Posted Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at 12:51 PM
Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages
For those of you who missed last night's sole debate between former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and businesswoman Elizabeth Colbert Busch, here's a handy video recapping the event courtesy of Slate's Andy Bouve. Introducing the debate, the Daily Beast's John Avlon pointed out this race is both "the most exciting and the only" congressional contest taking place. So here we are, picking over the bones.
Sanford showed class by not bringing up Colbert Busch's famous brother once in the debate. And while Colbert Busch didn't say the magic words "Argentina" or "Appalachian Trail" directly, she raised that specter nonetheless.
The most Google-able issue of the night was the Obama administration's effort to dredge the port of Charleston, which you can read up on here before the election next Tuesday.
Posted Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at 12:47 PM
Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
All anyone needs to know about the Paradigm Research Group's weeklong "hearing" on alien life is reported here by Marisa Schultz. The idea is mildly silly; the execution is inscrutable. Why pay former Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, last seen decrying Detroit voters for wanting to vote against her son-turned-horrible-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick ("Don't let 'em all talk about y'alls boy," she said*), to partake in this?
Kilpatrick used some of her time for questioning to introduce Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who was in the audience in the nearly full ballroom, as "one of the leaders in our nation on this topic." Farrakhan has spoken of his own UFO encounter that he has reportedly called "the wheel."
That's a considerable decline from the last time something like this happened at the National Press Club.
*This was later turned into a memorably amateurish campaign ad.
Posted Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at 9:56 AM
Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
In South Carolina, anyway—though I've talked to Democrats in other red states who say the same thing. In her debate with Mark Sanford, Elizabeth Colbert Busch did something no Democrat would have thought of doing in that district until this year.
On the issue of gay marriage, Colbert Busch acknowledged she was for “full equality,” calling the issue “a matter of civil rights and equal protection under the law.” And quoting the former vice president, whose daughter is openly gay, argued “Freedom is freedom for everyone.”
OK, and at the same time she rejected any notion that her national support meant that she'd side with labor unions on any future issues like the 2011 NLRB-Boeing contretemps. What explains that? Gay marriage isn't popular in the state—it's just less and less of a signifier, a sign that the person you're talking to is an inconsolable liberal. And it's another example of a culture war fade.
Posted Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at 8:44 AM
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
Michael Barbaro writes a fascinating profile of Anthony Weiner's post-scandal business income. It took less than a month from his resignation—you know, that period when he was being "rehabbed" for some reason—for him to set up a consulting firm.
Mr. Weiner has advised Covington & Burling as it seeks to persuade the Federal Communications Commission to relax its long-standing objections to major foreign investment in the broadcast industry. He has tutored the firm on the key players and their political sensitivities, using knowledge gleaned from his tenure on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The punchline: Weiner hopes that his quick recovery as a rent-seeker can be sold to voters as "business experience." Is he a lobbyist now? He cannot say with certitude.
My colleague John Dickerson proves that quick sequestration fixes are the absolute worst way to handle our spending angsts.
Washington's talkative pro-immigration reform conservatives tell McKay Coppins that they fear a bigot eruption.
Megan McArdle asks why it would be so bad for the Kochs to own a newspaper chain.
And Alex Burns* profiles Rep. Tom Cotton as the One True Hawk.
*This post originally said Jake Sherman wrote the profile.
Posted Monday, April 29, 2013, at 5:47 PM
The minute Scott Brown passed on the special election to replace John Kerry, this summer's Massachusetts U.S. Senate race became a snooze. In the minutes that pressure-cooker bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, the race became half-sideshow, half-farce.
First, the farce. Rep. Stephen Lynch, the pro-life Democrat who represents most of Boston, was the first to pounce on "homeland security" as an issue after the bombings. After a week of campaign silence, Lynch returned to the airwaves with a straight-to-camera we're-gonna-get-through-this ad.
Simultaneously, in the final debates with Rep. Ed Markey—the front-runner, who passed on the original chance to win this seat 29 years ago—Lynch asked why his opponent had been so damn weak on terror.
“Every single member of Congress, Democrat and Republican, that supported funding for homeland security, that supported having a coordinated effort between federal, state, and local officials – we all voted for that, you voted against it, and somehow you’re the champion,” Lynch said, pointing to a 2002 vote to establish the Joint Interagency Homeland Security Task Force in which Markey was one of 10 votes in opposition.
“If I did vote no, the reason I voted no was that they were excluding a provision that would have made the bill even stronger,” Markey replied.
After the debate, Markey praised the anti-terrorism task force’s work since the marathon attacks.
This was a clever-looking sneak attack, as evidenced by Markey's shrug of a response. I said clever-sounding.
