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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.30.14

07/30/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Done deal: "The House voted overwhelmingly to pass the compromise health care overhaul aimed at slashing wait times at Veterans Affairs facilities. The bill is expected to easily pass the Senate and head to President Barack Obama's desk before Congress leaves for the August recess." The final vote was 420 to 5, with all 5 opponents coming from the House GOP.
* Gaza: "Palestinian health officials said at least 20 people were killed by what witnesses and United Nations officials said was the latest in a series of strikes on United Nations facilities that are supposed to be safe zones in the 23-day-old battle between Israel and Hamas and other militants."
* The complexities of the Middle East: "After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states -- including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan -- that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip."
* West Africa: "The spread of the deadly Ebola virus has prompted the Peace Corps to evacuate volunteers from three West African countries, the organization announced today."
* Voting rights: "The Justice Department is lending its support to lawsuits filed by activists in Ohio and Wisconsin against Republican-backed voting laws that they say have a negative impact on minority voters."
* Not helpful, Europe: "Kidnapping Europeans for ransom has become a global business for Al Qaeda, bankrolling its operations across the globe. While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just last year."
* Does this make passage more or less likely? "The White House threatened to veto the House's $659 million border supplemental Wednesday, saying it could actually make the child migrant crisis worse. The veto threat could buck up Democrats looking to kill the bill in an effort to push Republicans to pass a more generous version."
U.S. President Barack Obama

Obama urges GOP to 'stop hating all the time'; GOP responds with lawsuit

07/30/14 05:06PM

President Obama was in Kansas City, Missouri, this morning, speaking at the Uptown Theater where he was, to put it mildly, fired up and ready to go. The full video is not yet available online, but the transcript is, and it shows an energetic president feeling a sense of urgency.
"Some of the things we're doing without Congress are making a difference, but we could do so much more if Congress would just come on and help out a little bit," the president said. "Just come on. Come on and help out a little bit. Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hating all the time. Come on. Let's get some work done together."
He seemed quite sincere. GOP lawmakers readied their response just a few hours later.
Republicans pushed a divided House Wednesday toward a campaign-season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of deliberately exceeding the bounds of his constitutional authority. Obama and other Democrats derided the effort as a stunt aimed at tossing political red meat to conservative voters.
Just a day before lawmakers were to begin a five-week summer recess, debate over the lawsuit underscored the harshly partisan tone that has dominated the current Congress almost from its start in January 2013.
The debate is still underway on the House floor right now, though it's expected to pass the Republican-led chamber.
In case anyone's forgotten, after months of rhetoric about a lawless, out-of-control White House, GOP leaders decided to sue -- over a deadline for an obscure Affordable Care Act provision.
Making matters slightly worse, the Republicans are suing to require the Obama administration to immediately implement a policy the GOP lawmakers themselves do not actually want to see implemented.
No wonder the president seems so eager to talk about this.

A photo-op gone wrong in Connecticut

07/30/14 04:14PM

It hasn't generated much national attention, but Connecticut is home to one of the year's most competitive gubernatorial races, with incumbent Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) facing a very tough challenge from businessman Tom Foley (R), and former ambassador during the Bush/Cheney administration. The same two candidates faced off four years ago, with Malloy eking out a victory by less than 7,000 votes.
Polls show Foley fairly well positioned in their rematch, though incidents like these really aren't going to help (thanks to my colleague Ron Dodd for the heads-up).
Near the gate of a doomed paper mill, Republican Tom Foley alighted from the back seat of a blue BMW sedan Tuesday to assail the economic policies of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, only to find himself in a raucous street debate with the local first selectwoman and soon-to-be jobless workers.
Foley, a candidate for governor, came to fault Malloy for the recently announced plans by a global investment firm to close Fusion Paperboard, costing 140 jobs in this struggling mill town. By the time he left, Foley had defended the decision of the absentee owners and told the selectwoman and workers they shared blame for the mill's demise.
I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. A paper mill is closing in a Connecticut town, so the governor's challenger wants to play the role of opportunist, blaming the decision on the current gubernatorial administration.
But in this case, Foley doesn't seem to have thought the issue through all the way, at least not before showing up with the cameras in the hopes of exploiting a struggling community's job losses for partisan gain.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during a gala prior to the start of the Virginia GOP Convention in Roanoke, Va., Friday, June 6, 2014.

