David Brock 1, CBS News 0
Two and a half weeks ago, a special 60 Minutes report on the 9/11/12 Benghazi attacks poured some more gas onto what had been a dimming fire. A supposed year of reporting had produced a good timeline of Ambassador Chris Stevens' warnings—which went ignored—and a new witness, a British contractor going by the name "Morgan Jones." After the report aired. Lindsey Graham demanded more access to witnesses. Rep. Frank Wolf, the House's Benghazi watchdog, told Virginia voters to watch the special.
But this was before the Washington Post reported that "Jones" had told his employer, initially, that he did not go to the compound during the attack. In an interview with Eli Lake, "Jones" claimed to have lied in that first report. As critics led by Media Matters' David Brock asked questions, CBS News investigated the report, until issuing this statement:
60 Minutes has learned of new information that undercuts the account told to us by Morgan Jones of his actions on the night of the attack on the Benghazi compound.
We are currently looking into this serious matter to determine if he misled us, and if so, we will make a correction.
I'm pleased that 60 Minutes is beginning to take the necessary steps towards righting a very serious error. However, I reiterate my call for an independent investigative committee to probe all aspects of how the story was reported, as they have done with previous controversies.
It's a good day for this concerted campaign to debunk the report, and a bad week for Jones, whose book about what he saw was also excerpted in this magazine.
Ron and Rand Paul Team Up to Deride Chris Christie's Win
Across C-SPAN to Fox News, there was a symmetry of reactions to Chris Christie's win from the Ron Paul dynasty. First, Ron:
What Paul the Younger is referring to, by the way, is a multimillion-dollar ad campaign that matched fist-pumping Imagine Dragons soundalike music with the governor's family reading a script about how the shore was back.
Christie's doomed Democratic opponent Barbara Buono tried to make sport of those ads, joking that seeing Chris Christie on the beach didn't exactly make her want to rush there. Christie insisted that this was a fat joke.
Jeff Merkley Explains How Filibuster Reform Could Return to the Senate
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley is generally recognized as the prime mover beyond filibuster reform in 2013. Elected in 2008, lacking a strong foe in 2014, Merkley has repeatedly urged Democrats to roll back the filibuster rules that have let 41 senators block any nominee. Today, as Democrats looked toward two more possible filibusters of nominees to the D.C. Circuit, I asked Merkley how it all looked.
Dave Weigel: Have other Democrats started talking yet about revisiting filibuster reform?
Jeff Merkley: There'll be an intense conversation about executive branch nominations. The understanding at the start of this year, expressed—I think I have this nearly word for word—in a promise from Mitch McConnell, was to return to the norms and traditions of the U.S. Senate regarding nominations. That promise wasn't fulfilled, but that was a promise on executive and judicial nominations. That led to the fight in July, with 51 senators standing behind Harry Reid, because executive branch nominees deserve an up-or-down vote in advise and consent.
That understanding was disrupted with the failure to get an up-or-down vote on Mel Watt. So we'll be returning to that piece. You go to the judicial nominees and, certainly, it cannot be the case that one president, one party, gets up-or-down votes on his or her nominees, and the president of the other party does not get up-or-down votes. This battle was fought in 2005, when my Republican colleagues were in charge, and they said there have to be up-and-down judicial votes, or we will change the rules, kind of the reverse image of what happened in July.
DW: One of the nominees confirmed by that deal wrote last week's conscience clause ruling, too.
JM: Yes. This has not escaped anyone's attention. I'm confident there will be an intense effort to address this issue. I'll leave it to the leadership to develop the plans. I'm certainly going to be advocating that we cannot have advise and consent be a tool with which a minority of one house of a legislative branch does deep damage to the other coequal branches of government. They're not coequal if one branch can undermine the other two.
DW: But do you lose votes on this, between the Democrats who are OK with up-or-down votes on short-term nominees but not with those votes on lifetime judicial appointments?
