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Danger for Democrats

Hillary Clinton may believe that the horrific terrorism unleashed in Paris should not be used “to be scoring political points,” but House Republicans evidently view the tragedy, and its resulting anguish and fear, as one of those crises to be exploited. The drama that surrounded the House’s hurried passage of the “SAFE Act,” effectively barring refugees from countries where terrorists control major amounts of territory, says a lot about the new Speaker, Paul Ryan, the positioning of Democrats, the awkward posture of the Obama Administration, and the impact on 2016 politics.

Ryan actually rejected more extreme legislative proposals from conservatives in his Conference and instead putting the SAFE Act on the floor on Thursday. In doing so, he violated not only his pledge for “regular order” – to allow committees rather than the leadership to produce legislation – but also the longstanding (and oft-neglected) Republican promise to allow 72 hours for review before bringing legislation to the floor. In addition, Ryan refused to allow Democrats to offer any amendments to the freshly drafted bill. So much for Mr. Ryan’s pledge to run the House in a more open, fair, and “regular” (let alone thoughtful) manner.

Ryan had to face down the hardliners in the Republican Conference who intimidated and ultimately ousted John Boehner from the speakership. Evidently, Ryan offered them no concessions, and the Freedom Caucus folded like a cheap suitcase. Efforts by Administration spokespeople to persuade Democrats to follow their leadership and oppose the bill were ineffective, according to sources inside the Caucus briefing, because the Obama emissaries could not provide clear answers to Member inquiries. As a result, 47 Democrats voted for the bill, including a good number of liberals from relatively safe seats.

The far Right has not given up on the legislation, however, with longtime activist Richard Viguerie declaring that “Paul Ryan’s SAFE Act of 2015 will not stop one jihadi posing as a Syrian ‘refugee’ from entering the United States.” Viguerie condemned reliable House conservatives for being “complicit in Obama’s dangerous [immigration] plans because they keep funding them.” The willingness of extreme conservatives to challenge any Republican they view as aiding Obama, even if that means voting for appropriations and budget bills favored by the GOP leadership, is illustrated by challenger Becky Gerritson’s condemnation of Rep. Martha Roby (the Benghazi committee member who quizzed Clinton on whether she was alone the night of the attack) for “supporting Obama’s Islamic Importation Plan.” And Roby voted for the SAFE Act!

It may be a bit more difficult than Harry Reid pledged to keep the Senate from considering the House legislation, which passed with more than enough votes to override an Obama veto. “Don’t worry, it won’t get passed,” he declared this week. Maybe, but it is likely many of the Democrats up for re-election in the Senate, not to mention those running against incumbent Republicans and crucial to a Democratic majority in 2017, do not want to be accused of preventing a vote on a bill to safeguard Americans from so-called terrorist immigrants; indeed, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is opposing Sen. Kelly Ayotte, has joined Republican governors is opposing admission of Syrian refugees to her state. The veto threat by the White House may have been premature, as there are already some signs of a willingness to negotiate on the House-passed bill to avoid putting Democrats into that box, a reversal that would no doubt drive many House Democrats who opposed the Ryan bill into a fury.

The emergence of the refugee issue is a dangerous one for congressional Democrats and presidential candidates alike. Most grievously, the issue appears to legitimize Donald Trump’s offensive accusations about those who enter the country by expedited or illegal means. There is little reason to believe, with Paris as a backdrop, that Trump will tone down his xenophobic warnings or that his statements will repel the sizable portion of the Republican electorate that supports him. If anything, Paris has allowed Trump to become even more incendiary, warning that “We’re going to have to … certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.” Among his ideas about actions “that we never did before” are potentially closing mosques and requiring Muslims to carry a form of special identification. Perhaps he will suggest having them sew yellow crescents to their shirts; there’s an idea that’s been done before.

For Democrats, and especially Clinton, the elevation of national security is never a beneficial development in a national campaign, which is of course why Ryan, Cruz and others have offered legislative proposals so quickly. Clinton’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations contained a reasonable mix of restraint (limited U.S. boots on the ground) and big stick shaking (a Syrian no fly zone, demanding that Iraq arm the Kurdish fighter against ISIS “or we will”), but her campaign will not benefit from the endless questions about her tenure at State that will dominate upcoming debates and press conferences. She will also need to be careful not to adopt so hawkish a stance in response to bombings in Paris, Beiruit, Bamako or elsewhere that the anti-military contingent of Democrats begins to drift more significantly towards Sanders, resulting in early primary and caucus losses or underperformance.

It is a mistake to underestimate the potency of this issue. For all the tributes to the Statue of Liberty, our immigrant heritage, and our legacy of welcoming refugees, the history of the United States has a dark side on the question of immigration policy as well. From the times of the anti-Irish Know-Nothings during the antebellum period, through the Asian exclusion laws of the late-nineteenth century, to the hostility to immigrants from southern Europe at the turn of the 20th century, the rejection of Jewish refugees before World War II and opposition to Vietnamese and Cambodians in the 1970s, the U.S. has not always thrown out the welcome mat, even to refugees. The Populist movement of the 1890s had a distinct nativist tone. Moreover, the association with many of these earlier immigrant populations with violence – whether Irish gangs, Chinese tongs, German anarchists, Italian Mafioso or Cambodian warlords – has helped shape stereotypes that feed deep-seated suspicions about some of those seeking refuge on our shores.

Administration officials seek to assuage concerns by noting our rigorous admission reviews for Syrian refugees, but since no plan is perfect, the argument can sound less than convincing. Assistant Secretary of State Anne C. Richard, who has responsibility for refugees and migration, recently acknowledged, “I am very worried about terrorists,” and added, “I think the odds of a refugee becoming a terrorist are very, very small.” Therein lies the dilemma: “very, very small” could well mean a handful of well-disguised jihadists who carry out an unspeakable act of terror. For many voters and for politicians, who know they will be held accountable for every statement and vote on the issue, an absolute ban sounds like a safer bet than “very, very small.” As political psychologist Drew Westin has noted, “In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins.” That is why this issue may well have transformed the debate, the campaign, and maybe even the outcome of the 2016 election.

Saving Speaker Ryan

When the clock strikes midnight tonight, it may well toll the end of the best day in the speakership of Paul Ryan. During today’s ceremony, everyone had their “come let us reason together” faces on, but a few days from now – coincidentally right around Halloween – things might be getting a lot scarier for the new Speaker.

Not that I am wishing the new speaker ill, but as his speech to the House indicated, there are a lot of very challenging issues, particularly within the Republican Conference, that remain unresolved, to put it gently.

