The Nation

NJ Dems, Backed by Unions, Mount Challenge to Christie’s Pension Cuts

Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie answers a question during a campaign event in Manville, New Jersey, Monday, May 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

To mark New Jersey’s 350th anniversary, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce is polling state residents about what they believe has been the state’s greatest achievement. Among the choices: such things as the invention of the light bulb and the phonograph, new antibiotics, solar panels, condensed soup and salt water taffy. But if the Democratic leaders in the state legislature continue to hold firm in their opposition to Governor Chris Christie’s raid of the state pension fund to balance New Jersey’s budget then the state’s greatest accomplishment may turn out to be the Democrats determination to protect a decent set of benefits for the middle class.

And if they do continue to fight against Christie’s wrecking-ball attack on the benefits of state workers, it would cripple Christie’s argument that he should be the 2016 GOP standard-bearer because he knows how to work across the aisle to enact harsh budget cuts.

Yesterday the state senate president, Stephen Sweeney, said the Senate would not go along with Christie’s pension grab. Instead, Sweeney and the Senate majority leader, Loretta Weinberg, unveiled a tax plan alternative. They proposed higher taxes on people earning more than $500,000, a one-year suspension of several business tax breaks and grants, and the imposition of a surcharge on corporate taxes, raising nearly $1.6 billion for fiscal 2015. In announcing the plan, Sweeney said it would maintain the pension payments promised, keep state borrowing costs down by keeping up the state’s credit rating and maintain the other key services that the state provides:

Also a matter of fairness is that this plan will make the full pension contribution that the governor promised. We must keep that promise. Staying true to the promised payments is also a matter of financial integrity. Abandoning the promise will cost more in higher interest rates and lower credit ratings. This plan is not only a matter of fairness and responsibility with pension payments, it is really about the full range of government services and opportunities, including such things as property tax relief, college affordability, public schools, law enforcement, transportation and many more priority needs. We have to maintain the state’s commitment to all New Jersey residents by meeting all of our commitments.

It was Sweeney, a protégé of political boss George Norcross, the businessman power broker who controls Democratic politics in South Jersey, who was instrumental in initially helping Christie ram a harsh state employee pension deal through the legislature in 2011, cutting benefits, increasing employee payments and raising the retirement age. In exchange for this, state funding for the pension fund was to be dramatically increased to improve its long-term solvency. But in May Christie ripped up the agreement when tax revenues fell short of estimates, forcing him to come up with money to balance the budget this year.

Now Sweeney wants to run for governor when Christie leaves and he knows he can’t do that without union and state employee backing. As Christie Watch has reported, about a dozen unions, including the New Jersey Education Association and the Communications Workers of America, along with those representing police, firefighters and other public sector workers, filed suit to stop Christie’s pension scheme. A larger coalition, including community, environmental and other activist groups, has been demonstrating and lobbying against Christie’s actions.

The Sweeney-Weinberg plan was applauded by these unions, who have called for similar tax increases.

As the Newark Star-Ledger reported:

Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, said, “the only winners in Chris Christie’s economy are millionaires and Wall Street CEOs. The Senate President is presenting a plan that puts the middle class first, and forces the wealthy that have benefited so much under this governor to pay their fair share,” Wowkanech said.

But Christie, again attacking “out of control pension and benefit costs,” reiterated his refusal to raise taxes, calculating that it would doom his chances of getting the GOP presidential nod in 2016:

“The governor has been emphatic that he will not raise taxes on already overburdened New Jersey taxpayers suffering from one of the harshest tax structures of any state in the country,” said a Christie spokesman, Kevin Roberts, responding to Sweeney’s announcement today.

A state judge will hear the union lawsuit on June 25. Yesterday the board of the largest state pension plan, the Public Employees’ Retirement System, representing over 400,000 active and retired workers, also voted to sue the governor on the pension issue.

More than 10,000 public workers had sent letters to the pension board urging it to take action. The head of the board, Thomas Bruno, a retiree and former official of the Communications Workers of America, said the board had a fiduciary duty to demand the pension payment. But three board members, representing Christie and the state treasurer, recused themselves.

