It's President Bush, Not the Democratic Congress, Dealing in Bad Faith

In today's issue of The Washington Post, Michael Abramowitz takes a look at what he calls the "chilly" relationship between the White House and the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill and seems fairly willing to place blame on one end of the table -- though not the one you'd probably expect. Take a look:

For all the outreach, administration officials find it hard to disguise their frustrations over the new realities on Capitol Hill, sniping at Reid privately for his evolving positions on war funding and complaining about their inability to engage the House leadership in serious discussions on Iraq. After Bush vetoed the war spending bill that called for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the president again invited congressional leaders to the White House, thinking they would begin negotiating a bill that both sides would find acceptable.

But according to several sources familiar with the meeting, Pelosi made it clear that House leaders would not engage in serious negotiations with the White House until after another bill passed and moved to a conference committee with the Senate.

During the conversation, the sources said, Hoyer asked the president whether Bolten spoke for him in negotiations, and Bush answered yes without hesitation, seeming to catch the Democrats by surprise. Bush then asked whether House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) spoke for Pelosi, and received what he and his aides regarded as an ambiguous answer. Bush seemed struck by that.

Within a matter of days -- and with no input from the administration -- House Democratic leaders began drafting a new bill, one the president said last week he would veto. White House officials said they learned details of the new measure from newspapers.

Excuse me for being a little skeptical about the White House's account of how its interactions with the Democratic Congress have been playing out. George W. Bush's track record since even before he was inaugurated as President has been clear: He doesn't care about what Democrats have to say about issues -- and at times he doesn't even care about what Republicans in Congress have to say, either.

On just about any issue -- from Iraq to Guantanamo, the creation of the Homeland Security Department to No Child Left Behind, signing statements to Alberto Gonzales -- President Bush has shown a striking tendency to deal in poor faith, backing away from previous pledges to Democrats and Republicans alike and going his own way regardless of public opinion, precedent or even the Constitution. With such a remarkable track record (which I am truly not doing justice in this post), it's no wonder that Democrats are reluctant to show all of their cards before the game has even begun.

And looking at the issue of Iraq, in particular, there is great reason for the Democrats to remain skeptical about the President's overtures. From the first day the possibility of an American invasion of Iraq was even being discussed, the President was couching the debate in such a way as to use Iraq as a way to bludgeon Democrats into submission in a vast array of areas and, what's more, to defeat even some of his few friends within the Democratic ranks. At almost every turn since then he has tried to do the same thing, even to this day insinuating that Democrats are dealing in poor faith (see the article quoted above) if not using his surrogates to outright call the Democrats traitors.

But even more germane to this story, the President has shown no interest -- no interest whatsoever -- in considering the position of the Democrats on Iraq. When Democratic majorities were elected in both chambers of Congress in no small part because Democratic candidates were advocating for a change of course in Iraq to begin to bring the war to a close, President Bush opted to escalate the war rather than begin to ramp it down. This is no sign of good will or even a willingness to come to the table in good faith.

So regardless of this piece of stenography from The Post that puts much too much faith in the word of the White House instead of taking an honest look at the situation, it's clear that it is the White House, not the Democratic Congress, that is holding up any potential deal over Iraq.

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Will Senate Republicans Filibuster on Iraq?

Way down towards the end of Jonathan Weisman's front page article in The Washington Post on the Iraq bill passed by the House last night, the reporter includes an interesting and fairly surprising nugget: There's a possibility of a Republican filibuster against funds for the Iraq War on the basis of GOP opposition to the benchmarks included by Democrats.

Reid faces two legislative hurdles. First, he must gain Republican support for a placeholder bill, so he can start negotiations with the House. Then he will have to strike a final agreement with Pelosi that can attract enough Senate GOP support to avert a filibuster. [emphasis added]

As best I can remember this is the first time I've heard anyone raise the possibility that the Republicans would filibuster against the Iraq supplemental on the grounds of the benchmarks included in the legislation. After all, they did not mount a filibuster against the previous Iraq funding bill containing a provision mandating the beginning of a withdrawal of American troops even though they had sufficient numbers to do so.

