Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a roundtable discussion with students and educators at the Kirkwood Community College Jones County Regional Center on April 14, 2015 in Monticello, Iowa.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty

What happened to Hillary’s message?

Where’s the message? Hillary didn’t say anything unique in Iowa yesterday… One recommended message for Hillary via Bloomberg Businessweek – making Washington function better… White House caves to Congress on Iran, but still likely preserves its chances of a final deal… But it flexes its muscles on Cuba… Rubio blasts the White House’s Cuba move… And look who else is thinking about joining the 2016 field – John Kasich.

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** Where’s the message? There was always a risk to Hillary Clinton’s go-small approach to her early campaign – and that was lacking a real message. That lack of a message was on display at her Iowa event yesterday. Yes, she listed her four “fights” – 1) building an economy for tomorrow, 2) strengthening families and communities, 3) fixing America’s political system by getting rid of “unaccountable” money, and 4) protecting the country. And, yes, she struck a more populist tone. “There’s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker,” Clinton said. “And there’s something wrong when hedge-fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses.” But those statements weren’t any different than what you hear from 90% of Democratic candidates running for downballot office. Bottom line: She didn’t say anything unique, which was always going to be the shortcoming of a rollout emphasizing theater over substance/message. We totally get why Clinton decided to go small: She wants to make a new impression and avoid giving any room on the left. Clinton doesn’t want to come across as entitled, presidential, and the same as last time. As Jonathan Martin writes, Hillary “seems determined to prove – perhaps to the point of overcompensation – that she will not repeat the mistakes that plagued her 2008 campaign.” She’s accomplishing that. But she also isn’t saying anything new.  

*** Why it’s so striking: The lack of message is all the more striking because one imagines she has thought about that moment for at least four years, if not eight. And the best she could come up with standard Democratic press release talking points. 

*** One recommended message for Hillary – making Washington function better: As Josh Green writes in his Bloomberg Businessweek piece, Clinton didn’t have “a clear, overarching justification for her candidacy” in 2008, either. But Green sees one for her: make Washington function better. (And Clinton kind of alluded to this in her talk about campaign finance yesterday.) “Clinton has always been called a ‘polarizing’ figure (an increasingly meaningless designation that applies to every national politician, as voters have become more partisan). But she has an underappreciated credential that could be a weapon in the upcoming race: a record of thriving in an acrimonious, Republican-dominated climate like the one we have now,” Green says. “As voters begin contemplating who should become the next president, Clinton can, if she chooses, make the strongest claim that she’s best suited to manage in the deteriorating conditions in Washington.” By the way, Clinton today holds her second – and last – event in Iowa this week, a roundtable discussion on small business in Norwalk at 12:45 pm ET.

*** White House caves to Congress on Iran, but still likely preserves its chances of a final deal: “The White House relented on Tuesday and said President Obama would sign a compromise bill giving Congress a voice on the proposed nuclear accord with Iran as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in rare unanimous agreement, moved the legislation to the full Senate for a vote,” The New York Times writes. While Obama has been a more significant player than anyone (including us) would have thought after last year’s midterms – think Iran, Cuba, immigration – this is what happens to lame-duck presidents: They have less and less control over their own party. But also keep this in mind: With the White House embracing the Corker legislation, it has pretty much preserved its ability to still get its deal with Iran. Why? More from the Times: “As Congress considers any accord on a very short timetable, it would essentially be able to vote on an eventual end to sanctions, and then later take up the issue depending on whether Iran has met its own obligations. But if it rejected the agreement, Mr. Obama could veto that legislation — and it would take only 34 senators to sustain the veto, meaning that Mr. Obama could lose upward of a dozen Democratic senators and still prevail.” In other words, Obama needs 34 Democrats to save the deal. If he can’t get that, then maybe the deal wasn’t worth making.

*** But it flexes its muscles on Cuba: While the White House caved to Congress a bit on Iran, it flexed its muscles on Cuba – by following through with the promise to normalize relations with that country. USA Today: “President Obama told Congress on Tuesday he plans to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, another step in his effort to improve relations with the island after more than 50 years of diplomatic isolation. In a formal notice to Congress, Obama said a State Department review determined that Cuba – added to the terrorism list in 1982 – met the requirements for removal.”

