Abu Ivanka and the Democrats’ Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Week
The week began with the Democrats’ Quixotic and inexplicably stupid effort to block the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and went on to heat up the fevered brows of those who think the Russians colluded with the president. It ended with the multitasking President cheering Gorsuch’s confirmation and bombing a Syrian airfield which our military had pinpointed as the takeoff point for the horrible chemical attack on Syrian civilians. Beleaguered Arabs are now calling him Abu Ivanka (Ivanka’s father) and Trump is hinting he expects to name as many as four more new justices to that court
The Supreme Court
Neil Gorsuch is a jurist with an impeccable record for fairness who had just years before been unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the Tenth Circuit. Fifteen years ago Senator Schumer weaponized judicial confirmations by changing the procedure from a straight up and down vote, requiring only a majority for confirmation, into a filibuster blockade to preclude the confirmation of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit Court.
Within two years, Schumer’s tactic would be deployed to torpedo nine more of President George W. Bush’s nominees.
Predictably, the misuse of the filibuster led to an existential threat to the filibuster itself. To confirm President Bush’s embattled judicial nominees, then-Majority Leader Bill Frist threatened the “nuclear option,” that is, changing Senate rules to ban the use of the filibuster in certain instances. A bipartisan group of senators known as the “gang of 14” de-escalated the situation by voting to confirm most of the filibustered nominees, staving off such a fundamental change to Senate procedure.
In politics, as in life, what comes around goes around. In 2009, Democrats regained control of the White House and the Senate, and as Senate Republicans blocked Obama’s judicial and executive-branch nominees, Democrats quickly grew frustrated with the new era of partisan warfare they had begun under Bush. In November 2013, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid detonated a partial version of the nuclear option, eliminating the filibuster for appointments to the executive branch and lower courts, while exempting Supreme Court nominees from the new simple majority-vote standard. [snip]
When Reid invoked the partial-nuclear option, nobody could have known when retribution would come. But anyone who has ever followed McConnell’s career should have understood that it would come eventually. McConnell, whose memoir is fittingly titled “The Long Game,” would wait more than three years before moving to end the judicial war once and for all. [/quote[
This time, the Republicans held firm and -- as Reid said he would do if the Democratic candidate won the presidency, McConnell ended by Senate rule the possibility of using filibusters to prevent the confirmation of Supreme Court justices.
Oh, the gnashing of teeth on the left side of the aisle. But the move is long overdue. Filibusters themselves are of short-term duration and antidemocratic. Professor Kevin Gutzman explains that in a departure from its original practice, it now has nothing to do with debate, “Instead a ‘filibuster’ is just a 41-vote Senate minority’s mechanism for preventing a vote on an issue it wants to prevent the majority from deciding.”
From a theoretical point of view, in the context of a republican government, this kind of situation is intolerable. Not only has the form swallowed the substance, with “filibusters” bedeviling Senate majorities long since unlimited debate was actually the issue, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., seems intent on using this faux filibuster in a context in which it has never been used before: a perfectly partisan attempt to prevent the Senate from voting on a Supreme Court nomination. This would be a minority veto, plain and simple.
Minority veto is contrary to our republican tradition, in which each branch is governed by a majority. [snip]
Yet, although states are represented in the Senate as states rather than according to population, it is majorities thus configured that rule, just as majorities rule in the House and the Electoral College. The Constitution provides that the Senate can make its own rules. The Republican majority can get rid of the filibuster, an artifact of a former Senate age, by majority vote.
Americans commonly complain that their federal government is dysfunctional. The less attentive among us think that all congressmen are equally to blame for Congress’s failure to adopt popular policies.
Abolishing the filibuster would clear up confusion about responsibility for Congress’s policy decisions. the duty to govern would fall upon the majority, as it should.
The Obama Administration’s Surveillance of Its Political Opposition
The weaponization of the NSA’s information gathering likely began long before Donald Trump ran for the presidency. As the Tablet reminded us this week, it evidently occurred as early as 2015 when the Obama administration spied on private conversations between U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups opposed to the “Iran deal”:
“At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism -- activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”
This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. The administration got the drop on its opponents by using classified information, which it then used to draw up its own game plan to block and freeze those on the other side. And -- with the help of certain journalists whose stories (and thus careers) depend on high-level access -- terrorize them. [snip]
In order to spy on U.S. congressmen before the Iran Deal vote, the Obama administration exploited a loophole, which is described in the original Journal article. The U.S. intelligence community is supposed to keep tabs on foreign officials, even those representing allies. Hence, everyone in Washington knows that Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer is under surveillance. But it’s different for his American interlocutors, especially U.S. lawmakers, whose identities are, according to NSA protocol, supposed to be, at the very least, redacted. But the standard for collecting and disseminating “intercepted communications involving U.S. lawmakers” is much less strict if it is swept up through “foreign-foreign” intercepts, for instance between a foreign ambassador and his capital. Washington, i.e. the seat of the American government, is where foreign ambassadors are supposed to meet with American officials. The Obama administration turned an ancient diplomatic convention inside out -- foreign ambassadors were so dangerous that meeting them signaled betrayal of your own country. [snip]
The administration then fed this information to members of the press, who were happy to relay thinly veiled anti-Semitic conceits by accusing deal opponents of dual loyalty and being in the pay of foreign interests. [snip]
To make its case for the Iran Deal, the Obama administration redefined America’s pro-Israel community as agents of Israel. They did something similar with Trump and the Russians -- whereby every Russian with money was defined as an agent of the state. Where the Israeli ambassador once was poison, now the Russian ambassador is the kiss of death -- a phone call with him led to Flynn’s departure from the White House and a meeting with him landed Attorney General Jeff Sessions in hot water.
