A young woman enters an exam room, gets up on the table, and puts her feet in the stirrups.
“OK, let’s have a look,” says a cheery woman doctor, who then leaves the room.
Enter the creepiest Uncle Sam you’ve ever seen, popping up between the young woman’s legs. She screams in fright, her legs squirming. In the final scene, a leering Uncle Sam wields a speculum.
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The phones are lighting up at Generation Opportunity, the conservative Virginia-based outfit behind the video (and another like it), aimed at convincing young people not to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.
Enrollment via online exchanges begins Oct. 1, ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline for Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine. As Republicans on Capitol Hill attempt to defund Obamacare in a high-stakes battle that could shut down the government, ground skirmishes are heating up around the country. Generation Opportunity and other conservative groups are joining the fray.
On the pro-Obamacare side, Enroll America and Organizing for Action are holding events aimed at informing the public about the law and how to enroll. The enrollment of healthy young adults is critical to the success of the reform, which relies on their premiums to help fund insurance for older, less-healthy people whom insurers must now cover.
Generation Opportunity made a video for guys, too, involving a rubber glove. (More on that in a moment.) The group, which gets funding from the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, is also planning events around the country, including a tour of 20 college campuses later this month that will have tailgate parties, dances with deejays, games, and prizes, according to Yahoo News.
Generation Opportunity decided to launch its “creepy Uncle Sam” campaign because “we heard consistently that young people didn’t understand the law, and thought they were either being forced to buy government insurance or would get all their health care for free,” says Evan Feinberg, president of Generation Opportunity. “They didn’t realize they had to make a difficult decision whether to opt into these government-run health-care exchanges.”
Mr. Feinberg says that enrolling via the exchanges will allow the federal government to have access to one’s health records, an assertion that the Obama administration says is false. The Department of Health and Human Services has issued a rule aimed at protecting patient privacy.
Feinberg says his goal is to let young people know they have options – including the ability to opt out of coverage by paying a small penalty – and not to scare young women into thinking Uncle Sam wants to rape them. (Indeed, the whole rape thing has been problematic for conservative candidates in recent elections, as former Rep. Todd Akin proved last year, but Feinberg disagrees his group might be playing with fire.)
The first year, the penalty for being uninsured is $95 or 1 percent of one’s income, and will rise in subsequent years. Feinberg acknowledges that young people up to the age of 26 now have the right to stay on their parents' health plan, but adds that not all young people have parents who are able to do that for them. He doesn’t advocate going without insurance; young people who are employed but not covered through work can purchase insurance on the private market.
OK, about that video aimed at guys: A young man goes in for a checkup, and the doctor tells him… well, we’ll spare you the details. But it involves a kind of exam that men especially don’t like. And yes, in the final scene, Creepy Uncle Sam snaps on a rubber glove.
RECOMMENDED: Obamacare facts: How will the law affect you?
Here’s a little secret about the conservative GOP push to defund Obamacare: Even if Republicans who oppose the president’s signature health-reform law stand fast and shut down the government over the issue, Obamacare will keep on chugging along.
That’s right. For the most part, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is armored against attacks on its annual appropriations. So, in that sense, a government shutdown would be the equivalent of taking a swing at Obamacare but hitting the Department of Agriculture instead.
Look, don’t get mad at us – these are the conclusions of the Congressional Research Service, which looked at the issue in July in response to a request from Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma.
“It appears that substantial ACA implementation might continue during a lapse in annual appropriations that resulted in a temporary government shutdown,” says CRS.
Let’s look at the shutdown state-of-play before going further, shall we?
The House on Friday passed a government spending bill that would strip money from Mr. Obama’s health law. Conservatives committed to repealing the law hailed the move as the first step toward its demise.
“Defunding is clearly happening today on a spending measure that defunds it in perpetuity,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R) of Georgia.
And the legislation itself is pretty clear. “No federal funds shall be made available to carry out any provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” reads the report that accompanies the legislation.
But here’s the thing: That language applies only if the bill becomes law. For that to happen, the Senate has to pass it, and Obama has to sign it. The chances of that happening are zero.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid has pronounced it “dead” in his chamber, and even firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas has said that Senator Reid probably has the votes to back that up. Plus, would Obama sign a bill that guts his signature domestic achievement? That isn’t going to happen. Obama has already promised he would veto it, if it somehow found its way to his desk.
