CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday criticized Congress for voting to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that would let families of 9/11 victims sue Saudi Arabia, calling them “misguided.”
“I find it hard to believe that they are supporting this override when I think many of them understand what the impact is going to be on U.S. national security issues,” Brennan said during the Aspen Ideas Festival in Washington.
His remarks came just hours after the Senate voted to override Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) and shortly before the House followed suit.
Brennan called the legislation “badly misguided,” noting that the 9/11 Commission report found no evidence linking the Saudi government to the terrorist attacks.
Other countries, Brennan argued, would be compelled to enact similar laws that would harm U.S. interests abroad.
“Foreign governments are going to start to pass similar types of legislation that is going to haul the United States into court overseas even for the most frivolous charges and allegations,” he said.
Brennan also said that the Saudis are now “among our best counterterrorism partners around the world” and that the legislation could cause them to pull their investments out of the U.S. for fear that they would be vulnerable to lawsuits under the law.
The CIA director said he had made a visit to Capitol Hill earlier in the day. He released a statementjust before the vote Wednesday, acknowledging the emotional baggage that the issue carried.
“The events of that September day will stay with us forever,” Brennan said in the statement. “I can only imagine the lasting anguish that the families of the victims must feel, and I sympathize with their devoted efforts to find justice,” he said in a statement.
“However, I believe that the ‘Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act’ (JASTA) will have grave implications for the national security of the United States. The most damaging consequence would be for those US Government officials who dutifully work overseas on behalf of our country.”
Here’s the bottom line. The Tea Party Republicans and their Big Business and Wall Street allies plan to grab what they want while ordinary people sleep through this election.
They want ordinary Americans to stay home on Election Day.
To them, high voter turnout is like daylight to a burglar — or for that matter to a vampire. It stops them cold.
The corporate CEO’s and Wall Street bankers together with Tea Party extremists control the Republican Party. They see this traditionally low-turnout mid-term election as the perfect opportunity to take over the United States Senate, Governors’ mansions and State Houses with politicians who represent their interests.
They don’t want Senators from Iowa, Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alaska, South Dakota or Michigan. They want Senators from the Koch Brothers and their corporate and Wall Street allies — Senators who actually represent them and will do whatever they are told.
They want to know that when the chips are down they can count on government officials to continue rigging the economic game so they can continue to siphon off all of the economic growth for wealthiest one percent of the population.
That’s why, at the beginning of this cycle, the Koch Brothers’ network vowed to invest $300 million to smear Democratic candidates for office. That’s why Wall Street has redirected most of its giving to the GOP. And that’s why Republicans have spent the last two years passing laws to suppress voter turnout — especially among African Americans and Hispanic voters.
In order to continue taking our money, they need to take our votes. Where they can, they’ve passed “voter ID” laws that disenfranchise hundred of thousands — and impose what amounts to a poll tax — allegedly to stop the non-existent problem of voter identity fraud. Where they can, they’ve curtailed early voting periods and access to mail ballots.
In Georgia, the Republican Secretary of State has gone so far as to refuse to process 40,000 new voter registrations.
The smaller the turnout, the better for the plutocrats who want to continue to have unfettered access to virtually all of the economic growth generated by the American economy — just as they have for the last 30 years.
The fact is that over the last three decades our Gross Domestic Product per person has gone up by 80 percent. That means we all should be 80 percent better off than 30 years ago. But instead, wages have stagnated for most Americans because the rules of the game have allowed the CEO’s and Wall Street speculators to take all of that growth in income for themselves. They want to keep it that way.
But that requires that ordinary people stay away from the polls, because when most Americans vote, the electorate represents the whole population of the United States. And the fact is that most Americans support a progressive program that would change all of that.
Bottom line: they want to steal your family’s security while you sleep through the election.
There’s only one problem with this strategy: you don’t have to go along. Ordinary Americans can stop them by going to the polls.
It’s really up to us.
If you don’t have an ID, get one.