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Yesterday too the state attorney general filed a court brief in answer to the union lawsuits. It argued that while the 2011 pension reform legislation provided a contractual right to the pension payments, the contract is with the legislature, not the executive branch. And, Christie’s lawyers argued, the decision to stop the pension payment is justified because the state budget crisis is unprecedented and the governor has a legal charge to balance the budget.

Sweeney’s tax plan could speed through the Senate next week, in time for the court hearing on the lawsuit against Christie’s plan June 25. But even if it passes the Assembly in time to be a key part of the budget for next fiscal year, Christie is likely to veto it, as he has done several times with the “millionaires tax.” But legislative leaders are talking about placing it before voters as a ballot initiative.

It may not be possible because of legal technicalities to have the measure go to voters until 2015. Which is the same year that Christie, if he decides to run for president, will go before the nation’s Republican primary voters.


Read Next: New Jersey unions in revolt against Christie’s attack on pensions

This Is What an Overcrowded Holding Center for Migrant Children Looks Like

Brownsville, TX

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a US Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. (Reuters/Eric Gay/Pool)

Under mounting pressure from lawmakers and immigrant rights groups, Border Patrol officials on Wednesday finally let reporters visit two processing facilities where hundreds of unaccompanied migrant youth are being detained.

Some 900 children are being housed at a former warehouse in Nogales, Arizona, which was recently outfitted to handle an unprecedented surge of mostly Central American child migrants across the US-Mexico border. Another facility in Brownsville, Texas, is holding around 500 children, double its intended capacity. The Los Angeles Times described conditions there as “overcrowded and unsanitary.” CBP is required by law to turn over any migrant children to the Department of Health and Human Services within seventy-two hours of detaining them. Officials at the Nogales and Brownsville facilities told reporters they are struggling to meet this requirement.

Earlier this month, the White House requested $2 billion to handle the surge of migrant youths, which President Obama has declared an “urgent humanitarian situation.” US Customs and Border Protection reports that around 47,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border since October 1, 2013, nearly double the amount of last year. A majority of the migrant children arrived from Central American countries, seeking refuge from rampant violence or hoping to reconnect with family members already in the states.

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CBP officials took reporters on highly controlled tours of the Brownsville and Nogales facilities, in which visitors were prohibited from bringing cellphones and sound recorders, or speaking with any of the children. Only two photographers, one for each facility, were allowed to bring a camera. Here are some of their photos:

Some 900 unaccompanied children are being held at a converted warehouse in Nogales. Border Patrol officials set up the Arizona facility after a similiar processing center in Texas ran out of space. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)

Female detainees sleep in a holding cell. According to The New York Times, children held at the Nogales facility are allowed just forty-five minutes of outdoor time a day. (Reuters/Ross D. Franklin/Pool)

Child detainees are escorted to make phone calls. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Child detainees wait to use a portable restroom, as a World Cup match plays on a suspended television. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)


Read Next: “Will the Death Penalty Return to the US This Week?”

Tell President Obama: No Military Force in Iraq

Iraqi funeral

An Iraqi mourner waves an old flag of Iraq during the funerals of victims killed in clashes with security forces in Falluja, January 26, 2013. (Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani)

As Iraq suffers again from bloody sectarian conflict and potential civil war, many of the same pundits and politicians who supported the US invasion in 2003 are now advocating for military intervention once again. This is the wrong response. As Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote in her column for The Washington Post, “We learned in 2003 that when we move in with guns blazing, we tend to spark a lot more fires than we extinguish. In 2014, we cannot afford to learn this same lesson.”

There have been numerous reports that President Obama is considering military involvement in Iraq. Even if limited to airstrikes, military action would inflame sectarian divisions in the country and that would almost certainly kill civilians.


Join The Nation, RootsAction and Iraq Veterans Against the War in calling on President Obama to refrain from using militarily force in Iraq.


The Editors at The Nation make the case against military intervention.


At Democracy Now!, Iraqi-American blogger Raed Jarrar discussed the history of US intervention in the region and explained how military force would only make the deteriorating situation worse.

Major News Outlet Axes George Will Over Rape Column

George Will

George Will at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). March 6, 2014 (photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, CC 2.0)

Finally, a major newspaper has axed George Will—and apologized—for his truly disgraceful column on how “privileged” and “alleged” rape victims on campus are often the real victimizers. And are so often “delusional.” Why? Because victomhood has supposedly become “a coveted status that confers privileges.”

