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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 8.27.14

08/27/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* It's like watching an invasion in slow motion: "Tanks, artillery and infantry have crossed from Russia into an unbreached part of eastern Ukraine in recent days, attacking Ukrainian forces and causing panic and wholesale retreat not only in this small border town but also a wide section of territory, in what Ukrainian and Western military officials described on Wednesday as a stealth invasion."
* An emotional appeal: "The mother of an American journalist held by the militants of ISIS pleaded with his captors on Wednesday to spare his life and 'please release my child.' In a video message, Shirley Sotloff directly addressed the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, by his preferred title -- 'the caliph of the Islamic State' -- and asked him to show mercy on her son, Steven."
* More ISIS news: "The United States has begun to mobilize a broad coalition of allies behind potential American military action in Syria and is moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq, administration officials said on Tuesday." President Obama is also weighing "airstrikes and airdrops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq's Turkmen minority."
* More on this tomorrow: "The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress."
* A stunning story: "A coroner's report obtained exclusively by NBC News directly contradicts the police version of how a 22-year-old black man died in the back seat of a Louisiana police cruiser earlier this year -- but still says the man, whose hands were cuffed behind his back, shot himself."
* Proponents of marriage equality, watching developments at the 7th Circuit closely, have reason for optimism: "Lawyers for Indiana and Wisconsin on Tuesday tried, with little success, to explain to three judges why their laws banning same-sex couples from marrying were constitutional."
* House Republicans look for an excuse: "Congress should not give President Obama additional authority to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) until the administration provides a strategy for defeating the militant group, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Wednesday."
* Jindal really hopes we forget that he was a Common Core supporter up until very recently; "Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday accusing the U.S. Department of Education of illegally coercing states to adopt the Common Core academic standards by requiring states that want to compete for federal grants to embrace the national standards."
Senate Lawmakers Address The Media After Their Weekly Policy Luncheons

McConnell offers a peek behind the curtain

08/27/14 04:40PM

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), with welcome candor, recently told Americans what they can expect if Republicans retake the Senate majority. McConnell's plan is to include policy measures in spending bills that gut Obama administration policies, and if the White House balks, GOP lawmakers will shut down the government.
As it happens, much of what McConnell says in public is what he also says in private.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) explained his plan to use a government shutdown as a bargaining chip against President Barack Obama to a room full of wealthy conservatives two months ago, according to audio obtained by The Nation magazine.
"So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what's called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We're going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board. ... All across the federal government, we're going to go after it," McConnell said at a private summit hosted by the Koch Brothers.
In practice, it means a Republican Congress -- if there's a Republican Congress -- might pass a spending bill that includes a policy provision: no money in this bill can be used to implement safeguards against Wall Street. Or fund health care exchanges. Or promote clean air. Or all of the above.
And, of course, if President Obama refuses to go along, the GOP response will be exactly what it was last fall: "Fine. We're shutting down the government."
When reports on this initially surfaced, McConnell and his allies pushed back a bit, arguing the Republican leader never explicitly promised more shutdowns if/when  the GOP has more power. That said, as Brian Beutler explained well, "McConnell can't sidestep the implications of his publicly declared strategy. He can't say 'when we're in power, we're going to put two and two together,' and then get angry when the headlines say, 'McConnell promises four.'"
Regardless, that's not all McConnell said behind closed doors at the Koch brothers' event in June.

Budget deficit remains on track for six-year low

08/27/14 04:00PM

About a year ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was asked about the radicalism of some of his political agenda. "You know, the thing is, people want to say it's extreme," he said. "But what I would say is extreme is a trillion-dollar deficit every year. I mean, that's an extremely bad situation."
The same week, then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told Fox News that Congress should be "focused on trying to deal with the ultimate problem, which is this growing deficit."
Neither lawmaker was making sense, even at the time. The United States isn't running "trillion-dollar deficits every year"; the deficit isn't "the ultimate problem"; and the budget shortfall, as we were reminded today, isn't "growing."
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on Wednesday raised its projection for this year's federal deficit to $506 billion.
The budget office's last report in April had projected the deficit for fiscal 2014 would top out at $492 billion on Sept. 30.
The minor difference between the latest figures -- which are not final until the fall -- and the previous projection are a gap in corporate income taxes, which will affect the final tally at the end of the fiscal year. (The entirety of the latest CBO report is online here.)
Regardless, at this point, the deficit is on track to reach a six-year low, and is expected to fall further next year. In fact, looking ahead, the CBO projects modest deficits for another decade.
How we got to this point matters.
David Koch

