least a little. But there's nothing nefarious going on here, and more to the point, nothing particularly secret about any of this.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Louise Wener, 47. I saw Sleeper opening for Elvis in Berkeley, I guess right at the top of their brief run...they were quite good! I had no idea what happened to her; turns out she's a successful novelist, apparently. How many rock star/novelists are there, anyway? The guy who is John Wesley Harding, I know; also Dr. Frank from Mr. T. I'm probably missing an obvious one.

Some good stuff:

1. Boris Shor on state legislature polarization.

2. Joan Walsh on Ralph Nader. One of the hallmarks of US politics is that democracy is the stated universal preference; support for any other form of government is a strong taboo, one of the strongest there is. In a lot of ways that's probably good; even those who really have no use for democracy not only are forced to declare their belief in it, but in most cases "believe in" democracy, even if they don't actually have any patience for real rule of the people. But those same declarations also make for a lot of confusion, since there's sort of a basic assumption that whatever political system we think is best must, by definition almost, be what "real" democracy is.

3. Julian Sanchez on the Ashcroft hospital showdown.

4. And Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog conquers the world, becomes more of a must-read than ever.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Catch of the Day

Great Ezra Klein item defending August recess. For Congress that is. As he points out, Congress for the most part is very much at work during what they try to call a "district work period."

I'm not sure that all 535 Members of Congress are intense hard workers, but in my first and second hand experience (I've known a fair number of people who worked on the Hill), not to mention what more careful research has found, the overwhelming majority work hard at their jobs. Doesn't mean they are all great at it; we've all known people who work hard but don't get anything done!

The one thing I'd add to Klein's piece is that legislative and committee staff are still busy at work during August. Okay -- not as busy, not even close, to how they are when Congress is in session. But it's not as if the business of legislating and oversight shut down when Members leave town; indeed, you'll find plenty of staff who will tell you that a lot of the "real" work happens when they can get Members out of their hair for a bit, and (even more important, perhaps) relax a bit from the minute-to-minute demands of committee hearings and floor debates. My sense is that this doesn't really apply so much to the long break after Congress adjourns before November in an election year until the new Congress begins in January (at least, if there's no lame duck session), but it very much applies to in-session breaks.

At any rate: nice catch!


Not sure how much I'll post today and tomorrow because Greg is taking a couple days off, so I'll be over there more than usual.

Meanwhile, over the weekend we here at Plain Blog celebrated a birthday; I've been doing this four years, now. Woo! Easy slogan for the occasion: Four More Years!

Thanks are due: to Greg, to the other folks at the Post and at Salon and TAP; to John and the other political science bloggers; to all the great commenters here; and especially to those who have supported Plain Blog with kind words and links. Thank you!

I suppose I should thank all the politicians and hack journalists who have provided easy items for me over the years, but that wouldn't be very nice, would it?

At any rate, I appreciate everyone's support. Thank you! Plenty more to come.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Danger Mouse, 36.

Recovering from a brutal Giants weekend; at least there's still good stuff:

Elizabeth Saunders on Al Gore and Iraq -- plus links to plenty more. I've only read the post, and not the full article, but I suspect I agree entirely (mostly because it sounds pretty similar to what I've said about Gore/Iraq).

While Philip Klein is a skeptic on a GOP shift to a less McCain-like foreign policy.

Perhaps a cheap shot, but fun: Paul Krugman goes all Lincoln on the Republicans.

And Dan Hopkins on messaging and health care reform.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

One year from today:

How is "Obamacare" polling?

How do experts believe ACA implementation is going?

How is health care playing in competitive 2014 elections?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Chris Christie: solid conservative for the most part, and certainly an acceptable presidential nominee -- or really just another Eastern Establishment moderate?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

I'll go with what looks to be the beginning of an open fight within the GOP about foreign policy and civil liberties -- we had the House vote on the NSA, and then Christie's smackdown of Rand Paul. There's disagreement among Democrats, too, but I don't think it's reached "open fight" stage yet.

Didn't matter this week? Maybe Obama's economic speech, but even more so the reaction to Obama's economic speech.

Friday Baseball Post

Here's the thing: as Bill James said long ago, and as I've often repeated, the worst thing you can do after a championship season is to try to keep the exact same team together. For one thing, it means you're pretending that there are no weaknesses on the team, which is never true. For another, almost all champions get there in part because they have guys who were at least a bit over their heads, and they're going to come down to earth. It's just a terrible idea.

And lo and behold, there you are: twice Sabean tried to keep the exact same team, and twice it ended with a terrible year.

Now, some of it is just how it goes. Keeping Matt Cain and expecting him to be at least fairly good was reasonable. Lincecum? It wasn't nuts to hope for a bounce-back season, although it was an obvious problem spot coming in. And Bumgarner has been OK.

But Vogelsong's collapse isn't really a surprise. He wasn't actually all that good last year -- ERA+ was 105. Yes, that undersells him a bit because it excludes four excellent postseason starts...on the other hand, he was 34, and of course had no history of sustained success.

Which leaves...Zito. Postseason heroics notwithstanding, we're talking about a guy who turned in an 85 ERA+ at age 34, and that was a comeback year. Of course he was bad this year; it would have been a shocker if he was any good.

Did Sabean even know that last year's champs were a great hit, mediocre pitch team? Who knows? China Basin has been playing as an extreme pitcher's park, and you just never know what Sabean picks up on and what he doesn't.

What it comes down to is that the team started the year with two seemingly reliable, although not star, starters; two major question marks; and one guy with little hope of being close to league average. And very little in the way of Plans B, C, and D; there was Chad Gaudin, and then...what?

Now, I don't know what options were available, but they just shouldn't have gone into the season expecting league-average results from that rotation.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Elsewhere: Trump Again, Boehner, Immigration, More

Let's see....I complained about anyone taking the latest Donald Trump for president scam seriously. Granted, there's sort of a catch-22 on that one, since I'm pretty much yelling "don't pay attention to Trump!" But what are you gonna do.

I did another pro-Boehner one today, also, saying that I'm pretty sure he's going to at least try to avoid a government shutdown or default this fall. I guess we'll see.

Hmmmm...yesterday I did one on Steve King and immigration which I thought was a bit of a rehash, but a bunch of people said they liked.

And earlier this week I wrote something like a primer on the upcoming budget and debt limit showdown.

Other recent ones:

The core contradiction at the heart of the GOP campaign to sabotage Obamacare

Understanding the importance of a reputation for bipartisanship

GOP DC Circuit Strategy, Revisited

Glenn Sugameli writes to me after I wrote this one, saying:
I watched Pillard’s hearing, and read all of the broad-ranging letters to the Senate on her nomination, and every article, opinion piece, blog post, and Senator Statement on her nomination, and as a result I agree with much of your post , but strongly disagree with this portion: “with lots of hot-button issues in her writings for them to attack. …. Pillard, however, will have serious opposition, and it's probably more likely than not that she'll be killed by filibuster.”

At her hearing, only three Judiciary Committee Republicans (Grassley, Lee and Cruz) really grilled Pillard (and ignored how their misconceptions and distortions that were dispelled by her testimony and prior writings).  Sen. Flake asked good questions and seemed pretty satisfied with her answers.

I strongly conclude that there NOT are “lots of hot-button issues in her writings for them to attack.” [...]

As for a filibuster, Sen. Murkowski [R-AK] always opposes them on judicial nominees, McCain, THE key player on filibusters has disavowed filibusters on the D.C.  Circuit nominees and one cosponsor of Grassley’s bill (Collins) wrote an Op-Ed that she would not filibuster on that basis and another (Graham) said he is uncertain.
He sends along too a link to his extremely thorough and helpful site.