The column was turned down by the Chicago Tribune, criticized in Congress and led to some groups calling for the Washington Post (his home paper) to drop him.

Now the venerable St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the leading news outlet in that neck of the woods, has decided to free Will. Editors revealed yesterday:

The change has been under consideration for several months, but a column published June 5, in which Mr. Will suggested that sexual assault victims on college campuses enjoy a privileged status, made the decision easier. The column was offensive and inaccurate; we apologize for publishing it.

Now for the bad news: Will will be replaced by the equally disturbing (on other issues) Michael Gerson.

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It’s worth returning to what Will actually wrote.

Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate. And academia’s progressivism has rendered it intellectually defenseless now that progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, has decided it is academia’s turn to be broken to government’s saddle.

Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. “sexual assault.”…

Now the Obama administration is riding to the rescue of “sexual assault” victims. It vows to excavate equities from the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today’s prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults…

UPDATE:   Will continues to defend the column, even some say, doubling down. And it turns out all of the Washington Post editors who okayed it were male.

Note: I will be leaving The Nation after four years next week.  You can continue to follow my posts daily at my long-running blog Pressing Issues.  Thanks.  -- G.M.


Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on why the campus rape crisis confounds colleges.

Will Congress get in the Way of an Iran Deal?

The Iranian flag

Iran is making concessions in nuclear talks. (Blondin Rikard, Creative Commons)

The L.A. Times reported yesterday that the Iranians have made an apparent key concession in nuclear talks. They are willing to accept a phased implementation of the potential comprehensive nuclear accord being negotiated. That is, while the Iranians once said that immediate lifting of all sanctions related to its nuclear program was sine qua non for a nuclear deal, they now recognize that the Obama administration will need to deal in a somewhat piecemeal fashion with lifting sanctions.

The chief cause for the administration's need to be flexible is that many of the sanctions against Iran aren't exactly in its control. Rather, these sanctions are acts of law passed by Congress, and Congress's help will be needed in many instances to irreversibly lift them.

That doesn't mean the administration can do nothing. As Kenneth Katzman, an Iran expert with the Congressional Research Service, recently pointed out, Barack Obama can go a long way toward relieving sanctions by using presidential waivers stating that these measures are in the U.S.'s national security interests. At least one of the sanctions will "sunset"—go off the books automatically—in 2016, and for the rest the administration will have time to go to Congress.

This, at least, is what the Iran scholar Ray Takeyh tells the L.A. Times. The administration will be able to beat back Congress's opposition to a deal by pointing out how important the agreement is and has "probably assured [Iran] that this is the most plausible way of getting congressional assent" for lifting sanctions he said.

I'm not so sure. Most of Congress—both houses, both sides of the aisle—has shown what could very mildly be called a hesitation to go along with any nuclear deal that can be reasonably envisioned as emerging from talks. Recall that after Iran and world powers struck the historic interim agreement in November, a bipartisan clutch of Senators responded by trying to push through new sanctions that would both likely violate terms for the deal and impose untenable conditions on any final accord.

Those Senators failed in their bid to influence (read: kill) talks not because the administration prevailed upon them or because Obama's logic overcame the push, but because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) refused to bring the bill—which had majority support in co-sponsors alone—to the floor.

The case-in-point here is a new letter circulating on the Hill this week for signatures. Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY), the chair and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote the letter in an attempt to ensure the administration's coordination with Congress on lifting sanctions. The demands they make in order to achieve their cooperation are far-reaching:

Your Administration has committed to comprehensively lifting “nuclear-related” sanctions as part of a final P5+1 agreement with Tehran. Yet the concept of an exclusively defined “nuclear-related” sanction on Iran does not exist in U.S. law. Almost all sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program are also related to Tehran’s advancing ballistic missile program, intensifying support for international terrorism, and other unconventional weapons programs. Similarly, many of these sanctions are aimed at preventing Iranian banks involved in proliferation, terrorism, money laundering and other activities from utilizing the U.S. and global financial systems to advance these destructive policies.

