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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.11.14

11/11/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Trade deal: "China and the United States vividly displayed on Tuesday why they are both rivals and partners atop the global economy, announcing an agreement to reduce tariffs for technology products even as they promoted competing free-trade blocs for the Asian region."
 
* Iran: "The West is facing a 'make-or-break' moment to reach a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, Germany's foreign minister said Tuesday after high-level negotiations again failed to reach a breakthrough."
 
* Spencer goes home: "Dr. Craig Spencer, the last remaining U.S. patient with Ebola, was released from Bellevue Hospital in New York City Tuesday with plenty of hugs and congratulations. Spencer, 33, was infected with Ebola while working with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) in Guinea."
 
* A striking statistic this Veterans Day: "For years, Vietnam-era veterans have been the nation's largest group of former military personnel, but a half-century after the start of the U.S. combat mission, that's about to change. As these vets age into their 60s and 70s, they're beginning to make way for the next generation, veterans of the Gulf War era. By next fall, Gulf War vets will outnumber Vietnam vets, 7.3 million to 7.1 million."
 
* St. Louis: "Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced on Tuesday that law enforcement in the St. Louis area were well prepared for possible demonstrations in the wake of any grand jury announcement related to the shooting death of Michael Brown."
 
* What a strange development: "Video footage has emerged of Russian President Vladimir Putin draping a shawl around the shoulders of China's first lady, a move the Asian country's censors were quick to block from the public."
 
* Good choice: "President Barack Obama announced 19 recipients Monday of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, including three civil rights workers killed by the KKK in Mississippi in 1964.... The medal will be awarded on Nov. 24 to the families of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were killed on June 21, 1964, near Philadelphia, Mississippi."
Protesters hold a rally to support "net neutrality" on May 15, 2014 at the FCC in Washington, D.C.

GOP indifference towards net neutrality turns to fierce hostility

11/11/14 04:59PM

It'd be an exaggeration to say Republicans actually liked net neutrality before, but it's fair to say the GOP was generally indifferent towards the policy.
 
But now that President Obama has stepped up on net neutrality in a big way, Republicans have decided they absolutely hate the idea.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted President Obama's call for stricter regulation to enforce open Internet rules on Monday. 
 
Boehner said House Republicans would continue their push to "stop misguided schemes to regulate the Internet."
 
"It's disappointing, but not surprising, that the Obama administration continues to disregard the people's will and push for more mandates on our economy," Boehner said in a statement.
The "people's will"? Look I realize the Speaker isn't a policy guy. Boehner probably doesn't know what his press statements say, and he almost certainly has no idea what net neutrality is.
 
But if the Ohio Republican actually believes there's broad public opposition to protecting Americans' equal access to online content, regardless of the business deals struck by service providers, Boehner's even more lost than I'd feared.
 
Regardless, the partisan lines are suddenly drawn. Congress' GOP leadership now firmly opposes net neutrality. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) condemned the idea, and soon after, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wants everyone to know he hates it, too. Fox News soon followed.
 
Raise your hand if you sincerely believe these folks actually understand the policy.
Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback talks to supporters during a campaign event on Nov. 1, 2014, in Topeka, Kan.

Brownback's economic failures start to look even worse

11/11/14 04:04PM

It's been quite a while since Gov. Sam Brownback (R) appeared on msnbc to talk about his economic plan, which cut taxes far beyond what his state could afford. "We'll see how it works," the Republican governor said. "We'll have a real-live experiment."
 
As Kansas' Associated Press reports, the experiment continues to fail (thanks to my colleague Robert Lyon for the heads-up).
A new Kansas revenue forecast says the state will face a $279 million budget shortfall by July and an even bigger gap to close in the year after that. [...]
 
The state officials and university economists also issued the first projections for the fiscal years beginning in July 2015 and 2016. They said revenues would be $5.8 billion in the next fiscal year, then just shy of $5.9 billion. Officials said after closing a $279 million gap in the current budget, the state still would have another $436 million shortfall by July 2016.
By any fair measurement, this is a state facing a genuine crisis of its own making.
 
And really, the measurements keep piling up. As we talked about last week, after promising great results from Brownback's "experiment," Kansas' economy is falling short on every possible metric, growth to job creation to revenue. And because the state's finances are in shambles, Kansas' bond rating was downgraded, and then downgraded again.
 
Given the latest data, another downgrade would hardly come as a surprise.
 
