How The Obamacare Town Hall Script Totally Flipped This Week

Tom Williams | TPM “Senior” Graphic

TPM DC

Darren Knowles never met with Mike Coffman in the seven years the congressman had been serving Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. But Knowles and his wife, concerned about congressional Republicans’ imminent plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, made the decision to drive over to Coffman’s town hall event Saturday at Aurora Central Library.

A special education teacher who said he voted for George W. Bush twice and cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton in the November election, Knowles was surprised to find the lobby filled beyond capacity with Coloradans from across the ideological spectrum hoping to get reassurance from Coffman that they would not lose health care coverage. He observed that many attendees were white and older, and that a number were physically disabled. The Knowleses waited two hours to speak to their congressman, who met with constituents in groups for four or five minutes apiece, but never got the chance. A local journalist called to the scene by the frustrated crowd eventually caught Coffman sneaking out the backdoor of the library before his scheduled time had expired.

Knowles left exasperated, and was further irritated by a statement Coffman released blaming “partisan activists” for trying to disrupt his event.

“That really got my blood boiling,” he told TPM in a phone interview. “He said he’d stand up to Trump and this is like Trump’s playbook right here: blame the people who stand up to you. I don’t know what representative Coffman wanted. If we’re concerned, are we not supposed to show up and voice our concerns?”

The August congressional recess prior to the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act was marked by testy town hall clashes between lawmakers and constituents who opposed the health care legislation. Now, more than seven years later, Republicans’ attempted repeal of that legislation is unfolding in the same public, messy way.

Since Congress passed a budget resolution last week allowing repeal to proceed, voters who have personally benefited from the law have appealed to Republican members of Congress at town hall events in their districts. Others have linked up with members of local progressive groups formed since the election to pressure the incoming Trump administration, or participated in nationwide rallies organized by Democratic leadership.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) was drowned out with chants of “save our healthcare” as she spoke at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally in Spokane. More than 250 people turned out to the Gerald R. Ford Library in Grand Rapids on Tuesday to question Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) about Medicaid cuts and the details of an ACA replacement plan, prompting security to turn dozens away. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) was surprised to find himself facing angry questions from a group of 50 at a Houston Chamber of Commerce session billed as an opportunity for locals “affected by Obamacare” to share stories about “rising costs and loss of coverage.”

With all three branches of government soon to be under GOP control, these voters know they may not be able to prevent Republicans from charging ahead with repeal. But they aren’t going to let it happen without a fight.

After learning about the meeting with Brady through a progressive Facebook group, Emily Hopper said she showed up with her 2-year-old son to ask how women’s health care would be affected by the millions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursements that Planned Parenthood stands to lose when the ACA is repealed.

“Rep. Brady did not adequately address anyone’s questions, in my opinion,” Hopper told TPM in an email. “He repeatedly assured attendees that they would not lose the parts of ACA that they like (protections for pre-existing conditions and coverage of dependent adult children) while simultaneously promising to do away with the mandate and taxes. That’s a two-legged stool waiting to fall over.”

Other progressives were working alongside the national Democratic Party to kick up a public fuss over ACA repeal. Thousands showed up to a Sunday “Save Our Healthcare” rally led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in Macomb County, Michigan, which went for Trump. Numerous smaller satellite demonstrations were held across the country as well.

In Keene, New Hampshire, multimedia artist and diehard Sanders fan Heather Stockwell helped draw around 200 people out to a Sunday rally. The support from the national Democratic party was “great for getting numbers out,” Stockwell told TPM.

After being involved with a number of regional liberal organizations over the course of the 2016 election, Stockwell this week helped consolidate several of those groups into the Monadnock Progressive Alliance, an umbrella organization focused on taking an issue-oriented, hyper-local approach to progressive change.

Stockwell said she drew inspiration for the MPA in part from the Indivisible Guide, an online handbook put together by former Congressional aides that encourages Democrats to take a page out of the tea party playbook in order to derail the Trump-Paul Ryan policy agenda. Their advice boiled down to the following: confront your representatives on their home turf, organize locally and direct resources towards stopping specific pieces of legislation.

Harvard University professor Theda Skocpol, who co-wrote “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” said she saw some tea party tactics at play in this week’s coordinated protests in favor of the ACA.

“In the past, Democrats have tended to focus on Washington” when they disagreed with elected officials on policy issues, Skocpol told TPM.

