Wednesday, January 11, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Plurality Man

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama and Biden are conducting a roundtable discussion with business leaders and industry experts about how to persuade more companies to bring jobs back from overseas. Executives from Ford, Intel, DuPont and Siemens will be there along with leaders of many smaller companies. The president will conclude the “Insourcing American Jobs” forum with on-camera remarks in the East Room at 12:15.

Obama is leaving the Oval Office at 3 for a whirlwind political trip to Chicago; he’ll give a straight-up campaign speech at the University of Illinois campus, drop by a pair of top-dollar fundraisers in private homes and be back upstairs at the White House at 1 in the morning.

THE HOUSE: Not in session; returns next Tuesday, Jan. 17.

Boehner is in Colombia, the second stop on a weeklong trade-promotion trip to South America that began in Brazil and concludes in Mexico. The other Republicans in his delegation are Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, Greg Walden and Devin Nunes. The sole Democrat is Dan Boren.

THE SENATE: Not in session; returns a week from Monday, Jan. 23.

THE SUPREME COURT: The justices heard arguments this morning about the reach of the Family and Medical Leave Act into state governments; 27 states are arguing that Congress unconstitutionally gave state workers the power to sue for money damages when they allege discrimination under the personal leave part of 1993 law. The states say job reinstatement should be the only uniform federal remedy when they make mistakes. The outcome could affect the rights of 5 million state workers.

NO PROMISES: Despite yesterday’s sweeping 16-percentage-point margin in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney today is downplaying expectations for his performance in the next primary — declaring “I know it’s an uphill battle” to victory 10 days from now in South Carolina.

And, if the polls are to be believed, he’s not necessarily crying wolf. Romney is still at only about 30 percent in most surveys in the state — which is a bridgeable 10 points ahead of both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Both are much closer to the sort of cultural conservatives that South Carolinians tend to favor. (It’s really tough to see where Jon Huntsman takes his “ticket to ride” or how Ron Paul plays against type.) And neither the ex-Speaker nor the ex-senator (nor the super PACs that are promoting them, nor Rick Perry, who’s making his last stand in the state) has unleashed the full, multimillion-dollar measure of their TV attacks on the front-runner. If their highly unusual (for a Republican campaign) collective argument about the sins of private equity firm greed develops staying power, and if one of the candidates can claim the lion’s share of voters who turn against Bain Capital’s practice of bust-it-up capitalism, then there is still one final chance for the “corporate raider” Romney juggernaut to be derailed and a consensus conservative alternative to be crowned.

But if that doesn’t happen — or if the populist rhetoric backfires and a commitment to free enterprise re-establishes itself in the GOP electorate — then Romney the “job creator” will win on Jan. 21 and become the de facto nominee even before he gets to his firewall in Florida 10 days afterward. Gingrich conceded as much this morning. And South Carolina’s most influential Republican, Sen. Jim DeMint, who’s officially neutral in the race, predicted this morning that Romney would overcome all the evangelical, anti-Yankee agita across the state and win the primary — because he will convince voters he’s the most electable and the best prepared to bring down the 9.9 percent unemployment rate (1.4 points above the national average).

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Today is the deadline for declaring congressional candidacies in Maryland, and 85-year-old Roscoe Bartlett is ready to defy every expectation and run for an 11th term in a district that was drawn to push him into retirement and replace him with a Democrat. The final sliver of suspense went away yesterday when Alex Mooney — a Bartlett buddy and the state GOP chairman, who had raised $100,000 in the past month — said he would not run, after all, because the incumbent would. Bartlett may well get knocked off in the April 3 primary, though, by either state Sen. David Brinkley or businessman Brandon Rippeon. And whoever wins the nomination will face an intense fall race against either state Sen. Robert Garagiola or businessman John Delaney.

(2) In the Washington area’s other marquee race, Republican George Allen says he raised $1.1 million in the fourth quarter for his campaign to reclaim the Virginia Senate seat he lost six years ago and began the year with $2 million in the bank, despite spending extensively last fall to relaunch his statewide political organization. The fellow former governor who’s his opponent, former Democratic National Chairman Tim Kaine, is expected to announce October-December fundraising numbers today that will be better (but only slightly) than Allen’s.

