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Two seemingly innocuous pieces of legislation recently ran into unexpected roadblocks in Congress this month: a bill to permanently fix the Medicare doctor-payment formula, and legislation to aid victims of human trafficking.
The culprit in both cases was abortion language that would mirror the infamous Hyde Amendment. Many Democrats insist the provisions must be removed before they vote for either bill. The debate has metastasized so quickly that it’s now holding up the confirmation of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general; Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said he would not bring her nomination to a vote until Democrats relent on the human-trafficking bill.
You’ve probably heard of the Hyde Amendment before—the oft-employed shorthand is that it’s the thing that prevents taxpayer dollars from going to abortion services. Ever since 1976, the bill has been a goblin haunting domestic politics, often throwing unrelated debates into chaos.
What if, once and for all, Democrats just got rid of it?
In many ways, the Hyde Amendment’s mythology outpaces its actual effect. As the dispute over these two bills shows, the Hyde Amendment isn’t an all-encompassing federal ban. Otherwise, there would be no fight here, because its principles would automatically be applied.
The Hyde Amendment actually deals mainly with Medicaid dollars, and prevents healthcare providers who have Medicaid patients from providing them abortion services.
This means it has a devastating effect on low-income women. Research has shown that lack of Medicaid funding for abortion services creates serious delays for low-income women seeking help, as they must save money necessary to pay for any procedures. Sixty-seven percent of poor women who had an abortion said they wanted to have it sooner, according to a Guttmacher Institute study. For some, the wait ends up being too long, or the cost is too burdensome—several studies estimate that somewhere between 18 and 35 percent of women on Medicaid continue their pregnancies despite wanting an abortion because the funding isn’t available.
The eponymous Representative Henry Hyde was pretty straightforward about the discrimination that his amendment created when it was enacted. “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the…Medicaid bill,” he said in 1977. “If rich women want to enjoy their high-priced vices, that is their responsibility…that is fine, but not at the taxpayers’ expense,” he said during another debate.
Though limited to Medicaid, the Hyde Amendment’s fundamental logic has inspired similar bans on abortion services for federal inmates, for Peace Corps volunteers, and for members of the military. Obamacare was almost derailed over the question of whether the Hyde Amendment would apply to all the new government healthcare spending; an executive order from President Obama assured that it would. In each case, the argument is always: should we apply the Hyde Amendment?
Getting rid of the Hyde Amendment could therefore reverse the debate, and put pro-choice politicians on the offensive instead of constantly playing defense against Hyde creep.
Logistically, it might not be that hard. The Hyde Amendment expires every year—and is renewed by Congress annually when it appropriates money for the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs Medicaid.
Some Democrats are at least talking about fighting back. The co-chairs of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, Representatives Louise Slaughter and Diana DeGette, issued a statement Tuesday blessing the abortion language in the Medicare payment bill because they feel the provisions don’t expand Hyde any further. They did note, however, that the Hyde Amendment “is a temporary rider that expires every year, and we—along with many women across this country—look forward to the day when it will end.”
Slaughter and four other House members embarked on a national bus tour to repeal the Hyde Amendment last summer.
Pro-choice activists are starting to look harder at getting rid of the Hyde Amendment too. URGE, a group that works to mobilize younger Americans around reproductive issues, has been running campaigns to make people aware of the issue. URGE has held rallies in twenty cities, and delivered petitions to members of Congress urging them to stop renewing Hyde.
“A lot of people didn’t even know what the amendment was, and that so many low-income women are affected. People were, one, surprised, and two, pissed off,” Kierra Johnson, the group’s executive director, told me. “It’s been under the radar for so long that congressional members haven’t had to do anything about it. We’re no longer going to let Hyde pass year after year, as if that’s just the way it should be.”
If there is finally a push to get rid of the Hyde Amendment, it wouldn’t be the first time. As ThinkProgress recently noted, Bill Clinton actually made this a campaign pledge way back in 1992, and later asked Congress to act. Hyde, still in Congress at the time, was able to narrowly defeat the effort, and it’s never been tried in earnest since.
