Federal Government Ends Prohibition On Medical Marijuana

The Los Angeles Times reports on a surprise in the recently passed spending bill–an end to the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana. The was passed with support of both Democrats as well as some Republicans who opposed raid by the federal government in states which have legalized medical marijuana on states’ rights grounds:

Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy.

The bill’s passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana.

Under the provision, states where medical pot is legal would no longer need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations. Agents would be prohibited from doing so.

The Obama administration has largely followed that rule since last year as a matter of policy. But the measure approved as part of the spending bill, which President Obama plans to sign this week, will codify it as a matter of law.

Pot advocates had lobbied Congress to embrace the administration’s policy, which they warned was vulnerable to revision under a less tolerant future administration.

More important, from the standpoint of activists, Congress’ action marked the emergence of a new alliance in marijuana politics: Republicans are taking a prominent role in backing states’ right to allow use of a drug the federal government still officially classifies as more dangerous than cocaine…

Some Republicans are pivoting off their traditional anti-drug platform at a time when most voters live in states where medical marijuana is legal, in many cases as a result of ballot measures.

Polls show that while Republican voters are far less likely than the broader public to support outright legalization, they favor allowing marijuana for medical use by a commanding majority. Legalization also has great appeal to millennials, a demographic group with which Republicans are aggressively trying to make inroads.

Approval of the pot measure comes after the Obama administration directed federal prosecutors last year to stop enforcing drug laws that contradict state marijuana policies. Since then, federal raids of marijuana merchants and growers who are operating legally in their states have been limited to those accused of other violations, such as money laundering.

“The federal government should never get in between patients and their medicine,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland).

Tony Newman, Director of Media Relations, Drug Policy Alliance, added this to his list of More Nails in the Drug War Coffin.

In addition to ending fears of raids by federal drug agents, this should also alleviate the fears of many physicians who are currently afraid to treat patients with medical marijuana even in states where it is legal. Many physicians, including some pain clinics, have been unwilling to treat patients with chronic pain who are using medical marijuana out of fear of retaliation by the DEA.

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Senate Intelligence Committee Report Shows That CIA Lied About Torture & Torture Did Not Work

The Senate Intelligence Committee released their report today, providing documentation that the CIA was both brutal and dishonest about their tactics, and that torture did not work. The New York Times listed these seven key points:

  • The C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques were more brutal and employed more extensively than the agency portrayed.
  • The C.I.A. interrogation program was mismanaged and was not subject to adequate oversight.
  • The C.I.A. misled members of Congress and the White House about the effectiveness and extent of its brutal interrogation techniques.
  • Interrogators in the field who tried to stop the brutal techniques were repeatedly overruled by senior C.I.A. officials.
  • The C.I.A. repeatedly underreported the number of people it detained and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques under the program.
  • At least 26 detainees were wrongfully held and did not meet the government’s standard for detention.
  • The C.I.A. leaked classified information to journalists, exaggerating the success of interrogation methods in an effort to gain public support.

The Washington Post indexed the report by twenty key findings. See the articles in The Washington Post and New York Times for more specifics on each point.

1 “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence”
2 “rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness”
3 “brutal and far worse than the CIA represented”
4 “conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher”
5 “repeatedly provided inaccurate information”
6 “actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight”
7 “impeded effective White House oversight”
8 “complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions”
9 “impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General”
10 “coordinated the release of classified information to the media”
11 “unprepared as it began operating”
12 “deeply flawed throughout the program’s duration”
13 “overwhelmingly outsourced operations”
14 “coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved”
15 “did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained”
16 “failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness”
17 “rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable”
18 “ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections”
19 “inherently unsustainable”
20 “damaged the United States’ standing in the world”

The Daily Beast lists The Most Gruesome Moments in the CIA ‘Torture Report’

Right-leaning Politico reports: Dick Cheney Was Lying About Torture–The Senate report confirms it doesn’t work. As those of us on the inside knew.

