Friday, June 17, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Hitting the Links

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, June 17, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama and Biden are having lunch to prepare their strategy for tomorrow’s friendly golf game with Boehner and John Kasich. They also may ponder how to respond if the Republicans get to the turn and then say, “Let’s make a $4 trillion budget deal.”

The president is due at Walter Reed Army Medical Center at 1:30 to meet with soldiers and Marines who suffered lost limbs and other debilitating injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then it’s back downtown for a 3:30 with Geithner and a Grand Foyer reception at 4:45 for young elected leaders from across the country.

THE SENATE: Not in session; next convenes at 2 on Monday.

At noon, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin will unveil the defense authorization bill his subcommittees drafted this week.

THE HOUSE: Not in session; next convenes at 10 on Monday.

JUST CAN’T HELP IT: Both are lefties on the links. One has recently struggled but quit smoking; the other relishes his prerogative to flout the Capitol’s no-smoking culture. Their playing partners are two of the most notoriously loquacious people in public life. So why does everyone in Washington (and on Wall Street, too) hold out hope that Obama and Boehner will be able to get beyond the high-powered bonding and the cool-but-courteous sporting bonhomie and actually talk about substance tomorrow?

Because they sort of have to. The deadline for a deal to raise the debt ceiling is just six weeks away, and that time can disappear in the negotiating weeds awfully fast unless the principals on both sides agree it’s time to really cut to the chase. That’s what the Speaker and the president will be pressed to do after they get off the course (the time and place of their meeting still has not been announced). The two pre-eminent political professionals likely realize that the markets will be looking for a clear signal that a deal is on course to completion in plenty of time before Aug. 2.

And so, at a minimum, look for them to take the vice president’s metaphor of yesterday a step further and promise that one of them really is ready to give up his bicycle (the GOP’s protection of the current tax system) if the other will yield his bag of clubs (the Democrats’ protection of health and retirement entitlements). And look for them to repeat Biden’s suggestion that $4 trillion in long-term deficit reduction is within reach – a far more ambitious target than his negotiating group seemed to have in mind – and would then be paired with at least the $2.5 trillion in extra borrowing power necessary to keep the Treasury afloat beyond the next election.

The Republican wiggle room on taxes was opened up this week when most GOP senators voted to raise the tax bill for ethanol producers by $6 billion a year. And the Democrats were given a huge opening for their own wiggle room yesterday, when AARP signaled it would no longer put up a wall of opposition to any new limitations on Social Security and instead wants to be in the room when the particulars on retirement ages and benefit trims are decided.

NO HELP FOR YOU: Yesterday’s close vote to pass the $17 billion Agriculture and FDA appropriations bill offered a clear signal from the Democrats to the Republicans: If you’re going to push domestic spending cuts like that – 13 percent below current levels and 23 percent less than Obama requested, in this case – then you’ll have to find all the votes on your side. No Democrat voted in favor of the legislation – not even any of the appropriators who helped write it. If that pattern holds, then no more than 23 Republicans will be able to vote “no” as a way to declare to their constituents that they don’t believe the spending cuts would go far enough. (Nineteen in the GOP cast such a vote yesterday.)

MOVE ALONG NOW: The bottom line on the situation outside the Pentagon this morning that caused one of the bigger morning rush-hour calamaities in recent times: An abundance of caution but more or less a false alarm. Authorities found nothing suspicious in a red 2011 Nissan abandoned near the Defense Department headquarters, or on the man (with initially suspicious materials in his backpack) who was taken into custody overnight while roaming through a closed Arlington Cemetery, FBI and Park Police officials said.

IT’S NOT OFFICIAL: Anthony Weiner has not resigned, after all – at least not formally.

The House went home for the weekend without publicly receiving any of the required paperwork; either a resignation letter to the Speaker, or a copy of a letter Weiner might have sent to Gov. Andy Cuomo or some other top official in Albany, would have done the trick. (His congressional website and the answering machine at his office were still up and running today.)

That means it will be Monday at the earliest before Weiner is officially taken off the congressional rolls, and the payroll. (He’ll make an extra $1,433 for staying in office through the weekend.) Andhe was granted a two-week leave of absence on Monday, so theoretically there is no expectation that he'll be back at work before June 27.

Over the din at his chaotic news conference yesterday (the principal heckler asking all those anatomically specific questions was Benjy Bronk, one of Howard Stern’s writers) the congressman left every impression he was immediately relinquishing the House seat he’s held since 1999. Turns out, this was just another case when there was less certitude about what Weiner was saying and doing than it initially appeared.

