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Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.11.14

09/11/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Coalition building: "Arab nations vowed on Thursday to 'do their share' to confront and ultimately destroy the Sunni extremist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The promise came after the nations' foreign ministers met [in Saudi Arabia] behind closed doors with Secretary of State John Kerry."
 
* Russia: "European leaders agreed on Thursday to go ahead with additional economic sanctions meant to punish Russia for its role in promoting separatist warfare in eastern Ukraine, officials in Brussels and Moscow said."
 
* Ferguson: "Newly released video allegedly showing the reaction of two new witnesses right after the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown suggests what nearly a half-dozen earlier witnesses have claimed -- that the unarmed teen was shot by a police officer while his hands were held up in surrender."
 
* Elsewhere in Missouri: "Police in Kansas City, Missouri say someone threw a Molotov cocktail at Rep. Emanuel Cleaver's (D-Mo.) office there early Thursday morning, breaking a window but failing to start a fire. Police responded to an alarm at Cleaver's office around 3:00 a.m."
 
* This was a longshot: "Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a constitutional amendment meant to reverse two recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign spending. Senate Democrats needed 60 votes to end debate on the measure, but fell short in the 54-42 party-line vote."
 
* It's complicated: "The prospect of the first American attacks on Syrian soil during three years of brutal civil war captivated Syrians on Thursday, prompting intense debate over whether airstrikes on the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria would help or harm President Bashar al-Assad, his armed Syrian opponents and war-weary civilians."
 
* This could take a while: "House GOP leaders are advocating for giving President Barack Obama some authority within the continuing resolution to arm Syrian rebels against the insurgent terrorist group known as the Islamic State or ISIS, according to several Republican lawmakers present at a Thursday morning members' meeting. But those lawmakers also cautioned that discussions on how to proceed were far from over."
 
* One more mission for Gen. Allen: "The Obama administration has tapped retired Marine Gen. John Allen to coordinate the international effort against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to The Associated Press. Allen will organize the efforts of nearly 40 countries around the world, according to the report."
 
* Responding to the GOP's new favorite position: "The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that aims to advance reproductive health policies, released a statement on Thursday calling Republicans' proposal on over-the-counter contraception 'troubling.'"
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp on Capitol Hill, Oct. 29, 2013.

Dave Camp's short memory

09/11/14 05:06PM

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) thinks he knows why tax reform hasn't worked out: this, like everything else, is all President Obama's fault.
The House's top tax writer on Wednesday rebuked President Obama for not releasing a detailed plan to overhaul the tax code.
 
"I think we all get elected to lead," Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said. "We need some leadership." [...]
 
Camp, appearing at an event with Jason Furman, one of Obama's top economic advisers, noted that the White House had only rolled out a general draft on business taxes well over two years ago. A more detailed proposal from Obama, Camp said, could give new life to the stalled tax reform effort.
According to the report in The Hill, Camp made the remarks at an event sponsored by the Business Roundtable, a group of top corporate chief executives. The Michigan Republican, who's stepping down this year after 12 terms in Congress, added on tax reform, "I could negotiate with myself. I don't think it would get anywhere.... But I can't really counter what I've done with nothing."
 
I have a strong suspicion that I'm one of only about seven people nationwide who find this interesting, and the reflexive "blame Obama" line grew tiresome quite a while ago.
 
But in this case, Camp's defense -- tax reform failed because the White House didn't follow through -- is so absurd, it requires some fact-checking.
A man walks in the rain to vote at the Rochester Community House in Rochester, Mich. on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014.

Georgia GOP official express concerns about 'minority voters'

09/11/14 04:10PM

This week in Georgia, state Sen. Fran Millar (R) caused a considerable stir complaining about early voting in the upcoming elections. As the Republican state lawmaker explained, he has concerns about Sunday voting in an Atlanta shopping mall "dominated by African American shoppers" and near "several large African American mega churches."
 
When his racially charged comments garnered attention, Millar refused to back down, writing on Facebook, "I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters."
 
Complicating matters, a recording of comments Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) made in July surfaced today to a group of Republican voters.
"In closing, I just wanted to tell you, real quick, after we get through this runoff, you know the Democrats are working hard, and all these stories about them, you know, registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that, they can win these elections in November."
Now, in context, Kemp didn't say efforts to "register all these minority voters" should be curtailed, only that Republicans should work harder to compensate, presumably by registering more non-minority voters.
 