JM: There has been a concern that some members have expressed that when they think of executive nominees, they think two to four years. When they think of judges, they think lifetime. They'd like to retain the ability to block really terrible judges in the future. I would respond to that by saying this issue was resolved in 2005, when we did block some very bad nominees, but the response from our Republican colleagues was you must stop, or we'll change the rules to a simple majority. The Gang of 14 said, yes, there will be no more blockade accepted except under extraordinary circumstances. And there've been no scandals on these nominees. The standard insisted on by my Republican colleagues has unfortunately not been honored.
DW: Well, are you worried about giving these judges up-or-down votes, and then finding yourself and 48 Democrats in the minority unable to stop a judge?
JM: I don't worry about that in this sense. I know that if there is a Republican president and a Republican majority, they will force up-and-down votes because they demonstrated their committment to that principle in 2005. There is, in a democracy, power that goes with the voice of the people. When people elect a president, there are electing him for his nominating powers as well as his management.
Senate Passes Bill to Ban Job Discrimination Against LGBT People; 10 Republicans Sign On
A week ago, one of the gay-issues reporters who's appeared on the Senate during the Employment Non-Discrimination Act debate got John McCain in his sights.
"Do you support ENDA, and banning discrimination of Americans over their sexual orientation?"
"That's one way of looking at it," shrugged McCain. He blew off the question and walked over to New York Times scribe Mike Liebovich to catch up.
Anyone watching the exchange would figure that McCain, who opposes gay marriage, would be a "no" on ENDA. But the adoption of some religious protections soothed him and fellow Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. They joined eight other Republicans in the penultimate vote on ENDA, ensuring its passage.
Democrats took advantage of the moment by asking House Republicans if they really, really wanted to be left off the bandwagon.
"Every time we pass a bill, it's like we're banishing it to a faraway jail," said Sen. Chuck Schumer.
"Our history books are littered with those public figures who say we can't end discrimination based on race, discrimination based on disability, discrimination based on gender," said Sen. Dick Durbin, delivering the lines with camera-ready outrage. It was up to John Boehner whether he wanted to join the blacklist. "His home state of Ohio is one of the 29 states that allow employers to discriminate."
Senate Republicans no longer pose a problem for ENDA. The goal, for Democrats now, is shaming John Boehner until this becomes the umpteenth bill passed without most of Boehner's Republicans supporting it.
UPDATE: And we're done—it's passed. Final Republican roll call: Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller, Mark Kirk, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, and Pat Toomey.
Weigel Family Represents One-Quarter of Delaware's Obamacare Signups
The AP broke the news yesterday: In a month and change, my home state of Delaware saw four signups for Obamacare. What went unreported, because nobody cared: My younger brother appears to have been one of the four. I asked him about the experience and got a more press-release-esque response than one typically expects from a family member.
I am a 26 year old healthy male who was able to get a gold Blue Cross Blue Shield policy and a dental policy from Delta Dental through the online exchange at a savings of over $210 per month, without subsidies. I currently have policies from the same sources through COBRA that were going to expire at the end of February next year. I am a consultant and my company does not offer health insurance, so without Obamacare I would have been faced with finding an individual health policy the old way. Now I will have one with no annual or lifetime maximums and with no doubts about acceptance or future cancelation. Obamacare works for me.
Left unsaid in this spin job: Phil was born premature and had some surgery on his intestines early in his life. The sort of thing I'd assume could have been used in the old health care regime. Also, his/my father works for a company that got a waiver, exempting it from that whole "kids on your insurance until age 26" thing.
Rand Paul, Breitbart.com Columnist
As recently as Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Rand Paul was a columnist for the Washington Times. Some of the conservative newspaper's sale boxes advertised that fact, slapping photos of the senator on the front of them and telling buyers they could "read him every week." Paul's team did not say that the column would end, even though Andrew Kaczynski, the Jason Bourne of Internet research, had proved that a column on mandatory minimums was largely copied.
