Friday, January 20, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Backlash, Blackout, Backpedal

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, January 20, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is precisely three-quarters of the way through his term, and he’s marking the third anniversary of his inauguration with a light workday: He met with the secretary of State this morning and has a senior staff meeting at 5. His only other public event is a 2:45 re-election fundraiser in the Jefferson Hotel.

THE HOUSE: Not in session; next convenes at 2 on Monday. (Republicans are still in Baltimore for their annual bonding and strategic planning retreat.)

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

MORE BETA TESTING: The drive for legislation to combat online piracy suffered a probably fatal blow this morning, when Reid called off next week’s Senate test vote on the measure in the face of a crushing rejection.

The majority leader asserted he was not giving up on the bill, only trying to buy time for work on a new version that would strike a different “balance between protecting Americans’ intellectual property and maintaining openness and innovation on the Internet.” But while he asserted a deal that would satisfy both Hollywood and Silicon Valley was still within reach, his move was an undeniable signal that prospects have all but evaporated for the legislation — and less than a week after it looked to be one of the few big policy measures with a good chance of sustaining broad bipartisan support and getting all the way through Congress this year.

What changed the dynamic, literally overnight, was the blackout of websites led by Wikipedia, Google and other online powerhouses on Wednesday — which galvanized an enormous reservoir of anxiety and opposition from Americans living their lives largely online. (The backlash’s enormity and ferocity stunned a Congress that is generally adept at seeing a bill’s supporters and opponents arrayed in predictable rows, and months in advance.) The opponents sent more than 7 million emails that day alone attacking the legislation as effectively sanctioning government censorship of what they watch, hear and read — and strangling online entrepreneurship along the way. The two Judiciary chairmen pushing the measure, liberal Democrat Pat Leahy in the Senate and conservative Republican Lamar Smith in the House, say such fears are in no way warranted; instead, they say, their aim is only to give the Justice Department some new legal powers to work with copyright holders on shutting down the offshore websites that make money not only by stealing or counterfeiting American pop culture but also peddling bogus brand-name clothing and faux pharmaceuticals.

Congressional leaders initially assumed they retained sufficient support to push the bill through quickly and essentially sidestep the critics. But within a day, at least eight of the measure’s 40 original sponsors – Democrat Ben Cardin and Republicans Kelly Ayotte, Orrin Hatch, Marco Rubio, Chuck Grassley, Roy Blunt, Scott Brown and John Boozman — had publicly repudiated the measure, promoting McConnell to press Reid last night to try to buy the negotiators some time by delaying the initial vote.

Leahy asserted this morning that he would try to make the most of the extra time, but he could hardly hide his displeasure or his expectation that the legislative drive had stalled for the year. “The day will come when the senators who forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem,” he said. Smith issued his own statement saying that he would put his committee’s deliberations on his bill on ice until a consensus emerges on a new legislative approach — essentially signaling he would leave it to the Senate to come up with a viable plan.

GAME ON: Expectations are solidifying that Newt Gingrich will win South Carolina —  and thereby become, at the last possible moment, the single consensus Republican presidential alternative to Mitt Romney.

The state’s most prominent GOP and tea party kingmaker, Sen. Jim DeMint, said this morning that tomorrow’s contest is now “clearly a two-man race.” And if the Speaker’s continued surge in the tracking polls ends up heralding his first primary victory, he would certainly be able to raise the money and assemble the organization needed to sustain a primary and caucus battle lasting well beyond Florida on Jan. 31. (For starters, you can bet an entire Super-PAC’s worth of cash that Gingrich will remind people, a thousand times over, that since the GOP began staging a presidential primary in South Carolina in 1980, every single winner has gone one to secure the nomination.) “This really could go on for a while,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus predicted this morning.

Gingrich’s amazing return to the top of the pack was heralded last night, when he emphatically gambled — and with resounding success, at least in the hall — that the only thing the state’s evangelically conservative electorate likes less than an “open marriage” advocate is the “elite media ” asking him about it. His vituperative attacks on both ABC (for putting Marianne Gingrich on the air) and CNN (for making her allegations the opening question) are dominating today’s coverage, reaffirming his standing as the most consistently high-performing stage presence in American politics — and effectively boxing out “landslide” Rick Santorum, who seems unable to get any traction despite his new, if asterisk-encrusted, lead in Iowa and his own really solid (if not quite “grandiose”) debate performance.

