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John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Jeb Hensarling

Running from, not on, a policy agenda

09/30/14 12:50PM

It was 20 years ago this week that House Republican leaders, eager to make the case for a GOP takeover of Congress, presented the public with an agenda called the "Contract with America." Republicans knew at the time that the then-Democratic president wasn't popular, and the GOP was likely to make big gains in the midterms, but the party wanted to make the case for fairly specific proposals that Republicans would work on if elected.
In popular lore, the platform helped propel the GOP into the majority, though I think much of this is overstated -- most Americans weren't familiar with the "Contract" by Election Day 1994. Still, it was an era in which Republicans saw value in crafting and presenting policy ideas.
That era is long gone. NBC's First Read did a nice job this morning noting that as far as the current crop of congressional Republicans are concerned, running on a non-existent policy platform isn't a problem.
In their midterm messaging, Republican say they want to repeal the federal health-care law, but replace it with what? They want to "secure" the border, but how do you accomplish that (and at what cost)? And they want to take the fight to ISIS in the Middle East, but aren't leaving the campaign trail to vote on authorizing U.S. military force there. [...]
As Lou Zickar of the Ripon Society, a moderate GOP group, put it: The 1994 Contract with America "is a moment worth remembering because it was also a time when the GOP loudly and proudly proclaimed not what they stood against, but what they stood for."
For their part, GOP officials routinely say they have at least some priorities. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), for example, sat down with ABC's George Stephanopoulos the other day, and the host asked what congressional Republicans intend to do with their power.
"We have focused like a laser for the last three and a half years on jobs and the economy," the Speaker who tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act several dozen times for no reason said. "Over 40 [jobs] bills sitting in the U.S. Senate. Let's start with those bills."
I hate to sound picky, but (a) there really aren't over 40 jobs bills, no matter how many times Boehner falsely claims otherwise; and (b) for a Speaker who has literally no major legislative accomplishments after nearly four years on the job, this is a rather pathetic basis for an election-year platform.
Indeed, it only reinforces the degree to which Republicans have become a post-policy party, lacking any real regard for governing or substance.
But wait, my friends on the right will say, aren't Republicans going to win anyway? And if so, doesn't this prove it doesn't much matter?

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.30.14

09/30/14 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:
* Massachusetts' gubernatorial race has suddenly become one of the nation's most competitive. A new Suffolk poll shows Martha Coakley (D) and Charlie Baker (R) tied at 43% each, while a Western New England University poll shows Baker up by one, 44% to 43%.
* A new statewide poll in Michigan shows its gubernatorial race every bit as close, with incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder (R) up by one over Rep. Mark Schauer (D), 41% to 40%.
* The same poll shows Rep. Gary Peters (D) leading Terri Lynn Land (R) in Michigan's U.S. Senate race by double digits, 48% to 38%.
* And speaking of Land, NPR reported this morning that Land, despite being just 35 days from the election, literally hasn't made any public appearances in the last seven days (thanks to Ron Chusid for the heads-up).
* NARAL Pro-Choice America is launching a six-figure direct-mail campaign this week, targeting three incumbent Republican governors: Wisconsin's Scott Walker, Florida's Rick Scott, and Kansas' Sam Brownback. The message: these governors are "obsessed with outlawing abortion" instead of focusing on jobs and the economy.
* In a year featuring several three-way contests, let's not forget about the U.S. Senate race in South Dakota, where a new statewide poll shows Mike Rounds (R) leading Rick Weiland (D) by just seven points, 39% to 26%, because former Sen. Larry Pressler, who was a Republican but is now running as an independent, has 24% support.
Scott Brown works the phone banks at the New Hampshire GOP Salem headquarters on Sept. 17, 2014 in Salem, N.H. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty)