In any event, Susan Rice and Farkas’ disclosures on “unmasking” and leaking add fuel to this speculation of widespread years-long abuse of the intelligence agencies’ capability to spy on us for partisan purposes. Obama’s former national security advisor Susan Rice admitted what she had previously denied, that she had in fact “unmasked” the identities of persons gathered by NSA, reports which on his way out Obama had widely distributed. This week we learned from those who viewed these reports that they were detailed and contained personal information about their lives that had nothing whatsoever to do with national intelligence.
This, needless to say, is par for the course for Obama, who owes his rise to the unmasking of salacious details in two of his opponents’ sealed divorce records.
As former CIA station chief Scott Uehlinger charged, Obama turned the intelligence community into “a tool of political destruction”:
Like some binary poisonous reagent, these dynamics combined to foster an environment ripe for political abuse and leakage -- a fairly transparent attempt, from the point of view of any discerning intelligence officer. This weaponization of intelligence for the sake of discrediting the political opposition I have seen in Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Moldova and elsewhere -- sadly, it is now on our shores.
The present culture of the intelligence community and the shameless political shenanigans of the Obama administration combined to create this disaster. In earlier times, such a gambit would have failed; CIA leadership famously stood up to the Nixon administration when asked to domestically spy on Justice during Watergate, for example. It seems that today we lack the character and the competence to ensure that the intelligence community honors the trust of the American people.
The President, according to reports, now insists on getting raw intelligence reports, not those massaged at the top, perhaps reflecting his understanding of how corrupted these agencies have become.
As the President was entertaining China’s Xi and his wife at Mar-a-Lago, the U.S. struck the airbase in Syria where our military surveillance had observed the planes that dropped chemical toxins -- apparently sarin -- on civilians. While we’ve grown skeptical of news reports from Arab lands, given the use of local stringers and biased or cowed reporters in that region and the slant of editors of outfits like Reuters, these accounts seem to have been well documented and the President‘s response was proportionate and limited. The Russians were warned to remove their personnel from the base ahead of time, and destruction was confined to aircraft and hangars, not civilians. It was a message reflecting serious purpose and might, not the start of a war. At the conclusion of the meeting, Xi offered to help coordinate efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear efforts, among other things. In Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, cheers went up. In some parts of the Arab world, the president was dubbed Abu Ivanka (Ivanka’s father) a measure of respect. (Ironically it appears that the seemingly inexplicable act by Assad was due to his belief in the press’s unsubstantiated charges of Putin-Trump collusion which lead him to believe these two were joining forces to oust him.)
CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin was obviously flabbergasted when a Syrian refugee praised President Trump and slammed Hillary for her hypocritical cheap shot at the President when she said it was ironic that he would not admit as refugees the children whose deaths he said inspired the bombing:
Worse for Susan Rice and John F. Kerry’s reputations, they had previously assured us in 2014 -- either because of dishonesty or naiveté -- that Obama’s “lead from behind” (red line no red line) do-nothing policies had brilliantly resulted in removing all Assad’s chemical weapons.
The press which had for so long been peddling the Trump-is-in-collusion-with-Putin, (a story so preposterous that lefties like Stephen F. Cohen and Noam Chomsky both ridiculed it) turned on a dime and suggested this was going to lead to war with Russia.
In the words of Richard Fernandez:
The strike on Syria kicked over a whole anthill of self-deception. The Washington Times noted that "Syria produced a 'ridiculously huge amount' of deadly sarin gas," according to an internal Defense Department memo. "That stockpile, which Obama aides declared was reduced to zero by summer 2014, is back in the news." David Nakamura of the Washington Post tweeted H.R. McMaster's assurance that the Navy's missiles very carefully avoided the tanks of sarin gas to avoid collateral damage. This could only be possible if the US knew the location of all the poison the previous administration had already destroyed. In belated acknowledgement of what must now be obvious the "fact-checking website PolitiFact on Wednesday retracted a 2014 article that found it 'Mostly True' the Obama administration helped broker a deal that successfully removed '100 percent' of chemical weapons from Syria." [snip]
Cross off "stooge of Russia". Pencil in "worry about war with Russia". Remove "unwilling to oppose Assad". Insert "may start a new Vietnam". Erase "nuclear Senate option", paste in Neil Gorsuch confirmed by Senate as US Supreme Court justice.
The President’s detractors are riding the loop-the-loop this week. Isn’t it fun to watch?