The chances of doing so in a Republican-controlled Congress are nil, but movements like these generally need some momentum. There will also another Clinton seeking the White House in the coming months. If she is looking for things to campaign on, getting rid of the Hyde Amendment and its anachronistic, discriminatory logic is a good place to look.
Read Next: George Zornick on a court victory for Chelsea Manning
Politicians lie. It’s almost non-controversial; elected officials are advocates who want to show themselves and their causes in the best possible light. Nobody tells the whole truth.
Senator Ted Cruz wants you to think he is different: the video he released Monday morning ahead of his presidential campaign announcement was titled “Time for truth.” Those were also the first words he spoke at Liberty University after making his official announcement.
If Cruz is different, however, it’s because of how boldly he claims things that aren’t even remotely true. His vacations from reality take on a gleeful exuberance, like a college freshman on his first trip to Daytona.
Cruz told a CPAC crowd, for example, that Democrats issued an ominous threat to the Catholic Church: “Change your religious beliefs or we’ll use our power in the federal government to shut down your charities and your hospitals.” Politifact naturally deemed this “both incorrect and ridiculous.”
A quick survey of some other Cruz gems:
Cruz said ISIS is “right now crucifying Christians in Iraq, literally nailing Christians to trees.” It wasn’t, and Cruz wasn’t able to offer any evidence.
Cruz described a “strong bipartisan majority” in the House that voted to repeal Obamacare. Two Democrats joined the Republicans.
He bluntly claimed that “the jurisdictions with the strictest gun control laws, almost without exception … have the highest crime rates and the highest murder rates.” This is not true.
In recent weeks, Cruz has been using some variation of this line: “There are 110,000 agents at the IRS. We need to put a padlock on that building and take every one of those 110,000 agents and put them on our southern border.” The IRS doesn’t have 110,000 employees, let alone agents. (There are 14,000).
This may read as an oppo-dump of misstatements from a guy who’s now running for president. But anyone who has followed Cruz’s career knows it’s the tip of the iceberg—he frequently just seems to be free-associating conservative grievances with “facts” pulled from nowhere.
In some ways this is a huge asset for Cruz: he is clearly trying to establish himself as not only the most right-wing presidential candidate, but the truth-teller who isn’t afraid to say what conservatives know to be right. (They got that e-mail forward about it, after all!)
Combined with his aggressive play for evangelical voters, in this way Cruz is not unlike the Michele Bachmann of years past—except with a much better political resume and a bigger bankroll.
Of course, the last image many people have of Bachmann is being chased down a hallway by CNN’s Dana Bash in the final days of her congressional career; Bash wanted to confront Bachmann over the thoroughly ludicrous claim that Obama was spending $1.4 billion on personal expenses each year. It wasn’t the first time the mainstream media made hay with Bachmann. Even normally credulous reporters just couldn’t resist the easy layup.
One wonders if Cruz, too, might eventually see his truthiness turn into a liability. Speaking at CPAC is one thing, but standing on the national stage seeking to be president is another.
Read Next: George Zornick on Ted Cruz’ misleading statements about Obamacare.
One of the big headlines to come out of Hillary Clinton’s press conference on Tuesday is that she deleted roughly half of the 60,000 e-mails she sent and received on her now-infamous private e-mail server while secretary of state. “At the end, I chose not to keep my private personal email,” Clinton said, revealing a theretofore unknown fact. “No one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.”
To be clear up front—Clinton didn’t break any laws or regulations by deleting this information. Federal officials are not obligated to preserve private communications.
The process by which Clinton determined what was a private communication and what wasn’t is still under significant scrutiny, however, and Clinton made a calculation to delete anything that wasn’t turned over—and to announce that fact publicly. Why might that be? What does she stand to gain, and lose, by doing that?
Off the bat, the deletion created an obvious public perception problem for Clinton. (She was immediately dubbed “Deleter of the Free World” by New York tabloids.) There’s no chance her team didn’t realize that when the e-mails were erased.