Once he’s gone, he’ll presumably be looking for his first job outside of legislative politics in his adult life. But unless he becomes a lobbyist, he’ll still be allowed to roam the House floor — and keep his membership in the House gym, where he took some of the more explicit self-portraits that proved to be his undoing. And, given the length of his service as a congressman (and his previous work as a House aide to Chuck Schumer), a decade from now Weiner will be able to collect a pension — and payments from a retirement savings plan similar to a 401(k) — with a total value between $1.1 million to $1.3 million, by the estimate of the National Taxpayers Union.

A BRIEF CAREER: Once Cuomo gets official word of the resignation, he’ll set the date for the special election. It will probably be Nov. 8. The race will be for the right to be nothing more than a lame-duck freshman, because the district is sure to get carved up in redistricting. And Rep. Joe Crowley, who also chairs the Queens County Democratic Party, has significant power to engineer the nominee of his choice in the reliably Democratic territory. His likeliest picks are Assemblyman Rory Lancman, City Councilman Mark Weprin and two former council members, Eric Gioia and Melinda Katz.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Marcy Kaptur of Ohio (65) today, and two other House Democrats tomorrow: Paul Tonko of New York (62) and Jerry McNerney of California (60). A pair of senators also celebrate tomorrow: Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia (74) and Republican Mike Johanns of Nebraska (61).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: He Got Served

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and at 2 will vote again on — and this time endorse — a proposal to put as much as $6 billion a year in the Treasury every year by eliminating the tax credit that refiners get for blending ethanol with gasoline, and ending the tariff on imported ethanol. (About two dozen Democrats who voted against the same language on Tuesday were doing so only to make a parliamentary protest and are prepared to switch sides now.)

Senators also are likely to endorse a ban on federal funding for ethanol storage facilities and blender pumps. Both amendments would be added to a bill reauthorizing the Economic Development Administration.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and is debating more amendments to the Agriculture and FDA appropriations bill. Within the hour, 14 proposals discussed last night and several more amendments deliberated this morning will be put to a vote. Passage of the whole bill by a relatively close margin will come after that — and then lawmakers will be free to go home for the weekend.

THE WHITE HOUSE: After a morning meeting with his senior advisers, the only other event on Obama’s published schedule is welcoming  Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj to the Oval Office at 4:30.

IT’S OVER: Anthony Weiner will face the cameras in Sheepshead Bay at 2 to officially announce his resignation, effective immediately.

Last night he finally bowed to the great truism of his three-week sexting scandal: When your president and your favorite porn star agree that it’s time for you to go, then it’s long past time for you to go. He called Pelosi to tell her he was ready to face the music, and word leaked out at about 9:15 today. The most telegenic sign this morning that the big New York tabloid sex-and-politics feeding frenzy of 2011 was coming to its climax: A couple of box-toting Weiner interns emerged from 2104 Rayburn, turned off the reception-area lights and closed the door behind them. Then came the Daily News web headline, “Weiner’s Cooked,” and the New York Post crawl, “Randy rep tells members of Congress that he will quit.”

Weiner — who, for the record, is a 46-year-old married man, an expectant father and until a few days ago one of the most articulate liberal voices in the House — has never delighted his Democratic colleagues more than he will by leaving them. The lobbyists who had to visit with him because he was on the Energy and Commerce Committee, likewise. His in-your-face style, long on confrontation and short on subtlety, may have worked to make him an effective rhetorical warrior in the well of the House, and that stereotypical New York affect helped keep him popular in Brooklyn and Queens.

But he wasn’t in any way personally popular in the cloakroom, where even his genuine defensive prowess and aggressive base running in the annual Roll Call baseball game were derided as so much showboating. And lobbyists in the past days have told myriad tales about having to hold their tongues in combustible meetings with Weiner — only to be solicited by his political aides for a big campaign donation just a few minutes after the meeting ended. (Ask around and you’ll soon hear tales of the Juniors Most Fabulous Cheesecake shakedown.)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will now get to call a special election to fill the seat — probably with a placeholder because the other Democrats in the city’s delegation will move to gobble up parts of the 9th District in redistricting. And, no, Weiner won’t be able to pull a fast one like resigning and then running to get his old job back. Not even he has that much chutzpah left.

QUESTIONING AUTHORITY: Support for Obama’s Libya policy is slipping with the public just as it’s atrophying in Congress. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that 46 percent approve of the president’s handling of the military intervention — down 8 percentage points from April; 36 percent disapprove. But 51 percent believe the U.S. should stay involved in Libya until Qaddafi is driven from power.

