Tag Archives: Newt Gingrich

Watch the body language at the SOTU

I don’t know about you but I plan to try to interpret some body language that will be on full display this evening in front of the entire United States of America when Donald Trump delivers the presidential State of the Union speech.

Sitting over his left shoulder will be a woman with whom he has had, um . . . words. Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited him to the House of Representatives chamber, then uninvited him, then reinvited him.

The president and the speaker aren’t exactly close. They’re fighting over The Wall. Trump wants money to build it along our southern border; Pelosi says it is an “immoral” request and opposes its construction.

Hey, we’ve seen this kind of thing play out many times over many decades. Speaker John Boehner and later Paul Ryan never looked all that thrilled when Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union speeches. The speakers were Republicans, the president was a Democrat.

How about when Speaker Pelosi sat behind GOP President Bush, or when GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich had to listen to Democratic President Clinton deliver the SOTU? Same thing, man. The speaker of a different party than the president usually doesn’t jump to his or her feet to applaud when POTUS delivers a line that suggests he expects some hand claps.

The animus between the current speaker and the president, though, is more visceral. Or so it appears. Sure, Trump said some nice things about Pelosi when House Democrats elected her speaker at the start of this congressional session. Did he mean them? Hah, you figure it out!

Pelosi, meanwhile, has been even less generous in her public comments about Trump. I believe the president knows it and likely will feel the speaker’s icy stare on the back of his neck while he talks about the State of the (dis)Union.

Pass the popcorn.

Unity, Mr. President? You’re going to talk ‘unity’?

Donald J. Trump has let the cat out of the bag.

The president’s long-planned State of the Union speech is going to stress several points, but he said he wants to stress “unity” in his pitch to a joint session of Congress and to the nation that will watch him on TV.

Well, now. What do you think about that? Here’s what I think.

I believe the president will have to demonstrate his quest for political unity by scrapping a petulant rhetorical device we hear Republicans use all the time.

The first time he uses the term “Democrat” as an adjective — as in “Democrat lawmakers” or “Democrat Party” — will be a clue that his unity pledge is just another empty platitude.

That bit of rhetorical chicanery grates on me. I hate hearing it because I know why Republicans do it. They bastardize the term “Democrat” that way because it has an edge to it. The term doesn’t roll off the tongue the way “Democratic” does.

The conversion of “Democrat” into a adjective began during the mid-1990s when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich decided to characterize Democrats as the “enemy of normal Americans.” I’ll hand it to Republican politicians ever since. They’ve done a good job of turning their “friends” on the other side of the aisle into political cartoon characters.

The latest top Republican, Trump, now is set to talk yet again about unity. He wants to unify the country. He intends to use the SOTU speech as his vehicle for doing that.

Good! I wish him well. I want him to unify the country. I want him to bridge the divide.

I also want him to stop pis**** off those of us who align with the Democratic Party simply by using the term “Democrat” in that insulting manner that has worked so well for the Republics.

Sen. Seliger deserves better than what he got

I cannot put aside the shafting that Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger got from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. And as a result, Patrick also gave the shaft to hundreds of thousands of West Texans who deserve to be represented by their veteran lawmaker.

And for what reason? Because the Republican senator isn’t loyal enough to the ideological agenda proposed and pushed by the Republican lieutenant governor! From my vantage point, I believe Seliger answers first to the West Texans who have elected him to the Texas Senate, not the guy who runs the state’s upper legislative chamber.

Patrick removed Seliger, of Amarillo, as chairman of the Senate Higher Ed Committee; he pulled him off the Senate Education Committee and the Finance Committee. He installed him as chair of the Agriculture Committee, then pulled him out of the chairmanship after Seliger made what Patrick thought was an “lewd” comment about a key Patrick aide.

Seliger believes Patrick is angry over the senator’s resistance toward some of the rigid ideological views that Patrick expresses on occasion. He favors public schools and opposes Patrick’s push for vouchers to lure students away from public education.

