Show StoriesRSS

select from

E.g., 9/18/2014
E.g., 9/18/2014
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., July 10, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

GOP panic sets in over Kansas race

09/11/14 11:32AM

In an election season's closing weeks, pay no attention to what the parties and their campaign committees say about specific races. Rather, pay attention to what they do.
For example, consider what Republicans are up to right now in Kansas.
On the surface, Republicans have reason to be optimistic about winning the Senate majority. They're very likely to flip three blue seats -- South Dakota, Montana, and West Virginia -- and from there, all the GOP has to do is win three more toss-up races for a net gain of six. Pull that off while keeping red seats red and Mitch McConnell becomes the Majority Leader next year.
But if Pat Roberts stumbles in Kansas, which now appears to be a distinct possibility, the plan starts to look pretty shaky. Manu Raju reports on the GOP's political machine "kicking into overdrive."
With polls showing Sen. Pat Roberts in serious trouble against independent Greg Orman, top Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, are leaning on big-ticket donors to fill the long-time Kansas senator's campaign coffers.
Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona are planning to barnstorm the state on Roberts' behalf. And in a bid to boost the senator's sagging poll numbers, the Roberts campaign is planning an ad blitz to cast his long record and seniority in Washington in a more positive light.
Amanda Terkel added this morning that the Roberts campaign also launched robocalls statewide featuring a recorded endorsement from Mitt Romney. The message, according to the local AP, is intended to reach 400,000 Kansans before the election. (Romney won Kansas by 21 points during the last presidential election).
Republican operatives have also begun an intensive opposition-research initiative, hoping to dig up dirt of Greg Orman, Roberts' principal rival.
Asked what the GOP would do to save Roberts, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) replied, "Anything and everything."
In a nutshell, this is what electoral panic looks like.
U.S. House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (C) passes through the Statuary Hall of the Capitol after a vote on the House floor June 11, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

A new Majority Leader tries to find his footing

09/11/14 11:01AM

Today was supposed to be the day. The Republican-led House would pass a stopgap spending measure -- called a "continuing resolution," or "CR" -- that would fund the government until mid-December. At that point, the prospect of a pre-election shutdown would disappear and House members could focus almost exclusively on campaign activities for the next eight weeks.
But yesterday afternoon, plans changed. The vote was delayed, in part because of President Obama's request for additional counter-terrorism resources, and in part because quite a few House Republicans oppose the Export-Import Bank, which is included in the spending bill.
Just how serious is the right about opposing Ex-Im? It depends whom you ask.
The conservative activists who played a key role in sparking the government shutdown last fall are waging a similar battle this year, pushing House Republicans to threaten a standoff over a credit agency that a large majority of Americans haven't heard of or don't care about.
The Club For Growth and Heritage Action each issued a "key vote" on Wednesday calling on lawmakers to vote against the House GOP's continuing resolution to keep the government open past Sept. 30. They took issue with the fact that the bill reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank through the end of June 2015 -- the activists want to shut it down.
In other words, they're pushing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to threaten a government shutdown -- just one month before the midterm election -- unless Democrats agree to close down Ex-Im.
For a refresher on the fairly obscure Export-Import Bank, take a look at our coverage from June. (For even more detail, Ezra's explainer is helpful.)
The result is a fairly significant test for the House Republican leadership team. Its first big test was a border bill, which failed in spectacular fashion in July when new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his team couldn't convince their own Republican allies to support their own party's bill.
Will the second big test go any better? Much of the burden is on McCarthy, who finds himself in an awkward position.
The U.S. Capitol is reflected in water on the morning of June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

With real work to do, Senate GOP tries to run out the clock

09/11/14 10:10AM

Senate Democrats first tried to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act in the 111th Congress, but they couldn't overcome a Republican filibuster. The Democratic majority tried again in the 112th Congress, but the outcome was the same.
Senate Dems tried again in April, and the Paycheck Fairness Act had more than enough votes to pass, but once more, Republicans killed it. Indeed, the measure garnered exactly zero GOP votes.
With this in mind, yesterday's developments were, at least on the surface, unexpected.
Senate Republicans decided not to block the advancement of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Democrats needed 60 votes to advance the legislation procedurally; the tally was 73-25 on Wednesday.
In all, 19 Republicans voted to end the filibuster and allow a debate on the legislation, which is 19 more GOP votes than the Paycheck Fairness Act has ever received.
It came the same week that 25 Senate Republicans joined with the Democratic majority to advance a constitutional amendment on campaign finance.
The optimist's view might be that the combination of Democratic persistence, public attitudes, and policy merits eventually wore the GOP down. A cynic's view might be that Republicans are having an election-season epiphany, hoping to appear more moderate 54 days before the election.
But as it turns out, both of these explanations are wrong.
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) talks to reporters after a closed door briefing June 4, 2014.