“Democrats also see protest as something that’s aimed at the media,” she said. “I think the added ingredient here borrowed from the tea party is that it’s really effective to speak up both publicly and in terms of contacting local offices of their representatives in Congress.”

The key distinction, according to Skocpol, is that the tea party coalesced in backlash at the institutional GOP that allowed Barack Obama to be elected, while Democratic leadership is actively encouraging and participating in the current public outcry over ACA repeal.

Health care is also a uniquely easy rallying point for progressives hoping to mobilize resistance against the new administration because the need for health insurance transcends political boundaries.

“Any cuts that occur in this law are going to hit Trump voters very hard, and the areas that supported him too,” Skocpol said. “They’re going to hit older, non-urban whites just as hard as they’re going to hit the Democratic constituencies.”

After using the ACA as a political punching bag for years and failing to agree on a replacement plan, Republican lawmakers are finally facing the real-life consequences of inaction, from voters on both sides of the aisle.

ALLEGRA KIRKLAND

Have more stories about lawmakers facing pushback over ACA repeal or organizing efforts around the issue? Let us know at talk@talkingpointsmemo.com

In one night, the GOP voted to take away these 6 essential health benefits

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Barrasso CREDIT: AP Photo/Cliff Owen

THINK PROGRESS

Last night while you were sleeping, the Senate debated and ultimately passed a budget resolution that provides a pathway for Republicans to strip health care coverage away from 30 million Americans without having a single Democratic vote.

As the Senate debated the resolution that provides a blueprint to repeal the Affordable Care Act, both Republicans and Democrats had the opportunity to offer a flurry of rapid-fire amendments in a process known as “vote-a-rama.” While these votes are non-binding, the exercise provides an opportunity for senators to show where their colleagues stand on a number of key issues. And the results are not pretty.

Senate Republicans took several votes that showed they are not on your side. Last night, Republicans voted against amendments that would:

1. Protect people with pre-existing conditions

Republicans blocked an amendment that would have made it harder to take away coverage from Americans with preexisting medical conditions. 52 million people — about 1 in 4 non-elderly Americans — have preexisting conditions. These Americans are more likely to face significant health costs, and before the Affordable Care Act, were often denied coverage entirely. The amendment also would have protected coverage for people disabilities or chronic health conditions, and prevent plans from discriminating based on health. Republicans currently have no alternative plan to insure people with preexisting conditions. Only two Republicans — Maine’s Susan Collins and Nevada’s Dean Heller — voted for the amendment.

2. Let young adults stay on their parents’ plan

Republicans blocked an amendment by Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin that would have made it easier young people to stay on their parents’ health care plan until they are 26 — one of the most popular and effective provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Over 6 million young adults have gained health insurance since the law was implemented in 2010, and young Americans now report better physical and mental health. The provision is also overwhelmingly popular — 85 percent favor keeping young people on their parents’ insurance plans. Sens. Heller and Collins were the only two senators who bucked their party on this vote.

3. Maintain access to contraceptive coverage

Thanks to Obamacare, birth control is more affordable than ever. Spending on contraceptive health care has gone down by 20 percent since the Affordable Care Act took effect. An amendment by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand sought to continue this momentum. Unsurprisingly, Republicans blocked the provision 49–49. Sens. Collins and Heller both voted with Democrats.

4. Ensure Medicaid expansion stays in place

Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act benefited 11 million low-income Americans in 2015 alone and has created thousands of jobs for direct care workers. An amendment by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) would have sought to continue Medicaid expansion, but it was blocked by Republicans — 48–50.

5. Protect children on Medicaid or CHIP

Republicans blocked an amendment offered by Senator Brown (D-OH) that would ensure children could keep their health coverage on Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), both of which provide comprehensive health care services for children including key preventive and developmental care.

6. Protect veterans’ health care

Republicans blocked an amendment by Sen. Tester (D-MT) that would have made it harder to restrict veterans’ ability to access VA health care. While Democrats have sought to provide better funding and health care access at the VA, Donald Trump has proposed eliminating the agency altogether through privatization. A poll in 2015 found that almost two-thirds of survey respondents oppose plans to replace VA health care with a voucher system, an idea backed by many Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates.


Republicans say they want to replace Obamacare with something better. But in just one night’s votes, they indicated that they are not willing to take a stand to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions, women, children, veterans, young adults, people with disabilities, and struggling families can continue to access the affordable coverage they need going forward.

Melissa Boteach and Jeremy Slevin

Melissa Boteach is the Vice President of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF), and Jeremy Slevin is the Associate Director of Advocacy for the same program. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at CAPAF.

