Last night we heard from Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who feels that the votes of 70% of her constituents to legalize marijuana should be honored despite the objections of some Republican members of Congress who technically have authority over the District. To Mayor Bowser, the votes of her constituents are not just a ...
* The Senate easily approved a clean bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security. The House responded with Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) plan for a three-week extension, but House Republicans ignored their ostensible leader and killed Boehner's bill.
* With fewer than seven hours remaining before the DHS shutdown, it looks like the House is confronted with two options: the Senate bill or nothing.
* Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) with some words of wisdom for his fellow Republicans in Congress: "Hopefully we're gonna end the attaching of bulls**t to essential items of the government." Hopefully, indeed.
* The suspected gunman appears to have killed himself: "A gunman killed seven people in a door-to-door shooting spree across the rural Missouri community of Tyrone before turning his weapon on himself, police said Friday. A ninth person at a home searched during the investigation was also found dead, but apparently of natural causes."
* Ukraine: "International monitors said Friday the conflict in Ukraine was at a "crossroads" as further losses among government forces rattled a two-week-old truce just as it seemed to be gaining traction."
* Financial regulatory reform works: "Global regulators have issued dozens of rules aimed at making the biggest banks safer. That's leading to another result some wanted: making them shrink."
* Someone apparently wants attention again: "North Korea vowed to wage a 'merciless, sacred war' against the United States on Thursday, days before the launch of annual joint South Korea-US military exercises that have incensed Pyongyang."
"I believe it's the parents' decision whether to immunize or not. And so I'm looking at [my] wife -- most of our children, we didn't immunize. They're healthy. Of course, home schooling, we didn't have to get the mandatory immunization."
Today, the Republican congressman decided to follow up with a statement intended to clarify his beliefs.
"My family's choices surrounding healthcare have been misinterpreted as a statement against immunization. I believe it is a parent's right and responsibility to make all healthcare choices affecting their family. The advancements of healthcare science throughout our history have saved countless lives around the world, and as a member of Congress, I fully support our scientific community."
The fact that Loudermilk followed up with a general endorsement of science is a good thing, I suppose, but the clarification doesn't entirely help.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is clearly aware of the fact that many of the Republican presidential candidates are current or former governors. But the Florida senator believes he would have an important advantage over his GOP rivals.
"The next president of the United States needs to be someone that has a clear view of what's happening in the world, a clear strategic vision of America's role in it and a clear practical plan for how to engage America in global affairs," Rubio said. He added that for governors running for the White House, international affairs will be "a challenge, at least initially, because they don't deal with foreign policy on a daily basis."
On the surface, that's not a bad pitch. Indeed, presidential candidates from the Senate have made similar arguments against governors for many years. But listening to Rubio's remarks this morning at CPAC, the trouble is that his own views on foreign policy need quite a bit of work.
"ISIS is a radical Sunni Islamic group. They need to be defeated on the ground by a Sunni military force with air support from the United States," Rubio said.
"Put together a coalition of armed regional governments to confront [ISIS] on the ground with U.S. special forces support, logistical support, intelligence support and the most devastating air support possible," he added, "and you will wipe ISIS out."
Rubio's remarks solicited applause from the mostly college-aged audience, as did the senator's claim that "the reason Obama hasn't put in place a military strategy to defeat ISIS is because he doesn't want to upset Iran," during sensitive negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.
Given Rubio's interest in the issue, and the months of research and preparation he's completed, I'm genuinely surprised at how bizarre this is.
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 a tragic development, Missouri's State Auditor, 54-year-old Tom Schweich, died yesterday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Schweich was widely seen as a top contender in Missouri's gubernatorial race next year.
* Asked yesterday for his views on net neutrality, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) punted, saying only, "I think on that ... the guiding principle should be freedom." By all appearances, the governor did not seem to know what net neutrality is.
* Hillary Clinton hasn't officially announced her 2016 plans, but her campaign operation has begun to fill key staffing positions. A former congressional aide, Amanda Renteria, who ran an unsuccessful congressional campaign last year, will reportedly be Clinton's political director.
