Lawyers defending DNC argue impartiality was just a guideline

Former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (artist’s conception)

Did you guys know that someone filed a class-action suit against the Democratic National Committee on behalf of Bernie Sanders supporters? It’s like Twitter in lawsuit form. You may remember last summer, when leaked emails appeared to show pro-Clinton bias among high-ranking members of the DNC—including Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who resigned as a result. That’s about as contrite as the party was willing to get. When it comes to shelling out actual compensatory damages to Sanders donors—who, Miami law firm Beck & Lee argues, were defrauded by a national committee that gave them to believe the nominating process would be fair—the DNC draws a line. That line runs right through Article V, Section 4 of the DNC charter, which instructs the chair and staff to, as the Observer puts it, “ensure neutrality in the Democratic presidential primaries.” But that’s more of a guideline than a rule, DNC attorneys argued. The neutrality provision is “a discretionary rule that [the committee] didn’t need to adopt to begin with.”

What’s fun about this argument is that no one is contesting that the primaries were unfair. You’d think there might be some legal case to be made that, despite the emails, Wasserman Schultz and the rest of the committee acted impartially. But apparently they thought that wouldn’t work, and they’d have a better chance arguing that no one expected them to act according to the charter.

This is not the argument the committee has presented to Democratic primary voters. Wasserman Schultz did not send out an email suggesting that the party should agree ahead of time whether to follow the charter in the next election, to avoid this kind of misunderstanding. She resigned, because she and the committee appeared to have been unfair when everyone expected fairness. It’s weird that the money version of this argument takes issue with the expectation, when what went wrong was clearly the unfairness.

But that’s probably just a legal calculation. The weird expectations argument stood a better chance of working, and would therefore lead to a smaller settlement down the line. Still, this reads as an admission from the DNC that it’d be easier to argue no one expected the party to follow its charter than to say the nominating process was fair.

Who cares, right? Bernie is going to die peacefully in his sleep before the next election, and Hillary is going to rise up into the air on silvery wings she’ll use to decapitate the former President Trump as soon as he admits treason, resigns and becomes a private citizen. Or he’ll win again in 2020, because Biden croaked, Elizabeth Warren is Hillary without the banks, and Corey Booker is the banks. Trump will still be in office at age 77, likeRonald Reagan without a middle-class childhood to soften his dementia.

All this would have been okay if she had won. If the DNC had set up a coronation for Clinton while hapless sophomores wasted bong money on Sanders and then she kept Trump from becoming president, that would have been cool. But to hand-pick your candidate and lose! It contravenes our sole request of the modern political party. Cheat to our advantage. Cheat in a way that makes our lives better.

Laffer Curve returns to feast on brains of living

Something d-o-o economics

If you want your name to live forever in politics, come up with a reason why helping rich people is good for everybody. That’s what Arthur Laffer did in 1974, when he drew his famous curve on a napkin. The  Laffer Curve illustrates the theory that lowering tax rates can sometimes increase overall tax revenues by stimulating economic growth. This argument makes sense, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t tell us much. To many people, though, the Laffer Curve means that cutting taxes raises revenue. That’s the argument Treasury Secretary Paul Mnuchin made this week to justify President Trump’s plan to dramatically reduce corporate taxes. Won’t lowering taxes add to the deficit? Nah. “The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth,” Mnuchin said. Well then. That sounds fortuitous.

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iPhone remark suggests Chaffetz has no idea what insurance costs

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) addresses the Whos of Whoville.

Congressional Republicans have released their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, and it is less than comprehensive. Andy Slavitt, former Acting Adminstrator for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services under President Obama, described the plan as “basically a $600 billion tax cut funded by gutting Medicaid.” Although its architects claim it will preserve access for the millions of previously uninsured Americans who found coverage under Obamacare, it does away with the subsidies that let them buy it. When it was pointed out to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) during an appearance on CNN’s New Day that “access doesn’t equal coverage,” the congressman implied that people who couldn’t afford insurance were spending irresponsibly. Quote:

You know what? Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice. And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare.

