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Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.22.15

01/22/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Yemeni crisis: "The pro-American president of Yemen abruptly resigned Thursday night along with his prime minister and cabinet, leaving his Houthi opponents the dominant force in a leaderless country that is a breeding ground for Al Qaeda."
* ECB: "The program to try to jolt the European economy out of its doldrums that Mario Draghi unveiled Thursday is several months late, timid compared with its counterparts in the United States and Japan, and full of complexity aimed at satisfying his political constituents. It may also be the last, best hope to prevent Western Europe from sliding toward another lost economic decade, with the high unemployment and geopolitical strains that would imply."
* ISIS: "Japan is struggling to contact ISIS extremists holding two hostages ahead of a deadline for their execution, an official said on Thursday."
* Another spill? "North Dakota health officials are on the scene of a saltwater spill in Williams County of more than 100,000 gallons. The Health Department says it was reported 9 miles southwest of Tioga by Hess Bakken Investments II LLC. The state says 2,500 barrels of source water was released from a pipeline and impacted a nearby stock dam. The water used for recovering oil is higher in dissolved solids and minerals than fresh water."
* Consolation prize for culture warriors: "House Republicans passed a watered-down antiabortion bill Thursday after withdrawing a more restrictive measure that some female GOP lawmakers argued would hurt the party's efforts to broaden its appeal to women and younger voters."
* At a protest today for opponents of abortion rights, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked for some assistance: "I'm going to need your help to find a way out of this definitional problem with rape." Right Wing Watch has the video.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA)

The plight of a GOP moderate

01/22/15 04:51PM

Any discussion of "moderates" among congressional Republicans is inherently difficult because of the ways in which the GOP"s ideological pillars have shifted in recent years. Republican politics has become radicalized, quantitatively, to such a degree that a relative GOP centrist by 2015 standards would have been considered a conservative, say, 25 years ago.
It's the byproduct of a Republican conference that's the most ideologically extreme -- at least by American standards -- since the post-Civil War reconstruction era.
That said, if we were to draw up a list of mainstream House GOP lawmakers who seemed genuinely interested in governing and working constructively, Rep. Charlie Dent (R) would probably be at the top of the list. This isn't to say he's a centrist Republican along the lines of the "Rockefeller Republicans" from years past -- there just aren't many similarities -- but as many GOP lawmakers head off the far-right cliff, Dent just doesn't seem eager to follow them.
And as the 114th Congress gets off to a right-wing start, Dent is one of the only Republicans on the Hill who's willing to say, out loud, that his majority party may not be on the right track.
"I prefer that we avoid these very contentious social issues [such as abortion]," said moderate Rep. Charlie Dent, reprising comments he gave in the closed-door conference meeting. "Week one, we had a speaker election that did not go as well as a lot of us would have liked. Week two, we got into a big fight over deporting children, something that a lot of us didn't want to have a discussion about. Week three, we are now talking about rape and incest and reportable rapes and incest for minors.... I just can't wait for week four."
He made very similar comments to Sahil Kapur today, suggesting this is a concern he's thought about quite a bit.
"Week one, we had a Speaker election that didn't go as well as a lot of us would have liked. Week two, we spent a lot of time talking about deporting children, a conversation a lot of us didn't want to have. Week three, we're debating reportable rape and incest -- again, not an issue a lot of us wanted to have a conversation about," the Republican congressman said. "I just can't wait for week four."
His discontent is easy to understand.
Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver, center, in Melville, N.Y., on May 22, 2014. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/The New York Times/Redux)

Another state House speaker faces criminal charges

01/22/15 03:23PM

In New York, the criminal indictment against the state Assembly Speaker is clearly a major political development, but the larger trend is striking for those outside the Empire State.
Federal authorities arrested one of New York state's most powerful Democrats on Thursday on corruption charges, alleging that he accepted millions of dollars of bribes and kickbacks since 2000.
"Politicians are supposed to be on the people's payroll, not on the payroll of wealthy special interests they do favors for," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told reporters Thursday afternoon.
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, is accused of defrauding voters by accepting millions of dollars in bribes. He was arrested in New York City earlier today after he turned himself into the FBI.
Given Silver's considerable influence in New York politics, and his alliance with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the criminal allegations have rattled state politics. And while the legal process will obviously play out in the coming months, I have a big-picture question: what's with all the state House Speakers getting arrested lately?

