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The Washington Report – April 3, 2015

14 Apr 2015

The Washington Report – April 3, 2015

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This week’s Washington Report! To sign up for the direct email, click here.


Today is quite a holy day — Good Friday for Christians and the Jewish holiday of Passover begins at sundown — Happy Easter and Chag Sameach!


Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, and Ross Willkom)


w0XXTl4vE6RVEg09aVSJ68GEgYvAfwlcvWWhjxzVd-3R9WWlO11OZiTkv0Gv_HTF060QqG1Z-_1hSqXmC2oW9JnDBuljYL_YRpou_pB-9TglBBl4hcLl2RcoNzVAv4L8CijgPRvi86mMSK2bSKcqEZp2eNY=s0-d-e1-ftAMERICA IN 2050:  LESS CHRISTIAN, LESS WHITE, MORE GREY The Fix: “In 35 years — time enough for several presidents, more than a few changes in the control of Congress, and a few dozen new seasons of “House of Cards” — America will look different … its demographics will have shifted enough to be noticeable. And with the release of new projections from Pew Research … we now have a fuller picture of how America will have changed by the time today’s toddlers are stalking Capitol Hill. Even if we don’t necessarily know what it will mean for American politics.”


NO-JOE-BIDEN NEEDED MAJORITY Chicago Sun Times: “Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) announced Thursday he’ll back Loretta Lynch for attorney general, giving the federal prosecutor a majority (51 votes) to be confirmed. … Lynch’s nomination has been in limbo for 140 days.”


DEMS BLOODLESS SUCCESSION IS GETTING A LITTLE BLOODIER Politico: “The race to replace Harry Reid as the head of the Democratic Caucus is pretty much settled, with Chuck Schumer moving deftly to lock up support after Reid’s retirement announcement last week. But the race to be Schumer’s top deputy is far more in question. Washington Sen. Patty Murray is refusing to rule out a run to be the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, a position Durbin wants to keep in the next Congress. Yet several Democratic sources say she is getting encouragement from senators to take on a larger role in the leadership. And the Democratic leader-in-waiting, Schumer, is open to seeing Murray elevated to whip from her current role as the caucus secretary, the No. 4 job, several sources said.”  HE SAID, SHE SAID “A Durbin aide asserted Monday that Schumer and Durbin had reached a deal in a private conversation in the Senate on Friday morning: The Illinois Democrat would endorse Schumer for leader, and the New Yorker would back Durbin for whip. Asked for comment, a person close to Schumer said: ‘It never happened, and they know it.'”


BOB MENENDEZ Politico:”The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee … was indicted [this week] on federal charges including bribery. … The sweeping nature of the indictment and its great detail – it covers seven years of interactions between Menendez and Melgen, and even features emails between the pair as they allegedly engaged in criminal acts – shows how thoroughly DOJ has prepared its case. … Menendez, … wrote a letter to … Reid … saying he is voluntarily stepping down from his post as top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez will keep his seniority on the panel, and he will get his position back if he’s cleared.”  … Menendez – the first senator indicted since the late GOP Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska) was charged in 2008 – has denied any wrongdoing and said he will vigorously contest the allegations.”


SENATE NOT THE SAME WITHOUT TEDDY Boston Globe: “President Obama recalled Edward M. Kennedy’s powerful ability to forge compromise. Senator John McCain remembered arguing with him on the Senate floor, after which the Democrat warmly put his arm around him. And Elizabeth Warren spoke about her first meeting with the liberal lion, and how it changed her life. Politico: “Inside the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, there’s an exact replica of the chamber. Outside, beneath a plastic tent shaking in the chilly wind coming off Boston Harbor, the Washington political world descended Monday, laughing and tearing up, telling their tales of the Massachusetts senator they remembered as the embodiment of a Senate now all but gone. The stories were vivid and, in many instances, sentimental. But the message was anything but: If today’s senators want to be remembered for anything more than their fractiousness and use of procedural tools to block legislation, they have to start developing more of a Kennedy-esque rapport — among themselves and with the institution.”