First, to clarify: when I say that there are hot-button issues, I'm not saying that critics are correct -- or even that critics are basing their complaints on anything real. Only that opponents have raised (bogus or not) the kinds of issues which tend to be difficult for other Republicans to ignore.

But second: I take the vote-counting here seriously. If Flake in particular is satisfied with Pillard, or at least satisfied enough that he would vote for cloture, then he's going to be confirmed.

Or, to put it another way: I may have been totally wrong on this one. I'll keep watching, of course.

Rise of a Reality-Based Conservative Media?

Kevin Drum writes:
Conservative desperation to revive the IRS "scandal," which basically imploded in their laps weeks ago, continues apace. Steve Benen reports today that the latest is a scoop by the Daily Caller about a White House meeting with IRS chief counsel William Wilkins in 2012. The fact that this was trumpeted in the Caller is pretty much all you need to know about this supposedly nefarious meeting, 
Which is absolutely true; indeed, two or three years ago, one could say the same about virtually any story that originated in the GOP-aligned press.

What's fascinating is that it's changing. Or at least, there are now decent-size islands of reality within the mainstream conservative press. National Review has really stepped up its game, with Robert Costa leading a decent-sized group of people doing real reporting. There are also I think a somewhat larger number of reality-based columnists who are willing to take shots at conservative nonsense while staying firmly within the conservative mainstream. See, for example, columns on the futility of shutting down the government over ACA by Ramesh Ponnuru and Byron York (over at the Washington Examiner, which also runs Philip Klein's informed health care discussions). Not that there's anything wrong with exiles such as David Frum -- everyone should obviously wind up whether they feel comfortable -- but if the GOP is to get itself out from the damage that a closed information feedback loop can cause, they need people within that loop to do something about it.

The question, to me, is what comes next. Will both this relatively new reality-based conservative media coexist peacefully with Rush and Fox and the rest of the nonsense? Will war break out? Who would win?

At any rate, it all seems to me like a pretty significant development.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jeremy Piven, 48. I can't help but liking PCU; given all the Wesleyan people in Hollywood, as far as I know this is the only one actually about Wesleyan.

And good stuff:

1. Dahlia Lithwick on Nina Pillard, Senate Republicans, and "radical feminism."

2. Philip Klein, trying to convince conservatives that sounding like bigots is a bad idea. I think he's acting in good faith (although he might want to work on a stronger description of Jim Crow).

3. Ross Douthat on the politics for Republicans of voter ID and other such laws.

4. Abby Rapoport on the North Carolina voter restriction law.

5. And Molly Ball in This Town.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

GOP DC Circuit Strategy Emerging

Yesterday the second of the three DC Circuit nominees, Nina Pillard, had her judiciary committee hearing; Todd Ruger reports.

The takeaway seems to be that after a hearing for nominee Patricia Millett in which Republicans focused on their bogus "court packing" story, Pillard has emerged as the main target, with lots of hot-button issues in her writings for them to attack. 

So here's what's going to happen, apparently. For Millett and for U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, the third nominee, we'll get lots of harumphing about workload in the DC Circuit court, and hard-liners will oppose cloture on that basis...but they'll fall short, perhaps by half a dozen votes. Both will be confirmed. Pillard, however, will have serious opposition, and it's probably more likely than not that she'll be killed by filibuster. 

That's all still speculative, but I it fits the situation. I very much doubt that Democrats are going to go nuclear over a single judicial nominee, especially if she's opposed on the merits (whether reasonable or not). If, however, Republicans really went along with Chuck Grassley's "court packing" nonsense and blockaded one or more spots on the DC bench...well, that would be a much bigger deal. As it is, a successful filibuster kill of the Pillard nomination along with two confirmations would mean that half of Obama's DC Circuit nominees this year were obstructed -- but Republicans can counter that the overall appeals court confirmation rate is far higher, and then confirm the next replacement.

Again, that's speculative. Perhaps Pillard will squeak through. Perhaps a more intense opposition will develop to one of the others. 

But I'm fairly confident that none of them will be blocked on "court packing" alone, which means that there's no (admitted) blockade of these seats, and therefore no real need for Democrats to go nuclear on judicial nominations. At least I don't think that an occasional circuit court filibuster kill is the kind of obstruction significant enough in practice to overcome Senatorial reluctance to lose the filibuster, nor do I think it's significant enough in theory,  for that matter. 

So far. We'll have to just see what comes next.


I'm very late at getting to this, but the great Steve M. took on my weekend column on Ted Cruz, and I did want to respond to part of it.

Not the part where Steve argues that I'm wrong about the possibility of a Cruz move to the center in the event he was to win the nomination. I'll stand by what I said, but there's no way to know, and he may certainly be correct. We're in the realm of speculation in choosing between "Cruz is what he is, and would only be more so after a successful nomination campaign" compared with "Cruz would be more able to move to the center than Romney/McCain types." And I'll readily concede that reputation (which is what matters here) may be sufficiently sticky that moving to the center wouldn't help even if it happens, and he might be stuck with a reputation for extremism regardless of what he does in the general election.

No, the part I want to respond to is about 1972. I said that a large part of Nixon's landslide was the fundamentals; Steve argues (with links, which I'm not redoing here):
OK, stop right there. Nixon beat McGovern because Nixon was "a popular president during good times"? As Rick Perlstein notes in Nixonland, at the beginning of 1972 Nixon had a 49% approval rating, and the Harris poll showed him beating Ed Muskie by only 1 in a three-way race with George Wallace, who was expected to run as a third-party candidate. Unemployent and inflation had increased significantly in Nixon's first term, as had the crime rate; Perlstein notes that the movies in the theaters -- Dirty Harry, Straw Dogs, The French Connection -- depicted rampant crime. Oh, and the war was still going on, and the country was still racially polarized. No, we weren't happy campers in 1972 reveling in peace and prosperity. We were just sold on the notion that Nixon was the uprightest of citizens holding the line against dirty hippies like George McGovern. That's largely why Nixon rose in the polls throughout 1972 and crushed McGovern.
I strongly disagree. It's correct about January 1972; in fact, as I've said, Watergate makes sense in the context of what looked like it might be a close election at that point. But not about November 1972. It was a very good economic year (Nixon was no Carter-like fool; he, like LBJ before him, did everything he could to goose the economy during an election year). The trips to China and the USSR early in the year were major events, and the war was winding down all year, too. That, and not the contrast with McGovern, was surely why Nixon's approval rose in the first half of 1972.

Beyond that, it's not clear that reputation for ideological extremism was McGovern's main problem that year. The Democrats really were fundamentally split; Nixon's sabotage made it worse, but the divisions were real and painful. There's nothing remotely like that on the Republican side right now; there's no significant group or faction that might walk or sit out the campaign if Cruz wins the nomination, so that nominating whoever the GOP '16 version of Muskie or Humphrey would prevent it. And then there's the campaign's troubles beyond ideology, including the chaotic convention and the disaster with the VP slot.

Again: I definitely think that reputation for ideological extremism cost McGovern and Goldwater (and Reagan). But the 1972 and 1964 elections weren't primarily about the out-party candidates,

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Illeana Douglas, 48.

Good stuff:

1. Norm Ornstein unloads on the Republicans for sabotaging the ACA. Brutal, but fair.

2. Dahlia Lithwick on reducing voting in North Carolina.

3. And Scott Lemieux on Braun.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Oy, Kraushaar

Granted, I haven't watched the president's speech today. But that's OK; apparently, Josh Kraushaar hasn't watched anything else the president did from about March 2009 until today.