Paul Ryan's poor excuse for inaction

07/30/14 01:03PM

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sat down with the Washington Examiner this week, and was asked about whether his party needs to present an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. "I do believe it's our obligation to articulate what we would replace Obamacare with and what the health care system would look like under our reforms," the congressman replied.
So where is the GOP plan? House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said late last week the proposal is "not there yet."
No rush, guys. Republicans have only been working on it for five years.
Of course, the public has also been waiting for House GOP lawmakers to present their immigration-reform plan, which has been equally elusive. In the same interview, Ryan rolled out his excuse for inaction.
Influential Rep. Paul Ryan, in the latest demonstration of distrust between the GOP and President Obama, said that broad immigration reform is dead because Republicans have "no confidence or faith" that the president will do as Congress orders on the U.S.-Mexico border.
"There is just no confidence or faith that the president will faithfully discharge his duties in executing and implementing the laws as written by Congress at this time," said Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee and current budget committee chairman.
The Washington Examiner's report added that Ryan believes there's "no chance that broad [immigration] reform, like the type he supports or that already passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate, will ever see the light of day."
Obviously, we already knew that House Republicans killed comprehensive immigration reform, so Ryan's comments on legislative prospects hardly come as a shock, though it certainly sends signals to the White House that unilateral action from President Obama is now the only way forward.
It also raises questions anew about why Republicans won't consider the Senate Democratic offer to pass immigration reform now, to be implemented in 2017.
But I'm struck by the scope of Ryan's bizarre excuse for doing nothing.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.30.14

07/30/14 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:
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, it now appears state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) has advocated nullification even more extensively than previously reported.
* On a related note, Tom Steyer's NextGen Climate has unveiled a new, minute-long television ad, blasting Ernst for wanting to "protect tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas."
* And in still more Iowa news, Rep. Bruce Braley (D) is also going on the offensive against Ernst, highlighting her opposition to a minimum-wage increase in a new ad.
* In Ohio, though some recent polling pointed to a competitive gubernatorial race, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Gov. John Kasich (R) with a double-digit lead over Ed FitzGerald (D), 48% to 36%.
* Kentucky's Alison Lundergan Grimes unveiled a new ad this week featuring Kentucky resident Illene Woods asking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) why he voted "two times against the Violence Against Women Act ... and against enforcing equal pay for women."
* Speaking of Kentucky, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who already claims to have written some books, is reportedly preparing to release a new book that will go "beyond the left-right paradigm kind of thing." As for whether this the book's release may be related to his national ambitions, the Republican senator joked, "Just coincidence, probably just coincidence, yeah."
Night falls over the U.S. Capitol.

No Labels, no accomplishments, but plenty of money

07/30/14 11:43AM

It's easy to forget that No Labels exists as an entity, but it does. Four years after a high-profile launch, the group apparently still wants to help the political system by promoting non-partisanship.
If you've forgotten about the organization outside of its role as a punch-line to Twitter jokes, you're forgiven -- it's not at all clear what No Labels has been up to for the last four years. Looking over my archives, the group apparently took a keen interest in bipartisan seating at the State of the Union -- up to and including a full-page New York Times ad on the subject -- but in terms of substantive, meaningful work, No Labels doesn't appear to have made any impact on American politics at all.
That does not, however, appear to have adversely affected the group's bank account. Meredith Shiner uncovered some interesting details this week about No Labels' finances and the degree to which the group has become "yet another cog in the D.C. moneymaking machine."
Like many other outside political groups, No Labels spends a disproportionate part of its budget maintaining and promoting its own organization, trying to keep its profile high while ensuring a steady flow of fundraising dollars, whose donors they keep secret, in a cluttered nonprofit environment. [...]
And though No Labels has positioned itself as a warrior against gridlock, an internal document obtained by Yahoo News suggests the group is banking on more political dysfunction in an attempt to find "opportunity" and relevance for itself.
According to Shiner's findings, much of the No Labels budget goes towards "sustaining or promoting" No Labels. The organization that launched with a goal of engaging Congress to pursue bipartisan policymaking now apparently spends about 4% of its projected $4.5 million budget on congressional relations.
Shiner added, "By contrast, administrative and operational expenses got $1.035 million over the same time period. Another 5 percent was set for travel. A further 30 percent ($1.35 million) was earmarked for digital growth and press, and 14 percent for fundraising."
As for what No Labels has to show for its efforts, Simon Maloy noted, "The group's list of 'accomplishments' is a depressing read, consisting largely of favorable press clips, members of Congress wearing No Labels pins to various functions, and the fact that 'No Labels' hashtag #FixNotFight was a trending topic on Twitter during the 2013 State of the Union address.'"
Man holds a gun in the exhibit hall of the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the NRA's annual meeting in Houston, Texas