On Tuesday night, when many politicos were watching election results, Washington Times Editor John Solomon suspended Paul. Twenty-four hours later, Breitbart.com announced it would pick up the column. Its official announcement made no mention of the copied-text scandal, so I asked Steve Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News Network, whether the site would be monitoring what Paul turned in more closely.
"We will provide editorial support that the Washington Times didn't," wrote Bannon in an email. (I've lightly edited his response to remove thumb-type-ese. "To me what's important is look at what he was trying to get across at Liberty [University]. I think the conservative media doesn't understand how powerful his understanding of culture up river from politics really is. Christie just another politician: You may love him or not but it doesn't really mean anything. Paul and the liberty movement are much different. Why? Because it can reach the Dave Weigels of the world, and that means victory in the long term. The easy stuff of editorial support is a no brainer."
This is one reason why the Paul story—which I do think has made it into the rotation of facts the mainstream media considers important about Paul—has not damaged him on the right. Another reason? Compare this situation with Joe Biden's 1987 rip-off of then-Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock's "platform on which to stand" speech. What makes this so devastating?
Easy: the video. Biden could never overcome (not that year, anyway) the side-by-side of him using the words crafted by the florid, arm-swinging Welshman. Apart from that Liberty speech, with its rip from the Wikipedia entry for Gattaca, and a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Paul's copied text has all appeared in print. His sources were print, not video that could be compared and contrasted.
How to Fix Election Night Concession Phone Calls: End Them
Kevin Drum is rather bored by the stories of unsuccessful 2013 candidates refusing to call their conquerers. Longtime Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes did not call victor Ken Thompson, who beat him in the Democratic primary then crushed him 3-1 when Hynes insisted on taking his temper tantrum into a general election. Ken Cuccinelli did not call Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe. Given that I was in the room for it, I can confirm that E.W. Jackson celebrated his 10-point loss in the LG race by talking about his future plans but never mentioning his opponent.
Bqhatevwr, says Drum. "How many people think we should do away with the whole tradition of a congratulatory phone call from the loser of a political campaign? Is it an insincere gesture that's nonetheless useful as a public way of bearing witness to the peaceful transfer of legitimate power in a democracy and keeping up a facade of civility?"
I think it's a fine concept but an imperfect tradition. In my birth state of Delaware, candidates do more than concede to their opponents. After the election, they commemorate Return Day by literally "burying the hatchet," submerging an actual ax in an actual bucket of sand. This, I believe, is why so many financial institutions decide to incorporate in the state. (Well, that or the insanely favorable tax and legal code.)
It's fun, but even better is the British tradition of making all candidates in a race stand on the same stage and just suffer through it as the election results are read. This leads to the sort of high drama usually reserved for the time between a photo finish at a horse race and the moment the judge you've paid off determines who one. Nothing better symbolized the 1997 Labour Party landslide than the defeat of Michael Portillo, a Tory expected to be a top candidate for party leader after the loss. Watch here as the crowd hears Portillo's number, then some third party candidate's numbr, then the first digit of Labour candidate Stephen Twigg's number—and realizes that Twigg has won.
See? Much better. Imagine Todd Akin having to stand there as Claire McCaskill's victory is announced, then getting to trash her and his party as she watched.
Ken Cuccinelli and the Dolchstosslegende
It hurts to lose an election. It hurts like lemon juice poured into a gash on the back of your knee if, for a moment, you thought you could win.* Republicans in Virginia had started to resign themselves to the defeat of their candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, the smart, right-wing attorney general. He had not led any polls of the race since July; his negative numbers were stuck above 50 percent. He had been, it seemed, doomed by Gov. Bob McDonnell's donor scandal (which kept the most popular Republican in the state off the trail) and by Terry McAuliffe's unholy fundraising and spending.
But they ended up losing a race by 2.5 points, by as many votes as there are attendees at a state college football gave—much closer than the media polls predicted. As I've been writing since last night, this has reinforced the message Cuccinelli closed with on the trail and even in defeat: The election was a "referendum on Obamacare" and he basically won it.
