President Obama surprised many Americans on Friday when he said at a news conference that, in the wake of September 11, 2001, "We tortured some folks, we did some things that were contrary to our values."More politics and policy below the fold.
Obama was discussing the CIA's admission that it had snooped on Senate aid computers, which he connected to the US national security community's overreaches after September 11. His comment took many by surprise because he used the T-word — torture — to describe Bush administration practices that for years were described with softened phrases like "enhanced interrogation methods." By using such a clear, charged word, and one that has real legal implications, Obama seemed to have done something very significant.
Except that this is nothing new for Obama. In April 2009, just a few months into his presidency, he rebuked former Vice President Dick Cheney's defenses of waterboarding and other Bush interrogation methods by stating outright, "I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationals were used, it was a mistake."
In November 2011, waterboarding came up during the Republican presidential primary, with candidates endorsing the Bush-era practice and competing over who could appear tougher on the issue. Again, Obama did not equivocate on calling it torture.
"They're wrong. Waterboarding is torture," he said at the time. "Anybody who has actually read about and understands the practice of waterboarding would say that that is torture. And that's not something we do -- period."
People were surprised because they've forgotten about this. And they've forgotten about it for two reasons.
Obamacare’s latest legal challenge won’t be adjudicated by people writing on the internet. But people writing on the internet will be damned if they don’t try.Jonathan Bernstein:
Over the past few weeks, thousands of words have been written on Halbig v. Burwell, the Obamacare lawsuit that argues subsidies are illegal on the 36 federally-run insurance exchanges. Most of those words have been people talking past each other, about what the law's drafters did (or didn't) intend, and how that might matter for a potential Supreme Court.
As someone who takes this lawsuit seriously and has followed it closely for more than two years, there are some things that I think are just getting lost in the media blitzkrieg — and are worth getting right here.
I hope you won't mind if I point out that this month’s Kaiser health-care survey confirms pretty much what I’ve been saying would happen?Robert Costa:
Obamacare remains unpopular: Or at least, it polls badly. Kaiser has disapproval spiking to 53 percent in July, up 8 points from June. I’d be shocked if the increase is anything but noise: there hasn’t been enough about health care in the news to suggest any kind of serious change in people’s views. But it’s also clear that those who believed that implementation would make the Affordable Care Act popular were dead wrong. And there’s no reason to expect it to be popular in the foreseeable future.
Obamacare also remains politically safe: Along with the pluralities (or, last month, a majority) of people who are unhappy with the ACA, there continue to be solid majorities of people who want it improved, not repealed. As Greg Sargent is fond of noting, only Republicans -- indeed, only conservative Republicans -- are for repeal. Everyone else says they would prefer keeping and improving the law. That’s only the beginning of it. For one thing, a flat-out repeal is impossible at this point, given how much has changed since the spring of 2010. The oft-repeated, but never delivered, “replace” part of the Republicans' repeal-and-replace promise -- which is still the party's official position -- would be absolutely necessary, and is no closer to reality. Bashing is easy; building a replacement system is hard. And the polling also understates the other political problem with repeal, which is that more than 10 million people would be bounced from their current health insurance. That creates a group of intense opposition to repeal, which matters a lot to politicians.
By the way, Conn Carroll points out that a new "Conservative Policy Agenda" from Heritage Action doesn’t use the word “repeal.” Meanwhile, the new House majority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, published a Washington Post op-ed that contains his agenda, which almost completely ignores health care. The attack ads aren’t going away, but repeal is dead.
For more than an hour, the 13 House members complained, often bitterly, about Boehner’s bill, several attendees said. The speaker, with his $659 million measure that would fund federal agencies and bolster security along the U.S.-Mexico border, was ignoring the real issue, they said.Robert Costa:
The problem, they said, was President Obama’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, the product of a 2012 executive order that granted temporary relief for some children of illegal immigrants. They wanted it gone, gutted, and they were furious that Boehner wouldn’t touch it.
