Reporting on Politics and Policy.

July 14 2014 9:35 AM

Why Rahm Emanuel’s Donors Are Getting Frisky

When a politico's first on-the-record response to a poll number is "wow," you know it's good for them. "Wow" is what Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, told the Chicago Sun-Times after being informed that she would easily lead Rahm Emanuel in a mayoral election. In an automated poll of more than 1,000 voters, Lewis led Emanuel by a 45–36 margin, cutting into every group that backed him four years ago. She trailed by only 3 points with white voters, led by 4 points with Hispanics, and led by 18 points with black voters—a margin that might increase if Lewis ran and black voters discovered that she, too, was black. And Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (a black woman, like Lewis) led Emanuel by 24 points.

Emanuel's weakness has been known for months—he lost the left ages ago, and has lost Chicagoans more generally over basic competence issues. In the Sun-Times, his response to the poll is an anonymous insult, "laughable." But this same pollster nailed the 2011 race, which Emanuel entered late and won. Not a single about that year showed him trailing, and the final poll correctly estimated that he'd win with around 55 percent of the vote in a crowded field. If "the left" is looking for a heel to take down, Emanuel's infinitely more vulnerable than New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Cuomo still polls favorably among Democrats.)

Here's the twist, which doubles as the reason we know Emanuel's camp believes the polling. At the end of June, Emanuel supporters launched a super PAC (yes, super PACs for mayoral races) to vacuum up hedge fund money. It worked, and in 10 days Chicago Forward announced $1 million in funds—from just eight people. Hedge funder Ken Griffin, who had just given $2.5 million to a PAC for the (independently wealthy) GOP gubernatorial candidate, gave $150,000 to Emanuel.

Preckwinkle raised a little more than $150,000 in three months this year.

It's a heartbreak for Emanuel's opponents, which for the moment include most voters in Chicago politics. On an even playing field, the mayor could be defeated easily. But he is building a megastadium, and his opponents maybe have enough money to throw together a batting cage.** Neither Lewis (who's never won an election) or Preckwinkle (who's in her 60s) is an ideal Democratic candidate, but no "ideal" candidate wants to rise up only to be buried under millions of dollars in super PAC money.

**I'm really not the one to make sports metaphors. Tell me how I'm doing.

Correction, July 14, 2014: This post originally misspelled Toni Preckwinkle's first name.

Correction, July 15, 2014: The headline for this post originaly misstated that Rahm Emanuel trailed his "primary challenger" by 22 points. The post also misstated that Emanuel "lost Democratic primary votes." Emanuel is facing a general election challenger. The headline has been changed. 

Video Advertisement

July 14 2014 8:52 AM

Rand Paul Has Snappy Insults for Rick Perry

It was one of the premier strategic surprises of the 2011–2012 Republican presidential primary: the Romney-Paul alliance. Rep. Ron Paul's final presidential campaign, better-funded than anything he'd run before, was always geared toward maximizing the number of delegates he could win in a Romney-dominated race. The détente between the two campaigns turned Paul into an attack dog, often barking at Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, but saving his most intense material for Rick Perry. One example:

At the time I was struck by how breezy and easy the Pauls found it to disparage Perry. He was a joke to them. It had been only a year since he beat a Paul supporter and organizer, Debra Medina, in his final gubernatorial primary, and he'd done so after conservative media portrayed her as a 9/11 truther. (She had "questions.") Paul had felt smeared by the same attack in 2008. Revenge was sweet.

This was the context for a weekend battle between Perry and Paul—a battle Perry chose. After earning a week of national media attention for his warnings about the child refugee crisis on the Mexican border, Perry pivoted and published a Washington Post column about Iraq. It was, said Perry, "disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq."

Nearly a month had passed since a WSJ op-ed in which Paul had swiped at neocons and demanded congressional approval for any on-the-ground operations in Iraq. "We may not completely rule out airstrikes," wrote Paul, but troops could and should not be committed to taking sides in a "civil war."

