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The Washington Report – July 31, 2015

31 Jul 2015

The Washington Report – July 31, 2015

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT DREAM … “THIS PLACE BOGGLES MY MIND” … SHUTDOWN SCENARIO … THE SUPREMES ARE MORE DISLIKED THAN EVER … PAPAL JITTERS ON THE HILL … WHAT IS ‘DARK MONEY’ … 31 FLAVORS … and other news of the week.

The House is on recess, with the Senate coming back next week.

Best,

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

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MAKING CONSPIRACY THEORISTS HEADS BLOW UP U.S. News: “[This week] Obama made his first visit (and the first for a sitting American president) to Kenya, the birthplace of his father (where it isn’t unusual to see gargantuan murals of his face on buildings or cardboard cutouts outside cafes).”

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HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS DREAM NYTs: “Congress will slide toward its August recess this week by doing what every high school student dreams of: putting off the hardest projects until later. In many ways, the last few months have been quite productive under Republican control, particularly when viewed through the lens of sheer expectations. Congress handed President Obama a major policy victory — the path to pursue a sweeping trade deal that officials are working out this week in Hawaii. A bipartisan coalition fought for, and achieved, broad revisions to the Patriot Act. After years of patches, lawmakers finally established a new formula for paying doctors under Medicare. And both chambers also have taken an earnest stab at finally revising the benighted No Child Left Behind law. MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY But instead of passing a long-term bill to pay for much-needed repairs on the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, the House on Wednesday passed a three-month measure to prevent the expiration of financing before leaving town until after Labor Day. And … (Politico): “…the Senate passed the House measure, so federal dollars will keep flowing to highway and transit projects nationwide, just days before funding was set to be shut off. … Obama is expected to sign the bill into law. The problem isn’t over, though — the reprieve will only last through Halloween, when Congress will have to extend the program again or face another looming construction shutdown.”  HOW FALL IS SHAPING UP Poltico: “… as a result of the punt on transportation, the GOP Congress is going to have handle, in order: Iran vote, Government funding, FAA bill, transportation funding and then the debt ceiling. And that’s probably charitable, considering that it seems likely that Republicans will have to do a short-term punt on or more of funding bills.”

UNDERESTIMATING NYT: “For his part, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has often been unrealistic about the strength of the libertarians in his conference and about how the presidential ambitions of three of his members collide with his own interests. He has at times set expectations that were hard to meet and found that bills became needlessly troubled. A bill to bolster cybersecurity (which the House has passed) will struggle to be passed before the August recess, and a prison reform measure is in abeyance because other bills have taken a long time to get off the floor. … Republicans counter that dysfunction is all part of the growing pains of an expanded majority.”

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AND ABOUT THAT EX-IM BILL “Backers of the government loan guarantee agency, which lapsed at the end of June, hoped it would be resurrected with the highway bill. But that isn’t happening, despite the support of Senate Democrats and half of Senate Republicans. Conservatives like House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) view the bank’s expired charter as a major victory. But the failure to revive the bank could cause acrimony among a fragile coalition of pro-trade Democrats and Republicans when the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement comes up for a vote – also this fall. Proponents view the bank as a boost to free trade. ‘We’ve demonstrated broad support for the Export-Import Bank. And somehow along the way it always gets left behind,’ said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a Democrat who ‘went to the mat’ this spring to win a vote in the Senate. ‘This place boggles my mind every single day.'”

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ANOTHER DEBT LIMIT DEADLINE The Hill: “Lawmakers will likely have at least until the end of October to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a letter to Congress on Wednesday. Lew told lawmakers that while he cannot pinpoint when the nation would be in danger of missing debt payments without a borrowing boost, he was confident he would be able to avoid default until at least late October. ‘We believe that the measures will not be exhausted before late October, and it is likely that they will last for at least a brief additional period of time,’ he wrote.”

