The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

‘Nuke ‘Em: Get Them Before They Get You!’

‘Nuke ‘Em: Get Them Before They Get You!’

Cue the air-raid sirens! Head to the bomb shelters! Stock up on potassium-iodide pills! Get the home game version of “Nuke ‘Em!”


Lawmakers are expected to convene in the late morning to decide whether to end debate and advance to a final vote on Judge Gorsuch. If the Democratic filibuster holds — meaning fewer than 60 senators agree to proceed — Republicans have pledged to pursue the so-called nuclear option: abandoning long-held practice by lifting President Trump’s nominee with a simple majority vote. His final confirmation is expected on Friday.

Ed Whelan reminds us that Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer shrugged in 2013 when asked whether they had concerns that Republicans could someday eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. “Let ’em do it,” Reid said. “Why in the world would we care? … If they want simple majority, fine.”

One of the reasons it’s worthwhile to periodically check in with overtly liberal publications is they reveal the thinking of the other side. Mother Jones offers a fascinating look at how Democratic strategists think triggering the nuking of the filibuster is a loss, but the activists are convinced it’s a long-term win.

Given the possibly terrifying likelihood that awaits progressives if they lose the filibuster—not just with Trump’s Supreme Court nominee this time, but also with future fights—what’s the upside?

Some fear there is none, and that the Democratic Party is rushing toward a decision it will likely regret, at the behest of the party’s progressive and increasingly powerful base. A filibuster “prevents a revolt by the base—it’s the base here that’s not being smart,” said a political consultant who asked not to be named because of a client list that includes Democratic senators. The small donor base and activist core of the party “have boxed these folks in to a position that is not the wisest one.”

The decision to oppose Gorsuch, and to let Republicans put an end to the filibuster entirely, the consultant said, is more about survival today than long-term planning.

But it’s not hard to find a progressive activists convinced this is a winning issue for them in next year’s elections.

“This is an exercise of a raw political power grab, and the hope is that the American people see that for what it is in coming elections,” said Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America, a progressive group that is supportive of Democrats’ current strategy of filibustering Gorsuch. This is a position echoed by Schumer himself. When asked at a press conference Tuesday what would happen if Republicans ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, he responded, “They will lose if they do it.” That’s because the voters will see that McConnell “will do anything to get his way,” and Republicans will not be seen as acting in a reasonable or bipartisan fashion.

… All these potential upsides are worth the risk of losing the filibuster, because McCaskill’s hope that Republicans won’t remove the filibuster in a future Supreme Court battle is a fantasy. “There is a fiction that the filibuster isn’t already dead,” says [Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America]. “Any vote that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans take is really just the icing on the cake—this thing has been cooked since Senate Republicans defied any sense of decorum in their treatment of Barack Obama.”

Right, right. The treatment of Judge Bork, the filibuster of Miguel Estrada (“because he is Latino” as a Democratic memo put it), the attempted filibuster of Samuel Alito, Harry Reid nuking the filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominees… none of that had anything to do with how we ended up here, it’s all Republicans’ fault. Got it.

So the plan is to use the nuked filibuster as a winning issue in 2018, huh? Wasn’t this the plan in 2016, too, when Democrats said the failure to confirm Merrick Garland was going to really hurt Republicans on the campaign trail?

No Democratic Senate candidate has run a television commercial on the issue of Garland’s nomination. No major Democratic figure mentioned his nomination during the party’s convention in Philadelphia. Neither Garland nor the Supreme Court even came up in Monday’s first presidential debate. Hillary Clinton barely mentions Garland on the campaign trail, and has indicated that she might nominate someone else if elected.

The public’s lack of interest in Garland’s nomination must come as a rude surprise to his biggest supporters, who confidently contended for most of the year that Republicans were making a terrible error and that their stance would cost them dearly at the ballot box.

“Not only are Republicans losing on this issue, they can’t even keep their own voters in line,” Paul Waldman declared in May. “I think the vast number of voters in states with vulnerable Republicans are expressing disapproval over the failure of the Senate to treat Garland fairly and my sense is this expression will only grow over the next several weeks and months,” Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, said in August. “[Senate Republicans] have this death wish, and that’s what it is. They are going to end up losing really, really big,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the same month.

No one knows how 2018 will shake out, but clearly Republicans didn’t get punished by voters for allegedly “defying any sense of decorum in their treatment of Barack Obama” in 2016.

Our Ramesh Ponnuru contemplates how things would be different if Senate Republicans had given Merrick Garland a hearing and voted to reject his nomination.

