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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.14.15

04/14/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* An unexpected breakthrough: "The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved legislation granting Congress a voice in negotiations on the Iran nuclear accord, sending the once-controversial legislation to the full Senate after President Obama withdrew his opposition rather than face of a bipartisan rebuke."
 
* Greg Sargent walks through the political considerations of the compromise, which the White House has said the president is prepared to sign. (Sen. Bob Corker's gloating seems inappropriate and surprisingly immature given the circumstances and his position.)
 
* AQAP: "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said Tuesday that one of its top leaders, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who had a $5 million bounty on his head, had been killed in an American drone strike. AQAP, al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, issued a statement mourning the cleric, Ibrahim al-Rubeish."
 
* Yemen: "After weeks of closed-door negotiations between diplomats from Persian Gulf states and Russia, the Security Council on Tuesday imposed an arms embargo on the Houthi fighters battling for control of Yemen and left it to the secretary general to negotiate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemenis who have endured nearly three weeks of Saudi-led airstrikes."
 
* Tick tock: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he is "optimistic and hopeful" the chamber will approve the $200 billion "doc fix" bill just in time to prevent double-digit cuts to Medicare doctors."
 
* What passes for progress: "More than three months into the new Congress, Senate Republicans held their first vote on one of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees on Monday evening."
 
* Boehner-brand hardball: "Remember when two Florida Republican representatives voted against John A. Boehner for speaker and got themselves removed from the House Rules Committee? They haven't been reinstated -- but they have been replaced."
U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta listen at a cabinet meeting at the White House on November 28, 2012 in Washington, DC.

The ticket that can't lose -- but won't happen

04/14/15 04:49PM

Before we get into Brian Beutler's much-discussed new piece, let's stipulate some simple truths. First, Hillary Clinton has been a presidential candidate for roughly two days, so speculating about her possible running mate is premature. Second, we can say with absolute certainty that Clinton, if she's the Democratic nominee, will not invite President Obama to be her running mate. Any discussion along these lines is intended as little more than fun poli-sci chatter.
 
That said, Beutler makes the case anyway, reflecting on the Democrat's unique position and electoral needs in the 2016 cycle.
[There's] no reason Democrats should tinker with a winning formula. If Clinton can turn out Obama's voters, she will win.
 
The challenge, then, is to make sure Clinton's age and ethnicity don't discourage Obama's youthful, diverse supporters from turning out in November 2016. Fortunately, there's an easy way to make sure that doesn't happen. Clinton simply has to select Barack Obama as her running mate.
Brian acknowledges the potential constitutional pitfalls -- he calls the scenario "somewhat controversial" -- but he seems confident it's surmountable. "As a purely textual matter, the Constitution merely prohibits Obama from being elected to a third term," the piece argues. "It doesn't necessarily prohibit him from actually being president again, should Hillary Clinton no longer be able to serve."
 
Arguments like these have come up before. Eight years ago, a handful of pieces were published urging then-candidate Barack Obama to choose Bill Clinton as his running mate. Four years earlier, some made the same suggestion to John Kerry.
 
Let's be very clear: this isn't going to happen. Barack Obama will not be on the ballot in 2016. But I've received a few reader emails about this, wondering what is and isn't possible, so let's engage in the thought experiment, just for the sake of nerdy entertainment.
US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, Saturday, April 11, 2015. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Obama removes Cuba from terror list

04/14/15 03:49PM

Over the weekend, as the Summit of the Americas was wrapping up, President Obama emphasized how pleased he is to launch "a new relationship between the people of the United States and the people of Cuba." Obama added, "[T]he United States will not be imprisoned by the past. We're looking to the future and to policies that improve the lives of the Cuban people and advance the interests of cooperation in the hemisphere."
 
This wasn't just rhetoric. The White House is evidently quite serious about turning the page on the failed foreign policy the United States stuck to for far too long.
The White House says President Barack Obama is removing Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a key step in President Barack Obama's bid to normalize relations between the two countries. [...]
 
Obama made the final decision following a State Department review of Cuba's presence on the list. The U.S. has long since stopped actively accusing Cuba of supporting terrorism.
Ben Rhodes, Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor, said on Twitter, "Put simply, POTUS is acting to remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list because Cuba is not a State Sponsor of Terrorism."
 