This afternoon has brought in a new storyline: The GOP establishment and anti-conservative Republicans threw the race for Cuccinelli. Donors undermined him; socially liberal Republicans spoiled their ballots by voting for a Libertarian. Rush Limbaugh's on board:
They didn't want him to win. This is the dirty little secret. I don't think it's even a secret now. I'm telling you, such is the animus toward the Tea Party in the Republican Party establishment that they are perfectly comfortable with a Christie win and a Cuccinelli loss because to them that's a Tea Party loss. So now the Republican establishment can run around and claim the Tea Party is an albatross around their neck.
Did donors undermine Cuccinelli? Yes. I think Ross Douthat does a good job explaining how the "donor class" balked at supporting Cuccinelli after going more than all in for McDonnell and Mitt Romney. Outgoing Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling undermined Cuccinelli whenever he had the chance. But there's a bit of victimization here. The last three candidates for governor of Virginia were attorneys general, who resigned long before the election to raise money. Cuccinelli never resigned, compounding McAuliffe's advantage by limiting his own choices to 1) not working that day or 2) working and not raising money.
Did Libertarians spoil the election? No. Republicans will never go along with this, but the pre-election polls and the exit poll suggest that Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis drew slightly more potential Democrats than potential Republicans. Unfortunately for us, the exit pollster did not ask who the Sarvis voters' second choice would have been. But Sarvis drew 3 percent of Democrats, 4 percent of Republicans, and 15 percent of independents—and Cuccinelli ended up with a plurality of independents after polling behind among them. Inconclusive? OK: Sarvis won 4 percent of "liberals" and 3 percent of "conservatives." The most Cuccinelli-friendly, reality-based revote, if Sarvis was off the ballot, would have been a 52–48 McAuliffe win.
Was there a pro-Cuccinelli electorate waiting to be tapped? Not really. Cuccinelli won less of the popular vote than any Republican candidate for governor since 1985. Cuccinelli won 45.5 percent, or about 1,011,563 votes. That's about 112,574 fewer votes than he won in 2009, when he became attorney general. McAuliffe has won about 1,066,381 votes, about 247,431 more votes than the last Democratic candidate for governor.
This might be more important. In 2009 the electorate that put Bob McDonnell in office was 37 percent Republican and 33 percent Democratic. Yesterday's electorate: 37 percent Democratic, 32 percent Republican. Whose fault was that? Donors for not backing Cuccinelli? Cuccinelli for alienating moderates? McAuliffe for turning out his vote?
Did Obamacare close the gap? Somewhat, yes. Democratic pollsters deny it, but the fact is that the Virginia electorate opposed Obamacare. Cuccinelli's problem: It wasn't a motivating issue at the polls.
*Democrats are feeling this in what appears to be the defeat of their candidate for attorney general, which would be the second in three elections lost by a fraction of 1 percent of the vote.
The Exciting New Strategy to Dismantle Obamacare, for Real This Time
The Washington Post maintains a vertical called PostPartisan: The Insiders in which opinions that could expressed in a couple of tweets are bloated out to ramble-length, usually in the service of some party's argument. Here, GOP strategist-pundit Ed Rogers argues that the next Republican bill to halt Obamacare is really going to do it this time. The Keep Your Health Plan Act, introduced by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (mirrored by a similar Senate bill introduced by Ron Johnson), would do all this:
Notwithstanding any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (including any amendment made by such Act or by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010), a health insurance issuer that has in effect health insurance coverage in the individual market as of January 1, 2013, may continue after such date to offer such coverage for sale during 2014 in such market outside of an Exchange established under section 1311 or 1321 of such Act.
Doing so, Democrats realize, would undermine the entire health care law. They don't take this bill seriously. Ah, says Rogers—they will!
If the bill passes the House, it will be interesting to see if the Senate can avoid a vote. We can assume that all 45 Republicans (sic) senators will vote for the bill; add in the 14 Democratic senators who are up for re-election in 2014 and the number of Democratic senators who can’t stomach the lies, and you might get to 60 votes.