“Secretary Clinton may…lose something intangible by allowing those who hold the darkest view of her actions to believe, somehow, that their interpretation has been validated by her deliberate destruction of the emails,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, who added he thought there was an “irrational degree of passion” around the issue.
Did Clinton’s team accept that downside simply in order to free up some storage space? I think we can probably rule that out. So why do it?
“By destroying the personal emails she may have precluded a long, contentious dispute about who would be allowed to gain access to them and under what conditions,” Aftergood said. “A review of the emails would have been sought, in all likelihood, by congressional investigators, agency overseers, and FOIA requesters. If the messages no longer exist, those battles are foreclosed.”
This doesn’t mean there was anything malevolent in the e-mails—even if every one of the 30,000 messages really was about yoga routines and wedding plans, as Clinton claims, her team may have decided that deleting them (which happened sometime between December 14 and Clinton’s press conference) would hopefully pre-empt a protracted battle over nothing. It would also prevent an overzealous judge or agency chief from forcing her private communications into the public or semi-public sphere.
Of course the final possibility is that Clinton improperly deleted work e-mails that she didn’t want the public to see. In that scenario, the erasure was definitely worth it for her, weighed against the attendant perception problems that come with deletion. Weighing those perception problems against not having to engage in a messy battle over the private e-mails is a little more unclear.
What’s interesting about this entire episode is that it’s a “scandal” of Clinton’s choosing: coming off the Bush years, where Clinton herself criticized the former administration for using private e-mails, Clinton chose the same path. It’s hard to believe she didn’t know there would someday be fallout just like what’s happening today, but she went ahead. The deletions are yet another choice.
In her telling, these decisions were made for convenience and then privacy, which may be true. There are also more problematic possibilities. We may not ever know for sure, but it’s fascinating to follow her decision tree—Clinton either made bad decisions that created negative political consequences, or good decisions that prevented an even worse outcome.
Read Next: George Zornick on a court victory for Chelsea Manning
Chelsea Manning, the former Army private sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for leaking classified material to Wikileaks, won a court suit Wednesday that will force the Army to refer to her in future court filings by her formal name and to use feminine pronouns.
The US Army Court of Criminal Appeals, in a two-page decision, ordered that any “[r]eference to appellant in all future formal papers filed before this court and all future orders and decisions issued by this court shall either be neutral, e.g., Private First Class Manning or appellant, or employ a feminine pronoun.”
Manning’s lawyers filed requests for the proper use of her real name in court filings, and the Army filed an opposition earlier this year.
“This is an important development in Chelsea’s fight for adequate medical care for her gender dysphoria,” said Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney representing Manning. “That fight continues but at least the government can no longer attempt to erase Chelsea’s identity by referring to her as male in every legal filing.”
Manning, who is being held at Fort Leavenworth, began a regimen of hormone therapy last month after a multi-year court battle. She is the first person to receive hormone treatment from the military, as transgendered soldiers are still not permitted.
The military will not, however, allow Manning to grow her hair like female prisoners.
Read Next: George Zornick on how King v. Burwell could strip subsidies away from millions of Americans
When the Supreme Court heard arguments in King v. Burwell on Wednesday, it was forced to consider whether just a few words in the Affordable Care Act—“exchange established by the state”—meant that people living in states with federal exchanges shouldn’t be receiving any subsidies to buy health insurance.
If the justices ultimately don’t think the language is clear either way, they could still invoke what’s known as the Chevron deference to uphold Obamacare in its current form. In 1984, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council established a precedent that courts should defer to relevant agencies if a legislative text does not make intent obvious, so long as the agency’s interpretation is based on a “permissible construction of a statute.”
In this case, applying Chevron deference would mean ruling the Affordable Care Act text isn’t clear on who should get subsidies—something the government vigorously argues is wrong, and that it is clear—but also ruling that the IRS could permissibly read the ACA in a way that allows subsidies and tax credits for people who live in states with a federal exchange. Everything would go ahead as normal.
