Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
Posts tagged "112th Congress"
Asker bbkld Asks:
This isn't the first time in American history that Congress has been so dysfunctional, but it's gotta be in the top three of the worst. In your opinion, is there a person or event capable to leading them out of the darkness and back into a reasonably useful lawmaking body?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think both parties need to dump their leadership in both chambers of Congress in order for things to have a shot at turning around.  We are in the midst of a strange situation — the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate are abysmal, don’t have the influence or power to whip their caucuses in line, aren’t respected by junior members within their own party, can’t work together effectively with the opposition or the President, and yet they are entrenched in their respective leadership positions.  It’s as if the coach of a football team was terrible at his job, couldn’t win a game, lost the respect of his players, had no chance at out-coaching the opposition, but couldn’t be fired for some reason.

The House of Representatives isn’t a legislative body; it’s a tar pit.  The Senate is no better.  A big part of the blame belongs to us.  It is our job to toss out shitty, ineffective, inefficient members of Congress.  The Senate is tougher to do that with because they have six-year-long terms and only a third or so of the Senators are up for reelection every two years.  But we have the ability to make changes in the House of Representatives every two years.  We could fire every single member of the House and replace them with someone new in 2014.  Will we?  Of course not.  The voters are partly to blame.

The senior members of the House and Senate — on both sides of the aisle — are largely to blame for the day-to-day bullshit that has brought the government to the place that it has been in for the last six years or so.  Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, and Steny Hoyer should not have jobs.  They are the party leaders of the worst Congress in American history.  I didn’t include the Senate whips — Dick Durbin and John Cornyn — because I think those two are the only party leaders in Congress who are worth a shit, but I wouldn’t put up a fight if they lost their jobs, too.

The party leaders in the House and the Senate should have control of their respective caucuses at all times.  If not, they aren’t leading.  I’m stunned at how little respect many of the junior members of Congress — even freshmen in the House of Representatives! — have for the leaders of their own party.  Raul Labrador, a Republican member of the House, was elected in 2010.  In 2011, as a freshman Congressman, Labrador stood up in a GOP conference told John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, “I didn’t come to Washington to be part of a team.”  That’s right, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives — one of the five most powerful positions in the country when there is someone useful in the job — implored his fellow Republicans to work together, a freshman Congressman from Idaho straight up told him no in front of every other House Republican.  Speaker Boehner should have remembered that disrespect and in 2012, he should have CRUSHED Labrador.  He should have withheld RNC money from Labrador.  He should have built up a primary challenger against Labrador.  He should have pulled together every powerful Republican that can breathe and walk, flown them to Idaho, and campaigned against Labrador.  Instead? Nothing.  Labrador was reelected last year.  That’s just one example.

The Democrats are just as bad.  They control the Senate and they have a Democrat in the White House.  But Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader and the Democrat from Nevada is, hands-down, the worst Majority Leader in American history.  Nobody is intimidated by him, nobody is influenced by him, nobody respects him.  And why should they?  Why should the White House defer to him?  In 2011, Vice President Biden met with Senator Reid to help pass the two-year extension to the Bush-era tax cuts.  The White House wasn’t ecstatic about the deal that they made with Republicans to extend the tax cuts, but politics require compromises.  Progress requires compromise. 

So, when the Democratic President sent his Vice President to settle the issue with the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, how did Harry Reid decide to help out his President and Vice President?  He said this to the President and Vice President of the United States:

"You guys went and did this deal.  You go sell it.  Not my deal, not my problem.  Not telling you I’m against it, not telling you I’m for it, not yelling at you, just saying you guys made this deal.  Hope you can line up the Senate Democrats behind you because I’m not going to."

Harry Reid wasn’t taking a stand because of a strong, ideological position that he was absolutely opposed to compromising on.  No, Harry Reid was acting like a fucking baby because the White House closed a deal that Harry Reid simply couldn’t do on his own.  If FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, or Bush 43 were President, Harry Reid would be working in a pawn shop in Las Vegas tonight.  But Harry Reid is still the Senate Majority Leader.

