Thursday, June 14, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Camera Sees All

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Air Force One is about to take off for Cleveland, where at 1:45 Obama will deliver a new and heavily touted speech describing his economic vision for the next four years. Aides say the address will be notable more for its sharp campaign rhetoric than for any changes in his proposals for job creation, tax hikes for the wealthy and investments in education, energy, scientific research and public works. (Romney will be enunciating his alternative economic approach — cutting spending, regulation and taxes to help businesses, building the Keystone pipeline, starting over on health care — starting 5 minutes later at a rally in Cincinnati; it’s the first time the presidential rivals have been in the same swing state on the same day.)

Three hours after leaving the Cuyahoga Community College campus, the president will arrive at Ground Zero to tour the reconstruction efforts; his tour guides will be Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Gov. Andy Cuomo. Obama then heads to the West Village and a $40,000-a-plate dinner in the townhouse of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. He’s due to speak at 10 a fundraising gala at the Plaza (the headliner is Mariah Carey) and is due back in the family quarters three hours after that.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 with the parties still at loggerheads over whether amendments unrelated to agriculture will get votes during the farm bill debate, as Republicans want. While the leaders continue negotiating offstage, Reid has arranged for votes that will reject two dramatic changes in farm policy proposed by GOP conservatives; one would shut down a pair of widely used land conservation programs and the other would subject crop subsidy programs to the vagaries of the annual appropriations process.

At 12:30 senators will reconsider their decision in December to block Mari Carmen Aponte’s confirmation for another stint as ambassador to El Salvador. The vote to break a Jim DeMint filibuster will be closer than last time because Marco Rubio has switched sides to support her (as Puerto Rican activists in Florida have been demanding) and says he can bring at least seven Republicans with him.

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week.

THE BIG GUNS: The Web video Boehner released today is significant both for what it is and what it is not.

Release of the 75-second spot, filmed in the Speaker’s ceremonial office, propels him from the relative shadows of the presidential campaign into the front ranks of the Romney surrogates — even though Boehner makes no mention of the Republican challenger by name. Instead, his remarks are all about promoting the GOP’s election year economic agenda and criticizing the president for rebuffing so many of the House majority’s ideas without any effort at negotiated compromise. But the timing — just before the dueling presidential campaign speeches on the economy in Ohio, and three days after Boehner and Romney met to discuss how the House majority could best bolster the GOP candidate’s quest — is a clear reflection of their agreement to coordinate messaging for the remaining 145 days of the race. (Boehner is also planning to campaign with Romney this weekend.)

The glossy video also appeared just hours after the other top congressional GOP leader served notice that he was shifting almost entirely out of legislative dealmaking mode and into help-the-presidential-candidate mode. McConnell did so by announcing that Republicans will block the confirmation of any more federal appeals court judges before the election — invoking the prerogative (known either as the Thurmond rule or the Leahy rule) of the Senate caucus opposite a president seeking second term. Such unilateral obstructionism on judicial nominees in the months before an election long predates the era of partisan objection as default setting, because it allows the party out of power to make a legitimate point about how the ideological makeup of the federal courts for decades or more is an important part of what every presidential election is about. Still, McConnell’s beginning of that period now nonetheless serves as a reminder that very, very little of consequence will get done at the Capitol in the next 21 weeks.

NOT SO NICE ANYMORE: That reality leads back to the dog-that-didn’t bark import of the Boehner video. Its staging featured copies of almost 30 bills laid out on his desk, which he described as the job creation agenda the House has passed — not “big, controversial bills that no one has read” but “practical, common-sense proposals to help small businesses create jobs and build a stronger economy.” And nowhere on the polished wood surface was a copy of the highway bill — which would do more to create many thousands of jobs, and quickly, than any other pending measure.