In his talk, Ryan tipped his hat to the Tea Party faction that brought down John Boehner due to his unwillingness to subjugate himself to its unrealistic and unrealizable goals. Ryan pledged a “return to regular order,” which roughly translated means allowing legislation to originate in committees rather than in the leadership. “If you know the issue, you should write the bill,” said Ryan, himself past chairman of two committees, an unusual background for one who has become Speaker.

But the Freedom Caucus does not stop at extolling the virtues of committee origination of legislation. However meritorious that process may be, it does tend to empower those who are very close to complex issues (and to the special interests who know the issues and work the committees) to the exclusion of others who may not share the same perspective as committee drafters. That is why the Freedom Caucus also demands an open amendatory process on the House floor. In other words, it wants every Member to be free to offer amendments.

That approach may sound like the personification of a truly democratic House, but it is a certain prescription for disaster, as Speaker Ryan almost certainly knows.   His former committee, Ways and Means, rarely allows many amendments to be offered to its bills on the floor because they would turn the legislation into unrecognizable mush. Bills coming out of committees often reflect strategic compromises that enabled complex bills to move through the panel. Open amendment processes risk unbalancing the legislation to the point that it either has difficulty passing the floor, or no longer reflects the policy so carefully crafted in committee.

Open rules also subject legislation to poison pills that are difficult to defeat or doom the bill, or gotcha amendments that are not designed to pass but only to force political opponents into casting impolitic votes. If the rules process shuts down the amendments that the leadership dislikes, you quickly run into the “neglected minority” about which the new Speaker warned, those who feel excluded from the process and who therefore feel they have little to lose by creating other forms of obstruction and disruption. It is worth remembering that during the 1970s, reformers pressed for more open rules so that amendments challenging committee-reported legislation could be offered. What resulted was a rapid escalation in the number of amendments, a slowing of House operations, and a rise in the number of message amendments designed for gaining political ammunition. In 1969, there were just 177 recorded voted on the House floor; a decade later, after a loosening of the amendment process, that number reached 834; even given the impact of electronic voting on reducing the time it took to take votes, the trend towards more, and more contentious amendments, was clear. Indeed, when Speaker Jim Wright curtailed the abuse of the amendment process by increasingly aggressive Republicans in the late 1980s, Newt Gingrich and his allies cited that constraint as evidence of the tyranny of the Democratic leadership.

The budget and debt ceiling agreement may defer the immediate crises that loomed over Speaker Ryan, specifically the shuttering of the government and default on obligations, but it did little to restore bonhomie within the Republican Conference. A few weeks ago, 151 Republicans were willing to shut down the government over the funding of Planned Parenthood; yesterday, 167 voted against the budget-debt ceiling compromise. Ryan denounced the process, but not the outcome, which was inevitable in order to avert shut-down or default. He will face the exact same choice in the months ahead, and his concessions to the Freedom Caucus today – committee drafting of bills, open amendments, regular order – will not change the choice he will confront: concede to the Tea Party and produce an unenactable bill, or cut them loose and cut a deal with Pelosi and the Democrats, enraging the very people who doomed the Boehner speakership.

One development that is unlikely to occur is the tempering of the Freedom Caucus. They have Mr. Boehner’s head mounted on the wall, and they have made it clear they expect fealty from the new Speaker. The outrage from the far Right is going to build over the next few months as appropriations legislation reflects the higher spending allowed in the budget agreement. That is why Heritage Foundation economist Stephen Moore called the budget agreement that Ryan supported an “ unconditional fiscal surrender to President Barack Obama and the left … that eliminates all of the checks on Washington’s spend-and-borrow binge by breaking the budget caps, ending the sequester and raising the debt ceiling by over $1 trillion.” If, as Moore declares, “House Speaker John Boehner has negotiated away his greatest legacy,” where does Ryan’s support for the compromise leave him in the eyes of the Right?

It seems pretty clear that having made some procedural concessions to the Freedom Caucus, Ryan now is going to have to pivot and stand up to their unreasonable demands. If he allows them to deprive him of the authority any Speaker needs to manage the House and govern the flow of legislation, he will never recover. One is tempted to remind him of the old maxim quoted by John Kennedy in his own Inaugural 54 years ago, that “those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” Ryan cannot look to the Freedom Caucus for help. Saving Speaker Ryan is up to the new Speaker.

The Ryan Express

Now that Vice President Biden has ended one Washington waiting game, all attention turns to whether Rep. Paul Ryan will accept the speakership. If so, he will assuredly become a target of the same dissidents who made John Boehner’s speakership so vexing.  In the pantheon of “establishment leaders” whom the Tea Party enjoys excoriating, a niche has already been chiseled out for Mr. Ryan to occupy.

Back on October 3rd, four days before the end of the all-too-brief Kevin McCarthy “speakership,” I emailed a friend about the disintegrating House Republican Conference. “I wonder if they pressure Ryan to get into this,” I wrote. “This new crowd is ridiculous.”

In his briefing last night with the Republican Conference, Ryan told his colleagues that he was prepared to take “arrows in the chest but not in the back.” He should probably think long and hard about believing whatever representations are offered.

Ryan is the logical choice for rational Republicans. Beyond his experience as a chairman and national candidate (both unique for a prospective Speaker), Ryan speaks the language of contemporary American politics: budgets, spending, deficits, entitlements. Particularly in his years as Budget chairman, Ryan gathered valuable experience in negotiating with Democrats, the Senate and the White House, all talents that McCarthy and other GOP hopefuls lack that will potentially serve him and House Republicans, should he become Speaker.

But … ah, there’s always a “but.” Ryan would have to accept the job knowing that, assurances aside, he will assuredly become a target for the same dissidents who made John Boehner’s speakership so vexing. On tax increases, immigration, TARP, even the 2013 grand bargain, many view Ryan as a co-conspirator with Boehner.   Unless Boehner is somehow able to negotiate a long-term budget deal before his departure — and it would certainly be in Ryan’s interest to have those issues off the table — the new Speaker will confront the same deadline dilemmas that have flummoxed Boehner. Ryan may be too interested in legislating overall for the far Right which is satisfied with stasis.

Indeed, Ryan’s confidence in his ability to negotiate the elusive Grand Bargain that slipped through Boehner’s fingers in 2011 may make him appealing to the outgoing Obama Administration and terrifying to the Tea Party.   Addressing entitlement and tax reform, while lifting the sequestration caps, would be a major achievement, allowing the next Administration to begin without confronting immediate deficit and spending restraints. To achieve such a breakthrough, or any breakthrough, would require Ryan’s willingness to take a few of those arrows he hopes to avoid, and also the backbone to stare down those who demand he accept an eviscerated speakership.