If they don’t have enough voting machines, camp there. Stand in line as long as it takes.
In 2012, thousands of people stood in line for hours – even after Barack Obama was declared the winner for President – because they were unwilling to allow the Republicans to steal their votes. If necessary, join them and do the same.
Don’t let them steal your vote.
Of course, in many places they can’t try these kind of overt voter intimidation tactics. Instead, they try to lull ordinary people to sleep by trying to convince us that the elections don’t matter anyway.
Tea Party extremists masquerade as moderates. Politicians who owe everything to rich plutocrats parade around in old cars and workshirts to look like they understand the “common man.”
They come out with mushy position papers on issues that are overwhelmingly popular — like raising the minimum wage. But they never mention that if you elect enough Republicans for them to control the House or Senate, the leadership in those bodies will simply refuse to call a minimum wage bill for a vote — just like John Boehner did this year.
Want to pass immigration reform? Then get out and vote against Republicans, who blocked an up or down vote in the House on comprehensive immigration reform — a bill that would have passed the House if the Republican leadership had simply called the bill to the floor.
Want to restore long-term unemployment compensation benefits? A bill passed the Senate that would have been signed by the president, but the House Republican leadership refused to call it for a vote.
Want to cut the cost of student loans? The Republican leadership in the House refused to take up the very popular measure sponsored in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren. If Mitch McConnell becomes Senate Majority Leader, the Senate won’t call it for a vote either.
Want to stop cuts in Social Security and Medicare? The House Republicans passed a budget that would end the Medicare guarantee and replace it with vouchers for private insurance that would raise out-of-pocket costs for retirees by thousands of dollars.
Want tax policies that shift the burden from ordinary working people to the one percent that has received all of the benefits of our growing economy? It won’t come from Republicans — ever.
In fact, elections matter enormously to the economic well-being of every American. And no one’s vote counts more than yours — unless you don’t vote. Because if you don’t vote, everyone’s vote counts more than yours. In political terms, if you don’t vote, you don’t count. And we know that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.
If nothing else will convince you to vote, think about this. If millions of ordinary middle and working class Americans sit this election out and let the Koch Brothers of the world have their way, can’t you just imagine how they will yuck it up over drinks in their exclusive private clubs, or onboard their private jets?
They have no respect for working people — or the value of hard work. Many of them disdain ordinary working people. To them, it will just confirm their view that ordinary people can be sold a bill of goods if they just spend enough money and repeat enough lies.
In the end we will prove them dead wrong. The moral arc of the universe does in fact bend toward justice. But don’t give them the satisfaction — even for a few fleeting months at the end of 2014 — to think that their money can buy our democracy and there is nothing we are willing to do about it.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) would rather drown himself in the Potomac River than join the ranks of the U.S. Senate.
“I would rather die than be in the United States Senate,” Christie said Saturday during a speech to the New Jersey state NAACP. “Okay? I would be bored to death. Could you imagine me banging around that chamber with 99 other people, asking for a motion on the amendment in the subcommittee? Forget it.”
“It would be over, everybody,” he added. “You’d watch me just walk out and walk right into the Potomac River and drown. That would be it.”
His remarks on the Senate drew laughs from the audience.
Christie, who is mulling a 2016 presidential bid, said that his legacy in New Jersey would be defined by what he accomplishes by the end of his final term as governor — not by the next election.
“Believe me, by the way, when I say ‘I’m never running for public office in New Jersey again,'” Christie said. “I mean I’ll never run for public office in New Jersey again.”
Below are the full reactions of senators, lightly edited for clarity:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
“That’s a good question. We were not attacked, uh, to the extent that we were on 9/11.
“We showed a level of dysfunction that has seldom been reached. Maybe the only other time was before the union dissolved. The good things are that it could have been worse. The final story on 2013 for me is it could have been worse.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
“What good happened? A lot of the things Obama wanted to get done didn’t get done, like he wanted to avoid sequestration, which would have put one and two-tenths trillion [dollars] back into spending.
