Saturday, April 8, 2017

More SoCal Flowers

The First 100 Days - Nothing Accomplished Other Than Destroying Senate Norms

The House has already adjourned for their two week Easter break and the Senate is now on its way having destroyed the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees and installed Neil Gorsuch. When they return, it will have been, by my count, 94 days since Trump's inauguration. And it's not like Congressional Republicans have any legislation teed up and ready to go upon their return. By any measure, then, Trump's first 100 days will be one of the least effective beginnings for any administration in modern American history and possibly one the of most ineffective when the President's party has control of both the House and the Senate.

With virtually total control of the levers of government, Trump's legislative accomplishments are null. In fact, the healthcare plan offered as the "repeal and replace" alternative to Obamacare proved to not only be massively unpopular, registering only 17% approval, but to also create a deep schism in the House Republican caucus. In the wake of that debacle, Trump seemingly is continuing to push for some kind of vote on healthcare in the House, but it appears even Paul Ryan understands that the gap between the House Freedom Caucus, who are simply interested in repeal, and the House moderates, who will actually have to answer to voters who lose their insurance, can not be bridged.

While maneuvering behind the scenes to try to get something out of the House on healthcare, Trump has also said that he is ready to move on to tax reform. Here again, Republicans seem to have no coherent strategy. Paul Ryan's plan for a border adjustment tax has inflamed portions of the business community that would normally be supportive and the plan has already been labeled as dead on arrival by influential Senate Republicans.

Meanwhile, the Senate has taken most of these first 100 days to simply roll back agency rules that went into effect in the last six months of the Obama administration. Yes, those actions will be damaging to consumers, workers, and the environment but they can hardly count as legislative achievements. The only real business the Senate actually completed was to destroy the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in order to pack Neil Gorsuch on to the Court. Mitch McConnell took an axe to another democratic norm and further antagonized Democrats in the chamber, making it less likely he will be able to round up those votes to overcome the legislative filibusters Democrats will use. Unless, of course, McConnell decides to try and destroy the legislative filibuster too. While that may tempting for Senate Republicans, they might want to look at what happened when they tried to repeal Obamacare. If, in the future, Democrats need only 50 votes to pass major legislation that provides even more services to the public, the backlash when the GOP tries to repeal that legislation is likely to be just as bad as it has been for the last few weeks with Obamacare. It might be better strategy for McConnell and the GOP to leave the legislative filibuster in place. In any case, the only real accomplishment for the Senate has been to destroy another norm of governance and essentially set a new precedent that a Supreme Court Justice can only be appointed when one party controls both the Senate and the White House.

On both the healthcare and tax issues, there has been virtually no leadership coming from the White House, in the sense that the Trump administration works with Congressional leaders to craft a piece of legislation that would pass both the House and the Senate. This would be normal procedure, especially when both houses of Congress are controlled by the President's party. But the Trump administration is so lacking in policy detail that it is always left to the leaders in Congress to craft the actual legislation and then the White House tries to mediate the disputes that eventually break out within the Republican caucus.

With no leadership from the White House, disarray within the House Republican caucus, and a polarized Senate, it has been an abysmal first 100 days for the Trump administration. And it won't get any easier when Congress returns in two weeks, hopefully having gotten another earful from their constituents. There is no agreement on tax reform, Trump's budget is dead on arrival, and the debt ceiling is looming. In addition, we could see insurers dropping out of the ACA exchanges for 2018, putting further pressure on the GOP to address healthcare again. With all that on their plate, it will be no wonder that the next 100 days will be as ineffective as the first.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Two Thoughts On Syria

The missile attack against  the Syrian airbase that was the launching point for the sarin gas attack is receiving universal plaudits from the media and the hawks in and out of government. I have two quick thoughts on the matter.

First, one of the points that keeps on being mentioned over and over is the "the speed with which this operation took place". The US response came just 72 hours after the sarin attack. Clearly, this attack was something that had been planned during the Obama administration and was ready to be pulled off the shelf and implemented. The fact that Trump signed off on it so quickly could mean that a thorough vetting of the collateral consequences had already been done. On the other hand, it could just as easily mean that Trump OK'd this attack with as much as haste and disregard for consequences as the operation in Yemen. The latter should give us pause and the former raises the question of what this administration would do when there is a crisis the Obama administration did not already have plans for.

Secondly, Russian assets were clearly located at the base. If the Russians were warned of the attack so that they could move their assets to safety, that would probably have been prudent. But it would have also tipped off the Syrians, essentially blunting the impact of the attack in the first place and making it an almost empty gesture. If the Russians were not notified, then this was a potentially reckless operation that could have resulted in an open confrontation with Russia. That should trouble us all.