So now the residents of Texas Senate District 31 have a senator in office with vastly reduced political clout. Shameful, I tell you!

This tempest reminds me a little of an earlier fight between two congressional Republicans, one of whom represented West Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich was a champion of something called Freedom to Farm. He had led the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994 and pushed the Freedom to Farm bill in the House. It would have dramatically overhauled federal farm policy, which didn’t set well with then-U.S. Rep. Larry Combest, who represented West Texas from Lubbock to Amarillo. Combest resisted Freedom to Farm and voted against it.

Gingrich thought he would punish Combest by denying him a House Agricultural Committee chairmanship. Combest stood firm, telling Gingrich in no uncertain terms that he didn’t work for the speaker, but worked for the farmers and ranchers who elected him to the House. He was their man, not Gingrich’s errand boy.

Combest wouldn’t be bullied by Gingrich in the 1990s. Seliger won’t be bullied by Patrick now.

I see a certain similarity between these two pairings. I pulled for Combest in his fight with the House speaker and I am pulling for Seliger in this feud with the Texas lieutenant governor.

Both men stood and are standing with the men and women who elect them, not the bully who seeks to call the shots in the legislative chamber.

Impeachment: full of land mines, ready to explode

Our nation’s founders had plenty of flaws. They were damn smart, though, when crafting a governing document that sought to create a “more perfect Union.”

One of their nearly perfect notions was to set the bar for impeaching and removing a president quite high. It’s a two-step process.

The U.S. House of Representatives can impeach a president with a simple majority. Then it gets a lot harder.

The U.S. Senate would put the president on trial, but to convict a president the Senate needs 67 out of 100 votes.

That’s a high bar . . . by design.

Thus, I respect the presumed next House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to argue against impeachment. Why? Because the Senate seems to lack the votes to convict Donald Trump of anything the House would argue. Therefore, Pelosi — as shrewd a vote counter as anyone — isn’t going to put her reputation on the line by stampeding an impeachment proceeding through the House without some assurance that the Senate would follow up with a conviction.

Trump reportedly is telling aides he believes the next House — to be controlled by Democrats — will launch a bum’s rush toward impeachment in 2019. I am not so sure about that.

Pelosi is not going to follow the exhibit shown by another former speaker who whipsawed the House into impeaching a president. Newt Gingrich was speaker in 1998 when the House impeached President Clinton. The Senate acquitted Clinton on all the charges. Gingrich was left looking like a fool.

Nancy Pelosi does not want history to repeat itself.

Balance of power shifting in Texas delegation

Here’s a thought or two to consider, according to the Texas Tribune.

Texans who have occupied a lot of chairmanships in the U.S. House of Representatives might be set to bail on the House in the wake of the newfound status as the minority party in the lower congressional chamber.

Buried in the Tribune story analyzing that development is a mention of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, who might “make the upcoming term his last.”

That’s according to “many Republican operatives” on Capitol Hill, reports the Tribune.

Read the story here

Thornberry won’t be able to serve as “ranking minority member” of Armed Services; GOP rules mandate that he is term-limited out of that rank. So he’ll become just one of the gang of GOP members serving on the panel.

I have a special “bond” of sorts with Thornberry. He took office in the House in early January 1995, in the same week I reported for duty as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I covered his congressional career regularly until I left the paper in August 2012. He and I developed a good professional relationship.

I rarely agree with his voting record while representing the sprawling 13th Congressional District, although my position at the newspaper required me to write editorials supporting him, given the paper’s longstanding conservative editorial policy.

And, to be fair, Thornberry has been pilloried unfairly over his more than two decades in office because of the term limits issue. He was elected in 1994 as part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” team of GOP insurgents. The CWA called for term limits for members of Congress. Thornberry never pledged to limit his own service to three consecutive terms, but he did vote to approve it when the House considered it.