What the next step is when it comes to Congress asserting itself is far from certain.  The lawsuit by the 10 House members filed yesterday will take months to play out — if it’s not tossed out by a federal judge, which is what’s happened in the past when lawmakers tried to push the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution.

The first major foreign policy dispute between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic White House is likely to be a standoff, which essentially means the president wins. The president’s report to Congress yesterday hardly mollified the growing and bipartisan antiwar movement at the Capitol — in fact, it only agitated those lawmakers more, because the president asserted that the support for the NATO bombing campaign is not a big enough deal, militarily, to require him to get congressional permission to remain involved. And Boehner said this morning that the president’s argument doesn’t pass the “straight face” test. (Many lawmakers will argue, of course, that any operation of the federal government that has already cost $716 million, and will cost $400 million more by the end of the summer, is something Congress might want to have a hand in.)

EYES ON THE ‘ACTUALS’: Alan Greenspan is working to tamp down conservative Republican excitement at the reports that he shares their skepticism about the certainty of the debt ceiling. After a meeting with members of the GOP Policy Committee on Monday, several lawmakers interpreted the former Fed chairman’s remarks as meaning the administration has more wiggle room than it is letting on if a final deal on raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling is not reached by Treasury’s deadline.

Not quite right, Greenspan says. In fact the wiggle room could make the deadline come sooner than Geithner says. “I said that the Aug. 2 deadline is based on forecasts of daily revenues and outlays and that the actuals could change the August 2 deadline by a few days either way,” Greenspan told Roll Call.

That minor kerfuffle will probably be raised and disposed of in the small-talk opening moments of today’s Biden summit meeting, which starts at 1. It’s the third of the week and the last one before the vice president joins Obama, Boehner and Ohio Gov. John Kasich on the golf course Saturday. (By the way, will it be a non-smoking round? Probably not.)

On tap for today is a return to talk about entitlements that had been set aside for a few days. (Yesterday’s talk was about budget caps and triggers.) There’s growing agreement that, absent any big deal to rein in spending on health care for the politically powerful elderly (Medicare), the negotiators will try to wring as much money as possible from health programs for the politically less potent poor (Medicaid). Beyond that, some Republicans say they would still like to include changes to Social Security as part of a deficit-and-debt deal. The slightest boost in the retirement age and the most minimal cuts to the annual cost-of-living increase could net several hundred billion over the next decade.

RICH FOLKS: The economy may have been wobbly, but last year was pretty good to the portfolios of members of Congress — or at least those who filed their annual financial disclosure forms on time. (When the annual document dump was made by the clerk yesterday, the forms for one in five members were missing, generally because they asked for an extension.)

House Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa looks to have eclipsed John Kerry as the richest member of Congress. The California Republican listed a minimum net worth of $220 million, an almost $60 million jump over last year. The Massachusetts senator still reports a minimum net worth of about $193 million, a $5 million bump to his fortune form last year.

Boehner reported a minimum net worth of $2.1 million, up from $1.75 million total in 2009. That puts him far outside the range of the 50 richest — a status that McConnell has had for the past three years. His reported assets in 2010 were at least $9.8 million.

Pelosi saw her net worth jump about 60 percent, to $35.2 million, mainly because of her husband Paul’s investments — including a United Football League team — have done so well. Reid also vaulted into the ranks of the millionaires (but with no more than $5 million) because of a jump in value for his 160 acres of Arizona real estate.

The newest member of the super-rich lawmakers caucus, freshman Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson (who founded a specialty plastics company), sold all his stocks, bonds and mutual funds and put the money into cash accounts  before moving to Washington in January. They’re worth as much as $25.9 million.

Some other disclosures of note: GOP Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts got a $700,000 advance for his autobiography. Rep. Alcee Hastings still owes between $2 million and $7.4 million in legal bills from the 1980s, when he was acquitted on corruption charges, but then impeached and removed from the federal bench in Miami. Florida’s new senator, rising 40-year-old GOP star Marco Rubio, owes $100,000 to $250,000 in student loans. Mary Bono Mack reported her late husband Sonny’s music royalties netted her between $100,000 and $1 million. California’s Dennis Cardoza made between $56,000 and $178,000 from his racehorses. Another House Democrat, Frank Pallone of New Jersey, won almost $25,0000 in his state’s lottery. A third, Paul Tonko of New York, won $2,052 in gift cards at a raffle benefitting a regional food bank.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Freshman Republican Rep. Robert Hurt of Virginia (42).   

