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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.16.15

04/16/15 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:
 
* In New Hampshire, home to the first 2016 primary, PPP shows Scott Walker with a big, early advantage in the Republican presidential race, leading Ted Cruz by 10 points, 24% to 14%. Rand Paul is third with 12%, followed by Jeb Bush with 10%.
 
* Though Chris Christie hedged on vaccinations in February, his position has improved since. He told an anti-vaccination activist in New Hampshire yesterday she "can't count on" him to take her side. "Vaccinations have done enormous good in this country," the governor said, adding, "[Y]ou're always going to have concerns about your child, but we also have to be concerned about public health."
 
* On the other hand, the New Jersey Republican also told voters yesterday that Donald Trump is "a great American" and a "quintessential American."
 
* Time magazine named Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) one of the world's 100 most influential people, which wouldn't be especially noteworthy were it not for the fact that Hillary Clinton wrote the profile, singing Warren's praises.
 
* On a related note, Time also singled out Charles and David Koch in their Top 100 list. Their flattering profile was written by Rand Paul.
 
* Hillary Clinton's campaign made clear this week she wants the Supreme Court to bring marriage equality to the nation. This drew a rebuke from former Gov. Martin O'Malley, her likely Democratic rival, who noted that Clinton said last year she backed a state-by-state approach. 
Marijuana plants are displayed. (Photo by Anthony Bolante/Reuters)

2016 will decide the fate of drug-policy progress

04/16/15 11:20AM

There have been some historic breakthroughs in recent years on U.S. drug policy, but there's an under-appreciated fragility to the progress. When voters in Alaska, Colorado, and the state of Washington voted to legalize marijuana, for example, their experiments were allowed to proceed because the Obama administration extended its approval.
 
But it didn't have to -- under federal law, officials could have ignored voters' will and blocked those policies from advancing. In this case, neither President Obama nor Attorney General Eric Holder wanted to intervene, so state experimentation has been allowed to flourish.
 
There is, however, a presidential election coming up -- the outcome of which may have an enormous impact on those experiments.
If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) becomes president of the United States, he said on "The Hugh Hewitt Show" Tuesday, he will "crack down" on those states that have ended prohibitions on marijuana.
 
When asked by Hewitt if he would enforce federal drug laws in those states that have legalized and regulated cannabis, Christie responded unequivocally.
Leaving himself no visible wiggle room, the Republican governor said, "I will crack down and not permit it." Christie added that a clear message must be sent "from the White House on down through federal law enforcement" that states "should not be permitted to sell it and profit" from legalizing marijuana.
 
As a matter of policy, a Christie administration would clearly have the authority to impose such a blanket policy. Obama has permitted states to pursue their own course, but federal law has not changed as it relates to illegal drugs. That would require congressional action, which is not realistic given Republican control.
 
In other words, come January 2017, if Obama's successor decides to scrap state marijuana laws in Alaska, Colorado, and the state of Washington, then those laws will effectively be rendered moot -- regardless of voters' will -- because the White House will have said so.
Then-US President George W. Bush is introduced by his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, at a fundraiser in Orlando, Fl. Feb. 17, 2006. (Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters)

George W. Bush concedes his brother has 'a problem'

04/16/15 10:40AM

Former President George W. Bush was in Chicago yesterday, giving a paid speech and reflecting briefly on the 2016 presidential race.
Jeb Bush's candidacy has a problem, says brother George. "Me."
 
"It's an easy line to say, 'Haven't we had enough Bushes?' After all, even my mother said, 'Yes,'" the former president told an audience of 7,000 health IT experts here on Wednesday.
As the Politico report noted, the former president told the audience that voters won't see him "out there" on the campaign trail in order to help put some distance between the two Bushes.
 
The former Florida governor, meanwhile, was in southern Ohio yesterday, stressing a similar point.
Republican White House prospect Jeb Bush kicked off a speech to business leaders on Tuesday with a series of personal recollections, saying he's his "own person." [...]
 
He told the crowd he's blessed to be the son of one president and the brother of another but "I'm also my own person. I've lived my own life."
There's more than one reason this is such a tough sell.
US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a 2016 Republican White House hopeful, listens to members and their guests at the Londonderry Fish and Game Club in Litchfield, NH, Jan. 14, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Rand Paul's past continues to haunt him

04/16/15 10:00AM

About four years ago, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) faced booing during debates for the Republican presidential candidates when he said American foreign policy led to the 9/11 attacks. The response -- from the audience and the other candidates -- made clear that the party has no use for such an argument.
 