Seriously: I think this could be the single stupidest thing I've heard anyone try to peddle yet about Barack Obama's economic record:
Instead of taking up health care reform in the wake of the Great Recession, the president could have spent his time addressing Americans’ economic insecurity by promoting programs for those finding themselves out of work, struggling to find new jobs, and looking to get back on their feet...

Imagine if Obama began his presidency pitching an economic opportunity platform focused on, say, expanding job retraining programs, extending the payroll tax cut, and streamlining the tax code.
My emphasis, because...Oh my God. That's right: Josh Kraushaar is complaining that Barack Obama ignored the economy from March 2009 until, apparently today -- and all would have been well if only he had supported extending the payroll tax cut. Extending the payroll tax cut. Extending the payroll tax cut!!!

(No, he's not talking about the beginning of the second term; later in that paragraph, he talks about how he had the votes in Congress back then to do whatever he wanted. Which also wasn't true, by the way, even in 2009-2010).

For the record: the payroll tax cut was passed in 2010 and extended in 2012 through the end of that year. It expired at the end of 2012 -- basically, at the end of Obama's first term. That is, the payroll tax cut was passed and once extended during the period in which Obama was supposedly ignoring the economy; it was only available to extend  at the end of 2012 because it was passed when he supposedly was ignoring the economy.

There's no hint in Kraushaar's column about the Jobs Act that Obama proposed in September 2011. Nothing about the economic plan he pushed in fall 2010, either. Nothing about Dodd-Frank. Nothing even about the proposals Obama made in his State of the Union this year, most of which he's still repeating (and House Republicans are still ignoring). For that matter, nothing about Obama's deficit-cutting over the last couple of years. Some of that may have been bad policy; much of it never happened because he didn't have the votes in Congress. But all of it was done in an attempt to get the economy moving.

Not to mention that there's a very screwy giving-speeches-and-passing-things focus here. What Obama did for the economy in 2009-2010 was mainly implementing the stimulus passed in early 2009. That's really not ignoring the economy.

By all means, criticize the specific choices Obama and Hill Democrats made. Was the stimulus too small? Too big? Badly constructed, or badly implemented? Was Dodd-Frank the wrong path? Should there have been a different course on housing? Was Bernanke at the Fed a mistake? Did Obama err in pivoting, to the extent he did, to austerity? All of those are fair game. The idea that the administration ignored the economy in after spring 2009, however, just won't fly.

Oh, and you know what? Ask a hundred economists, and I bet 99 of them say that "streamlining the tax code" is very small potatoes indeed for the economy compared with fixing health care.

I like some of Kraushaar's stuff, but this has to be the single worst column (not counting partisan talking points) I've read in a long time.

See, I Had to Look Up Something Limbaugh Said, And...

I have a new column up at the Prospect about the long-term political effects of health care reform, and more generally the theory of a liberal plot to craft a permanent majority for Democrats by making the majority of voters dependent on the government -- the theory, really, behind the GOP "47%" obsession. Basically, I call nonsense on it. I think it's a good one, so please check it out.

Meanwhile, I had to track down a good Rush Limbaugh quote for it, and found this:
But they also want people to use Obamacare as a gateway to more government dependence.  So the more people that sign up for Obamacare, the more they're signing up to be lifelong Democrats.
But that's not what this item is about. This item is about the Limbaugh screed where I found that quote. It's from a couple weeks ago -- July 11 -- during the publicity about Obama Administration plans for advertising the exchanges. Which Rush turned in to: "People Aren't Signing Up For Obamacare."

That's right: past tense. Well, okay: present tense. In Rush world...well, I'll give you the flavor for it:
But nevertheless this guy at Forbes has done the research and found out that people are just not signing up -- young people particularly, and that's who the regime really wants.  They need them to pay the freight! They need young people who are not gonna be pulling much out of the system in terms of health care treatment, paying the freight for the elderly who need all the care.

That's not happening...
So there's this long screed about how Obamacare is a flop because no one is signing up, but nowhere in it does Rush happen to mention that the exchanges open for business on October 1. All this "not signing up" isn't actually happening (among other things, Rush conflates findings about past-tense Medicaid-eligibles who don't use it with future-tense exchange-eligibles who might or might not use it).

I mean...look, I've listened to a fair amount of Rush Limbaugh over the years. And of course I've seen plenty of selected quotes from him, especially the ones pulled out (usually fairly, sometimes not) to make points about how awful he can be.

But I think what this points to is just the low-grade constant drum of misinformation being injected into the world by Rush, and by similar talk show hosts. I'm not even talking about the core irrationality of the piece -- um, if choosing to advertise means that the product is in trouble, it's amazing that McDonald's, Budweiser, and Coke have survived. The thing is that a smart listening could figure that part out. A skeptical listener might discount Rush's reports of trouble with the program...say, by applying some "partisan bias" discount to whatever the talk show host claims. But there are simply no internal cues available to help even a relatively well-informed listener understand that Rush has botched the basic facts here so badly that there's really no reliable takeaway at all.

Okay, that's enough. Just worth noting -- when we talk about a conservative information feeback loop, it's stuff like this that we're talking about, just as much as it is more obviously partisan fabrications (such as the myth of the thousands of IRS agents hired to enforce the ACA) or the more complex theories, such as the one I wrote about today.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to the great Barry Lamar Bonds, 49. Probably still would be a league-average hitter, if they hadn't blackballed him. Certainly as great a player as any of us has seen. And was just good at so many things on the field, beyond his too-good-for-the-game hitting during the late career surge.

Some good stuff:

1. Huh. Chris Cillizza is now willing to write that House Republicans are primarily responsible for the lack of compromise in Congress. Interesting (via...sorry, someone caught this and put it on twitter, but I didn't save it).

2. A new paper by Anthony Johnstone on campaign finance disclosure, with the abstract at Election Law Blog.

3. Another abstract: Melissa Miller and Jeffrey Peak on gender and press coverage of Sarah Palin's VP campaign.

4. Of course I agree with Matt Yglesias about revolving doors and corruption. Except I mostly don't worry about it at all, not just in the circumstance he discusses. Excellent post.

5. And I have mentioned that I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is the best blogger out there, haven't I? Yet another good one.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 23, 1973

Nixon responds to the Ervin Committee's request for a handful of tapes:

C'mon, Reporters, Really????? (Yet Again)

Another one? This time (and it was yesterday; just caught it now), Huffington Post gives us a story about how Mike Lee, the Tea Partying Utah Senator, is threatening that Republicans will shut the government down in order to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Down in the story, it is revealed that Lee speaks for a group of a dozen or so Republican Senators. That's not very many! But what the story doesn't tell you is even more important: Mike Lee isn't going to vote for the continuing resolution no matter what. He, and the others in his camp, aren't going to be in any negotiations over a deal to keep the government open. So why should we care how he is characterizing his "no" vote?

This is the third time within a week that I've seen one of these stories. I don't know if they're always out there and I've just noticed, or if it's something else, but: Hey, Reporters! Cut it out! "Senator who everyone knows will vote no threatens to vote no" is just not a story. Really.

(Noticed after I wrote the main item: there may be more to this story -- The Hill has Thune and Cornyn on board with the effort (via Kilgore). That's a real story; neither is absolutely necessary to pass a CR, but it's possible to imagine one or both of them on a deal; remember that an eventual deal needs at least the tacit support of mainstream House conservatives as well as Barack Obama and mainstream Senate liberals. Lee recruits Thune and Cornyn is a story; even Lee and the Tea Partiers put pressure on mainstream conservatives could be a story. Lee holds the CR hostage isn't a story, because Lee isn't going to vote for the CR either way).