— David Hawkings, editor

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Memo, Memo

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: The annual congressional picnic on the South Lawn (it’s a state fair theme this year) gets going at 7; the forecast is for a gorgeous and mild evening, with sunset at 8:35 and a full moon after that. Every senator and House member is invited and gets to bring one guest, and the event is such a must-do for lawmaker spouses, especially, that getting there on time will drive the legislative timetable for the day.

Obama’s only other scheduled meeting is at 4:30 with Gates, who may be making his final visit to the Oval Office before his retirement at the end of the month.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and is likely to vote without opposition this afternoon to confirm Leon Edward Panetta as Gates’ successor — and the 23rd secretary of Defense.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and at noon will resume debate on the annual spending package for the FDA and the USDA. The only votes — on a long roster of amendments that were debated last night and today — will be bunched together at about 4 and could take 90 minutes to conduct. Deliberations on the bill will continue  during the picnic, but substantive work will be postponed until tomorrow

LIBYA AND THE LAW: Obama is delivering to Congress this afternoon what’s being described as a comprehensive response to all the lawmaker inquiries and reservations about the military mission in Libya — and how the president decided to join the air strikes without much more than a by-your-leave from Congress. No matter how exhaustive this afternoon's memo is, though, it won't quell the deepening bipartisan annoyance in the House and the growing frustration in the Senate — which is less about the policy than it is about the collective sense of getting the presidential brush-off.

Boehner put highlighter over that sentiment yesterday, when he wrote a letter for the record books declaring the president will be a violator of the War Powers Resolution after Sunday — because there’s no way Congress will authorize the Libyan operation by then. (The law says the president has, at most, 90 days to get the Hill’s say-so.) The Speaker asked Obama to present his best legal justification for keeping planes in the air over Tripoli even without congressional permission — but that’s not likely to happen because every president since Nixon has said, essentially, “you are not the boss of me, so just pay the bill” when it comes to the commander in chief’s power to deploy the armed forces.

But it’s not clear exactly what more Congress can do, short of actually passing legislation to take billions away from the Pentagon and dictate that the money be denied for anything to do with Libya. (And Obama  would veto that, anyway.) On Monday, the House did vote against spending some  money for Libya — but only the relative pennies that might be connected to military construction and veterans’ programs. The vote nonetheless made the House’s irritation plain: the amendment got 138 Republican “yes” votes (to 90 “no”), while the Democrats split 110 to 70 in favor.

This afternoon, Democrat Dennis Kucinich and Republican Walter Jones will file a lawsuit that seeks to stop the bombing in the absence of congressional authorization, but federal judges have in the past thrown out several similar suits.

In the Senate, meanwhile, John Kerry and John McCain are waiting to push their Libya endorsement measure until they’re sure it will be adopted, which will remain in question until senators have digested today’s memo.

SMITH VS. THE FISCAL HAWKS: The Agriculture spending bill debate will be allowed to meander through tomorrow, because the House has nothing else better to do. The marquee measure of the week — a patent law overhaul that’s being billed as a jobs creator — is on indefinite hold because of a sharp divide among Republican committee chairmen. Boehner is supposed to step in and referee today, but his ruling won’t come in time to get the bill back on track this week.

On the one side is Judiciary’s Lamar Smith, who wants to allow the Patent and Trademark Office to keep all the user fees it collects so that it can spend the money speeding up its chronically stalled approval system. (It now takes an average of three years to get a patent.) On the other side are Budget’s Paul Ryan and Appropriations’ Hal Rogers, who say the agency should be treated no differently from all the others that have to turn their user fees over to the Treasury.

THEY DID WHAT? The Biden budget summit reconvened for another two-hour session this morning. The meeting is supposed to be about budget triggers aimed at restraining overall spending or deficit and debt levels — but the main topic of conversation for the negotiators will be how to handle the news that 34 Senate Republicans voted yesterday to raise taxes.

The vote was on a procedural matter, but the underlying question was whether to end a tax break and a tariff that effectively subsidize ethanol production and apply the $4 billion in savings to deficit reduction. A lopsided majority of Republicans — including conservative stalwarts such as Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and the proposal’s sponsor, Tom Coburn — said yes. And only 13 lived up to the purest interpretation of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to oppose any proposal that would raise revenue for the Treasury — all of them, coincidentally, from states that grow the corn that produces the ethanol. (Forty of the 47 Republican senators have signed the pledge.)