That leads us to a possible shutdown. Will the House refuse to pass a continuing resolution without the defund Obamacare language? If that happens, many government activities would grind to a halt after Oct. 1. However, implementation of Obamacare would not be one of them.
There are two reasons this is so, according to CRS. The first is that the federal government has multiple pots of money on which to draw when it comes to ACA implementation.
A shutdown would stop government activities that rely on the discretionary funds provided by annual appropriations. But ACA implementation right now is paid for by multiple-year and mandatory spending. That kind of stuff rolls on, pretty much no matter what.
“In the event of a temporary lapse in discretionary appropriations that results in a government shutdown, it seems likely that the Administration will continue to rely on alternative sources of funding to support ACA implementation activities,” writes CRS.
In addition, projected health insurance subsidies for many lower-income Americans aren’t payments, but tax credits. Those aren’t appropriations at all. And even if the government shuts down, the IRS could continue to process these credits.
That brings us to the second reason Obamacare would roll on: Government agencies have some leeway to structure their activities. IRS employees could still take applications from Americans eligible for subsidies, “even if the salaries of the federal employees who are making those determinations have lapsed," according to CRS.
Given that a new defunding Obamacare provision is not going to pass, and a government shutdown won’t shut down Obamacare enrollment, many Republicans in Washington believe the defund effort is all hat and no cattle.
It is not that these members of the GOP support the health-care law. Far from it. It is that they do not see a positive outcome from the current situation.
“It just seems to me that what’s happened unfortunately is that American expectations on Republicans and what they can do have been raised to a level that’s beyond delivery,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee on Thursday.
Doug Elmendorf sounds frustrated, in a good-natured way. The head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office sees big fiscal problems looming for America, and the public just doesn’t get it.
The CBO chief says most members of Congress understand the problem: Federal health and retirement programs threaten to overwhelm the budget and damage the economy, unless Washington does something. But the public complicates things.
“One obstacle to progress is that I’m not sure that members of the public understand the nature of the challenge,” Mr. Elmendorf told reporters at a Monitor breakfast this week.
“I think there are many people in the country who don’t like federal spending in the abstract and don’t want to pay more in taxes to support more federal spending in the abstract, but who actually put great value on the benefits they receive from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid,” says the Princeton- and Harvard-trained economist.
Elmendorf doesn’t blame the Average Joe for not spending hours poring over the CBO’s website, reading his blog, and checking out the reports. (Oh, and CBO also now has two Twitter accounts: @USCBO and @USCBOcostest.) But having a well-informed public might make his – and Congress’s and the president’s – job easier.
The public’s seemingly contradictory views play out repeatedly in opinion polls on the fast-approaching limit on Washington’s borrowing authority, known as the debt ceiling.
The Washington Post’s "Fix" blog points to two numbers in the latest Post-ABC News poll: First is the 43 percent of Americans who don’t want Congress to raise the debt limit and thus are willing to allow the nation to go into default. Second is the 73 percent who say going into default would do “serious harm” to the economy.
The Fix folks crunched the numbers and found that those who hold both views simultaneously – don’t want to raise the debt limit and yet also believe it will harm the economy – amount to 26 percent of the American public.
Either these people aren’t thinking straight, or, the Fix suggests, they are willing to put up with “short-term pain for long-term gain” – a crisis that forces politicians to solve the problem, despite the huge risks.
The Post poll also found that while big majorities of both Republicans and Democrats agree that defaulting on the debt would be really bad for the economy, opinion breaks down along party lines over whether Congress should raise the debt ceiling. Democrats are for it, Republicans are against it.
So, it seems, politics plays a big part in how people feel about what to do when the government reaches the end of its borrowing authority in mid-October.
Maybe we shouldn’t even be paying attention to polls on the debt ceiling, some commentators suggest.
“There’s nothing quite as useless as a debt-ceiling poll,” writes Steve Benen on the liberal "Maddow Blog." “Folks have no idea what the debt ceiling is, what default is, what bond markets are, or what the full faith and credit of the United States means, so polling on the subject tells us nothing.”
Lots of people think agreeing to raise the debt ceiling means signing up for more debt, when in fact, it’s about paying debts already incurred, Mr. Benen says.
