Reporting on Politics and Policy.

July 22 2014 10:01 AM

It’s Up to Ted Cruz to Stop Iran

The Christians United for Israel conference spreads over two days; day one ends in a long musical celebration, day two is occupied mostly by lobbying trips to congressional offices. It does not usually happen at a moment when six months of negotiations with Iran have failed and been granted an extension, or a moment when Israel is warring in Gaza to destroy Hamas weaponry and tunnels.

But CUFI's available responses to this are suboptimal. In 2013 it backed a new Iranian sanctions bill co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk—a bill that seemed to be nearing on a veto-proof majority until the White House pushed back. Now, it was going to back whatever Sen. Ted Cruz came up with, in the wake of his successful bill to bar Iran's designated ambassador from the United States.

"We're very practical," said David Brog, executive director of CUFI (and a former Senate staffer). "I like to support bills that can actually pass, but the way Menendez-Kirk was throttled convinced me that on this issue, unfortunately, there can’t be a bipartisan effort that will pass or sustain a veto. And so we’re doing something we’ve rarely done, which is supporting bills to make a statement. I don't think the Cruz bill can become law, but I want to see it get a lot of co-sponsors. And even that could give the administration leverage that it doesn't know it wants."

In his Tuesday morning speech to CUFI, Cruz gave no new details of what sanctions he'd be asking for. He did run down the conditions for peace with Iran.

"Give up the centrifuges," said Cruz. "Hand over the enriched uranium—all of it. Shut down the ICBM program."

But the sense here, at the major evangelical coalition of support for Israel's policy, was that the Obama administration was cold to sanctions—that Secretary of State John Kerry, actually, was going to deny Israel a total victory by negotiating a cease-fire, and enable Iran by punting negotiations till after the 2014 election.

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July 22 2014 8:49 AM

A Judge Tosses Out a Senator’s Obamacare Lawsuit

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is generally seen as one of the more pragmatic Republicans elected by the Tea Party wave—a non-politician who says that the doomed causes and message votes of D.C. would never work in business. But last year, Johnson sued to end the deal that allowed members of Congress and their staffers to access the same health benefits as anyone else who worked for a large organization and used health care exchanges. It looked like a reach, and lo, it was. Niels Lesniewski quotes Judge William C. Griesbach*:

Even assuming that one or both Plaintiffs selected a Gold-tier plan on the DC SHOP Exchange and received the subsidy as allowed under the OPM rule, it is hard to understand how this would constitute an ‘injury’ to either person.

But the dismissal itself offers more succor for Johnson and like-minded conservatives:

Indeed, the allegations of the complaint here, which must be accepted as true at this stage of the proceedings, Navarro v. Neal, 716 F.3d 425, 429 (7th Cir. 2013), are that the executive branch has rewritten a key provision of the ACA so as to render it essentially meaningless in order to save members of Congress and their staffs from the consequences of a controversial law that will affect millions of citizens. If proven, this would be a violation of Article I of the Constitution, which reposes the lawmaking power in the legislative branch.
The violation alleged is not a mere technicality. It strikes at one of the most important safeguards against tyranny that the framers erected—the separation of powers... Nevertheless, absent a concrete injury to the party bringing the lawsuit, there is no “case for controversy” over which the courts have jurisdiction.

Not bad, for a case that never had a chance.

*Correction, July 22, 2014: This post originally misspelled Roll Call reporter Niels Lesniewski's last name.

July 21 2014 4:24 PM

Marketing Campaign of the Day

I've written and speculated about the "derp gap" before, theorizing that the pipeline between conservative media and the Drudge Report allows stories to pop even if they might not pass muster. The Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, and the Washington Free Beacon all benefit greatly from Drudge traffic; the latter two publications share an owner, Philip Anschutz.

So, going out on a short limb, I'm going to compliment this piece of salesmanship, which made it on Drudge. Paul Bedard, the always-excited "secrets" columnist at the Examiner, reports (via "tipsters") on a guerilla marketing campaign in New York and D.C.