Ben, there's no reason to drag logic into this.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie calls on an audience member to ask a question during a town hall meeting on March 24, 2015, in Whippany, N.J. (Photo by Julio Cortez/AP)

Christie shapes platform, eyes Social Security cuts

04/14/15 12:56PM

About a month ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) started telling party insiders that he's ready to make "overhauling" Medicare and Social Security the centerpiece of his national campaign.
 
He apparently wasn't kidding. The scandal-plagued Republican is launching a major swing through New Hampshire this week, announcing a nine-stop tour in the nation's first primary state, starting today at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. According to the Wall Street Journal, social-insurance programs are at the top of the agenda.
Gov. Chris Christie called for reduced Social Security benefits for seniors earning over $80,000 and eliminating the benefit entirely for individuals making $200,000 and up, along with raising the retirement age to 69 from 67.
 
In a speech here Tuesday morning, the potential Republican candidate spoke about the need to overhaul Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and disability insurance -- perhaps the most significant policy proposal to date in the 2016 race.
Though some of specific details are not yet available, according to a copy of the speech made available to the media, Christie intends to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 by 2040, and again to 69 for the following generation.
 
As for Social Security, the GOP governor and likely presidential candidate envisions benefit cuts for those making more than $80,000 per year, as well as phasing out Social Security payments "entirely for those that have $200,000 a year" of non-Social Security income.
 
Christie apparently sees this as part of his bold persona, telling his audience today, "Washington is afraid to have an honest conversation about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid with the people of our country. I am not."
 
No, he's afraid to have an honest conversation about a variety of other things.
 
In the context of the 2016 race, Christie no doubt realizes how challenging it is to cut through and generate interest in his candidacy with so many high-profile rivals already on the campaign trail. The governor has apparently concluded running as the guy who supports Medicare and Social Security cuts is the way to differentiate himself from the pack. I'm skeptical of the gambit -- much of the Republican base tends to be older -- but he's evidently prepared to take the risk.
 
It also sets the stage for a terrific debate with Democrats, many of whom are "pushing the party not just to defend benefits but to increase them"

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.14.15

04/14/15 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:
 
* Hillary Clinton will be in Monticello, Iowa, today for her first event as a presidential candidate since 2008. The event is a roundtable discussion -- not a massive rally -- with educators and students.
 
* The day after launching his presidential campaign, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will tend to his congressional duties today and will spend much of the week raising money. His first public campaign event isn't until Friday in New Hampshire.
 
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) acknowledged yesterday that he's "seriously considering" a presidential campaign, though he has not spelled out his timetable. It would be the Ohio Republican's second White House run, following a brief campaign in 2000.
 
* Right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson has made no secret of his White House ambitions, and he'll reportedly launch his national campaign on Monday, May 4.
 
* In Illinois, where Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) faces a tough re-election campaign next year, the Republican incumbent said the other day that people "drive faster through" African-American communities. George Mitchell, president of the NAACP's Illinois State Conference, said in response, "I think what he was trying to say is, he was trying to relate that to crime. But boy, it was a poor choice of phraseology."
Tassels hang from a cap during commencement exercises on May 9, 2014.

Debate takes shape on affordable higher ed

04/14/15 11:22AM

It was back in January that President Obama unveiled his plan to make tuition at community colleges free for students who qualify. Though the president emphasized the idea in his State of the Union address soon after, Congress' disinterest pushed the proposal from the political world's radar.
 
The White House, however, hasn't given up on the measure. Just a few days ago, Vice President Biden devoted the official White House weekly address to the issue, highlighting the broad benefits associated with the policy.
 
A few hours later, however, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) campaigned in Iowa, where he pushed an alternative approach.
"The president wants to offer you free college," Paul said, referring to President Barack Obama's State of the Union proposal to fund two years of community college (not an education at a place like Iowa State, which is a public university) for any American who wanted it. "Sounds good, at first, until you really think about it. How could it be free?  Won't somebody still bear the cost of paying professors, paying for electricity, paying janitorial services?  I've got a better idea -- let's let college students deduct the cost of their education over their working career!"
If this sounds at all familiar, it may be because the fictional Bartlett White House considered a similar idea on "The West Wing" in its fourth season.
 
Before kicking around the details, the debate itself is heartening. In recent years, we've seen Democrats talk about various proposals to make higher ed more affordable to more Americans, which Republicans have generally rejected -- too much spending, too much government, not enough free market.
 
Paul's comments at least create the basis for a more progressive debate: let's have a discussion about how, not whether, policymakers will help create educational opportunities for young adults.
 