That means that Grover Norquist and his ilk have undeniably lost the battle to hold the line against any additional revenue in the coming deficit-reduction-for-debt-increase deal. At the same time, though, $4 billion for a narrow industry is a relatively small drop in the bucket compared with the $2.5 trillion target for the deal —  about two-tenths of 1 percent. And the ethanol subsidies are actually supported by the Obama administration. Still, the only question is how small the anti-tax crowd can keep its concessions — in other words, how lopsided will the ratio be of projected spending reductions to additional taxes.

That decision seems to be fast approaching. Biden confirmed yesterday that his group is pushing to frame a deal by July 4, in order to allow ample time for congressional debate before Aug. 2, the date that Treasury says will mean default unless it has the power to borrow above the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. “We’re down to the really hard stuff,” he said, but "everybody’s still in the game.”

SHE’S BACK: Huma Abedin returned this morning from a weeklong State Department trip to Africa that has prevented her from objectively assessing the fatal damage that her husband has done to his political career.

Once she’s had some sleep, reoriented herself to the talk in Washington and had a chance to look Anthony Weiner in the eye — assuming he’s allowed to have visitors while at his undisclosed out-of-town location for his purported but non-specific rehabilitation — the 9th Congressional District of New York should be vacant soon enough. At most, Weiner will decide to stay in office until July 5 — after his leave of absence concludes and the House returns from its next recess — because he needs the $477 a day in congressional salary for as long as possible. (There’s a baby on the way, after all.)

His fellow Democrats appear convinced that Weiner will see the light and resign soon enough, which is why they decided yesterday not to take any more action against him, like kicking him off Judiciary and Energy and Commerce. But the rank and file surely won’t sit by beyond the start of next month — especially because, by then, several of them may have received unsolicited shipments from their constituents: A action figure ($40 for a standard doll and $50 for one that’s anatomically correct) of the congressman in gym shirt and shorts labeled “Tweet This.”

PAUSE BUTTON: Despite all the pundits’ glowing reviews about her measured and compelling first debate performance, Michele Bachmann’s decision to put her congressional campaign operation in limbo while she pursues the presidency is being greeted with a collective yawn by top Minnesota Republicans.

Many of them are beholden to former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and don’t want to give his newest rival for the nomination any more credence than they have to. But beside that, there’s really no rush to act like there’s an open House seat available. Congressional redistricting in the state is not likely to be done before February — after the crucial initial round of presidential caucuses and primaries — and the candidate filing deadline is not until June. So Bachmann has plenty of time to downgrade her aspirations for 2012 and go after a fourth House term, and her would-be successors have ample time to get organized.

She’s not likely to have the same ease at changing her mind as the other House member in the race, Ron Paul. He was re-elected in Texas without any Democratic opponent in 2008, the last time he ran for the White House, and no matter how it’s redrawn, his seat is considered safe again next year.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Two Democrats who represent the Seattle suburbs in the House, Rick Larsen and Adam Smith, were both born 46 years ago today.

— David Hawkings, editor

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Playing Nice

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and is about to confirm two federal magistrates, Claire Cecchi and Esther Salas, as full-fledged trial court judges in New Jersey. But the big vote of the day will occur at 2:15, just after the weekly caucus lunches; because 60 votes are required, Tom Coburn will not be able to advance his proposal to do away with $4 billion a year in ethanol tax breaks.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and at noon will move quickly to pass the Military Construction-VA spending bill. The rest of the day will be spent starting a wide-open debate on the Agriculture appropriations measure that’s sure to last into tomorrow night or beyond. (Democrats deride the bill’s proposed cuts in nutrition and food aid and in funding for food safety and commodities trading regulation.) The last amendment vote of the day is promised before 7.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is arriving for five hours in San Juan, the first official presidential visit to Puerto Rico in half a century. He’ll make remarks at the airport, attend a fundraiser and visit with the territory’s GOP governor, Luis Fortuño. (The president has endorsed a likely referendum next year to decide whether the island wants to remain a territory, seek independence or petition, as the governor prefers, for statehood.)

'ABSOLUTELY CONFIDENT,' FOR NOW: Three straight days of Biden summit meetings at the Capitol are set to begin at 2, with deepening bipartisan optimism that a compromise is so close that its outlines really could be hashed out between Obama and Boehner on the golf course on Saturday.

The president declared himself “absolutely confident that we can move forward on a plan that gets our debt under control, gets our deficit under control” in an interview aired this morning on NBC’s “Today.” “There is a way of solving this problem that doesn’t require any big, radical changes. What it does require is everybody makes some sacrifices.”