Pulled by advertising bikes over the weekend, the posters use themes from TV's "Game of Thrones" and "House of Cards" in portraying BillHillary and Chelsea Clinton -- and advisor James Carville -- as evil, though they don't indicate exactly what the advertising is for... One tipster asked the cyclists what the posters were about, but they remained tight-lipped. The guerrilla marketing campaign could be to promote a new movie, television series or book about the Clintons, Secrets hears.

Anything like that coming tomorrow? Why, yes: July 22 is the release date of Weekly Standard reporter Daniel Halper's first book, Clinton Inc. If I am right, an Anschutz-owned paper reported on the mystery ad campaign for an Anschutz-owned magazine reporter's book, and the whole story was linked by Drudge. That's one way to get this (actually reported) book to get eyeballs after people have already dispensed with Ed Klein.

July 21 2014 3:56 PM

If Common Core Can’t Make It in New York, Can It Make It Anywhere?

The new Siena poll doesn't contain many surprises—Andrew Cuomo easily leads his re-election race, challenger Zephyr Teachout has yet to register, etc. It's really just the question, and answers, about the Common Core education curriculum that surprised me.

In a very short time, opposition to Common Core has evolved from a fringe Republican position that blue-staters laugh at to a position that clearly wins out in blue New York. When independents break against something by a 14-point margin, politicians generally look awkwardly for the escape hatches.

July 21 2014 2:25 PM

Israel, Scum, and the Media

On July 17, CNN reporter Diana Magnay reported live from Israel as a rocket flew down into the Gaza Strip. Viewers watched, in real time, as (unseen) Israelis cheered the rocket's descent.

It was around this time that Magnay tweeted her frustration at reporting the story. "Israelis on hill above Sderot cheer as bombs land on #gaza," she wrote, "threaten to 'destroy our car if I say a word wrong.' Scum." As picked up by BuzzFeed, the tweet became infamous: Magnay was reassigned to Russia. But the incident was added to a sheaf of information that supporters of Israel are citing to prove that the media and American leaders are slating their coverage and actions against the state. (The idea that the "scum"-iness was about the threat to her car, not their identity, has not really been advanced.)

Example: I'm spending the day at Christians United for Israel's annual D.C. conference, where politicians and pundits gather to speak to thousands (at least 4,500) of evangelical activists. Magnay came up.

"I thank her for a moment of truth," said Gary Bauer, the social conservative organizer. The idea that the media covering the Middle East tells the truth about Israel was "a myth in itself."

After (and unrelated to) Magnary's tweet, during his battery of Sunday show interviews, Secretary of State John Kerry had a hot-mic moment and mocked the idea that Israel's strikes were really "pinpoint." As Evan McMurry reports, it's entirely possibly that Kerry said this on purpose (the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee likely knows how microphones work), to indicate where he wanted to put pressure on his upcoming Israel trip.* But Kerry's name draws instant laughs and groans at CUFI, and Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, an IDF vet who for seven years has given speeches to defend the IDF from criticism, cautioned that Kerry wanted a cease-fire.

"This fight must not be fought to a cease-fire," he said, to much applause. "This fight must be fought to a victory."

*Correction, July 21, 2014: This post originally misspelled Evan McMurry's last name.

July 21 2014 12:57 PM

The Rick Perry Renaissance

When Rick Perry's 2012 presidential campaign ended, reporters were torn. Was it the worst-ever attempt to win the White House? Was it merely as bad as Rudy Giuliani's? Was it a fluke, caused by Perry's ill-timed (but successful) experimental back surgery, leading to voters meeting the guy at his most fatigued and loopy?

We may find out; Perry, according to Jennifer Jacobs (and at least two other reporters who followed Perry on the trip), is back in Iowa and impressing voters. The damage done by his 2012 face-plant can be seen in how Jacobs records every verbal slip.

