Michael Barone - Will setbacks unite Republicans?

The inexorable workings of the political marketplace seem to be enforcing some discipline over hitherto fissiparous Republican politicians. The question is whether this is happening too late to save the party's declining prospects in the 2018 midterm elections.

You can see this in Republicans' reactions to the tax bills Congress is currently considering. Last spring, when the party's congressional leadership teed up its health care bills, purportedly repealing and replacing Obamacare, they faced rebellions from practically every corner of their party's caucuses.

In the House, the Freedom Caucus trotted out one criticism after another. This is in line with standard practice, going back at least to October 2013, when Freedom Caucus types, heeding newly elected Senator Ted Cruz's calls to defund Obamacare, produced a government shutdown that sent the party, predictably, plummeting in the polls.

House Republican rebels made purist arguments, cited pledges never to vote for government expansion, called for constitutional conservatism. They chided Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell for insufficient boldness, seemingly forgetting that the Constitution gave President Barack Obama a veto.

Now things look different. With Republicans holding the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress, the purism that resulted in defeat of the House's first attempt at Obamacare revision, followed by the defeat of a second in the Senate, leaves Republicans double-digits behind Democrats on the generic which-party-would-you-back question.

Democrats' big victories in the Virginia and New Jersey governor races also struck a chord. These states, dominated by high-education suburbs in major metro areas, tilt more Democratic than the nation. But Republicans have been losing legislative special elections even in red-state Trump districts.

So just about all the erstwhile rebels are suddenly supporting Speaker Paul Ryan's tax bill, even though it's easy to find complex provisions to which purists could object. They've discovered that in the American political marketplace, whose rules usually limit competition to two parties, a majority party that can't perform is liable to severe punishment.

But for some — notably former White House advisor Steve Bannon — the point is not to win, but to oust the current Republican leadership. Just as California billionaire Tom Steyer conditions contributions on pledges to vote for impeachment, so former Goldman Sachs exec Bannon requires pledges to vote for ouster of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

That left him endorsing, apparently with no visible effect, Roy Moore in the special election Republican runoff for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Moore, a dim bulb, was twice ousted from the state Supreme Court for disobeying a federal court order (banning his Ten Commandments courthouse statue) and the Supreme Court decision proclaiming a right to same-sex marriage.

His stands proved popular with many evangelical voters. But his argument, that the order and decision were wrong, shows either ignorance of the supremacy clause in Article VI of the United States Constitution or a commitment to lawlessness that is the opposite of conservatism.

But all that has been pushed to the side after last week's Washington Post story that as a 30-something lawyer, Moore had at least one sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl and pursued four other teens; this week came charges of sexual harassment by another. Moore's quasi-denials, even to the sympathetic Sean Hannity, have been unconvincing. Polls have shown him losing ground and even trailing against a respectable Democratic candidate in a state that Donald Trump carried 62 to 34 percent.

Republican senators, including McConnell and Alabama's Richard Shelby, have responded by saying he should withdraw from the race. His name can't legally be removed from the Dec. 12 ballot, but there is speculation about a write-in campaign for Luther Strange, the appointee he beat in the runoff, or even Sessions.k

Corey Gardner, head of the Senate Republicans' campaign committee, has gone father. "If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him." Under the Supreme Court Powell v. McCormack decision, the Senate must seat him, but could expel him by a two-thirds vote.

Contrary to claims that there is no precedent for this or that a senator can't be expelled based on conduct prior to election, a move by senators to expel Michigan Senator Truman Newberry was frustrated only when Newberry resigned in 1922.

No possible outcome looks helpful for beleaguered Republicans now. Unless, perhaps, Republican politicians — and voters — heed the signals in the political marketplace and reject Steve Bannon's burn-the-barn-down strategy.

(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

 

  • Written by Edward Engler
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Froma Harrop - Sure, Republicans, investigate HIllary again

Whenever the legal walls start closing in on Donald Trump, the president releases a bad rabbit on the political field, a creature invisible to all but the haters of Hillary Clinton. The most recent example is his attorney general's call to "evaluate certain issues" regarding the sale of a majority stake in Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation.

Yes, that again. There was absolutely zero wrong with or troubling about the Uranium One transaction. Even Fox News viewers who heard Shep Smith dismiss the wild charges as nonsense know that.

And that's why Democrats should resist the urge to chase this non-scandal down the rabbit hole of Trumpian distraction. Provoking them to become players — to angrily defend Hillary with their files of facts — is the point of Trump's game.

