Latest StoriesRSS

select from

E.g., 9/18/2014
E.g., 9/18/2014

Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.18.14

09/18/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Another ISIS video: "ISIS released a propaganda video showing a captive British photojournalist promising to illuminate 'the truth' behind the militants' network and criticizing his government and the United States. John Cantlie, a photographer who worked for Britain's Sunday Times, was taken captive by militants in Syria alongside GlobalPost's James Foley nearly two years ago."
* The future of Scotland: "With the future of the United Kingdom in the balance, Scottish voters streamed to polling booths on Thursday at the culmination of a spirited, emotional and divisive campaign that will determine whether they maintain their union with the rest of Britain or secede."
* Historic address: "Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday called on Congress to provide more help to combat the pro-Russian rebels that have taken over eastern parts of the country, saying the incursion is not just an assault on Ukraine but all of the free world."
* Related news: "Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told reporters following a meeting with President Obama on Thursday he was 'satisfied' with the military assistance offered by the U.S., despite the administration declining his call for lethal aid to Ukraine's military."
* Nigeria: "Boko Haram insurgents have been blamed after at least 13 people died during a shoot-out between police and suspected suicide bombers at a teacher training college in northern Nigeria."
* A good policy working well: "The number of privately-insured women getting no-cost birth control pills has more than quadrupled under Obamacare, new data from the Guttmacher Institute shows. The new research, published in the journal Contraception, shows the percent of privately-insured women who paid nothing for the pill rose from 15 percent in the fall of 2012 up to 67 percent this spring."
* What a strange Beltway story: "President Obama has 'strong confidence' in Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the White House said Thursday after a report suggested that the Florida congresswoman had fallen out of favor with the president and top Democratic lawmakers."
* I wish I could make this stuff up, but it's real: "Obama's arrogance is so apparent, according to Gingrich, that it can even be seen in the way he golfs -- and it will doom the final years of his presidency, in the end."
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks at a meeting of university officials in Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 1, 2013.

Cotton forced to fudge facts on Farm Bill

09/18/14 04:51PM

Rep. Tom Cotton (R) looks like he's in decent shape in Arkansas' U.S. Senate race, despite his record and platform, with most recent polling showing him with a slight edge over incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D).
That doesn't mean, however, that Cotton's limited voting record after 20 months in Congress can't trip him up.
The Arkansas Republican, one of the year's most far-right candidates for statewide office, has been pressed to explain all sorts of House votes -- his opposition to disaster relief aid, his vote to privatize Medicare out of existence, etc. -- but it's the Farm Bill that's arguably the most problematic.  Arkansas' farms and state economy rely on this important agricultural legislation, and the fact that Cotton tried to kill it reinforces Pryor's argument: the congressman's agenda is just too extreme for Arkansas.
What's more, Arkansas' House delegation has four Republicans, and the other three voted for the Farm Bill, making Cotton appear that much more extreme and out of step -- even within his own Republican Party, even among GOP lawmakers from the Deep South.
In July, the far-right congressman came up with a defense: he couldn't vote for the Farm Bill, Cotton said, because it should have done more to treat food-stamp recipients as suspected drug addicts.
It was a plainly dumb thing to say, so now Pryor is rolling out a new defense in a television commercial. In it, after noting that his father has a farm, the congressman tells viewers:
"When President Obama hijacked the Farm Bill, and turned it into a food-stamp bill, with billions more in spending, I voted, 'No.'"
By any fair standard, Cotton is simply lying. It's a risky thing to do for a candidate a small lead in the polls and only seven weeks left in the campaign, but apparently, the congressman sees it as a necessary risk.

Nice work if you can get it

09/18/14 02:49PM

The Republican-run U.S. House had a nice, long summer break recently, taking the month of August off, as well as the first week in September.
House members worked four days last week, and another four this week, at which point they apparently decided that they've done enough.
It's official: The House is closing up shop until after the midterm elections.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's office announced Thursday there will be no votes on Friday and said the four-day session originally scheduled to begin on Sept. 29 has been canceled, pending Senate approval of the continuing resolution that passed the House Wednesday.
That means lawmakers will be sprinting to the exits -- and the quick trip to the airport -- after the close of business Thursday.
In this case, "close of business Thursday" means this afternoon.
Granted, lawmakers in the lower chamber weren't scheduled for a lot more work days -- they were supposed to show up tomorrow and four days the week of Sept. 29 -- but they've decided not to bother.
And so, over the 14 weeks spanning the beginning of August and the middle of November, House members will work a grand total of eight days -- out of a possible 103. And after today, they'll be away from work for the next 54 days.
I imagine there are many who'll see this and shrug. "If they're not going to do any real work anyway," the argument goes, "they might as well go home."
That's one way to look at it, but there's another way.
Workers prepare the new Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Ebola treatment center on August 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia.