Romney, meanwhile, put a new label on his own candidacy last night when he offered yet another new and different answer to the drumbeat of questions about releasing his tax returns: “Maybe.” He absolutely remains the probable nominee, but he’s not the inevitable one anymore — no matter how many high-profile, possible running-mate endorsements he uncorks each day. (Today’s came from Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia.)

THE PARTICULARS: Polls will be open from 7 to 7 tomorrow. Although there’s no Democratic contest and any of the state’s 2.7 million registered voters may participate (there’s no party registration), the consensus is that turnout will be below 19 percent – or about 500,000, more than four years ago but fewer than in 2000. The statewide winner gets 11 convention delegates, and 2 delegates go to the winner in each of the seven (one more than in the last decade) congressional districts.

THEY’RE SO CUTE TOGETHER: It’s more than clear by now that all the optimistic talk after Gabby Giffords was shot a year ago — about how the tragedy would herald a period of renewed bipartisan collegiality and civility at the Capitol — was naive in the extreme. But at least one gesture from that period will be repeated next week: Many (but probably not most) of the senators and House members attending the State of the Union will sit with a lawmaker from the other party. The members can’t stand the nickname for this little gesture of goodwill — “date night” — but it’s hard to argue that the symbolism creates just another moment to remember how much life in Congress is like life in high school.

The Senate pairings announced so far include Lisa Murkowski and Mark Udall, Dick Shelby and Mary Landrieu, Mark Kirk and Joe Manchin, Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Barbara Mikulski, Olympia Snowe and Mark Begich, Kelly Ayotte and Jack Reed, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, and Pat Roberts and Claire McCaskill. House combinations include Michael Grimm and Loretta Sanchez, John Shimkus and Tim Bishop, Tom Marino and Hank Johnson, Bob Latta  and Joe Donnelly,  Louie Gohmert and Carolyn Maloney, Michael McCaul and Doris Matsui, Steve Fincher and Jim Cooper, Dave Reichert and Ron Kind, Pat Meehan and Jackie Speier, Reid Ribble and Kurt Schrader, Brett Guthrie and John Yarmuth, Steve Womack and Mike Ross, Jack Kingston and John Barrow, and  Frederica Wilson and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, House Democrats Shelly Berkley of Nevada (61) and Bill Owens of New York (63); on Sunday, House Republicans Steve Chabot of Ohio (59) and Rick Crawford of Arkansas (46).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Doin' The Charleston

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is arriving in Orlando, his latest incursion into a bellwether state just ahead of his Republican presidential challengers. (The Jan. 31 primary in Florida, the third-biggest electoral vote prize at 29, is the next contest after South Carolina.) At Walt Disney World at 12:35, he will unveil plans for boosting the travel and tourism industry by, among other things, speeding up visa processing — especially at consulates in China and Brazil — and creating a fast-track airport screening system for “low-risk” overseas visitors. None of his proposals requires legislation, predictably, because the presidential year is going to be all about advancing a “we can’t wait” agenda for changing policy on his own, without the divided Congress.

Air Force One will be wheels-up at 2:15 for an intense evening of fundraising in New York: One cocktail party for $5,000 donors and another one for $15,000 givers at the exclusive Upper East Side restaurant Daniel, a $35,800-a-seat dinner in the Brooklyn home of director Spike Lee and then a $100-ticket bash at the Apollo Theater featuring performances by Al Green and India Arie. The president’s due back home soon after midnight.

THE HOUSE: Not in session. (Almost all the Republicans are at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront for their annual start-of-the-year retreat, paid for by the business and trade associations that underwrite the Congressional Institute.)

THE SENATE: Not in session.

ALL EYES ON NEWT: Rick Perry ended his presidential campaign this morning and endorsed Newt Gingrich — providing a crucial closing kick of momentum (and about 5 percent of the vote) to the former Speaker two days before the South Carolina primary. “Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country,” Perry said in Charleston. “Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?” he added, saying Gingrich has “the courage to tell those Washington interests to take a hike if that’s what’s in the best interest of our country.”