Sixteen days before the latest deadline — which Boehner himself has said will not be extended — negotiations look perilously close to running off the rails for good. Yesterday Barbara Boxer, who’s chairing the conference, tossed away weeks of maybe-forced, maybe-not big smile congeniality toward the House GOP and labeled them “extremists” preparing to block the bill for either political or small-government-is-best reasons. She and other Democratic senators also said such resistance could be overcome if Boehner would order his troops to back down. The Republicans in turn accused the Democrats of not budging enough on the remaining disagreement in the closed-door talks, starting with the GOP’s efforts to fast-track the Keystone pipeline, stop EPA regulation of coal ash, limit mass transit spending and cut spending on transportation “enhancements” such as bike lanes and greenery. Neither side would use the word “impasse,” but both sides seemed to be describing one.

McGURKED: There’s every reason to believe that Brett McGurk will never get even a committee vote on his nomination to become envoy in Baghdad. Opposition, for different reasons at each end of the political spectrum, is building quickly enough that Senate Foreign Relations is probably getting ready to drop plans for an endorsement vote on Tuesday — and it’s very unlikely to be rescheduled after that.

Six Republicans on the panel — John Barrasso, Jim DeMint, Jim Inhofe, Mike Lee, Jim Risch and Marco Rubio — formally asked the White House yesterday to withdraw the nomination. That symbolic smackdown is not going to happen as long as McGurk agrees, and quickly, to step aside on his own. Which he will probably do if the committee’s No. 2 Democrat, Barbara Boxer, tells him his position is untenable — in part because she doesn’t think he’s the right fit for the job, either. McGurk’s principal problem all along has been that his career trajectory soared because of his role carrying out the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq — policies the Democrats still cringe at, and which some Republicans think McGurk did a minimally effective job in executing. The diplomat’s extramarital affair in Baghdad with foreign correspondent Gina Chon — and his intemperate decision to put onto a National Security Council server his passions for her as both a source and a girlfriend — became the unprofessional deal-breaker long before they married or she was forced out at The Wall Street Journal.

TRAIL TIPS (Massachusetts) The Senate rivals poked hard at one another in dueling appearances this morning on ideologically friendly cable networks. “The test is about truthfulness, credibility and honesty,” Scott Brown said about Elizabeth Warren on “Fox & Friends.” “She’s failed that test as evidenced by her claiming to be a Native American and checking the box and making misrepresentations.” A few minutes later, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the Democratic challenger declared that the GOP “really doesn’t want to talk about the issues” and sought to put a positive spin on her balky handling of the controversy surrounding her heritage. “Am I a professional politician who should have figured all of this out and had some slick answer to deal with it? The answer is, that’s just not me.”

(South Carolina) The state Election Commission will decide tomorrow if votes cast Tuesday for a candidate who recently withdrew from an open-seat congressional race should be counted. If the ballots for state Rep. Ted Vick (who got out because of legal trouble) are included, then none of the Democratic candidates will have a majority and there will be a runoff a week from Tuesday in the state’s northeast corner — between the establishment’s pick, attorney Preston Brittain, and surging-out-of-nowhere economist Gloria Bromell Tinubu. And if they are not, then Tinubu (a former state legislator in Georgia) is the winner — and the party has even less chance of claiming the state’s newly awarded seventh House seat. (The Republican runoff will be between colorful former Lt. Gov. André Bauer and Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice.)

(Nevada) Attorney Danny Tarkanian, son of the state’s legendary basketball coach, has emerged as the narrow winner of this week’s eight-way Republican primary for the state’s new (fourth) House seat on the outer edges of the Las Vegas metro area. His famous name will help him raise a decent amount of money and may get some of his calls to Washington’s GOP political power brokers returned, but the demographics of the new seat. (Obama would have carried it with 56 percent in 2008.) very strongly favor the election of state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, who has Reid’s enthusiastic backing.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (73) and two GOP colleagues in the House, 17-term Wisconsinite Jim Sensenbrenner (69) and freshman Ohioan Bob Gibbs (58).

— David Hawkings, editor

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More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

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