Bernie Gives Us Hope, Promises To Protect Minorities Under Trump Administration

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 23: Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, (I-VT) speaks during a news conference December 23, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Sanders, who is seeking the nomination from the Democratic Party talked about police reform and preventing people of color from being victimized by police officers across the country. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Checks and balances | The system of checks and balances is used to keep the government from getting too powerful in one branch. For example, the Executive Branch can veto bills from the Legislative Branch, but the Legislative Branch can override the veto.

ADDICTING INFO

The unthinkable has happened, and we are now all forced to live under a Donald Trump administration for the next four years. This is especially terrifying to minorities, since the man that was just declared our next president is a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic bigot, and his vice president-elect, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, is just as bad — only much more quietly. Well, there is one person in the United States Senate who won’t stand for any of that bigotry when it comes to lawmaking: Bernie Sanders.

While Bernie has promised to work with a Trump administration where they can find common ground, he has already warned Trump that there will be no funny business on his watch when it comes to going after minorities. Bernie tweeted:

This isn’t the first time since Trump’s victory that Bernie has warned him against aggressively attacking the rights of minorities, either. On Wednesday, he said:

“To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him,” the Vermont senator said in a statement released Wednesday.”

“To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”

This is reassuring, because while the situation is certainly dismal, there are Democrats and Independents in the Senate who still have enough seats to block the Republicans and a Trump Administration from appointing anti-LGBTQ, anti-women, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant justices to the Supreme Court. While this might, optics wise, looks like Democrats offering retribution for the GOP’s refusal to give President Obama’s appointee, Merrick Garland, a hearing and a vote, indeed it is not. It is a way to keep Republicans from stripping the basic human rights from groups of Americans they hate.

Thank you, Bernie, for having our back. Let’s hope that you and Senate Democrats are successful in protecting us for the next four years as we live out this literal nightmare.

Shannon Barber

Republicans’ Congress Lull Could Impede A Clinton Presidency

Republicans’ Congress Lull Could Impede A Clinton Presidency

REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

The National Memo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans in Congress are planning a light legislative agenda as they return from their long summer break on Tuesday, a strategy some say is designed in part to bog down Hillary Clinton if she becomes president.

It is not uncommon for the Congress to take it slow in an election year and legislative delays could work in Republicans’ favor if their nominee Donald Trump takes the White House in November.

But the strategy will also pay dividends if it is Clinton who takes office on Jan. 20. She will be forced to deal with old baggage rather than focus on her agenda of infrastructure investments and immigration and Wall Street reforms.

“If Hillary wins, we force her to waste time, resources, momentum, early good will and political capital – all on cleanup duty,” said a senior aide to one Republican senator.

If all goes as expected this autumn, a U.S. Supreme Court seat, vacant since Feb. 13, will remain unfilled until sometime next year. A sweeping Pacific free-trade deal negotiated by President Barack Obama will be on hold, if not doomed.

And if many conservative Republicans get their way, government agencies will run on stop-gap funding from Oct. 1 until sometime in February or March. That means that the next president would have to negotiate a longer-term deal or face the prospect of government shutdowns in the early days of a new administration.

Senior congressional aides have told Reuters their agenda for the coming months include bills to keep the government funded, combat the spreading Zika virus and renewing laws guarding the nation’s water resources.

Other items would help the majority Republicans score political points with key constituencies before the November elections, even though they have no chance of becoming law.

These include scolding the Obama administration for a $400 million payment to Iran in January after Tehran released American prisoners, anti-abortion measures and, once again, proposals to repeal Obama’s landmark healthcare law.

Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former aide to Republican leaders in Congress, acknowledged that public opinion polling is trending in Clinton’s direction.

If Clinton wins, Bonjean added, “The whole mindset (among Republican leaders in Congress) would shift to taking care of the most important business to help Republicans and unloading the more difficult, tense issues for a Clinton administration to deal with.”

Clinton has maintained a lead in most polls since Republican and Democratic conventions, but some surveys showed that lead narrowing. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sept. 2 showed Trump effectively pulling even with the Democratic nominee.

Yet one veteran Republican congressional aide said more and more Republicans in Congress brace for the White House to stay in Democratic hands for the next four years, even if their party manages to maintain control of Congress.

Trump’s trouble in appealing to important groups of voters, such as Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians, and self-inflicted wounds “have made it pretty clear he’s highly unlikely to get there,” he said.

