Monday, January 23, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: What Tomorrow Will Bring

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, January 23, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SUPREME COURT: The justices decided unanimously that police must have a search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects — a potentially landmark ruling in favor of preserving some measure of personal privacy in the digital age.

The court overturned the drug conspiracy conviction of D.C. nightclub owner Antoine Jones, concluding that the main evidence against him — a monthlong log of his whereabouts on a tracking device the police hid on the bottom of his car — was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights to be protected from an unreasonable search. “By attaching the device to the Jeep," Scalia said, “officers encroached on a protected area.” His opinion was joined by Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Sotomayor. Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan signed a concurring opinion that suggested the same ground rules should be applied to mobile phones.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is spending the bulk of his day refining and rehearsing tomorrow’s State of the Union speech. His only scheduled on-camera event is a 1:40 photo op in the East Room with the reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 to debate whether to create a Web-based system for issuing permits to hunt on federal land (aka “duck stamps”) and whether to make an ecologically interesting spot on the Northern Mariana Islands part of the National Parks system. Votes to pass both bills will be at 6:30.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 with no scheduled business other than the confirmation of John Gerrard, a 16-year veteran of the Nebraska Supreme Court, as a federal trial judge.

FAMILIAR SCRIPT: Congressional Republicans are prepared to wait until tomorrow, in the hours before Obama arrives at the Capitol, to unleash their opening salvos in their election-year war on almost everything the president and his Democratic allies do or say.

Before Obama can use his national State of the Union TV audience (about 45 million, probably) to lambaste Congress for its past year of dysfunction — and to chide the lawmakers in advance for this year's expected more of the same — the GOP will seek to turn the rhetorical tables back on him. Republicans in both chambers will make a great deal of the fact that Tuesday will mark 1,000 days since the Senate adopted a budget, which they will say is, more than anything, evidence of the president’s lack of leadership. Republicans in the Senate will start talking angrily, if not in any detail, about punishing Obama  (by delaying many of his nominees) because of his newly aggressive use of his presidential recess appointment powers. And Republicans in the House, especially, will return to their really hard bargaining positions on the package of wrapup legislation that was left behind at Christmas — promising to do the fiscally responsible thing by shaving back long-term unemployment benefits and blocking any tax on millionaires to pay for a 10-month payroll tax cut extension, and do the economically responsible thing by forcing the president to reverse field on the Keystone XL pipeline.

In other words, for at least this week, until the actual must-do business gets started, the Republicans will be on-message as 100 percent unified in saying whatever the other side wants is bunk. Which is totally unsurprising and precisely the message Obama’s annual speech to Congress will seek to rebut. The president will say that it’s only such knee-jerk recalcitrance that’s preventing a better and fairer economy for the middle class — and a more responsible Washington budgeting process that relies on tough decision-making instead of sequesters. (He’s likely to offer only a warmed-over outline of his deficit-reduction plans, withholding the details until his budget submission in two weeks.)

JOINING THE MARCH: Boehner will be the kickoff speaker at noon, when the annual “March for Life” rally gets under way on the Mall. Several thousand people are expected to brave the soggy weather and attend the rally, then march up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court. Abortion opponents have staged a rally every year on this day since 1974 — the first anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that the Constitution gives women the right to have abortions. But it’s unusual for members of the congressional leadership to participate. The Speaker says he’s going to tell the crowd how proud he is to be the leader of the House’s “bipartisan pro-life majority.”

GLOVES OFF: Tonight’s debate, on NBC starting at 9 at the University of South Florida in Tampa, is the 18th of the Republican presidential campaign — and really might be the most important one yet. It will be the first such encounter since the race became — at least for the next week — a two-man affair. (Rick Santorum is reserving his dwindling resources for a last stand in a less expensive, not-winner-take-all state, and Ron Paul is similarly looking down the road to more hospitable contests — meaning caucuses, where his organizers with passion can shine.)

The Republican establishment will be looking on, with a worried if not-quite-arched eyebrow, to see whether Mitt Romney is really back on track after two consecutive wobbly debate performances that will be remembered mainly for his verbal contortions about keeping his tax returns under wraps. (He’s now promising that details of his 2010 return, and an estimate of his 2011 return, will be made public by tomorrow night.) GOP elders and donors will be looking to see how forcefully and convincingly Romney will say to his rival’s face what he said about him on the stump yesterday: that Gingrich was qualified to be a talk show host, but not president, because it “was proven he was a failed leader” after his four years as Speaker, when “he had to resign in disgrace” because of his ethical reprimand and the loss of confidence of the Republicans who knew him best — the rank-and-file members of the House. (The former governor offered another preview of his new and more confrontational approach this morning, when he called on Gingrich to give back the $1.7 million he’d been paid by Freddie Mac to atone for his alleged lobbying culpability in the housing crisis.)

The assignment for Gingrich, meanwhile, is to parry the Romney brickbats with such elegance and cool that he fortifies the newest story line he’s written for himself — that his 12-percentage-point upset thumping in South Carolina on Saturday means he’s the better bet to take on Obama in the fall, and that the registered Republicans in Florida may as well get in on his self-professed inevitability. (In the shortest term, he wants to perform solidly enough that the money keeps pouring in. Yesterday his campaign reported a post-primary haul of $1 million.) Gingrich continued this morning to deny that he was ever a lobbyist, and he said his campaign was working with the Center for Health Transformation — which he founded but no longer runs — to release records proving that. His surge, he added on ABC, means “you’re going to see the establishment go crazy in the next week or two.”

GRACEFUL EXIT: Gabby Giffords is bringing some symbolic closure to her congressional career today, meeting with other victims — as well as law enforcement officials, rescue workers and bystanders — who were at the “Congress on Your Corner” supermarket parking lot meet-and-greet where the congresswoman was shot 54 weeks ago. She’s also got a session planned with local officials and community leaders, and she’ll visit a family assistance center at a local food bank recently created with $215,000 donated in Giffords’ honor. Her office says today will be her last in Tucson before she hands in her resignation letter to Boehner later in the week. She’s expected at the State of the Union tomorrow night — where her presence will, at least for a few minutes at the start, put a sheen of good feeling on what will otherwise be a predictably partisan hour of political theater.

It had become conventional wisdom in recent weeks that Giffords realized she had not recovered sufficiently to run for a fourth term this fall. But her decision to resign now was known only to a small circle of her closest advisers and took the Arizona political establishment by surprise. As a result, the public field of would-be Democratic successors is totally empty, and probably will be for at least another week — although state legislators Linda Lopez, Matt Heinz, Paula Aboud and Steve Farley, along with Pima County Supervisor Ramon Valadez, are all expected to be starting back-channel efforts to assess the potential for their candidacies. Three Republicans already have started testing the waters: state Sen. Frank Antenori, college rugby coach and sports broadcaster Dave Sitton and 2010 nominee Jesse Kelly.

Complicating the political calculations is the reality that the special election — the primaries will be in April and the final round in June — will be in the 8th District as it’s been configured for the past decade, which has a nearly down-the-middle partisan split, but the regular election five months later will be in a newly drawn (and newly numbered, as the 2nd) district with a clear if not lopsided Democratic lean. The redistricting means that — if Giffords meant what her most ardent fans hope she meant on her resignation video yesterday, when she said “I will return” — her political territory would be more amenable than it has been.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: The oldest senator, New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg, is now 88. Two fellow Democrats, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware and Rep. Joe Baca of California, are each turning 65. House GOP freshman Bobby Schilling of Illinois is 48.

— David Hawkings, editor

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