Cantor said he and Kyl, the vice president and the congressional Democratic negotiators (Inouye, Baucus, Clyburn and Van Hollen) are starting “to see the essence of convergence on savings begin to happen” — including on Medicare and Medicaid. Senate Democrats are expected to make clear this afternoon that they are willing to support some reductions to health care entitlements so long as they stop far short of the Paul Ryan overhaul plan. And enough GOP senators will vote for ending the ethanol tax subsidy today to make it clear that a crucial bloc of Republicans is ready to limit or end some tax breaks to make additional revenue part of the deficit deal. (They will insist that ending a tax break is not strictly akin to raising taxes — which it is, of course, for the people or businesses losing the deduction or credit.)

Both sides continue to talk about deficit reduction totaling $2.5 trillion. Cantor hinted yesterday (as Kyl did last week) that the only way to reach that number (even if some new revenue is part of the mix) will be to stretch the timeline for all the savings for longer than a decade — even though such long-range forecasts have proved notoriously unreliable. Still, that would be an amount that, if paired with a similarly sized increases in the federal borrowing limit, would postpone the next round of big-time budget deliberations beyond the next election — which both sides say remains a bedrock aspiration.

ADVANTAGE, MITT: The universal assessment of the political class this morning is that Mitt Romney gained the most from last night’s debate in New Hampshire — cementing his standing as the GOP front-runner with a coolly self-confident approach and a clarion focus on economic and domestic policy.

And he was clearly aided in distancing himself from the other six because all of them joined him in focusing their criticisms on Obama — and none of them really sought to topple Romney from his perch as the candidate to beat. By far the most surprising was the milquetoast performance of his closest apparent rival, Tim Pawlenty — who awkwardly refused three different offers to repeat the “ObamneyCare” jape in front of the former Massachusetts governor, only one day after test-marketing it to much fanfare on Fox. (Maybe he’s already downgrading his aspirations to speaking on Wednesday night in Tampa next August — and thus doesn’t want footage of a stare-down with the candidate he views as likeliest to win the nomination.)

Also helping Romney enormously was the charismatic and competent debut of Michele Bachmann, who in the end remains the least electable of the existing candidates who are focusing their appeal on social conservatives. The longer she comes off the way she did last night — as a serious candidate who’s figured out how to look the camera in the eye and say provocative things without sounding provocative — the more quickly  the money and the organization will flow to the candidate who might be able to thump her the fastest once the voting begins.

Newt Gingrich was much more self-disciplined and down-to-earth in his rhetoric than he usually is — especially lately. Ron Paul reminded how the GOP electorate has moved several more percentage points his way since the last time he ran for president, and offered a self-deprecating bit about his obsession with the Fed’s powers. Rick Santorum reminded why he was viewed in the 1990s and early 2000s as the senatorial embodiment of compassionate conservatism. And Herman Cain displayed enough rhetorical firepower and policy savvy to suggest he deserved better than 26 percent when he last ran for federal office — against Johnny Isakson in Georgia’s open-seat Senate GOP primary back in 2004.

THE NOT-SO-INTERNATIONALISTS: While most of the questions at the debate were about the economy, and while the coverage today is focused on which candidates “won” or “lost,” the most newsworthy answers may have been about foreign policy.

The candidates made it plain that the GOP, which for half a century has been the party of internationalists and interventionists, looks to have a very different kind of candidate at the top of the ticket next year. Whether their main goal was to disagree with Obama at every turn, or not, the seven came off as collectively wary about all the United States’ principal overseas missions.

“It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes from our generals,” said Romney, because “we’ve learned that our troops shouldn’t go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation.” Paul said U.S. troops should withdraw immediately, principally as a cost-saving move. And none of the candidates stuck up for the current participation in the Libyan air strikes, agreeing there are no compelling American interests there.

Pawlenty offered the only countervailing note when he said he might support a military intervention in Yemen because the U.S. has an enormous naval presence there.

HACKED: A band of computer hackers, who pride themselves on exposing vulnerable networks for fun, has accessed the server that supports senators’ websites. “Although this intrusion is inconvenient, it does not compromise the security of the Senate’s network, its members or staff,” Deputy Sergeant at Arms Martina Bradford said.

The situation “underscores the serious cyber threat we face” not only on Capitol Hill but nationwide, Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said today. “Cyber crime costs our national economy billions annually. Congress needs to fundamentally reshape how the federal government works collaboratively with the private sector to address all cyber threats, from espionage and cyber crime to attacks on the most critical infrastructure. The need to pass comprehensive cyber security legislation is more urgent than ever.”

