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Image: U.S. flag flies at half-staff on the Capitol dome in memory of former Senator Howard Baker in Washington

Whip Count: Calling Congress back to vote on ISIS

09/29/14 06:53PM

In an effort to keep track of whether Congress is going to vote and debate the issue of military force in Iraq and Syria, we have started a new* public whip count. We are tracking the members of Congress who have issued statements, or said publicly that not only must Congress vote on an authorization for the use of U.S. military force in Iraq and Syria but that Congress must come back from vacation to vote on that authorization now.

Below is our running tally so far. If you click on the link on each senator or representative’s name it will take you to the source of their remarks that earned them a place on this list.

We hope that you can help us keep our running tally up-to-date. If your member of Congress wants to come back and vote on this, please let us know. Keep us posted!

(*Before the Congressional recess, this was our running tally.)

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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.29.14

09/29/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* An extraordinary scene in Hong Kong: "A wave of protest in Hong Kong further engulfed the city on Monday as thousands of residents defied a government call to abandon street blockades, students boycotted classes and the city's influential bar association added its condemnation of a police crackdown on protesters."
 
* Looking ahead: "China's Communist Party has ample experience extinguishing unrest.... But as he faces massive street demonstrations in Hong Kong pressing for more democracy in the territory, the toolbox of President Xi Jinping of China appears remarkably empty."
 
* For more background on the clashes in Hong Kong, I found Max Fisher's explainer very helpful.
 
* Everything about this story keeps getting worse: "The man who jumped the White House fence this month and sprinted through the front door made it much farther into the building than previously known, overpowering one Secret Service officer and running through much of the main floor, according to three people familiar with the incident."
 
* Syria: "The Pentagon said on Saturday that it had conducted its first strikes against Islamic State targets in a besieged Kurdish area of Syria along the Turkish border, destroying two armored vehicles in an area that has been the subject of a weeklong onslaught by the Islamic State."
 
* Casualties: "Eleven air strikes targeted ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq, the U.S. military said Monday -- adding that it had no evidence so far of civilian casualties. 'In Syria, one air strike near Dayr ar Zawr destroyed one [ISIS] armed vehicle while another destroyed an [ISIS] anti-aircraft artillery transport vehicle,' US Central Command said in a statement."
 
* Ferguson: "Police in Ferguson, Mo., say they are searching for a suspect who allegedly shot a police officer in the arm late Saturday evening. The shooting occurred in the 1000 block of Smith Avenue not far from the Ferguson Community Center, according to a press release from police."
 
* Yes means yes: "Students at California universities will all be held to the same standard when it comes to sexual assault and consent, after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a groundbreaking piece of legislation Sunday. The new law will require all schools that receive state funding to adopt an 'affirmative consent' standard in their sexual assault policies. This standard, also sometimes called 'yes means yes,' requires clear and ongoing consent, rather than just an absence of resistance."
Voting stickers are seen at the Ohio Union during the U.S. presidential election at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio November 6, 2012.

Supreme Court blocks Ohio early voting on eve of balloting

09/29/14 04:50PM

For voting-rights advocates in Ohio, everything looked like it was going well. A few weeks ago, a federal district court reversed Republican-imposed voting restrictions in the Buckeye State, restoring early-voting opportunities. Last week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in a unanimous order, clearing the way for Ohio voters to cast early ballots if they choose.
 
Voting was all set to begin in Ohio -- literally tomorrow morning -- right up until the Supreme Court intervened this afternoon. Lyle Denniston reported:
With just sixteen hours before polling stations open in Ohio, the Supreme Court on Monday afternoon blocked voters from beginning tomorrow to cast their ballots in this year’s general election.  By a vote of five to four, the Justices put on hold a federal judge’s order providing new opportunities for voting before election day, beyond what state leaders wanted.
 
The order will remain in effect until the Court acts on an appeal by state officials. If that is denied, then the order lapses. It is unclear when that scenario will unfold.
Remember, Republican officials in Ohio have been trying to cut early voting, while also making it harder for voters to cast ballots on weekends and during evening hours. These changes prompted a lawsuit from civil-rights proponents, arguing that the GOP-imposed restrictions, approved for no good reason, disproportionately affected low-income and African-American voters -- who, you guessed it, might be more inclined to vote Democratic.
 