* It's not just CPAC week for Republicans; the Club For Growth's annual winter conference is also being held this week. Among the likely presidential candidates who'll reportedly appear at the closed-door event: Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Mike Pence, and Gov. Bobby Jindal.
* Just two days after saying he might run for the Senate in 2016, former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) brought some clarity to his plans this morning. "In response to various questions: I will not be running for the U.S. Senate in 2016," Akin said in a statement.
* How much does Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) hate his likely successor, Sen. David Vitter (R)? Asked about their relationship, the governor told a reporter this week, "If you turn [your recorder] off, I'll tell you what I really think about him."
Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), currently wrapping up his first full month as a U.S. congressman, is already well on his way to making a name for himself.
For example, at his first town hall meeting last week, the Georgia Republican fielded a question about vaccinations. Loudermilk, looking at his wife, told his constituents, "Most of our children, we didn't immunize. They're healthy. Of course, home schooling, we didn't have to get the mandatory immunization." Loudermilk, by the way, is the chairman of a House Science subcommittee.
Just as amazing, though, was the Georgia lawmaker saying that some House Republicans had discussed the prospect of Attorney General Eric Holder getting arrested at last months' State of the Union address.
"There was a discussion before the State of the Union of, because of holding Eric Holder in contempt, what role will the House play if he shows up on the House floor for the State of the Union because he's been held in legal contempt of U.S. Congress," Loudermilk said. "And there was a discussion, 'Will the Sergeant-at-Arms arrest him?' But they checked with some of the attorneys and they said some other things were going on."
He didn't specify what those "other things" might be that prevented the arrest of the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
Loudermilk added that he's concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood having "White House access."
At CPAC yesterday, Laura Ingraham asked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) a common question about his presidential ambitions. "Where does social conservatism and Chris Christie live together?" the conservative media figure asked. Ingraham noted there are plenty of "strong social conservatives" in the 2016 field, and asked, "How do you compete?"
"I just stand on my record. I mean, I'm pro-life. I ran as a pro-life candidate in 2009 unapologetically, spoke at the pro-life rally on the steps of the statehouse. The first governor to ever speak at a pro-life rally on the steps of the statehouse in New Jersey, and vetoed Planned Parenthood funding five times out of the New Jersey budget."
Planned Parenthood, of course, has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. In fact, Christie should probably ask President Romney about the political utility of attacking the non-profit health organization*.
But even putting that aside, when Christie says he can appeal to social conservatives by standing on his "record," that's probably more complicated than he'd like to admit. The governor boasted yesterday that he "ran as a pro-life candidate in 2009," but it was necessary to clarify the year because Christie has not always run as a candidate opposed to abortion rights.
For much of the 1990s, Christie was unapologetically pro-choice -- and he used to brag to voters in his early elections about the personal donations he'd made to Planned Parenthood.
Successful presidential candidates have often made good use of a "triangulation" strategy. Different political scientists may offer competing definitions of the phrase, but the basic idea is to exploit public disapproval of both parties by positioning a candidate as something altogether separate -- and better.
Bill Clinton was known for his embrace of triangulation, offering himself as a "third way" between the left and right, though George W. Bush dabbled in this, too. In late 1999, the then-Texas governor said of his own party's budget plan, "I don't think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor." (We were supposed to note the use of "they," instead of "we.")
When both parties are unpopular, this can be a smart and effective tactic. Many voters will gravitate towards national candidates willing to criticize both parties, including their own. And with this in mind, it was interesting yesterday to see Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) try a similar move in his CPAC remarks (thanks to my colleague Nick Tuths for the heads-up).
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) came out swinging against members of his own party Thursday, telling a conference of conservative activists that GOP leaders in Congress had sold out to Democrats on immigration and that presidential contenders should be judged by their willingness to stand up to the party establishment.
"The biggest division we have in the country is not between Republicans and Democrats,'' Mr. Cruz, a likely 2016 presidential contender, told the Conservative Political Action Conference. "It is between career politicians in Washington and the American people."
"If you have a candidate who's stood against Democrats, that's great," the Republican senator said, quickly adding, "When have you been willing to stand up against Republicans? When have you been willing to stand with the people?"
To be sure, this is not, strictly speaking, how triangulation has traditionally been defined -- Cruz isn't putting himself between the two parties.
