I said a few weeks ago that if President Obama refused to use the platinum coin or the 14th Amendment to stop the debt ceilling fight, it's because he wants his Grand Bargain deal with the Republicans, and having a showdown is the best way to make it happen. I saw nothing during today's press conference to change my opinion that the president is determined to make the Republicans sit down and cut a deal that includes cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Read the transcript here:
President Barack Obama ratcheted up pressure on congressional Republicans to authorize an increase in the nation’s debt limit, warning of potentially catastrophic results for many Americans and the overall economy if the U.S. were to default on its obligations.
“The issue here is whether or not America pays its bills,” Obama said at a press conference on Monday, the last of his first term in office. “We are not a deadbeat nation.”
Anticipating a politically bruising fight this spring with the GOP – members of which in Congress have increasingly and openly discussed the prospect of refusing to raise the debt ceiling or allowing a government shutdown – Obama urged lawmakers to avoid using the vote over the debt limit as a point of leverage.
And the president sought to frame the risks of default in stark terms. He warned markets would go “haywire” if Congress would not act; Obama said that interest rates would rise, and checks to Social Security beneficiaries and military veterans would cease.
But as some Democrats urge the administration to consider options to sidestep Congress and assert the authority to unilaterally authorize more borrowing, Obama all but ruled out these sorts of “Plan B” options.
As Republicans continue to posture over the debt ceiling, the idea of going over Congress' head and invoking the 14th amendment as basis to raise it automatically is gaining traction.
Here's the latest shenanigans from Republicans. After the President took them to task for taking off on vacation, Mitch McConnell issued an invitation for President Obama to meet with Republicans, but not to negotiate. No, McConnell wanted Mr. Obama to come into the room so he could "hear directly" why he will never get what he's asking for.
“I’d like to invite the president to come to the Capitol today to meet with Senate Republicans — any time this afternoon, if he’s available, to come on up to the Capitol,” McConnell said. “That way he can hear directly from Senate Republicans … why what he’s proposing will not pass.”
You may have heard about the "14th amendment option", a sort of nuclear option for the executive to completely bypass Congress and rely on the language in the 14th amendment to render any legislative action on the debt ceiling moot. If you haven't, watch the segment in the video at the top of this post where it's explained pretty thoroughly.
It's an untested concept, but rooted in some really strong history. I cannot recommend this post enough for the backstory and history around the adoption of Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
When I first heard about this I was completely confused as to how language about the public debt became part of a constitutional amendment, which is why you really must read the post on Balkanization. Here's a snippet:
What do we learn from this history? If Wade's speech offers the central rationale for Section Four, the goal was to remove threats of default on federal debts from partisan struggle. Reconstruction Republicans feared that Democrats, once admitted to Congress would use their majorities to default on obligations they did disliked politically. More generally, as Wade explained, "every man who has property in the public funds will feel safer when he sees that the national debt is withdrawn from the power of a Congress to repudiate it and placed under the guardianship of the Constitution than he would feel if it were left at loose ends and subject to the varying majorities which may arise in Congress."
Well, now. That seems to lend itself to a place in this Very Serious Discussion of the Very Serious Republicans to blow up the world economy for Very Partisan Reasons.
This means that the very existence of the debt limit is unconstitutional because it calls into question the validity of the debt. So would any other provision of law. That is a key reason why Congress created a permanent appropriation for interest payments at the same time that the Fourteenth Amendment was debated. Previously, Congress had to pass annual appropriations for interest.
It goes without saying that provoking a constitutional crisis over the debt limit is a bad idea, but a debt crisis would be worse. At a minimum, the Fourteenth Amendment greatly strengthens the president’s hand in getting the debt limit increased in a timely matter. He should not be afraid to use it.
Chait is gnawing around the edges of the benefits of this strategy. Let's just say it outright. The administration has set a drop-dead date of July 22nd to get this done. Assuming Republicans keep their petulant sad faces and refuse to negotiate in any faith, much less good faith, all the White House has to do is remind them that they're irrelevant by reminding the global bond markets that they're irrelevant. Suddenly the hostage is breathing just a little bit easier and Republicans look like the fools that they are.
