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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 2.2.16

02/02/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Putin won't be happy with this: "President Obama plans to substantially increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other equipment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a move that administration officials said was aimed at deterring Russia from further aggression in the region."
* Good call: "President Barack Obama will ask for more than $1 billion in the new budget to fight drug abuse and overdoses, which are at record highs in the U.S., the White House said Tuesday. Obama's budget request to Congress aims to expand treatment for people who get hooked on prescription opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin, as well as people who use the cheaper street drug heroin."
* Selective Service System: "The Army and Marine Corps' top uniformed leaders both backed making women register for the draft as all combat roles are opened to them in coming months, a sweeping social change that could complicate the military's gender integration plans."
* Somebody obviously wants attention again: "In a new dare to the United States and its allies, North Korea has notified the United Nations agency responsible for navigation safety that it is planning to launch a long-range rocket this month to put a satellite into orbit."
* Iraq "on Tuesday awarded an Italian company a contract to overhaul and maintain the Mosul dam in the country's north, days after a U.S. general warned of its possible collapse."
Midwest Food Bank workers and volunteers carry cases of donated water, Jan. 27, 2016, in Indianapolis. All of the water that was collected will be sent to Flint, Mich., where drinking water has been contaminated by lead. (Photo by Darron Cummings/AP)

Flint's water crisis draws FBI interest

02/02/16 04:13PM

Not only is the crisis in Flint, Michigan, ongoing, the investigation into this catastrophe appears to be expanding. The Detroit Free Press reported today:
The FBI is now investigating the contamination of Flint's drinking water, a man-made public health catastrophe, which has left an unknown number of Flint children and other residents poisoned by lead and resulted in state and federal emergency declarations.
Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, told the Free Press Monday that federal prosecutors are "working with a multi-agency investigation team on the Flint water contamination matter, including the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, EPA's Office of Inspector General, and EPA's Criminal Investigation Division."
The report added that Balaya did not specify whether the investigation relates to possible criminal acts.
The FBI's involvement isn't the only evidence of federal interest in Flint. The Detroit News reports today that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is also in the city today "to meet with researchers and local elected officials to discuss the city's ongoing problems with lead contamination in its drinking water."
As for Congress, the House Oversight Committee will hold its first hearing on the Flint crisis tomorrow, but the Detroit News added that at least one prominent figure in the scandal has decided to turn down an invitation to testify.
President Barack Obama greets Speaker of the House Paul Ryan before his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill Jan. 12, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/Pool/Getty)

On Groundhog Day, Republicans vote to repeal Obamacare

02/02/16 02:31PM

President Obama hasn't spent a lot of time with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), but the two leaders, joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), met at the White House this morning. The point, according to everyone involved, was to look for ways the policymakers can find some common ground and try to get things done in 2016.
To help set the tone, the Wisconsin congressman told reporters yesterday he was excited about the Iowa caucuses because "what it tells me is the days of Barack Obama's presidency are numbered."
He's a real charmer, this one. You can just feel his enthusiasm for bipartisan policymaking in an era of divided government.
After the meeting in which the president tries to find areas of possible agreement with GOP leaders, Ryan will hold another vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act. The Washington Post reported:
The House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on overturning President Obama's veto of legislation to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood. The vote, appropriately scheduled for Groundhog Day, is expected to fail, leaving conservatives to gear up for a final year of budget fights with the president.
Asked about today's events, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, "Republicans are poised to host another vote in the United States Congress today for the 60th time to repeal Obamacare. It's almost like it's Groundhog Day, except today it is actually Groundhog Day and they're doing it again."
Earnest added, "So I'm not really sure that qualifies as the contours of a proactive legislative agenda but it does put some pressure on Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell, and other Republicans in Congress, to lay out what it is exactly they support and try to find some common ground with the administration."
For the record, estimates vary on exactly how many times Republicans have tried to repeal all or part of the ACA, but the last time I checked, they were up to 62. In other words, Earnest might have been understating the case a bit.
Confetti lie over the floor on the last day of the 2012 Republican National Convention.