Needless to say, there is commentary throughout the blogosophere. Andrew Sullivan wrote:

The US did torture many many people with techniques devised by Nazis and Communists, sometimes in former KGB facilities. The CIA itself admits in its internal documents that none of it worked or gave us any actionable intelligence that wasn’t discovered through legal means. The torture techniques were not implemented by highly-trained professionals, but by goonish amateurs who concealed what they were doing and lied about it to superiors. All the techniques were and are clearly illegal under US and international law.

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North Carolina Study Looks At Republican Advantage Due To Gerrymandering

Republicans control both houses of Congress but this does not mean that they represent a majority of the voters. They control the Senate due to small Republican states having the same number of Senators as larger Democratic states. Republicans benefit in the House due to the concentration of Democrats in urban areas, leading to Democrats winning a smaller number of seats by larger numbers. The Republican advantage in the House has been increased due to gerrymandering.

North Carolina Public Radio has looked at a study on the effect of gerrymandering in North Carolina:

Back in 2012, more North Carolinians voted for Democrats than Republicans in North Carolina’s Congressional elections. But Republicans ended up winning nine out of the state’s 13 seats that year. Those numbers piqued the interest of researchers at Duke, who decided to seek a mathematical explanation for the discrepancy. They recently published a study with their results…

When Mattingly and Vaughn tabulated what would have happened had residents voted the same way but in differently drawn districts, they were surprised. Mattingly turns to his computer to pull up their work, which summarizes how the balance of the congressional seats would have come out under those 100 different maps.

“Right here, if you look at what’s happening,” explains Mattingly, “here we have this bar chart with seven and eight Democrats elected. That happened over 50 percent of the time- and the vast majority of the time we had somewhere between six and nine Democrats elected over 95 percent of the time.”

Mattingly says this chart- and the rest of the study- shows mathematically that the outcome of the 2012 congressional election- with four Democrats elected- was not representative of how people voted.

Gerrymandering currently helps Republicans more than usual because of Republicans taking over the state legislature in several states in the 2010 Republican sweep, taking place in a midterm election year when Republicans have an advantage. Democrats will have an advantage in battles for control of the state legislature in 2020 due to their advantage in general election years.

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Seventh Investigation Debunks Republican Benghazi Conspiracy Theories

Yet another investigation has debunked the Republican claims about Benghazi, this one run by House Republicans. AP reports:

House intel panel debunks many Benghazi theories

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May…

In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016. People in and out of government have alleged that a CIA response team was ordered to “stand down” after the State Department compound came under attack, that a military rescue was nixed, that officials intentionally downplayed the role of al-Qaida figures in the attack, and that Stevens and the CIA were involved in a secret operation to spirit weapons out of Libya and into the hands of Syrian rebels. None of that is true, according to the House Intelligence Committee report.

The report did find, however, that the State Department facility where Stevens and Smith were killed was not well-protected, and that State Department security agents knew they could not defend it from a well-armed attack. Previous reports have found that requests for security improvements were not acted upon in Washington.

Of course it was the Republicans who cut funding for embassy security, denying requests from Democrats for increased funding.

Despite seven investigations which failed to provide evidence to support the Republican conspiracy theories, an eight is underway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more to follow in the Republican-controlled Senate. The party which already voted over fifty times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and which exists in a fact-free bubble, will not hesitate to continue engage in the same irrational behavior.

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Republican Minority Blocks Bill To Curtail NSA; Democrats To Take Over Role Of Blocking What They Oppose

Not very long ago it was common for bipartisan coalitions to accomplish things in Congress. That was largely before the current realignment in which Democratic southern conservatives have either joined the Republicans or been voted out of office, and Republican moderates and liberals have been driven away. Theoretically even a totally conservative Republican Party might have members finding common ground with some Democrats at times.  Traditionally there have been some conservative Republicans who have been strong advocates of civil liberties.