Four years later, it's Ron Paul's son who's now running for president -- and he's said largely the same thing.
Rand Paul said in 2007 interview that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East was at the core of the reasons for terrorism and that the 9/11 Commission showed that the September 11th attacks were made in response to U.S. presence in foreign lands. [...]
 
In the interview, Paul went on to take aim at then-President George W. Bush, calling him "ridiculous" for saying "they hate us for our freedom." Paul said Americans should try to understand "why they hate us" and what policies create terrorism.
As the BuzzFeed report noted, Rand Paul said in the 2007 interview, "I mean, you have to recognize what policy creates terrorism. Because you can't kill every Muslim in the world. There's a billion Muslims. We have to learn to live together to a certain point."
 
Is it any wonder the Kentucky Republican is eager to declare his pre-Senate remarks as irrelevant?
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a town hall meeting at Londonderry Lion's Club April 15, 2015 in Londonderry, New Hampshire

Despite 1% status, Christie says he's 'not wealthy'

04/16/15 09:10AM

The median household income in the United States is about $52,000 a year. Politicians would be wise to remember that.
 
One Republican congressman last year said lawmakers "don't make a lot of money," despite his $174,000 annual salary. In 2011, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) complained about driving "a used minivan" and how much he "struggles" to pay his bills, despite his large congressional salary. Around the same time, another GOP lawmaker, with a net worth about $56 million, said he and his family were "struggling like everyone else."
 
And yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) joined the ignominious club.
Nov. Chris Christie insists he's not rich, but is nonetheless confounded by the complexity of his tax returns and again hinted that he might back a simplification of the U.S. income tax code should he run for president.
 
"The fact that my wife and I, who are not wealthy by current standards, that we have to file a tax return that's that thick ... is insane," Christie told the editorial board of the Manchester Union-Leader on Monday, holding his thumb and forefinger several inches apart. "We don't have nearly that much money," he said.
Actually, the Christies are very well-off. According to the governor's 2013 tax returns -- the most recent information available -- the Christie family's annual income is about $700,000That's not just 1 percent status, that's 0.8 percent status.
 
The nj.com report added that Christie makes more than eight times the median household income in New Jersey.

Jobless claims climb again, reach six-week high

04/16/15 08:40AM

The level itself is not alarming, but we hoped to see initial unemployment claims moving away from the 300,000 threshold, not moving towards it.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment-insurance benefits rose by 12,000 to 294,000 in the week that ended April 11, hitting the highest tally in six weeks and signaling some pickup in the pace of layoffs, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to hold steady at 281,000 in the most recent weekly data. The four-week average of new claims rose 250 to 282,750.
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. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 25 of the last 31 weeks.
Loretta Lynch is sworn in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

GOP obstructionism on Loretta Lynch becomes farcical

04/16/15 08:00AM

Take the last seven U.S. Attorney General nominees and add together how long they had to collectively wait for a confirmation vote. Then double that total. Loretta Lynch has waited longer than that.
 
President Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder has now been waiting 159 days -- nearly 23 weeks -- and everyone involved in the process agrees that Lynch has the votes necessary to prevail. 
 
But the Senate Republican leadership, which is allowing other confirmation votes, still won't allow members to vote on Lynch. As Politico reported, some civil-rights advocates are taking their frustrations to the next level.
Loretta Lynch's allies are launching a hunger strike until she's confirmed as attorney general, but they could be waiting weeks if Republicans follow through on their threat to delay Lynch even longer. [...]
 
The advocacy group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, along with female civil-rights leaders, are planning the hunger strike, in which groups of fasters will alternate days abstaining from food until Lynch is confirmed to replace Eric Holder at the Justice Department.
Sharpton, of course, is the host of msnbc's "Politics Nation."
 
GOP leaders continue to insist that Lynch, who's being subjected to treatment without precedent in Senate history, will not receive a vote until Democrats meet the Republicans' demands: advancing an unrelated bill with anti-abortion language in it. The Democratic minority said again yesterday that holding Lynch's nomination hostage like this is ridiculous -- a position that has the benefit of being true.
 
Making matters slightly worse, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said yesterday the chamber will soon move on to a measure related to Iran policy, which means delaying work on the human-trafficking bill, which in turn means delaying Lynch even further.

