This week’s Washington Report! To sign up for the direct email, click here.
THE REMARKABLE CONFIDENCE OF BARACK OBAMA … WHO ARE YOU WEARING? … MOST POLARIZING AGENCY: MOVE OVER IRS … WINNING BY LOSING … BRIDGEGATE MATTERED … NETANYAHU PLAYING WITH FIRE … ‘DEFLATE-GATE’ and ‘GRIPPINESS’ and other news of the week.
Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, Kate Venne, Kathryn Wellner and Ross Willkom)
PHOTOBLOG: The State of the Union (SOTU) in nine pictures.
THE REMARKABLE CONFIDENCE OF BARACK OBAMA The Fix: “Seventy nine days ago, Barack Obama’s party lost control of Congress — largely due to his unpopularity nationwide. You’d have never known it watching the president deliver his sixth State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night. From start to finish, Obama was supremely confident, challenging — and mocking — Republicans at every turn. His remark on the economy — “this is good news people” — accompanied by a smile and a WINK (see picture) toward the GOP is something that only a very confident president could say.” On Cuba, Obama challenged those who disagreed with his Administration policies; “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new,” he said. But more than the words on the page, it was Obama’s tone and overall demeanor that absolutely oozed confidence. He winked. He laughed at his own jokes. And he ad-libbed. Repeating his “I’ve run my last campaign” line, Obama was clearly irked by the sarcastic applause from Republicans in the audience. “I know because I won both of them,” he added, in a rare moment of candor. Obama is quite clearly feeling a renewed sense of purpose and mission — bolstered by the strengthening economy and poll numbers that reflect that growing confidence from the American public. This was the same Obama on display in his end-of-the-year press conference. Supremely confident in his own views, largely dismissive of his Republican critics. And yet, at times, Obama’s confidence threatened to derail his “we are better than the current state of our politics” message, which dominated the second half of the speech. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE There was a clear cognitive dissonance between Obama’s paean to disagree without being disagreeable and his “I won ’em both” moment. It was his idealism for a better politics clashing with the cynicism that has crept in around it over the past six years. YOUR VIEW DEPENDS ON HOW YOU VIEWED OBAMA GOING IN For his allies and even many liberals who had grown sour on him, it was a triumphant speech in which both his own soaring confidence and his dismissal of his political rivals was fitting and appropriate. For his detractors, the speech was everything they loathe about him: cocky, combative and forever campaigning. CONFIDENT TO COCKY SPECTRUM Regardless of where you land on the spectrum, one thing was very clear tonight: Obama isn’t planning to go quietly over his final two years in office. Not quietly at all.
“I HATE JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING ABOUT IT” Steve Moffitt blogs on “How to Improve the State of the Union” … no-holds-barrded.
WHAT OBAMA DIDN’T SAY: The word “sequestration.”
AND HIS REPUBLICAN CRITICS QUICKLY TOOK NOTE In a joint statement, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina blasted President Barack Obama for failing to mention the damage the automatic spending cuts have “already done to our military capabilities and readiness and the dangerous vulnerabilities” the cuts will create if “not rolled back.”
WHAT THE PRESIDENT DID SAY: “The state of the union is strong.” It’s a phrase he hadn’t used in his previous State of the Union addresses.
THE PRESIDENT ALSO SAID …
– The combat mission in Afghanistan “is over,” a questionable claim given that about 15,000 U.S. troops remain in the country and will continue conducting counterterrorism operations.
– He remains committed to closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, despite the obstacles congressional Republicans are sure to keep throwing at him.
– He continues to want Congress to pass a resolution authorizing U.S. military operations against the Islamic State, though he offered no new details on when he’ll send to Capitol Hill the legislative framework he’s promised.
– He would veto any bill imposing new sanctions on Iran because such a measure would “all but guarantee that diplomacy fails.”