“That’s very positive. We got 17.2 trillion in debt, and you don’t want to add another one trillion and two-tenths to it.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)
“Well, the government isn’t completely closed, is it? What good happened this year? I only have three years left, that’s what happened that’s good.”
(Why was it so bad?) “That’s all about leadership. If you have good leadership, you have good progress. If you don’t, you don’t. And that’s not a partisan statement — that’s both sides.”
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
“Oh, man. That’s the toughest question I’ve had all year.
“It is surprisingly hard. This is the most frustrating year of any of my years in the Congress — House or Senate — because so few major issues went addressed, starting with the fiscal situation, and then bumping along through all the crises and so forth. What good happened this year? The best thing that happened this year is that we finally got word late last night [Dec. 19] that we’re going to be done. I think we all believe that it can’t get worse than this year, so maybe next year will be better.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)
“That’s a really, uh … you know, look, from my perspective, not a great deal. I mean our foreign policy, our credibility around the world is continuing to shatter. Look at Syria. I can’t think of a lot of good, I really cannot. I have to tell you, this year in many ways for me has been one of the most productive. But as I leave here and look at just overall what’s actually happened, it’s not been a good year for the United States, so it’s hard for me to think of much. I’m sorry. I’m usually very upbeat and optimistic. I’m sorry.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), walking with Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.)
Rubio: “What good happened this year? Well, I’ll get back to you.”
Casey: “We got a budget bill!”
Rubio, yelling as elevator doors close: “We’re still America — that’s what’s good!”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
“We finally got a semblance of a budget. We had the student loans — try to get some stability to that, lower interest rates. And we were able to drive both sides further apart. I don’t know if that’s good, but that’s what happened. That’s facts.
“With [Republican Sen.] Susan Collins, we were able to put a bipartisan group together. We got the governors caucus started, which is really bipartisan, so we’ve got to see if we can carry that and hopefully get a little better direction to get things accomplished. It’s gonna happen if you have relationships, so you have to work on that.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)
“We elevated the stories of survivors of sexual assault to make it a national debate and make sure victims’ voices are heard. It was one of my highest priorities.
“I have lots of personal successes, but those are all for [sons] Theo and Henry. I think that’s it.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), walking with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)
Whitehouse: “We cleared the filibuster away from nominees …”
Wicker: “We were not attacked by foreign governments.”
Whitehouse: “The economy continued to improve.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
“There are a lot of good things. You know, we’re all blessed. This country’s blessed. We’re still standing. There’s a lot of things where people said the sky is falling, but it hasn’t fell.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)
“What good happened this year? [Chuckle, pause, asks if that means with his family or the Senate.] A good report from the president’s review committee on the NSA.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)
“Give Lizzie, my press secretary, a call, and we can set something up.”
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)
“My son did great in soccer and cross country. When you said good, I immediately thought of home, not Washington, D.C.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
“You know I think, uh, I’m having trouble trying to come up with something good. I think it’s good that we have exposed the surveillance of Americans without a warrant, and we’re going to try to do something about it. It seems like there’s some consensus in that direction.”
[It’s pointed out that his example is actually rather negative.] “I tried to turn it into a positive. You know, really, we abandoned the sequester caps, and really, I go home disappointed with the year.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
“I think that the budget thing was good. I think that will avert another shutdown. I can’t think of a hell of a lot of things besides that, to be honest with you. The observers say it’s the least productive Congress in history, and I don’t disagree with that. We did some good stuff on that defense bill. Did some good stuff on that. I’m digging for the pony here.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
Murphy: “The Red Sox won the World Series.”
Booker: “That’s painful. That’s bad!”
