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The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., September 20, 2008.

A GOP 'nuclear option' would bring sweeping consequences

07/02/15 12:46PM

If Americans elected a Republican White House and a Republican Congress next year, a sharp, national turn to the far-right would be obvious, but there would still be some limits. Most measures would still need Senate approval, and the most radical GOP ideas would struggle in the face of Democratic filibusters.
But what if a newly invigorated Republican majority decided to scrap legislative filibusters so GOP lawmakers could simply do as they pleased?
Late last week, Jeb Bush said he "would certainly consider" getting rid of filibusters altogether -- executing a new "nuclear option" -- in order to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Scott Walker was even more enthusiastic about the idea, saying he would "absolutely" pursue such a strategy if it helped him dismantle the nation's health care system.
This week, as Bloomberg Politics reported, two more Republican presidential hopefuls -- Rick Perry and Carly Fiorina -- said they, too, would urge GOP senators to rewrite Senate rules in order to "repeal Obamacare."
Republican senators themselves, however, say they're not interested. The Hill reported this week:
Senate Republicans appear to be closing the door on gutting the filibuster, brushing aside calls from GOP presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Scott Walker to consider lowering the 60-vote threshold for repealing ObamaCare.
Sources close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) say there's virtually no chance he will go along with abolishing the filibuster, something he has strongly criticized in the past.
Even Ted Cruz is cool to the idea, telling Hugh Hewitt this week, "I believe ending the legislative filibuster would ultimately undermine conservative principles." The Club for Growth also voiced skepticism.
In theory, that should effectively end the conversation, but there's still a little more to it.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.2.15

07/02/15 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:
* In Iowa, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Hillary Clinton holding onto a pretty comfortable lead over Bernie Sanders, 52% to 33%. This is, however, a much slimmer margin than the 45-point advantage Clinton enjoyed a couple of months ago.
* In Madison, Wisconsin, yesterday, Sanders spoke to an enormous crowd of nearly 10,000 people. "In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of people here," the Vermont senator said.
* A new Gallup poll shows Democrats regaining an advantage over Republicans in terms of Americans' party affiliation, 46% to 41%. For the last year ,the two were effectively tied, including the period around the 2014 midterms.
* A new Monmouth poll in New Jersey found 69% of Garden State voters believe Gov. Chris Christie (R) would not make a good president.
* Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign reportedly raised $45 million in the second quarter of the year, her first as an announced candidate. That's even better than the $41.9 million President Obama raised in his first quarter as an announced candidate four years ago.
* On a related note, projections suggest 91% of Clinton's donations were $100 or less, which is pretty impressive.
* Retired right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson also announced his quarterly fundraising haul yesterday, pointing to his $8.3 million total.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination at Livingston High School on June 30, 2015 in Livingston Twp., New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty

The dubious number that won't go away

07/02/15 11:31AM

When Jeb Bush launched his presidential campaign, he announced a specific economic goal. "There is not a reason in the world why we cannot grow at a rate of 4 percent a year," the Florida Republican said. "And that will be my goal as president -- four percent growth."
We later learned that the former governor chose the number almost at random, and it wasn't based on any kind of substantive analyses at all. But two weeks later, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie  (R) used the identical figure in his own kickoff speech:
"We need to get our economy growing again at 4 percent of greater. And the reason we do is because we have to make this once again the country my mother and father told me it was. That as hard as you work, that's as hard and high as you'll rise. That's not the case anymore."
Republicans keep using that figure, 4 percent GDP growth, but I don't think it means what they think it means.
Let's note, right off the bat, that setting a goal of growth at "4 percent of greater" is hard to take seriously. Christie's speech said we have to get to this level "again," as if it were a routine amount of growth Americans used to see all the time, but take a wild guess how many presidents since World War II have averaged 4 percent growth over the course of their terms.
The answer is zero. Clinton didn't do it; neither did Reagan nor Obama.
Republican presidential candidate Trump speaks to the media through his SUV window after a rally in Manchester

Trump has GOP defenders despite racially charged rhetoric

07/02/15 11:00AM

In his presidential announcement speech, Donald Trump wasted no time in creating controversy. "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," the Republican candidate said. "They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."
Offered a variety of opportunities to walk the comments back, Trump has, at least for now, refused. This week, he insisted his remarks were "totally accurate."
As Rachel noted on the show last night, this has led a variety of businesses, including NBC/Universal, to end their relationships with the controversial candidate. But what remains striking is the degree to which Trump is facing very little blowback from his own party.
Fox's Sean Hannity has defended Trump, as has Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). "I like Donald Trump. I think he's terrific," the Republican senator said, "I think he's brash, I think he speaks the truth."
Last night, Politico published a piece by National Review editor Rich Lowry on the candidate. The headline read, "Sorry, Donald Trump Has A Point."
As for his instantly notorious Mexico comments, they did more to insult than to illuminate, yet there was a kernel in them that hit on an important truth that typical politicians either don't know or simply fear to speak. "When Mexico sends its people," Trump said, "they're not sending their best."
This is obviously correct. We aren't raiding the top 1 percent of Mexicans and importing them to this country. Instead, we are getting representative Mexicans, who -- through no fault of their own, of course -- come from a poorly educated country at a time when education is essential to success in an advanced economy.
As for Trump's assumptions about these immigrants being drug-running rapists, Lowry didn't dwell on these details while praising the candidate's broader immigration argument.
This is not a wise strategy.
Potential Republican 2016 presidential candidate Ohio Governor John Kasich speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, New Hampshire April 18, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Kasich tries an unconventional route to GOP nomination