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Daniel Radcliffe, 24.

Plus some good stuff:

1. Steve Kornacki on how Chris Christie may have a serious campaign finance dilemma in 2016.

2. Bruce Reed's political education.

3. Good Ezra Klein interview with This Town author Mark Leibovich. Actually, the good parts are mostly the questions, but worth reading for that.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Elsewhere: Cruz, More

My Saturday column for Salon warned liberals not to root for Ted Cruz. If you read that, you might also want to read Michael Tomasky's argument today that liberals should root for Ted Cruz. His case is pretty much what I was writing against; he basically takes it as a given that Cruz would have no chance to win, and works from there. 

The piece generated tons of comments, most of them ranging from hostile to contemptuous. Quite a few were with Tomasky's point of view -- that Cruz obviously couldn't win. A lot of them were on the order of: Cruz could never pivot back to the center! He's a loon! On the former, well, read the item. On the latter: it can't be true that Cruz is both a calculating, McCarthyite demagogue and wound never modify his rhetoric during the general election campaign. Not saying he necessarily would -- he might make the mistaken judgement that extremism sells better than moderation in November. But I strongly suspect that's not what would happen if he won.

And then there were comments...I didn't go all the way through, but it may well have been hundreds of these, plus tweets and emails -- calling me a fool because I'm overlooking Cruz's supposed lack of eligibility. Sorry; don't know who is feeding this to liberal Salon readers, but Cruz was born (in Canada) a US citizen, with (one) US citizen parent, which is all it takes (WaPo's Aaron Blake had a fine explainer on this a while back). I do wonder how much of the intense reaction on this is sincere (liberals mistakenly believing Cruz is ineligible), and how much is simply cynical payback for Obama birthers. At any rate, it surprised me.

Other elsewhere items:

C'mon, Reporters, Really?????

I hate onions. No, really, I do. Everyone in my family, and lots of my friends know all about it. I mean, I try to be polite, but if you ask me, I'll tell you that I hate onions. So, you know, it's probably not a good idea to ask me whether an onion soup or an onion bagel or latkes made with onions are any good; I'm not going to like them. My family and friends, not being idiots, don't ask me about that.

Which brings me to the national press corps. Hey, I already covered this as recently on Friday, on reports of what Ted Cruz was going to demand on the debt limit (that he surely will vote against no matter what's in it).

Well, today we have a Politico item about the Senate showdown "deal" potentially not holding. It seems that Rand Paul may do another talking filibuster. And there are various threats to derail future exec branch nominees -- threats from John Thune, from John Cornyn, Mike Crapo, from Chuck Grassley. Uh huh. You know what they all have in common? None of them were part of the showdown deal; all of them voted against Perez, McCarthy, and Cordray last week. In fact, Cornyn, Crapo, Grassley and Paul even voted against cloture on the nominee for the Export-Import bank; they are four of only sixteen Republicans who opposed cloture in each of these votes. So what do we care if they threaten to vote against the next round? Their votes aren't needed, and aren't really expected.

To be fair: Politico is also reporting that John McCain intends to put a hold on one nomination. But it's a traditional hold apparently used to get some information out of the administration. Presumably, they'll cut a deal, and the nomination will move forward. Nothing in the reported deal prevented that sort of thing from continuing.

Really, reporters: cut it out. If Lisa Murkowski says she's going to vote against cloture, then maybe the deal is in trouble (although even then: pro-deal Senators didn't necessarily vote for cloture on every nominee last week). But if the same people who opposed cloture in all cases last week say they're going to oppose cloture for some specific nominee in the future, it's not an indication that the deal is in trouble.

Hey, John Boehner: Wanna Make a Deal?*

The Speaker (emphasis added):
BOEHNER: Well, Bob, I've been around this town for a little while, like you have -- not quite as long -- but around here, never, ever, ever is not usually a good prescription. The senators know, the Democrat senators know that this law's not workable. They know it's not ready. It was Max Baucus, Senate chairman, Democrat chairman of the Finance Committee, who said that this was a train wreck. They know it's a train wreck, so I wouldn't be so quick to suggest that they're never going to take this up. Matter of fact, I would urge Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, put these two bills on the floor of the Senate to delay the employer mandate and to delay the individual mandate, and let's see what happens.
You know what I bet Harry Reid would be willing to do? I bet he'd be willing -- more than willing, he'd be thrilled -- to make the following deal:

Every time the House votes to repeal or otherwise destroy the Affordable Care Act, Reid will call that bill up in the Senate.

And in exchange, every time Reid does that, he also gets to pick one Senate-passed bill for John Boehner to bring to the floor of the House.

Starting with, oh, say....immigration.

Oh, I should explain; I'm not just being snarky. The real point here is that the Speaker -- or, really, the majority party, but in operational terms it's the party leadership -- really does absolutely control the floor of the House. It's not quite impossible for something to get full House consideration if the Speaker doesn't want it, but it's next-to-impossible. Over on the Senate side, the Majority Leader has no such authority. Oh, sure, Reid gets to decide which bills to bring up...but he can't control what gets offered as an amendment, which means anyone who has a bill that's being ignored has the option to offer it as an amendment, even if it isn't relevant to the bill under consideration. So if any Senator really wants to get a vote on something, that's usually going to happen.

On the other hand, thanks to the full 60 vote Senate, Reid can bring something up without much fear of getting rolled. All he has to do is to hold 41 of the 54 Democrats. Boehner has no such protection; under normal procedure, anything that comes up in the House passes if it gets a simple majority. But don't call that "majority rule" -- remember, the only majorities that matter in the House are those that the majority party allows to operate. It's majority party rule, not majority rule.

At any rate, what do you think of my deal? As Boehner says, "let's see what happens."

*Or: Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik?

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Louise Fletcher, 79. So, so, wonderful on DS9. One of the very best TV villains, and of course she was one of the very best movie villains, too.

A new week, and more good stuff:

1. An interview with the Monkey Cagers.

2. Sarah Binder on the Senate showdown.

3. Remember lazy mendacity? That was, during the campaign, the idea that Republicans were not even bothering to pretend that their claims were true; apparently they cared far more about the initial headline and getting a story out there than they did about the effects on their reputations when it turned out that the story was untrue -- to the extent that I noted a couple of times when they themselves linked to an obvious debunking. At any rate: we're seeing it in Obamacare "rate shock" stories, as Jonathan Cohn describes.

4. TNC on Obama's comments on Friday.

5. And Andrew Sprung on Obama.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

An old chestnut, but relevant I suppose with both Olbermann and Nate Silver both moving back (at least partially?) to sports: why isn't there a liberal Rush Limbaugh?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Rush Limbaugh: good or bad for conservatives?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What Mattered This Week?

Well, yes, I do think the Senate showdown mattered quite a bit. To begin with, just the confirmations that have already happened are a big deal. Assuming that the NLRB picks also go through (and I'll be very surprised if it doesn't hold through that point), it's even a bigger deal.

Then, if the deal holds through the 113th Congress, that means plenty of other exec branch nominations going through.

That Harry Reid was able to line up 53 Senators for a nuclear threat may also mean that Republicans will be even more selective about blocking judicial nominations. Note that they haven't been obstructing many of them at the Senate floor stage this year, anyway.

And then there's the broader issue: they eventually didn't go nuclear, which may mean that the filibuster in general is safer in the long run than it would have been otherwise.

So, yes, all of that mattered.

For something that doesn't matter? How about the efforts over on the House side to keep the IRS scandal going as a presidential scandal.

That's what I have, but it was a very newsy week, so: what did you think mattered this week?