Murphy: “Cory Booker got elected to the United States Senate.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
“What good? [Chuckle] Well, you really threw me for a loop. Oh, God. We did pass some bills — the WRDA [Water Resources Development Act] bill. There’s a whole series of bills that people worked on — the compounding [pharmacies] bill — they worked pretty hard on. These are bills that did not make the front page or even the first five pages, but they’ve made a big impact to the folks that really care about them. In fact, I even have a list of eight or nine of them, but they really haven’t attracted any attention. On those bills — they were bipartisan — we worked hard, mostly on the HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] Committee.
“You know, everybody talks, ‘Where’s the farm bill? Why didn’t we get all of the high-profile stuff?’ — and then turning the Senate into the House, which is a bad thing, and our response. Everybody focuses on that. But I think there’s a reservoir of commitment here, on tax reform, on the tax extender package, and other things that really count. Foreign policy is a big one. I just think you have to understand that there are two very different opinions and philosophies here on the part of Republicans and Democrats, but we can occasionally build a bridge. And we’ll keep doing it in spite of 2014, which happens to be an even-numbered year, and you know what happens then.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
“What good happened this year? Well, I think a lot of Senate relationships were strained by what happened late in the year, but I think they’re going to survive. In the Senate, those relationships and friendships matter because you only have 99 colleagues. And, uh, uh, most of the good things that happened for me were with my family and friends, and while people had their challenges generally, this was a good year for my family and for most of the people I know.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)
“I had a lot of good experiences with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, in getting amendments, working together on amendments and bills, and getting them passed by the Senate. I think the Senate took on a lot of tough issues. If you look at what the Senate passed, it was a number of big issues, from budget to immigration, and gun control was up, and I think the list goes on and on.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)
“I think we’re getting close on the farm bill. Obviously passing a budget. I think ENDA [Employment Non-Discrimination Act] was a good outcome, immigration reform. I think as we focus on all the negative, there were some pretty amazing things. I don’t think anyone felt we were going to do comprehensive immigration reform. ENDA had been hanging around for a long time. And I think the budget, as I understand, is the first time since 1986 that a divided Congress has produced a budget. I tend to look at the good side of things. There was plenty bad, though.”
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)
“We passed a budget for the first time in four years. … That’s not a bad thing. We got a defense authorization. A lot of appointments done. The economy, I think the economy, we saw the report yesterday — 4.1 percent GDP — better than people expected. Economy’s better, retail sales are up, consumer confidence is up, and deficit is down. That’s good news.”
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine)
“Number one, getting the first budget in four years. And I don’t know if you were aware, but I just learned this is the first budget out of a divided Congress, with the House [under a] different [party], since 1986. I think that’s significant. It wasn’t the most picturesque process in the world, but it was done though bipartisan negotiation. That’s a big deal. That’s a very big deal. Getting the defense bill done, I feel positive. We had some good bipartisan work on immigration. We had some good bipartisan work on student loans. So there were some bright spots. Not a very productive year — I’m not going to argue that.
“I think this whole business with the rules, we need to have some continued discussions. It’s trying to find the right balance between respecting minority rights and not facilitating obstruction.”
[He’s asked whether he’s still glad he ran for the Senate last year.] “Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. You’re dealing with public policy at the highest level, and for a person like myself who’s curious, likes public policy and likes to try to fix things, it’s a great place to be. I’ve had some very frustrating moments. The shutdown, the vote on [gun] background checks was a downer, but by and large, I feel pretty good.”
Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.)
“I think a number of things. We’re right on the verge of getting the farm bill done, we’re piecing that together. We got the WRDA [Water Resources Development Act] bill done. So really a lot of things have gotten done when you take away the budget issues. That’s really where we, you know, where we have a problem agreeing — in the amount of money we’re going to spend in the future and increase taxes, increase revenue to get those dollars. That’s really where the concern is at.
“I’d like to have seen a lot more things voted on. I don’t have any problems at all casting votes. I think the amendment process needs to be fixed, [so] members can offer amendments. That’s how you avoid what happened with the military pay issue that we’ve got, how things like that are allowed to go forward. That doesn’t happen if everybody’s consulted.”
