This morning, former Utah Sen. Bob Bennett (R) reminded a meeting of the Bipartisan Policy Center that conservatives supported the individual health insurance mandate during the 1990s, a policy they now condemn as unconstitutional. He said that he still supports the provision — now part of the Affordable Care Act — and noted that the only way the country can continue to provide care to those who can’t afford it is “to have an individual mandate so that everyone who can and everyone who can afford it, is required to have his or her own health insurance. ”
While in the Senate, Bennett sponsored the bipartisan Wyden-Bennett health care bill, which sought to expand coverage by requiring everyone to purchase health care coverage:
BENNETT: I first got involved in it when Mrs. Clinton was the first lady and started putting forth some ideas. And at that time, the conservative approach, to which I gravitated quite naturally, was to have an individual mandate. Now, I am condemned for supporting the individual mandate. I still do, because if you are going to take the position that we do in this country that if someone is ill, we will take care of them regardless of their ability to pay. If someone shows up in the ER bleeding we don’t say, ‘if you don’t show me an insurance card we are going to throw you out in the snow and let you bleed to death.’
Sens. Lindsey Graham, Mike Crapo, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, and Lamar Alexander also supported the health care bill.
Former GOP Sen. Bob Bennett (UT), who lost his seat to a far-right primary challenger after holding it for over a decade, slammed the tea party in an interview with Fox News host Greta Van Susteren Friday. Saying the tea party movement “cost the Republicans control of the Senate,” Bennett warned Republicans to “be careful” about kowtowing to the narrow demands of the hard right when nominating a presidential candidate. Bennett went on to note that the GOP has shifted far to the right from previous Republican presidential candidates like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. “Ronald Reagan would probably not recognize the description of Ronald Regan” that many conservatives have of him, Bennett said, noting that he held views that were “absolute anathema to many of the tea party people”:
BENNETT: And people talk about Ronald Reagan, but I remember Ronald Reagan very well. … But Ronald Reagan would probably not recognize the description of Ronald Regan that is coming out of a lot of the tea party blogs. Ronald Reagan, yes he was very conservative, yes he was a man of principles, and he wouldn’t budge on those principles. But he said something that would be absolutely anathema to many of the tea party people when he said it’s better to get 80 percent of what you want than zero. And Reagan would compromise, Reagan would make deals.
Indeed, as ThinkProgress has noted, the image of Reagan that many conservatives hold dear bears little resemblance to the actual man, who did many things these self-professed Reaganites would not like. Reagan raised taxes, increased government spending, and ballooned the size of government. And Reagan was a staunch defender of unions. A union boss himself, Reagan was the only president to have been a union member. As Bennett implies, today’s conservative movement, with its assault on government and unions, has disregarded its greatest hero.
Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pushed a vote to postpone consideration of the DREAM Act, giving the Senate a chance to take up the House version of the bill next week and hopefully pick up a few Republican votes in the meantime. Without the support of at least a handful of Republicans, the DREAM Act doesn’t stand a chance. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) is one Republican who has supported the DREAM Act in the past and has indicated he will continue to do so up until the end of the lame duck session when he will leave the Senate after being stripped of his party’s nomination earlier this year.
In his final conference call with Utah reporters today, Bennett suggested that not all hope is lost if the DREAM Act doesn’t make it to President Obama’s desk at the end of the year. According to Bennett, at least some Republicans are talking about proposing a modified DREAM Act themselves “early” next year:
I know a lot of my colleagues are not happy to vote for it and I don’t think the votes are there to pass it in this Congress. As I talk particularly to my Republican friends, I’ve said, “we really need to do this.”
Their reaction has been to me privately, “You’re right. we do really need to do it. We don’t like the specifics of the bill that’s come out of the House. [...] But we agree that once the Republicans control the House, the Republicans have the responsibility to write a bill that we would vote and send it over and we — at least the Republican senators I’ve talked to — we think if we get a DREAM Act worded the way we like, we would vote for it and we want to do it early next year.”
