Cruz Missile Misfires

by Dish Staff

Ted Cruz did Harry Reid a big favor on Saturday, demanding a vote on Obama’s immigration EO that backfired in a big way. Allen McDuffee explains how his shenanigans gave the Dems everything they wanted for Christmas and then some:

Reid and his Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, had worked out an agreement Friday to hold a vote on the spending package on Monday. But Cruz’s last-minute procedural maneuver to demand a vote on immigration scuttled that deal and forced senators to stay in Washington for the weekend. Not only did the immigration vote fail by a wide margin, 74-22, but the maneuver allowed Democrats to advance a slate of two dozen Obama nominees to executive branch positions faster than they otherwise would have proceeded. The nominations include Tony Blinken as deputy secretary of state, Dr. Vivek Murthy as surgeon general, Sarah Saldana as head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Carolyn Colvin to lead the Social Security Administration.

The “cromnibus” spending bill, meanwhile, passed 56 to 42, with 24 Republicans supporting it. Cruz’s buddies on the right are less than thrilled. Jennifer Rubin, for one, rips the junior Senator a new one:

Consistently rejecting useful and conservative legislation because of small infirmities is not the behavior of a leader dedicated to accomplishing important things, and it suggests Cruz is grossly unsuited for the Senate, let alone higher office. Imagine if he ran a state — or the country — without super-majorities of Republicans. Things would be worse than they are now. Rigidity of mind and contempt for opponents in a president have resulted in paralysis and nastiness for six years, so why repeat the experience? And really, if Cruz could find some other way to get attention, get his face on TV and get money out of gullible hard-right voters, don’t we think he’d take it?

Matt Lewis urges conservatives not to hold back from criticizing radicals like Lee and Cruz:

[T]he larger problem is that if conservatives are afraid to say “the emperor has no clothes,” then we will continue rewarding the wrong things, which means conservatives will continue losing. Is it wise to look the other way? It doesn’t do much good to pretend that the touchdown counts for your team when it was scored in the wrong end zone, but what if even after watching the game film, we still decline to tell our star player he cost us the game? This raises a question: Who cares more about something, the guy who ignores its faults or the guy who wants to address them?

Drum, meanwhile, neeners:

I’m sure the NRA is thrilled. Ditto for all the Republicans who were apoplectic over the nomination of Tony Blinken as deputy secretary of state. And megadittoes—with a megadose of irony—for Cruz, Lee, and all their tea party buddies who objected to confirming Sarah Saldaña to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Their objection, of course, was meant as a protest against Obama’s executive order on immigration. Now, thanks to a dumb little stunt that was pathetic even as an empty protest against Obama’s immigration plan, they’re going to lose an actual, substantive protest against an Obama immigration nominee. Nice work, guys. But I guess it’s a nice big platter of red meat that plays well with the rubes. With Cruz, that’s all that counts.

Jonathan Bernstein compares the cromnibus fight to last year’s shutdown battle, in which Cruz also played a key role:

Of course, part of normal bargaining involves a certain amount of brinkmanship and part of deliberate shutdown politics can involve claims that the other side is “really” responsible for the breakdown. The process goes off the rails when it includes excessive demands, backed up by ultimatums, that are far outside what appears to be the normal range of bargaining. Demanding a repeal of Obamacare (or “defunding”) despite a solid Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democrat in the White House is of a different order than a fight about a relatively small provision of Dodd-Frank, or the other policy riders added to the current funding bill.

In any case, it was clear from the beginning of last year that the radicals were more interested in the principle of blackmail than they were in the fate of any particular hostage. Indeed, most of the drama of the government shutdown involved Republicans flailing around looking for a good demand they could make for the shutdown they had already engineered.

The Government Keeps The Lights On

Despite fierce opposition from both the left and the right, the “Cromnibus” (a portmanteau of “continuing resolution” and “omnibus”) spending bill passed the House last night, averting a government shutdown by mere hours:

Thanks in part to a rare alliance between President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner, the House voted Thursday to pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government, clearing a hurdle to avoid an otherwise imminent government shutdown. The House also passed a measure that will fund the government for two additional days in order to give the Senate time to approve the legislation before the government runs out of funding on Friday, according to NBC News.

