Thursday, April 05, 2012

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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Who's No. 2?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Just in time for the noon news, Obama will preside at a full-on bipartisan signing ceremony for the Stock Act — designed to make lawmakers, their aides and thousands of executive branch workers “stop trading on congressional knowledge,” mainly by requiring disclosure report filings after all their securities trades. The measure is narrower than most good-government groups wanted but might still push the record-low congressional approval rating up a point or two — which is why many Republican sponsors (Scott Brown among them) will cram onto the stage and clamor for a presidential pen. (But the main House Democratic sponsor, New York’s 82-year-old Louise Slaughter, won’t be there because she broke her leg yesterday.)

“We all have experiences that shake our faith. There are times where we have questions for God’s plan relative to us, but that’s precisely when we should remember Christ’s own doubts and eventually his own triumph,” the president said at his third annual Easter prayer breakfast in the East Room. “Jesus told us as much in the book of John, when He said, ‘In this world you will have trouble.’ I heard an amen. Let me repeat. ‘In this world, you will have trouble.’ ”

THE HOUSE: In recess through the end of next week; next convenes at 2 on Monday, April 16.

THE SENATE: Also gone through the end of next week, and also next open for business at 2 on Monday, April 16.

MOVING RIGHT ALONG: “It’s time for a graceful exit,” John McCain told Rick Santorum this morning — after Mitt Romney’s sweep of the  Wisconsin, Maryland and D.C. primaries prompted a louder-than ever-chorus of “The race is over” from fellow Republicans and independent analysts.

Santorum — in, of all places, the Pittsburgh suburb of Mars — insisted that he would keep going, describing the contest as only entering its “second half,” even though Republicans in 37 states and territories have now voted, and he has fewer than a quarter of the delegates he would need to secure the nomination. (No matter how conservatively or liberally you count delegates, though, Romney has at least half and maybe as many as three-fifths of the 1,144 majority required. He won 83 of the 92 awarded yesterday, including all of those awarded within 100 miles of the Capitol.)

In the latest sign that the nation has moved its focus beyond the Republican contest and toward the general election, Romney is about to take the same stage that Obama used yesterday for his attack on Republican fiscal policies as “thinly veiled social Darwinism” — in which he linked his likely opponent, by name, to the Ryan budget for the first time. The former Massachusetts governor’s rebuttal, to the nation’s top newspaper editors, is likely to be a reprise of the sharply worded, almost mocking critique he made last night in Milwaukee about an “out of touch” and liberal Obama.

The other sign that the nation is moving past the primaries is the wave of new attention being paid to that favorite political parlor game, “Veepstakes.” McCain took his turn on CBS this morning — joking at first that Romney could do no better than picking Sarah Palin before rattling off the names of many of the people getting the most early mention across the country: Marco Rubio, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal. But he did not mention the two lawmakers whose names are being dropped most often by the inside-the-Beltway crowd in recent days: Sen. Rob Portman (because he would make the top of the ticket look charismatic by comparison, and because no Republican has ever won the White House without Ohio) and Paul Ryan (because the two seemed to have genuine chemistry campaigning in Wisconsin last week, and because Romney seems ready to double down on his support for the House GOP budget).

TRAIL TIPS: (Maryland) The chance that Roscoe Bartlett can hold on for an 11th term have slipped from “probably not” to “only maybe” in light of John Delaney’s decisive, 25-percentage-point, 9,000-vote upset win in the Democratic primary yesterday. The millionaire banker has two things going for him in the fall campaign that his party rival, state Senate majority leader Rob Garagiola, would have lacked: a claim to the outsider’s mantle, and more than enough of his own money to spend. He looks to have spent almost $2 million already on the low-turnout primary in the panhandle-to-Potomac district, and he will be willing to spend much more than that arguing that Bartlett (who won his own primary with 44 percent) is just the sort of out-of touch, entrenched incumbent that Congress needs fewer of. Ultimately, Delaney now needs the party establishment and the liberal interest groups (who mostly backed Garagiola) much less than they need him.

(California) Laura Richardson’s ethical troubles have not prevented her from winning the endorsement of the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Missouri’s Emanuel Cleaver — which could help her a bit in fundraising for her uphill battle against fellow House Democrat Janice Hahn in a redrawn Los Angeles-area district. Hahn won a special election to replace Jane Harman last year. Richardson came to Washington in a special election five years ago and has been under scrutiny by the Ethics Committee ever since; the panel is now mainly focused on widespread allegations that she compelled her House staff to work on her campaigns.

