Intramural Republican Deliberations on Gun Control

The Story:

There is some sentiment within the Republican Party for supporting certain new gun control measures, even at the expense of alienating important interest groups such as the National Rifle Association.

Making the Case: 

Senator Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, is one of the Republicans making the case for a change in course on this issue. Toomey believes that background checks should be extended to all commercial sales of guns, including those that occur online or at gun shows, an extention the NRA has long successfully opposed.

Toomey has spoken to President Donald Trump on background checks, and he says Trump has displayed “a very constructive willingness to engage on this issue.” Nonetheless, Trump has avoided any unequivocal commitment, and he retains close ties to the NRA.

The Thing to Know: 

It is still the dominant view of the Republican caucus that any willingness to compromise on this issue will unleash a process that Republicans could not control. Senator Ted Cruz (R – Tx), speaking recently at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, suggested that any compromise could demoralize conservatives, help energize the opposition’s base, and even “go a long way to electing a President Elizabeth Warren.”

Foreign Policy Tweet War WIthin the GOP

Liz Cheney on her hopes for the 116th Congress

The Story:

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wy) and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky), two very prominent Republicans with decided opinions about foreign policy, have been using their twitter accounts to air in public their differences on America’s place in the broader world.

The Difference  Between Them:

Senator Paul’s tweets aimed at Cheney, and at her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, have included this: “Hi @Liz_Cheney,  President @realDonald Trump hears all your NeverTrump warmongering…I’m just grateful for a President who, unlike you, supports stopping these endless wars.”

Some within the Trump coalition believe that the Trump slogan “America First” suggests an America that withdraws from entangling alliances and from military commitments overseas.  Rand speaks for that sentiment. Others, though, plainly believe that “America First” refers to an America that is involved with and leads allies in the fight against terrorism and against the nation-states that offer safe havens to terrorists. Cheney speaks for them.

The Thing to Know: 

Some of Rep. Cheney’s responses to Paul’s jibes have referenced the fact that Paul ran for the Republican nomination for President in 2016 and had to drop out early. Cheney tweets, “I know the 2016 race was painful for you….No surprise since your motto seems to be ‘Terrorists First, America Second.'”

Top Ten Democratic Candidates Debate

Joe Biden finally enters 2020 presidential race

The Story:

On Thursday, September 12, the leading ten candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States met on a stage at a historically black college in Houston, Texas for a third round of DNC sponsored debate. There were a lot of illuminating moments, but the debate as a whole doesn’t seem to have had any clear winner.

Observations:

Each candidate has offered a plan for how to expand access to health care for uninsured or underinsured Americans. Some candidates believe that it is enough to work on the margins of the existing Obamacare system, while saving that system itself from Republican attack. Others want to go much further and, among them, Warren and Sanders stand out, as advocates of a ‘single payer’ system. Some of the sharpest exchanges of the night, including a brief shouting match between former Vice President Biden and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, arose in the health-care policy context.

Much of the debate, too, turned on issues of criminal justice. Biden made a clear and simply worded statement in this context, “Nobody should be in jail for a non-violent crime.”

The Thing to Know:

Biden, Senator Warren, and Senator Sanders went into this debate as the “top tier” of candidates for the nomination. They left the debate stage with that status unchanged.

Gillibrand Abandons the Presidential Race

The Story:

Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior Senator from New York, last week abandoned her campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States. She never scored as high as 2% in the national polls, but she is perhaps the most high profile figure to withdraw from the race thus far, given New York’s importance as a media center and the prominent part Gillibrand has played in pressing both for “Medicare for All” and, in 2017, for the resignation of Senator Al Franken (D – MN).

Not Her Time: 

In a video announcing her decision to withdraw, Gillibrand said: “It’s important to know when it’s not your time and to know how to best serve your community and country. ” She said that the best service she can now provide is working to defeat President Trump in 2020, and that requires a unified Democratic Party.

The Thing to Know:

Clearly a winnowing of the Democratic field is underway, driven in part by the desperate need for money for 21st century national campaigns, and the finite nature of the resources available even to wealthiest of donors.  It appears that Gillibrand in particular bowed out when her funds ran dry. As one consultant reportedly said, “She could never get enough oxygen.”

The US Senate and an Unexpected Retirement

Official Senate photo of Johnny Isakson

The Story:

Senator Johnny Isakson (R – Ga), who has represented Georgia in the US Senate since January 2005, announced last week that due to bad health he is retiring, effective December 31, 2019. This means that the Governor of Georgia will appoint an interim Senator, and that the seat will be the subject of an election next November. Had Isakson remained in office, he would not have had to stand for reelection until 2022.

Background:

Isakson has a voting record of 84.25, according to the American Conservative Union. The highest possible rating — available only if one votes as the ACU thinks right on every issue, is 100.

Isakson won each of his three elections for Senator by sizeable margins. The most impressive of these was his election to a second term in 2010, when he received 58.31% of the votes cast. His Democratic opponent received only 39%, with another 2.69% going to a Libertarian candidate that year.

The Thing to Know:

The other Georgia Senate seat, that currently held by Senator David Perdue (R), is also up for grabs next year. Perdue is expected to run for reelection. But this sets up the very rare situation in which both of a state’s Senate seats are filled at one time. The national Democratic Party is happy at the extra opportunity to chip away at the Republican’s majority in that chamber.