Lynch was mistaken. He had his terrorism task forces tangled.
Boston’s Joint Terrorism Task Force was created in 1997, an FBI spokeswoman said. That was four years before Lynch was sworn into office. And it was not crafted by Congress, said Tom Powers, a former FBI agent who helped create it.
“I don’t recall any congressional mandate or anything from Congress,” said Powers, who was a supervisory special agent in the FBI’s Boston office in 1997. “It was an FBI initiative.”
This whole story, from the Boston Globe is hilarious, down to Lynch's insistence that the attack was mostly right because "there was a vote to create a task force." It was Lynch's closing attack, and he whiffed it.
Ever since Scott Brown won the January 2010 Senate special, the national political press has treated Massachusetts with caution bordering on phobia. Nobody wants to blow another prediction; nobody wants to miss the NEXT SCOTT BROWN. Does the new Suffolk poll of "bellwether towns"—Markey's up roughly 2-1 in them—mean the race is over? Look, it is Suffolk, which dramatically blew the 2012 election when it announced that Florida and Virginia were such Romney locks that they hardly needed to be polled. But it seriously looks like the garage door is closing on this one. Markey, if he wins, gets to face a second-tier Republican candidate having been blasted in debates (not so much in paid media) as a liberal "extremist."
Posted Monday, April 29, 2013, at 4:20 PM
Fittingly enough, amid all this "death of blogging" talk, I am going to blog a lot less over the next couple of days. A slow congressional recess seems like the right time for a reporting trip, and I'll be on the road for the next eight days. Rather then cursing at a random wifi or mifi connections as I try to weigh in quickly on something, I'll be spending a lot of time doing interviews or driving between them. The very capable Emma Roller will be blogging a bit more here if news breaks and I'm nowhere to be found.
Posted Monday, April 29, 2013, at 2:20 PM
Live Action and Lila Rose pioneered the modern conservative sting video. Like Ryan Grim reported in 2011, the emotional punch of Live Action stings, in which women appeared to be advised on how to terminate pregnancies on the grounds of race or gender, helped motivate Republicans to pass Planned Parenthood defunding bills. And like Grim reported, a key video didn't hold up to scrutiny when you reviewed the full tape.
Live Action has upped its game, releasing a new series of videos—filmed last year—that attempt to prove that callous abortionists are willing to kill born-alive fetuses. This time they've immediately released the raw video from the sting (if you click through, there's plenty of dull footage of a woman waiting to fill out forms while MSNBC rolls "fiscal cliff" news), and put out a transcript.
What was the goal here? Well, the tapes are being released as the Kermit Gosnell trial ends. The goal is proving that other abortion clinics, ones that haven't come under legal scrutiny, harbor the same disregard for life. Judge for yourself, but I don't know if that's proved here. The stinger repeatedly asks Dr. Cesare Santangelo if there's any risk that her late-term abortion could fail, and she'd be stuck with a baby.
"Not here," he says. "No. It could—some people will go into labor before we do the procedure. I mean, technically, you know, legally, we would be obligated to help it, you know, to survive. But, you know, it probably wouldn't."
The stinger keeps pushing; Santangelo comes up with a hypothetical. "You delivered before we got to the termination part of the procedure here. Then we would do things—we would not help it. It would be a person, a person that would be a terminal person in the hospital, let's say, that had cancer. You know? You wouldn't do any extra procedures to help that person survive."
Live Action's argument is the Gosnell activists' argument: The doctor is saying a baby that could live wouldn't be kept alive. The cancer patient analogy is exactly wrong; that, I guess, is why Santangelo now says he was "tripped up," and that he was trying to reassure a scared patient. Has Live Action proved anything about Santangelo's actual practice? No. Have they given a boost to the legislators who want to require doctors to give more and more details about the possible viability of their patients' unborn children? Oh, yes.
Posted Monday, April 29, 2013, at 11:41 AM
Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages
It's far from the lede (my colleague Josh Levin will have more on the Collins story later), but Jason Collins' essay about coming out of the closest offers an interesting political sidebar:
I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston's 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I'm seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn't even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I'd been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride.
I profiled JKIII last year, during what turned out to be a smooth political debut. He was a lacrosse player at Stanford, which didn't seem like a compelling line in his bio until right now.
UPDATE: Kennedy's statement:
For as long as I've known Jason Collins he has been defined by three things: his passion for the sport he loves, his unwavering integrity, and the biggest heart you will ever find. Without question or hesitation, he gives everything he's got to those of us lucky enough to be in his life. I'm proud to stand with him today and proud to call him a friend.