McCain joins far-right chorus on ISIS border threat

09/11/14 09:26AM

There can be no doubt that ISIS's brutal murder of two journalists had a deep impact on how Americans perceive the terrorist threat. For years, polls showed a war-weary nation reluctant to launch new military offenses in the Middle East, but the recent beheadings abroad changed the calculus on the public's appetite for intervention.
But it's also true that many voices in the U.S. have exploited the political value of fear.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) argued a few weeks ago that there's "a very real possibility" that ISIS terrorists may have entered the United States through the southern border with Mexico. Soon after, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) added that the U.S. border is "porous," and officials must "secure our own borders" to prevent "ISIS infiltration." This week, former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), now running in New Hampshire, echoed Perry's original claim, telling Fox News that ISIS terrorists might "actually [be] coming through the border right now."
Last night on CNN, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined the chorus.
ANDERSON COOPER: Senator McCain, the president also said that we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland. Americans who hear those words might wonder, if that is really the case, then why do we need to take action against ISIS? To that you say what?
JOHN MCCAIN: I say that today, we had a hearing, and there was testimony from the counterterrorism people and the Department of Homeland Security. There is Twitter traffic right now and Facebook traffic, where they are urging attacks on the United States of America. And there is a great concern that our southern border and our northern border is porous and that they will be coming across.
A few hours earlier on Twitter, McCain encouraged his followers to read a piece on a far-right website, which reported that the U.S. officials have "confirmed" that Islamic State terrorists are "planning" to infiltrate the United States through our southern border.
Is it any wonder so many Americans are afraid?
Perhaps now would be a good time to pause for a deep breath -- and a reality check.

Jobless claims rise unexpectedly around Labor Day

09/11/14 08:38AM

When it comes to initial unemployment claims, many expected September to build on the progress we saw in August. The data from the Labor Department, however, wasn't quite what we were hoping for.
The number of people who applied for jobless benefits rose 11,000 to 315,000 in the week that ended Sept. 6, hitting the highest level since late June, according to government data released Thursday. Despite that rise, weekly claims remained near pre-recession levels, signaling a slow pace of layoffs. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to tick down to 301,000 in the most recent weekly data from an originally reported 302,000 for the prior period. [...]
The four-week average of new claims, a trend that's less volatile than weekly changes, rose 750 to 304,000, the government reported.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been below 330,000 in 23 of the last 26 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in four of the last eight weeks.)

Obama eyes terrorist targets 'wherever they are,' including Syria

09/11/14 08:00AM

If nothing else, the political world's conversation can now shift. Instead of handwringing about whether President Obama has a strategy to confront Islamic State, the discussion can now turn to considering the White House plan on its merits.
In a primetime address, the president spelled out a fairly broad objective -- to "degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy" -- and presented the four parts of his larger plan.
1. "First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists."
2, "Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground."
3. "Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks."
4. "Fourth, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization."
Ordinarily, in a speech like this, it might seem as if Americans can now expect a new war -- or something akin to war -- to get underway, with a "shock and awe" moment poised to unfold. But these are a different set of circumstances -- the truth is, the "systematic campaign of airstrikes" began over a month ago. For that matter, we've also been taking steps to prevent attacks, while at the same time, providing humanitarian assistance to victims.
So what's different? What's clearly new is the expanded scope of the offensive, with Obama saying for the first time last night that ISIS targets in Syria are now part of his plan. The administration also seems eager to vastly bolster support to opposition forces, a move that carries its own dramatic risks.
Just as important was the president's reference to "a broad coalition of partners," with some significant developments on this front overnight.

The Hill and ISIS and other headlines

09/11/14 07:53AM

House GOP to hash out ISIS response today. (The Hill)

Saudi Arabia will grant U.S. request for an anti-ISIS training program. (NY Times)

Missouri legislature overrides veto to enact a 72-hour waiting period for abortions. (AP) They also expand gun rights. (AP)

Former FBI head to investigate the Ray Rice incident for the NFL. (NY Times)

South Carolina Speaker indicted for misusing campaign funds. (The State)

Mississippi election comes down to one voter's ID. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger)

At 9/11 museum, new artifacts tell personal stories. (AP)