 

Antitrust and Big Tech

The Story:

The prominence of a handful of Big Tech firms — especially Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google — has become a pressing political issue. Conservative and pro-Trump Republicans believe that Big Tech is too liberal and plots against them. But it also has enemies among the progressives of the Sanders/Warren wing of the Democratic Party, as it represents to them the 21st century face of Capital.

Background:

As her catchphrase has it: Senator Elizabeth Warren in particular “has a plan for that.” She proposes to break up each of the four companies named above, saying that they have both stifled innovation and hurt small business. She is invoking laws and precedents from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when large business concentrations were popularly known as “trusts” and their political foes as trust busters.

The Thing to Know:

There are reasons to be skeptical that any such remedy will have the desired effects, or that it won’t have quite negative side effects. The first President Roosevelt did break up Standard Oil into parts, but over the following century the oil industry continued to be a great, even a growing, force in US politics, due to market realities that a change in organizational charts could not amend. [And most of Standard Oil eventually put itself back together under the name ExxonMobil.]

A Global-Warming Themed Campaign Doused

Gov. Jay Inslee: President Donald Trump Does Not Intend To Reunite Families | All In | MSNBC

The Story:

Jay Inslee, the Governor of Washington State who on March 1 declared himself a (long-shot) candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States, has given up on that campaign and will instead seek a third term as Governor next year.

Background:

Inslee, more than any other candidate in the race, had sought to identify himself with the issue of global warming and with the proper federal/regulatory response to such warming. He also sought to persuade the Democratic National Committee to devote one of the candidates’ debates specifically to that issue. He was unsuccessful in this.

Inslee’s passion about the issue of global warming was fueled by a trip he took last year to view some of the devastation caused by recent wildfires in California.

The Thing to Know:

Other candidates are attempting to pick up the global-warming banner as their own. Senator Bernie Sanders, in particular, recently announced the details of his own plan to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in the United States by 2050. Sanders proposes federal spending to this end that would have a staggering price tag: $1.6 trillion a year for ten years.

Who is Joe Walsh?

Joe Walsh explains how he was pranked by Sasha Baron Cohen

The Story:

Joe Walsh, a former US Congressman from Illinois, now a radio talk show host, is running for the Republican nomination for President, against incumbent Donald Trump. On ABC’s news-talk program Sunday morning, Walsh said, “Somebody needs to step up and there needs to be an alternative. The country is sick of this guy’s tantrum.”

The Background:

Throughout the Trump presidency, there has been an anti-Trump faction within the Republican Party, which sometimes uses the moniker “NeverTrump.” Yet whether that faction is going to be in a position to mount a credible challenge to President Trump’s renomination is an open question.

Whether, even if NeverTrump sentiment is sufficient for such a challenge, Walsh is the best available vessel for it, is another open question.

Walsh supported Trump in 2016. He seems to have been disenchanted, though, by the President’s chumminess with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the notorious joint press conference the two men held in Helsinki in July 2018.

The Thing to Know:

George Conway, the husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, supports Walsh’s effort. “I think Walsh’s plan to attack Trump for his dishonesty, amorality, instability, and incompetence is absolutely the right approach, and I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Conway said in a statement.

Abrams Neither Running for POTUS Nor Sitting it Out

The Story:

In 2018 Stacey Abrams ran for Governor of Georgia, and very nearly won (losing to Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee, by only 50,000 votes.) Since then, Abrams — a black woman and a former tax attorney — has been celebrated by her fellow Democrats on the national stage, and often touted as a plausible candidate for the Presidency. Last week, Abrams responded to speculation on that score.

She Will Not Run for POTUS:

Abrams blames her narrow loss on voter suppression efforts, in which Kemp was involved as Georgia’s former secretary of state. After the election, she created an organization (Fair Fight Action) to press for stronger protection of voter rights in the state.

Last week, Abrams said that she is expanding this organization, and the efforts it represents. She is going to go national as a leader in pushback against voter suppression. As part of her commitment to that goal, she says that she will not run for President. Nor is she ready to endorse any of the candidates for that office.

The Thing to Know:

It does not follow that Abrams will not be on the Democratic Party’s national ticket in 2020. For she has also said that she would “be honored to be considered by any nominee” as a potential vice presidential candidate.

 

Feenstra Opposing King in Iowa Primary

The Story:

Randy Feenstra, a Republican state senator in Iowa, may well prove the beneficiary of outrage generated by the Republican representative for the 4th Congressional District in that state, Steve King.

Background: 

Rep. King is serving his ninth term in the US House of Representatives. He has made outrageous statements before. In January of this year, he said that he didn’t understand why the terms “white nationalist” and “white supremacy” have such negative connotations. The Republican leadership in the House responded by removing him from all his committee posts.

The latest furor concerns statements about rape and incest. King believes (as do many conservatives) that constitutional protection for abortions should be withdrawn, and that state legislatures should criminalize the procedure. At a recent political gathering he was discussing the common opinion that even should the procedure itself be re-criminalized, there should be exceptions for pregnancies generated by rape or incest.

He said, “What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled out anyone who was a product of rape or incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?” He seemed to be trying to make an argument that since anyone might be a product of rape or incest through some number of great grandparentage, it is wrong to abort on such a basis.

The Thing to Know:

Feenstra, also a conservative and a Republican, is challenging King’s renomination to his Congressional seat, hoping to defeat him in a primary next June. King’s latest remarks are shaping up as an early gift to Feenstra’s campaign.