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.15.15

04/15/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Tehran pays attention to current events: "Iran's president on Wednesday dismissed the compromise worked out between the Obama administration and Congress over an impending nuclear agreement as internal American politics, saying the Iranians were negotiating with six countries, not just the United States.'
 
* The complexities of the Middle East: "Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday that he fears the ongoing military intervention by Saudi Arabia in Yemen will lead to regional sectarian war, and he added that the Obama administration shares his concerns."
 
* Fortunately, no one appears to have been hurt: "The U.S. Capitol Police have arrested a single occupant of a gyro-copter that landed on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. According to the Tampa Bay Times, a Florida mailman was trying to deliver a message on campaign reform to Congress."
 
* A movement takes shape: "In what organizers are calling the largest ever mobilization of American workers seeking higher pay, low-wage employees from a range of sectors walked off the job and rallied in hundreds of cities across the country Wednesday."
 
* Menendez case: "The Florida doctor charged in a political corruption case along with Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey was charged on Tuesday in a 76-count indictment. Prosecutors accused him of a Medicare fraud that they said sought to cheat the health care program of as much as $190 million."
 
* Arizona: "Police released video that shows an Arizona officer running over an armed suspect last month, sparking a debate over whether the cop saved the man's life or used excessive force."
 
* DEA: "Lawmakers expressed outrage on Tuesday at the punishments imposed on Drug Enforcement Administration agents who were accused of participating in sex parties with prostitutes while stationed in Colombia."
 
* Good thinking: "In an effort to ensure investors are getting truly objective advice, the Labor Department on Tuesday issued a proposed rule that would require all advisors who offer retirement advice to put their clients' interests first."
In this image from the U.S. Library of Congress, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln sits for a portrait on Feb. 5, 1865. (Photo by Alexander Gardner/U.S. Library of Congress/Getty)

How not to honor the Lincoln legacy

04/15/15 05:07PM

Abraham Lincoln died exactly 150 years ago today, so there's a fair amount of media coverage this week about the nation's legendary 16th president. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) joins the commemoration with a USA Today op-ed honoring Lincoln -- and using the opportunity to take a gratuitous jab at President Obama.
 
Much of the piece is roughly what one would expect. Rubio celebrates Lincoln as a courageous, transformational figure; he talks a bit about himself and his agenda; and then he decides to use the Lincoln anniversary to disparage Obama's ideology (via Ed Kilgore).
Our current president ran for office on calls of opportunity and unity. He claimed the mantle of Lincoln. While his intentions were genuine, his presidency has only deepened our divisions and cost us opportunities. This is not because of a flaw in his character, but rather a flaw in his ideas.
 
His ideas tell us that becoming better off requires someone else becoming worse off. They tell us the only way to climb up the economic ladder is to pull someone else down. They tell us there are two Americas -- one of haves, one of have-nots -- and that government is the best hope for those in search of a better life.
Even if we put aside the question of propriety -- is it really necessary to go after the current president while honoring Lincoln on the anniversary of his death? -- Rubio's description of Obama's vision can charitably be described as absurd. If the far-right senator actually believes this nonsense, it's alarming how little attention he's paid to current events over the last six years.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and th

An 'unfortunate political stunt' gets thrown out of court

04/15/15 03:56PM

In January 2014, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was so eager to demonstrate his opposition to the Affordable Care Act that he filed a deeply strange lawsuit against "Obamacare": he wanted to make coverage more expensive for people who work on Capitol Hill. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Johnson's home state of Wisconsin, said at the time that the senator's lawsuit was "frivolous" and an "unfortunate political stunt."
 
In July 2014, a federal district judge threw Johnson's case out of court. This morning, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, an appeals court also blew off the Republican senator's misguided case.
A federal appeals panel sided with a lower court Tuesday to throw out a lawsuit over Obamacare brought by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and one of his aides.
 
Johnson's suit attempted to force members of Congress and their staffs to stop getting subsidies for their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which is widely known as Obamacare.
The 7th Circuit's decision, which was unanimous, is online here (pdf).
 
As we discussed last summer, the problem here has always been one of "standing": how would the Republican senator demonstrate that he's been harmed by the health care policy he doesn't like? When filing a lawsuit challenging the legality of a law, it's not enough for plaintiffs to say, "I don't like it." Johnson had to demonstrate that he'd been adversely affected by ACA benefits.
 
The far-right senator's lawyers rolled out a creative line -- coverage for congressional staff led to Johnson's "damaged political reputation," according to the suit -- which has now failed miserably.
 
And which, ironically, has damaged Johnson's political reputation.

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