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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.1.15

04/01/15 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:
 
* "Right to Rise Policy Solutions" will be able to receive unlimited, anonymous contributions: "Jeb Bush has given his tacit endorsement to a new group that can collect unlimited amounts of money in secret, part of a bold effort by his advisers to create a robust external political operation before he declares his expected White House bid."
 
* The process to replace Harry Reid as the Senate Democratic Leader has proven to be quite easy -- New York's Chuck Schumer has it wrapped up -- but the race for Senate Democratic Whip is more complicated. Current Whip Dick Durbin claims Schumer privately assured Durbin he can keep his post, but Schumer denies having made such a promise. Patty Murray, meanwhile, is rumored to be interested in Durbin's post.
 
* The new Washington Post/ABC poll shows congressional Democrats more popular than congressional Republicans, with approval ratings of 38% to 27%, respectively. President Obama remains far more popular than both, with 47% support.
 
* Retired Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), eyeing a possible comeback in 2016, has added his voice to the criticism of his home state's new right-to-discriminate law.
 
* Though most of the major presidential candidates are likely to formally launch their campaigns this month, right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson said yesterday he won't announce his official plans until the first week in May.
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Dems target college campuses over Congress' spring break

04/01/15 11:22AM

Congress' spring break is underway, with lawmakers away from Capitol Hill through the end of next week, and Roll Call reports that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is using the opportunity to take the Dems' message to college campuses.
House Democrats will launch a series of attacks on Republicans over college affordability over the next two weeks, when members of Congress will fan out across the country for the Easter recess.
 
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will hit 15 Republicans via advertisements in student newspapers at colleges and universities in their districts, according to a release provided first to CQ Roll Call. The ads attack these Republicans for not supporting Pell Grants -- which provide funding for low-income students working toward undergraduate degrees.
Among the campuses the DCCC is focusing on is the University of Arizona in Tucson, pictured above. It's represented by freshman Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.).
 
For many young people and their families, this is clearly a potent issue -- the House GOP budget, approved last week, would impose a 10-year freeze on maximum Pell Grant awards. The Senate Republicans' plan would "no longer guarantee funding" for Pell Grants going forward.
 
But stepping back, there's an even larger trend underway, with GOP policymakers at the state level dramatically scaling back investment in higher education.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Frank-Walter Steinmeier during the talksin Vienna, Austria, Nov. 24, 2014.

GOP, voters at odds over policy towards Iran

04/01/15 10:47AM

International nuclear talks with Iran were facing a deadline yesterday, but the nice thing about self-imposed deadlines is that they can be as flexible as the participants want them to be.
 
With this in mind, the P5+1 process continued today, with a State Department spokesperson telling reporters there's been "enough progress" of late to warrant additional diplomatic efforts. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), fresh off his failed effort to sabotage the talks and undermine American foreign policy, announced yesterday that he wants the diplomacy to end immediately.
 
The posturing was predictable -- congressional Republicans have made clear they do not want a diplomatic solution when a military confrontation remains available. The American mainstream, however, clearly has a very different take.
By a margin of 4-1 or higher, voters in three critical swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, prefer a negotiated settlement to reduce Iran's nuclear program rather than military intervention, according to a Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll released today.
 
Voters also support by margins of more than 2-1 an agreement in which the U.S. and other nations lift some economic sanctions against Iran if Iran restricts its nuclear program, the independent Quinnipiac University Poll finds.
To be sure, this isn't a national poll, but it surveyed respondents in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- three large, politically competitive states. A majority of those polled also believed the sabotage letter, organized by Cotton and signed by 47 Senate Republicans, was "not appropriate."
 
The results are entirely consistent with two recent national polls -- one from the Washington Post/ABC News, another from CNN -- both of which showed broad public support for the international nuclear talks.
 
I bring this up, of course, because the right continues to believe the public is siding with Republicans against the talks.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush smiles while talking to the media after visiting Integra Biosciences during a campaign stop in Hudson, New Hampshire on March 13, 2015. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

That's not what 'moderate' means

04/01/15 10:05AM

About a month ago, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) appeared on an Iowa radio show, addressing listeners who seemed skeptical of his conservative bona fides. "There's nothing in my record that would suggest that I'm a moderate," Bush said on March 6. He added that he doesn't accept "the narrative."
 
But as the 2016 race takes shape, it's interesting to see who does accept "the narrative."
 