The Scott Brown case study

09/30/14 11:32AM

Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), running in New Hampshire after losing in Massachusetts two years ago, has decided the national security is an issue that he can exploit. He may be losing to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (R-N.H.), but Brown thinks public fears over Islamic State militants have created an opportunity.
In latest television ad, the Republican argues that radical Islamic terrorists are "threatening to cause the collapse of our country" -- a claim that seems a little hyperbolic given reality -- adding that Shaheen and President Obama "seem confused about the nature of the threat. Not me."
Right. Because if there's one politician who never "seems confused," it's Scott Brown.
With this in mind, the former senator delivered a "major foreign policy speech" in his adopted home state last week, billed by his aides as an address in which Brown would present his vision of international affairs. We'll get to the content of the speech in a moment, but what I found especially interesting was what happened immediately after Brown's remarks. The Boston Globe's Scot Lehigh reported:
As it happens, there's an important issue at hand that provides a decent clue on that front: Does he think, as per the US Constitution, that President Obama should have to come to Congress for authorization for the multi-year military effort he wants against the Islamic State? After all, a senator can't exercise much independent judgment if he concedes war-waging authority to the president without either a debate or a vote.
As Brown exited the hall, I posed that question to him.
He ignored me.
Lehigh asked aides to the former senator if Brown would be speaking with reporters about his "major foreign policy speech." They replied, "No." Did they know Brown's position on congressional authorization? They did not. Could they find out? The Republican's press secretary told Lehigh she'd look into it, but as best as I can tell, Team Brown hasn't yet answered the question.
For her part, Jeanne Shaheen, the incumbent, isn't afraid to have an opinion on this and told Lehigh, "I think Congress should debate an authorization for use of military force. I have called on the president to do that, and I've said if he doesn't, we should do it without him."
Remember, Brown is the one who wants to leverage ISIS as a campaign tool. He wants to talk about how "confused" Democrats are about national security, but when asked to talk about the most basic of aspects of the debate -- should Congress authorize military intervention? -- Brown seems to have literally nothing to say.
A voter casts her ballot in the gymnasium of Douglas Elementary School on Nov. 6,  2012 in Raleigh, N.C

Koch group faces investigation in N.C. over bogus voting info

09/30/14 10:58AM

Last week, the public learned that the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity created quite a mess sending out incorrect voting materials to many North Carolina voters. This week, the group finds itself under investigation.
To briefly recap, the far-right organization provided voters with contradictory information about the registration schedule, mislabeled envelopes, incorrect contact information for the state Board of Elections, and incorrect information about county-clerk notifications. The AFP's materials encouraged North Carolinians to refer questions to the Secretary of State's elections division. In North Carolina, the Secretary of State's office doesn't have an elections division.
Zack Roth reported yesterday that the mailings have prompted a state investigation.
Joshua Lawson, a spokesman for the state board of elections, said his office opened the probe Monday after receiving a formal sworn complaint from the state Democratic Party about the mailers, which were sent recently by Americans for Prosperity (AFP). Lawson said state law requires the board to open an investigation if it receives a sworn complaint.
In the complaint, Casey Mann, the state Democratic Party's executive director, accused AFP of an "attempt to utilize misleading, incorrect, and confusing voter registration mailers as a means of discouraging or intimidating voters in the 2014 general election."
AFP concedes it made "a few minor administrative errors," and it will have to hope that investigators believe the Koch-financed group was simply incompetent -- the alternative explanation is that AFP tried to mislead voters on purpose, which would be a felony. 
We still don't know exactly how many North Carolina households received the bogus information from the conservative group, or if AFP intends to mitigate the damage by sending accurate information to the voters who were sent incorrect materials.
Roth's report added that AFP has made similar mistakes in other states and other election cycles, leading him to wonder when Americans for Prosperity will develop an ACORN-like reputation, which seems like a perfectly fair question under the circumstances.
A man jogs past the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30, 2013.