(California) In the other battle in Southern California between two incumbent House Democrats, a poll commissioned by Brad Sherman of 500 likely primary voters last week found him with a substantial 27-percentage-point lead (52 to 25) over Howard Berman in their likely fall showdown. But Berman still looks to have plenty of time to whittle away the difference, because the survey signals that he’s going to finish at least second in the all-candidate June 5 primary. (When those surveyed were asked about all the candidates, it was Sherman 40 percent, Berman 17 percent, Republican businessman Mark Reed 12 percent and four others way behind.) Sherman, who’s in his eighth term, now represents more than half of the people in the redrawn district, which takes in much of the San Fernando Valley. But Berman, who’s in his 15th term, has the backing of most fellow Democrats in the congressional delegation (including Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer) and raised eight times as much as Sherman in the fourth quarter. Neither has put out January-March numbers.

(New York) Tim Bishop has released a new poll, which he commissioned from the respected Global Strategy Group, showing him with a 53 percent to 36 percent lead over GOP businessman Randy Altschuler — buttressing the five-term incumbent’s argument that he should have an easier time in a presidential election year holding his eastern Long Island seat. Two years ago, Altschuler came up only 593 votes short of becoming the 88th freshman Republican in one of the closest congressional races of the year, and the last to be decided.

(Florida) Alan Grayson’s bid to reclaim his spot as one of the most bombastic and caustic Democrats in Congress will be eased by a $550,000 fundraising haul in the first three months of the year, which he can probably just keep adding to (without spending much) until August because he has no Democratic primary opponent so far in a newly created Orlando-area House district. (Its voters gave Obama 60 percent four years ago, when Grayson was elected to a single term in a neighboring area.) The Republican odds of taking the seat got slightly better yesterday when John Quiñones, an Osceola County commissioner and former state legislator, announced his candidacy. A handful of other Republicans, including another Latino, are running in the district, which is 44 percent Hispanic.

(Virginia) Eric Cantor is totally safe at home, but the majority leader is launching his first campaign advertisement his week — touting a small-business tax cut measure of his that the House will vote on next month. The 30-second ad will run for the next three weeks and features small-business owners from Richmond, where Cantor has won his first six terms with ease and is expecting only a token Democratic challenge in the fall. Still, Virginia will be both a presidential and Senate battleground in the fall, so the price of TV time will soon skyrocket. Hitting the airwaves now allows Cantor to introduce himself to his new constituents at a bargain price.

EYE NO LONGER IN THE SKY: The Imax Corp. today gave the Smithsonian the first camera it used aboard the space shuttle. The large-format 70-mm movie camera, which will go on display at the National Air and Space Museum, was used to make much of the giant-screen footage of Earth (and about life without gravity) that’s shown at the museum — in such films as “The Dream is Alive,” “Blue Planet,” “Destiny in Space” and “Mission to Mir.” More than 100 astronauts received training in operating the camera and its successors, which flew aboard 17 missions between 1984 and 1998 — with one generally in the cabin and another in the cargo bay.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Dick Lugar (80), the only Republican senator looking vulnerable to defeat in his own primary this year. (Indiana Republicans choose between his bid for a seventh term and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock on May 8.)

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE: The congressional recess, a pause in the political calendar and the Passover and Easter holidays should make for a series of slow news days – and so the next regularly scheduled Daily Briefing will be issued on Monday, April 16.

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Too Easy

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama will deride the House Republican budget as a “Trojan horse” in a 12:30 speech to 900 editors and publishers following the Associated Press’ annual meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park. “Disguised as a deficit reduction plan, it’s really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country,” the president will say in his first direct attack on the fiscal blueprint endorsed by Mitt Romney. “It’s nothing but thinly veiled social Darwinism.”

The president’s speech argues that implementing the Paul Ryan plan (which has no chance of happening) would stall the economic recovery. “By gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last — education and training, research and development — it’s a prescription for decline,” he’ll say.

THE SENATE: Not in session; its spring recess lasts until April 16.

THE HOUSE: Same as the Senate.

SCANDAL TIME: Republicans could not have commissioned a screenwriter to write a more tragicomically detailed Obama administration spending spree screw-up than the lavish GSA Las Vegas convention story.

