Reporting on Politics and Policy
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 4:15 PM
This weekend's Boston Globe poll of the Massachusetts Senate race appears to have stamped out the factless "Gabriel Gomez surge!" narrative. You get one poll showing the Republican down by 11, running far behind Scott Brown's campaigns with women and independents, and all of a sudden you have Stu Rothenberg bragging that HE never said the race was a tossup. (Charlie Cook, the other chief election-watcher, had done so.)
The Gomez campaign, facing a final debate with Ed Markey in a few hours, has fired back with a polling memo from On Message Inc.
With one week to go, the score is 47% for Markey, 40% for Gomez. ... Gabriel is the underdog, but he remains in striking distance of pulling off a victory. Candidly, everyone at our firm is stunned by the closeness of this race. With the tonnage of negative advertising that Cong. Markey and all these outside interest groups have poured into Massachusetts, one would think Markey would be running in the clear at this point.
One would think! But I remember another polling memo from the Gomez-verse. It came out only 11 days ago. What did it say?
Gomez and long time Democratic Congressman Ed Markey are in a statistical dead heat, with Gomez receiving 44.3%, Markey 45.3%, and 10.5% undecided.
Different firms conducted the polls, but this isn't the record you want behind you if you're arguing that "seven points down" is a mere "touchdown." No—it's like being down by a touchdown, then watching the other team run one in but miss a field goal. Try harder, campaign flacks!
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 2:29 PM
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
File this under "obvious things we're going to choose to freak out over." At the weekly House GOP leadership presser, John Boehner waved off the idea that the Democrats could join a rump of Republicans and pass an immigration bill in the House—which is what's going to happen in the Senate. House conservatives, most prominently Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, had been calling for the "Hastert Rule" to be instituted by diktat, meaning that nothing lacking a "majority of the majority" would get a vote in the House. (This would have killed three bills so far this year, starting with the fiscal cliff deal.)
Boehner assured them that they need not worry. "I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans," he said.
Reporters ran to Republican deal-makers to see what they made of this. Surprise! They weren't sweating it.
"If we get a bill between 60 and 61 votes it has a very dim outlook," said Sen. Lindsey Graham. "It depends on what Hoeven and Corker and Portman and Hatch do," he said, referring to amendments written to win Republicans.
"What Republicans are asking for in both the House and Senate are what the American people are asking for," said Sen. Marco Rubio, whose regimen of TV and radio interviews has made him a taut talking point machine. "They're willing to do immigration reform but only if there isn't another wave of illegal immigration in the future."
He wouldn't dictate to the House. "We need to focus on the Senate process. The House has its own process and its own position. If we get a strong vote here, the odds are better of getting something through the House, and that's something everybody's been saying since the beginning. I don't know anyone around here who doesn't acknowledge that. The idea that the House is just going to take up and pass something we pass out of here, that's never been how it works."
It's a debate that was supposed to come later than this. Any immigration bill is going to be written in conference committee. It's relatively easy for the Senate to pass a Democrat-led bill; it's possible for the House to pass one written to please Republicans, one perhaps missing a pathway to citizenship altogether.
"Part of the Senate bill's problem is that it creates a new pathway, and it's expedited," said Sen. Rand Paul. "I think we get rid of all of the problems if we get rid of the pathway, no new visa status, you just give people work visas and let 'em get in line."
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 11:22 AM
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal is trudging through the middle of his second and final term. He's won two landslide elections, but this year (boosted by bigger Republican numbers in the legislature) he pushed for a regressive tax reform that blew up like a trick cigar; his approval rating sunk into the high 30s.
Nationally, Jindal is still seen as a straight-talking wonk. He's back with another Politico column that reads like a stump speech—like a speech by someone who hasn't debated the other side in a while. "I’ve offered a list of seven ideas for change," he writes. The listicle he's referring to, from November, included ideas like stop "damag[ing] the brand with offensive and bizarre comments" and "stop insulting the intelligence of voters." Other Republicans have ignored the first advice, and Jindal ignores the second with this description of what liberals think.
The left wants: The government to explode; to pay everyone; to hire everyone; they believe that money grows on trees; the earth is flat; the industrial age, factory-style government is a cool new thing; debts don’t have to be repaid; people of faith are ignorant and uneducated; unborn babies don’t matter; pornography is fine; traditional marriage is discriminatory; 32 oz. sodas are evil; red meat should be rationed; rich people are evil unless they are from Hollywood or are liberal Democrats; the Israelis are unreasonable; trans-fat must be stopped; kids trapped in failing schools should be patient; wild weather is a new thing; moral standards are passé; government run health care is high quality; the IRS should violate our constitutional rights; reporters should be spied on; Benghazi was handled well; the Second Amendment is outdated; and the First one has some problems too.
There's a lot in there, but I bolded the lines that elicit out-loud "whuh-huhs"? Which liberals are talking about rationing—full-on government rationing—of red meat? Who says "wild weather is new" versus "there's more dangerous weather now because of climate change"?
