Yesterday's congressional special election was expected to be close and it was. The tricky part is answering the "what does it all mean?" question.
Republican David Jolly has won the special election in Florida's 13th Congressional District, defeating Democratic candidate Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby.
With all precincts reporting, Jolly holds a lead of about 3,400 votes, capturing 48.43% of the vote to 46.56% for Sink and 4.83% for Overby. Sink has conceded the race.
We've known for weeks that the prevailing party would over-hype the results -- Greg Sargent has insisted all along that this is a mistake, long before we knew who'd win, but most of the political world has ignored him -- and the spin machine has been largely out of control over the last 12 hours.
Part of the trouble in analyzing (or overanalyzing) a race like this is that Florida's 13th district is ... what's the word ... quirky. The Democratic message is mildly persuasive: this is a district Republicans have held for a half-century and which George W. Bush twice carried easily. Sink was a clumsy candidate who didn't even live in the district until quite recently, but she forced Republicans to spend over $5 million to narrowly keep a red seat red.
But the Republican message this morning also happens to be true: this is a district President Obama also carried twice. If Democrats expect to be avoid a very rough 2014 cycle, this is exactly the kind of competitive district they need to win -- and the fact that a well-known, well-financed Dem couldn't even get 47% of the vote is rather alarming.
If both spins are compelling, what's the broader takeaway from the results? I'd argue there probably isn't one.
It's only natural for the political world to study races like these. We want to look for trends and patterns. We want to see one event and be able to successfully extrapolate from it. But low-turnout special elections are inherently weird, especially in the middle of March. It's unsatisfying, but it's reality.
Meet the CIA lawyer at the center of the clash with the Senate Intelligence Committee. (AP) White House Chief of Staff made a surprise visit to Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office after her CIA speech. (BuzzFeed) Some details of what's in the Senate's CIA interrogation report. (AP) CIA Director Brennan sends a message to his workforce. (McClatchy) Pres. Obama meets with Ukraine's Prime Minister at the White House today. (USA Today)
On the show tonight, Rachel talked about an ad featuring Julie Boonstra of Michigan saying that the costs of her health care under health reform are “unaffordable.” The Detroit News yesterday reported that in fact, she will save at least $1,200 a year.
Americans for Prosperity, which produced the ad, sent us this statement:
"Julie chose the security of knowing what her costs would be when she picked her original plan, and that choice has been taken from her, despite repeated promises that 'if you like you’re plan you can keep it.' Budgets don’t work well with unpredictable expenses, and now Julie is facing new costs such as expensive medication and out of pocket costs she can't plan for."
Affordable Care Act enrollment figures have come a long way since the fall. Back in October, the first month of the open-enrollment period, just 106,185 consumers signed up for health insurance through an exchange -- causing Republicans to not only celebrate, but to mock the system by noting a variety of sports venues that hold more than 106,185 attendees.
The Obama administration on Tuesday said the number of people enrolled in private health insurance under Obamacare reached 4.2 million on March 1, amid independent reports of a sustained decline in America's huge uninsured population.
The data, which reflects enrollment activity from October 1 through March 1, represented a rise of about 940,000 enrollees in state and federal health insurance marketplaces during the month of February, a sign of continuing momentum. Eighty-three percent of enrollees are eligible for federal subsidies to help pay the cost of coverage.
This 4.2 million total, reflecting the total number of sign-ups since the start of the enrollment process, does not include 4.4 million Americans who've received coverage through Medicaid.
For those hoping for success, the news isn't all great. For example, while January's enrollment totals exceeded expectations, February's figures did not. For that matter, the original CBO projections, issued before the open-enrollment process began, projected far more sign-ups by now, though much of this is the result of website troubles in October and November.
Also note, young-adult enrollment is still at 25%, which isn't awful, but is a little short what proponents were hoping for, either.
That said, on balance, the overall picture remains quite positive. The pace of enrollment has improved considerably -- it's on par with what the administration had hoped for from the outset -- and with 20 days remaining before the end of the open-enrollment period, there's every reason to believe total exchange enrollment will end up between 5 million and 6 million, which seemed like a pipe dream when healthcare.gov was busted in October and November.
We've known for a while that New Jersey's Port Authority has been a problematic agency, used to unfortunate ends by, among others, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration. But as the governor's scandals continue to unfold, the public learns new details that cast the agency -- and the misuse of that agency -- in an even more unflattering light.
Kate Zernike and Matt Flegenheimer report today, for example, on the extent to which the Port Authority had "already been turned into a de facto political operation for Governor Christie," even before the governor's team decided it was time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.
For a state that lost hundreds of lives on Sept. 11, the gifts were emotionally resonant: pieces of steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center. They were presented by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to 20 carefully chosen New Jersey mayors who sat atop a list of 100 whose endorsements Gov. Chris Christie hoped to win.
At photo opportunities around the mangled pieces of steel, Bill Baroni, Mr. Christie's top staff appointee at the Port Authority, told audiences how many people wanted a similar remnant of the destroyed buildings, and how special these mayors were.
Now, whether or not something is in good taste is, practically by definition, a subjective question. People will often disagree on what is or isn't offensive.
But this report suggests Team Christie not only kept pieces of steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center, but then distributed them as campaign goodies, hoping to entice mayors into endorsing the governor's re-election campaign.
