Led by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), 47 Republicans used the letter to inform Iran’s leaders that such an agreement would be “nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.” They said the “next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
Conspicuously absent among signatories to the letter is Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who says he’s working to build a veto-proof majority for his legislation restricting President Barack Obama’s negotiating options with Iran and ensuring congressional approval before any deal is struck. He hinted that the Cotton letter wouldn’t help advance the cause.
“I knew it was going to be only Republicans on [the letter]. I just don’t view that as where I need to be today,” Corker told Politico. “My goal is to get 67 or more people on something that will affect the outcome.”
Corker needs 13 Democrats to reach a veto-proof 67 votes, and the letter hasn’t earned him any favors. Senate Democrats are rallying to Obama’s side and attacking the Republicans for what they describe as an extraordinary act of openly undercutting a president during sensitive foreign policy negotiations.
The gambit is earning attention well outside traditional foreign policy circles. As of Tuesday morning, the hashtag #47Traitors was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the United States.
Cotton is unfazed by the criticism. He stood by his letter in appearances Monday on CNN and Tuesday on MSNBC, saying that he wants Iran to dismantle its nuclear program “forever” — not for the 10 or 15 years that reportedly make up the duration of the deal that the Obama administration is closing in on.
“The point we’re making to Iran’s leaders, who, if you talk to many of the Iran experts, will say don’t understand our Constitution, is that if Congress doesn’t approve a deal, Congress won’t accept a deal,” Cotton said on MSNBC. “Now or in the future.”
Anyone who has watched Obama’s genteel response to his Republican tormentors shouldn’t be surprised at his delicacy about Islam. He resists generalizations and looks for common ground, whether the context is terrorism or domestic politics. No matter what Republicans do—heckle his speeches, impugn his patriotism, shut down the government, threaten a credit default, stage countless votes to repeal his health care law—he refuses to categorically condemn them. The classic Obama line is “That’s not just my opinion,” followed by a bouquet to some Republican who thinks Obama is the devil. “That’s not just my opinion, that’s John McCain’s opinion,” says Obama. Or: “This isn’t just my position. … It’s a position that’s been taken by every Democratic and Republican president,” including “Ronald Reagan.” Or: “That’s not just my view; the majority of Republicans agree with that view.”
Please. If we’re going to start calling out religious and political groups for extremism, we could start at home with Republicans. Too many of them spew animus. Too many foment sectarianism. Too many sit by, or make excuses, as others appeal to tribalism. If Obama were to treat them the way they say he should treat Islam—holding the entire faith accountable for its ugliest followers—they’d squeal nonstop about slander and demagogy. They’re lucky that’s not his style.
Oh the supreme court forcing states to allow gay people to marry is so “tyrannical,” just like when they made them allow people of different “races” to marry. Oh to make it even worse, he thinks they’re going to take our guns! OMG the horror! Oh and off course Steve Deace claims he doesn’t advocate violence, even through he clearly says a violent revolution maybe necessary to stop the “evil” gays. Man, gun control and the near inevitable future of legalized same sex marriage is driving religious right wingnuts over the edge! Miranda Blue reports,
Richard Mack, the former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, who now heads the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, told Steve Deace yesterday that although he is a “pacifist,” states and counties need to enforce their “sovereignty” in areas like marriage equality and gun control, or else “we will lose liberty in America, and we will not get it back unless there’s bloodshed.”
Mack, who argues that county sheriffs are not accountable to federal authority and so should not enforce laws that they believe violate the Constitution, told Deace that America has been losing liberty for a long time, but “it took a tyrant and communist in our own White House to wake a lot of people up.”
“And I will tell you this, if we do not, if the counties and cities and states do not exercise their proper constitutional authority, known as state sovereignty and the 10th Amendment, if they do not enforce their own state sovereignty and secure their state sovereignty, then America will die,” he said. “If we do not exercise the 10th Amendment and state sovereignty, we will lose liberty in America, and we will not get it back unless there’s bloodshed.”
HOST: …on a couple of occasions now during the course of this interview, you’ve identified President Obama as a “secular humanist.” Perhaps you want to tell us a little more about what you mean by that, and in the minute that remains, how does the President’s seeming nonchalance about the nature of the anti-semitic attack - how does that affect our relationship with Israel…?
PARKER: I believe that [Obama’s comment] builds the resolve in the American people that Israel’s values are our values, the core fundamental beliefs of America, our exceptionalism, our national allegiance, our limited role of government, our free markets, and our tradition - This is what we have in common, and this is what secularists don’t like, and Barack Obama’s a secularist. And, in fact, it’s what he and the Muslims have in common, the radical extreme of Muslims and this president and all secularists have in common is they hate that biblical worldview, so therefore they hate America and they hate Israel.