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SHUTDOWN SCENARIO … DEM DEMS DRAW THE LINE Politico:…Republican leaders have not ruled out jamming a Planned Parenthood defunding rider into a funding bill at the end of September. No final decisions have been made.  BUT, BUT BUT “… if Republicans do go down this road, Democrats are laying down a hard marker: The government will shut down. “Schumer said there’s little risk for Democrats to vote against a rider-laden funding bill this fall, even though Democrats would be in the position of voting against funding the federal government. ‘It’s going to be just like the shutdown over ACA. It’s clear that Republicans are saying shut down the government unless I get my way on an extraneous issue. And the American people are wise to that,’ Schumer said. ‘It’s all on their shoulders.’ … Avoiding further shutdowns is a guiding principle of McConnell’s governance strategy, and with 24 Senate seats to defend next year, leadership and its allies are wary of overreaching and playing into the Democrats’ long-running ‘war on women’ narrative. ‘People are going to try to weave this as a war on women. Nothing could be further from the truth,’ said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).”

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WISTLEBLOWER DAY Roll Call: “The Senate approved a resolution Thursday declaring July 30, 2015, “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day,” though senators’ own staffers are not afforded the same protections as other federal workers. On the same day, the Office of Compliance, which oversees workplace complaints and safety issues around the Capitol, released its annual report for fiscal 2014. Among the recommendations was extending whistleblower protections to congressional employees.

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WHY AMERICANS HAVE THE RIGHT TO SUE THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT NYTs: “Seventy years ago [last Tuesday], as World War II was nearing an end, a twin-engine B-25 bomber was on a personnel flight to La Guardia Airport in dense fog. Trying to find his way instead to the airport in Newark in the blinding cloud, the pilot narrowly missed the Chrysler Building. A minute later, the plane crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building, then the world’s tallest office building. The three plane occupants died, as did 11 workers in the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, and dozens were injured. But the toll could have been far worse had it not been a Saturday morning. “Brilliant orange flames shot as high as the observatory on the eighty-sixth floor of the building” above Fifth Avenue as the gas tanks exploded, The Times reported. Miraculously, the building’s standpipes were intact, and the fire took only 40 minutes to extinguish. And despite the crater in the tower’s north face, the building’s structural integrity remained intact. The legacy of the crash is landmark 1946 legislation that for the first time gave Americans the right to sue the federal government.”

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NDAA MorningD: “The top Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are siding with SASC Chairman John McCain in his standoff with HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry over military health care fees, according to a source with knowledge of the closed-door negotiations. Sen. Jack Reed and Rep. Adam Smith are supporting McCain in trying to put in place a Pentagon plan to phase in increases in co-pays for drugs purchased through Tricare by mail or at retail pharmacies while continuing to allow prescriptions to be filled at military clinics for free.Thornberry, though, is refusing to go along despite the fact that the three other principal negotiators are united against him. The gist of the argument is this: McCain believes the co-pays would lead to savings to help fund new retirement benefits and other defense initiatives while also leading more military families and retirees to get their prescriptions filled at military clinics, where they’re more likely to buy cheaper generic drugs. But Thornberry refuses to dig “more deeply into the pockets of our service members and retirees,” as he said in a memo to Republican HASC members. STANDSTILL The fight has brought conference negotiations to a standstill, pushing into September any chance for a final, compromise version of this year’s annual National Defense Authorization Act, which sets military policy. For his part, McCain says he plans to continue negotiating even as the Senate nears the beginning of its long summer recess. And Thornberry spokesman Claude Chafin tells us that “everybody’s still talking and working toward getting the bill finished.” WHAT ABOUT GITMO … The House bill provides no pathway to closing GITMO, while the Senate version of the NDAA would allow the administration to move toward closing Gitmo if – and it’s a big if – lawmakers vote to approve its plan for doing so. There’s little chance the Republican-led Congress would approve such a plan, but the provision would represent a small step that could lead to bigger changes in next year’s bill.”

