Va. governor: I’m ‘baffled’ by federal probe

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) on Tuesday said he is perplexed by the federal probe into campaign donations to his 2013 gubernatorial run.

“I’m really baffled by this story in the first place,” he told reporter Ronica Cleary during an interview with Fox 5 D.C. “I’ll be honest with you — if I was sitting in the private sector, not as governor, I don’t think someone would, this would have risen to the level.

“But listen, it’s OK. You get in this business. You open yourself up and I’m fine doing that when you’re confident you haven’t done anything wrong.”

Reports emerged on Monday that the FBI and the Justice Department’s public integrity unit are looking into campaign contributions to McAuliffe three years ago.

The agencies are investigating, among other things, $120,000 in donations from Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang. Foreign nationals are not allowed to donate to any American campaign unless they have a green card, which clears such contributions.

McAuliffe on Tuesday said Wenliang has a well-documented record of donating to individuals and institutions in the U.S.

“Well, as I say, he’s a major contributor to Harvard,” he said. “He sits on the board of New York University. Two of our most prestigious universities. He’s very active. Everybody takes his money.”

McAuliffe added that federal scrutiny into his past campaign contributions would not hinder his current duties as Virginia’s governor.

“Listen, I’m carrying on my schedule as governor,” he said. “No one’s alleged I’ve done anything wrong. And you just got to continue to do.

“I’m governor, I’m out doing what I need to do to help the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” added McAuliffe, who has previously endorsed Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.

McAuliffe tried distancing the probe from his ties with the Clinton family during a press conference earlier Tuesday.

“This has nothing to do with Clinton Foundation,” he said at the State Arboretum of Virginia. “This was an allegation of a gentleman who gave a check to my campaign. I didn’t bring the donor in; I didn’t bring him into the Clinton Foundation. I don’t even know if I’ve ever met the person.”

Officials are also purportedly investigating McAuliffe’s role at the Clinton Global Initiative, former President Bill Clinton’s charitable organization.

A Washington Post report from last year found that 120 donors who gave to Clinton charities gave more than $13 million to McAuliffe’s election efforts in 2013.

McAuliffe is a long-time Clinton ally who spearheaded Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008. He also served as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2000.

By Mark Hensch

Biden wants ‘uncomfortable’ racism debate

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Vice President Biden said on Thursday that Americans must confront “institutional racism.”

“No one wants to say that,” he told a National Urban League legislative policy conference in Washington, according to Politico. “I know I sometimes speak out too loudly, sometimes, but I make no apologies for it. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but these are uncomfortable times.

We’ve got to shake up the status quo a bit.

“You know, we see this institutional racism today in voting, in children’s education, in the very makeup of our neighborhoods, housing patterns, employment, transportation, access to transportation,” he added.

His speech focused on “the overwhelming problems of the legacy of institutional racism which we still live with,” Politico reported.

Biden said the 2008 economic recession had particularly hurt minorities and the impoverished.

“[The] freefall was particularly bad for poor folk and particularly bad for African-American and Hispanic poor folk,” he said.

“You have a disproportionate share of African-Americans living in cities who do not own an automobile,” he added.

“You can’t have a job if you can’t get there to the interview. So we’ve got to put a lot of money into transportation, meaning everything from streetcars to buses to rail transit, connecting inner cities to the suburbs.”

Biden also said that Americans “can’t pretend that children of different races have the same opportunities.”

“I’ll be here with you pushing the next president to level the playing field,” he said.

“I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do,” Biden joked of his term’s upcoming end. “[I’ll need] career advice from some of you.”

Biden ruled out a third Oval Office bid last October, likely signaling the end of a political career that has spanned four decades.

He concluded that he did not have the time or emotional energy for a viable campaign after the death of his son, Beau Biden, following a battle with brain cancer last year.

By Mark Hensch

The vile core of Trump’s appeal: Here’s the research that shows how racism animates his campaign

The vile core of Trump's appeal: Here's the research that shows how racism animates his campaign

Donald Trump (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)


Has racism fueled Donald Trump’s unlikely ascendence in the GOP? Yes, and here’s how we know

As the idea of Donald Trump winning a major party nomination goes from ugly nightmare to increasingly real possibility, pundits are wondering why they didn’t see it coming. One reason is that many pundits, particularly on the right, have spent decades pretending that the ugly racial sentiments Trump panders to either don’t exist or are a minor aberrance on the radical fringe. Others have tried to blame economic conditions, an important factor that can’t fully explain the Trump phenomenon (there aren’t many poor Blacks rushing to vote Trump). Research suggests that racial animus is a much more powerful predictor of Trump support than “economic anxiety.” We argue that the core of the Trump phenomenon is decades of dog-whistle race-baiting made real: Trump is animating white racial fears in order to race toward the Republican nomination.