The Freedom Caucus has issued a lengthy list of demands designed to assure every Member “the same influence on the legislative process as everyone else” in the words of Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). It wants assurances that bills will come to the floor with open rules, that all Members will be allowed to offer amendments, and that restraints on debate time will be relaxed. They insist on further constraints on the Speaker, relocating power the fractious Republican Conference.

Ryan’s counteroffer insists that House rules require a supermajority to remove a Speaker from office, enabling him to defy his irritant caucus while he cuts inevitable deals. Rep. Raúl Labrador, one of the incurable intractables, has already dismissed that demand a “non-starter.”

If Ryan accepts the speakership under such constraints, he deserves all the heartache he will surely get. If the last few years prove anything, it is that in order to govern any House majority, you need to possess the skills to listen to everyone, but the fortitude to act despite the threats of retribution. That means being respectful of your Members, but not letting them put a ring in your nose and drag you around like a bull at the Wisconsin State Fair.

Boehner learned that lesson the hard way, taking a laid back approach to leadership that empowered junior conspirators. “I don’t need to be out there beating the drum every day,” Boehner declared. “It doesn’t need the heavy hand of the Speaker all over everything.”  Boehner was caving to hardliners like Rep. Lynn Jenkins (KA) who declared, “Gone are the days when the leaders decide what the conference is gonna do,” and she was Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference! When he employed the “heavy hand,” to punish Republicans who opposed his re-election as Speaker, he looked clumsy and ineffective.

Ryan will likely reach an accommodation with the Freedom Caucus because there really is no “Plan B,” and time is running out. “Judge me against the alternative, not the Almighty,” candidates often ask their voters. In this case, even the Almighty cannot save the Republicans if they opt for the alternative. Given the prospects for a Ryan speakership, they probably should try to stay on His good side.

The Democratic Debate

The Cubs should certainly sign up their #1 booster, Hillary Clinton, because in her first at bat during last night’s debate, she blew one out of the park. Every other Democrat on the stage needed to do something to slow her inexorable drive to the Democratic nomination, and none of them came close.

Since there are analyses to spare all over the press, media and internet, just a few observations are in order from DOMEocracy today.

The debate certainly had its highlights. I suspect this was the very first time the words “massage therapist” were uttered in a presidential debate (by Sanders); the way the Republican debates have been going, I sincerely hope it is the last.

More importantly, however, Clinton demonstrated a command of knowledge and ease of delivery that clearly set her apart from her competitors. She was able to deliver her attack lines – on Sanders’ less-than-persuasive explanation for his votes against gun legislation – without any hint of the strident tone that could annoy undecided voters.

Sanders … not so much. He was lecturing more than debating, displaying an aggressiveness that undermined the accuracy of many of his arguments. Americans must like their candidates in order to support them, not simply for superficial reasons, but because likeability is related to trusting their judgment when dealing with complex issues. Regardless of how one feels about Sanders’ analysis of the U.S. economy or his plans for remaking the economic order, his argumentative tone undercuts his message fatally for all but the true believers One can be both resolute and likeable (think Ronald Reagan) but not resolute and angry.

At times, Sanders sounded like he was more engaged in a late night dorm discussion than a presidential debate. Citing Denmark and Sweden as examples of where his approach to public policy works? It did not take Clinton long to challenge Bernie’s naiveté. (And Bernie may want to check into current challenges facing the Scandinavians, for example, on deficits, entitlements and immigration before putting them up on too high a pedestal.)

Indeed, Clinton has expertly checked the Vermont senator on most of his signature issues, and has moved the debate from disagreement on policy to who possesses the skill to achieving those mutual goals. Still, give Sanders the credit he deserves for pressuring Clinton to not take progressives for granted: on trade and the Keystone pipeline, Clinton has pivoted left to dilute Sanders’ appeal and in doing so, reduced the hesitation some of his supporters might feel about transferring loyalty after the convention. He also has elevated a level of discourse about the malevolent aspects of the American economy and tax system that deserve action from the next Administration and Congress.

Sanders fell into the trap laid by Anderson Cooper concerning his ideological leanings. As a general rule, it is a pretty safe bet that in American politics that if you have to explain just what kind of democratic socialist you are, you are not having a good night outside certain campuses, a few swell homes in the Bay Area and the upper West Side, and, well, Denmark. Clinton cleverly deflected the question about the her attitudes towards capitalism into an homage to small business.

Sanders weakness on his economic record, rather than his economic rhetoric, was highlighted when he described his opposition to TARP, the 2008 law that prevented the collapse of the world economy. No one really needs reminding that the taxpayers bailed out the very perpetrators of the misbehavior that triggered the crisis. But Sanders failed to explain what he would have done at that moment, in that crisis, to prevent a cataclysmic worsening of the catastrophe-in-the-making. Both he and Clinton seemed oblivious to a crucial fact that should never be forgotten about TARP: it was only because of Democratic leadership in Congress that the Wall Street firms had to repay the public dollars that they received – with interest. At last count, I believe, taxpayers actually made about $12 billion in profit off TARP, making it one of the better investments into which the government has dumped money. Democrats should talk about standing up for the taxpayer when this subject arises again.

Clinton’s impressive performance probably represents the end of the non-existent Biden campaign. The chances of his launching a challenge that would necessitate an aggressive attack on the former Secretary of State was always negligible; even if he won, he would lose in the process. A far more plausible (though still highly unlikely) scenario would entail his lingering in the shadows in the event she stumbles and falls, providing Democrats with an alternative to Sanders or one of the other candidates. Clinton’s adroit debate in Las Vegas significantly diminishes the possibility any understudy will get to take the stage, unless something calamitous occurs in the e-mail or Benghazi inquiries.

The other candidates on the stage merit little discussion because they are unlikely to either influence the direction of the campaign or to be elevated into the role of serious contenders. Of the three, O’Malley performed well, not only demonstrating knowledge of issues and a record of achievement, but also the kind of likeability and absence of guile that more politicians would benefit from emulating. His problem, however, is there is really only room on the stage for Clinton +1, and he isn’t the one because Sanders is willing to speak more boldly and play to the base in a way in which O’Malley is not.

As Yogi Berra has said, “it ain’t over till it’s over,” and it ain’t over by a long shot. But after last night’s debate, it is a little closer to the end.

Amateur Hour

At receptions in her conference room, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi periodically will tap a glass with a piece of silverware to hush the crowd so that she can announce the arrival of Members of her Caucus. Such introductions had already occurred several times on Thursday afternoon when once again, the clinking sounded, heralding another announcement. This one was a doozy.

