One name missing from the list of recess appointments that I’ve heard a lot about is Dawn Johnsen. One who’s been less mention is Lael Brainard whose nomination to serve as Undersecretary of Treasury for International Affairs has been pending since the dawn of time. This isn’t necessarily obvious from the title, but the Undersecretary for International is one of the most important subcabinet jobs in the government. For illustrative purposes, note that both Larry Summers and Tim Geithner used to have the gig.
The obstructionism about Brainard is particularly odd since it has no real motive. The pretext is something about past tax filings, but there’s no real allegation that Brainard is corrupt and Brainard isn’t, as far as anyone I’ve talked to knows, particularly liberal for a Democrat. Certainly I’ve never heard a conservative offer any dark intimations that lurking behind apparent-moderate Barack Obama is closet socialist Lael Brainard.
And to make it triply odd, not only is she being held up on pretext of some minor tax business, but her husband was confirmed many months ago as an assistant secretary of state so there very clearly isn’t any kind of principled opposition to members of the Brainard/Campbell household serving at high levels of the US government. This is just Chuck Grassley screwing around because (a) he thinks he can get away with it, (b) Republicans think that if the country suffers the GOP will benefit, and (c) the evidence suggests that he can in fact get away with it.
Palin Tells Constitution-Loving Tea Partiers: We Don’t Need A President Who Is A ‘Constitutional Law Professor’
The Tea Party movement loves to express its affection for the Constitution. The Los Angeles Times writes, “Adherence to what supporters deem to be a strict interpretation of constitutional principles is a key tenet of the tea party movement.” Yesterday’s Tea Party rally in Searchlight, NV, for instance, was filled with imagery of the Constitution. Protesters carried signs that read “I honor the Constitution” and “What about the Constitution don’t you understand?” Rally attendee Norman Halfpenny, a 77-year old retired Marine Corps veteran, said, “We need to get our Constitution back.”
In her speech at the rally, Sarah Palin of course paid homage to the Constitution. “Our vision for America is anchored in time-tested truths that the government that governs least governs best, that the Constitution provides the path to a more perfect union — it’s the Constitution,” she exclaimed. And so it’s extremely puzzling that Palin introduced this new attack line against President Obama yesterday:
In these volatile times when we are a nation at war, now more than ever is when we need a commander-in-chief, not a constitutional law professor lecturing us from a lectern.
Ironically, the crowd cheered wildly at Palin’s line. Watch it:
Quiz — Who said: “Continuous research by our best scientists is the key to American scientific leadership and true national security. This indispensable work may be made impossible by the creation of an atmosphere in which no man feels safe against the public airing of unfounded rumors, gossip, and vilification”?
If you want a hint, the very next sentence by this man known for his bluntness is, “Such an atmosphere is un-American.”
Glenn Reynolds says: “Possibly Obama just hates Israel and hates Jews. That’s plausible — certainly nothing in his actions suggests otherwise, really.”
Now to be clear, if you read the rest of Reynolds’ post it’s clear that he’s so far through the looking glass that he regards the fact that he doesn’t think this is the only plausible explanation for Obama’s policies as constituting a pro-Obama post. Which is to say that Reynolds is extremely out of touch with reality.
I’ll say for my part that I think a great many of Obama’s actions throughout the years—most notably his many social and professional relationships with Jewish people—suggest that he is not motivated by hatred of Jews. What’s more, his ability to persuade the overwhelming majority of American Jews to vote him is likewise an indication that the people most likely to be concerned with detecting Jew-hatred do not find this charge to be plausible. I suppose it’s true that the old “some of my best Chiefs of Staff are Jewish” thing can fall flat at certain points. But then there’s Larry Summers, David Axelrod, Peter Orszag, etc. The Obama White House looks more like an anti-semite’s conspiracy theory about Jews running the government than like an actual anti-semitic conspiracy.