GOP insiders face more chaos, not less

02/02/16 01:03PM

When Republican insiders and donors started warming up to Donald Trump in recent weeks, it was one of the more widely reported political developments in a while. And why not? As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote recently, "That soft flapping sound you hear is the Grand Old Party waving the flag of surrender to Trump. Party elites ... are acquiescing to the once inconceivable."
This wasn't just the result of polling results; the Republican establishment had come up with a plan. Here's how it would work:
Step 1. Help Trump dispatch Ted Cruz in Iowa.
Step 2. Watch Cruz fade after he loses his must-win state.
Step 3. Move closer to a one-on-one matchup, pitting Trump against an establishment-friendly rival (almost certainly Marco Rubio).
Step 4. Consolidate support behind the establishment-friendly rival, while Trump hits his ceiling.
Step 5. Sit back, pop the champagne, and wait for all the #thepartydecides tweets.
The plan, we now know, didn't work. The Republican establishment made a conscious choice -- Cruz must be stopped, quickly -- and the Texas senator foiled the gambit. Iowa's six-term GOP governor said Cruz was the one candidate who must lose, and a plurality of Hawkeye State Republicans backed him anyway.
So why is the New York Times' David Brooks, who's been in a full-blown panic over the direction of his party, suddenly breathing a sigh of relief?
"What happened in Iowa was that some version of normalcy returned to the G.O.P. race," the center-right columnist wrote overnight with an almost audible exhale. "The precedents of history have not been rendered irrelevant."
I think this helps capture the attitudes of Republican elites this morning. I also think it's misguided.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.2.16

02/02/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* As expected, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has thrown his support to Marco Rubio. It's the fifth Senate endorsement Rubio has received -- which brings him into a tie with Jeb Bush for the most endorsements from GOP members in the Chamber.
* Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) argued on an Iowa radio show the other day, "If I get one vote, frankly, in Iowa, I'll consider it a victory." Gilmore won 12 votes. Congratulations, governor.
* The number of House Republicans retiring this year continues to grow: Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) announced yesterday that he'll step down at the end of this term.
* Ending the suspense surrounding his plans, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said yesterday that he will run for re-election to the House, skipping the open U.S. Senate race in Maryland.
* On a related note, the latest polling in the Maryland race shows Reps. Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen effectively tied in the Democratic primary.
* Given that Senate Dems are in the minority, this is a bit of a surprise: "The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $51.6 million in 2015, $10 million more than the National Republican Senatorial Committee did in the same time period. The total came after a $13.4 million haul in the fourth quarter. In the final month of 2015, the DSCC raised $5.1 million, $2 million more than its Republican counterpart."
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a campaign event at Fireside Pub and Steak House on Jan. 31, 2016 in Manchester, Ia. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty)

Carson cries foul following fourth-place Iowa finish

02/02/16 11:28AM

Ben Carson, briefly the frontrunner in the Iowa caucuses, did not close well. The retired neurosurgeon, in what appears to be his strongest state, finished fourth with just 9%. That's slightly better than his polling average going into last night, but it's little solace for a candidate moving further away from the top tier.
As MSNBC's Jane C. Timm reports, Carson and his team believe they have an excuse.
Dr. Ben Carson and his campaign accused Sen. Ted Cruz's team of sabotaging Carson in the Iowa caucuses Monday night by encouraging Cruz supporters to tell voters at their caucus sites – incorrectly -- that Carson was dropping out of the race.
"It was happening all over," Iowa State Director Ryan Rhodes told MSNBC. "One of the precincts Candy [Carson, the candidate's wife] walked into, she had to correct the record. She actually walked in, in Ankeny, and gave a speech about no, he's still in the race and that's a lie."
So, what's this all about? A CNN reporter said last night, shortly before the caucuses began, that after Iowa, Carson was headed to Florida "for some R&R," instead of going to New Hampshire and South Carolina. Many in both parties saw this as evidence of Carson winding down his struggling campaign.
Team Cruz, seeing an opportunity, quickly texted supporters in Iowa: "CNN is reporting that Ben Carson will stop campaigning after Iowa. Make sure to tell all of your peers at the caucus...."
Whether or not this was deliberately deceptive is a matter of interpretation.
A visitor casts their vote with a kernel of corn for presidential candidate Donald Trump in a straw poll at the Iowa State Fair, Aug. 20, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Paul Sancya/AP)