I realize Brownback has an "R" after his name, but the fact that Kansans actually re-elected this guy, despite the option of a credible and experienced challenger, and despite the disaster of his signature issue, is kind of amazing.
"Obamacare"  supporter Margot Smith (L) of California pleads her case with legislation opponents Judy Burel (2nd R) and Janis Haddon, both of Georgia, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012.

Health care fight pits GOP against its private-sector allies

11/11/14 12:43PM

Ask a congressional Republican why they're still eager to destroy the Affordable Care Act, and you're likely to hear a response about the economy. "Obamacare," GOP lawmakers like to argue, "is a wet blanket imposed upon job creators."
 
There is, of course, ample evidence to the contrary. Not only is there literally nothing to suggest the ACA undermines job growth, but the more the law is implemented, the stronger the job market becomes. How do Republicans explain this? Put simply, they can't.
 
But even putting economic reality aside, there's the small matter of what business leaders themselves have to say on the subject. To be sure, much of Corporate America and its lobbyists are thrilled to have a Republican-controlled Congress, but if GOP leaders assume private-sector leaders are prepared to join an "anti-Obamacare" crusade, Republicans are going to be disappointed.
While many of the more conservative Republicans elected on Tuesday made their opposition to the Affordable Care Act a touchstone of their campaigns, there is much less appetite on the part of business leaders for wholesale changes to the health care law.
 
For one thing, many of the insurance exchanges are finally working well, and businesses have adapted to the new landscape. Even more important, added demand from the newly insured is likely to increase profits in sectors like hospitals, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
 
"Anything regarding the Affordable Care Act is going to be a stretch," said John K. Lynch, regional chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank.
This was published the day after the election, before the U.S. Supreme Court announced it might gut the federal law by scrapping insurance subsidies to millions of Americans who enrolled through healthcare.gov.
 
What's brewing, in other words, is a situation in which the private sector wants the ACA to continue, and big business' ostensibly allies -- Republicans in Congress and perhaps even Republicans on the Supreme Court -- want something altogether different.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.11.14

11/11/14 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 Alaska's unresolved U.S. Senate race, Sen. Mark Begich (D) is currently behind by 8,149 votes, but "at least 50,000 ballots remain to be counted." That's a lot.
 
* In Arizona's unresolved U.S. House race, Martha McSally's (R) lead over Rep. Ron Barber (D) shrunk to 341 votes yesterday, as ballots continue to be counted.
 
* On a related note, McSally's campaign is trying to "stop the ballot counting in Democratic-leaning precincts of Pima County," but the Republican effort was rejected yesterday by an Arizona judge.
 
* Mary Burke (D) came up short against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) last week and she doesn't expect to seek statewide office again. "I think I just don't really fit the mold," she said.
 
* Despite some rumors about a possible retirement, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) of Georgia has decided to seek a third term.
John Kitzhaber

'It was not the Republicans' night' ... in Oregon

11/11/14 11:20AM

The Republicans' victories last week were unambiguous. The GOP won big in every part of the country, up and down the ballot. There were some isolated progressive success stories, but not many.
 
And then, there's Oregon. This report from the Oregonian, published the day after the elections, helps capture the state's results, which stand out as quite unique given the success Republicans had nationwide.
Oregon Democrats, especially in the Senate, virtually ran the table Tuesday night, clearing the way for an ambitious agenda heavy on environmental and income-equality issues in the 2015 legislative session.
 
With one race still too close to call, Democrats surprised most analysts by pushing their majority in the Senate to at least 17-to-12.
As it turns out, Oregon Dems expanded their majority in the state Senate to an 18-12 majority, and at the same time, added to their majority in the state House, where Democrats now have a 35-25 majority.
 
Also last week, Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) was re-elected to an unprecedented fourth term, while Sen. Jeff Merkley (D), whom Republicans saw as potentially vulnerable, won by nearly 19 points.
 
And for good measure, Oregon voters endorsed marijuana legalization, too.
 
Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University, told the Oregonian, "It was not the Republicans' night."
 
Clearly not, though what makes this so interesting is that it most certainly was the Republicans' night nearly everywhere else.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The next phase in the war on science

11/11/14 10:47AM

For supporters of modern science, the prevailing political winds have to be discouraging. For example, congressional Republicans not only reject climate science en masse, but each of the incoming GOP senators are climate deniers.
 
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) likes to mock NIH research as a punch-line. Republicans spent weeks balking at the science of the Ebola virus. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) doesn't want to say whether he believes in evolution -- and he was a biology major. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is poised to take over the Senate panel on science, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) will chair the Senate Environment Committee.
 