Congress routinely raised the debt ceiling more than 100 times over the years, until 2011. Then, raising the debt ceiling got embroiled in budget negotiations, and the nation went to the edge of its borrowing authority, straining the economy and hurting the political standing of the president and Republicans. Standard & Poor’s lowered America’s credit rating.
Such ugly policymaking is unnecessary in a representative democracy, Benen suggests.
“Indeed, at a certain level, the American public is counting on elected officials to do right by the country, even if the public doesn't know it,” he writes.
But now that the debt ceiling has been politicized, it may be hard to go back to the way things used to be. The CBO's Elmendorf, whose job is to serve members of Congress, says there’s little he can actively do to promote public understanding of the nation’s fiscal imbalance – and the choices Americans face.
At least, he says, there’s the CBO website.
“I think that by making our work for the Congress available more broadly, we are helping to educate people,” Elmendorf says. “But of course, the people who find their way to our website are going to be those who are disproportionately, one might say rather peculiarly, interested in the federal budget.”
Elmendorf says the same holds true of the Fiscal Wake-up Tour that he and other budget experts did a few years back, before his CBO days. They held talks around the country to chambers of commerce and student groups, as well as on local TV.
“I felt like the audience was disproportionately people who were already going to the CBO website,” he says. “So there’s a little problem of preaching to the choir.”
Ms. Kennedy, the former first daughter who was nominated by President Obama to serve in her first official government post, was greeted warmly by senators of both parties.
"I am conscious of my responsibility to uphold the ideals he represented – a deep commitment to public service, a more just America, and a more peaceful world," she said of her father, President John F. Kennedy.
"As a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific, he had hoped to be the first sitting president to make a state visit to Japan. If confirmed as ambassador, I would be humbled to carry forward his legacy in a small way and represent the powerful bonds that unite our two democratic societies," she said.
The Associated Press called the questioning of Kennedy “gentle.” The whole exercise lasted just an hour and 20 minutes.
If confirmed – when lawmakers will vote truly remains the only looming matter – she would be the first woman to hold the position. Other notables have served as ambassador to Japan, including former Vice President Walter Mondale and Howard Baker, the former US senator and chief of staff for President Reagan.
Kennedy would replace John Roos, a Silicon Valley attorney and Obama fundraiser.
A New Yorker, attorney, and mother of three, Kennedy has toyed with pursuing public posts before. She abandoned a bid for the US Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton when the latter became secretary of State (it was ultimately filled by then-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D)). In that effort, Kennedy was clumsy, showing a decided inability to navigate the media circus around her, and she was perceived more generally as lacking a passion for the job.
But ambassadorships usually go to a president’s top political donors and individuals of some social note. And Kennedy, who endorsed Mr. Obama over Ms. Clinton during the heated 2008 Democratic nomination fight, is certainly suited on both counts.
Lawmakers were polite in their querying of her. And, as is often the case when Kennedy is involved, there is always the sense of her historic star power – which is enhanced, if that’s possible, as America readies to observe the 50-year mark of her father’s death this fall.
"You have a good sense of what national interests are," said Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee.
In introducing her, Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York mentioned that Kennedy and one of her daughters recently swam three miles in the Hudson River for charity.
“Her passion to do right and do good burns so strongly within her,” Senator Schumer said. “Thank you for the privilege. It’s truly a privilege.”
Sen. Edward Markey (D), who represents the Kennedy family’s home state of Massachusetts, also gushed. “You are the pluperfect embodiment of someone who has dedicated her life to helping others,” he said.
One Washington Post piece recounting the hearing is headlined: “Kisses for Caroline Kennedy at Senate committee.”
“There’s nobody in either party in this country who won’t return a call from Caroline Kennedy,” former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said Thursday morning during an appearance on MSNBC.
Meanwhile, Vicki Kennedy, widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy, attended the hearing to show her support for the senator’s niece. So did Caroline Kennedy’s husband, Edwin Schlossberg. Japan's ambassador to the United States, Kenichiro Sasae, also made an appearance.
Though Kennedy, also an author of several bestselling books, would fulfill an affinity among the Japanese for a celebrity-like figure in this role, she would have to grapple with real issues in the region, and she doesn’t have any experience there or in the diplomatic realm (though there’s an argument to be made that her entire life has constituted an exercise in public diplomacy).
Trade issues are always paramount in conversations between the countries, and the ongoing friction over territorial disputes between Japan and China is likely to be another top-line item, according to published reports.