The newest American National Election Studies 2016 pilot survey provides an ideal way to explore the Trump phenomenon. It’s a 1,200 person internet survey performed by YouGov between January 22 and 28 of 2016 that includes incredibly detailed questions about race and racism. Though some are skeptical of online surveys, these concerns are overblown. Leading political scientists Stephen Ansolabehere and Brian Schaffner have shown that opt-in panel surveys are just as reliable as telephone surveys.

We examine the stereotyping variables which explore how many white respondents harbor and report negative stereotypes about Black people. The first question asks, “How well does the word ‘violent’ describe members of each group?” and includes Blacks, Whites, Hispanics and Muslims. The question is phrased the same way for “lazy.” To explore how Trump supporters differ, we examine three categories: Republicans, Democrats and Trump Supporters. (We don’t show independents or people who said “something else” separately; they’re mostly between Republicans and Democrats). The categories are not mutually exclusive: about half of Trump supporters are Republican, and half are independent or other (we don’t count the relatively small number of self-identified Democrats who said they would vote for Trump if they were to vote in a Republican primary, because he’s probably not their first choice)

Trump supporters are dramatically more likely to embrace racial stereotypes than the average Republican or Democrat. A full 45 percent of Trump supporters say that the word “violent” describes Blacks “extremely” or “very” well, compared with 31 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of Democrats. (Overall, 25 percent chose “extremely” or “very” well, as did 25 percent of all Whites and 19 percent of Black people, but the number of Black respondents in the survey is small.) On the other hand, 28 percent of Democrats said that violent describes Blacks “not well at all,” compared with 18 percent of Republicans and only 7 percent of Trump supporters. These results suggest that while far too many Americans of all parties hold destructive stereotypes about Black people, Trump’s supporters are far more likely to believe Black people are violent.


Yet, while many Trump supporters Black people as violent, it is these very supporters who have committed racially motivated violence. At a recent Louisville, Kentuckyevent, Trump supporters violently shoved a Black woman to cheers from the crowd. Last October Trump supporters spit on immigrant advocates. After a November incident when Trump’s followers attacked a Black man, Trump responded by saying,“maybe he should have been roughed up.”

Trump supporters were also far more likely to stereotype Black people as lazy. A full 38 percent of Trump supporters say “lazy” describes Black people “extremely” or “very well,” with one-fifth saying “extremely well.” (Overall, 20 percent of whites and 12 percent of Black people agreed.) Only a quarter of Republicans and less than a fifth of Democrats say that “lazy” describes Black people “extremely” or “very” well. Far too many, certainly, but far fewer than the number of Trump supporters.


Trump’s Foreign Policy Sage Is Himself, Of Course

Trump’s Foreign Policy Sage Is Himself, Of Course



Hot off winning every state but Ohio last night, Donald Trump has taken his campaign of self-aggrandizement to the realm of international politics. According to Trump, there’s no one better suited to provide foreign policy insight than… himself.

Trump appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe earlier today. When asked who his foreign policy advisors were, Trump responded, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

What any of that means to anyone is unclear. But does Trump have “a very good brain” when it comes to foreign policy? Does he have the wisdom necessary to make decisions whose consequences may take years to unfold? History says no: just look at Trump’s vacillation over the 2003 Iraq invasion.

One of the greatest foreign policy blunders ever committed by this country, the power vacuum left behind in Iraq — after George W. Bush dismantled the Iraqi army — aided in the rise of ISIS years later. Trump, who presents himself as a tough guy who would bring back torture to keep America safe, started off by claiming that he was against the invasion of Iraq. In a 2002 Howard Stern interview, he was asked directly if he supported the invasion. “Yeah, I guess so,” Trump responded. “I wish the first time it was done correctly.”

This was not a one-off case of supporting interventionist foreign policy. In his book The America We Deserve, he wrote, “We still don’t know what Iraq is up to or whether it has the material to build nuclear weapons. I’m no warmonger,” Trump wrote. “But the fact is, if we decide a strike against Iraq is necessary, it is madness not to carry the mission to its conclusion. When we don’t, we have the worst of all worlds: Iraq remains a threat, and now has more incentive than ever to attack us.”

In fact, in parroting the provocations of the Bush administration, Trump very much was a war-monger.