He took office in 1995. It’s now 2018. Twenty-three years after becoming a freshman member of the House, Mac Thornberry is about to become a former chairman of a key congressional committee. The Republican majority is set to become the GOP minority. That, according to the Texas Tribune, might be enough to send Thornberry packing and returning to the Texas Panhandle in 2021.

Yep, elections do have consequences. We’re about to see one of those consequences occur on the new day that is about to dawn over Capitol Hill.

‘Democrat’ is a noun, not an adjective

Why do conservatives — chiefly Republicans — continue to use the term “Democrat” in a way that some listeners, such as me, find vaguely insulting?

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders today has used the term “Democrat” as an adjective. She refers to “Democrat members of Congress” who, of course, do things that Republicans dislike.

OK, this can be seen as a silly point. I don’t see it that way.

Republicans began using “Democrat” as an adjective when Republican U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich launched the Contact With American campaign to take control of Congress in 1994.

They ceased referring to members of the other party as being “Democratic” lawmakers. They say “Democrat” because it’s jarring to the ear in ways that are a bit difficult to explain. Plus, they no doubt view their colleagues on the other side as anything but “democratic” in their world view.

Thus, this new use of a long-standing word has taken root. It’s deeper than ever in this divisive period in our political history.

And, oh yes. It still rankles me.

‘Backbencher’ thrusts himself into the limelight

I had never heard of Tim Murphy before today.

He used to be an obscure member of Congress from western Pennsylvania. The Republican lawmaker was known mostly to his constituents and, I presume, his colleagues in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives.

To the rest of this vast nation, he was a stranger.

No … longer.

Many more Americans now know Murphy as a duplicitous politician who got caught doing something he shouldn’t have done. The married pol got involved with an extramarital affair with a much younger woman. That relationship resulted in the woman becoming pregnant.

What did Murphy do at that point? He reportedly asked the woman to obtain an abortion. And why is that a big deal? It’s because Murphy has been an ardent political opponent of abortion. He’s a “pro-life, family values” Republican.

Murphy is going to finish the rest of his term. Then he’ll retire from Congress.

There you have it. An individual who labels himself a certain way behaves at a couple of levels like someone quite different.

He’s not the first politician to fall off the virtue wagon. He won’t be the last one. Politicians of all stripes have said one thing and done another. Former Democratic U.S. Sen. John Edwards used to proclaim his love for his late wife — only to be revealed to have fathered a child with another woman. Ex-GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich wailed aloud about Bill Clinton’s misbehavior with a White House intern while taking a tumble with a female staff member.

The list is endless.

I just have to believe Tim Murphy wishes for a way he could return to the farthest end of the back bench — out of sight and out of mind.

Sorry, Rep. Murphy. You brought this unwanted attention on all by yourself.

The ‘swamp’ is draining … finally?

Tom Price is not a political whippersnapper. He’s not wet behind the ears. He’s been around Washington, D.C., first as a member of Congress and then — until today — as secretary of health and human services.

Dr. Price quit his HHS Cabinet job in the wake of boiling controversy involving his use of private aircraft that taxpayers paid for. It smacked of a spendthrift philosophy that smacked Donald Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” in D.C. squarely in the face.

Price’s travel expenses ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He had promised to pay back $52,000, which amounted to a fraction of the bill he ran up flying aboard private charter jets rather than commercial airlines, which had been the custom over many previous administrations.

Price is now gone. He resigned today. Is the proverbial “swamp” now starting to drain? Well, I’m not holding my breath just yet.

Price once complained loudly against then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s use of “luxury jets” while she flew around the country. Then he gets caught doing something quite similar, if not identical, to what he accused Pelosi of doing.

It all kind of reminds me of how another House speaker, Newt Gingrich, wailed and railed against President Bill Clinton for his affair with the White House intern in the late 1990s — while at the same time Newt was taking a tumble with a congressional staff member while he was married to someone else.