Clearly welcoming of Obama’s decision to give Kennedy the post, the Japanese government issued a statement indicating that her appointment shows the “great importance” the US places on its relationship with Japan. In turn, Kennedy told the Senate committee that Japan is an “indispensable partner” and that the relationship between the nations has “global reach.”
If there is any remaining suspense in her appointment, it’s this: It will be interesting to see if she’s unanimously confirmed.
But that’s what happened Tuesday evening in Dallas as Robert Gates and Leon Panetta expressed their concerns about Mr. Obama’s decision last month to ask Congress for its support for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The men did disagree, however, about whether military action is ultimately necessary, with Mr. Gates opposed and Mr. Panetta in favor.
“When the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on him backing up his word,” Panetta said during a panel discussion at Southern Methodist University.
He said Obama should not “subcontract” his decision to lawmakers. "Mr. President, this Congress has a hard time agreeing as to what the time of day is," he added.
Meanwhile, Gates said action “would be throwing gasoline on a very complex fire in the Middle East.”
“Haven’t Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya taught us something about the unintended consequences of military action once it’s launched?” he said.
Gates also suggested that a diplomatic solution that would allow Russia to oversee and guarantee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons reserves is folly and that Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t trustworthy. Obama has backed off his initial call for military action, which was received poorly in Congress and among the general public, in the hope that such a compromise could work.
Gates, who was appointed by President George W. Bush and was the only holdover from that administration to serve Obama, also said that a congressional vote against the president’s push for intervention “would weaken him.”
“It would weaken our country,” he said. “It would weaken us in the eyes of our allies, as well as our adversaries around the world.”
Instead, Gates said he would impose sanctions that marked members of the Assad government as war criminals and would increase support for credible allies within the Syrian resistance, according to The New York Times.
Now enjoying private life, both men are writing books about their time in Washington, and those who embark on memoirs often seek to make news to spark interest. But Gates and Panetta, a Democrat, are widely viewed within the political and intelligence worlds as practical, thoughtful, and experienced policy gurus. Neither is a showboater.
So these latest words from Gates and Panetta are particularly stinging, even though much of official Washington has weighed in with varying degrees of concern about how Obama has handled the Syria matter in the wake of a chemical weapons attack.
The headlines have played accordingly:
“Gates and Panetta Take Obama to Task,” Commentary magazine suggests.
“It is rare enough for current or former White House aides to publicly criticize a president still in office, as David Stockman and George Stephanopoulos notoriously did in the 1980s and 1990s respectively,” the magazine wrote. “It is virtually unheard of for senior cabinet members to do so. Which ... makes it all the more shocking and telling that two of President Obama’s former secretaries of defense – both models of discretion – have gone public with criticism of his handling of Syria.”
Another aspect of the pair’s remarks that worries the Commentary writer and others: They see in Obama’s approach to Syria a “dangerous signal” being sent to Iran.
“Iran is paying very close attention to what we’re doing,” Panetta said, per The New York Times. “There’s no question in my mind they’re looking at the situation, and what they are seeing right now is an element of weakness.”
Obama’s current Defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, shrugged off the episode while declaring his “greatest respect” for his predecessors.
“Obviously, I don’t agree with their perspectives,” he said.
The problem for the president is that many others do.
Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin in an opinion piece published in the online version of Pravda on Thursday, saying the Russian leader uses corruption, repression and violence to rule in his own interest.
“He doesn’t believe that human nature at liberty can rise above its weaknesses and build just, peaceful, prosperous societies. Or, at least, he doesn’t believe Russians can,” wrote Senator McCain.
The Arizona senator and former GOP presidential candidate billed himself as more pro-Russian than the current Moscow regime, saying he was dispelling the falsehoods Russian officials use to stay in power.
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McCain focused in particular on Mr. Putin and his associates punishing dissent. The American lawmaker recounted the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who had accused the Moscow government of colluding with organized criminals, then was beaten and denied medical treatment while in prison.
McCain criticized the imprisonment of the rock band Pussy Riot after they were accused of staging an anti-Putin protest inside a Russian Orthodox Church. And he accused Putin of siding with a dictator by backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“He is not enhancing Russia’s global reputation. He is destroying it. He has made her a friend to tyrants and an enemy to the oppressed, and untrusted by nations that seek to build a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world,” wrote McCain.
