Eugene Robinson Live

Aug 05, 2014

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly one-hour refuge from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or something like that. Lots of news today -- whatever happened to the summer doldrums? -- but I guess the most hopeful is what looked like a cease-fire in Gaza, last time I checked. My column is about the CIA. A U.S. general was killed in a bombing in Afghanistan. And the news everyone seems to be following is the McDonnell trial. Let's get started.

Why do you think Obama supports--or, at least, turns a blind eye--to the CIA? Is it fear of losing critical support from America's defense establishment? Or is it one of those deals that all politicians make to stay in power: I will hold my nose and support constituents I don't really like (e.g., Tea Party by many current Republicans; segregationists by Southern Democrats before the Civil Rights movement) in order to stay in office.

I think it's much simpler than that. Presidents come into office, and the spooks tell them all sorts of scary stuff that nobody's aware of. Presidents learn the value of good intelligence, and they become reluctant to challenge the spooks when they say we need more, more, more -- forget about that pesky Fourth Amendment. It's understandable, but we have a right to expect our leaders to assert control and oversight, no matter how scary the world is.

HI Eugene -- thanks for taking questions today. The Republican establishment keeps talking about the need to outreach to minorities, respect diversity, etc. etc., and yet the far right seems to be calling the shots. What's a political party to do?

Well, we'll see. The GOP took a pretty big step backwards today when Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama began raving about a "war on whites" that Democrats are allegedly trying to foment. Even Laura Ingraham thought he might really want to choose different words.

Do you think the PM will lose support by being disrespectful to President Obama?

That won't help him, when the dust settles, but it won't hurt him that much either, I think. In my opinion, what Netanyahu has to worry about is answering the question: What did Israel get out of this war? If it's just another brief pause while Hamas re-arms, that's not good for the PM. If it's a chance for peace with the Palestinian Authority, with Egypt and Saudia Arabia serving as interlocutors, then Netanyahu has an answer to the question.

How is it that the Dems can't get any traction over the issue of inaction in Congress? Amazing!

Americans are plenty disgusted with Congress. But a lot of that is equal-opportunity disgust, and while Republicans might shoulder most of the blame, as far as the public is concerned, they aren't made to shoulder all of it.

Eugene, why the urgent matter now to work on immigration reform? Back when the President had the house & senate numbers he didn't want to work on immigration. But now that mid-terms are coming up he's deciding it's time to paint Republicans in a bad light and say it's their fault.

Well, it is their fault. I mean, objectively, it's because of the House Republican leadership that we don't have immigration reform. The Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill. If John Boehner would let it come to the House floor, it would pass with bipartisan support. So why not just let the House vote on the bill?

Have Rand Paul's recent backtracking on his earlier positions (the Civil Rights Act, aid to Israel) seemed especially brazen to you, or just politics as usual?

I'd call it "brazen politics as usual." There are quite a few things he won't recall saying, I predict.

Speaking as a lifelong Democrat, I just smile to myself whenever a GOP right-wingnut goes off like this. Does more for Democratic fundraising, and get-out-the-vote efforts than anything I could ever do.

Indeed it does. GOP strategists across the land are pulling out their hair.

Gene, what is your take on the trial so far? Are the McDonnells greedy and grasping, or utterly clueless on how to "behave"?

Still trying to figure it out. The whole thing is sad and transfixing. For me, the focus is still on the former governor: No matter what the law technically allows in Virginia, why would anyone think it was proper for a governor to accept all those gifts from a businessman who was seeking favors? This whole "blame the grasping, needy wife" routine should not be allowed to shield McDonnell from his own decisions.

There were 32 tunnels that were about to be used to launch a massive attack in a little over a month. Civilians, many of them children were the targets. These tunnels are destroyed. There are plenty of things that can be discussed, but a specific credible attack was likely stopped. If that attack had happened, the repercussions would make this last excursion look minor.

As I have written repeatedly, I am no fan of Hamas. But it is one thing to speculate about a planned attack in which children might have been killed. It is another to contemplate a just-completed attack (hopefully) in which hundreds of children were in fact killed. 

Who do you predict will be the Republican who'll finally stand up to Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa and their ilk with the 21st -century equivalent of "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"?

Well, Rep. Peter King of New York repeatedly calls out Ted Cruz. But he gets no apparent traction among his colleagues.

An earlier poster asked: "Eugene, why the urgent matter now to work on immigration reform? Back when the President had the house & senate numbers he didn't want to work on immigration. But now that mid-terms are coming up he's deciding it's time to paint Republicans in a bad light and say it's their fault." Two further points in response. First, it's just political reality that you can't do a lot of big things at once. In that narrow window when he had large enough majorities in both houses, he prioritized health care. You can question whether that was the right call (I think it was), but you can't realistically argue that he could/should have done everything he might have wanted. Second, the urgency is driven by the Republicans' own shrieking about the "crisis" at the border (i.e., tens of thousands of kids fleeing Central America). They worked their base up into a froth about the situation -- the administration mainly wanted funding to deal with it, but Rs wanted to wrap it into legislation covering more aspects of immigration law, and then they couldn't even get together on their own (draconian) version.

Thanks for the history lesson.

Eugene, Harry Reid has tabled over 200 bills in 2014. How can you claim Republicans aren't trying to work with Democrats. It seems Harry Reid is the one failing to act

Are you referring to the dozens of bills the House has passed to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act? Fire-up-the-base bills introduced by Senate Republicans with no chance of passing or being signed by the president?

You didn't answer the question. Back when Obama had the house & the senate why didn't he pass immigration reform then? I'm not talking now. I'm talking when he had the numbers and instead pushed the ACA down my throat

A previous poster answered your question in some detail. But I'm kind of thinking that as far as you're concerned, anything President Obama managed to get through Congress would have been pushed down your throat. 

There is a crisis at the border, unless of course you want to spend YOUR money on these illegal aliens coming into this country. All these people bring in are scabies and disease. Half of them don't even know how to use toilet paper or modern day plumbing and you're going to throw them into school with my child. Great!

Wow. Somewhere, Emma Lazarus is weeping. ("Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...")

Gene, will impeachment talk rally Obama's black and Latino base to vote in numbers large enough to hold the Senate for the Democrats? Are the Republicans doing anything else to irritate the Democratic base enough to stage a big turnout and deny the GOP the Senate? John Patrick Grace

That's a good question, and I don't know the answer. I do believe the election will hinge on turnout. If Democratic voters feel there is an urgent reason to go to the polls, the party can hold the Senate. If not, the Senate is gone.

I've always felt that the POTUS and Congress should be from two different parties, if for no other reason than to guarantee other voices are heard. But that presupposes that both sides are calm, rational, and willing to compromise. I'm a dreamer.

I honestly don't see how divided government is supposed to work if the party that doesn't control the White House simply refuses to work with the president. It means nothing gets done, and we don't live in a world where years of doing nothing is an option. 

That's it for today, folks. Got to quit a few minutes early. Thanks so much for participating in a lively hour, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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