The comment she was referring to was this, in response to a terrorist attack on a kosher market in Paris:
Do you think the media sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism and this kind of chaos, as opposed to a longer-term problem of climate change and epidemic disease?
Absolutely. And I don’t blame the media for that. What’s the famous saying about local newscasts, right? If it bleeds, it leads, right? You show crime stories and you show fires, because that’s what folks watch, and it’s all about ratings. And, you know, the problems of terrorism and dysfunction and chaos, along with plane crashes and a few other things, that’s the equivalent when it comes to covering international affairs. There’s just not going to be a lot of interest in a headline story that we have cut infant mortality by really significant amounts over the last 20 years or that extreme poverty has been slashed or that there’s been enormous progress with a program we set up when I first came into office to help poor farmers increase productivity and yields. 7 It’s not a sexy story. And climate change is one that is happening at such a broad scale and at such a complex system, it’s a hard story for the media to tell on a day-to-day basis.
7 The little-noticed “Feed the Future” initiative has reached about 7 million people already, and introduces farmers in poor countries to more advanced technologies and management practices to boost crop production.
Look, the point is this: my first job is to protect the American people. It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris. We devote enormous resources to that, and it is right and appropriate for us to be vigilant and aggressive in trying to deal with that — the same way a big city mayor’s got to cut the crime rate down if he wants that city to thrive. But we also have to attend to a lot of other issues, and we’ve got to make sure we’re right-sizing our approach so that what we do isn’t counterproductive. I would argue that our invasion of Iraq was counterproductive to the goal of keeping our country safe.
And despite the incredible valor of our troops — and I’m in awe of them every single day when I work with them — you know, the strategy that was crafted in Washington didn’t always match up with the actual threats that were out there. And we need to make sure that we’re doing the right things and doing those well so that we can also deal with future threats like cybersecurity or climate change or different parts of the world where there are huge opportunities, but [that] before I came into office, we had neglected for quite some time, Asia Pacific being a perfect example. Or our own backyard, the Western Hemisphere, where there’s been real progress in Latin America and we’ve got the opportunity to strengthen our relationships. But there are also some big problems like Central America where, with a relatively modest investment, we could really be making a difference and making ourselves safer.
The emboldened part is what Parker was referring to, and it caused an uproar because Obama seemed to be saying that the attack was not motivated by anti-semitism, which the White House moved to clarify.
Ten and a half years ago, at the Democratic convention in Boston, Barack Hussein Obama was introduced to America as a youthful, magnetic man who had burst suddenly and somewhat mysteriously onto the scene. This characterization—superficially appealing yet weightless, more symbolic than substantive—followed him throughout his presidential campaign, when Hillary Clinton cast him as an inspirational speechmaker like Martin Luther King Jr., as opposed to a viable contender for president, and John McCain’s campaign scathingly labeled him a “celebrity,” attractive but vacuous.
The lived reality of Obama’s presidency has unfolded as almost the precise opposite of this trope. He has amassed a record of policy accomplishment far deeper than even many of his supporters give him credit for. He has also survived a dismal, and frequently terrifying, 72 months when at every moment, to go by the day-to-day media, a crisis has threatened to rock his presidency to its core. The episodes have been all-consuming: the BP oil spill, swine flu, the Christmas underwear bomber, the IRS scandal, the healthcare.org launch, the border crisis, Benghazi. Depending on how you count, upwards of 19 events have been described as “Obama’s Katrina.”
Obama’s response to these crises—or, you could say, his method of leadership—has been surprisingly consistent. He has a legendarily, almost fanatically placid temperament. He has now spent eight years, counting from the start of his first presidential campaign, keeping his head while others were losing theirs, and avoiding rhetorical overreach at the risk of underreach. A few months ago, the crisis was the Ebola outbreak, and Obama faced a familiar criticism: He had botched the putatively crucial “performative” aspects of his job. “Six years in,” BusinessWeek reported, “it’s clear that Obama’s presidency is largely about adhering to intellectual rigor—regardless of the public’s emotional needs.”
Economists and political scientists will appreciate the scale of Obama’s successes over the long run, as many of them do already. But historians are storytellers, and the moody presentism that has rendered Obama an enigmatic failure will not automatically give way to quantifiable assessment. The president’s most irrational trait may be his inordinate faith in the power of reason itself.
There’s no perfect answer; eight years of policymaking and appointments provide ample fodder for almost any argument you want to make. But for all the time liberals have spent criticizing Obama for compromises and missed opportunities, a fair accounting seems to put Clinton far behind Obama when it comes to accomplishing liberal goals.