Of course it'll pass the House. Every chisel blow to Obamacare makes it through the House. But what Senate is Rogers looking at? Did we not just go through a monthlong CR debate that consisted of Republicans trying to break "vulnerable Senate Democrats" on Obamacare and being shocked when they didn't break? The new bill isn't any different—it doesn't even take advantage of the fact that Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (who is up in 2014) and Sen. Joe Manchin (who isn't) have a different, more attenuated version of the bill. It's more messaging.
Rogers doesn't pretend otherwise. He just reveals how ridiculous the plan for passage must be. Yes, "14 Democratic senators" are up in 2014. Among them: Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner. None of them is in danger—Warner's from a state where a losing Republican candidate made his election a "referendum on Obamacare" and merely lost by a bit less than expected. If all of them decide to vote with their constituents, oops—no massive Democratic surge to pass this bill.
This is a shame, all of it, whether you're one of those people saving money on Obamacare or one of them losing a good Kaiser plan. Post-shutdown, post a Democratic win in Virginia, there's no proposal for a tweak to Obamacare. There's just trench warfare. Again.
Chris Christie: All Coat, No Tail
The day after his triumph, Chris Christie returned to the place where it had been sweetest: Union City. Located just across the Hudson River from New York City, Union City is nearly entirely Hispanic, and reliably Democratic. This summer the city's Democratic mayor, Brian Stack, endorsed Christie, and by the end of the race, the burg became a beacon for reporters writing about Christie's Hispanic outreach. Christie closed his re-election race with New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez in ... Union City.
So on Tuesday, flanked by a Greek chorus of cheering schoolkids, Christie held a lengthy press conference about how he won the state and won this city by 6,000 votes. "If you're doing something in Union City and you want it to be successful, go see Mayor Stack," he said.
Underneath the surface, though, there was a realistic follow-up question. Why hadn't Christie's popularity been transferred to other candidates? Democrats down the ballot held right onto their votes in Union City. Christie campaigned in person for a few Republican Senate candidates. None of them won. Over at Politicker, pollster Patrick Murray (who says only one state legislative race can be credited to Christie, maybe) provides the data.
Take a look at the vote totals from the state’s five southernmost counties (Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester). According to the unofficial results, Christie won these five counties with 143,799 votes to 76,623 for Buono. However, the Democratic candidates for state Senate in these counties took 117,316 votes to 97,696 for the GOP slate.
Christie's "coattails" quest was always hampered by the map. Democrats ran the legislature in 2011; they got to draw a map that made it tough to dislodge them. But they also ran a strong survival campaign, portraying their weaker members as bipartisan wartime allies of the governor, and the Republican challengers as extremists. It worked. Not even the Bergen Record's endorsement of a Republican challenger in the key 38th District race could flip it.
I hear you, reader: Maybe you don't care who represents what legislative district in the New York City suburbs. And maybe Republican primary voters won't care. Wasn't it just two years ago that Grover Norquist defined the essential quality of a Republican president as a "hand to hold a veto pen"? If Christie runs ahead of the ticket in a country more Republican than New Jersey, they'll take it.
But his victory yesterday didn't look like other landslides. Christie has changed viewers' perception of him, but not of his party. Steve Kornacki has a smart piece comparing the 2013 Christie win to the even-larger 1998 George W. Bush landslide, the gubernatorial race that let Bush tell the world he had appeal to voters who never go Republican. But the Bush race basically closed the book on Texas Democrats. In a Karl Rove-guided upset, the lieutenant governor's office went (by 2 points) to some guy named Rick Perry. The attorney general's office went to some guy named John Cornyn—the first Republican to hold that office. Republicans swept every statewide race and gained seats in the legislature.
There has been no comparable transformation in New Jersey. At his presser, Christie was left cheering the defeat of Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford, who'd clashed with him during hurricane evacuations, but otherwise got right back to describing his strategy for divided government.
"If the Democrats in the legislature want me to increase the earned income tax credit, I've sent them bills to do that," he said. "They need to decrease taxes to do it."