So go ahead, investigate Hillary for the 10,000th time. Other than a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars, there's little harm in taking another look at the Uranium One sale. Okay, Jeff Sessions, go forth and direct federal prosecutors to look into "potentially" unlawful international dealings — at least as imagined by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. A special counsel could be appointed if they find something, which they won't.

This sideshow immediately followed the release of Don Jr.'s secret correspondence with Russian-controlled WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign. The Atlantic reports that campaign advisers Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Hope Hicks and Brad Parscale knew about it

U.S. intelligence has long held that WikiLeaks acted as an arm of the Russian military to push the race in Trump's favor. Trump ally Roger Stone was in touch with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and worked with the Russian agents running Guccifer 2.0, the entity that launched cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee. We know that because he stupidly bragged about it.

"There is one 'trick' that is not in my bag, and that is treason," Stone said last September in his defense. Ooooh. We don't know about that.

Lest anyone doubt that a fire could be raging under this heavy smoke of denials, the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence on election security issued a joint statement last year that "the recent disclosures ... are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts."

Funny that Trump was in Asia this month telling Americans to trust Russian strongman Vladimir Putin but not the leaders of their own intelligence services. Actually, it was not funny at all.

Harassing a political opponent no longer in office is not without risk for Trump. Given the tawdry family history — going back to the '90s, when a bankrupt Trump turned to Russians for loans — the president has provided ample opportunity for his successor to push for investigations of him

Directing the government to go after a former political foe, of course, broke a major political norm. Trump may believe that no one else has the guts to ravage the democracy as he has. We shall see.

In any case, launching a new witch hunt against Clinton is a sure sign that the heat's been turned up high. Do Democrats want to help Trump turn attention away from the web of troubles in which he is thrashing?

As Mueller's investigation trains more hot lights on Trump and company, the president's people will send more rabbits for the media to chase in the opposite direction. Democrats will undoubtedly be asked to respond to the phony allegations. Their best response would be a quick dismissal and a shrug.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

  • Written by Edward Engler
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Alan Vervaeke - The right laws

I’ve been listening to people talk about their guns for a long time. I grew up with guns. We had a wall of them as a kid, and I fired all of them. So before folks claim that I’m anti-gun, let me clarify I’m not. I believe in the Second Amendment. Keep your guns. I don’t want to take them away from anyone.
Every spring, I go to Town Hall and reregister my dogs. I have to provide proof that they are vaccinated against rabies, and (if I want the discount) I have to prove that they’re neutered. In September, I register my car. When I do, I provide proof that my car has been inspected and passes all required tests. How many people died last year from the bite of a rabid dog? How many people died last year from excessive emissions from a car?
In response to all of the violence we’ve experienced in the past 10 years, there has not been a single meaningful piece of legislation passed regarding RESPONSIBLE gun ownership. More guns are not the solution. Having armed teachers and pastors is not the solution. As a friend of mine said, “You don’t fight drunk driving with more drunk drivers.”
The NRA argues that criminals and crazy people don’t follow the law, so why bother making more? New laws only punish “responsible” gun owners. And honestly — there is some truth to that. Democrats like to spout off about background checks, but background checks would not have prevented Charleston, or Columbine, or Sandy Hook, or Las Vegas or the latest shooting in Texas. Limiting magazine size MIGHT slow these shooters down. Making guns impossible to modify might as well. But if someone really wants to create mayhem, it is going to happen.
What seems to get missed in all of this is that while it is true that laws don’t stop criminals, that is NOT a law’s purpose. Laws don’t prevent crime. It would be wonderful if they did, but they don’t. Laws give us legal remedies when a member of society engages in antisocial behavior. If we didn’t have a law against theft, then after I stole your car you wouldn’t have a reason to lock me up. The same with murder. Laws don’t prevent either of these crimes, but they give us options when they do occur. And, of course, new gun laws won’t end gun violence, but what a well-written law CAN do is put the responsibility where it belongs. And like laws against drinking and driving don’t actually prevent that, they give us a legal remedy and they make us responsible for our behavior which in turn leads to a cultural change over time. Of course, some people will never change or stop. But we have options.
Common-sense laws for guns could be crafted to change our culture over time to make violence less likely. Some things are simple. The sale of guns and ammunition should be federally taxed just like gasoline, alcohol, and cigarettes. Like dogs and cars, they should be registered annually. Like a driver’s license or a boating license, you should be able to prove you can handle a gun. So mandatory safety and usage training followed by a written test and an accuracy test — and renew it every five years. Require all gun owners to carry insurance riders on their homeowners insurance – just like many dog owners. The Second Amendment says that owning a gun is a right, but it never said that it didn’t come with responsibility. “Well regulated” was the term that implied that someone needed to know what he or she was doing. And this is where the NRA comes in.
The NRA has a series of guidelines for responsible gun ownership. I was taught these when I was 10 and they were hammered into my brain every time I went hunting, or every time I went to the range. They should be made into laws because there are NO accidents with guns. A gun is designed to be a killing machine. YOU are responsible. Period. No exceptions. Your gun – your responsibility. The NRA is clear.
• Always assume the gun is loaded unless you personally verified it’s not.
• Always point the gun in a safe direction.
• Know how to safely use the gun you are in possession of.
• Be sure the gun is safe to operate.
• Use only the correct ammunition for your gun.
• Properly maintain your gun.
• Always know your target and what is beyond.
• Never use alcohol or any over-the-counter, prescription or other drugs before or while shooting.
• Store guns to be inaccessible to unauthorized persons.
• Never give a gun to someone not authorized to have one.
Each of these could easily be crafted into a piece of legislation. No gun owner should be opposed to it. Nor should the NRA or any gun manufacturer. My Remington came with the same recommendations, and as the owner, I’m responsible for for following them. So why not make it binding? Why NOT make a gun owner legally responsible?
Slowly, things will change. Sanely. Responsibly. Pragmatically. In the meantime, consider the fact that in a nation like Japan where gun laws are stringent, there are six gun deaths for approximately every 10 million people. In the United States, there are six gun deaths for every 50 THOUSAND people. Who’s next? Is it you? Is it me? Is it one of your children? If we can hold citizens responsible for their cars, dogs, livestock, and snow removal, why can’t we do the same for guns? Maybe after 240 years, we can finally bring maturity to the Second Amendment.
(Alan Vervaeke is a veteran and father happily living in Gilford.)