Iran's permanent and verifiable termination of all of these activities—not just some—is a prerequisite for permanently lifting most congressionally-mandated sanctions.

The concerns cited are entirely legitimate: terrorism, ballistic missiles, etc. But these issues are far too wide-ranging to tackle in the short period of nuclear talks.

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What's more, some of the concerns—namely, ballistic missiles—are mitigated by a nuclear deal limited in scope to Iran's actual nuclear program. As Greg Thielman of the Arms Control Association wrote recently in a comprehensive brief on missile issues with Iran, "The best way to address Iran's potential to exploit nuclear-capable missiles is to ensure that Iran's nuclear program is sufficiently limited and transparent that missile limits become unnecessary." Others have argued for leaving ballistic missiles out of the current negotiations for these same reasons.

One could reasonably suspect that Royce and Engel's request, especially viewed in light of their shaky past records, is aimed precisely at making the demands on nuclear deal so unwieldy as to render it impossible. That doesn't bode well for Congress's willingness to lighten up if a final deal is struck.


Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on Iran Sanctions.

Fossil Fuel Lobbyists Could Choose the Next House Majority Whip

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Eggborough Power Station emissions, October 2007 (John Giles/PA Wire URN:7165395)

This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

Eric Cantor’s surprise defeat in the Republican primary, and subsequent decision to step down as majority leader, has set off a scramble within his party. The current whip, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), is widely perceived as the next majority leader, while Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL), Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) are rounding up votes to take McCarthy’s place as whip.

Though there are negligible policy differences between the candidates, particularly on energy issues, one candidate is particularly close to the fossil fuel lobby: Steve Scalise, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of likeminded conservative members, who represents an area of the Gulf Coast with a large concentration of offshore oil jobs.

A number of former Scalise staffers are now employed as lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry. Megan Bel, Scalise’s former legislative director, now works for the National Ocean Industries Association, a trade group for offshore oil drilling companies. Stephen Bell, Scalise’s longtime spokesperson, joined the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association—a group that represents largely coal-fire power plants and has lobbied aggressively against the EPA’s new carbon rules—in April.

Scalise has cultivated political support from Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, and Halliburton as part of the Republican Study Committee’s business outreach effort, according to a report in Politico. Notably, a Republican Study Committee outreach meeting with lobbyists occurred in the office of Shockey Scofield Solutions, Koch’s lobbying firm registered to defeat new carbon tax proposals.

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Politico Influence also reports that Scalise counts several lobbyists among his inner circle. Jim McCrery, who held the same Louisiana district seat in Congress before retiring, is close to Scalise and now represents Koch Industries and Hess Corporation, among other clients. Rhod Shaw, another lobbyist reportedly close to Scalise, works at a firm that represents nearly a dozen fossil fuel interests, including BP, the coal-dependent utility company Duke Energy, and Murphy Oil.

Will the fossil fuel lobby leverage its considerable pull within the House GOP to ensure Scalise has enough votes to become House majority whip? The Wall Street Journal reports that McCarthy dropped previous support for wind energy tax credits as he moved to run for majority leader—a move perceived as a bid to build support among oil and coal interest groups.

Leadership elections, which are conducted by a secret ballot, are scheduled for June 19.


Read Next: Would the Tea Party Welcome Jeb Bush? Or Vice Versa?

Three Days After Speaking at a Koch Summit, McConnell Says He’s For the Little Guy

Charles Koch

Charles Koch (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, Mike Burley)

As The Nation reported yesterday, Senator Mitch McConnell was a featured speaker on Sunday at the Koch brothers’ secretive conference for billionaire Republican donors at a swanky California resort. McConnell reportedly held a “strategy discussion” with Koch legal operative Mark Holden on his favorite topic: freeing up unlimited and unchecked campaign contributions and spending from America’s wealthiest donors, which is what the First Amendment intended. According to an attendee, part of that strategy is a goal to raise $500 million for Republicans to take control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms, and $500 million more to take the White House in 2016.

This background, as well as McConnell’s voting record, made his statements on the Senate floor this morning all the more remarkable.

In his speech, McConnell said that despite the “political theater” of Senate Democrats, Republicans are actually the ones out there fighting for the little guy—the underpaid middle class, working moms and college students—and fighting against the “well-off” and “well-connected” interests who attempt to rig the political system in their favor.