– He leads not with “bluster” but with “steady resolve.” Americans, he said in a broad defense of his handling of national security issues, “expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.” (Politico)
ALSO Obama proposed $320 billion in new taxes on the wealthy. He pledged to veto any effort to roll back his executive action on immigration. Obama mocked Republicans who claim they’re not scientists when it comes to climate change. He called for free community college education, promised to veto legislation sanctioning Iran over its nuclear program and touted the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With a raft of new policy proposals in the new Congress, John Rogers recently blogged on working with the government.
WHAT WAS OBAMA THINKING? Karl Rove for the WSJ: ” … It is hard to fathom why the president offered so many proposals that have zero chance of passing the Republican-run Congress. The most likely explanation is while he is uninterested in governing, he is intent on positioning Democrats for the 2016 presidential race.”
REPUBLICAN RESPONSE Politico: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) gave a personal, and populist, Republican response to Obama’s address, offering an introduction to the new Republican Congress more than a direct rebuttal to Obama’s speech. Ernst pledged to pass the Keystone XL pipeline bill, attacked the Affordable Care Act and called for a “comprehensive plan” to defeat America’s enemies abroad. For a rookie, Ernst handled a tough job pretty well.
JONI LINE THAT REPUBLICANS SHOULD STEAL The Fix, “I, probably like most people, didn’t pay all that much attention to Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s Republican response to the State of the Union address, these responses — no matter which party is delivering them — usually stink. But,[there’s a line] that Republicans across the country should start stealing today if they want to win the White House in 2016. Here it is: “You don’t need to come from wealth or privilege to make a difference. You just need the freedom to dream big, and a whole lot of hard work.” If you are looking for a simple, digestible — and at least potentially persuasive — slogan for Republicans to adopt as they try to expand the party heading into the next national election, that’s it (or damn close). … Simply adopting the rhetoric — if there aren’t policy prescriptions to go with it — won’t be enough, obviously. But, Ernst is sounding the right note.
SOTU BY THE NUMBERS: WashPo: “Obama spoke for 59 minutes and 57 seconds. The speech, and the Republican response, generated more than 2.6 million tweets, with the heaviest volume coming during Obama’s zinger: “I have no more campaigns to run. I know because I’ve won both of them.” Most-tweeted about topics during the live tele-cast: Community college, equal pay, climate change. (Twitter) Facebook generated 13.8 million reactions to the speech from 5.7 million people. Residents in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin and South Carolina were the most engaged. First Congressional reaction delivered to our inbox: Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who put out a statement more than 15 minutes before Obama started speaking.”
WHO ARE YOU WEARING? Do politics have any relation to fashion? It’s a question that continues to rattle the very foundations of this republic — one that The Huffington Post attempted to tackle on the night of the biggest political speech of the year by asking a question they might not have a pre-packaged answer for: Who are you wearing? Belly laugh worthy…watch here.
REGULAR ORDER GETS UGLY Politico: “It was a late one last night (and this morning) in the Senate, with the chamber staying in past midnight as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sought to dispose of Democratic amendments to the Keystone XL Pipeline and finally move the bill toward an end game.” CHAMPAGNE SPILLING: The Senate surpassed a big milestone barely three weeks into the year, eclipsing the total number of amendment votes in 2014 on Jan. 22, 2015. This is going to be the talking point you hear from Republicans if you ask about the unusual Thursday night session, but Democrats seem happy too: All these amendment votes give them exactly the kind of election ammunition that the GOP was seeking in the minority last year.” Ah, politics.
MEANWHILE, The company constructing the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada Corp., filed eminent domain proceedings on Tuesday against about 90 landowners to secure the rights to build the pipeline across their property. Landowners filed suit on Friday, asking a judge to declare a law allowing the governor to approve a route unconstitutional. (Los Angeles Times)
IRAN, IRAN SO FAR AWAY Politico: “There are two very different approaches coming out of the Senate Banking Committee and Foreign Relations Committee on Iran, a Mark Kirk sanctions bill and a Bob Corker bill that would require Congress to approve a nuclear deal with Iran. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no intention of picking one; instead both proposals will get floor action in some fashion simultaneously and possibly be married. But meanwhile, people are starting to take sides.”