At the eleventh hour, Obama and Boehner scrambled to salvage the bill – which passed by a vote of 219 to 206 – amid a Republican revolt over immigration and a Democratic revolt over provisions that would deregulate Wall Street and increase the amount that individual donors can contribute to national political party committees.

Ben Jacobs outlines what the respective revolts were all about:

The pill that Democrats had trouble swallowing was a provision rolling back Dodd-Frank that would allow major banks to carry out certain risky derivatives trades through funds insured by the FDIC.

The idea of weakening financial reform only years after a financial crisis that almost brought down the American economy alarmed many Democrats. … The opponents in the GOP caucus were the usual conservative suspects, upset about the fact that the bill did not defund Obama’s executive order on undocumented immigrants.

Republicans were also less than thrilled that the bill didn’t slash funding for Obamacare. The Democratic revolt was led by the party’s liberal populist wing, with Nancy Pelosi leading the pack and Senator Elizabeth Warren urging them on. Tim Fernholz has the details on what liberal Dems found so irksome about the Dodd-Frank rule change:

The big financial firms that dominate the swaps markets were particularly unhappy with rules preventing them from holding or trading derivatives within their federally insured bank subsidiaries—where they typically have an advantage. (That’s because the prospect of government bailouts arguably affords the bank subsidiaries higher credit ratings, which comes in handy when you’re playing in the swaps market.)

Facing the prospect of having their derivatives activities “pushed out” to subsidiaries unprotected by federal deposit insurance, the big banks pushed back. During the drafting of Dodd-Frank, they succeeded in keeping some categories of swaps in-house, including foreign-exchange, gold, silver, and interest-rate swaps. But the banks earned a bigger victory in 2013 by getting the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to pass a bill essentially written by Citigroup lobbyists to create large exemptions in the rule. It turns out the same language was slipped into the current spending bill[.]

Matt O’Brien weighs in:

This actually isn’t that big a deal, but the principle is. Think about it this way. If insured banks can’t make these bets, then uninsured ones will—and we’d still have to bail them out if they threaten to bring down the whole financial system. But as long as we’re talking about run-of-the-mill, and not end-of-the-world, losses, then we, as taxpayers, should clearly prefer for these swaps to happen in the uninsured banks. That way, we don’t have to foot the, admittedly small, bill. And this isn’t really a debate. There’s no real counterargument that I’m aware of why it’d be better for the mega-banks to be allowed to take more risks with taxpayer-insured money (other than it’d be good for their bonuses).

Sarah Binder questions whether the drama was worth it for the Democrats:

My hunch is that Pelosi is too smart a politician and knows her caucus too well to have been surprised by the outcome. True to form, Pelosi provided cover for Democrats seeking to show their anti-Wall Street bona fides, yet managed not to derail a bipartisan deal (that was bound to be better for Democratic priorities than kicking the can into the new Congress with a 2-3 month stop gap spending bill).

Did Warren’s gambit put the liberal wing on stronger footing in the coming Congress?  I’m skeptical.  Warren clearly put Democratic party leaders and her colleagues on notice that she will continue to oppose measures that unduly advantage Wall Street interests. But unless she can secure stronger backing from the White House (and her colleagues), I suspect that the liberal wing of the Democratic party will face a tough road ahead in a Republican-led Congress.

But Cillizza thinks Pelosi got her point across:

Pelosi — and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who spoke out forcefully against it too — lost the battle on the spending bill.  But, they may have won the wider war — or at least scored a tactical victory that puts her and the party’s liberal wing in a stronger position come the 114th Congress.

What Pelosi’s revolt made clear is that while there will be more Republicans in the House and Senate come January, nothing can get done (or at least nothing can get done easily) without some portion of liberal Democrats on board.  This was a warning to the White House and Senate Democrats not to cut Pelosi out or take her  (or her liberal Democratic allies) for granted going forward. Point made.