But that's cold comfort. Georgia's Secretary of State is also the state's top elections official, responsible for the integrity of the system for all citizens, not just Republicans. It's hardly reassuring that he's concerned about one side of the political divide "registering all these minority voters."
 
Indeed, this is the same Kemp who recently subpoenaed "the records of the New Georgia Project, the state's largest voter registration effort, alleging the group has committed voter fraud." As Joan Walsh noted, the probe is so broad, it could tie up the voter-registration organization "indefinitely."
 
I can't speak to the merit of the allegations against the New Georgia Project, but it'd be easier to take the subpoenas seriously if Georgia's top elections official were more impartial and less partisan.

Border crisis, once seen as 'Obama's Katrina,' eases

09/11/14 12:53PM

The political world is far better at focusing on a burgeoning crisis than following through on the resolution. There was a time last year, for example, when everyone was convinced the IRS "scandal" was a massive controversy comparable to Watergate. But when facts emerged and the allegations proved baseless, most lost interest and neglected to tell the public the "scandal" was bogus.
 
More recently, a lot of very serious claims surrounding Veterans Affairs turned out to be wrong. The falsehoods generated considerable national attention, while the truth was largely overlooked.
 
And then there's the humanitarian crisis at the U.S../Mexico border, including unaccompanied children from Central America. As recently as two months ago, this was labeled "Obama's Katrina" -- a crisis so severe that it would undermine Obama's presidency and raise lingering doubts about the efficacy of the federal government.
 
Danny Vinik noted this week that it turns out, this "might not be that big of a crisis anymore."
The Department of Homeland Security released new figures on the number of apprehensions along the Southwest border Monday and the numbers continue to plummet, for both unaccompanied children and adults with children. "In July the numbers of unaccompanied children were about half of what they were in June," DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement. "August was even lower -- lower than August 2013 and the lowest since February 2013."
Consider a chart I put together based on the Homeland Security data:

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.11.14

09/11/14 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:
 
* It hasn't been the nation's most high-profile gubernatorial race, but the South Carolina contest may be getting interesting. PPP now shows incumbent Gov. Nikki Haley (R) up by just five points over Vincent Sheheen (D), 50% to 45%. There haven't been any other recent, independent polls to compare the PPP results to.
 
* In Georgia's U.S. Senate race, Republican David Perdue boasted earlier this year that his father was a school superintendent and was one of the first in Georgia to desegregate public schools in his community. Yesterday we learned that the boast isn't entirely true.
 
* A recent recording showed the Koch brothers' political director arguing that the minimum wage leads to fascism. Given the Kochs' support for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a reporter asked the senator yesterday for his reaction to the remarks. McConnell didn't seem to appreciate the question.
 
* Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's (R) career appears to be slipping away, with a new Quinnipiac poll showing Tom Wolf (D) with a 24-point lead over the incumbent.
 
* Some Republican insiders occasionally like to pretend that Sen. Mark Warner's (D) re-election is in doubt, but a new poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University shows Warner leading former Bush aide Ed Gillespie by 22 points.
 
* Similarly, Republicans can also give up hope in New Jersey, where Sen. Cory Booker (D) leads his Republican challenger in a new Farleigh Dickinson University poll, 42% to 29%.
 
* In what can only be seen as a bad sign in Michigan's U.S. Senate race, Republican Terri Lynn Land has turned down every invitation to debate her Democratic opponent, Rep. Gary Peters.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., July 10, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

GOP panic sets in over Kansas race

09/11/14 11:32AM

In an election season's closing weeks, pay no attention to what the parties and their campaign committees say about specific races. Rather, pay attention to what they do.
 
For example, consider what Republicans are up to right now in Kansas.
 
On the surface, Republicans have reason to be optimistic about winning the Senate majority. They're very likely to flip three blue seats -- South Dakota, Montana, and West Virginia -- and from there, all the GOP has to do is win three more toss-up races for a net gain of six. Pull that off while keeping red seats red and Mitch McConnell becomes the Majority Leader next year.
 