My sense is that Republicans wouldn't filibuster a bill similar to the one passed last night in the House -- but I could be wrong. If the Republicans in the Senate indeed vote to block cloture on such a bill in the hopes of killing it, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his caucus should force the Republicans into actually mounting a filibuster. And I'm not talking about a 24- or 48-hour marathon like the Republicans' undertook last Congress to try to bully the Democrats on judges. If the Republicans believe they have a winning issue blocking funding in an attempt to force the Democrats' into removing benchmarks for accountability then the Democrats should fight back by forcing the Republicans to speak at length -- for a week, for a month, however long until enough GOP Senators peel off of the effort so that the caucus relents and allows a vote on the Democrats' Iraq funding bill.

It's hard for me to envision the Democrats losing such a battle in the arena of public opinion. In fact, there are few things in my mind that could strengthen the Democrats' hand as they try to end the war in Iraq as much as a Republican filibuster. Now I don't think Republicans are stupid enough to do this, but perhaps I shouldn't underestimate their capabilities...

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Cynical GOP Sens Walk Away from Own Immigration Bill

Last year 23 Republican Senators voted in favor of Senate bill 2611, immigration reform legislation that would have begun to deal with the issue of the more than 10 million people unlawfully in this country. While it was far from a perfect bill, it was significantly better than the legislation drawn up in the House, which called for unrealistic and highly unpopular mass deportations.

Fast forward to the current Congress. Despite the fact that the Republicans' nativist language did not save their congressional majorities as some in their ranks expected and that such positions actually hurt the GOP in a number of instances, Republicans in the Senate appear to be drifting even further to the right on immigration -- a position that runs almost completely contrart to current polling. Yet even more interesting than the general rightward shift of Senate Republicans on the issue is the entirely unsubtle move of a number of the chief proponents of S. 2611, as Elana Schor reports for The Hill.

Senators from both parties yesterday rushed to keep the door open for a bipartisan immigration deal, but Republicans are already confronting a choice between blocking the start of debate or taking up a bill many of them reluctantly backed last year.

Taking Republicans even closer to a filibuster, four pivotal GOP members of this year's immigration talks urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to call up a new measure or nothing at all.

"We are united in our resolve to enact comprehensive immigration reform this year and will only support moving forward with legislation that is a product of the ongoing bipartisan discussions," Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) wrote in a letter sent to Reid yesterday.

[...]

[Alabama's Jeff] Sessions implored Republican leaders to act without fear of Democratic attempts to tar the minority as obstructionist for blocking a motion to proceed on immigration. Reid laid the groundwork for that argument yesterday, reminding reporters of the strong GOP support for last year's bill.

"How could they complain about using this as a document?" Reid asked, adding, "It would be a tragedy for the American people if Republicans would block this very important legislation."

The cynicism and opportunism of these Republican Senators -- chief among them McCain, Martinez and Brownback -- is quite remarkable even if it were predictable. Each of the three aforementioned Senators, who are walking away from last year's bill, not only voted for it when it came to the floor but were among the bill's six co-sponsors. For McCain, in particular, this rapid shift (perhaps a flip-flop?) just serves to underscore the fact that he is a man of no political principles who will do near anything to feed his ego and serve his personal ambitions.

This move also carries great potential downsides for the Republicans, who could be on the verge of losing the Hispanic vote for years to come. Hispanic voters, many of whom were repulsed by the GOP's resort to nativist language last cycle, gave Democratic congressional candidates close to 70 percent of their vote, up between 10 and 15 percent from just two years earlier. In the Demember special election in Texas' 23rd congressional district, Democrat Ciro Rodriguez upset Republican incumbent Henry Bonilla in no small part as a result of the support of Hispanic voters.

And it's not just Hispanic voters who could be turned off by GOP antics on immigration reform. As mentioned above, polling quite clearly indicates that the public favors creating an arduous path towards legalization and perhaps even citizenship for those here unlawfully. At the same time, just a very small, however vocal, minority supports mass deportations. So while Republicans in the Senate play games, backing away from their own compromise of just one year ago to placate their extremist base, it's quite clear that both in the short run and the long run they're in for a rude awakening as voters' unhappiness with their shenanigans comes home to roost.

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So Much for the Republicans' September Deadline...