It’s my hope, I don’t expect it, but it’s my hope that we can do it this year. If we can’t, it’s my hope — perhaps a little bit stronger — that we can take care of it next year.
If what Bennett says is true, the logic behind the Republican thought process doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Several Republicans have voted in favor of the DREAM Act in the past but have turned their backs on it this year — regardless of the fact that the wording has been pretty consistent for several years. (Actually, Reid introduced an even more conservative bill last week that addressed Republican concerns).
GOP opposition to the DREAM Act doesn’t seem to be about wording. My suspicion is that it’s driven by a few concurrent motivations. First of all, most Republican obstruction has more to do with a commitment to blocking anything that’s perceived as being part of the “Obama agenda” — even if it was supported in the past. Secondly, many conservatives are facing nativist pressure at home and are being pulled by right-wing factions of the Republican party.
Lastly, even if a few Republicans reach across the aisle and help pass the DREAM Act in 2010, it will be a victory for the Democrats in terms of the Latino vote. In fact, I suspect that’s a big reason why Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) dragged his feet on immigration reform all year until he completely flip-flopped on the issue this past summer. If this is the case, it makes sense that GOP senators who supported the DREAM Act under a Republican President would feel more comfortable about a bill coming from a House controlled by their own party.
However, the problem is it probably won’t. With Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Steve King (R-IA) in control of the House Judiciary Committee and Immigration Subcommittee — where any immigration bill would have to start — it’s hard to imagine any legislation that even resembles the DREAM Act starting in the House within the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, Bennett’s colleagues don’t seem to realize how much damage they’re doing to the party by not following his lead in the upcoming vote. Republicans won’t just go down in history for blocking the Obama agenda. They’ll also be remembered for obstructing the dreams of millions undocumented immigrants — something which the Latino community will not soon forget.
Last month, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) came in a distant third behind two other GOP candidates vying for the three-term senator’s seat at the Utah Republican Party’s nominating convention in Salt Lake City. His defeat was heralded as a Tea Party victory and prompted Utah’s other GOP U.S. senator, Orrin Hatch, to say tea partiers “don’t have an open mind” and “won’t listen.” Yesterday, Bennett had some harsh words for his party and its future:
“As I look out at the political landscape now, I find plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas,” Bennett told The Ripon Society.
“Indeed, if you raise specific ideas and solutions, as I’ve tried to do on health care with [Oregon Democratic Sen.] Ron Wyden, you are attacked with the same vigor as we’ve seen in American politics all the way back to slavery and polygamy; you are attacked as being a wimp, insufficiently pure, and unreliable.”
Bennett predicted that the GOP would win back control of the House in this year’s midterm elections, but added, “The concern I have is that ideology and a demand for absolute party purity endangers our ability to govern once we get into office.”
Early last month, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) named longtime Republican power broker Fred Malek to chair his Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring. As ThinkProgress noted at the time, Malek brings a controversial past with him to the position as President Nixon once tasked him with creating a list of “important Jewish officials” within the Bureau of Labor Statistics, several of whom were later demoted or transferred.
Malek’s infamous past gained renewed attention last week when the Washington Post reported that “Democrats are calling attention to the recent disclosure of more memos that detail his part in carrying out President Richard M. Nixon’s program to enforce ideological and religious purity.” As Slate’s Timothy Noah (who has writtenextensivelyonMalek’spastconduct) notes, documents released in January 2010 “show beyond any doubt that Malek was actively involved in the process of reassigning the offending BLS Semites, his strenuous denials to the contrary.” Noah also notes evidence that demonstrates how Malek’s use of the term “ethnics” in memos was meant to mean “Jews”:
The Nixon Library documents also include a July 30 memo to Haldeman from Kingsley (“through” Malek, who signed it) explaining that although the earlier (July 27) Jew-counting memo said the BLS housed 13 Jews, they were now revising their estimate to 19. The identities of the additional six suspected Jews are not revealed. In this memo Kingsley rather ham-handedly lists the 19 under the heading “NUMBER OF ETHNICS,” then further gives the game away in a scribbled cover note to Malek: “Obviously, the interpretation of ‘ethnic’ should be narrow in this case!” Well, duh. (Malek’s own earlier memo to Haldeman more delicately referred to the Jews as fitting “the other demographic criterion that was discussed.” Malek confirmed to Woodward and Pincus that he meant Jews.)