"I know that the greatest and best years are in front of us and I know how to start us back on the track of an America that can be a beacon that's on top of a hill that's bright and that's bringing people into prosperity and hope and freedom.
"We've helped put that bluebin, that bluepin, blueprint into place." He paused and looked around with a grin. "That's a mouthful."

Still: No teleprompter. In John McCormick's story, we learn that Perry was at his best when challenging the Obama administration over immigration and saying Texas can secure the border if the feds can't. That's certainly a better approach for Perry, and a more learned approach, than his 2011 immigration reform doggedness. Everyone remembers the "oops" gaffe (which, to be fair, was so shocking it dropped the mouths of most reporters in that debate's filing center), but Perry had been softened up after he accused people critical of his Texas' tuition for illegal immigrants of lacking "heart." 

Texas has changed since then. Conservatives routed slightly-less-conservative establishment candidates in this year's statewide primaries; the state GOP amended the party platform, and now opposes the tuition plan that Perry supported. If anything, Perry is more comfortable in the first primary states than he was before. The press loves a comeback story. Democrats have been cured of their brief 2011 fear of Perry, as a candidate who could excite conservatives.

July 21 2014 10:56 AM

Don’t Bother Sending the Libertarian Techies, They’re Here Already

For a couple of reasons, chiefly because the "jaunting" technique described in The Stars My Destination has not yet been discovered, I spent the weekend in Detroit and missed the first LincolnLabs Reboot conference in San Francisco. It was an irresistable story—the courting of Silicon Valley by Sen. Rand Paul and the Koch-funded Generation Opportunity, and the birth of "conservatarians," whatever that was.

On Saturday I noticed that Mark Ames had written a story about how the conference was actually a "cesspool" that validated homophobia and racism. "With 'Reboot,' " Ames wrote, "libertarianism is making its Big Pitch to Silicon Valley." I tweeted sarcastically (surprising, I know) about my surprise that "there were libertarians in the tech industry," which inspired Ames' editor Paul Carr and colleague Yasha Levine to spend part of their Saturdays mocking the criticism and asking whether I agreed with my former employer, Reason magazine, when it published articles that appeared to defend apartheid and Holocaust denial.

Not really my point, and Ames' charge that "Reason supported apartheid South Africa, and attacked anti-apartheid protesters and sanctions right up to Nelson Mandela’s release" was pretty convincingly disproved by editor Matt Welch. (For example, Ames cites a cheeky lede from a story about a more "libertarian" South Africa; the piece itself is a profile of an anti-apartheid activist.) My point was that the piece felt like a warning for the Trojans not to let the horse through the gate, as if libertarians haven't always been embedded in the tech industry.

For starters, look at the panelists who don't appear to be outwardly political. Joe Lonsdale gave the maximum possible donations ($5,200 total) to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, now the House majority leader, and only $550 to Democrat Ro Khanna, who's running to the right of incumbent Rep. Mike Honda. Investor Scott Banister gave $50,000 to the Club for Growth's PAC, $8,500 to FreedomWorks, and thousands to liberty movement Republican incumbents like Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Justin Amash. Auren Hoffman, a CEO who appeared on a panel about Conservatarians, gave $1,776 (get it?) to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers—who, in a coincidence, spoke at the conference. Andrea Saul, representing Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In," is a veteran spox for the McCain and Romney campaigns. So we're talking about members of the church joining the choir to sing in the same key.

None of this is really new. When I worked at Reason it was still using the redesign that Wired founder Louis Rossetto had assisted with, years earlier.* The magazine, he said in 2001, acknowledged "that technology has catapulted us into an era where the economic argument has been settled—free markets won." The point of LincolnLabs, which brought sympathetic techies and libertarians together to listen to Republicans, was to activate them in partisan politics, just as the Koch brothers have been activated. Ames' ongoing crusade to condemn libertarians more generally, and warn liberals of who they're working with, just didn't seem to apply.

*Correction, July 21, 2014: This post originally misspelled Louis Rossetto's last name.