That's the good news. The bad news is, the Kentucky Republican's idea is deeply flawed.
Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC on January 28, 2014.

Rubio called for, then skipped, foreign-policy hearing

04/14/15 10:44AM

The problem with the recent reports on Republicans failing to show up for congressional hearings is that they're the equivalent of a ticky-tack foul in sports: it matters, but only in an inconsequential way. Sure, it's annoying that Republicans made committee attendance a key part of their 2014 campaign message, but at the end of the day, it's tough to get worked up over this.
 
But lawmakers who specifically call for a hearing, requesting certain information, and then fail to show up, that's a very different kind of story. Andrew Kaczynski had this interesting piece yesterday.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is expected to announce that he is running for president Monday, skipped a series of hearings in the aftermath of Osama Bin Laden's death, including a specific hearing Rubio had called for on talk radio days before he skipped it.
 
"Do you want the Foreign Relations Committee to be holding hearings soon into the circumstances of bin Laden's death, and the circumstances of his being harbored in Pakistan," radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Rubio on May 2, 2011. "Well, I sit on two committees that I think are going to look at this. The first is the Intelligence Committee, and I know we meet twice a week, and we'll be meeting tomorrow, and I think there'll be some questions answered there," Rubio responded.
As the BuzzFeed report makes clear, the Florida Republican specifically urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold a hearing examining U.S. policy towards Pakistan. Three days later, the panel held a hearing called, "Assessing U.S. Policy and Its Limits In Pakistan."
 
Rubio skipped the hearing.
Unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors (2nd-3rd L) and Iranian technicians disconnect the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium production at nuclear power plant of Natanz, some 300 kilometres south of Teh

Republicans turn a blind eye to the science of the Iran debate

04/14/15 10:11AM

The Republican Party's strained relationship with modern science has grown more serious in recent months. GOP leaders have struggled, repeatedly, when confronted with scientific questions related to climate change, evolution, contraception, vaccinations, and in one recent instance, hand-washing.
 
But it now appears we can add a new one to the list: the science of nuclear policy in Iran.
 
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), will formally begin tackling a very controversial bill today: a proposal to expand Congress' role in international nuclear talks. In theory, the technical details surrounding the still-ongoing diplomatic efforts would be critically important, but Politico had an interesting piece the other day noting that congressional Republicans have effectively decided science doesn't matter.
Republicans will present plenty of arguments against the Iran deal in the coming weeks — but there will be no big push to knock down the scientific case for the deal, according to GOP aides and outside experts.
 
Instead, the GOP case will rest largely on convincing the public that the deal would give away too much and end too soon and won't spend a lot of time challenging the Obama administration on the science.
The report noted that the White House has focused heavily on the scientific details, "arguing that there are enough technical restrictions to guarantee that it couldn't build a bomb without getting caught." To that end, the administration has not only emphasized technical arguments from Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, the former MIT physics professor, but other proponents of the framework "have gathered enough signatures from nuclear nonproliferation specialists, including scientists, to show that there's a lot of support for the deal from experts."
 
One White House official told Politico, "We're never going to win over those playing politics, but [for] all those seeking to make sound judgments -- then yes -- we expect the science to be compelling."
 
To which Republicans have effectively replied, "Science, schmience. This is about politics."
A wedding cake for same-sex couples at a celebration on July 1, 2013.

Marriage-equality debate already making its mark on 2016 race

04/14/15 09:29AM

In her campaign announcement video on Sunday, Hillary Clinton featured a diverse group of Americans preparing to tackle a variety of new challenges. One was a young man preparing to marry another young man -- a reminder that Democrats now see marriage equality as an issue that works in their favor.
 
Republicans, meanwhile, are struggling to find their footing as the ground shifts beneath them. Dana Bash asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, why a libertarian would want the government to block equal marriage rights. The Republican senator endorsed the idea that what people do in their own homes "is your own business," to which the CNN host added, "But not when it comes to marriage."
Paul responded by differentiating between traditional marriage and a "contract" between gay people.
 
"Well, no. I mean states -- states will end up making the decisions on these things. I think that there's a religious connotation to marriage. I believe in the traditional religious connotation to this," Paul answered. "But I also believe people ought to be treated fairly under the law. I see no reason why if the marriage contract conveys certain things that if -- if you -- if you want to marry another woman that you can do that and have a contract."
Putting aside the separate-but-equal dilemma at the heart of the argument, Paul's response obscures the rest of his position.
 