Pelosi’s disclosure that Kevin McCarthy had just withdrawn from the speakership election stunned a crowd of Members, staff and retirees – “What did she say??” – into astonished silence. Even this politically savvy, feeling-the-pulse, inside-the-Beltway, ear-to-the-ground crowd was caught off-guard. It was a surprise that it took Pelosi’s tapping on a glass to get peoples’ attention; one might have thought the explosion from the Republican Conference would have been heard throughout the Capitol.

For several days, I have been suggesting that one plausible outcome of the Republicans’ musical chairs could be imposing the mantle of Speaker on the demurring Paul Ryan (who, to my knowledge, has never said he wouldn’t accept the gavel, only that he was not a candidate). The current batch of hopefuls, as well as those being mentioned, are so pathetically unqualified and unsuitable as to represent genuine risks to Republicans should they become national spokespeople, as was true of the tongue-tied McCarthy. Like him or not, the pressures will build to put a “trusted,” “senior” leader at the top of the House dais, and Ryan’s the only one in town. Which says a lot.

Ryan is understandably reluctant to accept the honor. As the past Budget chairman, he knows something about deadlines and certainly appreciates that the December 11th CR date is fast approaching. Whoever occupies the Speaker’s office is going to have to either twist Republican arms to force through a Continuing Resolution that the Senate will pass and the President will sign, or he will have to follow that familiar trek down to Nancy Pelosi’s office and ask her for the votes, agreeing to whatever concessions she demands for delivering the needed Members.

The former option has not worked well for Boehner; time after time, his troops have refused to provide him with the votes he needs for CRs, debt ceiling increases, tax extenders and other must-pass bills. The latter option is the one that enraged the wing nuts and drove John Boehner into early (and doubtless blissful) retirement. Why would Paul Ryan want to do that, especially when he can continue his present fun job of chairing the Ways and Means Committee?

Ryan might want to be Speaker someday, but this probably isn’t the day. Unfortunately the shambles into which the Freedom Caucus has thrown the Republican Conference may leave him no choice if the party comes knocking. In this case, it isn’t so much taking one for the team that is so objectionable; it’s the team.

There are, of course other options, none very promising:

  • One of the other current candidates: Daniel Webster or Jason Chaffetz. Both non-entities, maybe not even team players. No gravitas to maneuver through churning waters over the next year. Not likely.
  • One of the retiring Members, such as John Kline, might serve as an interim Speaker. (The Republicans had one of those in Denny Hastert for nearly a decade.) The next Speaker to going to have to throw a little weight around. A departing Member does not send that message. He can’t even make good on retributions he might threaten to impose at the beginning of the next Congress. Makes little sense.
  • Cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi to choose a Speaker acceptable to both parties without having to depend on the Freedom Caucus, and in return, promise her floor votes on something she wants: an immigration bill, a budget Grand Bargain including taxes and entitlements that lifts the sequestration caps, the Highway Trust Fund, the Ex-Im Bank. Hmmm, I really do not see Mrs. Pelosi running into this burning building to save the barking dog who’s been keeping her awake for the past 5 years. Even if the Republicans could deliver on their promise to bring such legislation to the floor, such concessions are meaningless unless the promise is enforceable all the way to putting a signable bill on the President’s desk. And no one can make that promise. Besides, why would Nancy Pelosi want to cosign a mortgage on this House with these Republicans as cosignatories?

No, I think this is one dilemma the Republicans are going to have to figure out all by themselves, and the carnival atmosphere of the past two weeks does not inspire much confidence in their strategic skills. But it should be entertaining to watch.

A Tribute to Don Edwards

One of the unfortunate realities about the reputations of great men and women who serve in Congress is that, among the vast majority of Americans outside their districts (and unfortunately, many within their districts), their good works – even their great works – rarely are recognized beyond their own lifetimes, if then. Former congressman George Miller’s father, the state senator of the 1960s, used to advise officeholders with exaggerated senses of self-importance, “Anytime you think you’re a big deal, drive 10 miles down the road and see who ever heard of you.”

Partly that anonymity is a factor of the public’s disinterest and disengagement in real political activity, as opposed to the pontificating that passes for “politics” by many these days. Partly it is because there are so many legislators that it would be challenge for the press to educate people about their contributions, if the press were even remotely interested in doing so. So the task falls to historians and political scientists, most of whom prefer to focus on the more manageable presidential level of political studies.

Don Edwards reminds us of the extraordinary contributions one member of the House can make to the Nation, as well as of the effective role the Congress itself can play in the life of the Nation. For twenty years, Don passed up opportunities to move to positions that might have accorded him great power or profile, choosing instead to remain as the chairman of the Subcommittee on the Civil and Constitutional Rights, a conscientious gatekeeper who ensured that no topical obsession of the Right or Left maneuvered its way into Nation’s governing code. It is source of constant amazement that this low-key but resolute legislator could engage in some of the most controversial and discordant debates of the 20th century without raising his voice or losing his equanimity. Perhaps it was his evenhandedness that so exasperated his opponents as much as his intelligence and resoluteness.

Don wasn’t a doctrinaire left-winger, as some might have thought from his record in the House; he actually began life as a Republican and served as chairman of California’s Young Republican organization during the rise of Richard Nixon. Of course, he also had that singular, if brief, career in the Federal Bureau of Investigation which he unfailingly cited as evidence that he was no do-gooder pushover, although if J. Edgar Hoover could have excised his tenure from the FBI’s records, Don would have been hard-pressed to prove he had served there.

I first became aware of Don Edwards in college when he had become recognized as one of the earliest opponents of America’s growing involvement in Vietnam and, as National Chairman of the Americans for Democratic Action, helped sponsor the early anti-war march in 1965. (In 1965, Edwards declined a plea by anti-war activist (and future congressman) Allard Lowenstein to challenge Lyndon Johnson for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination, a role eventually assumed by Gene McCarthy.) I didn’t know anything about him or his district, I wasn’t aware if this was a particularly courageous stance for him to take politically or a response to constituent pressure; all I knew was that at a time when virtually everyone in the House of Representatives seemed utterly tone-deaf to the protests from the campuses and the warnings of the doubters, Don Edwards’ name kept popping up on key votes to end funding for the war that provided rare evidence that all hope was not lost in finding courage in Congress. Being introduced to him when I came to work in the House in 1975 was like meeting a prophet of peace.

No tribute to Don would be complete without mentioning his beloved wife, Edie Wilkie, a person as warm, friendly and deeply committed to compassionate public policy and peace as Don himself. Edie ran the influential Members of Congress for Peace Through Law which provided information and analysis on issues from Central America to weapons systems to military reform and the campaign against nuclear weapons. In an institution where many viewed her as an invaluable intellectual asset and, I presume, many others dismissed her as a hopelessly idealistic pacifist, Edie was always a dependable source of vital, complex data while maintaining an unparalleled sense of humor and even-handedness. You couldn’t have created a more perfect companion for Don, and Edie’s untimely passing could not have upset her friends and colleagues more deeply.