But Gingrich’s prospects for staying in the hunt for the long term may well rest on a pair of back-to-back prime-time TV broadcasts tonight. The first (which starts on Fox at 8) is the final debate before Saturday’s voting in the state, where the ex-Speaker’s poll numbers are surging into striking distance from Mitt Romney. Another characteristically strong on-stage performance, and another balky performance by the front-runner like the one he turned in on Monday, has the potential to propel Gingrich toward a vitally important win. But that’s assuming the second half of the double feature (on ABC at 10) turns out to be a total bust: an extensive interview in which the candidate’s second wife, Marianne Gingrich, will do her best to try to ruin her ex-husband’s career.

Whatever revelations she offers beyond what’s on the record — Gingrich started romancing her long before divorcing his first wife, and kept her in the dark long after starting his affair while Speaker with his current wife, Callista, who was then a House Agriculture Committee staffer — will provide an intense test for Gingrich’s career-long trouble with self-discipline. So far, his plan is to ignore what’s said on “Nightline” and let surrogates (led by his daughters from his first marriage, Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Cushman) do the trash-talking for him in the hours before thousands of evangelical Christian South Carolinians make their decisions  at the polls.

NOT HIS BEST DAY: Left on the sidelines, at last for a few hours, is Romney, who had hoped today’s news would be dominated by the latest installment in his I’m-the-inevitable-one tour: an endorsement from another paragon of the Republican establishment — Rob Portman, the freshman Ohio senator, supercommittee member, Bush-era budget chief and trade czar, and everybody’s choice for a spot on any Romney running-mate short list.

Instead, the endorsement is but an afterthought in a campaign news rundown behind Perry, Marianne Gingrich and the not-so-surprising, ultimately unimportant but still really headache-inducing news out of Iowa: Romney didn’t win the caucuses by 8 votes, after all — at least, not officially. Meaning he’s so far 1-for-2, not 2-for-2, in the early balloting — and could yet be 1-for-3 by the weekend. Recounting and coming up with the certified results resulted in Rick Santorum with 34 votes more than Romney — although paperwork from eight of the state’s 1,774 precincts is missing and probably will be forever, which is why the state party is not ever going to declare an “official” winner, and why the Romney campaign is now saying he’s willing to call it a tie.

The three South Carolina polls out today (all taken with Perry still in the hunt) all show essentially the same thing: Romney slipping but still ahead by about 10 points.

‘NO’ IS NOT THE END: Few things in a year of predictable political posturing were as easy to forecast as Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline yesterday. He said that if Congress forced his hand and made him make a quick decision, the decision would be “no.” And that’s just what happened. But it’s just as easy now to predict that the two sides in the fierce fight will harp on the standoff all year, with each camp trying to force a final decision in its favor and neither side expecting that will happen before the election.

Republicans, who have seized on the 1,700-mile oil pipeline from Canada to Texas as their favorite engine of job creation, are already searching for legislative avenues to compel the administration to reverse field. In the meantime, they’ll settle for some good television: House Energy and Commerce is working to arrange a hearing next week where Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will be pressed hard to defend her department’s recommendation that the $7 billion pipeline plan be stopped. (The issue belongs to State because it’s a Canadian company, Calgary-based TransCanada Corp., that wants to do the construction.)

Democrats, for their part, say they are confident the standoff will work well for them because it provides something tangible to boast to their base in the environmental community. (The plan calls for the pipe to snake across the ecologically fragile Sandhills of Nebraska.) They’ve concluded that the boost they get from their green constituents far outweighs the heartburn they’re causing with members of some labor unions, who were salivating over TransCanada’s talk about creating as many as 20,000 construction jobs in the next two years. (The administration says the project would bring no more than 6,000 jobs.)

THE OTHER MITCH: Mitch Daniels will deliver the televised response to Obama’s State of the Union next Tuesday night — offering him one more high-profile turn on the national stage before his governorship of Indiana ends in a year, and one final opportunity for wistful Republicans to wonder what might have been, had he run for president this time. Boehner and McConnell announced the choice this morning. Daniels will be only the third governor tapped to respond to a Democratic State of the Union in the past two decades; the others were Virginia’s Bob McDonnell two years ago and New Jersey’s Christie Whitman in 1995. All the others have been members of Congress, including House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan a year ago.