Yes, political theater is so, so terrible.

McConnell said that Senate Democrats are trying to hide the fact that Republicans are “quietly assembling a lot of good ideas aimed at helping middle-class Americans deal with the stresses of a modern economy” and “working overtime behind the scenes to make their lives easier or paychecks bigger for working moms and recent college graduates.” Those “quiet” and “behind the scenes” ideas “address the concerns and anxieties of working men and women whose wages have remained stubbornly flat during the Obama years, even as the cost of everything from college tuition to healthcare continues to soar.”

McConnell added that these ideas are consistent with the GOP’s longstanding commitment to their principle of ensuring government has “a shared responsibility for the weak”—an amazing claim that he first trotted out last month, days after his Republican primary victory.

McConnell concluded: “While Democrats have been plotting on ways to hold onto their majority, we’ve been listening to the concerns and anxieties of our constituents and figuring out new, creative ways to address them. It’s long past time we had a real debate in this country, instead of false choice Democrats constantly present to the public between their own failed ideas and some political villain that doesn’t exist.”

This nonexistent “villain” that McConnell alludes to may be his own party, or it may be the figures who Democrats have been trying to tie around the neck of Republicans for many months: Charles and David Koch, the gracious resort hosts of McConnell and billionaire donors last weekend who seek to buy Washington, DC, and turn it into their own deregulated wonderland of plutocracy. And with the strict security at the Koch summit, one might even call such plotting “quiet” and “behind the scenes,” in favor of the “well-off” and “well-connected.” But how dare the Democrats plot about winning Senate elections, right?

McConnell’s concern about stagnant wages and his desire to make “paychecks bigger” for working moms and young people doesn’t need a behind-the-scenes approach, but it might require raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, which McConnell strenuously opposes and his campaign manager called “class warfare.” Some of those working moms might even be helped by very public legislation to prevent wage discrimination against women, though McConnell has voted against the Lily Ledbetter Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

If McConnell is concerned about rising tuition costs and the bank account of recent college graduates, he also could have chosen not to filibuster and block Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bill to allow graduates to refinance their student loans and avoid decades of crushing debt—if the Koch summit attendees don’t mind that legislation closing their tax loopholes, of course.

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McConnell is also concerned about the rising costs of healthcare, though I’m not sure how repealing the Affordable Care Act—and taking away the healthcare coverage of over 400,000 Kentuckians who gained insurance through the state’s exchange, Kynect—will ease that concern.

And this “shared responsibility for the weak” that McConnell says he adheres to? I’m not sure who is the “weak” he refers to, but if that includes people who have had their unemployment insurance cut off, SNAP benefits cut, or undocumented immigrants looking for comprehensive immigration reform, McConnell and his Republican colleagues probably shouldn’t have worked so hard to stick it to these individuals.

Yes, political theater is so, so terrible.

While liberals and environmentalists may be nauseated by Alison Lundergan Grimes’s positions and rhetoric on coal and the EPA, she presents an extremely clear contrast on the issues McConnell played loose with this morning. Grimes has touted her support for an increase in the minimum wage since the day she announced her candidacy last July; she supports equal pay legislation; she supports a Constitutional amendment to roll back the Citizens United decision;, and she supports Warren’s student loan bill.

Warren is even coming to Kentucky soon to campaign for Grimes, highlighting McConnell’s vote against student loan reform and his obedience to the whims of billionaires hanging out in private California resorts who plot how to make the wealthy and powerful even more so.

The Warren-Grimes event may even be out in the public, where the little guys can hear it.


Read Next: Joe Sonka covering Kentucky Senate race

Americans Really Do Not Want to Be Part of Another War in Iraq

Despite divisions in the US, Americans are unified by one idea: opposition to rejoining the war in Iraq. (AP Photo/Jim MacMillan)

Americans do not want to send ground troops back to Iraq.

Strike that.

Americans really do not want to send ground troops back to Iraq.

A fresh Public Policy Polling survey finds that 74 percent of voters oppose sending troops to the country where in 2003 former Vice President Dick Cheney claimed US troops would be “greeted as liberators”—but where in fact 4,486 Americans were killed, and where even the most cautious estimates put the Iraqi death toll (military and civilian) in the hundreds of thousands.