Politico published this report overnight about reactions from GOP leaders about Indiana's controversial SB101.
Bush took a moderate line, underscoring his strategy of running a general election campaign even before the primaries: He denied that the Indiana measure was discriminatory and echoed Pence's argument that Democrats like Bill Clinton had backed similar measures in the past. "This is really an important value for our country ... in a diverse country, where you can respect and be tolerant of people's lifestyles, but allow for people of faith to be able to exercise theirs," he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
My goal is not to pick on Politico, per se, but rather to highlight the flaw in making assumptions about presidential candidates, then shoe-horning developments into narratives that match those assumptions. If folks start from the assumption that Jeb Bush is the centrist in the race for the GOP nomination, then everything he does starts to appear mainstream.
 
But when it comes to Indiana's right-to-discriminate law, there's simply nothing "moderate" about Bush's stance.
Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the media in regards to her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State in New York, on March 10, 2015.

Benghazi panel wants private, not public, Clinton testimony

04/01/15 09:26AM

It's been clear for months that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would do for the new congressional Benghazi committee exactly what she's done for the other congressional Benghazi committees: answer questions and provide pertinent information. The issue was never whether Clinton would testify, but rather, when.
 
Alex Seitz-Wald reported yesterday that Clinton, the unannounced Democratic presidential hopeful, continues to volunteer her time to the House panel, but she's facing some unexpected resistance about the nature of the forum.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, the Republican who leads the House Select Committee on Benghazi, summoned Clinton Tuesday morning to sit for a private interview with the committee before May 1. Clinton has previous said she is ready and willing to testify, and a spokesperson reiterated that position Tuesday afternoon.
 
"Secretary Clinton already told the committee months ago that she was ready to appear at a public hearing. It is by their choice that hasn't happened. To be clear, she remains ready to appear at a hearing open to the American public," spokesperson Nick Merrill said.
This may seem counter-intuitive given the circumstances. The House Select Committee on Benghazi -- the eighth congressional panel to seek answers to questions that have already been answered -- seems to exist solely to undermine Clinton and her likely White House ambitions.
 
Given this, it's tempting to assume that Gowdy, the far-right GOP chairman of the panel, would want as big a public spectacle as possible, featuring cameras, crowds, and drama, as Republicans pound the table and demand answers. Similarly, it's also tempting to assume Clinton would want a private, closed-door discussion, shielded from public scrutiny, so as to deny attention to discredited conspiracy theories and prevent voters from seeing her on the defensive in response to GOP grilling.
 
Except, those assumptions are backwards -- Clinton wants a public hearing for all the world to see, while Republicans have invited the former secretary to a "private interview."
 
Why is that?
US Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) (L) and Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) arrive for a news conference about their goal of permanently extending Bush-era tax rates at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 2, 2010. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Mike Pence's contradictory assurances

04/01/15 08:44AM

Six days ago, on March 26, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed his state's new "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" into law, and he couldn't have been more pleased.
"Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith," the governor said in a statement released shortly after he signed Senate Bill 101.
Three days ago, on March 29, Pence agreed the law may need to be changed.
Gov. Mike Pence, scorched by a fast-spreading political firestorm, told The Star on Saturday that he will support the introduction of legislation to "clarify" that Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Two days ago, on March 30, Pence reversed course, saying the law would not be changed.
"Look, we're not going to change the law, OK?"
One day ago, on March 31, Pence held a press conference to say the law must be fixed.
"Let me say I believe this is a clarification, but it's also a fix.... We will fix this and we will move forward."
And then yesterday afternoon, still on March 31, Pence told Fox News' Sean Hannity the law doesn't need to be fixed.
"I stand by this law. The law doesn't need to be fixed."
So, which is it?
Asa Hutchinson

Following in Indiana's footsteps?

04/01/15 08:00AM

Republican policymakers in Indiana, led by Gov. Mike Pence (R), were warned that approval of a right-to-discriminate bill would spark a civil-rights backlash against the Hoosier State. Pence and his allies didn't listen. They should have.
 
Condemnations of Indiana's new anti-gay measure have been fierce and widespread, and the GOP governor finds himself under intense fire from the private, public, and non-profit sectors. Pence is now open to making some changes, but while we wait, the damage has already been considerable.
 
And yet, 600 miles to the South, another group of Republican policymakers are watching this fiasco unfold, and they're effectively asking themselves, "How can we bring a similar firestorm of criticism to our state?"
Arkansas' Republican-controlled House of Representatives gave its final stamp of approval Tuesday to House Bill 1228, otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), according to KARK. It now heads to the desk of the state's Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said last week that he would sign the bill. [...]
 