Republicans' Netanyahu outreach changes the game

01/22/15 12:54PM

Imagine a hypothetical scenario. A Republican president and his team, believing they have an opportunity for a foreign-policy breakthrough, partner with U.S. allies to launch sensitive, international talks.
As the negotiations slowly continue, congressional Democrats announce that they've decided to try to sabotage the Republican president's efforts. In fact, Democrats in this scenario go so far as to circumvent the executive branch and partner with a foreign government to derail the American-led diplomacy, even while the talks continue.
Try to imagine what the response to this hypothetical would be. Think about the kind of words Republicans and the Beltway media would use. Consider just how serious a scandal this would be.
And then realize that this isn't really a hypothetical at all -- it's effectively unfolding right now, except it's a Democratic administration in the midst of international nuclear negotiations with Iran, and it's primarily Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, who intend to undermine American foreign policy by partnering with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Max Fisher had a good overview of the story overnight:
Netanyahu is playing a game with US domestic politics to try to undermine and pressure Obama -- and thus steer US foreign policy. Boehner wants to help him out. By reaching out to Netanyahu directly and setting up a visit without the knowledge of the White House, he is undermining not just Obama's policies but his very leadership of US foreign policy. The fact that Netanyahu is once again meddling in American politics, and that a US political party is siding with a foreign country over their own president, is extremely unusual, and a major break with the way that foreign relations usually work.
Yes, and it's arguably a major break with the way that U.S. foreign relations are supposed to work. We've talked before about the ways in which congressional Republicans have actively sought to undermine American foreign policy in the Obama era, but yesterday's gambit seems to push the envelope in ways that were hard to even imagine.
That said, the new formality of the GOP/Netanyahu partnership seems to have changed the game quite a bit over the last 24 hours.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.22.15

01/22/15 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:
* A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows likely presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (D) leading each of the top Republican contenders by healthy margins. The former Secretary of State leads Mitt Romney by 15 points, while she leads Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul by 13 points each. That said, polling at this early stage should definitely be taken with a grain of salt.
* A Quinnipiac poll found nearly three in five New Jersey voters do not believe Gov. Chris Christie (R) would make a good president.
* Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) hopes to build an early financial advantage in the race for the Republican nomination, and his team has set a first-quarter fundraising goal of $100 million. That also includes 60 scheduled fundraisers between now and the end of March.
* Republican operative Jesse Benton was forced to resign last year as Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) campaign manager after Benton was caught up in an Iowa bribery scandal. Now, however, the operative has a new consulting company, Titan Strategies, and has picked up Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as a big client. Benton is a longtime insider on the Ron/Rand Paul team.
* Speaking of Jeb, the former governor will reportedly meet privately with Mitt Romney in Utah today. The meeting was apparently Bush's idea and was scheduled before Romney began openly flirting with the idea of running a third campaign of his own.
* In Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman (R) picked up his first Democratic challenger this morning, when Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld (D) kicked off his campaign. The 30-year-old local official may soon have some primary rivals -- Rep. Tim Ryan (D) has expressed an interest in the race, and former Gov. Ted Strickland's (D) plans are not yet clear.
Members walk down the steps of the House side of the US Capitol after voting on the Keystone XL Pipeline, Nov. 14, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Will Congress ever step up on ISIS?