Hopefully, the insult of anonymity will not befall Don Edwards, who died last week at the age of 100, more than two decades after leaving the House where he presided like a resurrection of the Founding Fathers over the preservation of the United States Constitution. But eventually, it probably will, as those who served and worked with him, whom he knew as constituents and friends, who covered and admired him during his long career themselves shuffle off the stage. We are indeed fortunate to have shared that stage in one fashion or another with a man who should be remembered by history as the embodiment of devotion to the Constitution and an exemplar of dedicated public service.

The Tan Man Fades

Decades ago, a cartoon in the New Yorker portrayed two women waving goodbye  as a train pulled out of a small town station. One says to the other something like, “First the rain stopped, then the crops dried up, then the cow died, so John says, ‘Dammit, I’m going to run for Congress!’” That is sort of how John Boehner arrived in Washington: one of 12 kids in a Democratic family, sweeps out his dad’s bar, goes to a local Ohio university, goes into plastics (how perfect for a child of “The Graduate era”), gets aggravated by regulations and taxes and goes into politics to get government off his back and out of his pocket.

Boehner’s spent most of his adult life pursuing that elusive dream, rising to the top of the party whose single purpose, it generally seems, is to lower taxes on rich people, with a secondary goal of dismantling a century of bipartisan regulatory action. There is a certain consistency to Boehner: his anti-spending obsession extended to congressional sacred cows like farm subsidies. But despite his predictably conservative record – 100% from groups like the National Rifle Association and the Chamber of Commerce, zero from NARAL – Boehner never was a zealot. Sure, he cowered before the Tea Party, refusing to bring up the Senate’s immigration bill and withdrawing his own halfway reasonable compromise after his party’s nativist wing attacked him; yes, he let the No Caucus shut down the government to demonstrate it was not the elixir that would make all their loony dreams come true, just like he let them vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act several dozen times, to no particular end.

Moreover, he rarely decided to stand up to his Republican House critics, recognizing that in doing so, he would jeopardize his tenuous hold on the speakership. In his resignation announcement, he pointed to slashing spending as the great achievement of 5 years in the Speaker’s chair; not much of a legacy. He could have achieved the elusive Grand Bargain (including major entitlement reform) back in 2011 when Obama, Reid and Pelosi were all set to sign off on one, but Boehner reneged when his Caucus balked at $800 billion in taxes.

Boehner came to Washington, it is my impression, not so much to promote the broad conservative social agenda as to fulfill the reliable, four word GOP message theme which has worked so effectively for close to 40 years: Less Government, Lower Taxes. And Republicans have largely won that debate among much of the electorate since the Reagan years.

It is amazing how the motive for his resignation has been misread by so much of the press. In account after account, analysts have asserted that he sacrificed his speakership so that a deal to keep the government open could be reached.

No, that is wrong. He isn’t stepping down to allow a bargain to be reached. He is stepping down precisely because he intends to cut a deal with Democrats to keep the government open while he is still Speaker, and then get out of Dodge before all hell breaks loose. He recognizes it would be infinitely more difficult for the coterie of inexperienced, dogmatic, backbench second raters he leaves in charge in his wake to cut a deal by October 1, so he will do it and leave them to figure out how to avoid calamity in three months when the CR expires.

Boehner’s departure and the coming conservative chaos is a blessing for congressional Democrats and Hillary Clinton on many levels. The three-ring circus that will have the untested Kevin McCarthy as ringleader should help Democrats in the House and Senate to make the case that one party in Washington is incapable of making government function, and it isn’t the Democrats. The Republicans might even get that shutdown they are praying mightily for. Democrats don’t have to do much to establish themselves as the “reasonable alternative” except behave halfway reasonably and plead for cooperation and reconciliation, even if they loathe the thought of working with the Republicans.

Hillary Clinton benefits as well because she can portray herself as the beacon of reasonableness in contrast to a Congress that is led (and could be again, we won’t know until after the election) by manifestly incompetent and uncooperative adolescents. Maturity will start to look like a highly desirable attribute. If the irascible Republicans are going to be in charge of Congress, many voters will rightly conclude we need a President who can counteract or balance them, not more of the same in the White House. That’s a tough case for the Republican presidential candidates to make; none of them want to look like they are chastising their own legislative allies, but it is a simple argument for Clinton. Separation of powers? Checks and balances? She’s the ticket.

The chances of Republicans self-correcting after exorcizing themselves of Boehner are slim to none. It is not my experience in politics that those who have just hung a trophy on the wall see any reason to alter their successful behavior. Quite the opposite. As with their general Orwellian view, the Tea Partiers believe “Failure = Success,” and if the resulting chaos alienates voters from politics, that suits them just fine. They believe they are reflecting the will of the American people, not confounding it.   “It was not an inside force that pushed the Speaker out,” said Boehner opponent Thomas Massie (R-KY), “the American people spoke.”

So I think back to that New Yorker cartoon and suspect that just as it described Boehner’s frustrated motivation for coming to Washington in 1990, it describes his exasperated departure as well. I can almost hear him saying, “First the Tea Party challenged my election as Speaker; then they shut down the government; then they blocked my Grand Bargain; then they forced me to plead with Democrats to pass all the essential bills. Dammit, I’m quitting Congress!” Who can blame him?

Thanks for all the comments on my op ed in the New York Times on September 26. JAL

Getting the Straight Story

If there is one lesson that is emerging already from Campaign 2016 it is the ability of the media – both traditional and social – to drive the discussion. A few incidents of this week bear a brief discussion in this regard.

Scott Walker, RIP: I had been predicting this exit virtually from the Wisconsin governor’s entry into the Republican race, so nothing could have been less surprising (well, given how the Republican race has been going, that may be an over-statement). Despite the media’s early focus on him as a strong contender, Walker was a supremely inept candidate, initially hoping to project a picture of Mid-West conservatism combined with the fortitude to stand up to the public unions and the radicals in Madison. For my tastes, he exuded “lightweight” from the get-go, as well as a thinness of accomplishment other than surviving in power. He could (and did) dress himself in leather and plop himself on a Harley, but he still looked and sounded like a one-trick pony.