read more

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 9.10.14

09/10/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* U.S. policy in Syria: "Senate Democratic leaders on Wednesday prepared legislation to expressly authorize the United States military to train Syrian rebels to help battle the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and House Republicans appeared ready to follow their lead."
* On a related note: "The House will postpone its scheduled Thursday vote on a continuing resolution to fund the government past Sept. 30. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., made the announcement during the afternoon vote series on Wednesday, saying the delay was needed to give members time to reach an agreement on whether to include Obama administration-requested language to aid Syrian rebels."
* Progress in Ukraine: "President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine said on Wednesday that the bulk of Russian forces had withdrawn from Ukrainian territory, a move that he said heightened the chances for a lasting cease-fire in the southeast."
* Iraq: "Secretary of State John Kerry arrived here on Wednesday for top-level talks to forge a coalition against the Sunni militants who have seized control of much of northern and western Iraq and to show support for Iraq's new government."
* Dick Cheney just keeps talking, hoping someone will find him credible.
* Israel apparently hopes to preempt allegations of possible war crimes in Gaza: "Israel's Military Advocate General Corps has ordered criminal investigations into five incidents of possible misconduct on the part of Israeli forces in the 50-day Gaza war, a senior Israeli military official said on Wednesday."
* A month later in Ferguson, the anguish felt by Michael Brown's family has not eased.
* It looks like Ex-Im supporters are likely to get their way: "Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) on Wednesday said he intends to support a stopgap bill funding the government despite the inclusion of a provision reauthorizing the Export-Import bank."
* Detroit: "A federal judge agreed on Wednesday to delay Detroit's bankruptcy trial to give the city and its fiercest opponent a chance to finish a major settlement that could speed an end to the city's court fight over its future."
* Jose Padilla's sentencing: "U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke cut Padilla a break, of sorts, giving the one-time "enemy combatant" a new 21-year sentence rather than the 30-year term sought by federal prosecutors. While tacking on an additional 3 1/2 years to his original sentence, Cooke acknowledged Padilla's mistreatment in a South Carolina Naval brig where he was held after his arrest in 2002."
A vehicle and surrounding buildings smoldering after they were set on fire inside the US mission compound in Benghazi, September 11, 2012.

The 'threat' shouldn't be overgeneralized

09/10/14 05:01PM

During his first presidential campaign, Mitt Romney was asked about whether he'd try to hunt down Osama bin Laden, who, by that point, the Bush/Cheney administration had largely given up on. Romney said he intended to "get him," but quickly added that he didn't want to "buy into the Democratic pitch that this is all about one person."
He said, "This is about Shi'a and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort."
It was, even at the time, an odd thing to say. Romney never got around to explaining what "this" referred to, and according to his vision, Hezbollah, Hamas, al Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood were all effectively the same thing. They're not.
This came to mind because the temptation to group unrelated people in the Middle East together apparently hasn't gone away.
The rising threat from Islamic extremists has set the stage for Republicans to make a splash with the launch of their Benghazi investigation next week. [...]
"ISIS has now woken up the American people to the fact that the threat is real, and Benghazi is certainly symptomatic of that," said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who is not a member of the Benghazi panel, in an interview.
Really? Republicans -- including the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee -- are now trying to connect ISIS and Benghazi, just because?

This just isn't a responsible approach.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about political donations and freedom of speech in the Hart Senate Office Building June 3, 2014 in Washington, DC.

McConnell's muddled message on ISIS, authorization

09/10/14 03:48PM

As President Obama readies a national address on his strategy towards ISIS, congressional opinions are all over the place. Many members are convinced the White House will need congressional approval for military intervention; others insist the president already has the authority he needs to act.
Some want a spirited debate, others are effectively telling administration officials, "Just bomb the place and tell us about it later."
And then there's Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who's been pretty quiet on the issue of late, and who seems to have come up with an unusual position. For example, here's the first paragraph of a piece in The Hill today.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Tuesday that President Obama should seek approval from Congress for any plan he has for combating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
And here's the fifth paragraph in the same piece.
A Republican leadership aide said McConnell is not necessarily calling for a vote on a new use-of-force resolution.
Oh. So the Republicans' Senate leader believes the president should seek congressional approval, but that doesn't mean McConnell is calling for a vote on extending congressional approval.
Perhaps Obama should seek lawmakers' approval so McConnell can say, "No"?
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie holds his 118th Town Hall meeting with the citizens of the state of New Jersey, April 4, 2014, in Fairfield, N.J.

And then there were eight

09/10/14 02:30PM

In May, New Jersey's debt was downgraded for the sixth time since Gov. Chris Christie (R) took office. It was right around the time the governor scrapped his state pension-reform plan, once considered Christie's "landmark achievement."
Last week, Christie saw downgrade #7, which helped set the stage for today's news.
New Jersey had its credit rating cut one step by Standard & Poor's, handing Chris Christie his eighth downgrade, the most ever for a Garden State governor.
The reduction to A, the sixth-highest level, with a stable outlook follows a Sept. 5 downgrade by Fitch Ratings.... Only Illinois has lower ratings than New Jersey among U.S. states.
In a press statement, S&P analyst John Sugden said, "New Jersey continues to struggle with structural imbalance. The governor's decision to delay pension funding, while providing the necessary tools for cash management and budget control, has significant negative implications for the state's liability profile."
When I noted the other day that Christie has only been in office five years, and he had time to break his own downgrade record, I didn't think it would happen quite this quickly.
I have no idea what the governor will do to explain this once he hits the presidential campaign trail, but it's not hard to imagine his Republican rivals putting the issue to good use, especially since Christie has so little else to fall back on.