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FUTURE TECH – DRONES Politico: “The California National Guard used an MQ-9 Reaper drone Wednesday to search for a missing person, at the request of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office. It’s the first time a drone has been used by the National Guard to aid search-and-rescue efforts, the California Guard said.”

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THE SUPREMES ARE DISLIKED MORE THAN EVER BEFORE.  THAT’S A BAD THING. The Fix: “The Supreme Court is increasingly seen as just another partisan player in our politically-charged world, according to new numbers released by the Pew Research Center Wednesday. Forty eight percent of people have a favorable opinion of the Court while 43% have an unfavorable one. That’s a drastic dip from as recently as 2007 when 72% of people saw the Court favorable while just 17% regarded it unfavorably. That’s the highest unfavorable rating for the Court measured by Pew since 1985. And, it’s not an outlier. Gallup has been tracking feelings about the Supreme Court for a very long time, and their data affirm Pew. But, that’s not the most depressing part. It’s the partisan breakdowns of who views the Court favorably or unfavorably that are truly sad. Eighty percent of Republicans viewed the Court favorably in 2008. Today that number is just 33%. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! In March 2015, 50% of Republicans saw the Court in a favorable light. Between March and today, that favorable number has dipped by 17 points. Democratic views of the Court have gone from 54% favorable to 62% favorable in that same, short time frame. What happened between March and now?  The Court ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act and legalized gay marriage nationwide. Both of those decisions were greeted with deep dissatisfaction by Republicans. THIS PARTISAN THING The rising tendency to view the Court through a partisan lens is problematic for the country — and its politics. The Supreme Court, for decade upon decade, was viewed as the one thing in our increasingly polarized world that wasn’t subject to the partisan winds.  Yes, the justices were (and are) appointed by a president and confirmed by the Senate. But, the whole idea of a lifetime appointment was aimed at insulating them from the ups and downs of political Washington. (Worth noting: Sen. Ted Cruz, among others, proposed term limits for the justices in the wake of this session.) No longer. The Court is now viewed like its other two co-equal branches — Congress and the White House; it’s regarded by many Americans as just another pawn in the political game. WHOSE FAULT IS THAT? Ours or the Court’s? There’s no question that the Court has been involved in a number of very high profile cases with major societal and political implications over the past decade or so — starting with Bush v. Gore and going all the way through the decision that legalized same sex marriage nationwide. At the same time, our increasing polarization as a country means we tend to see everything — from Cecil the lion to Beyonce to the Supreme Court — in partisan terms. Everything is political these days, even the branch of government purposely created to be above day-to-day politics. POINT IS: The Supreme Court is increasingly regarded as something less than a neutral arbiter of the various debates in the country. A failure to recognize any referee as unbiased means that you can always say the game was rigged when the result goes against you. That’s a horrible thing for democracy.”

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JEWISH AMERICANS SUPPORT THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL WashPo: “GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee says President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal will “take the Israelis and march them (sorry, I can’t go there…).” Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu is the deal’s preeminent opponent. But according to a rare national survey conducted in the wake of the agreement, a plurality of American Jews support the new Iran nuclear deal. The LA Jewish Journal survey released Thursday found that 48 % of Jews support the deal while 28% oppose it and 25% hadn’t heard enough to form an opinion. Jewish support for the deal was 20 percentage points higher than for Americans overall, according to a side-by-side poll of the general public.”

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PAPAL JITTERS ON THE HILL KBG File: “We wonder: Will a blunt-spoken Pope Francis deliver a papal smackdown to the House when he becomes the first pontiff to address the U.S. Congress in September? Unlike his predecessors, Pope Francis hasn’t been shy about pontificating on politics, most recently with his views on the environment; when he steers the Popemobile (yes, he’s bringing it) over to Capitol Hill, some are worried that he’ll stir up yet more controversy. Still, one well-placed Vatican source assured Hill staffers that the pontiff plans to speak about general spiritual issues. Whatever topics are on the pope’s docket, a ticket to the Joint Meeting of Congress, which is the official terminology for the address, is going to be hard to come by. Planning is fully underway for the visit; in recent week hundreds of chiefs of staff and schedulers were called to a meeting with representatives of Speaker of the House John Boehner, Capitol Police and the sergeant at arms to start laying the intricate groundwork for the historic September 24th visit.”