Curtailing NSA surveillance would seem to be an area where liberal Democrats and some conservative Republicans might work together. In our bizarre system where a majority does not rule and sixty votes are needed in the Senate,Patrick Leahy’s bill to end the NSA’s bulk data collection died due to only receiving a 58 to 42 majority. This died due to solid Republican opposition, led by Mitch McConnell who felt the bill went to far, and Rand Paul who rationalized voting with the rest of the Republicans by saying the bill did not go far enough.

Libertarians at Reason’s Hit & Run blog were disappointed in Paul, writing that, “Paul and the rest of his fellow citizens may well come to rue the day that he allowed the perfect to get in the way of the merely better.” Regardless of his justifications, Rand Paul has shown that he cannot be counted upon in promoting civil liberties issues. I fear that as Rand Paul tries to position himself as a serious contender for the presidential nomination, he will increasingly align himself with McConnell and become indistinguishable from other Republicans from the authoritarian right. I have often pointed out how his father, Ron Paul, was also hardly the defender of liberty which his fans made him out to be.

There is some small consolation that the Republican minority which has concentrated on blocking Democratic legislation will now replaced by a Democratic minority which can also act to block the disastrous Republican agenda. In describing the Democrats who blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, Politco reported on what they are calling the “hell no” caucus:

..red-state Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska are on their way out, and liberals like Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse — with Elizabeth Warren leading the way on messaging — may cause as many headaches for Senate Republicans as tea partyers caused Democrats in the past four years…

Asked if he could ever envision himself performing a Rand Paul-style talking filibuster in the Republican Senate, Whitehouse of Rhode Island replied: “Oh, of course. We will have more tools in the minority than we had in the majority.”

Progressives are girding for battle with Republicans over campaign finance law, consumer protections and women’s health care. But the early battle lines appear increasingly drawn around environmental policy, where Democratic centrists may defect from leadership in next year’s Senate and help Republicans pass legislation strongly opposed by liberal senators…

Even as they vow to fight Republicans at every turn on issues that fundamentally divide liberals and conservatives, left-leaning Democrats insist that they will not do so seeking retaliation against a Republican minority that stymied their economic, environmental and social priorities for so long with filibusters and delay. Those days, they insist, are gone — leaving liberals to somehow find a balance between fighting for their convictions and not drawing the same charges of obstruction that have dominated Democratic messaging for years.

“The best news about a Republican majority in the Senate is that the Republican minority is now gone,” Whitehouse said. “They were just a god-awful minority.”

Maybe this will free up liberal Democrats to more strongly articulate their views on the issues, while allowing more people to see what the Republican agenda really is.

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Republicans Beat Something With Nothing Other Than Negativity And Fear

Ronald Reagan couldn’t save the Senate for the Republicans in his 6th year. While the closeness of the polls left hope until the end, realistically the Democrats were not in a situation to defy history. There were two tends which the Democrats could not overcome. When people are unhappy, they look at the president regardless of who is actually to blame. Running a campaign based upon negativity was a winning formula for Republicans. Democrats were further hampered by the older and whiter electorate in midterm elections as once again large portions of the Democratic base stayed home for a midterm.

Republicans won by avoiding discussion of what they would do in power, beating something (Obama) with nothing. Americans who vote for Republicans to retake control of the Senate out of concern about current problems are as delusional as Russians who want the return of Stalinsim. It makes no sense to trust the party which created the economic downturn with fixing it, and Americans certainly do not want the Republican social or militarist agenda. The party which opposes most government action (other than imposing the agenda of the religious right, foolish military action, or rigging the system to transfer wealth to the ultra-wealthy) is hardly likely to propose real solutions to problems.  Polling on issues generally shows a majority favoring Democratic views but that does not help in elections where Republicans concentrate on distorting the views of their opponents and  hiding their own views.