Leaving the Supreme Court nomination and other high-profile disagreements for 2017 “does bog down” a new administration, “no question about it,” the aide said.

Some election years mean a slow autumn in Congress, but this is not always the case. In 2012 for example, lawmakers dramatically labored all the way through New Year’s Eve addressing a “fiscal cliff” of expiring tax and spending laws.

Not all of the delays in passing legislation are purely on Republican shoulders though.

While Trump has blasted free-trade deals, leading Democrats, including Clinton, also have criticized Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership pact that would create a free-trade zone ranging from Japan to Chile.

Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, downplayed the challenges Clinton might face early on. “She knows how to deal with Congress. She’s been there,” he said referring to Clinton’s years as a senator representing New York.

Besides, he added, if Trump loses, Republicans will be busy dealing with their own problems.

“They’ll have to think seriously about how they got themselves in the trouble that they’re in.”

(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Julia Edwards and Tomasz Janowski)

WATCH: Fox Host Unexpectedly Declares Support Of Assault Weapon Ban On The Air

WATCH: Fox Host Unexpectedly Declares Support Of Assault Weapon Ban On The Air

Fox News Screenshot

ADDICTING INFO

When even Fox News begins to call for gun control, it’s a clear sign that Republicans and the NRA better start compromising.

Gretchen Carlson has been one of the most vocal hosts on the conservative network for years, and she has consistently toed the Republican Party line throughout her years as co-host of Fox & Friends and now throughout her tenure hosting her own solo program.

But in the wake of a domestic terrorist attack that killed 50 people in an Orlando night club this past weekend, Carlson could no longer sit back and be a puppet for the gun nuts, which is why she went totally off script during her show and declared her support for banning assault weapons such as the AR-15 used in the massacre.

“There’s no doubt Omar Mateen was able to kill so many people because he was firing an AR-15,” Carlson said. “A military-style assault weapon, a weapon easier to buy in the state of Florida than buying a handgun. Florida sets a three day waiting period for purchasing handguns, but the state mandates no waiting period for any gun that requires two hands to hold.”

Carlson’s remarks on Florida gun laws appear to be a rebuke of Florida Governor Rick Scott, who not only just offered thoughts and prayers instead of acting to prevent future mass shootings in response to Orlando, he’s the one who weakened Florida’s gun laws over the last five years.

Carlson further justified her stance by pointing out that 58 percent of Americans support a ban on assault weapons.

“Do we need AR-15s to hunt and kill deer? Do we need them to protect our families?” she continued. “I’m in favor of people being able to carry. I think some of these mass shootings would have been less deadly if that were the case.”

But despite her support of Second Amendment rights, Carlson said banning assault weapons is just “common sense” and stated that it is time for Americans to take a stand in order to prevent mass shootings in the future.

“But I’m also with the majority today, taking a stand. Can’t we hold true the sanctity of the Second Amendment while still having common sense?”

89 percent of Fox viewers, however, refused to shake off the brainwashing the NRA has drilled into them over the years by overwhelmingly rejecting passage of a new assault weapons ban.

Here’s the video via YouTube.

America once did have a ban on assault weapons in place, but Republicans let it expire and refused to renew it. And mass shootings have increased ever since.

According to the New Century Foundation in 2012,

In the eight years since the Assault Weapons Ban has expired, there have been 28 mass shooting events. That equals an average of 3.5 a year—an increase of over 200 percent. That is a startling jump, by any measure.

During the ten year duration of the ban between 1994 and 2004, there were 15 mass shootings. In 2015 alone there were at least six major mass shootings that occurred, more depending on what statistics and definition you use. So this is a continuing problem that isn’t going away by praying. It’s going to take action such as the action taken by Australia in 1996. After five mass shootings between 1987 and 1996, the country finally had enough of the carnage and banned assault weapons. There hasn’t been a mass shooting ever since.

But it’s different in the United States. We have a Second Amendment, therefore it is harder to ban guns entirely. However, banning assault weapons isn’t the only change we could demand. We also need better background checks and we need law enforcement to have the ability to ban people from having guns if they are on the terrorist watch list. Had Republicans not refused to do that latter action, perhaps those 50 people would be alive today because Mateen, who was an ISIS sympathizer, would not have been able to legally buy the AR-15 he used to slaughter them.

Gretchen Carlson deserves props for supporting a ban on assault weapons, even though she definitely risks being fired for doing so.