HOW TALL IS $15 MILLION? The National Park Service now has all the money it says it needs ($15 million) to return the Washington Monument to the condition it was in before the August earthquake. That’s because the half provided by Congress last month was matched this morning by billionaire Bethesda businessman and history buff David Rubenstein, a co-founder of The Carlyle Group private equity behemoth. The Park Service hopes to have a contractor begin work on the 555-foot obelisk by the end of next August, and it will be a year after that before the delicate masonry work is done and a million visitors a year can start streaming in again. It’s not clear whether the work will require  a reconstruction of the scaffolding that was used during the restoration of 1999-2001. The work will not include repairing water damage since the quake or making reinforcements to prevent damage in future temblors. And still to come is a long-range plan for revamping the monument grounds and creating a new visitor center; the winner of a design competition is to be named in May.

HINCHEY’S GIFT: Maurice Hinchey is insisting to everyone who asks, and who doesn’t ask, that he’s cancer-free and healthy enough to run for and win an 11th term representing upstate New York in the House. The veteran Appropriations Committee member says he’s announcing his retirement this afternoon because, at 73, it’s simply time to retire — and to cut his old Democratic buddies in Albany a huge break. That’s because now the Legislature will be able to carve up his sprawling Poughkeepsie-to-Binghamton-to-Ithaca district and be halfway toward meeting their reapportionment obligation, which is to do away with two of the state’s 29 House districts. And the other half of the task is almost as easy: Soon enough a new map will be out that disappears the Brooklyn-Queens district that Bob Turner claimed for the Republicans after last summer’s Anthony Weiner melodrama. The Democratic state Assembly sacrifices one district upstate, and the GOP state Senate gives up one in the city.  It could hardly be any easier.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Kilili Sablan, the independent-turned-Democrat who’s the first congressional delegate ever sent from the Northern Mariana Islands (57).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

Copyright 2012 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Content Generators

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and before 5 will vote decisively against raising the debt limit by another $1.2 trillion — knowing full well that the gesture has no possible default consequences because the Senate has no plans to go along. Republicans will vote almost en bloc to block Obama’s latest borrowing request — including most of the 174 who voted for the debt ceiling deal in August. But being against it now after being for it this summer will do little to assuage fiscal conservative lobbying groups and tea party constituents back home.

THE SENATE: Not in session this week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama’s day is highlighted by a pair of schmoozefests. At 3 he’ll formally accept the credentials of the newly arrived ambassadors from Argentina, Austria, Azerbaijan, Britain, Ecuador, Iceland, Iraq, Italy, Lesotho, Mali, Micronesia, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan and the Vatican. At 5:30 he’s hosting an East Room cocktail party for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

STILL RUNNING: Congressional leaders seem a bit shell-shocked by today’s sweeping Web-wide demonstration against bills to crack down on Internet piracy and counterfeiting, which produced the new year’s first flood of angry emails and calls to lawmaker offices. But top Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and House asserted they were unbowed by the protests and would press forward with their measures.

The debate is the most intense and consequential clash yet between the titans of the new media age and the lions of the 20th century entertainment industry. Hollywood’s army of well-heeled lobbyists is beseeching Congress to write legislation allowing the Justice Department to block non-U.S. websites that illegally copy and then stream the music, movies and TV programs copyrighted by News Corp., Time Warner, Comcast and so on. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist and the rest of Silicon Valley are hoping today’s protests (Wikipedia is shut down until midnight, most prominently) will enlist their hundreds of millions of daily users to stop such legislation, which they say would strangle innovation, give old media too much power and turn the Justice Department into the biggest of big brother censorship offices.

The Senate is set to wade in Tuesday, with a vote just before the State of the Union on whether to even begin formal debate on its piracy bill — which is known by the acronym PIPA, for Protect Intellectual Property Act. Reid says the vote will go ahead as planned — even if the tenuous 60-vote majority Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy thinks he’s assembled has totally fallen apart under all the point-and-click grass-roots pressure. (One of the Republicans on his list, the politically imperiled Scott Brown, signaled overnight that he’s gotten cold feet.) And so it already looks as though Leahy’s best chance to keep the measure alive — at least long enough to get its due on the Senate floor — is to water it down sufficiently in the coming days so that he can at least get it through the starting gate. One provision that he’s probably going to jettison (assuming doing so doesn’t make his GOP backers furious) would allow the Hollywood companies to sue Silicon Valley companies when their sites embrace pirated moves and other programming. Another would give the government the power to block certain Web searches.