That said, I am disappointed (as usual) in the Democrats as a political party. Yes, all the fundamentals were against them. So they took the cowardly way out, running away from not only Obama but from principles. If they ran a campaign based upon their accomplishments and the problems with GOP principles they very well still might have lost in this atmosphere, but at least their campaign would have meant something. Plus, considering how close the polls were, just maybe they could have won some more seats.

Of course that isn’t something that can be done in the last few months of a campaign. It requires a change in attitude and behavior of the party every year, acting as if it was a perpetual battle of ideas–as Republicans do even though they run on bad ideas. When Democrats run from their own record and fail to speak out on the issues, they leave themselves wide open to being defined by their opponents.

The Republicans were successful in hiding their most extreme views. They did receive some help from a friendly media in this regard as many of the most extreme statements from Republicans such as  Joni Ernst received too little attention. When Mitch McConnell tried to make his desire to repeal Obamacare more popular by claiming the people of Kentucky would still have their popular exchange, the media concentrated far more on the less important refusal of Alison Lundergan Grimes to say whether she voted for Obama. When liberals spoke out on this, the media did begin to pay more attention to McConnell’s gaffe, showing there is benefit to serious discussion of the issues by liberals. If only Democratic candidates had the courage to do this too.

External events helped the Republicans. Widespread opposition to Congressional Republicans over the threat of a government shutdown of October 2013 was forgotten after the initial failed roll out of the exchanges, even if this was quickly fixed. Republicans gained further by promoting exaggerated fears of ISIS and Ebola.

The Republicans avoided saying what they would do while running, but now will be under closer scrutiny. Republicans decided upon a strategy of opposing everything Obama does, including if he promoted policies previously favored by Republicans, from before he took office. Now that they control Congress, this might no longer be their best strategy. Many Republicans will mistakenly see this election result as a mandate and try to move even further to the right. Some must be intelligent enough to realize that Republican victories with the midterm electorate will not translate into victories with the younger and minority voters who turn out in greater numbers for general elections. While it is hard to see the two parties work together on many of the big issues such as climate change, there might be some pragmatic legislation which both McConnell and Obama could agree on, considering Obama’s long-standing willingness to compromise with Republicans.

McConnell is attempting to portray a more moderate image, but even if this is his personal desire he still has to deal with the far right wing of his own party. He might even find that he cannot pass legislation without Democratic cross over support. It remains to be seen whether McConnell will pass legislation which doesn’t beg for a Democratic filibuster or presidential veto, especially if Tea Party Republicans push through amendments to legislation to attempt to repeal Obamacare or restrict access to contraception. The Tea Party wing is least likely to realize that this election does not signify agreement by American voters with their goals. An example of this was seen with the failure of Personhood measures even in red states. Republicans won midterm elections but their policies remain opposed by a majority of Americans.

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Final Pre-Election Polls And Predictions

Following up on yesterdays almost final look at the state of the race to control the Senate, the news today is slightly better for Democrats. A Quinnipiac University poll shows Democratic candidate Mark Udall down by two points in Colorado, which is a tremendous improvement from his previous seven point deficit. I figure that if the Democrats are going to pick up some states where they have been trailing, their best shot comes from the more purple states as opposed to the south, where most of the tight races are.

With control of the Senate dependent upon southern states this year, Patrick Egan points out that this is the “most unrepresentative Senate election since World War II.” As a consequence, the results tonight will not reflect the views of the entire nation. Of course should Republicans have a good night they will see this as a mandate for their extremist policies and move further to the right, and if they unexpectedly have a bad night they will see this as meaning they are not conservative enough, and move further to the right.

On election day, Charlie Cook predicts the Republicans will win seven seats (which would give them control of the Senate). This is the safe prediction, consistent with the final polls, but certainly not the only outcome if Democratic voters get out to vote in higher numbers than predicted. There’s a good chance there will be surprises, and at very least some of the states where polls are withing a few points might not be won by the last leader in the polls.   Nate Silver gives the Republicans a 76 percent chance of taking control of the Senate. Larry Sabato predicts that the Republicans will pick up eight seats.

