- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Waco Tribune-Herald. March 27, 2016.

Republican focus on infidelity, nudity and insults shows America in decline

Easter 2016 is one for the history books, but only if they’re rated “R.” The front-runners of a political party with increasingly tenuous claims as guardians of Christian virtues are locked in a tawdry, decidedly un-Christian scandal over infidelity, nudity and conduct unbecoming a president or first lady.

The Republicans’ main act in this ongoing circus is so scandalous that parents can’t even allow their young to watch live coverage of certain presidential campaigns for fear profanity might erupt or a vicious slur might be made about someone’s race or religion. Such rhetoric invites stern judgment of just what Christian scruples are anymore.

Family newspapers operating under societal standards of decency gleefully ignored by rampant social media have printed the broad outlines of all this. Last week, a Republican super political action committee dedicated to defeating Republican front-runner, real estate magnate and reality TV star Donald Trump borrowed a photo highlighted by renegade Democratic sites and gave it even wider dissemination.

The photo showed Trump’s third wife naked, from her days as a fashion model, and offered this advice: “Meet Melania Trump, your next first lady. Or you could vote for Ted Cruz on Tuesday.” This photo was aimed at Republicans in Utah, a state whose Mormon population was outraged in 2011 when Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas, in backing Rick Perry for president, claimed that Mormons (including GOP candidate Mitt Romney) were cultists.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican trying to catch up with Trump’s delegate count and a Bible-thumping candidate whose association with facts is equally tenuous, denies involvement with the photo. And if you truly believe super PACs do not coordinate their activities with individual candidates, as the law prescribes, that’s a legitimate defense.

Then a story surfaced from the gossip rag The National Enquirer claiming Cruz conducted extramarital affairs with five women, further escalating the GOP fireworks. Between all this, Trump forces tweeted a highly unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz, prompting her husband to brand Trump a “sniveling coward” - talk that Cruz has in the past reserved only for fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

As McLennan Community College government professor Andria Ramon reminds us, this isn’t the first time presidential politics has plummeted to these depths. For instance, the presidential election of 1828 saw Andrew Jackson’s enemies publicize embarrassing irregularities involving his marriage and the fact he and his beloved Rachel married before her divorce from another man was final. Jackson blamed his enemies for her death shortly after the election.

But the election of 2016 - particularly the depths to which the Republican front-runners and their advocates have sunk - astonishes, all bolstered by social media, YouTube videos and 24/7 news coverage. When one reflects on the moral decay some say afflicts our nation, one need only look at those who would be our leaders. No wonder Democrats - who once had good reason to fear losing the White House - now contemplate winning the White House and Senate this fall.

This spring the triumphant message of the Easter holiday is marginalized by the antics and rhetoric of candidates who are leading this nation into further decline. Worse, too many Americans have signaled that this is entirely acceptable behavior, that anything goes, no matter who is hurt or slandered - hardly representative of genuinely Christian people who supposedly seek to put their very best forward as leaders. One verse comes to our mind: Mark 8:36 - “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

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Longview News-Journal. March 22, 2016.

Abbott’s claims about voter fraud at odds with the truth

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, responding to criticism from President Barack Obama about strict voting laws in Texas, contended such restrictions were necessary to combat fraud.

“The fact is that voter fraud is rampant,” Abbott said. “In Texas, unlike some other states and unlike some other leaders, we are committed to cracking down on voter fraud.”

Voter fraud is “rampant” in Texas? Really?

Well, no. In fact, almost the reverse is true. In the past five years four cases of in-person voter fraud have been prosecuted. That number comes from an in-depth study conducted by Rutgers University professor Lorraine Minnite.

Fact-checking website Politifact, which called Abbott’s claim “ridiculous,” found that as of last year there had been 85 election fraud cases resolved in Texas since 2002, with 51 pleas and nine convictions. Twenty-five persons were exonerated.

The fact is there have not been enough fraudulent votes in any one election to make a bit of difference. We don’t like the fact even one has occurred and certainly want the state to be diligent, but no one is in office, or has been denied office, because of voter fraud.

No matter how you parse those figures, they do not equal “rampant” fraud and Abbott knows that full well. This is just another example - and there have been too many - of how Abbott is willing to say just about anything to pander to the Republican base.

This has been our greatest disappointment with this governor. We thought Abbott would have more political courage than this. As it turns out, he does not.

Abbott’s statement about “rampant” voter fraud came in response to a charge from the president that Texas leaders are not interested in increasing our state’s low voter turnout. Obama suggested online registration as a possible tool.

Abbott rejected that notion, then offered no ideas about how to increase the number of eligible voters at Texas polls.

State officials should be embarrassed by this but apparently are not.

Leaders in a democratic society should hope for the most participation possible. But instead of searching for ways to increase turnout, our governor and other state leaders pop off inaccurate statements to make it appear more crackdowns are needed, that we’re surrounded by people itching to perpetrate fraud at the polls.