Fast forward to 2016, and Trump, in an effort to display his solid foreign policy insights, said during a Republican debate in Vermont, “I’m the only one up here, when the war of Iraq — in Iraq, I was the one that said, ‘Don’t go, don’t do it, you’re going to destabilize the Middle East.’” It was not the first time he claimed to be opposed to military intervention.

Even then, his commitment to non-intervention is political opportunism at best, given only 32 percent of registered voters still think the invasion was a good idea. He returned to espousing militaristic rhetoric during a campaign rally in which he promised to bomb ISIS — and the millions of civilians living under their rule — out of existence. “I would bomb the shit out of them,” said Trump during a rally in November. “I would just bomb those suckers, and that’s right, I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, I’d blow up ever single inch, there would be nothing left.”

While Trump may think that he is the best at everything, from his relationship with “the blacks” to world-altering foreign policy calculations, his comfort with taking seemingly opposing positions should worry his supporters. But who are we kidding — it probably won’t.

GOP enters the abyss: The entire party has fallen prey to bigotry and paranoid fantasy

GOP enters the abyss: The entire party has fallen prey to bigotry and paranoid fantasy

(Credit: AP/Dennis Van Tine)


For reasons hard to fathom, the Republicans seem to have made up their minds: they will divide, degrade and secede from the Union.

They will do so with bullying, lies and manipulation, a willingness to say anything, no matter how daft or wrong. They will do so by spending unheard of sums to buy elections with the happy assistance of big business and wealthy patrons for whom the joys of gross income inequality are a comfortable fact of life. By gerrymandering and denying the vote to as many of the poor, the elderly, struggling low-paid workers, and people of color as they can. And by appealing to the basest impulses of human nature: anger, fear and bigotry.

Turn on your TV or computer, pick up a paper or magazine and you can see and hear them baying at the moon. Donald Trump is just the most outrageous and bigmouthed of the frothing wolf pack of deniers and truth benders. As our friend and colleague Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch writes, “There’s nothing, no matter how jingoistic or xenophobic, extreme or warlike that can’t be expressed in public and with pride by a Republican presidential candidate.”

Like the pronouncement of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, ignorance is strength, whether it’s casting paranoid fantasies about thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering 9/11, or warning about terrorists in refugees’ ragged clothing and Mexican rapists slithering across the border.

Just four-and-a-half years ago, Washington mainstays Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein shocked the inside-the-Beltway establishment (especially the press, with its silent pact to speak no evil of wrongdoers lest they deny you an interview) when they published their book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks. The two esteemed political scientists wrote, “The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier – ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

In the years since, an ugly situation has only gotten increasingly dire, with right-wing radicals whipped into a frenzy by a Republican establishment that thought it could use their rage, only to find it running amok and beyond their control. In a recent interview with Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg View, Norman Ornstein said, “The future still looks pretty grim.” And Thomas Mann noted, “The burden is on the GOP because they are currently the major source of our political dysfunction. No happy talk about bipartisanship can obscure that reality. Unless other voices and movements arise within the Republican Party to changes its character and course, our dysfunctional politics will continue.”

The fever is pandemic not only among the party’s presidential candidates but throughout the House and Senate right down to our state governments. Witness erstwhile GOP presidential candidate and current Wisconsin governor Scott Walker cutting off food stamps for the hungry and possibly bankrupting food pantries in his state just in time for Christmas – because many of those on the lowest rung of the ladder haven’t yet found a job.

And here’s multimillionaire Bruce Rauner winning the governorship of Illinois after spending some $65 million — half of which came from himself and nine other individuals, families or the companies they control. Now he’s calling once again on his wealthy friends and allies around the country who, The New York Times reports, “are rallying behind Mr. Rauner’s agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state’s pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions”– even though a majority of ordinary citizens in Illinois are opposed.

Meanwhile, with just a few weeks until they adjourn for the holidays, Republicans in the US Congress will try to cram in as much pettiness and vituperation as they can before they head back to their states and districts, no doubt to lead the home front in the fight against “the war on Christmas” launched this time every year by the Republicans’ propaganda arm (Fox News) and its shock troops on talk radio.

Congressional Republicans have vowed to free Wall Street from oversight and accountability and to prevent children fleeing the Syrian inferno from coming ashore on US soil. And yes, they will once again be in full throat against gun control (despite the latest tragedy in San Bernardino, California). They’re on constant attack against the science of climate change, with the latest salvo two House bills passed December 1 that undermine Environmental Protection Agency rules (the president will veto them). And believe it or not, once again they’ll try to scuttle Obamacare, as in Kentucky where the self-financed, wealthy Republican governor-elect has vowed to cut loose hundreds of thousands of people from health insurance.