In many significant areas, Obama has already succeeded where Clinton failed. Clinton’s health care reform never even got to a vote in Congress; Obama passed his. Clinton tried to allow gays to serve in the military, and the result of the ensuing firestorm was the abominable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, not to mention the Defense of Marriage Act, which Clinton signed. Obama undid DADT and stopped defending DOMA, which was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court. Was that because times had changed, and the space was open for Obama to make the moves Clinton wished he could have? Of course. But the fact remains that the Clinton presidency was regressive on gay rights in many ways, while the Obama presidency saw unprecedented progress.
It’s a fascinating thing to watch since, well … wasn’t this, like, the guy so unliked and unfriended that Democratic candidates in critical Senate contests didn’t even want him showing up to the cookouts? No one wanted him kissing their baby on the stump, so he seemed to shrug and walk it off in aimless political exile as Democrats disintegrated into electoral nothiness during the midterms.
On November 26, the Obama administration put forward new anti-smog regulations that should prevent thousands of premature deaths and heart attacks every year. About two weeks later, Obama’s appointees at the Federal Reserve implemented new rules curbing reckless borrowing by giant banks that will reduce profits and shareholder earnings but increase the safety of the financial system. Yet both of these were minor stories compared to normalizing relations with Cuba after decades and his sweeping plan to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Somewhere in the meantime, Democrats broke the congressional logjam and got a whole boatload of nominees confirmed.
It has been, in short, a very busy and extremely consequential lame-duck session. One whose significance is made all the more striking by the fact that it follows an electoral catastrophe for Obama’s party. And that is the Obama era in a microcosm. Democrats’ overwhelming electoral win in 2008 did not prove to be a “realigning” election that handed the party enduring political dominance. Quite the opposite. But it did touch off a wave of domestic policymaking whose scale makes Obama a major historical figure in the way his two predecessors won’t be.
Americans of all stripes were justifiably proud when the country elected its first black president in 2008, and again when he was reelected in 2012. The fact is that no other comparable democracy, in Europe or elsewhere, was then or would now be prepared to elect a leader from a minority group. But even as I watched the celebrations on election night in November 2008, I felt an undercurrent of unease. Heartening as it was, this was not a sign that we had broken the back of racism or of racially driven divisions in the country. The election of an African-American president could be seen by racists in America as a sign that they could be more blunt in expressing their views. After all, who could now say America is racist? And the same mindset could lead others to enable statements or actions that would otherwise be seen as over the line. And, of course, the inevitable harsh criticism of a president by partisans on the other side, something that comes with the territory, could easily take on a racial dimension for Barack Obama.
Over time, the hostility toward Obama grew dramatically, and so did racist statements. Actually, it did not take very long. One year into his presidency, ABC News catalogued an array of racially tinged and overtly racist statements or actions taken against Obama. They came from election and party officials and media figures, including Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. In the years since, the number of prominent figures using race as a wedge only grew. They include a New Hampshire police commissioner using the “N” word to refer to the president, a Montana federal district judge sending racist emails, and many others.
Most troubling is that some of the most loathsome comments have been enabled and legitimized. After Ted Nugent called the president of the United States a “subhuman mongrel”—a term CNN’s Wolf Blitzer noted was used by the Nazis to justify the extermination of Jews—Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott welcomed this incendiary and hateful figure at a campaign event. And Colorado Senate candidate Tom Tancredo excitedly announced that he had gotten Nugent to contribute one of his assault weapons for Tancredo to auction off to help finance his campaign.
Race has always been, and probably always will be, a critical fault line in our society and democracy. It is a major challenge for Republican leaders to find ways—not with a few symbols or gestures, but through real sensitivity and policy reforms—to both reduce racial tensions and to appeal to more nonwhite Americans. And it is an immense challenge for Obama—a historic figure, the first African-American president, not simply the first president of and for African Americans—to build broad bridges and trust that keep the coming tremors low on the Richter scale.
Edited to add the related item below.
One of the most encouraging economic policy developments of the past few years has been Republicans’ newfound love of tax breaks for low-income people. Paul Ryan made an Earned Income Tax Credit expansion the centerpiece of his anti-poverty plan, and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has championed a tax reform proposal greatly increasing the Child Tax Credit, which Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has signed onto as well. Together, the EITC and CTC lifted about 10.1 million people out of poverty in 2012.
But these anti-poverty tax breaks are now in danger. Expansions to both credits are set to expire in 2017, and a deal to extend corporate tax breaks worked out by Republican House Ways and Means chair Dave Camp and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid wouldn’t have made the low-income tax breaks permanent. That prompted an Obama administration veto threat.