By Stephen D Foster Jr

President Obama To Senate GOP: Seriously Guys, Do Your F*cking Jobs Already (VIDEO)

ADDICTING INFO

President Barack Obama had plenty of obstacles when he took over from the Bush administration. The country faced a recession not seen since the Great Depression and the U.S. was embroiled in the Iraq war which left hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis along with thousands of American soldiers in what has turned out to be one of the most catastrophic American foreign policy blunders in history. One would think that the Republicans would help the young president fix what they had broken. Unfortunately, since Obama took office, the Republicans have done nothing but try to stifle him, even at the cost of shutting down the government.

Fast forward more than seven years and we still see an unbroken theme with the Republicans — continued obstructionism that has prevented the government from functioning properly and has kept vital decisions from being made. In the latest round, the Republicans in the United States Senate refused to give Chief Judge Merrick Garland a fair hearing and a vote despite the fact that it’s been 45 days since the president nominated him for the United States Supreme Court. In his address,the president made it clear that the U.S. Supreme Court must remain above partisan politics and the senate must do its job.

Unfortunately, as they’ve done in the previous seven years, the Republicans are unlikely to heed the president’s advice and suggestions. In the end, it’s the American system and ultimately the American people who suffer from the partisan politics which have become so dysfunctional.

Watch the video here: 

Author: Marcus Aurelius

The SCOTUS Time Bomb That the GOP Are Freaked Out About

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Anita Hill – The GOP’s worse nightmare | attribution: ANITA HILL

DAILY KOS

It’s been under the radar for the most part, but an upcoming docudrama on HBO is going to blow the lid off the Capitol Dome this coming Spring, unintentionally timed, as it is for release in mid April, just as the Senate will be forced to confront what was only a few weeks ago unthinkable: another Obama Supreme Court nomination as the current, already-off-the-charts election season is fully underway.

The film is “Confirmation,” a dramatic retelling of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by then-Senator Joe Biden. The synchronicities surrounding this made-for-TV movie, its timing, and the personalities both from the infamous ‘91 hearings and the current cast of political players in Washington DC will provide a surreal backstop to the contemporaneous vortex of news cycles that will be juxtaposed to it.

The screenplay for Confirmation was crafted by Susannah Grant, the film’s Producer who also wrote the screenplay for Erin Brockovich. Both films relate the story of a brave and principled woman standing up against huge institutional forces intent on crushing her. The Brockovich story ends well, with Erin scoring a major victory against the unconscionable pollution practices of CA utility, PG&E; Anita Hill’s saga, on the other hand, ends with the man who sexually harrassed her, Clarence Thomas, ascending to one of the most powerful and unassailable positions in the world — and with her reputation assaulted eggregiously by, among many others, Thomas himself.

Kerry Washington, who plays Hill in the film, says that she met with Hill to help herself get into the character, and that she was inspired by her.

One more note about the supposition that the script for this film isn’t GOP-friendly: Kerry Washington is the Lead.

“Under The Radar, For the Most Part”

While I’m not privy to the script (there’s not even a synopsis available yet), some folks who have seen the script are pretty agitated, those folks being the defenders of Thomas who smeared Hill in the hearings: Alan Simpson (of Catfood Commission fame), Jack Danforth (for whom Thomas was a Senate aide), and Thomas’ lawyer at the time, Mark Paoletta. They’re monumentally pissed and they threatened to sue just a few days ago if the version of Grant’s script that they were provided (when the producers were looking for pre-production input) is used. Whether their threats of legal action were prompted in any way by the upcoming SCOTUS brouhaha I have no idea (although it must be noted that their collective umbrage did suddenly find public expression — after many months of silent gestation, it must be assumed — just 5 days after Scalia’s death), but it’s certain that this film, given the “serendipitous” timing of its release (April 16), will rile more than just a few aging sexists in the GOP old-horse pasture.

As a side note, it’s interesting to speculate whether Joe Biden’s choice not to enter the Dem POTUS primary was in any way influcenced by the advent of this film. He was certainly also asked for script input prior to shooting, and his role in the story was one of enablement of Thomas’ supporters, in that he scuttled the testimony of corroborating witnesses in support of Anita Hill.

The Upshot:

Thomas is the person the the High Court bench who was closest to Scalia (he gave a scriptural reading at Scalia’s funeral), and most dependent on him (he said Scalia took him under his wing when he came on board), whose now-open seat has become the likely focus of the upcoming Presidential Primary and General Election year.  It will be very interesting to see who Obama nominates for the post, and how that might play out, juxtaposed with the buzz from the Confirmation story as it re-enters the collective American psyche.