I know that I am ranting, but the whole subject pisses me off because the problems are so clear and the solutions are so simple.  The party leadership — Majority and Minority, Democrats and Republicans — from both chambers of Congress — House and Senate — NEED TO GO.

There is one more person who deserves some blame for how shitty the 112th Congress (9% approval rating, by the way) was and the 113th Congress has been, and he’s not a member of Congress:  President Barack Obama.  As I mentioned above, every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, would have absolutely smashed individual members of the House and Senate, specific blocs of voters, and each chamber of Congress as a whole if they had been as intransigent, disrespectful, and ineffective as these last two Congresses have been.  It wouldn’t have gotten as bad with many of those Presidents because they either had a mastery of the legislative process or they used the bully pulpit of the Presidency to win the public opinion war.  President Obama has done none of these things.  Junior Senators and freshman House members from Obama’s own party have no problem openly criticizing the President or opposing Administration goals.  That should NEVER happen.  Joe Manchin should be working in a coal mine in West Virginia instead of taking shots at his own President whenever he feels like it.  Manchin’s predecessor, Robert Byrd, earned the right to be independent whenever he wanted, but even after 50 years in the Senate, Byrd knew to support his President.  What’s even worse is that Obama’s top Cabinet members are legendary Senators — Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.  Whenever a President wants something from his Democrats on the Hill, he should get it.  If not, Biden, Kerry, and Hagel should be laying the "Johnson Treatment” on anyone who needs it.  They have to because Obama obviously doesn’t have that weapon in his arsenal.  As embarrassing as Obama’s influence with his fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill has been, can you imagine how bad it would be without Joe Biden doing the dirty work with Congress over the past four years?  

There’s a lot of anger in this post and I know that it is all over the place, but I am truly angry about this subject.  As I said, the problems are clear and the solutions are obvious.  And the past 80 years of Presidential/Congressional relations are a blueprint for what works and what doesn’t.  We need new party leaders on both sides of the aisle in both chambers of Congress.  And we need a President whose approach to dealing with useless Congresses and intransigent, disrespectful Congressmen is more FDR/Eisenhower/LBJ than Carter/Obama.  

Anonymous asked:  Any thoughts on Bob Dole’s recent Senate appearance to ask for the passing to the UN Disability Treaty?

I wish I could say that I was surprised that the Senate didn’t do the right thing despite the appearance and support of a nearly 90-year-old Bob Dole who not only dedicated his life to public service, but did so with significant disabilities because of the fact that he very nearly gave up his life fighting for this country in World War II.

I wish I could say that I was surprised, but I’m not.  Nothing surprises me anymore about the Senate or the House, particularly in this 112th Congress.  I’m hoping that enough was done in November to, for a lack of a better term, flush the waste out of the Capitol so that the 113th Congress can get some good things done for our country.

It just makes me angry now.  It makes me angry that these are our representatives.  It makes me angry that 38 United States Senators voted against ratifying a treaty that was basically an international version of our own American With Disabilities Act.  The United Nations modeled the treaty after the ADA in order to urge people around the world to take care of and no discriminate against people with disabilities.  And after frail, wheelchair bound Bob Dole made an appearance in support of the treaty’s ratification, he was wheeled out of the Senate chamber and 38 American Senators said no. 

Thirty-eight American Senators opposed that treaty while Arizona Senator John McCain, who spent nearly six years being tortured in a North Vietnamese prison and can’t even raise his arm into the air to be recognized by the presiding officer, sat in that chamber.  I can’t even imagine how Senator McCain can caucus with those Senators in the future and work together with them.  I can’t understand it.