Americans recognize the damage that was done, as well, to their country’s international reputation, and to its sense of priorities when it came to policymaking and federal budgeting. That does not mean that they are unaware of, or unconcerned with, the degenerating circumstances in Iraq. That does not mean they have suddenly gone isolationist. That does not mean that they oppose diplomatic and humanitarian initiatives.

What it means is that they have a sense of perspective that is lacking among the neoconservative elite that is always so ready for war.

So it is that, while Cheney is busily repurposing his pro-war rhetoric of 1991 and 2003—while at the same time accusing President Obama of “betraying” US freedom, “abandoning” Iraq, being a “very very weak president” and generally failing to follow the neocon playbook—Americans are remembering what happened the last time the war hawks had their way.

In fact, if there is one thing that unites Americans, it is their skepticism about steering back into Iraq.

Eighty-two percent of Democrats oppose sending US troops to Iraq, as do 86 percent of independents. Notably, 57 percent of Republicans are also opposed.

Just 28 percent of Republicans favor the ground-troops option.

Overall, just 16 percent of Americans are inclined toward the sort of approach that might satisfy Cheney.

Given a choice between President Obama’s relatively cautious response—with its emphasis, so far at least, on regional diplomacy—and the more aggressive approach of the man Obama beat for the presidency in a 2008 campaign that offered a stark choice with regard to foreign policy, 54 percent of those surveyed favored Obama’s way of handling things. Just 28 percent were inclined toward McCain’s hawkish rhetoric.

Of course, it’s more nuanced than that. Obama has already sent a contingent of 275 troops to provide embassy security in Baghdad, and there is talk of sending Special Forces units. Additionally, the prospect of a bombing campaign to support Iraqi forces has been raised.

Even more limited strategies inspire skepticism, however.

For instance, there is not majority support for military airstrikes.

According to the survey conducted by PPP for Americans United for Change, 46 percent of likely voters say they could support airstrikes. But 32 percent oppose them, and another 22 percent say they are unsure.

Respecting that skepticism, Congressman John Garamendi, D-California, and Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, on Wednesday introduced an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill that would require the administration to seek the advice and consent of Congress before engaging in any sustained military action in Iraq.

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“Before we ever consider sending our brave men and women in uniform back into the Iraq powder keg, we owe it to our servicemembers and to the American people to at least have a frank and public debate in the Halls of Congress,” said Garamendi, a member of the Armed Services Committee.

The amendment would not block moves to increase security at the US Embassy in Baghdad. But it would limit the use of defense funds in Iraq for actions deemed to violate requirements outlined in the War Powers Resolution.

“In 2003, Congress should have resisted the rush to a war of choice with Iraq. I will do everything in my power to prevent us from repeating the mistakes of my predecessors,” announced Garamendi. “I am deeply skeptical of reigniting America’s involvement in Iraq’s civil war, and if my amendment is adopted, we’ll at least ensure a serious debate on the merits of returning to Iraq.”

Take Action: Tell President Obama: No Military Intervention in Iraq

Read Next: William J. Astore on how we all got drafted into the national security state

Would the Tea Party Welcome Jeb Bush? Or Vice Versa?

Jeb Bush

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, right, speaks to reporters in Little Rock, Arkansas. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Earthquakes do happen in Virginia—we were there, in Virginia, during the real Virginia earthquake in 2011—but what happened in a rural, remote central Virginia congressional district last week, when Eric Cantor was toppled, shouldn’t register very high on the political Richter Scale, despite CNN’s headline: “Cantor ‘earthquake’ rattles Capitol Hill.” Widely cited as a sign of the Tea Party’s renaissance, after the Tea Party suffered a series of bloody defeats in primary after primary in 2014, the Cantor defeat—and perhaps the upcoming defeat of Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi next week—isn’t an earthquake at all but rather the dying tremor of a movement that is being put back in its cage by the GOP establishment.

And for 2016, that means that the Republican party and its main pillars, such as the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, Wall Street’s banks and hedge funds and Karl Rove’s national political machinery, will make sure that the party nominates a mainstream conservative such as one of the GOP’s stable of current and former governors (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mike Pence, Susana Martinez, etc.).