Take a look at some of their other plans, including the riders congressional Republicans are contemplating for inclusion in the omnibus spending bill that must be passed by December 11. The whole mess is a Bad Santa’s list of loopholes benefiting High Finance, tax cuts for the rich, and budget cuts for everyone else, even as they drive the nation deeper into debt and disrepair.

All of these sad examples are but symptoms of a deeper disease – the corruption and debasement of society, government and politics. It is a disease that eats away at the root and heart of what democracy is all about. Remember the opening phrase of the Preamble to the Constitution committing “We, the People” to the most remarkable compact of self-government ever – for the good of all? The Republicans are shredding that vision as they make a bonfire of the hopes that inspired it and, in the process, reduce the United States to a third-rate, sorry excuse for a nation.

Why? For an analogy and an answer we have to go back to the slave-holding Democrats of the 1840s and 50s who were prepared to destroy the Union if necessary to protect and expand the brutal system of human slavery on which their economy and way of life were built. The extremism and polarization engendered made it impossible for politics peacefully to resolve the moral dilemma facing our country. If the Republicans – and the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln — had not championed and fought to preserve the Union and its government, the United States would have been no more.

Now it is the Republicans who are willing to wreck the country to maintain the gross inequality that divides us – inequality which rewards the party leaders and their donors, just as slavery rewarded white supremacists. They would tear the Republic apart, rip to pieces its already fragile social compact, and reap the whirlwind of a failed experiment in self-government.


President Obama to Deliver Address on Terrorism Sunday

Obama Statement on the San Bernardino Shootings

Olivier Douliery—AP


President Obama will deliver a primetime address to the nation Sunday night on the threat of terrorism, the White House said, following last week’s killing of 14 Americans in San Bernardino and the recent attacks in Paris.

According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Obama will speak at 8 p.m. Eastern time Sunday “about the steps our government is taking to fulfill his highest priority: keeping the American people safe.”

The address from the Oval Office is a particularly rare move for Obama, highlighting his administration’s efforts to portray itself as seriously engaged on the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria after the attacks.

Earnest said in a statement Obama would update the country on the investigation into the California attack, which the administration has now branded an act of terror.

“The President will also discuss the broader threat of terrorism, including the nature of the threat, how it has evolved, and how we will defeat it,” Earnest said. “He will reiterate his firm conviction that ISIL will be destroyed and that the United States must draw upon our values – our unwavering commitment to justice, equality and freedom – to prevail over terrorist groups that use violence to advance a destructive ideology.”

In recent months, Obama has come under fire from Republicans and even some Democrats for his struggles to explain the nature of the ISIS threat and the U.S. effort to combat the extremist group. That campaign is being waged in two parts: the on-the-ground and air campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and on cyberspace and the streets of Western cities as ISIS-inspired radicalism spreads. A series of ill-times statements minimizing the group’s threat have only added to Obama’s problems.

In a press conference in Turkey following the Paris attacks, Obama frustratedly lashed out at partisan critics, maintaining that his strategy against the terrorist group is sound. But Republicans have called for an escalation to the air war, while some have called for the deployment of hundreds or thousands of American troops on the ground to fight the group. Meanwhile, intelligence agencies have struggled to spot cases of homegrown extremism as ISIS has embraced more sophisticated methods of securing its communications.

In the days between the Paris and California attacks, Obama and aides had repeatedly stated there was no credible and specific threat to the homeland—an indication of how the San Bernardino attackers planned their assault out of view of U.S. law enforcement.

Obama has only twice previously addressed the nation live from the Oval Office, to discuss the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and later that year to mark the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq. Five years later, about 3,500 American troops have returned to Iraq to advise and assist local forces against ISIS.

Zeke J Miller

14 Groups Getting Koch Brothers Dark Money To Turn America Into A Right-Wing Playground


The billionaire Koch brothers – industrialists Charles and David from Koch Industries – like to say they aren’t involved in “politics” much. But like everything surrounding the right-wing brothers, that’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.

While the Kochs don’t necessarily directly involve themselves in the nitty gritty of electoral politics all the time through direct donations to candidates and parties, they keep themselves in the loop by funding a variety of pressure groups, advocacy organizations and non-profits that push a right wing ideology on a constant basis. These groups don’t wait for election years to be active, and are in the trenches at a micro-local level promoting a spectrum of causes that often happen to fatten the pockets of the brothers.

