Something interesting always seems to come up late on a Friday afternoon. In the world of campaign politics, this qualifies.
Republican congressman Tom Petri of Wisconsin says he will retire after more than 30 years in Congress.
In a statement on Friday, the congressman says he will make a formal announcement in his district on Monday on his plans not to seek re-election.
Petri is considered one of the more moderate Republicans in the House and was first elected in 1979.... He has easily won re-election in his Republican-leaning district in east central Wisconsin.
It's worth noting that Petri is actually quite conservative, but seems "moderate" in large part because his so many of his House Republican colleagues have moved to such an extreme. The Club for Growth scorecard, for example, gave him a 77% rating last year, leaving him further to the right than most GOP House members. Heritage Action awarded him a 68%, suggesting his voting record is slightly more conservative than Paul Ryan's.
A centrist he isn't.
That said, Petri's 6th district in Wisconsin is at least somewhat competitive -- Obama narrowly defeated McCain here in 2008 -- and it stands to reason the DCCC will make an effort to turn this into a legitimate race this fall, which wouldn't have happened if the incumbent sought another term.
What's more, the number of retirements is still steadily growing, and has nearly reached a two-decade high.
But that's not the interesting part. Rather, what stands out about Petri's announcement is the timing -- and his possible successor.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) spokesperson turned to Twitter today to gloat about, of all things, a health care poll:
"We were told that #Obamacare would be popular after it passed, or implemented, or after open enrollment. Nope."
The tweet referred to a Gallup poll that shows approval of the Affordable Care Act climbing to 43%, which is five points higher than a few months ago, but which is still obviously short of a majority. As has been the case for years, the campaign to undermine support for "Obamacare" remains effective -- the law still isn't popular.
Of course, it's always best not to make too much of a fuss about any one poll, though in a case like this it doesn't much matter -- recent surveys show national ACA support anywhere from 37% to 49%. By any measure, it'd be silly to suggest the health care law is basking in the warm glow of Americans' undying love.
So, point for the Republicans. They've worked very hard to convince people not to like "Obamacare" and their efforts have paid dividends. The American mainstream tends to support the provisions within the law more than the law itself -- which casts some doubt as to just how much value these polls really have -- but for years of conditioning won't change overnight.
What's less clear is why in the world Mitch McConnell's office wants to pick a fight over polling and popularity.
In Washington, D.C., the harder President Obama pushes for an increase to the minimum wage, the harder congressional Republicans push back in the opposite direction. The likelihood of GOP lawmakers changing their mind, at least for now, is effectively zero.
An increase in the state's minimum wage to $9.50 an hour is nearly law, making Minnesota the latest state controlled by Democrats to offer the lowest wage workers a boost.
The final House vote of 71-60 delivers the measure to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who says he will be happy to sign it into law, and brings to an end a multiyear debate among Democrats about the wage floor. President Obama celebrated the move.
"I commend the state Legislature for raising their minimum wage and we look forward to Governor Dayton signing the bill into law soon," Obama said in a statement. "Congress should listen to the majority of Americans who say it's time to give America a raise and help ensure that no American who works full time has to raise a family in poverty."
The formal bill signing with Minnesota's Democratic governor is scheduled for Monday. The increase, which will be phased in over two years, doesn't go quite as far as the $10.10/hour wage national Democrats are seeking, but it will still be well above the current federal minimum of $7.25/hour.
Minnesota's move comes on the heels of Maryland's decision to increase its minimum wage, which came on the heels of Connecticut raising its minimum wage.
What's more, workers can expect more progress elsewhere very soon. In Massachusetts, for example, the Democratic majority is trying to decide between a $10.50 and an $11 minimum wage. In Hawaii, policymakers are nearly done with a proposal to raise their state's minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2018. In Vermont, a plan is nearly in place for a more expedited implementation of a $10.10 minimum wage.
And if you're thinking all of these states have something in common, you're correct.
A few weeks ago, as part of a larger condemnation of Obama presidency, Mitt Romney insisted the last five years have been awful for the United States' stature around the world. "It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office," the failed candidate said, adding, "Our esteem around the world has fallen."
For the right, this is a common line of attack. Tea Party favorite Ben Carson recently argued, "Russians seem to be gaining prestige and influence throughout the world as we are losing ours." Former Vice President Dick Cheney said on "Face the Nation" a month ago that America's willingness to keep our commitments has been "in doubt for some time now" around the globe "because of the policies of the Obama administration."