Even many rank-and-file Republicans are sick of the Tea Party’s shenanigans. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 41 percent of non–Tea Party Republicans believe that the Tea Party has “too much influence.” (The poll found that the GOP is pretty much evenly split between Republicans who identify with the Tea Party and those who don’t.) A Washington Times article, analyzing what it calls the “decades-long brawl” between ultraconservative purists and GOP traditionalists—which, it says, dates to the fight over President George H.W. Bush’s decision to break his no-new-taxes pledge—says that now it takes the form of a struggle between no-compromise types and those, such as Christie, who say outright that the priority has to be placed on winning elections. Democrats, who’ve had their own struggles between idealism and pragmatism when it comes to lesser-evil candidates, may want the GOP to pick likely-loser extremists who’ll lose big, but it’d be wrong to count on that either in 2014 or, especially, in 2016.

The rise and probably fall of the Tea Party is an interesting phenomenon when viewed from the “decades-long” perspective that the Washington Times notes. In the Washington Post’s The Fix, Aaron Blake tracks the Republican party’s up-and-down from moderate-conservative to Tea Party–like over the years, and he shows that the presence of ultraconservatives—that is, Republicans who described themselves as “consistently conservative”—actually fell from 13 percent in 1994 to 10 percent in 1999 and to just 6 percent in 2004. But tracking the growth of the Tea Party, the number of “consistent conservatives” rose to 17 percent by 2011 and 20 percent in 2014. In looking at those numbers, it seems clear that the huge jump between 2004 and 2011 is a reflection of the effort to demonize Barack Obama, with a heavy dollop of racism and race-baiting built in.

In fact, “consistent conservative” is a broad notion, and it’s fair to question the poll conclusion in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll cited above that 43 percent of Republicans “identify” with the Tea Party while 43 percent do not. The actual strength of the Tea Party within the GOP is a lot smaller than 43 percent, and the “very conservative” GOP voters are themselves divided into evangelical voters, or the Christian right (about 20 percent of the GOP) and the ultraconservative secular voters (perhaps 5-10 percent). In the past, however, some middle-of-the-road, traditional Republicans may have admired the Tea Party for its feistiness, even if they didn’t agree with its kookiness and extreme positions. Now those centrists are coming home.

So, what does that say about someone like Jeb Bush in 2016? Over at National Journal, Tom DeFrank seems to think that Bush would make a good running mate in the vice presidential slot for a strong conservative or Tea Party type at the top of the ticket, though in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Kyle Wingfield writes that the notion of VP Jeb “seems totally, completely, impossibly weird.” More than that, in fact: it seems impossible altogether.

But that doesn’t mean that Tea Party types and others on the far right won’t eventually acquiesce to the notion that in order to win in 2016 the Republicans will have to choose someone closer to the mainstream. While many Tea Partiers are hard-core ideologues, many others are pragmatists. The Tea Party can read the tea leaves. And the tea leaves say it’s going to take a centrist to beat Hillary Clinton. So, will the Tea Party welcome Jeb Bush?

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Larry Klayman, the quirky activist and “serial insurrectionist” (who has praised Cliven Bundy as a “hero,” called for a military uprising to overthrow President Obama, and says that a “revolution” is needed to stop Hillary Clinton) is perhaps the quintessential expression of the Tea Party’s paranoid, tinfoil-hat-wearing overall kookiness. But a recent Klayman piece suggests that the Tea Party might eventually welcome even so obvious a non–Tea Party GOPer if that’s what it takes to win the presidency in 2016:

Let us put Jeb to the test and invite him to become a fellow tea partier. If he genuinely accepts the invitation, he should get serious consideration as an opponent to what is likely to be Hillary Clinton as the Democrat nominee. … So don’t write off Jeb. If he comes to us, be prepared to consider him. Any opponent of Hillary Clinton needs “mucho” Latin votes to rid the nation of the stench of the Obama administration and prevent the return of the Clintons. Even if Jeb is branded as a “Bush” and not perfect (no politician today is), … he is at heart a conservative and can possibly win if he sincerely moves further right, joins “our party” and learns to drink our brand of tea. Mambo!


Read Next: Jeb Bush is still on track for 2016.