McCain’s article was intended as a riposte to an op-ed by Putin published in The New York Times on Sept. 12. That piece criticized the US for threatening airstrikes against Syria, saying such an attack would be contrary to international law, and insisted the US should not think of itself as an exceptional nation, as “we must not forget that God created us equal.”
Putin’s op-ed stirred up controversy in the US, with some pundits saying his arguments made sense and reflected those made by domestic critics of the Obama administration’s approach to Syria, while others said that his approach was cynical hypocrisy meant to weaken Washington’s resolve.
Will McCain’s piece stir up a similar discussion in Russia? Perhaps not – as many commentators are noting today, its publishing circumstances were far from similar. The website Pravda.ru on which it appeared is not the same as the newspaper Pravda, which was once the flagship publication of the Soviet Communist Party, though today it has a much smaller reach.
Pravda.ru is a small site founded in 1999. It has English and Russian editions and covers everything from politics to fashion and celebrities, notes CNN.
It’s not clear if McCain’s effort was published in the Pravda he wanted.
“While editors at the communist Pravda publication said last week they were not going to accept an op-ed by McCain, a spokesman for the senator said McCain submitted one anyway, in addition to [submitting it] to Pravda.ru, since there was confusion over the two different Pravdas. As expected, it was not published by the newspaper,” writes CNN Thursday.
It’s still possible that McCain’s critique of Putin’s government could go viral, reaching more Russians than the circumstances of its publication would otherwise indicate. Some Russian dissidents were quick to react positively to the US lawmaker’s article, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“It’s an embarrassing moment, when a US senator seems closer to Russians than a Russian Federation Senator,” tweeted anti-corruption activist Pavel Senko, according to RFE/RL.
Meanwhile, a top Russian official was dismissive of McCain, saying that his article did not respond directly to the points raised by Putin in The New York Times. Putin criticized the US for often using force in the international arena, and “McCain does not say a word on the issue”, said Alexei Pushkov, head of the State Duma’s committee for international affairs, according to a report in Itar-Tass.
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Congressional Republicans have long talked about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. They’ve spent lots of time focusing on the repeal side of that equation, as shown by Wednesday’s news that the House will soon vote on a stopgap government funding measure that would strip all funds from the president’s signature health-care law.
But what about “replace”? There’s been less discussion in the GOP about what might come next if the party could successfully stop Obamacare. On Wednesday, the House Republican Study Committee attempted to remedy this situation by offering its own version of a US health system future: the American Health Care Reform Act.
(No, no one is calling this “Boehnercare,” after House Speaker John Boehner. Not yet, anyway.)
“While we continue fighting to repeal the president’s health care law, it is also important to lay out the reforms we stand behind and support,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R) of Louisiana, Republican Study Committee chairman.
So what’s in it? At its heart, the legislation would replace Obamacare’s system of state health-care exchanges and government subsidies for lower-income Americans with a health insurance tax deduction of $7,500 for individuals and $20,000 for families.
The deduction would apply to both employer-provided insurance and plans purchased on the individual open market.
“This tax benefit will be portable, will provide payroll tax relief to the working poor, and will give families the flexibility to choose a plan that best fits their needs,” says a summary of the bill posted on the RSC website.
The bill would expand access to tax deductible health savings accounts and increase federal support for state high-risk pools, which provide insurance to those whose health conditions might otherwise price them out of the insurance market.
It would also allow insurance firms to sell health-care policies across state lines and mandate some tort reforms, such as a cap on attorney fees in medical malpractice cases.
These are “common-sense ... free-market solutions which giver American families more choices without the unworkable mandates and billions in taxes included in President Obama’s health care law,” said Representative Scalise.
Liberal critics say the tax deductions in the RSC proposal would possibly encourage healthy people to drop out of employer-provided coverage, and encourage employers to stop offering it. In general, the proposal contains little to actually expand the number of Americans with coverage, writes Jon Walker on the left-leaning blog "FireDogLake."
“This is not a universal health care plan and would probably produce a worse system than the one we currently have,” writes Mr. Walker. “Modern American conservatism has basically redefined itself to make any mechanism to get universal coverage incompatible with conservative principles.”
A "Star Trek"-inspired command center was once NSA Director Keith Alexander’s pride and joy, apparently. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it was it one of his chief means of impressing lawmakers and winning support in Washington’s corridors of power.