Chaffetz’s father once owned part of a professional soccer team, so the representative may have a shaky notion of how much individual health insurance costs. Either that, or he’s playing an old card: poor people aren’t poor because of iniquity or an economy that doesn’t serve them, but rather because they spend unwisely. The poor have just as much money as everybody else! Assessment after the jump.

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Why bother silencing Elizabeth Warren?

Yesterday, as the Senate heard testimony regarding the almost certain appointment of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R–AL) to the position of attorney general, a weird scuffle erupted between Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Home for Orphan Turtles.) Warren was attempting to read a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, that accused Sessions of using “the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters” when he was US attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. McConnell moved to silence Warren under Rule XIX, which forbids senators from “ascribing to another senator…any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator” during debate. Here’s a video:

In this scene, the role of Frightened Lackey is played by Montana’s own Sen. Steve Daines, who looks like he has either eaten bad fish or does not want to adjudicate a rules dispute involving the leader of his caucus. Daines sided with McConnell, of course, and Republicans voted to formally silence Warren. Three questions seem relevant here:

  1. Does Rule XIX apply to quoted material? It was not Warren who ascribed to Sessions conduct unbecoming a senator, but rather Mrs. King, whose words Warren read. This might seem like a distinction without difference, but imagine if the Senate were conducting, say, a bribery investigation into one of its members. Would an affidavit from someone who claimed to have paid that senator a bribe violate Rule XIX, if it were read aloud by another senator?
  2. How is the Senate supposed to conduct a confirmation hearing regarding one of its own members without violating Rule XIX? Warren didn’t bring up this letter in a debate about farm subsidies. It speaks to Sessions’s fitness for office, and any debate on that subject is likely to impugn his motives or conduct at some point. At the moment the Senate begins to debate Sessions’s appointment as attorney general, he ceases to become a senator and becomes a candidate for that office. As a senator, he doesn’t get to participate in his own confirmation hearings. Why should he enjoy the other privileges of a senator in that context?
  3. So are Republicans just trying to make Warren’s career, or what?

In another world, Warren spends the next four years slipping from the national spotlight, as Republican control of all known branches of government denies her the forum to publicly grill bankers in the ways that have made her a progressive hero. Or they could martyr her. McConnell seems committed to the second course, even going so far as to furnish a title for her memoir by complaining that “she was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” This approach seems less than tactically astute. Sessions is going to be attorney general. If Betsy DeVos proved anything, it’s that none of Trump’s appointments will go unconfirmed. So why not let Warren read King’s letter to a mostly empty chamber and a couple thousand viewers on C-SPAN?

Instead, he contributed to her reel. As of this writing, the video of McConnell silencing Warren featured in this post has 350,000 views. That’s just this version; there are a dozen more on YouTube and floating around the internet. Is the majority leader really foolish enough to make a spectacle of Warren’s censure, when the action itself accomplishes so little?

Apparently, he is. The explanation that he is intentionally making Warren the face of the progressive Democratic Party, in the hopes that she will overplay her hand and tarnish that brand in the future, seems a little too 3-D chess to be plausible. Remember the poker player’s rule: don’t assume intelligence. It seems like McConnell has blundered here, possibly because there are no longer any checks on his power. This silver lining is itself mostly dark cloud, but perhaps Republicans will keep overplaying their hands.

FEC chief says agency can’t curb abuse

The Federal Election Commission

The Federal Election Commission

In an interview with the New York Times, FEC chairwoman Ann Ravel said that her agency would not be able to control campaign abuses in 2016. Quote:

“The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim. I never want to give up, but I’m not under any illusions. People think the FEC is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.”

There are six FEC commissioners—three Republicans and three Democrats. The Times describes this people as “perpetually locked in 3 to 3 ties” along party lines, probably due to fundamental disagreements over the agency’s proper function. Democratic members believe it should investigate campaign finance abuses. Republicans believe it should, um, not. “Congress set this place up to gridlock,” said Republican commissioner Lee Goodman. “This agency is functioning as Congress intended. The democracy isn’t collapsing around us.”

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