07/02/15 10:18AM

During the fight for the Republican presidential nomination four years ago, then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) generated quite a bit of attention with his "oops" moment in November 2011. But for those who followed the race closely, the truth is the Texas Republican was already in trouble before his memory failed him.
Two months earlier, at a different GOP debate, Perry was forced to defend his state-based policy allowing undocumented kids already in Texas to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities. "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," Perry said at the time.
The response was ugly. Republican voters don't like benefits for undocumented immigrants, but they get even more annoyed by allegations that they're heartless. Perry was booed aggressively.
Four years later, it seems Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) is playing with the same fire.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, the latest Republican to say he's interested in running for his party's nomination for president, attracted a crowd of about 200 people in Des Moines [last week].
During a forum at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Kasich distinguished himself from the rest of the field.  He criticized the pro-ethanol renewable fuel standard, and called for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
As the Iowa Public Radio report noted, Kasich added that the idea of deporting undocumented immigrants is "inhumane."
Less than a week earlier, Politico reported on an appearance the Ohio governor made at a Koch brothers event, where he was pressed to explain his support for Medicaid expansion.
"I don't know about you, lady," he responded, his voice rising. "But when I get to the pearly gates, I'm going to have an answer for what I've done for the poor."
By some accounts, "about 20" members of the audience walked out of the room in disgust.
U.S. President Barack Obama greets attendees in the crowd after signing House Resolution 2146, the "Defending Public Safety Employees' Retirement Act and Trade Preference Extension Act of 2015," June 29, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Republicans take aim at Obama's overtime policy

07/02/15 09:25AM

President Obama will be in Wisconsin later today, delivering remarks on his new overtime policy, which is probably a bigger deal than much of the political world realizes. This is, after all, a policy that will likely put more money in a lot of workers' paychecks.
As we talked about the other day, under the status quo, there's an income threshold for mandatory overtime: $23,660. Those making more than that can be classified by employers as "managers" who are exempt from overtime rules. The Obama administration's Labor Department has spent the last several months working on the new plan, which raises the threshold to $50,440 -- more than double the current level.
Republicans and some business groups won't like the policy, but there's not much they can do about it -- this falls within the Labor Department's regulatory powers, so the policy will be implemented whether GOP critics like it or not.
The estimable E.J. Dionne Jr. makes a persuasive case, though, that there's no reason for Republicans to reflexively oppose a policy like this one.
In discussing rising inequality, we often act as if the trend is a natural development about which we can do nothing. Of course, big economic forces are at work. But government rules and laws -- on pay, health care, labor rights and taxes -- can improve workers' standing or they can make the disparities worse. Government has a choice, and there is no purely neutral ground on this question. [...]
In a very crowded Republican presidential field, will any candidate find it in his or her interest to break with the party's orthodoxy on government regulations and labor rights? Will any of them have the temerity to appeal to their party's many working-class supporters by making the point that Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and other Democrats are sure to advance: that reinforcing our "conservative" values about the honor of work often requires what are usually seen as "progressive" measures by government to keep workers from being short-changed?
Those are excellent questions. The answer, at least for now, appears to be, "No."

Jobs growth remains steady, unemployment drops

07/02/15 08:45AM

As the calendar year reaches the halfway point, most economic projections point to steady job growth. As it turns out, that's pretty much what we have.
The new report from Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the U.S. economy added 223,000 jobs in June, roughly in line with expectation. The overall unemployment rate inched lower to 5.3%, its lowest point since April 2008, more than seven years ago.
The revisions, however, were less encouraging. April's job totals were revised down, from 221,000 to 187,000, while May's numbers were also lowered, dropping from 280,000 to 254,000. Combined, that's a loss of 60,000. Also discouraging is the fact that the jobs report didn't point to increased wage growth.
That said, there was also a big drop in long-term unemployment, which was more heartening. The overall takeaway is that this is a decent jobs report -- not great, not bad.
The U.S. has added 2.9 million jobs over the last 12 months. June was the 57th consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 64th consecutive month in which we've seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage speaks a campaign rally on Nov. 3, 2014, in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Investigation of scandal-plagued Maine gov moves forward

07/02/15 08:00AM

Facing the very real possibility of impeachment, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) learned yesterday that state lawmakers are moving forward with their investigation into the alleged misuse of public resources. The Portland Press Herald reported:
The Legislature's watchdog committee voted unanimously Wednesday to investigate Gov. Paul LePage's threat to withhold state funds from a school for at-risk children unless it withdrew a job offer to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.
The probe will focus on whether changes were made in the flow of state funding to Good Will-Hinckley, a private school in Fairfield, and the effects of the Republican governor's threat on the school's hiring process with Eves.
To briefly recap, a Maine charter school recently hired state House Speaker Mark Eves (D). LePage, a fierce opponent of Democratic legislators, threatened the school -- either fire Eves at LePage's demand or the governor would cut off the school's state funding.  In effect, LePage played the role of a mobster saying, "It's a nice school you have there. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."
The school, left with no options, reluctantly acquiesced. The problem, of course, is that governors are not supposed to use state resources to punish people they don't like. That, by any fair measure, is an impeachable offense.
For his part, LePage, an often-clownish Tea Partier, does not deny the allegations. As of yesterday, however, he is arguing that the state legislative committee examining the scandal lacks the authority to investigate him.

Bernie is gaining and other headlines

07/02/15 07:59AM

Bernie Sanders gains on Hillary Clinton in Iowa. (Bloomberg Politics)

White House gears up for domestic policy offensive. (Wall Street Journal)

Emails show Hillary Clinton exchanges with foreign lobbyist. (Politico)

After court ruling, gay veterans get marriage benefits they were denied. (Washington Post)

At least 5,000 evacuated following Tennessee train derailment, fire. (USA Today)

The time President Obama sang the Davy Crockett theme song. (Time)

'Maria' is leaving 'Sesame Street.' (Washington Post)

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