Unfortunately for conservatives, reality keeps getting in the way. Zack Beauchamp reported this morning:
American foreign policy may look like it's in shambles sometimes, but the world doesn't seem to think so. According to Gallup's US Global Leadership Project, a gigantic survey of over 130,000 people in 130 countries, approval of the United States' leadership bounced up five percentage points in 2013. That's a lot.
Gallup used its survey data to estimate the percentage of people in each of these 130 countries who say they approve or disapprove of "the leadership of the United States" -- basically, of President Obama.
Though there are, not surprisingly, broad regional differences, I found it interesting that in Asia, support for U.S. leadership is stronger now than at any time during either the Obama or the Bush administrations.
The only continent in which U.S. stature has seen a decline is in Africa, but even here, approval of the United States is higher than anywhere else.
What's more, Gallup also found, "The world felt a little better about U.S. leadership last year, giving it the highest global approval ratings out of five global powers, including Germany, China, the European Union, and Russia."
It's been about four days since the Senate approved a bipartisan bill to extend federal unemployment benefits, and not only are House Republicans refusing to move on the legislation, they also seem increasingly confused about the debate itself.
Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday it's up to the White House to make a new proposal before he'll consider an unemployment benefits extension, as the House left town for two weeks without acting on a bipartisan Senate bill. [...]
Boehner said he had made it clear to the president in December that an unemployment insurance extension would "have to be paid for and would have to include things that would help get our economy moving."
Asked what it would take for Boehner to allow House members to vote on jobless aid, the Speaker said, "You'll have to ask the administration."
Sometimes it seems as if politicians aren't even speaking the same language anymore.
Look, there's no reason for Boehner to be this confused. For decades, there was bipartisan and bicameral support for extending jobless benefits during periods of high unemployment. This year, Republicans changed the rules of the game, making new demands that were considered ridiculous as recently as 2010, but Democrats nevertheless played along. It's why the Senate approved a bill that's paid for and, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, would create 200,000 jobs this year.
Boehner says that's not good enough. What would satisfy him? He either doesn't know or doesn't want to say -- the Speaker instead told reporters yesterday that the unemployed might get relief when the White House correctly guesses what might make Boehner happy. It's a policy debate with all the high-minded sophistication of kindergarten finger-painting.
Perhaps the Speaker needs a chart to help clarify matters.
Before the Affordable Care Act became law, it was fairly common during the congressional debate to hear opponents say the legislation was simply unnecessary. After all, Republicans insisted at the time, the United States already had the "best health care system in the world."
Chances are, these GOP policymakers never stopped by a free clinic, where thousands of struggling, uninsured Americans would routinely sleep outside, hoping for an opportunity to receive medical treatment they otherwise couldn't afford. I still remember watching Bill Moyers sit down five years ago with Wendell Potter, a former executive at a major health insurance company, who discovered the need for systematic reform after visiting a free clinic.
Potter visited a health care expedition in Wise, Virginia, in July 2007. "I just assumed that it would be, you know, like booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that," he said. "But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they'd erected tents, to care for people.... I've got some pictures of people being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement. And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care."
Potter added that families were there from "all over the region" because people had heard, "from word of mouth," about the possibility of being able to see a doctor without insurance. He asked himself, "What country am I in? It just didn't seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States."
That was then; this is now. This story out of Arkansas is a sign of the times (thanks to reader R.B. for the tip).
An article in the Mena Star explains that -- despite the efforts of state Rep. Nate Bell, the Mena Republican who has made it his mission to stop outreach informing people of their options for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act -- citizens in Mena are getting covered under Obamacare.
Announcing that 9th Street Ministries, sponsored by the First Baptist Church in Mena, will offer its last clinic later this month, Nurse Stacey Bowser, the clinical director at 9th Street Ministries, said, "We've done our mission." The clinic has offered free medical services once a month to the uninsured in Mena since 1998. For years, they were seeing hundreds of people a month desperate for care (the clinic only served people with no insurance of their own). But now folks in Mena are signing up with the private option and other coverage options via the ACA. "This complete dropoff of numbers of people coming to the clinic is a result of all those who have successfully enrolled in an insurance policy now," Bowser said.
Ordinarily, it might seem like a tragedy to see a free medical clinic close its doors forever, but this story out of Arkansas is actually the opposite -- it's evidence of historic progress that the clinic no longer feels needed.
It's been about five days since Rep. Vance McAllister, a self-described "faith and family" Louisiana Republican, was caught on video in an extra-marital dalliance with a staffer and donor. He issued a statement acknowledging that he'd "fallen short" and is "asking for forgiveness."
On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal amped up the pressure on the so-called "kissing congressman" to step down, releasing a statement calling McAllister's behavior "an embarrassment." [...]