Perry hardly even disagreed with Paul on substance. "Meaningful assistance can include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sharing and ­airstrikes," he wrote. It was somewhat hard to tell what he and Paul disagreed on, other than the artful application of Ronald Reagan quotes. "Reagan led proudly from the front, not from behind, and when he drew a 'red line,' the world knew exactly what that meant," wrote Perry, performing the double Axel of a single-sentence Reagan mention and an Obama diss.

Paul's circle found this absolutely ludicrous, and said so. In Saturday comments to McKay Coppins, Paul adviser (and former chief of staff) Doug Stafford accused Perry of mischaracterizing the senator and mocked the governor's 2011 meltdown at a presidential debate in Michigan with a short list of arguments. ("I forget the third. Anyone remember the third one?")

"He set up a straw man," Stafford told me over the weekend, "then tried to blow it down with bluster and meaningless rhetoric."

The Paul circle planned to respond with an op-ed from the senator. Here it is: Here are the most slashing attacks on Perry.

- "Governor Perry writes a fictionalized account of my foreign policy so mischaracterizing my views that I wonder if he’s even really read any of my policy papers."

- "If the governor continues to insist that these proposals mean I’m somehow 'ignoring ISIS,' I’ll make it my personal policy to ignore Rick Perry’s opinions."
- "If refusing to send Americans to die for a country that refuses to defend itself makes one an 'isolationist,' then perhaps its time we finally retire that pejorative."
- "When Megyn Kelly of Fox News tells Dick Cheney that 'history has proven that you got it wrong' on Iraq, it is a very important lesson—we must remember that history so we don’t repeat it.

- "Any future military action by the United States must always be based on an assessment of what has worked and what hasn’t. This basic, common sense precondition is something leaders in both parties have habitually failed to meet. The governor of Texas insists on proving he’s no different."

Paul averages one hard swipe for every paragraph of facts. Paul can hardly believe his luck. It's one thing to debate foreign policy with Dick Cheney, who maintains a residual go-get-'em affection on the right, or with Chris Christie, who appeals to the same people and has the media on his side.

But Rick Perry? Before last week, he was most famous as "that guy who couldn't remember three things in a debate." 

July 11 2014 7:07 PM

Coming Soon: The FEC Complaint (and Election Challenge) in Mississippi

Yesterday afternoon, journalist Charles C. Johnson—who's based in California—announced a surprise press conference to be held at the National Media Center. The looming, anonymous building housed a group that had been paid by for work the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and that had purchased ads in Mississippi that warned black voters of the danger if they let Thad Cochran lose his primary. Johnson, joined by New Jersey political operative Rick Shaftan, was there to lay out the possible, illegal ramifications of this.

"It is an incontrovertible fact that one of this firm's top officials, John Ferrell, signed forms for race-baiting ads all over Mississippi," said Johnson, reading his statement as a local Tea Party leader hoisted a Gadsden flag. "Rick Shaftan and I did the work nobody in the media bothered to do and obtained the order forms direct from radio stations in Mississippi."

Ferrell had not commented, and the media write large had not followed up the story. Indeed, I was one of just four reporters who decided to stop by the presser. Johnson deferred to Shaftan on the details of the case.

"There is no proof that his theory is true," he said, "but there is no proof that it is not true."

Shaftan stepped forward to sum up what he knew. "National Media got $175,000 from the NRSC to place ads, to do phone calls, in support of Thad Cochran," he said. "None of those ads ever appeared. What did appear -- from this same building -- were ads from a group called All Citizens for Mississippi, that has not filed any contribution or expenditure reports." The money was "laundered, criminally," and the only sane response was "a new election."

No one from National Media exited the building; Johnson, who had asked many rounds of unanswered questions, did not want to come off as a stalker. The whole event emphasized just how intractable some conservatives are in their opposition to the Mississippi result, and their certitude that the establishment played filthy. Not long after the Alexandria presser, Chris McDaniel's campaign announced that it found "over 8,300" ballots that might have been cast outside the rules of the June 24 runoff—i.e., just enough ballots to overwhelm the margin between Cochran and his opponent.