That’s nonsense.

If Abbott can’t stick to the whole truth he ought not say anything at all. It would be better to be remembered as Texas’ most boring governor than the one willing to say anything just to get re-elected.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times. March 20, 2016.

Abbott, Cornyn, Cruz forsake the Constitution

Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas’ two U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, have impressive credentials as lawyers steeped in constitutional law. Both Abbott and Cornyn are former Texas attorneys general and Supreme Court justices. Cruz was the state’s solicitor general and clerked for former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

All three are reputed strict constitutionalists, a label that means they are strict conservative interpreters of the Constitution for what it says, not what they would like it to say or what they think they can stretch it to mean.

Yet, these three constitutional loyalists have volunteered their services to a conspiracy to stretch that revered document like a rubber band until it frays or snaps. In response to the unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, they want to obstruct President Barack Obama’s constitutional duty to replace him. They agree that the Senate should shirk its duty to consider and approve whom Obama nominates unless the nominee is discovered to be incompetent - which nominee Merrick Garland is well known not to be.

These three Texas Republicans have chosen fealty to a specific desired political outcome over loyalty to the Constitution. The Republicans simply don’t want Obama or any Democrat to make that appointment and they are willing to contort the Constitution to do it.

The party line into which our three crackerjack Texas lawyers have bought is that the appointment of Scalia’s successor should wait for the next president on the premise that the people should have a say by choosing the president who makes that appointment - and that therefore the Senate should ignore Obama and his nominee.

Actually, in fairness to Cruz, we should give him credit where blame is due. He was ahead of his party in staking out this position and should be acknowledged as its architect.

Never mind the ignoring of the obvious - that the people already chose Obama, twice. We’re not good enough at math to count all the holes in the GOP argument. The bigger issue is that the supposed deeper understanding of the Constitution that Abbott, Cornyn and Cruz possess, and their devotion to purity of constitutional interpretation, compounds the egregiousness of their participation in the scam.

It’s, you know, kind of like a cop robbing a bank. No one should do it, but least of all a cop.

In response to Garland’s nomination, all three Texans issued statements against Obama doing what a president is supposed to do and in favor of the Senate not doing its job. All three embraced the notion that, in Cornyn’s words, “Texans and the American people deserve to have a say in the selection of the next lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

The only way to give the voters the say they supposedly deserve is to do something the Founders did not intend - bypass middleman lame-duck presidents and let the people elect the Supreme Court. These three strict constitutionalist wiseguys know that’s the logical destination for the illogical path they have chosen.

The voters they’re so deeply concerned about should remember, henceforth, how willingly these three disrespected the Constitution and rejected their supposed core principles. If this were the last year of a Republican administration, no doubt Abbott, Cornyn and Cruz would rediscover that they are strict constitutionalists. Actually they’re just loosey goosey opportunists.

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The Dallas Morning News. March 29, 2016.

Sen. John Cornyn should steer party away from obstructionist path

This week, at least five U.S. senators are cutting short their spring recess and returning to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland. Only one of them is a Republican.

But Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., has done the right thing - and the smart thing, politically - by bucking the example of his party’s bosses, including our own Sen. John Cornyn. We urge Cornyn, who is this state’s senior senator and a former member of the Texas Supreme Court, to find his own voice and set a new course for his party. Sen. Ted Cruz, a leading presidential candidate, should do the same.

For the Republicans, who have sadly lost their way on this issue, Kirk’s decision should serve as both a warning and inducement.

Treating Garland and the situation itself with respect costs Kirk nothing. As senator, he’ll be as free next week as he is today to vote against Garland if he wishes.

That’s the inducement.

The warning? Kirk faces a tough re-election campaign. He’s studied his own constituents and concluded that, in Illinois anyway, voters will be less likely to keep him in his job if he refuses to do it.

Neither Cornyn nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs worry about elections anytime soon. But voters everywhere will decide soon whether to keep Republicans in charge of the Senate.

Should they? When voters made the GOP the majority, the Senate’s new leaders immediately pledged to return the senate to “regular order.” Ever since, Cornyn has told reporters that this change - at its core, a respect for tradition, for the Senate itself - would result in better legislation.

But the party’s recalcitrance on the Supreme Court threatens to obliterate any claim to a return to civility and respect for the institution.

We feel this course risks ruin for the Senate GOP, as voters will see through its transparently phony rationalizations.

Consider the op-ed Sen. Orrin Hatch wrote in The New York Times, arguing that the 2014 Senate elections prove that Obama should not be allowed to make another Supreme Court appointment. He said Democrats have no right to complain because they opposed past nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. And as senator, Obama had opposed John Roberts and Samuel Alito, too.

What he left out was that each and every one of those nominees had been given a hearing, a debate and a vote. Only Robert Bork, the most extreme nominee put forth by a president in modern era, was denied a seat on the court.