GOP Senate candidates credit Koch backing

08/27/14 12:45PM

The Republican line on Charles and David Koch, better known as the Koch brothers, has always been a little tricky. As we discussed in June, GOP politicians certainly welcome the massive amounts of campaign cash the Kochs are willing to spend, but as the Kochs have become better known, Republicans have also struggled to defend the idea that voters should support candidates backed by controversial billionaires.
Earlier in the summer, Dan Sullivan, Alaska's Republican Senate hopeful, was asked whether he would benefit from the Kochs' support. Sullivan "paused for 25 seconds" before dodging the question.
But away from the cameras and notepads, Republicans tend to be a little more forthcoming about their wealthy benefactors. Sam Stein reported overnight:
Three top Republican Senate candidates heaped praise on the political network built by the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch during a secretive conference held by the brothers this past summer, according to audio of the event.
Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst and Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton directly credited donors present at the June 16 retreat in Dana Point, California, for propelling them forward. Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner told attendees that his race would likely be decided by the presence of "third party" money -- an obvious pitch for generosity from the well-heeled crowd. 
The presence of Gardner and Cotton was previously reported by The Nation magazine, though it is unclear if Cotton ever confirmed his appearance. Ernst's attendance had not previously been reported.
Iowa's Ernst, in particular, said it was the Kochs and their allies that "really started my trajectory" towards the U.S. Senate, adding, "And this is the thing that we are going to take back -- that it started right here with all of your folks, this wonderful network."

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.27.14

08/27/14 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:
* The latest Pew Research Center poll shows Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot by five, 47% to 42%. The margin is slightly higher than most other recent national polls.
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, the new PPP survey shows Rep. Bruce Braley (D) up by one over state Sen. Joni Ernst (R), 41% to 40%, in a multi-candidate race. In a head-to-head match-up without third-party candidates, the two are tied in the poll at 42% each.
* In Arkansas' U.S. Senate race, Sen. Mark Pryor's (D) campaign launched a provocative new ad this week that plays on public fears of the Ebola virus -- it reminds voters that Rep. Tom Cotton (R) voted to "cut billions from our nation's medical disaster and emergency programs." The far-right congressman was one of only 29 lawmakers to cast the vote.
* In Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ed FitzGerald's campaign is starting to lower expectations about its chances and take steps to help protect Democrats down-ballot. FitzGerald is running against incumbent Gov. John Kasich (R).
* President Obama was in North Carolina yesterday, where Sen. Kay Hagan (D), facing a tough re-election fight, was willing to be seen with the president, despite speculation she wouldn't.
* Miami Republican David Rivera, the scandal-plagued former congressman, tried to launch a misguided comeback bid this year, but it came to an abrupt halt yesterday with a primary defeat.
William Kristol

Kristol: 'What's the harm of bombing'?

08/27/14 11:32AM

Last week, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol was, as he put it, "appalled." Following the release of the ISIS video on James Foley's murder, the Republican pundit said the Obama administration was doing "nothing" to target the terrorist group.
It was an odd thing to say -- President Obama had already ordered dozens of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS targets by the time Kristol made the remarks, suggesting he either wasn't keeping up on current events or has a curious definition of "nothing."
Yesterday, while talking to Laura Ingraham, Kristol did it again.
Kristol was talking about the Islamic State, the militant group which is also commonly called ISIS. He scoffed at people who worried that bombing ISIS might cause new problems in the Middle East.
"Someone said, 'we can't just bomb,'" he said, speaking about an ABC panel he was on. "You know, why don't we just [bomb?] We know where ISIS is. What's the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens? I don't think there's much in the way of unanticipated side effects that are going to be bad there. We could kill a lot of very bad guys!"
It honestly seems as if the conservative commentator has no idea the U.S. military has completed 93 separate airstrikes against ISIS targets, most of them in and around Mosul. What's more, the Pentagon has completed more than 1,000 aerial sorties over Iraq in this mission to target ISIS. Most of them are surveillance flights, but nearly 100 of them have been airstrikes thus far.
All of this has unfolded just since Aug. 8. In other words, the Obama administration has been "bombing them, at least for a few weeks." Why doesn't Kristol know that?
Jody Hice

Don't know much about history, Jody Hice edition

08/27/14 11:10AM

American history has been in the news a bit lately, with the Republican National Committee denouncing Advanced Placement history curricula for high-school students and Rush Limbaugh writing a book that "tells the story of a fictional history teacher named Rush Revere, who travels back in time to experience the pilgrims' journey to America and their first Thanksgiving in the New World."
But Andrew Kaczynski reported yesterday on right-wing pastor Jody Hice, who'll soon replace Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) in Congress, and who knows a lot less about history than he pretends to know.
Hice represents an anti-gay viewpoint based on pseudo-science and seriously outdated myths about gay Americans. He also really loves freedom. He calls himself a "constitutional conservative" and LOVES the Founding Fathers. [...]
"I have one plan: the Constitution. If we were following this document we wouldn't have the problems that we're facing today," Hice has said.
Hice also loves to naturally share Founding Fathers quotes. Unfortunately, many of them are fake.
Kaczynski's list is surprisingly long. Jody Hice posted fake quotes -- which he apparently believed to be real -- from Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and  John Quincy Adams. There may have been others, but after highlighting nine quotes that Hice promoted, all of which turned out to be wrong, Kaczynski apparently got tired and stopped looking. And I can't blame him.
Of course, the common theme from all of the fake historical quotes was predictable: the Founding Fathers, the argument goes, agreed with contemporary far-right, anti-government views. The fake quotes were made up for a reason: modern conservatives call themselves "constitutional conservatives" because they're convinced they -- and they alone -- carry the mantle of America's historic traditions. Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin may be gone, but their legacy lives on in 21st century Republican politics.
Tea Partiers don't dress up in tri-corner hats because they're making a fashion statement. They see themselves as the inheritors of the Founding Fathers' legacy.
Of course, in reality, this is nonsense, which is probably why guys like Hice feel the need to promote historic quotes that are entirely made-up.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., arrives early to talk with reporters during the Colorado Republican election night party at the Doubletree Hotel in Greenwood Village, Colo., Nov. 2, 2010.