There are a lot of problems in Washington, D.C these days, but not many solutions to them. Inefficiency, an allergy to cooperation, and stiff resistance to pragmatism have all ground the federal government to a stand-still. But one op-ed contributor to the Wall Street Journal knows what the real problem is: not enough rich, white men.
In Saturday’s paper and online, author Joseph Epstein mourns the collapse of what he describes as the “genuine ruling class, drawn from what came to be known as the WASP establishment,” (WASP, the commonly-held acronym for White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Instead, he argues, we are living in a meritocracy, governed not by an elite subset of the uppermost crust of society but rather by a group of people who overcame some kind of adversity and achieved success thanks to their own merits, not based on what family they were born into. This, according to Epstein, is a tragedy.
Epstein’s embrace of white privilege (or is it power?) is almost too transparent, resembling something closer to satire than to outright racism. And yet he gives no reason to believe that he isn’t completely serious when he argues that modern day “corruption, scandal and incompetence” are hallmarks exclusive to this new era of non-white rule. Or when he memorializes the virtues of keeping those not born into the “WASPocracy” away from the halls of power. Or when he faults the leadership of the country’s top colleges for its role in ending white rule by “lessening the number of legacies automatically admitted, and using racial preferences to encourage the enrollment of blacks.”
Instead, Epstein argues, we should return to an era of WASP rule. Why? Because rich, white men born into rich, white christian families would never lead the country astray:
A financier I know who grew up under the WASP standard not long ago told me that he thought that the subprime real estate collapse and the continuing hedge-fund scandals have been brought on directly by men and women who are little more than “greedy pigs” (his words) without a shred of character or concern for their clients or country. Naturally, he added, they all have master’s degrees from the putatively best business schools in the nation.
Thus far in their history, meritocrats, those earnest good students, appear to be about little more than getting on, getting ahead and (above all) getting their own. The WASP leadership, for all that may be said in criticism of it, was better than that.
Epstein’s contempt for minorities — namely, that they don’t belong anywhere near positions of authority — isn’t reserved simply for race. Back in the 1970s, Epstein penned a story for Harper’s Magazine in which he expressed his desire to “wish homosexuality off the face of this earth.” He added, of his four sons, “nothing they could ever do would make me sadder than if any of them were to become homosexual.” Those comments led to sit-ins and protests outside of Harper’s offices, and Epstein has never apologized (and in fact dismissed his critics, some 30 years later, as simply incapable of understanding his own “textured thought”).
Perhaps that explains why Epstein reserves so little space (50 of his 2200+ word essay) to the shortcomings of WASP rule: he simply doesn’t care that many of the leaders from his idyllic “WASPocracy” looked the other way on issues of racism, homophobia, poverty and inequality when they were in power.
And while the U.S. Senate — historically the wealthier and less diverse of the two chambers — may not be sufficiently white for Epstein’s liking (only 95 percent of U.S. Senators are caucasian), they still do a very good job of tending to the needs of their fellow rich people instead of the needs of middle class and low-income families.
As Dick Cheney’s daughters fight over marriage equality, has this cynical family lost its refined ruthlessness?
You’d have expected more from a Cheney political operation. This family has run quite a few cynical campaigns before and enjoys winning; there’s no time to get caught up in any feelings crap. This is because they are an evil family.
When Liz Cheney, perhaps the most cynical of them all, decided to run for Wyoming’s Senate race, you’d have thought there’d be a family meeting beforehand that went like this.
Liz: Mary, I am going to denounce your same-sex marriage, to win a Republican primary.
Mary: Of course you are, Sister. That is the only way to win a Republican primary in Wyoming, where you brilliantly are pretending to live. I would consider you weak if you didn’t.
Dick: The Cheney family must not be weak.
Lynne: Destroy everything, we must.
Liz: Mwah! War!
[Whole family guzzles deer blood from flaming goblets.]