  • Written by Edward Engler
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Pat Buchanan - Rogue royal of Arabia needs to be reined in

If the crown prince of Saudi Arabia has in mind a war with Iran, President Trump should disabuse his royal highness of any notion that America would be doing his fighting for him.

Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, the 32-year-old son of the aging and ailing King Salman, is making too many enemies for his own good, or for ours. Pledging to Westernize Saudi Arabia, he has antagonized the clerical establishment. Among the 200 Saudis he just had arrested for criminal corruption are 11 princes, the head of the National Guard, the governor of Riyadh, and the famed investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

The Saudi tradition of consensus collective rule is being trashed.

MBS is said to be pushing for an abdication by his father and his early assumption of the throne. He has begun to exhibit the familiar traits of an ambitious 21st-Century autocrat in the mold of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Yet his foreign adventures are all proving to be debacles.

The rebels the Saudis backed in Syria's civil war were routed. The war on the Houthi rebels in Yemen, of which MBS is architect, has proven to be a Saudi Vietnam and a human rights catastrophe. The crown prince persuaded Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE to expel Qatar from the Sunni Arab community for aiding terrorists, but he has failed to choke the tiny country into submission.

Last week, MBS ordered Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Riyadh, where Hariri publicly resigned his office and now appears to be under house arrest. Refusing to recognize the resignation, Lebanon's president is demanding Hariri's return.

After embattled Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile at its international airport, Riyadh declared the missile to be Iranian-made, smuggled into Yemen by Tehran, and fired with the help of Hezbollah. The story seemed far-fetched, but Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the attack out of Yemen may be considered an "act of war" — by Iran. And as war talk spread across the region last week, Riyadh ordered all Saudi nationals in Lebanon to come home.

Riyadh has now imposed a virtual starvation blockade — land, sea and air — on Yemen, that poorest of Arab nations that is heavily dependent on imports for food and medicine. Hundreds of thousands of Yemeni are suffering from cholera. Millions face malnutrition.

The U.S. interest here is clear: no new war in the Middle East, and a negotiated end to the wars in Yemen and Syria. Hence, the United States needs to rein in the royal prince.

Yet, on his Asia trip, Trump said of the Saudi-generated crisis, "I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing."

Do they? In October, Jared Kushner made a trip to Riyadh, where he reportedly spent a long night of plotting Middle East strategy until 4 a.m. with MBS.

No one knows how a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran would end. The Saudis has been buying modern U.S. weapons for years, but Iran, with twice the population, has larger if less-well-equipped forces. Yet the seeming desire of the leading Sunni nation in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, for a confrontation with the leading Shiite power, Iran, appears to carry the greater risks for Riyadh.