This is not a purely theoretical outcome. It’s actually what the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in King v. Burwell before it reached the Supreme Court. (That court found that the government had only a “slightly” stronger position about the meaning of the contested phrase and that the law is “ambiguous,” but that the IRS should be allowed to proceed with nationwide subsidies.) Justice Anthony Kennedy brought up the Chevron deference during arguments Wednesday, though he appeared reluctant to apply it.
So you might see the potential problem here: if the Court does apply this logic to its final ruling, couldn’t President Ted Cruz come into office and direct the IRS to interpret the ACA in the opposite fashion—and thus strip subsidies away from millions of Americans, thereby sending the dread Obamacare into a death spiral? This might be an attractive option for him, since he could do it unilaterally without any cooperation needed from Congress.
The short answer is: yes. But there are legal and political realities that would likely prevent that from ever happening.
Chief Justice John Roberts brought up this very possibility during oral arguments Wednesday, asking US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli whether “a subsequent administration could change that interpretation.”
Verrilli essentially conceded it could, but immediately pointed to the legal problem. Remember, the agency (in this case the IRS) can only base its interpretation on a “permissible construction” of the ACA, and Verilli argued that this hypothetical Republican administration “would need a very strong case” to change the IRS’s interpretation, especially given the hugely disruptive effects that would follow.
If President Cruz went ahead anyway, another long legal challenge would probably result, except with the roles reversed: there would be another challenge to the government’s interpretation of “exchange established by the state,” but it would be brought by progressive defenders of the health care law on behalf of people who lost subsidies for health insurance. Another messy, protracted legal fight would follow, while people in many states struggled to pay for health insurance in the meantime.
But political realities might prevent this from ever happening in the first place. The genius of the conservative challenge in King v. Burwell is that if it succeeds, Republican politicians have some level of plausible deniability for all the chaos and loss of coverage that would follow. Republicans would basically argue “Hey, it’s not our fault. The authors of Obamacare wrote an unclear law and the Supreme Court tossed part of it.”
Also, in a courtroom, it’s a little easier to make a theoretical, legal argument that the intent of the lawmakers who wrote the ACA is both unclear and immaterial. But President Cruz would have to make a much more direct case in the public square: he would have to argue that he truly thinks the ACA wasn’t meant to provide any subsidies to people in states with a federal exchange, and then with the stroke of a pen effectively strip heath coverage from millions of people—and own the damage all to himself.
It’s exceedingly unlikely that even the most determined foe of Obamacare would do this. The political fallout would be far too extreme, and the move might lose on a court challenge anyhow.
So if the Court does uphold the ACA under a Chevron deference, proponents of the law can probably rest easy—but they could never be quite sure King v. Burwell was the final word.
Read Next: George Zornick on how these House members are trying to reintroduce gun control in Congress.
The congressional gun control debate of early 2013 seems like a distant memory to many people in Washington—and the failure of universal background check legislation ensured the Newtown school shootings had essentially no impact on federal law.
But the legislation’s proponents were back on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, trying to jump-start the gun-control push despite even an even more hostile climate in Congress following the midterm elections. Eight House members reintroduced the background checks legislation that never received a vote in the 113th Congress, as former Representative Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly lent their support to the bill.
“Stopping gun violence takes courage. The courage to do what’s right, the courage of new ideas,” Giffords said during her brief remarks. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together. Be responsible. Democrats, Republicans, everyone. We must never stop fighting.”
The bill, authored by Representatives Peter King and Mike Thompson, would expand the existing background-check system to cover nearly all gun transfers in the country, and would close the gaping gun-show and online-purchase loopholes. It would also provide incentives for states to give the national background check system better information, and also establish a national commission on mass violence.
It never received a vote in the House during the last Congress, and the very similar Manchin-Toomey legislation in the Senate failed to clear a filibuster in April 2013. Today, the Senate has been taken over by Republicans and almost certainly holds fewer pro–gun control members, and the Republican advantage in the House has expanded.