Even a response to Ebola can apparently be politicized

09/18/14 12:56PM

President Obama traveled to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta this week to unveil an ambitious U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, including money, materials, and military and health personnel.
It's one of the most aggressive responses in U.S. history to a disease outbreak. Michele Richinick reported that "as many as 3,000 military personnel will assist in training new health care workers and building treatment clinics in the countries affected by the disease," and some of our financial resources will be used to "construct 17 new treatment centers, each with 100 beds, and 10,000 sets of protective equipment and supplies to help 400,000 families protect themselves from the epidemic that is spreading exponentially."
A day later, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, announced plans to establish "a new on-the-ground mission in West Africa to coordinate the struggle against Ebola," while the World Bank Group issued a report warning of a "potentially catastrophic blow" to the economies of countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.
Given all of this, it seems like an odd time for conservative media to start a new round of complaints.
Right-wing media are using President Obama's plan to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as another opportunity to attack him. Conservatives are calling the president a "hypocrite" because he's sending "more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS"; labeling the plan "arrogant" because of problems with; and accusing him of trying to "change the subject" by "fighting a really bad flu bug."
It was former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) who equated the Ebola virus with a "really bad flu bug."
Rush Limbaugh added, "We are sending more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS or other Muslim terrorists.... I didn't know you could shoot a virus. Did you?"

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.18.14

09/18/14 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* Why is the Kansas Supreme Court so important right now? Fox News' new poll shows Sen. Pat Roberts (R) leading Greg Orman (I) by two points, 40% to 38%, when Chad Taylor (D) is in the mix. In a head-to-head match-up in the same poll, Orman leads Roberts by six, 48% to 42%.
* Is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) rebounding? A new Marquette University Law School poll shows the incumbent regaining his advantage, leading Mary Burke (D) by three, 49% to 46%.
* In related Wisconsin news, Democratic candidates will be listed first on the ballot, as required by state law because of the 2012 election results, just as Republicans were listed first in 2010 because of the 2010 election results. The difference is, Wisconsin Republicans are outraged and have filed a lawsuit, calling the ballot unfair.
* In North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, Fox News' poll is the latest in a series of recent polls to show Sen. Kay Hagan (D) leading Thom Tillis (R). Fox shows a five-point gap, 41% to 36%.
* Polling in Iowa's U.S. Senate race has been all over the place lately, though Fox News shows Bruce Braley (D) and Joni Ernst (R) tied at 41% each.
* In Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Fox News' poll shows Bill Cassidy (R) cruising past incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), 51% to 38%. The margin is significant: if one candidate tops 50% in November, there won't be a need for a December runoff.
* In Colorado's U.S. Senate race, most recent surveys have shown Sen. Mark Udall (D) with an edge over Rep. Cory Gardner (R), but the new USA Today/Suffolk poll shows Gardner up by one, 43% to 42%. Quinnipiac, which seems to have a heavy GOP lean lately, shows Gardner with an eight-point lead, which isn't close to any other result from any other poll.
* On a related note, the USA Today/Suffolk poll also shows Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) hanging on to a very narrow lead over former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R), 43% to 41%.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton begins a discussion for the opening plenary session titled "The Age of Participation" on the first day of the 2014 Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, March

'Clinton Nostalgia Syndrome' strikes again

09/18/14 11:41AM

When Bill Clinton was president, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called him a "jerk" and voted (twice) to throw him out of office. But reflecting on the Clinton era last year, the Utah Republican told reporters, "[I]f it hadn't been for some other difficulties, [Clinton] would go down in history as a pretty darn fine president."
This came to mind yesterday when Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) appeared at an event organized by the No Labels organization -- yes, that No Labels -- and said something similar about the bygone era he still longs for.
"I started my stint under President Bill Clinton," Salmon said, "and I'm the opposite party and I'd give my right arm to have him back right now."
Salmon, of course, voted in favor of four articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton.
It's part of a phenomenon Robert Schlesinger calls "Clinton Nostalgia Syndrome."
It's amazing how the idea that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" expresses itself in the weird world of Washington. One of the more entertaining instances is what I call Clinton Nostalgia Syndrome, where Republicans -- especially those who were in Congress in the mid and late 1990s -- yearn for the halcyon days of bipartisan compromise that, in their memory, carried the day during the Clinton presidency.
I actually remember the 1990s a little differently than Republicans who are suddenly celebrating the Clinton presidency. In fact, while I appreciate the fact that the right says nice things about the former Democratic president as a way to condemn the current Democratic president, I tend to think "Clinton Nostalgia Syndrome" is pretty hilarious.
People show their support during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., April 10, 2013.