Yet Johnson and Shaftan said that their case was basically unrelated, and would go on even if the election in Mississippi was certified in full. Someone—maybe one of them—would soon have to file an FEC complaint. "Anyone can file an FEC complaint," said Shaftan, especially if a scenario seemed to show behavior that was "false and with the intent to deceive."

"I've been critical of Dinesh D'Souza," said Shaftan. "He committed a crime. He's going to go to jail for this crime." The strategist pointed at the brick-and-glass facade behind him. "And these people should be going to jail also."

July 11 2014 2:55 PM

Why Rand Paul Is Not the “2016 GOP Front-Runner,” in One Chart

You frequently see trial heats of a 2016 Republican primary come out with numbers like 16 percent for Rand Paul and 15 percent for Chris Christie. The headlines turn out like this: "Rand Paul is 2016 GOP front-runner," or "Rand Paul is 2016 Man to Beat." This often feels like an overstating of poll numbers that can be explained by margins of error.

I'm fond of this question in the new University of New Hampshire poll, and what it reveals about the acuity of polling 18 months before the primary.

Thirty-nine percent is exactly what Romney got in the 2012 primary—when Rep. Ron Paul scored a strong 23 percent, for second place. No one thinks that Romney will run again, but if you want to analyze these numbers at all, you have to see that 1) voters have not tuned in yet and 2) it's naive to think that Rand Paul starts a 2016 race with all of his father's support to build on.

July 11 2014 12:52 PM

Former Ohio Governor Ready to Forgive LeBron James

Ted Strickland was the governor of Ohio when LeBron James made the Decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. At the time, Strickland was in a pitched battle for re-election. He lost that race; he now runs the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I talked to Strickland yesterday for a story (coming shortly), and toward the end I asked whether he wanted LeBron back in Cleveland.

"He’s obviously an exceptional player," Strickland said. "I know there was a lot of criticism when he left Cleveland, but he was a kid, really. I think Ohio ought to be proud that he came from us and still has remained active with his hometown."

Strickland told a story of his own brush with James, which happened seven years ago. Nike was displaying a 10-story banner of the story, stoking complaints from the usual NIMBYs. The governor was asked to take a stand on the display.

"I said, 'That’s not advertising, it’s art, and it’s staying,' " Strickland remembered. "I got this nice note from LeBron, thanking me for doing that. But I would have done it anyway."

July 11 2014 11:24 AM

Media Ignorance: The Electrifying Conclusion

I don't want to think about how few people care, but earlier in the week this blog joined the spirited debate over whether "liberal media ignorance" was a mounting problem. The first piece of evidence for this, cited by the Federalist's Mollie Hemingway, was the Huffington Post's political economy reporter Zach Carter being unable to answer some pop quiz questions about Iraq in an interview with Hugh Hewitt. And since then, a few people have pointed to this exchange between Carter and Hewitt—one of many instances of the host attempting to prove the ignorance of his guest.

ZC: Their case for the war, right, was I mean, that Saddam Hussein had been cooperating or collaborating with al-Qaeda…
HH: No, no, no.
ZC: That he had access to chemical weapons, that he had…
HH: No, no, no,
ZC: …weapons of mass destruction…
HH: No.
ZC: …and that he was looking to build a nuclear weapon.
HH: Actually, no.
ZC: I mean, Dick Cheney said all of those things.
HH: They never said al-Qaeda.
ZC: And none of those turned out to be true.
HH: Zach, he never said that about al-Qaeda. He said he was cooperating with terrorists, Abu Nidal among others, as well as perhaps Zarqawi, though we’re not sure about Zarqawi.

Carter was right. Dick Cheney had said this, in September 2002, during the build-up to war. From Meet the Press:

I’m not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11. I can’t say that. On the other hand, since we did that interview, new information has come to light. And we spent time looking at that relationship between Iraq, on the one hand, and the al-Qaeda organization on the other. And there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years.