For baseline political effect, all Darrell Issa needs to do now is arrange a House Oversight hearing where the you-can’t make-this-stuff-up facts are hashed over on camera — as a cautionary tale about the messes that Democratic political appointees and their bureaucratic minions can get into when nobody is watching. Doing that much is a given for the GOP. The question is whether the Republicans — having already received copies of the resignation letters of three top agency officials after the story broke yesterday — will seek to go beyond a quick campaign hit and push for any tangible changes, such as an appropriations punishment for the General Services Administration or some new sweeping limits on what the executive branch can spend on conferences and professional development efforts.

The middle tiers of the administration escaped with their continental breakfasts intact last year, when the story of the $17 muffin at one conference turned out to be apocryphal. But this time, there seem to be so many over-the-top expenses that the incident is unlikely to be written off as an aberration. (There were six pre-conference scouting trips to the Las Vegas strip before the $830,000 conference for 300, which featured a mind reader, a clown, a bicycle-making exercise, a $7,000 sushi display and — most galling to the GOP — $6,300 in party-favor coins boasting of the agency’s role in the 2009 stimulus.) Instead, Congress is likelier to launch an inquiry into the reach of this sort of petty nest-feathering into all corners of the government. And Obama himself may need to lend a hand. In a year when the size and priorities of the federal government will be a central campaign issue, he can ill afford not to.

FRIENDS ON BOTH SIDES: One of the most outsized, big-money lobbying battles of this year is going to be between the banks and the credit unions. The little guys look to win Round One in the Senate next month. The real suspense is over whether the big guys can essentially prevent Round Two from ever taking place, in the House.

The debate is about whether credit unions should be able to expand their reach into the commercial lending world that is the backbone province of the banks. For years, the banks have successfully fought a behind-the-scenes, rear-guard lobbying campaign to keep the idea under wraps —  but no longer. A lopsided majority of Senate Democrats (who are customarily the credit unions’ more reliable friends — because they represent “the little guy” and “Main Street” and all that) are ready to vote for Mark Udall’s bill raising the credit unions’ small-business loan portfolios to a maximum 27.5 percent of their assets, up from the current 12.25 percent. And so are maybe a quarter of Senate Republicans, who buy the argument that the higher lending cap would make modest amounts of capital more readily available to job-creating small businesses — whose modest borrowing needs tend to be ignored by the big commercial banks.

With a 60-vote majority apparently locked down, Reid has promised to schedule a vote on the bill soon after the recess. And at that point, the pressure will be enormous on the Republican leaders of the House to choose between their customary alliance with the Wall Street banks and their interest in legislating at the margins this election year in the name of economic development. (A bill similar to Udall’s has a bipartisan cosponsorship roster of about 120 but has not been set for a committee markup.) Probably, if the bill were put to a vote, it would pass. So, at least initially, the best option available to Boehner and Cantor (assuming they want to help the banks) is to try to keep the legislation out of the limelight and off the agenda through the end of the year.

NO NEED TO STAY UP LATE: Mitt Romney is on course to sweep today’s three primaries. He will probably pick up enough delegates to put him (officially) more than halfway toward the magic number of 1,144 he needs — and (unofficially) to bring the Republican race to its beyond-the-tipping point conclusion. By tomorrow morning, the conventional wisdom will be that Romney is the de facto nominee and the general election campaign is at opening day.

The only minor suspense is in Wisconsin, where the average of recent polls has Romney leading Rick Santorum by a solid but not overwhelming 7.5 percentage points. (The balloting ends at 9, D.C. time.) An upset win by the ex-senator, or even a race that’s too close to call before most people in Washington go to bed, would give Santorum some thin reed of plausibility to stand on. (The best projections are he will get no more than a dozen of the 39 delegates.) If he loses without ambiguity, his commitment to keep campaigning beyond his native Pennsylvania’s primary in three weeks — he is ahead there in one poll out today — will tarnish whatever hopes he has for remaining a national conservative GOP spokesman in the years ahead.

The polls close at 8 in both Maryland and D.C. Romney’s got a lock on all 16 delegates at stake in the capital, because Santorum’s not on the ballot — and robocalls from Newt Gingrich’s campaign forget to mention the date of the primary. The ex-governor seems assured of getting at least 31 of the 37 delegates at stake in the state next door, where New England-style Republicans dominate the party and where Santorum never campaigned this year; instead, he seems to be relying on some residual name ID and support from the rural areas abutting the Pennsylvania line.

