Saturday, February 28, 2015

Why the Republicans couldn’t defund DHS

It’s not lack of principles, stupid!

The failure of the Republican majority in Congress to defund President Obama’s executive amnesty this week has once again engendered bitterness among some conservatives toward the party’s leadership. Accusations that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell caved to Obama’s pressure are widespread, but the true cause of the failure to can be found within Senate traditions and the Constitution itself. The Constitution may also provide the ultimate solution to Obama’s executive overreach.

Because the authors of the Constitution distrusted a strong central government, they made it difficult to enact new laws. Because the framers worried that the majority might tyrannize a minority, they gave the president veto power over laws passed by Congress and the courts the right to strike down laws judged to be unconstitutional. Democratic filibusters must also be considered by Republican leaders, but it is the presidential veto that holds the greatest threat to the Republican agenda.

Cloture, filibusters, and vetoes! Oh, my!

Under the Constitution, the House and Senate pass bills with a simple majority vote, but the Senate has traditionally allowed unlimited debate before a vote. The strategy of a filibuster, a prolonged speech to prevent a vote, has long been used by minority senators to prevent those in the majority from passing legislation. Filibusters no longer require longwinded speechmaking. Under current Senate rules, to end debate on a bill, senators must first vote for cloture. According to the Senate website, the cloture rule was intended to give senators a means to overcome filibusters and dates back to the Woodrow Wilson Administration. Originally, the rule required a two-thirds vote to end debate on bill, but this was changed to three-fifths, 60 votes, in 1975. A filibuster is now merely the inability of the majority party to get enough votes for cloture.

What the cloture rule means to conservatives now is that, since Republicans hold 54 Senate seats, they will need at least six Democratic votes to invoke cloture and bring bills to a vote. If the Democrats remain united, they can deny the Republicans the ability to bring their agenda to a Senate vote, in which case it can never become law. This was the case with the attempt to defund DHS.

Bills that are passed by both the House and Senate face another constitutional hurdle before becoming law. According to the Constitution, bills passed by Congress then go to the president where they can become law in one of two ways. First, the president can sign the bill and it immediately becomes law. Second, the president can do nothing and the bill will become law in 10 days as long as Congress remains in session.

The president can also reject, or veto, the bill. For a regular veto, the president sends the bill back to Congress with a message describing why the bill was vetoed, as in President Obama’s veto of the Keystone pipeline. More rare is the pocket veto. If Congress adjourns before the 10 days is up and the president fails to sign the bill, the bill never becomes law.

The drive to override

Congress can override a presidential veto. When the president returns the bill to Congress, the bill can still be passed without the president’s approval. Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds vote of the members present. A bill that is subject to a pocket veto simply dies and cannot be overridden. It must be debated and passed again by the next Congress.

In the current Congress, overriding a veto would be difficult in spite of the historic Republican majority. Assuming all congressmen were present, a two-thirds majority would require 67 Senate votes and 288 House votes. This means that 13 Democratic senators and 41 Democratic representatives would have to vote against the president even if all Republicans were united. The Congressional Research Service reports that between 1789 and 2004 only 106 of 1,484 regular vetoes were successfully overridden, a seven percent success rate.

Most of President Obama’s signature pieces of legislation were passed in his first two years when the Democrats held control of both houses of Congress, but Democrats in 2009 through 2010 also had an important advantage that today’s Republicans lack: a president who would sign their legislation into law. As Republicans try to roll back Obamacare and other Obama-era legislation, they have the opposite situation, a president who will viciously wield the veto pen to preserve his legacy. Barring a major break between the Democrats in Congress and President Obama, it is unlikely that any presidential vetoes will be overridden.

Flank attacks

Two strategies have been floated by Republicans to outflank the Democratic obstruction. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) recently called on Republican leaders to invoke the “nuclear option” and totally eliminate the filibuster. In 2013, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) changed the rules to eliminate the filibuster for the confirmation of presidential appointments. According to the Washington Post, the filibuster still stands for bills, but not for votes on presidential nominees.