But it's arguably triangulation with a twist. Instead of rejecting two parties as the extremes, Cruz is saying he opposes what he sees as two moderate parties. The Texas senator doesn't want to be above or between Democrats and Republicans; he wants to be to their right.
On the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) appears to have delivered the most memorable line. Unfortunately for him, that's not a compliment.
As a governor, Walker's portfolio has been light on foreign policy compared to the senators in the race, and he offered little in specifics when asked how he'd confront the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria while generally pledging to protect America from attacks. But he did suggest that his battles with unions over collective bargaining rights might help prepare him for the job.
"If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," he said.
I've seen some on the right argue that Walker wasn't necessarily drawing a moral parallel between unions and ISIS, and as defenses go, it's a fair point.
But what the governor did argue, unambiguously, is that he believes union-busting in Wisconsin prepares him for combating ISIS and global terrorism. And that's plainly ridiculous.
National Review's Jim Geraghty, who isn't exactly a knee-jerk liberal, explained, "That is a terrible response... [T]aking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn't quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups."
Keep in mind, Walker has spoken quite a bit about ISIS and the terror threat in recent months, and he's had plenty of time to formulate his views and his talking points. This wasn't some curveball about whether President Obama is a Christian; this was a question about one of the more pressing issues on the planet.
And yet, once again, the Republican governor seemed wholly unprepared.
Members of Congress routinely look for ways to draw attention to themselves, which occasionally leads to some theatrics and stunts on the House and Senate floors. Yesterday, however, offered one of the more disappointing spectacles we've seen in a long while.
Sen Jim Inhofe (R-OK), a staunch opponent of claims that humans have contributed to climate change, took to the Senate floor Thursday to make his case with an unconventional prop.
"You know what this is?" Inhofe asked on the Senate floor, holding a recently-made snowball. "It's a snowball just from outside here. So it's very, very cold out. Very unseasonable."
"So, Mr. President, catch this," Inhofe added before tossing the snowball to an aide.
Congratulations, America. Yesterday, a kind of snowball fight reached the floor of the institution once known as the world's most deliberative body.
In this case, Inhofe, one of the nation's highest profile climate deniers, believes a snowball found outside during the winter is proof of ... something. As Rachel joked on the show last night, "Obviously, the existence of a snowball in the winter time disproves climate change. Case closed, America. Argument over."
And while much of the public may find Inhofe's antics cringe-worthy, it's probably worse than they realize. Indeed, the context matters: Senate Republicans recently decided that the guy who thinks snow is proof against climate change should be the chairman of the Senate Environment Committee.
In other words, the GOP majority, recently elected by the public, is convinced Mr. Snowball should help oversee Senate policymaking when it comes to the environment.
[Update: This afternoon, Boehner's preferred solution for Homeland Security funding was rejected -- his own members killed his plan. It's part of a familiar of pattern of House Republicans ignoring their ostensible leader.]
As his weekly press conference was getting underway yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), before he starting making odd kissing noises, tried to argue that Democrats are responsible for the Homeland Security mess his party created.
"I just think it's outrageous that Senate Democrats are using Homeland Security funding for blackmail to protect the actions of the president," the Speaker argued.
Boehner shouldn't use words if he doesn't know what they mean; it ends up being embarrassing for him and annoying for everyone else. In this case, Republicans are holding DHS funding hostage and Democrats aren't prepared to pay the ransom. In English, that's not what "blackmail" means.
House Republicans are floating a plan to delay a possible shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security by voting on a short-term measure to keep the agency funded and continue their immigration fight into next month.
GOP House members met behind closed doors late Thursday to plot a plan forward, even as the Senate prepared to approve a "clean" DHS bill not tied to measures that would halt the president's executive actions on immigration.
As recently as Wednesday, the Republican Speaker said the House wasn't prepared to do anything until the Senate acted. So, the GOP Senate leadership prepared its own spending bill, which it would pass today and send to the House to avoid a shutdown.
Last night, Boehner decided to ignore what he'd said the day before, and instead prepared a new plan: kicking the can down the road three weeks, guaranteeing we can all experience this same mess in mid-March.
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