One such vehicle used by the Kochs is the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(6) trade association (the Kochs also operate Freedom Partners Action Fund, which directly injects money in political races). In 2014 this group took in $126 million, spent about $41 million on overhead and poured the remaining cash on outside groups. Here they are:

  1. NRA Institute for Legislative Action ($4.9 million) – the lobbying arm of the pro-gun NRA who fights to attack any and all legislation aimed at curbing gun violence
  2. Americans for Prosperity ($22 million) – the biggest Koch group, they organize rallies, run ads against Democrats, truck in conservatives to bully members of Congress at town halls at other events
  3. Chamber of Commerce ($2 million) – the lobbying arm of big business, they have often targeted Democrats for not being as eager to appease business demands as the GOP
  4. Generation Opportunity ($14.2 million) – this is the Koch arm designed to attract young voters. They’ve produced ads and campaigns misinforming voters about the Affordable Care Act, attempting to get them to “opt out” of coverage. In one ad they showed Uncle Sam administering a gynecological exam to a young woman.
  5. Americans for Tax Reform ($100,000) – Republican mega-operative Grover Norquist’s pressure group that forces Republican candidates to sign a pledge promising not to raise taxes under any circumstance
  6. Heritage Action for America ($150,0000 – A right wing pressure group, part of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, which attempts to force right-wing legislation through congress
  7. Concerned Veterans for America ($12.7 million) – with this group the Kochs attempt to hide their right-wing economic policies under the guise of “veteran’s issues”
  8. Center for Shared Services ($5.7 million) – the Kochs use this group as a recruiter and administrative support team for the other organizations in their dark money network
  9. Evangchr4 Trust ($5.7 million)- this group is used to disseminate Koch-friendly data through church-based spokespeople, specifically through pastor outreach
  10. American Energy Alliance ($2.4 million) – this is an outpost of the energy industry, used to attack clean energy initiatives and to smear climate change research
  11. Citizenlink ($1 million) – the political nonprofit division of the virulently anti-gay Focus on the Family
  12. Susan B. Anthony Group ($225,000) – an anti-abortion group
  13. Trees of Liberty ($400,000) – a PAC that attacked Democrats and boosted Republicans in races like the Iowa Senate race that elected Sen. Joni Ernst
  14. IACE Action ($95,000) and Colorado Women’s Alliance ($50,000) – groups that attacked Democratic Senator Mark Udall, helping to lead to his defeat in 2014


FYI: Presidential debate schedule, 2015-2016


The first Democratic presidential debate of this campaign season is on Tuesday, October 13 — just days away. So far, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee are expected to appear.

The next Republican debate, though, isn’t until Wednesday, October 28. Bookmark this page, which we’ll keep updating, to keep track of when the candidates will square off on stage.

GOP field no Walker
The 15 remaining Republican presidential candidates. (Getty)

The first and second GOP debates took place on August 6 in Cleveland, and September 16 in Simi Valley. Check out our recaps of what happened (firstsecond) or read the full transcripts (firstsecond) for yourself.

The next Republican debate, the third, will take place on October 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colorado, and will air on CNBC. Candidates have to average 3 percent in select polls released between September 17 and October 21 to qualify for the primetime segment, and must hit one percent in at least one of these polls to qualify for the earlier segment.

Next, there will be one debate in each month leading up to the Iowa caucuses (tentatively scheduled for February 1, 2016).

  • The fourth debate will take place sometime in November and somewhere in Wisconsin, and will be aired on the Fox Business network.
  • The fifth will be on December 15, 2015, in Las Vegas, and aired on CNN.
  • The sixth will be sometime in January, in Iowa, and aired on Fox News.

After caucus and primary voting begin, the pace of debates will pick up, with three debates taking place in February, and at least two more expected afterward.

Democratic presidential debate schedule

Democratic debate 2007
A Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia on October 30, 2007. (Virginia Sherwood/NBC NewsWire)

The Democratic National Committee has announced plans for six debates, and has scheduled four with specific dates so far. They are:

  • October 13, 2015: Las Vegas, Nevada, hosted by CNN.
  • November 14, 2015: Des Moines, Iowa. Hosted by CBS, KCCI, and the Des Moines Register.
  • December 19, 2015: Manchester, New Hampshire. Hosted by ABC and WMUR.
  • January 17, 2016: Charleston, South Carolina. Hosted by NBC and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute.
  • February 11, 2016: Somewhere in Wisconsin. Hosted by PBS.
  • March 9, 2016: Miami, Florida. Hosted by Univision and the Washington Post.

The Democratic Party is under pressure from activists to add more debates, since the GOP is hosting far more. But so far, the DNC appears unmoved.

General election debate schedule

These are still a very long way off, but the Commission on Presidential Debates has already announced the dates and planned locations for its fall 2016 general election debates.