But proponents of King-Thompson insist the legislation would still pass the House if Speaker John Boehner gave it a vote. “We need to get a vote on the bill, and when we do, we’ll get it passed,” said Thompson. As evidence the bill could pass, he cited the public support of 189 House members for this legislation in the last Congress, and the “private support of a clear majority,” along with the successful vote last year to devote more funding to the national background check system.
The bill does indeed enjoy bipartisan backing so far: of the eight co-sponsors, four are Republicans: Representatives Peter King, Bob Dold, Pat Meehan and Mike Fitzpatrick.
But it almost certainly wouldn’t get the support of a majority of Republicans, and Boehner is under ever-increasing pressure not to irritate his caucus by violating the so-called Hastert Rule and bring up legislation that would pass with a majority Democratic support.
The idea now is to at least keep the legislation in the public eye, and try to build in more support—something that might be easier without an overheated national debate on gun control, which was the case last time around. Dold, a Republican, told reporters he will have a conversation with Boehner in the near future and urge a vote.
Read Next: George Zornick on how Obama's AUMF proposal could lead to an open-ended war.
Many Democrats feared Obama’s proposal was too broad, and that the lack of geographic limits along with the inclusion, beyond ISIL, of “associated forces” to the bill would write yet another blank check for war.
But the administration pushed back hard: “Our focus, and the focus of this authorization to use military force, is on ISIL,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on the day Obama unveiled his proposal.
This was decidedly not the approach the administration took today in a hearing held by the House Armed Services Committee. Obama’s undersecretary for defense policy, Christine Wormouth, explicitly affirmed to Republican Representative Richard Nugent that the proposed authorization is not limited to ISIL, and could be used all over the globe to fight a broad war against Islamic “extremism” generally.
Nugent began his question by saying he was worried that Obama’s AUMF was “just on ISIS,” and that the bigger problem is “radical extremism in Islam across the globe.” Wormouth’s rather remarkable reply was that the lack of geographic locations in the proposal is “very deliberate,” and meant to “address exactly the kind of concerns you have.” She added that the “associated forces” language was also meant to add “breadth” to “who we go after.”
The full exchange:
REP. NUGENT: We’re worried about strategy. Strategy really needs to be larger than just ISIS. I mean, it really is—and I know the president doesn’t want to go there—but it its radical extremism in Islam across the globe that is affecting us, and our friends across the globe. And so I’m worried with AUMF that it’s just on ISIS—does that really, is that really the strategy? That’s part of the strategy, but is that really where we need to be? Because you see it first-hand, across the globe. And I know that all the combatant commands talk about it, I’m sure.
WORMOUTH: Why don’t I take a crack at this quickly and then have General Austin pile on. The AUMF proposal, as I’m sure you’re aware, doesn’t have a geographic limitation. And that was very deliberate, to address exactly the kinds of concerns that you have. Similarly there is the associated forces, which is designed to give us some breadth and discretion as to who we go after.
(The aforementioned General Austin did not weigh in, as Nugent’s time had just expired.)
Now, it’s been fairly obvious that Obama’s AUMF tried to thread a needle in order to actually pass Congress: on the one hand, it applied some language that least appeared to limit the use of ground troops in any conflict, so as to appeal to war-weary members. The administration also publicly contrasted the ostensible focus on ISIL in this authorization to the overly broad AUMF passed in 2001; Obama specifically highlighted this in his letter to Congress. But the AUMF also was written to simultaneously appeal to hawks, with provisions for “associated forces” and so on.
In that context, when Wormouth highlighted the broadness of the authorization to a congressional hawk, it is perhaps not a surprise. But the bluntness with which she did it underscores the fundamental logical conflict in Obama’s proposal. Either it limits the president’s war power to the current conflict with ISIS, or it doesn’t.
Here a top defense official is saying clearly: it doesn’t.
Read Next: George Zornick on how the AUMF could authorize US military operations on an ever-growing list of countries.