CRACKDOWN ON FINANCIAL ADVISERS The Hill, “The White House is preparing to unveil new rules meant to tighten restrictions on financial advisers offering guidance on Americans’ retirement savings accounts. The pitch, outlined in a White House memo obtained first by The Hill, comes after the financial industry has worked for years to delay a rule being pushed by the Department of Labor that would change how investment advisers are paid. For years, progressives have raised concerns that the same financial advisers and investment dealers who help Americans with their IRA and 401(k)s are also pocketing commissions while making sales that aren’t in the best interests of their clients. But the business community has vehemently rebutted the allegations, arguing that the industry is rooted in trust and organized to allow for low-income Americans to get the same financial advice as the wealthy.”
HOW HOUSE REPUBLICANS WON BY LOSING WashPo “House Republicans have backed off a bill aimed at halting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, after a group led by two GOP women raised concerns that it was too restrictive when it came to rape victims. The problem was two-fold:
1. A provision in the bill that would provide abortion exemptions to women who had been raped only if they reported the crime to police.
2. The general concern, particularly among female Republican members, that holding a symbolic vote on such a high-profile social issue this soon into the 114th Congress would provide fodder for the “war on women” argument Democrats have been advancing against the GOP for the last several elections.
EMERGING CLOUT “In years past, it was just the far right that dragged Boehner by the hair. But the political pendulum has swung closer to the center, and now, everyday members of the House Republican Conference are regaining their voice and willing to criticize their leadership for catering almost exclusively to conservatives. It happened first last week, when dozens of them revolted on amendments to gut President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration. And this week, moderates forced the leadership into a deeply uncomfortable situation, pulling Congress into an unwanted discussion about rape and abortion.” WHO ARE THESE FOLKS? LATimes: “Rather than trying to appease conservatives by pursuing bills that have little hope of becoming law, GOP leaders, who have had their own battles with the party’s right flank, suddenly find themselves with a faction of vocal Republican lawmakers who say they are interested in scoring legislative victories rather than political points. ‘I’m a practical Republican,’ said Rep. Tom MacArthur, a newly elected lawmaker from New Jersey who voted against the Dreamer-deportation measure and raised concerns about the antiabortion bill, despite his opposition to abortion.”
ABORTION BILL PASSES WSJ [The House] Thursday passed a bill that would ban the use of federal funds to pay for abortions or health-insurance plans that cover abortion, by a vote of 242-179. There are already bans in place on using most federal funds for abortion. Approval of the bill comes on the 42nd anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. A similar bill was approved one year ago.
BOEHNER’S SHOWDOWN Poltico: “John Boehner’s Bibi invite sets up showdown with White House,” “Netanyahu’s speech could present a spectacle rarely seen in Washington – the leader of another nation, standing just blocks from the White House at the invitation of Congress to rebut the United States’ foreign policy. … Boehner did not consult with the White House or the State Department about inviting Netanyahu – a snub that White House spokesman Josh Earnest called ‘a departure’ from protocol. … Boehner’s and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s staff coordinated with Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S.”
NETANYAHU PLAYING WITH FIRE (TPM) Senior American official as quoted by Haaretz: “We thought we’ve seen everything. But Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.” Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s office has tried to paper over the confrontation by calling the congressional invitation bipartisan. But Democrats were quick to note that is not true. Even American Jewish groups who seldom allow any daylight between themselves and the Israeli government appear shocked by Netanyahu’s move and are having difficulty defended it. THEY WILL NOT MEET “As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement. “Accordingly, the President will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.” Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress March 3. He was previously scheduled to speak Feb. 11, but asked that the speech be moved to March, House Speaker John Boehner said in a tweet today.”