The Supreme Court's announcement wasn't on the merits of the case, and there haven't been oral arguments. Rather, this was in response to an emergency appeal from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), who's invested considerable energy in recent years in approving new restrictions on voting.
 
The Supreme Court was divided 5-to-4, with -- wait for it -- Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas siding with Ohio Republicans trying to limit access. These are the same five justices appointed by Republican presidents.
 
So what happens now?
President Barack Obama speaks at the White House in Washington,D.C. on Sept. 26, 2014.

The ISIS 'gaffe' isn't quite what it's cracked up to be

09/29/14 03:23PM

If the White House press briefing today was any indication, much of the media has decided that President Obama has put a new "gaffe" on a tee, inviting critics to swing at it. Are they right? Let's take a closer look.
 
On "60 Minutes," the president covered a fair amount of ground with Steve Kroft, but apparently the most important exchange was about Islamic State militants.
KROFT: How did this get, how did they end up where they are in control of so much territory? Was that a complete surprise to you?
 
OBAMA: Well I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.
 
KROFT: I mean, he didn't say that -- just say that, "We underestimated ISIL." He said, "We overestimated the ability and the will of our allies, the Iraqi army, to fight."
 
OBAMA: That's true. That's absolutely true.
From there, the president added some additional context about political conditions in Iraq, and the interview moved on. To my ear, this hardly stood out as shocking stuff -- and Kroft didn't seem to find it especially noteworthy, either. I think much of the world expected Iraqi security forces to put up a more effective resistance to easily outnumber Islamic State militants, but their recent confrontations didn't go as planned.
 
But that's not quite what the political world heard. First, many news organizations seem stunned by the fact that the president acknowledged out loud that his administration "underestimated" a foreign foe. Second, Fox News and Ron Fournier have decided it's outrageous that the president is "shifting blame."
 
Let's consider these one at a time.

Why a compromise on contraception remains so elusive

09/29/14 01:02PM

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has put himself in a very awkward spot. After flip-flopping on Colorado's proposal on personhood, which would ban abortions and many common forms of birth control, the conservative Republican continues to support federal personhood legislation.
 
Asked to explain himself, Gardner has been reduced to arguing, over and over again, "There is no federal personhood bill." This plainly isn't true -- the congressman is a co-sponsor of the "Life Begins at Conception Act," which his fellow co-sponsors agree is a personhood bill.
 
It's a problem that Gardner supports a radical proposal that would ban popular forms of contraception. It's arguably a bigger problem that Gardner has been caught trying to deceive the public.
 
But making matters slightly worse, social conservatives have decided Gardner's new position -- make birth control available over the counter, without a prescription -- isn't good enough, either. Sophie Novack reported the other day:
Some [in] the Religious Right see the plan as backtracking on conservative ideals, and they worry the ambiguity of the proposal would make pills too easy to access.
 
Eliminating the doctor as a middleman and making birth control easy to obtain could result in its misuse, the critics say. Over-the-counter access to pills that could cause abortions -- intentionally or accidentally -- would be their worst nightmare.
 
"There are several serious health complications with birth control pills," said Jennifer Mason, communications director for Personhood USA. "Some pills could cause abortions; even aside from the moral implications, it's reckless to make abortion and contraception pills available over the counter."
Remember, for Gardner and others in the GOP, this was supposed to be the silver-bullet solution. The idea is, they can overcome all of their proposed restrictions on contraception access by simply pushing for over-the-counter sales. Voila, political crisis resolved.
 
What these Republicans may not have realized is that they're inviting scorn from the right by pretending to move to the left.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.29.14

09/29/14 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 North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, a new CNN poll shows Sen. Kay Hagan (D) leading Thom Tillis (R) by three among likely voters, 46% to 43%. That's roughly in line with most other recent polling in the state.
 