While the Senate has received the bulk of the coverage, Democratic loses there might be balanced by victories in some state government races.

Update: Reflections on the election results. Republicans Beat Something With Nothing Other Than Negativity And Fear

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Republican Edge Grows Slightly In Latest Polls

Updating Saturday’s post on the prospects for the Democrats to hold onto control of the Senate, Public Policy Polling has new polls out which give the Republicans small leads in Colorado and Alaska. Looking back at the map at electoral-vote.com, based upon polling results, the Democrats now need to take two states where Republicans lead (provided that Greg Orman wins and caucuses with the Democrats) in order to maintain control.

Being behind in Colorado, Alaska, and Iowa reduces the chances for the Democrats to maintain control, leaving the states which will determine control of the Senate in the south. Alaska has flipped each way in the polls, with polling in the state not considered to be terribly reliable. Should it come down to Alaska we could have a long wait on election night. It could take even longer to know who controls the Senate if it comes down to run off elections in Louisiana or Georgia. A two way race in these states would favor the Republicans as the supporters of candidates who don’t make the run off elections are more likely to back the Republican candidate.

As it stands now, Democrats will have to win in all the states where they have a narrow lead, and pull off additional victories in states where they are slightly behind. While this certainly gives the Republicans the advantage, with media models predicting a Republican victory, control of the Senate remains in play as a small shift of only 2-3 percent favoring the Democrats could shift several states. As I discussed on Saturday, state polling in midterm elections is often off by this amount. The Democratic ground game could give them the additional votes needed, but it is also possible that the Republicans can have a mini-wave and exceed their current position by a few points.

Joe Biden does predict that the Democrats will hold the Senate.

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Republicans Have Slight, But Not Insurmountable, Lead Prior To Midterms

The final weekend before the midterm elections the race to control the Senate remains close enough that either party can still win. The Republicans have an edge, but certainly not an insurmountable one. Looking at the most recent polls. electoral-vote.com has the Republicans with 51 seats. This means that the Democrats would only have to win in one state where they are behind provided that they hold onto the seats where they have a slight lead and that Greg Orman caucuses with the Democrats if he wins.

There is far less quality polling in Senate races in a midterm election than in presidential elections, and a slight lead in the polls is far less predictive than a slight lead in a presidential election. If either party out-performs the latest polls by just a couple points the final result could be much more favorable than these predictions, for either party. Sam Wang pointed out the significance of so many races being close:

As I wrote last week, everyone’s calculations are, to an extent, built on sand. Historically, in any given year midterm polls have been off in the same direction by a median of 2 or 3 percentage points. Depending on the year, either Democrats or Republicans end up outperforming polls. In current poll medians, six races are within less than 2 percentage points: Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina. Therefore all six of these races could be won by Republicans…or all six could be won by Democrats.

The other races total 48 Republicans and 46 Democrats/Independents. Republicans are slightly favored to take control, since an even split of the six close races would give them the 51 seats they need*. However, the likely possibilities range anywhere from a Republican majority of 54-46 to a Democratic majority of 52-48. As of today, cranking through the math and the uncertainties gives a probability of 55% for a Republican takeover.

Nate Silver sees the Republicans as having a significantly higher chance at taking control of the Senate at 68.5  percent.

Among the reasons that the Republicans now have the edge is narrow leads in two states where the Democrats should be competitive, Iowa and Colorado. It is especially disturbing that a candidate as extreme as Joni Ernst can have the momentum in her favor in Iowa, moving to a seven point lead. There remains hope that the Democrats could still win one or both of these states, with early voters possibly favoring Democrats in Iowa. Campaigning by both Clintons and Elizabeth Warren might also help.

The Democrats still have a reasonable shot of maintaining control of the Senate due to unexpectedly competitive races in Kansas, Georgia, and Kentucky. The race in Kentucky is heating up with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes filing a suit to attempt to prevent Mitch McConnell  distributing a mailer that it says amounts to illegal voter intimidation tactics.