For, a dozen years ago, the balance of power in the Gulf shifted to Iran, when Bush II launched Operation Iraqi Freedom, ousted Saddam Hussein, disarmed and disbanded his Sunni-led army, and turned Iraq into a Shiite-dominated nation friendly to Iran. In the Reagan decade, Iraq had fought Iran as mortal enemies for eight years. Now they are associates, if not allies.

The Saudis may bristle at Hezbollah and demand a crackdown. But Hezbollah is a participant in the Lebanese government and has the largest fighting force in the country, hardened in battle in Syria's civil war, where it emerged on the victorious side.

While the Israelis could fight and win a war with Hezbollah, both Israel and Hezbollah suffered so greatly from their 2006 war that neither appears eager to renew that costly but inconclusive conflict.

In an all-out war with Iran, Saudi Arabia could not prevail without U.S. support. And should Riyadh fail, the regime would be imperiled. As World War I, with the fall of the Romanov, Hohenzollern, Hapsburg and Ottoman empires demonstrated, imperial houses do not fare well in losing wars.

So far out on a limb has MBS gotten himself, with his purge of cabinet ministers and royal cousins, and his foreign adventures, it is hard to see how he climbs back without some humiliation that could cost him the throne.

Yet we have our own interests here. And we should tell the crown prince that if he starts a war in Lebanon or in the Gulf, he is on his own. We cannot have this impulsive prince deciding whether or not the United States goes to war again in the Middle East.

We alone decide that.

(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

  • Written by Edward Engler
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Susan Estrich - It's not all the same

"Me, too," says the girl who was raped when she was barely old enough to know the word.

"Me, too," says the young woman who gets catcalls every day as she twirls her umbrella on the way to work.

"Me, too," says the woman who sleeps with the boss to keep her job.

"Me, too," says the one who gives as good as she gets.

The thing is, it's not all the same.

It's important for men and women to speak out about what troubles them, especially regarding the oppressions of gender. But that doesn't mean it all fits in the same box.

Rape is nonconsensual sex, usually involving force. But force can consist of a person pushing another person down and getting on top of him or her, which, with the sound off, may or may not look like sex.

When you hear someone denying nonconsensual sex, they're denying rape. "Nonconsensual sex" just sounds better. When you hear someone claiming to have been raped, he or she is claiming that the sex was nonconsensual and that he or she felt forced. To prove it, the jury will have to buy the force part. If they settle, you'll hear that it was a settlement for nonconsensual sex. Or more likely, you'll hear nothing at all.

Sexual harassment — at least the kind that is unlawful — is something that happens at work, among employers and employees. It's not what happens on the way home. It's not just anything that you find offensive or makes you feel uncomfortable. Much of that, sadly, is known as Monday. Or Tuesday.

Sexual harassment can take two forms. The first, and the first to be recognized, was quid pro quo harassment — this for that. Sleep with me (I'm being rhetorical, obviously) and you get the promotion. Don't sleep with me and you get fired. It's hard to prove and not as common as you think. It's also far less effective than you might think: More women sleep their way to the middle, or the bottom, than the top. The jobs you get by having sex are the jobs you lose when someone takes your place. Worse yet, these days, the folks who didn't get the chance to sleep their way to the bottom are now suing for the lost opportunity, as if it were that. All in all, it's a bad career strategy and a tough legal case. The only upside is if you win your case and get recover damages for the job you didn't get, the promotion that went elsewhere.

The second form of harassment, more common and more debatable, is hostile-environment harassment. To qualify as a hostile environment, the hostility is supposed to be severe and pervasive. And it's not enough if the plaintiff finds it severely and pervasively offensive. The reasonable person ("reasonable woman," we argued for years, because "reasonable person" was automatically interpreted to mean a man) had to have found it severely and pervasively offensive — originally meant to be a tough standard, close to constructive discharge, i.e., so bad you couldn't work there. I've always thought a better test is whether the defendant knew or intended to offend. But either way, the test is (in all but the most extreme cases) a somewhat unpredictable one. It varies based on who's doing the judging.

And then there's the rest of the stuff: bad jokes, bad taste, bad talk, the kind of stuff we tell our kids not to say in the backseat when they're younger; and when they're older, the stuff we cringe to hear coming from the television they're watching in the next room. Is it really a federal case? Enough to cost someone a career? This week it is.

But my biggest worry — sorry, Woody — is not that men everywhere are going to be the subject of a witch hunt (by whom? The other powerful men?) but that decent men are thinking twice before choosing a young woman to mentor or take to professional lunches or invite to work on cases requiring out-of-town travel. I worry that young women, already starved for mentors, are going to find them even harder to find. Unintended consequences. If only #MeToo meant they had new mentors, too.

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

  • Written by Edward Engler
  • Category: Columns
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