Coffman repackages himself for tough 2014 campaign

08/27/14 10:40AM

By any fair measure, it'd be tough to characterize Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) as somehow moderate. The Club for Growth lists Coffman as having an 82% lifetime rating, while Heritage Action puts the Colorado Republican to the right of most House Republicans.
But the conservative congressman is facing a tough re-election fight against former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D), and as such Coffman is now striking "a decidedly Democratic tone."
[His new] 30-second spot highlights Coffman's service as a Marine, his work to protect victims of sexual assault in the military, and his efforts two decades ago as a state legislator to prevent health insurers from discriminating on the basis of gender.
The ad also says he "bucked his own party to help pass the Violence Against Women Act." His support for the bill's reauthorization in 2013, with just 32 other House Republicans, won him plaudits from Planned Parenthood, a group that gave him a 0 percent rating on its most recent scorecard.
"It's nice to know someone has our back," a woman says at the end of the ad. "That's Mike Coffman."
Mike Coffman up until recently supported "Personhood" measures that would ban abortion and many popular forms of contraception. He also celebrated the Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby ruling. But now that he's worried about getting re-elected, all of this is behind him?
The larger significance of this is how common these moves have become.
Supreme Court - Washington, DC

GOP bites its tongue on contraception

08/27/14 09:56AM

The usual pattern is hard to miss: the Obama administration announces a policy, which is immediately followed by Republicans condemning the policy. Rinse, lather, repeat.
But last week, in response to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, the White House unveiled a new compromise measure that would extend contraception access to a very specific group of Americans: employees at "closely held" companies run by religious conservatives who oppose some or all forms of birth control.
Given fierce GOP opposition to President Obama's contraception policies, and the broad Republican support for the Hobby Lobby ruling, it was reasonable to expect quite a few strong reactions to the White House's latest policy, right? Wrong. The Hill ran a good report overnight.
Republican Senate candidates are staying silent on President Obama's latest changes to the birth control coverage mandate even as the policy catches flak from the religious right.
Top GOP hopefuls haven't weighed in on the issue since Friday, when the administration announced new measures meant to accommodate religious groups and businesses that object to their insurance covering birth control.
Republican Senate candidates failed to jump on the announcement that day, and a dozen campaigns reached individually this week all declined to comment.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but it's probably safe to say Republicans realize they're out of step with the American mainstream when it comes to birth control, and the issue has left the GOP terrified.
GOP strategist Ford O'Connell told The Hill this issue "could spoil an entire Senate campaign." He added that Republicans recognize that they "shouldn't be discussing birth control right now unless they can be on offense."
The DSCC's Justin Barasky responded, "What Republican candidates haven't been silent on is their unabashed support for laws that block women's access to common forms of birth control and allow employers to decide whether or not birth control should be covered as part of their health insurance."
The National Republican Senatorial Committee "did not respond to a request for comment. " Imagine that.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., attends the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

ACA makes health care more affordable in Arkansas

08/27/14 09:33AM

Rep. Tom Cotton (R), his party's U.S. Senate hopeful in Arkansas, has been a fierce critic of the Affordable Care Act, vowing to destroy the system if given an opportunity. The far-right congressman even went so far as to argue that some Arkansans, because of "Obamacare," could "face triple-digit increases in the cost of their health care premiums."
As of yesterday, that's not quite what happened. The Arkansas News Bureau reported:
Insurance policies sold through the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace are projected to see a net aggregate decrease of 2 percent in premium costs for 2015, Gov. Mike Beebe's office announced Tuesday.
Beebe's office said the projection includes policies offered through the so-called private option, which uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Premiums under the private option are projected to decrease slightly but remain essentially flat.
For much of the recent debate about health care policy, the argument about premiums has been based on two sets of expectations. ACA detractors predicted premiums would "skyrocket," while ACA proponents suggested modest increases, consistent with trends that existed before the Affordable Care Act became law.
But for the second time in as many weeks -- Connecticut last week and Arkansas yesterday -- we're actually seeing some projections of modest premium decreases. Obviously, Cotton's rhetoric about "triple-digit increases" looks pretty silly now.
Is it any wonder the political debate, especially in Arkansas, has gone so topsy turvy?