One reason that the polls could be off by a few points is that the polls are weighted by who the pollster predicts will actually turn out to vote. Democrats hope that their ground game will tilt this in their favor, and are especially counting on their edge among women voters.

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Juan Williams Debunks GOP Attempts To Blame Democrats For Lack Of A Surgeon General

While discussing the Republican hypocrisy in their response to an Ebola Czar earlier this month, I pointed out how the Republicans blocked  Barack Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General due to his concerns about gun violence, which kills far, far more people than Ebola in this country. Republicans who 1) are rarely willing to take responsibility for their action,  and 2) are fond of projecting their faults upon others, have been trying to shift the blame and falsely claim that the Democrats are responsible for blocking the nomination. Juan Williams of Fox News has called them out on this in a column at The Hill (also a Republican-leaning site even as not as overtly Republican as Fox). Williams also debunked the Republican claims that Harry Reid has not been fair due to not allowing them to add their “poison pill” amendments to bills, which would cause even greater gridlock. Williams wrote:

Republicans on the campaign trail tell voters that the Senate gets nothing done because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) blocks votes on GOP legislation.

Away from the Halloween funhouse mirror, the reality is this: Reid is willing to hold votes — but not with an endless open amendment process that merely creates a stage for Republican political theater. “Poison pill” amendments on partial birth abortions and gay marriage would sprout everywhere.

The real problem is that Senate Republicans can’t agree on which amendments to attach to bills because of the Tea Party versus Establishment war raging among them.

Yet I’ve personally seen voters nodding in agreement at Senate debates and campaign events as Republicans put the fright-night mask on Reid as the evil ogre responsible for dysfunction in the Senate.

The GOP is having success by repeating this distorted version of political life on Capitol Hill. Their tactic on that score is consistent with an overall strategy that includes blocking President Obama’s nominees to courts, federal agencies and ambassadorial posts while condemning any mistakes made by the administration.

According to the Senate’s website, there are currently 156 nominations pending on the executive calendar.

With all of the fear-mongering by Republican candidates over the administration’s response to Ebola — part of a broader approach to scare voters by undermining faith in government, the president and all Democrats — there is one screaming nomination still pending that reveals the corruption of the GOP strategy.

The nation has not had a surgeon general since November 2013 because the GOP is blocking the president’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. At a time of medical emergency, what is the Republicans’ problem with Murthy?

In October 2012, the doctor tweeted: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of the NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

Dr. Murthy, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Medicine, has impressive credentials for a 36-year-old. He created a breakthrough new company to lower the cost of drugs and bring new drugs to market more quickly.

But his big sin, for Senate Republicans, is that as a veteran of emergency rooms Dr. Murthy expressed his concern about the nation’s indisputable plague of gun violence.

When Dr. Murthy was nominated, the National Rife Association announced plans to “score” a vote on the doctor’s nomination, meaning any Republican or Democrat running in a conservative state who voted for Murthy would be punished in NRA literature and feel the pain in their fundraising come midterm election season.

When public anxiety over Ebola became a GOP talking point, 29 House Democrats wrote to Reid calling for the Senate to expose the Republicans for their deceitful strategy. They wanted, and still want, Senate Democrats to push for a vote on the surgeon general nominee and force the Republicans to explain their opposition. Their thinking is that swift action is needed to put a surgeon general in place and give the American people a trusted source of guidance on Ebola.

The Tea Party’s favorite senator, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, last week agreed on the need for a surgeon general in a CNN interview. But in the funhouse mirror-style so loved by the Republican base, Cruz blamed Obama for the vacancy.

“Of course we should have a surgeon general in place,” Cruz told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was also put on the spot recently over the GOP’s refusal to deal with the surgeon general vacancy.  As he railed against the president for perceived errors in handling the situation, NBC’s Chuck Todd interrupted to ask: “The NRA said they were going to score the vote and suddenly everybody froze him… Seems a little petty in hindsight, doesn’t it?”