Earlier in the day, the chairman of Louisiana's Republican Party asked for McAllister to step down as well – and he didn't mince words while doing it.
"Mr. McAllister's extreme hypocrisy is an example of why ordinary people are fed up with politics," Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere Jr. said in a statement. "A breach of trust of this magnitude can only be rectified by an immediate resignation. He has embarrassed our party, our state and the institution of Congress."
By all appearances, McAllister is resisting these calls and hopes the controversy will blow over. While we wait to see if this strategy works, however, it's become increasingly difficult to ignore a relevant question: can anyone explain why McAllister's personal misdeeds are worse that of Sen. David Vitter's (R)?
Or more to the point, why is it, exactly, that the same Louisiana Republicans calling for McAllister's ouster are holding the congressman to an entirely different standard than the one applied to Vitter after the "family values" senator was caught having hired prostitutes?
The conventional wisdom on the politics of health care is so widely accepted, it usually goes unchallenged. Democrats -- especially vulnerable, red-state Democrats -- will be desperate to avoid the Affordable Care Act this election year, eager to talk about anything but the health care law.
Indeed, Dems will simply have no choice: they will run from, not on, their record and the ACA successes.
Perhaps now would be a good time to reevaluate those assumptions.
The Affordable Care Act remains deeply unpopular across the conservative terrain of Alaska, but a super PAC supporting Democratic Sen. Mark Begich's reelection isn't shying away from touting the health care law's success stories.
The pro-Begich group Put Alaska First released an ad Thursday titled "Beat," in which breast cancer survivor Lisa Keller notes Obamacare enabled her to get health insurance despite the pre-existing condition.
"I was lucky I beat cancer, but the insurance companies still denied me health insurance just because of a pre-existing condition," Keller says in the ad. "I now have health insurance again because of Mark Begich. Because he fought the insurance companies, so that we no longer have to."
For those who believe the conventional wisdom, an ad like this is simply madness. Why would Begich's allies remind red-state voters about his role in bringing affordable health care and consumer protections to Alaskans?
Maybe because the broader conversation is undergoing a long-overdue shift. As an electoral matter, Democrats will own the increasingly successful health care law whether they brag or hide, so they might as well start reminding the public about why this was a good idea -- and why they're proud to have championed reforms that benefit Americans like Alaska's Lisa Keller.
What's more, Begich's allies aren't the only ones thinking along these lines.
Following the announcement that Kathleen Sebelius is stepping down as Secretary of Health and Human Services, the New York Times ran this headline on the front page: "Sebelius Resigns After Troubles With Health Law Website." And if the HHS chief had stepped down in, say, late November, this angle might be more compelling.
This week, however, arguably the more apt headline would read, "Sebelius Departs After Miraculous Comeback, Exceeding ACA Enrollment Goals."
Perhaps it's just a matter of perspective. If what matters most right now is that healthcare.gov was a dysfunctional mess last fall, then "website troubles" deserves to be the first line in the Sebelius legacy. On the other hand, if what matters most right now is that the website was repaired, enrollments soared, and the system is working as planned, "website troubles" should be a footnote in history.
Calls for Sebelius's resignation were almost constant after Obamacare's catastrophic launch. The problem wasn't just that Sebelius had presided over the construction of a fantastically expensive web site that flatly didn't work. [...]
But President Obama refused. As National Journal's Major Garrett reported, Obama believes that "scaring people with a ceremonial firing deepens fear, turns allies against one another, makes them risk-averse, and saps productivity." Moreover, there was too much to be done to fire one of the few people who knew how to finish the job. Sebelius would stay. The White House wouldn't panic in ways that made it harder to save the law.
The evidence has piled up in recent weeks that the strategy worked.
Sebelius tackled an extremely difficult job and made her share of mistakes -- some of which were her fault, others not. But she and her team persevered and finished the job. What matters is how clutch players finish the game, not whether they had first-quarter turnovers.
In this sense, her departure isn't the final page of a failed story; it's a drop-the-mic moment for an official who got the last laugh after some early stumbles.
Satellite images show Russian forces poised near Ukraine. (NY Times) Missouri becomes the latest Right to Work battleground. (Washington Post) Former CT Governor John Rowland indicted in two alleged campaign finance schemes. (Hartford Courant) The woman who threw a shoe at Hillary Clinton had eluded security to gain access to the event. (Las Vegas Review Journal) read more
Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, talks with Rachel Maddow about the resistance to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the political price then-President Johnson paid and how that political legacy manifests in modern American politics. watch
David Corn, D.C. bureau chief for Mother Jones, talks with Rachel Maddow about the surprising resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and how this news undermines the good news cycle Obamacare is having. watch