In the House, meanwhile, Chairman Lamar Smith says he still plans for his Judiciary Committee to pick up next month where it left off in December on his own version of the piracy bill — known as SOPA, for Stop Online Piracy Act. The markup has bogged down in a roiling and cross-partisan debate between Smith’s forces (who are on Hollywood’s side) and the forces of Darrell Issa, who is trying to water down the bill at the behest of the technology companies. The Obama administration, meanwhile, sent a signal through three mid-level officials over the weekend that it’s looking for a go-slow approach in hopes that some middle-ground compromise can be divined.

MONEY MATTERS: When John McCain couldn’t remember how many houses he owned, it was little more than a one-day kerfuffle four years ago — because the story line of that year’s Republican presidential candidate wasn’t about his being undeniably super-rich and clueless about the political awkwardness his wealth brought to his campaign. But that’s absolutely a core part of the Mitt Romney story line for 2012. Even if he survives this week’s self-imposed South Carolina stall out and goes on to win the nomination, Romney will face a fall of ridicule from Obama, late night comedians and maybe millions of voters if it turns out that he really does pay an effective federal tax rate of 15 percent. And the country is guaranteed to see, again and again, a TV spot that plays Romney’s declaration that his speaking fee income is “not very much” and then shows, in giant red type, the actual figure of $374,000 — an amount that makes him nearly a 1 percenter even before all his capital gains are figured.

The most immediate beneficiary of all this is Newt Gingrich, who now has a good chance of closing his South Carolina gap with Romney to a handful of points — not only because of Romney’s unforced errors, but also because of his semi-endorsement last night from Sara Palin: “If I had to vote in South Carolina, in order to keep this thing going, I’d vote for Newt and I would want this to continue.”

OFFICIALLY UNOFFICIAL: Jeff Zients will never be more than the “acting” head of the OMB. The deputy director is going to stay in that bureaucratic limbo for a year — he also had the acting title for four months in 2010, after Peter Orszag left but before Jack Lew was confirmed — and his name will never be sent to the Senate as the formal nominee to run the agency. And then, if Obama is re-elected, Zients will return to his life as a prominent Washington businessman and somebody with more budgetary chops will be put up for the second term. (The budget proposal for fiscal 2013, which will be unveiled Feb. 6, is almost on the presses already and will be the final document of this presidential term.) The leading candidates remain White House congressional lobbyist Rob Nabors, National Economic Council head Gene Sperling, his domestic policy deputy Jason Furman, Urban Institute President Bob Reischauer and former Young & Rubicam CEO Ann Fudge.

The return of Zients, who’s got the No. 3 job now, is a clear sign that Obama didn’t want to risk a confirmation fight by proposing OMB’s true No. 2, Heather Higginbottom, who had trouble getting through the Senate last summer because of her lack of budget experience.

NOT WHAT HE EXPECTED: Darrell Issa probably assumed his House Oversight Committee had a politically easy mark in its sights when it launched its investigation of Countrywide, the once No. 1 American home loan lender that’s become so vilified for its role in the  subprime mortgage crisis and the collapse of the housing market. But this week, the inquiry seems to be turning more against House Republicans than anyone else. Subpoenaed documents turned over to the panel by Bank of America, Countrywide’s new owner, show that three members of the caucus received the lending VIP treatment (meaning below-market rates) from the “Friends of Angelo” unit: NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions, Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon and fellow Californian Elton Gallegly. Only one Democrat, Ed Towns, got the sweetheart deal. And so yesterday the top Democrat on Oversight, Elijah Cummings, wrote Issa a brisk letter asking, in effect, So what are you going to do to make equal-opportunity political hay with this? The answer will inevitably include turning the papers over to the Ethics Committee, which will investigate whether the lawmakers received improper gifts and did any improper favors in return. All four assert that they did not know their mortgage applications were being given preferential  treatment.