Jindal's rep is as a wunderkind who was put in charge of Louisiana's hospital system at age 28. To be competitive in the Iowa caucuses, he needs to either pretend to be a schmuck or emphasize his heretofore-concealed schmucky tendencies. It started with his chortle about federal money for "something called volcano monitoring" in 2009, it continues here.
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 9:41 AM
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Last night, on The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News' most beloved host asked House Oversight dragonslayer Trey Gowdy about the latest in the IRS story.
"Do you think this was orchestrated by the Democratic Party or the White House?" asked O'Reilly.
"Well, I don't have any evidence to support that," said Gowdy, a onetime Slate columnist. "I can tell you this. One place we ought to be looking is the—is the Obama/Biden re-elect. Not just the White House but their re-election team. I like to deal in evidence. I can't prove to you that it goes to the White House. I can tell you this—I don't think two rogue agents in Cincinnati concocted this scheme on their own."
That was a long-winded and innuendo-laden way of saying "uh, not really." Because "not really" isn't the current line. After four weeks in the news, the IRS scandal is still the tentpole of the "scandal-plagued Obama administration" story line. Republicans have failed to prove that the White House ordered the IRS' nosy questionnaires of Tea Party applicants for nonprofit status, but they've piled on accusations. Briefly:
- The White House and Democrats had berated giant conservative 501 groups like Americans for Prosperity for their tax-exempt status, and asked the IRS to investigate this. Republicans have tied those requests to the scrutiny of small, startup Tea Party groups—which the Democrats were never worried about. "Why did the IRS target these groups?" bellowed the NRSC in a recent attack. "According to the New York Times, because Senate Democrats like Jeanne Shaheen pressured them to."
- The White House was told of the coming IG report on targeting three weeks before it was released. In the FUD of half-remembered news stories, this delay has been remembered as some kind of cover-up.
The result: a new CNN poll that gets this trendline.
Republican strategists spent part of the morning crowing and sending around those numbers. They're not just good—they're counter to the trend exemplified by Gowdy. It's gotten progressively tougher to argue factually that the White House ordered the targeting. As Josh Green reported last week, House investigators are simultaneously denying a Democratic request to release full transcripts of witness interviews and trying to widen the investigation to find out whether the White House ordered audits of Republican donors. (Romney super PAC donor Frank Vander Sloot has claimed for a year that he was targeted for audits.) Republicans are betting that the media drumbeat overwhelms the rest of the music. Sound bet.
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013, at 8:31 AM
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Anti-gun rallies under the "Occupy the NRA" banner don't seem to be going anywhere.
The protest drew three members of Organizing for Action, a nonprofit group that supports President Barack Obama's agenda, to the National Orange Show Events Center. "It's three people today, but it will be 23 next time, and we'll see the time after that," Lewis said.
Rep. Michael Burgess gives us a pro-life argument for the ages.
“Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful,” said Burgess, a former OB/GYN. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?”
The Massachusetts special election wheezes into its final week with a consistent derisive message from Ed Markey: His opponent keeps "complaining."*
Immigration restrictionists are pitching a fit about an anonymous Marco Rubio aide's Kinsley gaffe -- his/her assertion that "there are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can’t cut it. There shouldn’t be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer." It's in print, it's anonymous -- has it actually traveled as a story outside conservative media?
And Rick Santorum is starting a 2016 campaign even earlier than he started the 2012 campaign. Who's in the market for such a candidate this time? Is he counting on the entire next generation of GOP stars to implode the way Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich did? That's mighty optimistic.
Correction, June 18, 2013: This post originally misquoted Politico's story about the Massachusetts Senate race.
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013, at 8:05 PM
Today saw the unlimited-edition release of two new stories from me. The first reviews American Dreams in China, a drama that closely resembles The Social Network and has become a massive hit in the Middle Kingdom. The message: Copyright theft in the cause of China is no vice! And the second story takes you through a fertile discussion of birth rates that captivated a weekend conference of social conservatives.
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013, at 3:55 PM
That's some trendline in the Pew poll question about Syria. The pollster has been asking people, for 15 months, whether they're on board with sending aid to Syrian rebel groups. What started as a +34-point margin for "no" is now a +50 margin for no.
March 2012 was the escalation period that drove up American awareness of the situation Syria. December 2012 was a period of success for rebel groups—and more definitive criticism from the Obama administration. June 2013? Why, that's when the administration meandered toward a larger committment. And people don't want it.
Neither does the White House! If you parse what aides have been saying about the new aid, they don't even talk of a U.S.-boosted victory. They talk about an "even playing field" and a "settlement." How far we've traveled from 2003, when it was perfectly ordinary to hear the Bush administration chastise Syria for sending arms into Iraq and to let the impression of a "next war" hang in the air.