A LOT OF ‘IFS’ This afternoon at about 2:45 is when Marco Rubio — who’s on everybody’s short-list of ideal Republican vice-presidential candidates — will be the last of this year’s 16 freshmen senators to deliver a maiden speech. His wife and four kids are coming up from Florida for the moment.

“There are only two ways forward for us. We will either bring on another American century, or we are doomed to witness America’s decline,” his advance text says. “If we here in Washington could just find agreement on a plan to start getting our debt under control. If we could just make our tax code simpler and more predictable. And if we could just get the government to ease up on some of these onerous regulations, the American people will take care of the rest.”

QUOTE OF NOTE: “If it was me, I would resign. Because public service is exactly that, it’s a service to the public. And when you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can’t serve as effectively as you need to at the time when people are worrying about jobs and their mortgages and paying the bills, then you should probably step back,” Obama said on “Today” when asked by NBC’s Ann Curry about Anthony Weiner — who’s now on the first day of a two-week leave of absence from which he’s not expected to return.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (72) and a pair of House Republicans: Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner (68) and Ohio’s Bob Gibbs (57).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Monday, June 13, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Wingmen

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, June 13, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is at the Durham, N.C., factory of Cree Inc., a leading manufacturer of energy efficient LED lighting, where he’s starting a meeting now with the two dozen current and former corporate leaders he’s named to a Jobs and Competitiveness Council. The head of the group, GE’s Jeff Immelt, and American Express CEO Ken Chennault laid out short-term job creation prescriptions in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning: Ease visa applications to attract more tourists, promote new energy-efficiency measures in commercial buildings, bolster worker training and ease construction permitting regulations, and make it easier for small businesses to obtain government-backed loans.

At 2:50, Air Force One takes off from North Carolina (where the unemployment rate is 9.7 percent) and heads to Miami, where the president will spend the night after attending three fundraisers.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 and is on course tonight to pass its appropriations bill for military construction and veterans programs. The key vote will be on a Democratic amendment that would preserve an Obama executive order encouraging project-wide labor standards for big federal construction projects. The bill would nullify that order because, in the GOP view, those agreements drive up costs.

In a potentially important break from past practice, lawmakers will be allowed separate votes on each title of that and other spending bills. The strategy won’t affect this bill much, because few will support VA spending while opposing barracks construction and runway repaving, for example. But later this summer there may be sharp splits on combination-plate measures such as transportation and housing or interior and environment.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 for nothing but four hours (at most) of speeches.

HANDICAPPING A CONVERSATION: Saturday’s golf summit has turned into a foursome that leaves no doubt the event could be the turning point in this summer’s deficit debate.

Until now, both Obama and Boehner were insisting that sometimes a round of golf is just a round of golf, and that it was past time for the two if them to get to know each other better in a no-drama situation. But now they will be joined by two of the most loquacious men in American public life, so at a minimum their chatter is bound to alter what would have been a circumspect mood out on the course. The president’s partner will be Biden, fresh off three days of meetings with his own congressional group. And the Speaker will be sharing his scorecard with Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who was the Paul Ryan of his day — the intense and nationally ambitious thinking-outside-the-box House Budget chairman of the late 1990s.

Biden may well be able to report some genuinely big news from the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday talks of his group. The atmospherics have shifted subtly in recent days — away from talking-point posturing and toward listening for openings on both sides. Such openness could give either side a way to get to a “yes” on a deal to pair projected spending limits with a higher debt ceiling.

Whether the deal will be done in June or July probably will be determined on the golf course. Biden and Boehner might be the ones pushing hardest for a more modest deal that gets done before July 4, calms the markets and maybe means another debt ceiling vote before the election. That’s the $1 trillion version that is essentially already in hand. Obama and Kasich will be the ones arguing that a grand bargain (or at least one  that takes the debt ceiling off the table until the 2012 presidential winner is inaugurated) is still achievable. That would mean a $2 trillion grand total, and getting there would mean some new revenue as well as some tangible curbs on Medicare and Medicaid.

NO CHANGE IN TRAJECTORY: Look for Anthony Weiner to resign from the House in the second half of this week, after he can have a face-to-face meeting about his personal and political future with his wife, Huma Abdein, who will be overseas with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton until tomorrow.