No, we’re not making this up. It’s a bit unearthed by Foreign Policy magazine in a lengthy profile of General Alexander titled “The Cowboy of the NSA.” When he was chief of the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many civilian officials and members of Congress down to Fort Belvoir, in suburban Washington, to tour his Information Dominance Center, writes FP’s Shane Harris.
“It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a ‘whoosh’ sound when they slid open and closed,” writes Mr. Harris.
Alexander’s visitors were generally awed by the Trekkie atmosphere, including a swivel in the iconic captain’s chair. Then they were further awed by Alexander’s clear, folksy explanations of modern information technology. His approach to wooing the powerful has won him lots of political support in official Washington, according to FP.
There’s some question as to who actually ordered the Enterprise-like space. The Washington Post reports it wasn’t Alexander. It was built in 1998, according to the Post’s Emily Heil. Alexander did not take the Intelligence and Security Command job until 2001.
Here’s our question: Is there something about "Star Trek" that is uniquely appealing to the men and women who are running the United States? Because this isn’t the only example of the use of "Star Trek" mythology within the government.
In 2010 Internal Revenue Service staff members produced an entire spoof "Star Trek" video for an agency conference. The six-minute film – for a meeting whose theme was “Leading Into the Future” – was produced on an Enterprise set built at the IRS audio-visual studies in New Carrollton, Md.
This spoof featured a trip to the planet NoTax, where chaos ruled over order. The narrative developed, if that’s a word that applies, from there. The actors were actual IRS officials, who bought or made their own costumes. Thankfully, nobody said anything about going where no deduction has gone before.
Yes, these are only two examples, but they’re pretty elaborate ones, if you ask us. Do any New York banks have Star Trek-inspired command centers? Back in June, National Journal published a piece about how "Star Trek" actually explains the NSA – given that the "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" TV spinoff featured an NSA-like electronic intelligence agency named Section 31.
Maybe it’s the sort of person who comes to Washington. As pointed out in “This Town,” the book exploring Washington’s insular culture by New York Times writer Mark Leibovich, it is the student body presidents of American who gravitate to the nation’s capital, not the jocks or artsy types. Perhaps these earnest types feel they are Captain Kirk, or Picard, at heart.
The US public strongly supports the Russian-proposed deal to junk Syria’s chemical weapons, according to two just-released major polls. But voters do not really think the deal will work, and pluralities continue to oppose US airstrikes against the Syrian government – even if diplomacy collapses.
What’s the bottom line from this chain of opinions? It appears as if US voters appear unconvinced that the nation has vital interests at stake in the dispute over Syria’s chemical weapons, despite President Obama’s insistence to the contrary.
“Survey results underscore the difficulty Obama has faced trying to convince a war-weary American public that what happens in Syria matters for the US,” writes the Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan on The Fix political blog.
Let’s step back and take a look at the raw numbers to try and make sense of the public’s somewhat contradictory opinions here, OK?
We’ll start with what voters like. According to a Washington Post/ABC News survey released on Tuesday, 79 percent of respondents approve of Russia’s idea of putting Syria’s chemical weapons in the hands of the UN, which will then destroy them. Only 16 percent said they oppose the plan.
A Pew poll released Monday had similar figures: 67 percent gave thumbs up to Obama’s decision to delay airstrikes in order to give diplomacy time to work.
But if you dig beneath the surface with these surveys you find that the public has little faith that the Russian plan will actually work. Sixty-eight percent of respondents to the Post/ABC poll are at least somewhat confident that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad will not turn over his chemical arsenal.
In the Pew survey 57 percent of respondents said flatly that Syria will never give up its weapons in response to diplomacy.
“The public has little trust in Syria,” writes Pew.
That does not translate to support for US military action to deter Assad from further chemical use if the diplomatic track proves a dead end. In the Post poll, a plurality of 48 percent holds that Congress should not approve military action if diplomacy fails. Forty-four percent said Congress should approve such action. Again, Pew’s numbers are similar: 49 percent say they’d oppose airstrikes under such circumstances. Thirty seven percent would favor them.
Why the unease with the use, or threat of use, of the US military? According to the Post/ABC results, it could be because many voters don’t think it matters to the US. Forty-eight percent say America’s vital interests are not at stake in the situation. Forty-four percent say they are.
Looks like Obama’s prime time speech attempting to outline why the US is involved in Syria did not convince everybody.