“Well, the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly then we should confirm them, there’s no question about that,” said the senator, trying to find his footing as he backpedaled.

The fact remains that Senate Republicans, in lockstep with the NRA, have left a worthy nominee dangling while this vital post remains vacant.

This kind of game playing is what led Senate Democrats to consider using the so-called “nuclear option.” In its original form, it would have changed the Senate rules to require a simple majority for all confirmations, instead of the current 60-vote supermajority. But the Democrats decided to go with a more modest change that allowed a simple majority vote to confirm only federal judicial nominees, not presidential picks for the Supreme Court, the cabinet or the position of surgeon general.

Reid, speaking on the Senate floor this summer, said that despite the rules change “Republicans are still continuing to try and slow everything down…It is just that they want to do everything they can to slow down [Obama’s] administration, to make him look bad…even though they’re the cause of the obstruction… Everyone will look at us and say, Democrats control the Senate — why aren’t they doing more?”

As a matter of brazen politics, the Republican strategy of obstruction has worked.

What a shame.

I have seen contradictory interpretations regarding the filibuster rules as to whether the Surgeon General can be confirmed with 51 votes or if the post still requires a super-majority. It is academic in this case. Republican Senators have placed a hold on this nomination and if it goes to a vote are likely to vote unanimously against it. The NRA has indicated that they will include a vote on Murthy in their ratings, which makes it difficult for some Democratic Senators in red states who are up for reelection. Between these Democrats and the uniform Republican opposition there are probably not 51 votes for confirmation, although this could change after the election.

Despite the Republican actions to block the Surgeon General nomination, it is questionable as to how much of a difference it would have made. We don’t know how much Murthy would have said on the topic, and if he could have gotten a discussion of the science through, considering all the fear and misinformation being spread about Ebola by Republicans.

Despite all the panic, we have seen how small a threat Ebola actually is in a developed nation such as the United States. Ebola is a problem of developing nations which lack an adequate Public Health infrastructure. While the outbreak began in West Africa last December, we have had a tiny number of people who are infected enter this country, and the potential harm has been easily contained. Even in Texas, which does share some of the problems of a third world nation due to Republican rule, multiple mistakes were made with minimal harm. A patient was sent home despite meeting criteria for hospitalization, and yet he did not spread the infection to anyone else in the community. This is because Ebola is not contagious early in the disease before someone is symptomatic, and even then it does not spread by casual contact.

Maybe if there was a Surgeon General speaking about Ebola, the Emergency Room staff at Texas Presbyterian Hospital would have been better acquainted with the guidelines and hospitalized Thomas Duncan when he first presented. Maybe the hospital would have done a better job at following protocols to protect the staff. While possible, it is far from certain that having a Surgeon General would have made any difference.

Perhaps if there was a Surgeon General discussing the science there would have been less panic when Dr. Craig Spencer was found to have traveled on the subway and visit a bowling alley, where he did not spread Ebola. (Similarly the nurse from Texas Presbyterian who flew with a low grade fever has not spread the disease despite turning out to be infected). This might have prevented the poor, and unscientific decisions made by the governors in states such as New Jersey and New York. While I can see Chris Christie make such a mistake, I would  hope for better from Andrew Cuomo, even if he is faced with a Republican using fear tactics against him in his reelection campaign. This might have spared Kaci Hickox from being quarantined in an unheated tent in New Jersey despite showing no signs of being infected. Inhibiting health professionals from volunteering can only harm the cause of eradicating Ebola in West Africa–which is the only way of ending this matter.

It is impossible to know if a Surgeon General could have been effective in reducing the hysteria. Republicans are masters at spreading fear, and never have any qualms about ignoring science. It is very possible they could have still won out. We already have many Infectious Disease experts explaining the facts about Ebola, but that hasn’t been enough to maintain reason. While a Surgeon General might have had a little bigger soap box to speak from, I don’t know if that would have really mattered.

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