BASICS OF THE SGR REPLACEMENT BILL AND THE ‘TWO-MIDNIGHT’ RULE CaliforniaHealthline: “On Wednesday, CMS said that, barring Congressional action, it would not begin processing a 21% cut to physician reimbursements under Medicare’s sustainable growth rate formula until April 15, The Hill reports. The payment cuts took effect on Wednesday. BACKGROUND The House last week voted 392-37 to approve legislation (HR 2) to permanently replace Medicare’s SGR. The bill includes several other measures related to health spending, such as funding for community health centers, which serve low-income individuals in every state. (In addition, the bill would delay enforcement of the Medicare “two-midnight” rule for six months (for those interested, the ‘two-midnight rule’ clarifies how Medicare contractors review inpatient hospital admissions for payment purposes). … Overall, the SGR replacement measure would cost $213 billion. The deal would offset about $70 billion of the projected costs. Roughly half of the possible deal’s offsets would come from cuts to hospitals, insurers and acute-care providers. The other half of the offsets would come from cuts to Medicare beneficiaries, such as additional means testing for high-income beneficiaries. The Senate is not scheduled to consider the measure until it returns from recess on April 13.”


INDIANA’S CONTROVERSIAL LAW NYT “The shift in Indiana has played out with remarkable speed, and under the shadow of a soon-to-arrive Final Four men’s basketball tournament and the national attention that promises.  … Religious conservatives and some Republican political operatives now describe what occurred here as a major setback. For years now, they have been using “religious freedom” as a slogan and the legal answer to the growing gay rights movement. With same-sex marriage racking up one win after another in the courts and in public opinion, the conservatives say they believed their strategy of passing religious rights laws seemed like a consensus solution as American as Abe Lincoln.  … FIXED Lawmakers in Indiana have passed legislation that they hope will quiet the uproar.”

LOST THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DEBATE The Fix: “The religious freedom debate has gone badly for Republicans. … On this issue, like so many others these days, they are suddenly stuck between what their conservative base wants and what seems sensible to the many Americans in the political middle. So where did they go wrong? Basically, the moment this debate started being about anything besides just weddings. If it had been only weddings, the public actually might have been pretty okay with it. Allowing businesses to not cater to (or provide flowers for, etc.) gay weddings is relatively acceptable to the American people. … A Washington Post-ABC News poll last March showed that when you’re talking about businesses in general — and not just weddings — about two-thirds of Americans (65%) say they shouldn’t be allowed to deny services to gay customers even if they have religious objections. Just 28% said they should. Even 56% of Republicans say businesses generally shouldn’t be able to decline service to gays. So when you’re talking about a wedding DJ not wanting to play at a gay wedding, it’s one thing. When you’re talking about a restaurant turning away gay customers writ large, it’s quite another. … To the extent that it seems plausible that this law could have led to any kind of non-wedding discrimination, that makes it a very difficult law to defend. And Republicans — from Pence on down — did a very poor job of arguing that the law would be so narrow.”

BEST OF LATE NIGHT The Fix: “Conan O’Brien, commenting on the pizza restaurant that said it wouldn’t serve a same-sex wedding, said “only straight people are tacky enough to want pizza at their weddings.”


A GAMBLE THAT COULD DEFINE OBAMA’S LEGACY NYTs: “On the day he took office, President Obama reached out to America’s enemies, offering in his first inaugural address to ‘extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.’ More than six years later, he has arrived at a moment of truth in testing that proposition with one of the nation’s most intransigent adversaries. “For a president whose ambitions to remake the world have been repeatedly frustrated, the possibility of a reconciliation after 36 years of hostility between Washington and Tehran now seems tantalizingly within reach, a way to be worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize that even he believed was awarded prematurely. Yet the deal remains unfinished and unsigned, and critics worry that he is giving up too much while grasping for the illusion of peace.” THE DEAL, in the Rose Garden (President Obama said): “I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final deal, it will make our country and the world safer.” The deal would “cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.” The president added: “If Iran cheats, the world will know it.” THE BIG CLOSER: “Do this or prepare for a war that no one wants and won’t work anyway.”

“Even the negotiators in Lausanne, Switzerland, seemed surprised at how far they had come. … The final 24 hours … were intense. … Kerry … told Obama ‘how close they were’ in a … call Wednesday afternoon … Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who authored the 60-day review bill, said … he still planned to bring the measure before his committee when Congress returns [10 days from now]. (WashPo)

NITTY GRITTY OF THE NUCLEAR FRAMEWORK NYTs “Roughly 5,000 centrifuges will remain spinning enriched uranium at the main nuclear site at Natanz, about half the number currently running. The giant underground enrichment site at Fordo – which Israeli and some American officials fear is impervious to bombing – will be partly converted to advanced nuclear research and the production of medical isotopes. Foreign scientists will be present. There will be no fissile material present that could be used to make a bomb. A major reactor at Arak, which officials feared could produce plutonium, would operate on a limited basis that would not provide enough fuel for a bomb.” IN RETURN U.S. and the European Union would lift sanctions as they verify Iran’s compliance.” BUT CAN IRAN BE TRUSTED? Politico: “… depends which Iran you’re talking about: “The Iran represented by its urbane, Western-educated diplomats in Switzerland? Maybe, say those with direct experience with the nation with which Washington cut ties more than 35 years ago. But the elite radicals with the real power in Tehran? Good luck. Nonetheless, the consensus among the experts was that attempting to make a deal stick is better than any of the alternatives.”