01/22/15 11:27AM

In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama talked about the U.S. military offensive against Islamic State militants, and he urged Congress to act. "This effort will take time; it will require focus; but we will succeed," Obama said. "And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. We need that authority."
The comments garnered applause from the assembled lawmakers, but as Kate Nocera reported yesterday, the next step -- by some measures, the first step -- apparently remains a problem.
President Obama called on Congress to approve "a resolution to authorize the use of force against" ISIS in his State of the Union address -- but what that will look like or even who will write the new authorization remains a mystery to most lawmakers. [...]
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican who sits on the Foreign Relations committee, told BuzzFeed News that the AUMF mention left him "totally confused."
"The president needs to define what he means by 'defeat' ... He has to lay out what he needs to accomplish defeat and then he has to lay out the strategy and send us some language," Johnson said. "We need some leadership out of the commander-in-chief and he's provided none."
Hmm. The president launched airstrikes against ISIS targets way back in August, and Congress did nothing. The president assembled an international coalition, and Congress gave itself some additional time off. The president asked for lawmakers to authorize the mission in November, and Congress again did nothing.
I generally find Sen. Ron Johnson's (R-Wis.) arguments confusing, but in this scenario, who exactly is refusing to provide leadership?
The BuzzFeed piece went on to say, "Some Republicans were cautiously optimistic about the possibility of getting an AUMF done this Congress."
This Congress? The U.S. military strikes in Iraq and Syria began in August 2014. Republicans are "optimistic about the possibility" of Congress meeting its constitutional obligations by December 2016?
Mike Huckabee

Huckabee eyes nullification plan in response to marriage ruling

01/22/15 10:35AM

Last week, when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) took some odd rhetorical shots at Beyonce, he complained about her "lyrical content." The likely Republican presidential candidate was not arguing from a credible position -- Huckabee performed on Fox News with Ted Nugent, with "lyrical content" that was anything but family-friendly.
Asked for an explanation, Huckabee said this week that Nugent "changed the lyrics pretty dramatically" for their joint performance. The defense is plainly untrue.
But as it turns out, that's only the second most ridiculous thing Huckabee has said this week. Consider these comments yesterday to conservative host Hugh Hewitt.
"One thing I am angry about, though, Hugh, is this notion of judicial supremacy, where if the courts make a decision, I hear governors and even some aspirants to the presidency say, 'Well, that's settled, and it's the law of the land.' No, it isn't the law of the land. Constitutionally, the courts cannot make a law. They can interpret one. And then the legislature has to create enabling legislation, and the executive has to sign it, and has to enforce it."
Hewitt pressed further, asking if county clerks should ignore the Supreme Court if the justices rule in support of marriage equality. Huckabee again pushed the idea of enabling legislation, adding, "[S]tate legislatures ... would have to create legislation that the governor would sign. If they don't, then there is not same sex marriage in that state. Now if the federal courts say, 'Well, you're going to have to do it,' well, then you have a confrontation."
If all of this sounds a bit crazy, there's a good reason for that. As David Graham's report explained, "In 1957, the state believed it could block the Little Rock School Board from adhering to the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. President Eisenhower disagreed, and dispatched troops to show Governor Orval Faubus how wrong he was. Faubus is not an historical model most contemporary politicians would be willing to follow."
Bobby Jindal

Jindal warns of American 'no-go zones'

01/22/15 10:04AM

On a surface level, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) recent antics make it seem as if the far-right governor is increasingly erratic. But very recently, most notably after a Fox News interview yesterday, the Republican's strategy is coming into focus.
"If people don't want to come here to integrate and assimilate, what they're really trying to do is set up their own culture, their own communities," Jindal [told Fox host Neil Cavuto]. "What they're really trying to do is overturn our culture. We need to recognize that threat."
"If we don't, we're gonna see a replica of what's happening in Europe in America," Jindal continued. "We're gonna see our own no-go zones if we're not serious about insisting on assimilation and integration."
It's hard to even know where to start with such nonsense. As is now obvious, "no-go zones" in Europe are a figment of the far-right imagination, a fact Fox News has not only conceded but has actually apologized for spreading. Jindal knows he's spreading a made-up myth, but the Republican governor keeps repeating it anyway.
Making matters worse, however, is the notion that Jindal's imagined "no-go zones" will start appearing on U.S. soil, too. In other words, according to what Jindal said on Fox, unless we start taking his paranoia seriously, there will be American communities in which local law enforcement is afraid to go, and where women are routinely intimidated in public, not by creepy guys hitting on them, but by Muslim enforcers who expect to see them in veils.
Is there a method to Jindal's madness? Maybe.
Pro-life and pro-choice supporters square off in an argument during a demonstration marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision in Washington, January 24, 2011.