'It is almost a necessity to ask these questions'

07/30/14 10:57AM

In theory, Republican policymakers believe interference in the physician-patient relationship is not only big government, but also an outrageous abuse. Nothing, the GOP has said for years, should come between Americans and their doctors, especially not intrusive government.
But in practices, Republicans have struggled with their own talking points.
We've seen plenty of examples involving politicians mandating medically unnecessary ultrasounds and writing scripts medical professionals are supposed to read to patients, but Aaron Carroll flagged a related medical regulation, which has sparked an interesting legal fight.
When pediatricians ask you about using car seats, they're trying to prevent injuries. When they ask you about how your baby sleeps, they're trying to prevent injuries. When they ask you about using bike helmets, they're trying to prevent injuries. And when they ask you about guns, they're trying to prevent injuries, too.
But not, perhaps, everywhere. In Florida, in 2011, a law was signed that made it illegal for doctors to ask patients if they owned a gun. If doctors violate this law, they can be disciplined, leading to fines, citations and even a loss of their license.
A lower court struck down the law in 2012. But last week, a panel of judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld it.
In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court agreed with Florida's Republican-led legislature that medical professionals have no legitimate reason to ask about a patient's firearms.
It's not up to doctors to make this determination, apparently. Florida's politicians are comfortable placing restrictions as to what physicians can and cannot ask.
Protecting patient privacy is a worthwhile goal, to be sure, but it seems odd that medical professionals trying to identify potential health risks to patients can ask about drugs, alcohol, sexual practices, exercise, tattoos, domestic violence, and even work habits, but mere inquiries about guns are somehow off limits, as if loaded firearms in the home are completely unrelated to health concerns.
A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples in West Hollywood, Calif., July 1, 2013.

Lobbyists advise GOP: give up anti-gay stance

07/30/14 10:13AM

The Hill reports today that a growing number of Republican lobbyists on K Street -- home to many of Washington's largest lobbying firms -- are "helping members of their party shift their stance on gay rights issues." The piece specifically highlighted Kathryn Lehman, a top GOP lobbyist and partner at Holland & Knight, who sounded optimistic.
"The issue is losing its toxicity, from a Republican perspective," she said.
Is there anything to this? Maybe. Jennifer Bendery raised an interesting point the other day.
When President Barack Obama signed an executive order Monday making it illegal for federal contractors to fire or harass employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, civil rights advocates hailed the move as one of the most important actions ever taken by a president to stem discrimination.
Democratic lawmakers raced to issue statements celebrating the advancement for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.... But in Republican quarters on Capitol Hill, it's as if nothing happened. GOP leaders have been silent. Socially conservative members have gone quiet.
Republicans have invested an enormous amount of time and energy in condemning President Obama's executive actions, pretending every executive order is further evidence of an out-of-control dictator, hell-bent on tyranny.
But last week, after the president circumvented Congress and issued a sweeping new policy, GOP lawmakers bit their tongue.
Asked if he had any reaction to Obama's latest move, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "Nope. The president signs a lot of executive orders."
So what's going on here?

'We're tearing down walls. Get it?'

07/30/14 09:36AM

One of the great things about social media and the democratization of media in general is the lack of barriers. Anyone can go to sites like Facebook and Twitter, create a profile, make their case, and try to reach an audience.
And in some cases, folks can even try to create their own social-media platform. Right Wing Watch's Kyle Mantyla had this striking report yesterday.
Last weekend, the Ohio Liberty Coalition hosted a "Reload 4 Liberty" event at which Janet Porter spoke about her never-ending push to get her anti-choice "Heartbeat Bill" legislation passed in Ohio. But apparently that is not all that Porter is up to these days, as she also revealed to the audience that she'll soon be unveiling something called ReaganBook, which aims to become "the Facebook for patriots."
Because Facebook is run by the sorts of people who march in gay pride parades and supposedly censors messages from anti-gay activists like Peter LaBarbera, Porter explained that she decided to launch ReaganBook as a conservative alternative.
In the video in which Janet Porter makes the case for her project, she tells supporters, "We're tearing down walls. Get it?"
Not really.
The site's organizers added, "We stand by what Ronald Reagan said, 'Government has no power except those voluntarily granted to it by we the people.' The same holds true for your social media. We will not partner with government agencies or divulge any user information without a court order because Free Speech is not for sale."
I've long marveled at the "Reagan Legacy Project" and the goal of putting the former president's name everywhere -- schools, bridges, courthouses, highways, airports, children, etc. Last year, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) tried to rename nearly all of the water surrounding the United States after Reagan, and this year, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) tried to name a Nevada mountain peak "Mount Reagan," despite the fact that there's already a "Mount Reagan."
I guess naming a social-media platform after the Republican icon is the next natural step?