More 'knuckleheads' on their way to Capitol Hill

09/30/14 10:28AM

A couple of weeks ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) showed some of his frustration about Capitol Hill gridlock and Congress' inability to govern, acknowledging his own party's role. "You might notice," Boehner told reporters, "I have a few knuckleheads in my conference."
The complaint is well grounded in fact. By some quantitative measures, the House Republican conference is the most ideologically extreme since the post-Civil War reconstruction era. "Knuckleheads" is obviously a polite way of describing some truly radical lawmakers who often dominate GOP politics.
It's tempting at times to take comfort in the belief that conditions couldn't get worse. Congressional Republicans, the theory goes, have reached some kind of ideological apex, and though there's no reason to think they'll shift towards the American mainstream anytime soon, at least they can't move any further off the far-right cliff.
This assumption is, of course, wrong. Jonathan Weisman had a terrific report yesterday on the coming crop of GOP freshmen.
One nominee proposed reclassifying single parenthood as child abuse. Another suggested that four "blood moons" would herald "world-changing, shaking-type events" and said Islam was not a religion but a "complete geopolitical structure" unworthy of tax exemption. Still another labeled Hillary Rodham Clinton "the Antichrist."
Congressional Republicans successfully ended their primary season with minimal damage, but in at least a dozen safe or largely safe Republican House districts where more mild-mannered Republicans are exiting, their likely replacements will pull the party to the right, a move likely to increase division in an already polarized Congress.
The number of congressional Republicans who could reasonably be described as "moderate" is almost comically small -- and even they really only appear centrist because they're compared against the rest of their GOP colleagues -- but several Republican incumbents who are retiring this year are at least "mainstream" within their party.
Their successors won't be.
Texas Governor Perry answers question about indictment in Texas on two felony counts of abuse of power during appearance at business leaders luncheon in Portsmouth

Perry and the meaning of 'workplace violence'

09/30/14 09:43AM

Tragically, it is an all-too-common occurrence: someone suffers some kind of mental crisis, they go to their workplace, and they kill their colleagues. It happens often enough that such incidents rarely become national news -- deadly workplace violence has somehow become almost routine.
But in Oklahoma last week, a disgruntled employee allegedly killed a co-worker and is accused of trying to kill another, and the violence has taken on national significance in ways other workplace slayings usually don't. In this case, because the alleged perpetrator is Muslim and he tried to behead a victim, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) wants President Obama to treat the workplace violence as terrorism.
"At some point in time, the administration does have to address this as what is appears to many people that it is -- and that is an act of violence that is associated with terrorism," Perry said on Fox News' "Fox & Friends." [...]
"I think Americans are confused about what this is," Perry said. "This is a clear case of an individual going in and doing something that does not meet their definition of 'workplace violence,' so I think any rational thinking American is going to look at this and go, 'This is more than just normal workplace violence.'"
Fox News' Steve Doocy suggested the murder might be connected to Islamic State militants, leading the Texas governor to argue the incident "seems to fall into that type of activity."
Perry added, "ISIS is a legitimate threat -- it is not just a legitimate threat in that region of the world, it is a legitimate threat in the United States."
Maybe now would be a good time to pause for a reality check.
In this May 2, 2012 file photo, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., speaks at the Capitol in Denver.

Lamborn starts losing allies over military controversy

09/30/14 08:37AM

For any politician facing a political controversy, there's one sure sign of trouble: the loss of political allies. Most political figures are accustomed to criticism from the other side of the aisle, and they expect scrutiny from journalists, but when members of their own party start turning on them, it's a real problem.
Which brings us back to Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who boasted last week that he's urged active-duty U.S. generals to resign, during a war, in order to undermine the Obama administration.
The Colorado Springs' newspaper, The Gazette, reports today that Lamborn is now facing rebukes from two high-profile Republicans from Colorado's congressional delegation.
On Sunday night, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican from Aurora, tweeted a link to a story about Lamborn's comments and said, "As a Marine and combat veteran, I know to keep my politics off the battlefield."
And when asked about Lamborn's statement, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, said: "There is no room for partisan politics when it comes to our men and women in uniform."
To be sure, these aren't sweeping condemnations, but let's not overlook the context: with 35 days to go before Election Day, Coffman is in the middle of one of the nation's most competitive U.S. House races, while Gardner is running in one of the nation's most competitive U.S. Senate races. They're both Republicans, but neither one of these congressmen are prepared to offer even a halfhearted defense for Lamborn's controversial remarks.
Coffman and Gardner could have phrased this any number of ways to try and extend support to their GOP ally, but they chose to rebuke him instead. And while Gardner's comments came in response to a reporter's question, note that Coffman's admonition was unprompted -- he just wanted the public to know what Lamborn did was wrong.
How long until House Republican leaders are pressured to weigh in, too? For that matter, how long until House Democrats start pushing for Lamborn's removal from the House Armed Services Committee?
Sam Brownback