His exit gives further weight to my observation that Trump’s continued presence is good news for the more “moderate” (I can barely type the word) of the GOP hopefuls: Bush (though he seems to be doing him damndest to drive down his own numbers), Rubio (another lightweight of no record, but with a more interesting story and more electoral appeal than Walker) and Kasich (preternaturally glum and dour, but with the most appealing story and the strongest claim to a place on the ticket). Trump is simply sucking all the oxygen out of the loony Right of the party, until he inevitably disintegrates and takes with him the nativist, racist, inexperienced, alarmist lot of them. Those left standing will be the establishment candidates.

Carly Fiorina: I watched part of the second debate, as long as I could, and was bemused by Fiorina’s transparent effort to defuse the accusation that she lacks the foreign policy/national defense chops to be President. Of course she does! She has no, as in, “zero,” experience, that would remotely suggest she should manage the nation’s security; not an hour in public service, never working on defense issues in Congress, never having published or developed any expertise of any type. Naturally, therefore, she has been merrily suggesting we throw troops and weapons into hot-spots all around the globe, a strategy that has not worked remarkably well for decades. What startled me during the debate was not her ability to regurgitate the numbers someone had worked up for her on the urgent need for “50 army brigades, 36 Marine battalions, 350 ships,” but the utter failure of either the moderator or any of the other Republicans (who apparently take unlimited military spending as an axiom) to ask her (a) what are you going to actually do with all those shiny weapons and crisp uniforms, and (b) how much is this all going to cost and where is the money coming from?” Certainly not from shutting down Planned Parenthood, her other laser-like focus.

Walter Pincus’s column in Tuesday’s Washington Post (“Fiorina’s Misleading Military Proposals”) did an excellent job of chastising Fiorina for her uninformed assertions. Her facts were wrong – the 6th fleet isn’t shrinking and doesn’t need growing; the Bush anti-ballistic missile system is being replaced with a newer and more reliable system; we have just completed joint maneuvers with the Ukranians rather than having abandoned them. And it is little wonder she avoided discussing that issue of cost: Pincus estimates at least $20 billion for the Fiorina wish list, most of which we already have or don’t need.

My point here is not to ding Fiorina on her charlatan-like efforts to appear to be well informed. She is not long for this campaign either. I won’t even criticize her for uttering inane, schoolyard taunts concerning Putin (“I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We’ve talked way too much to him”). If she isn’t careful, she is going to start competing with Trump for cringingly embarrassingly adolescent ravings (“We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning.”) My complaint here is that the press/media let Fiorina get away with nothing more than reciting some Heritage Foundation recommendations off a cheat sheet without asking any follow-up or challenging her presumed expertise. I blame the press for letting her get away with it so as not to taint her supposed rise to the first tier of GOP contenders.

A good example is a September 21 story by Jennifer Rubin in the Dallas Morning News. “She might not be experienced in government,” Rubin wrote, “but she is expert at dealing with the media, reeling off concrete foreign policy proposals, thinking on her feet and doing other tasks that for better or worse have become the skills candidates need to be elected.” With all due respect, “reeling off concrete foreign policy proposals” such as sending the 6th fleet where they already have been, is not a qualification to be president. Rubin goes on to lionize Fiorina for possessing “poise, intelligence, wit, confidence and tenacity,” which are nice in a president, as long as they have the substantive knowledge and practical political experience the job requires, and which Fiorina sorely lacks. Rubin, and others, of course are trying to make the parallel to President Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience before his election (hardly uncommon: note FDR, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush). No one disputes we elect people who aren’t yet qualified to pin on their fourth star; but that’s no basis for pretending someone is more qualified because he, or she, can reel off a few statistics and facts, most of which are false.

Hillary! What would a blog be without addressing Mrs. Clinton, whom for some reason I cannot comprehend, I find myself defending at every turn? Well, one reason is that she is so often the subject of unjustified criticism. Not that she doesn’t invite the reproaches, but on several central issues, they are simply wide of the mark. What is most aggravating to many is Clinton unwillingness or inability to defuse them; incoming attacks are nothing new to her, and should she be the nominee and elected, we will all be enduring unrelenting castigations every single day of her Administration and for decades thereafter. That’s just the way it is with Clinton, but she is right not to allow the mean-spirited attack dogs chase her out of the race.

Clinton’s alleged passion for obfuscation has been demonstrated on two key issues: Benghazi and her emails. Both lines of attack are misplaced.

Let’s be clear: there have been at least 4 congressional inquiries into Benghazi, all run by Republicans, and all concluding that Clinton did not do anything improper. This is not especially surprising since it was fairly clear at the time, to those who understood the extremely volatile situation in Libya and the marginal capabilities of U.S. ground and air forces, that the disastrous turn of events in Benghazi was not the result of any decisions or lapses of judgment by then-Secretary Clinton. It goes without saying the investigations will continue for a generation to come.

Then there is the email brouhaha. Here, too, the hysteria has far outstripped any fair reading of the facts. Clinton should have moved more aggressively to dispatch the conspiratorial allegations. She has lived with outsized speculation about her allegedly nefarious activities (e.g., murder, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, to name a few) for so long that her exasperation is understandable. We will be revisiting this debate ceaselessly over the next year and a half and there is likely no way to contain the damage now. However, I cannot help but muse that the hysteria that has flared over this story is precisely the kind of carnival feeding frenzy that likely led Clinton to decide to keep her emails as close to the vest as possible rather than on State Department servers where any of dozens of lower level Republican holdovers might selectively leak them to her disadvantage.

A long piece in Sunday’s Post by Elizabeth Goitein [“Five myths about classified information”] helps explain why determining what is and isn’t “classified” is a bit more complex than critics – like the Washington Post’s headline writers and reporters – might realize, and is certainly too lengthy for use in the campaign. Clinton, however unwisely (as she has acknowledged for months) used a private server like other Cabinet officials, turned materials over to the FBI and others to review, did not wipe clean the server, and (it appears) did not receive or transmit emails containing information “classified” at that time.

Little wonder even the most political junkies seem already exasperated by the campaign season.

The Speakership Circus

Time for a little “Congressional Jeopardy.” The answer is “Speaker Boehner.” What’s the question: well, could be, “Who is the Speaker of the House.” Or, if you believe the current rumors swirling around Capitol Hill, could soon be, “Who is the most recent former Speaker of the House?”

Do the rumors of a palace coup by disgruntled Republicans have real legs, or are they more in the “end-of-summer-let’s-make-up-some-hysterical-stories” tradition? Now that Hillary Clinton has said she is “sorry,” or that she’s sorry we are sorry, we sure need a new crisis.