I hope Obama nominates another female for this vacant SCOTUS seat. It’s been almost a century since women were given the right to vote and the court is still 2/3 male. It would enhance his legacy, make gender equality in the nation one step closer to reality, and give the court much needed female perspective, especially since Justice Ginsberg can’t be far from finishing her long, glorious stint. And, with the Thomas/Hill story having entered into the Zeitgeist via Confirmation, it would bring into sharp focus the fractious, toxic and corrosive nature of the Conservative movement in America.

And finally, the question inevitably presents itself: what about Anita Hill herself? Nowthat would be ground shaking. But I doubt seriously she’d want to sit in the same room with Thomas for the rest of his life.

By nailbender

Obama administration vacancies grow thanks to Republican Senate

US President Barack Obama speaks alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), Republican of Kentucky, prior to a meeting of the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC, January 13, 201

Attribution: none

DAILY KOS

In the final year of President Obama’s term in office, he’s facing a challenge that most lame-duck presidents deal with: an executive branch not running on full steam because staff are heading for the exits to secure new positions. The problem for this president, however, is made far worse than any recent president has faced because so many vacancies in the administration already exist, and have existed for a big chunk of his years in office. That’s because so many of his nominees have been blocked or just ignored by Senate Republicans.

New data compiled by the Congressional Research Service and obtained by POLITICO found that the Senate in 2015 confirmed the lowest number of civilian nominations—including judges and diplomatic ambassadors—for the first session of a Congress in nearly 30 years.The sheer number of vacancies is having a real-world effect on Obama, whose government is on high alert for terrorist attacks and still plans to wage domestic policy fights right up until the lights go out in January 2017. On the international stage, observers say Obama’s officials without confirmation don’t carry the same level of gravitas when meeting with their diplomatic counterparts. In domestic policy disputes, Senate-confirmed staff carries more weight than the equivalent department leaders with “acting” or deputy titles.

“It’s trying to run the executive branch on top of a block of Swiss cheese full of holes,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Check out this comparison: “Obama’s nominees from 2009 through 2014 faced confirmation lengths that were nearly twice as long as Ronald Reagan’s—an average of 59.4 days for the Republican versus 127.2 days for the current president.” For his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, that wait was 97.4 days. For Clinton, 91.8, and for George H.W. Bush it was 67.3.

One prominent Republican says pointing that out is just whining. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) blames it on President Obama for delaying sending up nominations. “They don’t get them up here with any expedition,” continuing “and then they bitch about it, or cry about it, I should say, when it’s really their fault.” He also said the administration isn’t at all short-staffed. “In fact, if anything, they’re top-heavy with people. They act like they’re oppressed. My gosh, it drives you crazy.”

That’s quite a contrast to what Hatch had to say about Democrats under Bush the Younger. “They are not being fair to the president,” he cried. “They’re not being fair to the independents of the judiciary. They’re not being fair to the process, and the process is broken.” So, yeah, Orrin Hatch knows something about crocodile tears. And, like pretty much all Republicans, he’s absolutely fine with doing actual damage to the nation—at home and abroad—by keeping the government hobbled just to score political points.

Joan McCarter

‘WE CAN DO MORE,’ BUT….

GETTY

THE HUFFINGTON POST

WASHINGTON — The priority of Congress after the deadly shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado over Thanksgiving weekend should be to fix the nation’s mental health system, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) argued Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with his members, Ryan offered his condolences to the families of the three people killed and nine injured in Colorado Springs on Friday, when a shooter opened fire inside the women’s health clinic.

“What happened is appalling, and justice should be swift,” Ryan said. “Clearly we can do more.”

As far as what more Congress could do, Ryan was not definitive, but he did not call for looking at some of the more popular measures proposed in Congress, such as beefing up background checks.

He said the “common denominator” in all the nation’s frequent mass shootings is mental illness.

“That’s why we need to look at fixing our nation’s mental illness health system,” Ryan said, noting that Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) has proposed a bill to address the issue.

“I’m sure that members of both parties have lots of ideas in this area, but we should make this a priority to prevent the violence to protect our citizens,” Ryan said. “The common theme with these kinds of shooting is mental illness, and this is something that we should not be ignoring.”

While Ryan did not rule out other efforts, he did not embrace steps that could kick in much more quickly than a full overhaul of the mental health system, such as enhancing background checks and closing loopholes that make it easy to buy guns.