We know this will spin away from the President in the media. He will be painted by sniveling Republicans as a bully and a despot. But for everyone who doesn't want the administration to cave on Medicare and Social Security, I note that the bully pulpit was used quite successfully yesterday (despite the cries and whimpers about scoldings and the like) and the administration's surrogates are speaking out forcefully about the usefulness of the 14th amendment solution, so it would seem to be in our benefit to have their backs on this one.
It's certainly gotten more interesting with this on the table. I'm suddenly having fun watching Mitch McConnell and John Boehner tilt at windmills.
**Corrected to attribute properly to author Bruce Bartlett, not Jon Chait. We regret the error.
You know that plan by Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce -- the architect of SB1070 -- to push through legislation that would deny the children of undocumented immigrants their traditional American citizenship by birthright?
A bid to deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants faltered Monday when proponents could not get the votes of a Senate panel.
After more than three hours of testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, yanked the two measures. Gould said he lacked the backing of four other members of the Republican-controlled panel, which he chairs.
Gould said he will keep trying to secure votes. And Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said, if necessary, he will reassign the proposal to a more friendly committee.
There was a lot of testimony about the bill, including an invited "expert" who urged the senators to pass the bill just so the state can immediately embark upon an expensive legal defense that they hope will go all the way to the Supreme Court -- where he predicts there will finally be "clarity" on the 14th Amendment's guarantee of citizenship to every person born on American soil.
But other than that, the committee heard nothing but criticism, including testimony from children begging them not to take their citizenship away, to a Democratic senator who wanted to know how people would prove their citizenship: Would they have to carry copies of their parents' birth certificates too?
However, I will just about guarantee that the testimony that convinced this committee full of Republicans to think twice before committing the state's taxpayers to this misadventure came from the business community:
Or why, as Dennis Gilman demonstrates in the video above, Pearce applauded Ready's speech at an anti-immigrant event in 2007, and gladly posed for pictures with him that same year. And then heartily endorsed Ready as an upstanding soldier in the fight against immigration.
And with SB1070 under his belt, he's ready to roll -- not just in Arizona, but nationally.
Interestingly, a recent Arizona Republic editorial actually begged him not to, considering that it's not going to do a thing to help Arizona get out of its budget crisis:
With Arizona facing huge shortfalls, this is no time for distractions.
It's hard to imagine a worse distraction than trying to write our own rules on citizenship.
Unfortunately, Senate President-elect Russell Pearce is a keen promoter of trying to reinterpret the 14th Amendment, which establishes birthright citizenship, through state law.
Never mind that the U.S. Constitution is completely outside the jurisdiction of state legislators. Or that the state faces its worst financial crisis ever.
This is like calling the fire department when your house is in flames - and the firefighters responding by rushing to Washington, D.C., to spray water on the Capitol.
There are wiser perspectives among the incoming legislators. Some senators supported Pearce, a Mesa Republican, for the top leadership job with the understanding that he wouldn't file a birthright bill.
That was, it turns out, more than a bit naive. Because there's nothing to stop someone else from dropping such legislation.
"I never pledged not to hear the bill," Pearce said in a recent Editorial Board meeting. "Will I facilitate it getting passed? Yes, I will."
Pearce claims that Arizona suffered no harm from Senate Bill 1070, his last do-it-yourself immigration-enforcement job. That's not what business people say. Arizona is still suffering from the economic damage, not to mention the bitter divisions, of that misguided law. The consequences - the opportunities lost, the long-lasting stain on our image - will stretch on for years.
In other words, Pearce pulled a fast one on his fellow Republicans in order to win the Senate presidency. Because yesterday, there he was on Fox's Your World with guest host Brian Sullivan, not only touting the bill essentially as his project -- and vowing to unveil it as a national project:
SULLIVAN: You are not keeping this in the Arizona borders. You are announcing this at the National Press Club, right, next week.