Here’s a nice catch from Dara Lind about Senator Lindsay Graham offering different messages on immigration reform to the English and Spanish press. In English, Graham is threatening to blow up any hope of an immigration deal over the health care bill. In Spanish, not so much:
That’s been his line to the English-language press through this week. In his own statements, he’s been walking a fine line between threatening to walk away himself and making vague pronouncements about the lack of political will generally — presumably among other Republicans. (The notion that Senate Republicans were somehow willing to cooperate before reconciliation is, of course, so laughable that it points out how disingenuous the whole thing is. One also wonders what the heck Graham thought was going to happen with reconciliation on Thursday, when theoretically he could have yanked the WaPo op-ed.) The media has been eliding this carefully crafted distinction. It’s always sad when the press fails to capture the subtlety of weaselly doubletalk.
Even sadder is when they don’t notice just how weaselly it is because they’re watching the wrong Sunday morning talk shows. Because two days after Graham debuted his Cassandra mask for the English-language press, he went on Al Punto, Univision’s Sunday politics show, to express his support for reform. He didn’t ignore the reconciliation point — he mentioned that it would make things “difficult” — but that was hardly the topline message. Furthermore, the content of his appearance was much less important than the appearance itself. Graham doesn’t appear to have any problem being portrayed as the Man Who Would Kill Immigration Reform for the English-speaking DC media, whose incentives to favor partisan squabbles are stronger than their desire to see any particular piece of legislation pass. I’m hardly saying that desire to see legislation pass should be guiding journalistic coverage, but it’s an entirely different audience than the millions of people who watch Al Punto every week — whose desire to see immigration reform pass is much stronger than their appetite for finger-pointing.
One interesting aspect about the rise of digital media is that politicians’ efforts to segment their message has generally declined a great deal. It’s much harder nowadays to say one thing to the hometown paper and another thing entirely to Roll Call and hope that it’ll basically go unnoticed. But the rise of a robust Spanish-language media inside the United States has created a new set of opportunities.
Yesterday, President Obama announced his intention to recess appoint 15 qualified nominees who have faced an “unprecedented level” of GOP obstruction to fill “critical” administration positions. From a statement by White House Communications Director Jen Psaki:
Many of these fifteen individuals have enjoyed broad bipartisan support, but have found their confirmation votes delayed for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualifications. … Because of political posturing, these fifteen appointees have waited an average of 214 days for Senate confirmation. [...]
To put this in perspective, at this time in 2002, President Bush had only 5 nominees pending on the floor. By contrast, President Obama has 77 nominees currently pending on the floor, 58 of whom have been waiting for over two weeks and 44 of those have been waiting more than a month.
One of the people receiving a recess appointment is Craig Becker to serve on the National Labor Relations Board, which protects workers from unfair labor practices. As Psaki explained, although the “five member board has been trying to operate with only two members,” Becker has “been waiting for 261 days or over 8 months” to be confirmed.
Becker, who has spent much of his distinguished career as a lawyer for the AFL-CIO and SEIU, has been one of the GOP’s top targets. Republicans have been using his nomination as a proxy battle for the Employee Free Choice Act. As The Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo has explained, they seem to believe that “Becker will somehow institute EFCA all by himself, which is, of course, nonsense.”
Today on CBS’s Face the Nation, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) tried to make the GOP obstruction sound reasonable, claiming that all they wanted was “some debate and a vote”:
DEMINT: Craig Becker, who was in the group that he appointed by executive fiat yesterday, is someone who has worked for unions his entire career. He put him on a board that is supposed to be unbiased arbitrators between businesses and unions. Democrats opposed this nomination. So, there’s bipartisan opposition. All we had asked for is some debate and a vote on this nominee. He decided to circumvent Congress again — which has become his style on so many issues — and just appoint him while we were out of town.
Despite what DeMint is saying, the problem is that Republicans were preventing Becker from receiving an up-or-down vote. Becker, in fact, has never received such a vote, thanks to a GOP filibuster (which was joined by Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln). In February, the motion to file cloture on his nomination was defeated by a 33-52 vote (with 15 senators missing the vote), eight short of the 60 needed to proceed to debate and a final vote. Even if all of the non-voting members had voted no, Becker still would have received the approval of a majority of the Senate.
There’s a similar story for many of other Obama’s nominees, including Erroll Southers, the man Obama chose to lead the Transportation Security Administration. DeMint led the opposition to Southers — in an attempt “to prevent TSA workers from joining a labor union” — who eventually chose to withdraw from consideration because of the delays.