*** Rubio blasts the White House’s Cuba move: Newly minted presidential candidate Marco Rubio was among the first to blast the Obama administration’s decision on Cuba. “Well, the decision made by the White House today is a terrible one, but not surprising unfortunately. Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism. They harbor fugitives of American justice, including someone who killed a police officer in New Jersey over 30 years ago. It’s also the country that’s helping North Korea evade weapons sanctions by the United Nations.” Yet as Rubio portrays himself as the political candidate of the future – see this new announcement video from him saying that “Yesterday is over!” – this statement opens himself up to attacks that he’s still fighting fights of the past, like the Cold War. Indeed, 59% of Americans (including 63% of those ages 18-29) approve of the recent decision to give Cuba diplomatic recognition, according to this month’s MSNBC/Telemundo/Marist poll.

 *** Look who else is thinking about joining the 2016 field – John Kasich: We forgot to include this news from earlier in the week, but it’s still important to note: Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he’s “seriously considering” a presidential run. But here’s the thing: We’ve now reached the stage in the presidential contest where action is GREATER than words. Translation: If you’re going to run and run successfully, you better be taking steps that allow you to do that. Otherwise, if you end up running later than the others, you risk looking like Fred Thompson back in 2007-2008. Kasich needs Jeb Bush (and others) to stumble if he wants a legitimate shot. But does waiting too long for that stumble take you out the game?

OBAMA AGENDA: Caving to Congress on Iran
The latest on Iran, from The New York Times: “The White House relented on Tuesday and said President Obama would sign a compromise bill giving Congress a voice on the proposed nuclear accord with Iran as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in rare unanimous agreement, moved the legislation to the full Senate for a vote.”

Writes the Associated Press: “While the White House and Congress made their way onto the same page with the bill, Obama’s standoff with lawmakers over the Iran nuclear talks is far from over. If a final deal is reached, Obama still retains his right to veto any attempt by Congress to disapprove it. To override a veto, opponents would have to muster a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, meaning some Democrats would have to oppose their president to undermine a deal.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s view on the congressional wrangling: ““We are in talks with the major powers and not with the Congress.”

The president has decided to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

CONGRESS: Senate passes Medicare doc-fix
The Senate has okayed a bill to permanently change the Medicare reimbursement formula.

The leadership intrigue continues, with Sens. Patty Murray and Dick Durbin perhaps getting ready to jostle over the position of Democratic whip. 

Here’s House Speaker John Boehner’s Tax Day message. 

OFF TO THE RACES: Out to prove she’s not making the same mistakes from ‘08
A new Winthrop poll finds that Walker and Bush are leading the pack in South Carolina. 

CLINTON: From The New York Times: ”[W]hat their admirers call grit and critics deem shamelessness can overshadow another essential element of the Clinton school: a willingness to put on the hair shirt of humility to regain power. Just as Mr. Clinton began a comeback with a down-home plea for forgiveness, Mrs. Clinton now seems determined to prove — perhaps to the point of overcompensation — that she will not repeat the mistakes that plagued her 2008 campaign.”

The NYT also reports that Clinton was asked by congressional investigators in December 2012 whether she had used a private email account. She did not reply to their letter.

Kristen Welker reports: Hillary Clinton has tapped three heavyweights to lead the policy team on her campaign in the roles of senior policy advisors - Maya Harris, Ann O’Leary, and Jake Sullivan. 

Here’s our wrap of Clinton’s day yesterday – including her pledge to tackle campaign finance reform.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Clinton knew about Bill de Blasio’s non-endorsement before he appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, and he defended that wait-and-see approach in a news conference yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reports.

BUSH: He said during an appearance in Ohio that he’s “never going to disparage” Marco Rubio, and he declined to criticize Hillary Clinton. 

CHRISTIE: He tried to sell some “hard truths” on social security reform on Tuesday, NBC’s Andrew Rafferty reports.

The Union Leader: “N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s address Tuesday on overhauling Social Security is the first of four major policy speeches he will deliver by late June, when he plans to announce a possible presidential run.”

PATAKI: He’s going up with a paid TV commercial in New Hampshire, and it takes some swings at his GOP rivals for focusing on social issues.

And around the country…

FLORIDA: Roll Call has the latest on the scramble for Rubio’ Senate seat.

NEW JERSEY: The doctor linked to charges against Sen. Bob Menendez has been indicted for Medicare fraud.

Additional reporting by Carrie Dann

Barack Obama, Cuba, Hillary Clinton and Iran

What happened to Hillary's message?