But if Pat Roberts stumbles in Kansas, which now appears to be a distinct possibility, the plan starts to look pretty shaky. Manu Raju reports on the GOP's political machine "kicking into overdrive."
With polls showing Sen. Pat Roberts in serious trouble against independent Greg Orman, top Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, are leaning on big-ticket donors to fill the long-time Kansas senator's campaign coffers.
 
Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona are planning to barnstorm the state on Roberts' behalf. And in a bid to boost the senator's sagging poll numbers, the Roberts campaign is planning an ad blitz to cast his long record and seniority in Washington in a more positive light.
Amanda Terkel added this morning that the Roberts campaign also launched robocalls statewide featuring a recorded endorsement from Mitt Romney. The message, according to the local AP, is intended to reach 400,000 Kansans before the election. (Romney won Kansas by 21 points during the last presidential election).
 
Republican operatives have also begun an intensive opposition-research initiative, hoping to dig up dirt of Greg Orman, Roberts' principal rival.
 
Asked what the GOP would do to save Roberts, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) replied, "Anything and everything."
 
In a nutshell, this is what electoral panic looks like.
U.S. House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (C) passes through the Statuary Hall of the Capitol after a vote on the House floor June 11, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

A new Majority Leader tries to find his footing

09/11/14 11:01AM

Today was supposed to be the day. The Republican-led House would pass a stopgap spending measure -- called a "continuing resolution," or "CR" -- that would fund the government until mid-December. At that point, the prospect of a pre-election shutdown would disappear and House members could focus almost exclusively on campaign activities for the next eight weeks.
 
But yesterday afternoon, plans changed. The vote was delayed, in part because of President Obama's request for additional counter-terrorism resources, and in part because quite a few House Republicans oppose the Export-Import Bank, which is included in the spending bill.
 
Just how serious is the right about opposing Ex-Im? It depends whom you ask.
The conservative activists who played a key role in sparking the government shutdown last fall are waging a similar battle this year, pushing House Republicans to threaten a standoff over a credit agency that a large majority of Americans haven't heard of or don't care about.
 
The Club For Growth and Heritage Action each issued a "key vote" on Wednesday calling on lawmakers to vote against the House GOP's continuing resolution to keep the government open past Sept. 30. They took issue with the fact that the bill reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank through the end of June 2015 -- the activists want to shut it down.
 
In other words, they're pushing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to threaten a government shutdown -- just one month before the midterm election -- unless Democrats agree to close down Ex-Im.
For a refresher on the fairly obscure Export-Import Bank, take a look at our coverage from June. (For even more detail, Ezra's explainer is helpful.)
 
The result is a fairly significant test for the House Republican leadership team. Its first big test was a border bill, which failed in spectacular fashion in July when new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his team couldn't convince their own Republican allies to support their own party's bill.
 
Will the second big test go any better? Much of the burden is on McCarthy, who finds himself in an awkward position.
The U.S. Capitol is reflected in water on the morning of June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

With real work to do, Senate GOP tries to run out the clock

09/11/14 10:10AM

Senate Democrats first tried to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act in the 111th Congress, but they couldn't overcome a Republican filibuster. The Democratic majority tried again in the 112th Congress, but the outcome was the same.
 
Senate Dems tried again in April, and the Paycheck Fairness Act had more than enough votes to pass, but once more, Republicans killed it. Indeed, the measure garnered exactly zero GOP votes.
 
With this in mind, yesterday's developments were, at least on the surface, unexpected.
Senate Republicans decided not to block the advancement of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
 
Democrats needed 60 votes to advance the legislation procedurally; the tally was 73-25 on Wednesday.
In all, 19 Republicans voted to end the filibuster and allow a debate on the legislation, which is 19 more GOP votes than the Paycheck Fairness Act has ever received.
 
It came the same week that 25 Senate Republicans joined with the Democratic majority to advance a constitutional amendment on campaign finance.
 
The optimist's view might be that the combination of Democratic persistence, public attitudes, and policy merits eventually wore the GOP down. A cynic's view might be that Republicans are having an election-season epiphany, hoping to appear more moderate 54 days before the election.
 
But as it turns out, both of these explanations are wrong.
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) talks to reporters after a closed door briefing June 4, 2014.