I can appreciate that heavy-handed appeals during campaigns are common, but 9/11 wreckage from the Twin Towers? As some kind of tchotchke to reward would-be endorsers?
This was one of the more over-the-top revelations, but it wasn't the only eyebrow-raising anecdote.
Charles and David Koch have invested heavily in recent years to influence U.S. politics, to the delight of their Republican allies and the consternation of their Democratic foes. But no matter how freely the billionaire brothers have spent, Koch spokesperson Melissa Cohlmia said last week, it's "drops in a bucket" compared with what unions have spent to support many positions opposed by the Kochs.
This is not an uncommon line. In fact, Kimberley Strassel's latest Wall Street Journalcolumn argues that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats have the wrong campaign-finance culprit: it's "unions," Strassel argued, and not the Koch brothers, who want to spend "unlimited money" to "rig the system" and "buy elections." The Kochs spend a lot, she conceded, but not as much as labor.
There are a couple of problems with the comparison. The first should be obvious: when gauging political impact, it's misleading to draw parallels between two extraordinarily wealthy individuals and several million unionized workers. But as Jonathan Cohn explained, there's an even more glaring problem.
According to Robert Maguire, a researcher who pieced together the Koch money trail from disparate Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission reports, conservative nonprofit organizations that received large grants from Koch-backed intermediaries spent $170 million during the 2012 election cycle. Unions spent just $24 million.
And that kind of money isn't just "drops in a bucket."
As party officials are often quick to admit, Republicans have generally trailed Democrats when it comes to technology and online innovation, but the RNC is reportedly putting together one database unlike anything the DNC has.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) is building a database with the names of those who received insurance cancellation notices under ObamaCare, with the hope of capturing voters who believe they've been negatively affected by the healthcare law.
An RNC spokesman wouldn't provide any further details on the initiative for fear of giving away the strategy, but confirmed what Chairman Reince Priebus first told The Washington Examiner over the weekend.
Priebus described the information as "important for us to have," and has recruited "top engineers" from the tech industry to work on the project.
In theory, a database like this could be useful in helping policymakers reach out to affected consumers -- if it were easy to identify everyone who received a cancellation note, it'd be easier to make sure they've successfully transferred to a new plan at a good price.
Of course, that's not at all what the RNC wants to do. The point, rather, is to build the database so as to make attacks on the Affordable Care Act easier, not to help those whose names may appear in the database.
Regardless, the RNC may be disappointed with the results of the project. For one thing, many of the people whose previous, substandard plans were eliminated are thrilled with the change. For another, many of these same folks would have no interest in going backwards by seeing the law repealed.
But perhaps most important of all is the fact that the database would only include a tiny percentage of the population.
If the dispute between Congress and the CIA was simmering last week, it bubbled over this morning.
At issue is a completed Senate investigation into the CIA's interrogation policies, included as part of a lengthy, still-classified report on Bush/Cheney-era abuses. Senate staffers have accused the CIA of spying on them, while the CIA has said Senate staffers were responsible for a security breach, which the agency says it pursued appropriately.
Today, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who hasn't said much about the controversy publicly, addressed the matter in a big way.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein has accused the CIA of violating the law and the Constitution of the United States by interfering in a committee investigation into Bush-era torture of terror suspects.
Feinstein accused the CIA of removing documents provided to the committee through a special, segregated network set up by the agency for the committee to pursue its investigation. Among the documents removed was an internal review of CIA interrogation techniques conducted by then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, which corroborated committee findings critical of the agency's interrogation program.
"The CIA just went and searched the committee's computers," Feinstein said on the Senate floor.
And to put it mildly, that's a serious allegation. As Adam Serwer suggested, this is arguably the most contentious -- and most important -- dispute between Congress and the CIA since the activities that led to the Church Committee nearly four decades ago.
On Fox News last night, Bill O'Reilly struggled with a question he apparently finds confusing: why aren't major news organizations covering the IRS "scandal" to his satisfaction. Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS' tax exempt division, took the Fifth last week, but most of the media seemed indifferent.
O'Reilly thinks he knows why: journalists are covering for President Obama. In fact, he asked guest Bernie Goldberg, "He's their guy because he's a liberal, African-American, is that why he's their guy?"
"Yeah," Goldberg replied. "Again, I know these things sound simple -- and to some people maybe too simple -- but yes, that's the reason. You know, when Barack Obama was elected there were stories before he came out in the first time he ran in 2008 that said if he doesn't win, it's because of racism in America. I mean, there were stories in legitimate publications about that. He is their guy. He's young, he's cool, he's black, and he's liberal. That's it."
That's one possible explanation. But in the interest of giving O'Reilly and Goldberg something else to consider, there's a more plausible, reality-based reason the media has lost interest in this scandal: there is no scandal.
As we've discussed on more than a few occasions, the story has already been debunked. Congress has looked into the allegations and found nothing. The FBI has looked into the allegations and found nothing. Investigative journalists have looked into the allegations and found nothing. The story was discredited months ago -- which helps explain why coverage dried up.
But let's not forget that there were a few weeks in May in which the media was obsessed with the IRS "scandal," treating it not only a legitimate story, but also as a genuine crisis for the Obama White House. But when information came out that disproved the allegations, news outlets lost interest, and generally didn't even bother to tell the public that the "controversy" was a mirage from the outset.
And this, in turn, raises a related question for O'Reilly and Goldberg.