But the change in position gave Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly a chance not just to whack Reid last night on Fox, but for Coulter -- that self-described "constitutional attorney" -- to claim that the 14th Amendment doesn't really create birthright citizenship:
COULTER: And by the way, it is being lied about every place, but this is what the 14th Amendment required. I mean, Americans -- what Harry Reid was saying was utter common sense. Americans must be sitting back thinking, "What were they thinking back in 1860? Were Americans really worried? What is it? We haven't guaranteed citizenship."
O'REILLY: No, it was a totally different things. It was African-Americans being liberated from slavery.
O'REILLY: It was Native Americans being tossed off their land.
COULTER: It was not Native Americans. Native Americans were excluded from the 14th Amendment. It was all about Reconstruction. It was about free slaves, this multi-culti rainbow coalition is a brand-new invention.
It wasn't like Americans were upset that the deadbeats couldn't slip into the country and have babies and start collecting welfare. We didn't have welfare then. It was amazing they even thought about it.
It was all part of Reconstruction to get an amendment added to the Constitution.
COULTER: It was a big step. This whole baby anchor thing comes from a footnote that was not related to the opinion, in an opinion by Justice Brennan in 1982.
O'REILLY: But it would be very hard. It would be very hard and, I think, impossible.
COULTER: It's not in the Constitution.
O'REILLY: I think it's impossible now to get that anchor baby thing to be illegal, because you would have to get -- they would tie it to the 14th. Then it would have to go to the Supreme Court. Is it part of the amendment or not?
COULTER: Look, whether this is done by -- legislatively or by passing an amendment, I don't care about. I do care about being lied to about what the 14th Amendment says.
O'REILLY: OK, but let's be...
COULTER: That is a lie.
But then, a little over an hour later, former Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr -- the conservative attorney whose work pursuing Bill Clinton in the 1990s gave Ann Coulter her original raison d'etre as a media figure -- came on Greta Van Susteren's show and explained exactly why Coulter is full of crap:
STARR: Well, Greta, I think it would take a constitutional amendment to change that. You know, this is an ancient part of law, that we then made absolutely clear in the 14th Amendment, which was ratified after our Civil War. And the 14th Amendment guarantees every person certain rights to due process, to the protection of life, liberty and property, to the equal protection of the laws. And that is such an important set of protections for all of us as Americans.
But it also begins -- that is, the 14th Amendment, this post-Civil War amendment begins with a specific definition that a person born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States is a citizen of the United States. That's pretty clear to me.
So I think it would take a constitutional amendment to change it. But it's not as if the ratifiers and the architects of the 14th Amendment just made it up. They were really restoring a very venerable tradition in English law and frankly United States law -- until the infamous tradition of the Supreme Court in Dred Scott that held African Americans, those who were in a condition of servitude, who were slaves, were not citizens of the United States. That was profoundly wrong, and it took a constitutional amendment to overrule that decision of the United States Supreme Court.
Now, the Republicans have decided the key to electoral success this year is to take aim against the 14th Amendment. Let's just call them The Dred Scott Republicans:
First Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), then Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), now Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is calling for congressional hearings on rescinding part of the 14th amendment to prevent anyone who is born in the U.S. from automatically becoming a U.S. citizen. The intention of such a radical move is to block the American-born children of undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell sought today to characterize his push for hearings on birthright citizenship as an educational exercise aimed solely at a small subset of wealy parents who enter the United States for the express purpose of having a child -- a practice known as birth tourism.
In an interview with The Hill yesterday, McConnell said that a 14th Amendment provision granting citizenship to all infants born in the United States should be reviewed. "I haven't made a final decision about it, but that's something that we clearly need to look at," he said. "Regardless of how you feel about the various aspects of immigration reform, I don't think anybody thinks that's something they're comfortable with." An aide to McConnell confirmed this with the Huffington Post. But today, McConnell denied that he was talking about all children born in the United States.
Today, McConnell told reporters at his weekly press conference that his comments were interpreted too broadly. "I read an article in the, I think, the Washington Post just about the business that's been created overseas to acquire citizenship for newborns," he said. "And I think having a hearing on that would be a good idea. I don't know what the potential solution to it is. Obviously it's a rather unseemly business and I think we ought to...take a look at it."
