Republican Kisses

No, the Davey Crockett coonskin cap didn’t help. It was still Pittsburgh, and on July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened out here in Anaheim – the Happiest Place on Earth, and a theme park too, maybe the first one. Any eight-year-old boy in Pittsburgh would feel the sting of that. The good stuff was elsewhere, far away, and always would be. Pittsburgh had amusement parks of course – two big ones – but it wasn’t the same thing. Those were just rides and arcades. There was no unifying principle – it was all random. Days spent at those Pittsburgh parks were fun, but random fun leads to existential despair. What was going on here, and what did it all mean?

That’s the problem Walt Disney solved. One had only to look around Disneyland. There’s Frontier Land, Davey Crockett territory, and Cinderella’s castle, and Mickey and Minnie and Goofy are standing on every corner. It all tied back to the television shows and movies that every kid in America knew, as a common experience. It still does. Disney changes the park, and all the Disney theme parks around the world, as Disney develops new iconic characters that all kids know and love. Davey Crockett is long gone. The Little Mermaid has had her day. The spunky girl from Frozen is hot now, but it’s all about what everyone knows and loves, at the time. That’s comforting.

Pittsburgh had nothing like that. We only had the two amusement parks, offering an unsettling sort of Franz Kafka experience. The closest thing we had to a theme park was Hershey Park over near Harrisburg – now renamed Hersheypark for some reason. That was built in 1908 as a “leisure park” for Milton Hershey’s employees at his giant chocolate factory, but was soon open to the public, and lots of cool rides and super coasters were added. It really took off in the eighties and became an actual theme park – if chocolate can be a theme. That may be a stretch, but everyone knows those little Hershey Kisses. That’s iconic, and now they have a 330 foot tall observation tower there – the Kissing Tower of course. It’s a sweet place. Kiss and make up. Everything will be fine.

This actually sounds like a dreadful place, the kind of place where miserable young couples about to get divorced go to see if there’s still any reason not to get divorced, and where kids get tooth decay. Few things are solved by adding sugar, or by adding high-fructose corn syrup as the case may be, but a theme is a theme and this is the Sweetest Place on Earth. Take that, Walt Disney!

This is also where the Republicans, outraged with each other once again, as usual, are going to kiss and make up, as Politico notes here:

There are some Senate Republicans who want to hike the gas tax to help pay for the nation’s crumbling roads. House Republicans have firmly ruled it out.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants voters to know that Republican control of Washington isn’t something to fear. But this week, Texas Republican Rep. Randy Weber compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. And No. 3 House Republican Steve Scalise has faced a barrage of questions about why he voted against establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day when he was a Louisiana legislator, why he once opposed a bill to apologize for slavery and why he spoke in a meeting with white supremacists.

And just before Republicans depart for a retreat meant to close the giant chasm between the two chambers, the House GOP will vote to wipe away programs to defer deportations. Some Senate Republicans are balking at the package.

Someone needs to kiss and make up:

More often than not, House and Senate Republicans seem like they come from different parties, if not different planets. With a bruising 2015 just getting underway, Republicans are heading to a two-day retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania, to see if they can get in sync on their policy priorities – but more important, their expectations.

“It’s time to air the differences, see how big they are and hopefully find the common ground,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who served in the House for 14 years. “There’s no downside to it. It’s kind of the peak and then things disintegrate afterwards. This will be the moment of unity.”

Good luck with that, because the agenda isn’t unity, it’s facing dismal facts:

With Republicans controlling both chambers for the first time in eight years, this week’s retreat in the Sweetest Place on Earth is specifically meant to dampen expectations about what will happen in Republican Washington, according to multiple sources involved in the planning. Both chambers’ leaderships also want to provide lawmakers with a “reality-based outlook” on what McConnell can get through the Senate. For example, the House has moved quickly to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, while the Senate is a week away from even considering amendments to the bill.

“We just need to make sure that our colleagues in the House know that we still are going to have some pretty significant limitations when it comes to moving things with speed,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a GOP leader who forcefully advocated for the joint retreat. “They can pass stuff and send it over, and they’re frustrated that we can’t take it up and pass it.”

The message seems to be clear. Don’t expect much, and given that, some guys are just skipping the whole thing:

Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Tim Scott of South Carolina are all taking a pass. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a frequent headache for both Senate and House leadership, will attend.

Cruz will make trouble, in spite of this:

The bold-faced names who will speak to Republicans include former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and comedian Jay Leno. Mainstay Republican retreat figures like pollster David Winston, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan will all participate in the closed meetings. Reporters and the public are not allowed anywhere near the lawmakers participating in the retreat, though leaders will hold a series of news conferences on Thursday.

There you have it. Jay Leno will provide that pleasant retro-humor that offends no one, and excites no one either, which is why NBC let him go. Tony Blair, the man who stood by George W. Bush, even after Bush proved himself to be a monumentally dangerous idiot, will model mindless loyalty. Peggy Noonan will offer moony goofy feel-good metaphors that make no sense if you actually think about them – she was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan after all. All of it will be sugary – empty calories – but this is Hershey, Pennsylvania, not Pittsburgh. We’re talking sweet milk chocolate, not garlic-laden kielbasa.