It's been several years since my friend Chris Mooney wrote a terrific book called, "The Republican War on Science," and I'm starting to think it may need a sequel. Michael Hiltzik reported yesterday:
Nothing is easier, if you're a political philistine playing to an audience of anti-intellectual rubes, than to ridicule scientific research projects by caricature.
 
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who frighteningly enough is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, appears bent on polishing this methodology to a lustrous glow. As detailed in a thoroughly unnerving report by Science's Jeff Mervis, Smith has his staffers compiling a spreadsheet of National Science Foundation grants vulnerable to being lampooned as, in Mervis' words, "silly, obvious, or of low priority to society."
Not surprisingly, officials at the National Science Foundation and the Association of American Universities aren't pleased and have begun pushing back. They warned yesterday that the inquiry pushed by Smith and his colleagues "is having a destructive effect on NSF and on the merit review process that is designed to fund the best research and to remove those decisions from the political process."
 
Republicans spent a year responding to questions about the climate crisis by saying, "I'm not a scientist." But when it comes to evaluating the validity of research, suddenly they are scientists?
Senator Ted Cruz walks to a vote on Capitol Hill October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Cruz, Lee push for delay in A.G. confirmation process

11/11/14 10:08AM

It's been several days since the White House announced U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch is President Obama's choice to serve as Attorney General, and so far, the administration's critics just haven't had much to say about her. The bigger fight seems to be about the calendar, not the nominee's qualifications.
 
It's possible, of course, that Lynch's detractors plan to push areas of potential controversy once the confirmation process begins in earnest, but so far, the right's one attempted knock at her background didn't go well. By all indications, she remains well positioned to succeed Eric Holder.
 
What Republicans are eager to talk about, however, is when that might happen.
Top Republicans want Loretta Lynch's nomination to be attorney general be delayed until they are in charge of the Senate -- and are insisting that she divulge whether she supports the president's plan to act without Congress on a major immigration amnesty.
 
Soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky issued a statement Friday night saying her nomination should be considered "in the new Congress," and Saturday, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah also pushed for a delay.
"President Obama's Attorney General nominee deserves fair and full consideration of the United States Senate, which is precisely why she should not be confirmed in the lame duck session of Congress by senators who just lost their seats and are no longer accountable to the voters," the far-right senator said.
 
On Twitter, Cruz added, "Democrat senators who just lost their seats shouldn't confirm new Attorney General."
 
It's not a good argument. In 2006, senators confirmed a new Defense Secretary -- with bipartisan support, no less -- during a lame-duck session. In 1998, Republicans were comfortable impeaching a president during a lame-duck session, and some lawmakers who'd just lost their seats cast their votes. So why delay Lynch just for the sake of delay?
 
Apparently because Cruz and Lee oppose lame-duck sessions on a conceptual level.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton campaigns for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) on Nov. 1, 2014 in New Orleans, La.

Rand Paul broaches the subject of Hillary Clinton's age

11/11/14 09:27AM

For reasons that should be obvious, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) seems a little preoccupied with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lately. Last week, Republicans scored big election victories on Tuesday, and by Wednesday morning, the Kentucky senator was running around calling the results "a repudiation of Hillary Clinton."
 
Yesterday, he went just a little further.
Is Hillary Clinton too old to be president? He won't say it outright, but that's the question Sen. Rand Paul is getting at.
 
"It's a very taxing undertaking to go through. It's a rigorous physical ordeal, I think, to be able to campaign for the presidency," the likely Republican presidential candidate told Politico Monday.
Politico added that in context, the senator was "none too subtly raising the issue of her age."
 
Asked about possibly clarifying the comments, a Paul spokesperson told BuzzFeed, "Nothing to add here." 
 
At a certain level, it's hard for even Clinton's most ardent supporters to get too worked up about stuff like this. It's a certainty that Hillary Clinton has heard more insulting comments than these, and Rand Paul's willingness to throw verbal jabs in her direction is only going intensify as the process unfolds.
 
For that matter, the chatter itself is inevitable. Reagan, at age 69, faced questions about his age in 1980, as did John McCain in 2008 at age 72 and Bob Dole in 1996 at age 73. Clinton is 67 now, she'll be 69 in 2016, and if she runs she'll have to talk about this. I rather doubt this will be a problem for a possible Clinton campaign, but we'll find out soon enough.
 