And today, Dick Cheney co-authors a new op-ed (with his daughter, Liz) laying the wood to the Obama administration.

It is undisputed, and has been confirmed repeatedly in Iraqi government documents captured after the invasion, that Saddam had deep, longstanding, far-reaching relationships with terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

That's all this week on the subject of ignorance. It's a problem; mendacity, arguably, is worse.

July 11 2014 9:47 AM

What's In the Details

Over at Breitbart.com, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (who chairs the House Judiciary Committee) issues a chutzpah-sodden column about "How Obama can stop the border crisis." Within the space of two paragraphs he writes that "this crisis at the border is a disaster of President Obama's own making" and that "President Obama's policies have caused the crisis," but we're in luck—he has "the tools to fix it," as the House committee that Goodlatte runs will sit over here reading the funnies. Goodlatte's proposals for giving "Border Patrol agents access to federal lands" and reconnecting DHS with local law enforcement seem sensible enough, but his first big idea is smaller than it seems.

Send the strong, public message that those who enter illegally will be returned. President Obama needs to use his bully-pulpit to send the clear message that those who are seeking to enter the U.S. illegally will be returned to their home countries and that subjecting children to the perilous trek northward to our southern border will no longer be tolerated.

Here's Obama just two days ago, in that Dallas press conference, which was televised.

While we intend to do the right thing by these children, their parents need to know that this is an incredibly dangerous situation and it is unlikely that their children will be able to stay.  And I’ve asked parents across Central America not to put their children in harm’s way in this fashion.

A perfect example of how the details of a speech can be obscured after everyone focuses on a phrase or two.

July 11 2014 9:08 AM

"Impeaching Obama" is Just a Fundraising Gimmick (for Now)

The Republican establishment, such as it is, does not talk about impeaching Barack Obama. In the two months since a Fox News weekend host and a National Review author attempted to shift the Overton Window and make impeachment sellable, the House GOP has not moved on the idea. Instead, the Speaker of the House has tried to blow off some of the building steam by suing the president.

Who's talking about impeachment? I've held off on mentioning it, but former part-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin is, floating impeachment in a Breitbart.com column this week. Palin, who hasn't won an election since 2006, doesn't speak for her party, but she gets attention. To be fair, much of it comes from Democrats. All week, the party has been issuing fundraising letters asking liberals to give give give and stop the impeachment bullet train. This from the the DNC, on June 9:

First it was Obamacare, then it was Benghazi, now it’s calling to impeach the President. Apparently using political stunts to cater to the most extreme wings of their party is the GOP guidebook to winning elections.

In Iowa, Democrats dug up a recent tape of Senate candidate Joni Ernst—who they call the Sarah Palin of Iowa—saying Obama had so far extended his power that impeachment needed to be discussed by people of good intention. Ernst tried to walk this back (she was having a good week exploiting a seemingly innocent verbal mistake by her Democratic opponent), indicating that once a GOP primary is over, impeachment is not what a swing state candidate wants to talk about.

I was all ready to show that only Democrats are talking about impeachment at all. But it's not true. Conservative organizations have spent the week keying off of Palin—yes, Palin, still. The TeaParty.net sent out a compendium of Obama crimes with a link to an impeachment petition.

In a move reminiscent of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and Cuban tyrant Fidel Castro, Barack Obama is putting a muzzle on the media. After refusing to visit the border to see firsthand, as he described it, the humanitarian crisis, instead choosing to attend high dollar fundraisers in Texas, Obama is sending the message that he wants to control what the people see and hear about this border fiasco of his making as well. IMPEACH OBAMA!

Yesterday, former Rep. Allen West sent a similar e-mail to supporters.

Friend - Today, Sarah Palin joined tens of thousands of conservatives when she called for the impeachment of Barack Obama. This movement is far from over….it's gaining speed! In light of this growing movement and these new developments, I've decided to reopen the Guardian Fund's impeachment survey for a limited time so that more conservatives can join us and have their voices heard.