Brownback's 'experiment' gone wrong

09/30/14 08:00AM

In June 2012, soon after approving sweeping tax cuts his state clearly couldn't afford, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) appeared on msnbc and described his agenda in a curious way. "We'll see how it works," the Republican governor said. "We'll have a real-live experiment."
More than two years later, Kansans have had a chance to see the results of this experiment first hand -- and Brownback now appears to be losing his bid for a second term.
But as Rachel noted on the show last night, among the governor's problems is an inability to justify his failures in office. Brownback talked to PBS's Jeff Greenfield the other day and regretted his use of the word "experiment" to describe his economic plan, conceding that people are often uncomfortable with change.
GREENFIELD: [A]bout that experiment word?
BROWNBACK: Yeah, I shouldn't have used that word. But the good news is, it's working well. We're growing. We've got record employment in Kansas.
GREENFIELD: Then after a brief discussion with an aide.
BROWNBACK: The things we're doing are not anything new. Going to, getting your incomes taxes down, we got nine states without an income tax. That's not new. So nothing we're doing is new. Now it's new that we're doing it but nothing that we're doing is different than what's done before.
Well, that's certainly a compelling explanation, isn't it? "Nothing we're doing is new," followed immediately by "it's new that we're doing it." I have no idea what Brownback's aide whispered in the governor's ear during the interview, but it wasn't sound rhetorical advice.
Of course, this is about more than a clumsy governor struggling to defend his record. Brownback's more pressing concern is that his "experiment" hasn't worked at all. As we discussed in early August, Brownback’s economic plan -- slash tax rates more than the state can afford and watch a miracle unfold -- has failed miserably on every possible front. The state’s bond rating was downgraded in part due to these reckless tax breaks, and soon after, Kansas suffered another downgrade.
What's more, this isn't the only trouble for Kansas Republicans.

Secret Service grilling and other headlines

09/30/14 07:52AM

Secret Service head faces grilling from House panel over White House security. (The Hill)

Chaffetz: No 'classified' excuses from Secret Service director. (The Hill)

U.S., Afghanistan sign security pact to allow American forces to remain in country. (Washington Post)

Obama goal of Guantanamo closure stalled at Pentagon. (AP)

Election Protection Squad poll watchers recruited for November's vote-by-mail elections in Colorado. (Denver Post)

Hong Kong's leader calls for protests to end 'immediately.' (NY Times)

Mitt isn't ready to call it quits. (New York Times Magazine)

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Image: U.S. flag flies at half-staff on the Capitol dome in memory of former Senator Howard Baker in Washington

Whip Count: Calling Congress back to vote on ISIS

09/29/14 06:53PM

In an effort to keep track of whether Congress is going to vote and debate the issue of military force in Iraq and Syria, we have started a new* public whip count. We are tracking the members of Congress who have issued statements, or said publicly that not only must Congress vote on an authorization for the use of U.S. military force in Iraq and Syria but that Congress must come back from vacation to vote on that authorization now.

Below is our running tally so far. If you click on the link on each senator or representative’s name it will take you to the source of their remarks that earned them a place on this list.

We hope that you can help us keep our running tally up-to-date. If your member of Congress wants to come back and vote on this, please let us know. Keep us posted!

(*Before the Congressional recess, this was our running tally.)

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