  • September 26, 2016: First presidential debate in Dayton, Ohio, at Wright State University
  • October 4, 2016: Vice presidential debate in Farmville, Virginia at Longwood University
  • October 9, 2016: Second presidential debate in St. Louis, Missouri, at Washington University in St. Louis
  • October 19, 2016: Third presidential debate in Las Vegas at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

And election day 2016 is Tuesday, November 8.

Paul Ryan doesn’t want to be speaker of the House. Republicans should elect him anyway.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks during a press conference at the Union League Club of Chicago August 21, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois | Getty Images


House Republicans need someone capable of leading them out of the carnage of the bloody civil war between the Tea Party–fueled revolutionaries and an establishment seen as too willing to compromise on conservative principles in the name of governing.

The answer is clear: Paul Ryan should be the next speaker of the House.

This isn’t some counterintuitive opinion, by the way. Exiting House Speaker Boehner hasasked Ryan to run. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who shocked Republicans by withdrawing from the speaker’s race Thursday, says Ryan is his first choice for the job.

The only person who doesn’t want Ryan to run is, well, Ryan. He said immediately after McCarthy dropped out that he wouldn’t run for the job, reiterating the position he took when Boehner first announced his resignation last month. So, rank-and-file Republicans started trying to draft him Thursday afternoon. Ryan’s spokesman, Brendan Buck, said“nothing has changed” Thursday night on Twitter, but pressure is mounting anyway. As well it should.

The Wisconsin Republican is the only person in the GOP Conference who excels at the four most important functions of a speaker: building a coalition within the party; translating the party’s vision into an agenda; articulating that message in the media, and negotiating deals with the other side.

If Ryan won’t stand for speaker, Republicans should vote for him on the floor anyway. His reluctance to seek it is all the more reason he would be acceptable to conservative base Republicans who don’t trust power-seeking establishment types.

Ryan may be the party’s only hope to break free of the cannibalistic cycle that forced Boehner to decide to quit and then ruined McCarthy’s claim on the speaker’s gavel.

Ryan wrote the “road map” for the House Republican majority

To understand Ryan’s place within the Republican conference, you have to go back to the Tea Party revolution election of 2010. Ryan had released a “road map” for America’s future that year that would have rewritten the tax code and slashed entitlement spending. Republicans were warned that it would cost them the midterm election; instead, they swept to victory.

That’s not to say Ryan’s view of the world won them the House. But they captured control with his plan for reshaping American government cleanly and clearly laid out on the table for opposition researchers, reporters, think tankers, and voters to pick through and criticize.

He was, at that moment, a folk hero for the incoming class of House Republicans. Ryan was well-regarded enough among conservative insiders that Mitt Romney made him the party’s vice presidential pick in 2012. There have been bumps along the way for Ryan, whose budgets never perfectly pleased the slash-and-burn-minded extremists in the House Republican conference, but there’s no question he has more credibility with the party’s conservative “Freedom Caucus” than anyone else capable of attracting establishment support.

While Ryan has assiduously avoided running for elected party posts in the House, he’s been an integral part of the GOP leadership team since Republicans took the House in 2011. First, he was the chairman in charge of writing budgets, a post from which he negotiated for spending and tax cuts with Senate Democrats and the White House. More recently, he moved over to the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, which gives him authority over not just tax reform efforts but also Social Security and Medicare. All the while, he’s worked with Republican leaders to keep the government running and sate the Tea Party wing.

Ultimately, both sides see him as a smart, principled conservative who can be trusted to pursue tax and entitlement cuts because he bears the scars of actually making the argument for the Republican agenda and putting it into action. Boehner often turned to him to sell unpopular decisions to raise the debt ceiling or fund the government, and Ryan took on the task even though it came at the price of some of his street cred with the burn-it-down caucus. He’s an adult.

It’s one thing to believe in the agenda; it’s another to go out and sell it

Few members of the House ever become household names, but Ryan is as well-known as any of them among Americans with an interest in politics. He ran on a national ticket, appears on the Sunday television talk shows, and has been willing to articulate his vision for the Republican Party’s future to almost anyone who will listen.

Boehner was a tremendous inside player who staved off insurrection for the past five years by outwitting his foes within the Republican Conference. He’s likable and presentable on television, but the golf-obsessed, cigarette-smoking House speaker is a throwback to another era of House leaders who plied their trade only in the backrooms. The lesson lawmakers learned after Newt Gingrich resigned in 1998 is that a speaker could become too much of an outside player — and too interested in elevating his own profile — to keep the faith of the lawmakers who elected him. A television-era speaker could be a distraction or, at worst, an albatross for his members.