Sigh …

Where do we go from here? The president has made precious few wise moves since stepping into the Oval Office. One of them is his hiring of John Kelly as White House chief of staff. Indeed, it appears quite likely that Gen. Kelly had a hand in Dr. Price’s resignation. Moreover, it also is being reported that Kelly’s fingerprints appear to be all over a new White House directive that mandates that all Cabinet officers and senior staffers clear their travel plans with Kelly and White House legal counsel.

Price’s departure is not a surprise, given the president’s own expressions of anger over the revelation about the former secretar’s travel habits.

The Trump administration, though, needs to pull a lot more plugs at the bottom of that “swamp” to ensure it gets drained.

It helps to know what you don’t know

One of the gazillion things that have been said of Donald John Trump is that the president of the United States “doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.”

He seems to be the Bubble Boy of American politics, insulated from the effects of the barbs and boulders tossed at him. Or so he thinks.

Now comes former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich to offer a bit of specificity, which is that Trump doesn’t realize just how “isolated” he has become.

Critics of this blog will recall that I’ve dismissed Newt in the past as a know-nothing has-been, a philanderer who in the late 1990s made a big case against former President Clinton over his, um, philandering. 

On this one, though, Newt might be on to something. He said on Fox News: “On the Hill, he has far more people willing to sit to one side and not help him right now, and I think that he needs to recognize he’s taken a good first step with bringing in Gen. (John) Kelly (as chief of staff), but he needs to think about what has not worked.”

Trump’s term as president is in trouble. He has declared open warfare on fellow Republicans. Democrats detest him already, so they need zero push to resist every single thing he proposes. He cannot fill key deputy Cabinet posts, or senior White House staff jobs. The roster of federal judgeships remains largely vacant.

The president’s legislative agenda has high-centered. It has no traction. Tax reform is likely to get stalled. He won’t get the money he wants to build that wall along our southern border. Congressional leaders are going to increase the budgetary debt ceiling despite what the president says.

Trump once boasted that “I, alone” can fix what’s wrong.

No, Mr. President. You cannot. It is impossible.

He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know … which is dangerous not just for him, but for the country.

Political ‘leaders’ too often become ‘tyrants’

Jay Leeson, writing for Texas Monthly’s Burka Blog, wonders how Texas legislators can stiff their constituents in favor of an agenda being pushed by the state’s second-leading politician, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

He wonders if state senators, for instance, are working for the people who they represent back home or for the lieutenant governor.

Implicit in his essay is the question about whether Lt. Gov. Patrick is running the Texas Senate — a body over which he presides — with too heavy a hand.

Read the essay here.

Indeed, we see this developing all too often. Politicians attain positions of power thanks to the votes of their fellow politicians and then decide that their voice is more important than anyone else’s. It’s a bipartisan affliction that crosses party lines.

A notable Texas politician, Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson, was famous for corralling fellow senators, getting right into their faces and “persuading” them to vote for a bill of his choosing … or else pay the consequences.

Another brief story involves another Texas pol, former Republican U.S. Rep. Larry Combest of Lubbock, who once refused in the 1990s to support legislation dramatically overhauling the nation’s farm program. House Speaker Newt Gingrich wanted him to support it, and pressured him to do so. Combest refused because he said it would do harm to the West Texas farmers and ranchers who sent him to Congress in the first place.

This dance is occurring now in Washington, D.C. Republican leaders want to overhaul health care laws. They have developed an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that has been getting some seriously angry reviews among voters in congressional districts and states all over the country. Senators and House members are hearing about it, too.

Do they vote for their constituents’ interests or the interests of the party leadership?

Democrats exerted the same pressure on their congressional members when they pushed for passage of the ACA in 2010. The law was unpopular out here in the land, but Democratic congressional leaders insisted on approving it. The ACA’s fortunes have turned; Americans want to keep it and they favor it over the alternative that Republicans are trying to shove down our throats.

But GOP congressional leaders won’t be persuaded by silly notions about public opinion or the principle of representing the desires of the “bosses,” voters who elect them — or who can unelect them if they are given the chance.

Political leadership — whether in Austin or Washington — is vulnerable to those who turn it into tyranny.