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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.12.16

02/12/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* With both Democratic candidates vying for support from minority communities, it was of interest yesterday when the Congressional Black Caucus PAC formally endorsed Hillary Clinton.
 
* With time running out before the Republicans' South Carolina primary, former President George W. Bush will hit the campaign trail on Monday night in support of Jeb Bush. It will be the former president's first campaign appearance on behalf of his brother.
 
* Speaking of the Palmetto State, local GOP officials believe Trump's South Carolina ground game falls far short of his rivals', but Republicans believe he's likely to win the primary anyway.
 
* Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone, a Republican mega-donor, officially made the switch this week from Chris Christie to John Kasich. Langone will not, however, support the Ohio governor's super PAC, saying, "I don't give to super PACs anymore."
 
* And speaking of Kasich, the governor yesterday hired admaker and strategist Rex Elsass, who was part of Rand Paul's presidential campaign.
 
* Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who quit his Democratic presidential bid fairly early on, announced yesterday that he's decided not to run as an independent. In a speech, the former senator said, "Theoretically it could be done, but it is enormously costly and time sensitive, and I don't see the fundraising trajectory where we could make a realistic run."
President Barack Obama reacts as Joey Hudy of Phoenix, Arizona, launches a marshmallow from his Extreme Marshmallow Cannon in the State Dining Room of the White House during the second White House Science Fair in Washington February 7, 2012.

Setting a high standard for presidential support for science

02/12/16 11:24AM

In President Obama's first inaugural address, he subtly acknowledged that support for science had lagged in the years before his election, but he also made a specific vow: "We'll restore science to its rightful place."
 
It's fair to say it's a promise on which he's delivered. In fact, the president sat down with Popular Science recently, which noted Obama's record as a "very pro-science president," and asked, "Why do you see science and technology as being so important?"
"Science and technology helped make America the greatest country on Earth. Whether it's setting foot on the moon, developing a vaccine for polio, inventing the Internet, or building the world's strongest military, we've relied on innovative scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians to help us tackle the toughest challenges of our time. [...]
 
"We've expanded clean-energy research; we've launched major initiatives in advanced manufacturing, biomedicine, and strategic computing; we've increased preparedness and resilience against climate change; and we're training STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] teachers so every child grows up with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century. Being pro-science is the only way we make sure that America continues to lead the world. Our policies reflect that."
Asked if he considers himself "a nerd," the president noted that his White House prepared a detailed paper on the Death Star, which he hopes means his administration has "at least a little nerd credibility built up."
 
Obama added, "What's remarkable is the way 'nerd' is such a badge of honor now. Growing up, I'm sure I wasn't the only kid who read Spider-Man comics and learned how to do the Vulcan salute, but it wasn't like it is today. I get the sense that today's young people are proud to be smart and curious, to design new things, and tackle big problems in unexpected ways. I think America's a nerdier country than it was when I was a kid-and that's a good thing!"
 
I remember a few months after Obama took office, Time magazine published a piece that said the president showed so much enthusiasm on science, he was "almost strident" on the issue.
 
The negative connotation of the phrase struck me as a mistake. The fact that Obama has demonstrated a real passion, in word and deed, in support of the sciences is something to be celebrated.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio waits to speak at a caucus site on Feb. 1, 2016 in Clive, Iowa. (Photo by Paul Sancya/AP)

Even Romney sees key Rubio idea as 'a tax cut for fat cats'

02/12/16 10:45AM

One of the important things to understand about Marco Rubio is that he takes contemporary Republican thought to levels much of the American mainstream would find ridiculous. Most of the GOP, for example, opposes abortion rights, but Rubio goes further, saying even women impregnated by rapists can be forced by the government to take the pregnancy to term -- a position no Republican nominee, including Reagan, has ever endorsed.
 
Most Republicans are hostile towards cap-and-trade, but Rubio opposes any and all efforts to address the climate crisis, dismissing the very idea as attempts to "control the weather." Nearly every Republican is opposed to President Obama, but Rubio is basing much of his campaign on the assertion that the president is an anti-American traitor hell-bent on national sabotage.
 
And just about every Republican supports tax cuts of one form or another, but Rubio's plan to cut capital gains taxes to literally zero is so extreme, even Mitt Romney has condemned the idea. The New York Times' Josh Barro explained the other day:
When Steve Forbes ran for president in 1996 on a plan that called for no taxes on dividends and capital gains, Mitt Romney, then a private citizen, took out a full-page ad in The Boston Globe attacking his proposal as plutocratic.
 