But now a totally unexpected thing and fun has emerged: Mary Cheney is publicly offended by her sister taking a stand against marriage equality.
The relationship “has deteriorated so much that the two sisters have not spoken since the summer,” the New York Times writes, ”and the quarrel threatens to get in the way of something former Vice President Dick Cheney desperately wants — a United States Senate seat for Liz.”
On Fox News Sunday yesterday, Liz Cheney described same-sex marriage as “just an area where [Mary and I] disagree.” Rather than just sitting there and taking it, as even a Cheney family in-law would be expected to, Mary’s wife, Heather Poe, wrote this up on her Facebook page:
I was watching my sister-in-law on Fox News Sunday (yes Liz, in fifteen states and the District of Columbia you are my sister-in-law) and was very disappointed to hear her say “I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage.”
Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 – she didn’t hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us.
To have her now say she doesn’t support our right to marry is offensive to say the least
I can’t help but wonder how Liz would feel if as she moved from state to state, she discovered that her family was protected in one but not the other.
I always thought freedom meant freedom for EVERYONE.
Late in the evening on September 30, 2013, the House Rules Committee Republicans changed the Rules of the House so that the ONLY Member allowed to call up the Senate’s clean CR for a vote was Majority Leader Eric Cantor or his designee — all but guaranteeing the government would shut down a few hours later and would stay shut down.
Previously, any Member would have had the right to bring the CR up for a vote. Democracy has been suspended in the House of Representatives.
Senator Ted Cruz raised more than a few eyebrows when he said the U.S. Senate could use “a hundred more like Jesse Helms” because Helms was known for harboring some pretty racist views. Rachel Maddow took the opportunity to remind viewers of those views to show exactly how crazy Cruz’s comments really were.
Maddow briefly went through the history of African-Americans serving in the U.S. Senate, and recounted the story of how black senator Carol Moseley-Braun was taunted by Helms once in a Senate elevator when he was singing “Dixie,” just to try and make her cry. Maddow continued showing viewers exactly just how much Helms exploited racial division in his political career, even to the point where he opposed integration.
Which then led, of course, to Maddow showing the clip of Ted Cruz.
Maddow could barely contain how unbelievably stunned and just a little pissed off she was at Cruz suggesting that the Senate could use a hundred more people like a man who was whistling Dixie just to make his black colleague cry.
How much do Louisiana Republicans dislike President Obama? Many of them blame him for the government’s tragic response to Hurricane Katrina — which struck the state more [than] three years before Obama took office.
The latest survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, provided exclusively to TPM, showed an eye-popping divide among Republicans in the Bayou State when it comes to accountability for the government’s post-Katrina blunders.
Twenty-eight percent said they think former President George W. Bush, who was in office at the time, was more responsible for the poor federal response while 29 percent said Obama, who was still a freshman U.S. Senator when the storm battered the Gulf Coast in 2005, was more responsible. Nearly half of Louisiana Republicans — 44 percent — said they aren’t sure who to blame.
I realize that 2005 was a while ago, and among Republicans there’s some disagreement about the efficacy of George W. Bush’s handling of the crisis, but the PPP results really don’t make any sense.
So what explains this? There are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, it’s possible that after several years in which the political world described all sorts of different developments as “Obama’s Katrina,” a lot of folks may have gotten confused and started to connect the words “Obama” and “Katrina” in a mistaken way.
Second, let’s not underestimate the scope of reflexive GOP opposition to the president, in Louisiana and elsewhere, and the way in which that leads Republican to blame Obama for just about anything. More Louisiana Republicans blame Obama than Bush for the response to Katrina, which obviously don’t make sense, but I imagine if PPP asked, a non-trivial number of Louisiana Republicans would also blame the president for 9/11, Watergate, the Hindenburg disaster, the 1919 White Sox, and the U.S. Civil War.
In other words, Louisiana Republicans may say they blame Obama for the response to Katrina, but what they’re really saying is they just hate the president and blame him reflexively for everything.