Iowa offers a reminder about the limits of polling

02/02/16 10:54AM

A few hours before the Iowa caucuses began, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver told readers, "[D]on't be shocked if the polls are way off."
Whether or not the results were "way off" is a subjective question, but as the dust settles, it's safe to say those who relied exclusively on polling data going into last night were surprised by the results. In the final round of surveys, how many showed Donald Trump positioned to win Iowa? Just about all of them -- with some showing him ahead by double digits.
Yahoo News published this item this morning.
In the end, the biggest loser in the Iowa caucuses might not be the campaigns of several presidential hopefuls, but the public perception of polling organizations that were again off the mark.
heading into Iowa, GOP contender Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were projected to win the respective Iowa caucuses. Instead, Ted Cruz took the GOP race, while Clinton and Bernie Sanders finished in a virtual dead heat for the Democrats. And on Tuesday, the pollsters faced more scrutiny after the Iowa results were in. Here's a typical headline (from Bloomberg): "Iowa's Other Losers: Polls That Showed Trump Ahead Before Caucus"
Even the Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, conducted by J. Ann Selzer, whose track record is excellent, wasn't quite right.
So, what happened?
Republican presidential candidate former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks during the Sunshine Summit conference being held at the Rosen Shingle Creek on Nov. 13, 2015 in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Mike Huckabee exits stage right

02/02/16 10:07AM

In December, it became quite obvious that Mike Huckabee's second presidential campaign was on track to do even worse than his first. Facing weak poll numbers and anemic fundraising, Huckabee saw his top communications aide quit, and soon after, the campaign slashed the salaries of senior staffers.
Huckabee's campaign manager -- who also happens to be his daughter -- conceded, "Obviously, if we go to Iowa and lose -- well, frankly, we probably won't keep going." The former Arkansas governor added soon after that he'd settle for a top-three finish, which would encourage him to move forward.
That goal didn't quite work out for the candidate who won Iowa eight years ago. Huckabee finished in ninth place with just 2% support, roughly tied with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who wasn't actually trying to compete in Iowa. Within a few hours of the caucuses starting, Huckabee called it quits.
Former Arkansas governor and 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee announced on Twitter he will suspend his presidential campaign after finishing near the bottom of the pack on Monday.
Huckabee initially polled in the middle of a crowded Republican field in the Hawkeye State. But he was quickly overshadowed by political outsiders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Towards the end of his 2016 run he had been relegated to the undercard GOP debates.
With the Arkansan out, the Republican field, which once included an unprecedented 17 candidates, now stands at 11.
And while there's no reason to kick a guy when he's down, if Huckabee is leaving the stage with his head held high, he probably hasn't been paying close enough attention to his candidacy.
Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley speaks during the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, on Oct. 24, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

O'Malley wraps up campaign, narrows Dem race

02/02/16 09:32AM

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley clearly hoped for a better night in Iowa. After finishing with 0.5% of the vote, the Democratic governor, facing insurmountable odds, decided to call it a day.
O'Malley's candidacy, despite initial high hopes and strong a resume, failed to launch from the start and never picked up steam as he stayed mired in the single digits in polls for most of the past year. O'Malley was a politician's politician in a year when the electorate craved anti-establishment insurgents like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
O'Malley spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate and prided himself on being accessible to voters and the press. His campaign also believes he helped push front-runner Hillary Clinton ad Sanders on certain issues.
In a more traditional cycle, it's easy to imagine a campaign in which O'Malley fared much better. Back in May, MSNBC's Steve Kornacki explained that the Maryland Democrat "checks off a lot of boxes" for the party's voters, having delivered on many top progressive priorities -- "the enactment of a state-level Dream Act, strict gun control, gay marriage, and the abolition of the death penalty" -- in ways Clinton and Sanders have not.
But as we discussed at the time, there were hurdles, too. O'Malley's popularity in his home state waned; when violence erupted in the streets of Baltimore, it undermined O'Malley's claims of success in turning the city around; and as recently as 2014, the governor's hand-picked successor lost in one of the nation's most reliably "blue" states.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton celebrates at her caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa Feb. 1, 2016. (Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Clinton (apparently) edges Sanders in Iowa showdown