Enter the “Dump Boehner” movement. The Republican Conference, which whipped itself into a frenetic whirl five summers ago with the phrase “Fire Pelosi,” now may be turning its heavy guns on another Speaker: its own. Just before leaving for the August break, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows announced that he might just demand a vote on a motion to vacate the chair (i.e., to tell Boehner, as Donald Trump might tell someone on The Apprentice, “You’re fired!”). Rep. Dave Brat, who knows a thing or two about dumping Republican House leaders (he successfully primaried Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014) is skeptically watching his leadership’s handling of upcoming decisions on the continuing Resolution, Planned Parenthood, the debt ceiling and the Iran agreement, and he doesn’t sound inclined to sign up for membership in Boehnerland. “We’re fed up,” Brat bratily says. “It’s tsunami time. Throw everybody out.”

Really? Is Boehner so flawed, so inept, so disloyal that he should suffer a fate unlike that of any other modern Speaker: involuntarily tossed from the podium mid-term? To hear Boehner loyalists tell it, such an action would be wholly unjustified since, as Politico reported this week (evidently with a straight face), “Boehner insiders argue [this has been] one of the most productive sessions of Congress in a long time.” How long? Since 2011, when the Republicans took over, and since when they have done little but (a) vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act 55 times and (b) kept government open and not in default?

Actually, it is precisely those housekeeping measures that infuriate the 50-60 Tea Party zealots within the GOP conference who then intimidate a significant number of other Republicans who are not anxious to face multi-million dollar primary challenges. One is hard-pressed to find any vote of substance since the Republicans became the majority where Boehner (or Cantor, before his humiliating demise at the hands of Mr. Brat) could scare up the necessary 218 votes without begging Democrats to supply the needed votes, which enrages the Far Right.

That dissatisfaction led a record number of Republicans to oppose Boehner’s re-election as Speaker last January. Just two years earlier, he had barely cobbled together the needed number when Tea Partiers criticized him for his earlier collaboration with the hated Democrats. As that 2013 vote neared, I advised friends in the press that only 17 defections would doom Boehner’s campaign for a second term with the gavel. The reporters scoffed at my predictions, asserting Republicans would never vote for Nancy Pelosi (the Democratic nominee for Speaker), but as I pointed out, they didn’t have to vote for Pelosi, they just needed to withhold their support for Boehner, deny him a majority of those voting (the constitutional requirement), and there would be a second ballot that likely would not feature Boehner as the leading candidate.

Ted Cruz may have been the most public face of the GOP’s “shut-it-down” faction last year (an event which cratered the Republican brand, from which it has not recovered), but there are plenty of House Republicans who would view a government shut down as a welcome victory. A poor performance by Congress is nothing to be feared in the Tea Party playbook, because incompetence helps enhance a vision of Congress (and the federal government) as a failed institution. Very Orwellian: failure = success. Where’s the problem?

Boehner evidently doesn’t think there is one yet. The threat of the coming confrontation “does not make it more difficult,” he professes. “I’ve got widespread support in the Conference and I appreciate that.” Yes, but does he have 218 votes to pass key legislation, without again asking Nancy Pelosi for Democratic assistance? If not, seeking her assistance will add fuel to the simmering fire to take out Boehner before the end of the current Congress.

Democrats have some real opportunities in the likely confrontation, quite apart from whether they have a strong possibility of regaining the majority in 2016. Boehner’s need for Democratic votes empowers Pelosi and the Democrats. Add obnoxious riders to those bills (think a ban on funding Planned Parenthood), and forget about getting Democratic votes. The more Democrats in the House, the greater their leverage to keep appropriations and other urgent bills clean of the kinds of goofy riders Boehner would otherwise attach to satisfy his extreme faction.

Democrats can ramp up their demands. There has always been resentment that Republican leaders come to Democrats late in the process, after the CRs have been written with insufficient funding for Democratic priorities. Democrats have had to clench their teeth and vote for a lot of legislation they had no role in writing because they are unwilling to allow government to close down. As it becomes apparent that Boehner is stuck without a working majority, Democrats can increase their demands, if they are willing to stare down Boehner over a shutdown for which he would undoubtedly bear the blame. The Democratic leadership could make it clear to Boehner that the price for Democratic votes must include action on long-stalled legislation that enjoys widespread bipartisan public support including climate change and responsible gun measures.

It goes without saying that any capitulation by Boehner would make life with his “No Caucus” even more difficult. Well, that’s why the Speaker gets the big office and the larger salary. And yes, it may mean that come January, 2017, the votes may not be there for Speaker Boehner, but the way things seem to be trending, that might happen anyway, and sooner. Boehner needs to put the functioning of Congress ahead of his own status as Speaker of a demoralized and derelict institution.

Lastly, what would happen if a challenge to Boehner materialized in the next month or so? He might need Democratic votes to retain the speakership of a Republican Congress (the vote would not be Boehner versus Pelosi, as at the beginning of the Congress, but whether to vacate the chair). Would Democrats vote to keep Boehner in place, knowing of the torrent of abuse he will receive from his nihilist faction? Would they let him lose to promote the first-rate chaos that would ensure? Would Pelosi emerge as Speaker?

Whaaat? Well, no, she wouldn’t, of course. But the speculation about chaos in the Speaker’s chair reminds me of the greatest case of such confusion in political history. Willie Brown had been speaker of the California Assembly for a record 14 years when the Republican tidal wave of 1994 resulted in an Assembly composed of 40 Republicans, 39 Democrats and one independent. It certainly looked like the end of the Brown era: but the wily Willie had one more maneuver up his sleeve.

Brown secured the expulsion of one Republican because he had simultaneously been elected to the state Senate. Now things lined up the way Brown liked them: 39 for the Republicans, 39 for the Democrats, and one independent (though really a Republican), Paul Horcher of Whittier (birthplace of Richard Nixon; can it get better than this??). Horcher was no fan of GOP Speaker-in-waiting Jim Brulte, so he did what any troublemaker armed with such a mischievous opportunity would do: he voted for Brown!

Republicans were dumbfounded. A month earlier, they had won the Assembly by campaigning against Speaker Brown and now, the new Speaker was … Willie Brown. Horcher, for his trouble, was promptly recalled by voters in his district. Six months later, Brown (who had yielded some of his powers to a bipartisan committee) decided it would be more fun to be mayor of San Francisco, and prepared to depart the Assembly. Again, the Republican thought they finally would capture the speakership for Brulte.

Actually … no. Brown engineered the election by a 40-38 margin of Orange County Republican Assemblywoman Doris Allen who was annoyed at the lack of GOP party support in her recent re-election campaign. Speaker Allen – elected with all Democratic votes plus her own – only served three months before she, too, was recalled. Finally, a Republican got to serve as the Speaker of the Republican Assembly, but for less than a year, because Democrats won back control in 1996. By which time, Willie Brown was Mayor of San Francisco.