Congressional Republicans have received fairly strong coverage over indications that their currently unwavering support for President Bush's neverending war in Iraq could wane come September should noticeable improvements not be made. But though it's quite apparent to many in the Netroots that this is merely another stall tactic by Republicans to keep the war going in perpetuity, perhaps nothing can make this fact more clear to the American public than reports today that the administration is intent on sending another 35,000 American troops to Iraq in August. Ann Scott Tyson has the details on the front page of The Washington Post.

The Pentagon announced yesterday that 35,000 soldiers in 10 Army combat brigades will begin deploying to Iraq in August, making it possible to sustain the increase of U.S. troops there until at least the end of this year.

U.S. commanders in Iraq are increasingly convinced that heightened troop levels, announced by President Bush in January, will need to last into the spring of 2008. The military has said it would assess in September how well its counterinsurgency strategy, intended to pacify Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, is working.

"The surge needs to go through the beginning of next year for sure," said Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day commander for U.S. military operations in Iraq. The new requirement of up to 15-month tours for active-duty soldiers will allow the troop increase to last until spring, said Odierno, who favors keeping experienced forces in place for now.

"What I am trying to do is to get until April so we can decide whether to keep it going or not," he said in an interview in Baghdad last week. "Are we making progress? If we're not making any progress, we need to change our strategy. If we're making progress, then we need to make a decision on whether we continue to surge." [emphasis added]

The military, it seems from The Post's reporting, seems to be saying two things: They need until September to assess whether or not their Iraq tactics are working but they also need until next April to decide whether or not to continue those tactics. If this is indeed correct, if the military is intent on continuing this current set of tactics for another year regardless of the assessment made this fall, September's reevaluation promised by the military and by Republicans in Congress is effectively meaningless.

Of course there have long been indications that the tactic of escalating the Iraq War reflected an effort to enable President Bush to keep the war going for at least the duration of his term in office. As much was clear when the President laid out this set of tactics at the beginning of the year (see here and here). But this article seems to underscore this situation better than almost anything else and could be effective in undercutting Republican claims that they can or will seriously reconsider their support for the Iraq War in September.

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Congressional Dems May Still Have Work to Do Selling Iraq Position

Taking a look at the lastest Opinion Research Corporation survey commissioned by CNN (.pdf), the results on Iraq are noticeably mixed. Close to two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the Iraq War and a 54 percent majority opposes the President's veto. More than three in five Americans back the position that House Democrats appear to be taking at this juncture -- making continued funding contingent on achieving benchmarks but not setting a firm withdrawal date.

While these numbers augur well for the Democrats as they continue to fight President Bush and his blindly loyal Republican allies in Congress to bring an end to the Iraq War, the results to one of CNN's questions on Iraq is at least somewhat troubling. When asked who is responsible for the fact that American troops have not yet received additional funds, 44 percent say the Democrats in Congress while just 34 percent say President Bush.

Now the results of this question may have been affected by the questions immediately preceding it. Specifically, the fact that the two previous questions asked whether if Republicans and the Democrats "strongly support, only moderately support, or do not support the U.S. troops currently stationed in Iraq" could have primed respondents into blaming the Democrats over the President because of the all-too-often believed contention that Republicans are more supportive of American troops than Democrats.

Nevertheless, it is important not to dismiss the results of this question off hand. Even if priming issues led to slightly skewed results, there remains the possibility that a decent chunk of the electorate is, at least at the moment, predisposed to blame the Democrats for President Bush's veto of the Iraq funding bill. Even if it is plain and clear to me and you that it was the President's move, not that of the Democrats, that delayed money going to the troops, many Americans (and probably not just Republicans, though I haven't seen the cross-tabs from the CNN survey) don't see it that way.

As such, a greater effort should be made to explain to the American people just exactly what is happening inside the Beltway because apparently they are not getting the whole story for whatever reason. The Americans United ad buy excoriating the President for his veto is a good start, but it should only be a start. If, say, the insurance industry is willing to spend $100 million or more to try to block universal healthcare coverage, would it not be worth it to at least spend a decent fraction of that amount on television ads explaining the battle on Capitol Hill and enlisting the support of Americans behind the cause of ending the war?

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