Still, there will be problems:

A group of hardline conservatives will use this week’s GOP retreat to pressure their colleagues into adopting an agenda that includes bills to end “birthright” citizenship, let states impose new requirements for voting and support Israel’s right to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King’s office sent an email Wednesday to chiefs of staffs encouraging lawmakers involved with the Conservative Opportunity Society – a group founded by former Speaker Newt Gingrich – to “stand up at the microphones” during the retreat to advocate for 14 bills they want the GOP-controlled chambers to vote on.

That will be the usual nastiness. There are some things that chocolate cannot fix, and there was also the last thing the Republicans did before heading off to the Sweetest Place on Earth:

Government shutdown wars are back with a vengeance.

House Republicans teed up a new standoff on Wednesday with passage of legislation that overturns President Barack Obama’s executive actions on deportation relief for millions of undocumented immigrants.

The bill passed 236-191, with 10 Republicans voting against it and 2 Democrats supporting it.

The legislation is tied to the funding of the Department of Homeland Security, which expires on Feb. 28. The department will partially shut down if a bill isn’t enacted by then. The rest of the government is funded through September.

Forget the dead cartoonists in Paris. If the Senate, now also in the hands of the Republicans, agrees, majors parts of our Department of Homeland Security will shut down unless Obama agrees to stop being so nice to those brown people who really shouldn’t be here. Obama wouldn’t dare veto this. They added a classic poison pill to the bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, not a Hershey Kiss, but it may not work:

It’s unlikely to pass the Senate, where Democrats appear to have the votes to filibuster. It also faces a veto threat from the White House. House GOP leadership aides privately acknowledge that their bill may not go any further in its current form.

Adding to the precariousness of the GOP position, cutting off funding for DHS is likely to have the most adverse impact on border security and deportations, which Republicans favor, and minimal impact on the elements of DHS’ work that Obama’s executive action covers, which are funded through fees.

They’ll get what they don’t want by doing this, as some Republican are wary of what’s going on here:

In an unusual move, a faction of relative moderate House Republicans mounted a mini-rebellion against what one of them, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), described as conservative overreach. But the revolt failed as the contentious amendment by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to sunset the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program passed with 26 Republicans opposed. “Look, I think our party needs to start offering solutions,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who voted against the anti-DACA amendment but in favor of final passage of the bill. “But now I think, you know, once you have kids that are basically registered, now the government has their name and address, got them to come forward – and then to turn around and say it’s not going to be renewed. … I just think it’s the wrong message to send for our party.”

Denham voted against the final bill. “I don’t believe this is the right place to have the immigration debate,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We are overreaching into an area that goes above and beyond what we’re trying to accomplish with the Homeland Security bill.”

What was that all about? The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explains the details:

Today’s action goes further than merely defunding Obama’s recent executive actions deferring the deportation of immigrants brought here as children (the 2012 DACA) and of millions of parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents (the more recent DAPA).

It also defunds the implementation of the 2011 Morton memos. The key Morton memo doesn’t formally defer deportation or extend work permits, which Republicans have denounced as crossing from standard prosecutorial discretion into rewriting the law. Rather, it merely lays out general enforcement guidelines that direct agents and lawyers to prioritize the deportation of serious felons, repeat offenders, and serious threats to national security, over that of longtime residents, minors, the elderly, or the unhealthy. This was in keeping with Obama’s shift in priorities away from the deportation of low-level offenders with jobs and/or longtime ties to communities, and towards serious criminals and the border.

Today’s GOP action, at bottom, is effectively a repudiation of those basic underlying priorities. That would appear to mean Republicans think enforcement resources should be re-focused back on the deportation of low-level offenders – with jobs and community ties – from the interior. At least, it invites the question of whether that’s what Republicans think.

They may not be thinking clearly. Politicians who want to be nasty, to show their base back home that they’ll make sure good white people aren’t pushed around any longer – the kids of these brown people and their elderly will suffer horribly as families are torn apart, as they should suffer, because that’s so damned sweet and fitting – need to think this through:

“Republicans just voted against a mainstream law enforcement utilization of prosecutorial discretion,” Frank Sharry of America’s Voice tells me. “Would they instruct enforcement agents to treat a DREAMer, the spouse of a soldier, or the mother of an American citizen as an equal deportation priority to a convicted gang member, a smuggler, or a serious criminal?”


When asked how we should approach the 11 million – is deportation the answer? – GOP lawmakers tend to sidestep the question. Indeed, Republicans who support reform privately express frustration over the refusal of many GOP lawmakers to get serious about the real dilemma we face – given that mass deportation isn’t going to happen. GOP aides derisively describe those who won’t entertain any form of legalization as the “boxcars crowd.”