As for Obama himself, a majority of 54 percent in the Post poll said he was a strong leader. The back-and-forth of his Syria policy does not seem to have affected that perception.
But that does not mean the public approves of the policy. Fifty-three percent in the Post poll said they disapproved of the way Obama is handling the Syria situation. Only 36 percent approved.
“Those numbers aren’t a vote of confidence for the Commander in Chief,” writes right-leaning talk show host Ed Morrissey on Hot Air.
One day after America’s latest mass shooting killed 12 and paralyzed a neighborhood near the US Capitol, talk on the street here is whether the tragedy will revive debate over expanding background checks for gun buyers and toughening gun controls generally.
The rampage in the Washington Navy Yard has spurred some to call anew for politicians to take the threat of gun violence seriously and to take meaningful action to curtail it.
"There's something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate," said MedStar Washington Hospital Center Chief Medical Officer Janis Orlowski as she updated reporters on the status of several shooting victims. "Let's get rid of this,” she added. “This is not America."
But those who are weighing the political impact of Monday's shooting are doubtful that Dr. Orlowski and like-minded citizens will see much new congressional activity anytime soon.
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President Obama and gun control advocates lost a legislative battle earlier this year to expand background checks for gun buyers, among other measures that had some bipartisan support. The families of many of the children lost in last year’s Sandy Hook Elementary shooting lobbied extensively for the reforms, and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a gun violence victim, and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, were also prominent in that fight. But the proposals died in the Senate amid intense resistance from gun rights advocates and the gun industry.
At the time, Mr. Obama, with those parents and Ms. Giffords by his side for a Rose Garden press conference, chastised lawmakers for playing politics around the issue and misrepresenting the proposals. Uncharacteristically emotional, he called it “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
“This effort is not over,” he said.
On Monday, in the wake of the massacre, the president called the shootings a “cowardly act.” But he made no firm pitch for more legislation, gave no fierce finger wag at lawmakers or the gun lobby. In the time since that April legislative loss, Obama has faced a string of political challenges that have weakened his already-tenuous sway over Congress: national security leaks and the latest international melee over how to handle Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons against its citizens, prime among them.
Even if he would like to press a restart button on the gun control conversation, he doesn’t appear to have the juice to make change at this juncture in his presidency.
It’s also not clear that the navy yard shooting has altered the Senate dynamics enough to support the case for renewed legislative negotiations over gun laws. The Washington Post reports that Obama and his allies “can’t point to a single new Senate supporter.” The paper’s headline also suggests that the “gun control debate has grown cold.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who sponsored the background check proposal that stalled earlier this year, won’t push for it again unless he can bring five new senators to his cause, Politico reports.
The Republican-led House would be even tougher to corral.
Nonetheless, even with a congressional battle unlikely, both sides lined up their usual arguments. Some conservatives reasserted their suggestion that the president and his Democratic friends want to take away the public’s guns. The Washington Times pounced when Obama said that, in Washington, the nation was facing “yet another mass shooting.”
“The last mass shooting was over nine months ago at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown,” the paper wrote. “While we mourn every one of those children and educators lost that day – and today in Washington, D.C. – these events are not a cause for increased alarm.... Mass shootings are extremely rare and should not be described by the president as if they are a common occurrence. He does this to frighten people into believing that they are in more danger in order to get support for restricting Second Amendment rights."
On the other side of the debate, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence tweeted: “Incidents like the #NavyYardShooting will continue to occur with regularity until legislators stop allowing the #NRA to write gun policy.”
Despite uncertainties around congressional interest in another protracted fight as well as the political vulnerabilities of an overextended Obama administration, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, a leading advocate of gun control legislation, pleaded Monday with her colleagues to stand up to the gun lobby once and for all.
“When will enough be enough?” Senator Feinstein asked. “Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life.”
And those Newtown parents, still wounded from their own losses, are ready to hit the Hill circuit again to advocate reform. The navy yard shooting has provided them with a new urgency. Fifty members of the Newtown Action Alliance traveled to Washington Tuesday to renew calls for legislators to enact sweeping background checks for gun buyers.
"We're not gonna go away,” Carlos Soto, the brother of a teacher killed at Sandy Hook, told ABC News.
The players are girded for action, but a burdened president and weary lawmakers are unlikely to host another round of advocacy. Not imminently, anyway.