What's irksome, though, is the fact the chiding is coming from Rand Paul, of all people, who probably hasn't thought this one through.
 In this photo taken Friday, October 11, 2013, Doug Bearden, Jonathan Branyon and Christine Reno, from left, wave flags and hold an "Impeach Obama" sign

GOP congressman sees Obama's impeachment as 'a possibility'

11/11/14 08:36AM

Over the summer, a wide variety of Republicans talked up the idea of impeaching President Obama -- their reasons were never altogether clear -- prompting a series of complaints from Beltway pundits. Of course, commentators weren't irritated with GOP extremism; pundits complained about Democrats using Republican rhetoric for fundraising and grassroots activism.
 
It created an odd dynamic: the more the right would push the idea of impeachment, the more the media said Democrats should ignore the issue.
 
In time, Republican leaders convinced their brethren to quiet down, though in late August, Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) told his constituents that impeachment proponents would just have to be patient. Republicans should wait until after the November elections, he said, to "proceed on that question."
 
Well, the November elections are effectively over. Yesterday, Andrew Kaczynski reported:
A Republican congressman says impeachment would be on the table if President Obama acts unilaterally on immigration by taking executive action to slow deportations.
 
"Well impeachment is indicting in the House and that's a possibility," said Texas Rep. Joe Barton on NewsMaxTV's America's Forum. "But you still have to convict in the Senate and that takes a two-thirds vote. But impeachment would be a consideration, yes sir."
In case it's not obvious, there's literally nothing to suggest executive actions on immigration policy are illegal, impermissible, or grounds for impeachment. Indeed, Obama wouldn't even be the first president in modern times to shape immigration policies through executive actions.
 
But Barton's willingness to make comments like these are a reminder that some Republicans haven't forgotten about the tactic -- and those who assumed the idea was just some Democratic fundraising stunt were mistaken.
 
What's more, let's not forget that the post-election impeachment chatter isn't limited to Barton.
A nurse and a doctor demonstrate to health care professionals how to properly put on protective medical gear when working with someone infected with the ebola virus on Oct. 21, 2014 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

Number of U.S. Ebola patients returns to zero

11/11/14 08:01AM

It was just a couple of weeks ago that the Ebola virus was one of the nation's top political issues -- that sentence still seems bizarre on a conceptual level -- with Republicans eagerly exploiting public anxiety to advance their political ambitions.
 
But no matter how great the fears, it's hard not to feel encouraged by the recent results. Suzy Khimm reported last night:
New York City doctor Craig Spencer has been declared Ebola-free and will be released from a New York City hospital on Tuesday morning, leaving U.S. hospitals free of patients with the deadly disease.
 
New York City's health department said in a statement that Spencer was free of the Ebola virus and "poses no public health risk," warranting his discharge.
NBC News' report added, "The U.S. is now free of known Ebola cases." That's not to say the threat is over or that the number of domestic cases will remain at zero indefinitely, but Americans can nevertheless feel good about where things stand.
 
A grand total of two people were infected on U.S. soil and they're now both healthy and out of the hospital. Dr. Spencer was the only remaining patient -- he contracted the virus while treating patients in West Africa -- and he's reportedly being discharged from the hospital today.
 
All of this was accomplished without a congressionally imposed travel ban, new border security measures with Mexico, or a series of tents in New Jersey.
 
Indeed, it's amazing to pause for a moment to contrast the partisan hyperventilating we heard very recently about Ebola becoming "Obama's Katrina" and an example of governmental "incompetence." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), true to form, started pushing conspiracy theories. Rep Peter King (R-N.Y.) suggested the public should no longer trust public-health officials.
 
It was just over a week ago that Sen.-elect Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) went so far as to argue that President Obama "hasn't demonstrated" that he even cares whether or not Americans get Ebola.
 
Some of the ugliest fear-mongering about the virus came from right-wing Senate candidates -- Ernst, North Carolina's Thom Tillis, Arkansas' Tom Cotton, et al -- who actually won their races.
 
Maybe it's time for a little accountability?

It's all about ballots and other headlines

11/11/14 07:50AM

The GOP plan for Loretta Lynch. (Politico)

Alaska to begin counting nearly 50,000 ballots today in its unsettled Senate and Governor's races. (AP)

Arizona ballot measure allowing nullification of federal laws has passed. (Arizona Republic).

Last U.S. Ebola patient to leave the hospital today. (NBC News)

Glenn Beck reveals he's been hiding a mysterious illness. (Washington Post)

Army contract employee quit after admitting PhD fraud that was not caught when she was vetted. (AP)

92-year-old WWII vet fought 'Don't Ask Don't Tell.' (AP)

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