July 21 2014 8:22 AM

The Poll That Will Make Democrats Panic About Hillary Clinton

At the moment, I'm wrapping up a piece about progressive activists and Netroots Nation, having found (as most reporters found) young party activists pretty much satisfied by the promise of a Hillary 2016 campaign. Other candidates, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have their adherents who want to shift the party's stances on banks, on student loans, on inequality. But few doubt that Hillary is the most electable, most Republican-infuriating candidate on the horizon.

As Maggie Haberman writes in her summary of the poll, Clinton left Foggy Bottom with a favorable rating well above 60 percent. Profiles of her tenure took for granted that she was a "rock star," a historic figure, a success. The decline is undoubtedly, as Haberman writes, tied in part to 18 months of no-end-in-sight Benghazi investigations; I wish the Politico pollster had asked voters to think of a single word to describe Clinton, because surely "Benghazi" would have erupted from most Republicans and led the list.

What else might explain the swoon? Well, turn your eyes north from Libya, up to Russia. In a piece subtly titled "Is Hillary Clinton imploding?" Jonathan Last asked readers to look at what Hillary Clinton told the BBC about the administration's Russia stance. Was it untenable? Well, according to Hillary, the thoughtful observer had to look at the situation when she arrived at State.

Medvedev is President, Putin is Prime Minister, and there were jobs that we wanted to get done. We wanted to get Russia on board with tough sanctions against Iran. We wanted to have a new START Treaty to limit nuclear weapons. We wanted to get their help in transiting across through huge country to get things we needed into Afghanistan. We got all that done. Putin comes back. Look where we are now. He invaded another country, so yes, but while we had that moment, we seized it, we used it, and succeeded.

"He invaded another country, so ... " is, to my ears, a more face-palm-worthy quote than "we were dead broke" (which was basically true) and "what difference does it make?" (which was about the Republican focus on September 2012 talking points, not a callous dismissal of dead heroes). Is there some way for Hillary to run as the person who was at the wheel before the Obama administration's policy failures? Maybe. But her re-emergence happened to concede with a run of major setbacks, and that's complicating the story line of Clinton as a "rock star" secretary. It follows months and months of Republicans chortling at the inability of Clinton allies to name a major accomplishment. (In this interview she cites START, but her allies are really lost at sea in discussing this stuff).

So it should be interesting to see if the criticism of Clinton is turned back by an aggressive left—by David Brock's groups like Correct the Record and Media Matters, for example—or if it emboldens one of the junior Democrats to criticize her and raise speculation about primary challenges. So far, there's a little of the former and none of the latter.

July 19 2014 4:15 PM

Daily Kos Will Boycott Next Year’s Netroots Nation Conference in Arizona

DETROIT—After last night's annual Netroots Nation pub quiz—a raucous party with in-jokes that go back years, probably exemplified by the team that brought a giant Burmese flag to protest a 2011 decision in favor use of the name "Myanmar"—I remarked to a friend from the Daily Kos that it would be fun to team up next year. Breaking news: That wouldn't happen. "It's in Phoenix, and Markos is boycotting Arizona." Meaning that Markos Moulitsas, whose Daily Kos blog spun off this annual event in 2006, would neither show up nor bring his team to the next host city.

Before I could ask Moulitsas about the decision, he went and explained himself on the blog. He vehemently disagreed with the "inherently divisive" decision of a board he did not belong to. (The conference was called Yearly Kos in 2006 and 2007, before Moulitsas recommended a broadening re-brand.)

I doubt the conference would decide to host the event in, say, Apartheid South Africa, in order to "take the fight to the enemy". If you think that analogy is absurd, it is, but only in terms of degree, not intent in the county that has consistently elected Sheriff Joe Arpaio since 1992. But if you want a less bombastic analogy, look to labor: Netroots Nation refuses to hold events in cities without union hotel and conference facilities. They're not "taking the fight" to non-unionized locations because we, as a movement, stand for the right of people to organize and we don't reward those places that deny those rights. It's the right call. Also, would the conference have been happy to stay in Arizona had Gov. Jan Brewer signed the virulently anti-gay SB 1062 earlier this year? Hard to see that happening.
Latinos deserve that same kind of respect.