Three straight speakers — Denny Hastert, Nancy Pelosi, and Boehner — have emerged from the ward-heeler school of politics. They were masters of the inside game but uncomfortable with the outside game. And in another age, that would have been fine.

But today, there’s too much scrutiny of Congress. A speaker has to be able to sell the agenda to party activists while making it palatable to a broader audience.

McCarthy illustrated that point with a major miscue in an interview with Fox News last week: He tied the House Benghazi Committee’s investigation to Hillary Clinton’s sagging poll numbers — essentially acknowledging the partisan political nature of the probe. It was a crisply wrapped gift for Clinton, and McCarthy cited the moment as harmful to his bid for the speakership.

Ryan’s too masterful to make that kind of a mistake. He sells well, and the Republicans in Congress badly need a salesman to communicate the message that they’ve actually been winning on spending and tax policy.

Ryan’s a conservative, but Democrats are willing to work with him

President Obama’s lament about Boehner has been that he can’t trust what Boehner says not because Boehner doesn’t mean it but because he can’t deliver on his promises. Boehner’s gotten jerked around by his conference so much in debt-limit and budget debates that he’s lost credibility with Senate Democrats and the White House.

“Left to his own devices, I think he would probably cut some kind of a deal. But after a while the president has to be, like, ‘John’s okay, but there has to be a question of competence,’” an Obama adviser once said of Boehner. “You go through this a hundred times, and yeah, that does have an impact on a relationship.”

Ryan, by contrast, managed the successful negotiation of the 2013 budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat. Their pact capped spending for two fiscal years without raising taxes. It was seen by some conservatives as too much of a capitulation to Democrats, but it passed the House on a 332-94 vote. Democrats may not like Ryan’s ideas, but they believe he can deliver.

Give him anything he wants

If there’s anything that can be confidently said about the spoiled-brat Republican Conference extremists, it’s this: They have no idea what’s best for them. And still, more of them are coming around to the conclusion that Ryan is the right person for the job.

Maybe if Ryan waits long enough, the hardline Freedom Caucus will come to want him to take charge. Maybe he could extract promises from them, reversing the leverage within the Republican Conference. Short of that, it’s understandable why he doesn’t want the job. The Freedom Caucus and like-minded lawmakers have held Republican leaders hostage to their agenda.

Ryan hasn’t framed his reluctance that way. He’s said he wants to stay as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, that he doesn’t want to be a party leader. He’d have to spend time away from his family to raise money to keep a majority that seems intent on self-immolating.

But if House Republicans could find a moment of clarity, they would give in to any demand he makes and elect him speaker. He’s the one who developed their agenda, took the lead in promoting it, and used it as the basis for forcing Democrats to cut taxes and spending. Paul Ryan is the only one with the juice to lead the House Republicans. And if he can’t do it, well, then probably no one can.

The GOP’s Birthright Citizenship Flip-Flop



Republicans are divided on birthright citizenship, one of their party’s greatest achievements.

Birthright citizenship has split the GOP presidential field. Following Donald Trump’s call for an end to birthright citizenship for the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, fellow Republican presidential hopefuls Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson and even longtime immigration reform advocate Lindsey Graham have said they support ending the practice. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have been the most vocally opposed.

This didn’t used to be such a difficult issue for Republicans. After all, it was the GOP that wrote birthright citizenship into America’s constitution. The leaders of the 1866 Republican Party—the Party of Lincoln—were staunch supporters of the idea. Indeed, birthright citizenship was central to the Republican vision for post-Civil War America, and a key dividing line between the supporters of President Andrew Johnson and those of the Republican leadership in Congress.

Birthright citizenship had long been the traditional rule in the United States—one rooted in the English common law and adopted by many colonies and early states. Citizenship was acquired by soil rather than bloodline—subject to a few well-established exceptions, such as for the children of foreign diplomats or invading armies. But various Southern courts in antebellum America chose to diverge from this tradition in certain cases, allowing their states to deny birthright citizenship to those they deemed unworthy, such as African Americans.

This Southern “tradition”—fueled by white supremacy—was reinforced by the opinions of certain pro-slavery Attorneys General and ultimately codified in the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision, authored by Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, himself a former pro-slavery Attorney General under President Andrew Jackson. In Dred Scott, Taney concluded that African Americans could not be U.S. citizens even if they were born free on American soil.