TRAIL TIPS: (Maryland) Something close to a late-breaking coalition of the anti-incumbent and super-conservative blocs behind state Sen. David Brinkley will not prove sufficient to derail Roscoe Bartlett, who despite his extremely late start now looks like a lock to win his Republican primary for an 11th time. That Bradley is one of seven rivals for the nomination should be enough to assure Bartlett a victory that will be lopsided, but only a plurality. (The 85-year-old congressman — who planned to greet voters at five polling places today — will remain the underdog, though, no matter whether state Sen. Rob Garagiola or investment banker John Delaney wins the Democratic contest in the sprawling rural and suburban D.C. district.) The GOP contest turned nasty on the final weekend, when a group called Victory for Bartlett emailed clips of 911 police recordings from a 2008 domestic disturbance between Brinkley and his wife, who have since divorced. Brinkley’s campaign derided “a pathetic act of desperation.” Bartlett’s camp denied any role in it.

(Utah) Orrin Hatch’s campaign released an internal poll yesterday showing him with 62 percent support among delegates to the state Republican convention — slightly more than the supermajority required two weeks from Saturday to secure his nomination for a seventh Senate term without opposition in the June 26 primary. Former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, who is challenging the senator from the tea party right, was at 16 percent in the poll (of about 8 percent of the 4,000 delegates) and state Rep. Chris Herrod had 5 percent. Hatch and Lijenquist hold their first debate tomorrow.

(Arizona) For a hodgepodge of reasons, four of the state’s nine House seats (up one from the last decade) are open this fall – and three of them are partisan tossups. The fourth, a swath of the Phoenix metro area that’s most of what Senate aspirant Jeff Flake now represents, is a lock for the GOP. And the backing of both of the state’s senators could prove pivotal to the August primary fortunes of former state House Speaker Kirk Adams, who has been running neck and neck with lobbyist  Matt Salmon, who is trying to come back to Congress after a decade away. (He served four terms, then left to try for the governorship.) “He has leadership experience, but I also feel that it’s important that we have a next generation of Republican leaders in our state,” John McCain said yesterday. Jon Kyl endorsed Adams earlier.

(Pennsylvania) Jack Murtha has been dead for 26 months, but his legendary sway over Democratic congressional politics is continuing. His former senior district aide and successor, Mark Critz, is now banking on support from five of the other Democrats in the delegation for his primary matchup three weeks from now against the sixth, Jason Altmire. Only one of them, Bob Brady of Philadelphia, has offered a public endorsement, but he’s the unofficial dean of the delegation and his declaration last week is a clear sign of what the rest of them prefer. Altmire, who is after a fourth term in the reconfigured territory north and east of Pittsburgh, remains a loner in the delegation; he’s the only one who tends to avoid “Murtha’s corner” on the House floor, and he said he hasn’t asked any of them for support.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No current lawmakers; the best-known former member celebrating is “B-1” Bob Dornan, a California Republican famous during his two decades in the House — which ended in 1996 — for his hawkishness and conservative bomb-dropping rhetorical style (79).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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

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

Monday, April 02, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The New Guy

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, April 2, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is hosting a summit with North America’s other two leaders, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderón; they are meeting in the State Dining Room now, and after a working lunch in the Green Room will face reporters in the Rose Garden at 1:15.

Topics on the agenda include Mexican oil exports, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, border security regulations that are slowing regional commerce, immigration rules, shared efforts to keep terrorists off the continent and hold the drug wars at bay, and whether Mexico and Canada will be allowed into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade liberalization deal that the U.S. is negotiating with eight other nations.

THE SENATE: Not in session this week and next week.

THE HOUSE: Ditto.

THE SUPREME COURT: The justices ruled 5-4 this morning that jailers’ security concerns generally trump privacy rights, and so people arrested for minor offenses may be subjected to invasive strip searches. (The court’s Republican-president appointees made up the majority.) Albert Florence, the finance manager of a New Jersey car dealership, argued that his civil rights were violated when he was strip-searched twice following his arrest on a warrant for an unpaid fine — even though failure to pay that fine is not a crime in that state. The Obama administration supported the view that such searches are reasonable for anyone entering the general jail population.

THE WINGMAN: One of the tea party’s favorite senators has been put in charge of coordinating the Mitt Romney and congressional Republican campaign messages.