President Obama has asked Congress for a three-year war authorization to combat “ISIL or associated persons or forces,” regardless of where those forces may be. There are no geographic limitations in Obama’s proposal.
The White House has a straightforward explanation for why: “…if we pass a piece of legislation that says Congress has authorized the President to carry out the use of military force against ISIL targets in Iraq and in Syria, we don’t want anybody in ISIL to be left with the impression that if they moved to some neighboring country that they will be essentially in a safe haven and not within the range of United States military capability,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “So that is why we’ve been clear about not including a geographic limitation in this proposal.”
By that logic, United States military capability could be employed anywhere ISIL is deemed to exist. As the above map shows, this is not a theoretical issue, and it’s not just countries that “neighbor” Iraq and Syria. The New York Times reported Sunday that US intelligence officials claim ISIL is moving outside Syria and Iraq “to establish militant affiliates in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt and Libya” and that extremists have organized under the ISIS banner in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen. Elsewhere, Agence France Presse has reported that in the Philippines, two rebel groups have pledged allegiance to ISIL. (The United Nations has alternately claimed there is no real ISIL presence there.)
It’s rather easy to envision US military operations in many of these countries, though of course not all. (The chance any president sends ground troops into Saudi Arabia is nil.) And the administration has already claimed Congress’s 2001 war authorization gives presidents the power to use military force against ISIL anyhow.
But there is an ever-growing list of countries where Congress would still be formally, and clearly, authorizing military operations if they pass Obama’s proposal—and perhaps giving the green light to a truly global war on terror.
Read Next: George Zornick on why Democrats need an Elizabeth Warren for foreign policy
CORRECTION: This piece originally said Elizabeth Warren commented on the movement to draft her into the presidential race during a constituent meeting in Springfield, MA, citing a report from MassLive.com which explicitly stated that Warren was speaking about "the growing movement calling her to run." However, a review of the full transcript of the meeting shows Warren was speaking about her supporters generally, including those who want her to run for president-- but not about the draft movement in particular. We regret the error, and the corrected post is below.
Elizabeth Warren has said plenty of times—over fifty—that she will not run for president. But she’s never really said anything about the movement urging her to do so, short of her lawyer’s letter to Ready for Warren, disavowing its efforts.
At a constituent meeting Thursday in Springfield, Massachusetts, Warren was asked about "the folks that your message is resonating with, that want you to run for president, that support you as a senator." According to MassLive.com she replied:
“Americans understand that the game is rigged, and they’ve had enough of it. They’re ready to fight back. They want a Washington that works for them,” Warren said.
“I think that people are getting more engaged, politically, and they’re seeing through a lot of the rhetoric that politicians have been throwing out there for a long time. They want to see some real change, and I think that’s what we need to work on.”
If Warren was speaking about the draft movement in particular, it would be news—though it's not clear that she was; the question was rather broad. Warren still hasn’t really said anything positive about the activists trying to draft her into the race. On Thursday night, Warren's office said only of the draft movement that "Senator Warren does not support their efforts." An aide to Warren told The Nation the Senator was not referring to the draft movement, but rather a general sense of her political support.
But the groups who want Warren to run still found hope that she responded so postively to a question that, even if glancingly, was about the people urging her to run. “Our message to Senator Warren is this: ‘when you’re ready to run, we’ll be ready to help you fight back,” said Ready for Warren campaign manager Erica Sagrans in a statement. “This movement is about more than getting others to believe in you. It’s about getting you to believe in us.”
"It's clear that Senator Warren hears the hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country want her in the 2016 race, because they know we need a President who's not afraid to stand up to the powerful and fight for working families," said Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America, which teamed with MoveOn.org to create Run Warren Run.
Read Next: George Zornick on the Draft Warren movement.