During Reconstruction, one of the Republican Party’s central goals was to overturn Dred Scott and guarantee equal citizenship for everyone born on American soil. President Lincoln signaled this move early in his administration through an 1862 opinion by his Attorney General, Edward Bates. Replying to a request by Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, Bates defended birthright citizenship for African Americans, explaining, “You and I have no better title to the citizenship which we enjoy than ‘the accident of birth.’” After the Civil War, congressional Republicans followed Bates’ (and Lincoln’s) lead.

By late 1865, Lincoln’s promise of a “new birth of freedom” was very much in doubt. Following Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, President Johnson had pardoned thousands of Confederate officials and plantation owners. More troubling, he deferred to the Southern states on how best to rebuild their societies, leaving them free to enact the Black Codes, which sharply limited the civil rights of the newly freed slaves.

With the ex-rebels gaining political strength and an important midterm election looming the following fall, congressional Republicans quickly settled on a potent one-two punch. First, they would pass a civil rights bill that would counter the Black Codes and secure important protections for the newly freed slaves. Second, they would push for a constitutional amendment that would establish constitutional baselines for post-Civil War America. At the center of both of these measures was a key principle—birthright citizenship.

Senator Jacob Howard, a radical Republican from Michigan, was at the center of this political fight. He helped to draft and pass the Thirteenth Amendment, ending slavery. He also served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction and supported the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Most importantly, when Senator William Pitt Fessenden—Chair of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction—fell ill, Howard took over as the chief spokesperson for the Fourteenth Amendment, which was to establish the laws governing citizenship.

In this new role, Howard introduced the measure before a packed Senate gallery on May 23, 1866—a speech that was published on the front pages of various newspapers, including the New York Times and the New York Herald. While Howard explained quite well the “privileges or immunities” of U.S. citizenship that would be protected by the proposed amendment, the draft amendment did not yet define how one became a citizen in the first place. Was it by virtue of birth or blood? A product of national policy or state prerogative? And, what would happen if the Republican Party fell out of power and the supporters of the Old Confederacy took over the federal government?

A week later, Howard rose in the Senate and proposed an answer to these questions—the Citizenship Clause, enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment today as follows: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” This provision echoed similar language in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, approved by Congress a mere two months earlier over President Johnson’s veto.

Through this new clause, Howard sought to overturn Dred Scott and guarantee equal citizenship for everyone born on U.S. soil. Howard conceded that there were small groups that would be excluded, consistent with well-established law, such as the children of foreign diplomats and certain Native American tribes. However, Howard was clear about the core purpose of the new Clause: “to put this question of citizenship and the rights of citizens and freedmen under the civil rights bill beyond the legislative power of . . . gentlemen . . . who would pull the whole system up by the roots and destroy it, and expose the freedmen again to the oppressions of their old masters.”

Fair enough. But what did this new provision mean for the U.S.-born children of resident immigrants—Trump’s main concern? Quite a bit. While the Citizenship Clause was paradigmatically about African Americans, the clause’s text and history confirm that it was about much more than that—namely, equal citizenship for everyone born on U.S. soil, regardless of race, color or parental origin.

Opponents of the Citizenship Clause expressed anxieties about the effects of the clause on the U.S.-born children of unpopular immigrant populations, such as the Chinese out west and the Gypsies in the east, with Senator Edgar Cowan—a conservative Republican from Pennsylvania—using especially unflattering rhetoric to describe the Gypsies as “people who invade [Pennsylvania’s] borders; . . . who pay no taxes; . . . and who do nothing, . . . but . . . settle as trespassers wherever they go.”

In the face of Cowan’s tough rhetoric, supporters of birthright citizenship stood their ground. For instance, Senator John Conness of California—a naturalized citizen from Ireland—replied that he supported citizenship for “the children . . . of Chinese parents” and the “children of all parentage whatever,” born in California. Leading Republicans such as Howard and Senator Lyman Trumbull—a moderate Republican from Illinois and sponsor of the Civil Rights Act of 1866—expressed similar sentiments during the debates over the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment. In the end, Congress approved the Fourteenth Amendment—including the Citizenship Clause—on June 13, 1866. And the Fourteenth Amendment was finally ratified by “We the People” on July 9, 1868.

The Fourteenth Amendment is one of the Republican Party’s greatest achievements. With it, Republicans continued to write Lincoln’s promise of “a new birth of freedom” into our Constitution and lead a Second Founding of our republic. Birthright citizenship was a key part of the Republican program. Before resolving to eliminate it through constitutional amendment (as some propose) or simply read it out of our Constitution (as Donald Trump suggests), it’s worth pausing for a moment to reflect on the important place that this concept has in our nation’s constitutional story.