REPUBLICANS HATE THE DEAL BUT DON’T YET HAVE THE VOTES TO KILL IT  The Republican Congress is demanding to be heard on a nuclear deal with Iran despite President Barack Obama’s warnings. But it’s the president’s Democratic allies in the Senate that hold the keys to any Iran bill. Republicans have written legislation they think can move quickly through the Senate. It would give Congress a critical role in accepting or rejecting a deal with Tehran. But they need Democrats to proceed with the bill, and the White House is sure to start twisting arms in the party to try and keep the measure off the Senate floor. Several Democrats have previously said they would support the legislation, but now that Obama can argue he’s made progress, Democrats will have to decide whether they want to openly rebuke the administration’s diplomatic efforts.”


MILITARY WISH LIST Politico: “The military services have submitted to Congress their unfunded requirements lists for the next fiscal year. The notorious lists, often dubbed “wish lists,” are used by lawmakers as justification for adding funds to the Pentagon’s budget for items not in the military’s official spending request – sometimes at the expense of items that were in the official request.”


OCO BOOST ADDS HURDLES TO NDAA Politico: “The defense committees have a $38 billion problem. The House and Senate Armed Services panels are wrestling with how to incorporate the Republican budget blueprint – which kept the spending cap on the Pentagon’s base budget but added extra war funding – into their annual defense authorization bills. The HASC panel is mulling an authorization bill that would effectively ignore the budget cap for base defense spending. It would authorize $561 billion for base funding, the level requested by the Obama administration, and then designate $38 billion of that funding for Overseas Contingency Operations, according to committee aides.” DIFFERENCES TO IRON OUT Politico: “The GOP still has to clear several land mines standing in the way of a final deal: the size and scope of spending cuts to domestic programs, who gets first crack at an Obamacare repeal and how specific to go in wringing savings out of Medicare. Further down the road, the White House is demanding that sequester-mandated spending cuts be lifted. But finalizing a budget is a must-do for Republicans. That’s why GOP staff are already meeting behind closed doors to iron out any differences, even as lawmakers have scattered across the globe for the recess.”

COMBATING CYBER ATTACKS & CYBERSPYING WashPost: “President Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order establishing the first sanctions program to allow the administration to impose penalties on individuals overseas who engage in destructive attacks or commercial espionage in cyberspace.  … The move expands the set of legal tools available to the administration to punish and deter activities including the theft of large quantities of credit card data, espionage conducted for commercial gain and cyberattacks aimed at damaging critical computer systems.”

DUCK DRONE DefenseNews “The Navy Research Lab, or NRL, is working on a new drone that can both fly and swim … learning that combining robots for two different purposes is not as easy as nature makes it look. Why does the Navy need duck drones? Simply put: flying is faster than swimming, largely because water is 1,000 times denser than air. Consider that the common MK 46 torpedo makes at best 50 mph, while sea-skimming missiles can do five times that speed.”

VN1N6knds6vabWn7D4e_aoJc8TKBnhbRhpdPuwRMnpDGt_2o6VKQemGzxdE5bqoGgTNl9CcR8qwCTPmgof3gZtNY5juUalnyT6rLj5jv-ZZ3rsZu79E1SESGepS3My1Ia3g_lX2_4fSkJvnU7OD8V7OpYU8=s0-d-e1-ftWOMEN IN ARMY’S ELITE RANGER SCHOOL The D Brief: “A dozen women have now qualified for the Army’s Ranger School, putting them one step closer to becoming the first females to complete one of the military’s most elite special operations training programs alongside men. Six servicewomen successfully passed the latest round of the Ranger Training Assessment Course, or RTAC, qualifying them for the first gender-integrated full Ranger Course beginning on April 20. The two-month combat training course is considered to be one of the toughest in the military.” (These women exemplify the Ranger Motto — “Of their own accord.”)