Friday Baseball Post

Did you all happen to read Abby Rapoport's essay on fantasy sports over at the Prospect this week? It was about the differences between being a regular sports fan -- a fan of a team -- and a fantasy player. And mostly, it was very nice. In particular, I think she's great on the differences between a team fan and a fantasy fan.


For one thing, I think she doesn't sufficiently appreciate how much roto and fantasy sports has brought baseball fans. Bill James, and the success of the Abstracts, basically preceded roto, but basically the explosion of information, as much as it was technically enabled by the internet, has always been all about fantasy. Not just raw information, either. Fantasy created a market for sabermetrics, or at least a market that could sustain more than just one brilliant writer. One might even argue that it was fantasy that created real-life teams eventually adopting advanced analysis over the last twenty years. Sure, there was always an incentive for someone to innovate. But it must have helped that there were all those people around who were demonstrating, year in and year out, that some of the old myths weren't true. If I'm right about that, then roto has made the game on the field better.

I think she really missed the right context on this. For Rapoport, fantasy sports are something that basically trace back to roto, and Daniel Okrent. And that's definitely a sense.

But it's only part of the story.

In once sense, fantasy reaches back before Okrent to APBA, Strat, and the other replay games. I played APBA before I played roto, and playing some kind of replay game has been a big part of the way kids were baseball fans for...well, I think it goes back to the 1930s or 1940s, and could be earlier. Tabletop games can have drafts that could be very similar to fantasy drafts, and play out those fantasy seasons. Of course, it's not exactly the same thing, but the idea of being a manager or general manager of real players is a pretty large overlap.

But the other piece of the context that Rapoport ignores is perhaps even more basic: gambling. One way to look at the emergence of fantasy sports is simply as part of the long, long, long story of gambling on sports. And as such, we can remember that for all our nostalgia about growing up as a fan of a team, there have always been rabid sports fans whose allegiance and rooting interest has been on where their money was.

I recognize the behavior Rapoport talks about -- flipping from game to game, only interested in watching "my" players...but after some 25 years of roto (yeah, that's still what I play, 1988 book rules), I'm not nearly as rabid as I once was. Which certainly doesn't help my Blue Sox. Our season's trade deadline was today, and while I tell myself I was busy with an unusually busy work week, what with Senate reform and all, the truth is that twenty years ago I would have found the time to put together a bunch of trade offers. On the other hand, I've always played AL-only roto, leaving me free (at least before the curse of interleague play) to stay a "normal" fan in the National League while being, basically, a Blue Sox fan in the Junior Circuit.

Which also gets to the idea that there are, of course, lots of different kinds of fantasy players. I had two teams at the same time exactly one year, long ago, and I didn't like it at all. But plenty of people are happy playing in several leagues. I can sort of imagine what that's like, but mostly it just seems very different to me, and, for me, a lot less fun. Also, league cultures certainly differ. My league isn't really much for the trash talk and the posturing. Not really sure why, but there just doesn't seem to be much.

At any rate...I've had the good fortune now to know what a roto title feels like and to know what it's like when my team wins the World Series. They're both fun! But very different. When the Blue Sox do well, for me it is exactly like a gambling win; it's like playing a poker hand well or hitting a winning exacta. When the Giants win...well, I don't wear Blue Sox shirts and don't have Blue Sox mugs and, of course, there are no fellow Blue Sox fans to celebrate with. (OK, I do have a Blue Sox that that my wife made me. It's awesome. Then again, I don't even know how many Giants hats I own).

At any rate, my main point here is that fantasy baseball is far more in keeping with the history of baseball fandom than Rapoport lets on; it's just continuous with traditions a bit different from the tradition of team loyalty.

And now, having listened to the Giants beating the DBacks and also having checked how all my Blue Sox players have done tonight (dropped a point, still in second place), I think I'm done here for now.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Catch of the Day

I like this Dave Weigel post on how entirely ineffective Ted Cruz has been in the Senate. OK, I would have liked it better if he had linked to my Post item on how Cruz got Cordray confirmed, but I like it anyway.*

One point to add. Cruz is campaigning in Iowa and, as Robert Costa reports (via Weigel), saying that his price for getting a CR (and therefore not shutting down the government) is fully defunding the ACA. Which is, you know, charming. I mean -- never mind either the ethics or the efficacy of holding the normal functioning of the government hostage to one's preferences, but who in their right mind thinks that Ted Cruz is going to vote for any CR? And if he's definitely a no vote, then why exactly should anyone listen to anything he has to say?

That's mostly directed to the press. I assume Harry Reid and the rest of the Democrats know that Cruz should be ignored; Cruz's rhetoric, indeed, isn't targeted towards the Senate, but towards Iowa conservatives and others whose support he needs in his White House bid. Hey, reporters -- don't be fooled. Republicans will presumably make budget demands, but the ones who count are the ones who might actually vote for the result -- or at least those who the ones who might vote yes might be listening to.

At any rate: nice catch!

*This is like the third time that one of these has happened to me this week. Hey, that's how it goes; even when I'm over at WaPo or Salon or whatever, I can't expect everyone to see everything. Seriously; I'm sure I've done it to plenty of people, too. It's not like academic work; blogging and punditry do not require, nor should they require, lit reviews as part of clearing one's throat. It does leave me cranky, though, and not only that but it leaves me doubly cranky because I realize I shouldn't be. So I'll whine about it down here a bit, but you should really disregard it.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Rick Ankiel, 34. Enough to make you a baseball fan.

The good stuff:

1. Nice one from Nate Silver on patterns and presidential elections.

2. More on ACA implementation from Jonathan Cohn.

3. Sarah Posner on Hobby Lobby.

4. And Steve Benen on the GOP-aligned partisan press.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Question for McCainologists

My PP post yesterday was about "How Ted Cruz got Richard Cordray confirmed." It's about Republican overreach in general, but it's also about one particular possibility: that a big part of what happened had to do with John McCain getting upset with Ted Cruz.

Which is, in turn, based on the idea -- familiar to McCain watchers -- that most of his career can be interpreted as basically a series of temper tantrums. Do note: there's another plausible interpretation, which is that it's all straightforward opportunism (Left to save his career after the Keating 5! Still left to occupy vacant ground in 2000! Right to win the 2008 nomination! Even farther right to beat off a Tea Party challenge! Left again to regain his reputation with the national "neutral" press!). But while I certainly can't prove it, I tend to believe the tantrum explanation. Or at least emotion-based explanation. He gets wound up on things...they are usually at least compatible with his immediate electoral interests (as is the case with almost all politicians and their actions), but I don't really see good electoral reasons for his actions during Bush's first term, or for that matter right now.

Which leaves me, however, with one question that I don't have an answer to: are McCain's passions easily manipulable? Or are they all internally driven, and basically just something the rest of the political world has to navigate around. I suggested otherwise yesterday; I said that "a little more focus on Obama as a Kenyan socialist and a little less on nutty accusations of treason against Hagel might have gone a long way with the senator from Arizona." But I have no idea whether or not that's actually true. Hey, McCainologists: what do you think?

A Little Plain Blog Told-You-So

Hey, I don't do this very often, but:

Me, in June, on concerns that temporarily losing the New Jersey seat might prevent Democrats from doing Senate reform:
I don't question [this] reporting -- that is, I'm sure that Democrats are saying what he reports they're saying -- but I don't really believe it. I continue to believe it's highly unlikely that the Democrats will act unless they're very close to being unanimous. One defection, maybe; two, perhaps; more, and I don't think anything happens.
I made this point multiple times: Harry Reid wasn't going to act with 51, or if Joe Biden was needed to break a 50-50 tie.