Posted Monday, April 29, 2013, at 10:48 AM
James Carter clips video of Sen. Ted Cruz taking no small amount of credit for the failure of gun control in the Senate. It's a fascinating one-act lesson in how to rewrite recent history to put yourself in the white hat, riding the handsomest steed.
So: Cruz's capsule history of the gun control debate is that the train was rolling, but he and conservative senators held fast and formed a coalition against it. He refers to the letter that he, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee wrote promising to filibuster any gun bill.
"Once that letter is out there, senators would go up to their home states, they'd go to a town hall, and citizens would stand up and say, 'Why haven't you signed that letter?'" says Cruz. He credits the latecomer Republicans who co-signed the letter, then recalls the failed filibuster against the motion to proceed to debate. "At that point, all of the reporters said, 'OK, you guys have lost,'" says Cruz. "The Wall Street Journal wrote two op-eds bashing Rand and Mike and me for being imbeciles for fighting on this. Didn't we understand!"
But that's not quite how it went. Cruz et al sent the letter when the gun control fight was already looking won; too many red-state Democrats opposed it. The fight reignited on the week of April 8, when those Democrats and several Republicans sounded open to the Manchin-Toomey compromise. On April 9, the WSJ called the Cruz et al letter a "misfire" because it was taking heat off the Democrats and putting it on that familiar villain, the Republican Filibuster-er.
In an instant, these GOP wizards have taken the onus off Senate Democrats and made Republicans the media's gun-control focus. Mr. Reid is now bellowing about Republicans blocking a vote, and Democrats such as Mark Pryor (Arkansas), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana) and Mark Begich (Alaska) don't have to declare themselves on provisions that might be unpopular at home.
Hard to argue with that—had the gun debate ended with that filibuster threat, Landrieu never would have cast her "aye" and Begich/Pryor wouldn't have angered liberals with their "no" votes. Two days after the WSJ op-ed, the Senate voted to move ahead to debate on the amendments, putting senators on the record on guns for the first time in 14 years.
But Cruz blurs the timeline. In his version of events, Democrats were convinced up to the last minute that they could break 60 votes on Manchin-Toomey ("the look of shock from the senior Democrats!") and Republicans shamed Cruz for his ... well, for his ballsiness, in this telling. Fellow Republicans, says Cruz, were "yelling at us at the top of their lungs! Look, why did you do this! As a result of what you did, I gotta go home and my constituents are yelling at me that I've got to stand on principle!"
Back on Earth, Democrats basically knew that they wouldn't break 60 on the night before the series of gun votes; Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted his disappointment. Cruz was in those rooms with GOP senators, and I wasn't, but if they were angry at him on the week of April 8, it wasn't because they disagreed with his gun stance, or lacked principle. It was because they considered it astrategic.
Reporters who live in D.C. and spend too many daylight hours talking to politicians, we get that. This was a pretty simple story of ideological preferences and interest group pressure. But Cruz wants a voter back home, a Republican activist, to learn something else—a Jimmy Stewart tale, in which the rest of the GOP was ready to sell you out until one man stood up and thundered "nay."
Posted Monday, April 29, 2013, at 8:56 AM
Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images
Look: Obviously the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, or #WHCD, is a parody of a parody of a parody of itself. Mocking it is a rite of passage for any pundit or reporter or politician. Parties that must cost $1 million, once all the sponsorships are calculated, are thrown to raise awareness for a charity that may raise $150,000 that night. It's so deliciously hate-able that even Sarah Palin, a formerly important politician who hit the pre-dinner garden brunch and the post-dinner MSNBC Party in 2011, half-assedly rouses her followers by condemning the spectacle.
Too easy. Yes, the WHCD is an embarrassing spectacle. But it's a populist spectacle, if we're grading on a scale. Tourists are allowed to line the streets and the halls of the hotel, closer than they'd get at a presidential rally (with less security), possibly closer than they'd get at an awards show. Youngish reporters and staffers, early-20s types working their first or second job in the city, get to meet high-level reporters and members of Congress. People roll cigars for them (MSNBC party) or serve them waffles (National Journal's Friday night party) or let them order anything from the bar up to $12 (BuzzFeed party). Whether they embarrass themselves is a pure question of free will.
Anyway, I've been going to the parties around the dinner (not the dinner itself) since 2010, when I was first legitimately invited to them. (In other words, I've run a circuit similar to Palin's: neither of us even pretended to patronize the charity event.) This was my 2013 experience, edited to redact embarrassing things that happened to people who have feelings.
- PSY, the balladeer behind "Gangnam Style" and "Gentleman," arrived as a guest of CBS News, then grew tired of people mobbing him for photos. His handlers found shelter in the space behind a curtain at the Atlantic/National Journal party, and held him there, a six-foot wall of Korean body men serving as a bulwark between photobombers.