Ron Johnson announced yesterday that he had been given the assignment by McConnell — presumably with the advance approval of Romney, who also secured the junior senator from Wisconsin’s endorsement two days ahead of the state’s primary. (Romney remains on steady course to secure all 42 delegates at stake in that rare winner-take-all-contest. That would serve as the penultimate death knell to the campaign of Rick Santorum, who is now signaling he will hang on and make a last stand on his home ground of Pennsylvania in three weeks.)

Johnson’s endorsement means Romney has now rounded up the support of three of the four senators elected two years ago on waves of tea party support — underscoring the notion that the movement has become comfortable with the candidate’s fiscal policies and remains generally unconcerned with the issues that are still troubling the social right. (The others are Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida; missing from the roster is Kentucky’s Rand Paul, who has of course endorsed his father.)

Still, the Senate minority leader’s decision to tap Johnson for the potentially important keep-their-stories-straight assignment (although McConnell did not make an altogether formal Romney endorsement himself) is striking on several fronts. Johnson has been in Congress less than two years and has held no previous elected office or campaign position, and so his understanding of the intricacies of political messaging remains quite limited. (He does know something about marketing, though, from his previous career as a plastics entrepreneur. Potentially more problematic, though, is the way the assignment places him in a somewhat awkward relationship with another freshman senator, Roy Blunt of Missouri. It was only a few months ago that Blunt defeated Johnson after a short but hard-fought campaign for an opening on the Senate GOP leadership ladder created as a consequence of Lamar Alexander removing himself form the hierarchy. Blunt also was tapped last year to be the Romney campaign’s principal lieutenant on the Hill, both rounding up endorsements and serving as a sounding board. And, just in recent weeks, he has been working aggressively to use his new conference vice chairman’s position to coordinate campaign messaging, legislative maneuvering and 2013 agenda-setting between the House and Senate Republican leaderships — a job that sounds very much like what McConnell now wants Johnson to start doing.

TRAIL TIPS: (Maryland) Turnout is likely to be low in the premier congressional primary tomorrow, the unexpectedly heated and close Democratic race in the Potomac-to-the-panhandle House district drawn to bring an end to the 20-year-career of Republican Roscoe Bartlett.  With no contested presidential, gubernatorial or Senate contest getting people to the polls, the faceoff between millionaire CapitolSource founder John Delaney and state Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola could be settled by a few hundred votes. Which is why the robocalls both candidates have flooding the suburban phone network could prove more important than irritating. Garagiola “knows how to bring people together to get things done,” says the call from Gov. Martin O’Malley. “You can count on John Delaney to stand up for the middle class and for our Democratic values,” Bill Clinton says in his message. (The former president’s backing is in part a thank-you for the money Delaney raised for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.)

(Massachusetts) Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren are in a statistical dead heat, according to a Boston Globe poll out today. The first Republican senator from the state since the 1970s, who’s seeking his first full term, is at 37 percent; the Harvard professor and consumer advocate, who’s one of the Democrats’ best hopes for taking a Senate seat away from the GOP, is at 35 percent. That leaves more than a quarter of the state’s electorate up for grabs. Brown is ahead 3-to-1 among independents and is viewed as more likeable (57 percent to 23 percent) while Warren is ahead (44 to 35) when those surveyed were asked which candidate would do more to help working people.

(Montana) Max Baucus is spending $25,000 on radio advertising time across the state this week. The spots talk about his role in the payroll tax cut extension, but the underlying message is clear: The Senate Finance chairman (who has $3 million in the bank) is planning to seek a seventh term in two years, despite crumbling approval ratings because of his role in drafting the health care overhaul. (It’s vital that Baucus send that signal early, because otherwise a groundswell will start to build in Democratic circles for a senatorial campaign by the state’s popular outgoing governor, Brian Schweitzer, who so far has said he’s not interested.) Baucus’ last truly tough race was in 1996, against Denny Rehberg, who’s now the state’s only House member and is stressing the divide over health care in his tossup race against the state’s other Democratic senator, John Tester.

(Washington) Norm Dicks has chosen the person he wants as his successor in the House: 38-year-old Derek Kilmer, a state senator from the Olympic Peninsula for the past six years. A long line of Democrats was expected to step forward for the once-in-a-generation open seat, but the decision by the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee — who is retiring after 18 terms — will probably clear the field for the Aug. 7 primary and transform Kilmer into a heavy favorite to take the open seat this fall. Kilmer, who also serves as vice president of the Pierce County Economic Development Board, was also endorsed in recent days by Adam Smith, the top Democrat on Armed Services, who represents a neighboring district.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia (62) and Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine (57).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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

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