And yesterday, the account of how the deal was made:
Meanwhile, Reid continued to pick up support for the nuclear option from the few Democratic holdouts, including Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Max Baucus (Mont.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.). Pryor emailed Reid over the weekend to say that he'd be with him if it came to a showdown, and Baucus, who hadn't previously supported going nuclear, said on Tuesday that he would have been with Reid if it had come to a vote. That left Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) as the lone resister.
So Reid had 53 votes, with just the one defection. Called it!

Granted: it's certainly possible that the whole thing was a bluff, and Pryor, Baucus, and Donnelly (and perhaps even others) really were just going along with the bluff. It's also possible that the last several votes Reid had were conditional...they were willing to go nuclear only if some particular Republican obstacle couldn't be overcome (although given that it was basically a surrender, that doesn't seem especially likely at this point). And yes, just because he didn't go ahead with 50 or 51 doesn't prove he could not have.

But don't you believe it. Pretty much Reid wasn't going to go ahead unless he had almost all of the caucus with him...and at any rate, the last ten or so votes all probably fell together, with a very good chance that Reid's himself was one of them.

OK, enough with tooting my horn. Want a larger point? Just the old Bill James one. Sometimes, you can see more from outside than you can from inside.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Nelson Mandela, 95.

And the good stuff:

1. Here's Norm Ornstein's take on the Senate showdown and deal.

2. Andrew Sullivan walks back his panic over Barack Obama's Syria policy.

3. Jobs and health care, from Ross Douthat.

4. Tom Nawrocki on the cover of the Rolling Stone.*

5. And Arendt on German TV. I haven't watched yet...also haven't seen the recent movie. Will get to both, I'm sure.

*No, I didn't link to it just so I could say that. I don't even think I linked to it just because I wish he would blog more.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why the Senate Deal Is Worse Than They Should Do

Right now, 24 hours plus after the Senate deal that averted a nuclear rule change on executive branch nominations by a Republican surrender on several current nominees...right now, there's a filibuster going on over an executive branch nominee.

It's...oh, it's whoever is going to head the Export-Import bank.

A filibuster? Yup. There was a cloture vote this morning; forcing a cloture vote is already a form of filibuster. And then Republicans are insisting, as they did yesterday with Richard Cordray, to use at least a decent-sized chunk of post-cloture time. And certainly not because they want to debate what's-his-name (sorry...okay, fine, it's Fred Hochberg). I haven't been checking C-SPAN2 carefully, but the times that I have tuned in they're either waiting for someone to speak or talking about something else. Without any filibuster at all, Harry Reid could call up the nomination, allow anyone who wanted to speak to do so, and then move ahead with a final confirmation vote; it would probably take one or two hours at most, and maybe a lot less if no record vote was called for.

What's different, post-deal, is that Republicans have apparently agreed that these filibusters will be limited -- that they will avoid defeating cloture on executive branch nominations, and thus allow Democrats to confirm those nominees as long as they have a simple majority. They can still filibuster, however, and it's not as if it's meaningless; it does, in fact, use up Senate floor time that could be used for something else, and it's not unusual for Senate floor time to be valuable.

All of this does put Republicans in a bit of a pickle, at least assuming that mainstream conservatives (and even the two or three moderates) want to be seen as conservative. The problem is that Republicans have to supply six votes (for now, with the Senate 54-46; it'll probably go back to five votes after the New Jersey special election this fall) every time other Republicans force a cloture vote. That means either a handful of Republicans have to always vote for cloture (and thus get tagged as RINOs) or they have to rotate (risking that a whole bunch of them will not be "real" conservatives.

That's not just hypothetical. Marco Rubio is already putting pressure on to vote against cloture on Secretary of Labor nominee Thomas Perez (via Beutler).

The best solution to this? Regular readers have heard it more than once; the best solution is to change the rules to formalize the agreement: change from 60 vote cloture on executive branch nominations to simple majority cloture.

Is the pain of being on record with that vote worth it for the 15 or so Republicans who would be needed? I have no idea. It certainly is a vote they could be attacked for -- they would be permanently giving away the ability of the minority Republicans to defeat Obama executive branch picks. On the other hand, it's a harder vote to explain, perhaps, than a series of specific votes for cloture on those same selections.

Note that flipping to simple majority cloture would still preserve the limited filibusters that Republicans are engaging in now; it would also presumably safeguard individual holds, which would be endangered if the agreement breaks down and Democrats eventually go nuclear and knock out extended debate altogether.

Basically, I don't expect it to happen. But I think it should. And without it, it's hard to know how stable the current agreement really is.

The NLRB Court Case

I don't really have anything to add to this, but I was wondering about it so maybe others were, too. SCOTUSBlog's John Elwood seems pretty confident that confirmation of the new replacement will not derail the recess appointment court case, scheduled to be considered by the Supremes in their upcoming term (via Goddard).

It's worth a reminder that this is a pretty big deal of a case, too. The lower courts took somewhat different positions, but the DC Circuit in particular had an extremely radical decision which basically ended the president's recess power; it ruled that practically all recess appointments in US history were actually unconstitutional, that we'd been getting it wrong ever since presidents wore funny wigs. In particular, only vacancies that arose during the recess between sessions of Congress (typically these days in November and December, at most) would be eligible to be filled by recess appointments, which would have to be made during that same recess. Essentially, the court ruled that recess appointments had become obsolete once Congress's modern schedule emerged. I think it's a terrible decision, but regardless: both the president and the Senate do need to know the ground rules, and so it's probably a good thing for the case to go forward.

Which, if Elwood is correct, it will. And with less baggage attached, too, for better or worse.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Alex Winter. Esq. 48, and always most excellent.

Good stuff:

1. Eric Schickler and Greg Wawro on the Senate showdown.

2. Brad Plumer asks: Does the Senate really need to confirm 1,200 executive branch jobs? I think his answer is probably no, and my answer is more-or-less yes, but it's a good and fair overview of the situation.

3. Nice one from Paul Krugman about markets, firms, and other such things.

4. And I'm a big fan of Taegan Goddard's Political Wire -- if you are, and you should be, be sure to check this out.

July 16, 1973

The White House tapes are public. Alexander P. Butterfield is brought in as a surprise witness to the Ervin Committee, where he reveals -- and the White House then confirms -- that "President Nixon had listening devices in the White House that would have automatically tape-recorded his conversations with John W. Dean 3rd and other key figures in the Watergate case."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Wait -- The White House Has Backup Nominees Quickly Available???

Following the Senate nominations deal, which seemingly happened late last night or early this morning, the White House needed replacement nominees for the two NLRB picks who were the losers in the compromise.

And what do you know: they were named this afternoon! In fact, as Harry said just said on the Senate floor, they'll get their hearing on Tuesday (that is, in one week), the HELP Committee will vote on them on Wednesday, and they'll be considered on the Senate floor on Thursday. Soup to nuts in nine days. Huh?

Well, obviously, the larger part of this is that Republicans are removing procedural obstacles by agreement. Which reminds everyone of a key point: it's not just about defeating nominations by filibuster; it's also about delaying them, and about using up the Senate's time.

It's also worth noting that as slow as Congress is normally, they can move very quickly when they all agree to.

But the big thing to notice here is: what about the months of vetting?

Two possibilities. One is that Harry Reid and Barack Obama figured on this outcome months ago, and were prepared for it.

More likely? It's as if all of that vetting isn't really necessary after all. That is, it's not necessary for making sure hat the nominee will do a good job in office; it's only needed in part to get nominees through the confirmation process without surprises, and in part just because of bureaucratic standard operating procedure that has no other purpose.

All of which is to say: if it's good enough for these two NLRB picks, it should be good enough for most administration posts. Reduce vetting now!