On Saturday, Malek — somewhat evasively — apologized for his past once again. In a moment of unintended irony, however, Malek returned to his old-minority counting ways today in an interview on Bill Bennett’s radio show, albeit with a much more benign intent:
BENNETT: Alright, we talked to Bill Kristol about, you know, California stuff and, you know, Florida and all. But what about some of these governors races that are not getting so much attention that you find interesting?
MALEK: Well, I think the governor’s races are the, are the great untold story in American politics today. I mean, not to, a few people have noticed them, but we’ve got some huge races and some major themes are emerging for the, for the Republican Party. Think of this. I believe that we’re going to have a Hispanic candidate emerging today. Brian Sandoval, I believe will win the primary in Nevada. We would have two Hispanic candidates for governors in this, in this country. Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Brian Sandoval in Nevada. We’ll have three minorities over all because I think Nikki Haley is going to get into a run off today and probably emerge as the candidate in South Carolina and she is an Indian born Indian, full-blooded, and a very attractive candidate. So, all in all, you have three minorities running as governor on a Republican ticket. And you know, it’s not just that they’re women and minorities, they are all really well-qualified. They’re center-right candidates. They’ve got the right beliefs. And joining with altogether, we have five women who are going to be running for governor. So it’s really going to put a new face on our party.
Bennett joined Malek in delight over the countable number of minorities potentially representing the GOP in 2010. “Nikki Haley, if elected, would join Bobby Jindal and we would have two Republican, Republicans from the Indian sub-continent,” said Bennett. “That’s right,” replied Malek. “And you know, we’re always characterized as the kind of the old white conservative guys and so forth,” but “who’s going to have the most female governors? Whose had the most Hispanic candidates for governor? Who has the most, the most Indian-American governors?” asked Malek. Listen here:
When Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was confirmed in March 2009 as the first female solicitor general in history, seven Republicans voted to confirm her, including Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). Within minutes of President Obama announcement of Kagan’s nomination today, Kyl blasted a statement to reporters emphasizing that his previous support does not guarantee that he will vote to confirm her. In an interview this morning on Bill Bennett’s radio show, Kyl described Kagan in positive terms, calling her “very accomplished,” “persuasive” and “a nice person to talk to”:
BENNETT: Elena Kagan looks like she’ll be announced today. If it is Elena Kagan, where will the focus be? Seems to me we could have done worse. This is a liberal, but not a far left person. I don’t think she is to liberals if you will what Clarence Thomas or Nino Scalia is to conservative.
KYL: Well, she may be. Because she’s…
KYL: And here’s why I say that. We, we’re talking about an effective conservative. And I think she could be an effective liberal on the bench. She is — she doesn’t seem to be over the top, though I think you’re right, I think she’s a pure liberal in her political ideology. And she’s very accomplished. She’s persuasive. She’s a nice person to talk to. And that kind of a person can be effective in persuading other justices on the bench to her point of view. So, I think she’s got all of the skills to do that. And one of the advantages that she’ll have is at least she’s not perceived at being over the top politically. The key question of course is will she approach cases with the view that the president does, which is that we want them to come out a certain way. The most recent thing — originally we wanted empathy to always win out. Now we want the big guys always to lose the cases. We always want the quote little guys to win the cases. However, you define that.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, under the stipulations in the Clean Air Act. Last month, the EPA announced that it would phase-in the regulation over several years, starting with the largest sources of emissions. Many — mostly Republican — state legislators have recently introduced measures to block or limit the EPA’s authority to regulate the gases.
