According to the latest count, some 51 people died as the result of a tornado that has devastated a suburb of Oklahoma City, and as many as 40 more deaths may have taken place. As often happens in these cases, an argument has already erupted over who is or isn’t “politicizing” the natural disaster.
This claim is being directed in both directions. For instance, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has already announced that he believes any federal aid to victims of the disaster should be paid for with spending cuts elsewhere. Roll Call writes this up as if Coburn is rushing to inject politics into the tragedy:
The tornado damage near Oklahoma City is still being assessed and the death toll is expected to rise, but already Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., says he will insist that any federal disaster aid be paid for with cuts elsewhere. [...]
Coburn added…that it is too early to guess at a damage toll but that he knows for certain he will fight to make sure disaster funding that the federal government contributes is paid for. It’s a position he has taken repeatedly during his career when Congress debates emergency funding for disaster aid.
Meanwhile, some on the right are suggesting that anyone who criticizes Coburn’s position is also “politicizing” the disaster. The other Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe, is a longtime climate “skeptic,” and some have already pointed to this in the context of the tornado, which is also being criticized as “politicizing” it. Conservative writer Conn Carroll, for instance, takes issue with Politico’s Glenn Thrush (full disclosure: Thrush is a friend of mine) for Tweeting this:
I’m a douche low-life scumbag jackhole ghoul for noting Coburn already wants offsets to fed aid and Inhofe is climate change denier.
Carroll also points out that the Huffington Post has been pushing Coburn’s office to clarify his position. “Left wastes no time politicizing the Oklahoma tragedy,” reads Carroll’s headline.
I don’t see a problem with either side’s alleged “politicization” of the disaster. I disagree with Coburn’s call for federal aid to be offset with cuts elsewhere, but why shouldn’t he make that argument right now, if that’s what he believes? Natural disasters such as the tornado should prompt political arguments over how to respond to them. As Steve Benen notes, Coburn’s response gets right to the core of what Republicans believe about how the federal government should respond to disasters. Steve sums up the GOP argument this way: “they’ll consider emergency resources, but only if Democrats agree to cut a comparable amount from the budget elsewhere. There’s no real economic rationale for this, but for much of the right, the ideological rationale is sufficient.”
If Coburn wants to make this case, let him. Disaster response must be paid for. Let’s have a political argument over it.
Meanwhile, why not use this as an occasion for an argument over climate change? If environmentalists believe the tornado shows that they are right about global warming constituting an ever increasing threat — and they are hoping to limit future damage they believe is inevitable — why shouldn’t they denounce those who are not drawing that conclusion? Why shouldn’t major events such as tornados or mass shootings prompt policy — or, yes, political — arguments over how we should respond to them?
Policy matters. How we collectively respond to disasters matters. What lessons we draw from disasters about larger questions — such as whether climate change is linked to extreme weather, and if so, what should we do about it — matters. As Jonathan Bernstein recently put it: “bring the politics.”
* OBAMA APPROVAL HOLDS STEADY, BUT MAJORITIES SEE COVER UP: A new Post poll finds that Obama’s approval rating remains steady, at 51 percent, in the face of the controversies. However, a majority (55 percent) says the Obama administration is trying to “cover up” facts it knows about Benghazi, and a bare plurality (45-42) says the administration is trying to “cover up” facts about the IRS targeting of conservative groups.
Those latter findings are strikingly at odds with yesterday’s CNN poll, which found that more say Obama was truthful about both matters. This could reflect question wording: The CNN poll offers more options, such as “completely truthful” and “mostly truthful,” and asks directly about Obama himself or the White House, while the Post poll asks whether the “administration” is trying to ”cover up” facts.
* OBAMA BUOYED BY IMPROVING ECONOMY: Nate Silver takes a look at the new Post poll and — along with previous data — concludes that the economy may be canceling out whatever damage to the president the scandals have done:
Based on the historical relationship between Mr. Obama’a overall and economic approval ratings in the poll, you’d predict that his overall approval rating would be 53 or 54 percent given an economic approval rating of 48 percent. Instead, it’s 51 percent. So it may be that the talk surrounding Benghazi, the I.R.S. and the Justice Department has negatively affected Mr. Obama’s approval rating by two or three percentage points, but that the economy has lifted his numbers by about the same amount.
* GOP TAKES BEATING IN POLL: Also in the Post poll: Only 33 percent say the GOP is focused on things that are important to them, while 60 percent say the GOP is not. Meanwhile, 51 percent say Obama is focused on things that are important to them. And the public is split, 45-44, on whether the GOP’s criticism of Benghazi represents “political posturing.” Whatever the public thinks of the scandals, they haven’t changed the fact that Obama’s numbers are significantly better than those of the GOP.
* BIG MAJORITY SAYS BENGHAZI HEARINGS ARE POLITICAL: Meanwhile, a new USA Today poll finds that six in 10 think Republicans are holding hearings into Benghazi to score political points. Meanwhile, a plurality says the Obama administration did not engage in a cover-up on Benghazi, contradicting today’s Post poll, and agreeing with the CNN one. There certainly is still danger in these ongoing stories for the President, but the possibility of GOP overreach is clearly here, too.
* BUT PUBLIC SKEPTICAL OF ADMIISTRATION LINE ON IRS: The USA Today poll also finds:
A 53% majority say the IRS decision to single out conservative groups for extra scrutiny before granting tax-exempt status was made for political reasons, something the administration flatly denies. By 50%-44%, they say Obama deserves at least a little of the blame, though the White House says he didn’t know about it until the scandal was in the news.
Only 19 percent fault Obama “a lot” for the IRS, but this does show public skepticism about the administration’s suggestion of no political motive to the IRS actions.
* A REALITY CHECK ON HOW INSPECTORS GENERAL OPERATE: In light of news that White House advisers knew weeks ago that the IRS inspector general’s report was coming, but didn’t tell Obama, this piece by a former inspector general is a much needed reality check on how this stuff actually works:
In those rare cases when information about the audit or investigation goes beyond the agency in the executive branch, it would be unprecedented in my experience for anyone outside the agency to become involved in the customary back and forth between the IG and the agency, much less to intervene with the IG before his work is complete.
Imagine the outcry if the White House had said something publicly about the report before it was completed! It’s a bit surprising to see normally savvy Beltway folks pretending this latest round of news is somehow a big deal.
* Rove’s group not yet committed to Massachusetts Senate race: An interesting nugget buried in today’s New York Times overview of the battle between Dem Ed Markey and GOPer Gabriel Gomez: American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Karl Rove, is taking a wait and see attitude towards the race.
A spokesman for Crossroads says: “We’re watching the race closely but are not committed to a course of action. For a Senate race to be winnable for Republicans in Massachusetts, you need to have the trifecta of a great candidate, a weak opponent and a perfect environment that brings independents to the polls for Republicans.” Interestingly, the spox says the third ingredient is not there yet, despite the scandal-mania Republicans predict will influence Congressional races.
* AND PAUL RYAN MAKES A REMARKABLE CONCESSION: The American Prospect has a lengthy, detailed profile of Senator Patty Murray, digging into her role in encouraging women to run for the Senate and her behind the scenes budget sparring with Paul Ryan. This concession from Ryan is key:
What Murray is not saying publicly: It’s not in the GOP’s interest to end the budget impasse. Crisis governance—debt-ceiling threats, shutdowns—allows Republicans to claim a new scalp every few months. Ryan acknowledges as much. “I think a lot of members think that we have very few leverage devices in the minority and must use the ones we’ve got for good policy,” he says. “It’s simple, I think.”
Thanks for the candor, Congressman! What else?