Drum is relieved that bipartisanship worked in the end – albeit in its typical, clunky way:

This is one of those things that demonstrates the chasm between political activists and analysts on the one side, and working politicians on the other. If you take a look at the bill, it does indeed have a bunch of objectionable features. People like me, with nothing really at stake, can bitch and moan about them endlessly. But you know what? For all the interminable whining we do about the death of bipartisanship in Washington, this is what bipartisanship looks like. It always has. It’s messy, it’s ugly, and it’s petty. Little favors get inserted into bills to win votes. Other favors get inserted as payback for the initial favors. Special interests get stroked. Party whips get a workout.

That’s politics. The fact that it’s happening right now is, in a weird sense, actually good news. It means that, for a few days at least, politics is working normally again.

Go To Congress, Mr. President, Ctd

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Aaron Blake passes along the results of a new CBS News poll showing that 62 percent of Americans think the ongoing campaign against ISIS in Syria requires congressional authorization. But that doesn’t mean it will happen:

Similarly, 80 percent think member of Congress should desert the campaign trail, come back to Washington, and debate the use of force against the Islamic State. Those are pretty strong numbers. But it’s highly unlikely they’ll force any kind of action.

That’s because, however many Americans feel Congress should approve military action, very few of them are speaking out against the decision to go into Iraq and Syria without congressional approval. To be sure, Americans would like for their duly elected representatives to sign off, but they’re not exactly incensed that Congress hasn’t been asked. And people largely approve of what they’ve seen so far, as far as the airstrikes go.

The latest Reason-Rupe poll turns up a similar result, with 78 percent saying Congress should return to Washington to vote on this war:

Fully 63 percent of Americans say members of Congress haven’t voted on the authorization of military force because they don’t want to put their vote on the official record. Only 15 percent of Americans think Congress hasn’t voted because it believes President Obama does not need their authorization for military action, and 8 percent felt Congress simply hasn’t had enough time yet to hold the vote. This is a rare non-partisan issue in which overwhelming majorities of Democrats (77%), Independents (78%), and Republicans (83%) feel Congress should weigh in on this important decision.

Noting that Obama’s 60 days are up, Jack Goldsmith infers that the White House’s shifting legal basis for the operation is meant to avoid a Congressional vote:

Section 5(b) of the [War Powers Resolution (WPR)] requires the President to “terminate any use of United States Armed Forces” 60 days after he introduces such forces into “hostilities” unless Congress “has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces.”  Senator Cruz is thus right that the WPR requires the President to seek new congressional authorization from Congress unless the 2001 and 2002 [Authorizations For Use of Military Force (AUMFs)] are specific authorization” for the airstrikes against the Islamic State. Recall that the President originally (in August and September) relied on Article II alone as a basis for the strikes against IS.  He then switched about a month ago to say that the strikes are also based on the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.  The switch in legal rationales has enormous significance for – and in my judgment was likely motivated by – compliance with the WPR.  For if the AUMFs are a proper basis for the strikes against the Islamic State, then there is no issue under the WPR because Congress has authorized the conflict.  Only if the President is wrong about the applicability of the AUMFs to the Islamic State is there a problem under the WPR.

This Is What Passes For A War Authorization These Days

Yesterday, the House voted 273-156 to let the president arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels to help fight ISIS:

The administration’s request was an amendment to a must-pass, stopgap measure to keep the government running through mid-December. Although the amendment had the early support of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi D-Calif., a number of lawmakers in both parties began defecting, prompting a last-minute push by party leaders to build support.

New York’s Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said a range of top Democrats worked to the last minute to gather votes for the president’s plan, which would train some 5,000 Syrian rebels in the first year at facilities in Saudi Arabia. … Having secured approval in the House, the bill now moves to the Senate, where it may receive a skeptical reception. In testimony Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry came under intense questioning about the White House’s plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.

The idea is as doomed now as it long has been. The US trained the entire Iraqi army in country for years – and they still scarpered. The problem is political; almost certainly unsolvable except in the long run by the parties themselves; and made utterly solvable by US intervention. The Senate is set to vote on the measure today. Weigel notes who voted “aye”:

Everybody in competitive races. Georgia Rep. John Barrow, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, and West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall are among the very last Democrats in districts that voted for the Romney-Ryan ticket in 2012. They went “aye.” So did Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley and Michigan Rep. Gary Peters, both Senate candidates in tough races. On the Republican side, Senate candidates Tom Cotton and Steve Daines voted “aye,” as did Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman and Florida Rep. Steve Southerland. They’re the only two Republicans in seats that appear now to be toss-ups, with strong Democratic challengers cutting through the headwind.