Moral of the story for House Republicans: be careful, you may not be able to control the political firestorm you ignite, especially if a crafty San Franciscan is in the House.

The September Scenario

See you in September.  See you, when the summer’s through…

 Well, thank goodness this summer is through. Even by the current abysmal standards of journalism and political discourse, the summer of 2015 has marked a new low in so many ways that one can only cower in terror about what awaits us when the political season gets serious next week.

I’ve taken a little time away from DOMEocracy to work on my book on the Class of 1974 and congressional reform. So by way of catching up, here are some thoughts on three of the more immediate issues: Trump, Clinton, and the Iran nuclear agreement.

Trump. Little has occurred since my last blog (“Trump’s Tirade”) to change my mind that, when all is said and done, Trump will have been largely a flash-in-the-pan summer story. Yes, he has “surged” in several states; but he is still winning a fraction of the votes of GOP voters; in most polls, three-quarters of Republicans support other candidates and a majority of Republicans declare they will never vote for him.

Why are people surprised by Trump’s early support? Hello, have you been paying attention to Republican politics in the last 5 years? His message is hardly inconsistent with the steady stream of anti-government vitriol that has passed for political discussion from the Right since Obama took office. Trump is actually less absolutist than many Republicans on issues like taxes (endorsing an end to the “carried interest” tax break enjoyed by hedge fund managers) and health care (he embraced single payer, at least for Canada).

The racist claptrap that generates the greatest response in his speeches is little different from the loony nativism spewed in the Congress by the likes of Tom Tancredo and Steve King in recent years. At its heart, this is what the boomlet for Trump is really all about: affluent white males who fear their status is endangered by the changing demographics and politics of the country. Trump intimidates the other Republican candidates just as the Tea Party minority in the House intimidates the less extreme wing of the GOP which is loathe to cross the energized base and invite primary challenges.

Trump’s success could actually benefit the more moderate Republicans like Bush (whose performance has been inept even by Bush family standards) and Kasich (who probably has the surest likelihood of being somewhere on the Republican ticket in 2016 if he doesn’t do something incredibly stupid). Trump sucks up all the oxygen from the Far Right candidates like Paul, Carson, Cruz, and Perry who have been unable to get traction amid the Trump blitz. Others, including Graham, Christie, Walker have underimpressed. When the dust clears, these candidates may find their moment consumed by Trump who then faces off against the more establishment candidates (Bush, Kasich), one of whom will eventually get the nomination and may well, together, form the GOP ticket.

Clinton. If Trump has enjoyed a summer fling with voters, Hillary Clinton has continued to take a beating. The take on the Clinton campaign is that it is a slow-moving disaster led by a deeply flawed candidate who inspires tepid support and monumental anxiety. Well, there is a point to be made there.

On the other hand, Clinton remains dominant among Democrats in money and support; as my mother would say, any of the other hopefuls would give their eye teeth to be where she is. Still, the dichotomy that is the Clinton campaign can be found daily in the press: just a few days ago, MSNBC ran both of these headlines: “Hillary ‘Is On A Trajectory That Is Dramatically Downward’” and “Hillary Clinton Flexes Muscle As She Racks Up Endorsements.” On September 2, the Washington Post breathlessly headlined, “Clinton Wrote, Sent Classified E-mails on Private Server.” The story notes, however, that the e-mails in question were determined to contain classified information after she sent them, indeed, “after Clinton left office.” Still, that doesn’t stop the Post from concluding that this revelation “appears to contradict earlier public statements in which she denied sending or receiving e-mails containing classified information.”

No, it doesn’t. Clinton asserts she never sent classified e-mails; “government officials” – whoever they are – now postulate some of the information in her e-mails may have become classified at a later time. Clinton undercuts her assertion by repeatedly saying that she “did not send or receive classified material.” Why not simply say, “I didn’t send or receive any material that was classified at the time.” To my knowledge, no one has contradicted that statement as yet.

Of course, Clinton knows (as do we all) the charges and allegations will never stop, and it is understandable that she is loathe to let such histrionics drive her from a race she could easily win. But that determination doesn’t make us any more sanguine about the prospects of moving into a restorative phase of American politics anytime soon.

Thus the summer fling with Sanders who says all the correct things and endorses all the right policies, and has less chance of effectuating them than he does of getting elected in the first place. Democrats need to keep in mind we are electing a president, not picking a valedictorian; the goal of selecting a nominee is not to pick the person with whom we agree most often, but rather the one who has the best chance of getting elected and actually implementing what he, or she, has promised. That isn’t Sanders.

Fortunately Sanders’ supporters will likely be able to embrace Clinton and hopefully turn out in reasonable numbers, as Clinton’s supporters accepted Obama in 2008. They won’t be happy, but the serious implications of a Republican presidency will be evident, particularly given the possibility of a Republican Congress (not to mention an aging Supreme Court). You can almost hear Clinton imploring, “Compare me to the alternative, not to the Almighty.”

On the issue of Joe Biden: not happening. Biden knows that he would have to confront Clinton head on and vigorously take down her candidacy, and he will not be willing to do that, nor should he. Even if he were successful, the ramifications for the women’s vote in November would be calamitous. He carries a lot of baggage of his own, starting with hundreds of controversial votes in the Senate accumulated over a third of a century. He may not remove himself irrevocably, in the event Clinton collapses, but as to an active candidacy against her: nope.

Iran. The press spent the summer breathlessly awaiting the declarations of each Democratic senator as the number endorsing the agreement approached the 34 votes needed to sustain the presidential veto (achieved last night with Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s announcement). As usual, there has been an excess of attention to the Senate. It is quite possible the senators will never even have to vote on the override because the vote could come first in the House, where Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has spent the summer tying down and releasing the names of Member after Member who support the agreement.

This is Pelosi at her meticulous best, counting her votes, re-counting her votes, over and over, talking to her doubtful members, leaving nothing to chance. She has been the Democratic Leader and Speaker since 2003, but she has also never stopped being the inexhaustible and peerless Whip, the position in which she entered the Democratic leadership. As soon as the Republican majority agreed to require only a vote of disapproval on the agreement (which could be vetoed and sustained with just one-third of either house) rather than a vote to approve it, the scene was set for Pelosi to work her magic.

That September song sung by The Happenings’ (from Paterson NJ) warns “there is danger in the summer moon above.” As we prepare for the return of Congress and votes on Iran, the continuing resolution, the highway trust fund, the debt ceiling and who knows what other “cliffs,” as well as more presidential debates and Trump tirades, there’s plenty of danger in the September moon as well.


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