McCain joins far-right chorus on ISIS border threat

09/11/14 09:26AM

There can be no doubt that ISIS's brutal murder of two journalists had a deep impact on how Americans perceive the terrorist threat. For years, polls showed a war-weary nation reluctant to launch new military offenses in the Middle East, but the recent beheadings abroad changed the calculus on the public's appetite for intervention.
 
But it's also true that many voices in the U.S. have exploited the political value of fear.
 
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) argued a few weeks ago that there's "a very real possibility" that ISIS terrorists may have entered the United States through the southern border with Mexico. Soon after, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) added that the U.S. border is "porous," and officials must "secure our own borders" to prevent "ISIS infiltration." This week, former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), now running in New Hampshire, echoed Perry's original claim, telling Fox News that ISIS terrorists might "actually [be] coming through the border right now."
 
Last night on CNN, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined the chorus.
ANDERSON COOPER: Senator McCain, the president also said that we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland. Americans who hear those words might wonder, if that is really the case, then why do we need to take action against ISIS? To that you say what?
 
JOHN MCCAIN: I say that today, we had a hearing, and there was testimony from the counterterrorism people and the Department of Homeland Security. There is Twitter traffic right now and Facebook traffic, where they are urging attacks on the United States of America. And there is a great concern that our southern border and our northern border is porous and that they will be coming across.
A few hours earlier on Twitter, McCain encouraged his followers to read a piece on a far-right website, which reported that the U.S. officials have "confirmed" that Islamic State terrorists are "planning" to infiltrate the United States through our southern border.
 
Is it any wonder so many Americans are afraid?
 
Perhaps now would be a good time to pause for a deep breath -- and a reality check.

Jobless claims rise unexpectedly around Labor Day

09/11/14 08:38AM

When it comes to initial unemployment claims, many expected September to build on the progress we saw in August. The data from the Labor Department, however, wasn't quite what we were hoping for.
The number of people who applied for jobless benefits rose 11,000 to 315,000 in the week that ended Sept. 6, hitting the highest level since late June, according to government data released Thursday. Despite that rise, weekly claims remained near pre-recession levels, signaling a slow pace of layoffs. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to tick down to 301,000 in the most recent weekly data from an originally reported 302,000 for the prior period. [...]
 
The four-week average of new claims, a trend that's less volatile than weekly changes, rose 750 to 304,000, the government reported.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
 
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been below 330,000 in 23 of the last 26 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in four of the last eight weeks.)

Obama eyes terrorist targets 'wherever they are,' including Syria

09/11/14 08:00AM

If nothing else, the political world's conversation can now shift. Instead of handwringing about whether President Obama has a strategy to confront Islamic State, the discussion can now turn to considering the White House plan on its merits.
 
In a primetime address, the president spelled out a fairly broad objective -- to "degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy" -- and presented the four parts of his larger plan.
 
1. "First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists."
 
2, "Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground."
 
3. "Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks."
 
4. "Fourth, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization."
 
Ordinarily, in a speech like this, it might seem as if Americans can now expect a new war -- or something akin to war -- to get underway, with a "shock and awe" moment poised to unfold. But these are a different set of circumstances -- the truth is, the "systematic campaign of airstrikes" began over a month ago. For that matter, we've also been taking steps to prevent attacks, while at the same time, providing humanitarian assistance to victims.
 
So what's different? What's clearly new is the expanded scope of the offensive, with Obama saying for the first time last night that ISIS targets in Syria are now part of his plan. The administration also seems eager to vastly bolster support to opposition forces, a move that carries its own dramatic risks.
 
Just as important was the president's reference to "a broad coalition of partners," with some significant developments on this front overnight.

The Hill and ISIS and other headlines

09/11/14 07:53AM

House GOP to hash out ISIS response today. (The Hill)

Saudi Arabia will grant U.S. request for an anti-ISIS training program. (NY Times)

Missouri legislature overrides veto to enact a 72-hour waiting period for abortions. (AP) They also expand gun rights. (AP)

Former FBI head to investigate the Ray Rice incident for the NFL. (NY Times)

South Carolina Speaker indicted for misusing campaign funds. (The State)

Mississippi election comes down to one voter's ID. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger)

At 9/11 museum, new artifacts tell personal stories. (AP)

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