Republicans coalesce around anti-immigration message

09/18/14 10:48AM

Last week, the National Republican Senatorial Committee launched a slightly unexpected attack ad. The NRSC, at least somewhat worried about the Senate race in Georgia, went after Michele Nunn (D) for supporting "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants. The problem was with the NRSC's proof.
According to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Nunn must support "amnesty" since she's endorsed the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill, co-authored by four Republican senators -- Marco Rubio, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake -- and easily passed by the Senate last year.
In other words, according to the Republicans' Senate committee, Nunn deserves to be condemned for agreeing with several prominent Republicans.
And this week, it's happened again.
On Monday, Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Mitch McConnell in the hard-fought Kentucky senate race, tried to distance herself from President Obama with an ad showing her shooting a gun. McConnell responded in kind. At the same time, an independent group with connections to Republican strategist Karl Rove began airing this ad blasting the “Obama-Grimes” plan to give “amnesty” to illegal immigrants.
Now, Lundergan Grimes hasn't been in Congress, so she couldn't vote one way or the other on comprehensive immigration reform, but the Kentucky candidate did endorse the bipartisan reform package co-authored by some conservative Republicans.
Then again, so did did Karl Rove's operations. And therein lies the point: Rove and his pals in the Bluegrass State are now condemning Lundergan Grimes ... for agreeing with Karl Rove about immigration policy.
All of this may seem like business as usual for Republicans in an election year, but I'd argue there's more to it.
Image: Rick Snyder

Obamacare sea change: GOP governor boasts about ACA benefits

09/18/14 10:20AM

Earlier this year, the Republican game plan for health care was pretty straightforward: attack "Obamacare" constantly, make it the centerpiece of the 2014 cycle, and wait for the inevitable victories to roll in.
The very idea that we'd see a Republican governor bragging about Affordable Care Act benefits -- in the final stretch of a tough re-election campaign, no less -- seemed hard to fathom. And yet, here we are (thanks to my colleague Nick Tuths for the heads-up).
Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday touted Michigan's successful Medicaid expansion as part of his re-election bid, saying 63,000 more low-income adults have signed up than projected this year, with [three-and-a-half] months left.
The Republican governor said about 385,000 enrolled between April, when the Healthy Michigan program launched, and Monday. His administration had expected 322,000 signups by year's end.
"At that level, we're adding over 9,000 patients a week," Snyder said at an endorsement event at the Michigan State Medical Society, an East Lansing-based professional association of physicians. "It's outstanding progress."
Progress, that is, implementing a key element of President Obama's signature domestic-policy achievement.
There are, of course, multiple angles to this. Michigan's Eclectablog, for example, noted that local Tea Partiers are not at all pleased by the sight of a Republican governor bragging about ACA implementation. For that matter, local Democrats are eager to remind the state that Snyder was not initially an eager proponent of Medicaid expansion, and the governor's delays cost the state money.
Rep. Mark Schauer (D), Snyder's very competitive rival, said Michigan's slow adoption of Medicaid expansion ended up costing the state roughly $600 million.
To be sure, these details matter. But I'm nevertheless struck by the broader political circumstances.
Dr. Monica Wehby greets supporters at the headquarters in Oregon City, May. 20, 2014.

Wehby acknowledges plagiarism problem

09/18/14 09:35AM

When Andrew Kaczynski caught Monica Wehby's Republican Senate campaign in a fairly blatant instance of plagiarism, the candidate's team didn't handle it especially well. Despite clear evidence that the Oregon candidate's health plan had been copied and pasted from materials published by Karl Rove's Crossroads operation, Wehby's spokesperson got a little snippy.
"The suggestion that a pediatric neurosurgeon needs to copy a health care plan from American Crossroads is absurd," a Wehby aide told BuzzFeed. "Dr. Wehby is too busy performing brain surgery on sick children to respond, sorry."
As best as I can tell, Wehby was not actually performing brain surgery on sick children at the time.
In any case, Kaczynski dug further and found that Wehby's economic plan had also been plagiarized, prompting the Republican candidate to drop the too-busy-performing-brain-surgery defense and acknowledge the problem.
Monica Wehby's campaign on Wednesday acknowledged problems with plagiarism in some of her issue documents and removed them from her website.
Her campaign blamed a former staffer, and it was clear from the context that Wehby and her aides were referring to her former campaign manager, Charlie Pearce, who is now running Dennis Richardson's campaign for governor.
Pearce, who was clearly irked, denied having anything to do with the problem. "I did not author the health care policy or economic policy plans," he said in an interview.
It's safe to say this isn't what Team Wehby needed right now.
U.S. Air Force Academy Cadets of the Class of 2012, lower their heads during the Invocation at the start of the commencement ceremony, Wednesday, May 23, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Air Force changes contentious religious policy