(3) In this year’s most competitive House race in Massachusetts, Richard Tisei raised $305,000 (and used only $45,000 of it) in his first seven weeks as the likely Republican challenger to John Tierney’s bid for a 9th term representing the North Shore. Tisei spent 26 years as a state legislator (starting when he was 21) before coming up short as the 2010 GOP nominee for lieutenant governor. He would be the first Republican ever sent to Congress as an openly gay man – and the first GOP House winner in the state since 1994. Tierney is vulnerable mainly as a result of his wife’s family’s legal troubles.

(4) A Kentucky congressional map drawn to shore up the electoral fortunes of the state’s only two Democratic lawmakers, John Yarmuth and Ben Chandler, was passed by the Democratic-majority state House yesterday. To accomplish that, about 10 percent of the state’s population would be shifted from one district to another. But the GOP-run state Senate is not going to buy the redistricting map and plans instead to pass legislation that would leave the six districts much as they are — with one exception: They would add enough Republicans to Chandler’s territory that he would have trouble surviving; he took his fourth full term in 2010 by only 647 votes.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Dayton (52). Tomorrow, Democratic  Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston (62).

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE: Because Congress is in recess this week and the MLK holiday is on Monday, the Daily Briefing will resume its regular weekday rhythm on Tuesday, when the House returns.

— David Hawkings, editor

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: They Do Know Jack

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is in a senior staff meeting, talking about the three-week transition from Bill Daley to Jack Lew as West Wing major-domo. The president is going to the EPA at 2:45 for what the White House is describing as nothing more than a thank-you speech to agency workers. His last scheduled event of the day is a 3:30 Oval Office meeting with Biden and Panetta.

It has been left to the vice president to appear on an 8:15 video feed thanking the Democrats who came out to vote for Obama in the New Hampshire primary — and begin to puncture the babble about his maybe being replaced by Hillary Clinton on the ticket this summer if the re-election numbers look really bad. (To underscore the message, Biden had the secretary of State to his house for breakfast this morning.)

THE SENATE: Convened at 11 for a 30-second pro forma session.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 for a pro forma session.

THE SUPREME COURT: The justices ruled 8-1 today (Ginsburg was the dissenter) that arbitration, not the federal courts, is the place for most disputes between consumers and credit card companies — because that generally business-friendly venue is what’s prescribed in the fine print of most agreements people sign before getting their plastic. The decision reverses a federal appeals court, which said a trial should handle the complaint of a group of low-income consumers who alleged they were promised an initial $300 in available credit — then charged $257 in first-year fees.

OLD HAND: Jack Lew appears to have just the sort of resume Obama needs for the person running his staff, at least during the next year.

The president’s only 2012 goals involving the Capitol are to get a quick deal on the payroll tax cut extension package, to move the annual budget and appropriations process along with a minimum of pre-election histrionics, and to convince Democratic lawmakers that he’s not talking about them when he campaigns for re-election against a recalcitrant and dysfunctional Congress. Lew’s two tours as head of the White House budget office, now and at the end of the Clinton years, have given him just the sort of expertise needed to accomplish those first two goals. (And he’ll probably see to it that Rob Nabors, the former House Appropriations aide who’s now running the legislative affairs shop at the White House, is moved into the budget director’s chair.)

Lew’s OMB stewardship will help with the soothing-ruffled-congressional-feathers job, too, because his reputation is as the consummate staffer who knows how to get his points across without ever overstepping his bounds (even when that sometimes means leaving people across the table during negotiations feeling like he’s conceding more than he ends up actually giving away). The fact that his Washington roots include so much time in the House — legislative aide to Joe Moakley in 1974-75 and top domestic policy adviser to Speaker Tip O’Neill from 1979 through 1986 — is a more than symbolic added plus.

In other words, Lew is neither histrionic and profane about Congress, like the Hill insider who was Obama’s first chief (Rahm Emanuel), nor diffident and dismissive toward Congress, like the Hill outsider who’s now also headed back to Chicago. Instead, he can be counted on to consult with Reid and Pelosi with regularity and sincerity, and to push them to do the president’s limited bidding with a sufficient modicum of deference. His cool-headed and technocratic affect will personify an effort to return the “no drama Obama” mantra to a West Wing that’s  seemed a bit soap-operatic of late. Once he takes over for real (soon after the State of the Union, which is two weeks from today), Lew won’t engineer a return to the legislative affairs schmoozing days of the Clinton years, but neither will he countenance gratuitous or petty slights against lawmakers the president needs — Boehner’s team and McConnell’s team, included.

MARGIN CALL: Mitt Romney’s margin of victory in New Hampshire is going to be in the double digits. So the story of the night will be precisely how much distance he puts between himself and his rivals.