"Can ... I get a photo?" I asked one handler. (This is how anyone should react when real effort has been made to block a camera.
"Not now," said my mole. "Wait. Wait. OK."—PSY was no longer paying attention—"You can do it now."
- Every D.C. party of some size and legitimacy is plagued by the Person of Interest Glance. You're talking to someone, and his/her eyes (or your eyes—you're not perfect) wander in the hope that somebody more famous or interesting might be nearby. From the celebrity's perspective, this looks like hell—so many eyes, so many possible awkward conversations with socially maladjusted drunks. It must have been easier before cellphone cameras. PSY wasn't the only star who arrived in D.C. and took pains only to talk to friends or important people. For hours, Ian McKellen formed a power circle with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk, J. Edgar) and the guy who plays Artie on Glee. Anyone going in for a photo was given the hairy eyeball by a bodyguard; a friend of mine who tried to shake McKellen's hand got a polite grimace and a brush-off. Patrick Stewart was apparently kinder, but declined photos because he didn't want to start everyone thinking they could just walk up to him and get one. Fred Armisen, however, was friendly and happy to talk about comedy, and no one was as snappish as Sean Penn, who (reportedly) once broke an iPhone after he saw it taking a surreptitious photo. Vanity Fair cameras only, thanks.
- Sean Eldridge, gay marriage activist and husband of The New Republic editor/owner Chris Hughes, made the rounds at TNR's own party and the Atlantic/National Journal shindig, just to name the two times I saw him. He's formed an exploratory committee for a 2014 congressional bid in his Hudson Valley seat; he could be seen, fittingly enough, talking with Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Dan Maffei and other possible future colleagues who liked the idea of taking back what had been Kirsten Gillibrand's seat before she was appointed to the U.S. Senate. I ran into Gillibrand herself, and got a quick lesson on the partisan breakdown of the new district ("more Democratic than it used to be") and the cultural issues that any Democrat would need to navigate ("a rich hunting culture").
- National Review and The Nation co-sponsored a party in one of the Hilton suites, and served a "purple cocktail" consisting of Grey Goose, Blue Curacao, grenadine, pineapple juice, lime juice, and a blueberry garnish. It tasted like a yacht party during spring break in Daytona Beach. I spent most of my time there with Rep. Ed Royce, just off a successful hearing on Chechen radicalization and full of questions about the degree to which radicals wanted to build a caliphate in the region.
- I had more than one conversation with a spokesperson that got into the ego-bruising subject of "who actually asks questions that elicit answers." By general agreement, the producers for networks that you don't often see on TV—people like CNN's Deirdre Walsh and CBS's Jill Jackson—were the best at digging in and blowing up talking points.
- BuzzFeed didn't waste anybody's time with WHCD coverage, but did host a parallel party-watching party for guests who couldn't make the dinner. The origins of this party were misunderstood. BuzzFeed didn't fail to score a table. It lost its White House correspondent, Zeke Miller, right before the cut-off, and it replaced him with someone—the great Evan McMorris-Santoro—who wasn't a member of the Association. Jose Canseco, who'd promised on Twitter that he'd join BuzzFeed in D.C., never made it out. Didn't matter—BuzzFeed's party made its own news, attracting a live C-SPAN camera that filmed the queues outside Jack Rose Saloon. When this appeared onscreen in the bar, on TVs flanked by hundreds of whiskey bottles, the room of 20-and-30-somethings cheered their success.
- Sarah Palin wasn't there, but Christine O'Donnell was, in what appeared to be a wedding dress, with friends dressed as bridesmaids, all of whom worked the MSNBC party until after the bar was packed up. Writing that, I now see why people fill with rage when they consider this event.
But think of all the journalism it produces! Just hours after it published a Heathers-ish piece about Mark Leibovich and his unbecoming habit of writing about D.C. ego monsters, Politico exploded with WHCD content. Mike Allen, the co-author of that Leibovich piece, wore a fishbowl lens head-camera on the red carpet and produced a shaky video that largely consisted of him waiting for a famous person to get her photo taken so he could move on. There was a bumper crop of breaking news that read funny if only because it stuck to the just-the-facts inverted pyramid style. Example:
"The president was certainly 10 times funnier than Conan O’Brien," John Shaw, the CEO of the Natural Products Association, said, summing up the feeling of many.
It's an odious tradition, yes, but it's ours.
Correction, April 29, 2013: This post originally misspelled Ian McKellen and Mark Leibovich's last names, and misidentified CBS producer Jill Jackson as Jill Jacobs.