U.S. economy bounces back in a big way

07/30/14 08:51AM

By any measure, the U.S. economy was unusually weak in the first quarter of the year (January through March), though most in the economic, financial, and political sectors were untroubled by the data. Indeed, for most, the winter drop was something of a fluke, caused by unusually harsh weather conditions and an unexpected drop in health spending.
Still, the first-quarter report made the second-quarter data all the more important. Would the economy bounce back? This morning, we received an answer -- and for those rooting for economic success, the results were even better than expected.
The U.S. economy grew by a 4% annual pace in the second quarter, bouncing back from a revised 2.1% decline in the first three months of the year, according to a preliminary government estimate. Economists polled by MarketWatch predicted GDP would grow by a seasonally adjusted 3.2%. Consumer spending, the main source of economic activity, accelerated to show a solid 2.5% gain after a meager 1.2% rise in the first quarter. [...]
Also adding to U.S. growth was a pickup in construction spending, increased business investment, a bigger buildup in inventories and slightly higher government spending, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.
Also note, the most recent data showed the first quarter GDP at -2.9%. Today's report revises that total in a less-awful direction, to -2.1%.
Nevertheless, today's report showing 4% growth is terrific and reinforces the perception of an economy picking up speed. Though this is a preliminary figure that will be revised in the coming months, if it holds up, this will be only the third time in the last seven years that GDP growth has reached 4% or greater.
What's more, the swing from -2.1% to +4% is easily the largest positive quarter-to-quarter swing since the start of the Great Recession is late 2007.
John Boehner

The GOP loses control of its Frankenstein monster

07/30/14 08:00AM

The headline on the L.A. Times story reads, "Boehner rules out impeachment." But when it comes to what the House Speaker actually said yesterday, the headline isn't quite right.
"No, no, no, no," Congressman Greg Walden, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Politico when asked whether the House would initiate impeachment proceedings. Boehner told reporters on Tuesday that there were "no plans" to remove Obama, calling the idea "a scam started by Democrats at the White House."
We already know with certainty that the Ohio Republican is wrong when he blames this on the White House -- the impeachment talk has come from GOP lawmakers and it's been going on for years. Indeed, if this is a "scam," John Boehner's own leadership team is in on it -- the new House Majority Whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) refused to take presidential impeachment off the table during an interview just three days ago.
But then there's the part about Boehner's "plans."
There are a few angles to this story that are running on parallel tracks, all of which carry equal weight. The first is the GOP's Frankenstein problem: Republican leaders created a monster, doing nothing to tamp down the right's crusade to tear down the Obama presidency, and they suddenly find themselves scrambling now that the monster is running lose. As Arit John put itRepublicans have "lost control of the impeachment plot they hatched."
It's led to, among other things, an awkward dance in which pro-impeachment Republicans try to walk back their own rhetoric now that they realize how happy Democrats are to hear it.
The second is the intra-party tensions that won't go away. In 2006, Nancy Pelosi disappointed some on the left by definitively ruling out presidential impeachment, taking it "off the table." Today's Republican leaders will do no such thing for a very specific reason: too many GOP lawmakers really do support the idea. Indeed, there was palpable disappointment among many on the far-right yesterday when Boehner suggested impeachment isn't part of his future plans.
As Jonathan Capehart put it, "A 'No, don't be ridiculous. We're not going to impeach the president. Period!' from Scalise on Sunday or from Boehner today would have put an end to the chatter. But no."

Obama lawsuit vote and other headlines

07/30/14 07:57AM

The House votes on the lawsuit against Pres. Obama today. (AP)

Senate's CIA 'torture' report summary to be released soon. (Reuters)

Meet the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. (NY Times)

The Bob and Maureen McDonnell defense strategy gets personal very quickly. (Richmond Times Dispatch)

Colorado Supreme Court puts a halt to same-sex marriage licenses in Boulder. (Denver Post)

House committee votes to condemn Pres. Obama on Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap. (Huffington Post)

Defense Department to oversee the plagiarism investigation of Sen. John Walsh. (AP)

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