Transcript: Read more
On the subject of recess appointments, James Fallows has this on Alan Bersin who’ll now be heading Customs of Border Patrol:
Bersin was an all-Ivy star football player at Harvard. Then he went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. Then he went to Yale Law School. Then he was a U.S. Attorney in California. Then he was head of a Justice Department unit overseeing US-Mexico border affairs. Then the head of the San Diego school system. Then the Secretary of Education for California, under Arnold Schwarzenegger. Recently he has been an Assistant Secretary at DHS. Last month the past three commissioners of CBP, including two from the GW Bush administration, wrote to Republican Senators asking them, please, to get Bersin into the job rather than leaving this very important agency leaderless.
Instead the Republicans placed various holds on Bersin and the others and would not bring him to a vote. Thus, good for Obama in saying, Enough.
(A) This is a sign of an opposition political party gone mad. But (B) this is a poor way to organize a government. The number of political appointees in the executive branch should be reduced, the proportion of political appointees requiring congressional confirmation should be lowered, and some kind of express track to an up-or-down vote for nominees should be established. Confirming judges—lifetime members of a coequal branch of government—is one thing, but a president needs to be able to staff his administration.
The extreme right-wing of the Republican Party, supported by the Tea Party movement, is pushing to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act. “We are putting the marker down now,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) told Tea Party activists last week. “We are going to continue to fight to repeal this thing and we’re filing it tomorrow.”
Marco Rubio, who is running against Gov. Charlie Crist in the Republican primary for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat, has also said that he supports repeal. Last week, he launched a petition on his site, saying that he pledges “to undo this legislation and start over with common sense health care reforms.” He even has a whole page devoted to “Repeal It” on his campaign site.
Today in a debate on Fox News Sunday with Crist, Rubio, however, admitted that the repeal campaign isn’t realistic until Republicans “win a few elections”:
WALLACE: Mr. Rubio, now that the health care reform bill is law, would you, if you go to Washington, work to repeal it? How would you do it given the fact that Barack Obama will still be president and could veto a repeal? [...]
RUBIO: I think the first step is to repeal it. We need to win a few elections before we can get there. But we certainly need to start campaigning and talking about it.
Other Republicans have also come out and acknowledged that the repeal movement is little more than political gamesmanship:
– Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ): “Our view is that we should repeal and replace the bill with the solutions that we think actually work. Obviously, the president will not sign a repeal bill that the Congress passes, so that’s more of a symbol. … Barack Obama is president. He would never sign a repeal law. We don’t have the votes to get it passed right now. We’re not going to waste our time on that.”
– Newt Gingrich: “What you have to do is be politically honest. If the Republicans win a majority in the House and Senate next year, they will not be able to repeal the bill. The president would veto it.”
Repealing the entire Affordable Care Act would mean re-instituting denials of coverage based on preexisting conditions and rescinding coverage for millions. Even some Republicans like Rep. Phil Gingrey (GA) have said that they do not want to repeal everything in the bill. Rubio, however, signed a pledge to repeal health care reform before it even became law. “There are no shortage of statements made by Marco stressing his belief that the plan should have been scrapped months ago, and now that it has become law, should be repealed,” said his campaign last week. More on the GOP repeal campaign in The Progress Report.
Transcript: Read more
Craig Becker is getting all the attention out of yesterday’s batch of recess appointments, but a fuller look at the list is really required to understand how absurd the level of GOP obstructionism has become. For example:
— Jeffrey Goldstein will be Undersecretary of Treasury for Domestic Finance.
— Michael Mundaca will be Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Tax Policy.
— Eric Hirschorn will be Undersecretary of Commerce for Export Administration.
— Michael Punke will be Deputy US Trade Representative and head up the office in Geneva.
— Islam A. Siddiqui will be Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
There are also others. But I’ve picked these out. I know for a fact that the failure of the Senate to confirm Siddiqui and especially Punke has been a very real impediment to the World Trade Organization’s ability to function and move forward, and thus a small-but-real drag on America’s economy. And does anyone think this is a good time to leave the Domestic Finance job unfilled?