Sure, Mitch. There's a huge, unchecked industry of "birth tourism" that's killing the country. Yeah, and if you believe that, I got a bridge to sell you.
Make no mistake, this is just more of the Republican tactic of pointing to some other victimized subset of the population as the reason why your life isn't all that it could be. Now those wicked little anchor babies--and not the Republican policies of corporatism, favoring the top 5% of the population, dismantling social safety nets, deregulated markets and union busting--are keeping you from magically being one of those elites who actually stand to gain from the elimination of estate and capital gains taxes. They are not just saying we need a re-examination of the fundamental idea of birthright - but a repeal of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution which includes our right to due process and equal protection. They truly do want to take us back to 1868.
Those Dred Scott Republicans who want to do away with the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship are sure being ever so helpful when it comes to reforming our immigration laws.
They won't approve any plan creating a path to citizenship for the 12 million or so immigrants who are here illegally because, according to Republicans, that's "amnesty." Of course, they also agree that we can't round up and deport 12 million people. But any plan with a citizenship path -- regardless of how many penalties you throw at the immigrants, including heavy fines -- means Republicans will denounce it as "amnesty."
And what do they propose to fix the problem? Why, amend the Constitution, of course. Why, what could be simpler?
And the best part is: Their proposal to amend the 14th Amendment to throw out birthright citizenship wouldn't even solve an identifiable problem -- except a fake "anchor baby" scare that exists only in the fevered imaginations of paranoid white nativists.
Sen. Harry Reid and the Democrats understand this. So do some conservatives. And so yesterday Reid replied to the senators like Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyl, who think "anchor babies" are a major threat facing the nation, by reading from an op-ed by onetime Reagan/Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson:
The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people "born or naturalized in the United States" for a reason. They wished to directly repudiate the Dred Scott decision, which said that citizenship could be granted or denied by political caprice.
They purposely chose an objective standard of citizenship -- birth -- that was not subject to politics. Reconstruction leaders established a firm, sound principle: To be an American citizen, you don't have to please a majority, you just have to be born here.
Reid then paraphrased Gerson by observing of his Republican colleagues, "They've either taken leave of their senses or their principles.
As you can see in the video above, even some Fox News anchors and reporters are not so certain it's such a sound idea.
But the best part of all this is, as we explained when Russell Pearce proposed such a law for Arizona, the entire enterprise is predicated on the notion that, as Pearce put it, we'll never solve the problem of illegal immigration if we don't cut off the great big incentive of having "anchor babies" here.
It turns out that the Arizona immigration-bashing nativists who enacted SB1070, led by State Sen. Russell Pearce, were just getting started in their campaign to drive out Latino immigrants:
E-mails to and from Ariz.state Sen. Russell Pearce reveal the immigration enforcement debate may not stop with SB 1070, the controversial immigration law.
Pearce, R-Mesa, the author of Arizona’s immigration law, has been writing to some of his constituents about what he plans to accomplish next.
In e-mails obtained by CBS 5 News, Pearce said he intends to push for a bill that would enable Arizona to no longer grant citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants born on U.S. soil.
Pearce wrote in one e-mail: "I also intend to push for an Arizona bill that would refuse to accept or issue a birth certificate that recognizes citizenship to those born to illegal aliens, unless one parent is a citizen."
CBS 5 Investigates looked through hundreds of e-mails Pearce had sent to constituents and some of their replies. The e-mails varied from praise to criticism and outlined Pearce’s future plans. Most were about SB 1070, his immigration law.
E-mails from the law’s supporters outnumbered those from critics by seven to one.
One supporter wrote, "I think it is about time we take our state and country back from the Mexicans."
So Pearce went on Bill O'Reilly's show last night to try to explain his thinking. According to Pearce, the 14th Amendment doesn't actually say what it says in in plain language:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
O'Reilly, of course, is not much help: He counters Pearce by observing that this is "federal law" -- though that is hardly the half of it, since this particular principle, of birthright citizenship, is embedded in the Constitution and is indeed a proud part of America's heritage as a nation of immigrants.
Pearce wants to claim that this only refers to people with "legal domicile" in the U.S. -- even though the words appear nowhere in the Constitution.