Mixed Feelings on the Senate Deal

What I'm happiest about is that the mainstream of Senate reform discussion seems now, much more than it was a few yeas ago, to recognize that there are differences between the filibuster on legislation, on judicial nominations, and on executive branch nominations. Moreover, whether by design or not, we've wound up with some recognition that exec branch nomination filibusters are at least highly problematic.

I am disappointed that supermajority confirmation for exec branch nominations survived. I continue to believe that simple majority cloture is the way to go for exec branch picks. It's possible that we'll now have that de facto; we'll have to see. I'd rather hve it by rule.

On the other hand, for those of us who want a middle ground -- filibuster reform, rather than a majority party rule Senate -- it's good news that we did not get majority-imposed reform. It's of course hard to tell exactly how much it matters, but I do think that one successful "nuclear" blast will make a House-like Senate quite a bit more likely.

Of course, all this is pending how things actually work out in practice. We'll know more in a few months.

Today Is Apparently Not a Good Day to Die a Senate nuclear war, that is. We seem to have a tentative deal. According to various reports (here's Greg's) and tweets, it appears that the deal involves:

(1) Cordray gets cloture, ending that nullification battle

(2) The other "regular" nominees (EPA, Labor) get cloture

(3) The NLRB nominees are withdrawn, and replaced; the new nominees get cloture in time to be in place by the time they're needed for NLRB to function

(4) No specific promises or commitments for the future; Reid retains the possibility of going nuclear later in the Congress if nomination obstruction continues.

If that's what's happening, it's very close to a total victory for Reid and the Democrats. Yeah, they hve to give up Barack Obama's picks at NLRB, but (again, if the reporting is correct) he'll jut replace them with other people. Nullification will be dead. And routine filibusters on exec branch nominees may be dead, too.

Basically, this is the deal that I said yesterday that Reid should take. Yes, the idea that the "illegal" NLRB nominees shouldn't get confirmed as normal nominees doesn't make any sense. But so what? Nothing major is at stake there (Democrats are not conceding the recess appointment argument by switching nominees), so if that's what Republicans need to save face, it's not a bad deal.

And you're going to see lots of liberals saying that a deal is a disaster because Republicans won't live up to it, but in my TAP column today I say that's a myth.

As I write this, the vote on Cordray is finishing up, with plenty of votes for cloture. This is a pretty solid victory for the Democrats, and one that basically is the result of GOP overreach: if they had used filibusters far more selectively, my guess is they could have got away with this one, as unjustifiable as it may be.

More later, I suspect, when more details are available.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Phoebe Cates, 50. Hey, Fast Times and Clueless fans -- and if you aren't, what's wrong with you? -- if you haven't see Amy Heckerling's Vamps yet, I highly recommend it. It's not, I'm afraid, as good as Clueless or as iconic as Fast Times, but it's excellent fun.

A little good stuff...

1. Matt Yglesias knows how to dress up a chart.

2. From the Monkey Cage: Corrine McConnaughy on Trayvon Martin.

3. And Ta-Nehisi Coates on Trayvon Martin.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Leonard Garment

Leonard Garment, RIP. Garment, as those reading my Watergate posts know, succeeded John Dean as White House Counsel at the height of Watergate, and stayed on with Nixon until the end.

Garment probably wound up as the only, or at least the only high-ranked, Nixon White House staffer to actually enhance his reputation as a result of Watergate. In particular, he (as I'm planning to write in today's item!) was a strong voice against destroying the White House tapes. In addition, there's a later episode in which Nixon proposes to create evidence, and Garment is one of those who prevented it. Garment was a key person early in the "cover-up of the cover-up" phase, but was essentially a victim or unwitting dupe of that cover-up much more than a perpetrator. That is: the initial cover-up was a White House conspiracy against the rest of the nation; the cover-up of the cover-up was a Nixon conspiracy against, among others, many within the White House.

On the other hand...if Garment and other non-conspirators had resigned earlier on, it's very possible that Nixon's presidency would have been cut even shorter.

Unlike the case of Chuck Colson, it's unlikely that Garment takes any important Nixon Watergate secrets with him to the grave (okay: I don't know if Colson did know anything we don't know. But he was probably the last one left who might have. Liddy and some others might know things that we don't know, but they wouldn't be directly Nixon-related. At least probably not). To be sure: he's with Nixon after the tapes are turned off, so we only have is the accounts of those involved, but it seems quite unlikely that Nixon would have told Garment anything from before April 1973 that we don't know.

The Next Step on Immigration (Fun Times in the House)

Good reporting today from NR's Jonathan Strong highlights the weird dynamic on the next step for immigration reform.

Here's the deal. Most Republicans, at the very least, want to pass something -- so that they can deflect at least some of the blame for comprehensive reform failing, and at least to some extent because they really do support some legislation. But they can't pass a comprehensive bill (at least not without relying on mostly Democratic votes), or even a mostly comprehensive bill. So the plan has been to pass a series of small bills that have wider support.

The problem? They may not have the votes for those, either.

There are two things going on here. One is that the tactical play for Democrats is to oppose each of the individual small bills unless they get some assurance that Republicans will eventually allow a vote on the part of reform that Democrats care about -- the path to citizenship. The question is whether moderate Democrats will hang tight, even on small bills, such as "border security" provisions, which they actually support (or at least want to be on record as supporting).

And then on the Republican side, there's a group which just likes voting against everything, even if they support the substance. On immigration, the excuse for voting no is that Boehner could use any successful bill as a mechanism for getting to conference, and then return to the House with something like the Senate bill, which would then pass the House with mostly Democratic votes. Now, this is basically nonsense. Not that Boehner might choose to pass a bill with mostly Democratic votes; that's a real threat, or at least a real potential threat. But if the Speaker wants to do that, there's nothing to prevent him from simply bringing up the Senate bill right now. Doesn't matter; the "no" caucus just likes opposing everything.

Now, in a normal legislature with a normal majority party, the "no" caucus could be marginalized...well, they would be marginalizing themselves. If Boehner can't pass something with 218 Republicans because the loony right won't help him, he would move a bit to the center to pick up moderate Democrats.

However, that doesn't work in the House we have. Partially because those moderate Democrats don't want to play along (especially since they'll be supporting any bills which are actually intended to become law, since those bill must get Barack Obama's signature and therefore can't be GOP-only). But mostly because many mainstream House Republicans are terrified of being called RINOs and sellouts, and therefore are terrified of separation between themselves and the crazy caucus.

At any rate: border security, at least, will pass the House if either moderate Democrats or the fringiest of conservative Republicans, all of whom support it, actually vote for it. My guess all along is that they probably won't.

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Marky Ramone, 57.

Here's the good stuff:

1. Really good overview of the Senate showdown from Greg Sargent.

2. While if you care about the Senate, you'll want to read what Sarah Binder says.

3. David Karpf on "The Analytics Floor."

4. And Christina Kahrl (who is, I should point out, very much not a Giants fan) on The Freak.

July 14, 1973

Turning again to Fred Emery for his account of Ervin Committee Counsel Sam Dash's reaction to yesterday's big news:


Dash took the precaution that Saturday of testing the revelation's impact on the one man it could make or break -- John Dean. One of Dash's assistant counsels, James Hamilton, remembers standing by the fireplace at Dean's home so as to gauge his reaction when Dash told him. "I will never forget it. John broke into this huge smile because he knew after all the work he'd done and his testimony and all the thought he'd given to what he had to say that he was right and he was convinced that the, the tapes would bear him out."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Which would you prefer: Republicans back down and the contested exec branch nominations are confirmed, or Republicans refuse and Democrats go nuclear on exec branch nominations?