THE MOST POLARIZING AGENCY … MOVE OVER IRS The Fix, “… And the award … goes too … the Environmental Protection Agency! Democrats love the EPA and Republicans hate it, according to a new Pew poll. “Hate” might seem too strong a word, perhaps reserved for the IRS. But as it turns out, the EPA is held in pretty similar regard. And the gap is getting bigger. In February 2014, 46% of Republicans had unfavorable views of the EPA, now 51%. Democrats’ favorable views of the agency, meanwhile, have increased by 10 points over the past year, from 70% to 80% now. It’s now their favorite agency, ahead even of the Centers for Disease Control, which has succeeded in combating Ebola in recent months. Why is the EPA so polarizing? Part of it is that we’ve just had an election in which Republicans ran hard against it — particularly in coal states. But it’s rare that a government agency becomes so political. And it was founded by a Republican president (Nixon), after all.
AND THE MOST POPULAR FEDERAL AGENCY IS WAIT, WAIT, WAIT … The Hill: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has the highest approval rating of any government agency despite the high-profile fallout from its handling of the Ebola outbreak last fall with a 70% favorable, just above the 68% approval rating for NASA and 65% DOD according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center.”
TIRED OF BUSHES AND CLINTONS? BAD NEWS FOR YOU The Fix, “Another Bush running for president!? Another Clinton running!? And now Mitt Romney is going to run again too!? We hear your grumbling, but we have bad news for you: The fact that Bush is a Bush and Clinton is a Clinton probably makes it more likely you’ll see them in the general election. And the same goes for Romney’s repeat bid. The American people, you see, aren’t really that concerned about seeing the same names on the ballot over and over again. In fact, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, about six in 10 registered voters say that it makes no difference to them who the candidates’ husbands, fathers or brothers are, nor that they failed to win their previous campaigns for president. And in fact, in the primary, it’s pretty hard to argue that it’s not actually a net benefit for all three.”
INCOME EQUALITY NYTs: “Talk of Wealth Gap Prods the G.O.P. to Refocus,” “With the economy finally on more solid ground, even leading Republicans, on Capitol Hill and on the nascent 2016 presidential campaign front [Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney], are tempering complaints about overall economic growth and refocusing on the more intractable problem of income inequality. … Just acknowledging a wealth gap represents a significant shift in language for Republicans, who have long held that market forces driving overall economic growth, will ultimately yield higher incomes without any help from government.”
‘DEFLATE-GATE’ AND ‘GRIPPINESS‘(the ‘gate’ thing screams politics – TWO MENTIONS in this report!) Fox News: “With the so-called “deflate-gate” controversy still swirling around the New England Patriots, experts have explained the science of underinflated footballs. Citing league sources, ESPN reported Tuesday that 11 of the 12 balls used by the Patriots during their Jan. 18 blowout AFC Championship win against the Indianapolis Colts were underinflated by two pounds of air pressure per square inch (PSI). Game balls, which are inspected by the referee, must be inflated to 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch. Both Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick have pled ignorance. John Eric Goff, professor of physics at Lynchburg College in Virginia and author of “Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports,” said that the league-mandated PSI range is ideal for playing football. “If, however, there’s rain or snow or something else happening, that would make the ball a bit slicker, so having a bit less pressure in the ball makes it easier to squeeze and the grip improves,” he added. Scientist Ainissa Ramirez, author of “Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game,” agrees that “grippiness” is the big benefit of a slightly inflated football. “If a ball is underinflated, it’s easier to throw, it’s easier to catch.” ‘… While an underinflated ball is clearly easier to throw and catch, science suggests minimal impact on how it travels through the air. With the deflate-gate furor continuing, one thing is certain – public interest in specialist science, like the physics of footballs, is at an all-time high.” For those living under a rock (or who don’t follow football), the Patriots will face the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX on Feb.1.