Two days at the Sweetest Place on Earth won’t make these two sides agree, and Sargent adds this:

What’s profoundly frustrating about all this is that for a time, it looked like we might have a real debate about the 11 million. Some Senate Republicans joined Democrats to pass comprehensive reform through the Senate in 2013, which traded a long path to citizenship for a major escalation of border security. Republican leaders know some form of this exchange – legalization under strict conditions tied to increased enforcement benchmarks – is the only path to genuine reform. After the Senate bill passed, John Boehner said a “vast majority” of Republicans know the 11 million must be dealt with. Republicans such as Paul Ryan and Mario Diaz-Balart floated versions of this basic trade-off. It was articulated in the House GOP leadership’s own immigration reform principles.

But conservatives revolted, and that was the end of that. It was only after it became clear that Republicans would not vote on any such solution – even one of their own design, based on their own stated principles – that Obama took his most ambitious unilateral step to restore some sanity to our enforcement regime. And of course, that has led us right back to a place where Republicans are framing their stance on this issue primarily around opposition to Obama.

Yes, some Senate Republicans joined Democrats to pass comprehensive reform through the Senate in 2013 – led by Marco Rubio, who decided to skip the Hershey event entirely. He’s hated by too many in the party for co-sponsoring that 2013 Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill, that would have been a triumph for Obama, somehow or other. Rubio would not get any little chocolate kisses. Sargent also notes that House Republican position is now far to the right of Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” stance. Romney wanted to make life so miserable for certain low-level Hispanic folks that any of them here illegally would just give up and go home, or go somewhere else. This is more direct than that.

This put the often sensible and often browbeaten House speaker, John Boehner, in an awkward position, so he had this to say:

We do not take this action lightly, but simply, there is no alternative. It’s not a dispute between the parties or even the branches of our government. This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself.

That softens things. This isn’t about immigration, you see – not at all. This is a structural issue, a constitutional issue, having to do with the separation of powers. Congress passes laws and the president has to faithfully execute them, so that makes the president the servant of the Congress, like the valet or butler or housekeeper, and when the servants get uppity they have to be slapped down, so they’ll just do their damned job.

No, wait – Boehner didn’t use that word, uppity, and he didn’t talk about servants, directly. He just said that certain people, like this Obama guy who somehow ended up in the White House, just don’t know their place. Boehner didn’t say that but he did imply that – dangerous talk – but really, all he was really saying was that he was sorry this had to be about immigration. It could have been about anything. It’s just bad luck for certain good people, and their kids, and families that will be torn apart. They meant no harm to anyone.

No one believes that for a minute, but that is the evolving Republican line. It covers up the internal tensions in the party over how to slam Hispanics to win the base and also get at least some of the Hispanic vote in 2016 and beyond. Maybe they’ll talk about that in Hershey, behind closed doors, but Dana Milbank sees more than this issue:

Even as Republicans lay the cornerstone of their new majority, there are already cracks in the foundation. In a sense, this is an inevitable byproduct of taking unified control of the legislature. Now it’s no longer enough to stop Obama (on which Republicans were unified) and Republicans must come up with their own agenda (on which there is little unity).

The latest instance of the party’s right hand not knowing what its far-right hand is doing comes from National Journal’s Daniel Newhauser, who reported Tuesday that a rump group of conservative purists is about to bolt the House Republican Study Committee, until now the main caucus for conservatives. The reasoning of this new “invitation-only” group of hardline conservatives? The other group hasn’t been combative enough with GOP leaders.

The conservative purists want an internal fight, now, but they are who they are:

Republicans have had difficulty getting widespread agreement on an approach to health care and immigration legislation. There’s also a split over military matters. At Heritage’s conservative policy conference on Tuesday, for example, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a Navy pilot, called for billions of dollars to be sent to Ukraine and proposed that the United States provide Ukraine with “lethal military aid” to fight Russia. He proposed Republicans send an “unmistakable message to Obama… a man clearly uncomfortable with accepting America’s natural and manifest role as a global superpower.”

But immediately preceding Bridenstine on the stage was Rand Paul, who told the same audience that the United States needn’t “be involved in every war and every skirmish” and should allow much of the war against Islamic extremists to be “fought by the Middle East.” He criticized U.S. interventions in both Libya and Iraq.

Maybe they can work that out in Hershey too, but probably not. There really are things that chocolate cannot fix, even at the Sweetest Place on Earth – and these guys aren’t sweet.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Republican Kisses

  1. kvntodd11 says:

    I don’t have high hopes for them to come out of the Hershey conference with anything meaningful. Either way, it will be really interesting to see them try to prove they can govern over the next two years. As you said, the House and Senate Republicans have at least somewhat different views, and very different motivations. In the House, districts have become so gerrymandered that a huge chunk of the GOP is in a safe seat, where the only realistic electoral challenge they will face is from the right. In the Senate though, you’ve got to deal with a statewide constituency. There, even in fairly conservative states there’s the possibility of a moderate Dem picking up the seat if a Republican gets too far out on the right wing. That’s not even to mention the GOP Senators who are in all likelihood running for President. They’re trying to appeal to their base and seem moderate enough on at least some issues to be electable at the same time. Makes for a fascinating mixture.

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