Arkansas' legislation is nearly identical to Indiana's RFRA, which has become the subject of widespread condemnation from businesses, organizations, celebrities and politicians.
As Emma Margolin's msnbc report noted, Wal-Mart, a retail behemoth headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, yesterday announced its opposition to the measure and urged the governor to veto it.
 
"Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits of diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve," CEO Doug McMillon said in a statement. "It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual. Today's passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold. For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation."
 
We'll learn later today whether Hutchinson, just three months into his first term, takes the advice seriously. But in the meantime, it's worth appreciating the degree to which Arkansas is deliberately following in Indiana's footsteps, despite Indiana's self-imposed political crisis.

Walmart wants a veto in Arkansas and other headlines

04/01/15 07:17AM

Walmart calls on Arkansas governor to veto the just-passed "religious freedom" bill. (Arkansas Times)

A day after missing deadline, Iran nuclear talks resume. (AP)

Iraqi prime minister declares victory against ISIS in Tikrit. (Washington Post)

Watchdog groups say 2016 hopefuls are dodging campaign finance rules. (Wall Street Journal)

Secret, unlimited donations could boost a Jeb Bush run. (Washington Post)

Scott Walker, allergic to dogs, may run against political history. (New York Times)

After Christie's privatization, NJ Lottery missing targets. (AP)

Obama commutes sentences of 22 people in federal prison. (AP)

What a typhoon looks like from space. (@AstroSamantha)

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 3.31.15

03/31/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* It's not just Indiana: "Lawmakers in Indiana are scrambling to clarify a religious freedom law amid a national firestorm. But their counterparts in Arkansas are pushing ahead with a similar measure -- and the governor says he'll sign it."
 
* A flexible deadline: "With several sticking points still to be worked out, negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran will continue past Tuesday night's deadline into Wednesday, the State Department said."
 
* Criminal justice: "President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 22 individuals on Tuesday, more than doubling the number of commutations he has issued in the six-plus years he's been in office. The men and women granted the reprieves had been imprisoned under an 'outdated sentencing regime,' the administration concluded. Eight of the 22 inmates had been sentenced to life imprisonment and would have died behind bars."
 
* Climate: "The United States officially submitted its emissions-cutting target to the United Nations on Tuesday morning, formalizing its commitment to reducing emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The Obama administration had previously announced the goal in its work with China on a bilateral climate agreement. The Tuesday submission makes the pledge official."
 
* Egypt: "The United States will resume its paused military aid to Egypt, the White House said Tuesday, signaling the Obama administration's desire to help a key Middle Eastern ally confront militant threats despite concerns about its repressive stance on human rights."
 
* Yemen: "An unlikely alliance with a deposed dictator appears to have helped Yemen's advancing Shiite insurgents weather intensifying airstrikes directed at them by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition."
 
* Follow-up on a story out of Alabama we discussed this morning: "Senator Larry Stutts announced Tuesday he is withdrawing his maternity stay Bill. The bill would repeal a code that says insurance must cover a minimum stay of 48 hours in the hospital after a woman gives birth."
Navy Chaplain Lt. Gordon J. Klingenschmitt is pictured as he conducts a worship service in front of the White House, background, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2006, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Colorado's Klingenschmitt already making a name for himself

03/31/15 04:53PM

With over 7,000 state legislators nationwide, it's inevitable some that oddballs are going to get elected, but by any fair measure, Colorado's Gordon Klingenschmitt is a very special case.
 
As we discussed back in November -- shortly after he got elected to Colorado's General Assembly for the first time -- Klingenschmitt is not just another social conservative activist. Rather, the former Navy chaplain is a rather extraordinary figure in the religious right, best known for, among other things, claiming to have rid a woman of the "foul spirit of lesbianism" through an exorcism. He also wrote a book arguing, in all seriousness, that President Obama is possessed by demons. He didn't mean that metaphorically.
 
Given this background, the question was not whether Klingenschmitt would embarrass himself, his party, and his office, but when. With this in mind, the Denver Post reported yesterday:
The leader of the House Republicans on Monday stripped Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt from one of his two committee posts, saying the lawmaker's "curse of God" comments about a woman whose fetus was ripped from her womb were in "poor taste" and "insensitive."
 
Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso said he removed Klingenschmitt from the Health, Insurance and Environment Committee because he believed "there needed to be some kind of disciplinary action."
Klingenschmitt considers the punishment unfair. I'm not sure why anyone would agree with him.

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