"The Forbes tax isn't a flat tax at all -- it's a tax cut for fat cats!" Mr. Romney's ad declared, noting that "Kennedys, Rockefellers and Forbes" could end up with a tax rate of zero, while ordinary people would be left paying 17 percent on their wage and salary income under Mr. Forbes's plan.
Barro added that the "mainstream Republican position on capital gains has long been that they should be taxed at a low rate, but not zero." But then along came Rubio, embracing the "once-fringe idea" as a key part of his platform, despite the policy's "extreme generosity to taxpayers who derive their income from investments rather than work."
 
Paul Krugman added that there's literally no evidence that such a policy would produce large economic benefits. All it would do is deliver more wealth to "the very, very rich, with essentially nothing for the vast majority of Americans."
 
And making matters a little worse, just yesterday we received word from the non-partisan Tax Policy Center on what Rubio's plan would cost. Vox's Dylan Matthews reported:
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

GOP banking ally borrows a page from Sanders' playbook

02/12/16 09:50AM

In so many ways, the 2016 cycle has been like no other, but Bloomberg Politics published an item today that should surprise even the most hardened observers.
The most striking example of a Republican targeting Wall Street is the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama. Shelby, who's being challenged by a Tea Party candidate, Jonathan McConnell, in the state's March 1 primary, has already spent almost $3 million on TV ads -- more than anyone else in Congress -- many of them attacking Wall Street banks.
In fact, Shelby isn't just running against the financial industry in general; he's naming names, calling out specific institutions such as Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo in his anti-Wall Street advertising.
 
Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president for political advertising at Kantar Media, which tracks political ads, told Bloomberg Politics, "Calling out banks by name and logo is extremely rare for Republicans. It's rare, period -- even back in 2012, when we were just emerging from the recession, we saw a lot of ads slamming 'Wall Street banks' or 'big banks.' But few ads specified banks by name, and those tended to be Democratic ads. We've seen more Republican ads slamming individual banks by name in the past few weeks than we probably saw in all of 2012."
 
And as unusual as this is on its face, let's not brush past the punch line: Shelby is the far-right chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. The financial industry has been extremely generous towards the Alabama Republican, directing millions of dollars to his campaign coffers.
 
Consider just how amazing this dynamic is: a GOP senator pursues policies favorable to Wall Street; the finance industry contributes generously to his re-election campaign, the senator then uses the money to run commercials about his distaste for Wall Street and the big banks.
 
If this seems a bit twisted to you, take comfort in the fact that you're not alone.
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) speak to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 3, 2008.

Senator faces controversy over Vietnam-era draft deferments

02/12/16 09:20AM

It's been quite a while since there was a political controversy surrounding a politician and Vietnam-era draft deferments, but the Kansas City Star's Dave Helling reported this week on an unexpected flap out of Missouri.
Sen. Roy Blunt's claims about his Vietnam-era draft record have emerged as an issue in his re-election campaign against Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat.
 
In a news story posted online Wednesday morning, The Star reported Blunt received three draft deferments while a college student in the late 1960s. Blunt's office did not disclose the deferments in 2015, when the newspaper specifically asked Blunt's office about the senator's draft history.
That last part appears to be the key. Blunt, up for re-election this year, is facing Jason Kander, widely seen as a rising star in Democratic politics, and an Army veteran who volunteered to serve in the war in Afghanistan. This dynamic prompted local media to take a fresh look at the Republican incumbent's background when it came to military service.
 
When the Kansas City Star specifically asked last year about Blunt's draft history, the senator's office last year talked about his low draft number, but failed to mention the three draft deferments.
 
There's no evidence that Blunt ever lied about his record, but for the Republican's critics, it's a sin of omission.
 
"As someone who volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, it's personally disappointing to me that, according to today's report, a United States' senator would spend decades misleading his state and country about his draft record," Kander said in a press statement. "I don't sit in judgment of anyone who chose not to serve in Vietnam, but hiding three deferments and saying you couldn't remember them is completely inexcusable."
 
Making matters slightly worse, VoteVets.org chairman and Iraq War veteran Jon Soltz took the opportunity to emphasize Blunt's less-than-stellar voting record on veterans' issues.
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders participates in the PBS NewsHour debate on Feb. 1, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wis. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Debate promises reinforce differences between Dem candidates

02/12/16 08:40AM

Fairly early on in last night's Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders, responding to a question about the criminal justice system, made a vow that drew hearty applause from the Milwaukee audience.
 
"Here is a pledge I've made throughout this campaign, and it's really not a very radical pledge," Sanders said. "When we have more people in jail, disproportionately African American and Latino, than China does, a communist authoritarian society four times our size. Here's my promise, at the end of my first term as president we will not have more people in jail than any other country."
 