It’s not exactly surprising news, but The Wall Street Journal reported Friday morning that Hillary Clinton is leaning towards a much more interventionist foreign policy than Barack Obama, should she become president:
Private meetings that she’s held with various foreign-policy experts offer some hints as to how she might part ways with President Barack Obama when it comes to crises in Ukraine, Syria and other global trouble spots. The major takeaway from these private talks is that she wants a strategy more suited to shaping conditions overseas, as opposed to reacting to events as they arise, people familiar with the meetings said.…
“She’s much less risk-averse” than Mr. Obama, said Aaron David Miller, vice president of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars who has taken part in Mrs. Clinton’s foreign-policy briefings. [Emphasis added.]
It can be exhausting to funnel important policy debates through endless Hillary speculation, but the fact is she’s an avatar for where the party is headed. Much of the Democratic establishment hopes she’ll be the presidential nominee, and even more of it thinks she will be.
Yet a foreign policy with clear echoes of neoconservatism—pre-emptively shaping events overseas, with less reluctance to use military force—isn’t in line with many elected Democrats nor most Democratic voters. And while the effort to draft Elizabeth Warren into the presidential race is aimed at ensuring Clinton respects the more populist wing of the party on economic issues, no such effort of that scale yet exists on the foreign policy side.
It’s strange, because restrained, diplomatic foreign policy is fertile political ground in the Democratic Party. Just in recent days, many congressional Democrats, from the ranking members of the House Intelligence and Senate Judiciary committees to the entire Progressive Caucus, have opposed Obama’s proposed war authorization against ISIS because they feel it is too broad. Democratic opposition in Congress helped scuttle a 2013 vote Obama sought that would allow strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and this is an area where Clinton has explicitly said Obama still wasn’t aggressive enough. Even dating back to Obama’s first term, congressional Democrats—including all but eight Democratic members of the House—were urging Obama to withdraw more rapidly from Afghanistan.
The Wall Street Journal report says Clinton’s advisers feel the public is moving away from war-weariness and is ready to embrace more aggressive US intervention again, and cites a NBC/WSJ poll that shows 56 percent of the public disapproves of Obama’s foreign policy.
But looking at the polls when broken down by party identification, it’s hard to find Democratic voters rejecting Obama’s foreign policy course. Fox News released a poll this week showing that among Democrats, Obama has a 71 percent approval rate on foreign policy, and the same level of support for his approach to terrorism. Fox News also asked this rather weighted question: “The Obama administration says the United States is pursuing a strategy in the Middle East that relies mainly on diplomacy and alliances rather than decisive military force. Does this sound more like a serious attempt to address the problem with Islamic extremists or a half-hearted attempt?” Fifty-two percent of Democrats still said serious, while 41 percent answered that it was half-hearted.
Democrats simply aren’t eager to depart from Obama’s foreign policy approach in favor of a more aggressive posture. Perhaps Hillary can convince them. But it’s eminently clear the party should at least have a serious debate about a more hawkish stance, and among possible presidential candidates, there seem to be few options that could make it happen.
Warren offers no discernible difference from Clinton’s foreign policy. Former Senator Jim Webb is a deep skeptic of military interventions, but until further notice he’s a non-factor that remains unknown to much of the public. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is considering a run, opposes Obama’s AUMF as too broad and generally sketches out more careful foreign policy vision. But he is polling in the low single digits, and the cornerstone of his political persona is economic populism. Beyond that, none of the rumored Democratic candidates seem positioned or even willing to challenge Clinton from the left on foreign policy.
There is some hope outside the 2016 field—Senator Chris Murphy has reportedly been arguing behind the scenes that the party needs a more credible progressive foreign policy vision, and in recent days he’s gone public with that appeal. He told Buzzfeed, “Progressives have been adrift on foreign policy and it means presidential candidates don’t feel a lot of pressure to move away from the right-wing orthodoxy.”
It’s a noble effort to be sure, considering where the center of the party actually lies. But the timeframe for success is short—once a president enters the White House, there’s very wide latitude for executing whatever foreign policy vision he or she chooses, and Clinton is starting to make her plans clear.
Read Next: George Zornick on Obama’s support for an open-ended war against ISIL