Reporting on the state action today on Fox News, host Megyn Kelly went a bit overboard on the EPA mandate and its plan to regulate auto emissions. “A laundry list of new regulations set to increase the cost of nearly everything in America,” she said, adding without any sense of irony: “And that may not be an exaggeration!” Taking the discussion a bit further into right field, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) actually argued that greenhouse gases are helpful:
KELLY: Back in 2007 the United States Supreme Court basically issued a decision saying it was ok for the EPA to start putting its nose into other peoples’ business in this way if it so desired. [...]
BENNETT: Greenhouse gas emissions have absolutely nothing whatever to do with clean air. CO2 does not add to pollutants or cause asthma or any of the other things you think of with dirty air. CO2 is actually a nutrient for plants and helps some parts of the continents grow more and have greater vegetation.
Of course the Court didn’t rule that the EPA could “start putting its nose into other peoples’ business” whenever it wants. The decisions specifically stated that the agency is legally required to regulate CO2. And in fact, the auto industry has actually applauded the EPA’s move to regulate car emissions. Apparently they don’t feel the mandate means “the cost of nearly everything in America” will increase, as Kelly claimed.
On Saturday, conservative anger over the imminent passage of health care reform manifested itself in a series of bigoted exchanges with Democratic members of Congress. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) was spit on by a protester, openly gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) was called a “faggot” and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called the n-word. Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) called the incidents “absolutely shocking.” “I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus,” said Clyburn.
Though leaders of the Republican Party have sought to distance themselves from the outbursts, some conservatives are dismissing the incidents as no big deal. National Review’s Jay Nordlinger posted a letter yesterday claiming that the incidents proved that “Racism in America is dead.” Nordlinger called the argument “thought-provoking”:
As everyone sweats out the final Obamacare tallies, I’m struck by a couple of other stories. In one case, someone reported hearing an anti-black epithet used at a political rally. In another case, dogged police finally arrested the perpetrator of an intolerable crime. The perp is a 16-year-old kid who made a potentially offensive comment on a Wal-Mart overhead speaker. That these things are even remotely newsworthy leads me to one conclusion: Racism in America is dead. We had slavery, then we had Jim Crow — and now we have the occasional public utterance of a bad word. Real racism has been reduced to de minimis levels, while charges of racism seem to increase. I’ll vote for the first politician with the brass to say that “racism” should be dropped from our national dialogue. We’re a good nation, among the least racist on earth . . .
On his radio show this morning, conservative talker Bill Bennett endorsed the letter writer’s thesis, saying “I think that’s right”:
BENNETT: I think that’s right. Is there occasional racism, of course. But this country’s been transformed on the issue of race. You talk to young people, they don’t even understand how people could have judged people by race. They just don’t even, it doesn’t even parse. So, you know, what some of the liberal Democrats want to suggest is that Republicans and conservatives are still, you know, they have one, one scenario for this. It’s Mississippi burning and, you know, they’re still there. But the country is not there. Mississippi isn’t Mississippi of Mississippi burning. Transformed society on this issue. And everybody who is honest would admit to that.
As President Obama argued in his “A More Perfect Union” speech, it is foolish to argue that “no progress has been made” in America regarding race. But “the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed.” In June 2009, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund released a report demonstrating that “the spate of racially-motivated hate crimes and violence against minorities and immigrants that occurred before and after Election Day makes clear that a final victory over prejudice and racial hostility remains elusive.”
Using FBI data, the Leadership Conference found that “in the nearly twenty years since the 1990 enactment of the Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA), the number of hate crimes reported has consistently ranged around 7,500 or more annually — that’s nearly one every hour of every day.” The FBI reports that there were 7,783 hate crime incidents in 2008, the most recent year for which they have released data.