More Flowers

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Today's Vote On Nuclear Option Only Confirms Reality Since 2005

While we wait for the Republicans in the Senate to officially demolish yet another democratic norm in a raw pursuit of power, it is worth noting that this is a culmination of decades of GOP destruction of our democratic processes.

While the press and Republicans like to focus on Harry Reid's decision to eliminate the filibuster for lower court justices and executive branch appointees, that not only ignores the total obstruction by Senate Republicans and the refusal to even provide a hearing for Merrick Garland but also is a misreading of the actual history that has led us to where we are today.

In reality, the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees was eliminated by Mitch McConnell way back in 2005. Not many people remember it now, but, as Josh Marshall points out, Republicans threatened to invoke the nuclear option if Democrats blocked the confirmation of both Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. That threat led to the so-called "Gang of 14" agreement that said that Democrats would not use the filibuster except in "extraordinary circumstances" in return for the Republicans abandoning their threat to use the nuclear option. Under that agreement, both Roberts and Alito were confirmed, with Roberts gaining more than 60 votes and Alito less. Alito's confirmation with only 58 votes effectively ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees because the threat of the nuclear option had succeeded. The Democrats agreement to not use the filibuster in order to avoid the nuclear option was essentially agreeing to eliminate the filibuster because, as we have seen today, the use of the filibuster by Democrats would provoke Republicans to use the nuclear option.

Today's vote only makes official what has been the actual reality since 2005. If the treatment of Merrick Garland did not create an "extraordinary circumstance", then nothing will. The Republicans were always going to be willing to use the nuclear option and Democrats were only kidding themselves that preserving the filibuster option was accomplishing anything. Today, Republicans will have to vote to once again destroy a democratic norm that has served the country well for generations. Not only will history treat them unkindly for this raw power grab, there will come a day in the near future when Republicans will long for the ability to use the filibuster. They will have dug their own graves.

Flower Photos

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

McConnell Faces Decision On Whether To Go Nuclear For Gorsuch

With confirmation that Democrats have enough votes to filibuster Neil Gorsuch, the ball is squarely in the Republican's court about how to proceed. Mitch McConnell has made all the signals that he is prepared to invoke the nuclear option in order to get Gorsuch confirmed. Said McConnell, "We’re going to get Judge Gorsuch confirmed. It’ll really be up to [Democrats] how the process to confirm Judge Gorsuch moves forward", implying a willingness to invoke the nuclear option.

But it is still an open question whether McConnell truly wants to go nuclear and whether there are actually enough votes within his own Republican caucus to actually make that happen. As Martin Longman points out, there are some good reasons why some Republicans my be a bit leery about pushing Gorsuch through with a simple majority vote and setting a new precedent. One of those concerns would be that Roe v. Wade will actually be repealed with just one more Trump appointee, creating an incredible backlash against the Republicans in power. For years, certainly since Reagan's days, the GOP loves to keep the base inspired by promising to repeal Roe v. Wade but have no shown any real legislative and judicial desire to actually keep the base inspired. In addition, demographics raise the probability the Democrats will hold the presidency more often than Republicans in the near future, giving Democrats their own power to reshape the Court. Lastly, there are probably still some Republican Senators, though very few, who recognize just how destructive and partisan this move would be.

Longman also points out how disproportional McConnell's decision to go nuclear would be compared to Harry Reid's decision to require a simple majority vote for lower court and executive branch nominees. Reid faced over 500 filibusters and even worked out a number interim agreements to move nominees forward before going nuclear. McConnell will be doing it after on filibuster. On the other hand, after the failure of Trumpcare, the pressure from the base to see Gorsuch confirmed will be enormous. Trump himself will not want to suffer another defeat, even if it at the hands of Democrats this time. Yet, after a divisive vote in the House on Trumpcare that has torn the GOP caucus there asunder, McConnell may be setting up Republican Senators for a similar destructive vote in the Senate.

If McConnell does decide to go nuclear, it will just be another destruction of the governing norms that Republicans have engaged in for the last two decades. And, in combination with the refusal to even consider Merrick Garland, will turn the Supreme Court itself into a partisan battleground. The Court has always been much more political than the myth that gets told about it. If McConnell goes nuclear, any sliver of the remaining veneer of unity and non-partisanship on the Court will be stripped away.

Migratory Birds In South Texas

Today, let's go back to the Texas Gulf Coast and the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas...

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Natural Weekends - The Birds Are Back

Even though the weather has been abysmal here on the creek lately, with lots of cold and rainy days, the birds have started to return.

A woodpecker doing his job...

Even working upside down!