Eliminating the filibuster would allow Republicans to pass the bill in the Senate, but the plan has two major flaws. First, the larger hurdle, President Obama’s veto, would remain so any successes would be short-lived. Second, the Republicans will one day need the filibuster themselves since it is unlikely that any Senate majority will ever be permanent.

A second strategy would be to use a budget reconciliation, the tool used by Harry Reid to pass Obamacare, to pass conservative legislation. As former New Hampshire senator Judd Gregg explained in the Wall St. Journal, a budget reconciliation requires only 51 votes but the circumstances where it can be used are extremely limited. Additionally, the final budget bill would still be subject to a presidential veto.

The Keystone model for success

Sheer numbers and constitutional processes make it unlikely that a direct frontal assault against President Obama will work. A more likely strategy is for the Republicans in Congress to seek areas where they can find common ground with moderate Democrats as they did with the Keystone pipeline. Winning even a few Democratic votes would force Obama to either use his veto or allow the bill to become law, putting pressure squarely on the president.

While it is possible – or even likely – that President Obama will veto a bipartisan bill, doing so would change the dynamic in Washington. Since Republicans took control of the House in 2011, the Democrats have derided them as obstructionists who do nothing more than say “no.” When President Obama uses his veto power or Senate Democrats use the filibuster, it will be the president who is obstructing the will of the people.

The Republicans made a massive strategic blunder in the battle over DHS funding when House Republicans chose not to focus solely on President Obama’s illegal amnesty, a tactic that might have won some Democratic allies. Instead, the Wall St. Journal notes that the bill included several amendments to repeal Mr. Obama’s less controversial moves on immigration going all the way back to 2011. As a result, the Democrats were united and a few Republicans even voted against the bill.

The last line of defense

Further, as Karl Rove notes, the decision of a Texas federal court judge blocking Obama’s amnesty removed the need to defund the DHS in the first place. The courts have at least temporarily stopped Obama’s executive action where Congress could not. The possibility remains that the injunction will be made permanent and the president will suffer an embarrassing legal defeat.

Although the courts have been weakened by the appointment of judicial activists to the bench, including four to the Supreme Court, the judicial power to declare Obama’s actions unconstitutional is the best hope. The potential threat to Obama’s agenda may be why a Rasmussen poll recently found that 43 percent of Democrats feel that Obama should be able to ignore the courts.

While the election has not given Republicans a carte blanche to impose their policies and reverse Obama’s, it has given them a far stronger hand than they previously held. Republicans must decide whether to squander this advantage on a pointless and unwinnable fight or whether to build a bipartisan majority that can actually accomplish the work of the people.

Read the full article on

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Poll: Democrats ready to jettison courts

A stunning new poll released today by Rasmussen found that a relative majority of Democrats believe that President Obama should be able to ignore federal courts. The February 20 poll comes as the Obama Administration faces a host of legal obstacles which include a federal judge’s injunction against the president’s executive immigration amnesty and a high-profile challenge to the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” in the Supreme Court.

Rasmussen reports that nearly half of Democrats, 43 percent, “believe the president should have the right to ignore the courts.” This was a plurality, also called a relative majority, since only 35 percent of Democrats opposed having President Obama ignore the courts.

Democrats were starkly out of step with the rest of the country on the issue. Among likely U.S. voters, only 26 percent wanted the president to ignore the courts. Sixty percent felt that the president should listen to and abide by court rulings. Not surprisingly, 81 percent of Republicans felt that Mr. Obama should listen to the courts.

The poll further found that 52 percent believe that legal challenges and judicial review of laws help to protect the rights of U.S. citizens. By an almost two-to-one margin (59 to 31 percent), voters believe that preserving the Constitution’s checks-and-balances is more important than having the government operate more efficiently.

In recent years, President Obama has been rebuked by the courts for executive overreach on several occasions. Two of the highest profile cases decided against the president include a court’s rejection of his recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and the decision that the Obamacare mandate that private employers provide contraceptive and abortifacient drugs was a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Read the full article on

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Can Scott Walker unite the GOP?

The factions of the GOP are split and the Wisconsin governor is one of few candidates that can bring them together.

Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, has generated much buzz as a potential presidential candidate since he addressed the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa on January 24. Walker has jumped to the front of a crowded Republican field and may be uniquely qualified to unite the various factions of the Republican Party.

There are a number of factions within the GOP, the two most obvious being the establishment and the Tea Party. In addition to these groups, there are also religious conservatives, foreign policy conservatives, and libertarians. Most of the potential Republican nominees are championed by only one or two of these groups. For example, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush fall into the establishment category. Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Sarah Palin are prominent candidates from the Tea Party. Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have the support of the religious wing of the GOP. Rand Paul is the obvious libertarian choice and no strong foreign policy candidates have yet emerged. Scott Walker is one of few candidates with the potential to bridge the divides between these groups.

Establishment excitement

Establishment Republicans like Scott Walker for his effectiveness and his experience as the governor of Wisconsin. Many conservatives favor a governor with proven leadership abilities after two terms of the meanderings of a former community organizer who was never tasked with a management position until he won the White House. The proven ability to get things done and forge majorities is a big plus for the next Republican nominee.

Additionally, establishment Republicans appreciate the fact that Walker is the best vetted candidate in the country. Likewise, after successfully managing three hotly contested campaigns (two gubernatorial campaigns and recall attempt), the potential for unforced errors is less likely than with untested candidates. Both areas have plagued many Tea Party candidates in the past and caused Republicans to lose races that should have been easily winnable.

Terrific Tea Partier

From the Tea Party point of view, Scott Walker is a fighter. He faced down Wisconsin’s public employee unions and won. He also cut taxes and moved the state budget from a deficit to a surplus. According to National Review, 95 percent of the state’s employers think that Wisconsin is on the right track, reflecting Walker’s pro-business and limited government policies. Walker’s new budget proposal also bans the use of Common Core assessment tests in Wisconsin’s public schools.

Walker’s views largely match those of Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz, but, unlike Cruz, Walker has a record of accomplishment. Where Cruz has made a name for himself in making principled, but ultimately unsuccessful stands against Obamacare and the debt ceiling, Scott Walker can point to a record of accomplishments in Wisconsin.

Religious, but not radical

Walker can also appeal to both religious and secular Republicans. He grew up as the son of Baptist pastor, notes the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. As a boy in Iowa he even started a “Jesus USA” club to do good deeds. In March 2014, he attracted the ire of the Freedom from Religion Foundation when he posted Philippians 4:13 on his official state Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Walker is pro-life and a defender of traditional marriage as well. In an October 2014 letter described in the Journal-Sentinel, Walker described how he signed a bill requiring ultrasounds for women seeking abortions and hospital-admitting privileges for doctors at abortion clinics. Walker also cut off state funding for abortion providers. With respect to marriage, Walker supports traditional marriage, but a court decision establishing gay marriage in Wisconsin meant that the issue was not prominent in his reelection campaign. As the governor of a blue state, Walker is seen as more mainstream in his faith than Huckabee and Santorum by secular Republicans.

As governor, Walker also had support from libertarians. Walker’s limited government policies and challenges to public unions drew the endorsement of the national Libertarian Party in 2012. When foreign policy becomes an issue in a national campaign, support from libertarians might become more problematic, especially if the pacifist Rand Paul runs.

Aggressive on foreign policy

On foreign policy, Walker has begun to stake out a claim that is decidedly not pacifist. He recently told ABC News, “I think aggressively, we need to take the fight to ISIS and any other radical Islamic terrorist in and around the world, because it’s not a matter of when they attempt an attack on American soil, or not if I should say, it’s when, and we need leadership that says clearly, not only amongst the United States but amongst our allies, that we’re willing to take appropriate action.”

Walker went on to say, “We have to look at other surgical methods. And ultimately, we have to be prepared to put boots on the ground if that’s what it takes.” He continued, “I don’t think that’s an immediate plan. [But] I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

Walker’s sharp comments come after months of executions by ISIS and the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris. Polling shows that voters are sharply critical of President Obama’s tepid response to Islamic terror, but are not necessarily ready to commit U.S. ground forces to the fight in Syria.