THE JET AGE: Privately financed congressional travel jumped last year for the first time since Congress imposed what were supposed to be restrictive new rules on such trips back in 2007, when the perception of lawmakers as junketeers was on the rise. Outside groups spent at least $5.8 million to send members and their aides on more than 1,500 trips around the world — a 75 percent surge in just one year. The rules are supposed to prevent companies, trade associations and other groups that employ lobbyists from taking lawmakers on anything longer than a day trip — but K Street has figured out how to underwrite think tanks, foundations, educational institutions and other groups that can sponsor multiple-night getaways. Predictably, the three lawmakers who took more than $45,000 in trips last year are all from politically safe seats: Jim Cooper of Tennessee, fellow Democrat George Miller of California and Republican Doug Lamborn of Colorado.

THEY'LL FIND ANOTHER: The latest retirement from the House GOP’s obscurity caucus is one of the most surprising yet, because the rural slice of central Pennsylvania that Todd Platts has represented for six terms was made only more reliably Republican in redistricting. And so it’s unlikely the Democrats will seriously contend the open seat. Local Republicans, meanwhile, have a month to decide whether to try to succeed the 49-year-old Platts, who was known at the Capitol for little beyond commuting every day all the way from York, refusing to take PAC contributions and being one of those guys who always waits on the aisle for hours to get a presidential handshake on State of the Union nights. The early speculation is focused on a pair of legislators from York, state Sen. Mike Waugh and state Rep. Scott Perry.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Elijah Cummings of Baltimore (61), fellow House Democrat Michael Michaud of East Millinocket, Maine  (57) and House Republican Kay Granger of Fort Worth (69).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

Copyright 2012 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Pink Slips for Everybody

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting in the State Dining Room now with the corporate and academic leaders he formed a year ago into his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. After lunch with Biden, the president will spend 45 minutes hearing King Abdullah II of Jordan explain his view of recent “baby steps” toward Middle East peace. Then Obama’s off to an East Room photo op at 3 with the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. His final scheduled event is a 4:30 meeting with Panetta — leaving plenty of time for the president to get ready to take the first lady out to dinner on her 48th birthday.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 but will put off its two must-do pieces of opening day business until 6:30, when more lawmakers will be in town: An attendance vote to make sure a quorum (218 in this case) is available to get legislating started for the year, and a vote to make Paul Irving (who ended his 25-year Secret Service Career in 2008 as the assistant director for administration) the 36th sergeant-at-arms.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10:15 for only a 23-second pro forma session.

THE SHERPAS OF OPINION: With the streets slippery, the West Lawn soggy and the lights turned on in only the south half of the Capitol, the Occupy movement probably could have picked a better day for its latest march on Congress. But the chances that the protesters will be rewarded for their sodden persistence with some prominent TV coverage increased this morning with the release of the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. It shows that, on at least one score, the earflap-beanie crowd is speaking for the entire country today.

The Occupiers expect what would be, for them, a record crowd demonstrating disapproval of Congress — particularly the influence of corporate money in lawmakers’ campaigns and subsequent decision-making. And the new poll signals they are onto something, because it offers another stunning set of numbers illustrating just how low Congress has fallen in the public estimation: 84 percent said they disapprove of the institution’s job performance. Just 13 percent said they approve. The nationwide disdain falls more heavily on the Republicans — 75 percent disapprove and 21 percent approve of their work, compared with 62 percent and 33 percent for the Democrats — but the poll nonetheless makes clear that this may well become an anti-incumbent election as much as a referendum on how one party is running the House and the other party is running the Senate. Which is why the Occupiers might  get some TV time for their theatrical gesture of the day: an effort to produce a symbolic “pink slip” for every lawmaker.

The crowd is planning to follow its noon rally with a march to the Supreme Court at 2, and then down Pennsylvania Avenue at rush hour toward the White House. But after today, the odds are growing that the city will work with the National Park Service for help in moving to evict the twin encampments from Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square. Mayor Vince Gray says the conditions there have moved beyond unsanitary to downright dangerous to public health. And, while the protesters have a strong case to make that their free speech rights are especially sacrosanct when exercised on federal property, the law is clear that they may not sleep there — so their tents have been in violation of the rules from the start.