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013, at 1:52 PM
Photo by Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images
For eight years, the public and political face of Iran was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran hawks in the United States couldn't have asked for a better punching bag. He was diminutive, smarmy, anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying, 9/11-denying, rambling and unpopular at home. (A friend of mine returned from a Tehran trip with a candle molded after the president). He had a way with words, even through the fog of translation—who can forget "wipe Israel off the map"?—that made him terrifying in TV ads.
Analysts and politicians who wanted to cool down rhetoric toward Iran attempted to use Ahmadinejad, too. Was he the elected president? Yes. But he wasn't the Supreme Leader. Ahmadinejad clashed with Iran's real rulers, losing byzantine "power struggles," and proving that his word wasn't definitive.
Ahmadinejad's on his way out. The new president of Iran will be Hassan Rouhani, who won an election unmarred by 2009-style protests. Since he won, he's been portrayed in the West as a "moderate cleric." That frustrates American activists and analysts who believe that engagement is a lost cause. Wasn't it just a week or so ago that "the president of Iran didn't matter," and that the mullahs ran the country?
"What frustrated the pro-engagement crowd about Ahmadinejad wasn't so much the content of his message but the way it made their job so much harder," says Noah Pollak of the Emergency Committee for Israel. "Their goal has never really been to stop the nuclear program, but to box the U.S. into a diplomacy-only strategy that gives the regime space to acquire nuclear weapons. The reason they're now insisting Rouhani is a 'moderate' is because they want to revive that strategy."
For hawks that's a nightmare scenario. Over at the Tower, Avi Issacharoff is collecting opinions from Iran critics, who think the regime pulled a fast one. "Victory for a candidate who is perceived as more moderate yet still has the confidence of Khamenei, serves the regime in the best way," Israeli professor Soli Shahvar tells him.* "Externally, Iran today is in a very difficult situation with regard to sanctions and its international standing. A conservative president would only have increased Tehran’s isolation in the world. A victory for someone from the ‘moderate stream,’ however, will immediately bring certain countries in the international community to call for ‘giving a chance to dialogue with the Iranian moderates."
Correction, June 17, 2013: This post originally misspelled Soli Shahvar's first name.
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013, at 11:43 AM
Hypothetical question time. It's early June. You are a defender of America's spying programs—you're Dianne Feinstein, let's say. There's fresh new heat on those programs thanks to a leak that at first is anonymous, but after a couple of days is revealed to come from a 29-year old consultant working with the NSA, named Edward Snowden. How do you get out of your pickle? You've got to hope that Snowden pulls a Full Assange, first turning into the story (as the NSA spying story recedes) then turning into a messy story.
You're in luck. Snowden's live chat with Guardian readers. Snowden, asked why he fled to Hong Kong:
[T]he US Government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime.
This is nitpicking, but only a few people in the legislative branch rushed to call Snowden a "traitor." Dianne Feinstein did, and Peter King did, but the White House has dodged the question and other legislators have withheld judgment on the "T-word." You see where Snowden's coming from, but this is a broad brush he's using. He's a fan of the broad brush—he says this to imply that spying programs affecting foreigners are affronts to the rights of man, so we should oppose them.
[T]he "US Persons" protection in general is a distraction from the power and danger of this system. Suspicionless surveillance does not become okay simply because it's only victimizing 95% of the world instead of 100%. Our founders did not write that "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all US Persons are created equal."
He also denies that he's working with China (he's only shared information about America's spying in China, and criticized it), adding that "the US media has a knee-jerk 'RED CHINA!' reaction to anything involving HK or the PRC." That, he says, is naive. This, he says, is not naive.
Congress hasn't declared war on the countries -- the majority of them are our allies -- but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we're not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police?
Again, imagine you're one of the pols who wanted to nail Snowden from the get-go. He's making a terrific case for you, arguing that the American government has no right to snoop in countries unless they're at war with the United States -- a position that would have ruled out spying on the USSR or assets from 1946 to 1991, or spying on Iran now.
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013, at 10:21 AM
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The high court is taking its sweet time getting to the era-defining voting rights, affirmative action, and gay marriage cases. If this term were The Return of the King, today would have been the scene in which the hobbits jumped on a bed—a non-ending. But the court did strike down one of the laws passed during Arizona's conservative blitz, one that required ID from voters signing registration forms. This, according to the court, was superseded by the "motor voter" law. And so from the pen of Antonin Scalia, yet another one of those hard-right Jan Brewer-approved laws goes down. From the ruling:
States retain the flexibility to design and use their own registration forms, but the Federal Form provides a backstop: No matter what procedural hurdles a State’s own form imposes, the Federal Form guarantees that a simple means of registering to vote in federal elections will be available. Arizona’s reading would permit a State to demand of Federal Form applicants every additional piece of information the State requires on its state-specific form. If that is so, the Federal Form ceases to perform any meaningful function, and would be a feeble means of “increas[ing] the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal office.”
Hard to read anything from that and apply it to the VRA case. This decision doesn't veer anywhere near questions of discrimination or historical context. There's a law. The states tried to overwhelm it. States can't do that. End of decision, end of court drama 'til Thursday.