Immigration impasse

On immigration reform, Walker opposes an amnesty, but does see the need for immigration reform and securing the border. He told ABC News, “We need to enforce the laws in the United States, and we need to find a way for people to have a legitimate legal immigration system in this country, and that does not mean amnesty.”

So far, Walker has been vague about his position on immigration, but at various times has voiced opposition to the idea of deporting all illegal aliens and support for a pathway to legalization. With some conservatives decrying any suggestion of reform as “amnesty,” the issue of immigration is likely to be the most difficult for Walker to negotiate in the Republican primaries.

Other possible uniters

Scott Walker is not the only candidate with the potential to unite the GOP. Several other candidates might possibly bring the establishment and Tea Party, the two largest factions, together, but each has their own weakness. Marco Rubio has broad support, but as a one-term senator has little leadership experience. Rick Perry is a successful governor of Texas, but is under indictment for abuse of official capacity and must overcome his poor performance from 2012. Bobby Jindal is the two-term governor of Louisiana, but faces questions of effectiveness and experience at the national level.

The down side

There are several potential problems that might affect a Walker campaign. A simmering investigation in Wisconsin has searched for illegal coordination between conservative groups and Walker’s gubernatorial campaign. A recent Washington Post column hinted at how Democrats might respond to a Walker candidacy. Points of attack include Walker’s cuts to the University of Wisconsin and the state’s Seniorcare prescription drug program. Walker’s response to a projected budget shortfall was a round of spending cuts. Additionally, Walker is one of the few politicians at the national level without a college degree.

Walker’s largest obstacle at this point is coming to terms with immigration reform. While a small, vocal minority in the GOP opposes any change to immigration laws, a large majority of Americans want the system fixed. According to a Beyond the Beltway poll from December, 48 percent, a plurality, favor “a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers if they undergo a background check, pay taxes, and learn English.” This is one area where Republicans are out of step with the rest of the country.

Veering right on immigration in the GOP primary may prove fatal in the general election. Some observers believe that Mitt Romney’s fate was sealed in 2012 by his comments in the primary about “self-deportation.” Romney ended up losing the Hispanic vote by 44 percent according to CNN, a worse performance than any Republican candidate since Bob Dole.

So early into the 2016 race, anything can happen. At this point, Walker is not even a declared candidate yet. Nevertheless, he is well positioned to bring Republicans together, an important first step taking back the White House.


Read the full article on Elections

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Chilling video shows plane crash in Taiwan

The crash of a TransAsia ATR-72 today in Taiwan was captured in a dramatic video from a dashboard camera in a taxi. The 25 second video, along with another longer but more distant video, can be seen on

The video shows the turboprop airliner descending rapidly across a bridge in front of the taxi. As it descends, the airplane rolls approximately 90 degrees onto its left wing. As the plane passes in front of the taxi, its left wingtip and tail strike the road in front of the car before it disappears from view.

According to a report from BBC, TransAsia Airways Flight 235, also referred to as GE235, crashed shortly after takeoff from Taipei Shongshan Airport. Pilots radioed that there was an “engine flameout” according a New York Times report. After passing in front of the taxi’s camera, the airplane came to rest in the Keelung River, a short distance from the airport. The flight was enroute to Kinmen and carried 53 passengers and five crew. At least 19 people are reported dead.

The New York Times reported that both pilots were very experienced. The 42-year-old captain had 4,914 hours including 3,400 in the ATR. The first officer was 45-years-old and had 6,922 hours with 6,500 in ATRs. Nevertheless, preliminary information appears to indicate that the airplane suffered an engine failure on takeoff and that the crew was not able to maintain control.

This is the second fatal crash for TransAsia in six months. Last July, another ATR crashed while landing in a monsoon. That crash killed 48 people.

The ATR 72 is built by the French and Italian company, ATR. The type first flew in 1988, but the New Times reports that the accident aircraft, an ATR 72-600, was only a year old. Although the ATR was once flown by American airlines, it is now principally operated in the US as a cargo freighter by FedEx. In 1994, an American Eagle ATR crashed in Roselawn, Ind. That crash was attributed to airframe icing.

Recovery efforts are still underway in the TransAsia crash. Several of the plane’s passengers are still missing.


Read the full article on