Talking to major, mainstream news organizations, the Kentucky Republican makes it sound as if he's eager to be inclusive and treat all Americans "fairly." But when Rand Paul is talking to far-right audiences, the GOP lawmaker's message loses its accommodating veneer.
 
It was just a few weeks ago that Paul told a group of far-right pastors that he not only opposes marriage equality, he also believes the debate itself shouldn't exist and is the result of a "moral crisis" in the United States. Two weeks prior, the Republican told Fox News that marriages between same-sex couples "offend" him "and a lot of other people."
 
Of course, it's not just Rand Paul. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who kicked off his presidential bid yesterday, sat down with NPR's Steve Inskeep, who asked about the same issue.
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

Congress giving up on authorizing ISIS mission

04/14/15 08:40AM

President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in August 2014. He publicly called on Congress to authorize the mission in December 2014. He used part of his State of the Union address to urge lawmakers to act in January 2015. At Congress' insistence, the White House even sent draft legislative language to Capitol Hill in February 2015.
 
Congress' Republican majority, however, hasn't actually done any real work on the issue, and according to the House Majority Leader's comments yesterday, that's not going to change.
President Obama's request to use military force against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorists is dead in the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared on Monday.
 
The California Republican told reporters Obama's request for an authorization of use of military force, or AUMF, could not attain a simple 218-vote majority in the lower chamber.
According to Roll Call's report, McCarthy specifically told reporters, in reference to the White House's draft resolution, "I do not think there is [sic] 218 votes for what the president sent up.... I usually don't bring bills up unless I think they can pass "
 
The California Republican did suggest the Armed Services Committee might consider the issue, but the Roll Call report added, "[H]e didn't commit to the AUMF getting on the floor for a vote -- particularly if it's just a doomed exercise.... McCarthy signaled that the draft might never get a vote." The legislative branch could consider writing it own legislative draft, but apparently, that idea isn't under consideration, either.
 
As we discussed last week, Congress' intention to do nothing does not mean that the mission against ISIS must cease. On the contrary, Obama continues to launch airstrikes on ISIS targets and help lead an international coalition. He's just doing so without any real limits or new legal authorization (the administration is relying on the post-9/11 AUMF as its legal basis). Lawmakers have effectively told the administration, "Go ahead and wage war. We're staying out of it."
 
But, in the same press event, McCarthy also told reporters yesterday that he intends to move as quickly as possible on legislation empowering Congress to intervene on international nuclear talks with Iran.
 
Appreciating the contradiction at the heart of these two positions is critical. Indeed, the point isn't lost on the White House.
Marco Rubio (Photo by Alan Diaz/AP)

Rubio adds new paint to old ideas

04/14/15 08:00AM

Late yesterday in Miami, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made it official, launching his 2016 presidential campaign with a not-so-subtle message: he's this cycle's new, fresh face.
"Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday," Rubio said, referring to Clinton's own campaign launch on Sunday. "Yesterday is over, and we are never going back. We Americans are proud of our history, but our country has always been about the future."
The speech, which much of the political press fawned over, emphasized certain words over and over again. "Yesterday" got five mentions, as did the word "new." The senator used the word "future" five times, and he added seven references to "generation."
 
There were a whopping 13 references to "century," mostly in reference to "new century" and "21st century."
 
I half expected to hear "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" over the loudspeakers, though the song tends to be associated with someone else.
 
At the surface, it's not a bad pitch. But in Rubio's case, there are more salient questions about the messenger than the message.
 
The Florida Republican, for example, expressed dismay that American leaders are "taxing, borrowing and regulating like it's 1999." It was as foolish as it was wrong -- in 1999, not only were tax rates higher than now, but the government wasn't "borrowing" at all thanks to the federal surpluses that existed in the Clinton era.
 
At the time, the economic boom was reaching new heights, unemployment was reaching new lows, the nation was actually shrinking the national debt for the first time in generations. Rubio sees 1999 as some kind of dystopia to be avoided, but by any sane metric, those were economic conditions America should strive for, not avoid.
 
But even putting aside glaring and unnecessary factual errors, the more thematic problem was Rubio denouncing those who are "busy looking backward," while at the same time, pushing an agenda that would roll back the clock.

Citations for the April 13, 2015 TRMS

04/14/15 12:55AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Guy Cecil, veteran senior strategist from Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign, who has also been advising her this time as she begins another quest for the presidency in 2016.
  • Marc Caputo, a longtime Florida political reporter who now covers the state for Politico.

Tonight's links:

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