In the normal world of American elections, a 10-percentage-point win in a crowded field would be generally labeled as “decisive” by the media, partisan analysts and rival candidates alike. But not this one. Such a margin would probably mean the former Massachusetts governor had drawn 30 percent to 32 percent of the vote — which would be a sign that, although he’s starting to break through the 25 percent barrier that’s been bedeviling him in polling for the past year, there’s still more than enough buyer’s remorse and halfhearted enthusiasm out there to slow his seemingly inevitable path to the nomination for a few more weeks.

To successfully rebut the notion that his standing remains super-soft, Romney will need to end up on top by 15 or even 18 points — which would translate into 35 percent to 38 percent of the total. Since his numbers have been slightly north of 40 percent in the week since Iowa, doing almost that well would be a signal that he’s successfully weathered all the attacks and unforced errors of the primary campaign’s final few days — capped by his taken-totally-out-of-context “I like being able to fire people” sound bite from yesterday.

A margin that big would put him on course to finish a solid first in bellwether South Carolina a week from Saturday, no matter which mainstream conservative has the top showing today. (Ron Paul is the best bet to be the runner-up, with about the 20 percent that seems to be his impenetrable ceiling.) Jon Huntsman’s got the best shot among the rest of the aspirants of finishing in the top three, if the former Utah governor’s steady rise in the tracking polls and on-the-ground enthusiasm (particularly from independents) are to be believed. The battle for last, then, seems to be between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who are focused on the same super-right slice of the electorate. Who does better will determine if the former Speaker can credibly bet on a South Carolina surge, and whether the former senator will be remembered after this week as something other than a Huckabee-like culturally conservative shooting star.

TALLY TIME: By tradition, the voting began at midnight in two small towns. In the tiny hamlet of Dixville Notch just inside the Canadian border, which has predicted the GOP nominee consistently since 1960, Romney and Huntsman both received a pair of votes and Gingrich and Paul each took one. (Obama got three votes; the town clerk said every registered voter took part.) In Hart’s Location, in the White Mountains, it was Romney 5, Paul 4, Huntsman 2, and Gingrich and Rick Perry 1 each. (Ten voted for Obama.)

The polls close across most of the state at 7, but in 13 towns the balloting continues until 8 — meaning the networks have an hour to sift both the exit polls and the early returns before offering any projection of the winner. The weather across the state is seasonably cold but snow-free. The primary is open to the state’s 232,000 registered Republicans (same-day registration is also allowed) and its 313,000 unaffiliated voters. State officials estimate a turnout of about 45 percent, or 250,000, which would be about 10,000 more than in the previous two competitive Republican primaries, in 2008 and 2000, both of which were won by John McCain. Two of the 10 counties can be counted on for a majority of the vote: Hillsborough (Manchester and Nashua) has about 30 percent of the Republican voters and Rockingham (Portsmouth and Derry) about 25 percent. The state’s 12 GOP convention delegates (half of 1 percent of the national total) will be awarded proportionally.

Nobody’s opposing the president in the Democratic primary, but state officials expect about 75,000 will show up to vote for him anyway.

HERGER RETIRING: Wally Herger, one of the most obscure Republicans in Congress despite his quarter-century of seniority and his senior seat on Ways and Means, is announcing his retirement today and anointing a successor in the redrawn but still reliably Republican rural 2nd District of northern California: Doug LaMalfa, a rice farmer and freshman state senator who spent most of the previous decade in the state Assembly.

Herger, 66, is the fourth House Republican (versus nine Democrats) to announce his voluntary departure from public life after the 2012. He’s also the third to do so in the last month — and the second back-bencher Californian from the Class of 1986 to do so in the past four days. But unlike Elton Gallegly, who announced his departure Saturday — and who essentially was forced into retirement by the state’s no-incumbent-protection redistricting — Herger’s politically survivability in the vast stretches north of Sacramento was only enhanced by the new map. Two more veteran California Republicans in situations similar to Gallegly’s, both from Southern California, are also eying the exits but haven’t committed to retiring yet: Rules Chairman David Dreier and former Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: There are more congressional celebrants on this day (seven) than any other. In the Senate, Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas (49) and Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri (62). In the House, Republicans Greg Walden of Oregon (55) and Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania (51), and Democrats Chris Van Hollen of Maryland (53), Lois Capps of California (74) and Leonard Boswell of Iowa (78).

— David Hawkings, editor

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