It's a sentiment that nearly all Democrats (and even many Republicans) would find compelling, but NYU's Mark Kleiman highlighted a problem: it's a promise Sanders wouldn't be able to keep.
If we elide the distinction between prisons (holding people convicted of serious crimes) and jails (holding people convicted of minor crimes and people awaiting trial), it is true and important that the U.S. leads the world in incarceration. That's a disgrace. (I seem to recall having written a book on the topic.) We should do something about that, and there are things to do about it. A President can do some of them.
 
But of the 2.3 million people behind bars in this country, fewer than 10% are Federal prisoners. The rest are in state prisons and local jails. If the President were to release all of the Federal prisoners, we would still, as a country, have more prisoners than any other country. So Sen. Sanders was very specifically making a promise he has no way of keeping. Either he knows that or he does not.
There's no doubt that Sanders' pledge is well intentioned, but in a case like this, the details get in the way.
 
All of which reinforces an important difference between Sanders and Hillary Clinton: the former thinks big and bold, without too much concern for realism or practical limits, while the latter is almost preoccupied with not over-promising.
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton smile as they take the stage before a Democratic debate, Feb. 11, 2016, in Milwaukee, Wis. (Photo by Tom Lynn/AP)

Clinton finally knows what she wants to say about Bernie Sanders

02/12/16 08:00AM

On Wednesday night, Bernie Sanders appeared on MSNBC and noted a persistent political challenge. "There's a huge gap right now between Congress and the American people. What presidential leadership is about closing that gap," he said. Asked if he believed President Obama had closed that gap, Sanders added, "No, I don't. I mean, I think he has made the effort."
 
For Democrats, this perspective has it largely backwards -- if there's a "huge gap right now between Congress and the American people," Dems argue, it's because Congress is run by radicalized Republicans who won't compromise and who remain indifferent to pressing national needs. Suggesting the White House is somehow to blame is central to the GOP's pitch.
 
Which, of course, makes it precisely the sort of rhetoric that Hillary Clinton is eager to use against her rival. Indeed, it led to an exchange in last night's debate in Milwaukee that helped capture much of what the Democratic primary is all about. As MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reported:
"The kind of criticism that we've heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans," Clinton said.
 
Sanders, clearly agitated, called that a "low blow" and shot back, "one of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate."
 
"Last I heard, a United States senator had the right to disagree with the president, including a president who has done such an extraordinary job," he said, his voice growing louder.
Clinton had a detailed response at the ready. "You know, senator, what I am concerned about, is not disagreement on issues, saying that this is what I would rather do, I don't agree with the president on that, calling the president 'weak,' calling him a 'disappointment,' calling several times that he should have a primary opponent when he ran for re-election in 2012, you know, I think that goes further than saying we have our disagreements."
 
For the former Secretary of State, President Obama is both sword and shield. When pressed on some of the more controversial aspects of her record, Clinton notes the similarities between her and the president -- effectively daring Sanders to condemn Obama directly. When given the opportunity to go on the offensive, Clinton uses Obama to question the independent senator's loyalty and commitment to a Democratic agenda.
 
It's a message that played well among Dems in Milwaukee, but just as importantly, it's likely to land on fertile soil in South Carolina, where Democrats give the president a 93% approval rating.
 
Just as importantly,  I got the sense Clinton, after months of campaigning, finally figured out what she wanted to say about the persistent opponent who's turned out to be far stronger than expected. It came, oddly enough, in Clinton's closing statement in the final couple of minutes of the event.

Citations for the February 11, 2016 TRMS

02/12/16 01:19AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Joel Sawyer, former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party
  • Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, author, "And Then All Hell Broke Loose; Two decades in the Middle East"

Tonight's links:

read more

Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.11.16

02/11/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Porter Ranch: "The gas well above Porter Ranch that has been leaking since October has been temporarily capped, Southern California Gas Company said Thursday. Thousands of households have been relocated after residents complained of ailments they believe are linked to the natural gas leak at the utility's Aliso Canyon facility."
 
* All clear in Oregon: "The four remaining occupiers at an Oregon wildlife refuge surrendered Thursday morning after hours of tense negotiations, bringing an end to the weeks long protest over land rights and personal liberties."
 
* The final vote was 96 to 0: "The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on North Korea, in a bid aimed at forcing the international community to retaliate more strongly against the rogue nation after a series of worrisome moves."
 
* Zika virus: "Pregnant women in South and Latin America who contract Zika, a rapidly spreading mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and deformities in babies, should not have access to abortion, Republican House leaders said Wednesday."
 
* Cabinet: "President Obama is slated to nominate John B. King Jr. to officially lead the Department of Education, where he has served as acting secretary since the start of the year, according to several people familiar with the decision."
 
* Putin's Russia: "A prominent Russian human rights organization was ordered shut Wednesday by a regional court, potentially silencing one more voice in a continued Russian crackdown on independent civil society."

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