02/02/16 09:00AM

For Democrats, the results of the Iowa caucuses are usually quite clear. The closest-ever contest was in 1988, when two Midwesterners battled it out -- Missouri's Dick Gephardt beat Illinois' Paul Simon by four points -- but Iowa Dems have otherwise known fairly early on caucus night who prevailed.
Last night, however, was a very different story.
The Democratic battle in Iowa was so close that both Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- the 74-year-old socialist with no major endorsements -- and Hillary Clinton left the state without a clear-cut victory. [...]
Aboard a charter jet bound for New Hampshire, Clinton Press Secretary Brian Fallon told reporters that "we believe strongly that we won.... It's not clear post-Iowa what Senator Sanders' path to victory is," Fallon added.
That appears to be true. At 3:35 a.m. ET, the Clinton campaign's Iowa state director issued a statement declaring victory. "After thorough reporting -- and analysis -- of results, there is no uncertainty and Secretary Clinton has clearly won the most national and state delegates. Statistically, there is no outstanding information that could change the results and no way that Senator Sanders can overcome Secretary Clinton's advantage."
About a half-hour later, NBC News reached a similar conclusion and declared Clinton the "apparent" winner. As things stand, the former Secretary of State has 49.9% of the vote to Sanders' 49.6%.
Given the margin, it doesn't come as too big of a surprise that the Vermont independent has not conceded the contest, and it's not yet clear whether the Sanders campaign will formally challenge the results.
But for the sake of conversation, and without any tangible evidence that points to a likely change of outcome, let's go ahead and consider the looming What It All Means question.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a campaign stop on Jan. 13, 2016, in Dorchester, S.C. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Cruz defies the odds, wins Iowa, trumps Trump

02/02/16 08:00AM

Going into the Iowa caucuses, there were some questions that no one was able to answer with any confidence. Would Donald Trump's voters show up when it counts? Was Ted Cruz's on-the-ground field operation as good as advertised? Was Marco Rubio closing strong and earning some of his media hype? Would someone please wake Ben Carson?
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the hotly contested Iowa Republican caucus on Monday night, fending off a tough challenge from Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
With 99% of precincts in, Cruz led with 28% of the vote versus 24% for Trump, 23% for Rubio, and 9% for fourth-place Dr. Ben Carson.
There's no shortage of chatter this morning about the results, but let's try to cut through the noise and break things down from a pitch-vs-hype-vs-truth perspective.
Ted Cruz
The Pitch: Team Cruz is only too pleased to remind the political world this morning, "We told you our ground game was good."
The Buzz: To have any credible chance at the Republican nomination, Cruz needed to win Iowa. He did.
The Truth: As of a couple of days ago, the political world was convinced that the Texas Republican was a candidate in decline, especially following an unflattering debate performance in Iowa last week. The question wasn't whether he was falling, but how much. And yet, as the dust settles, Cruz defied the polls and gets a meaningful boost headed into the next round.
Donald Trump
The Pitch: "Oh yeah?" asks Team Trump. "We're still ahead everywhere else."
The Buzz: Trump wanted to be seen as the guy in the GOP field who knew how to win. A second-place finish isn't just a setback; it also does embarrassing damage to the candidate's brand.
The Truth: Team Trump expected to win Iowa, and every recent poll showed him ahead, making last night a real setback. Given the makeup of the state's Republican voters, Iowa was never a good battleground for him, but he'll need to prove -- preferably next week in New Hampshire -- that his backers are capable of showing up when it counts. In the meantime, Trump can take some solace in the fact that, win or lose, his message and vision is now dominating GOP politics.