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2016 THE BIG PICTURE WSJ: “Appeal of Populists May Portend Political Shift“: “Much as fishermen troll on year after year, awaiting that catch of a lifetime, so those who follow politics keep waiting for the big one: the election so dramatic that it changes the political alignment in a fundamental way. … [T]he system is straining to break loose from some of its traditional moorings. “The combination of a wide-open race, populist strains at the base of both parties and big demographic changes all open the doors to destabilizing forces. … Perhaps order will be restored soon. Still, we haven’t seen anything quite like this since the 1990s, when Pat Buchanan talked of peasants coming with pitchforks to attack the political establishment-and when a billionaire populist independent named Ross Perot shocked the system by running for president.”

DEBATE DASHBOARD – 6 DAYS! “Trump surges, Bush slumps in new national poll,”  Politico: “Trump leads the GOP presidential field by a significant margin, according to a new Quinnipiac University national poll released [yesterday.] The poll also indicates that Ohio Gov. John Kasich could ride a post-announcement bump onto the stage for next week’s debate in Cleveland, despite fears that Trump’s wall-to-wall media coverage had overshadowed his late entry into the race. …”20% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said they would vote for Trump … the largest share any single candidate has received in Quinnipiac’s seven surveys over the past two years. That puts [him] ahead of the two other candidates who earn double-digit support: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 13% and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 10%. It’s a four-way tie for fourth place – with … Carson, … Huckabee, Kentucky … Paul and … Rubio all at 6%. Kasich, at 5%, is tied for eighth place with … Cruz. That’s enough to vault Kasich into the top 10 in Politco’s   analysis of [the polling that will determine the 10 prime-time slots] at the Fox News debate on Aug. 6. Kasich replaces former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who earned just 2% of the vote and slipped to 11th in the Politico average. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stays at ninth in the average thanks to his 3% haul in … Quinnipiac …”Trump’s strength … comes primarily from male voters, [with] 24% … among men. But he also leads among female voters, with 15% of the vote to Bush’s 12% and Walker’s 9%.”

SINGLE MOST AMAZING SENTENCE FROM A FOCUS GROUP OF TRUMP SUPPORTERS The Fix:

“He’s like one of us. He may be a millionaire … but beside the money issue

                    he’s still in tune with what everyone is wanting.”

WHAT.  DOUBLE WHAT. Donald J. Trump has been called many things in his decades-long run as a public figure. I am betting that “one of us” is not one of them. This is, after all, someone who at every turn professes how wealthy he is ($10 billion!!), how smart he is (“really smart”) and who lives a life — married to a supermodel, star of his own reality TV show (until recently) — that couldn’t be further from the everyday life of the average person in the U.S. And yet, despite all of the evidence of Trump’s not-like-us-ness, he has quite clearly tapped into a populist message that plenty of people — Jane from New Hampshire included — are responding to. That such a populist strain exists in American political life is no surprise. That Donald Trump is, at least at the moment, the chosen vessel for that populist fervor is stunning. HOW IS THIS HAPPENING? My guess is that Trump’s willingness to say whatever is on his mind appeals to people who feel like most politicians are totally detached from their lives. Trump’s wealth gets dismissed because, well, aren’t they all rich? (The answer to that question is: Yes, most people who run for president are significantly wealthier than the average person.) As always with Trump, it’s hard to tell how much of what he says he (a) believes and (b) is doing with any sort of strategic goal in mind. It’s hard for me to imagine Trump sitting in his office — a classy, luxurious one, of course — thinking before he entered the 2016 campaign: “Yeah, I’ll be the populist in the race.” But, Trump has been right a heck of a lot more than I have about his rise in this race. So maybe this is all part of his grand plan.”