(I suspect I know the answer to that, but...well, I'll add a second one: what do you expect to be the outcome of Showdown July in the Senate?)

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Senate reform: good, or bad? Do you support a 60-vote Senate?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

July 13, 1973

After John Dean's televised appearance, the Watergate Committee hearings had continued, with John Mitchell appearing and basically stonewalling. Soon after, Richard Nixon was hospitalized with viral pneumonia.

The way the committee worked was that, if possible, they pre-interviewed the witnesses before the full committee confronted them on live TV. On July 13, the pre-interview was with Alexander Butterfield -- the man who had run the president's daily schedule (and who now headed the FAA).

Here's Emery, taking up the story after the Democratic counsel had taken his turn with Butterfield.


For the Republican minority staff, Don Sanders got his turn after the first three hours of fencing. Sanders, who had been in the FBI, where it was common knowledge that the late Director Hoover had taped all discussions, wanted to get back to the Buzhardt memos. They looked like transcripts to him, and then there was Dean's suggestion that the president had taped him on April 15. He asked Butterfield whether to his knowledge any of the presidential conversations were taped.


Butterfield, as with the rest of them, had been told by the new White House counsel, Len Garment, not to volunteer anything but to answer every question truthfully, no matter what.

And Butterfield didn't even realize that when he answered in full about the taping system -- in the Oval Office, the EOB office, the phones, and Camp David -- that the committee didn't know about it yet (he assumed that Haldeman, all ready pre-interviewed, had spilled the beans).

But no -- the committee had no idea about it at all. All of a sudden, it was no longer a hopeless stalemate of John Dean's word against the president. Real evidence -- excellent evidence -- existed.

And with that...the story of Watergate, from this point on, is a legal battle for control of the tapes. I'll continue these posts, but there's really nothing more to it. Congress and the Special Prosecutor want the evidence; the president, as we shall see soon, resists (and, yes, I'll write about the question about destroying the tapes); and it will come down to the courts. They didn't know it at the time, but from what we know now there was no way for Richard Nixon's presidency to survive the evidence. And after all that had happened, there was no way that Congress would back down from demanding to see that evidence -- and a Special Prosecutor was in place who also would never back down. And Nixon's popularity was long gone; his last Gallup sounding, a few days earlier, had slipped to 39% approval.

That Friday the 13th, however, all that is still in the future. The committee staff in the room rapidly notify the committee, and they prepare the next steps.

What Mattered This Week?

The Senate confrontation really does matter, so I'll go with that even though they just moved forward mostly as expected this week. Note that Mitch McConnell did say that the Labor and EPA picks will get 60...the question now is whether they can find a way to strike a deal on the rest, or...well, there are a few different possible outcomes.

I'm not sure what didn't matter, although I suppose I could link to a Ignore Those Polls! post I did about early 2016 election polls.

So that's what I have. What did you notice? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, July 12, 2013


Oh, I hate when this happens. Henry Farrell not only beat me to an obvious response, but came up with exactly the XKCD strip that goes with it.

I suppose I should back up. This is about a Megan McArdle item this morning...actually, two items, but the relevant one is a follow-up in which she defended her assertion of a 70% chance of unified Republican government after the 2016 elections. Why? Because there's only been one time since World War II that a president has been elected to replace a same-party president. Henry nails it:
Human beings are cognitively predisposed to perceive patterns in the world. Many, likely most of these patterns are garbage. Without good theories, and good ways of testing those theories, we’ll never be able to tell the garbage patterns from the real ones.
Okay, but what we need is an intermediate step. I mean, sure, political scientists can look at election results carefully (that is, using the well-developed information we have about how US elections work in general) and get a general sense of which patterns to test for, and then design sophisticated tests to get that final step. But that's not available on the fly to lots of people who are still going to want to figure out what to do with a pattern they find. So what can we recommend?

Here's a three-step test to check to see if the pattern you've noticed is worth tossing into a blot post or not.

First of all, look at how many times the pattern has recurred. In McArdle's case, we're talking about times when a president stepped aside (making a same-party succession possible). That happened in 1952, 1960, 1968, 1988, 2000, and 2008. So her pattern, to begin with, is one out of six. That's perhaps something...but it's not exactly an Iron Law of Politics, is it? 0 for 10, or 1 for 50, would be a lot stronger.

Then, next, we can check the qualifiers to see if they're making the pattern look stronger. In this case, there's one: postwar. If we put that aside and go with "20th century," then we add 1908, 1920, and 1928 -- and get two hits, with TR/Taft and Coolidge/Hoover. Is there some special reason that the postwar era should be different? Not that I can think of, and if we include those the pattern drops to three in nine -- hardly something to get worked up about. Note that the more qualifiers you toss in, the more likely you are to be creating the pattern that you're seeing, so this is an important test.

What's next? Well, are the cases you are using strong evidence of something, or weak? Here, out-party replacements by Ike in 1952 and Obama in 2008 were both pretty solid...but so was George H.W. Bush's counter-pattern win. The rest were toss-ups: Nixon/Kennedy, Humphrey/Nixon, and Bush/Gore, with the latter of course counting the other way on the national vote. Overall, that seems a lot closer to a coin-flip than an Iron Law.

Actually, I suppose that this suggests a simple rule of thumb for presidential general election patterns: if the pattern depends on how one scores Bush/Gore, it's probably not a pattern worth caring very much about.

But of course, as Henry suggests, this kind of thing comes up all the time, and it's going to; we are pattern-finders. And yet it's unfair to say that reporters and pundits should rigorously test every pattern they notice. In this case, it is in fact probably true that extra terms in the White House make electoral defeat more likely...but to the extent that kicks in after two terms, it's going to be a fairly small effect.

So, go ahead and pattern-spot. Just be aware that (as Henry says) most patterns are garbage, so be careful -- and do a quick self-exam of your pattern before you invest any meaning in it at all.

Catch of the Day

To Christian Beckner at Foreign Policy who notes that, with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announcing that she's leaving, that there are now -- ready? -- 15 key slots at that department that will be vacant.

Let's see...I think I'll do this one bullet point style.

* It's fairly likely that there are other similar cases at other departments and agencies. Hey, reporters! There are stories out there about this stuff.

* Some of this really is a filibuster story. Some of it is about the impossible vetting standards that have built up over time. Senate reform is only a part of the solution, here.

* And some of it is almost certainly Barack Obama's fault. Indifference to governing? Failure to understand the importance of personnel? Don't know. I do know that every failure to appoint someone to fill a vacancy is a wasted opportunity.

* Yes, it's still the case that nominations, both judicial and executive branch, are Obama's biggest unforced errors of his presidency.

* Democrats haven't receive nearly the bashing they deserve over the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Terrible idea to begin with, and as far as I can see it's had even worse consequences than I expected. 

* And that's not to mention the awful name. 

* Nevertheless, there's nothing to be done about the department as a whole at this point. It would just create more pointless set-up costs.

* Did I mention the awful name yet? 

I think that'll do it for now. Also: nice catch!

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Bill Cosby, 76

How about some good stuff?

1. Noah Smith on how to make accurate predictions. Reminds me to put on record my confident prediction that Hillary Clinton is due for a market correction and a rough patch...uh, because the press hates the Clintons and will turn on her when they get a chance. How's that? If you would prefer, it's because the political culture is biased against women running for office.

2. Nice profile of Jeff Merkley, from David Dayen.

3. Rick Hasen notes that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whatever the strategic question of her retirement might suggest, is still going very strong.

4. And Matthew O'Brien wants Christina Romer for the Fed.
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