Hatch’s arguments follow on weeks of statements from Cornyn and McConnell about the so-called ‘Biden Rule.’ There is no such thing and never has been. In a 90-minute speech in 1992 Biden said he’d seriously consider not holding a hearing on a nominee in that election year if - and only if - President George H.W. Bush didn’t consult with senators first or if he didn’t choose a moderate.

Obama consulted senators. And he nominated a moderate. He even tipped Hatch off early that that was his plan. Hatch, praising Garland as a judge, told reporters simply: “I don’t believe him,” referring to Obama’s pledge to name a moderate.

Come November, voters will decide who has been honest and who hasn’t.

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The (Bryan-College Station) Eagle. March 20, 2016.

Senate can’t shirk its duty on the Merrick Garland nomination

It’s no wonder senators won’t consider the nomination of Merrick B. Garland to the Supreme Court. They must be exhausted from shirking their duties.

It takes a lot of effort to look like you are accomplishing something when, in fact, you aren’t.

That said, the Senate’s deliberate inaction is disgraceful. Every presidential nominee to any position deserves at the least a hearing in a timely manner on his or her merits to hold that position. From all accounts, Judge Garland is well-qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court. So qualified that when he was appointed to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1997, many Republicans voted to confirm him.

In 2010, when Judge Garland was a top consideration for the Supreme Court seat that went to Elena Kagan, the well-regarded Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said Garland would be a “consensus nominee.”

But now, Sen. Hatch and most other Republicans in the Senate are saying Judge Garland’s nomination shouldn’t even be considered during this presidential election year - although Hatch said he is willing to consider holding confirmation hearings after the November elections. Especially if Hillary Clinton wins and could name a far more liberal person.

“It’s the toxicity of this environment. I’m tired of the Supreme Court being politicized. I think we’ve diminished the court over the years. The only way to get out of that is to get out of this toxic environment and have the matter decided then,” Hatch - who contributed to this politicization - said.

Americans are tired of the Supreme Court being politicized, and the Senate is to blame. The refusal of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans in Congress even to consider Judge Garland simply adds to that dissatisfaction.

Donald Trump is having the success he is in large part because many Americans are fed up with politics as usual in Washington.

We don’t excuse the actions of Democrats in blocking or attempting to block Republican presidential nominees, either. The video of then-Sen. Joe Biden saying in 1992 that President George H.W. Bush shouldn’t nominate anyone to the court if there were to be a vacancy during an election year is proof that neither party is blameless in politicizing presidential nominations, especially Supreme Court nominations. In this time of social media, such statements do come back to haunt the speaker, whoever it is.

Highly respected Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics.”

Excuse us, Sen. Grassley, this Supreme Court nomination - indeed every Supreme Court nomination since at least the days of Richard Nixon - is bogged down in politics. Democrats routinely oppose nominations by Republican presidents, as they did in 2005 when President George W. Bush nominated Harriet Miers to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and, in 1987, stopping President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the high court. Anymore, Republicans routinely oppose nominations by Democratic presidents, as they did in 2009 when Obama named Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and again a year later when he nominated Elena Kagan to the court.

In some cases, of course, opposition to a nominee is based on qualifications, but most often it simply is a matter of politics and fear that a nominee would side with one faction of the court of the other. The problem is that the politicization escalates. Republicans try to thwart the Democrats and, when they are in power, the Democrats try to thwart the Republicans.

And it is the American people who lose. At some point, we have to say enough. These nominations are too important for Democrats and Republicans to play games. If you buy into the argument to delay consideration of the nomination until next year, how will you feel when a late-term Republican president makes a similar nomination, as very well could happen.

We don’t understand how Sen. McConnell can keep a straight face when he says the Senate should wait to hold hearings on Judge Garland’s nomination until a new president is sworn in (after which, of course, the nomination no longer exists) to give the American people a say in who the new justice will be.

The American people did have a say. On Nov. 6, 2012, they re-elected President Barack Obama to a second term with 51 percent of the vote to 47 percent for Republican Mitt Romney. They didn’t re-elect Obama for three more years. We re-elected him for four more years, to run through Jan. 20, 2017. His term didn’t end because we are in the midst of a contentious and ugly presidential nomination process.

Despite what politicians say, it is likely that Supreme Court nominations are not the most important issues voters consider when electing a president. But we think Americans understand that a Democratic president will name more liberal candidates, while a Republican will choose more conservative nominees. That’s the way the system works.

President Obama upheld his constitutional duty in naming a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia. It appears he chose well, selecting a moderate judge who has earned the respect of both Republicans and Democrats.

Now, we urge - no, we insist - that the Senate do its duty. While the Constitution doesn’t establish a timeline, it does say the Senate shall consider that nomination and either confirm or reject Judge Garland. Nothing says the Senate has to confirm his nomination, but he is a good, decent American who has given a lifetime of service to this nation and deserves to be considered in a timely fashion.

Failure of senators to do so betrays the trust Americans put in those we have elected to the Senate.

And it’s not like they are busy doing anything else.

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