* In Louisiana's U.S. Senate, race, a CNN poll also found Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) leading Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) by three among likely voters, 43% to 40%. Given Louisiana's unusual system, if no candidate gets 50%, Landrieu and Cassidy will run in a head-to-head match-up in a December runoff.
 
* Maine's three-way gubernatorial contest continues to be a nail-biter, with the latest Portland Press Herald poll showing Rep. Mike Michaud (D) narrowly leading incumbent Gov. Paul LePage (R), 41% to 39%. Eliot Cutler, running another independent campaign, is third with 14%, which isn't enough to win, but which is a large enough percentage to affect the outcome.
 
* The Values Voter Summit, arguably the year's largest gathering for the religious right movement, held a presidential straw poll at the end of its gathering. Not surprisingly, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) came out on top with 25% support. Ben Carson was second with 20%, followed by former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) with 12%.
 
* BuzzFeed reported overnight on a Republican opposition researcher for the firm American Rising editing Wikipedia articles of Democratic candidates.
 
* If Greg Orman (I) prevails over Sen. Pat Roberts (R) in Kansas, which party will he caucus with? As of yesterday, the independent still doesn't want to talk about it.
 
* President Obama may not be able to campaign everywhere this season, but Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) is only too pleased to welcome the president to his home-state campaign trail.
Mitch McConnell

McConnell's muddled message on minimum wage

09/29/14 11:31AM

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sat down late last week with "a room full of advertising and cable television types" in Lexington, and he had plenty to say about how great American politics would be if only he led the Senate. The Daily Independent in Ashland, Kentucky, reported Friday on one striking detail in particular.
He promised to restore order to the U.S. Senate, allow votes on legislation he might not support, force President Barack Obama to sign or veto legislation for "a growth agenda," and joked about the expense of running a U.S. Senate campaign. [...]
 
[D]oes that mean he'd allow votes on such things as the minimum wage which Democrats generally support (including Grimes) and which Republicans generally oppose?
 
"Yes," McConnell said.
Well, that's different. Indeed, it's more than different -- it's the exact opposite of what McConnell recently told the Koch brothers and their allies.
 
The Kentucky Republican appeared earlier this summer at a private summit organized by the Kochs, and at the time, McConnell told the crowd that if he's put in charge of the Senate, "we're not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That's all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage."
 
So, which is it? Was McConnell telling the truth to the Koch brothers, when he said the Senate wouldn't vote on raising the minimum wage, or was he telling the truth to the media professionals last week, when he said he would allow the Senate vote on a minimum-wage increase?
Michelle Nunn

Nunn pushes back against Perdue's low blow

09/29/14 10:40AM

Nearly every major campaign at some point faces a classic public-relations dilemma: what do you do when a rival launches a scurrilous and untrue attack? You can respond forcefully, running the risk that you'll bring more attention to the lies, or you can ignore it, running the risk that the lies will go unchallenged and voters might deem them true.
 
In Georgia's competitive U.S. Senate race, Michelle Nunn (D) found herself in this exact situation. Republican David Perdue recently approved a National Republican Senatorial Committee attack ad that accused Nunn of funneling money to terrorists while leading former President George H.W. Bush's Points of Light Foundation. Neil Bush, the former president's son, called the attack "ridiculous" and "shameful," adding that the allegations make his "blood boil."
 
As Benjy Sarlin reported, Nunn is trying to turn Perdue's attack against him, making his dishonesty a campaign issue.
Georgia Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Michelle Nunn is out with a new TV ad in which she directly rebuts her Republican rival David Perdue's claim that she "funded organizations linked to terrorists" while running former President George H.W. Bush's Points of Light Foundation.
 
"That's a terrible lie and an insult to the millions of volunteers I worked with to make a difference," Nunn says in the new ad. "David Perdue's ad has been called the worst in America and President Bush's son called it 'shameful.'"
Nunn's pushback has the benefit of being true. Bush's Points of Light Foundation directed grants to a problematic entity called Islamic Relief Worldwide, but additional research helped show that "the grants referred to funds that eBay sellers donated, not the foundation itself."
 