House GOP fumbles abortion fiasco

01/22/15 09:11AM

With their largest majority in generations, House Republicans are ostensibly in a position to pass whatever they please. Sure, most of their top priorities will struggle to clear Democratic filibusters in the Senate, and they stand little chance of earning President Obama's signature, but with a whopping 246 members, party leaders know a simple truth: what the House GOP wants and House GOP can pass.
At least, that's the way is seemed. If you missed Rachel's reporting on this last night, House Republican leaders were forced to pull a proposed abortion ban that had been scheduled for a floor vote today.
House Republicans are scrapping their plans to consider a controversial anti-abortion bill Thursday after a group within the GOP conference raised objections.
A senior GOP leadership aide tells NBC they were "not quite ready" to go forward with the Pain-Capable Abortion bill after both men and women pushed back on the bill.
The phrase "not quite ready" makes it seem like Republicans were close to success, but ran short on time. For those who've followed the process closely, however, this effort to downplay a fiasco isn't persuasive at all.
Remember, House GOP leaders have worked on this plan for quite a while: they would bring up a 20-week abortion ban, months in the making, and pass it on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling -- as a reward of sorts for the abortion protesters who gather annually in Washington for the "March for Life."
But as we discussed yesterday, even like-minded Republican lawmakers couldn't agree among themselves over some of the provisions. The proposed ban was willing to exempt rape victims, for example, but only if they reported the rape to police -- a condition that many believe would discourage victims from seeking assistance.
Last night, GOP leaders tried to reach an agreement that would satisfy the anti-abortion Republicans feuding with other anti-abortion Republicans, but they apparently couldn't reach a compromise.

Seasonal factors cause volatility in jobless claims

01/22/15 08:38AM

The bad news is initial unemployment claims, which were below 300,000 for most of the last six months, seem stuck around that threshold for now. The good news, the numbers are usually quirky right now, due to post-holiday shifts and poor weather.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in mid-January fell by 10,000 but remained above the key 300,000 mark for the third straight week, the first time that's happened since July. Initial jobless claims declined to 307,000 in the seven days ended Jan. 10 from a revised 317,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 298,000. [...]
The average of new claims over the past four weeks, meanwhile, rose by 6,500 to 306,500 and hit a six-month high. The four-week average smoothens out seasonal volatility in the weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends.
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 300,000 in 16 of the last 19 weeks.
A man throws an earth balloon into the air as people fill 58th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue before a global warming march in New York Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (Photo by Mel Evans/AP)

Climate debate takes a farcical turn in GOP-led Senate

01/22/15 08:00AM

About a week ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) published a Politico op-ed with a provocative headline: "No, the GOP is not at war with science."
The far-right lawmakers have heard the criticisms about Republicans' hostility towards research and empiricism, but Paul and Smith wanted to make it clear that, at least from their narrow perspective, the GOP isn't "attacking science."
After watching developments late yesterday in the Republican-run Senate, the op-ed seems almost amusing, in a morbid sort of way.
On Wednesday, the Senate got together to take a couple of votes on whether global warming was real or not.
This was serious business, and they had a lot to think about.
Indeed, just a few days ago, the public learned that 2014 was the warmest year on record for the planet -- and that 14 of the warmest years ever recorded have come within the last 15 years.
It led to a series of votes yesterday on amendments to the Republicans' Keystone XL pipeline bill, all of which were intended to get members on record, either endorsing or opposing the basics of climate reality.

Republican infighting and other headlines

01/22/15 07:38AM

Conservatives at odds over border security bill. (USA Today)

Veterans suicide prevention bill advances in the Senate. (Stars and Stripes)

Cleanup underway for nearly 3M-gallon "brine" spill in North Dakota. (AP)

Powerful New York State politician expected to be arrested on corruption charges today. (New York Times)

Romney and Bush to meet in Utah. (New York Times)

Want more "Mitt?" Now there's bonus footage. (Washington Post)

Disney parks-linked measles outbreak grows to 70 cases. (AP)

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