SAUDI’S NEW SWAGGER Washington Post “RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — There’s no fog of war here. It’s more like a high-gloss, stage-crafted showcase of Saudi Arabia’s new military swagger. … the Saudis have added their own sense of purpose and pride, quickly moving out of the background of American-directed security agreements and taking regional matters into its own hands. The optics leave no doubt that Saudi Arabia is in charge. BUT THEN THERE’S THAT (Russia!)  In the increasingly complicated web of alliances in the Middle East … Egypt and Saudi Arabia are important allies; right now, they are partners in a joint Arab military intervention in Yemen, where Iran-backed Shiite rebels have toppled the government. And under the leadership of Sissi, Egypt has become increasingly close to Moscow and moved away from Washington. But for Saudi Arabia – a stalwart U.S. ally and a powerful Sunni-led Arab state – relations with Russia have faced a distinct chill in the past few years. It’s an important fault line in a coalition formed by Sunni states to counter the influence of Iran, the region’s Shiite superpower – and it’s probably not the only one.”


STEP AWAY FROM THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DEBATE.  NOW. The Fix: “FOR CONSERVATIVES — and especially social conservatives — this is what the ongoing fight over a religious freedom law in Indiana boils down to: The government is already in too many aspects of my life. They can’t make me do things that go against my deeply held religious beliefs. FOR VIRTUALLY EVERYONE ELSE, this is what the Indiana fight looks like: Republicans are pushing a law that could codify discrimination against gays and lesbians. It doesn’t take a political whiz to see the problem there.

The 2016 Republican candidates would do well for the controversy over the Indiana law to disappear from the national news roughly, well, yesterday. But for 2016ers looking to score points with a socially conservative base in advance of the Iowa caucuses or the South Carolina primary, say, double and tripling down on the importance of standing strong on religious freedom in the face of backlash is a very sound strategy. (In the 2012 Iowa GOP caucuses, 57% of attendees described themselves as “born again or evangelical Christians”; 65% said the same in the South Carolina primary in that same election.) And so, the likes of Ted Cruz and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have every reason to continue to speak out about the fight happening in Indiana. And, they are doing just that. The evolution of others, like Jeb Bush has been telling. On Monday, Bush told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt that “once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.” On Wednesday, according to reporting by the New York Times, Bush was singing a different song to a group in Silicon Valley. RIGHTO The reality of national politics today is that when Republicans are talking about social issues — and this debate has, for most people, become one over rights for gays and lesbians — they lose. Poll after poll shows that voters outside of the Republican base disagree with the party’s accepted stances on abortion and gay marriage. The more that Republicans talk about social issues, the harder it will be for the eventual nominee to portray him or herself as a different kind of Republican to the UNDECIDED VOTER. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes covering politics knows that the public writ large is never going to agree with one candidate or even one party on everything. Attempting to adjust every view you have to fit what you think the public wants is a recipe for disaster; it will almost certainly leave that public convinced you believe in nothing. (See Al Gore circa 2000.) Put simply: Every day the Indiana debate is front and center is a bad day for the eventual Republican nominee.”


THERE ARE ENDORSEMENTS … AND THEN THERE ARE ENDORSEMENTS Politico: “Republicans from all across Kentucky will be in the audience next week when Sen. Rand Paul announces his presidential run in Louisville. … In the latest twist in a relationship between two politicians who in many respects are polar opposites, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] won’t be on hand for his junior senator’s White House campaign kickoff. Sources familiar with his decision insisted it’s not meant as a slight: McConnell is simply following through on his pledge not to campaign for Paul, lest he play favorites among the three other members of his conference planning or eyeing bids of their own.”


MODERN OFFICES. BROOKLYN COOL Politico: ” The lease is signed. Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters will be in Brooklyn, New York — actually Brooklyn Heights. WHICH MEANS THAT THE CLOCK on Clinton’s official announcement is now officially ticking. FEC rules state that you have 15 days between conducting campaign activities and filing a campaign committee. Potential candidates can “test the waters” indefinitely, but signing a lease under the name of a campaign could count as activity that would lead one to conclude that she had officially become a candidate. It’s not clear what legal entity signed the lease on the Clinton campaign-in-waiting’s behalf, however.”


THE LAST DON: ‘MAD MEN’ KICKS OFF FINAL SEASON Just in case you are wondering, weekend plans … ‘Mad Men’s’ seventh and final season kicks off Sunday night with the Peggy Lee hit “Is That All There Is?” And, as usual with this show, it’s the perfect choice.



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