The usual rules still apply, of course, and Nunn risks bringing attention to ugly falsehoods, but at the same time there may be real value in raising questions about Perdue's character. If Nunn's response succeeds, the question for Georgians to ask themselves is what kind of candidate would launch such an attack, and more to the point, what kind of senator would he be?
In this May 2, 2012 file photo, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., speaks at the Capitol in Denver.

Lamborn thinks he's in the clear following military controversy

09/29/14 10:09AM

Last week, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) went further than most when condemning President Obama: he boasted about urging active-duty U.S. generals to resign, during a war, in order to undermine the Obama administration.
 
Not surprisingly, this raised a few eyebrows, though over the weekend, the far-right congressman, who happens to also sit on the House Armed Services Committee, was taking a no-harm-no-foul attitude. The Colorado Springs' newspaper, The Gazette, reported Saturday:
The campaign spokesman for U.S. Rep Doug Lamborn said Saturday that the congressman has felt "no pressure" regarding his comments calling for generals to resign if they disagreed with White House policy. [...]
 
"No one from leadership has contacted the congressman because there is nothing to contact him about," said Jarred Rego, Lamborn's campaign spokesman.
By way of a defense, the congressman's spokesperson said Lamborn was referring to years-old policy disputes, including sequestration cuts and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
 
Given what Lamborn actually said, this defense seems literally unbelievable.
 
This isn't at all complicated. A voter made some bizarre anti-Obama comments, while urging the congressman to "support the generals and the troops." The congressman replied, "[L]et me reassure you on this. A lot of us are talking to the generals behind the scenes, saying, 'Hey, if you disagree with the policy that the White House has given you, let's have a resignation. You know, let's have a public resignation, and state your protest, and go out in a blaze of glory.'"
 
We're to believe that Lamborn was talking about the 2010 policy on gays in the military and the 2013 sequester? If so, why did the Republican reference present-tense efforts that he says are underway "behind the scenes"?
Republican senatorial candidate State Sen. Joni Ernst, speaks during the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition fall fundraiser on Sept. 27, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Justin Hayworth/AP)

When Senate candidates struggle with the basics

09/29/14 09:23AM

The political world spends a fair amount of time considering the role of low-information voters in an election. But what happens when the line between low-information voters and candidates is blurred?
 
Iowa is home to one of the nation's most competitive U.S. Senate races, and last night, the major party candidates -- Rep. Bruce Braley (D) and state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) -- faced off in a lively televised debate. The Des Moines Register reported on some of the highlights.
[Ernst's] low point was "stubbornly pushing the claim that Obamacare cut Medicare benefits, an argument repeatedly debunked by nonpartisan fact checkers, and her confusion on a question about current 'job-killing' regulations, where she cited cap-and-trade, which is not law," [Kedron Bardwell, an associate professor of political science at Simpson College in Indianola] said.
 
[Dennis Goldford, a Drake University political scientist] said Ernst is "an excellent performer." "She looks right at the camera. She seems to radiate a certain kind of confidence," he said.
 
But Ernst didn't often say anything of substance, Goldford said.
It ultimately comes down to whether or not it matters when candidates for statewide office have no idea what they're talking about.
 
On climate change, for example, the far-right Iowan said, "I don't know the science behind climate change. I can't say one way or another what is the direct impact, whether it's man-made or not."
 
On Social Security, which Ernst wants to privatize out of existence, the Republican said, "Within 20 years, the system will be broke," which isn't even close to resembling reality.
 
On federal regulations, Ernst blamed a federal "cap and trade" law for undermining job creation, despite the fact that there is no federal "cap and trade" law.
 
On contraception, Ernst was asked about her efforts to pass a state law that would have banned in-vitro fertilization and forms of birth control. She responded, by way of a defense, that her bill didn't pass, which hardly counts as a persuasive retort.
 
On the minimum wage, Ernst still doesn't seem to understand that the federal minimum is a floor and that states are free to approve higher levels if they choose.
 
When a U.S. Senate candidate is this confused about basic issues so close to Election Day, it's tempting to think the candidate must be on the verge of a humiliating defeat. Except in Iowa, the evidence points in the opposite direction.

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