Most Democratic leaders. The top three Democrats in the House — Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn — were ayes, as was DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The only leadership figure to break with the president was Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

Every Republican leader. From John Boehner to the deputy whip team, the GOP was on board.

And Alex Rogers relays what the “nays” had to say:

Lawmakers who opposed the bill said the President’s strategy to arm so-called moderate Syrian rebels is misguided. The Obama Administration is hoping these fighters can help beat back the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “I’ve never been satisfied that we’re not going to end up fighting people that we’ve armed at some point in the future,” Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Caroline, said. “No one ever defined victory to me that made any sense whatsoever.”

The bill even lost the support of Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, a top Democratic leader. “I support the President’s overall strategy; I support what he’s doing in providing air support for the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish rebels,” Van Hollen said. “I have misgivings about this piece because the priority of the so-called Syrian rebels is to defeat [Syrian strongman Bashar] Assad. And I understand that, but it’s hard at this point to see how defeating Assad strengthens the mission against ISIS.”

To Allahpundit, the vote doesn’t look like such a ringing endorsement:

Here’s the roll. Obama ended up getting many more Republican votes than Democratic ones (159 versus 114), including Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, and Paul Ryan. It was tea partiers like Justin Amash, Michele Bachmann, and Louie Gohmert who ended up in the opposition. Truth be told, though, no faction within the House is keen on O’s train-the-rebels strategy; this resolution, in fact, will expire on December 11th, the same day that the new continuing resolution would expire. What the two sides are doing here is simply punting the issue until after the midterms, when the GOP won’t have to worry about any electoral blowback if they try to block O on a war effort that’s surprisingly popular for the moment.

Ryan Grim and Sam Stein pick up chatter in Washington that the CIA, which already tried arming the rebels, is not too sanguine about trying again:

One Democratic member of Congress said that the CIA has made it clear that it doubts the possibility that the administration’s strategy could succeed. “I have heard it expressed, outside of classified contexts, that what you heard from your intelligence sources is correct, because the CIA regards the effort as doomed to failure,” the congressman said in an email. “Specifically (again without referring to classified information), the CIA thinks that it is impossible to train and equip a force of pro-Western Syrian nationals that can fight and defeat Assad, al-Nusra and ISIS, regardless of whatever air support that force may receive.”

He added that, as the CIA sees it, the ramped-up backing of rebels is an expansion of a strategy that is already not working. “The CIA also believes that its previous assignment to accomplish this was basically a fool’s errand, and they are well aware of the fact that many of the arms that they provided ended up in the wrong hands,” the congressman said, echoing intelligence sources.

Francine Kiefer notes that the procedure the House followed allowed a fair amount of debate over the amendment:

For surer passage, the White House wanted the Syria authorization and the spending bill, known as continuing resolution, to be one piece of legislation. No one would want to shut down the government, and so Syria would pass. But House members strenuously objected: Because of its seriousness, Syria deserved to be debated and voted on separately. Leadership listened. Members got six hours of debate and a vote, passing the amendment 273 to 156. Then the amendment was attached to the spending bill and voted on as a package. It passed 319 to 108.

Alas, for procedural reasons, senators will not have that option and will have to vote on the welded package sent from the House. Some senators plan to vote no, but it is expected to pass.

By the way, Senator Tim Kaine has drafted an actual war authorization, but Waldman doubts it will go anywhere:

[E]verything Obama says he is committed to is incorporated in Kaine’s proposal. It even leaves the 2001 AUMF in place, which is either a sensible choice allowing for flexibility in fighting terrorism or a loophole you could drive a truck through, so long as the White House maintains that ISIS and al Qaeda are allied. Will it go anywhere? It may be too soon to know, but I’m guessing that the White House will say, privately if not publicly, that they don’t want to “tie the president’s hands.” Democrats will be responsive to that pressure (if it comes) from the White House, while Republicans will probably be uneasy about anything that could constrain the war-making ability of this president or a future one.

And the beat goes on …