But before that, look for some Republicans to try to make a parliamentary mess for the Democrats whenever Weiner’s formal request for a leave of absence (so that he can participate in some sort of totally undefined rehab) is announced on the House floor. Such requests are essentially always granted by unanimous consent and without any debate, but they are at least technically subject to debate and a vote — as is the question of whether a lawmaker’s excuse for taking a leave is sufficient enough that he should continue to receive his salary.

As if it were possible, the congressman’s situation grew only more untenable last night, when the gossip website TMZ published a cache of nude and towel-wrapped Weiner self-portraits apparently taken in the locker room of the House gym and sent to at least one woman. It’s not a violation of the rules to be naked there, of course, but the photos are the first tangible connection between Weiner’s sexting habit and his life on Capitol Hill.

MORE SHOW THAN FIGHT: Tonight’s two-hour Republican presidential debate starts at 8 at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. It’s being hosted by CNN, WMUR-TV and the Manchester Union Leader. The seven candidates on stage will be Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul. (Jon Huntsman won’t be there, but he’s on course to announce his candidacy by the end of the week.)

Although it’s called a debate and there will be a panel of journalists asking questions, the event is, more than anything, about the candidates trying to frame themselves and their messages for the still-ignorant-but-curious several hundred thousand who will be watching at home (including the tea partiers). So it’s a safe bet that most of the seven will begin in getting-to-know-you fashion, with each declaring how much better a president they would be than Obama, and why. Only as a secondary mission will they seek to distinguish themselves from one another — and if that happens then health care will be Topic A, and front-runner Romney will be Target No. 1. So look to Pawlenty to repeat the what he said on Fox yesterday — “President Obama said that he designed ObamaCare after RomneyCare, and basically made it ObamneyCare” — and then look to the others to see if they try out even funnier versions of the same line.

DREIER, WRUNG OUT? It looks as though David Dreier will be the first casualty of the new congressional map rolled out by California’s totally nonpartisan citizens’ redistricting commission — which is likely to be imposed with minimal changes after a series of public hearings. The chairman of the Rules Committee has been placed in a Democratic-leaning, Hispanic-majority district outside Los Angeles. Unless Jerry Lewis retires and Dreier moves into the so-called Inland Empire district, which is a bit of a long shot, Dreier will likely conclude that it’s time to retire. He’ll turn 60 during the 2012 campaign and has been in the House since he was 28 — but his fundraising so far this year has been at a much more leisurely pace than ever before, suggesting he’s been eyeing the exits for a while.

Overall, the map seems to give the Democrats the opportunity to gain three or maybe four seats in the state, where they currently hold 33 to the Republicans’ 19. But the party will only be able to maximize its gains if two congressional incumbents who have long had little nice to say to each other — Brad Sherman and Howard Berman — can be persuaded to run in different Los Angeles-area districts. That new map puts them in the same seat, and over the weekend both were insising on staying there.

SAYING EVERYTHING AND NOTHING: The extraordinary portraits of Gabby Giffords released yesterday only intensify the enigmatic impression that those close to her are creating about her future.

She looks so characteristically contented, alert and healthy in the pictures posted on her Facebook page that, after seeing them, a friend who was somehow ignorant of the congresswoman’s life since Jan. 8 might have nothing more provocative to ask than, “Why did she do that to her hair?” And so the photographs (coupled with the word that she will probably become a rehabilitation outpatient  by the end of the month) will only fuel expectations that Giffords will be back on Capitol Hill by the fall and will run for a fourth term representing Tucson next year — if she doesn’t decide to run for the Senate.

That the pictures were made four weeks ago, before the surgery to close the hole in her skull, will only intensify the optimistic talk. So, too, will the words of one of her best friends in Congress, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who reports that Giffords has recently become proactive in their conversations — not just answering questions but asking them, too. But an enormously important note of skepticism has come from an even more credible source than Wasserman Schultz — Giffords’ own chief of staff, Pia Carusone, who volunteered to the Arizona Republic last week that expressing “bigger and more complex thought” remains so difficult for the congresswoman that talk of whether she’ll run for any office in 2012 is premature.

Democrats in the state say Giffords would make such a strong candidate next year and would have such ease rasing money — for either her current House seat or the Senate — that they are willing to wait on her recovery until early next year. (The candidacy filing deadline will be in May.) In the meantime, Rep. Jeff Flake is the only top-tier contender for the Senate seat from which Republican Jon Kyl is retiring.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Jerry Nadler of Manhattan (64) and fellow House Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, the not-enfranchised  delegate for the nation’s capital city (74). Yesterday it was their caucus mate Lucille Roybal-Allard of California (70).

— David Hawkings, editor

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