09/18/14 09:06AM

Under Pentagon guidelines, American servicemen and women who re-enlist are required to sign a specific written oath. In the Air Force, that's proven to be a bit more controversial than expected.
The oath seems pretty straightforward. Signers swear to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic"; "bear true faith and allegiance to the same"; and "obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me." But it concludes, "So help me God," and for atheists, that's a problem.
In the Army and Navy, Americans have the discretion to omit those final four words without penalty, but the Air Force has made it mandatory. In fact, as we discussed over the weekend, an airman was recently told he would be excluded from military service, regardless of his qualifications, unless he does as the Air Force requires and swears an oath to God.
At least, that was the policy. Abby Ohlheiser reported late yesterday that the Air Force has agreed to change its approach.
After an airman was unable to complete his reenlistment because he omitted the part of a required oath that states "so help me God," the Air Force changed its instructions for the oath.
Following a review of the policy by the Department of Defense General Counsel, the Air Force will now permit airmen to omit the phrase, should they so choose. That change is effective immediately, according to an Air Force statement.
In a written statement, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said, "The Air Force will be updating the instructions for both enlisted and commissioned Airmen to reflect these changes in the coming weeks, but the policy change is effective now. Airmen who choose to omit the words 'So help me God' from enlistment and officer appointment oaths may do so." She added that Air Force officials are "making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen's rights are protected."
It's worth emphasizing that the Air Force didn't have a lot of choice -- it was facing the prospect of a lawsuit officials were likely to lose.

Jobless claims show sharp improvement, near 14-year low

09/18/14 08:40AM

The data on initial unemployment claims was a little erratic around Labor Day, leading to some questions about what to expect next. With this in mind, the new data from the Labor Department was not only welcome news, it was better than anyone expected.
The number of people who applied for jobless benefits dropped 36,000 to 280,000 in the week that ended Sept. 13, hitting the lowest level since mid-July, signaling that employers are laying off very few workers, according to government data released Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to decline to 305,000 in the most recent weekly data from an originally reported 315,000 for the prior period.
On Thursday, the U.S. Labor Department tweaked initial claims for the week that ended Sept. 6 to 316,000. The four-week average of new claims, a trend that's less volatile than weekly changes, fell 4,750 to 299,500, the government reported.
Just to add some additional contest, this new report is the best since mid-July, but more important, the 280,000 figure suggests initial unemployment claims are approaching a 14-year low.
That said, to reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
A view of Capitol Hill Oct. 16, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

This time, Obama gets what he wants from Congress

09/18/14 08:00AM

The White House may be struggling badly with its political standing, and Democrats may very well have a rough election cycle, but President Obama can still occasionally get exactly what he wants.
For example, the president and his team worked hard to secure support for part of his new counter-terrorism strategy, and yesterday afternoon, the Republican-led House delivered.
The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday afternoon to greenlight President Obama's controversial proposal to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels in effort to defeat the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Obama wanted this measure, and he got it. The president wanted the House to approve a spending measure -- the "continuing resolution" -- to avoid a government shutdown, and he got that, too. Obama even urged lawmakers to extend the life of the Export-Import Bank, and despite the controversy, that's also going through.
It's not often the White House can reflect on developments on Capitol Hill and conclude, "We got everything we hoped to get."
Of course, in yesterday's case, Obama had some help. The measure on support for Syrian rebels passed because House Republican leaders endorsed the administration's plan. The CR passed, despite some recent grumbling, because there was little appetite for a pre-election government shutdown. The Export-Import Bank will live on because so many of the GOP's allies in the business community urged Republicans to side with the White House on this.
Still, presidents struggling in the polls generally don't get what they want, especially from chambers run by the other party, especially when contentious issues like war take center stage. Yesterday, however, Obama had a good day.
That said, there was plenty of drama surrounding the proposal on supporting Syrian rebels -- with a more difficult discussion on the way.

Presidential airstrikes and other headlines

09/18/14 07:56AM

Obama plans to tightly control strikes in Syria. (Wall Street Journal)

Senate votes today on training Syrian rebels. (The Hill)

Meet the president's key player on Syria. (The Hill)

Ukraine's president addresses a joint meeting of congress today. (Washington Post)

The man who can save Sen. Pat Roberts. (National Journal)

Texas executes second female prisoner this year. (AP)

Oregonians to vote on driving cards for immigrants. (AP)

read more