GET USED TO IT: Tomorrow in the House will offer a scale model for the year of legislative impasse that lies ahead. The Republicans will push through legislation underscoring their view of fiscal policy — a symbolic rejection of the latest increase in the national debt ceiling — knowing full well the measure will be rejected outright as soon as the Democratic Senate takes it up. Then, having acted out its half of the standoff and with nothing else to do, the House will adjourn until next week.

So it will go for the winter, spring and summer. The House will take votes designed to remind the GOP political base what its majority stands for. (Energy drilling and deregulation, for example.) The Senate will do exactly the same thing, for the benefit of the Democratic base. (Immigration and job creation, for starters.) Plenty of time will be set aside for lawmakers to go home and defend their use of the Capitol as a campaign stage set. And almost no legislation altering federal public policy will end up on Obama’s desk — which is just the way he wants it, too, because he’s planned his whole re-election campaign as an attack on the do-nothings who have stood in the way of so much of the “change” he promised four years ago.

Yes, there probably will be a relatively close-to-on-time appropriations agenda — because the grand totals for fiscal 2013 discretionary spending are more or less locked in place at $1.047 trillion, at the start, minus the $97 billion that will have come through the no-supercommittee sequester. And, yes, before the end of next month (but, naturally, only at the last minute) there will be a deal on an extension of the payroll tax cut, new jobless aid and a preservation of the “doc fix” through the end of the year. But, no, there will not be a deal this year to rein in online piracy. There will not be a long-term rewrite of federal aviation programs, or highway programs, or aid to elementary and secondary schools. Instead, when Obama delivers his State of the Union speech a week from tonight, he will already be looking forward to seeing whatever he talks about addressed, if at all, in a lame-duck session, when Congress must unavoidably consider (at a minimum) the latest expiration of the Bush tax cuts even if it sticks to its guns and leaves the sequester alone.

THE SHAKEOUT: With four days and just one more debate before the South Carolina primary, there’s as little reason as ever to bet against Mitt Romney.

His performance before the raucous crowd in Myrtle Beach last night was probably his weakest in  the 16 GOP presidential debates so far. But the fact that he stumbled into Rick Santorum’s trap about voting rights for convicts in Massachusetts, that he couldn’t quite remember whether he shot a moose or an elk — and, most curiously, that he declined to squarely face the inevitable and make a straightforward promise to release his tax returns — matters hardly at all. The old political adage that has defined his campaign’s soft-but-steady success all along — you have to have somebody to beat somebody — still applies. There are still three more-conservative somebodies out there trying to stop him. Unless there’s only one, Romney wins. Transforming himself from the 25 percent man to the 35 percent man in the past two weeks is about to prove good enough.

Newt Gingrich was in top form last night — and he went on CBS this morning to argue that his debating skills alone should earn him the nomination, because it will take someone of his rhetorical skill to rattle Obama this fall. But he conceded it would be almost impossible to catch Romney if he gets above 40 percent on Saturday. And the ex-Speaker is still about 10 points behind in the South Carolina polls, meaning the ex-governor is in striking distance of meeting that expectation. And there doesn’t seem to be any hope that his old “junior partner” from the days of the GOP congressional revolution will defer to him in time to make a difference; the maybe-not-so-strong-as-first-presented evangelical leaders’ endorsement that Santorum got over the weekend — and his sense of being disrespected by the former Speaker — are enough to keep him in the race until his credit card maxes out.

As for Ron Paul, he’s settled decisively into his role as a sideshow. Even if he stays in the hunt until the end, he has no hope of plumping up his share of the vote as long as he keeps emphasizing his isolationism and odder foreign policy views — last night he suggested a trial would have been the preferable option for Osama bin Laden — as much as his libertarian economic ideas. And the longer he stays in, the more time the media have to write fun stories about him. Two today: He’s got the prostitutes at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Nevada working to raise money for him (he supports their industry as an appropriate free-enterprise exercise) and he’s used his congressional expense account to buy first class seats on at least 74 flights between D.C. and Houston in the past two years.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No lawmakers today, but a pair of GOP House members celebrated over the long weekend: Tennessee’s Diana Black (61) yesterday, and Texan Michael McCaul (50) on Saturday.

— David Hawkings, editor

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