Under this scenario, we would have largely avoided arguments that Senate Republicans had somehow violated the Constitution. While the argument that the Senate has a constitutional obligation to hold hearings and a vote on a nominee is laughable, the argument that the Senate has a constitutional obligation to confirm a nominee is even more clearly laughable. But what else would have changed?

Democrats would still be outraged that Republicans had rejected a middle-of-the-road nominee who was unquestionably qualified in terms of professional competence and reputation. They might even be more outraged: Holding hearings and a vote would have led some Republicans to make Garland-specific arguments, and some of those arguments would have struck Democrats as reprehensible distortions (as indeed some of them probably would have been).

… In this alternative universe, I imagine we’d be in roughly the same place we are today.

Like a BAT out of Hell…

As reported earlier this year, the Koch Seminar Network, the association that include Americans for Prosperity, is not a fan of the proposed “Border Adjustment Tax.” In fact, it’s not going too far to say they hate it. Under the proposal, U.S. companies that import goods from foreign suppliers would no longer be allowed to deduct those purchases, so a new tax would be effectively implemented on all imported goods, including crude oil.

It amounts to a 20 percent tax on everything imported. Fans of the idea say this will help domestic production of imported goods; critics say you should contemplate paying 20 percent more for everything you buy that comes from overseas. Checked your clothing labels lately? How about that cellular phone of yours? Your car? How about that produce in the winter?

Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity today released a new study showing how the BAT would impact importers on a state-by-state basis.

They determined that the states that would get hit hardest are Michigan, Louisiana, Tennessee, New Jersey, Kentucky, South Carolina, Illinois, Texas, Georgia, and California. (Notice seven of those states voted for Trump last year.)

Tough break, Michigan; imported goods make up more than 27 percent of your state’s gross domestic product. (All those global supply chains in the automotive industry.) Great news if you’re in South Dakota, though; just 2.29 percent of the state’s GDP is tied to foreign imports.

The report finds, “If a BAT had been in effect in 2014, for example, importers in just three states—California, Texas, and Illinois—would have faced a potential combined $170 billion liability under a 20 percent tax on imports on top of their regular income tax liability.” The argument from BAT supporters is that including it in a tax reform package helps pay for other tax cuts. But if you’re paying more for everything you buy… well, the real benefit from that tax cut is going to disappear really quick, now, isn’t it?

The report points out how the tax would hit retailers:

Consider a shoe retailer that imports the shoes it sells from a manufacturer in China. It buys a pair of shoes from the manufacturer for $50 and pays $10 in shipping costs. The retailer sells the shoes for $70, earning a $10 profit. Under the current tax system, the retailer would owe 35 percent in taxes on the $10 profit, because it would get to deduct the $60 it paid in business costs acquiring the shoes. The total tax bill would be $3.50.

Under the proposed tax reform plan with a border adjustment tax, the retailer would pay a 20 percent (the proposed corporate rate) tax on the $10 profit, or $2. However, the retailer would also pay a 20 percent BAT on the $50 cost of the imported shoes, bringing the total tax bill to $12 — which is more than the retailer’s profit from the sale. It is easy to see how devastating a BAT could be for the retail industry, which faced with skyrocketing tax bills, would need to raise prices, cut jobs, or shut their doors altogether.

In light of all this, I find myself in agreement with the Joker…

ADDENDA: Over on the home page, my favorite form of criticizing President Trump: pointing out how his or his team’s inattention to the details of governing — i.e., having a lot of good, qualified candidates ready to nominate for management jobs at the start of his administration — is impeding one of his own popular goals, i.e., creating jobs through energy infrastructure projects.

The Trump administration has been slow to nominate candidates to some of the 600 or so significant positions in the executive branch, including the three empty spots on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has been short of a quorum since President Obama’s appointed chairman, Norman Bay, resigned on February 3.

Here’s the sort of project that is indefinitely delayed because FERC doesn’t have enough members for a quorum to give final approval:

Enbridge Energy wants to build a new pipeline to transport Appalachian shale gas to high-demand markets in Canada and the Midwest, including Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Ontario. In addition to 255 miles of pipeline that is three feet in diameter, the project would involve the construction of “four new compressor stations, six new metering and regulating stations, and 17 new mainline valves in Ohio and Michigan.” Once completed, it would be capable of transporting 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. According to a union representative, welders and journeymen on the project would make $53 per hour plus benefits. The whole project would cost $2 billion and was originally slated to be completed this autumn.

Is this Trump’s fault? Trump’s team’s fault? Maybe if everyone in the White House spent a little less time on Game of Thrones–style jockeying for power and more time focusing on how the government actually worked, we would all be better off.


The Latest