In the short history of blogging and online activism, this is a BFD. Moulitsas' blog was the Petri dish for countless writers and campaigners; Moulitsas himself was an accidental icon of the 2004-2008 period when the press woke up to the "netroots." In 2007, Bill O'Reilly successfully pressured JetBlue to drop its sponsorship of the conference because of a 2004 blog post in which Moulitsas (an Army veteran) wrote that he "felt nothing" about the murder of mercenaries in Fallujah. Just this year, full-time troll/part-time congressman Steve Stockman issued a largely ignored plea for Joe Biden to skip the conference: "Honoring extremists who cheered an al Qaeda attack is not the message Obama should send to Iraq right now."

By focusing on one blog post, the blogfather's critics have ignored his actual influence. You know Vox, the much-discussed explanatory news site? That's part of Vox Media, which grew out of SportsBlogs (now SBNation), co-founded by ... Markos Moulitsas. This is a major figure in the online left, and he's boycotting Arizona (with the hope of reunion for 2016's anniversary conference). Immigration wasn't a front-burner issue at this year's conference, but at a Saturday panel I sat in on, it proved to be the issue that truly pitted the activist base against an incumbent Democratic president.

"Glenn Beck is to the left of Barack Obama on child immigrants," said Chris Newman, legal director at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "Obama never filed a civil rights challenge against Arizona's law. He is an accomplice to the civil rights violation in Arizona."

That was as harsh as criticism got, though Cesar Vargas—a DREAM Act activist who graduated from law school but could not practice law—reminded the audience not to follow leaders. He himself had been "banned from the White House," among those activists who had called the president the "deporter-in-chief" and earned his ire. They could care less about the ire.

"Immigration reform is still alive, but it's now in the power of the president of the United States," he said. "We're pushing the legal limits." Them, not Obama—they forced him to action. "I cannot stand when people give credit to politicians. Any victory that we have had, sometimes a politician comes up and says, 'Heeyyyyy, we did it!' But the people did it."

Point being: Play ball and send a message is not exactly a popular strategy among the online left.

Update: And I nearly forgot about this.

July 18 2014 3:56 PM

Water Shut-Offs Are Hate Crimes

DETROIT—One of the truly great things about Netroots Nation is the annual move to a brand-new city. Only Las Vegas has hosted two of these conventions. Every other year, the circus tents have plunked into a union-friendly state (Michigan was until fairly recently) and been flavored by the local progressive movement. Last year Northern California, this year Michigan.

I think that adds to the thick aura of populism. After listening to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Gary Peters, and Mark Ruffalo (an anti-fracking campaigner, if you didn't know), anyone who was so moved could join the National Nurses United in a protest of the city shutting off water for people who hadn't paid their water bills.* 

That's a picture of a man perfecting a puppet head of Gov. Rick Snyder. (He's putting a bike helmet inside, for comfort.) The downtown protest was one of two today, and outside the Cobo Center, union organizers were joined by the Raging Grannies and all manner of young progressives, for a cause that might have been obscure outside this city, currently run by a state-appointed emergency manager. Those without signs were handed fresh ones, from MORATIUM-MI, with the slogan


Being unable to cover the protest, this quote from UAW President Dennis Williams will have to do as a descriptor.

Government didn't give us water. It is a natural resource. It is not owned by corporation (or) by City Hall. It is owned by the people of this land.

Most of it happened when I was covering Peters' "grassroots fundraiser" with Warren. The water issue was not mentioned. When I got back, a female protester, her shirt adorned with cause buttons and her arms carrying one of the signs, filled me in on how the protest route included a stop at "Jamie Dimon's office," aka the Chase Bank building.

"We didn't do anything," she said, "but we made some noise."

*Correction, July 20, 2014: This post originally misstated that Elizabeth Warren is a representative. She is a senator.