38.  Thirty-eight Senators rejected that treaty while Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye was in the chamber.  Senator Inouye is 88 years old and disabled.  Do you know why Senator Inouye is disabled?  BECAUSE HE LEFT HIS ARM ON A HILLSIDE IN ITALY FIGHTING FOR HIS COUNTRY.  That was after he had already been shot in the stomach attacking a German bunker.  A German grenade blew his right arm off of his body as Inouye prepared to toss his own grenade.  Do you know what happened when Daniel Inouye’s arm was blown off of his body?  He reached down with the arm he had left, pulled the grenade that he was about to throw out of the closed hand of his severed right arm, and then he finished the job that he had started, tossed the grenade at the Germans, and kept shooting with the arm he had left until he passed out.  Thirty-eight of Senator Inouye’s colleagues rejected an international treaty protecting the rights of people like Inouye as he sat there.

It’s shameful.  After the vote, John Kerry (another American who served his country and was wounded in combat, by the way) said it was “one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate and it needs to be a wake-up call about a broken institution that’s letting down the American people.”  I couldn’t agree more with Senator Kerry except for one thing:  rejecting this treaty lets down the people of the world — 700 million of whom are disabled.

Thirty-eight United States Senators should be ashamed of themselves and their constituents should be disgusted by their representation.  Shame on you, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boozman of Arkansas, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Dan Coats of Indiana, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Bob Corker of Tennessee, John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Mike Lee of Utah (who took the lead in opposing the treaty’s ratification), Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jim Risch of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Richard Shelby of Alabama, John Thune of South Dakota, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, David Vitter of Louisiana, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.  If I were running the DSCC, I would target all 38 of you in your next campaigns and lay your vote for the rejection of this treaty’s ratification on your doorstep every night so that you step in it every morning and drag it with you every time that you speak to a veterans organization or a group of people with disabilities or a senior citizen.  I’d add “go to hell”, but with the 112th Congress in charge, I’m not positive that we aren’t already there.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Any thoughts on Bob Dole's recent Senate appearance to ask for the passing to the UN Disability Treaty?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I wish I could say that I was surprised that the Senate didn’t do the right thing despite the appearance and support of a nearly 90-year-old Bob Dole who not only dedicated his life to public service, but did so with significant disabilities because of the fact that he very nearly gave up his life fighting for this country in World War II.

I wish I could say that I was surprised, but I’m not.  Nothing surprises me anymore about the Senate or the House, particularly in this 112th Congress.  I’m hoping that enough was done in November to, for a lack of a better term, flush the waste out of the Capitol so that the 113th Congress can get some good things done for our country.

It just makes me angry now.  It makes me angry that these are our representatives.  It makes me angry that 38 United States Senators voted against ratifying a treaty that was basically an international version of our own American With Disabilities Act.  The United Nations modeled the treaty after the ADA in order to urge people around the world to take care of and no discriminate against people with disabilities.  And after frail, wheelchair bound Bob Dole made an appearance in support of the treaty’s ratification, he was wheeled out of the Senate chamber and 38 American Senators said no. 

Thirty-eight American Senators opposed that treaty while Arizona Senator John McCain, who spent nearly six years being tortured in a North Vietnamese prison and can’t even raise his arm into the air to be recognized by the presiding officer, sat in that chamber.  I can’t even imagine how Senator McCain can caucus with those Senators in the future and work together with them.  I can’t understand it.

38.  Thirty-eight Senators rejected that treaty while Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye was in the chamber.  Senator Inouye is 88 years old and disabled.  Do you know why Senator Inouye is disabled?  BECAUSE HE LEFT HIS ARM ON A HILLSIDE IN ITALY FIGHTING FOR HIS COUNTRY.  That was after he had already been shot in the stomach attacking a German bunker.  A German grenade blew his right arm off of his body as Inouye prepared to toss his own grenade.  Do you know what happened when Daniel Inouye’s arm was blown off of his body?  He reached down with the arm he had left, pulled the grenade that he was about to throw out of the closed hand of his severed right arm, and then he finished the job that he had started, tossed the grenade at the Germans, and kept shooting with the arm he had left until he passed out.  Thirty-eight of Senator Inouye’s colleagues rejected an international treaty protecting the rights of people like Inouye as he sat there.