The Thursday collapse of the border security plan offer by the House Republican leadership was a triumph for conservatives in the House GOP caucus, who see it as a high point in their troubled relationship with House Speaker John A. Boehner and his more centrist leadership team.TPM:
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), one of those conservatives, described the retreat by Boehner (Ohio) as one of the highlights of her career, because the leadership was forced to mostly capitulate to the conservative demands.
“Leadership knew they couldn’t pass their bill,” Bachmann said, and as a result were forced to agree to revisions offered by tea party members, led by Steve King (R-Iowa).
“We sat down in that room last night, HC 8, in the Capitol, and it went as smooth as silk. Steve laid it out and in less than two hours we worked it out,” Bachmann said. “It was really a painless process. But it was the first time that I’ve seen leadership recognize, with respect and admiration, the work that Steve King did. Steve helped to completely gut this bill.”
Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) raved about the bills and took credit for persuading Republican leaders to bring them up after an ill-fated attempt on Thursday to passed less far-reaching versions of the same proposals. The anti-Dreamer legislation was offered by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-MN) and mirrors a plan pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).NY Times:
"Mr. President, stop violating the Constitution," declared King, saying Obama has acted like a "king" and not a president.
The vote marks the third time in the 113th Congress that House Republicans have passed legislation that would, effectively, require the deportation of so-called Dreamers. They are the only immigration-related bills that have been allowed votes in the full House in 2013 or 2014.
"This, in all honesty and candor, is one of the most mean-spirited and anti-immigrant pieces of legislation I've seen in all of my years in the Congress," said Rep. John Conyers (MI), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
It was a remarkable move for the GOP after national party leaders warned after the 2012 election that it would have to broaden its appeal to Hispanics in order to prevent its constituency from shrinking. It is also a startling defeat for Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) efforts to persuade his members to embrace immigration reform after Obama's reelection. Instead House Republicans have decided to play to their immigration-weary conservative base, which fiercely opposes any form leniency for people in the U.S. illegally.
The New York City medical examiner announced on Friday that a Staten Island man died from a chokehold and the compression of his chest by police officers as they arrested him last month for peddling untaxed cigarettes.Helen Branswell with more on Ebola:
An autopsy found that the manner of death for Eric Garner, 32, was homicide, the medical examiner said in a statement. While the report found that Mr. Garner’s poor health was a contributing factor, it was not the primary cause of his death.
The encounter prompted Police Commissioner William J. Bratton to call for a complete review of the Police Department’s training and tactics. It has also presented Mayor Bill de Blasio with a difficult challenge as he tries to balance his support of the police with his campaign promises to reform what he had characterized as over aggressive tactics.
The fact that there is no cure sets up an ugly dynamic between the people who catch the disease and the teams of volunteer medical professionals who try to contain Ebola outbreaks. (See "Why Deadly Ebola Virus Is Likely to Hit the U.S. But Not Spread.")Steve Benen on Lois Lerner emails:
People who fear they may be infected are often reluctant to be tested; the disease carries huge stigma and is seen as a death sentence. Those who test positive may refuse to go to isolation centers for care, knowing full well the trip home may be in a sealed body bag.
The inability to visit the sick or conduct traditional burial rites for the dead—measures put in place to protect the uninfected—gives rise to fast-spreading rumors that have plagued containment efforts. (See "Ebola's Deadly Spread in Africa Driven by Public Health Failures, Cultural Beliefs.").
But this “new information” just doesn’t tell us much of anything we didn’t already know. It may not be polite to send a private message to a spouse calling conservative talk-radio listeners “a**holes,” but that’s hardly the sort of thing federal prosecutors should get excited about.
It’s certainly possible that with enough digging, GOP lawmakers will uncover something more serious – though after a year of relentless investigation, it appears the well is dry – but if this is supposed to be proof of criminal wrongdoing, Republicans are pushing their luck.