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graph

IS IT BIASED TO CALL IT ‘DARK MONEY’ The Fix: Politically active nonprofits who don’t have to reveal their network of wealthy donors are tired of being called “dark money” groups. “Dark money” is indeed a term propagated by pro-disclosure organizations in the post-Citizens United world. These groups say it shines a light on the unaccountability of groups that play big roles in today’s political debates and campaigns, and they have done a good job of making the description go mainstream. But it’s not hard to see why the accused “dark money” groups don’t like the term; to them, it suggests something nefarious. (A note here: While “dark money” is often used to refer to nonprofits and super PACs, super PACs actually do have to reveal their donors — see above chart for a clear explanation.)  GOP mega-donors Charles and David Koch have typically operated within the dark-money/nonprofit world. Their spiderweb-like network of politically active nonprofits is hard to track. But realizing the limits of nonprofits, they created a super PAC in 2014, opening up (some of) their donations to more scrutiny. At last week’s annual gathering in San Diego for the Koch-brothers-backed American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) — a group made up of conservative state lawmakers and corporations — supporters brainstormed their response to a movement among states to require these nonprofits to reveal more of their donor base, Politico reported. They worried such steps could lead to a focus on the messenger rather than the message — or worse, harassment for their financial backers.”

KOCH BROTHERS REBOOT NYTs: “After two elections in which Democrats and liberals sought to cast them as the secretive, benighted face of the Republican Party, the Kochs are seeking to remake public perceptions of their family, their business and their politics … This fall, Charles Koch will publish ‘Good Profit,’ a new book about his management philosophy and worldview … The makeover attempt has even included the Kochs’ twice-yearly ‘seminars’ for donors to their political operation, events previously shrouded in … secrecy … At this year’s summer seminar, which begins Saturday in Dana Point, Calif., invited reporters will be allowed to attend some sessions, including those featuring [five] of the Republican Party’s presidential candidates.”

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50 YEARS AGO On June 30, 1965, LBJ signed legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid. N.Y. Times front page the next day (10): “PRESIDENT SIGNS MEDICARE BILL; PRAISES TRUMAN — He Flies to Independence, Mo., to Hold Ceremonies at Presidential Library — 20-YEAR CAMPAIGN ENDS — Social Security to Provide Medical Care for Americans Over 65.”

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ice cream31 FLAVORS COMING TO HILL (LONGWORTH) … seems appropriate for summer.  Cheer up, Creamery fans! … House administrators assure Heard on the Hill that … later this year … you’ll have 31 flavors with which to self-medicate … i.e., Baskin-Robbins.

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“THE QUESTION IS, WHY ARE YOU SHOOTING A LION IN THE FIRST PLACE? I mean, I’m honestly curious to know why a human being would feel compelled to do that. How is that fun? … I’m not against hunting. If you’re hunting to eat, or to help keep the animal population healthy or it’s part of your culture or something, that’s one thing, but if you’re some A-hole dentist who wants a lion’s head over the fireplace in his mansion man cave so his douchebag buddies can gather around it and drink scotch and tell him how awesome he is, that’s just vomitous.”

(Shout-out to Jimmy Kimmel, no one said it better)

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JUSTICE FOR SAM DuBOSE TPM: “A University of Cincinnati officer who shot a motorist during a traffic stop over a missing front license plate has been indicted on murder charges, a prosecutor said Wednesday, adding that the officer “purposely killed him” and “should never have been a police officer.” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced the grand jury indictment at a news conference to discuss developments in the investigation into the July 19 shooting of 43-year-old motorist Samuel DuBose by Officer Ray Tensing.” Shockingly all too common. Black Lives Matter.  RIP Sam DuBose.

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