Okay—so, who's talking about impeachment? People who want to build lists and raise money. No one is floating this idea unless it's attached to an ask. As Erik Wemple reported, the reason Palin's column did not appear at Fox News—the reason Breitbart scooped it—was that it was shopped by SarahPAC. Democrats have nothing to fear, and nothing stopping them from answering the right-wing impeachment-money-grubs with grubbing of their own.

July 10 2014 6:13 PM

Here’s John Boehner’s Lawsuit Against the Obama Administration

In the days since John Boehner announced that he would sue the administration over Obamacare, skepticism has broken out like an impromptu drum circle. Was he doing this to tamp down the crazier talk of impeachment? Did he even have standing? What was he going to sue Obama for, anyway?

Well, the resolution beginning the lawsuit is up. Are you ready for it? Here we go:

Resolved, That the Speaker may initiate or intervene in one or more civil actions on behalf of the House of Representatives in a Federal court of competent jurisdiction to seek relief pursuant to sections 2201 and 2202 of title 28, United States Code, and to seek appropriate ancillary elief, including injunctive relief, regarding the failure of the President, the head of any department or agency, or any other officer or employee of the United States, to act in a manner consistent with that official’s duties under the Constitution and laws of the United States with respect to implementation of (including a failure to implement) any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, including any amendment made by such provision.
SEC. 2. The Speaker shall notify the House of Representatives of a decision to initiate or intervene in any civil action pursuant to this resolution. 
SEC. 3. The Office of the General Counsel of the House of Representatives, at the direction of the Speaker shall represent the House in any civil action initiated, or in which the House intervenes, pursuant to this resolution and may employ the services of outside counsel and other experts for this purpose.

Over "any provision" of the ACA—the ones getting the most discussion, actually, were fairly popular. (This was why Republicans opposed them, for letting steam heat off the president.) The delay that riled the most people was the employer mandate tweak, which not only kicked the deadline ahead one year but raised the required number of employees for the mandate to go into effect, from 50 to 100. 

This is not quite the most riveting basis for a lawsuit, but it's the one we've got. Next Wednesday the House Rules Committee meets to talk it over; a journey begins to the D.C. Circuit, which can toss this over the lack of standing, or the Supreme Court, which can also toss it but at least be appealed to if Republicans lose Round 1.

July 10 2014 4:58 PM

Union Cuts Ties to United Negro College Fund Over Kochs Donations

Early in the afternoon, BuzzFeed's Jacob Fischler scooped one of the most dramatic skirmishes in the war between liberals and David and Charles Koch. One month ago, the United Negro College Fund announced a $25 million "Koch scholars program," funded by the company and Charles Koch's foundation, "aimed at broadening educational opportunities so that aspiring African American students can better understand how entrepreneurship, economics, and innovation contribute to well-being for individuals, communities, and society." 

Some predictable trolling followed. Conservatives like to point out that the Kochs have spent far more on charity and the arts over their lifetimes than they've spent on politics since 2009. Did liberals hate the Kochs so much that they'd condemn their donation to black students? Did they? Did they?

Yes, they did. Fischler reported on a letter (delivered by hand) in which D.C.-based AFSCME cut ties with the D.C.-based UNCF. The letter is in itself remarkable, going on for ages about how taking money from the Kochs violated the UNCF's values and betrayed the civil rights movement.

Koch PR did not respond when I asked about the letter, and UNCF would only send over a statement.

"UNCF has over 100,000 donors with a wide range of views," said UNCF CEO Dr. Michael Lomax, "but they all have one thing in common: they believe in helping young students of color realize their dreams of a college education. For over 70 years we have never had a litmus test and we have asked all Americans to support our cause."

I also asked Murray's office what he thought of being held up as a symbol of institutional racism. I'll assume he's against it.

READ MORE STORIES