It’s shameful.  After the vote, John Kerry (another American who served his country and was wounded in combat, by the way) said it was “one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate and it needs to be a wake-up call about a broken institution that’s letting down the American people.”  I couldn’t agree more with Senator Kerry except for one thing:  rejecting this treaty lets down the people of the world — 700 million of whom are disabled.

Thirty-eight United States Senators should be ashamed of themselves and their constituents should be disgusted by their representation.  Shame on you, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boozman of Arkansas, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Dan Coats of Indiana, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Bob Corker of Tennessee, John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Mike Lee of Utah (who took the lead in opposing the treaty’s ratification), Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jim Risch of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Richard Shelby of Alabama, John Thune of South Dakota, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, David Vitter of Louisiana, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.  If I were running the DSCC, I would target all 38 of you in your next campaigns and lay your vote for the rejection of this treaty’s ratification on your doorstep every night so that you step in it every morning and drag it with you every time that you speak to a veterans organization or a group of people with disabilities or a senior citizen.  I’d add “go to hell”, but with the 112th Congress in charge, I’m not positive that we aren’t already there. 

Worst ever? In the modern era, there’s not even much room for debate. Nineteenth century Congresses might have had more corruption. And in the pre-Civil War years, members killed each other in duels with near regularity.

But those were the acts of individuals. As members of the 112th Congress prepare to adjourn as early as today so most of them can go home to campaign for re-election, they leave an unsurpassed record of failure and unfinished business.

USA Today editorial on the 112th Congress, which I absolutely think is the worst Congress in American history. 

Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives
Robert Draper
Hardcover.  327 pp.
April 24, 2012.  Free Press.



John Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan who represents the western suburbs of Detroit, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Monroe in the United States House of Representatives is the Dean of the House.  In a couple of months, Congressman Dingell will celebrate his 86th birthday.  If he wins his campaign in November, as he has done the last 28 times he’s been on the ballot, and serves past June 8, 2013, he will have spent more time in Congress than any American in history.  Right now, only two Americans in 223 years of American History have served longer in Congress.  Nobody has spent more time in the House of Representatives.  Dingell joined the House on December 13, 1955, succeeding his father, John Dingell, Sr., who had died a few months earlier.  Between the current Congressman Dingell and his father, somebody named John Dingell has represented Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives for almost 80 consecutive years.

If anybody is an expert on the lower chamber of Congress — the people’s chamber — it is John Dingell.  If anybody can give an educated opinion on the state of America’s legislative branch, it is this aging World War II veteran who has held office in Washington, D.C. through the Administrations of 11 Presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama).  John Dingell’s ties to the House of Representatives even include five years as page where he watched his father work alongside legislative titans and stood transfixed on the floor of the House during the joint session of Congress where President Franklin D. Roosevelt mourned the “day which will live in infamy” and declared war on Japan.

After nearly 57 years as a member of the House of Representatives and 75 years as a keen observer of Congress’s lower chamber, John Dingell has seemingly experienced it all, but the 112th Congress — the current session, which began on January 3, 2011 and saw Republicans take control of the House after the disastrous 2010 midterm elections for House Democrats — is difficult to deal with.  In Robert Draper’s new book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives (Free Press, 2012), Dingell admits that “I’m more frustrated than I’ve ever been in my career.”  The Dean of the House tries to flip through the pages of political history that he has personally experienced, yet he can’t find another example of an organization or individual who had approval ratings as low as the 9% approval rating that Americans have for the 112th Congress.  In fact, Dingell finally says, “I think pedophiles would do better.”

Robert Draper is a top-notch journalist for publications such as the New York Times Magazine, GQ, and National Geographic, and his previous book, Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush (BOOKKINDLE), was a fascinating insider account of the Executive branch as President Bush’s two terms were coming to a close.  Do Not Ask What Good We Do is just as intriguing, perhaps more so because instead of a White House with one leader and nearly everyone else working toward the same goals, the House of Representatives is full of 435 very different Americans from very different parts of the country.  And while the House is controlled by a Republican Party that currently holds on to a 52-vote majority over the Democrats, the two parties themselves have major ideological differences within them.