As ThinkProgress noted yesterday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) accused the media of “treason” on Sean Hannity’s radio show on Monday, claiming that they are “not telling this story” that Speaker Nancy Pelosi “would even consider having us pass a bill that no one votes on.” When Bill Bennett suggested on his radio show today that the media has shown “disgust” over the parliamentary procedures, Bachmann agreed, adding that she doesn’t “mean any disrespect” when she refers to the press as the “treason media”:
BENNETT: Are you kind of surprised with even the media’s disgust with the procedures?
BACHMANN: Well, I’m amazed that they actually were willing to be shocked. Because for most of the time they have been, and you know, I don’t mean any disrespect, but they’ve been treason media. They haven’t been telling the whole story. Unlike the shows like yours. You’re doing that.
Bachmann’s contempt for the media is somewhat ironic considering she courts them so habitually. In August, Smart Politics calculated that Bachmann appears on national cable news every 9 days — though the majority of those appearances were on Fox News and Fox Business.
Yesterday, while discussing the Democrats procedural options for finishing health care reform, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein discussed how the political dynamics would change if the House passes the Senate bill and then a reconciliation bill with some substantive fixes is considered:
If the Senate bill is passed and Democrats are just getting rid of the Nebraska deal and easing the bite of the excise tax, Republicans will have a lot of trouble standing in the way and becoming defenders of the Nebraska deal and the excise tax. At that point, they’re not opposing health-care reform and instead opposing small, popular changes that make the bill better. They’re literally obstructing good government that fits with their recent rhetoric. After all, having spent the last few months hammering the Nelson deal, it doesn’t look very bipartisan to keep Democrats from taking your advice and reneging on it.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is one of those Republicans who has spent months “hammering the Nelson deal,” which he refers to as the “Cornhusker Kickback.” On Bill Bennett’s radio show today, Alexander — who admitted that health care reform would already be law if and when the Senate takes up reconciliation legislation — was pressed to explain why he would obstruct changes that would be positive in his view:
BENNETT: So what is the point of the obstruction — positive obstruction — of you all doing this if we’ve already lost the game?
ALEXANDER: Well, the point of our doing it is to not allow them to abuse the process further. I mean, they, we cannot allow the House or the president or any group of people to completely undermine the role of the Senate in American constitutional government, which is really to say that on big issues, we’re going to require consensus instead of majority and we need 60 votes.
BENNETT: I see. But the House bill that he would sign might be worse than the one with the amendments they’re trying to offer that you will debate.
ALEXANDER: Well, that’s a good point and but but but and we’ll…
BENNETT: It’ll have kickbacks, the Kickback and all that stuff.
ALEXANDER: We’ll have to, we’ll have to consider that as we go through the bill line by line, but basically, the Senate Republicans are not going to bail the House Democrats out by fixing a bill we all voted against.
Later in the interview, Alexander said that the GOP’s call to repeal health care reform “will define every congressional race in November.” Bennett then realized that Alexander was saying that blocking the fixes that Republicans approve of would benefit the party electorally. “Alright, that would be a rationale then for doing exactly what you’re doing in the Senate and letting that stinkbomb of a bill with all the kickbacks and all that stuff sit out there in the sun and fester,” said Bennett. Listen here:
After Alexander hung up the phone, Bennett praised him for his cynical plan to block fixes that he supports so that he can have a stronger argument going into the November elections. Bennett added that Alexander was “the definition of what a senator’s supposed to be” and “a living example of what the founders intended.”
Bennett then characterized Alexander’s argument — which he said could be used to scare House Democrats against voting for the Senate bill — as essentially saying, “they’re not going to fix it. The Republicans aren’t going to let you fix it. They want the most stinking mess there is sitting out there, rotting in the sun. So they can then repeal it. Why do they want to make your bill better?”
Matt Yglesias thinks Republicans may just be posturing about blocking reconciliation at all costs in order to psych out Democrats. “But once health reform does pass that House, that will be irrelevant,” writes Yglesias. “So are they going to vote no? If so, why? I doubt Senate Republicans want to end up on the receiving end of ads about special giveaways to Nebraska.”