Do Not Ask What Good We Do focuses on a handful of House members.  Some of Draper’s subjects are very well-known and very influential like current Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Dingell (D-MI), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), disgraced former New York Democrat Anthony Weiner, and the courageous Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords who was nearly killed in an assassination attempt in her Congressional district at the beginning of the 112th Congress.  But Draper also looks at some of the 87 freshmen who helped the Republicans take back the House in November 2010 thanks to their Tea Party credentials and relentless opposition to anything and everything that President Barack Obama has attempted to do, particularly Florida’s Allen West, Missouri’s Billy Long, Blake Farenthold of Texas, Renee Elmers of North Carolina, Raul Labrador of Idaho, and South Carolina’s “Four Horsemen” freshmen: Jeff Duncan, Tim Scott, Trey Gowdy, and Mick Mulvaney.

By introducing us to some of the personalities who are responsible for crafting and passing legislation, Draper helps us understand why John Dingell is so frustrated, why nothing is getting done, and why the approval rating of Congress is in single digits.  We see Tea Party Republican freshmen whose intransigence not only provide headaches for the Democratic President, the Democratic Senate, or the Democratic House minority, but also for moderate Republicans or Congressional veterans who are never conservative enough for the newcomers who hold up bills and refuse to compromise.  While there are admirable, hard-working, pragmatic legislators on both sides of the aisle, there are also Members of Congress — people that were somehow elected by a majority of Americans to represent their district in the House of Representatives — like Idaho’s Republican freshman Raul Labrador who is quoted in a Republican conference telling Speaker Boehner, “I didn’t come to Washington to be part of a team.”  Or, Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, whose obsession with tacking on amendments, need to make a floor speech about something every morning, and stubborn attitude is one of the most blatant examples I’ve ever seen of government waste.

Do Not Ask What Good We Do is a fascinating book, but tremendously frustrating.  The frustration doesn’t come from Robert Draper’s first-class reporting or his ability to put personalities to the faces and names we see on C-SPAN; it comes from the frightening fact that if, as many Americans believe, our system is broken and needs to be fixed, the repairs should start with the House of Representatives.  The Senate is the more deliberative body of Congress — designed to represent the states equally.  The House is supposed to be the people’s chamber — designed to represent us, the average American voter or taxpayer, as directly as possible.  I’m scared for my country if these are the best 435 people we have to represent us.  Not all of the members of the House are equally horrible, but enough of them are bad that I worry for my country.  I am saddened for my country if we can’t do better than many of these men and women that we send to Congress to represent the districts that we live in.  We have to be able to do better.  We must do better.

Draper’s title — Do Not Ask What Good We Do — comes from one of this country’s original members of Congress, Fisher Ames of Massachusetts, who wrote of Congress in 1796, “If we should finish and leave the world right side up, it will be happy.  Do not ask what good we do: that is not a fair question, in these days of faction.”  Thanks to Draper’s revealing account of the current House of Representatives, we can look at the 112th Congress and know not to ask what good they do, for there hasn’t been anything of note in the past two years that has made our lives better.  We know that we don’t need to ask how bad they’ve been; the 9% approval rating answers that question clearly.  Instead, we should ask ourselves: “Can we do better?” and “Is it January 3, 2013 yet?”.      

Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives by Robert Draper is available now from Free Press.  You can order the book from Amazon, or download it instantly for your Kindle.  Robert Draper is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and GQ.  His previous book was the New York Times best-seller, Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush (BOOKKINDLE).  Robert Draper is also on Twitter @draperrobert.

I’m only halfway through it, but I highly recommend Robert Draper’s new book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives (BOOKKINDLE).  It is a revealing look at the House of Representatives during this infuriating 112th Congress that took office in January 2011.  Draper is a first-rate political reporter and his book on George W. Bush’s Administration, Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush (BOOKKINDLE) was just as good as this latest release.  I’ve had a hard time pulling myself away from Do Not Ask What Good We Do since I started reading it this afternoon.  It’s out now from Free Press and I definitely suggest checking it out.